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Page 2

 

 

 

WINE WRITER BITCHES AND MOANS
A local, reputable, hard-working importer began receiving e-mail articles from a west coast eno-scribe and he sent a note to the writer asking to opt out from receiving this fellow's writings.  He had wondered how the writer had gotten his e-mail address in the first place.  

The writer had been in France and had enjoyed a wine from a producer in this importer's portfolio and he wanted to write up this wine.  He claims to have attempted to contact the importer and that his queries went unanswered, much to his chagrin.  

Responding to the importer's request to be deleted from the "broadcast" of wine columns, the eno-scribe sent this to the importer:

but now that i know who you are and understand your mo, rest assured i will not bother you again....when i run across one of your clients on one of my frequent trips to france, i will simply scratch them off the list....just as i have deleted you now from my email list....
i do wonder, though, how you stay in business? this is a mystery to me.

Obviously the writer was offended by his e-mail requests not receiving a response.  In this day of spam filters and virus protection programs, one wonders why the writer, if he's really a "journalist," did not pick up an old-fashioned apparatus called a "telephone" to make an inquiry with the importer.  He could have searched on the internet for stores or restaurants who handle wine from this particular importer or winery, for example.

The writer, annoyed by the seemingly unresponsive importer, sent a note to the French wine and food marketing bureau complaining about the importer and insisting the winery be informed about the "bad representation" they are receiving.  He further moans and whines about having spent $3000 on his trip to France and the column he'd written highlighting this one little wine, was one of three columns produced as a result of his excursion:

I have also taken a financial hit on this as well. The trip to the Rhone cost me more than $3,000 out of pocket for my plane ticket and hotel in Paris and a few meals. So that comes to roughly $1,000 spent per the three columns I wrote on my visit to the Rhone.
 
Or, put another way, I tossed away $1,000 when I elected to feature the CHATEAU ANONYMOUS wine that was subsequently spiked. Had the importer given me the courtesy of a response, even to say that particular wine was not available, I could have recast that column and saved it.

The local importer was rather surprised by how angry the writer was, but was amused when he received a copy of an e-mail sent to the writer by the French marketing folks.

Dear Wine Writer XXXXXX,
 
Thank you for letting me know about this problem. I totally understand your point of view and I'm very sorry that things ended like that.
 
2 things :
 
First, I just wanted to let you know that I forwarded your emails to the winery in order to let them know the situation. They told me they would contact their importer (which whom they have very good relationship) to understand what happened.
 
Second, I don't understand the fact that you're telling us you spent money for your plane tickets : for me, we did pay for all the plane tickets so please explain me. We in fact paid for the entire press trip in the Rhne (plane, hotels, transportation, meals).
 
Thank you for letting me know and I hope this kind of situation won't appear again.
 
Best regards,

French Marketing Bureau Staffer

Isn't that interesting?
The writer is bitching about how much the trip "cost" him, when it was, in fact, paid for by a marketing bureau!!!
I wonder if the newspaper he writes for approves of this sort of "journalism."

I was reminded of another wine writer who masqueraded as an objective wine critic, as he would highly praise wines which were of questionable quality.  He built credibility as a "critic" by panning one wine in a portfolio.  Anyway, I recall he had written a column on the virtues of a particularly well-advertised sparkling wine from Spain, the trip for he and Mrs. Wine Critic being paid for by the winemaker.
In a follow-up column he'd written, Mr. Wine Critic was irate at being asked to pay $3 for a 187ml, single serving bottle of Glen Ellen Chardonnay on his free flight to Europe.  Gee, that'll ruin the entire trip, won't it?

I also recall another writer penning a column on a "scandal" in Bordeaux.  The scandal was he had been invited to a prominent dinner event at an estate in Bordeaux.  The poor guy was forced to drink copious quantities of the 1961 vintage red from the host winery, along with their current vintage.  What the fellow found "scandalous" was that he was served a Champagne with dessert instead of a Sauternes from down the road!

Of course, there's the story of a fellow who wrote a wine column for a Los Angeles newspaper of great repute.  The journal had one of its reporters do some research on wine writing in general. When the publishers read the results of this investigation and the lack of integrity on the part of its very own wine critic, the fellow was immediately dismissed.  A prominent New York paper also, years ago, dismissed its wine guru for having accepted the job of writing a small book about the wines in the portfolio of a national wine importing firm.

Caveat emptor, as they say!

 

WINE ADVOCATE CRITIQUES GERMAN WINES...
Imagine the scores if they liked the wines!
Issue 156 of The Wine Advocate features evaluations of some German wines from the 2003 vintage.

The wines are critiqued by Pierre-Antoine Rovani, Robert Parker's associate.  Wines are, as always, scored on a 100 point scale.  Those with 90-95 scores are considered "an outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character.  In short, these are terrific wines."

