Archive for March, 2012

California wine — respect or what?

March 29, 2012

In the last couple of weeks, the topic of California wine has come up on my radar screen for a couple of reasons. The first time had to do with some disparaging comments from a national wine columnist about the state of California wine that, frankly, made me raise my eyebrows. And then, today, it was officially announced that California will be the ‘host’ country for the 2013 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.

So what gives?

Well, I think there are a number of factors at play here. One is perception — which becomes reality when it comes to a lot of things. California has gained a reputation over the last decade or so for overpriced, high alcohol wines that are big on impact (for writers like Robert Parker) but short on finesse, especially for people who prefer the more restrained style of French (read: Bordeaux) style Cabernet wines.

Part of that criticism is fair. The emergence of “cult Cabs”, costing hundreds of dollars and impossible to obtain, is a real problem for many people (although the law of supply and demand makes it fine for me). And that has led to similar super-expensive Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and even Chardonnays.

But that’s not true for all wines from California. In fact, at the recent Vancouver Wine Festival I was amazed at the quality of the wine at all levels. In fact, I ended up buying Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay for under $40 that was fabulously ripe and balanced (Louis Martini and Italian producer Antinori, specifically.) And some of the lower priced wines by the likes of Mondavi and Kendall Jackson — which can sell for < $20 in the US — were also amazingly good.

That's why I think a bigger part of it is envy — wine envy. Many parts of California wine country are blessed with great weather that is pretty consistent from year to year. I was just at a tasting put on by Caymus (amazing, by the way) and owner/winemaker Chuck Wagner said as much. With less weather variation from year to year, it is a lot easier to count on ripe fruit and, from ripe fruit, comes ripe wine (usually).

French and other European vintners can't help but be jealous of that! Many of them wait anxiously each year to see how much sun they will get to ripen their grapes, and then have to live with — and sell — the results. "Food wine", "easy to drink", "an early drinking vintage" — all can be code words for green, not fully ripe grapes that turned into woody, tannic red wines.

If you look at it from a style perspective, actually, it doesn't have to be "either or" or "good vs. bad". As I have advocated so many times in this blog, everybody has their own style they like. Figure it out and buy it. Or, if you are a wine producer, market to the people who you know like it. No need to criticize each other, as there is more than enough wine, and people, to go around.

For me personally? I love California wine for the ripeness of the fruit! Do I wish it could be less expensive? Yes, but also know a big part of that is our antiquated taxation laws in this country. But put those aside and look at quality — and its hard, in my opinion, to criticize what's in the bottle of many Californian producers.

So count me in for next year's wine festival, for sure! And bring on the super ripe wines — Europe beware!


Wine Advice – What is most useful to people?

March 21, 2012

I read an interesting piece in the Globe this morning regarding wine experts, their reviews/advice and whether it is used or ignored by readers and consumers alike. The consensus was it was mostly the latter. And that got me to thinking about why…and what might constitute advice that could be used.

My experience, in providing advice and just talking about wine, is that most people are either intimidated or turned off by what I will call “wine talk” — fancy words, elaborate descriptions, etc. So that, fortunately or unfortunately, puts most wine reviewers behind the eight ball right away.

That’s why I provide comments and advice in a different way. And it seems to work.

First of all, I give people a recommendation I heard early on in my wine career — “The best wine is the wine you like the best.” For me, that really captures just about everything you need to know about giving wine advice.

Think about it for a second. Everybody can say what they like about something (wine or anything else). For wine, even the most basic comments — red/white, dry/sweet, fruity/herbal, price range…that’s all you really need to say.

Because from there, I can make some recommendations. Similar wines in the same price range, or few a few bucks more — if they are similar in style, the chances are a person will also like them.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t recommend people try something different from time to time. But do it on purpose, when you feel like trying something new. Not when you want to be able to depend on a wine. That’s when you should be able to find the style you like the best, hopefully with a bunch of different choices.

Personal examples, using myself as the consumer? How about fruit forward reds and vanilla/buttery whites. For me, that translates into New World (California, Australia, and some BC) Cabernets, as opposed to those from Bordeaux in France. And oaked Chardonnays, as opposed to those made in stainless steel. This isn’t a case of “good and bad”, but rather style…I know the style I like to drink and can recognize the descriptions that go along with that style.

So don’t get caught up in all the fancy terms and descriptions! All the “cocoa, pencil lead, green pepper, etc.” don’t really matter much. Your own individual taste does. Know what you like, find similar styled wines, and go from there. That’s the best way to enjoy wine on a regular basis.


Review of the 2012 Vancouver International Wine Festival

March 6, 2012

Well, another year, another wine festival! It was great once again — and here’s what I learned (and liked the best).

1. Chile still needs a lot of work

I tried, but — sorry – this year’s host country Chile was disappointing. Most of the red wines were too tannic and herbal, whereas some of the Pinot Noirs were very nice, but too expensive. Chile’s best wine of the night was the 2007 Don Melchor from Concha y Toro, but at $90+…sorry! And I didn’t get to the whites.

2. Spain continues to puzzle me

Lots of highly rated red wines, but — again – pretty herbal and tannic for my tastes. Even Riojas, which I like, were pretty tough. Nothing I can really recommend.

3. California dreaming…

Say what you want, but Cali still makes the best fruit forward red wines in the world. Mondavi, Kendall Jackson, Louis Martini…all showed beautifully! I strongly recommend Martini’s Cabs, with the ’09 Sonoma ($19.99) and especially the ’09 Napa ($29.99) absolutely stunning for the prices!

4. Nothing wrong with Australia!

Boy, you have to love Auzzie wines for the fruit! Yes, they can be jammy and overipe sometimes, but when they get it right — which is most of the time — wow, is it great! Inland Trading Company is a perfect example. Their ’09 Shiraz Reserve by Cimicky was gorgeously ripe and balanced. Same with Evans and Tate’s ’09 Redbrook Cabernet Sauvignon, which is as good as most California cult Cabs!

5. Rhone is strong in the 2009 vintage

Lots of hype for the vintage, and many wines lived up to it. I particularly liked Beaucastel/Perrin and Delas Freres. The Vacqueyras Les Christins and Chateauneuf du Pape from the former and Crozes-Hermitage Les Launes and Hermitages Marquies de la Tourette from the latter were stunning wines.

6. Antinori is back!

I have loved this Italian producer in the past, but lately…the price quality ratio just hasn’t been good. But all that changed! The ’08 Bolgheri Guado al Tasso was almost as ripe as the Cabernet wines from Cali. And their new Antica brand made in Cali — especially the 2010 Chardonnay — was great as well!

7. Giesen from New Zealand is the real deal

I tried the Sauvignon Blanc last year and loved it…this year the 2010 Brothers Pinot Noir was even better! A Cali/Burgundy cross in terms of style, it was really well made and at $29.99 is a sensational deal!

7. BC — a great wine from Creston?

Finally, BC representation was weak in general. Burrowing Owl reds were herbal and tannic. But there was a revelation– Baillie Grohman from Creston BC! The 2010 Pinot Noir was very similar to the Geisen, fully ripe, and 24.99. How do they do it?

That’s it for this year — another great festival to be sure!