Posted: June 6, 2012 By Tim Fish
You could actually get a glass of rosé at this year's Auction Napa Valley. And why not? It was a beautiful, warm afternoon on Saturday. I remember an auction back in the late 1990s and it was so sweltering under the tent that I thought of a classic line from Biloxi Blues: "It's Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot."
That day, people were practically crawling across the Meadowood lawn like it was the sandy Mojave in search of something cool and refreshing. And all they could find was Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Warm Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. They could have raised $100,000 on a single chilled bottle of rosé that day. I would have chipped in.
Posted: June 4, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
I had not seen Aldo Conterno, the legendary Barolo producer, in more than 20 years. I had made an appointment to visit him at the winery outside the town of Monforte d’Alba while on vacation with my wife. We drove up to the hilltop building on a showery Monday morning in April. Aldo’s son Giacamo met us and conveyed his father’s regrets that he could not be there. He was in a hospital recovering from pneumonia.
Late last week, when the sad news reached us that Aldo was dead at 81, I flashed back to a sunny day in the late 1980s when I first visited him at the winery. We sat in the warm courtyard after the obligatory tour of the cellar and a drive through the vineyard, and talked about the revolution that was under way in Piemonte.
Posted: May 30, 2012 By Tim Fish
Zinfandel has gotten more expensive in recent years, there's no arguing that. Zin vines will crank out buckets of wishy-washy juice if you let them, but it takes effort and time and money to make great Zin.
That's particularly true with the 2010 and 2011 vintages, in which Zin makers faced every plague but locust. Good Zins from those vintages selling for less than $15 or $20 a bottle will be few and far. In my annual report, "Zinfandel Elegance" in the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator, I was so concerned about the challenges and quality of those vintages that I didn't give readers enough good advice on value.
Consider this the makeup test.
Posted: May 29, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
Few things make me grumpier than encountering words that have been twisted to mean something other than their original intent. Wine is apparently not immune to this scourge. And I’m not talking about innocent confusions, such as acidic (the tartness of grape acidity) vs. acetic (the flavor of vinegar). Or the wholly unnecessary distinction that wine textbooks make between aroma (that part of a wine’s smell that comes from the grape) and bouquet (from winemaking), a technical nuance useful to winemakers but not really to those of us who just want to drink and enjoy wine.
Posted: May 23, 2012 By Tim Fish
Sonoma can't be done in one day. It's a big, rambling county that's twice the size of its neighbor Napa and has a patchwork of winegrowing regions that would put any GPS to the test.
I've lived in Sonoma County for 23 years and have watched it evolve and mature. It has become more upscale but retains much of its unpolished charm. Traveling the local wine roads all these years, I'm a veteran tour guide, which came in handy while we were working on the June 15 cover story for Wine Spectator, "Exploring Sonoma: An Insider's Guide." Here are a few highlights.
Posted: May 22, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
My donation to the Central Coast Wine Auction this year included some California Cabernets from decades long past, which were contributed to a fantastic charity dinner.
I have had great bottles of mature California Cabernet Sauvignon on many occasions, but seldom a lineup as consistently rewarding and educational as this one. All eight bottles were in great condition and they perfectly represented their eras, their vineyard sources and their house styles. When you’re dealing with older wines, that’s luck.
This was the annual dinner wherein my friend Archie McLaren and I dig into our cellars for the wines to pour in a San Francisco restaurant. This time we ferreted out four California wines each, offering two from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Chef Jan Birnbaum from Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco came up with an inventive menu for the all-red wine roster.
Posted: May 18, 2012 By James Laube
The more I taste the 2009 Napa Cabernets and 2010 California Pinot Noirs, the more I like them.
Posted: May 16, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
On vacation, with stops in Paris, Lyon, Piemonte and Liguria, my wife and I mostly avoided high-profile restaurants and opted for less-expensive wines. Still we ate well and drank a satisfying array of local favorites.
Highlights included a Paul Bocuse project and the "best tajarin ever," at Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco.
Posted: May 16, 2012 By Tim Fish
Milla Handley was making Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley before it was cool to be there. She has championed that remote valley in Mendocino County since launching Handley Cellars in 1982, back when winemaking there was just taking baby steps.
"In the old days, we were using old dairy tanks for fermenters," Handley said. "And we weren't sure we could get still wine grapes ripe or not."
Things change in 30 years. Anderson Valley has matured and is now considered one of California's best spots for Pinot Noir. Handley recently marked her three decades in the business by opening a few older wines from her extensive cellar.
Posted: May 15, 2012 By James Molesworth
I'm heading out on vacation tomorrow, for a few days of golf in South Carolina to recharge the batteries. When I get back, I'll be focusing on the bulk of my Rhône tastings, before heading over there for two weeks in June. But as I clear my desk today, I found myself thinking about tasting notes.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I write a lot of them. Several thousand a year for the magazine, plus my own short-hand notes when I'm in cellars or tasting informally. I don't pen a note for every single wine I taste. I think you need to be able to enjoy wines unencumbered from time to time. But I do write a lot of notes.
