Monday, December 31, 2012

Wine Critics' Heads Elsewhere

Two long-time writers for Wine Spectator seemed to fall into a bit of a rut.
It must be hard to write about wines from the same region, and often the same vintage, without using the sams words over and over again.  Repeating some descriptors may be unavoidable, but using "roasted marshmallow" when describing red wine seemed an odd reoccurrence.  Four of fourteen reviews for a region contained that descriptor.  Since the wines cost $60, $54, $50 and $32, I'll just roast a marshmallow.  Thanks anyway.
One reviewer seemed to have sailing on his mind as he penned the following notes in July, August and September.  One wine was said to "ride aristocratically over a layer of refined tannins."  Another offered to "sail smoothly and serenely over refined tannins."  And the third "glides smoothly over refined tannins."  I think his boat might be named Refined Tannins...

See you in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Preposterous Pundit Pontifications for 2012 Part One

These reviews were actually published in 2011 by Wine Spectator but I found some notes the other day and it seemed appropriate to share them.  I remain amazed by the choices some critics make when they describe wines.  More amazing sometimes is the score associated with the words.
A wine described as "reticent in aroma" and as having "a stiff chorus of tannins" nonetheless rated 91 points.  At $66 I expect something better than those words imply.
88 points is not quite so impressive, but listen to this description: "medicinal herb notes...lacks a bit of focus with a lean, dry finish."  Oh, and MSRP is $48!
"Assertive, sandpaper tannins," does not signify a 92 point wine to me, especially if I just spent $80.  Likewise, "gritty tannins" seems like a serious flaw to me, especially at $45 and $55, but Wine Spectator rated two wines 92 points with that characteristic.
Bestowing 91 points on a $44 dollar beauty, JL raved that it possessed "a touch of mulch and celery."  My palate and wallet revolted at the concept of "notes of campfire and patchouli" for $42, despite a 93 point score.
Tomorrow another bit of amusement, courtesy of wine writers, to wrap up the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Napa Dominates California and the U.S.

According to Shanken News Daily, "In 2011, Napa County produced around 20% of all California wines, and accounted for 16%-17.5% of all wines produced in the U.S."  Wow.  They say Napa County, not Napa Valley so there are some producers included who might otherwise not be when most of us think of Napa, but according to Wikipedia, the difference in acreage between the two is only 2,275 in favor of Napa County.  That equates to just over 5% of Napa Valley's planted acres, not a huge amount.
Napa Valley arrives with a sense of exclusivity but those numbers make it sound less boutique and more shopping mall.
It's possible some games with numbers are being played, otherwise why not report Napa Valley alone.  Do wineries in NapaValley producing wine from other regions of California count in the Napa County numbers?
At any rate, the mot important thing for me to remember about production size and an air of exclusivity is that Bordeaux boasts three and a half times the planted acreage of Napa Valley!  Is that a bubble I hear bursting?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Champagne: Specific or General

I saw an ad the other day that featured Veuve Cliquot "Yellow" Label for just under $50 a bottle.  I will avoid my temptation to bash that ubiquitous product while lamenting how good it was a decade and a half ago.
My dollars rarely go to Champagne anymore, the prices have simply gotten out of hand at the same time producers from around the world have improved their sparkling wines.  This is before the coming increases (See 2012 Harvest Post).
So, if you are wandering through the world of Champagne you better know what you want, which is exactly why the standard labels sell so well.  Thinking about my predilection for individual grower offerings, led me to claim them to be the real Champagne.  But are they?
Grower Champagnes come from vignerons tending a specific plot of land and bottling their own estate product.  Large houses, like Veuve Cliquot and Moet and Chandon, etc., buy from multiple growers to make their house style.  "Moet [and] Chandon sources grapes from 234 villages in the Champagne region." (Wine Spectator Nov. 30, 2011).  That's a lot of different sources, and, to my mind, a more generic product.  Reliable, consistent but lacking character.
However, if you source grapes from all over the region is that not, perhaps, a more representative example of the style of Champagne than one vineyard, one grower?  To put it another way, is a Napa cabernet from St. Helena a better example of California cabernet than one sourced from Napa, Paso Robles and Central Coast?  Not a better wine, just a better example...

Monday, December 10, 2012

More Indiana: Chateau de Pique and Madison Vineyards

My touring of Indiana's wineries continues and there is good news and bad news.
Chateau de Pique provided the good news.  The setting is mostly idyllic.  That they hosted many weddings came as no surprise.
They grow their own cabernet franc (pictured above) although it turned out that the current offerings still came from the Finger Lakes region of New York.  The vines above should allow estate bottling starting with the 2012 vintage.
We tasted with the winemaker, the very engaging John McMahan (spelling?):
2009 chambourcin: I found it a bit tart, with a high-toned profile, featuring strawberry and light, red raspberry.  Although the tannin overwhelmed the fruit a bit on the finish, I liked the wine - it was tasty and the tannic bite could easily be handled with some food.
2009 cabernet franc: This was smoky and intense with deep, red fruit, darker than the chambourcin.  Apparently it ages for more than a year (two?) in bourbon barrels, which must be in good supply here in Kentuckiana.  I found that aspect of the wine a bit odd but it was certainly drinkable.  A spicy quality highlighted the finish.
2010 cabernet franc: Also from the Finger Lakes.  This was much more to my liking and had a classic cab franc nose.  The palate was simple and even a bit grapey but had elegance the 2009 lacked.  I thought this was delicious with real varietal character and plenty of the acidity that makes the wine so food friendly.
Then we headed to Madison Vineyards.  The visit was odd, right from the start.  The gentleman behind the counter seemed ill-at-ease with the entire situation, although he was certainly engaging and meant well.  The order of wines presented made no sense and he talked us out of tasting a prticular white wine (perhaps to his credit).
They claim all estate wines but the first one poured had about twenty percent Washington State fruit.  This was the Dimensions 2007, made from estate cabernet sauvignon and some cabernet franc mentioned above.  It was intensely purple in color with a meaty and minerally palate.  The minerality bordered on chalky and left me underwhelmed.
We also tasted a Ba Da Bing red and white.  Blend information was not provided but a handful of people arrived at this point, distracting our tour guide.  My tasting partner said the Rosso smelled of urine but I found it light, juicy, simple and drinkable.  The Bianco was dry and pinot grigio-esque, but it was awkward and inelegant.  We left here empty-handed.

For more posts on Indiana just use the search box and enjoy the read.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nothing Up Their Sleeve?

Sometimes making wine should be like sausages and politics.  You are better off not knowing what goes on behind the scenes.
Although this technique has been around a while, I had not heard the term until recently.  Flash Détente.  Sounds more like a French superhero or some negotiation where one party simply walked away from the bargaining table.
As I understand it, grapes are added to a very warm silo-like device and the heat evaporates some water from the grapes.  They become more concentrated, the must is a deeper color and it can even remove some of the green, bell pepper notes from under-ripe grapes.  No one does this with healthy, ripe grapes but it apparently corrects in cool/wet vintages.
One can not help but wonder what the exposure to 180+ degree heat does to the grapes in the longer term but since most people age their wine less than a day after purchase, I guess we may never know.  
The process differs from the vacuum concentrator which allows a similar result to be achieved at a lower temperature.  I have tasted wines made using this technology and it seems to be a gentle enough method.  I have to assume it is more expensive than Flash Détente or else why would you choose heat?
I wish there was some labeling required for wines handled with this sort of manipulation.  Not so much so people could avoid them entirely but so they would be aware and could make an informed choice.  One might wish to know the added expense involved or simply to know that the grapes had been manipulated more than other wines.