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Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Let the Consumers Decide if Natural Wines Are Popular

An interview with Kermit Lynch asserts that ripe wines are off the menu, but sales don't bear that out

Posted: October 30, 2013  By James Laube

Last week, while in New York for the Wine Spectator Wine Experience, many people brought up Kermit Lynch's interview in the New York Times, in which he discusses high-alcohol wines, the 100-point rating system, terroir and natural wines, among other hot-button wine topics. I have a few thoughts of my own to offer …

Lynch isn't much a fan of California wine, yet it appears that he disqualifies himself from passing judgment on the mere basis that he hasn't and doesn't follow California's wines as closely as many. His import business is based in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, run by a Napa vintner, Bruce Neyers, and I suspect Lynch pays far greater attention to California wine than he allows. He is, after all, a businessman who competes against California.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

When Did Clean Become a Dirty Word?

A spin through the Wine Experience proves good wine doesn't need funk for character

Posted: October 29, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

Am I the only person dismayed at how the discourse about wine seems to have devolved into posturing about whether this particular wine is "natural" enough, or that one has enough "authenticity"?

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

Pierre Lurton Talks Yquem Magic

Sneak peaks at the newest releases from Château d'Yquem show amazing quality

Posted: October 24, 2013  By James Molesworth

With the 2013 New York Wine Experience about to kick off tonight, it's no surprise to see a few vintners strolling through the Wine Spectator offices today. I sat down with Pierre Lurton this morning to get a sneak peek at the two newest releases from the famed Château d'Yquem—both the 2011 Sauternes and 2012 dry white.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

Remembering Burgundy's Patrick Bize

An honest and inviting winemaker who shared his sophisticated taste in wine and music

Posted: October 24, 2013  By Bruce Sanderson

The wine world lost a talented winemaker when Patrick Bize died Sunday. Patrick was genuine, warm and had a great sense of humor.

I had the good fortune of visiting Patrick twice in the past four years at his domaine in Savigny-lès-Beaune, where he made terrific reds and whites from an assortment of villages and premier cru parcels. He also bottled a little Corton-Charlmagne and Latricières-Chambertin.

His wines reflected his personality: Frank, honest, warm and inviting.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

What's a Unicorn Wine?

Parsing sommelier speak

Posted: October 24, 2013  By Jennifer Fiedler

If you pay any attention to sommeliers and winemakers on Twitter, you will have noticed increasing postings over the past couple of years about something called "unicorn wines."

Here, a picture of Mouton 1928 from New York's NoMad sommelier Thomas Pasturnak, with the caption, "truly special and a legit #unicornwine." Here, a picture of Darting Pinot Meunier Pfalz Trocken 2010 from San Francisco's Acquarello sommelier Davis Smith, with the caption, "Now THIS is a #Unicornwine. And it's delicious."

What, you ask, unites these wines?

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Do I Smell Mocha in this Wine?

I find the caffè mocha aromas of coffee and chocolate in today's wines much more frequently than those of yesteryear

Posted: October 23, 2013  By James Laube

"Mocha" has worked its way into my vocabulary as a wine descriptor over the past decade or so. I use it in reference to the aroma of a caffè mocha, particularly that dusting of cocoa powder on top of the foamed milk.

I first used "mocha" as a tasting descriptor in the magazine in 1998. In 2000, it appeared in 43 Cailfornia wine reviews and 150 Wine Spectator reviews from around the world; in 2005, it appeared in 134 and 246, respectively. So far this year, "mocha" has popped up in 232 reviews of California wines (out of more than 3,700 total), and it's been used in 614 reviews of nearly 20,000 wines around the world, so it's not just me: Mocha's popularity as a tasting descriptor is at an all-time high.

But where does that mocha aroma come from?

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

12 California Merlots for $20 or Less

Good quality comes at a fair price if you shop wisely

Posted: October 23, 2013  By Tim Fish

Snidely debating what wine is "in" and what wine is "out" is a favorite pastime of industry insiders. First, Merlot was in, and then it was out. In and out, in and out-you get whiplash after a while. How much of that trickles down to consumers is hard to say. I'm not sure they care.

