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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Treating Wine with Reverance

Why?  It's your dinner beverage or something you use to get a buzz, right?

Wine is interesting because there is so much diversity.  In fact, it's so diverse the possibilities seem infinite when you break it down by vineyard, winemaking, bottle age, bottle variation, etc.

Other than that it's pretty much personal opinion. You can no more pick out a wine for another person than you can a piece of art. The good news is that they can drink up the wine and don't have to look at it hanging on the wall.

When I compare wines I like to rank them relative to each other.  It's fairly easy to pick out my favorite(s), least favorites, and then the rest are somewhere in the middle.  I've also found that when I have one of those wines later by itself and in a "regular" setting with dinner, family, or friends I often like it better or not as good as I had previously. Funny, huh?

Look at ratings from others, points awarded, and medals won with a suspicious eye.
Sure looks like a wine snob to me!
Image from

"Stuffy" wine statements as seen on wine forums:

"When should I open (or how should I decant) my SQN (or d'Yquem or Screaming Eagle)?"  
Look at me, I have this really rare, expensive wine!   It's not so easy to show off an expensive wine to the masses as it is a new Mercedes.

"I gave this wine a 92."  
I don't care. You are not Robert Parker (be thankful).  What did you taste?  Is it full-bodied or lighter-bodied, soft or more acidic, tannic, has a long/short finish, etc?   And try to use words I understand rather than some form of  "wine poetry."  What does it mean if a wine is sexy?  Is that the same as hot (high alcohol)? I'm guessing not.

What the hell is cassis anyway?

Imagine if gun nuts were into snobbery the way wine enthusiasts are.  "The Glock 17 has an exquisite balance with a slight scent of machine oil in the breech and a muzzle structure that tells me it will be around for generations."

Wine is for drinking with dinner, with friends, or to celebrate.  Enjoy it!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Prime Rib Day! April 27th

How come we didn't know about this holiday before?
April 27th is apparently National Prime Rib Day though no one can quite figure out where it came from. I'm guessing a large beef distributor. Who cares? Let's not waste it!

So what wine to have with your prime rib? The easy answer is Cabernet Sauvignon, but the answer can't be that easy, right? Prime rib is fattier and not as flavorful as a Sirloin steak, for instance.

Cabs or Syrahs on the rich and softer side would work or even a Sangiovese. My top pick would be a good quality Merlot as it's a bit more subtle than a Cab or Syrah just like Prime Rib is a bit more subtle than a Sirloin steak.

April 27th is a Friday. Forget the fish fry, forget the pizza. It's the night for Prime Rib and Merlot. Maybe finished off with a bit of chocolate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Monte Rosso Vineyard

One of Sonoma Valley's more historic vineyards is Monte Rosso. It falls in the Sonoma Valley appellation (wine-growing area), but is actually not in the valley. Monte Rosso vineyard lies between Sonoma and Napa Counties in the Mayacamas Mountains.

Monte Rosso Vineyard sits above the valley floor
about 15 miles from the cooling waters of the San Pablo Bay
Image from


The vineyard goes back to 1880 with a few blocks from the 1890s still bearing fruit. Famed Napa Valley wine pioneer Louis Martini purchased the vineyard in the 1930s and named it Monte Rosso (Red Mountain) after its red soils.

In 2002 Gallo purchased the Louis Martini Winery and now owns Monte Rosso Vineyard.

The Vineyard

Monte Rosso ranges in elevation from about 700 to 1300 feet. The soils are volcanic with lots of iron and are very well-drained so the vines must go deep to find water. The vineyard is high enough to usually be above the valley's fog, but gets cooling breezes off the nearby bay. The combination of mountain soils, the cool breezes, elevation, and good sun exposure give Monte Rosso its uniqueness.

There are about 250 acres of mostly Zinfandel and Cabernet planted along with everything from Semillon to Sangiovese.

The Wines

"Concentrated, rich and silky" are words used often to describe Monte Rosso Cabernets; the Zinfandels are intense and full-bodied.