Mr. Rovani has a most interesting paragraph preceding the notes on the wines of Weingut Helmut Hexamer, a grower in the Nahe region:

"In eight years of tasting for The Wine Advocate, I've never encountered finished wines with such high levels of sulfur as some of Helmut Hexamer's 2003s.  In addition, I have never suffered to this extent in a tasting, getting monstrous headaches each time my nose approached a glass holding one of those SO2-riddled efforts (for those who've never experienced huge levels of sulfur, it is akin to being smacked in the forehead with a log--you can almost hear the thumping sound, in fact).  So, why did I subject myself to this torture?  Because, while it was unbearably painful, I could see that many of his wines had outstanding qualities.  As I'm convinced that there are levels of sulfur that wines simply cannot absorb, even with considerable cellaring, I've indicated those offerings that concern me the most with a question mark (after the score--editor).  Interestingly, importer Terry Theise acted as though he could not discern any sulfur in these wines, which means he's either exceptionally immune to it or deserving of an acting award."

You can imagine my surprise when I looked at the numerical scores for Mr. Hexamer's "unbearably painful" wines!  Mr. Rovani gives the Hexamer Kabinett Riesling an 88? as the lowest scoring wine in the review!  Four wines received 90 point (or 90?) scores, one a 92+ and the Beerenauslese earning a 93?.

We had tasted the Hexamer wines in the summer of 2004 and found them to be really delightful wines.  Neither Ellen, Bob or myself found these plagued by any off aromas, especially excess sulfur.

Just a while before writing this, I had the opportunity to taste a 2003 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese from the famous J.J. Prm.  Mr. Rovani described this as also having a "sulfur-affected character."  The character which Rovani finds so objectionable is, in fact, a leesy quality which, if you've ever followed J.J. Prm wines, dissipates with cellaring.  I have tasted really young samples from J.J. Prm and they can be awful!  Yet given two to five years of bottle aging, the wines start to blossom and you would not recognize them based on your freshly-bottled sample. 

In any case, the notion of describing having to taste a wine as "torture" and then giving it 90 points adds some measure of credence to Mr. Rovani's having been "smacked in the forehead with a log," doesn't it?

 

THE "WINE CHICK"
We spied a news release trumpeting the arrival of a new wine column on the internet.  This one is on a web site called "Your Life!" Magazine and it's written by Sandra Muller, who is also known as the "Wine Chick."

We are supportive of new wine proselytizers, but we think they ought to be able to write clearly and concisely.  They also ought to know what they're talking about.

Ms. Muller's writing, if you want to call it that, seems more like a presentation given by a school kid for Show & Tell.
"For those of you in the chardonnay rut. I know, you love that big full buttery flavor. It's like a meal in a bottle. But it is such a big bold wine that it tends to overpower a lot of wonderful meals that your having. Oh don't get me wrong it definitely has it's place. Like with BBQ chicken, guacamole, wonderful creamy chowders. But for other lighter meals such as anything with asian spices like Chinese food, Sushi, Thai food. Try a Riesling. Now I know some of you are thinking that Riesling is a "sweet" wine. Well some are. And you may be surprised to like them too! But most are a delightful wine of fresh green apple, melon, and honey flavors. With a dry finish, and a bit lower in alcohol. A wonderful way to start an evening with a light appetizer. Also the perfect wine to share with friends at your next Sunday brunch."
Ms. Muller urges readers to look for dry German wines which will have the word "Trokken" on the label.  Of course, the correct term in Deutsch is "Trocken."

Her column suggests wine for your next tailgate party.   We support this lovely suggestion, of course.   She advises readers to, essentially, kill two birds with one stone by buying wines which are a blend of two varieties, so you can minimize the number of bottles.
"We suggest a wine blend, as they are perfect for social settings and parties and everyone can drink their favorite variety without you having to buy several different bottles."
She recommends the wine brand called Luna di Luna since these come in six different colored bottles.  One is likely to be the color of your favorite football team's logo. 
"...a blue-bottled Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio, a red-bottled Merlot/Cabernet, a purple-bottled Sangiovese/Merlot, a yellow-bottled Pinot Grigio/Pinot Bianco, an orange-bottled Shiraz/Merlot and a green-bottled Chardonnay/Sauvignon."
Brilliant!

The Wine Chick wants to "be your friend through the fearful, scary world of wine.  I like to associate wines with situations, not foods...it's not matching wine with your food, it's matching wine with your mood."

Cute.

 

EXPANDING THE MARKET
You have to give the Gallo family credit for trying to expand the market for wine, especially their own.

We've long been critical of the wine industry for not marketing its product to the masses, showing (for example) people enjoying wine in casual, everyday settings.  Why not advertise showing folks enjoying wine with a "bucket of chicken," a take-out pizza or containers of Chinese take out?  

Instead most winery advertising depicts wine being served with fancy food which few people prepare on a routine basis.  

Give Gallo credit, though, for attempting to reach out to "new" markets with its Redwood Creek brand of wines.  A second label from their Frei Brothers operation in Sonoma, Gallo enlisted the services of the famous "Explorer's Club" to help promote its wines.  The Explorer's Club was founded in the early 1900's and has sponsored expeditions to the North Pole, South Pole, the depths of the ocean and, now, apparently, into California vineyards.

The club has an "exotic foods chairman" and this fellow, Gene Rurka, was hired to travel around the country to demonstrate how well various "foods" pair with the fine Redwood Creek bottlings.  If you've been wondering what wine to pair with a savory Scorpion main course, Redwood Creek winery will provide you with the ideal accompaniment!  For those hungry for Cricket, the Gallo family at Redwood Creek have your enological answer to the proper wine question.  I suppose the Pinot Grigio might pair well.  The "tour" stopped in a half a dozen American cities showing the curious what wines to pair with Elk Stroganoff.  We are unaware of any "Iron Chefs" participating in the food preparations.  But we are certain one needs an Iron Stomach for such a gastronomic feast.  And, having tasted some of the rather modest quality wines of the Redwood Creek label, a lead palate ain't a bad idea, either.

