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.
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.
Posted: January 15, 2013 By Robert Taylor
Wine is a funny commodity. As with fine art, a smart investor with a sharp eye, a secure cellar and a little luck could buy a few cases of wine today that, 20 years from now, might pay for their child's college tuition. (Unlike fine art, wine has to be destroyed to be appreciated.)
But for a select few wineries around the world, their bottles tend to double or triple in value as soon as they leave the cellar door, no investor patience required. That group expands and contracts depending on the latest wine ratings, the economy and vintners' efforts to keep release prices in line with demand without overstepping the bounds of fiscal good taste—bounds that are leapt across with abandon when so-called "flippers" resell their allocations to wealthy wine lovers who are happy to pay through the nose for highly rated hard-to-find wines. Like it or not, flip happens.
Posted: January 11, 2013 By James Laube
Not surprisingly, New World wineries have more openly embraced twist-off closures than Old World producers, who still rely heavily on cork for sealing their bottles.
Much of what defines New World winegrowing relies on advances in technology, and while wine closures are less about technology, they reflect a mindset among vintners that recognizes the shortcomings of corks as well as the viability of their alternatives.
According to our statistics based on wines reviewed in 2012 by Wine Spectator editors, 91 percent of New Zealand's wines were bottled under twist-off, followed by Australia (67 percent), Oregon (23 percent), Argentina (14 percent), Washington (12 percent) and California (8 percent).
Posted: January 10, 2013 By Robert Taylor
How much would you pay for a bottle of California Sauvignon Blanc?
The only wine from that category to ever earn a classic rating, the 2007 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley (96 points), cost $29, and the current vintage, 2011, is $30. So would you pay more than 8 times that for a bottle of Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley? No? Well what if I told you that you could immediately turn around and re-sell it for 10 times that price? (That's more than $2,500 for a single bottle of Napa Sauvignon Blanc, for those still trying to do the math, at a profit of $2,250 per bottle.)
Some list members sold their wines, and a few months later, there were some angry people who had been kicked off the mailing list.
Posted: January 9, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
Leave it to us privileged foodies to complain about getting too much. The complaint-of-the-month club's latest rant, careening about the Interwebs, zeroes in on famous chefs who keep us strapped to our chairs in their dining rooms, force-feeding us dozens of exquisite courses.
Really. I am not making this up. (Except for the part about being strapped to our chairs.)
Posted: January 9, 2013 By Tim Fish
The wine world reminds me of high school sometimes. The cast of characters and social structure is really not all that different.
Posted: January 8, 2013 By Mitch Frank
Whether you find it wonderful or intimidating, we can all agree wine's variety is plentiful. Well, maybe not. A recent study asked: Who owns all those brands on the store shelves? Is wine really a business of thousands of small family wineries, or is it just as corporate as spirits and soda?
Posted: January 7, 2013 By Bruce Sanderson
This past November, I attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 14th Bacchanal Wine Gala and Auction, which raises money for art student scholarships. Each year, PAFA honors members of the wine industry. Last year, one of the honorees was Pio Boffa, the affable owner of Pio Cesare in Italy's Piedmont region. I sat down with Boffa to discuss some changes he made in the vineyards and cellar at the company his great grandfather founded in Alba in 1881.
Boffa began working with Bordeaux consultant Denis Dubourdieu after the two were introduced by Pio Cesare importer Maison, Marques & Domaines in 2010.
Posted: January 7, 2013 By Talia Baiocchi
I don't know a lot of things, but I do know that decisions are hard and adulthood isn't exactly as advertised. I also realize how right my grandfather was when he said to me, when I was seven years old, "Don't worry, 'cause nothing's gonna be OK." He was a cynic, no doubt, and it was a half-humored resignation to doom and disappointment, but I interpret it differently. I see it as a wise acknowledgement that things never really go according to plan. Timing isn't everything; rolling with it is.
This is my eleventh column for Wine Spectator and, sadly, as less-than-ideal timing would have it, it's also my last.
Posted: January 4, 2013 By James Laube
The number of California wines flawed by apparent cork taint (2,4,6-trichloroanisole, otherwise known as TCA) fell in 2012 to its lowest level since we've been informally tracking this controversial issue starting in 2005.
Roughly 3.7 percent of the 3,269 cork-sealed wines from California that we tasted in the Wine Spectator office in 2012 were thought to be tainted by a bad cork.
Posted: January 3, 2013 By Harvey Steiman
Recently I was enjoying lunch with some friends in one of New York's classier Italian restaurants. Asked to pick an appropriate white wine to drink with the antipasti, I scanned the excellent list and homed in on Terredora Greco di Tufo Loggia della Serra 2010, made from an ancient grape variety grown in vineyards surrounding Mt. Vesuvius in the Campagna region of Italy. I knew the wine from previous vintages. It typically shows more depth than most, while retaining the grape's natural freshness.
I tasted it and smiled. Exactly what it should be, no cork problems. Poured around the table, it got almost unanimous approval. Except for one person, a veteran of many years selling Italian wines. He complained that he hated it when Italian winemakers used oak on wines traditionally made to be fresh.
That stunned me. I tasted no oak, and gently suggested that he try another sip. "I don't like it," he insisted. "It's too oaky." The kicker? The wine was made in stainless steel.
