Posted: March 11, 2013 By James Laube
Recently, my colleague Harvey Steiman tackled many of the issues, pro and con, of blind vs. non-blind tasting. One aspect I'd like to address is one that's rarely discussed: the cost of staffing and staging blind tastings.
Over the course of more than 20 years, Wine Spectator has developed a methodology for our blind tastings, one designed to keep them independent, consistent and fair to the wines. When you factor in the costs of handling nearly 20,000 wines each year, that methodology costs serious money.
Posted: March 6, 2013 By Tim Fish
It seems like I've driven all over Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties the past few weeks. We're busy this time of year researching stories for the summer issues, and there always seems to be a vineyard to visit or a winemaker worth knowing better.
I may be in a hurry to get where I'm going, but I try not to take the beauty of wine country for granted. It's like something you've seen in a movie, which of course you probably have. California's wine regions have been featured in a surprising number of Hollywood films and TV shows over the years.
Posted: March 5, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
Recently, several prominent wine writers argued on Twitter in a contentious back-and-forth with me and others that blind tasting was bad. It's tasting without context, they said. I am not setting up a straw man here. Here are some of their actual tweets:
"Why should wine routinely be tasted blind, devoid of context or perspective? Why deprive those who would judge it of that information?" contended Bruce Schoenfeld, who writes a wine column for Travel + Leisure magazine.
"I question whether blind tasting … can uncover the most compelling and virtuous wines," read another comment from Jon Bonné, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Posted: March 5, 2013 By Jennifer Fiedler
Earlier this winter, Château Margaux managing director Paul Pontallier travelled to New York to present ongoing experiments involving organic and biodynamic viticulture, as well as experiments with screw caps. Coming from a famed first-growth, this is something of a big deal in the wine world.
Margaux, of course, isn't the only winery in the world taking steps toward organic or biodynamic farming (the chateau has not used herbicides or insecticides for the past decade-only fungicides to prevent rot) or considering adopting screw caps, but on account of its first-growth status, you could say that it might have more to lose than most. After all, why fix something that's not broken?
To answer that—and this may be a bit of a leap—let's look at what's been happening recently in big-wave surfing.
Posted: February 28, 2013 By Ben O'Donnell
There are some superlatives virtually everyone in a community of enthusiasts locks up in a bejeweled memory box, to be opened and shown off on occasion. Your fastest mile, if you're a runner. Your SAT score, if you're a try-hard. If you're a wine freak, one superlative you can trot out is your oldest wine, a snapshot of a different world of wine than we inhabit, less and less likely to be revisited as bottles fade and disappear.
The oldest wine I've ever drunk was a 1947 Porto Rozes. This was at the Dînner des Grands Chefs that Relais & Châteaux puts on every year; last winter's was in Manhattan, and 45 chefs cooked at stations around the perimeter of the ovoid Gotham Hall while guests ate in the middle. Daniel Boulud, Gary Danko and Jean Georges Vongerichten manned the stoves. Waitstaff paraded out cradling child-sized bottles of Pommery. The Port needed no fanfare, being the age of India, Israel and the CIA.
Perhaps there's no substitute for the real thing in this case. (I previously recommended bargain alternatives to Châteauneuf and Champagne from their kin terroirs: Lirac, across the Rhône, and Burgundy's "Golden Gate.") But as I told Sauternes lovers on a $20 budget, sometimes the real thing is just the thing for your wallet.
Posted: February 28, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
A new American Viticultural Area is being considered for one of the most distinctive terroirs in America, one that has produced unmistakably great wines. Unfortunately, most of the actual wines won't be able to use it.
On an old riverbed south of the town of Walla Walla, cobblestones litter the ground, in some areas totally obliterating any view of the soil. Locals have taken to calling this part of the Walla Walla Valley AVA "The Rocks." Vines struggle to grow, resulting in tiny grapes of amazing flavor intensity. And yes, the wines show the sort of flavors that fall under the heading of "minerality," although to my taste it's more like black olive and tar.
The stones drew Christophe Baron to plant grapes in the region, just north of the town of Milton-Freewater, Ore., starting in 1997. He named the vineyard Cailloux, French for stones, and planted six others in the area. They produce the grapes for his highly coveted Cayuse wines, no stranger to the Wine Spectator Top 100.