 

VINE TIMES
Marcia Hadler's name appears as the author of a column called "Bon Petit!" in this gratis, monthly journal.  I don't know if the column wears such a banner because Ms. Hadler is slim or not especially tall, so your guess is as good as mine on this one.

Her November 2004 column highlights a bunch of Carneros-area wineries which are having some sort of open house charity event.
Some of the descriptors in this column have us bewildered and bemused.

bulletBouchaine Winery
Specializes in Burgundian varietals, including Gewrztraminer and Ros of Pinot Noir.
The fact that Gewrztraminer is a Burgundian varietal will certainly shock those in and around the city of Beaune!

bullet Caneros Creek Winery (sic)
Consistent producer of high quality, award-winning Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots.
I know they make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir...and they used to buy Cabernet grapes decades ago...but not recently!
bulletMacRostie Winery and Vineyards
Homey, garage-style winery producing great Carneros Chards and Pinots.  A must-not miss!
Wow...homey and garage-styled?  Who lives in a garage?  Secondly, the term "garagiste" is typically applied to wineries producing minuscule quantities of wine and MacRostie produces 20,000 cases annually.


2004 ELECTION RESULTS: WINE DRINKERS VOTED FOR KERRY

One thing is clear after the 2004 Presidential election:  John Kerry did best in places where there's a major market for wine.   For the most part, President Bush fared well in places where wine is not a very popular beverage.

The West Coast, all in blue for Kerry, features hundreds of wineries and thousands of wine drinkers.  I have been told by European visitors that this area displays signs of "intelligent life" and "civilization."  We make wine.  We import wine from all over the planet.  We drink wine.  

East of Oakland, California (pretty much) you have a vast "red states" zone.  Places such as Utah.  No wine-drinking there to speak of.  Kansas?  Nope.  Nebraska?  Nope.  Missouri?  They think a vintage of fine Budweiser (beech-wood aged for that clean, crisp taste) is fine with dinner.  Kentucky?  Bourbon, please.  

Illinois has been working on developing a wine industry.  Chicago is, of course, a major wine market.  Michigan is home to a number of good wineries (some Rieslings are truly world class!).  They voted for Kerry.  
New York state has its Finger Lakes wine region.  Many wineries there.  New York City, of course, is a large wine market.  Maryland has a modest wine industry.  So does Pennsylvania.  Those states voted for Kerry.

I don't know what Virginia's story is, since there are some good wines there and that state went for Bush.

If the Democrats want to win the Presidency, perhaps they ought to sponsor wine-tasting courses all through the red states.  It's a thought.


HOW TO TELL IF YOUR PINOT NOIR IS BURGUNDIAN
Our friend Mel Knox, barrel broker to the stars, has come up with a simple test for New World (or old world, for that matter) winemakers allowing them to determine if, in fact, they are making Burgundian-styled wines.

SCORE ONE "PLUS POINT" FOR EACH YES TO THESE 5 STATEMENTS.
1.  Your wine is sold in wine shops and restaurants in Paris and Beaune.  (Extra credit for re-orders.)
2.  Importers in England pay you for your wine.
3.  Writers in France give your Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) high ratings.
4.  Burgundian winemakers debate what commune or climat your wine is from.
5.  Lalou gives you the name of her T-Shirt designer.

SCORE ONE "MINUS POINT" FOR EACH YES TO THESE 5 STATEMENTS.
1.  Ridge Vineyards winemaker Paul Draper tastes your wine and invites you to join ZAP (Zinfandel Addicts and Pushers).  When you get there, Ravenswood winemaker tastes your wine and high-fives you.
2.  Marcel Guigal says it's the best Chapoutier wine he has ever tasted.
3.  Randall Grahm asks if he can get some Nero d'Avola cuttings from your suitcase.
4.  The people at the World of Pinot Noir conference say you're a month early for the Hospices du Rhne event.
5.  Angelo Gaja introduces you to his sweater maker.


WINE WRITING
Years ago someone asked a Sonoma wine writer what "it takes to be an eno-scribe."  And the man responded with a simple and specific answer: "To be a wine writer, you need a pen."

A San Francisco Bay Area fellow (pictured to the left), Fred McMillin "writes" a column that appears monthly in a give-away paper called Vine Times.  It features his "picks" of wine in various price categories.  These laundry lists of wines do not even offer some descriptors of the various suggestions, only their name, vintage and price. 

Fred's October picks for "Red Wines Up To $15":
4th Place:  Pinot Noir, Mirassou, Central Coast, 2002 $11
3rd Place: Zinfandel, Pedroncelli, Mother Clone, 2001, $14
2nd Place: Merlot, Moro Bay Vineyards, Central Coast, 2001, $14
1st Place:  Electra Red Muscat (dessert), Quady, California, 2003, $10.50

Wow!  That must have been some flight of wines...imagine tasting a Pinot Noir against a Zin, against a Merlot against a sweet Muscat!  

