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Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

A Teachable Moment in Aging Wine: 1970s Kongsgaard Cabernets

Two of John Kongsgaard's oldest wines proved nimble and fascinating—special wines that were nevertheless well past their prime

Posted: February 5, 2014  By James Laube

There's a downside to aging wines too long. That might seem obvious, but few wine lovers take that into consideration when purchasing wines to lay down in the cellar for a while.

In a conversation and tasting with John Kongsgaard the other day, we talked about terroir, to what extent it exists (and can be identified), at what age it might be most readily identified in a wine and, ultimately, that with enough age, all wines lose their terroir. They become old wines inseparable from one another.

Illustrating this point, Kongsgaard poured two Cabernets that he made early on his career, as a 26-year-old home winemaker in the 1970s with his father, Thomas, in Napa.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

The Wine Label as Art: Sine Qua Non, by Manfred Krankl

Winemaker-artist Manfred Krankl designs his own labels, when the TTB doesn’t get in the way

Posted: February 4, 2014  By Robert Taylor

Many winemakers adorn their bottles with art. Very few make the label art themselves, and none is more famous for doing so than California Rhône cult icon Manfred Krankl, whose coveted Sine Qua Non wines feature a new piece of his original artwork on every cuvée.

A self-taught craftsman, Krankl was never formally trained as a winemaker or as an artist. But collectors patiently wait years for a chance to join the Sine Qua Non mailing list (the secondary-market price for his new wines is double to quadruple what Krankl charges), and his early one-off labels like The Marauder, The Hussy and The 17th Nail in My Cranium have become iconic works of winemaking art in their own right.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

The Man Who Turned Against Cabernet

Antonio Mastroberardino changed more than his own region in Italy

Posted: January 31, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

He did not seem like a revolutionary when I met Antonio Mastroberardino, who died this week at age 86, nearly 30 years ago. He carried himself with almost a regal bearing. Quiet-spoken, he matter-of-factly explained why he chose to focus his family's vineyards and wines on grapes hardly anyone on this side of the Atlantic knew: Fiano, Greco and, especially, Aglianico.

His son Carlo, who was with him on a tour of the U.S., really did look like a firebrand, intense, vigorous, single-mindedly pushing the notion that his region's historic grape varieties could and should stand on their own. It's difficult to underestimate the importance of that approach.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

I Was Krug'd at the Naples Winter Wine Festival

But all for a good cause

Posted: January 30, 2014  By Alison Napjus

That's right, I was Krug'd last weekend during the Naples Winter Wine Festival, an annual three-day event centered around one of the nation's highest-grossing charity wine auctions.

Krug Champagne managing director Olivier Krug was recognized as the event's honored vintner, which meant that the weekend afforded attendees, myself included, several opportunities to enjoy a glass of Krug. But I wasn't truly Krug'd until Friday night's dinner, at which chef Barbara Lynch of Boston's Menton restaurant created six courses paired with six different Krug bottlings, including a sneak preview of the soon-to-be-released 2003 vintage.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Château Latour 1945 on a Tuesday Night?

You wish, pal, it’s time to tighten the fiscal belt

Posted: January 29, 2014  By Tim Fish

The only good thing about junk mail is how easy it is to throw out, or light a fire with. And yet here we are at the end of January, when every letter and slice of paper in the mailbox must be sifted through in case a Christmas bill or tax form is overlooked.

As tempting as it is to burn those, too, it won't get you very far. It's time to buck up, and if need be, take on some fiscal responsibility. As a wine lover, that is never a first choice, obviously. We all want to drink Château Latour 1945 on a Tuesday night. Well, I do anyway, but that's probably not going to happen, not even on a Friday or Saturday night.

The point is that fiscal responsibility as a wine lover may not be preferable, but it is possible. Case in point: the 10 wines detailed below. Each sells for $20 or less and earned an 88-point rating or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. That's a tough quality-to-price ratio to beat.

Blogs  :  Robert Camuto: Letter from Europe

The Son Rises at Biondi-Santi

Working solo for the first time, Jacopo takes on the challenges of running the venerable Brunello estate

Posted: January 27, 2014  By Robert Camuto

The 2013 vintage was tough for all of Montalcino, Tuscany's premier wine region. But for Jacopo Biondi Santi, it was a moment of truth.

It was the first harvest at his family's legendary estate following the death of his father, Franco Biondi Santi, this past spring at the age of 91.

