- 2006 Mayro-Murdick Pinot Noir - USA, California, Napa Valley, CarnerosThis was just firing on all cylinders. Pinot Perfume on the nose with a mix of floral, red fruit, herb and mushroom aromas. Still smelled great even in an empty glass! All about balance on the palate. Good body and texture with refreshing acidity. Mild earth and red fruit flavors with aromas carry through on the finish. Even has some tannic structure on the back end. Textbook cool climate Cali Pinot, and perfectly executed in a seamless fashion.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
- 2007 Kent Rasmussen Cabernet Franc Esoterica - USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. VeederMix of earthier tones and new oak on the nose--candied ginger, tobacco, black cherry, violets and cinnamon oil. Fairly linear in flavor with refreshing acidity and moderate tannin. More sweet cherries followed by olive on the palate that finishes with good length. Fairly fruit driven in sum, but with layering of additional nuances. Best part is the aromas here. Certainly not a crime to drink now for youthful exuberance given approachability of structure. As good as this is, I do wonder a bit what it would be like with some Cab S for austere tannins and darker fruit to offset the cherry veering to the candied side and/or Merlot to broaden the mid-palate.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
- Layering of sensory impressions. Essentially a wine with distinct aromas, a beginning, a middle and an end on the palate.
- Capacity to develop with time in bottle. This could be several years or decades as long as there is substantial change due to age.
- Typicity of region, variety and/or house style, i.e. character. Probably this is broad enough to allow even the "International Style" into the discussion, but it's important that a wine has some context into which it fits.
I also believe that "great wine isn't cheap and cheap wine isn't great" applies here as well. Depending on style and region, 'fine' wine doesn't have to be incredibly expensive. But it will certainly cost more than standard mass-market wines (unless you get lucky). That's because more careful vineyard management and greater labor and time investment is almost always required for wines that meet the above guidelines.
By nature, this discussion is neither completely one of relativism nor one of absolutism. I view it as fundamentally a pluralistic subject. There are a variety of tastes and styles in wine, and many of these can pertain to 'fine wine' even if they are seemingly incompatible. Essentially it is a case of "different but equal." This is important because relativism allows consumers to settle for mediocrity simply because it has a flavor profile they like, while absolutism allows a few critics to impose their opinions upon all as fact. Adopting pluralism is the key to advancing discourse in the wine world, and setting broad guidelines for 'fine wine' is a start in this direction.
Monday, December 20, 2010
I've been a fan of Tablas Creek since visiting their tasting room almost two years ago. From both a business and stylistic perspective, I love their approach. They've had a long-term model when it comes to building the brand. I've heard their plan was to become profitable in 15 years. Meanwhile, their winery, portfolio and prices seem to have grown incrementally, but modestly over time. This is a refreshing approach when so many producers seem to expect instant gratification despite huge overheads. Tablas Creek has earned its price points over time, not just from a big score in one vintage or another.
The wines seem to display California sunshine and a relatively arid climate, but within a classically structured (i.e. French) style. They are not all fruit, and they are not all earth, either. For me their top wines represent the best of what California producers can do. They are rich, full bodied and flavorful, yet complex, structured and ageworthy. My only criticism is that the Cotes de Tablas wines seem very front-loaded for early consumption without much structure to frame the fruit. Perhaps this is more a demand of the domestic market, but at the $20-$25 price level the depth is not there. There is plenty of exuberance, though, so it may come down to taste.
The Esprit cuvées, both in Blanc and Rouge form, were revelatory. I believe I've tasted 3 or 4 Esprit Rouge bottlings and the remarkable quality is that each vintage shows so very differently. While one might think blending tends to blur difference, the differences in each variety seemingly are summed--think of the vintage difference = (a^2 + b^2 + c^2 + d^2)^(.5) summing in quadrature. Here the 2008 seemed quite feminine and approachable, which Sales Manager Tommy Oldre said was a result of Tablas Creek letting the vintage express itself instead of trying to re-create the rich, powerful 2007 version. The 2006 in contrast seemed a bit more burly and recalcitrant, though no less character-filled. The Esprit Blanc, meanwhile, was simply one of the best full-bodied whites I've tasted. It often seems to me that barrel toast overwhelms many rich, barrel-aged whites, but here aging in foudre (large wood containers) seems to have reduced the negative impact while achieving the positive effects of aging in wood. These are expensive wines, but wines I would not hesitate to buy when shopping in this price range.
