Wine Media

The 60 Second Taster

I’ve now been a wine professional for over thirty years. Before I got in the wine making side of the business I was a wine distributor for almost twenty years. The low point of that experience was more-often-than-not the presentations to retailers. You’d take samples of wines from small estates, where the producers sweated every day over their vines and wines passionately trying to make the best wines they could, and present them to the buyers. Often you were in some seedy back room and the resident wine expert would rapidly blow through the samples making instant pronouncements on the life’s work of others and then subject you to enduring their pontification on the qualities of each wine. Sometimes they would have cheap Libby glasses, but usually they would make their judgments out of plastic cups. You would often have to wait in line for the privilege presenting wines to these “connoisseurs”. Perhaps in their defense it should be noted that they worked brutally long hours for very little pay and this probably forced them into such foul moods and the need to exert whatever power and humiliation they could over sales people and the samples of their poor producers. The best account of this horror is the now famous The Three-Tier Schnook System by Joe Dressner.

Fortunately I have not had to be exposed to such a situation in years, but today something brought that feeling chillingly back to me. I finally saw my first episode of Wine Library TV. There before my eyes was that retailer of my past, only with a Riedel glass instead of a plastic cup. That, at least, is a little progress. I had tried to avoid watching his programs after first seeing him in a horribly embarrassing segment on the Conan O’ Brien Show, but I kept getting so many hits to this site from a link that someone had placed to one of my posts that I had to check it out. That was a mistake as I should have followed my instincts and stayed away, but like someone passing a car wreck I could not avert my eyes.

Under cover of supposedly witty banter, Gary Vaynerchuk with a minute or less thought tells you all you need to know about the wine he is tasting. Not only that, but he actually gives you points so you can have an exact reference to how a wine tastes and can rank it among other wine choices. Well actually he only gives you an accurate reference point if you only drink a wine for sixty seconds before moving on to the next bottle. Once again someone is gaining influence by rating wines in a situation that has nothing to do with how we actually drink them. Many writers over the years have complained that Robert Parker’s method of tasting sometimes hundreds of wines in very short periods, often giving wines scores after only seconds, did not allow for wines of elegance to show their true character, while big alcoholic wines that were not very good to drink full glasses of stood out under the onslaught he put his palate through. Lately we have all been hoping that the explosion of wine blogs would bring so many voices to the consumer that the monochromatic recommendations of someone like Robert Parker would never again dominate the market. The apparent popularity of Wine Library TV once again dashes our hopes as yet again we have someone pumping out casual opinions as calibrated pointy facts after only a few seconds of consideration. Anyone who has tasted a really memorable wine remembers how the wine evolved and developed as you drank it and how the symbiosis of wine and food expanded the experience to a new plane. An experience taking something more than a minute. The method of tasting on Wine Library TV ignores this most alluring facet of wine.

I’ll admit that my dislike of these programs is probably partially generational as I don’t find him funny, just hyper and trying too hard to be cool. However, what bothers me most of all is the lightness which people like Mr. Vaynerchuk take someone else’s’ life’s work. If you define a wine after only a few tastes you will make a lot of mistakes. It seems irresponsible to turn such shallow experience into recommendations that will impact what people will buy. It should be remembered that Wine Library TV is a product that Mr. Vaynerchuk is selling and that the attitudes that he takes are more about selling his product than accurately reviewing wines. Just as The Wine Spectator is not about selling wines, but about selling magazines, Wine Library TV is about getting hits, not about wine. Such advise should be taken with caution.

The Internet’s most passionate wine programming? How sad.


Merlove - A movie about Merlot Wine

Sideways was a strange movie. I’ll admit to liking it, but am still amazed by the impact it had on wine consumption considering that both lead characters were big time losers. The shot it gave to pinot noir sales is already legendary in the trade. Yet, what probably stood out to most people was Miles’ tirade, “I’m not drinking any fucking merlot!” While I thought that a bit extreme, especially as beautiful women were involved, it highlighted the fact that merlot had come to represent the most vacuous aspects of drinking wine. My amazement never seemed to go away no matter how many times I heard someone walk up to a bar and order a glass of merlot without any thought to who made it or where it might be from. I guess it’s understandable as merlot and chardonnay had become the burgundy and chablis of the previous generation: generic house wines that did not demand (nor recommend) closer examination. 

