Monday, August 29, 2011

Preposterous Pundit Pontification of the Month (Silly Wine Review of the Month)

Now on to July. It is the end of August after all. Things move slowly in New Orleans, especially in the summer, who am I to fight that tradition?
Again, these are all Wine Spectator reviews:
Honorable Mention - White:
To A.N. for a series of Alsace reviews, in particular two each for Josmeyer and Albert Mann Pinot Gris (all 90+ points awarded). "honeyed notes of yellow peach, orange sorbet and candied pink grapefruit layered with hints of smoky anise, nut and lemon curd." Sounds like a collision at the yogurt bar. There's more: "floral, lychee aromas mixing with flavors of peach, pear pastry and orange granita." Another generates, "a smoky baseline to the flavors of green pear, persimmon and pink grapefruit...fennel seed, orange peel and floral notes." And still more amazingly specific and esoteric references, "with honeyed overtones to the flavors of quince paste, tarte Tatin and juicy grapefruit...lots of anise, bergamot, floral, spiced almond and smoke notes." I have no idea what to make of the last one. They all offer too much information to process and have any idea what's happening in the glass. With two of the selections approaching $90 I want a less specific yet more useful explanation.
Winner - White: J.M. again takes the prize, in a landslide, for his 95 point review of Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2009. "Dense and rich, with creamed yellow apple, sweetened butter, glazed pear and Cavaillon melon notes..."
Honorable Mention - Red: H.S. for a Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc 2007 write-up. It's all fine except for the mention of "guava" in the review. It may be there, but it confuses me about the wine since I can not conjure up a guava note in any red wine I've ever tasted. For a $36, 93 point wine I don't want to wonder about that element. granted, it is not the Spectator's job to sell wine but it seems an odd note to have appear in a red wine that rated as highly.
Winner - Red: A.N. wins here for this review but also for the body of work in the edition as the word "sanguine" appeared in a huge amount reviews penned by A.N. For Cantina Andriano Lagrein Alto Adige Tor di Lupo Riserva 2007, rated 91 points. "Shows the sweet and smoky character of burning vine clippings...Kirsch, grilled plum, sanguine and espresso notes mix with hints of lavender, marjoram and sage..." Not so hard to understand but some odd references, like vine clippings, that too many people would not understand.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Preposterous Pundit Pontification of the Month (Silly Wine Review of the Month)

I grow so tired of the insane ramblings and bizarre references offered to help us understand wine. My sympathy extends to those who must capture a wine's elusive essence in 20-40 words.  I can't do it.  More to the point, I won't do it.  
Empathy exists within me for those charged with reviewing large numbers of bottles within a very specific theme.  Similarities make a difficult job even more challenging.  However, that does not let them off the hook for the bizarre snippets some of them create.  
The Wine Spectator arrives at my door now and lets me keep up with the most recognized wine publication.  Note the word 'best' does not appear in that sentence.  They do a passable job and sometimes even manage to educate and entertain.  
A new feature here will be a monthly finger-wagging at a few particularly egregious reviews.  This month they all come from the Spectator.  Oh, and this month is June...July will follow shortly and maybe August will actually appear in August.  
White Wine:
Honorable mention goes to a review of Kumeu River Chardonnay, one of the best versions coming out of New Zealand.  The reviewer scores the wine 92 and gushes but manages to use "tobacco details" in the description.  I have never found tobacco in white wine and don't think it would be welcome.  I have also never found anything vaguely like that in nearly a decade of tasting and drinking that wine.
The winner for a white reviews is: Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre Vielles Vignes 2008, written by J.M.  "This white shows lovely precision, with a beautiful aroma of creme fraiche backed by racy, pure flint, chive, straw and gooseberry notes."  Creme fraiche, despite it's recent South Park appearance, makes sense and I can see finding and enjoying that in a wine.  Same with flint, maybe with chive but the straw loses me.  My recent references for straw revolve around Jazz Fest when it is placed around various muddy areas.  Inevitably some barnyard stink comes with it and that wet, soggy smell is not a selling point.  Previous to that, my time on a farm brought similar aromas to mind.  I'm not even going to touch the ubiquitous overuse of gooseberry that almost no one has experienced.  
Red Wine: Domaine du Galet des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2008, by J.M. (A sweep!)  "Perfumy, with warm cherry confiture, black tea and fruitcake notes laced with a hint of shiso leaf..."  With you on the beginning but who the hell knows what a fruitcake tastes like anymore?  And shiso leaf?  WTF?  I don't even know what it is, much less it's flavor/aroma.  [Note: Japanese for perilla]  [Next note: perilla belongs to the mint family.]  [Postscript to next note: also known as purple mint or Japanese Basil].  The last one helps the most.  Shiso leaf?  Really?  Was that the herb of the day and you promised to work it into something?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dear Bordeaux,

Lest you mistakenly assume any shred of loyalty exists for your oenologic output based on my previous missive addressing your more elegant relation to the northeast, let me remind you of our previous breakup.  You proved easier to forget.  Our relationship lasted only a few years and was so long ago that the letter saying goodbye was delivered by fax; the words long past unreadable due to faded ink.  
A few years of impressive wines from the late '80s and 1990 pulled me in but then you offered less impressive offerings for many years while prices spiraled upwards.  I never could open my heart again to you after the vertigo induced by high tariffs and lackluster offerings.
Your desire to put forth an air of exclusivity while churning forth 850,000,000 bottles a year from your sprawling 290,000 acres [both numbers from Vine Talk] smacks of gauche, nouveau riche comportment despite your impressive lineage.  
Wealthy suitors bafflingly continue to chase your wines with the most status and pay exorbitant prices to own them.  When the Wine Spectator spoke of the '09 vintage and mentioned "solid values which in Pauillac means less than $50 per bottle," my resolve to ignore you only strengthened.  
I will not put up the false facade of dislike.  You retain the ability to enchant, beguile and infatuate.  The price you ask is simply too dear.  Like Burgundy, my desire remains true but my credit card stays home if I think we'll run into one another.  If I cross the street when you approach, you'll know why.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Burgundy,

