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Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

Can Sonoma Finally Get Its Act Together?

After years of herding cats, the county may be on the verge

Posted: January 30, 2013  By Tim Fish

The wine regions of Sonoma County don't play well together.

It has been that way since I can remember and I've lived there for 25 years. Being a stubborn bastard is a rich tradition in Sonoma County for some reason. I think it dates to those grumpy old Italian farmers who spawned the local wine industry. Everything had to be their way, even if they didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

Sonoma County's American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) aren't much different. Each region has been so busy promoting itself that the big picture is fuzzy. What brings this up is a new effort by Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance (SVVGA) to rebrand Sonoma Valley—the area in the southeastern part of the county.

Blogs  :  Bruce Sanderson Decanted

Back to Burgundy: Previewing the 2011 Vintage

I'm back in France for my annual tour of Burgundy, with my first stop at the small but growing négociant firm of Mischief & Mayhem

Posted: January 30, 2013  By Bruce Sanderson

I'm back in Burgundy for my annual trip to visit growers and merchants, this time to taste the 2011 red and white Burgundies. Many of the wines I will taste are still in barrel, not yet racked or treated with SO2. This is a good time to assess the young wines of the region. Others may have been racked and assembled in tank, with sulfur added, in preparation for bottling. Some may have been bottled already. I will note the various stages of the process in as much detail as possible.

My first stop was at the growing négociant firm of Mischief & Mayhem. Here are my scores and tasting notes.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

Direct Effects

A state-mandated study of winery direct shipping in Maryland yielded overwhelmingly positive results for consumers and the government

Posted: January 29, 2013  By Robert Taylor

When Maryland state comptroller Peter Franchot presented a "Study on the Impact of Direct Wine Shipment" to the state's General Assembly this past December, it confirmed everything direct-shipping proponents have been saying since the 1980s: Direct shipping offers consumers greater choice, brings more tax revenue in for the state, and poses no credible risk of increased underage drinking.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Rust en Vrede

One of South Africa's top red wine estates is expanding its exciting lineup of Cabernets and Syrahs into more single-vineyard offerings

Posted: January 29, 2013  By James Molesworth

From the slopes of the Simonsberg, I swung around from Kanonkop to the other other side of Stellenbosch, up against the Helderberg, an equally dramatic mountain that provides part of the constantly jaw-dropping view around these parts.

At Rust en Vrede (for background, see my March 2007 blog entry from a visit here), decomposed granite from the Helderberg mixes with sandstone from Table Mountain to form a yellowish, fine-pebbled soil. With the site protected from the prevailing sea breeze, it's decidedly warmer than most, so red wines are all that are made here, with an emphasis on Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Kanonkop

My Big Red Day on the Cape began with a show of Pinotage at Kanonkop

Posted: January 28, 2013  By James Molesworth

Pinotage is a troubled grape—difficult to grow and vinify, never really very charming, yet held up by many in South Africa as the Cape's signature variety. Its plantings have dipped a bit in recent years in favor of more international varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it seems to never have grabbed a foothold in the U.S. market, which Cape winemakers desperately want to crack open. Yet despite that, it still holds a significant place in the hearts of the home folks. And at Kanonkop, it sees arguably its best expression.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

Shirley Sarvis, Food and Wine Explorer

Sarvis, who died last week at 77, opened the door to critical examination of why food-and-wine matches work

Posted: January 28, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

When I heard that Shirley Sarvis died last week at 77, it brought back memories of when I first started to investigate wine and food connections. It was the 1970s and not many of us were writing about it. Wine writers sometimes commented briefly on good matches when they came across them, but seldom tried to explain why they worked. Fewer food writers ventured into writing about wine. Sarvis was one of the rare kindred souls who had sound grounding in both camps.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Raats

Bruwer Raats is experimenting with viticultural techniques seen nowhere else on the Cape

Posted: January 25, 2013  By James Molesworth

Bruwer Raats now has vines literally right next door, as he's planted the parcel that surrounds his house-cum-winery. Raats has sourced Chenin Blanc vines from France, preferring a clone called Montpellier that he found a scant amount of in the Swartland and fell in love with for its naturally low vigor, small berries and loose bunches.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: De Morgenzon

Chenin Blanc and Syrah star at this growing Stellenbosch estate

Posted: January 24, 2013  By James Molesworth

A relative newcomer to South Africa's Cape wine scene, De Morgenzon has been quickly churning out some superb value Chenin Blanc and Syrah offerings, and has some new bottlings up its sleeve. Owned by Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum, who bought the estate in 2003, De Morgenzon debuted with the 2005 vintage. It has really taken off since the 2010 vintage, when they hired winemaker Carl van der Merwe, formerly of Quoin Rock.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

How to Win a Wine and Food Championship at the Super Bowl

New Orleans offers myriad food and drink options for anyone coming to the big game; here's my cheat sheet

Posted: January 24, 2013  By Mitch Frank

New Orleans is a little insane right now. Maybe that sounds silly describing a city where it's not odd to witness a brass band marching past your front porch, with your neighbors dancing behind it. But New Orleans is a little more insane than usual right now. This year, wedged tightly in the middle of the Carnival parades that start Friday, the NFL has brought the Super Bowl to town.