Apparently to counterattack this assault on merlot, there is now a movie: Merlove - A movie about Merlot Wine

This seems a bit unnecessary, both commercially and artistically. What Sideways did for pinot noir was to increase the production of lower quality industrial pinot noir. What Sideways did for merlot was to hurt the sales of lower quality industrial merlot. It seems to me like merlot came out ahead in the bargain.

An Opulent Certification

scarecrow.jpgIn the Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow finally gets his brain by getting a piece of paper he can frame and put on the wall. While the Scarecrow had to prove his intelligence to get his paper, there are other documents that people hang on their walls that prove exactly the opposite. After all, there is that old saying that a fool is born every minute.

Now you too can prove to your friends that you are a bonafide wine expert by getting your very own piece of paper to hang on the wall. For a mere $195 you can get certificates ready for framing from The Parker & Zraly Wine Certification Program, which you can check out at this link: Wine Certification Program.

Having to hang such a document on your wall to prove you’re an expert proves something else. Taking that $195 and investing it in a few books and, most importantly, more wine to taste is a far better investment. There is also the reality that these days there is a vast amount of information available online for free. If you really need something to put on the wall, you also can just print one up on your own.

Next time you wander into someone’s office or house and see one of these certificates, the refrain, “If I only had a brain” should come into your head.

Demon Alcohol

balance-scale.jpgThey say you can’t argue taste. I believed that until I read a recent column titled Demon Alcohol by The Wine Spectator’s James Laube. In his article he argues that the 2004 Martinelli Zinfandel Giuesppe & Luisa at 16.9% alcohol is a balanced wine. Balanced for what? Perhaps month-old hung wild boar with a sauce of aged Stilton served while you’re smoking a big cigar? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“If you taste a wine and it seems to be balanced, the alcohol content shouldn’t matter,” writes Laube. I could not agree more, but if someone thinks a dry wine, destined for the dinner table, that has 16.9% alcohol is balanced, I just have to question what their standards of taste are, one thing for sure, they do not mirror my own.

So in this case I will argue taste with Mr. Laube and fundamentally disagree. Balance in wine is not like a balance scale. It does not mean that if there is enough massive big fruit on one side of the scale that it will naturally balance the massive big alcohol on the other. Port is balanced because it has both fruit and sweetness to carry the alcohol, take the sweetness out of Port and you’ll have a raw, harsh wine. Keeping the scale in balance is not so simple and is not dependent on the wine alone, that is unless you believe  a wine’s purpose is to be consumed with no accompaniment or, perhaps, only with other wines.

Ultimately it’s true, you can’t argue taste and if Mr. Laube loves the Martinelli Zinfandel at that alcohol level so be it. However, trying to convince the rest of us that such a wine is truly balanced seems to be taking things a bit far. Perhaps it’s understandable. Lord knows what I would write after drinking a wine with 16.9% alcohol. 


“As with any well-mixed margarita. Madeira should be sweet, fruity. acidic, salty and bitter all at once.”

That’s just wrong, Sercial and Malmsey have has much to do with each other as Fino and Cream Sherry. This is just another example of the misinformation commonly published in the wine columns of our nation’s newspapers.  Why is it that major newspapers don’t bother to apply the same journalistic standards they apply to the rest of the newspaper to wine columns? As I travel throughout the USA I can’t help but be astounded by the amount of  wine misinformation that is allowed to pass as journalism in America’s newspapers.

The writer above also recently told readers that there were no wines labeled “pinot gris” produced in Alsace. That too is just wrong.

Editors may not know a thing about wine, but they are not experts in every topic covered by their newspapers and still they demand that someone who knows should check the facts. Of course, in the other areas of the newspaper, the editor can depend on, for example, the sports editor to know something about sports, but in the food section you can assume the editor knows little or nothing about wine. Can you imagine hiring a sports editor that knows nothing about baseball or a business editor that never heard of the New York Stock Exchange?

Outside a few shining examples, like the New York Times, few newspapers care much for the accuracy of their wine columns, seeing them only as vehicles to increase advertising.

So much for journalism.