"I have been harvesting here since I was eight years old, first with grandfather, then with my father," Jacopo, 63, said in his office over the winery. "This was the first time I did it alone."

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Aussie Turnaround Looks to Be Real

Knowledgeable crowd at WineAustralia trade tasting encouraged by wide range of wines

Posted: January 22, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Australian wine is gaining the attention of American wine drinkers again, significantly that of the gatekeepers: wine merchants, sommeliers and writers.

The reasons for Australia's slide in these parts from 2008 to 2012 probably involve some combination of their own overreach and a wine-drinking public's fascination with some other Next Big Thing. Whatever, every Aussie winemaker I've met trying to sell their wares in the U.S. this past year has spoken of doors opening that had been shut to them.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

6 Tips for Becoming an Expert on Piedmont Wines

A game plan for getting started

Posted: January 21, 2014  By Jennifer Fiedler

Gianpaolo Paterlini, wine director of Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Acquerello in San Francisco, lays out a game plan for understanding Italy's Piedmont region.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Tainted Cork Woes

Corks are better than they used to be, but they'll never be perfect

Posted: January 17, 2014  By James Laube

Wine Spectator senior editor James Laube reports his latest findings on the percentage of corked and tainted California wines that were tasted in Wine Spectator's tasting room in 2013. Cork taint frequency was up just a tick last year to a 4.26 percent failure rate.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Is There Rain on the Horizon for California’s Vineyards?

2013 was the driest year on record, and 2014 is one big question mark

Posted: January 15, 2014  By Tim Fish

California is thirsty—and not for wine. It barely rained in 2013, and the wine industry is worried.

How bad is it? Some of the growing regions in Napa Valley got less rain than Las Vegas. Paso Robles, on the California Central Coast, got 1.92 inches of rain in 2013 instead of the average 12.78, according to the National Weather Service. By comparison, Death Valley got 2.17 inches.

That makes 2013 the driest year on record in California, and the records go back to about 1880. Droughts are nothing new here, but this is a new level of parched. It doesn't help that 2012 was an exceptionally dry year as well.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Custom and Wine: The Pizza Conundrum

What eating pizza can teach us about wine

Posted: January 14, 2014  By Harvey Steiman

Victor Hazan's late wife, Marcella, whose cookbooks have afforded me no end of pleasure, taught many of us about Italian food. Victor often supplied the wine-half of the equation, but he was no stranger to foodways himself. Since Marcella's death last year, he has been writing occasional posts to thousands of followers of her Facebook account. At first he penned eloquent reminiscences about Marcella. Lately he has been commenting on cuisine.

This past week he stirred up a bit of a reflexive firestorm among his Facebook friends. Inspired by a photo of New York's new mayor, Bill di Blasio, eating pizza with a knife and fork, he waded into the age-old debate over the best way to consume Italy's signature flatbread.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

Using Tragedy to Spread Ignorance in Bordeaux

A Chinese businessman's death in Bordeaux was bad enough; now someone wants to use it to scare away foreign château buyers

Posted: January 14, 2014  By Mitch Frank

Chinese businessman Lam Kok's deal to fulfill his dream of owning a Bordeaux château with the purchase of Château La Rivière turned tragic when he and la Rivière's former owner died in a helicopter crash.

Now someone has decided to take advantage of the tragedy. A group calling itself the Agricultural Action Committee has sent a letter to a local newspaper and numerous real-estate agents, claiming that Gregoire "paid with his life for selling the vineyard to a foreign buyer exactly 10 days after we had warned him not to."

Blogs  :  Robert Camuto: Letter from Europe

The Human Face of Wine

Wine's personality comes from the winemakers and grapegrowers behind the labels

Posted: January 13, 2014  By Robert Camuto

There are lots of reasons to love wine, but for me the most important reason is people. Wine is, after all, a story of humans working within the dynamics of nature, culture and history. When you put those forces together, you are bound to have tales of operatic proportions. These are the stories I love telling and will share in my new twice-monthly blog, Letter from Europe, reporting from the wine regions of France, Italy and beyond.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

What You Drink May Reveal How You Vote

Research suggests Republican and Democrat voters have different tastes when it comes to wine and spirits

Posted: January 8, 2014  By Tim Fish

If you drink Robert Mondavi wines and Jim Beam Bourbon, you probably vote Republican. If you prefer Moët & Chandon and Courvoisier Cognac, chances are you’re a Democrat.

