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Wine Blogging

Fodder for Criticism

“We have to protect what’s best about wine. It is ancient in our civilization, it is a perfect mix of the intellectual and the sensual, it enriches our lives. The beauty of great wine is that it lives inside of you after you’ve had it. It’s a stimulus for memory. What it tasted like, but more importantly, what it made you feel, why you drank it, what you talked about while drinking it, and with whom. Wine is a social event, not fodder for criticism,” Neal Rosenthal.

It’s amazing what we Americans have done to wine and, for the matter, food. Somehow we’ve changed one of life’s quiet pleasures into a sporting competition. In the beautiful quote above, importer extraordinaire Neal Rosenthal not only defines the essence of why wine is so compelling to us, but why his selections are matched in quality by a list of importers so small you can count them on one hand. In fact, I could easily spend my life limited to the wines of only two, Rosenthal and Kermit Lynch, and never be bored.

Wine is indeed a social event, it’s what should be for dinner not “fodder for criticism.”

It seems to be a part of the American psyche that we take things that should engage our senses in relaxation and pleasure and turn them into a competition. The television is full of food and chef slap downs. Dining is turned into Monday Night Football and now many self-defined “foodies” spend more time watching people cook instead of cooking themselves. Picking up carry out so you can rush home to watch Iron Chef does not make you a foodie. 

Taking time with wine, food and sharing that experience is what makes them such a rewarding part of life. Critics rank wines and taste wines against each other, which is a cruel thing to do to wine of subtlety and grace. Just like in the cooking shows theatrics always win the battle when little time is taken for reflection. It’s the quiet side of wine that needs more attention these days. Its easy to find the biggest and baddest wines, just refer to the wine critics as that’s what their system will give you. Perhaps one of the best parts of the rise of the wine blogging community is there you’re more likely to find someone writing about how a wine makes them feel rather than how they rank it.

When looking for wine recommendations take them from someone who spent some time with them. Tasting dozens of wines a day (or hundreds) is not a reliable way to form a meaningful opinion of a wine and such recommendations must be taken for what they are, meaningless. Does it really matter if the wine you are enjoying so much with your dinner was ranked a few points lower than the wine being enjoyed at the next table? Wine appreciation is about appreciating wine, more accurately about appreciating life.

In the scope of things in today’s world it’s a small thing for sure, but it is exactly those small things that make wine and food so wonderful. Pay attention.

Blogging Forward

Blogging forward? Moving forward indeed, but perhaps it is more like leaving blogging behind. Years of blogging has left its calluses. “Been through the wars have we,” as Monty Python said. However you phrase it, as you will see from the gap between my last post and this, it was clear that for me blogging about wine had become, there’s no other word for it, boring.

There seemed to be real wine wars in the past and they made my blood boil. Boil and rant I did about the ridiculous idea of giving points to wines, the destruction of terroir by those same critics giving the points and the sad dulling of the American palate by the wine mass marketing machine using those points. At some point in the last year I realized I no longer cared about slaying these windmills and once that happened trying to hammer out three or four blog posts a week became more a burden than a creative outlet. 

I’ve decided the only creative outlet that matters to me anymore is to create an environment where I can craft meaningful wines. By meaningful wines I mean wines that mean something to me. Then it is up to me that find people that share my vision and take pleasure in what we have created at Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa Valley and at Cornerstone Oregon in the Willamette Valley. I’ll take points when we get them, you’d have to be an idiot not to, but achieving those ratings is not my goal. My goal is to make wines that light up people’s eyes when they drink them. I believe that there are more than enough like-minded people out there that will love what we do and buy our wines. So points be damned and we’ll follow our own vision instead of theirs.

I’ll take one last shot at the 100 point wine rating system just for old times sake. I don’t care who the taster is, but if you take twenty-five wines from the same place, variety and price range and have someone taste and score them, then repeat the same tasting five days in a row changing the order of the wines every day you will get statistically different results. The results you get will only prove one thing: that such ratings produce statistically unrepeatable results. As the results can’t be repeated they are worthless - except for one thing. Points are very valuable for selling wine publications, which is the only reason for their existence. As with any database: garbage in, garbage out. Humans are not infallible tasting machines - no one, nowhere, no how.

