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

TB

(c) Traderbillonwine 2017

 

 

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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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