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The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

Vinted on December 17, 2008 under best of, Most Interesting Wines of the Year, wine review

Sure, it’s another cheesy end of year wrap-up post.

But you know what?

I dig these recaps – call it a guilty pleasure. It sure beats writing an entire new post and trying to come up with compelling content (hey, it’s the end of the year… I’m tired, man!).

Actually, there was nothing easy about compiling the list that I’m about to give to you, and I’m sure the inclusions and omissions will piss some people off somewhere. That isn’t my intention, and this is not a best-of list by any stretch of the imagination.

The following presents my Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008.

It is NOT a list of the best wines released in 2008. It is a list of wines that I tasted in 2008, and found the most interesting this year. They are presented with a synopsis of my tasting notes, and my reflections on why they were included in the list. Some of them I bought, some of them were media samples, others were tasted at events. No one gets special treatment once the pen hits the notebook that logs my tastings.

The list is not based on scores or any other numerical rating. The wines were chosen based on my tasting notes from all of the wines that I tasted and recorded in 2008. Bear in mind that I am not employed as a wine critic, and I do not taste thousands of wines per year. I did, however, taste well over 400 wines in 2008, which I think is probably more than the average bear. I will leave it to you whether or not the Lush designation is applicable in this context (I did spit… sometimes… at least twice…).

What I’m hoping to do here is clue you into something unique, different, or of exceptional quality for the price – as I see it in the wine world. Hopefully you will find it useful. Anyway, without further ado, here they are…

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

10) 2006 Benton-Lane “First Class” Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley): Layers of strawberry jam, cherry cola & vanilla. Pure heaven with salmon cakes.

I agonized over the #10 spot in this list – as you can imagine, there were about 50 wines that could have gone into this first slot. I went with the Benton-Lane because,well, it surprised me. It surprised me in that it was one of the biggest, heftiest Willamette’s I’ve had in terms of structure, but still managed to exude a definite sense of place. Balance, baby, balance.

9) 2005 Opus One (Oakville): Supple, hedonistic & built for long haul. Mint leaf & spices floating over black fruit suggest great things to come.

Was the inclusion of this wine a reflection on my tour of Opus this year, and my frank and detailed discussions with their staff? Well…. duh. Of course it is (despite the fact that one visiting intern thought that I was Gary Vaynerchuk… I had the same reaction as you: “Uhm… What?!!??”).

And that’s okay, because wine is an experience and is influenced by the circumstances under which we drink it. But this wine is no slouch, and it had one of the best senses of balance I’ve tasted in a long time - between Old World & New World styles, between primary fruit and secondary aromas, and between early accessibility & ageing potential.

8) 2002 Penns Woods Ameritage Reserve (PA): Bord’x style blend from PA. YES, IT’S FROM PA. Fig, prune, cedar, probably their best vintage ever.

Anyone following 1WD will NOT be surprised by the inclusion of this one. This wine, for me, helped to redefine not only what PA wine is capable of, but what East Coast wine is capable of, and how well some areas of the U.S. can implement an Old World style of wine.

7) 2004 Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres” (Sonoma Valley): When isn’t it a pleasure? Flint, lemon curd, citrus peel, roses, apples, cream. I could go on.

I’m including this wine in my list because I’m astounded at Sonoma-Cutrer’s consistency. This is probably my favorite U.S. Chardonnay, and to date is still my favorite Chard. globally, and I’m actually more partial to the Chablis style so if you can figure that one out please explain it to me so I don’t feel as though I’m going insane. Anyway, this wine has never disappointed me, and the `04 peels away layer after layer of complexity as you drink it.

6) 2001 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive (Alsace): Viscous, loads of citrus, lychee, & autumn leaves. Holy Hannah it’s good! But not cheap.

