Good Reads Wednesday

March 12th, 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.

In Pursuit of Balance Tasting: March 10, San Francisco

VINOGRAPHY: a wine blog

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

I’m not sure what to make of this post. I generally agree with the goal of this tasting, which is to taste wines that emphasize balance. They concentrate on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two wines that they consider in greatest need. In my book, balance is probably the most important thing a wine needs to have. But, as with everything when it comes to wine tasting, there is a huge amount of disagreement even on this point. This is kind of surprising to me since balance seems to me probably one of the easier aspects of winetasting that we should be able to agree on. After all, to a large extent balance is based on aspects of the wine that most people can agree on by taste (acid level, tannin level, alcohol level, etc.) and which can to a large extent be measured in the laboratory. I certainly agree that this sort of tasting, with a limited number of wines, makes way more sense than the mega tastings that take place at so many wine events, where, for the life of me, I can’t imagine anybody being able to taste through even a small percentage of the wines while maintaining a palate that can taste much of anything at all.

The Question of Land-Focused vs. Hand-Focused Wines

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/whats-better-wine-land-focused-vs-hand-focused/

With all the hype around the concept of terroir, it’s interesting to read somebody who is at least willing to consider the possibility that how a winemaker decides to craft this wine is worthy of at least as much attention as where the grapes came from and whether the winemaker is sufficiently “true” to the terroir from whence they came. Since terroir is a concept with a kernel of truth surrounded by a thick blanket of marketing hype, it’s good to see someone at least entertaining the possibility that something other than terroir is worthy of note.

Why French Wine Will Never Be as Interesting as American Wine

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/french-wine-will-never-interesting-american-wine/

Wark makes the point that the French, being so tied up with their regulations and their beliefs that they have already figured it all out when it comes to what works where, lack the inventiveness that we Americans possess.

Middle Aged Wine: The Good, Bad and Worst News

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/middle-aged-wine-good-bad-worst-news/

Wark bemoans the fact that there are virtually no reviews of wines that are more than a few years old. This means that wines in their prime are totally ignored.

Defining terroir, it’s a science not a myth

Wine Blog

http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2014/03/05/defining-terroir-science-myth/

This post focuses on a study which compared the amount of heat in Napa Valley versus Suisun Valley. I think it’s difficult to make generalities about this sort of thing, since the devil is in the details. There are certainly parts of Napa Valley that are hotter than parts of Suisun Valley. I think that, taken as a whole, Suisun Valley is the hotter of the two. But just as certainly Calistoga is hotter than the southern parts of Suisun. I also think that it is a mistake to say that one region is superior to another because it’s climate is cooler. It would be far fairer to say that one region can excel with one set of grapes, while another region can excel with another. I am not sure that Suisun Valley will ever produce a great Pinot. When it comes to the Rhône varieties, I think Suisun has the edge.

Guttarolo Primitivo, a remarkable amphora wine from Puglia

jamie goode’s wine blog

http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/italy/guttarolo-primitivo-a-remarkable-amphora-wine-from-puglia

I’ve always been curious about wines that are aged in amfora, a large clay container that is sealed closed to prevent oxygen infiltration. Though I have to assume oxygen gets in any way, which may be part of the style. Though I’ve been curious, I’ve never had a chance to try one, but hopefully someday I will.

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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Joseph Swan 1993 Pinot Noir

March 10th, 2014

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

I’ve been trying to clear out a large number of older wines recently. My general advice for California wines is to drink them up within 10 years. In typical “do as I say, not as I do” fashion, I have a large number of wines from California that are definitely beyond the ten-year point.

And, in general, I should’ve followed my own advice. Most of these wines are hollow ghosts of their former selves. In many cases, they are totally over the hill, showing an unacceptable level of oxidation.

2014-03-05-104541

I know I have often made the case that California wines simply don’t age that well. And, in general, I think that that is a true statement of the state of affairs. But do California wines not age well because of some innate characteristic or because of how they are made?

Entering the fray on this question is a wine that I opened last night, the 1993 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir from Lone Redwood Ranch.

I can’t even remember when I bought this wine, but it was a really really long time ago. Even when young, this wine was, in my opinion, a wonderful example of what Pinot Noir should be. It was light in body, high in acidity. As all Pinot Noirs should be.

So how was it last night? Well, in a word, spectacular. It is one of the best Pinot Noirs I have ever had. Generally, we think of the best aging California wine as being Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot doesn’t seem to last nearly as long. But this wine certainly put the lie to that generalization.

It is certainly the case that if you start with overripe grapes which are low in acid and tannin, and simply put them through the fermentation process without making adjustments, you’re probably going to end up with a wine that is not going to last terribly long.

If you start off with that same wine, but add a decent amount of acid, and maybe even some tannin, that wine should fare appreciably better.

