Vol. 4 No. 7, Judgment of Chaska 5/24/18

In Minnesota, and this may surprise you, we have a plethora of good privately owned wine shops, within the greater Twin Cities region. Among the ones that TB likes and frequents are  (in alphabetical order): Excelsior Vintage, France 44, La Dolce Vita, Solovino, and Wine Republic. All have their special interests. Note, TB did not include chains especially perhaps the largest in the U.S., which shall not receive mention.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Afterall, In I’ve Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash names Minnesota in the first verse and Chaska in the last. One email recently caught TB’s eye: a tasting based on the original Judgment of Paris tasting that elevated American wines to world class forty-two years ago. TB has written of this tasting and the book on it by George M. Taber, a journalist for Time magazine stationed in Paris  He, like other reporters received a notice of this tasting to be held at the Intercontinental Hotel, a short distance from Time’s offices. Having nothing better to do he wandered in just before the tasting was to begin (for more details read the post, Vol. 3, No 16).

The idea to ‘recreate’ the tasting was the brainchild of Troy Seefeldt, who along with his wife Jen, did an exceptional presentation at La Dolce Vita wine shop in…Chaska, MN…exactly forty-two years after the famous event!

It was a blind tasting, with no clues, other than I and a few others who knew of the tasting. We were poured blind tastes in pairs, a French and an American. First, Sauvignon Blanc, then Chardonnay, then Merlot, and lastly Cabernet Sauvignon.  To cater to novices (and I will be the first to state that I am not an expert on wine, but a lover and advocate of the noble grapes), a five category scoring sheet was provided, that made it fun for all with scores of 1-5 on each, and a 25 point perfect score:

CLARITY: All but Opaque; Polluted Lake; See Through; Translucent, and Sparkling

NOSE: Rotten Eggs; Vinegar Medley; Inoffensive; Impressive; Freudian Complex

BODY: Needs a Workout; Skinny & Flabby; Proportionate; Lean + Sinewy; Boldly Muscled

FLAVOR: Oenophilic  Ick; Too Sweet; Amply Acidic; Balanced; Romancing the Tongue

FINISH: Bitter Swallow; Callow Gustation; Small Parting Gift; Extra Stamina; Dream Worthy

See…that isn’t so hard is it? Scores came in amazingly similar! This happened to TB when he took people whose idea of wine was followed by ‘cooler’, when he moved to Reno – the same year as the Judgment! Using the UC Davis 20-point Scoring System , they were amazed at how well they did, as was I, although the overall winner was a ringer I put in: Gallo Hearty Burgundy, but you can’t deny it was well made wine. Contrast to the 100-point system created by Robert Parker, which may have done more than anything else to improve the quality of wine than anything else I can recall. The downside to this was conformity for those coveted 90 point ratings, eliminating the artistry of the winemaker, and destroying any semblance to terroir. Note also that there are literally dozens of 100 point systems, having from 25-30 subjective points. Parker is very clear in what he likes: huge fruitbombs with tannins (yes, even for the subtle Pinot Noirs, which is why he was banned from Burgundy tastings). Others not so much and many of them promoting wines they are directly involved in or being compensated to evaluate.  Let’s banish ALL 100 point systems…period! As a San Francisco wine critic once wrote: how can you trust my ratings if you don’t know what I look for in a wine? (For more on ratings see Vol. 3 No 6).

Lastly, note that the actual Judgment used 20 point scoring, however there were no rules on how those points were to be calculated. Since all ten judges were French, (sponsor Steven Spurrier, and his pupil, Patricia Gallagher scored the wines too but they weren’t tabulated…wouldn’t you?)  there was a huge variation, much more than one might expect from experienced wine evaluators, since several tried to ‘game the system’ and mistook the French wines for the Americans, causing one judge, Odette Kahn, who gave obscenely low scores to the French wines to demand that her scores be removed…they weren’t! Also, I had the country wrong on one of the four pairings…and felt lucky on that.

Back to the wines for the tasting (of course, the cost of the original wines would have been prohibitive – if you could find them), so proxies were provided as follows along with my total points:

Sauvignon Blanc: Coteaux Du Giennois, 2017, 18; Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, 2014, 19

Chardonnay: Ch. Montelena, 2015, 17; William Fevre, Chablis, 2015, 18 (I did really bad in this category!)

Guillemin La Gaffelieere Grand Cru St. Emilion 2010, 16; Freemark Abbey Merlot, 2013, 20

Chateau Aney 2015, Haut Medoc, 22; Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 23

So, for better or worse, those were my scores. Like the original Judgment, it was a great experiment and loads of fun! Try it, you’ll like it!