Louis Martini Winery has made their flagship Monte Rosso Cabernet from the vineyard for decades. Others getting fruit from here include Arrowood, Paradise Ridge, Rancho Zabaco (a Gallo label), Rosenblum, Sbragia, and Stryker plus quite a few more.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April in Russian River Valley (photos)

April 18, 2012 northwest of Santa Rosa, CA
Click on a photo to enlarge

First four are along Hartman Road near Benovia Winery

Leafing out

Mt. St. Helena in the distance

Close-up of the photo above

Through the oak trees
 Along Olivet Road

Near Hook & Ladder Winery

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why Wine Geeks Make Bad Lovers

If you decide to date a wine geek
here's what you're in for

  • They rate your performance using the hundred point scale.
  • Their ability to rate performance is never taken into question.
  • Just because you previously had three mid-90s scores, but you last one was an 86, you are no longer relevant.
  • If they are a CA wine lover then they expect you to be lush, juicy and full-bodied. If they are a French wine lover they want you lean and to be at your peak in 20 years.
  • They've decided blondes from Sonoma and redheads from Napa are the best. So if you are a brunette from Amador forget it.  At one time blondes from Napa were "in," but that's so 1990s.
  • Geeks look for a dry sense of humor, if you're a little bit sweet forget it.
  • The last time you got in an argument they said you were "astringent" and you still don't know how to take that.
  • They have a crush on any wine maker of the opposite sex (sometimes the same sex) and would immediately leave you to spend the weekend with one.
  • Their idea of a good joke is, "Yo' mamma's so fat she has her own appellation!"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The California Grape Shortage

If you follow the wine grape business at all you'll remember the surplus and record crops of the last few years. Even if you don't pay attention to the business side you probably know there are a lot more good wines priced under $15 then there were before the recession.

Now we hear there's a shortage or grapes. What's that about? Somebody trying to control the market pricing? Nope. Wine grapes cycle through times of over- and under-planting. It's not centrally controlled, of course, so everyone seems to jump on the "let's plant" bandwagon at the same time. The first modern California planting boom was in the 1970s, then again in the early 1990s, and most recently in the early 2000s. With the recession fears and tight credit there hasn't been much planting recently.

Current projections are for the shortages to last until about 2020 as it takes that long to get financing, plant, grow, bottle, and get it to market. In the meantime supply-and-demand suggests the prices for grapes will rise.

For growers there are concerns (and local government backlash) with clear-cutting forested areas, hillside plantings, and water shortages that will all affect where they can plant. Currently there is a shortage of grape vines available for planting with the nurseries rushing to catch up. For the wineries many will be trying to lock in longer-term contracts with growers to guarantee their supply of grapes through the coming shortage. They will be paying more for these contracts now than they did three years ago.

What does this mean to the consumer?
 In the short-term it shouldn't mean anything so you probably don't need to go out tomorrow and buy four cases of that $8 red blend you like so much. Or even a case of your favorite $45 Pinot Noir. But it seems we'll see a trend of rising prices. I'd expect to see this in the cheaper wines first as there will probably be less coastal California premium wines available at low prices. Then it will hit the varieties currently hot in the market. Perhaps Grenache, Pinot Gris and maybe even Moscato may see the biggest percentage increases. Pinot Noir prices keep rising--even during the recession.

Wine consumption is growing worldwide with the U.S. leading the way. California wine exports are at record levels.

The first place wine industry folks see the change in the supply-and-demand cycle is with the bulk wine market. This is essentially excess juice that winds up in the less expensive wines you see on the store shelves. At the beginning of the recession there was lots of bulk wine available (this coincided with large crop sizes). The bulk wine market is drying up and prices are rising.

None of this means we'll run out of wine, but it does mean you'll be paying more for many of the wines you like to drink.  Okay, so maybe you should rush out tomorrow and stock up!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Alcohol Study. It's a Bombshell!

This one has to be from the French, of course. Their conclusion:

Alcohol can make you feel more attractive.

Didn't see that one coming!  Per the Agence France-Presse report a "scientific" study of local bar patrons showed the more they drank the higher they rated their own attractiveness.  Or per country singer Blake Shelton, "The more I drink the more I drink. I'm the world's greatest lover and a dancin' machine."

But then the French study had a second phase where a group of French men were given a fruit-based drink. Half contained alcohol, but half did not. If they didn't get the booze but thought they did they still had a higher assessment of themselves than those that had booze but didn't think they did.  Get it? You just have to think you're having a drink to think you're better looking. I have no idea what to conclude from this except that it was on French men. I'd like to see what happens with Italians--or even Australians.
They look even better if you have a drink first
Image from

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Wilson Family of Wineries

About 20 years ago the Wilsons opened their winery in Dry Creek Valley. They specialized in Zinfandel, as do many Dry Creek producers. They are apparently doing quite well as over the last few years they have bought up a few other winery operations in the area:  Mazzocco, Matrix, de Lorimier, Jaxon Keys, and Soda Rock.