If you start off with a wine that is not overripe, and maybe even a little underripe, with tons of acidity, it will do much better still. While tannins help, we know in general, and the Joseph Swan in particular, are not overly endowed with tannins. Certainly, when you think of what Pinot should be at its best, lots of tannin doesn’t factor into the equation. But this wine is certainly evidence that with enough acidity and being otherwise in balance, a California Pinot Noir can last a really really long time.

I’m not really sure how to describe this wine, since old Pinots tend to develop a nose which is unique unto itself. All of the usual descriptors that we apply to younger wines just don’t seem to have a place when talking about a wine of this age. I guess the best descriptor that I could give it is “old Pinot”.

So, if the question is whether California wines usually don’t age well because of innate characteristics or, instead, how they are made, this wine certainly comes down hard on the side of “how they are made”. I’m quite sure that these grapes were not picked too late, and I suspect that they naturally had plenty of acidity. It’s also possible that acid got added after harvest, though I tend to doubt this.

At any rate, this wine is simply glorious. It is everything an old wine should strive to be.

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Good Reads Wednesday

March 5th, 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.

Unfortunately, I could find absolutely nothing this week worth recommending. Sorry.

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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Robert Parker

March 3rd, 2014

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

One of this past week’s events that was commented on in a number of blogs was the appearance of Robert Parker at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.

Vinography posted a video of the presentation but the audio quality was so poor it was a struggle to try to understand it, so I gave up. I did read some summaries of what he had to say, which I guess were somewhat interesting, but only somewhat.

But this got me thinking about Robert Parker and his affect on the wine business. I can’t say as I had spent a whole lot of time thinking about Parker, at least until this week. But it’s hard not to acknowledge that Robert Parker has had a major effect, in some ways good, and in some ways not so good.

On the good side of the ledger, Parker has certainly brought a lot of attention to wine. And, as they say, all publicity is good publicity.

And, as wine writers go, I think there is a lot to commend with Parker. I believe he sincerely tries to be honest and balanced, and that his ratings reflect his true opinion of the wines he’s tasting, divorced of bias or influence.

Do I put much stock in his ratings? I would have to answer that question “No”. But then again, do I put much stock in ratings by any writer? Not really. I guess there are some that maybe I give a little bit more weight to than others. And, in that sense, Parker is not one that I pay any attention to at all.

It must be granted that everybody has their preferences. And therefore no wine writer has a monopoly on what tastes good and what doesn’t. I think if you can find somebody whose tastes seem to parallel yours, then maybe what they have to say is worth a listen.

But Parker’s likes and dislikes when it comes to wine don’t parallel mine in the least. I would say, as a general rule, Parker likes wines that are soft (that is, low in acid), oaky, and with a touch of Brett. I tend to like wines that are racy (that is high in acid), with little or no oak, and no Brett. So, obviously, Parker and I are not much of a fit.

But that I don’t gravitate towards the wines that Parker likes in no way denigrates his tasting abilities and his recommendations. There are obviously tons of people out there whose likes more closely parallel Parker’s than they do mine. For those people, Parker can probably be a valuable source.

On the negative side of the ledger, I think Parker has done a lot to create the ultra-premium, cult-wine, feeding frenzy that turn off so many people to wine. Let’s face it: a well-made, even exceptionally well-made, wine costing $10-$15 without any name recognition is unlikely to get much attention from Parker. If you are a first growth Bordeaux, then Parker is great for you. But how many people devote much of their wine consumption to first growth Bordeauxs.

I think Parker has also done more than anybody to elevate a few critics to pretty much what counts as superstardom in the wine world. I can’t say as this is a welcome development. Again, it smacks of elitism when what would be of greatest benefit to the industry would be removing so much of the stigma attached to wine. I think we would be better off with more consumers who maybe don’t know all that much about wine, and aren’t interested in spending beaucoup bucks on a bottle. In fact, it is those consumers that even now constitute a large majority of our customers. For the industry as a whole, expanding that market rather than catering to a relative few who are obsessed with the best that money can buy is, in the long run, a better strategy.

But if you look at anyone in any sphere of life who has had a major impact, there are few that are unmitigated goods or unmitigated bads. The more important thing, looked at from a historian’s point of view, is not whether they changed things for the better or for the worse (always something open to debate anyway) but whether they change things at all. In that regard, you would have to say that Parker has been a great success.

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Good Reads Wednesday

February 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.

Confessions of a wine critic

Steve Heimoff

http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2014/02/21/confessions-of-a-wine-critic/

This is just another reason that any tasting that isn’t blind is totally worthless.

I’ll have some Roussillon, hold the Rivesaltes

W. Blake Gray

http://palatepress.com/2014/02/wine/ill-roussillon-hold-rivesaltes/

This post touches on a number of different topics, but the most interesting is the change in grape and wine production due to changing technology.

What drives wine drinkers? Price, of course

The Wine Curmudgeon

http://winecurmudgeon.com/what-drives-wine-drinkers-price-of-course/

Just in case anybody needed a reminder this post highlights the fact that the vast majority of wine purchased in America is at the lower end of the price scale.

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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