One reason to be less upset about the big print wine magazines is that they’re doomed. Not to pick on wine magazines, but they are unlikely to escape the fate that is going to change that entire industry. My guess is within five years they’ll be more-or-less exclusively online publications and will have had their power diluted by online publications that may not even exist yet. Kicking them on their way down seems like a waste of energy. It’s time to admire them for what they were and what they achieved, not rant against them for what they have become.

There is also the natural passing of time that is changing things. A recent departure from The Wine Spectator found several beats replaced by more sensitive voices notably that of James Molesworth. Over at The Wine Advocate the contributions of Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin and David Schildknecht have transformed dramatically the range of wines receiving attention and high scores. Perhaps balance is being restored to The Force after all.

So as I move this blog forward you’ll find no more rants here. Hopefully you’ll find thoughtful commentary on my experience in trying to create compelling terroir-driven wines on the west coast of the United States and my feelings on other wines that inspire me and compel me to put the feelings they give me to words. Instead of shorter posts and wine tasting notes you’ll find longer pieces appearing three to four times a month instead of the more blog-like staccato of that many a week.

What you’ll also find heavily featured is my wine country photography. There is no better way to bring the feeling of making wine to you than images of the experience itself. High resolution images from my Nikon will be mixed with on the spot iPhone snapshots and videos that I feel will help bring the world of wine alive to you.

There will also be a lot more food on Wine Camp. While wine is my profession, cooking is my avocation. Like most passionate hobbyists I can’t talk, or write, enough about the object of my affection. Cooking to me is both pleasure and therapy as nothing takes away stress like preparing and enjoying a meal. 

What will be gone from Wine Camp is criticism, there are more than enough Grinches out there in the wine blogoshere already. The critics role will be replaced by that of a wine lover. There are a lot of new bloggers out there whose blood is boiling and they can have the job. Last night’s dinner was a garden fresh caprese followed by pan-roasted duck breast and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk washed down with 2005 Domaine Forey Nuits-Saint-Georges - now that’s an interesting story and the only kind of story you’ll find at www.winecampblog.com.

Going to School

My blogroll is getting overwhelmed on my Bloglines reader, which is also the basis of the wine and food blogroll on Wine Camp. I’ve tried to get every wine blogger and a lot of food bloggers on there, but I can’t keep up anymore. As much as I want to, I can’t read all those blogs on a daily basis or even get them all listed. On that note, if your blog doesn’t have a link on my blogroll page give me a break and let me know so I can get you listed. It’s my goal to be inclusive.

Without a doubt the volume of interesting wine writing out there there is both overwhelming and exciting. Never has the consumer had so many sources of information. Only so much of this flood can be digested so ultimately you have to pick - you can’t read it all. There is a small group of blogs I consider must reading. I read far more than that, but not a daily basis - there are just not enough hours in the day. Once a week I plough through Bloglines to read as much as I can of the wonderful writing out there, but on a daily basis I keep on eye on my core group of about fifteen or so compelling wine blogs.

What draws me to this group is that I actually learn something new from them almost every time the author posts. Not satisfied just to spew attitude, opinions and reviews, these writers dig deep and have a unique and passionate voice. What is interesting about these writers is that every last one of them is not obsessed with pumping up their stats. Each seems more concerned with saying what they feel rather than simply inflating Google Analytics. There’s not a carny hustler among them - they simply love wine and love writing about it. I’ve just moved this group into my NetNewsWire aggregator on their own so I can be far more focused on the education they offer me.

Here are my favorites:

Appellation Feiring - Alice Feiring is first and formost a writer and it is a pleasure to follow her quest for natural wines. I’m a fan of her book and admire her passion and integrity. Her voice is an important, if small, counterpoint to the mainstream wine media. Thank the wine gods that writers like this still exist. Listen and learn.

Besotting Ramblings and Other Drivel - Peter Leim’s blog is a marvel and an incredible souce of information mostly about Champange, which for me is reason enough to read it. Peter gives a real inside look at Champagne and introduces his readers to the wonders of small, grower producers. Peter has also launched ChampagneGuide.net, which is an indispensable resource for Champagne lovers - and I think that includes almost everyone.

Brooklynguy’s Wine and Food Blog - A food and wine lovers life in Brooklyn. This is what a blog should be all about as you really share their personal wine and food experiences. Most consumers will not have heard of many of the wines he writes about, but he writes about the real deal - wines that have distinctive character and meaning. Really a must read for American wine drinkers who think there may be something “more” out there than what the distribution system and big media wants them to drink. A current wine of the week was Tissot Arbois Poulsard…enough said.

