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

Copyright© 2017 traderbillonwine.com

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Vol 3 No 12…there is no global warming, got it? …and no climate change…sheesh!

Pardon, TB’s tongue-in-cheek slug for this blog, but he has had it with the naysayers. This was prompted by Hurricane Harvey but it goes deeper than that…much deeper.

First, the scientists who noted the rapid rise (not to the naked eye) in global temperatures, saw a problem: never in recorded history had the temperatures risen that rapidly and 2016 was the hottest year ever – globally! Then came the naysayers…mainly pseudo-scientists and as my good friend who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

Years ago I asked him about climate change and he said that the only scientists that didn’t believe it was occurring were shills for the energy industry…the same ones who said smoking wasn’t bad for your health. I believe we wouldn’t have so many who disagree if it hadn’t been Al Gore who created the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

So TB is always asking winemakers if it is occurring and not one…zero, zip, zilch…has refuted it. Now remember, these guys, like all farmers, keep records of daily temperatures, highs, lows, frosts, freezes, heat waves, rain…you name it…so when they say it is happening…trust me, it’s happening!

Now let’s go back to Katrina: made landfall August 29th, 2005 in New Orleans…almost exactly twelve years ago. Scientists noting the ice melting at the poles (note the recent break-off in Antarctica that is bigger than Manhattan!), predicted that rising sea temperatures…remember we began losing the ozone layer decades ago and that protected the earth from high temperatures…that rising water temp in the Caribbean would create more intense hurricanes…of course they were scoffed at by people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and joined by the conservatives of today who make the Reagan Republicans look like liberals. (Interesting that after Katrina the evangelicals were saying it was because God had brought this on them due to their morals…have you heard a single comment like this about Harvey? Perhaps God’s aim was a wee bit off…or was he punishing the big oil companies headquartered in Houston?…just askin’…)

In 2016, we were on a trip to Spain and Portugal followed by a wine cruise of southern and eastern Spain. I wanted to go to Madeira (which I highly recommend…an incredibly beautiful island), so while we were in Lisbon we took a day trip there. On the plane, out of boredom I was thumbing my way through EasyJet’s Traveller, inflight magazine (April 2016) and ran across this article: Can Bordeaux Survive the 21st Century? Obviously it caught my eye: “Last summer (2015) ,was the second hottest on record in France. If temperatures continue to rise, the nation’s most famous wine-producing region could be in serious trouble.” Aha, you say…Al Gore again…’fraid not, skeptics. The story was an interview with Arnaud Lasisz, assistant winemaker at Château Pape Clement, which dates back to 1252 and is a grands cru Bordeaux. The blend there is 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. 60% of the left bank vines – all of the original 1855 classification chateaus are located here – are Merlot…a grape that cannot tolerate intense heat.

“Within 20 or 30 years, Merlot will ripen in August (as opposed to late September or early October,” according to Dr. Kees van Leeuvwen, of the National School for Agricultural Sciences in Utrecht, “that will clearly compromise the quality of the wines, because they will lack freshness and have too much alcohol.”

So…what to do? In the nearby Médoc, they have planted 52 alternative varieties of vines to see how they cope with the higher temperatures. They are also abandoning tractors and replacing them with Breton plough horses at some of the chateaux in order to reduce the carbon footprint and within ten years will be biodynamic. Believe it or not, a three-quarter ton plough horse leaves less of a footprint than a tractor.

Now that TB has established the reason global warming is in this blog, let’s look at some of the effects and some of the bad players. First, Harvey occurred at a time where the sea temperature was six degrees above average – SIX! This is what scientists warned about and it is coming to pass. Some will argue that the 900 year drought in California followed by massive rains this year was just a fluke…or the increase in intensity and number of tornadoes…or the increases in flooding in low lying areas of the southeastern states. Let them…they are simply wrong. As stated earlier it is not in the interests of the petroleum companies to admit to global warming. Just this week a report was written that Exxon Mobil (you do recall the Exxon Valdez, right?), had been privately funding research while publicly denying climate change. Why? Because the cause of it is the rapid increase in man made carbon emissions from ….fossil fuels! In an act of Chutzpah, they took their denials to a new level: they challenged researchers to look at all their internal memorandums and the studies and see for themselves…bad move, because they were taken up on it and oh-oh…they lied…through their teeth for years. In May, the company agreed to activists to reconsider the effects of climate change on their assets…and a class-action lawsuit has been filed charging them with overvaluing their reserves in light of the problem. TB wonders if anyone told Rex Tillerson about this??? Naw…he knew nothing.