The wine "writing" style of Mr. McMillin's internet articles is to quote some statements made by others and then taste some wines in order to "answer" the issue in question.  As Syrah wines have gained some popularity, McMillin organized a blind-tasting to answer the burning question of "Is Syrah Overtaking Merlot?"   McMillin writes:
"Just how good are the new, trendy Syrahs? Better than the Merlots? To get an answer, we paired 11 affordable California Syrahs with Merlots of the same vintage and price range."

They tasted Syrahs from such benchmark, trendy producers as Beringer's Founder's Estate, R.H. Phillips, Lockwood and Sobon Estate.  Merlots included came from such top labels as Chateau Julien (has this place ever made a good wine?), Beringer's Founder's Estate, Carmenet and the evening's overall favorite, Cinnabar.  Impressive!  
Merlot wines placed 1st, 4th, 10th and 11th (last place).  McMillin concludes:
"Syrah won seven of the eleven matches. Watch out, Merlot!"
That answered that burning question!!!


Mr. McMillin's column notes he "has been honored by the Academy of Wine Communications as one of America's 22 best wine writers."  I was curious as to who, precisely, the Academy of Wine Communications is.
Its web site indicates this is a group of "winery and public relations professionals dedicated to the promotion of wine journalism in the United States."  

Today there are 135 award winners.  Interestingly, top writers such as Gerald Asher of Gourmet Magazine and Bob Thompson (Sunset, former SF Examiner writer) are not cited on the list.  And of course Robert Parker's name does not appear on this list.
Since recognizing excellence in the field of wine coverage is a prime reason for the Academy of Wine Communications existence, our annual awards are key to our program. We recognize writers who treat wine as a natural complement to dining and promote its enjoyment in a wholesome setting of friends and family. Wine writing, Internet, and broadcast coverage are considered. The AWC looks for writers who:

* Educate the public, from neophytes to connoisseurs, on all kinds of wine
* Write in a graceful and approachable style
* Have the experience and breadth of knowledge to evaluate wines honestly and accurately in all their complexity.

I suppose fellows such as Parker, Thompson and Asher may not be "qualified" for such an award given the high standards.

 

A GLASS FOR EVERY WINE (and then some)
A regular participant in our Wednesday evening blind-tastings brought a set of these new Riedel glasses (can't call them "stemware," can you?).

I teased the poor guy for these, since they're definitely quirky.  I supposed the stems and base were dangling below the table.

But seriously, I know Riedel has glasses for Cabernet and Merlot, a design for Syrahs, another for Chardonnays, something new for Viognier, a stem for tasting Rieslings and the list goes on.

The new Riedel glass, depicted here, is part of their "O" series.

Who would have thunk Riedel would be making "the" glass for 7-Up, one for Coca-Cola and another for Pepsi?
   

As for possible marketing strategies for these:
1) "The perfect wine glass for little people."
2)  "You're gonna bust the stems off our glasses anyway..."
3)  "You said you only wanted half a glass..."
4)  "The 'eau' series...a glass for Perrier, one for Pellegrino, one for Badoit..."
5)  "You're offering the "o" and I'm supplying the "n," first."

 

ONE-POINT THIS and ONE-POINT-THAT
The big liquor company of Brown-Forman launched a couple of California wines aimed at those folks counting carbs as part of their dietary regime.

Any wine with less than seven carbohydrates per five ounce serving is entitled to the designation as "Low Carb" according to U.S. government laws.  That means, in essence, Chteau Lafite-Rothschild could make this claim on their labels, if they wanted.  You see, almost every wine has but three to four grams per serving.
But the Rothschild's are not chasing the market for fads, most of the time.  

Brown-Forman, on the other hand, is.  They are marketing One-point-Six Chardonnay and One-point-Nine Merlot.  We were, at first, fearful someone unclear on the concept of a wine critic's 100 point scale, had come up with this label.  

But, talk about truth in advertising.  

We bought a bottle of these to taste and all we can ask is "What's-The-Point"?

 

WINES BY THE NUMBERS
Someone in San Francisco is launching a new wine publication for those who don't care what the salient features of a wine are, just so long as the score is sufficiently high.

Called "QPR Wines," the publication offers readers nothing more than a laundry list of top scoring wines from "major critics" who are not identified.  

The wines are then listed by blocks of scores, starting with the highest.  The prices of all the 99-point wines are added together and then averaged.  Toss in a $1600 bottle of Chteau Petrus to take the average price of the 98 point wines to $475 a bottle and suddenly your $225 bottle of Loville-Las-Cases is highlighted as a "good value"!!!  When was the last time you spent a couple of hundred bucks for a "good value" bottle of wine?

With prices of Bordeaux, however, being so volatile, I can imagine some consumers are going to be unhappy reading about an $18 Bordeaux as a "great value," only to find it offered by most retailers for $30-$40.  

Life is so hectic, who has time to actually read the descriptions of wines?    We've long been allergic to buying wines based on numerical point scores (and unlike most retail wine shops, we don't sell wine based on these misleading scores), so it shouldn't be a surprise that we're picking on this sort of publication.  

There is a bit of prose included with the Bordeaux "assessments."  We learn that "Cabernet Sauvignon is the principal grape, but most Bordeaux is a blend of two or more varietals..." and that "White wine is also produced in small quantities using Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Ungi (sic) Blanc grape varietals.
That would be "Ugni Blanc" if anybody still uses it in Bordeaux.