Do Bianchi - Renaissance man Jeremy Parzen is a scholar of the Italian language, a wine and food connoisseur and a rock and roller in the band Nous Non Plus. He has a lot to say and says it well in a couple of languages. Reading Jeremy will teach you what real Italian wine, food and culture means, which is something very different than the Disney version you’ll get in the mainstream wine media. Jeremy is also a contributor to VinoWire, an important source for breaking Italian wine news along with the dynamic Italian wine writer and blogger, Franco Ziliani.

McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail - David McDuff lives in the wine hell of state controlled Pennsylvania, yet week after week writes about wonderful wines and food. We must assume that the state does not control food the same way they control wine. Despite the wine fascist state laws of Pennsylvania, David finds and writes about wines made with real passion and intensity and his love for them comes through beautifully in his writing. If David can get these wines in Pennsylvania not one of us has any excuse not to make the extra effort to find the beauties he writes about.

Rockss and Fruit - You’ll sometimes feel you’re watching NASCAR and waiting for the crash, but Lyle Fass is the go to guy for German and Austrian wines. His Burgundy commentary is worthwhile too, but Lyle is the definitive commentator on riesling and all things German. Lyle thinks acidity is beautiful and so do I.

Sharon’s Wine Blog - We can all hate Sharon because she gets to live in Paris and drink a lot of great French wine, but in spite of our jealously we can live her life vicariously by reading her blog. Sharon digs out real wines made by real people. It may take some work to get the wines she writes about, but it’s worth the search.

Reflections on Wine - Writer Tom Hyland loves and, more importantly, understands Italian wine. Few writers out there tell the stories of the Italian producers and their wines with more sensitivity and accuracy. Tom gets it and you will too if you read his blog. Tom does us all a service by debunking the myopic view of Italian wine you get from the big American wine magazines. If you want to drink wonderful, authentic Italian wines - read this blog.

La Gramiere - Hands down the best winery blog in existence. Passionate and educational, Amy Lillard recounts in wonderful detail their struggles and pleasures on their Cotes du Rhone estate. On top of it they make a damn good wine. Every winery that wants to blog should admire the honesty and personality that Amy brings to her blogging - they’re the real thing. No PR schmalz here.

Pinotblogger - Josh Hermsmeyer should be the poster boy for American winery bloggers. He has involved his readers in the birth of his Russian River Winery, Capozzi Vineyards, and made them partners in his project. Passionate and open, Josh has truly shared his voyage of creation with us. It’s hard to think of a more anticipated wine. Best of all, Josh delivers the real nuts and bolts of what it takes to bring a winery to life - spreadsheets graphs and all. (Pictured above is the Capozzi Vineyard)

This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, nor exclusive, as there are many wonderful wine blogs, but these writers really speak to me and best of all, almost always teach me something. One thing about wine, the more you learn, the more you understand how much you don’t know. Each of these writers is helping me in my ongoing and never ending education on the world of wine.

 


A Really Goode (PR) Job

A Really Goode Job - Select Your Favorite Video

Some people just get it. Interactivity is what's it's all about these days and most PR types are driven crazy by the lack of message control when it comes to working the wine bloggers. Then along comes Sonoma's Murphy-Goode and shows them how it's all done.  Murphy-Goode throws a 10k a month (lottery numbers by blogging standards) dream job out there and in the process gets ten times that in positive press. Bravi to the Murphy-Goode folks for doing it right and with class. By the way, that guy in in the video is Hardy (pictured left) of the excellent Dirty South Wine Blog and I'm sure he'd appreciate some of your votes.


The Wine Skewer

skewer.jpg

http://wineskewer.wordpress.com/

 

You’re Tishin’ me! Lord knows (unless he’s a wine collector) there’s all to little humor in the wine world. If you’ve seen the latest flames on the wine forums you know what I mean. W.R. Tish, known only as Tish to his readers, delivers wit and wisdom in his wine writing and now on his own blog (link above). Tish, former editor of The Wine Enthusiast, is as passionate about wine as he is funny about the absurdities that surround it. This is sure to be good reading.