- 2009 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
45% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 7% Grenache Blanc. White stone fruit, toast. Viscous, fat and a hot finish. All up-front flavor and very full bodied, but flabby on the back end.
- 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
65% Rousanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc. Aged in foudre. Major step up from the Cotes de Tablas Blanc. Savory nose with apple cider and seaweed (yes, as odd as it sounds). Tight structure, refreshing acidity, cleaner flavors than Cotes de Tablas. Long finish. Creamy texture. Has mouthfeel of a red wine with grace of a white wine. Best white I've yet tasted in a full bodied style, though I don't drink many of these to be fair. Worth the price IMO.
- 2008 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre. Good, noticeable acidity, mild tannins, herb, cherry, funk. Not much finish. Seems front loaded like the Blanc to be fruit-forward and early drinking.
- 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise. Again, a massive step up from the Cotes de Tablas Rouge. Perfumed aromas with kirsch and mild gaminess. Big bodied, creamy, yet seemingly weightless. Sweet fruit, ripe tannin, medium acidity. Very pleasurable to drink now, almost seems a feminine style, though it is a large scaled, full flavored wine.
- 2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
45% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Counoise. Seaweed, olive, eucalyptus, kirsch and dark fruit. Grippy tannin. Seems a bit rustic, in the best possible sense, compared to the 2008.
- 2007 Tablas Creek Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
With 10% Grenache. Gamy with cherry fruit. Big, full body, tons of ripe tannin. A very backward wine, though with lots of raw material and structure. I wouldn't touch this for some time.
Basically, this tasting confirmed my prior impressions. Tablas Creek is a benchmark producer for Paso Robles. And yet their prices are very fair for what they offer. Usually I'm left unimpressed by wines cracking the $40-$50 range because they seem to be chasing some fashionable style or are simple products of ego. Not so with Tablas. This producer is the real deal and even produces its top cuvées in moderate quantities such that they are not terribly hard to find.
Friday, December 17, 2010
The point here is not to pick on the producer, thus I'm not naming names. Rather, the idea is to treat this producer as a quick, crude case study. This Cabernet is the only wine this producer makes; it's really all or nothing with this cuvée. While bigger Napa producers sell Cabs in this price range that may have 5k or 10k case production, this producer needs to stay afloat on just a small fraction of that quantity.
Unfortunately, 100-160 cases is really the opposite of an economy of scale. Undoubtedly farming of a small vineyard costs more per acre than a large one since simply getting workers and equipment there at the right time is half the battle. Meanwhile, a producer like this usually needs to hire a winemaker and pay to utilize resources at a custom winemaking facility.
For a boutique producer, even several thousands cases is considered a small production, though this quantity is often spread over multiple wines. If the above Napa producer is selling through and making a sustainable profit by selling a top notch wine at the $75 asking price, there's really no critique to be made of this business model. But from a consumer perspective, I see winemakers who have built from the ground up to run a winery making and selling significantly more wine at one half or one third the price per bottle. I can't help but think micro-production wineries like the above example are saddling consumers with both their large production costs and a rather high per bottle margin simply because they aren't doing as much work as others.
Who knows, perhaps 4-6 barrels of $75 Napa Cab is simply a hobby. It certainly sounds like a quantity of wine a hobbyist could store in a garage. But I really wonder what the producer is doing to earn that price when other boutiques are doing 10 or 20 or 50 times as much work to hit a significantly lower price point. I don't believe this is the only producer pursuing this approach, and I think it will be increasingly hard for micro-production wineries to capture a share of this small market segment with consumers being more careful in their spending.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
You live, you learn. Next time I'll go with a simpler Chinon or Bourgueil if I want Cab Franc with Thanksgiving.