The Healing Power of Champagne

domchug.jpgIt has never failed to make me feel better. The healing power of Champagne (good bubbly from anywhere actually) is something I discovered a long time ago. In fact, good Champagne makes me feel better when I feel great. However, now there is a new book out that tells us that not only does Champagne make us feel great, but that it’s also good for us. The Healing Power of Champagne features such chapters as:

Chapter 4 - Stimulation of Desire
Chapter 5 - Obesity and Cellulite
Chapter 6 - Appetite loss
Chapter 7 - Arterial stenosis
Chapter 8 - Migraine
Chapter 9 - Insomnia
Chapter 10 - Depression and Anxiety
Chapter 11 - Drugs and Intoxication
Chapter 12 - Gynaecological troubles
Chapter 13 - Gerontology
Chapter 14 - Food Allergies
Chapter 15 - Lazy Bowel
Chapter 16 - Distention, Flatulence and Indigestion
Chapter 17 - “Crise de foie”
Chapter 18 - Aerophagia

I love the idea and concept of this book so much that I’m not going to buy it. I’m just going to believe in it.  Remember, for Champagne Therapy to work you have to take your medicine every day.

You're Pulling My Cork

wineclown.jpgIt’s a joke, right? The Wine Enthusiast selects 2004 DeLoach 30th Anniversary Pinot Noir number 1 at the pinnacle of its top 100 wines of the year list. If this wasn’t so ridiculous it would be painful. However, we can retain our sense of humor because no one actually cares what The Wine Enthusiast thinks. No harm, no foul.

“It’s a huge mouthful of cherry pie and cassis,” oozes The Wine Enthusiast in their tasting note on the DeLoach. It’s clear that whoever did these notes had never tasted pinot noir before or, perhaps thought they were blind tasting zinfandel.

Just in case you doubt the absurdity of this top 100 list, just look at the number 2 wine of the year - 2003 Chateau St. Jean Reserve Chardonnay. If your top wines of the year were DeLoach Pinot Noir and Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay you are not drinking enough (or way too much Drunk.) wine or you don’t know what you’re tasting - or both. 

Oddly enough, both of these wines are produced by big corporations with large advertising budgets, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. 

I subscribe to almost every wine publication I can think of, but I’m tired of tossing The Wine Enthusiast into the recycling unread and will not renew my subscription. There is just no reason to read what has become nothing more than a bad copy of The Wine Spectator.

The Wine Enthusiast has accomplished one thing. They make The Wine Spectator look good and that’s not an easy thing to do.

The Story of the Two Dog in a Room Barolo

wetdogs.jpg“When I visited Maria Theresa Mascarello in Barolo last spring one of the questions I asked her was, “Who has been the most detrimental to the state of barolo, the Wine Spectator, Parker, Marco DeGrazia or wine consultants? She laughed. She found this all amusing. “All of them go in the same direction of modern barolo. But all of them needed to learn from Luigi Veronelli,” she said referring to the late, most prominent Italian wine critic.“I do not like this American way of judging wine,” she continued. “Veronelli connected the culture to the wine, he judged wine in its context.” Then she said, with a scorn-edge in her voice, “Do you know, Wine Spectator’s James Suckling said my 2001 wine smelled like a room with two dogs in it!”What she didn’t know was that Suckling gave it an 84. Here’s the review.Very funky. Smells like a warm room with two wet dogs in it. Yet some of the funk blows off, giving it lovely plum and berry character. Medium-bodied, with a sweet fruit finish. Drink now. 1,570 cases made. –JS.”

Alice Feiring - In Vino Veritas


These comments by Alice Feiring (click on the link above for the whole article) highlight one of the most confusing issues in wine journalism today. Why does The Wine Spectator not do anything about James Suckling? Only weathermen and economists are allowed to make so many blatant mistakes and still keep their jobs. We can assume there were be a long line of competent writers lined up to take this position and almost anything would be better than this for Italian wines.

If the 2001 Mascarello Barolo smells like “a warm room with two dogs in it”, I’m going out today and getting two wet dogs. This is a lovely wine (as Alice also reports in her article) and Sucklings comments don’t reflect personal taste, they reflect ignorance of the character of young, natural Barolo.The Barolo of Bartolo Mascarello is stunning its balance between elegance and power.