Looking around, sparkling wine grapes were harvested in early August in California, earliest on record, Burgundy had horrible hailstorms and weather, Italy has its worst drought on record and the smallest harvest in decades, Oregon and Washington are suffering from record high temperatures with effect on grapes uncertain.

Honk if you believe there is climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, and if you don’t, ask yourself this: what are you going to tell your grandchildren, when they ask why everything is dying?

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken…

TB

©2017, traderbillonwine.com

 

Vol. 3 No. 9…Parlez Vous vin?

Since moving to Minnesota seven years ago, I have looked for local wineries to support. Through a friend I found Schram which I wrote about in Vol. 1 No. 4, and I am still very fond of. I visited one other winery in the vicinity that is really just an event venue with mediocre wines which shall remain nameless. However, the other winery that every time I tried to visit was Parley Lake Winery, finally I was able to visit it on Saturday.

First impressions are important but can cloud your perception. Thus when I tried to visit it before I notice an old barn with some old barrels on a rack outside and so I didn’t feel I had missed much…that is until I started talking to people in wine shops and a writer in the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Bill Ward. When I arrived there were quite a few cars in the lot and when I reached the winery I heard music coming from a pergola down the hill in the vineyard, and when I entered the winery I saw that it was not a run-down barn but a nice tasting room maintaining the barn interior but very nice.

There was a long tasting bar and it seemed pretty crowded but when I looked around I saw a small bar with just three people there. I walked up just as they were leaving and handed the man my card. Immediately he said you need to talk to one of the owners and pointed to the next room. A woman was seated drawing portraits and it turned out she is a sculptor and the wife of the winemaker and partner, Steve Zeller. She is very accomplished and has several bronzes in the area, some of which are rotated to other wineries and locales.

I introduced myself to Steve and he gave me a tour along with barrel tastings. They have quite a string of medals locally and from nearby states, as weel as the New York/Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the Indiana – INDY competition, but this year Steve decided to submit several to the annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting, and Steve was pleased to receive two golds, a silver and a bronze. There are 60 judges and dozens of classes. Steve’s won the following:
Artist Series #14: GOLD for Merlot dominant wines… the other gold was to Markham. Steve used Napa Valley Merlot in the blend!
Frontenac Gris: GOLD for hybrid white wines. This wine was developed at the UMinn and is one of five since they just released a new one: Itaska. They have been cloned as vitis vinifera hybrids.
Marquette 2012 Ltd Edition SILVER in Native American hybrid red wines. This is a wonderful grape now evidenced by the fact some California growers are planting it.
Barn Quilt Red received a SILVER in Native American hybrid red wines.

Pretty impressive given that the wines were dominated by California, Oregon, Washington, and dozens of other states. Congrats to them on the effort!

They also make some fun wines so as not to take themselves too seriously that are very enjoyable such as Parley Vu Rosé, class that it becoming more appreciated and has been the fastest growing segment of wine sales (still only about 1% of total), for two years. This is very reminiscent of a Rhone style Rosé. Their limited edition wines also include a Frontenac red, Frontenac Blanc and La Crescent. A very nice palette of wines.  You can get a wine flight and glass of your favorite for $10 or a single glass for $6. Sounds fair to TB~

©2017 Traderbillonwine.com

 

 

Vol 3 No 10…don’t cry for me Argentina…

I had an unexpectedly nice surprise in many ways at a wine tasting of Domaine Bousquet wines from Argentina hosted by the Wine Republic in Excelsior, MN. Guiding us through the tasting were the owners, Labid Al Ameri and his wife Ann Bousquet, a charming couple who like Naji and Jill Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue in Lebanon, are making a difference (see vol. 2, no 7), both had a Cinderella story, and both are doing good things for the people of their respective countries and making really good wines at the same time.

