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Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

What's Your Oldest Wine?

I'll start …

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.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

New Walla Walla AVA Faces Rocky Road

Washington vintners who use grapes from "The Rocks" won't be able to put it on their labels

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.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Ehren Jordan Departs Turley Wine Cellars

The longtime Turley winemaker will focus on his own winery, Failla

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.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

You Can't Buy That From Here

Wineries can ship a bottle of wine to consumers in 39 states and counting. So why are retailer shipping rights going in the opposite direction?

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.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

My Dinner at Saison in San Francisco

A thought-provoking evening at an ambitious new restaurant

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.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Vins d'Orrance

Christophe Durand brings a French attitude to the Cape

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.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Buitenverwachting

Lars Maack's estate offers some of the Cape's best values in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

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.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

The Youth Movement Is Changing Wine for the Good

More young winemakers are coming on the scene, with greater skill sets

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.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Klein Constantia

Klein Constantia, one of the Cape's most storied estates, is no stranger to change

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.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

National Fight Over Retailer Wine-Shipping Resurfaces in Nebraska

Are new measures to restrict online wine sales a sign of more struggles to come?

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.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Wolf Blass Reflects Where Oz Is Going

Always deft in style, the wines are getting more specific

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."

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Sijnn

Out to the boonies to see David Trafford's Sijnn project in the remote Malgas Ward

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.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

6 Things I Hate About Wine

Here's a full parade of my pet peeves with the world of vino

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.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Ataraxia

Chardonnay is the main attraction at Ataraxia as owner and winemaker Kevin Grant awaits his Pinot Noir vineyards to mature

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.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

2011 Burgundy Preview: A Cellar Full of Gems at Lucien Le Moine

Mounir Saouma's counter-culture winemaking ideology has paid off in 2011, with potentially classic Pinots and Chardonnays

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.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

The Trouble with "Complexity" in Wine

We keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what you think it means

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.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Hamilton Russell

Anthony Hamilton Russell and winemaker Hannes Storm specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but continue to experiment in their own backyard

Posted: February 14, 2013  By James Molesworth

Walker Bay wine history starts with Hamilton Russell, when Tim Hamilton Russell founded his winery in 1979. At that time, the wine industry was ruled by a quote system for production, and the early vintages of Hamilton Russell were made in a, shall we say, slightly clandestine manner, sourcing fruit from what are now the estate's vineyards, though at the time were not "legal."

Today the winery is one of the most recognized brands in the U.S. market, and rightfully so, as it has become the flag bearer for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from South Africa. Tim's son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, now runs the estate, zipping down from his house on his favorite motorcycle to the winery which sits at the bottom of the slope. In between are 160 acres of vines (the estate totals 420 acres) which often show the telltale band of red leaves along the base of the canopy that marks the leaf roll virus. The virus, which shortens a vine's lifespan and makes ripening difficult, is a fact of life on the farm, brought in with the original plantings. Hamilton Russell is constantly replanting and trying to stay ahead of the shorter life curve of his vineyard parcels.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Bouchard Finlayson

In the cooler climes of Walker Bay, Peter Finlayson makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Posted: February 13, 2013  By James Molesworth

After finishing up in the warm Swartland it was time to take in some ocean-fed breezes in one of South Africa's cooler wine regions, Walker Bay. Located less than two hours drive east from Cape town, along a beautiful coastal road and over a dramatic mountain pass, Walker Bay is the home of the Cape's best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers. Among them, is Bouchard Finlayson.

With his white beard and slow cadence, Peter Finlayson, 64, easily evokes the person of one of the Cape's elder statesmen. He earned his stripes at next door's Hamilton-Russell as that winery's first winemaker starting in 1979, at just 31 years of age and working alongside Tim Hamilton-Russell.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

2011 Burgundy Preview: Refinement and Balance at Bouchard Père & Fils

Christophe Bouchard's 2011 lineup of Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays includes potential classics from Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, Montrachet and more

Posted: February 13, 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 Bouchard Père & Fils. Here are his scores and tasting notes.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Fairview

Vintner Charles Back's Fairview and Spice Route operations set an example for the South African wine industry

Posted: February 12, 2013  By James Molesworth

A sit-down with Charles Back is like attending a State of the Wine Industry speech. Back, 57, is one of the South Africa wine industry's elder statesmen, though he still has plenty of pep in his step. He's one of its most respected leaders and one of its craftiest marketers as well. He combines quality in his Fairview wines with business smarts and a genial hands-on approach. Back has been and will continue to be critical to the success of South African wine.

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