- 2006 Havens Wine Cellars Bourriquot - USA, California, Napa ValleyMuch less impressed on this go round. Clashed with the food at the table with the vanilla and oak being the major culprit. Better on its own. After being open for 4 hours, though, the bitterness of the heavy extraction became more evident. Nice earthy aromatics, though. Just seemed rather awkward and clunky.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Lately I've been looking into different varietal wines made from aromatic whites that have a bit more acidic lift and lighter body. The compelling quality of these wines is that they smell really nice, but are quite versatile when it comes to using as a cocktail or a food wine. The aromas make them seem sweeter than they really are, while the acidity makes them naturals for the dinner table. In other words, they not only have broad applications, but a broad appeal to both obsessive wine drinkers and the occasional wine drinker who might prefer sweeter wines.
Here are three that fared well over Thanksgiving:
- 2008 Yves Breussin Vouvray - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
Just spot on Chenin Blanc. Lychees and floral aromas. Round, concentrated flavors up front followed by a dry, mouth-watering finish. Has a hint of RS, but acidity is very high so it is complementary. Simply delicious.
- 2009 Vino V Wines Albariño Confundida - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Aromatic! Jasmine, honey and white stone fruit. Dry on the palate, though med-low acid. Fruit and floral esters give it a sensation of sweetness despite dryness. Medium body. Listed at 12.5% ABV. A superb aromatic white that gets explosive aromas without extreme ripeness.
- 2009 Old Creek Ranch Winery Loureiro - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Very perfumey aromas, yet lemony, high acid flavors. Almost austere, very mineral driven. Aromatic food wine. No oak, light/medium body. Portuguese varietal.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Most of the focus of the study is on the dichotomy between "sweet" and "tolerant" consumers. "Sweet" tasters prefer fruitier wines with residual sugar, and tend to be younger and female. "Tolerant" tasters prefer powerful if not bitter, astringent wines, and tend to be older and male. In fact, the description of the "tolerant" taster seems to match the stereotype of an older guy who's a wine snob and shops by point ratings. According to Hanni and Utermohlen's conclusions, "sweet" tasters are very sensitive to non-sweet flavors like bitterness thus need residual sugar to offset these flavors, while "tolerant" tasters have a high sensitivity threshold for bitterness, astringency and the burn of high alcohol.
I can certainly identify with the issues related to "tolerant" tasters dominating the world of fine wine criticism. Older male critics like Parker and Miller seemingly will tolerate any level of extraction and oak, and favor raw intensity and power over other more delicate expressions. It is clear the "tolerant" taster is understood to have learned some of his preferences given that it is stated the language for marketing wines to him is "point ratings, complex, bold, intense." Knowledge of point ratings implies the "tolerant" taster reads or follows some critics like Parker or magazines like Wine Spectator. Thus, this group clearly is not basing its interests solely upon intrinsic tastes, but upon learned preferences as well.
Yet the "sweet" taster is defined in such a manner that it appears he buys wine based solely upon his own taste with little regard to external influence. The "sweet" taster seems to have less education about wine, which undoubtedly influences taste preference. At the same time, though, cultural influence from the prevalence of highly sweetened processed foods and soft drinks in the US is not discussed in the report. My hypothesis is that much of the preference for very sweet foods and beverages results from conditioning. While individuals are less or more sensitive to bitterness according to the results in this report, it is also likely they may be less or more sensitive to sweetness. Hanni and Utermohlen argue "sweet" tasters are more sensitive to bitterness, acidity and astringency, but I suspect that it's just as prevalent that they are less sensitive to sweetness.
The report ultimately seems focused on how to sell wine to "sweet" tasters in the most expedient fashion. It even suggests that "sweet" tasters are under-served by the wine industry. I disagree with this conclusion. Walk into a grocery store and pick a random wine off the shelf. Typically you will find a fruity, slightly sweet, often vanillified wine with low acidity and very little tannin. This is precisely the type of wine that appeals to the "sweet" drinker based on Hanni and Utermohlen's definition of this classification. In fact, by volume most of the wine produced in the US seems to be targeted towards the "sweet" consumer.
