Posted: November 20, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Kingsley Amis, writing in 1972's On Drink, relayed a recipe for a concoction he had heard to be "Queen Victoria's Tipple." Ingredients: 1/2 tumbler red wine, Scotch. "The quantity of Scotch is up to you, but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler," cautioned Amis. "Worth trying once," cringed the author, who in the same pages recommends waking up to a shot of tequila in one hand and one of tomato juice in the other.
I asked Logan Leet, winemaker at River Bend Winery in Kentucky, whose signature Bourbon Barrel Red is given a brief spin through used bourbon barrels, if he had ever heard of this kind of abomination in Louisville. "Most people like to keep their wine and their bourbon separate, by and large," he assured me.
Posted: November 19, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
Last week I touched on "balance" as a word that's become increasingly polemical, particularly in California, where the growing movement toward lower-alcohol wines has been branded as a movement toward balance.
The problem is, this movement has largely been defined by what restraint (a word that's become synonymous with balance in this case) looks like in Pinot Noir, not grapes like Zinfandel or Grenache. Enter Mosel Riesling. If Zinfandel's stigma is its natural ability to accumulate higher alcohol, Mosel Riesling's is its sugar levels. In post-white Zinfandel America, the word "sweet" has been vilified, to a degree (lest we forget that Moscato is having a moment), as a word synonymous with cheap, low-quality wine.
Posted: November 16, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
How do you decide which wines to deploy for Thanksgiving duty? Do you fret about matching the perfect wine with each element of the meal? That way lies madness. Nah, Thanksgiving is a day for hanging out with family and friends, and saying thanks for all our blessings. Now let's watch some football and eat some turkey, gravy and sweet potatoes.
Devotée as I am of the magic that can happen when wine and food find common ground and make the other better, I don't recommend it for big meals with a table full of contrasting dishes and a crowd that can range from wine snobs to those who merely drink it for lubrication.
Posted: November 15, 2012 By James Molesworth
Surely you've read it by now. The savage review from the New York Times' Pete Wells of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, the new restaurant from celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
It was low-hanging fruit for sure. Guy Fieri is best known for his passion for comfort food and his outsize personality, both of which share the spotlight on his popular TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I'm not sure what the New York Times readership gained from the review—I wouldn't expect many of them to be interested in the restaurant in the first place. But it obviously had an impact.
Posted: November 15, 2012 By James Laube
Randall Grahm insists he's grown up, as in matured. For those who have followed the zigzags of his career, one wonders whether the new pose is for real, or whether it's just a front for the irrepressible jester in him. He has recast and reinvented himself so many times in the past 30 years that it's natural to wonder which Randall Grahm we're dealing with. Indeed, the new Grahm can't entirely escape the old Grahm.
This much seemed apparent recently when he visited me in at my office to convey his desire to shed his whimsical nature and strike a more serious stance. That his new wines are among the best he's made adds credence to his desire to reboot his livelihood.
Posted: November 15, 2012 By Jennifer Fiedler
Walk-around tastings. Auctions. Winemaker dinners. The wine world has no shortage of social gatherings, and with each event comes the seemingly silly, yet kind of important question: What should you wear?
In these days when hoodie-clad tech execs top the Forbes 400 and Malvasia gets more attention than Meursault on Brooklyn wine lists, yes, you can wear whatever you want to wine events. End of story. What's really important at these things is the company you keep and what's in your glass, etc., etc.
But let's get real. It's telling that many comments on Talia Baiocchi's blog post last week about a new generation of Napa winemakers revolved not around stylistic decisions in winemaking, but the clothes winemakers wear—specifically whether it was apt to describe 1980s Napa as "linen-wearing." Clearly, this stuff matters.
Posted: November 14, 2012 By Tim Fish
When I was a kid there was never wine on our Thanksgiving table. This was the Midwest in the late 1960s and if anyone drank anything it was a highball or a beer. Thanksgiving was always at my great-grandfather Lemuel's house and to my memory it seemed like a hundred people were there. Lemuel was not a kid person, even though he sired an imposing litter that spanned two generations. He scared me to death.
Today, Thanksgiving with my family includes plenty of crowd-pleasing wines, especially now that the younger generation is coming of age. Here are some widely available favorites that pair perfectly with Thanksgiving fare.
Posted: November 13, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
I am not certain how I came into possession of a 375ml bottle of Canadian sparkling ice wine, let alone how it languished in my cellar for almost a decade. Good friends were coming for dinner, and I had already chosen some fizz for before dinner and a Washington Syrah to drink with the main course. (More about those a bit later.) I wanted something light and pretty to go with the planned dessert, a rather light version of sticky toffee pudding (a cakelike British dessert).
