Vol 4 No 4 Where in the hell is Temecula?

We are visiting the West Coast and staying in Orange County. One day we went with friends to Santa Barbara which has some great tasting rooms: Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara Winery, Zaca Mesa and several more. It was disheartening on the way up to see the fire damage but Santa Barbara was as quaint and beautiful as ever.

I love Au Bon Climat and tasted their premium wines which were all great. I have visited the winery several times and never cease to be impressed by both Jim Clendendon and his partner, Bob Lindquist. The old saying that opposites attract is true here on many levels., and those differences may well be the key to their relationship. Their winery sits at the edge of the famed Bien Nacido vineyard.

Jim is a Rhone Ranger and for the most part doesn’t stray much west of Burgundy. He loves pinot noir and it shows in all he produces and also makes great chardonnay. In addition to ABC, ranked as the number four of 101 best wineries in America. he also produces Clendenon Family Vineyards. Under that label he makes two of the few, and best, Nebbiolo’s outside of Piemonte, Italy but also other artisan wines such as Aligote, Tocai Friulano, a Mondeuse Rose from Bien Nacido, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Petit Verdot, and a wonderful Grenache, a Syrah/Viognier blend,and of course two Pinot Noir’s. I have never had an ABC pinot that disappointed and I can’t say that about many labels.

Bob’s focus is on southern Rhone wines, especially syrah, but also wonderful Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, and blends of them. The Clendendon Family label  and the Verdad consists of Albarino, Granacha, Graciano, Rose, a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon, and Tempranillo.

Bob is famous for his Qupe label of Rhone style wines as well as Lindquist Family Vineyards which he produces with his wife, Sawyer; He has also added Verdad which produces great Spanish wines.

Yesterday, we went with some other friends to Temecula, as I wanted to see, and taste for myself, these wines. It was a great counterpoint to the Santa Barbara County wines just discussed.

Temecula is a small town and one you had to pass through on the old U.S. 395 which ran from San Diego to Spokane. Later the town and all others were bypassed by the freeway which is now I-15. Like all of southern California the growth has been incredible and it has been exhibited in the nearly forty(!) wineries with all but two of them clustered tdo the east of the interstate. The first one was Callaway, developed by the golf club company of the same name but was later sold to the Lin family. Originally, the focus was on chardonnay but since the change they have branched into both reds and whites.

We visited two others, Wilson Creek, and Thornton which are considered two of the top one in the area, along with Keyways. We had good wines at both but with all of these wineries in about a six square mile area, it is hard to differentiate. For the most part, the wines lacked the richness of the key California wine locales and the prices reflected the cost of creating a winery today and most of these serve as wedding venues, etc.

So here is the problem: the low end wines started in the high $20’s, and the reds ran from $45 to $75 and even $100 a bottle, so for TB the value simply wasn’t there. Note also that when a winery becomes a destination resort with few exceptions it is the wine that suffers. We had lunch at PUBlic House in old Temecula and I noted that the wine list did not include even one Temecula wine…the price may well have been a factor considering the price for wines from other regions of California on the wine list.

TB has written before on Karen MacNeil’s, The Wine Bible, now in its second edition (and now available as an e-book, which TB strongly recommends for travel. One of the reviews of the first edition complained of the omission of Temecula wines in the tomb. Well, she omitted it in the second edition also, and it was published just two years ago.

So TB’s verdict is IF you are in Southern California and have a craving to visit a winery it is worth the 1-1/2 hour drive from anywhere south of Los Angeles but if you are north of there, go to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and if you have time, Paso Robles.

I mean no offense at the owners of the Temecula wineries, but these are my conclusions after visiting some of the best the area has to offer.

Have a great day!


(c) traderbillonwine.com 2018


Vol 4 No 3 Is the high end wine market imploding?