Now I know why they minimize the verbiage and focus only on numbers, be they dollars or points.  


 

 

 

A "DINNER SHOWCASING THE WINES OF ROBERT WEIL"
We received an e-mail from a Colorado wine shop that is promoting a wine dinner "showcasing the wines of Robert Weil."  

Coordinating the wines is a "master sommelier".  The announcement tells us
"The food and wine matches are thrilling. The Robert Weil estate produces some of the world's best (and most expensive) Rieslings..."

So...there's a flute of Prosecco to start as an aperitif.  Robert Weil, apparently, has no suitable aperitif wine.

Next, with the Corn Soup they'll serve a Weil "Estate Riesling" Kabinett and an Oregon Pinot Gris.  

With the Soft Boiled Egg Salad and Shaved Summer Vegetables, a Weil Riesling "Erstes Gewchs" is offered alongside an Oregon Pinot Noir Ros.   

Something called a "Shaved Leg of Pork With Elephant Heart Plums" is then paired with a Weil "Kiedricher Grfenberg" Riesling Sptlese.  But they're also pouring a French red Burgundy and a Washington State Syrah.  I suppose this helps "showcase" the Weil wines???

Dessert, a Peach Tart with Pistachios is also paired with a sweet wine.  But not one from Robert Weil!  Nope.  To "showcase" Weil's wines, they're pouring a sweet Juranon wine from France.

So...recapping:  "showcasing Robert Weil wines"...pouring 9 wines...only 3 are from the "featured" producer.  

What am I missing???


HERE'S AN INTERESTING "FUTURES" OFFERING
A Wilmington, Delaware wine store is offering its customers a most curious "futures" opportunity.  

The store is allowing 120 customers to buy a bottle of the #1 Most Exciting Wine of The Year from the annual list of the "Top 100" printed by The Wine Spectator magazine.

Introducing "Frank's Wine of the Year Futures Program"! No one knows which wine The Wine Spectator is going to choose for the 2004 Wine of the Year, but I'm guaranteeing that you'll get a bottle of it or double your money back! Pre-order the Wine Spectator's 2004 Wine of the Year for $99.99 per bottle.....! The gamble is whether its going to be a $30 selection or a $125 selection, I hope not the latter.....or if it's going to be a widely available 75,000 case production wine or another 2,210 case production like last year's selection "Paloma 2001 Merlot", again I hope not the latter....or whether I'll actually be able to get it! Either way you'll be guaranteed to get one or I'll give you back $199.99! No other wine shop can make that guarantee!

I'm sure old Frank is hoping this year's wine is "Two Buck Chuck," so isn't he going to be sorry if they pick something like Chteau d'Yquem, a Lafite-Rothschild or Krug Champagne?  

 

WINE WISDOM or WISDUMB?
I remember a Sonoma County-based wine writer explaining the only qualifications for his line of work was having a pencil (and it ain't always a sharp one, either).

This is clearly demonstrated by a fellow who's the Tahoe Daily Tribune's food and wine writer.  
His July 28th column is amazing!
I will presume if you've found this web page you are in possession of a certain amount of knowledge about the subject of wine (this may be a false presumption, I realize).

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom imparted by Mr. Peter Arcuri:

bulletThere are three basic flavors in wine: fruit, alcohol, and acidity.
bulletSugar in wine is a by-product of the fermentation process.
bulletThe grape is the backbone for wine. One fruit flavor that is seldom used to describe wine is grape.
bulletWine cannot be achieved without alcohol.
bulletAcids occur naturally in the soils of vineyards, in grapes and through fermentation.
bulletMalolactic fermentation in Chardonnay, the secondary fermentation in wine, creates more malic acid (malic means fruit in Latin) than lactic acid (lactic means cream in Latin).
bulletGrapes need acidity to ripen.
bullet Acids are measured on the pH scale - positive (p) charged hydrogen (H) ions. The higher the number, the more positive charged ions. This results in greater concentration of acid.
bulletAcidity increases in cool weather and decreases in hotter weather. That is why cooler climate wine grapes make more crisp wines.
bulletTwo other tastes, not flavors, you will find in wine are tannin and oak.
bulletAmerican oak adds more vanilla flavor, whereas French oak is toastier.

 

I am not sure what more I can add other than I haven't seen that much lame information in such a small amount of text!  
We admire this fellow for his enthusiasm for wine, but enthusiasm and expertise are not synonymous.
The sad thing is, of course, many people are of a mind that if it's in print, "it must be true."  
Bear this article in mind (won't you please?) next time you're reading something about wine in your local paper or some wine journal.
Thanks.

 

P.O.W.'s: Prisoners of Wine???

The folks at Andronico's markets fancy themselves as a source of good wine and recently they featured the wines of Chile's famed Santa Rita winery.  Of course, there's a Correctional Facility here in California, not far from San Francisco, called Santa Rita, so some people may have trouble buying wine with that name on the label. 

Their article begins with some historical notes and we learn that Chile was
"more than a century ahead of South Africa in establishing its first vineyards..." and "...some 200 years before California."