Both of these couples care deeply for the country and the people. They both hire as many local people as possible. In the Boutros’s case it is to keep and have people return to their small town in the hills beside Beirut. They ‘invested’ in peoples land rather than buy it outright and created two internet companies to keep people from leaving. Likewise the Bousquet-Al Ameri’s have hired local people rather than outsiders, such as winemakers, and in addition to being organic are a ‘fair trade’ company which in Argentina means effectively collective bargaining with their employees. There, a pool of funds is created and the employees form a board to determine how it should be allocated, removing that decision from the landowners. Makes sense to TB…if you want to improve the quality of life. Remember both of these families live in small towns and wish to spread the wealth around not have a huge wealth gap with their employees struggling to survive.

The story begins with Ann growing up in the Languedoc in the medieval walled town of Carcassonne. We had visited the Languedoc and Carcassonne in 1997, when the vast majority of the wines were substandard due to Co-ops and pricing the grapes based on weight alone, still, if you can’t change the wine you can change the way the food is prepared to create a pleasant combination (when we travel, wherever we are we drink the local wines and I have made the mistake of buying some and then when I got home they didn’t taste all that good causing me to wonder what I was thinking when I bought them). The Co-op just outside the small town of La Clape (seriously, and it is now a DOCG if you can believe that!), had what looked like a 1930’s gas pump which delivered the wine for one franc a litre! People came in with whatever jugs they had…even saw a Clorox bleach bottle – egad!

Ann came to the U.S. to study at St. Cloud State University and there she met Labid, who was originally from Iraq but grew up in Madrid. Then, in 1990, her father, whose family produced wine in France, went to Argentina with the intention of planting grapes near Mendoza. Just south in the small town of Tupungato he found what he wanted: 110 hectares (about 260 acres) at 4,000 feet elevation with the soils to provide the terroir, he found what he was searching for. There were no other vineyards in the area and everyone thought he was crazy (reminiscent of my friend Carles Pastrana of Clos de l’Obac in Priorat, Spain, also at a high elevation). Despite this he purchased the land in 1997 and planted grapevines in 2002 with the first harvest in 2005. By this time he had recruited Labid and Ann to run the winery…okkaayy…and he focused on the vines. Like the Rhone Rangers of Paso Robles he brought in canes in his suitcases, and planted them. Due to the elevation there was little concern for phylloxera and other pests and they immediately decided to get organic certified, a process that takes three years to insure no chemicals are used and the government checks every year. They also use no sulfites as a preservative which is a common cause of headaches in some people.

The grapes are hand-picked and handled carefully and their ‘big’ wines are stored in 500 litre French Oak foudres in their underground cellar. Their softer wines use a combination of 80% French and 20% American Oak, mostly neutral so as not to impart harsh tannins. Their white wines are fermented in stainless steel and include a chardonnay (which spends three months on lies), white blend, and sauvignon blanc. They also produce two sparkling wines, a lower priced blend of 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir using the Charmat process (in vats), and the premier one made in the traditional or methode Champenois manner (in the bottle).

As for still wines they make a 2016 Rosé of Malbec which is delicious and very much like similar Rhone wines. We also had a 2013 Reserve Malbec which was 85% Malbec and 15% cabernet sauvignon, that to me was better than any Malbec I have previously had primarily due to the blending. A 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was elegant with soft tannins and wonderful fruit and spice flavors.

The remaining two wines were 2013 Gaia (not to be confused with the Piemontese wine maker Angelo Gaja whose daughter is now running the business…her name is Gaia, which is the Greek Goddess of Earth…I was pleased to see they weren’t going to have any trademark problems or be accused of trying to confuse buyers. This wine, the only one in a beautiful artist label bottle while the rest are in plain block letters was my favorite, which made Ann very happy as it is her baby.