TB has been reading articles lately on demographics of wine buyers and here is the jist:

  1. Babyboomers start in 1946 and run to 1964 (note TB is in the twilight zone missed greatest generation too…Dec. 26, 1944; Generation X is 1965-1980; Millennials run from 1980 on…but for our purposes end at 1997 in order to be of age to buy (not necessarily to consume, right?).
  2. As the babyboomers retire, they are being forced to cut down on their consumption of high priced wines ($50+ for example). That means someone has to pick up the slack. In 2008, China did just that for Bordeaux saving it from catastrophe, driving the price of 1st and 2nd growths to the moon, Alice…the moon, as the Great One would say…quite a wine drinker he! So far, no one is trying to take the torch, which has given rise to online sellers of various sizes and value to buyers. One site TB is aware of and has used for obscure wines is Wine Till Sold Out dotcom. it is becoming apparent that this site is being used to offload unwanted inventory (distributors and retailers, of little interests to winery customers). I have heard no complaints about this one from winery owners although they are reluctant to go further for obvious reasons. There are other sites, as well as big box retailers like Total Wine & More, Beverages and More (BevMo), as well as Trader Joe’s that get mixed reviews.
  3. Millennials are a mixed bag: they don’t care to buy the same wines their parents did for the most part; are not collectors of rarities or wine for aging (generalization); many are making good incomes but many are not and some are still saddled with student loan debt, mortgages, car loans, etc.
  4. They want to discover their own fav’s and at affordable prices. That is the best answer TB can offer to the reason that wines in the $15-20 segment are the fastest growing in sales, while the $10 and under category is flat and has been for a few years running (it is also why TB believes the best values are in the $25-35 range (especially if you find them on sale), WTSO bears this out too if you look at their offerings).
  5. Daily TB sees wines in the $75-100 range…even $150…deeply discounted (that is one thing you may view as good or bad about the site as you will get perhaps a dozen offerings a day that are gone within 20-45 minutes…sometimes less  and price dependent, 1-4 bottles gets you free shipping!). This brings TB back to the last blog he posted a few days ago on when joining a wine club is desirable.

TB would appreciate observations of others on the veracity of the above, or other thoughts from readers.

These are/can be trying times for winery owners, particularly those who purchased vineyard land on the West Coast in the past ten years or so. What to they do with their surplus wines, particularly from their most recent vintages, that won’t drive down the price of their wine…permanently? The wrong plan can totally destroy the bottom line.

One outlet that is becoming more widely known is China, or Chi-na, as Trump would say (although he is a teetotaler, the family owns Trump Winery and which TB has no interest in trying – ever – it simply goes against his grain for a plethora of reasons). While the Chinese saved Bordeaux in 2008 during the global financial crisis, a byproduct was the demise of their three-tier system, it is also of interest to U.S. winemakers who need to get rid of inventory without ‘dumping’ it on the market. It simply vaporizes and unless someone wants to go into currency translation for the Yuan (real name Renmimbi), no one will ever know. TB believes this outlet originated when U.S. and other producers thought they could market their brands their but ran into a lack of copyright protection, fraud, and governmental bribes. The answer was to go to an exporter, who may be owned partially by the Chinese, and poof! Problem solved and no one will ever know what it was sold for. If this helps destroy our own post-Prohibition extortionist three-tiered wine laws, TB is all for it! Why should the grower/winemaker take the most risk yet make the least when with nothing but a law and some knowledge of wine (in some cases distributors even promote favorites while letting their smaller wineries hang.), make most of the retail price. The unfairness of this is further complicated by some state laws that say if you fire a distributor you can’t replace him until the last case is sold…and some are vindictive enough to never sell that case!

I could name extremely rare cult wines that are in the predicament of not being able to sell all their wine when there used to be a waiting list to buy it, but are having to resort to China to bail them out. Now do you understand the problem?

We will close on the topic of wine fraud. TB is willing to bet that virtually every collection has at least one bottle of counterfeit wine. In many cases, auctioneers turn a blind eye, some actually aid and abet it for their own profit and then deny culpability. Makes you want to rush down to your local wine auction house and get your bidding paddle, doesn’t it? Not TB, he had fun at wine auctions, got some great wines at reasonable prices, and watched others pay premiums for that could be bought at many wine shops…for less!

But his greatest success was selling some cult wines at huge premiums with the intent to buy more wine, but alas his wife saw things differently…the money simply vaporized.

