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Notorious (Robert Parker is Chasing Shadows)

Vinted on May 7, 2009 binned in best of, commentary

Lay your seedy judgments, who says they’re part of our lives? I heard your promise but I don’t believe it –
That’s why I’ll do it again

– Notorious, Duran Duran

Robert Parker can’t leave well enough alone these days, at least when it comes to bloggers.

Which is a shame really, because ultimately, in his attacks on other blogers and wine writers, he undermines his own credibility, gaining nothing as he lashes out at shadows that don’t even care about his existence.  He’s either chasing ghosts, or his own demons – either way, it’s fruitless.

Parker, the oft-celebrated, sometimes-maligned uber-critic of wine, might be seeing a slight wane in his near-dominant influence on fine wine prices, but his words are still capable of moving mountains of wine at retail.  So it would be logical to conclude that he has little to fear from most other wine writers, especially bloggers.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Parker that his place in wine lore is as secure as ever, and as a result he has, with his latest essay in the Wine Advocate, made a complete ass of himself to the wine blogging community.

Parker’s essay, “In Vino Veritas – The 2008 Red Bordeaux” begins:

“While heading to Bordeaux for my first look at the 2008 vintage, I was worried that at best, quality would be average to above average. …I wondered what the point was of putting my nose to the grindstone for 10-12 hours a day for ten long days, not to mention the enormous expense involved in travel, lodging, transportation, etc. Would this be 10 days wasted tasting an unexciting as well as unsaleable vintage? …When I was in the Rhône Valley in early September, several French newspapers came out with stories about the deplorable quality of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. These pre-harvest reports resonated in other areas of the world press, as well as on those notorious blogs that can be authored by anybody who can string a noun and verb together, and by many who can’t. …as I have learned for the last thirty years, you taste and judge with an open mind.”

Notorious?  I didn’t know we had that kind of clout, to be honest.  Let’s read on…

“It did not take me long to realize that the 2008 vintage was dramatically better than I had expected… When you look at all the facts (not the rumor-mongering from irresponsible bloggers), it seems clear that after the vinifications were done in late October and early November, something excellent had been produced… So why has the quality of the 2008 vintage turned out to be excellent?… The facts, not second-hand reports or rumors bereft of careful analysis, are:…”

Parker then proceeds to basically give us a weather report to explain the positive impact that the favorable climate conditions had on the 2008 red Bordeaux vintage.  That’s fine, but it doesn’t help his argument about being more reliable than rumor-mongering bloggers, since he could have called any number of Chateau there and gotten that information after harvest. Tasting, of course, is another matter, and Parker is a master at that – all the more reason why he doesn’t need to act like a jerk to bloggers when writing up his Bordeaux assessment.

But act like a jerk he has.  This was Parker’s first mention of bloggers in the Wine Advocate (so I’ve been told – I’m not a subscriber), and it happens to be wholly negative.

If I had to summarize Parker’s credibility argument in this most recent essay, it’s basically that his Bordeaux 2008 assessment is superior to those previously offered in the French press or by the unnamed notorious bloggers, because:

  • He works hard, grueling hours tasting top-end Bordeaux, at his own expense
  • He actually goes to Bordeaux to try the finished product firsthand, and doesn’t make a premature assessment based on regional vintage weather reports
  • He concentrates on facts and not upon rumors
  • He’s been at this for 30 years (presumably longer than almost anyone else)
  • He has made his assessment in the most objective way that he knows how, without the influence of any outside factors

And he’d be right, except for the slight problem that his statement about the misinformation spread by blogs is almost comically illogical.

  1. Logically, it doesn’t follow that Parker’s assessments are immune from influence – whether it be positive OR negative – by the hype that was proffered by the French media and, supposedly, the unnamed wine bloggers. He admits this in the very first paragraph. In essence, Parker is saying that after being influenced by the reports of the French media and wine bloggers, he then was able to impartially and objectively assess the 2008 Bordeaux vintage without their influence.WTF?? That’s like saying that after getting on the elevator, you were able to get to the 120th floor without getting on the elevator. It simply makes no sense.  It follows then that it’s at least possible that Parker tasted without a truly open mind, with his expectations so low as to make the vintage seem superior.
  2. It also doesn’t follow logically that he would cite the non-non-influence of bloggers and the French wine media as being irresponsible and second-hand, while he offers a second-hand synopsis of their assessment of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Quoting the offending media would have resolved that, but he doesn’t do that here. So by lambasting those that offer second-hand information on the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, he makes the case for his own credibility in assessing the vintage by offering second-hand information himself? WTF? Now I’m really confused.