We finished with a 2012 Ameri which is Labid’s favorite and I found to be incredibly rich for a Malbec blend. Made in French oak it has black pepper and soft tannins yet should serve well until 2022. It was the most expensive of the flight yet still under $35, which I think is a steal. The rest of the wines are in the $10-20 range which makes them great value. I bought the Gaia and the Reserve Cab at about the same price as the Ameri, which to me was the best deal but I would not hesitate to spring for the Ameri which should make Labid happy.

Lastly, although readers know of TB’s dislike for ratings (to put it mildly), you would be hard-pressed to find one of these values with less than a 90 and several in thee 92-95 range. While that means little to me, it says a lot to see that much consistency. As the saying goes…try it, you’ll like it!

Best,

TB

©2017 traderbillonwine.com

Vol. 3 No. 9 – a few of TB’s favorite Central Coast wineries

Here is an interesting problem. Friends are going to visit the Central Coast as I said in the last blog. They are flying in to different airports (LAX, San Jose, San Luis Obispo) and meeting in Paso Robles. Here are the distances and driving times (normal) between various cities and Paso Robles, the geographical center of the Central Coast:

From the north: Paso Robles from SFO 194 miles 3-1/4 hrs; from San Jose 160 mi, 2-1/2 hrs; from Santa Cruz 137 mi, 2-1/4 hrs – note these times are VERY variable!

From the south: Paso Robles from LAX 210 mi, 4 hrs (not in peak traffic!!!); from Ojai 158 mi, 2-3/4 hrs; from Santa Barbara 126 mi, 2 hrs; Los Olivos 91 mi, 1-1/2 hrs; Los Alamos 80 mi, 1-1/4 hrs; Santa Maria 64 mi, 1 hr.

Using this guide you can figure the distance between any two points along the route, to aid in calculating time to various wineries. Hope you find it helpful.

Santa Barbara is really the southern end of the Central Coast (unless you count Malibu Winery, and Moraga Winery, which TB doesn’t). It is really here for people who want to see more than the most visited towns.  The term here refers to Santa Barbara County which extends all the way to San Luis Obispo. Ojai Vineyard, Adam Tolmach is the most significant in the Southern region. Adam apprenticed under Ken Brown at Zaca Mesa, the first winery in Santa Barbara County (still alive and well in Ojai) along with Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenon, and Lane Tanner among others. All of them are among the most influential winemakers in California. After leaving ZM, Adam and Jim were partners briefly before going their separate ways. Note that Zaca Mesa is still making incredibly good wines…but pricier these days.

Lindquist started Qupé winery, a Chumash indian word meaning ‘poppy’ and is a Rhone Ranger (more on this in Paso section), and teamed up with burgundian style winemaker, Jim Clendenon with a joint winery Au Bon Climat (or simply ABC). Jim is first and foremost interested in making wines of the quality found in Burgundy. While Bob started Qupé which he sold in 2013, but Bob continues as winemaker as well a producing Lindquist Family Cellars, Sawyer Lindquist wines, and some beautiful Spanish style wines under the Verdad Label (verdad means truth). His wines are all certified biodynamic.

The websites tell where their tasting rooms are, Jim’s in Santa Barbara, Bob’s in Santa Maria, but if you are going to be there on Saturday, October 14th the winery will be open from 11am to 3pm and you can taste all of their wines. At $20 it is a steal. Why? Because unless you are in the trade the winery is not open to the public at any other time during the year.

Earlier I mentioned Lane Tanner, who once made great pinots under her name, but the movie Sideways drove the price of pinot noir grapes to the moon, Alice…the moon, and on her smaller scale she could not compete. Have no fear, Lane has returned, teaming up with Will Henry of the Henry Wine Group which was sold last year and has turned “garagiste” but still making her acclaimed Pinot’s in Santa Maria, and other fine wines under the Lumen label. You can taste her wines in nearby Los Alamos at Pico, a wine bar serving tapas  (small plates) and featuring wine pairings dinners. Highly recommended!

Other wineries in the area are CambriaBaileyana  where winemaker Christian Roguenant came to after being brought over from France for the Deutz winery specializing in sparkling wines a and now called Laetitia, Alban (although it is unlikely you can visit them but they make superb Rhone style wines), Rancho Sisquoc, which is a fun small winery to visit on Foxen Canyon Road near Cambria and ABC. There is also Sanford & Benedict, and several more.