Here are my notes from my visit to Mascarello in 2005: These are wines that are defined by complexity not brute strength and they flow seamlessly over the palate and with each second reveal new layers of nuance. The tannins, while substantial, have a refinement that adds its own complexity and are surprisingly delicate in spite of their intensity. A tasting of recent vintages reveals an amazing consistency of style with the differences caused by the qualities of the vintage alone standing out. A side-by-side tasting of Mascarello Barolo  2001, 2000 and 1999 revealed a consistent range of flavors featuring a refined floral nose full of violets and roses layered with touches of caramelized oranges and bittersweet tar. On the palate the wines almost float with a high-strung elegance that features notes of fresh wild strawberry, bitter black licorice, fresh porcini and black truffles and what seems like hundreds of other flavors that play hide-and-seek with your senses. As you would expect from such young Baroli the tannins are still intense, but are so refined they don’t seem harsh. The 2000 is clearly the most forward of these wines and is recommended for drinking prior to its tenth birthday, which is perfect as you will have to be much more patient with the 1999 and 2001, which demand the respect of at least ten years of aging, but waiting longer is recommended. The 2000 shows a riper note of cassis in the fruit and is decidedly softer than the 1999. The 1999 and 2001 are classic Baroli that show beautifully every aspect of what makes Barolo a great wine. The 1999 is just starting to reveal its greatness and shows perfect balance and incredible complexity. It is a “must have” wine for any collector. The 2001 is still extremely young and unresolved, but the great potential of this vintage clearly shows in the wine, which has the potential to surpass even the great 1999 in the future. They did not produce a Barolo in 2002 due to the devastating weather conditions in La Morra and the Barolo commune. 


Burghound - The Burgundy Journal of Record

burghound.jpgWhile the appointment of the talented and dedicated David Schildknecht to cover Burgundy for The Wine Advocate is a very, very positive step, anyone who is seriously following Burgundy long ago discovered that Allen Meadow’s Burghound is the only place to go for anyone collecting (or just drinking) Burgundy of all price points. If you have any lingering doubts you only need to tune in to the recent GrapeRadio podcast ” The Wines of Maison Louis Jadot with Allen Meadows” to be blown away not only by his knowledge, but by his loving respect of the region and its wines. I have been fortunate to hear Meadow’s speak several times now and followed his newsletter for some time and his knowledge of Burgundy is literally encyclopaedic.

I want to make this as clear as I can: anyone interested in buying Burgundy no matter what your level of expertise or the size of your collection should be a subscriber to Burghound.

Advocating The Wine Advocate

wineadvocate.jpgRobert Parker is to be congratulated for a group of bold moves that will certainly reenergize The Wine Advocate and propel it once again to the forefront of American wine criticism. The drag placed on that publication by Pierre Rovani and Daniel Thomases will be replaced by the energy, knowledge and authority of new writers Antonio Galloni (Italy), Dr. J. Miller (Pacific Northwest, Spain, Australia, and South America) and the expansion of David Schildknecht’s role beyond Germany and Austria to include Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, the Loire Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon. Parker himself will refocus his considerable talents on his strong points; Bordeaux, California and the Rhone.

Each of these new writers offer a strong personal perspective that does not necessarily mirror Parker’s own and their addition marks the transition of The Wine Advocate from a publication based on the cult of personality that developed around Parker himself to a full-fledged wine publication with a team of stars that will each draw their own readership. In particular, Galloni has quickly established his credentials as a critic of Italian wines and his coverage will return to The Wine Advocate many Italian wine consumers that had abandoned that publication years ago. The same goes for Burgundy where Schildknecht’s famed obsession with detail will give him the tools required to attack this most complex of wine regions.

It is well worth noting that this change from a publication dominated only by Parker himself to a true team effort makes The Wine Advocate a much more sellable brand. Before this The Wine Advocate brand was worth nothing without Parker himself, but now The Wine Advocate will have many readers that don’t even bother to read the sections that Parker pens himself as their interests and palates diverge from his, but match well with one of these new writers. There will be many new subscribers who sign up to follow either Galloni or Schildknecht on their own merits who have little interest in the wines that Parker himself covers.  We can certainly expect to see a major expansion of The Wine Advocate brand on all fronts and that soon it will become a much larger and more frequent publication than it is now. This is truly the beginning of a new era for The Wine Advocate.

