So much for all the marketing work done by Palin Cellars sales people. They better focus their efforts on red states from now on!
Powered by ScribeFire.
Powered by ScribeFire.
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.it. The 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.
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.
"At Legal Sea Foods in Washington, a bottle of 1999 Dom Pérignon Champagne costs $155. At McCormick & Schmick's, less than half a mile away, the same bottle goes for $250. At Carnevino in Las Vegas, it's $450, and at Per Se in New York, it's $595."If anything ever proved that money can't buy good taste it's that diners experiencing the glories of Manhattan's exceptional Per Se Restaurant actually buy Dom Perignon. You also can't help wondering why a restaurant so obsessed with quality would put Dom Perignon on the list in the first place. Of course, If anyone would like to give me $595 for a bottle I'd be pleased to sell them all they want.
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.
The line was long and they didn't take reservations. They said the wait would only be around forty-five minutes, so we decided to stick it out as we'd heard it could be much longer than that. It was with great anticipation that I went to Portland's renowned Apizza Shoals, for what is certainly one of the city's most revered pizzas. The long lines and great press promised a real treat.
After the expected wait, we sat down, ordered and the much anticipated pizza finally arrived. My first bite surprised me. My second confirmed the first. The pizza tasted burned to me. A quick look at the bottom revealed a heavily charred crust. I ventured a complaint to the waiter, who fetched a manager, who informed us, "that's the way we do it." A quick look around the dining room confirmed that this was the case as every table was snarfing down their equally charred pizzas with great pleasure.
Before you think this is a bad restaurant review, it's not. The people at Apizza Shoals are passionately dedicated to making great pizza. Their's is style inspired by great pizzerias in New York and New Jersey and the heavily charred crust is part of the character of their pizza. They go out of their way to use the freshest, high-quality ingredients they can find. For example, they can make only so much fresh dough by hand a day and when it runs out it's closing time. The extra effort they put into their food is reflected by the long lines and packed tables.
What I like best about Apizza Shoals is that they have a distinct vision and passion for the food they create. What I don't like is the pizza and that's my problem, not theirs.
Great chefs and winemakers must make something they believe in, not something designed to try to please everyone. In fact, having a distinct vision means by definition you will be crafting something that some people will love and some will hate. Taking such a position is a badge of courage and personality is a characteristic to be treasured in all things culinary.
This is my problem with wine reviews based on points as it imply's some sort of absolute. That rating a wine 90 points is some kind of quantifiable statistic that effectively communicates the overall quality of a wine is clearly preposterous. In this case my "score" for Apizza Shoals pizza would be irrelevant as it simply is not to my taste. This does not make it bad pizza, as proven by its many admirers. The use of points as a marketing crutch by producers, importers. restaurants and retailers has fueled the boring standardization of so much of today's wine, which more-often-than-not is made using a recipe for scoring success than with passion or vision.
Even though Apizza Shoals was not my favorite, I would rather eat their distinctive style of pizza than the bland pies put out by places trying to please everyone. Needless to say, I feel the same way about wine.
|Share this post :|
Last week there was a blog-o-sphere outcry about an article in The Los Angeles Times by one Joel Stein entitled The Language of Wine Snobbery. I can hardly think of a less creative topic than once again whipping on the lingo of wine aficionados. How many writers over the years have heaped ridicule on the patois of wine enthusiasts and put it off as snobbery? Did we really need yet another? Wine, like every other thing worthy of developing passionate hobbyists, develops it’s own shorthand that often seems silly to the uninitiated. Stein was thoroughly, and correctly, pilloried by writers such as Tom Wark at Fermentation and Catie McIntyre Walker at Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine. I applaud their commentary, but personally I found yet another tired rant about wine snobs not enough to rile me. Being a wine snob myself, I’ve just learned to live with it.
What struck me was this comment in the article, “I want to know that a Zinfandel, our greatest native grape, tastes like America: big, bold, unsubtle and ready to fight.” What I want to know is how someone that thinks zinfandel is a native American grape variety gets to write about wines in The Los Angeles Times? Anyone who pretends to know enough about wine to write about it in a major American newspaper should know that zinfandel vines, like all important wine grape varieties are Vitis vinifera vines that originated in Europe and Asia and were brought to the United States. I suppose what is even worse is that Stein not only did not know this basic fact, but failed even to take 30 seconds to check out Wikipedia, where it’s well documented. What’s sad for consumers is that someone like Stein can present themselves as “experts”, and then go on to mislead their readers, more concerned with being cute and controversial than accurate. I suppose we should expect no less from someone who finds the antics of Gary Vaynerchuck more meaningful than the encyclopedic knowledge and artful prose of Jancis Robinson. I don’t mean that as a criticism of Gary, who has helped many a novice learn to enjoy the pleasures of fine wine, but Stein, who is a professional, perhaps should reach for a higher standard.