Moving north to San Luis Obispo is where we always stay in a beautiful French B&B, formerly a motel, called Petit Soleil. I can’t say enough about this wonderful place with warm owners and employees…better than France…with rooms in various French motifs, and the best wine tasting hour of anyplace we have ever found, and that is only topped off by their breakfasts. It is at the north end of SLO so you are very close to Paso Robles. Very close, if you need a lot of rooms is the Apple Farm, which began in 1924 and is the first motel in America…it has been remodeled but has been in continuous service since and it is at the extreme north end of town just before you go up the Cuesta Grade to Paso.

Santa Maria is the home of Santa Maria Barbecue…you must have it…a tri-tip grilled to perfection! San Luis Obispo has some wonderful restaurants both downtown by the beach and by Morro Bay. No need to go hungry here…whatsoever!

Finally, we are at Paso Robles and our primary destination. The choices are many and it is pretty much divided between west of town and east of town wineries. The first one I want to talk about is Eberle. Why? Because Gary Eberle was the original Rhone ranger, who first planted syrah there and with the exception of Joseph Phelps the first in California. He began at his family’s Estrella River Winery (now part of the Bronco Wines Group which makes Two Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw), then started his own winery. He makes Viognier, Syrah, Syrah Rosé, Côtes du Rôbles, as well as fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He is often overlooked but he provided the ‘canes’ for Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Bob Lindquist among others. Both Randall and Bob credited Kermit Lynch with convincing them that there were some great Rhone wines and from that they embarked on their Rhone Ranger adventure.

Jumping to the other end of the spectrum is Tablas Creek, jointly-owned by Californian Robert Haas and the Perrin family which makes the great Chateau du Beaucastel (the highest rank of Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Had it not been for the Rhone Rangers (Graham was the first to be labeled that by Wine Spectator, but he acknowledges Eberle as preceding him). Tablas Creek makes all the other Rhone varietals too including mouvèdre, grenache, grenache blanc, rousanne, marsanne. There flagship wine used to be Esprit de Beaucastel but switched the name to Esprit de Tablas, perhaps to avoid confusion? The only other winemakers I know in the region that does this many is Bob Lindquist and Randall Graham…these are great wines to enjoy. Note that October 20-22 is Paso Robles Harvest Weekend…Tablas Creek among others has a great event.

Other top wines in the area are Justin, which was started in 1981 and has since been sold to the Fiji water company (I kid you not) and recently made news for removing a large number of trees without a permit…they apologized for the omission…yeah, right.  There is a tasting room in Paso for Turley Wine Cellars named after acclaimed winemaker, Helen Turley. Her zins are single vineyard and come from Napa as well as Paso Robles (her brother may now be running the winery). They are distinct and either you love them or don’t see them as zinfandel…Rather than name the rest of the wineries, here is a link to a downloadable map. Also, here is a list of Paso Robles wineries by varietal if you have a special interest…very useful!

A friend who lives there took me to Linne Calodo winery which is a favorite of the locals in adjoining Templeton. This is the type of place you might miss but is adored by the locals.

Heading north from Paso are thousands of acres of grapes on both sides of Highway 101. They are pretty flat and personally not of much interest to TB, but when you get to Santa Cruz, things change. First is the aforementioned Bonny Doon with a winery in the town of that name but the tasting room is about 10 miles north of downtown Santa Cruz in Davenport on Route 1…again, highly recommended, especially if Randall happens to be there – don’t worry he is very friendly and approachable…his life revolves around his wine.

Higher in the Santa Cruz mountains are a few more wineries, most notably Ridge, which also is located in Healdsburg on the mountain adjoining Dry Creek Valley, but it is here that their acclaimed and long-lived Montebello, and especially coveted Lytton Springs, are produced. Lytton Springs has one of the longest lives of any wine made in America.

I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and hope you find it useful…I think I’ll go have a glass of wine now!

