Vol.3 No.6 – What’s in a rating?

Dear readers, thought you might enjoy this…sort of, like a root canal! Here is a link to the latest article from The Wine Gourd which mathematically analyzes many facets of wine. Also, in it the link to the prior article that started this is interesting.

To recap, TB still prefers the UC Davis system, why? Because it rates the quality of the wine in various degrees to come up with an overall quality rating. I have used it with novices and it works even with them. The problem with the others is subjectivity.
Under the Davis system, there are just two subjective points, under Parker:
• Color and appearance have 5 points.
• The aroma and bouquet receive up to 15 points.
• The passage of mouth and aftertaste receive up to 20 points.
• Finally, the overall quality level and the potential for future evolution and improvement receive up to 10 points.
 
I have been in tastings with other 100 point systems that can have 20-25 subjective points. That is the problem: we aren’t judging wine quality, we are letting the taster tell us what he/she likes and frankly, who cares? I certainly don’t since I differ greatly in what Parker looks for in a wine and have been disappointed at times when I buy (used to) based on his or anyone’s ratings.
I would be interested in your opinions and will end with a study that was done showing point escalation or ’rounding up’ to 90 which this article illustrates, although not stated, to me.
For my 50th birthday, we had a party on the Napa Wine Train. Waiting to board I saw this in a gift shop:
Man in tasting room: This wine is awful…worst I have ever tasted!
Pourer: Really? Parker gave it a 90.
Man: I’ll take two cases!
Just as Sideways tarnished Merlot, and embellished Pinot’s (the joke being that Mile’s favorite wine was Cheval Blanc which is predominantly Merlot), ratings are leaving a lot of good wines sitting on retailers shelves.
While I applaud Parker for creating a system that has improved quality of wine (in his early publications there were many wines with mid-80’s scores and until the ’82 Bordeaux, I can’t recall any wine with a rating of 99 or higher), and Michel Rolland’s efforts (although I fear all wines would taste alike if everyone made them to his standards), it is time for the consumer to take control and have the confidence to drink and pour for guests, wines they feel are high quality. The same goes for vintages: there are winners and losers in each one and terroir does make a difference.
That’s how I see it.
TB
P.S. tasting note: last week I opened a bottle of wine, a Rioja I bought a couple of years back, Marques de Riscal Reserva 2007. It was marvelous, particularly for a $20-25 wine. The current release is 2011, I believe. It was full of luscious fruit flavors yet stood up well to a grilled steak. We drank half the bottle that night and using a trick I learned from Carles Pastrana at Clos de l’Obac, a fine Priorat wine, I merely recorked it and left it out, finishing it the next night…and guess what? It was even better, more developed and more intense. No signs of oxidation. A beautiful wine. For those of you not familiar with this wine, it is in the central part of La Rioja, was the first to export the wine, and has a beautiful hotel with it designed by Frank Gehry who designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Quite a sight in the middle of nowhere!

Vol 3. No. 5…the future of California lies in: Temecula???

Whoa! Is that right? Well, not exactly. Temecula became a wine producer in 1969, when Eli Calloway Jr (remember the Calloway golf club, Big Bertha?). He chose the are because of the mountains to the west which provide warm days while the proximity to the ocean provides cool evenings. Ideal for winemaking? In his opinion, yes.

Today there are over 40 wineries in the area which sits just above the 30th parallel. Vitis Vinifera grapes which only thrive between the two 30° and 45º latitudes with a big void in between. If you follow the 30th parallel from Temecula, which is just north of San Diego you would wind up in Morocco and Algeria – not particularly known for wine quality.

That is not to say they can’t produce decent wines but not world class ones. In her first edition of The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil omitted Temecula. Over the years since it was published in 2001, bear in mind the acknowledgements are huge which is why it took about ten years to produce. Several people noted in Amazon reviews that she should have included it. However, when the second edition was published in 2016, there was still no mention of it, despite the forty or so wineries there.