The Wine Advocate Moves On

rovaniavatar100.jpg“It’s my job to be an opinionated bastard,” sneered Pierre-Antoine Rovani. It was the first time I had ever heard the now ex-Wine Advocate critic speak in person. The stunning contrast between Rovani and co-panelist Michael Broadbent could not have been more striking. The bearded, Hawaiian shirted Rovani seemed very coarse and vulgar with his attitude and “bastard” comments compared to the refined Broadbent with his coat and tie, dry humor and intelligent wit. The Wine Advocate did not come off well that day.

The behavior exhibited by Rovani that day has become a bit of a trademark lately for Wine Advocate staffers and the online nastiness exhibited towards anyone contesting the superiority of Parker et al brings out attack dog posts from Rovani and Parker’s Forum Host, Mark Squires. Recently even Parker himself directly called one consumer a “points whore and pimp” by name on his Forum. This type of behavior combined with the outright lack of respect for Rovani’s Burgundy coverage from both the trade and serious consumers and the unexplainable extreme tardiness of the now also ex-Wine Advocate Italian wine critic Daniel Thomases has seriously eroded the credibility of The Wine Advocate.  While Thomases did not lack respect like Rovani, the lateness of his reports made them essentially useless.

Hopefully the newly announced departures of Rovani and Thomases will get The Wine Advocate back on track. While you can debate his tastes, no one can argue Parker’s skill, discipline and integrity and, when he replaces these two critics, he needs to find someone consistent with the standards he sets for himself. Something that neither Thomases nor Rovani achieved during their time at The Wine Advocate.

The hard part for Parker in choosing new critics for Burgundy, Italy and the other areas covered by Rovani and Thomases will be finding someone that matches both his high personal standards and his power-loving palate. For example, Allen Meadows of Burghound has emerged as the leading voice on the wines of Burgundy, but his palate is certainly not in-tune with Parker when it comes to what defines great pinot noir. Then there is also the issue of personality as the refined, intelligent Meadows has gained respect based on his overwhelming knowledge and love of Burgundy and offers more of a Broadbent persona in dramatic contrast to the styles of Rovani and Squires.

In selecting Rovani a decade ago, it clearly seemed that Parker’s goal was to find someone who was an extension of himself and his palate. Considering how this has worked out for his publication, perhaps Parker will now seek someone with a more independent voice and a true expert in the regions covered.  Robert Parker does not need attack dogs to guard him from criticism as his reputation is secure. Hopefully he will select replacements based on the sharpness of their palates - not the sharpness of their tongues. We can only hope that Parker’s appointment of the erudite David Schildknecht to report on Germany and Austria will be the standard used for future additions to The Wine Advocate team.

(pictured above: The Avatar chosen by Pierre Rovani to represent himself on The Robert Parker Forum) 

A Light in the Forest

Trashing the trashy Wine Spectator has become the easy sport of  wine writers, electronic or not. Yet, as theyforest-light.jpg say, every cloud has a silver lining. The “silver lining” of The Wine Spectator is easy to find. All you have to do is look for the monthly column of Matt Kramer. How such a reasonable, thoughtful and open-minded voice continues to exist on the pages of the Spectator is something not easily explained. While I keep up my subscription to the “Speculator” out of obligation, I confess the first thing I do when I get my new edition is to flip the pages until I get to Matt Kramer’s column, which is an island of intelligence in the Spectator sea of hype and misinformation.

Matt offers that rare combination of intelligent wine commentary mixed with good writing - something hard to come by and a recipe missing from most of the pages of The Wine Spectator. To experience the creativity and wine savvy of Mr. Kramer, you can read almost any column he has written, but there is a tremendous example of his sensitivity and clarity in the  June 15th issue of the Spectator.  

In his column titled “Terroir Matters”, Kramer  distills the complicated concept of terroir down to an idea that any wine lover can wrap their arms around. Never have I seen anyone more eloquently and simply communicate this essential concept to those seeking to understand the beauty of wines driven by vineyards rather than technique.

As there is a good possibility that you missed Matt’s “Terroir Matters” piece on your headlong rush to get to the top pointy wines at the back of this issue, I can only encourage you to dig out your copy of the June 15th “Speculator” again and take a second to understand the flavors and feeling of terroir, so thoughtfully presented by Mr. Kramer. 