Posted: January 3, 2013 By Mitch Frank
Everyone at my end of the table thought we knew what the wine was. We were all wrong.
The object of our confusion was a bottle sitting a few feet away, covered in a sheath of tartan wrapping paper. We all had some of the wine in our glasses. A few of my friends thought it was a California red, maybe from Sonoma County. Ron was pretty sure there was Cabernet Franc in it, thanks to a taste of tobacco leaf. I tasted it too, but I thought the wine was from France—maybe a Right Bank Bordeaux made from Merlot and Cab Franc.
Bryant, the charming (and apparently devious) friend who brought the wine, unwrapped the bottle. Inside was the gift of humiliation—a bottle of Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Coastal Region 2009—from South Africa.
Welcome to wine's most humbling game—the blind tasting.
Posted: January 2, 2013 By Tim Fish
Why do people bother with New Year's resolutions? The first of January at the gym, for example, brings a blitzkrieg of the hopeful, the annual posers and Pollyannas of fitness who occupy every damn machine for weeks. But by February they abandoned their resolutions and inevitably return to their couches and Cheetos.
But since I don't want to come off as an absolute cynic, I do have a few goals. (Isn't "goal" a synonym for "resolution," you ask? Semantics shemantics! Google it yourself.) Here are a few of my goals for 2013.
Posted: December 31, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
On Saturday, Dec. 15, Gilt restaurant, which earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list in 2011, closed its doors for good.
The restaurant, located in the New York Palace Hotel, joins chef Alain Ducasse's Adour at the St. Regis and chef Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon inside the Four Seasons as the third fine-dining restaurant lodged inside a luxury New York hotel to close this year.
In a city where chef's counters are the new fine dining and white tablecloths are practically extinct below 14th Street, upscale hotel bars and restaurants are forced to rethink their approach to drinking and dining. And Gilt beverage director Patrick Cappiello will be keeping that in mind as he plans to restore the Palace Hotel's Villard Bar to its former glory.
Posted: December 27, 2012 By James Laube
Before the bottles start popping as we welcome 2013, I've got one more list to check off. (Check out my previous blog post for my list of California Winemakers Who Made a Difference. Here are 10 wines from the Golden State that excited me for one reason or another in 2012. A couple made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Some of the linked reviews are from my colleagues, or older notes for reference. Pay less attention to the ratings. One could easily sort out the top-rated wines by numbers, but these go beyond ratings, so I've listed them alphabetically.
Posted: December 27, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
At the Penfolds Nuriootpa winery in Barossa, you can crush 22,000 tons of grapes. At Chateau Ste.-Michelle, 2.8 million cases of wine go out the door every year. If you are Peter Gago or Bob Bertheu, head winemakers at Penfolds and Ste.-Michelle, respectively, how do you even process and track so much stuff, let alone make it good?
"That's why God created Microsoft Excel, I guess," replied Bertheu. I asked four winemakers who head up large-to-massive operations that produce dozens of different cuvées in all price ranges, from $10 quaffers on up to the storied $600 Penfolds Grange. In my previous post on the subject, I gave a sense of the scale of the task and wrote about how the four keep tabs on their growers and grapes through harvest. Now I'll explain how they juggle as many as 52 different wines at once.
Posted: December 26, 2012 By Tim Fish
Here it is, the day after Christmas, and you're tired and bloated and probably broke. Ho Ho Ho! With the holiday bills coming due, that broke feeling might not go away for a while.
If you're like me, you drank only the good stuff over the holiday, and now 'tis the season for post-holiday belt tightening, or at least it will be as soon as we survive the New Year. With that in mind I put together a Belt-Tightener's Top 10 of California wine. There are five whites and fivereds and none of the bottles cost more than $20.
Posted: December 26, 2012 By James Molesworth
On my last full day in Bordeaux, the sun finally came out. What a tease. Because instead of kicking the dirt in the vineyards today, I was back inside, sitting down with Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire to taste a vertical of Château Larcis Ducasse. Vertical tastings always make me wish I could taste the old vintages when they're young and the young vintages when they're old, and that was just as true today. The oldest four vintages were all beautiful wines, that showed divergent vintage character while surviving extended cellaring thanks to the force of terroir. The youngest vintages showed how the property is getting a dust off and reemerging to reclaim its position among the elite of St.-Emilion. Here are my scores and tasting notes for 19 vintages of Larcis Ducasse, beginning with the 1955.
Posted: December 24, 2012 By Talia Baiocchi
Thomas Calder may be one of the most important men in French wine you've never heard of. He's an American export agent living in Paris who, like many brokers, is the forgotten link in the caravan of characters responsible for bringing wine from a vintner's cellar to our homes.
He has "discovered" (and he insists the word be wrapped in quotes) some of Champagne's brightest new stars like Cédric Bouchard (Infloresence and Roses de Jeanne), Dominique Moreau of Marie Courtin, Emmanuel Lassaigne of Champagne Jacques Lassaigne and Jérôme Prévost (La Closerie). Beyond Champagne, he represents Gerard Boulay in Sancerre, Vincent Paris in the Northern Rhône and Thomas Pico of Domaine Pattes Loup in Chablis, along with several others that make for a book that represents a new generation of classic French vignerons.
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