The 2010 vintage in California certainly didn't show Merlot at its best, and it's too early to call the 2011s, which are just being released. For my annual Merlot report, I tasted more than 180 wines, and I offer my take in the Nov. 30 issue. Despite the challenges of recent vintages, there is a solid selection of California Merlots on the market that sell for $20 or less. These are wines that can compete with values from Argentina, Portugal and Washington state.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

Liberté, Egalité, Sobriety

A proposed law in France would change wine from cultural treasure to public health threat

Posted: October 22, 2013  By Mitch Frank

Imagine France without wine. Bizarre, non? Wine is so associated with French culture, you would think they invented the stuff. Man has been making wine for thousands of years, but the French made it big business, refining it and marketing it to a thirsty world.

While the image of French wine has arguably never been stronger, especially in young markets like China, the French don't drink nearly as much as they used to. But lifestyles have changed in other ways; the French don't linger at long meals with a bottle or two like they used to, and young people don't see wine as a staple.

When wine isn't seen as part of a meal or something with cultural value, then it becomes just another alcoholic beverage. Maybe it's not so surprising that the French Senate is considering a bill that would impose new restrictions on wine.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Oregon Pinot Noir 2011

A meditation on finesse and transparency

Posted: October 18, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

The 2011 Pinot Noirs from Oregon are going to polarize wine drinkers. Vintners will tell you how much they love their 2011s. They expect that those who value deftness, lightness and delicacy will too. But if you want consistency, clearly delineated flavors and a sense of presence, you might be disappointed.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Are You a Consumer, Collector or Absolutist?

When it comes to wine lovers, everyone has a style

Posted: October 16, 2013  By Tim Fish

I was a newspaper reporter for 20 years and one of my biggest challenges was figuring out what readers wanted to read and what I thought they needed to read. Neither is simple, although the Net makes the first easier. The number of clicks a story gets can give you an idea of what readers want to read. Deciding what they need to read is trickier. There’s a thin line between helping your readers learn more and blatant demagoguery, especially when it comes to areas in which a level of expertise is required like wine or food, or art, gardening and sports for that matter.

Figuring out what wine lovers want and need to read is sort of like agreeing on the best baseball team as the World Series approaches. We all come at it from different angles, and even after the trophy is taken home, the argument lives on.

The "World Values" story in the Oct. 15 issue of Wine Spectator makes the coin flip easy. My colleague Kim Marcus highlights 100 great value wines from around the world, grouped by region. Here are some of my favorites from the story, broken down by region, because you can find great values everywhere.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

If They Only Had a Brain

With one piece of mail, New York government aimed to further limit wine shoppers' choices instead of expanding them—and the state's coffers

Posted: October 15, 2013  By Robert Taylor

This past August, the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) quietly issued a cease-and-desist letter to New Jersey's Wine Library, one of the largest retailers in the Garden State and a popular wine source for many New Yorkers.

The SLA ordered Wine Library to stop shipping wine to New Yorkers, a practice that is technically illegal but that has been happening for years without complaint or repercussion. Cease-and-desist letter or not, the ban is practically unenforceable-the SLA simply doesn't have the manpower to adequately monitor interstate sales.

Because of the letter, Wine Library and a few other out-of-state retailers indicated they would stop selling wine to New Yorkers. New York retailers worried that they would start receiving similar letters from alcohol authorities in other states, as a form of retaliation. Since then, however, there's been nothing but silence from the authorities, and Wine Library has continued shipping wine to New York.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Lessons in Opening Mature Wines

Be prepared—you never know what you might find

Posted: October 14, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

Whenever I plan to serve older bottles of wine, I always pull an extra bottle or two from the cellar, even if they aren't the same wine, to be ready in case the first disappoints. Individual wines often don't age as well as expected, or hoped. And inevitably, cork taint or maderization from some percentage of bad corks will force you to pour away some bottles.

All this is part of the fun of opening older wines you've saved for a while. And that's why, when my Welsh friend Mr. Jones finally accepted my longstanding invitation to raid my wine cellar on one of his visits to San Francisco, I opened four bottles for the four of us to drink over dinner (not counting the sparkling wine aperitif): Gaja Barbaresco 1986, Quintarelli Valpolicella 1982, Louis Latour Chambertin 2003 and Beaux Frères Pinot Noir 2002.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Buddy, Can You Spare 10 Bucks for a Good Wine?

It’s a big fun world of wine when it comes to finding values

Posted: October 9, 2013  By Tim Fish

In my family there's a long line of cheapskates, balanced only by those few individuals who plowed through cash like so many dead leaves. Both sides of that genetic coin taunt my mind when it comes to buying wine. "I want a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape" goes up against, "No, they've gotten too damn expensive!"