The Red Wine District?

RedlightWhat an outstanding publication The Wine Spectator is! The recent June 15th, 2006 issue features an exciting, in-depth special edition on creating your own wine cellar. It’s a beautiful pull-out piece called A Connoisseur’s Guide to Wine Collecting and what a slick publication it is.

With beautiful photography and insightful articles, they lead the trusting Wine Spectator readers down bumpy road to wine collecting. The feature articles outline: “Five Winning Cellar Strategies” and “36 Wines to Buy Now.” Certainly that last one has Wine Spectator readers running to the store with their pull-out list in hand. In order to give you a sneak peak and a head start to the store to snap up these 36 wines to buy now, I thought I’d list a few of them here. Their “Balanced Cellar Selections” include such absolute must buy estates for any collector like: Beringer, Greg Norman, Stag’s Leap Winery, Chateau St. Jean, Penfolds, St. Clement, Gabbiano and, getting even more exciting for any serious wine collector, hard to get wines like: Beringer Merlot, Rosemount Shiraz, Campanile Pinot Grigio. Wolf-Blass Chardonnay and Taz Pinot Noir. What would a great collection be without such wines? Well these recommendations are a bit confusing as they don’t mention any vintages, but what would vintage matter to anyone collecting such extraordinary wines as these?

As you dig into this great piece of Wine Spectator journalism we finally reach the pinnacle of wine collecting as they recommend seven vintages of Beringer Reserve Cabernet. For their investment cellar, more wines from Penfold’s, Stag’s Leap Winery, Wolf Blass, Chateau St. Jean, Rosemount and Beringer are recommended. Certainly The Wine Spectator has done us all a great service with this well researched information and many johns will use this fine piece of wine journalism as their guide to building a wine cellar.

…but wait a second. Isn’t every one of these wines part of the World Wine Estates Portfolio? You know, World Wine Estates, that mega-beverage wine corporation. This must just be an accident as I can’t believe The Wine Spectator, that bastion of wine journalism ethics, would ever publish an advertising piece produced by some giant corporate advertiser in a way that it would look like it was produced by the editorial staff of the magazine. Without a doubt, they would mark such a piece as advertising so as not to confuse it with their editorial content.

So it must just be an coincidence that 100% of the wines in this special pull-out section are World Wine Estates brands that are heavily advertised in The Wine Spectator, and we can all rest assured that they would never publish an article that would confuse their readers between real content and advertising. 

Should someone, somewhere feel a little dirty? 

Death Wish


Wine and Spirits Magazine must have a death wish. They are writing about interesting wines in interesting ways, and to make matters worse, they are writing about interesting wines that are good values. Considering how popular the commerce driven style of coverage is in other wine publications, Wine and Spirits is certainly trying to commit suicide by taking such a radical approach.

Look at the current issue (June 2006) featuring value wines of the year. For example:

  • Joshua Green is recommending Clos Puy-Armand Côtes de Castillon and Navarro’s Methode à L’Ancienne Pinot Noir
  • Tara Thomas suggests Castel Montplaisir Malbec from Cahors, Château Les Tours des Verdots Bergerac Mouelleux and Domaine Berthoumieu Madiran

  • Patrick Comiskey likes Château de Beauregard (a Pouilly Fuisse of all things!) and Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla

  • Peter Liem recommends Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais ( a wine sure to confuse California or Australian wine drinkers) and a German Pinot Gris from J.L. Wolf in the Phalz.

Throughout the article the Wine and Spirits writers recommend French wines from little-known regions, wines from producers around the globe making elegant and balanced wines and ignore the power brokers of the wine business. There can be no other reason for such reckless behavior than a desire to put the magazine out-of-business. Perhaps this article was edited by Marvin Shanken in disguise. I mean, who could possibly want to read an article full of recommendations of wines that are wonderful to drink and don’t cost much.

Unfortunately, for Wine and Spirits, way too few people.

The Dinner Party Disaster


I’m proud of the wines that I have saved for decades and nothing gives me more pleasure than preparing a wonderful meal and opening some of these old bottles with friends that love both as much as I do. Last night I had invited a some wine loving friends to enjoy a few of my oldest wines.