Take Down Two Points - is it best of 3 falls?

http://www.drvino.com/2009/04/16/changes-at-the-wine-advocate-correspondence-with-parker-and-miller/

Dr. Vino is taking on The Parker Empire based on ethics. While I get the point, in all honesty critics cannot be totally separated from their sources and still do an effective job. If a writer doesn't break bread with winemakers and importers they'll never learn the inside scoops. Considering how well most wine writing pays it would mean that most critics could not afford to taste many wines. The real bothersome issue is not that Dr. Vino (Tyler Coleman) brought it up or is pursuing it, but the attitude he's getting back from the Parker side, which would seem to be that they could care less what a wine blogger might think - that they are above such riffraff. At the very least, it makes for some very interesting reading.

Wine Camp Ranked in Top 20 International Wine Blogs

Internationales Weinblog-Ranking
Internationales Weinblog-Ranking

Rank /Wine Blog / Rating
1 / Vinography ……… 100.0
2 / Winelibrary ……… 99.2
3 / Fermentation …… 98.3
4 / Stormhoek ………… 98.1
5 / The Wine Collector 97.2
6 / El Bloggo Torcido 96.7
7 / The Pour ………… 96.2
8 / Winzerblog ……… 95.8
9 / Winecast ………… 94.8
10 / My Wine Education 93.9
11 / Catavino ………… 93.7
12 / Wine Camp ……… 92.5
13 / AlaWine.com …… 92.1
14 / Grape Radio …… 91.6
15 / Dr. Vino ………… 90.6
16 / Lenndevours …… 90.5
17 / Weinverkostungen 90.0
18 / Celebrate Wine … 89.5
19 / Bainbridge On Wine 89.5
20 / Spittoon ………… 87.8

Many thanks to everyone for continuing to read Wine Camp! It's flattering to be surrounded by the other great blogs on this list.


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The 89 Project

I received my invitation to participate in The 89 Project with relish. With the revolutionary spark of an old hippie I thought to myself "right on" and "power to the people"! After all, Wine Camp is a points-free zone because I can think of few things that have driven us to the bland wine world of today more than the 100 point scale. So when I recieved my invitation I was ready to go, to become the Abbie Hoffman of points and blister the blog with righteous indignation about passed over wines.

Then as the days spread into weeks, that spread into months and before I know it probably years, I have yet to place a single post on The 89 Project. What's my problem? After all I could not agree more with the concept that hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful wines are condemned to the neither here nor there purgatory of getting 89 points in a world that only cares for 90+ wines. So what was my problem?

The 89 Project
has made me realize how far out of the mainstream of the wine world I've drifted. Not having followed The Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate for some years now I just don't know what they're talking about anymore. I couldn't name an 89 or a 90 if my life depended on it. It's not so much that I want to fight the pointy people anymore as much as I just don't care.

In the past, although I never gave points on Wine Camp or, my previous blog VinoCibo, I used to score wines for my own personal edification. Three or four years ago even that drifted away as I concentrated more and more on how wine and food made me feel instead of trying to reach for an absurd codification or ranking.

So I apologize to the the dedicated writers of The 89 Project for my silence, but I have nothing left to say about points other than they are pointless. Thank you for continuing the fight against the the stupidity of the 100 point scale. While I may have tired of the fight, I am glad a new generation has taken up the cause.

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Squirrely Wine Blog

American Squirrel Wine Blog Award Winners « Las Flores View Point Squirrel Colony (Camp Pendleton CA)

I cannot describe my surprise at winning the "Best Jazz Writing on a Wine Blog" award from the American Squirrel Wine Blogs Awards. It equaled my surprise in learning there was an American Squirrel Wine Blog Awards.  Some had accused my blog of being squirrely, but I did not realize I had reached such heights. Be sure I'll squirrel this award away to use in leaner times. They must be nuts to give this award to me, but I humbly accept it.

It's reassuring to know that at least rodents can spot a good wine blog as evidenced by the other squirrely wine blogs that share with me this once in a lifetime honor.


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No Sh*t Sherlock

Wines & Vines - Wine Industry News Headlines - How Consistent Are Wine Judges?

Wine judges are rather unsteady, study finds - Los Angeles Times

There has been a spate of articles and blog posts about a study that statistically proves that results from large judgings are, for all practical purposes, worthless. They had to do research to figure that out? The wine trade figured this out long ago and the only place a gold medal from some judging does a winery any good is in their own tasting room. Tell a wine buyer in a top restaurant or retailer that you've just won a double gold and best of show and they'll look at you like you're some rube from the sticks. They could care less.