As a wine geek, I like to think that I can appreciate a wine made for wine geeks. And this, my friends, is a wine geek’s viscous dream. I have a sweet tooth, and while this wine certainly delivers in its touch of sweetness, the slam dunk is how the sweetness and acidity are balanced by the intense fruit and the funk-a-junk-funkiness. It’s the kind of wine that makes some people say “Hmm… I’m not too sure about this one…,” but has the wine geeks licking their lips in delight. Score!

5) 2003 Vinoptima Gewurztraminer (Ormond, NZ): Yowza! Oil, lemons, honey, orange blossoms, spice. I could sniff this stuff for *days*…!

You know that you’re liking a wine when you realize, after 7 or 8 minutes of smelling it, that you love it but you’ve yet to even take your first sip. There is nothing shy about this Gewurz, and the only downside is that the booze might knock you out before you’ve gotten enough of this wine. Best dry Gewurz. I’ve tasted all year. And yes, that’s two Gewurz’s in a row. On purpose.

4) NV Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (Champagne): Like fresh-baked almond bread with honey. A minor triumph of grace & strength. Excellent stuff.

I tasted this wine at an industry event, and it stood out for me above dozens & dozens of other wines that I tasted that night. Powerful, but graceful as well, it’s like… it’s like seeing a tamed pet panther wearing a diamond-studded collar. You’re not sure how they did it, but you’re damn interested!


3) 2005 Le Premier Pas Domaine Le Pas de l’Escalette (Cot. du Languedoc): Harmonious blend of S. Rhone grapes. French red without the shackles.

What do you get when you lift the AOC burden of varietals, blend percentages, and vinification and viticulture techniques from French winemakers? In the case of this wine, you get as much creativity as any New World wine, with a deliciously well-integrated result. Hey! France!! Give Us Free!!!

2) 2005 Volta Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): 1st vintage, limited run from Howell Mtn. fruit. Lush as all get-out, with lazer-focused tannins.

I have a soft-spot for Volta this year. They’re fans of the blog. They’re nice peeps. And I was the first to ever review their wine in the media. They’ve since gone on to accumulate an impressive array of accolades from palates much better and more influential than mine. And they deserve it, because this wine is a tour de force of just how good Howell Mountain fruit can be when you treat it right. To get it that right on the first try is quite an achievement.

And now… the #1 most interesting wine that I’ve tasted in 2008… (drumroll ensues)

1) 1999 Gutzler Vintage Riesling Sekt Extra Brut (Rheinhessen): Stellar trad. method bubbly with peach, apricot, & non-stop creamy yeastiness.

No, it’s not a typographical error. Yes, I did actually mean to list a sparkling German Riesling as my #1 most interesting wine tasted in 2008. Yes, I am sober as I type this.

No other wine in 2008 threw me for quite as high arcing of a loop as this one. What this wine did was prove to me beyond a doubt that Riesling is the noblest of all white wine grape varieties, with a purity of expression that, in the right hands, has the capacity to shine through in any format, whether it be dry, sweet, still, or bubbly. In the words of my main man Michael Broadbent:

“German wine-lovers may place Riesling first, but I place it second (to Cabernet Sauvignon) in the hierarchy of noble grape varieties. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, it has consistent strength of character which shows through even after transplanting.”

Number two, with a bullet!

There you have it. Now, back to my frantic holiday madness…

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, wineaccess.com, binendswine.com)

Holiday Hangover Cures: What Works… and What Doesn’t!

Vinted on December 12, 2008 under best of, commentary, holidays
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Save a Prayer for The Morning After on 12seconds.tv
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It’s that time of year again.

The time of year when websites far & wide gather together in solidarity to take part in the time-honored tradition of posting Holiday Hangover cures.

And not a moment too soon.

If you’re like me, the stress of the holidays, combined with the outpouring of good emotion when getting together with loved ones and friends during the season, invariably leads to some drinking.