I brought the wines up from the cellar days in advance to rest and spent the entire day cooking. That evening my guests arrived and we started on a upbeat note with some Champagne and smoked salmon, but then the disaster happened and I committed a horrible faux paux that I will never live down.

After clearing the plates and glasses of the the first course, I presented what I thought would be the highlight of the evening, a bottle each of 1970 Chateau Haut Brion and 1970 Chateau Montrose. I looked up expecting to see the excited eyes of my guests, but instead met cold stares.

“Well, now we now what you think of us,” said one.

“John, we’re leaving right now,” said another.

“Apparently we’re not good enough for the California wines,” snapped another as he walked out the door. Looking back he added, “What are you trying to do, unload all that old French crap on us? Don’t you think we know the results of The Judgment of Paris 2 – the sequel!”

As the last one slammed the door behind them I could hear them talking outside.

“The nerve, those wines couldn’t even finish in the top five!”

I finished the evening dining alone drowning my sorrows in Haut Brion and Montrose contemplating the damage being done to the world of wines by three ring circuses such as this sequel.

How did the wine world come to this? A bunch of  judges with rows of glasses in front of them decide which wine is the “best”. It’s ridiculous because the only thing they are deciding is which wines taste best when contrasted with the wines lined up in front of them - an unlikely dinner table scenario. By ranking them they imply that there is a linear ranking of best to worst in wine. Something that is a lie. You should mistrust any such ranking as they are not formulated in an environment that has anything to do with what they were made for or how they will be enjoyed.

So if you think this Judgment 2 – The Sequel has any meaning, please get rid of all the old Bordeaux in your cellar. I will be happy to come over and pick them up.

Below you will find the ranking for this tasting as published at Vinography. I publish it here to get more Google hits, which is the only practical use for these rankings.

#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (67 points)
#2 - 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (63 points)
#3 - 1970 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard (62 points)
#4 - 1971 Mayacamas (60 points)
#5 - 1972 Clos du Val (53 points)
#6 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (46 points)
#7 - 1970 Chateau Montrose (39 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (36 points)
#9 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (35 points)
#10 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (34 points)

#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (70 points)
#2 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (59 points)
#3- 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (56 points)
#4 - (TIE) 1970 Chateau Montrose and 1972 Clos du Val (53 points)
#5 -
#6 - 1971 Mayacamas (52 points)
#7 - 1970 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard (50 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (46 points)
#9 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (32 points)
#10 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (24 points)

Combining the scoring from the two judging panels gives us:

#1 - 1971 Ridge Monte Bello (137 points)
#2 - 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (119 points)
#3- (TIE) 1970 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and 1971 Mayacamas (112 points)
#4 -
#5 - 1972 Clos du Val (106 points)
#6 - 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (105 points)
#7 - 1970 Chateau Montrose (92 points)
#8 - 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion (82 points)
#9 - 1971 Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases (66 points)
#10 - 1969 Freemark Abbey (59 points)

Vinography: A Wine Blog: The Re-Judgment Of Paris Results In California Landslide.

Randall Grahm on Terroir #3


While I found the recent comments made by Randall Grahm on terroir compelling ( Randall Grahm on Terroir #1 and Randall Grahm on Terroir #2), you can’t help but be struck by the distance between Grahm’s commentary, which I agree with, and the results of his winemaking, which I don’t. While he talks a good game, it is well known that the wines of Bonny Doon no longer have any relationship to his wines of the early 80’s. Bonny Doon today is nothing more or less than an industrial wine producer, just like Mondavi or Kendall Jackson.

Bill Zacharkiw recently brought to my attention an outstanding anonymous post on his Caveman’s Wine Blog in response to his provocative post on Biodynamics. This excellent post and thread is well worth your reading and below you will find an excerpt from the long and thoughtful comments of “anonymous” on the topic of Randall Grahm and biodynamics.

 Is it Doonsday for US Biodynamics?
Randall Grahm’s Faustian deal

"Bonny Doon Vineyard, run by the irrepressible Randall Grahm, now produces nearly 400,000 cases of wine, yet it continues to cultivate an image of a small, boutique winery. Some of the wine world’s most innovative packaging is created by this estate, but, as I have written before, the quality in the bottle has declined from Bonny Doon’s glory years (in the mid-eighties) when Grahm was both a pioneer and a committed Rhone Ranger revolutionary. It now appears to be all about image and high production, resulting in somewhat innocuous offerings." - Robert Parker, June 2005

Over the past couple of years, Randall has been at a crossroads. He suffered with a rare bone infection, his estate vineyards died off, he was involved in a lawsuit for smuggling in “suit case cuttings” from France by Caymus Winery, and he has openly admitted to succumbing to “seditious winemaking legerdemain” ie., making bad wine passable by using dubious techniques in the cellar.

