Petrus Gets Bad Review from Wine Spectator

2007 Petrus got 92 points from The Wine Spectator. I could not be more shocked to see The Wine Spectator trashing Petrus. However, that’s exactly what they did as any wine selling for $1300 is an abject failure at anything less than 100 points. You’d have to be a fool to bother to drink Petrus with such a rating - at least if you gave any credence to the 100 point scale.

That’s the rub with the worthless pointy system - a $25 wine can get the same score as a $1300 wine thus implying anybody that drinks Petrus is an idiot. Well OK, anybody spending $1300 on a bottle of wine is a sucker, but the fact is that Petrus is as unique and distinctive as wine can be and such silly rankings miss that fact. You may have to be an idiot to buy Petrus, but you’re no such thing if you enjoy drinking it.

At the top of the The Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2009 is the excellent Columbia Crest 2005 Columbia Valley Reserve rated 95 points by The Wine Spectator. I defy anyone with a palate to taste the 2007 Petrus against that 05 Columbia Crest and, without price as a factor, choose the Columbia Crest over the Petrus. Yet that is exactly what The Wine Spectator claims with their rankings. I’m also willing to bet that not one single Wine Spectator editor, including the one that gave the Columbia Crest 95 points, given the choice, would choose to drink (not buy) the Washington wine over the Petrus if they had to pick between the two. Yet, if they give any credence to their own system they would have to choose the Columbia Crest, which their own rating system ranks higher than Petrus.

I’ll happily drink the Columbia Crest, but I’m not hypocritical enough to claim I prefer it over the Petrus. I would never spend $1300 for a bottle of wine as no wine is worth that much, but if you’re buying, just like the editors of The Wine Spectator would, I’ll take the Petrus.


Eat Local? Drink Local!

sustainability_spheres Portland Oregon is a famously green city. Named the most sustainable city in the United States, the city even boasts an Office of Sustainable Development. The city’s restaurant scene also follows the sustainable mantra with a passion. The number of restaurants featuring sustainable, locally grown ingredients makes Portland a foodie nirvana. Considering that Portland sits at the head of the verdant Willamette Valley, the supply and diversity of sustainably grown meat, fruit and vegetables available to local chefs is almost overwhelming. Indeed Portland is in, “A golden age of dining and drinking,” as Eric Asimov wrote in The New York Times.

Not much more than a half hour drive from this hotbed of sustainable restaurants owned by chefs obsessed with the freshest local produce sits one of the world’s most highly regarded wine regions, the Willamette Valley. The same rich diversity of soil types and microclimates that provide the endless sustainable pantry for local chefs also offers world-class wines, which are now sought after by the best sommeliers and fine wine shops. No serious wine list in New York, Chicago or other major American city would feel it had a complete wine list without a significant selection of Oregon Pinot Noir. Just a few hours away are the great vineyards of the Columbia Valley and the emerging regions of Southern Oregon. Portland restaurants are literally surrounded by outstanding wine regions, which grow the full range of the world’s finest wine varieties.

Like Portland, Oregon is arguably the greenest wine growing region on the planet. The movement towards sustainable winegrowing in Oregon seemed to develop its own natural (appropriately enough) momentum based on the personality and beliefs of the people that came here to grow grapes. It makes perfect sense that winegrowers who came here to grow Pinot Noir—the most terroir driven of grape varieties—would have a closeness to the earth itself that would inevitably lead them to be good stewards of the land and move away from conventional agriculture to the various sustainable disciplines.

In Oregon, there are a variety of sustainable certifications and, as usual, practitioners of each discipline assert the superiority of their methods, but of most importance is the unique commitment among Oregon wine growers to use methods that have minimum impact on the environment. While environmental aspects have helped fuel the greening of the Oregon wine industry, there are two indisputable factors that are driving this growth. First is the obvious fact that grapes farmed by any of these methods make better wine. All of the top wineries in Oregon use one of these methods. The simple truth: To achieve any of these certifications, you have to spend more time in your vineyards and that contact inevitably leads to better fruit, which always means better wine. The second reason for the explosion in sustainably certified vineyards is a little less altruistic, but is important nonetheless. Being green means more than bettering the environment, as certified wines command more greenbacks. Green makes for good marketing and has, in fact, become a marketing focal point for the Oregon Wine Board, which has now introduced its own certification, Oregon Certified Sustainable.