©Traderbillonwine.com 2018

Vol 4 No 6 What’ll you have? Red, White…or?

Oldtimers like TB recall Boone’s Farm which probably got more people interested in wine than anything else. Credit Ernest and Julio, Gallo that is, for that. Then they came up with Madria Madria Sangria. Nobody had had sangria at that time and suddenly it was all the rage. But here’s the thing: Cesar Chavez was leading the farmworkers protests at the time, so what did Ernie and Julio do? They ran commercials with a latina spouting on the wonderful sangria “my hussband and his oncle” made.  One has to wonder how many people who supported the farmworkers were duped into buying it.

One year, watching the World Series, I saw several commercials for Carlo Rossi Wine. Huh? Never heard of it…how can they afford to do it. Well…Carlo was a distant cousin and voila! Gallo paid for the commercials and of course owned the winery (?) – probably made at the Gallo winery.

Lastly, they came up with Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. They even had a phone number you could call and hear the boys talking to one another…and a house with a sign out and two guys rocking on the porch. At the time, Gallo owned the largest intra-state trucking company.

They were nothing if not innovative and once you got past the ‘pop’ wines, dollar for dollar they made the best wine in the U.S., dollar for dollar. Hearty Burgundy was the best of the bunch…even though it contained no burgundian grapes!

Then Julio died in 1993 in an accident when a vehicle (jeep?) he was driving veered off a farm road leaving it all to Ernest to run the company. About this time, Gina Gallo bought land in Dry Creek Valley and wanted to make a premium wine. The catch was she had to use the Gallo name. Now imagine an enophile having a dinner with a bottle of Gallo on the table! BUT, she overcame that and produced a respectable table wine.

What next? They decided to buy up wineries around the world. Do you like Albarino? Martin Codax. Rather than list them all consider Apothic, Edna Valley, William Hill, and a flock of others. Here is a link: Gallo portfolio You will be amazed as TB was. They are now the largest wine producer in the world.

Now back to the winery. The great Andre Tchelistcheff’s son, Dimitri, went to work there. Why? Because he couldn’t stand the way Madame treated his father at Beaulieu Vineyard. He then hired Richard G. (Dick) Peterson as a chemist, introduced him to Andre and eventually Dick left to work under Andre. Then, when Heublein bought B.V., Dick ascended to being winemaker with Andre leaving to become a consultant. Note that Heidi Peterson Barrett, his daughter, became one of the top winemakers in America.

TB refers back to his early comment that Gallo made the best wine in America, dollar for dollar. Don’t underestimate them…many have and were proven wrong.

So why all this about Gallo? Because they were single-handedly responsible for introducing young people to wine coolers, pop wines, and finally table wines. Finally, we are back to the title of this edition. There has always been, and continues to be a ‘logical’ (?) progression from sweet white wines to dryer whites, to rose’s and lighter reds to full-bodied reds. Here is a link to a new study that confirms this:  WineBusiness.com   Note that the study also shows a preference for organic, sustainable, and biodynamic wines but a willingness to pay a few dollars more for it.

TB has to end this now…off to a tasting of organic, sustainable, biodynamic wines!

(c) traderbillonwine.com 2018

Vol 3 No 11 The Best Wine in the World!!!

Let’s face it there is way too much wine in the world…way too much to consume and consumption is declining in Europe due to driving laws, flat in U.S. being again replaced by beer…due to those new craft breweries not Bud or PBR.

The wine industry too follows fads: who can forget the Sideways effect on Pinot Noir and Merlot – both on demand (price) and store placement (Merlot went from eye level to the bottom shelf, replaced by Pinot Noir…and not all of it good…as was the majority of Merlot). Of course there is the rating ‘fad’ (?), such as this scenario:

Guy in tasting room: This wine is awful!

Salesperson: Really??? Parker gave it a 90!

Guy: I’ll take two cases!

You laugh but that is what happens. As TB has stressed here many times: you are your own best critic! …and guess what? That guy will probably serve it at a dinner to his friends, and guess what? Most of them won’t like it! TRUST YOUR PALETTE, it is the best wine critic in the world…for you…and will likely be in line with most people.

Most wine is drunk within hours of being purchased…not even long enough for the wine to get rested and refreshed, especially if it is a red! How about laying it down for a week or two (at least), oh, and if you can pace yourself, when you serve it, keep a little to try the next night…most likely it will taste better if it is good wine! Far too many times I have loved a wine then found out it was only going to get better…patience is a good thing, especially with wine.