Parker should have just stuck to the fact that he has been at it for 30 years, spent a lot of money and time, and gave his analysis. Simple, credible, perfect. Instead, he undermines all of that great work by dragging bloggers and the French media through the mud, totally unnecessarily.

Why would someone like Parker do that?

There is a logical explanation to that one.

One option is that he wants to offer up a good old fashioned “I told you so.” I can respect that, actually, even if I cringe at the way that it was done.  But there’s another explanation.

Maybe Parker notices the growing influence of blogging and alternative media on the wine industry. He may not like it, but it’s clearly influencing things, including him. Why else even bother mentioning it in the Wine Advocate?

The worst part about all of this is that most wine bloggers and wine drinkers don’t give a shit about Bordeaux ratings, they aren’t collectors, and they want to drink great wine at good prices without waiting 30+ years. Great Bordeaux is an amazing experience, deserving of deep coverage, but Parker’s eating away at his own credibility this time around by lashing out at the blogging community without any compelling reasong to do so.  It’s as if he’s getting spooked by the shadows of newcomers, of spirits that he thinks are in his pursuit but in reality aren’t even chasing him, who don’t read The Wine Advocate, wouldn’t read the Wine Advocate even if there weren’t any wine bloggers, and who don’t care at all about the prices of 2008 Bordeaux wines because they’re already too fucking expensive anyway.

I hope Parker is making himself feel better by dragging blogging through the mud, because there’s precious little other value involved in doing so.

Most of the bloggers that he is lambasting in the Wine Advocate likely won’t ever read his words, anyway.

On second thought, maybe he does have something to be concerned about after all.

Cheers!

(images: tripadvisor.com, slate.com)

What They Got Wrong (Seeing Red in Long Island Wine Country)

Vinted on May 6, 2009 binned in best of, commentary, on the road, wine tasting

The best statement about what to do – and what not to do – to make and promote fine wine in Long Island comes from the LI wines themselves – and it’s a different story than the one that its winemakers are telling.

Before we get into what’s wrong with the current state of Long Island fine wine, we should talk about what’s right about it – which turns out to be quite a bit, based on my experience tasting and talking with several of the area’s best winemakers over the course of two and half days there as part of the first wine bloggers’ TasteCamp East event.

The Where

To say that Long Island has the potential to make fine wine is to offer a textbook definition of the phrase “gross understatement.” Long Island’s Maritime climate tempers the harshness of the Summers and Winters that can, at their worst, besiege the inland winemaking areas to the immediate west.  It’s best sites are built on top of sandy subsoil, similar to Right Bank Bordeaux, making even nearly imperceptible differences in elevation vitally important in terms of the drainage and aspect needed to develop concentrated, ripe fruit on the vine.  In other words, LI has better potential than just about anywhere else on the East Coast to consistently achieve the ripeness that is essential to making fine wine.

Long Island also has Burgundy-like weather variations – as Joe Macari, the North Fork’s tireless promoter of all things organic and biodynamic, told us, “It’s probably just as hard to grow grapes here as it is in Burgundy – harder, even.”  This makes ripening grapes maddening in difficult conditions, and also means that, like Burgundy, vintage variations have a larger impact on wine quality than in warmer regions like the Left Coast.  It also makes the results in the final wine more rewarding – even if an obscene amount of fruit needs to be rejected in the process.

The How

There’s no question where the muse for Long Island wine originates, and it’s not the lushness of California wines.  Just about everyone making wine in LI is looking to the East – specifically, France. The ghost of France is inescapable here, and it haunts most aspects of Long Island winemaking.

“I’m not ashamed to say it,” Richard Pisacano, the amicable and quietly passionate force behind the North Fork’s Roanoke vineyards, told me when I asked him where he looks for his winemaking benchmark.  “It’s France, and Bordeaux.  I use their clones.  I use their barrels.  The wines are unfined and unfiltered, with extended maceration.”  In other words, he uses their modern techniques as well.  After visiting Margaux in 2000 to taste their wines in their natural French habitat, “I just wanted to go home and cry,” he said.