Who knew that you were making a political statement every time you reached for a bottle of wine or spirits? Consumer data supplied by research group GFK MRI and analyzed by the National Media Research Planning and Placement, suggests that what you drink says a lot about how you vote.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

When to Put a Cork in It

The trials of two winemakers with screw caps are part of broader momentum shifts in the Great Closure Wars

Posted: January 7, 2014  By Ben O'Donnell

In recent years, the shift from cork to screw cap seemed inevitable. Forward-thinking regions like Australia and New Zealand now use screw caps for around 70 percent and 90 percent, respectively, of all their wine to better protect the quality.

So it came as a surprise two years ago, when winemaker Adam Mason, working for South Africa's Klein Constantia at the time, announced that he'd be returning the Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc to cork, after four vintages under screw cap—for technical reasons. Not long after, Christian Canute of Barossa's Rusden Wines made the same switchback on the Driftsand Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre, after five years under metal, despite an Australian wine press hostile to cork. "There is a fear that non-conformity on this issue might affect how a producer's wines are rated," Canute told me.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

Roberto Voerzio: Making a Difference in the Vineyards

Roberto Voerzio and his son Davide have invested in great vineyards. Their 2010 Barolos show their dedication to viticulture

Posted: January 3, 2014  By Bruce Sanderson

Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson is blogging on his recent trip to Italy's Piedmont region, where he visited growers and tasted the new vintages that will be released in the United States in 2014. In this installment, he tastes the Barolos and more at Roberto Voerzio. Here are his notes.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

Getting Fit Amidst a Sea of Wine and Food

How do wine and restaurant industry folks stay healthy?

Posted: January 2, 2014  By James Molesworth

It's that time of year. Time to make a resolution, only to watch it fade out. Common wisdom says that most New Year's resolutions are broken in less than two weeks. And of course, the most common resolution folks make is to lose weight. In 2012 and 2013 I made the same resolution …

With the calendar turning, I thought I'd ask a few people in the wine and restaurant industry how they first got into and now stay in shape. It's an industry rife with pit falls—long hours, big restaurant meals, travel and, of course, alcohol. Being a sommelier, restaurateur or a wine journalist can easily become a built-in excuse for taking your health for granted.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

What Does Wine Enlightenment Look Like?

Is there a common trajectory to appreciating wine and, if so, an endpoint?

Posted: December 24, 2013  By Jennifer Fiedler

Do you still drink the same wines you did when you started drinking wine? I don't, and I'm guessing you don't either.

It's a truism that understanding wine is a journey. With so many styles and types of wine out there, it's natural that people start in one place and end in another.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Sizing Up Bottle Sizes

Testing the Big Bottle Theory with five sizes of Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 1995

Posted: December 19, 2013  By James Laube

Bottle size matters when it comes to wine, but maybe not as much as you might think. That's important to understand if you own larger-format bottles, or are considering buying some.

Conventional wisdom is that smaller bottles age faster than larger ones because smaller bottles have a smaller ratio of wine volume to oxygen, of which there is about the same amount in all bottle formats. That anecdotal thinking has been passed along for decades, becoming one of winedom's golden rules. Actually testing the theory is more difficult.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

Rudy Kurniawan Could Be the Tip of a Fake Wine Crisis

Are counterfeits a victimless crime? Not when they rob us of the pleasure wine can deliver

Posted: December 18, 2013  By Mitch Frank

I love hearing people's "aha!" moments with wine—that instant when they realized that wine is more than just a beverage, that great wine has personality.

Here's a good one: A young man takes his visiting father out for dinner to celebrate dad's birthday. Neither knows much about wine, but the son decides this is a special occasion so he orders the most expensive bottle on the list. The wine—a 1996 Opus One—opens the young man's eyes. Within a few months, he's buying several bottles of Opus One, then other top wines. (Luckily, he has a decent amount of money.) Soon, he's hooked. Wine becomes his passion, and he's attending tastings and collecting rare bottles. Burgundy in particular beguiles him.

Like much of what we know about Rudy Kurniawan, it's hard to tell how much of this story is true and how much he concocted. Kurniawan told this tale to a journalist in 2006, just after an auction of his wines raised $24.7 million, a record for a single-consignor auction. Since he began attending auctions and tastings a decade ago, Kurniawan had always been vague about his origins and his seemingly deep pockets.

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