The real guilty party in this case is The Los Angeles Times, which as one of the world’s great newspapers usually expects more knowledge from their writers. Can you imagine them sending someone to cover the Dodgers that did not know what a curve ball was? Apparently in this case they did exactly that.
|Share this post :|
The Ratings Game has devolved to the point where there are now only two functional wine scores: 90 or not. People are more informed than ever, and wines are more plentiful and better-made than ever—rendering ratings high and low more useless than ever. But still, the numbers keep multiplying... like Energizer bunnies without birth control.
Wine writer W.R. Tish combines both humor and wine knowledge, a rarity in the wine industry. Taking time with his site both entertains and educates. Obviously I more than agree with his take on the 100 point scale. This is, after all, a points-free zone.
All it takes are gray skies and a little more rain than usual and the wine press panics. Taking the Chicken Little approach to winegrowing, the sky-is-falling stories soon start to appear. Perhaps this is understandable as bad news sells better than good. Thankfully, the winegrowers themselves have much cooler heads. Cooler heads like Adelsheim’s excellent winemaker David Paige in the article below:
David Paige notes, “We’re not at the point where anybody should be declaring disaster,” he said. “If we do our jobs, we are going to be absolutely fine. And if we get all the wrong weather, we’ll probably still be fine—as long as we’re on top of it.”
The wine press seems to still operate with a 70’s mentality, which is the last time a major wine region suffered vintages that produced commercially unsalable wine like Barolo and Bordeaux in 1972. The fact is that enology and viticulture have advanced so far since those days that vintages like that will not occur again. Every year producers can make at the minimum good wines. The only question vintage offers any more is how hard they’ll have to work and how good the wines will be.
For great reds today, the only rating necessary is if they’re ready to drink young or not. It’s quite nice of Mother Nature to mix vintages that need aging with those ready to drink young.
The passionate Alice Feiring and her new book, The Battle for Wine and Love, have fanned the flames of the natural winemaking debate. In particular she has bruised the feelings of the California wine industry, to which she has not been very complimentary. This has resulted in some lively back and forth on the side of the Californians in The Los Angeles Times, hardly a surprising forum for the pro-California view. I applaud Alice’s spirited attack on industrial wines and support of wines with personality and a sense of place. Her intensity has helped keep the debate a debate.
Extreme positions help sell books and it looks like Alice has done a good job in riling up the Californians and keeping her book in the headlines. I’m sure if the truth came out Alice, like me, has a long list of California wines she loves.
It’s becoming the spoofulators vs. the natural movement and the main spoofulators seem to be in California. Yet this raises the question of what’s really natural or not and at what point the line is crossed from one to the other. It’s not as clear as it may seem. At some point it is just as bad to do too little to the wine as it is to do too much. Bad wine is bad wine, natural or not.
Let’s take a look at the revered (I agree) wines of Josko Gravner in northeastern Italy on the border with Slovenia. Gravner ferments and ages his white wines on the skins and seeds for six or seven months in terra cotta amphorae coated with beeswax. This has a somewhat dramatic (to say the least) impact on the flavor and color of his wines. Is this natural winemaking or a kind of natural spoofulation? The wines of Gravner are extreme wines manipulated to that style by the hand of the winemaker. Are the techniques of Clark Smith more intrusive than this? I’m not sure this is a question that has been answered.
There are a few buzzwords out there that seem to define the natural wine forces: biodynamic, indigenous yeasts, little or no sulfur and never, never any machines. Yet there are a whole array of interventions other than these that winemakers impose on their wines either because they dream of crafting great art like Gravner or because they are commercial winemakers that must put out a good tasting stable wine year-after-year to keep their jobs. It seems a bit preposterous to return to primitive methods of winemaking that more-often-than-not have the potential to produce faulted wines. Not all progress is inherently bad and any good winemaker will do everything needed to improve their wines. Many winemakers resolve this conflict between their desire to be part of the natural movement and the realities of putting better wine in the bottle by forgetting to talk about certain things when they talk to the press.
Great wines are made, they don’t just happen. That’s why they call them winemakers. There is an incredible array of tools and knowledge available to today’s winemakers. To not make use of any of these tools and techniques does not make any sense. However, what you do with these many new tools is all important. You can’t make wine without manipulation, but without a doubt you can’t make great wine with with over-manipulation. I believe in terroir. I have tasted it in wines way to often to have any doubt. As long as a winemakers manipulations are designed to enhance that terroir I don’t have any problems with them.
|Share this post :|
You can feel safer in your bed tonight knowing that the United States government is protecting you from another danger. That new evil is, of course, Brunello di Montalcino that might have a bit of cabernet or merlot adulterating the sangiovese grosso. These are the same consumer protectors that brought you the 75% rule for American varietal wines, which requires that the stated variety make up at least three quarters of the named wine. So while it’s fine for an American producer of pinot noir to blend in 25% syrah or anything else the missteps of a few producers in Brunello will bring down the wrath of the TTB on all producers.