Posted: May 14, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
Just back from two weeks in Europe, with stops in Paris, Lyon, Piemonte and Liguria. Intentionally, I scoped out relatively modest restaurants rather than anything trendy or luxe. (More about those in a future blog.) Thus, for the most part, my encounters with food and wine were blissfully free of attitude or pretension.
I promised my wife that I would not allow work to impinge on vacation. There was, however, one notable exception, when the volatile issue of "natural wines" reared its head and I had to deal with an awkward situation. I am an agnostic on natural wines, neither insisting upon drinking them nor avoiding them. For me the issue is always how good the wine is to drink, and all the better if it offers something beyond a pleasant way to wash down dinner.
Posted: May 9, 2012 By Tim Fish
The line to taste the Château Margaux 1999 at Saturday's Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas seemed to stretch all the way to the Hoover Dam. Even though the 1999 vintage wasn't particularly outstanding for Bordeaux, it was a rare chance for some wine lovers to taste a well-cellared first-growth.
Not everyone is blessed with opportunities to taste great wines. Watching the crowd that night I started thinking about the wines I'd line up to taste. You might say it would be my bucket list, you know, the inventory of things you want to try before you kick the bucket. When it comes to wine (and food, for that matter) what would I put on my list?
Posted: May 8, 2012 By Bruce Sanderson
To celebrate the relaunch of the Lanson Champagne brand in the United States, chef de cave Jean-Paul Gandon and brand director Enguerrand Baijot hosted a vertical tasting last month of a dozen vintages reaching back to 1959.
Posted: May 3, 2012 By James Molesworth
I sat down with Margaux Pariente in my office yesterday. The newest generation to work at her family's Château Troplong-Mondot in Bordeaux's St.-Emilion, Pariente is relatively new to the wine business, young, energetic and passionate about her wine. She was in New York to work the market a little bit and she admitted finding the reaction to Bordeaux a little surprising.
Posted: May 2, 2012 By Tim Fish
At first glance, things in Northern California wine country are sleepy right now, but there's more going on than it seems.
Budbreak—when the first green leaves appear on the vines—started in early April. Temperatures in recent weeks have been generally in the mid-60s to low-70s, which is average or slightly below, and there has been plenty of sun, but the season is running a little behind normal. Bloom—when the tiny flowers open on the vines—should start in about three weeks or so.
Posted: April 26, 2012 By James Laube
There's talk of a pending grape shortage in the Golden State, and with it, the prospect of rising prices. Don't be concerned unless you exclusively buy California wines.
If California wine prices continue to rise—and that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon—they will do so because of heightened demand. Typically that means brand by brand. As it is, California has long lagged the broader wine market when it comes to value anyway. People looking to get the most from their wine dollars shop across borders and oceans.
Posted: April 24, 2012 By James Laube
I'm finishing a retrospective tasting of 2002 California Cabernets this week, most of them from Napa Valley. Revisiting wines you reviewed seven or eight years ago is the best way to evaluate how the wines are aging and recalibrate drink recommendations.
It can also be a minefield of second guesses. There is one thing, however, that becomes obvious to those of us who routinely revisit wines we rated years ago: You can't replicate the moment.
Posted: April 23, 2012 By Harvey Steiman
Someone could write a treatise on why some researchers seem hell-bent on proving that wine experts are full of it. The most recent is a study by John E. Hayes of Pennsylvania State University and Gary Pickering of Brock University in Ontario, Canada. Early news coverage was along the lines of "all those expert wine reviews are meaningless because most of us can't taste that stuff anyway.”
My colleague Ben O’Donnell reports on the actual paper. Having read the study, my take is that it falls in line with others of recent vintage that purport to show that experts can’t differentiate high-quality wine from rotgut, or that we always prefer a wine identified as more expensive.
Posted: April 18, 2012 By James Laube
For the longest time, Bordeaux has been the envy of most vintners everywhere.
Its wines have history, tradition and prestige and are often in great demand. The top classified-growths produce thousands of cases that command top-rung prices. Most of the elite wines are sold before they're even bottled. As a business model, it has few peers.
Yet apparently it's not perfect. Last week, Château Latour announced it would abandon the long-time tradition of selling wine futures, a move that sent shock waves through the Bordelais wine trade, primarily because of Latour's status.
Posted: April 18, 2012 By James Molesworth
During my two-week run through Bordeaux to taste the newly released 2011 Bordeaux barrel samples, I had the opportunity to stop in at Vignobles Gonet-Médeville, the multi-property winery owned and run by the husband-and-wife team of Xavier Gonet and Julie Gonet-Médeville. The highlights here included a vertical of Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête dessert wines going back to 1949, including the 99-point 1967. Here are my notes.
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