Modeling after the French seems to make sense, given the (burgeoning) terroir in LI, and it permeates the wine-making philosophies of almost all of the wineries in both the North Fork and the Hamptons to the south. The favorite word of Eric Frye (Lenz’s eccentric and un-quietly passionate winemaker), based on my few hours sampling his finished – and his fermenting – wines, is “Burgundian.” In the Hamptons, the warm and approachable German-bron winemaker Roman Roth has clearly modeled Wollfer’s “Premier Cru” ultra-premium Merlot on the high-end Right Bank Bordeaux offerings based on the same variety.  Even the Long Island cafe’s have a French flair.

The Who

Spending time with Macari. Roth, Piscano, Fry, or the charming folks at the helm of Shinn is a lesson in Long Island terroir and winemaking, all of them being different in terms of detailed approach, but identical in terms of a shared passion to collectively and collaboratively improve Long Island wine. There is mock competition between the North Fork and the Hamptons (in my view, Hamptons is currently in the lead), but there is great camaraderie as well between the producers.  Put another way, you are unlikely to find any winemakers in LI who don’t care deeply about their region, and their wines.

What Is Wrong.

Now that we’ve established that the Where, the How, and the Who seem to all be dead-on correct in the world of Long Island wine, we can talk about the What, which might be the only aspect that isn’t right.

Long Island is extremely fond of its Merlot, to the point that they brought together five of the region’s wineries to make a collective offering called Merliance (rhymes with alliance, though Francophilia runs so deep here that some of its members pronounce it as mer-lee-AHNZ, as if it were based in France).  But just because you’ve got sandy subsoil, doesn’t make you Pomerol, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should be charging Pomerol-like prices.  It might be precisely this Bordeaux Merlot love-affair that is holding Long Island back from its true winemaking destiny.

Russell Hearn, the Australian-born Pellegrini winemaker, described the Merliance initiative like this:

“The goal isn’t to make the best Long Island wine – that was never the goal, nor will it ever be the goal – it’s to make the best representation of what Long Island wine is; not Califronia, not ‘more like Europe,’ but like Long Island.”

The sentiment is dead-on, but the trouble is that it might not be quite true that Merlot is the quintessential Long Island wine offering – at least, the wines themselves are giving a different story about the future of Long Island’s terroir than the one many of its winemakers are telling.

The best reds in Long Island are enchanting, and ridiculously expensive even in poor vintages, where they might better be described as ‘Under/Over’ (Under-ripe & Over-priced).  The consistent quality comes from the area’s whites, which can run the gamut from racy and laser-focused, with downright beguiling ripe fruit aromas anchored by svelte minerality and food-worthy acidity, to all-out oaked fruit bombs that dial up the aromas, the acidity, and the structure for long-haul aging.  And they don’t need ultra-ripe landmark vintages, like 2007, to achieve high-quality in their whites.

The trouble is not that Merlot doesn’t offer great potential here – it’s that it doesn’t offer the same consistent potential as their racy Chenin Blancs, or their elegant Sauvignon Blancs that combine lemongrass, mild grapefruit, and mouth-watering acids in near-perfect balance. In terms of reds, their superb and spicy Cabernet Francs will likely offer more consistent quality year-on-year than chasing after the sublime ripe red fruits of Right Bank Bordeaux ever will (not that the Hanmptons aren’t coming close). [ Thanks to Lenn Thompson over at Lenndevours.com for rightly pointing out that my snapshot of LI wines was not deep enough to fully support this last statement. ]

In that way, Long Isalnd’s terroir future seems to have more in common with The Loire and Northern Italy than it does Burgundy and Bordeaux. Only Christopher Tracy, the celebrated former chef and now Master of Wine candidate winemaker at Channing’s Daughters Winery, seems to really embrace this.

It’s hard not to like Tracy.  He’s energetic, anchored, and at ease when talking about his wines, and despite being a walking fountain of SWE and WSET wine geekdom, he is approachable and down-to-earth.  He’s also not chasing after points/ratings (Channing’s itDaughters wines are not sent out for reviews), which means that he has the freedom – and the ability – to experiment.  And experimentation is exactly what Long Island needs to find its true terroir expression.  A a result, his whites are outstanding.

