Archive for August, 2011
If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say
“Nothing’s that simple!”
– from “I’m Free” (Tommy, The Who – 1969)
The following commentary is not an easy one to write, because whenever one talks about something that they do, they run the risk of appearing immodest, or conversely overdoing it on fake amounts of modesty and sounding like a douchebag.
Look, I know that I write reasonably well, because I’ve been told that by other writers whom many consider to write very well. And I know that I taste wine reasonably well, because I’ve been told that by others who are themselves kick-ass tasters. But I do not see the ability to combine those talents as somehow qualifying me to self-proclaim my awesomeness. And I do not see it as somehow unattainable by anyone else, either.
As any fan of the (excellent) book Outliers can tell you, the one thing that most differentiates the well-skilled from the wanna-bes in any given field (including wine) is practice. You spend enough time doing something (like, approaching 10,000 hours – and that figure is not hyperbole), and the odds are very, very good that you will get very, very good at whatever it is you are doing.
I write this because I continue to run into people (all over the world) who are thoroughly impressed with their own ability to taste (and then describe, verbally or in writing) a wine. As in a worship-me-because-I’m-totally-awesome level impressed with themselves. On the other side of that wine appreciation coin, I also run into people (all over the world) who reinforce that view by assuming that they themselves could never accurately describe a wine’s tastes and smells. I have a message for both of those types of people: “Get over it; what wine writing / reviewing peeps do isn’t all that special!”…
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Those of you who have just been rescued from being stranded for decades in South American jungles and are now coming to grips with you strange new world that involves cellular telephones, 3D television and the Global Interwebs, might not have heard that influential wine personality and bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk last week announced that he has retired from producing his frequent wine-critique videos.
It’s a move that, in impact to Gary’s fan base, is probably a bit like Howard Stern’s recent announcement that he’s scaling back the number of shows he will produce each week – which is to say, polorizing.
Gary’s latest move comes a little over 160 days after he retired WLTV in favor of his mobile device venture Daily Grape, and a little over seven months after he shut down Corkd. For those concerned that he might also shut down his best-selling books, please note that it’s a lot harder to do that once the printed copies are in your hands!
It wasn’t a great week for wine personalities sticking around – Mike Steinberger also left the scene (at least temporarily) when he had his excellent wine column axed from Slate (to which I say “F*ck Slate!”). Anyway… The wine world is, understandably, rife with speculation on the Whys behind Gary’s move. I think a (much) more interesting topic, though, is the What: as in, What does Gary’s wine retirement from wine criticism mean for the wine world in general?…
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- NV Mionetto MO Valdobbiadene Prosecco (Prosecco Superiore): Elegant & (dare we say it) *serious* green apple side to Prosecco bubbly. $23 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 08 Catena Malbec (Mendoza): Smokey/oaky finish mars an otherwise smokin’ red-fruited, floral, dried-herbal South American beauty. $24 B >>find this wine>>
- NV Pascal Redon Cuvee Diaphane (Champagne): Elegant; as in “going on a hike in the woods & then running into Audrey Hepburn” elegant. $59 A- >>find this wine>>
- 07 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah (Calaveras County): Your morning coffee ritual should smell so good as the mocha action on this tasty guy. $24 B >>find this wine>>
- 08 Manzanita Creek Three Vines Zinfandel (Sonoma County): A BIG boy, who would very much like to meet your ribs with the spice rub. $28 B >>find this wine>>
- 07 Three Rivers Champoux vineyard Merlot (Horse Heaven Hills): The tales of Merlot’s death have, apparently, been greatly exaggerated $39 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 08 Three Rivers River’s Red (Columbia Valley): Red fruits are tart, bright & screaming. What are they screaming? “Crazy good deal!” $14 B >>find this wine>>
- 09 Three Rivers Merlot (Columbia Valley): Chewbacca big, but he’s in a pin-stripe suit. Pepper, spice, herbs & olives add the elegance $19 B >>find this wine>>
- 09 Three Rivers Chardonnay (Columbia Valley): Pear, pineapple & cream, all sliced right down the middle with razor-sharp crispness. $18 B >>find this wine>>
- 06 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Coffee, black plums, pencil lead & quite a lot of focus for the The Valley. $75 A- >>find this wine>>
- 06 Michael David Earthquake Petite Sirah (Lodi): Not w/out floral/licorice complexity, but balance is shaken by a sweet boozy finish. $25 B- >>find this wine>>
- 07 Rustenberg John X Merriman (Stellenbosch): The herbal & red plum side of Bord’x blending. One for the huntsman’s lodge, govn’r. $30 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 07 Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay (Stellenbosch): Lemon curd, toasted almond & a little minerality standing at attention, sir! $39 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 10 Firestone Gewurztraminer (Santa Ynez Valley): A bit short on flowers & lychee, but plenty long on ginger, grapefruit & crispness. $13 B- >>find this wine>>
- 08 Firestone Clone 174 Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley): Here’s 1 to please the crowd. Bring me a plate of BBQ ribs, with all speed, man! $30 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 08 Firestone Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley): Brambly, red, black & jammy. Ah, but the smoked meat guy is stopping by, and you’re hungry… $20 B >>find this wine>>
- 07 Puma Road Black Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands): This cat’s got a lot of berry, earthy/herbal complexity for $36 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 07 Bagrationi 1882 Reserve Brut (Kakheti): Georgia strikes again. Elegant if subdued presentation of apple, melon & chalky minerality. $25 B >>find this wine>>
Burt Williams might speak softly and have a relatively unassuming appearance, but when it comes to age-worthy, elegant Pinot Noir he is one hundred percent deadly Jedi Knight.
That much was clear during the recent West Of West festival in Occidental, CA (I attended as a media guest), where Littorai’s Ted Lemon interviewed Williams to kick things off. It was tough for me to pay attention, because a) there were Sonoma Coast Pinots sitting in front of me ranging from `96 to `01, and I was ready to geek out, and b) I found the entire event confusing, because I’m an anal Right Coast guy who requires exposition and purpose stated clearly up-front, and the WoW Fest proceedings launched without much detail on either.
Fortunately, possessing a formal plan is not a prerequisite for making great wine. In fact, to hear Williams tell it, very little about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was planned in the early days when he first starting making Williams Selyem wine in his ‘spare’ time. “We got a call from an ATFA agent,” he mentioned, “who basically told us that we should get bonded before we got arrested; so, we got bonded.”
Williams also told us that “if the wine is balanced… if you pick the fruit before it’s really ripe… I know Sonoma Coast [Pinot Noir] can age!” Proof is in the vinous pudding: the 1996 Williams Selyem Riverblock Pinot Noir (about $100 if you can find it, and an ‘A’ rated wine if I’ve ever had one) is delicate, earthy and svelte, with cherries, plums, spices and hints of game meat. The finish could accurately be described as gorgeous; it’s a wine that doesn’t smack you over the head, but seduces you.
And it’s in drinking wines like that 1996 Pinot – wines which seem to be made at a more-than-expected frequency in the West Sonoma Coast area – that you say to yourself (if you’re me, anyway): “F*ck Napa Valley Pinot – this is where it’s AT!”…
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