TB will close with a quote from the great Andre Tschelistcheff (that you may have seen here before but what the hey…it’s a damned good one: “we spend far too much time tasting wine, and not enough time drinking it.”

Drink up, this ain’t no library!


(c) 2018 traderbillonwine.com

Vol. 4 No. 2 when should you join a wine club?

***Update: this article based on Silicon Valley  Bank’s observations, they the big lender to the wine industry, drives home what this article is all about. High priced wines are not selling…could mean a big shakeout. https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/01/us-wine-growth-slows-as-clouds-gather

Over the years I have joined (and eventually left) several wine clubs. I didn’t leave them due to dissatisfaction, on the contrary I had way too much wine piling up that I wasn’t drinking fast enough. From what I hear from others it is a common problem, and an expensive one.

At the big wineries you sign up for two to four shipments a year, sometimes with only a choice of white or red. You may not like some of them or even see them much cheaper at a discount store or as in the previous post, an online purveyor.

So here is my advice: first, skip the big wineries because you can find most of their wines in shops. Second, even with some of the smaller wineries, they may not be able to sell all off mailing lists, especially the larger their production is. This can lead to discounting.

Of course, if you just ‘gotta have’ a wine and it is hard to find, then go for it. Then there are the ’boutique’ cult wineries that don’t command the three digit prices, but for them it is a two-way street: a loyal following, availability for the buyer, and much better prices for the seller which can make the difference between making a profit or taking a loss.

As shown in my last post, and I didn’t even use the example of a $100+ wine selling for $29, but the more common one. Just did a search of my trash emails and found what I was looking for:


Notre Vin Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
94 rating and 67% off!

Free Shipping on 2 or more

Comparable Price*: $150.00
Yesterday’s Best Web Price (With Shipping): $N/A
Our Price:


Buy Now

wine bottle Description
Appellation Howell Mountain
Unit Size 750 ml
Varietal/Grapes Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage 2012
Country United States
Region Napa Valley
Alcohol Content 13.80
67% OFF!

This is a perfect example: Howell Mountain is not only the first AVA subdivision in Napa Valley, but has volcanic soil, which is rich and imparts incredible flavors and body. Among the famous producers are Dunn, CADE, Black Sears, Duckhorn, Outpost (formerly part of Lamborn, which is still active and going strong. Members of the Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Assn. now total 35.  When I first started going up there to see Bob and Mike Lamborn in the late 1980’s (two different vineyards on opposite sides of Summit Lake Drive), you could count all of them on two hands and still have fingers to spare.  At the base of Howell Mountain, along the Silverado Trail are Beringer, Heitz, and Joseph Phelps, which also benefit from the rich soil.

Notre Vin is also ranked as one of the top Howell Mountain wineries. Even so, they can’t sell all their wine and thus it appeared on WTSO. But more interestingly, this was the second time in about a month that the offering appeared. Now imagine if you were a member of that wine club, how would you feel.

On the other hand there are many small producers (relatively), where if you want the wine you have to join (not talking about the BIG name cult wines and note even they have problems moving their wines). More power to those who can make the transition, they deserve it for the hard work and of course, passion. You will also be able to offer wine to friends that have never seen it before and that should make you feel good.

Forget wine clubs at retail outlets and especially online sellers. Remember that by joining a wine club at a boutique winery you are making a difference and rewarding the ones who do the work, instead of middlemen (made possible by our antiquated post-Prohibition laws.

I just received a blog email that is worth looking at http://blog.merchant23.com/why-2018-will-be-the-year-of-blind-price-wines and ties indirectly into this article. If you like wine, buy it at a local wine shop that has knowledgeable people and fewer, but carefully selected wines. You may pay a little more but at least you will be insuring that they will still be in business, a plus for you! What I am opposed to is the big box stores, especially Total Wine which is destroying competition here in Minnesota that started with a feud with a local store that dared to open one in Florida. To me, it looks like a vendetta but it is the other stores that are being hurt. Some tell me of losing 30% of their sales…that can be the difference between making a decent living and breaking even or worse. While it is true that the big box stores can sell cheaper, they are also marking up the lesser known names by buying all of the wine (i.e. Vino 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon), and selling it for a fraction of the retail price AND they buy it deeply discounted then market it up 35% or more and you thought you were getting a bargain. It also hurts the winery because from then on when they see their similar wine they think it is too expensive. So tell me: who is the winner and who are the losers?

