What makes for news

April 7th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

I respectfully disagree with the Wine Curmudgeon’s views in this post that appeared recently:

No wonder figuring out wine prices is so confusing

Wine Curmudgeon

http://winecurmudgeon.com/no-wonder-figuring-out-wine-prices-is-so-confusing/

First, let me summarize the post.  Depending on who you read, wine prices are soaring (due to the supposedly short supply of California wines) or plummeting (due to oversupply of European grapes in general, and Spanish grapes in particular). Of course, they can’t both be right. So why this schizophrenic situation where wines prices are going up and down at the same time?

The Wine Curmudgeon offers three explanations. First, journalists have a limited world view, not being able to see past their immediate environs. So if your immediate environs is in shortage, then prices are going up, and vice versa.

Second, the crutch of “conventional wisdom”. Once an idea takes hold, it becomes accepted even though it lacks any real evidence to support it.

And third, if I understand him correctly, the wine world has changed so much in ways that people don’t understand.   The resulting confusion leads to prognostications that are wide of the mark.

I don’t know whether any of these three factors have any merit at all. But even if they do, I think they pale beside another factor. To paraphrase a writer (name long since forgotten) commenting on the Democratic primary season which ended with the triumph of Barack Obama, there are only two stories in a presidential race. Story one: candidate so and so is surging. Story two: candidate so and so is crashing and burning.

It only takes a second’s thought to realize the truth of that statement. After all, journalists aren’t in the business of providing balanced, reasoned articles. They are in the business of selling newspapers, TV advertising, or whatever. An article entitled, “Candidate so and so pretty much doing as well this week as last” isn’t going to sell a whole lot of newspapers.

The same holds true in the art world, the pork belly world, and, of course, the wine world. If you are going to write a story on where wine prices are going, then the answer is simple: they are either going up or they are going down, preferably way up or way down. Wines that will cost pretty much the same next year as they did this year? Not newsworthy. But suppose all the available information in fact indicates that wine prices will be stable? Who cares?

The same applies to pretty much any issue in the wine world (or any other world). In a particular wine region, it’s not much of a story to say the quality of wines from a region has plateaued. Not getting a whole lot better but not getting any worse. Again, who cares?

Unfortunately, when it comes to terroir, it’s hard to make the case that a region’s terrior is getting a whole lot better or worse. But, then again, with global warming may be even this will change.

If you listen to the evening news, it’s floods and drought, polar vortexes and heat waves, that get the headlines. “Continued mild weather”. Not very interesting. “Wine prices stable”. Ditto.

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Good Reads Wednesday

April 2nd, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Every Wednesday I post my recommendations of the best of last week’s postings concerning wine, whether blogs or news. I list them in the order I read them, so you shouldn’t infer anything about the order in which I list these posts.

Checking On Some Older CA Pinot Noir

VINOGRAPHY: a wine blog

http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/03/checking_in_on_some_older_ca_p.html

I thought this post was particularly apropos considering that I did a similar post several weeks ago concerning a Joseph Swan California Pinot Noir. I would disagree with Alder about the general age worthiness of California Pinot Noirs in particular, and California reds in general. I don’t think they really age, again as a general matter, as well as European wines. But I think that has more to do with how farmers grow the grapes, and particularly when they harvest them, and how winemakers choose to process them, than from any inherent differences between the old and new worlds.

Some thoughts from a recovering wine critic

Steve Heimoff

http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2014/03/27/some-thoughts-from-a-recovering-wine-critic/

More on the hundred point system which I discussed in my Monday post.

How do you consider the three-tier system in the wine world of the US to be functioning?

Wine Blog

http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2014/03/25/considering-three-tier-system-wine-word-us-functioning/

You can spend a lot of time reading about the three-tier system for wine marketing in this country, but this simple post pretty much says it all. The bottom line: everything is stacked in favor of the big guys.

Batali and Bastianich group threatened with suspension

Dr. Vino

http://www.drvino.com/2014/03/20/batali-bastianich-group-wine-suspension/

Eataly wined and fined & the three-tier system

Dr. Vino

http://www.drvino.com/2014/03/26/eataly-wined-fined-three-tier-system/#more-13663

The prior post addressed the downsides in general of the three-tier system. These two posts concern one company (or more accurately a group of interrelated companies) in New York that has run afoul of the system. It doesn’t seem particularly “evil” to me that someone who has restaurants and a wine store should decide to start producing wine and then sell it through his own outlets. But New York State feels differently. You can understand historically how these rules evolved. But they really and clearly don’t serve any purpose in 2014 except, perhaps, from the point of view of those who benefit from the rules which in effect limit competition.