What kind of wine does a wine geek choose for a special occasion? In this case, it was our 48th anniversary, so I built the dinner around the wine. A million years ago when my son-in-law, then a chef, and I toured Tuscany and Piemonte, we had the best steak I ever had in Europe: a Florentine steak. Most beef there is rather tough and lacking in flavor, but if you baste a nice thick top sirloin or similar with aged (in this case 20 year old) Balsamico,a little salt and pepper and some rosemary and a few other herbs, then grill it perfection…to us that is between rare and medium rare, it is exceptional! Rummaging through my cellar I stumbled across a 2007 (not a typo) Chianti Classico, not even a reserva from Felsina, the first Chianti ever on the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator and consistently on that list. We visited Felsina and another favorite Volpaia (which is at the opposite end of Tuscany in a medieval town of that name, and when they built the winery the owners put all the utilities underground, hence no wires, and no cars on the streets in this little hillside town. They have four apartments you can rent for a minimum one-week stay. We were allowed to stay for one night -secluded and fantastic.

How was it? Incredible…we both loved it: it was fresh, no signs of aging. The next night I poured two glasses of the remainder which I accidentally left out overnight with using my Vacuvin and handed one to my wife and asked how she liked it. She loved it…said it was even better than the one the previous night. Oh really??? It was the same wine, and yes, it had improved…amazing for a 10 year old Chianti! That is the holy grail: storing a wine for long period…in a passive wine cellar I might add…and then being blown away by its charm and complexity.

Ciao bella,

TB

©Copyright 2017 by traderbillonwine.com

 

 

Vol 3 No 8…a ‘sideways’ look at the Central Coast – prelude to a guide

Back in March, TB wrote a series of posts on his trip from the Central Coast up to Washington (Vol 3 No. 2.0-2.5). In light of all that has happened since I thought I would provide some ideas if you are making a trip there soon. This was prompted by a chance meeting with a friend…in a wine shop of course (Wine Republic, Excelsior MN), and promised to provide the names of some wineries to visit. Given the way the harvest is looking September would be a much better time to go than August…as always!

Let’s recap the weather in California (or the entire West Coast for that matter), over the past decade. Until 2016 it can be summed up in a word: drought!!! Not just drought, mind you, but the equivalent of right before the Great Flood. Imagine, a 900 year record drought…not just in one area of California but the entire state and much of the rest of the West Coast too!

TB grew up in Southern California…Santa Monica to be exact in the early years of surfing…although he was really a body surfer. In those bygone days one would go to the beach and spend a day – sans sunscreen, get a bad sunburn that peeled and then have a great tan for the rest of the summer…fortunately no melanoma so far!

About the time TB got married in 1969, he noticed a change. It didn’t take all afternoon to get burned…in fact he had it happen in about an hour at the beach one day! Rains? We always had a wet rainy season…can’t recall a dry years. Oh, and fires…Malibu, one year, Mandeville Canyon the next, Bel Air the next, then the San Fernando Valley…like clockwork. TB recalls being at school and knowing there was a fire starting: Santa Ana winds, a dryness in the hair, above normal temperatures and finally the sun would turn orange and the temperature would soar into the hundreds. Later, the destruction on the evening news…but it was simply a fact of life in Southern California.

So what happened to the weather? Dare I say climate change or the dreaded ‘global warming’? The naysayers…of which I have never found among winemakers…say it always changes…yes it does but over much longer time periods and we have, through burning fossil fuels destroyed the ozone layer which is our insulation from ultra violet rays, and in a nutshell, that is the argument for why we must change our ways or leave our grandchildren in a very precarious position. Take a look at Burgundy, where the weather is becoming more extreme, or Bordeaux where winemakers say there will be no more merlot in a decade or so. Alarmist? Hell no, that is their livelihood. Now you know.

To those who think we can relax again…think about the fires so far this year, following that incredible rainfall (except in the Central Coast between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. Lake Cachuma provides the water supply for Santa Barbara and it was virtually empty at the start of the season and unlike the other dams in the state is the only one that isn’t full to capacity. Note that is the lack of rainfall that stresses the vines and produces rich, intense fruit, but this is ridiculous. As of yesterday, Cachuma is at just 49% of capacity! That is not much margin for error…or another dry year.