That’s my take on wine clubs and big box stores, use them wisely.


(c) traderbillonwine.com 2018

Vol.4 No.1 are premium wines worth the premium?

Happy New Year to all! Have been thinking about this piece since the beginning of the year. I have found, personally, the sweet spot in wines is about $25-30…if I win the lottery tomorrow night that will likely change, but if I do, would I be buying $100-150 wines?

First, I find the best value in the $25-30 range…not that there aren’t a lot in the class below of a slightly expanded $18-20 range,  and of course some sleepers in the $12-15 range. Below that are some well made wines but not to my liking…or I haven’t found them yet. The $15-20 range for the third straight year is the fast growing sector, and represents a step up from the under $10 range that held for so long. As an aside, Rosé’s continue to increase in popularity but remain less than 5% of the market which begs the question: who is making money with what seems like hundreds of them out there and growing continually? Most are in the $12-15 range.

About those high priced wines. I have mentioned Wine Till Sold Out (www.wtso.com) previously and have had excellent experiences with them. To recap: they post wines perhaps one or two an hour or until they are ‘sold out’. Here is an example of what I am talking about:

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe
91 rating and 71% off!

Free Shipping on 4 or more

Comparable Price*: $70.00
Yesterday’s Best Web Price (With Shipping): $N/A
Our Price:

$19.99 71% OFF!

Buy Now

wine bottle Description
Appellation Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Unit Size 750 ml
Varietal/Grapes Red Blend
Vintage 2014
Country France
Region Bordeaux
Alcohol Content 14.00
Peter Kwok has been breathing life into aging Saint-Emilion chateaux for a couple of decades, giving us new, delightful opportunities to enjoy the wines of this classic region in Bordeaux. Sourced from vineyards nestled among Cru Classe estates, this Merlot-driven bottling effuses a fruity and smoky intensity that speaks to its premier situation among the Right Bank hills. Try this wonderful Saint-Emilion with kebabs and shawarma!
91 Points – International Wine Report!
“The 2014 La Croix Saint Christophe Saint-Émilion Grand Cru delivers lovely aromas of ripe cherries, blackberries followed by violets, tobacco, wet stones and a touch spice. This medium-bodied red is wrapped in fine silky tannins, showing great structure and balance all the way through the long finish, which is laced with even more dark fruits and tobacco flavors.”
Pretty complete, no? So here are the salient points:
1. Good description and note that you can get free shipping (the number of bottles required varies inversely with the price but four is standard).
2. Note that they ship quickly from their N.J. warehouse so if you aren’t going to be home for a few days, want to avoid it being shipped in extreme weather etc.,you just let them know with your  order, which, once set up is just a click.
My experience is limited as I have only had a need for a specific wine twice but it was consistent. Also, if you have a problem they are prompt in getting back to you to fix it.
First time, I bought was Meyer Family Vineyards, 2011 Syrah. This is the late Justin Meyer’s winery after he sold out of Silver Oak.  I bought six bottles for, if I recall, $15 each – on a $35 wine. It was summer and the day it arrived it was over 100 degrees! I cringed when I thought of drinking it as my laser thermometer showed a bottle temperature of 90 degrees! That night I tried the first one and it was ‘raisainy’, not undrinkable mind you but not what I had bargained for. I notified them of the problem and they told me I should have told them to hold the delivery and then let them know when to deliver. Surprisingly, they offered to send me six more bottles and hold them until the weather cooled down. I did and when I received them they were in excellent condition…and I did, by the way finish the others. Not bad, eh?
But I was curious, what would the winery say about this? So, I called and spoke to Justin’s son, Matt (Justin’s wife Bonnie, for whom a Silver Oak vineyard was named, is still alive and active in the winery). He said that the 2011 vintage received poor reviews, but that they had harvested and bottled late and it was very good. The problem was stores had too much of the vintage so there was no market for it. That is when they went to WTSO. Matt sold two pallets, roughly 98 cases per pallet, to clear their inventory.
So what did Matt accomplish? He sold wine that he couldn’t do anything with at a price that was acceptable to him (don’t know what that was), the wine wasn’t sitting on shelves at a deep discount price (think Trader Joe’s or any large retailer). Instead it was up for perhaps 20 minutes and then disappeared. Remember they still had wine left which they would bring up at another time. That is why you will get lots of emails in a day, and it forces you, if interested, to act quickly. Gradually, they will sell all the wine in the lot. A win win for all concerned.
Contrast this to the other wine sites that show the price for long periods of time and it can be compared to other lots they are selling. The other alternative is selling to someone like Total Wine at an even steeper discount which they will advertise as “Winery Direct”, with a large markup. The cheerful staff will direct you to these sometimes in response to a ‘do you carry’ question, saying if you like that you can save a lot by buying this instead. Nothing wrong with that but is it really the same quality?
So there you have it and if we didn’t have the post-Prohibition, three-tiered market all would be better off. Most distributors are reputable, but some including the biggest ones don’t do a good job of marketing ALL the wines, especially from smaller wineries which is unfair because storage costs can quickly eat up profits or worse, turning them into losses.
As with all internet sellers WTSO is having a big impact on wine strategy for buyers. It becomes increasingly difficult to shell out $100 and then find it on line for significantly less. If you can find a good wine specialty shop, support their effort, not some liquor store with lighting that is hard on wine, improper storage, and a lack of knowledgeable help. Since moving to the Twin Cities seven years ago I have been pleased to find FIVE, and all but one with in five miles of my home (that is even more than when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is worth the search!
I will close with this quote from the great Andre Tschelistcheff, who knew of what he spoke: “We spend far too much time tasting wine and not enough time drinking it.”
TB’s kind of guy!
NEXT: Should you join a wine club?
(c) Traderbillonwine.com 2018