Now in a move that has some in the “real wine” movement worried, Grahm the Santa Cruz marketing wiz behind the bulk juice winery Bonny Doon - is taking up the mantel of Biodynamic. He recently lectured on the subject at UC Davis Viticultural program called Terroir and is now holding himself out to his wine professional colleagues that he is now a born-again Anthroposophist – “fighting for the soul of wine”.

What is Biodynamic wine?…

Read the full text of this compelling post on The Caveman’s Wine Blog at the link below.

The Caveman’s Wine Blog.

Randall Grahm on Terroir #2

“Somewhereness. For a European it is everything. You need to come from somewhere and probably your family has been in that somewhere Old vine terroirfor years upon years; you need to know where you stand in a hierarchy, where you fit in. In our New World egalitarian, meritocracy, it doesn’t matter where you came from, it’s what you have achieved. New World wines are really all about achievement; they are vins d’effort, rather than vins de terroir.” Randall Grahm from the article on Randall Grahm on Terroir This is post #2 relating to Grahm’s paper. You can find post #1 here.

“Somewhereness”, what a concept. It is this almost mystical concept that really defines what makes wine interesting. That feeling you have when you taste a wine that really sings of a certain place at a certain time: the combination of vineyard and vintage. A wine that does not have this sense of “somewhereness” may be an attractive beverage to wash down a meal, but it is nothing more than a beverage. Wine only rises to challenge the intellect when it possesses a sense of place.

Equally interesting is Grahm’s comment, “New World wines are really all about achievement; they are vins d’effort, rather than vins de terroir." That’s the American spirit: I can do it if I just try hard enough - no matter what kind of terroir I own or manipulation I have to do. This is why “points” have become the defining measurement for wine quality. Points measure that effort on a quantifiable scale and we need to have a firm hierarchy. A messy mix of different terroir characteristics that shine because of their differences just don’t make for a  a firm ranking of quality and that’s just not good marketing. Literary descriptions, no matter how well done lack this firm sense of ranking that insecure American consumers seem to need.

What makes terroir driven wines more interesting to drink is the very fact of the differences: like them or not.

Randall Grahm on Terroir - Santa Cruz Mountains.

Alexis Bespaloff

Signet book of wineI was nineteen and just returned from a semester studying in Europe. Culinarily reborn, I now considered myself quite the sophisticate. As a self-assured wine expert, I went to the liquor store to buy a few bottles to impress my friends. Much to my dismay, not a label or name did I recognize. The wines that had so impressed me were everyday wines: pitchers of Edelzwicker in Alsace, Passe tout grains in Burgundy and Lord know what in Paris. Being on a hitchhikers budget, I was not dining at Tallivent or drinking La Tache.

As simple as these wines were, they somehow captivated my imagination and are why I am deeply involved with wine to this day. I wanted to know more, and in 1973 there were few resources available. By sheer chance, I picked up a copy of The New Signet Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff. I could not have been luckier for even today, The New Signet Book of Wine remains the best introduction to the world of wine ever published.

Today, The New York Times reported the passing of Alexis Bespaloff, who has left a legacy of millions of wine lovers to whom he introduced the wonderful pleasures of wine and food. While his New Signet Book of Wine provided the primer for the would-be wine lover, his Fireside Book of Wine provided insights into the emotional and intellectual pull that raises wine beyond a mere alcoholic beverage.

What raised The New Signet Book of Wine to such a level that it is still the best introductory wine book out there is that it was first and foremost a literary work that told a story. Unlike the “how to” and reference style books of today it conveyed both knowledge and passion for wine. It actually made you understand why, not only how.

It was with sadness I heard of the death of this man whom, although I never met him, shaped my life so much. It also made me recall with a tinge of sorrow that wide eyed innocence that I had for wine those many years ago.

Thank you Alexis from all of us.