Nielsen’s Emerging Trends In Beverage Alcohol 2014 (“Wine Is Winning”)

1 Wine Dude

http://www.1winedude.com/nielsen-emerging-trends-in-beverage-alcohol-2014/#more-13153

This is an interesting potpourri of facts, or perhaps more accurately described as near facts, concerning the alcohol industry. While not perfect, it certainly better than the total mis-information that is common, and widely accepted as true despite the complete lack of any effort to verify anything.

Are Standing Tasting Bars Better than Seated?

SVB on Wine

http://svbwine.blogspot.com/2014/03/are-standing-tasting-bars-better-than.html#more

I’m kind of surprised that according to the Silicon Valley Bank survey, tasting rooms where the server is seated do better than those where they stand. I guess I’m even more surprised that anyone would ask the question.

For keeping up to date with what’s going on the in wine world, the best all around source is http://winebusiness.com.

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The 100 point system redux

March 31st, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon here in Napa, and my main concern in life at the moment is trying to catch up on all my recorded basketball games from the NCAA basketball tournament. I still haven’t gotten around to doing my Monday blog so I need something quick, easy, and hopefully a little sexy.

Ergo, the hundred point system. Added to my need to get back to the TV set is the fact that I don’t think I’ve talked about the hundred point system in at least three weeks.

What brought this all to mind was my reading of Tom Wark’s blog on this very subject, which can be found at:

100 Point Wines and My Worry I Might Have Gone Round the Bend

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/100-point-wines-worry-might-gone-round-bend/

Suffice it to say that I largely disagree with Wark, who thinks the 100 point system has a lot of value. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I’m not to talk about whether the 100 point system is good, bad, irrelevant or anything like that. I’m instead going to talk about why we argue so much about it.

And I think the reason is that for so many major issues in the wine world, the hundred point system is at the epicenter of the debate.

I think if you read Wark’s article, his point of view seems to be that you should not think of the hundred point system as being any sort of objective assessment of the quality of the wine. If you do, then you are way off base. You should view it simply as the one critic’s personal and very subjective view of the wine he is tasting. Does it have anything to do with your personal, subjective view? Maybe, maybe not.

And I think even granting Wark the benefit of the doubt, you end up walking away thinking that if the hundred point system is good for anything at all, then it’s not good for very much.

To me, I don’t think giving a 97 to a wine has any more validity than giving a 97 to a van Gogh or a Renoir. It says more about the tastes of the critic than anything else (a point that I think Wark would concede).

So given that pretty much everybody would agree that the hundred point system occupies a spot someplace between mostly and totally irrelevant, why is it here?

The reason is simple. If there is an epicenter that the hundred point system occupies, I think it is in the crosshairs of where marketing meets winemaking. And let’s face it, if something moves cases then it is going to be embraced irrelevant or not. And the hundred point system moves cases. I don’t know the winemaker whose criticism of the hundred point system won’t suddenly abate the moment that he gets a 97 for one of his wines. What does it matter that some other critic gave the same wine an 87? Or a 77? Well, it doesn’t matter at all, since that 97 is gold when it comes to moving cases.

So, as Joel Grey said in “Cabaret” (or was that “Cabernet”?), “money makes the world go around.”

But the 100 point system sits not just at the epicenter of marketing versus winemaking, but also at the center of the dispute about objective versus subjective when it comes to wine quality. We would all like to think that wine quality is an objective thing. But the evidence seems to be largely to the contrary. Well, not all the evidence. We would all agree that a corked wine is, objectively, a bad one. Most of us would agree that a badly oxidized wine is also a bad wine, again in an objective sense.

But do we all agree that a oaky wine is a bad wine? Or a very tannic one? What about one high in acid, or one low in acid? Of course not. I don’t think raisins have any place in the taste profile for a wine, but obviously lovers of late harvest Zinfandel cherish that flavor.

But we hold on to the belief that wines are subject to objective evaluation as we do to other beliefs that are cherished, beautiful, and patently false. To abandon the hundred point system is to abandon our most closely held beliefs about wine and, for that reason, it will never happen.

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Good Reads Wednesday

March 26th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Every Wednesday I post my recommendations of the best of last week’s postings concerning wine, whether blogs or news. I list them in the order I read them, so you shouldn’t infer anything about the order in which I list these posts.

What Percent of Tasting Room Visitors Buy Nothing?

SVB on Wine

http://svbwine.blogspot.com/2014/03/eliminating-melon-squeezers.html

This is a pretty interesting post on the subject of tasting rooms and customers who aren’t really customers because they come in, taste your wine, waste your time, and buy nothing. How to avoid these “customers” is a large part of the post.