Posted: February 27, 2013 By Tim Fish
Zinfandel lovers won't be happy to hear that winemaker Ehren Jordan has left Turley Wine Cellars after 18 years, but if you've followed Jordan and the impressive work he has done at his own winery, Failla, it should come as no surprise.
"Most people think Helen is still making the wine anyway," Jordan laughed, referring to Turley's short-tenured first winemaker, Helen Turley, the sister of owner Larry Turley.
In the past two decades, Jordan and Larry Turley together crafted what I think are some of California's most impressive and iconic Zinfandels. You'll find Turley wines on the best restaurant wine lists in the country. They are full-flavored, powerful yet refined, and express the distinctive character of Zin and the classic old vineyards from which they come, like Hayne in Napa Valley, Ueberroth in Paso Robles and Dogtown in Lodi.
Posted: February 26, 2013 By Robert Taylor
We Americans have access to more wines today than ever before. Your local wholesaler carries a vast array of wines from which your local retailers select their inventory. If you can't find what you want that way, in 39 states and Washington, D.C., you can order a bottle from a winery in another state. Wherever you live, you could likely drink a different bottle of wine every day for the rest of your life. Call me greedy, but I don’t think that’s enough.
Say you're trying to track down a bottle you want from Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 Wines of the Year: 69 percent of the Top 100 wines from 2006 to 2012 were imported.
Your local wholesaler or state liquor authority decides which, if any, of those imported wines are available to you. If they don't offer it, and you live anywhere other than the 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, that permit out-of-state retailers to ship directly to consumers, you're out of luck.
Posted: February 25, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
Sommelier Mark Bright poured a splash of Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée as I settled in for an 18-course dinner at Saison in San Francisco. "We welcome all our guests with Krug," he said, a clear message that this is meant to be a luxury experience, if the credit card deposit of $248 per person didn't already do that.
That's pretty ambitious for a restaurant that started life only three years ago as a pop-up. Its first brick-and-mortar incarnation in a tiny Mission District space got two Michelin stars in the most recent San Francisco guide, and chef-owner Joshua Skenes could fill a trophy case with rising star chef awards. The new location, in a historic building a block from the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park, ups the ante with a unique, spacious design, a longer menu and a price tag that puts it among the most costly in the U.S., even more than the long-venerated French Laundry in Napa Valley.
Posted: February 25, 2013 By James Molesworth
It's summer in South Africa. I've got a tan and I'm in my element—kicking the dirt amidst the vines and talking to winemakers.
So how fitting is it that after nearly two weeks of of checking out bush vine Chenin Blanc and comparing granite and schist soils, my very last visit her would be to the most Francophile one of the lot, Vins d'Orrance. As I walked down into the dimly lit cellar at the Steenberg winery, a few bottles were standing up on the head of an upturned barrel. It was an SRO tasting, and one right out of any Rhône cellar that I've ever been in.
Opening the bottles was Christophe Durand, 45. Broad-shouldered, Normandy-born and English speaking with a distinct French accent, Durand arrived in South Africa in 1995 while selling Gillet and Darnajou barrels to the local market (his first client was the rugby player-turned-cult Pinot Noir producer Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof). It was here he met his wife, Sabrina, who is from Durban. Now married 10 years, they work together on Vins d'Orrance, which he started in 2000.
Posted: February 22, 2013 By James Molesworth
Located just next door to Klein Constantia is Buitenverwachting (bay-tun-veer-vak-ting). It's always been one of my favorite South African names, but alas, market pressures have forced them to change their label: Bayten will now be in large font on the labels in the U.S. market, with the winery's historical name shrunk to fine print. I say, "Boo." After so much time with the original label, I would have liked to see them stick it out and not worry about tongue-twisting their customers.
But at least the wine isn't changing. This is still one of the top Sauvignon Blanc producers on the Cape, along with excellent Chardonnay and a characterful Bordeaux blend. Lars Maack, 46, is the owner of this 370-acre property, which has an ample 260 acres of vines. For background, you can reference my notes from my 2007 visit here.
Posted: February 21, 2013 By James Laube
If you're wondering why there are suddenly so many exciting new wines, look no further than the NFL. Last season fans saw the impact of the youth movement on today's game, and a similar thing is happening in wine.
Posted: February 21, 2013 By James Molesworth
Klein Constantia is one of the Cape's most historical wine estates. But if may be seeing more change now than it has in its entire history, which dates to its founding in 1685.