Vol 3 No 17 Ring in the New Year with Red!

Okay, so it should be champagne but at the prices for the good bubbly TB will pass. IF he was to buy one it would be Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé , but at $100 plus I’ll wait to be a guest at someone with taste and money’s home. I first had the B-S when Kermit Lynch brought it to California if not the U.S. It is a stunning wine but not at a bargain price anymore.

So, what will TB be drinking New Year’s Eve whilst watching that big ball descend on Times Square? Could be a Cava, yep same methode traditionelle that the Spaniards from Penedes learned and brought back from Champagne when they realized their wine was no good. Note also they brought back the equipment so it is closer than one thinks. It was founded in 1541 My personal favorite is Codorniu, especially the Anna (named after the last living descendant) in opaque bottles, either the Brut or Rosé, and for around $15 – a steal. Last night, after posting this, I tried of all things a Prosecco Spumante Rosé  from Veneto (not Asti!) by Desiderio JEIO, that was an incredible bargain at $15 and in a beautiful bottle as well. The winery, which I had never heard of goes back to 1542 so it is one of the originals. A best buy!

My fav house in Champagne is Roederer, producer of Cristal, which while very good, isn’t worth the hefty price tag to me, but that is personal. I can say this because I had a friend who would only drink Cristal. One night he called and asked us over because he felt like drinking some bubbly. I agreed on one condition: I bring a bottle and we do a blind tasting. Reluctantly he agreed. When we finished tasting the two bottles and removed the bags, he was dumbfounded: he had picked mine…also a Roederer BUT it was Roederer Estate from – sacre bleu! – Anderson Valley, California. I finally consoled him saying he could now buy a dozen or more bottles for the price of one. Not much as far as he was concerned. What is remarkable about Roederer is there is a flintiness that is unmistakable, similar to Chablis. How they did that in their California ‘sparkler’ is beyond TB’s comprehension.

Decades ago my wife and I had been over at Mendocino and driving back stopped at Korbel, which is pretty good for the price but instead of the bottles being hand-turned as in Champagne, they devised a system of huge racks which ‘flip’ from one side to the other trying to reproduce the effect of the riddling method of Champagne, sort of. Korbel fell by the wayside however when the big champagne houses Mumm, Chandon, and a couple more, such as Deutz, with Burgundian winemaker Christian Roguenant who was brought over as winemaker for Maison Deutz (later sold and became Laetitia), and now is winemaker at Baillyana, both of which are in Edna Valley, just east of San Luis Obispo. Through a friend I got to know Christian who is not only a great winemaker but a chef.