So we have a match made in heaven: a hot sustainable food scene in Portland surrounded by dedicated sustainable winegrowers producing wines in an incredible range of styles from every important wine grape variety in the world. Unfortunately, and with a logic I cannot follow, this is a match that hasn’t happened. I have never seen a city so close to major wine regions that is so disconnected from its local wines. If people eat in Bordeaux, they drink Bordeaux, in Alba they drink Barolo, in Dijon they drink Burgundy, in San Francisco they drink California; but in Portland, you are more likely to find wines grown 5,000 miles away rather than 50.

There is a disconnect between Portland and its regional wines. It is common to dine at a restaurant that prides itself on serving the freshest local provenance while featuring wines from France and Spain with only a nod to the wines of the Northwest. Unfortunately, that also goes for the city’s fine wine shops, on whose shelves Northwest wines are often second-class citizens.

Within a four-hour drive of Portland, some of the world’s most sought-after, respected wines are grown. Great Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Tempranillo, Syrah and many other varieties, along with exceptional Champagne-method sparkling wines and dessert wines, are produced in Washington and Oregon. This fact leaves local restaurants little excuse for not offering interesting wine lists based on local wines. That’s certainly not to say there’s no room for the world’s other wines, but a food community that believes in a sustainable model and does not take full advantage of the exciting wines grown in its own backyard is only paying lip-service to sustainability. This, of course, means more work for restaurateurs who must spend more time in wine country, tasting and finding wines from producers who make wines that they find exciting with their food, but that’s how chefs working in the world’s other wine regions do it.

The concept of sustainability is important to Portland’s restaurateurs, winegrowers and their customers. Serving local wines in local restaurants is a part of the sustainability model that should not be overlooked. Putting wine on a ship, then on a truck and transporting it thousands of miles leaves a big carbon footprint hard to ignore.

In 2005, the “Eat Local” challenge ( ) was launched by the Ecotrust, Portland Farmers Market and the Portland Chapter of the Chefs Collaborative to educate consumers on the benefits of eating locally grown food. Perhaps it’s time we launch a “Drink Local” project with the same goal. Eating locally and drinking locally cannot be separated when you live in the heart of a great wine region.

This article originally appeared in The Oregon Wine Press

Washington Wines Reach A New High

Wine-makers turn to marijuana, The Independent
Wine-makers turn to marijuana

By Shannon Dininny in Wapato, Washington
Sunday, 10 August 2008

The vineyards of America's Washington state do not all, it turns out, grow grapes. Increasingly, they are growing marijuana, a plant that could surpass grapes in value this year.

So far this summer, law enforcement officials in the Yakima Valley have converged on seven vineyards that had been converted to marijuana. In 2006 more than 144,000 plants were seized; the following year the total more than doubled to 296,611 plants.

Finding farmers willing to sell their property isn't difficult. In one case, drug operatives approached a farmer who didn't have his farm listed for sale. He resisted until, asked to name a price, he threw out a figure: $263,000 (£137,000) for 27 acres and no building. The buyer returned a few days later and bought the property for cash.


muzak Sometimes it’s embarrassing as an American to taste the incredible range of bargains available for under $15 from Europe and compare them to American wines at the same prices. The boring standardization of the American wine industry in this range is numbing. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different labels, but in the bottle you find only dozens of styles. As you stare at shelf-after-shelf of American cabernet, merlot or chardonnay in your local grocery store you can reliably just pick the one that’s on sale as they are all more-or-less the same wine. However, with just a little more work you can find an entire world of wine bargains that offer far more character than these homogenized industrial wines. It’s important to remember that these bargain reds should be served cool, 65°F or so, to bring out their freshness.

The red wines listed below are all under $15 and many of them are under $10. All of them were purchased in grocery stores, not fine wine shops, so it is possible to find them. Each has character, if not complexity, and best of all, they are great with food. Inexpensive American wines have become the elevator music of the wine world, wines like these are the original tunes.