As I rummaged through the dessert wines, my eye caught the golden label of the Inniskillin Sparking Ice Wine Vidal Niagara Peninsula 2001. Maybe it was the British Isles association (it’s named after a place in Ireland). Maybe I just figured the effervescence might lighten up the wine’s natural sweetness and make a good match with the dessert.
Posted: November 12, 2012 By James Laube
I don't see many sub-13 percent alcohol wines these days.
Most of the wines reviewed by Wine Spectator are north of 14 percent alcohol, and for sure California has some of the ripest wines going, so I was understandably intrigued when the bag came off of a Syrah I'd liked in a recent blind tasting and it turned out to be lower alcohol.
Posted: November 12, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
Balance in wine, as most of us describe it, is the harmony of fruit, acid, tannins and alcohol, such that no one component is all elbow, so to speak. Sounds agreeable, but the word balance—and what it implies in the modern wine world—has become a more complex and symbolic topic than that description suggests. And generalizing what balance means in wine, whether via degrees alcohol or grams of residual sugar, has become risky business.
The word balance in California, for example, has come to symbolize a movement toward restraint and lower alcohol levels, particularly in Pinot Noir. Rajat Parr, one of the wine world's most respected sommeliers and the beverage director at the Michael Mina Group, has earned three Wine Spectator Grand Awards for his wine lists. He has also become infamous for refusing to sell Pinot Noir that clocks in over 14 percent alcohol at RN74 in San Francisco and has started an organization called In Pursuit of Balance, along with Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Winery in Sonoma. It's composed of producers making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay who are advocates for balance, which they believe is achieved at lower alcohol levels (though the percentage is not precisely defined).
Posted: November 8, 2012 By Thomas Matthews
If there was one wine writer every other wine writer always read, it was Frank Prial. For more than 30 years, his Wine Talk column for the New York Times set the tone and the topics of conversation about wine all around the world.
Prial died Nov. 6, at 82, of complications of prostate cancer.
Posted: November 8, 2012 By James Laube
It seems only fitting that one of the world's top authorities on grape-type identification would find success with a grape most wine lovers have never heard of.
The Mondeuse grape is rare in California (with only a few hundred acres planted, max), and a star nowhere (though it is embraced in the Savoie region of France). That fact played into the mindset of Carole Meredith and her winemaker husband, Steve Lagier, owners of Lagier Meredith, when they planted it on their property high atop Mount Veeder in Napa Valley.
Posted: November 8, 2012 By Mitch Frank
"I am a winemaker. Not a shepherd or a steward." Sine Qua Non founder Manfred Krankel spoke those words during the third day of Wine Spectator's New World Wine Experience, and I started clapping. Then I realized I was the only person clapping in a room packed with 800 people and sheepishly stopped. I shouldn't have.
The Wine Experience is Wine Spectator's annual gathering of the best winemakers in the world for three days of tasting, talking and having fun. The whole weekend provides a chance to discover some great terroirs-you can taste wines from more than 200 wineries, often from regions you've never tried-and chat with the people behind the wines. The winemaker or owner is often the one pouring. It's a chance to learn from some of the best.
But I often feel like people who work in wine (or write about it) like to pretend that winemakers don't actually matter. A decade ago, some consulting winemakers like Michel Rolland and Carlo Ferrini got a lot of attention. Today, so many producers I speak to insist that they are merely stewards of the vineyard. When they make the wine, they just try to let the vineyard speak for itself.
Posted: November 7, 2012 By Tim Fish
Winemakers in Northern California are finally catching their breath as harvest 2012 winds to a finish. In the mood to kick back, and perhaps celebrate a little, winemakers Adam Lee of Siduri and Mike Officer of Carlisle had a long lunch last week at Stark's Steakhouse in Sonoma County and let me tag along.
Posted: November 6, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
Until about 20 years ago, Riesling was Australia's go-to white wine. It never made much an impact here in the United States, where Riesling from anywhere was a tough sell, but in Australia it seemed as if everyone drank it regularly, from punters to pundits. At least until Chardonnay rode its worldwide popularity to replace Riesling in Australian wine drinkers' glasses.
The good news for those of us who appreciate the clarity, ageability and zing of a good Aussie Riesling is that the grape never went away. In fact, it has become a darling of sommeliers and retailers here in America who decry oak and high alcohol in white wines. In the same way as two other personal favorites, Spain's Albariños and Italy's Falanghinas, dry Aussie Rieslings offer piquancy and charm to meld well with seafood, which I eat as often as I can.