Everyone who has participated in such events knows that their results are skewed. It's just not possible to taste and accurately rank large numbers of wines. For example, if you took just ten wines and had the judges rank them, then took the same wines, changed the order and retasted them an hour later the results would change. If you did it ten times, in different orders over the course of a day, you'd get different results each time. You would also get different results if you took those same ten wines and had the judges taste one wine a day with dinner over the next ten days. In such a test even a tasting machine like Robert Parker Jr. would give different scores to the same wine as he, like all of us, is not a not machine, but a human whose palate is impacted by too many variables. This is not to say that professional wine criticism is not useful, but it is an opinion, not a science. To be scientific results have to be repeatable.

The explosion of wine blogs and sites where consumers post their notes, like on CellarTracker and Adegga, offers the antidote to relying on notes from a few critics and competitions. After all, can you think of a worse way to appreciate and understand a wine than sitting down and tasting it buried in a lineup of dozens (if not hundreds) of them? The notes from bloggers and consumers come from tasting conditions more in line with how wines are meant to be actually consumed - leisurely, thoughtfully and with meals. It is also a wonderful thing to have so many different opinions of the same wine tasted in different circumstances by different people. Of course you always have to be aware that some of these new media reviews may come from tasters with little experience, but it's easy to spot that inexperience in their notes. Also the risk of inaccurate information is no greater than that coming from professional judges when those judges are basing their opinions on results from mass tastings.

Over the last few decades wine sales have been driven by points and medals awarded by tasters plowing through masses of bottles at a single tasting. As a result, wine producers started making wines that tasted great with other wines, but not so great with food. Fortunately the tide seems to be turning back to wines with balance and elegance.

Perhaps with the price of gold these days, wineries should be sending in their old medals to Cash 4 Gold.

Non Plus Ultra

Those of us in the wine blogging community know Jeremy Parzen for his passionate wine blog Do Bianchi, but the multi-talented Parzen is also a rocker and his band Non Plus Ultra is grabbing attention in Europe and on the college radio circuit. Non Plus Ultra has a new CD out and just released this video to support it. Good biodynamic wine drinking music indeed!

 

Cheating On Your Wife

bigamy-wineI had lied to my wife. Every guy in the room had. This was not the kind of thing you could safely share with a spouse. We gathered in the room with an exaggerated good-old-boy bachelor party kind of conviviality. The level of anticipation was high, perhaps too high. It was still afternoon and it felt a bit strange to be doing this in the light of day.

Everyone finally arrived and one-by-one we passed our wad of cash to the host with a sense of excitement and a tinge of guilt for the pleasures to come. After all, wasn't this money supposed to be going into the college fund or buying that new dresser? This was more money than I could easily afford on my rookie reporter's salary at the newspaper and I could only hope my wife would never find out. Our host took the cash and disappeared into another room.  A second later, radiating sensuality, they swept into the room and were even more beautiful than we had hoped for in our dreams the night before. There were eight of them, one more exotic than the next. Each was wrapped in a skin tight sheath of aluminum foil just begging to be torn off and marked with a letter so each of us could choose their favorite. An electric energy coursed through me as I unpacked the toys I had brought for the festivities: eight glasses and a notebook. Once again I thought of my wife and how ticked off she we going to be if she found out I had spent our hard earned money on, of all things, wine.

This group of liars was cheating on their wives with our mistress - wine. She was stealing our money and time with our spouses, but we could not resist her charms. We had long passed the flirting stage and this was to be our most amorous liaison yet as we were going to taste Grand Cru Burgundy. None of us had ever spent that much money on wine before. We were at the stage where we had learned more about wine from books than with our tongues and were easily influenced by reputation and label. More than once I had convinced myself to like a wine because someone famous said I should. With this innocence and ignorance we began tasting the eight bottles of Burgundy that our host had tightly wrapped in gleaming aluminum foil as we were doing a “blind” tasting. However, this was not really “blind” as we knew that each wine was an expensive and famous Burgundy. We were prepared to be seduced. Each of the tasters had eight glasses and the table was a crowed forest of stemware. After each of the wines had been poured silence settled on the once boisterous group. Each of us focused our entire concentration each wine as we sipped, swirled, spat and furiously took notes. For the next hour the only sound was the occasional moan or sigh when our mistress hit just the right spot.