The amazing part of the article is this:

"Some visionaries...founded Via Santa Rita in 1880 and promoted the introduction of the finest French vine stocks.  Following the advice of expert French penologists, he began producing wines..."

It turns out the article is part of the web site of the Santa Rita (winery, not jail) folks and this little error has been, as I've discovered, often copied and re-published by many who don't bother to proof-read.

In fact, I found a major importer of Greek foods and wines has an article on its web site:

"Competition, tourism, Greeces 10-year participation in the European Community, and a
new generation of penologists trained abroad have all helped to hasten this revival..."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times, as long as we're on the subject of "prisons" and "wine" reported in early 2003 that the state prison in Los Angeles County is removing fresh fruit from its meals in order to keep inmates from fermenting their own "wine," called "pruno."  The L.A. Times article even quotes a prison spokesman whose name is, believe it or don't, "Nipper."  

I'm not making this up!

In any case, I would think the appropriate term for these prison inmates who are fermenting their own wine would be "penologists."  
Meanwhile, Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm continues to produce copious quantities of his famed "Big House" Red and "Big House" White.  
But Randall is an "enologist," a winemaker.

 

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A HEAVENLY JOB, OR WHAT?
The fun-loving folks at Honig Cellars in Napa send out satirical postcards a couple of times annually to remind customers to buy their wines.  

A year, or so ago, they did a take-off on Charley's Angels with the card depicted on the left.

We were recently amused to see this "ad" posted on a wine industry web site as a new winery is looking for what had been known as "marketing" or "sales" representatives.  Now, apparently, they're known as "angels."

Cherry Hill Winery , a new Willamette Valley producer of premium pinot noir and pinot gris is seeking beautiful, wine knowledgeable spokespersons to be our wine Angels on the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. The Cherry Hill Wine Angels will represent our products in the marketplace at tastings, trade shows, charity events, and other promotional activities. Applicants must be 21 years of age and must submit a resume and photo to Cherry Hill Winery 7867 Crowley Road Rickreall, Oregon 97371. Please fax resume to 503-XXX-XXXX. Phone Ron @ 503-XXX-XXXX. E-mail michaelsweeney@sbcglobal.net. Web Site cherryhillwinery.com. Candidates selected will be invited to a complimentary overnight stay at the guest camp for a personal interview.

Qualifications:
Ability to learn about our wines and the terroir of our estate, a willingness to travel , a sales personality, an ability to articulate the qualities and tastes of our wines, charm, and a professional demeanor.
Salary Information: 10,000-50,000


I wonder if they'll have a devil of a time finding applicants?  I'm surprised candidates are not being asked to send in, along with the photo, their measurements.

Hmmmmm....maybe they hadn't thought of that.
We shared this tidbit with a local wag who asked "I wonder how long before this place goes bust?"


NICE, REFRESHING ROS, ANYONE?
We are big fans of deliciously dry, refreshing pink wines.

The shop has a nice selection of ross, most costing $7-$15.  We used to have one for $23 from a famous Provenal Ros estate, but the distributor said it would now be $28 a bottle and that was simply too costly.  (Never mind this same company has no problem selling $50-$100 bottles of Australian wines which have no history or track record...the Ott Ros has been around for decades and has a loyal following.)

Well, I've not tasted the Clos Mimi 2003 Ros, but I was amused to read some of the particulars in the winemaker's tasting notes:

Thanks to my strong faith in the universe when it comes to timing and an unyielding confidence in old world winegrowing techniques, the 2003 harvest proved to be a very magical vintage for Clos Mimi. The witches' calendar for 2003 encouraged one to round up the last fruits of the season before Samhain, the Pagan equivalent of Halloween, and the arrival of the first rains. "Pour quelques mois" I had been tossing around the idea of producing a blush wine harvested at 30-35 degrees brix....

The native yeasts began converting sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide five days after pressing. Talk about Feng Shui generating some love for the yeasts---two months later the wine had inexplicably fermented to dryness! 19.0% alcohol here. The barrels were topped every 7-10 days "sans batonnage" before being racked to a stainless bottling tank. In order to preserve the wild aromatics and viscous texture the wine was gravity hand bottled without fortification, cold stabilization, fining or filtration on the spring equinox* of 2004 (e.g. new moon 17h41).

* please note the wine was given an extra month in stainless to enhance natural clarification, hence the wine was bottled under the gravitational pull of the new moon in April 2004.

The winery produced but 50 cases of this nectar.  I was amused at reading the order form notation limiting customers to a maximum purchase of but 6 bottles.

I would think the $75 per bottle price-tag would be a sufficiently limiting factor.  That or the 19% alcohol!

If anybody wants to bring me a taste, I'll gladly post a tasting note here on this elixir!  

 

WOW...THIS IS NEWS ???!!!
The Napa Valley Vintners Association has released the results of several studies it commissioned and found this earth-shaking "news":

Napa is a good place to grow wine grapes.

Who would have thunk it?

Two companies were hired in mid-2001 and they "discovered" Napa has good soils and climate, making it an ideal place to cultivate wine grapes.  

Maybe someone will open a winery!