Are you coming for the game? Good. (If not, pay attention, because you should visit soon.) It's not hyperbole to say that New Orleans is one of the greatest cities on the planet in which to celebrate. If you enjoy good food, wine, beer, cocktails and music, it is hard to go wrong. Here are some tips for making the best of a trip down here. This isn't a comprehensive list of the best places to eat and drink. It's a handy cheat sheet for anyone coming to watch the 49ers and the Ravens, or just coming to enjoy our insanity.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Glenelly

Owner May-Eliane de Lencquesaing and winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain bring a Bordeaux influence to the Cape

Posted: January 23, 2013  By James Molesworth

The last time I was in South Africa, in 2007, all Glenelly was was an idea. It was basically a hole in the ground and a large crane. Now, the cellar is finished, the vineyards planted and winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain has settled in nicely.

The estate, purchased in 2003 by former Château Pichon Longueville Lalande owner May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, was planted in 2004 and began making wines with the 2007 vintage, combining some purchased fruit with estate-grown grapes. Since 2010, all the bottlings are from the estate's 148 acres of vines, which are now producing a hefty 25,000 cases annually, with plans to max out around 32,000 cases.

O'Cuinneagain is a good fit: He trained in Bordeaux and brings that mindset to Glenelly, which is focusing primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, though Syrah, Chardonnay and other grapes are in the mix.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

A Beautiful View for Value

Revitalized Buena Vista's first releases are promising for wine and history lovers

Posted: January 23, 2013  By Tim Fish

The list of California wineries that reliably produce a good range of tasty values has been growing short for years, but there's a new player now. Well, "new" is misleading since the producer in question is Buena Vista, the oldest commercial winery in the state.

Yet in nearly every sense Buena Vista is a new player, and is now releasing a promising lineup of very good wines selling for $25 and less. For those of us who have watched what the historic Sonoma winery has gone through during the past 25 years, it's a welcome development.

Since 2001 alone Buena Vista has been through five owners. That's right, five. That's a recipe for wine disaster, but the owner now is Boisset Family Estates, a major wine player in Burgundy that's reinvigorating a number of California wineries.

Blogs  :  James Laube's Wine Flights

Snitching on Bad Corks

Don't bite your tongue when your nose tells you a bottle is off

Posted: January 23, 2013  By James Laube

I've had cork on the brain of late. Despite that we found the lowest failure rate yet among natural corks for newly released wines in 2012, many potentially great wines end up spoiled in one way or another. With that in mind, it's worth pointing out that there are matters of etiquette when it comes to wines tainted by bad corks.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Reyneke

At Johan Reyneke's biodynamic estate in Stellenbosch, grapevines share the workload with Jersey cows and earthworms

Posted: January 22, 2013  By James Molesworth

"Howzit, howzit, howzit?" enthusiastically asked Johan Reyneke as I walked up to his Stellenbosch winery. The wiry, flip-flop-and-sunglass-wearing, well-tanned owner of Reyneke Wines is both laid back and ebullient at the same time. "Come on man! Let's go look at my new cows."

A new pair of female Jersey cows have been brought in to augment the herd at this biodynamically farmed estate located in the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch, and they've found a home with the herd of native cattle. They're all part of the biodynamics program at this improving Cape estate.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

The World's Most Exclusive $20 Wines: Classified Sauternes

For some regions, it seems darn near impossible to find a bottle under $40, but the crafty shopper can get a taste of the greats for much less

Posted: January 22, 2013  By Ben O'Donnell

Walkaround wine tastings and by-the-glass pours are a bit like movie trailers. You catch a glimpse of what to expect. Probably you can even tell whether you like it enough to buy a ticket. But to see the full picture, so to speak, you need to see how the wine drinks with food, how it develops in the glass and the cellar. You need multiple screenings.

Unfortunately, when tickets start at around $40, "moviegoing" becomes an expensive hobby. For many wine regions and styles in the world, this is about the entry-level price for a bottle in the U.S. market. But it's possible to get a sense of the techniques in the vineyard and the winery, the grapes, the quality of the vintages and even a bit of the terroir of the greats without dropping more than $20 on a bottle-benchmarking on a budget. In an earlier post, I recommended crémant de Bourgogne from Burgundy's "Golden Gate" as a cousin to Champagne and Lirac for a taste of what Châteauneuf-du-Pape is all about.