Tracy’s model?  Northern Italy’s Fruili.

It’s not that Fruili, the Loire, and Long Island share the same weather and terroir – they don’t.  It’s that their wines, at their best, share the same unique balance of ripe, linear fruit, elegance, and racing acidity.  The best wines of LI are telling us something about their highest potential, and they’re not speaking with Bordelaise or Burgundians accents.

If offering very good wine at increasing price-points is Long Island’s ultimate goal, then they need do nothing, and can happily continue their near-obsession with Right Bank Bordeaux wines made via Burgundian viniculture techniques.  But if the goal is to offer the best-quality wines possible, with a pure representation of unique place, transferred faithfully from vine to glass, then Long Island may need to stop seeing so much red.

Cheers!

(images: 1WineDude)

Hungover in Boston’s South Station, Speaking with Greek Gods (or “Twitter Taste Live: The Aftermath”)

Vinted on April 20, 2009 binned in 1WD LIVE, best of, on the road, twitter taste live

“When our weary world was young

the Struggle of the Ancients

first began;

The Gods of Love and Reason

sought alone to rule the Fate of Man”

- Neil Peart, from Hemispheres

I am in the throes of TTL Aftermath.

Put another way, I’m extremely hungover from co-hosting the latest Twitter Taste Live event – the largest of its kind, ever – the kind of hungover that makes you mutter curse words aloud at the random air molecules that are causing you physical pain as they bounce off your head.

Actually, the air molecules aren’t so much bouncing as they are attacking, with extreme prejudice, using some sort of especially violent molecular kung-fu.

It’s the kind of pain that is somewhat abated by a) sleeping in until the hotel forces you to checkout, then b) spending a few hours walking the Wharf in Boston to take in the harbor air (and take advantage of Boston’s Spring, which is nearly an entire day-and-a-half in length).  I wore my Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XLIII Champions t-shirt, just in case anyone mistook me for a despondent Patriots fan.

By most accounts, the TTL event (which took place Friday across three time zones, and featured wines from Hospice du Rhone producers) was a big success.  We had what seemed (to me, at least) to be a relatively small but passionate contingent participating in the East Coast portion of the event.  On the Right Coast we had a sort-of battle between Aussie and California producers, but the clear winner was not terroir but the white Rhone varieties themselves – our participants enjoyed the white wines that bookended the on-line tasting: Rutherglen’s extremely well-balanced Marsanne / Viognier blend (“The Alliance”) and the honeysucke-sweet Le Vol Des Anges, a late-harvest Roussanne dessert wine from Bonny Doon.  I think the East Coasters were able to try something new, and open up their wine worlds just a teeny-tiny bit.

The Second Glass (who were thoughtful – and probably over-busy – enough not to mention that I am long, long overdue on my writing assignment for them) really knows how to throw a top-notch event, and Wine Riot! was a great time.  I’m finding myself a bit sad at the prospect of missing the second night of the Riot – my liver, however, is extremely pleased that I’m homeward bound).

While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I was inwardly torn the entire night (I also struggled to behave myself on twitter as my tweets were being broadcast on projectors throughout the event location).

I’m a very social animal, and I’m a recovering chronic multi-tasker, so I try very hard to concentrate on the moment and not try to have too many things going on at once.  Co-hosting a Twitter Taste Live event is the equivalent of me falling off of that wagon.  The TTL events are frenetic, and it’s tough keeping up with the influx of information coming in from the stream twitterati comments (which are more often than not fantastic and energizing, so I don’t want to miss them).  Throw in a near-constant stream of friendly and buzzed Bostonians who are coming to check out TTL, media types who are asking you and your posse for interviews (I did take part in one which was filmed, and will try to get a link out to that when/if I get one sent to me), hanging with the generous and excellent guys behind TTL (Craig and Chris) and trying to catch up with other bloggers (like uber-consumer Rob Dwyer and the uber-funny Dale Cruse)… well, it’s just a recipe for Dude Brain Meltdown.