 

"LOTS OF BONKING"
British eno-scribe Clive Coates achieved a few seconds of the proverbial "15 minutes of fame" in a recent squib in The New Yorker.


http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/?040510ta_talk_maloney

Mr. Coates tells The New Yorker about writing a book on the "discovery" of wine, noting "Thered be some sort of love affair, and lots of bonkingthe sort of thing you have to have in a book like that."  Ahh...the romance of wine!

We also learn he's moved to France in order to "concentrate" on French wines exclusively.  I wonder if it was Mr. Coates or the author of the article who determined the new Chez Coates is located in the Mconnais region.  Coates' new digs are said to be in Saint-Bonnet-de-Vielle-Vigne (sic--yes, the New Yorker did not spell "vieille" correctly!).  

"
He has just moved from London to a village in the hills of the Mconnais called, fittingly, Saint-Bonnet-de-Vielle-Vigne, where he has bought a small house with a view of river and forest."

We're delighted Mr. Coates is going to devote his full attention to French wines.  But he's going to need a better map of the countryside, since his village of Saint-Bonnet is not in Mcon, but in the cattle region of the Charollais where the most famed agricultural product is beef, not wine.

Or have I got this all bonked up?

 

ARMY WORM WINE
A home vintner in Minnesota is making wine from "Army Worms," or "forest tent caterpillars."  

Winemaker (if you want to call him that) Ray Reigstad waits until the worms have devoured massive quantities of vegetation before sweeping them into a bucket.  He then showers them with boiling hot water, rendering them, uh, dead.  Debris floating to the top of the bucket is discarded and Reigstad adds sugar and yeast to encourage a fermentation.  The caterpillars are then strained out of the wine, which attains about 11% alcohol by volume.  

The Duluth News Tribune assembled a tasting panel (of course, not telling them what they were tasting other than "white wine."  The panel members were asked to identify the wine and give it a rating on a ten point scale (ten being outstanding).  The wine averaged a seven point score, with the tasters pegging is as a Pinot Grigio or some sort of white Bordeaux.

This is a home-made wine and not available for sale (like there's a market for this stuff).   Seven out of ten isn't bad, but for those who slavishly follow Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator, this rating probably isn't enough to get their attention.

We suppose Reigstad will have to work harder to get the bugs out of his winemaking process.

If you want to buy a t-shirt with the label on it:
http://www.armywormwine.com/

 

NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS
The Napa Valley Vintners group made its annual pilgrimage to San Francisco, combining a trade tasting with a fund-raiser for the San Francisco 49ers "Foundation."  We presume the $75 entry fee for the evening tasting for the general public goes towards some charitable endeavor and not to pay for a new cornerback or place-kicker.

The trade portion of the event allowed potential buyers a grand total of 150 minutes to have a look at wines from about 150 Napa Valley vintners. 

Having just come back from Europe where even wineries pouring $5 wines use elegant stemware, it was interesting to note the Napa Valley group, showing hugely expensive bottles of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, had a modest-sized glass which was not especially conducive to swirling the wine without splashing people standing near-by.

Aside from the lack of parking in the immediate area of Nob Hill in The City, we were amused by the choice of appropriate "palate cleansers" displayed at this tasting.  There were several tables with copious quantities of sliced pineapple and watermelon for wine professionals to clear their tender palates.  

Once again California is, apparently, on the cutting edge!

 

NAUGHTY BURGUNDY ADS BANNED IN FRANCE
The French agency "l'Association Nationale de Prvention en Alcoologie et Addictologie" has determined that an ad campaign to promote Burgundy wines is not suitable and must be discontinued.

It seems in a land where the likes of the 2004 Superbowl Halftime performance would have been de rigueur, one cannot advertise wine in a fashion which associates any alcohol with sex.

The ads had been designed by the BIVB, a Burgundy promotional organization, and featured the likeness of the female figure (as seen to the left).

The law mandates words such as "seduce" cannot be used in the context of an ad, either.  The campaign must be "informative" and educational rather than suggestive.  

I imagine the Sopexa campaign in the United States would have been prohibited in France!   "Wild things happen in the Oui hours..."

Difficult to imagine this is an issue in France, since it's the sort of thing one expects in the prudish and Puritanical United States!

 

EVEN "GOD" MAKES MISTAKES
Issue #150 Robert Parker's famed "The Wine Advocate" features ratings of hundreds of California wines.  Amongst the various ratings are the featured critiques, followed by "Other Recommended New Releases."  It's interesting to see who's in the "upper division" (Dunah, Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, Robert Keenan, Kistler, Landmark, Silver Oak, Ridge, Chateau Souverain, Turley, etc. ... a rather varied group) and who's in the "second" division (Duckhorn, Signorello, Opus One, Saintsbury, etc.).

There's an entry for "Stags Leap Winery," a property that's now in the Beringer Blass stable.  But Mr. Parker critiques a "Stags Leap Winery" 1999 "Cask 23" wine.    As you probably know, there are two wineries using the Stags Leap name:

STAGS' LEAP WINERY
&
STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS

Stags' Leap Winery on the left...
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars on the right...

The telephone and fax numbers cited in the review are those of Stags Leap Winery, so it's clear there's an error.

The one thing that's correct in the review is this notation:
"...wine tasting is very subjective."

 

NEW WAY TO TASTE & EVALUATE WINE
A Napa Valley firm claims that by sucking wine through this glass "straw," you'll be able to have a "much more detailed examination of the various components of the wine: fruit, tannins, acidity, fermentation and barrel influence."