There is a resort hotel and so it has become a destination of sorts for Southern California. This did not go unnoticed by the Chinese, who seeing the popularity of Napa and Sonoma, decided that Los Angeles and Orange counties needed another destination besides Disneyland.

The developer is David Liu, an American who came here from China and made millions as a real estate developer and has tapped wealthy Chinese investors for the project. Originally the area was going to become tract homes but Liu decided otherwise and purchased the 700 acres of barren land in Riverside County. He is building a huge Marriott-branded hotel, a winery, event space, and some multi-million dollar homes. It will be called Twelve Oaks…gee, if he had played his cards right he might have instead had a bit ‘T’ on it…they’re everywhere you know…

TB would like to say he researched all this but instead he read it in his local paper last Sunday. Here is the link: Chinese Pour Their Focus on California

TB is not berating the developer or the wines but doesn’t believe the future of wine is in Temecula…but he does wish Mr. Liu well in his endeavor. Hey, if Two-Buck Chuck can be a success…

Sorry it took so long to put this one out…will try to get back on schedule again.

Best,

TB

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 3 an evening to remember

Imagine: you get an invitation to a wine tasting by email. Not just any tasting but a vertical tasting of the first twenty-five years the winery has been in existence. The last SIX of those vintages have not been released yet – just lying in the cellar slowly aging. You received the invitation because you visited the winery and only those who have are being sent invitations. You have a choice of going to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. What would you say? Oh, I forgot, the cost was $250 including dinner…hmm just $10 per vintage.

I spent at least ten minutes thinking about it and since that winery was the highlight of my trip last year to Spain and Portugal, which included a wine cruise along the Spanish coastline tasting local wines, I made up my mind to go. Done! I chose Chicago for the ease of getting there. (See Vol 2 No 16 for the area around Barcelona and Priorat)

The winery is Clos de l’Obac (Costera del Siurana) in the Priorat region of Spain about 75 miles south of Barcelona in the town of Grattalops. It is a very small area that is encircled by the up and coming Monsant region, a DO (Denominación de Origen) since 2001, while Priorat is the gem and received its DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada), later upgraded to DOQa, (actually the same but the first was Catalyan, and the other Spanish, and is only one of two such designations in Spain, the other being La Rioja.

For the first three vintages, 1989–1991, the group of five wineries pooled their grapes, shared a winery in Gratallops, and made one wine sold under five labels:  Clos de l’Obac, Clos Dofi (later renamed to Finca Dofi), Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos Mogador. From 1992, these wines were made separately. There are several more wineries now but all are very independent of one another.

According to the owner, five people got together in 1979 – “crazy people” according to owner Carles Pastrana, and they bought and developed vineyards and a winery in Grattalops. The vineyards dated back over 100 years and were originally planted by the Romans and monks at the monastery of Scala Dei. Besides Clos de l’Obac, the wineries were Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet, Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi. The first three vintages were made in then only winery in Grattalops, then they each made their own wine. Later Mas Doix, Scala Dei, and others appeared and some of the original five had name changes.

In 1995, Clos de l’Obac finished in the top four in a tasting in Stockholm. The four top were 1989 Clos de l’Obac, Chateau Le Pin, Cos d’Estournel, all tied and only surpassed by five points by Chateau Pétrus. Carlos then made the unusual decision to make the blend the same from that point on: 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% garnacha, and 10% each of merlot, syrah, and cariñena. His theory is that the grapes and wine have a personality, while the climate and weather provide the character. He has been criticized for this but to him, he is using the best formula he knows to make wine and the differences by year are only due to the weather. I tease him about being ‘the lazy winemaker’, but if that were the case his wines would not be so well received. More significantly, since they do not buy grapes or juice from other wineries, what happens if there is a light harvest of one of the 10% varietals? He cuts back production, which can hardly be called efficient, and sells the excess to other wineries. He also does the blending at the harvest, rather than after aging in separate barrels that are then ‘assembled’ to the desired proportions. The wine is fined using egg whites but never filtered. This is accomplished in his gravity flow winery by adding an additional tank by the bottling area. The wine goes into this and is left for a few weeks which creates a natural filtering when the wine is drawn off and bottled.

