Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TN: Caparone 2005 Paso Robles Nebbiolo

To put it simply, the Caparone 2005 Paso Robles Nebbiolo has set a new benchmark for inexpensive Nebbiolo in my book. Everything about it, from the surface, is surprising given its origin: the 13.6% ABV, the $14 price, the varietal expression, the attractive rusticity and the complexity. Having been to Caparone's winery about a year ago, though, I can say one should expect nothing less from this producer. Some wines are more rustic and funky than others, but this is old school wine making at its best. No manipulation, no extreme ripeness, no excess new oak. Just honest wine at a fair price.

There's plenty to say, but the key points are as follows. This wine is wildy aromatic, practically exploding from the glass, there is a transparency to its flavors, and there is structure in its firm slightly bitter tannins and acidity. It's a complete wine brimming with character and then some. While this is no substitute for a Pinot Noir, this wine has a lot of the same qualities that make Pinot so attractive (and for a fraction of the price).
  • 2005 Caparone Nebbiolo Estate Grown - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    This sets my new benchmark for inexpensive Nebbiolo. Light color is a feature, not a bug, as Nebbiolo is never especially dark. The nose is effusive: sweet pipe tobacco, figs, fennel and leather. It just explodes out of the glass. Not as rustic as other Caparones I've had, but not squeaky clean, either. The flavors are wonderful--good freshness of cherry and strawberry with an earthy undercurrent. Fairly high acid, some noticeable tannin on the finish that firms the wine up. The finish goes on forever. This is a medium bodied wine, very pure and delineated in its flavors. 13.6% ABV and $14, unique for a CA wine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

WN: Haras de Pirque 2005 Character Cabernet Sauvignon

It's been a while since I've had a Chilean wine and the Haras de Pirque 2005 Character Cabernet Sauvignon has left me wondering why I don't try them more often. I guess part of the issue is only fairly large scale producers seem to be distributed in the US and sometimes their wines veer towards the international style in terms of ripeness and oak. Putting style aside, though, Chilean wines tend to perform quite well for the price as was the case with this Cab.

The producer, according to their website, has dual interests in breeding horses and producing wine, hence the horseshoe and grape leaf on the label. If you ask me, the design looks a bit cheap, but what's in the bottle delivers really well for $15 at my local Costco. Character is a perfect name for the wine. If you ever wanted to show someone what black currant smells like, this would be the wine to do it with. The tar and intense black currant are classic Chilean expressions of Cabernet, while in any region Cabernet tends to express black currants and can have a hollow mid-palate. Aside from being a very good (but not quite great) wine, it has tons of character. Most of the wines at Costco just aren't very interesting, but this is one of those that fell through cracks and even has a wee bit of age on it to boot.

On the topic of black currants, there's a nice blog post on it over at wine.woot. Black currant aromas actually result from a volatile sulfur compound. This may have to do with the tar/petroleum/rubber aromas typical in Chilean Cabs as too much of the black currant compound will smell like something a bit nasty. Personally, I like it as it's a regional characteristic. But others probably don't feel quite the same way.
  • 2005 Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon Character - Chile, Central Valley, Maipo Valley
    Essence of black currants on the nose with a little tar. Classic Chilean Cab. Dark fruit attack, hollow mid-palate, earthy and iron finish. Full bodied, medium acidity, integrated oak. Well-made, so typical of varietal and place it's not even funny.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TN: Emergence 2009 White Wine

The Emergence 2009 White Wine just showed up at the local Trader Joe's, so I might even be scooping Jason's Wine Blog with this post. It's a blend of 33% Grenache Blanc, 29% Marsanne, 25% Viognier and 13% Roussanne, which are white Rhone varieties. The producer is Central Coast Wine Warehouse, a wine making facility that hosts winemakers without their own wineries. But they also seem to bottle a good bit of wine on their own judging by the various labels under their name that have shown up at TJ's. As far as I'm concerned, this is their most successful bottling. The only issue is that it's lacking somewhat in flavor concentration, which would be an issue if they were targeting a higher price point. But what really makes this special is that it's aromatically true to type and full bodied. More importantly, it is not flawed in any way: no VA, no spritz, no residual sugar. It's a cheap dry wine that shows typicity, a beast that is rare to glimpse must lest capture. If you want to know what's so intriguing about this style of wine, this is a great starting point for only $7.
  • 2009 Central Coast Wine Warehouse Emergence - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Excellent QPR. Floral and peach aromas. Full bodied and viscous on the palate. A bit light on flavor, but has minerality and a slight bitterness on the finish. Seems a little low in acidity. No flaws, drinks really well. At $7, back up the truck!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

TN: Domaine du Gros' Noré 2005 Bandol

Bandol is one of those wine regions I've been buying up sporadically. The reason: Mourvedre. Bandols must have at least 50% Mourvedre, and the blending of Syrah and Carignan is strictly limited to 15% of the wine. By legal definition Bandol must be a unique wine. The Domaine du Gros' Noré 2005 Bandol didn't quite live up to my expectations, though. The last Bandol I had was simultaneously funky and elegant in a classic French paradox style. This one was rather monolithic, albeit fairly tasty, and I'm not sure that it was all that different from any other brooding, dark wine like a Petite Sirah or a Tannat. Then again, it is still quite young and from a vintage that's supposed to age. I have another bottle and will revisit in 5 years or so to reach my final verdict.
  • 2005 Domaine du Gros' Noré Bandol - France, Provence, Bandol
    Solid chunky wine. Nose has fennel, red and black currant, floral aromas and a little funk. Big and dark flavors with lots of licorice. Creamy and thick, full bodied. A bit flabby and hot on the finish, but with enough structure to hold together. Definitely has the stuffing to age a bit, and this is one I'll revisit. But right now this doesn't have much to distinguish from a good Cali GSM sort of blend.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why do people have such low expectations?