The Jooste family, which resurrected the estate in the 1980s, sold in 2011 to a pair of international businessmen, as well as a pair of Bordelais, Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and Bruno Prats, who folded their Anwilka joint venture into the new ownership structure.
Located in the verdant Cape Town suburb of Constantia, which gets considerable rainfall (63 inches annually) and has a lush appearance thanks in part to its many stately homes, Klein Constantia is a 370-acre estate with 200 acres currently under vine. The property produces primarily white wine and production now stands at 33,000 cases, with plans to eventually reach 60,000.
Posted: February 21, 2013 By Robert Taylor
After years of legal struggles culminating in a 2005 Supreme Court decision, wine lovers in 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, can buy directly from out-of-state wineries. The trend seems to be to continue removing restrictions: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are considering bills to become the 40th and 41st states to permit wineries to ship directly to their residents.
But for U.S. retailers, the trend has gone in the opposite direction. Only 14 states currently permit their residents to order wine from out-of-state retailers, down from 18 states in 2005. Now, Nebraska is considering a bill that would hamper retailer shipping, which has been legal there since 1992, and require retailers to have their list of brand offerings pre-approved by the state’s liquor control commission.
Nebraska State Senator Russ Karpisek introduced Legislative Bill 230 in January, which would have limited direct shipping to "manufacturers" (wineries) only. Nebraska's original law—among the earliest measures addressing direct shipping—permitted “persons” licensed to sell alcohol to obtain a shipping license, wording chosen long before online wine retailers became a force in the market.
Posted: February 20, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
Over a casual dinner of sardine chips, pasta with bergamot and steak with chimichurri and mushrooms at the new Rich Table in San Francisco, Wolf Blass' Chris Hatcher brought me up to date on what his end of the company had been up to. Never among the biggest wines on the block, Wolf Blass has always aimed for balance and drinkability without losing the ripe flavors Australia can do so well.
We tasted three examples of what's coming next. The first wine encapsulated in a single sip the overarching trend in Australian wine today. Wolf Blass Chardonnay Adelaide Hills White Label 2010, silky in texture, graceful, expressive but not at all weighty, tasted like biting into a raw heirloom apple, getting complexity more from maturing on lees in older barrels than from oak. The first word that came to mind was "deft."
Posted: February 20, 2013 By James Molesworth
The road up to David Trafford's place in Stellenbosch is an adventure. The road out to Sijnn, his second project, in Malgas, is something else entirely. It's a 2.5-hour drive from Walker Bay, with over 45 miles of gravel roads. The constant clanging and thumping of rocks underneath, along the side and occasionally off the windshield of the car drown out any music you might have on the radio.
But of course, it's worth it.
Posted: February 20, 2013 By Tim Fish
My birthday isn’t far off and maybe I’m just getting ornery in my old age, but I’ve been thinking about my wine pet peeves lately. Wine Spectator editors pondered theirs in the Jan. 31 - Feb. 28, 2013 issue of the magazine but I left out a few of mine. Here’s a fleshed out, even crankier list.
Posted: February 19, 2013 By James Molesworth
Continuing the family tree lineage from Hamilton Russell, winemaker and owner Kevin Grant started his own Ataraxia Mountain after leaving Hamilton Russell in 2004, following a 10-vintage run there. Located a 20-minute drive up the valley from HR, at the highest elevation in Hemel-en-Aarde (1,300 feet, versus 600 feet for Hamilton Russell), Ataraxia is located in the newly created Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward, a windy site with a convoluted mix of convex and concave hillsides, though the soils are very similar (clay/shale) to what's down below.
Posted: February 19, 2013 By Bruce Sanderson
Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson is blogging from Burgundy as he previews the 2011 vintage. Some of the wines he is tasting have yet to be racked, while others have been assembled in barrel but not yet bottled; consequently, scores are given in ranges as these are unfinished wines that will continue to be refined before being bottled.
Today he tasted the 2011 lineup of Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays at Lucien Le Moine. Here are his scores and tasting notes.
Posted: February 19, 2013 By Jennifer Fiedler
Since Matt Kramer wrote his excellent (and extremely popular column) on "How to Taste Wine" this past December, I've been giving some thought to the term "complexity," which he considers to be one of the six most important words in wine tasting.
True complexity in a wine, he wrote, is the ability to return to the glass and find something different in it each time, and further, a sense of uncertainty or surprise about what you find. It's a neat idea and one that really resonated with me, especially about the element of surprise.
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