The "World Values" story in the Oct. 15 issue of Wine Spectator makes the coin flip easy. My colleague Kim Marcus highlights 100 great value wines from around the world, grouped by region. Here are some of my favorites from the story, broken down by region, because you can find great values everywhere.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Reminiscing on a Day Immersed in the Pinot Noir Harvest

Thirty-four years ago, I worked one day of the Carneros Pinot Noir harvest

Posted: October 8, 2013  By James Laube

Before I made wine, I picked grapes.

Yesterday I relived my first harvest as I watched a crew pick a Pinot Noir vineyard in Carneros. The first time I picked grapes was in 1979, when I joined a team harvesting Pinot Noir at Winery Lake Vineyard, not far from where I watched yesterday morning's harvest.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

The World's Most Exclusive $20 Wines: Brunello

For some wine categories, the price of entry is too high for most, but daily-drinking alternatives can send out the vibes of the real deal

Posted: October 8, 2013  By Ben O'Donnell

Brunello di Montalcino, the pure Sangiovese in the heart of Tuscany's wine country, is an expensive wine to make. Land is pricey and there's not much to go around. Producers are required to sit on inventory for two years in oak and four months in bottle—but the expected protocol is that the wines not reach the market until five years after the harvest. It's a cost passed on to the consumer: You're hard-pressed to find a bottle under $40 on the shelf.

Two Tuscan value categories can offer an impressive alternative to Brunello: Rosso di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Charles Woodson's Training Camp Hobby Becomes a Second Career

The All-Pro safety's first releases of TwentyFour by Charles Woodson Napa Cabernet earn outstanding marks

Posted: October 4, 2013  By James Laube

Charles Woodson, whose 2009 Calistoga Cabernet earned outstanding marks in last week's California Tasting Highlights, owes at least part of his fascination with wine to the Oakland Raiders. The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted in the first round in 1998 by the Raiders, who hold their training camp in the city of Napa, gateway to the valley. During a visit to Napa recently, Woodson presented all of his wines dating to the 2001 Merlot and the Cabernets from 2005 to 2009. All of the wines were exceptional.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Technique Vs. Terroir

California and Oregon winemakers put terroir to the test with an interstate Pinot Noir exchange

Posted: October 2, 2013  By James Laube

Terroir can be an endlessly entertaining intellectual exercise. There’s little denying the role of the winemaker in creating any wine, but how does one measure that against the signature of the site? Here’s how a trio of Americans put terroir to a hands-on test.

The ground rules for the Cube Project were simple: three winemakers, three vineyards from three appellations, from three different vintages, 2010 to 2012. Each of the winemakers—Thomas Houseman of Anne Amie in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton appellation, Andrew Brooks of Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros and Leslie Mead Renaud of Foley Estate and Lincourt in Santa Barbara—shared 6 tons of grapes (2 tons each) from their respective vineyards, resulting in nine different wines each year. Each winemaker determined the pick date of their vineyard, all from Pommard clones, meaning each winemaker started out with grapes at the same level of ripeness, measured in sugar, or Brix.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

A Bass With a Taste for Power

Exploring wine bar offerings with opera star Ildar Abdrazakov

Posted: October 1, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

Ildar Abdrazakov is a Russia-born bass currently singing the title role in Boito's lavish Mephistopheles at San Francisco Opera. He makes a dashing devil, all muscle and menace on the surface, his singing sonorously suave. And, as an opera lover, I could not forgo an opportunity to add him to my singer friends, most of whom I have gotten to know because of our mutual interest in each other's fields of work.

Shortly before opening night, my wife and I met him and our mutual friend for drinks and snacks at St. Vincent, a terrific wine bar about midway between our home and the opera house. We settled in and left it up to the savvy staff to pick some interesting wines for us. Partly, I wanted get a handle on Ildar's palate, especially which kinds of wines he likes.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

Burgundy’s Catch-22

A special derogation allows growers to buy grapes. Or not

Posted: September 27, 2013  By Bruce Sanderson

On Sept. 24, the prefecture of the Côte d'Or passed a bylaw allowing growers in Burgundy who were affected by the July 23 hailstorm to purchase grapes or must from the 2013 harvest to make up for the loss of their crop.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

A Minority Opinion on 'Somm'

This wine movie is boring and cold

Posted: September 25, 2013  By James Molesworth

I've been catching up on my wine movies lately, with both A Year In Burgundy and Tu Seras Mon Fils (You Will Be My Son) earning a thumbs-up. I realized though that I never pitched in my two cents on the most recent darling of the genre, Somm. From a strict movie perspective, Somm is quite boring...

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