Ah, but there were few vineyards in the 1960’s…although there was one just east of Los Angeles that went back to the days of the Spanish explorers…Virgina Dare – now gone and the site was between two freeways (San Bernardino and Riverside). About the only other ones were in Livermore, where Wente, the first, and Concannon reigned supreme. Today there are about a dozen.

Moving north to Napa Valley there were also perhaps a dozen…mostly In Napa, such as Beaulieu (aka BV), Beringer, Inglenook, Charles Krug, Christian Brothers and a few others, until 1966 when Robert Mondavi built his beautiful winery and that kicked off a surge in winery openings. His was the only one that looked like a winery, sleek, and reminiscent of the California missions, instead of an industrial warehouse. That was all about to change. In 1969, vineyard land in the valley was $5,000 an acre…but you had to buy a minimum 20 acre parcel. Compare to today’s $350-450,000 an acre going price, and you cannot make money at that price…so more McMansions of the wealthy, producing their 50-100 cases of wine a year, getting 90 point ratings and selling for upwards of $150 a bottle. Still not profitable…but they don’t care…they call it passion but is it really? Not unless you do the grunt work yourself and few do (Rupert Murdoch bought one of the two in Los Angeles (Moraga), a second one is in Malibu…which also provides the name. Not recognized as great growing areas….unless the terroir is smog? But who cares?

Moving back to the north again, Contra Costa County had a few small ones, bulk producers where you brought your jug to the winery in those days. There are now even some in Orinda where TB lived before being transplanted to Minnesota (Lamorinda AVA…huh?). Oh, wait. Lake County had Konocti Winery and Sonoma had Buena Vista and a couple of others that went back to the 1800’s.

Ah, but the Central Coast? Nothing, nada, zip, zilch…not until 1978 when six investors took a chance and started Zaca Mesa in the belief that good wine could be made there. How right they were, especially when a young Ken Brown was hired as winemaker. Ken in turn hired numerous luminaries to work for him including Adam Tolmach, Jim Clendenon, Bob Lindquist, Lane Tanner and others. A ‘who’s who’ of the Central Coast!

Still, even as the winemakers above started their own wineries, the area was virtually unknown except to locals and people from Los Angeles. However, they started a project that continues today: the Central Coast Classic and Wine Auction organized by local radio personality, Archie McClaren. Only because we had friends who moved to Santa Maria did we learn of it in its infancy in about 1989…it began in 1986 and is a charitable event second only to the Napa Valley Wine Auction, but to TB a lot more fun. It became and remains the second largest wine event in California!

Still, it was pretty much virgin territory except to locals but that event started a change. This was augmented and superseded in notoriety by the movie, Sideways, which while fun, gave a distorted view of wine, denigrating merlot while elevating pinot noir to star status. Within weeks, merlot moved to the bottom shelf, replaced by pinot at eye level there is a certain irony to this as protagonist Miles’ favorite wine was Cheval Blanc which is…primarily merlot (by the way if you decide to read the book, you will find that Miles is really just another wine snob and it gets disgusting in the sequel – avoid!).

It also created so much demand for the grape that Napa vintners were buying it and driving the price up to where many of the locals couldn’t compete. Wait…what about Paso Robles?

There are two initiators of the fame of Paso: Gary Eberle and Kermit Lynch. Eberle was the first to plant syrah and also provided the shoots for Randall Graham who was called the ‘Rhone Ranger’ in an article in Wine Spectator and the name stuck for the region. However, he, Bob Lindquist and others traveled to Berkeley, California to talk to a budding wine importer with a penchant for Rhone style wines. After tasting them, including Vieux Telegraphe, Domaine Tempier, August Clape, and more.

Kermit’s book Adventures Along the Wine Route is a fantastic addition to anyone’s library and love of wine…highly recommended…it was a game-changer for TB!

All of the names in the previous paragraph our passionate about wine and winemaking…it is not a rich man’s hobby for them…respect that! Besides they make some of the best wines on the planet!

Wow…talk about a diversion from my original outline…so I will follow this up with suggested wineries to visit on the Central Coast.

Back soon.