Here is how the tasting was organized. First, there were only 24 people participating including Carles, his wife Mariana, his importer Jon Cancilla and his wife. That meant a total of 600 glasses which were delivered in flights of five beginning with the 1990 (which only had four wines because he had saved the 1989, a magnum for last. Small plates (tapas), that would pair well with the wine were served with each flight. Only after we were done with the flight was there any discussion of what we thought. Here are my conclusions:

While there were distinct differences between the vintages (especially in the mid-2000’s due to steadily warmer temperatures which caused the alcohol level to go from a steady 13.5% to 14.5-16%, but even then the wines did not taste hot, nor were they the fruit bombs so popular with critics and employed by California wine makers. These were all excellent food wines), but there was no oxidation or browning of any of the wines. They were all fresh and vibrant. By the way all of the wines were opened three hours before serving but not decanted. When it came to the final 1989 vintage, it showed no sign of age and fruit. It was very soft and pleasant, with very little tannin. I believe the tasting confirmed Carles’ theory of personality and character and that the differences between vintages would have been far greater if the blend had been varied. I began, as and am even more so now, a fan of these excellently made wines.

As for the tasting and venue, it was perfectly orchestrated and the pairings were all unique and excellent. It was just over three hours and the time went by very quickly.

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!

 

Vol 3 No. 2.4 off to Dry Creek Valley

The thin ribbon of a canyon beside the Silverado Trail leads from Calistoga to the Alexander Valley. It is a pleasant drive that opens up past the canyon to more vineyards and wineries. Most notable is Silver Oak Cellars in Geyserville just off Highway 101. It was an offshoot from their Oakville winery that has produced many of the great cabernets. It was built by Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan but some years ago Justin sold his interest to Ray and his partners. I only point this out to show the breadth in the Alexander Valley, which I could have spent more time in if I wasn’t conducting interviews for my book project.

Also note that north of Geyserville is Cloverdale, from which you can go over the mountain towards the coast and descend into the Anderson Valley, which also has many good wineries including sparkling wine producer Roederer Estate, owned by the French Champagne producer, Louis Roederer which produces their top of the line Crystal. But as you drop down into the valley the first you come to is Meyer Family Cellars, opened by Justin Meyer after selling his interest in Silver Oak. We stumbled upon this winery and not knowing about it entered the tasting room where Justin was working alone. Sadly, a few years later he died but the winery continues under his wife Bonnie, son Matt and his wife. Again, I had wanted to go up there but time was too short but Justin will be part of the book project.

The car’s GPS brought me to a series of turns until I was headed west again (to the south is the town of Healdsburg and the normal way I enter the Dry Creek Valley), and not paying too much attention realized the road had gone up a small mountain and as it rode the crest I noticed Ridge Winery, a fav, to my left and realized that I had ended up on Lytton Springs Road. From there it gradually descends until it turns and ends up in the valley on West Dry Creek Road. You can follow the road around the entire valley which is just over a mile wide at the widest part, the center filled in with wineries, and a few bridges for shortcuts crossing the creek. To the west is Lake Sonoma which closes the valley.

I turned left and drove to Lambert Bridge. On the corner is the Dry Creek General Store and Bar, operating since 1881. It is a must stop for us, to get a coffee drink or pick up a lunch for an afternoon picnic. Don’t miss it. It has a colorful history and good food. It is now owned by Gena Gallo of the Gallo family who owns a respected winery just down the road. Last December, the bookkeeper was just convicted of embezzling $416,000 over the prior seven years. The bar is a locals hangout but is supposed to be a great ‘dive bar’.