Moreover, I disagree that "sweet" consumers cannot or should not expand their horizons as wine drinkers (not to mention food eaters). In some sense "tolerant" tasters are over-educated, while "sweet" tasters are under-educated. While individuals should ultimately buy what they like, it's important to understand that a Nebbiolo by nature tends to be tannic and Sangiovese by nature tends to be acidic, for example, and wine that isn't manufactured as a processed food varies from vintage to vintage. Wine appreciation is a synthesis of both personal preference and understanding of regional, varietal and vintage expression. I personally love sweet foods like fresh fruit, candy and chocolates, but also understand that these flavors don't necessarily belong in every wine.
Returning to the original question, I agree with Tim Hanni that there is nothing wrong with sweet wines or "sweet" tasters. In fact, many sweet wines like Sauternes, Port, demi-sec Vouvray and late harvest Riesling are considered among the most noble, long-lived and great wines in the world. The key here is to educate "sweet" wine consumers that these are unique wines because of their production methods, aging capacity and complexity. While there is a certain stigma attached to a preference for sweet wine, the generic White Zinfandels and sweet Muscats that sweet wine drinkers regularly purchase are treated quite justifiably as ordinary wines. They're the vinous analog to McDonald's: rich in certain pleasing flavors, be it sugar or fat, but otherwise simple manufactured consumables.
I was once there, too. Some years ago I liked something called Mattie's Perch Shiraz purely because it "went down smooth." I haven't tried it recently, but my guess is that it would be mild in acid and tannins, fruity and a bit sweet in the terms I'd use now. To look at this from a slightly different angle, I'd argue wine is about both hedonic and aesthetic appreciation. We all understand and seek hedonic enjoyment from birth, but aesthetic context must be developed. This is no different than learning about any craft, from film, to music, to sculpture, to architecture. In the social media saturated world once can click the "I like this" next to anything. Mattie's Perch was worthy of an "I like" back in the aughts. But that preference was quite separate from understanding context and this brand's place in the big picture.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Morse/Il Gioiello was up next. It's a drive out a good ways on narrow, patched up roads, but oddly enough it is gated, has a bocce court, and appears to be thoroughly modern including a Tuscan-styled tasting room. Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but the wines here seemed to be more fruit-driven with more obvious oak, slicker and more modern in a New World mold. Definitely reminded me more of what I find towards Santa Barbera in terms of Italian and Rhone varieties. Instead of the attractive, precise rusticity and character of Terre Rouge and Noceto, these are highly polished wines. I was most pleased with the 2007 Mourvedre which still showed lots of its feral and tannic character. I suppose the Shenandoah Valley works quite well for this variety. The various other wines--Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Viognier, Zin, Montepulciano--were good, sound wines at fair prices ($20-$30), just more jammy than I like when it comes to expressing varietal and vineyard character.
The last stop was Karly, largely a Zin producer. I'm not a big Zin fan, and several of their wines epitomized the style I just can't understand. One was all raisins. Another was certifiably sweet and roasted, though it seems that was intentional. One was more spicy, though, so one out of three ain't too bad. Their 2008 Mourvedre, named "El Alacran" (The Scorpion), was good fun, however. Definitely unfined and unfiltered, it's a cloudy purple-red in color and a chewy mouthful of ripe Mourvedre character (albeit $35). Their Marsanne was oxidized and volatile, while the Sauvignon Blanc was candy-sweet, which I struggled to wrap my head around. My guess is they sell to less European-influenced palates, hence the cloying sweetness and uber-ripe fruit in certain wines. But it makes it very hit or miss even if you just want a (reasonably) dry New World styled wine.
All-in-all, a nice 4 hours in a different wine country. Much more down to earth than most wine regions without the insulting stratospheric pricing. Terre Rouge's Rhone varietals were among the very best I've tasted from California, yet were priced very reasonably given that most had a bit of age on them. Same story for Noceto, except younger wines based mostly on Sangiovese. I was not expecting as much old world influence in a region known for big, ripe Zins. I'd bet though more producers are like Karly, while Terre Rouge and Noceto are the outliers. Given the style and pricing, I'd be tempted to join Terre Rouge and Noceto's wine clubs if I lived in driving distance.