I'm going to take a slightly different tack here. You can benchmark on a budget for Sauternes by drinking ... Sauternes.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Bartinney

Rose Jordaan's Stellenbosch up-and-comer has a new winemaker set to bring Bartinney to new heights

Posted: January 18, 2013  By James Molesworth

On the Banhoek mountainside, opposite Thelema, is Bartinney, a new face on the South African wine scene.

"A new face?" asked owner Rose Jordaan, looking at Ronell Wiid, her winemaker. "Maybe some old faces," she joked. "But they are lines of happiness."

Bartinney is a former fruit farm that had been in Michael Jordaan's family (Rose's husband) for generations, but had been sold off. Michael, a Johannesburg-based banker, bought the family property back in 2006 and it quickly became a labor of love for Rose.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Thelema

Day 1 begins with a visit to Thelema, where I toured the vineyards and tasted with winemaker Rudi Schultz

Posted: January 17, 2013  By James Molesworth

Up and at 'em on my first full day back in the Cape since 2007, and I couldn't think of a better place to start than at Thelema, the estate of Mr. Precision, Gyles Webb.

Webb is enjoying his veteran winemaker status, spending a bit more time fishing and boating these days. His son Thomas, 36, continues to take on responsibility, while winemaker Rudi Schultz, 43, has been on board since 2001. Rudi has been joined by his brother Werner, 41, who has helped oversee the vineyards since 2008.

Blogs  :  Harvey Steiman At Large

An Australian Turnaround?

Signs point to renewed interest as Wine Australia touts diversity

Posted: January 17, 2013  By Harvey Steiman

It looked as if it were just going to be another trade tasting, a collection of importers sampling familiar wines to the trade. Wine Australia, which promotes Aussie wines around the world, expected about 150 sommeliers, retailers and wine media to the event in San Francisco Monday. More than 351 accepted the invitation.

The buzz there was palpable. Imagine, San Francisco sommeliers, notorious for seeking the most obscure wines they could find, excitedly sipping Margaret River Chardonnays, Hunter Valley Sémillons, even a Mornington Peninsula Dolcetto. And yes, Barossa Valley Shiraz. In recent years, as Australia's fortunes took a hit, one could hear crickets chirping at this annual event. Not this time.

Blogs  :  Mixed Case: Opinion and Advice

How Much Do You Need to Know About Burgundy?

No, really, how much? (Because there are a lot of things to memorize!)

Posted: January 17, 2013  By Jennifer Fiedler

What's the best way to get a rudimentary understanding of Burgundy as a wine region? Jennifer Fiedler talks to Burgundy expert David Gordon about learning the ins and outs of Burgundy, from villages to vintages.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

South Africa Diary: Back to the Cape

Six years later, a return visit to South Africa's vineyards and wineries

Posted: January 16, 2013  By James Molesworth

I'm loading up on espresso in the Swiss Air lounge, waiting for my flight to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town. It's my first trip to South Africa since 2007, and it's safe to say things have changed since then.

I'll be traveling around the Cape for the next two weeks, visiting wineries throughout Stellenbosch, the Cape's wine center, as well as Paarl, the frontier-like Swartland, lush verdant sector of Constantia and out to Walker Bay and beyond. They drive on the left side of the road on the Cape, so I've hired a driver. That way I can focus on the vineyards and the people behind the wines, rather than fiddling with a GPS while driving myself. Since I taste in my office, these trips are more to kick the dirt and get to know what goes into the wines, technically and spiritually, via the producers who put the hard work in. So follow along here on the blog for notes on the producers I visit with, along with my Twitter and Instagram feeds for additional snippets, pictures and sometimes witty one-liners. As always, if you have questions, post them here or to my forthcoming blogs and I will try to get back to everyone in due time.

Blogs  :  Exploring Wine with Tim Fish

History with a Heartbeat

Here’s to Charlie Barra and all the unsung heroes of California wine

Posted: January 16, 2013  By Tim Fish

We get so caught up in chasing the hottest new thing that we forget sometimes to recognize the modest heroes, those unsung and unfussy souls who have quietly gone about the business of making good wines year after year.

Charlie Barra is one of those people. At age 86, Barra is the dean of Mendocino County wine and one of the last of a breed. Born during Prohibition and just at the dawn of the Great Depression, Barra is a part of California's wine history, having worked with some of the key players while leaving his own mark along the way. He's a character worth knowing.

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