Praising California Chardonnay, and a remark about my new job

Steve Heimoff

http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2014/03/17/praising-california-chardonnay-and-a-remark-about-my-new-job/

What is a good Chardonnay supposed to taste like? That’s really the subject of this post. Personally, while I recognize that Chardonnay can be made in any number of different styles, I really don’t like the buttery oaky style that is its signature style here in California. I don’t like that style even when it is not overdone, which it generally is. I guess Heimoff feels differently.

Which wines go with what desserts?

Wine Blog

http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2014/03/18/wines-go-desserts/

A pretty interesting chart trying to match up desserts with wines. I think it very much adheres to the tried and true wisdom that you should try to match up foods with similar wines in terms of things like sweetness and acidity.

The $300 Coravin question

the Wine curmudgeon

http://winecurmudgeon.com/the-300-coravin-question/

I would be really curious to try out one of these things, but no way I’m plunking down $300 for one. Especially when for $.50 you can get a 375 ML bottle which is a perfectly good way to save half of a bottle of wine (usually the amount that’s left over if one person is drinking a couple of glasses with dinner – if it’s two people, then there’s nothing left over and you don’t need anything).

For keeping up to date with what’s going on the in wine world, the best all around source is http://winebusiness.com.

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What You’re Tasting in Wine ~ 10 Rules

March 23rd, 2014
Brettanomyces.
Image via Wikipedia

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Since I couldn’t really think of a whole lot to write about this week, and was more interested in watching the NCAA basketball tournament, I decided to republish a post from several years ago. Here it is:

Because there’s so much misinformation out there about flavors in wine, I thought some “quick and dirty” rules for red wine would be helpful. These rules should be taken for what they are, generalities that admit of exceptions.

Rule 1.  If you taste something in a wine that you would describe as a fruit flavor (e.g., strawberry, cherry), it probably comes from the grapes. If you taste something that you would describe as a spice (cloves, cinnamon, dill), it most likely comes from oak (though sometimes from something else, but not the grapes).

Rule 2.  If the wine tastes of green peppers or green olives, that comes from underripeness in the fruit. (In some wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, some, but not too much, of those flavors are normal, and are not a defect.)

Rule 3.   If you detect something that you would describe as wet socks, wet dog, barnyard, or Band-Aid, it comes from a yeast, Brettanomyces (often referred to as “Brett”). While many consider this a defect, to others these flavors add interest and complexity. However you feel about Brett, it is common in many Old World wines, particularly Burgundy. Brettanomyces can also result in a clove flavor, similar to what can result from oak.

Rule 4.  The rotten egg smell in some wines comes from the development of hydrogen sulfide. Left untreated, hydrogen sulfide can develop into other sulfidic compounds giving various off-flavors, including garlic, onion, rubber, asparagus, and canned corn.

Rule 5.  Flavors of cedar come from oak, usually French oak. American oak is more likely to contribute dill, honeyed, or coconut aromas. The scents resulting from oak also vary as a result of toast level. The lower toast levels contribute vanilla and spice notes; slightly higher toast levels contribute lead pencil and cedar, while the highest toast levels produce the smoky aromas, such as bacon and char. Since different types of barrels (or oak alternatives) made from different oaks and toasted to different levels can be blended into one wine, a wine can possess a number of these oak flavors.

Rule 6.   Different fruit flavors correspond with different ripeness levels in the fruit. Bright fruit (e.g., strawberry) is the earliest, then the dark fruits (progressing through cherry to blackberry), followed by prune, then raisin (overripe).

Rule 7.  If the wine smells like sherry, then it is “oxidized”, which, as its name implies, results when oxygen gets into the wine. Normally, the preservative sulfur dioxide in the wine binds to any oxygen, thus protecting against oxidation. Once the sulfur dioxide is exhausted, oxygen will interact with the wine to produce a chemical, acetaldehyde, which is what causes the oxidized aroma. Older wines, since more time allows more oxygen to seep into the wine through the cork, are more likely to be oxidized than young wines. Any wine left open too long after uncorking will become oxidized.

Rule 8.  If the wine smells like wet cardboard, it’s “corked”. “Corkiness” results from the presence of a chemical, TCA, which comes mostly, though not always, from bad corks.

Rule 9.  If a wine smells like nail polish remover (or less often vinegar), it is due to volatile acidity, which results from a microbial infection of the wine.

Rule 10.  A puckery, astringent sensation results from the tannins in wine. Technically, it’s not a flavor at all, but a tactile sensation. People vary greatly in how much they like or dislike tannins. A soft wine is one with less tannin, a structured wine with more.

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