Monday, December 6, 2010
The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps known best for its old vine Zinfandels, with some vineyards dating back to the pre-Prohibition era and beyond. The regions sits at the base of Sierra Nevada mountains, hence the broader designation of the region encompassing Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras as the Sierra Foothills. Although this is a warm region, likely a Region III on the Davis heat summation scale, producers tout the variety of soils and elevations at their disposal. This isn't a region for light acidic wines, but the diversity of vineyard sites appears to allow for an interesting mix of warm-climate grapes to be grown. Heat is an important part of the picture, but it's not the only the part.
I actually was not all that surprised to find a handful of noteworthy wines. Those poured at Terre Rouge/Easton were especially good. Terre Rouge is the brand used for the producer's Rhone-style wines, while Easton covers other bottlings like Cabs, Zins and Barberas. When I say Rhone-style, I definitely mean it. I'm used to the ultra-ripe, melted style of Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Terre Rouge tastes like it came from the Old World. Their current GMS blend, the 2007 L'Autre, is a dead ringer for a cru-level Rhone if not a Chateauneuf du Pape. Red fruit, garrigue, meat, earth and heavy tannins all point to an Old World wine. Their 2004 Mourvedre--also the current release--is gamy with tar, herbs, pepper and firm tannins, like a clean Bandol. The only potential concern might be that most of the wines are very tannic, perhaps to the point that the tannins outlive the other components of the wine. But many of their wines are released with some age, so that helps bring the style into better focus. If you like earthy, structured wines that should be long-lived, this is the place for you. I also enjoyed their 2006 Barbera, which is less structured, but more polished. The Syrahs are quite good as well, though it seems we visited only a couple of the many versions they produce. Their Zins were the only disappointment since I found them tipped a bit to the raisiny side instead of the spicy, peppery side. Prices were very good values in the $15-$30 range. In terms of pricing and overall quality, this blows away the vast majority of Central Coast producers. There's a reason why a producer who began in the mid-80s is still going strong today.
Notes from the rest of the visit will post tomorrow.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Unlike the Chinon in my last entry, this wine is a good deal chunkier and more rustic. It's hard to explain how or why, but it has character. At this $15-$20 price level, that surprisingly hard to find. My only complaint is the rubber cork--please, please just use a Stelvin closure to prevent oxidation!
- 2006 Villa Medoro Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d'AbruzzoSynthetic cork. Chunky, chewy mouthful of wine. Rustic in the best way. Cherry jam, barnyard and basil aromas. Full bodied, yet dry with good acid. Earthy and leathery on the finish. Really good, not elegant, just honest. Pasta and pizza wine.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
While I often think the whole "natural wine" concept is overwrought and turned into a sort of quasi-religion, I do think the minimal intervention approach works really well in the Loire. The fruit just seems more conducive to letting nature take its course. My gut feeling is that the high acid, low sugar grapes from the Loire just tend to go more in an interesting, but not undrinkable direction than is the case with low acid, high sugar grapes from, say, California when allowed to ferment spontaneously. What the wines may not have in richness, they have in complexity as a result. I've definitely had a few Chinons that drink like a meal as they have fruit, veggies, acidity and savory flavors.
This wine seems like it's been made very cleanly just to emphasize fruit. That's fine, but for around $20 I kind of expect things to starting getting weird and wooly, especially from a wine billed as the producer's top cuvée.
- 2006 Domaine de Pallus Chinon Les Pensées de Pallus - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon
The tobacco screams Chinon Cab Franc. But this was a bit disappointing. Mostly black cherry (no pomegranite or cranberry). Iron and mint flavors as well. Medium body, medium acid. Very middle of the road without the edginess I'd expect--mild acidity, no funkiness. Clean, well made, but either better younger or will bloom in time. Right now kind of boring.