It’s great to know that our government is always on the watch.
|Share this post :|
I’m beginning to think it’s time to let the anti-Parker tirades fade into the past, just as his dominating influence is starting to do. It is clear that Parkerism has reached its zenith and is on the decline. In fact, this recent spate of Parker bashing books are coming a little too late as the natural rise and fall pattern of something like The Wine Advocate was already in place and I think these books are having little impact and seem more like piling on than muckraking. I can think of few less productive uses of my time these days than reading a book about Robert Parker’s sins. The Wine Advocate that everyone rails against no longer exists as Parker has brought in a whole staff of writers all of whom have their own convictions, palates and style. Things have changed not only at The Wine Advocate, but in the wine world as a whole, where the so called “Parkerization” of wine style is also something that is clearly going out of fashion. While it won’t disappear overnight, you can’t miss the growing interest in smaller production wines that express distinct personalities. It is also clear that there is a strong and growing consumer movement building for wines with more moderate alcohol levels. I think its time to let Parker and his Wine Advocate ride off into the sunset on its own and move our focus back to wine instead of personality. Concerning these realities, I think we can even spend some time considering all the good things that Robert Parker has done for the wine industry and consumers during his reign.
While it’s time for all of us to mellow out about Parker and his now declining influence, I think it’s also time for Parker himself to mellow out and assume the well deserved role of elder statesman rather than continuing the vitriolic outbursts on his forum, one of which had this result: Parker fined for defamation - decanter.com - the route to all good wine. Such outbursts do far more to hurt his image than any book has done.
Anyone who is upset about the the current direction of winemaking and wants to change things would better use their time reading about wine rather than reading about Parker. Robert Parker is, as they say, history.
I find George Will particularly irritating. The conservative columnist and television commentator is just too smart and well-spoken. All too often in face-to-face debates he shreds the argument of the liberal commentator across the table from him with his swifter wit and broader knowledge. It ticks me off no end.
In the debate about so called “natural” winemaking we have the same situation. Clark Smith, winemaker, super-consultant and king of spoofulated wines as the owner of Vinovation, is becoming as irritating to me as Will and for the same reasons. Smith, who makes his own wines besides consulting and “correcting” wines for hundreds of wineries, just has too much knowledge and experience for it to be a fair fight when it comes to debating winemaking ethics with people who have never made wines themselves. All to often these people are known as wine writers. It does surprise me how many writers who have don’t have enology degrees and whose experience working harvests is more akin to adventure vacations than real winemaking come to consider themselves winemaking experts. After all, does a trip to a dude ranch make you a cowboy?
Smith uses his superior knowledge and experience to effectively dismantle the “natural” winemaking debating team’s positions (which I mostly agree with) as he did in a recent article published on Appellation America’s website called Spoofulated or Artisanal, which is well worth reading. Spoofulated, for those unfamiliar with the term that debuted on the Wine Therapy Forum and became part of wine lingo, refers to manipulated wines, which are often made in a style that appeals to Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator. It is a word used as an insult by those seeking a more terroir-driven winemaking experience as spoofulated wines all-to-often taste more-or-less the same.
Is spoofulation always evil? I don’t think so. Commercial wines, which are produced for consumers not seeking nuance or complexity, but just a “winey” tasting beverage are better wines than ever due to these techniques. For all to long these inexpensive wines produced in huge quantities were thin and faulted. However, now those seeking nothing more can easily buy clean, fruity wines that neither require nor invite thought or contemplation. It is a fact of the market that the vast majority of consumers are perfectly satisfied with such wines and want nothing more. Clark Smith and his methods are a positive boon to such consumers.
It’s when wines pretend to more lofty goals that Clark Smith and I part company. I’ll draw an arbitrary line at the $10 a bottle point. That’s starting to get expensive and I think the consumer has a right to expect that wines with different labels will actually be different wines. The main problem with spoofulated wines is that they all taste the same. The differences get manipulated out as the wine is more-and-more manipulated. The fact that there are so many expensive New World wines that exhibit the bright simple ripe flavors of the commercial wines mentioned above is a real problem that is starting to destroy the reputation of places like the Napa Valley. Consumers that are willing to spend a significant amount of money for these wines are starting to realize how boring they are.