There is a wine blog: thewinegourd

You should do yourself a favor and check it out. Pretty interesting and sensible: unless you KNOW what a wine critic looks for in a wine (i.e. Parker and high tannins), and that meshes with what you like, look for tasting ratings of groups. As Wine Gourd shows graphically, you want the one that more tasters like…if you want to please the most people at say a dinner you are hosting (also note: just because you bring a bottle of wine to a dinner, unless requested that is up to the host…in other words it is simply a gift), go for the broad ratings. Here is an excerpt of a letter to a local wine maker I wrote to today on the subject:

As a winemaker you want to appeal to the broadest base of buyers for two reasons: one you want the buyer to like it; secondly, when that person pours it you want the majority of those at the table to like it.
When I was a wine snob I bought Parker 90+ wines until I realized I didn’t like these high tannin monsters that you have to hold decades to enjoy, and noted guests reactions and wine left in glasses to learn the lesson. Also, the vast majority of wines, sadly, are drunk within a week of purchase which fails to allow the wines to develop or even recover from their journey.
I see Parker as a paradox: he improved the quality of wines globally; he has contributed to the homogenization of wines trying to weed out terroir which I firmly believe in…as does my friend, Randall Grahm and other Rhone Rangers.
I also subscribe to Mike Veseth’s Wine Economist blog. If not familiar, Mike saw Sideways and was shocked to see the effect on Pinot Noir and Merlot prices and placement on shelves. You might want to look at back issues of The Wine Gourd fro further study.
This winemaker, discussed in an earlier post, won two golds in their respective classes at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Tasting in January. No mean feat! As mentioned in the post (Vol. 3 No 9), there were 60 – count them sixty – judges, meaning these wines appealed to the broadest range of wine professionals.
By the way, both of those wines were in the $25 class…so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for quality.
Twenty-eight years ago TB read a book that changed his outlook on wine, Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route…kind of a bible for Rhone Ranger, Burgundy, and Loire oenophiles. Couldn’t put my hands on it the other day and was angry with myself since it changed my view of wine and introduced me to so many wines I have come to enjoy over the years (decades?). So I went on Amazon and lo and behold there is a 25th Anniversary Edition, published in 2013, and I bought it in hardbound edition for less than the original list price too. Here are three things he did and didn’t do that make this edition the one to buy:
1. He added an epilogue rather than make changes to the original text…it is relatively short if you already read the first edition,
2. He tells what happened to some of the personalities in the first edition,
3. He lists the 25 favorite wines he has ever tasted, including the vintage (i.e a 1929 Chateau Y’Quem.
That’s all for today, folks…live, love, enjoy good wine…life is too short to drink plonk.
TB
©2017, 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.

 

Vol 3 No 4 How many wineries fit on the head of a pin?

Now that ole TB has got your attention, the real question is how many wineries are there in the U.S.? Answer: 8,702! That’s an increase of 5% over last year. As one would expect California leads the pack with 4,207! That should not be surprising – except the number is huge! Back to the totals: 7,061 are bonded wineries that make the wine on site, but there are also 1,641 ‘virtual’ wineries. Wine Institute

A bonded winery is licensed by the feds and has to have a specific space to store wines that have been taxed, so they can be open to inspection. A virtual winery is not in cyberspace as one might think, but make their wine in other wineries, especially ones that specifically make wine for several brands. Don’t scoff at these as many ‘cult’ wineries that produce a small number of cases, do this in order to make the operation feasible. Frankly, I was amazed there were that many, mostly in California, I am sure. Licensing is less strict for these although they have to keep the same records as other wineries.

Consider that going back to 1900-Prohibition there weren’t much more than 100 wineries in Napa Valley. Here is some data from the cited article for number of California and U.S. bonded wineries:

California       United States

1940                   474                  1,090      Just before start of WWII

1970                   240                     441      Beginning of Wine Boom

1997                1,011                  1,988      1st time Cal. >1,000

2004                2,059                  4,356      More than 2,000

2010                3,364                  7,626      More than 3,000

2014                4,285                10,417      1st time >10k for the U.S.

2017                4,202                  8,702      Likely some consolidation

If you find this interesting and would like to see more interesting facts, see  Wine Business data

Most of the increase in the 1970-1997 period, I believe, came from development of new growing areas in California (Sonoma County, Central Coast, North Coast, etc.), as well as Oregon and Washington.

Hope you found this interesting. TB started out just looking for a current number and look what he got!