After leaving Korbel we went to Napa Valley and visited Schramsberg, made famous by Nixon who served it at a state dinner (and decreed that all wine served at the White House be from California). Nixon being Nixon however, he kept a bottle of Chateau Margaux by his seat at the table and that is what he drank when wine served was red!

Very near to Schramsberg, we stumbled on Hans Kornell, and despite being nobody’s, gave us a personal tour…there was nothing pretentious about Hans. We loved his champagne…oops, can’t call it that today, can we? Especially his Sehr Trocken, or driest of the dry and I still have a bottle of it, long past time to drink but a remembrance of a very nice man. Poor Hans though, he had had to replace his vines to disease and built up a lot of debt doing so, then the economy took a downturn and the bank foreclosed, and he lost everything. There is one bright spot here though: Robert Mondavi. Beloved by some, despised by some, but he died an amazing thing: at auction he bought Hans’ home, and allowed Hans and his family to live in it rent free until he died!

Hans Kornell makes a great segue into TB’s book project. If you haven’t heard it’s a book on wine that isn’t about wine but rather the people who make it. It is their passion that drives them and whether their wine costs $25 or $100 or more they all exhibit the same passion for what they are doing. I had to scale it back from all the countries I have visited and all the people I have met to just the U.S. and Canada. If it is well received, a second book for the rest of the planet will be published. Hopefully the first one will be out by Spring 2018 and the second by yearend.

The book is dedicated to Andre Tschelistcheff and Dr. Konstantin Frank, who made incredible contributions to making California…and New York wines great. These two Russians had incredible passion and influenced so many great winemakers.

Andre had the easier job as vitis vinifera was the vine of choice in California. Dr. Frank had too issues to deal with. First, the cold weather in the Finger Lakes region which the ‘experts’ said was too cold for vinifera vines…he knew they were wrong, having come from a cold climate. Secondly, he had to fight those who relied on the French-American hybrids and if you ever tasted early New York wines you will know why. The key adjective was ‘foxy’ and not in a nice way. Even today, more land is planted to Concord grapes than the rest combined. Hint: Welch’s is located there!

Andre was responsible for training Joseph Heitz, Mike Grgich, and mentored Richard Peterson who was introduced to him by his son, Dimitri, when both worked at Gallo. He also advised Warren Winiarski on when to pick the grapes for the Stags Leap Cabernet that was used in the Judgment of Paris. Note also that Grgich was the winemaker for Chateau Montelena at the time which won the chardonnay class.

It is important to note that the purpose of the Judgment was not to prove American wines better than French but to show they could compete with top French labels. However most of the wines bested the French and in subsequent tastings that gap grew wider.

Others in the book include: Randall Grahm, Jim Clendenon, Bob Lindquist, George Hendry, Dave Rafanelli, the Unti family, Justin Meyer, Vince and Lise Ciolino of Montemaggiore, Bob and Mike Lamborn who had great influence on me and opened so many doors to me.  Lane Tanner, who was discovered and mentored by Andre is a great story in herself.

Anyway, hope you find the book of interest and I will keep you posted on release.

Best Wishes for the New Year a votre sante


(c) Traderbillonwine 2017



Vol 3 No 16 The Judgment of Paris Tasting Revisited: and what it means for ratings

Steven Spurrier, a British graduate of the London School of Economics moved to Paris in 1964 with 14 years of experience at Christopher and purchased a wine shop of the Rue Royale from an elderly woman. The shop, Les Caves de la Madeleine, became widely respected and he pioneered allowing clients to taste before buying. In 1973, he founded L’Academie  du Vin, the first wine school in France. As California wines were becoming talked about and quality was improving he decided to hold a tasting comparing both French and American Cabernets and Chardonnays to see if the American wines could hold up to the French Bordeaux’s and Burgundies.