Drinking my latte, I drove back west to Unti Vineyards, a must visit. I discovered it around 1998 when I purchased some of their syrah on line. The next trip there, we stopped and never miss the opportunity of visiting their tasting room. It is no nonsense but they are so friendly that you immediately feel at home. I met with Mick Unti, the son of George who planted the vineyards in 1990, although the family had owned the land for decades. I learned from Mick their close ties to their native Italy and how they had planted sangiovese, along with barbera, segromigno, verdicchio, as well as the syrah. All are well-made and can hold up well to their Italian counterparts due to the combination of soils and climate, with afternoon breezes coming off the lake. I thought I might be able to use Unti for the book project and came away convinced of it.

After that it was across the bridge to the first Dry Creek winery I ever tasted: A. Rafanelli. The first time I tried their zin I loved it. We were at the former Heritage House in Mendocino, and it was recommended. The next day in town I found a case of 375ml bottles and we have been buying and drinking it ever since. The founder Alberto came over from Italy in the early 1900’s. Prohibition came and went and they produced grapes which were sold to other wineries. Then in 1979, son Americo turned it into a winery and then passed to son, Dave. Dave has kept the style the same but made gradual improvements in the wine which has a cult following and is a great value in the $40-50 range as is their only other wine, a great cab.The fourth generation is now making wine with daughters Rasheel (Shelly) the winemaker, and Stacy the operations manager. The winery is open by appointment only and production is small so it sells out quickly, mainly to fans who have been on the mailing list for years. I always knew that the family would be in my book project and after taking our glasses of zin to the far corners of the caves to talk, I am convinced of it.

My last stop was to be Montemaggiore, built and founded by Lise and Vince Ciolino. Being first generation winemakers wouldn’t seem to qualify them for the book project since they only began the winery on a hilltop on the south side of the valley, but I tasted their syrah when I was down on the Central Coast and spent the next year trying to find them. When I did, I saw why. Both had careers in the technology industry, Lise in marketing and Vince in sales. When the company was sold they got married and immediately bought the land and planted the vineyard as well as a beautiful villa. Lise’s father was a collector and her first wine was at Hermitage where she fell in love with syrah. She makes the wine and he is the viticulturist. In addition, he planted olive trees and makes award winning olive oil. They make reds, whites, and a rosé, but syrah and a cab/syrah blend are at the top of the list. They have a son, Paolo, who is a teenager now and just recently had an offer they couldn’t refuse on the winery. It occurred to them that they had only had two vacations in sixteen years, and both related to wine. When I contacted them about the book project they informed me that the winery had just been sold – however, they retained the name and would continue to make wine on a smaller scale at a winery friends own. I expect the quality to continue.

So instead of meeting at the winery, we had lunch in Healdsburg, and caught up on all of our adventures over the past several years. Rather than disqualify them from the book they will remain a part of it as the exception to the rule.

After lunch, I drove back over the mountains past the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful Geyser to Calistoga where our friends joined us.

The next day, we had some free time in the morning and I thought of an old standby to visit: Chateau Montelena, not far away. It had been several years since our last visit and it had changed for the better. The tasting room had stand-up round tables where an associate would discuss the wines with you. All seemed eager and knowledgeable and as always the wines were great. The chateau was built by Albert Tubbs in 1888 as a barrel making facility and is built of stone. It is charming with a lake and a few islands for members to enjoy. Bo Barrett, who succeeded father George as CEO still runs the winery with Matt Crafton, winemaker. Wife, Heidi, is arguably the busiest winery consultant in the valley and also owns La Sirena, while together they make award-winning Barrett & Barrett cabernets which have a cult following. They are busy people and Heidi will only accept consulting jobs within 45 minutes of home, where she flies a helicopter to reach some of the far reaching clients, so she can also be an active mother.

That makes Napa Valley a rap. Hope you enjoyed the trip and maybe found some new wineries to visit.

TB