I can still remember some of my notes now, which went something like this:

A. Light color, weedy earthy aromas...

B. Light color, earthy, dried leather and cheese...

C. Light color, vegital, smoked bacon. plastic...

So it went for the next hour. When everyone finished it was time to compare notes and come up with a group rationalization for why these wines were not the other-worldly experience we had anticipated. They were strange and not very satisfying. We soon came to the conclusion that problem could not be these famous wines, but that it must be us. Our palates were not well honed enough to understand the complexities of these great and famous wines. Those odd aromas and flavors must be that magical ingredient terroir that the French use to describe the unique personalities of each vineyard that make each single-vineyard wine distinct. Those leather, cheese and bacon smells had to be terroir. Now it was our duty to keep learning and tasting until we could come to understand and appreciate them.

As I look back on this event over thirty years ago, I have learned to understand and appreciate the true glories of Burgundy, none of which could be described as weedy, cheesy or sweaty. I have also learned that those wines that made me feel inadequate in that tasting three decades ago would have better been poured down the drain. Those wines were faulted - full of brett and VA. We were just too young and too intimated by the names and prices of those wines to know the difference. Fortunately I soon learned the difference between terroir and wine faults. Wine faults are a major concern of mine as time and time again I run into wines that are loaded with faults that go undetected in many large tastings. All to often I lift a glass to my nose from an almost empty bottle to find it severely faulted with TCA (corkiness), brett or a range of other faults. At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference there was a lot of debate about ethics, but none about knowledge and tasting technique. If wine bloggers want to be taken seriously, it's far more important that they can spot brett and other faults than if they take samples from producers for free or not.

These memories were jogged by a bottle of 2004 Thomas Dundee Hills Pinot Noir that I pulled from my cellar to share with my good friend, winemaker Donald Patz. Always looking to bring something that he probably hasn't tasted (no easy task) I grabbed a bottle of this hard to get Oregon cult wine. Upon pulling the cork we were treated to a perfect example of brett. Needless to say, it was a great disappointment and we left the bottle, still mostly full, on the table when we left the restaurant. Thirty years ago we may have forced ourselves to accept such wines, but today there are no excuses. Winemakers have the finest laboratories available to them and far more knowledge than the winemakers of the past. Brett needs to be recognized and recognized for what it is - a fault that obliterates varietal character and terroir - which are the two most important things for me in a wine.

Not long after that tasting of three decades ago I entered the wine business. We were importing the Italian wines of Neil Empson and doing tasting event after tasting event. Neil and I would open hundreds of bottles over several days. Every time Neil found a corky bottle, which was often in those days, he'd shove the wine and the cork under my nose. Soon I got it and ever since have been hyper-aware of that musty TCA smell. We should all do what Neil did and every time we find a faulted bottle we need to shove it under someone’s nose. While winemakers have no business making faulted wines, we (especially wine writers) have no business missing those faults.

Southbound

grapecrusherLast weekend I headed southbound down I-5, but it was no vacation. I was moving from the Willamette Valley to the Napa Valley. I was migrating from pinot noir to cabernet sauvignon. It was less than a ten hour drive, but it’s worlds apart.

Cabernet and pinot may both be wines, but they have little in common other than being red.  Cabernet’s backbone is tannin, while pinot’s is acidity - at least that’s what nature intended. The culture between the Willamette Valley and the Napa Valley is also a contrast. The hippie winemaking ashram of Oregon versus the corporate powerhouse of Napa. For me it is another step on a winemaking  journey: three vintages in Italy, three in Oregon and now on to Napa.

I’ve learned many things on this odyssey. First and foremost is that your palate is not a machine that can be calibrated, but something always in motion. Something that is influenced and defined by the wines you are drinking at the moment. After three years of drinking young nebbiolo, the the wines of Oregon seemed unstructured. After three years of Oregon pinot the wines of Napa seemed bombastic. Yet after a month of drinking them my palate has adjusted and opened so that I also appreciate their power and concentration. As in all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The fashion today is to rank wines with an exactitude that is absurd, but true connoisseurs understand that it’s the full rainbow of diversity that makes wine such a compelling beverage.

Wine is a beautiful, creative thing that brings not only happiness, but health and invites us to sit back and appreciate life and each other. Those that define it by points deny this cultural and aesthetic beauty. Those that rank wines don’t give up their aesthetic distance when they taste. I do.