The competition was held on May 24, 1976 and were it not for a slow news days might have gone unnoticed had it not been for George M. Tabor it might have gone unnoticed for a long time, which the French would have likely preferred. Tabor heard of the tasting comparing wines of the two countries at the Intercontinental Hotel and as it turned out was the only reporter to cover it.

While the story is a remarkable one, the movie, Bottle Shock had nothing to do with the tasting and everything to do with Hollywood’s perception of it. Tabor had even threatened to sue and probably should have as its inconsistencies, as with the later film Sideways, made both irrelevant, although the former increased demand both at home and abroad for California wines, and the latter, uplifted Pinot Noir (driving prices to the moon, Alice, the moon!), and decimating demand for Merlot (this despite the fact that there were some excellent Merlot’s but much of it was plonk). Suddenly Pinot was at eye level and Merlot relegated to the bottom shelf.

Some misconceptions about the tasting: first, Spurrier, a lover of French wines, never intended it to be a competition but merely to see if California wines were similar in quality to the French. In order to lessen the competition over which was better, no official rating scale was used, merely 20 points per wine to awarded as the tasters chose. All the tasters came with strong credentials and were French, except for Spurrier, and an American, Patirica Gallagher, who was with Spurrier’s l’Acadamie du Vin. Neither of their scores were counted but that is a moot point because as a rule they were never the best or the worst scores but at least impartiality was achieved.

One French judge, Odette Kahn, editor of La Revue of France was so embarrassed by how she ranked two of the California Cabs above three top Bordeaux that she demanded her scores be removed and called the tasting a charade… nevertheless her scores were published and computed in the results.

Here are the combined results of the wines highlighting best and worst of each country (Individual ratings for white wines were not provided in the book or in the article:

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars ’73 Cab 1 16.5//10 16.5//10
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello ’71 Cab 5 17//7 17//7
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cab ’70 7 17//2 15//7
Clos Du Val Winery ’72 Cab 8 14//2 14//2
Mayacamas ’71 Cab 9 14//3 14//3
Freemark Abbey ’69 Cab 10 15×2//5 15//5
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild ’70 2nd Gr Pauillac* 2 16×2//11 16//11
Ch. Montrose ’70 2nd growth St. Estèphe 3 17//11×2 17//11×2
Ch. Haut-Brion ’70 1st Gr Pessac-Graves 4 17×2//8 17×2//14
Ch. Leoville-Las Cases ’71 1er Growth St. Julien 6 14//8 12×4//8


Ch. Montelena -’73 Chard (Grgich) Napa 1
Chalone ’74 Chard Pinnicales 3
Spring Mtn ’73 Chard Napa 4
Freemark Abbey ’72 Chard Napa 6
Veedercrest ’72 Chard Napa 9
David Bruce ’73 Chard Santa Cruz 10
Meursault Charmes Roulot ’73 2
Beaune Clos de Mouches J. Drouhin ’73 5
Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 7
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Dom Leflaive ’72 8

Individual ratings for white wines were not provided  in the book or in the article


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spurrier_(wine_merchant)

(Spurrier made every effort to keep the tasting unbiased by excusing himself and his employee Patricia Gallagher from the ranking but they would not have influenced the results as only  with one wine did they outscore the French and by only one position (1 vs 2), and in no case did they post the lowest.)

The French had complained that Bordeaux wines take longer to age than California and that is why the red wines from California are 1970 and the French, 1970, and excellent year and only one 1970 while the California wines were all 1970, also an excellent year. Oddly, subsequent tastings using the 20-point UC Davis scoring system, including the 30th Anniversary tasting in 2006, showed the California wines all improving in quality while the French either held but most deteriorated.

TB’s take: This is just one more example of why YOU, dear reader, are your own best wine taster. Imagine for a moment having one of those judges for dinner and trying to impress them with a wine that Parker or some other bloke gave a 90, and they didn’t like it! You just blew a lot of money and got embarrassed to boot. Why not serve a wine that YOU like and simply say “this is one of my favorite wines, I hope you enjoy it.” Hey, if they don’t like it they aren’t out any money…nor are you!

I will close with this:
“People spend too much time tasting wine; not enough time drinking it.” Andre Tschelistheff

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