Rather than contribute to the cornucopia of hangover advice that will inundate your throbbing skulls this holiday season, I thought that I’d run through some examples of the sage advice and let you know what works – and what doesn’t work – for the Dude’s hangovers. This is based solely on my own experience, and is not intended as a warranty of any kind, expressed or implied. Your mileage, as they say, my vary…

Let us take a list from the self-help site Lifehackery.com, from their post 9 Ways to Deal With a Hangover. For the purpose of making my post more humorous, I’ve combined and condensed the list into 7 methods, and added my own two to start. So we’re back to nine hangover-related items, just not the same nine as on Lifehackery.com though all nine from Lifehackery.com are actually included. Got it? No? Crap. Oh well, let’s get started anyway.

9 Methods for Dealing with a Hangover – What Works, and What FAILS

  1. Abstinence

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is really and truly only one surefire way to prevent a hangover, and that is to Abstain from drinking alcohol, or at least to drink in moderation. If you’re like me, this may start out as a well-intentioned option during the holidays, but the road to Hangover Hell is paved with the puke of the well-intentioned holiday party-goer…

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED (but unlikely).

  2. Hydration

    Most hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration. So, logically, drinking oodles of water to hydrate yourself when drinking alcohol will, in theory, help to prevent your hangover. This is really only effective when combined with a) relatively moderate consumption (of the booze, not the water) and b) maintaining adequate mental capacity to remember to drink oodles of water while you’re drinking your oodles of wine. Whoops!

    Dude’s experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  3. Sports Drinks & Fruit

    Fast-forward to the dreaded morning after your revelry. The theory behind these suggestions is that they a) help to hydrate you more quickly than water alone, and b) contain Vitamin C, both of which may help to decrease the length and amplitude of your hangover pain curve.

    The problem is that they also typically contain a relatively high acidic content – good luck keeping that down when you’re nursing a fragile hangover stomach.

    Dude’s experience: NOT RECOMMENDED

  4. Sleep/Puke

    Sure, sleep will help, and it has the added benefit of delaying a possible awkward meetup with the person that hooked up with the previous evening. You’re just not likely to get enough of it. Personally, I find it very, very difficult to sleep once the alcohol starts to leave my system (note: additional alcohol intake to promote further sleep is NOT recommended here).

    You might feel better when you yak, but when I toss the cookies, it lays me out and I’m useless for the next 30 hours or so. Not everyone feels better when they puke – some people actually feel worse.

    Dude’s experience: USE CAUTION

  5. Swim / Cold Shower Hmm… uhmmm…. riiiiight. I suppose that hypothermic shock would make you forget about your hangover for awhile. This so-called advice feels more like the prank of sick and twisted miscreant. Bottom line is that if someone recommended this “remedy” to me, and I was insane enough to actually try it, once I recovered I would hunt that person down and kick the living crap out of them.

    Dude’s experience: NFW. EPIC, EPIC FAIL!

  6. Sweat / Urinate

    People, this works. First, you need to ensure that you get water into your lame hungover self pronto after waking up. More water will help you flush out the nasty stuff in your system (like ethanol!) that is fueling your hangover. Additionally, moderate exercise (don’t overdo it there, Hercules!) can help get you moving, get your blood flowing, and get your sweat carrying off some of that nasty stuff as well. Just don’t forget the water!

    Dude’s experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  7. Hot & Spicy Food

    You need to be careful with this one, but I’ve found that it does, indeed, help to mitigate the effects of a hangover. Hot food – in terms of temperature and spice, will promote sweating, which will help to flush out your system. Go for a hot & spicy soup for bonus points, since that combo will also help to rehydrate you.

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED (just not first thing the monring!)

  8. Baking Soda

    Apparently, mixing Baking Soda with water and drinking it is purported to help ease a hangover. I’ve got no idea if the science behind this is sound – or even if there is any science behind it. I just know that baking soda seems like something I would NOT want to be tasting when I’m nauseous.