Does anyone remember the wine theft at the French Laundry just before Christmas? They were caught due to an honest collector becoming suspicious after buying the wine and then going to authorities. Well, the main guy was sentenced in March, and, he admitted to another wine theft from a restaurant. So…what was his sentence? FIFTEEN Months jail time…and make restitution on $600,000. Good luck on that. I thought the punishment was supposed to fit the crime? What if he stole $50,000 from a bank? That would have been at least a ten year sentence!

Also, you may recall the fraudulent sale of wine futures by Premier Cru, an Oakland, California wine shop that has had trouble in the past. The wine inventory was sold from the store and received lower bids than expected. Now they have to divide up the proceeds between the victims…and you thought wine people was good people. Think again!

Think I’ll go have a couple of glasses of wine…my head is spinning!

TB

 

Vol. 3 No. 2.5 some potpourri…

This will be short and sweet as not much of the rest of the trip related directly to wine, but you might find it of interest.

We drove from Calistoga to Jacksonville, Oregon the next day, in and out of heavy rains. When we crossed the Sacramento River near Williams on I-5, I had never seen the river so full. It was just before this that they became concerned that the Oroville Dam could collapse.

We stayed with my sister-in-law in Jacksonville, a town near Ashland but without so many tourists due to the Shakespeare Festival. Previously, we have gone with her to visit many of the Applegate wineries, and I was amazed that there are even more now.

She took me to Dancin Vineyards, the name coming from combining those of husband and wife owners, Dan and Cindy. It also tied in with Cindy’s love of dance. They have built a beautiful winery and restaurant and there are some scattered tables with umbrellas away from the building. Their focus is on pinot noir and chardonnay which they both love, their tastes having migrated from big red cabs. I recommend a stop to enjoy the winery and their award-winning wines, which also includes a port-like wine.

Our next stop was to visit family in Bend, Oregon, the brewpub capital of the USA. We tasted some great beers, visit a legal pot shop which was very clean and more like a jewelry store. We also had a great dinner at the Pine Ridge Inn, and is just a typical restaurant and bar in the front but the dining room in the rear is the place to be. It is highlighted by two huge pine trees growing in the center of the room through the ceiling. It is owned by Bill McCormick, one of the founders of McCormick & Schmicks after he sold his interest.

The next day we drove all the way to Seattle and other than some rush hour traffic at the end it was uneventful. We visited friends there, including our oldest friends who loaned us the car. There are a few things we did that might be of general interest.

First, stayed at the Hyatt on Lake Union, which has beautiful views of the lake. Second, we had a Sunday brunch at Bastile over in the town of Ballard, which is always fun to visit. Then we visited the new Starbuck’s Roastery, which is a pilot program that proved successful as a very high end coffee bar. It is reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and thus a magnet for families. It ain’t cheap though, but a fun experience. They are opening one in New York City and in Shanghai in 2018…check it out.

Secondly, the guys went to a whiskey bar I have wanted to visit since hearing about it. A friends son and a world-class bartender have in a few short years created, Canon, in downtown Seattle, and rated the sixth best whiskey bar in the world. While the basic cocktails are typically priced, their specialties can run from the $15-20 range and for a few made with extremely old liquors, into the hundreds. But that is just the hook. All of us enjoyed our drinks, while sitting at the bar which I highly recommend because the bartenders are experts at making their most exotic cocktails. I had Sazerac Experience ($20) which was made in three variations: Cognac, Rye, and Cognac & Ry in combination. It was fantastic.

We drove with our friends back down to Portland where they left us at other friends home and continued on their way back home. They took us to Archery Summit Winery for a tasting and it turned out to be a tie-in for the book. The winery was the creation of Gary Andrus who also started Pine Ridge in Napa Valley. Due to a divorce the winery was sold and Gary started this project. He built the first wine caves in Oregon under basalt, and the tasting was held deep in the caves following a tour. Gary died and the winery was sold to an investment group but it runs pretty much the way he did. They are expensive pinot noirs but the closest I have ever found to Burgundy. It is expensive but a fantastic experience!

Lastly, we stopped on the way back at Domaine Drouhin, which also makes Burgundian pinot’s. It is a large winery and the wines, under the direction of Veronique Drouhin, are very nice, especially the two reserves, Laurene and Louisa, named after her two daughters. The latter is very limited and only available to club members.

It was an incredible trip despite the occasional torrential rains and after three and a half weeks, including catching a horrible cold the last day, we were ready for home. Interesting that the entire time we were gone it was warmer in Minnesota than on the West Coast!