Let me say first how sorry I am. It seemed we would last forever. After intense glances followed by lengthy absences, we gravitated together and I fell madly in love. Occasional frustrations and spats only deepened our connection when things aligned properly. Other wines faded into the background when you visited.
Your whites enchanted originally but the reds became part of me. Dalliances with other regions notwithstanding, I remained loyal and spent a lot of time, personally and professionally, touting you to anyone who would listen.
Now you have more callers than you know what to do with and you've developed expensive tastes. I knew your penchant for luxury but also knew it was pursued on special occasions only and you had enough admirers that I could make scarce then.
Your wines are fantastic, perhaps the best they have ever been but the prices are such that you prevent many suitors from even asking for your number. Less competition should make me happy but I find myself on the wrong side of the velvet ropes, lacking the cover charge for reliable entertainment.
For a while, I waited and tasted, hoping for sublime experiences at a reasonable price. Eventually, they stopped coming and your moody eccentricities, tolerable at reasonable prices, like a child's fit of pique at a picnic, became petulant tantrums in posher settings, harder to ignore.
A recent review from the Wine Spectator showed only one selection out of sixteen "Top Wines" under $100, and it listed for $72. Nine of the others cost more than $300 a bottle. You know me, I do not buy ratings but this scared me. An offering of 2009 futures recently found my inbox. My lip quivered as the attachment opened. Hope still existed. Surely paying up front would alleviate sticker shock and allow me access to my beloved.
Alas, lowly Aligote and Passetoutgrains sell for $19 and $20 and a Gevrey Chambertin, granted a premier cru, for $125 (and that looks good compared to others). Even a reliable Bourgogne rouge now approaches the $40 mark. It's not me, it's you.
Newcomers may find the current state of affairs acceptable but this can't go on any longer. You run with a different crowd and I hope you'll be happy since I still care about you. Be sure the current wooers understand you because when your mercurial and occasionally querulous nature emerges they may run back to their easy and willing wines from Down Under or California. Your true admirers may not be here when you decide to come slumming.
Adieu mon amour, I miss you already.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Champagne Scams



Don and Petie Kladstrup authored a fascinating book on Champagne and its history. If you've ever had a glass of true champagne, do yourself a favor and read this. If you haven't, go get a bottle and read this. Many of the big picture stories are well known but they personalize them in a way rarely seen in wine writing.
The portion of the book that riveted me more than any other, not for its drama but its revelations, told tales of inventive scams. Americans have hijacked French regions' names for marketing purposes. Neither true chablis nor burgundy come in four liter jugs or boxes. Likewise, champagne only comes from the appellation in France. California sparkling wine can not call itself champagne any more. Americans are not the only offenders.

The appeal of the scam is clear. Call a generic bag a Gucci and make more money. Label any sparkling wine champagne and it sold with nowhere near the effort it would take to educate people about the real area where the wine was produced.

Check out how blatant it used to be:

"One of the most daring was Leon Chandon, who realized that if his name were printed just right, people would confuse the champagne he made with that of Moet & Chandon, and buy more of his bubbly. Not only were Leon's bottle labels nearly identical to Moet & Chandon's, but his corks were branded with the same star...And it was perfectly legal. At least, there was nothing in the books that said such things were illegal."

Victor Cliquot (pretty close to Veuve Cliquot) tried the same trick. And "[w]hen the cellarmaster at Ruinart Pere et Fils decided to set up a champagne house of his own, one of his first acts was to hire a retired cavalry officer named Paul Ruinart." The Bousigues brothers found a more marketable name than their own when, in Strasbourg, "they discovered that the name of their waiter was Roederer." Louis Roederer took them to court but found no satisfaction.

In Hammondsport, New York a producer of sparkling wine "had won numerous awards for its sparkling wine" but the proprietors "decided they could make even more money if they had a more prestigious address. To arrange that, they met with officials from the U.S. Postal Service and explained how the soil and climatic conditions of their region were much like Champagne's...within a few days, a small branch post office was opened on the premises of the Great Western Wine Company. The official address: Rheims, New York, which was the common spelling for Reims [a significant location in Champagne] in those days." They still wanted more though, traveling to France and finding "an old woman who had once been a cook...her last name was Pommery...In no time at all, the House of Pommery was reborn, this time in Rheims, New York."

Makes Goats do Roam's play on Cotes du Rhone look like nothing at all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seghesio, Sold!

Some weather the storm, some change forever. Ridge sold years ago but never missed a beat. Ravenswood did not fare as well, in this writer's opinion, but still produces some decent wine. Seghesio ranks right up there as one of the best zinfandel producers. The more important loss of a family-owned winery with national recognition should not be overlooked.
Large corporate owners need to grow to satisfy shareholders and rare is the operation that can continue to produce high quality juice at the same time. I remain optimistic since family members will remain involved but will approach with caution, especially a few years from now when consumers may forget the change. Of course, the corporate party line is to not alter anything...who would say we're going to change everything and double production when the wine world's eyes are upon you?
The new owner, Crimson Wine Group, also owns Pine Ridge - still a good producer - and Archery Summit - has been overpriced for years - so the news may remain good in the longer term. Keep buying and tasting and let's hope the wines remain as true and well-made as they are today.