Archive for July, 2014
“We sing the same old song
Just like a vintage car,
You can look, but you won’t ever drive it.
We drink the same old wine
From a brand new jar,
We get hung-over, but we always survive it.”
– “New Song” by The Who
Some tasks are just… unenviable.
Take, for example, trying to say something new about iconic California producer Ridge that’s not already been said. Go ahead, give it a shot; it’s not easy, folks. Some people are adept at taking the same few chords or themes and churning out something that sounds totally new; The Kinks, The Who, John Grisham (okay, maybe not Grisham). I am not one of those people. The Ridge story has been told several times in print, and from a wine perspective equates to something like “these are excellent, potentially long-lived reds, go buy some; the end… why are you still here?”
And so in recapping my visit to Ridge Lytton Springs in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, I find myself entertaining a sense of dread that I’ve not felt since I’ve had to turn in a term paper in undergrad, the kind that you avoid for as long as possible because you know it’s going to be a bitch to write. I can offer at least one take on Ridge that is original, though, since it happened to me personally; so I suppose I’ll start there.
A couple of years ago, when interviewing the equally iconic California stalwart Kermit Lynch at his Berkley area shop, I noticed a shelf of old empty bottles on a wall in his office. I pointed out to him that only one of those bottles was from an American producer: Ridge. “Yeah!” he exclaimed, “and check this out!” taking the bottle from its display and showing me the back label, pointing to the small text that proclaimed its sub-14% alcohol by volume. I then tried (unsuccessfully, I think) to convince him that Ridge was still making elegant, long-lived, balanced wines that despite an uptick in abv, and that I’d had several aged examples over the years to prove it.
Interestingly, my host at Ridge’s DCV winery was winemaker John Olney (onboard at Lytton Springs since the 2003 vintage), who once worked for Lynch… see, I knew if I tried hard enough there’d be something new there…
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We wind down yet another summer month (a scorcher for me, since we spent a good portion of it without a working central AC system at 1WD HQ), and so we have another round of Wine.Answers.com article highlights for your reading pleasure. I was in full-on review mode this month, in an attempt to make a dent in the pile of samples that were not actually wines (this isn’t as insane of a pile as the wine samples, but in its own way has been getting a bit out of hand):
Wine Book Review: “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” by Ian D’Agata – From a sample copy. A comprehensive look at the native wine grape varieties of a country that has a sh*t-ton of such varieties; this will appeal to a very small percent of the population, but among those geeks it could prove to be an indispensable reference.
Wine Product Review: Ravi Instant Wine Chiller – The short version of this review is that I had, at best, a tumultuous time with a sample of this rapid wine chiller; while it’s undoubtedly fast, for me it did always undoubtedly pour any actual wine (and, well, that’s kind of a show-stopper from a wine-pouring-accessory standpoint).
Wine Product Review: Riedel “Big O” Cabernet Wine Tumbler – Loved this not-so-little stem-less wine glass; it is not for small wines (or small hands… or small bank accounts…), but for those who go for big pours of big wines, this is a keeper. Another sample for review (duh).
Surprising Meanings Behind Common U.S. Wine Label Terms – it always amazes me how even well-heeled wine pros have no idea that some of these label terms are regulated (or aren’t).
- 09 Amista Gloeckner Turner Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Rockpile): Savory flirt! But don't underestimate the substance under the surface $45 A- >>find this wine<<
- 09 Amista Syrah (Dry Creek Valley): For those who prefer their meat be served with spices, a touch of delicacy, & a lot of care. $30 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 12 Amista Morningstar Vineyards Tres Red (Dry Creek Valley): Perfume spritzed on a bedrock of dark, peppery, brooding red fruit. $35 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 11 Amista Morningsong Vineyards Chardonnay (Dry Creek Valley): Bringing the flowers, the steel & the minerals to the dry creek. $28 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 11 Boschendal Appellation Series Chardonnay (Elgin): All dressed up to the nines, flaunting its wares, but also keeping its cool. $50 A- >>find this wine<<
- 12 Boschendal Appellation Series Pinot Noir (Elgin): You could concoct a gourmet berry, bacon & herb dressing; or, just drink this. $75 A- >>find this wine<<
- 11 Bellingham The Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage (Coastal Region): Things at this barbeque just got very, very, VERY serious. $44 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 12 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc (Coastal Region): The term Full Monty doesn't really even begin to describe it $22 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 12 Claypool Cellars CC Pachyderm Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): It's about as complex as a good prog rock anthem. $NA A- >>find this wine<<
- 12 Prinz Salm Berg Roxheim Riesling Spatlase (Nahe): Green tea with a bit of honey? Stone fruit on a bed of flowers? Count me in. $49 A- >>find this wine<<
- 10 Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs Pinot Blanc Brut (Long Island): Yellow apples making most east coast bubbles green with jealousy. $35 B+ >>find this wine<<
“A warning to the crews out there who think they’re hot, if you’re not original rockers you will get shot
down by the kids neglectin’ your art, the stuff you did, eventually it get so bad puts you to bed
’cause when the lightning flashes sweet electricity, all the world then stands revealed with the clarity
of raw voltage, briefly we see and the hope is you’ll be able to tell just what dope is…”
– Come Original by 311
Earlier this month, I attended the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, CA, as a speaker on a panel titled “How The Pros Taste.” I was actually in town primarily to help a friend of mine, Wandering Wino, kick off a post-WBC tasting event (called “Authentic Press”) that focused on small SB-area producers (happy to report that was well-attended, and nary a drop of under-performing juice was to be found among the stellar lineup that he selected to pour at the event), so the timing all worked out splendidly.
I enjoyed WBC14 (well, ok, apart from the big dinner, which always seems to fall flat at WBC for some reason, excepting Alan Kropf’s entertaining WBA presentation), and thought this was one of the best incarnations yet, particularly for those new to wine blogging. The WBC keynote address by Corbett Barr seemed divisive based on the twitter chatter, but I also enjoyed that talk; and for anyone who doubts Barr’s assertion that character trumps everything else when it comes to building up your brand online, consider as some evidence that what I make for writing about wine puts me in the top 5-10% of all U.S. wine writers (and it’s a sad commentary that amount is only bonus-level money compared to my previous corporate gig).
I won’t comment on the Wine Blog Awards. No offense meant to the winners (there are some fine blogs in that group), and I’m always touched to be nominated and to be named a finalist, but I’m still pretty “fringe” and gonzo when it comes to wine writing (which, after all these years blogging, is also a kind of sad commentary, when you think about it), so the things I value and want to see recognized (in almost any genre, not just wine writing) are usually not what get rewarded. Just imagine how I feel about the Grammy’s!
A few hiccups involving LA road rage delays impacting fellow panelist Patrick Comiskey aside, I also had fun participating on my panel (for those of you who were thinking that I was stroking moderator Steve Heimoff’s crotch under the table on stage, I was actually petting Steve’s adorable pet dog Gus, who was sitting quietly in Steve’s lap the entire time; that’s my story, anyway), waxing philosophic about how I go about critically tasting vino (and getting totally fooled by the final “mystery wine” of the lineup). I’m good for at least one or two re-tweetable money quotes per panel, and the one that got the most attention during the panel seemed to be my comment on negative wine reviews (“some wines need to be kicked in the crotch”), so I thought I’d talk a bit more about that stance here.
My view on negative wine reviews is that they, like serving rare vintages of the world’s finest wines, ought to be reserved for special occasions. I say this because only a few wines are epically bad enough –and were created with sufficient malicious intent – that they deserve your finest writing work…
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