You might think I'm going to go off ranting on people buying plonk instead of decent wine by asking why people have low expectations. But I'm not. I'm actually thinking in terms of value, not absolute quality. Folks who buy a $5 wine because it's a pleasant, easy drink actually have quite high expectations, in fact much higher expectations than those who spend $50 or $100 on a bottle that is no more than good and interesting. A $5 wine that's decent is actually a stunning value. A $100 wine that does anything less than make your month or year is an utter failure.

The heart of the issue is diminishing marginal returns. Very rarely is a $20 wine twice as good as a $10 wine. Usually in terms of quality a $10 wine isn't good enough or interesting enough to justify its purchase over beer, at least for me. But the $20 wine isn't really that much better. It's just better enough to satisfy what I'm looking for in wine over some other beverage. When it comes to $20 versus $40 wines, the marginal return gets even worse. I've had a few $20 wines that are complete, with a beginning, middle and end, structure, complexity and an intoxicating bouquet. These are rare, but the reality is there simply aren't any wines that are going to be twice as good as these thoroughly satisfying $20 wines.

But here's the rub: it's not hard to find notes on Cellar Tracker about expensive $50 or $60 wines that essentially say they're little more than a good wine yet offer a good value. To that I say, raise your expectations! If a $20 wine can satisfy on both hedonic and intellectual levels, then a $50 wine really needs to have a WOW factor. If hypothetically I was scoring wines by points, I'd break wines that provide better than expected value into the following price bands:
$2 -$5 : 70-75 (drinkable)

$5 -$10 : 75-80 (decent)

$10-$15: 80-85 (good)

$15-$25: 85-90 (very good)

$25-$40: 90-95 (excellent)

$40-$60: 95-100 (words do not describe)

$60+ : 100* (out of body experience)
I don't mean Parker or WS scores, but one's own experience yields that level of enjoyment. Of course people will have different price bands. The bottom line, though, is I'm willing to accept some decrease in marginal returns, but only so much. If I can find wines that nearly blolw my mind for $20 to $30, the $40 to $60 wines must fully blow my mind.

And yet people often take the opposite approach. They fawn over wines, worship the producers and beg for a chance just to taste them. I say they have it backwards. You are paying for a good that should offer enjoyment commensurate the price paid. Any producer should be happy that 750 mL of fluid fetches more than $40.

Still, we are stuck with exorbitant wine prices because of absurdly low expectations. Consumers need to get their act together to bring these prices down. Stop overpaying for wine that doesn't have that WOW factor. If it were any other good, people would feel ripped off, but somehow the idea of spending large sums of money deadens this feeling of disgust. It is time for consumers to take back their self respect and demand the value they deserve.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Of ideas, events and people

There is a certain famous quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that reads as follows:
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.
It's a bit reductionist in some sense since there's no reason why a Nobel Laureate wouldn't also follow the news or chat about colleagues with his or her spouse. But there's a certain truth to it as well as the greats in their fields don't spend their days gossiping and watching reality TV, but understanding history, science, philosophy or any number of fields in great detail.

It's interesting, however, to apply this statement to fine wine, which many would argue is the most profound of alcoholic beverages. If one were to make analogy to ideas, events and people in terms of wine, the equivalents would be quite interesting. Ideas would correspond to stylistic approaches, scientific descriptions, varietal expression, and regional characteristics at the very least. Events would most certainly be vintages as well as the birth, growth and death of producers. People would be specific producers, owners, winemakers and other personalities. The interesting phenomena is that the upper classes of the wine world focus their conversation almost exclusively on the wine analogs of people and events.

The most common posts in internet wine forums, for example, are tasting notes on wines from various well-known producers in famous regions. Of course one cannot discuss regions and styles without including important producers, but clearly stand alone tasting notes are meant to discuss just a wine from a certain person and a certain year. These wines, meanwhile, are often purchased based on a cult of personality. Sometimes that cult of personality revolves around a critic such as Robert Parker. If he likes it, then people rush out to buy it. But there are also winemakers and consultants that transcend a single brand such as Michel Rolland or Helen Turley. If a given person was involved, then people rush out to buy it.

This begs the question, why is the wine world so paradoxically shallow, and especially so when it comes to the most potentially profound wine expressions? For me, the answer is rather direct. There are great minds who drink wine. There are also wine drinkers with great palates. But there is nothing that selects for these traits in wine drinkers other than an interest in wine and the economic capacity to purchase it. While you'd be hard pressed to find a truly stupid millionaire, if there's one social class prone to superficiality and snobbery, it would be the most financially secure group. The obsession over names and events is a crutch as most people with the financial freedom to collect fine wines don't have the time, interest or technical facilities to synthesize ideas. As a result, there is a certain feedback effect where specific producers, winemakers and vintages are amplified to drown out the big picture.

It is sad, but it is true. The (perhaps) most profound beverage receives the most superficial treatment in many ways. The only answer is for consumers to think with an independent mind. Respect history and the thoughts of the experts. But don't follow blindly. Taste broadly and form your own opinions. Collect data points and find for yourself the unique styles and expressions that make the wine world tick. The answer to endemic shallowness is thought and necessarily the promotion of ideas to the forefront of discourse.