So this is my first week as a full time resident of Napa, a place I’ve visited many, many times over almost three decades. It’s a new start in familiar surroundings.  I hope regular readers will forgive the sporadic posts over the last two weeks during my move and transition into my new job, but now I’m back to the the blogging grindstone. I’ll not be commenting on California cabernet for obvious reasons, but will be increasing my commentary on exciting wines of America’s Northwest as I separate myself from day-to-day relationships with wineries there. As always you’ll find extensive commentary on the wines of Europe, which I love.

IMG_0043 Now you’ll find my professional attentions focused on Cornerstone Cellars, which produces two cabernet sauvignon wines, a Napa Valley and a Howell Mountain, crafted by an extraordinary winemaker, Celia Masyczek. So my blogging focus will be on everything but Napa Cab.

I became a wine professional in 1980. Now as I approach my 30th year immersed in all things wine and food I can only count my blessings. Most of all I treasure the diversity of taste that I have been privileged to experience. That experience has taught me to dig deep to understand the character of wine and those who make it. With the same passion I took on nebbiolo and pinot noir I now focus on cabernet sauvignon.

Appreciating each wine and wine region for both what it is and what it isn’t is what wine appreciation is all about. I’m about to truly appreciate the wines of the Napa Valley.

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Tom Hyland's Reflections on Wine

My old friend Tom Hyland is an accomplished wine writer, photographer and wine educator. He also is one of the most insightful writers on the wines of Italy and in particular the great wines of Piemonte. Unbeliveably he did not have a blog, but finanlly Tom has entered the blogosphere with his Reflections on Wine Blog. Having known Tom for more than two decades I can assure you it will be well worth reading. You'll find Tom's new blog at the link below.

Reflections on Wine

Save Brunello! A Debate

I received this press release below from noted Italian wine writer and blogger Franco Ziliani, who has been the source of so much good information on the recent "scandal" in Brunello. This should be well worth tuning into as staunch traditionalists Ziliani, Jeremy Parzen and the great Teobaldo Cappellano of Barolo take on hard core modernists Ezio Rivella and Vittorio Fiore. The modernist are lobbying to allow varieties other than sangiovese in Brunello di Montalcino. I shall be heartily rooting for Team Ziliani.

Face to face on Brunello

Controversial views of Ziliani and Rivella’s challenge, are the highlight of the first face to face on Brunello, developed after well-known facts that have involved the most famous Italian wine. The debate will see as protagonists the journalist Franco Ziliani, editor of the wine blog www.vinoalvino.org coupled with Barolo producer, Teobaldo Cappellano, and the oenologist Ezio Rivella, managing director of Villa Banfi for many years, coupled with the oenologist Vittorio Fiore. All it will be moderated by professor Dino Cutolo, teacher at Siena University, anthropologist and wine lover.  The “duelers” will challenge until the last word, supporting their theories, and all will be live broadcasted in streaming on www.intoscana.it and on www.vinarius.itThe rendezvous is on the 3rd of October, at the first floor of Palazzo del Rettorato, Via Banchi di Sotto, 55 in Siena.

Note: I assume you'll get more out of this if you speak Italian. If not, I'm sure we can depend on Jeremy to have a report in English on his blog, Do Bianchi.

Net Benefits

There can be no doubt that the Internet and the new power of social networking has made the level information available to wine consumers almost incomprehensible. When I think of what is available today compared to when I started learning about wine it is astounding.

I can’t think of a better example of this information bonanza than Bill Nanson’s Burgundy Report. Nanson passionately and precisely covers that most difficult of wine regions and it’s all free. If you follow Bill’s recommendations you will never doubt the greatness of Burgundy again.

Another gift of the Internet for wine lovers is the rise of small, dedicated online retailers that offer selections based on their own palates rather than someone else’s. In other words, they’re real wine merchants in the old sense. Two examples of this new type of retailer are Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman from wine blogger Catie McIntyre Walker and Domaine 547 from yet another blogger, Jill Bernheimer. Catie is offering small production Walla Walla wines that you’re unlikely to find outside the Northwest and Jill is creating a new type of wine retailer that, while she ships nationwide, has also developed a loyal local following to whom she delivers direct.

Innovators like these are making real cracks in the American three tier distribution system (of which the traditional wine press is often a silent fourth tier) and educating consumers on wines that they would never hear about as big American distributors, press and retailers just aren’t interested in them. If you are seeking distinctive, small producer wines, writers and retailers like these are where to look.