    Dude’s experience: UNTESTED (but NOT recommended)

  9. Magnesium

    Magnesium is a migraine treatment, and therefore consuming foods high in magnesium might help to mitigate your hangover headache (assuming you’re not too nauseous to eat, that is). Veggies, nuts, and some teas are good sources. I haven’t tried this one myself, but I like veggies, nuts, and tea so I’m going to go ahead and recommend it – at least it’s good for your diet if not your hangover!

    Dude’s experience: RECOMMENDED

Here’s wishing you a happy (and hangover free) holiday time!

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, joemonster.org, sororitysecrets.com)

The Burgundian Blogging Effect: Joel Peterson & The Future of Winemaking

Vinted on December 3, 2008 under best of, interviews, Penns Woods, pennsylvania, winemaking

“We’ll be in the Green Room.”

I was walking along the sidewalk of a conspicuously calm street in downtown Wilmington, DE, chatting on my cell phone with Gino Razzi, the tireless force behind Penns Woods Winery. It was a Mid-Atlantic November Saturday, which meant intermittent cold rain, but I’d expected the streets to be busier. I was making my way to the swanky-but-elegant Hotel DuPont for lunch with Gino and this year’s Brandywine Valley Vintners’ dinner keynote speaker, Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson.

Despite the fact that I grew up in Wilmington, I did not feel at all at home.

I’d never been to the Green Room. And I hadn’t strolled the streets of downtown for what felt like a dozen years.

I also wasn’t a frequent interviewer of winemaking legends, either.

Joel Peterson started the now-ubiquitous Ravenswood back in the 1970s, back when the Internet was a gleam in the eye of military ARPANET developers, well before Sonoma was a winemaking force, and long before Zinfandel was considered the de facto varietal choice of patriotic, red-blooded Americans that it is today. It was hardly an overnight success (“either that, or it was a really long night” Joel told me): Joel maintained a second job to help make ends meet until the early 1990s. Ravenswood now produces in excess of 500,000 cases of wine per year, and its brand is nearly synonymous with budget-priced Zinfandel.

In other words, Joel Peterson is to Sonoma Zin what Robert Mondavi was to Napa Cab, or what David Lett was to Oregon Pinot Noir.

Which prompted my first question to Joel while we worked our way through our Green Room appetizers: Considering the recent spate of departed California wine legends, does he fear for his safety? A-la the ill-fated drummers in Spinal Tap?…

Joel (chuckling): “No… in fact I’m in some of the best health I’ve been in a long time.”

Ice officially broken.

Or so I thought. That’s when Joel began to ask me questions (hey, who’s interview was this, anyway?), about how I came into the world of wine, and what the sources of my wine passions really were.

Uh-oh.

I was beginning to feel outflanked. And outclassed. Good thing Gino and Joel like to talk, and are conversationalists at heart – “If I could touch on some pertinent topics,” I thought, “then I could let the veteran conversationalists take it from there and have some hope of holding my own here…

Despite the penchant for jeans, plaid, and cowboy hats in his promotional photos, in person Joel comes off much more the scholar than the farmer – mild-mannered, approachable, and with no shortage of lessons from his experience in the wine world.

So pay attention. Maybe you’ll learn something…

Of Rising Tides & Sinking Ships
Since Joel was in town to talk to Pennsylvania winemakers, I started off with questions about PA wine. Do PA wines need to get better across the board in order to change their perception in the marketplace? Does a rising tide actually lift all boats?

Joel: “A rising tide takes many forms. When I helped found ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers), we had maybe 50 people at out first tasting. We had about 10,000 people at our most recent tasting. We [Zinfandel producers] challenged each other in friendly ways, to see who could get the most recognition or the highest-scoring Zinfandel. But a rising tide also creates more boats, and it makes a bigger pond – there are 7,000 wine brands available to consumers right now, it will be exciting to see where the wine industry foes from here.”

Gino: “You still may sink! I’m trying to get the group [of PA winemakers] to invest time and credibility in themselves.”