Posted: November 6, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
If you ask a collector, a wine writer or a sommelier how they got into wine, the immediate inclination is to fish out an epiphany. It often begins with a bottle of very expensive wine that someone slipped into their glass at a restaurant or a dinner party, or that time a bottle of Chave Hermitage made them see unicorns and hear Bach. Taste is certainly powerful enough to fuel a love of wine. But the choice to collect it or choose a career in it is about much more than that.
I myself never saw unicorns. I grew up around wine, but not great wine by any stretch. My parents drank it every day, and we had a wine cellar, but they never did like the concept of expensive wine, let alone expensive wine they couldn't drink for a decade or more.
Posted: October 29, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
Ketan Mody is a sort of modern-day Thoreau. He's 31 and lives in a one-room cabin on the top of Diamond Mountain that he built from the ground up. His sentences are coated in transcendentalist residue, made modern by his Midwestern-tinged California drawl and affection for the f-word. He's a representative of a new Napa Valley; that cabin sits on a piece of land that he will begin planting to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc next year, to supply his Jasud Estate label.
On a recent trip to the Napa Valley, I ended up at a small gathering at Mody's cabin with a number of young people working in the wine industry in Napa, including Dan Ricciato, 34, the assistant winemaker at Outpost on Howell Mountain, and Christina Turley, 28, responsible for branding and marketing at her family's winery, Turley, and a new Turley Cabernet project called The Label.
Napa, in my eyes, hasn't always embodied the sort of raw enthusiasm and sense of possibility that's drawn me to other regions around the world. Part of that is my own prejudice, certainly. When I first got into wine, the thought of Napa Valley conjured images of middle-aged men and women wearing linen and sipping oaky Chardonnay on a veranda. It didn't carry with it the sort of edgy, counter-cultural allure of some of Europe's less-trodden regions. It was, to be frank, uncool.
But that's changed. I've changed. Napa has changed. I've never felt quite as inspired by this region as I am today. And it turns out I am not alone.
Posted: October 25, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
"The VCR changed everything, because it's the first time in history that kids knew how to do something their parents didn't," declared Tyler Balliet, the founder of Wine Riot. VCRs explain Millennial wine habits, he contended as we talked over beers (there would be time for wine later, at the Riot), because the generation between 21 and 34 doesn't need to take purchasing cues from the tastes of elders or "authorities." No one online lacks for information coming at them on every platform, from Twitter to ads in their own inboxes. "All other generations are information seekers; we're information sorters."
Balliet's company Second Glass began Wine Riot in Boston in 2008 when he was 28; by the end of this year, the traveling circus of a walkaround tasting will have stopped at six cities: Boston, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, New York and L.A. He now reaches 15,000 drinkers annually through the Riot—virtually all under the age of 40. Among the habits of Millennial drinkers nationwide, one is the thirst for education. Another is the draw of wine at a younger age than earlier generations felt it. The third is a greater open-mindedness to wines from all places, all grape varieties.
So you have a huge, growing segment of drinkers who supposedly don't trust ads, don't care about reviews, don't know much but are eager to learn, and would rather do so by hopping around the world of wine than picking a favorite Cali Cab and sticking with it. How do you market to these crazy people?
Posted: October 24, 2012 By Tim Fish
California Merlot falls into three basic categories: the easygoing values, the expensive Cabernet-wannabes and that big void in the middle that’s a stylistic roll of the dice. For my annual Merlot report, I tasted nearly 200 wines, and I give the lowdown in the Nov. 30, 2012, issue of Wine Spectator.
Since the high-tech proletariat seems to throw around the most weight on the Internet, I thought I’d focus today on Merlots that cost between $10 and $20. In years past, that has not always been easy, but the 2009 vintage is so good that even the value Merlots are tasty. (A few early-release 2010s show promise as well.)
Posted: October 24, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
Some of us believe that Duke Ellington was America's greatest composer, even though he wrote in an idiom that many people then (and now) do not consider serious enough—jazz. His being something of an outsider, both because of his race and his musical genre, probably prompted his most famous quote, that "there are only two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind."
It's a telling remark, one that resonated with me the first time I ever heard it as a music student. I like to quote it today, when the diversity of the music we can pipe through our iPod earphones covers a range even the Duke couldn't imagine.
The same could be said about our favorite beverage. We can experience a wider choice of good wines today than ever before. And we are having the same kind of arguments over how to define good wine as those we had over just what constituted good music in Duke Ellington's day, or today, for that matter.
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