On the other end of the argument are writers who are “natural” wine fundamentalists who seem to believe the high point in winemaking knowledge was achieved by the Romans and any technique or knowledge achieved after Nero are unnatural manipulations that destroy a wines terroir. Of course such extremists only display their limited winemaking knowledge and a lack of sophistication as they (instead of the wines) are manipulated by winemakers who tell them only what they want to hear. While there are many winemakers who believe in and practice minimalist, natural winemaking, there are few to none willing to let several tons of fruit in a fermenter with problems become garbage without taking actions that don’t always meet these ideals. These are stories that journalists are unlikely to hear or understand if they did. Contrary to some writers opinions, winemakers sometimes actually have to make wine.
Spoofulators like Clark Smith and biodynamic guru Nicolas Joly actually have more in common than partisans on either side of the debate understand. Both are passionate, brilliant winemakers who are driven to pursue their vision of what makes a wine great. To make a truly great wine you need to ignore the ranting of journalists and the whims of consumers and make the wine you believe in. This is something that winemakers like Smith and Joly share.
As always, those that oversimplify issues are usually blinded to the finer points of the debate.
Those that follow the writings of Jeremy Parzen on his blog Do Bianchi appreciate his erudite posts, which cover a range artistic topics ranging from food, to wine, to music and literature. Parzen is one of the most educated and thoughtful food and wine writers on the Internet and reading his blog always makes you examine your own thoughts on the topic. He makes you think and teaches in the process. I learn something new from each of his posts.
Recently Parzen applied to participate on the eRobertParker.com Forum. It’s hard to imagine someone who could contribute more about Italian wine, food and culture to a forum. However, Mark Squires, moderator of Mr. Parker’s Forum decided to decline Parzen’s application for membership. Apparently brilliant, well educated people who can write are not what they’re looking for over at the eRobertParker.com Forum. What strikes me particularly strange about this is that Wine Advocate writers Robert Parker, Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin, Jay Miller and David Schildknecht are all thoughtful, well educated people who would certainly appreciate not only Parzen’s blog, but his contributions to their Forum. Apparently Mr. Squires does not work on the same level as the Wine Advocate’s star reviewers.
The scuttlebutt around the Internet is that Parzen was denied membership to the eRobertParker.com Forum due to his connections to two bloggers already banned from that Forum: Alice Feiring and Lyle Fass, who are both writers that I enjoy, respect and follow regularly. Yet Parzen’s posts are without the strident certainty of Alice or the rage against-the-machine character of Lyle and it is hard to understand why he would be banned. I guess guilt by association is good enough for Squires as it is inconceivable that he actually read any of Parzen’s work and still banned him.
I think most wine lovers applaud Mr. Parker’s additions of such knowledgeable writers and reviewers as Galloni, Martin, Miller and Schildknecht to The Wine Advocate. Like Parker himself, you can agree or disagree with these writers, but their consistency of palate makes their ratings a valid reference point. It is unfortunate that the bannings and censorship at the eRobertParker.com Forum are detracting from the real improvements in The Wine Advocate itself.
Perhaps it’s time to considering upgrading more than the forum software.
I never got the big pinot thing. Happily, it seems now that the pendulum is swinging the other way, best of all, it's back to my side. My biggest complaint about the point-driven fad for big pinot is that they really had no reason to exist. If you wanted a big wine there were varieties out there that could handle the job with more elan. If you want big drink syrah or zinfandel, which excel at the task, not super-charged pinot that is barely holding itself together as a wine.
Oddly enough I seem to have a new teammate in this struggle against goopy pinot noir. The odd part is that it is winemaker Brian Loring, the "poster boy" of big pinot. On a recent thread on Wine Therapy, winemaker Loring makes the following statement, "While I was the poster boy for "the darker side" of Pinot Noir... I'm happier now making wines that are in the mid 14s (alcohol) and have enough acid to live at least 3 or 4 years in bottle. I'm done with the "dry port" style... that just turns to prune juice after 3 years."
I applaud Brian for his guts and honesty. This is an almost unbelievable statement for a winemaker to make these days and only someone of great passion would take the risk. I can't wait to try some of his new wines.
While this is a testament to Brian's integrity and devotion to winemaking, it is a strong indictment against those wine writers who gave 90+ score-after-score to wines, which in Brian's own words, "that just turns to prune juice after 3 years". I can't fault Brian for this as he was doing what he truly believed in and when he found it was the wrong path changed directions. As in all art, not everything works. However, the so called expert critics should have known better. Once again reviews provided by "sixty second tasters" fail the consumer.
With all varieties there will be excellent wines made that range from robust to delicate. However, wines that are over-the-top should be easily recognized by any critic worth following.