Joel: “[In Sonoma] we had a personal recomendation kind of thing. Make it fun, make it friendly, get the wine off the pedestal and onto the table. It’s a long – but not painful! – process, and you do it one person at a time.”

Hmmm… sounds a lot like social media to me.


“A rising tide also creates more boats, and it makes a bigger pond – there are 7,000 wine brands available to consumers right now, it will be exciting to see where the wine industry foes from here.”

On the State (get it?) of PA Wines
Speaking of PA wines – what did Joel think of them?

Joel: “They range from amateurish, to interesting, to very good. The problem is consistency – no one has broken through the threshold to consistently produce thought-provoking wine year on year.

There are a few tenets to grape-growing. Well-drained soils; a rootstock compatible with the soil; keeping the vine in balance with itself with low production; using trellising matched to the area and moisture; farming moderately and irrigating carefully (moisture in the soil and respiration of the vine are critical); choosing varietals that are resistant to the attacks that you have locally. That’s the reason that Cabernet Franc has done well here, with their open clusters and thick skins. Mediterranean varietals could also do well here. I think mainstream grapes aren’t as interesting anymore anyway – you have an opportunity to do something special here.”

On the Amazing Ever-Shrinking Economy
Many wineries have told me that they’re seeing a drop of nearly 20% due to the economic downturn. What’s your perspective on the state of the ‘wine economy’?

Joel: “The economy will change the scale and nature of wines. There’s going to be less outlet for ultra-expensive cult wines made by those funding advances in technology, knowledge and equipment. We’re seeing a shift back to less expensive wine. Drinking a $1,000 bottle of wine now will be a bit like fiddling while Rome burns…”

I admitted that my ‘sweet spot’ for finding excellent wine at a half-decent price was still the $30-$40 range, despite the economic downturn.

Joel: “Yeah, the $35-a-bottle range allows you to do more things as a winemaker: more expensive grapes, different crop levels, different oaks, etc.”

“Drinking a $1,000 bottle of wine now will be a bit like fiddling while Rome burns…”


On Whether or Not CA Wine – or the Wine Business in General – is ‘Played Out’
Joel: “No. It’s a business model now as opposed to an experimental model. It forces you to be really conscious of your quality and your market in ways that you didn’t have to before. Consolidation and Big Box stores are now significant players in getting wine out to people. It’s created a whole employment policy and new jobs. It’s created a whole subset of people who are spinning off into small side businesses, coming out of that secure existence and doing interesting, cutting edge things.”

Such as…?

Joel: “They’re reviving that individual way of winemaking. My son got little piece of Kick Ranch [editor’s note: many WBC attendees may recall meeting Morgan Twain-Peterson and tasting his Bedrock wines), maybe 4 – 6 tons. And they have to figure out “What are we gonna do with this?” And they have a lot of knowledge, capability and experience already.

California wine continue to have high volume, good wines. Then, you’ll have a “Burgundian effect” of small producers making really interesting wines with their own following. Some will survive, some won’t. Some may become the next Mondavi. I talk to these guys a lot. Most don’t expect to make a lot of money from it. They do it because they love it.”

Hmmm… sounds a lot like blogging to me.

Joel: “I would have been a blogger had there been a blogosphere!”

Gino: “The position was created from the past success of wineries like Ravenswood. Your success left a space behind that small wineries are starting to fill. You left a footprint of experience and knowledge that they build on and then they add their own personalities to it.”

Joel: “The miracle of the wine business now is that people are willing to experiment, and the system for communicating the results and changes are instantaneous. We never had that before in the history of winemaking.”

Hmmm… sounds a lot like blogging to me.

I’m starting to wonder if we bloggers are here for a reason…

Cheers!
(images: startupstudio.com, englewoodwinemerchants.com, sugendran.net, fermentingthoughts.com)

Blind Tasting Smackdown: East Coast Vs. West Coast!