  • Château Bouissel, Fronton, Classic, 2003 - Southern French estates offer some of best bargains out of France. This wine is substantial without being heavy and with the structure coming from the negrette will improve for a year or two. Rich and warm with a dark color from the malbec the tannins in the finish make this perfect for rich stews. Cassoulet anyone? 50% negrette, 20% syrah, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cot (malbec) Imported by Normandie Imports
  • Covey Run, Syrah, Columbia Valley, 2004 - What we have here is an American Côtes du Rhône and that’s a great idea. Ripe and juicy with a soft fruitiness that should please any merlot drinker. Don’t think, just drink and you’ll love it. At $6.99 a great bargain. Drink up fast and cool. (Buy online)
  • Fattoria Laila, Rosso Piceno, 2005 - Marche wines continue to be ignored Italian treasures in America, but that keeps prices down. This blend of montepulciano and sangiovese is a classic Italian red with a firm acid backbone and warm earthy flavors over the bright black cherry fruit. This matched with my penne with lamb sausage ragù perfectly.  Imported by North Berkeley Imports and Zancanella Importing. (Buy online)
  • La Ferme de Gicon, Côtes du Rhône, Vignerons de Chusclan, 2006 - This is just an amazingly easy wine to gulp. Rich, zesty, fruity and alive this is a wine all about honest simple pleasure that is happy to leave complexity to the big boys. This is a buy by the case wine at under $10 that will match with any summer meal. A half-hour in the refrigerator is mandatory and during the dog days of summer I’d serve it out-and-out chilled. Imported by Cellar Door Selections  (Buy online)
  • Villa Pigna Briccaio, Marche IGT, 2003 - Briccaio - Here is a step up on the complexity meter as it not only offers easy drink-ability, but some real character. Showing the breed of montepulciano, from which it is entirely made, this wine combines classic Italian backbone with a generous personality. A great match for your best grilled steaks. Imported by Zancanella Imports (Buy online)
  • Quinta da Espiga, Casa Santos Lima, Estremadura, 2006 - Portugal continues to pump out great wine bargains. This is a big, robust, deeply fruity wine and is a real mouthful. Those that like bigger wines will love this $8 steal. These dry Portuguese reds almost remind me a bit of what Port would taste like without the sugar.
  • Bodegas Luzon, Jumilla, 2006 - 65% monastrell (mourvèdre) 35% syrah - A big lush, ripe modern-style Spanish wine that will seduce many a merlot lover with its soft richness. Another wine for steaks or chops at your next cookout. A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group
  • Regaleali, Tasca d”Almerita, IGT Sicilia, Nero d’Avola, 2006 - I have always found the big players in the Sicilian wine scene, Regaleali and Corvo great values. They offered personality and typicity at a fair price. While these wines have modernized a bit over the years they have not gone down the road of becoming more like Australian wines than Italian wines taken by so many Sicilian producers. This wine has great backbone, good varietal character and, most wonderful of all, tastes like it comes from Sicily. Imported by Winebow   (Buy online)
  • Clos Roche Blanche, Cuvée Pif, Touraine, 2004 -  I first tasted the 2004 back in September of 2006 and it keeps getting better and better. It’s hard to imagine a wine more lifting and filled with personality at this price. This wine is for those looking for grace and elegance in a wine. Originally I recommended drinking this cot (malbec) cabernet franc blend early, but obviously there was no hurry. Imported by Louis/Dressner  (Buy Online)
  • Protocolo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 2005 - Usually Ordoñez selections tend towards the modern school of Spanish winemaking, but here is one with a more traditional style. Very fragrant and flashing a touch of spicy/sweet American oak its ripe red fruit flavors are held taught with just a touch of tannin. With a more classic European style and balance this is a great match for gilled lamb chops or sausages.  A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group  (Buy online)
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Worth Waiting For

woodward riesling Just over a year ago on a trip to Walla Walla, I made what I consider an essential stop on any trip to Eastern Washington and Oregon. That is the tasting room of Woodward Canyon, where I picked up a six bottles of their 2005 Columbia Valley Dry White Riesling. It was a wonderful wine fourteen months ago, but an additional year in bottle has elevated it beyond simply wonderful. A year ago it was brightly fruity, refreshing and a pleasure to drink. With the additional months in bottle it moved beyond pleasure into something that went from background to foreground, grabbing your attention and focusing your thoughts on every piece of data arriving from your taste buds. The bright fruit had evolved to a gripping minerality laced with those distinctive petroleum notes of maturing riesling all woven within a ripe white peach and racy Meyer lemon savory tart. We are now in Dungeness Crab season and it was an inspired match with some crabs brought into Newport just the day before.

What struck me the most is how the wine just grabbed my attention. It made me sit up and take notice. The mere tasting of it was not enough and each sip became more-and-more compelling. It is this demanding of your time and attention that defines great wine. I don’t think this is a level of nirvana that can be attained without aging a wine as young wines hide their real complexity under layers more obvious charms. If you can ignore it, it’s not great wine.