The firm says this is "not intended to replace casual wine drinking, the Wine Prism is made for critical evaluation of a wine's positive characteristics as well as its flaws that may shorten a wine's ageability and enjoyment."

This glass straw costs $24.95.

We have no experience with such a gizmo and are not going to send this firm that sum (since we're 'blowhards') to test its product for fear we'd be labeled (figuratively and literally) as "suckers."

 

HOW'S THAT AGAIN ????
Our "Customer of The Week" Award this week goes to a woman who stopped by to see if we had a particular wine.

She spoke with Bob, asking him if we had this wine since "It's only available at the winery.  They don't sell it in stores."

Of course, if we had the wine, she would not buy it because it was available.   She wants it, you see, only if it cannot be purchased in a wine emporium.  And she will continue to visit bottle shops on her mission to see if, indeed, that wine cannot be found.

Now you may have a slightly better understanding of why we sometimes have but a slight grip on sanity.

 

STUNG BY CRITICISM
We received a phone call from an irate winery owner and winemaker.  He was upset that we had purchased a bottle of his wine through his web site and included it in one of our blind-tastings.  Actually, that wasn't what put a bee in his bonnet.  

It was that his wine finished in last place and we had the nerve to post the tasting results and stinging criticism of his wine on this web site.

Tasters faulted the wine for having bacteriological problems and volatile acidity and I described it as having an aroma reminiscent of band-aids, characterizing it as an amateurish effort at an appalling high price ($75 for a single bottle, not a case).  

It seems Mister Winemaker, who says he used to be a Mister Wine-Writer, feels before we say anything negative, we ought to contact the winery to ask them if their wine really tastes a bad as we found it to taste.

He felt, since his wine is sold in some of "the country's top restaurants," that we should immediately remove our derogatory comments from the web site.  (We did not.)   We were castigated for being "terribly unprofessional."  

I tried to explain that consumers have a right to taste and evaluate wines and that we've actually been working with wine for more than just the past three or four weeks.   Our reporting on the results of our tastings is not intended to be malicious or harmful, but when someone bottles a wine of less-than-commercial quality and has the guts to ask $75 for the privilege, one sets oneself up for a wee bit of criticism.  

If we should taste another bottle of this producer's wine, we hope we can issue a glowing review.  But having shelled out nearly $90 (we paid something called tax and shipping), we don't expect to be stung by this winery in the future.  

Addendum:  In the Summer of 2004, we included this winemaker's 2002 Pinot in a blind-tasting and it fared much better than last year's tasting.  This time his wine received only 10 of the 14 last place votes.  We noticed a group in New York posted its results, the 2002 coming in last place in their tasting.  They said it was "unsuitable for service at a prisoner of war camp."  (And you thought we were harsh on wines!  I asked them if they had yet received a call from the winemaker and, lo and behold, they had.  "He left a message for us on the answering machine and wanted us to call him back.  We didn't.  Who needs the aggravation?" they asked.

 

YOU SAY POTATO, I SAY SANGIOVESE
Label
I was a bit surprised when the young lady pouring this Vino Nobile di Montepulciano told me the "blend."  
"It's 95% Sangiovese and 5% Prugnolo Gentile." she explained.

I was amused since the famous Tuscan red called "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano" is made from a minimum of 70% Prugnolo Gentile, which is also known as Sangiovese Grosso (the clone that's also commonly found in Montalcino and produces Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino wines).   I then quizzed some Italian friends attending the tasting:
"What grape produces the Vino Nobile wine?" I asked them.  All responded in unison (and this is difficult for Italians) "Prugnolo Gentile!"

So it's interesting to see the U.S. importer, Kobrand, marketing the wine to its customers as being 95% Sangiovese and 5% Prugnolo Gentile.  Perhaps they feel this makes the wine more "familiar" to potential buyers.   Interestingly, Kobrand's "fact sheet" on its own web site lists information on the Fattoria di Gracciano winery as producing a
"classic second wine under the Rossi (sic) di Montalcino denomination."

Of course, they probably mean Rosso di Montepulciano.  You don't have to know about wine to sell it, but it certainly might help their cause if they did their homework more thoroughly. 

 

INTERESTING VIEW OF THE WINE WORLD
The British on-line web "zine" Harpers interviewed the famous Rhne wine producer, Michel Chapoutier.

Monsieur Chapoutier is one who has great respect for tradition, but who is also willing to challenge tradition if improvements can be made.  

The article, written by Neil Beckett, tells us Chapoutier is "an acute observer, even something of a visionary."  

Chapoutier, once having dinner with the blues musician Ray Charles, saw his way clear to have his wine labels embossed with Braille.  (As noted elsewhere on our web site, these are especially good wines for "blind tastings.")

Most enlightening is Chapoutier's view of California vintners who produce some of the most heavily oaked Chardonnays on the planet.  In drinking these, Chapoutier contends  this is "like giving Pinocchio a blow job."

Speaking of wines with a high level of extract, Chapoutier notes that heavier fining and or filtering are required.  This he explains "is like making love using a condom. For the sake of security, the pleasure is reduced."

These comments may go a long way in explaining the currently fashionable regime of wine writing where wines are described as "sexy."  No?


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