Soda Rock was an historical, and dilapidated, old winery in nearby Alexander Valley. They built a nice facility keeping the original architecture.

Just recently they also purchased Pezzi King Vineyards--known mostly for their Zinfandel. Plus they will open a new tasting room in Sonoma Valley (not yet sure which of their wineries will be featured there).  UPDATE: As of May 2012 they are hiring at the Sonoma Vly property under the name of Stonecushion which is the incorporation of Mazzocco and Matrix.

The Wilson's wine style is fruit-forward and stylized rather than terroir-driven.  Fruit-forward means lush, red fruit, and typically higher alcohol levels. They win lots of awards with this style. You can't argue with success.

It's a bit unusual that a family, rather than some corporation, buys up wineries. It's nice they are being kept locally owned. This should also put the Wilsons in a good position to ride the rising tide of California exports and the end of the recession.

The Soda Rock Winery tasting room

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

California Syrah--What happened?

The Next Big Thing, oops

Syrah was going to be The Next Big Thing in California wines. Australia was making tons of money from Syrah--mostly in the lighter, fruity Shiraz style. Well, it never quite happened. This is really tough if you're a grape grower. It's not quite like growing corn one year and switching to soybeans the next. You have vines planted on a certain rootstock with a certain variety of grape vine grafted on. It's a very expensive undertaking to change over to The Next Big Thing after the one you planted five years ago doesn't work out.

Rhone varietals

Syrah originates in the Rhone region of France. Okay, the grape probably didn't originally come from Rhone, but that's its modern home. Syrah is the most important red grape in Rhone. Lesser known varieties include Grenache and Mourvedre. The primary white from Rhone is Viognier.

Now some are saying Grenache will be The Next Big Thing in California. Oh boy, here we go again!
Makers of some of the most
highly-rated CA Syrahs
Image from

What happened

A huge amount of Syrah was planted in the 1990s. According to The Wine Institute Califorina crushed 586 tons of Syrah in 1990 and well over 100,000 tons in 2002.

There's the one percent of Syrah that can be silky and sensual like a good Pinot Noir, but many seem heavy, dirty, tannic, oaky and undistinguished. The best ones will show black fruit and pepper spice. Some go for the Shiraz style usually resulting in higher alcohol levels. Most don't seem like particularly good food matches.

So it may be a stylistic problem or it may be a learning curve for growers and producers. Is it a cool climate or a warmer climate grape? Should it be light and fruity or more like a Cabernet?

In the light and fruity Shiraz style people generally expect to pay less than $20. Consumers may be confused just like the producers.
Considered by many to be one of
Sonoma County's best Syrahs
(and over 15% alcohol)
Image from

It took California growers and producers quite a few years to figure out Pinot Noir. We may still be in the same learning curve with Syrah. As long as it doesn't result in the same failure as with Gewurztraminer and Riesling where CA never really figured out how to grow it or what style to make it in (with a few exceptions like Navarro Vineyards).

Fixing Syrah

Syrah is a blending grape. It really isn't that exciting to drink as a straight 100% Syrah. Popular blends include Viognier (yes, a white wine), Grenache, and even Cabernet. Blends are almost always more interesting--and interest is something most CA Syrahs lack.

Don't make Syrah like Cabernet. Viognier failed in its first attempt in California because people made it like a Chardonnay--oaky and buttery. Syrah doesn't need to be over-ripe and soft. Nor should Syrah be drying and tannic. It doesn't need a lot of oak.

It seems like many people want to like Syrah. They just can't find one they'd choose to drink instead of a Cab or Pinot.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Robert Parker says NO to high alcohol wines!


Wine critic Robert Parker says soft, fruity, high alcohol wines are out and will no longer receive scores in the 90s. Mr. Parker admits he was wrong all those years.

Besides that Mr. Parker says he's fed up with the whole points system of rating wines.

Says Parker, "I gave 100 points to Petrus and now it sells for $4,000 a bottle. What did I get out of that? Nothin'. I'm sticking with the Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc I found at the grocery store for eight bucks. I'm afraid to rate it because the price might go up to twenty."

(Yes, this was posted on April 1st)