Vinted on November 14, 2008 under best of, California wine, Penns Woods, pennsylvania, wine tasting

Actually, it’s not so much a smackdown as, it turns out, a comparison of apples and oranges. Or, a comparison of Old World style vs. New World style.

After visiting both Opus One and Penns Woods Winery, located on the Left and Right Coasts, respectively, I thought it would be interesting to host a blind tasting between the 2005 vintages of both winery’s Bordeaux-style red blends.

What would a clash of the titans like this prove?

Not much, it turns out, but it was an enlightening experience, and one that you will want to read if you appreciate differing styles of fine wines, and are interested in a bit of a litmus test on how far wines from both coasts of America have come…

Or, if you want to read the extremely geeky musings of two wine dorks.

Your call…

Anyway, for this blind tasting, I was reunited with my 2WineDudes partner in crime, Jason Whiteside, who was in town taking a few of his exams for the WSET Diploma in Wine & Spirits. The wines (hereby referred to as Wine 1 and Wine 2, until such time as their true identity is revealed) were decanted a few hours before our tasting, and neither Jason nor I knew which wine was poured into which decanter. Both wines were then poured into separate (but identical) Riedel wine glasses.

Following is the uber-geeky tasting play-by-play:

The Visuals

  • Jason: “There’s really good color in both of these wines. Wine 1 is Ruby with a nice garnet hue, and it fades more at the rim than Wine 2, which suggests that it wasn’t handled as gently. Wine 2 is deep ruby with blue tinges and nice pink legs.”
  • Joe: “I really want to drink both of these suckers.”

The Nose

  • Jason: “I definitely get a Pennsylvania harvest/Autumn leaf aroma on Wine 1. Lots of smoke, not quite as complex as Wine 2. Plenty of bright red fruit, with black cherry, currants, spice (coriander and cocoa), and Macadam/tar. The finish on Wine 2 is waaaaay long and the wine is more concentrated – bakers chocolate is going on here, Lots of oak, menthol, and heat. Wine 1 might have had more exposure to oxygen and is a little more reductive. “
  • Joe: “Wine 1 is more subtle on the nose. I’m getting a lighter red fruit on it than Wine 2, which suggests PA more than CA. Wine 2 is very dark with more fruit, I’m thinking figs, mint leaf and plums. I’m not going to spit either of these, though…”

The Palate

  • Jason: “Wine 1 is mineral-forward. The finish isn’t extraordinary, but it’s good. It’s got medium intensity and great acidity; it’s just really well-balanced. It’s very Italian in style, weight, and acidity. If you hadn’t told me these wines were from PA and CA, I’d have thought this wine was from Tuscany. Wine 2 has more dry extract, it’s got to be riper, thicker-skinned grapes. Wine 1 has to be PA, and Wine 2 is from CA.”
  • Joe: “Wine 1 has ‘greener’ fruit to me. I would’ve expected a little more on the length of the finish though, based on how well the wine showed up on the nose and on the visuals. Wine 2 has more oak tannin, I think, and good acidity; it feels like a wine built for a “longer haul” to me. By the way, what the hell is dry extract?”

The Verdict

  • Checking in with Mrs. Dudette confirmed our assessment that Wine 1 was Penns Woods Ameritage, and Wine 2 was Opus One.
  • Jason: “At a quick glance, these wines look and feel very similar. But when you investigate them more deeply, they are very, very different wines. What’s striking is how the different raw materials – the grapes – come through, even with two flawlessly crafted wines; which these both are.
  • Joe: “Totally agree. Bottom line for me is that Penns Woods is aiming for an Old World style, and the wine totally begs to be sampled with food. Opus has more of a New World/CA thing going on. Both are clearly made with passion. Let’s get stupid on the rest of this stuff!

There you have it. East Coast meets West Coast turns out to be more like Old World Italy meets New World California. Who’da thunk it?

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com)

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