My natural inclination is to engage with the people physically in front of me, and so the TTL stream likely suffered from lack of my full attention in co-hosting.  As soon as the TTL event drew towards a logical close, I had to shut down the netbook and get my social-butterfly groove on (at the expense of my social networking groove).

My fear is that, during the time when both streams were full-on, my lack of ability to effectively balance them caused both the on-line and off-line events to suffer, in “Jack of all trades, master of none” fashion.  This has potential negative impacts on both my on- and off-line lives, of course: in these situations, should we potentially piss-off the people who are right in front of us by appearing aloof and anti-social, or potentially piss-off the contingent of on-line participants who are expecting us to converse with them, hopefully uninterrupted, in a unique shared experience in real-time?

F**k!

In my increasingly-inebriated state, I imagined the ancient Greek gods battling over topic of where my attentions (and intentions) should lie:

Apollo – God of Reason, Logic, Lunar landing vehicles, & General Level-Headedness
Dionysius – God of Love, Wine, & Aggressive Social Palm-Pressing

“Joe, this is not going well.  Despite the fact that you want to talk to the people that are physically in front of you, you have a duty to co-host and interact with the on-line TTL participants.”

“Don’t listen to that guy.  You’re here in Boston, you should enjoy yourself.  Did you see all of those booth babes?  There must be a thousand bottles of wine up in this joint. Here – take another sip…”

“Once again, Dionysius you show why he cannot be trusted to give Joe proper discourse. Joe, you must keep your countenance and abilities lest you drunk-tweet and damage your on-line brand image!”

“Countenance?  Brand image?  What planet is this dork from, anyway?  Jeez, did you see how tight the shirt was on that girl who wanted to talk to you?  Are you drunk yet?”

“I should come to expect such blinkered, juvenile and puerile attacks from you, Dionysius.  And it’s clear that… wait a second, did you just give me the finger?!??  You a—hole!!!”

“You wanna piece of me, Logic Boy? Come an’ get it!  Or should we just sit here and wait for us to all die while you prattle on with yer analysis-paralysis?   Hey, let go of my tunic, d—khead!!!”

    

 

What does it take to make these guys just shut up already ?!??

Anyway, I’m really, really hoping that I did you all (both on- and off-line) better than that in how I handled things Friday evening.

And I’m also really, really hoping that I won’t need medication for hearing the voices of battling ancient Greek deities in my head when I’m drinking.

If you’ve got advice for a former chronic multi-tasker on how to handle these sort of conflicts, I’d love to hear it, because I’m not sure that I participated in either the on-line or the off-line as well as I would have liked.  In fact, I’m am sure that I didn’t participate in either as well as I would’ve liked.

I’d love to blame the booze (and let’s face it, the TTL Grenache-based selections were whoppers and approached Port-like abv levels) but for me the struggle began long before the high-alcohol Rhone varietal buzz kicked in.

At the very least, I had a great time.  And as Ricky Nelson once said, “you can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself…”

Cheers!

(images: 1WineDude, pantheon.org, mythencyclopedia.com)

Pennsylvania Repeals Prohibition!

Vinted on April 1, 2009 binned in best of, Inebriated Press, pennsylvania, PLCB

Associated Grape Press (ha-ha… get it?)

In a stunning and bizarre turn of events today, Pennsylvania has repealed Prohibition, thus ending years of tyrannical and strict governance over the sale and distribution of alcohol within the Commonwealth.

Upon reports of the repeal, elated Pennsylvanians stormed the Harrisburg, PA offices of the state-run monopoly Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), dismantling the building and retaining small pieces of its edifice to keep as mementos of the historic occasion.  A confused and inebriated State Governor Ed Rendell, believing the events to be related to an Eagles football pep rally, attempted to lead the crowd in a rendition of Eagles fight song “Fly Eagles Fly” before vomiting on himself, and then passing out.

At the state borders, heart-rending and tearful reunions between state residents and their beloved bottles of previously unavailable wine took place, as both were finally free to legally cross state lines without fear of incarceration or retribution.

The repeal was the result of a strange cascade of events in which the increasingly complicated rules and laws protecting the PLCB imploded in on themselves.

As former PLCB CEO Joe Conti explained, “Well, we thought that we’d try to continue our balladromic move towards making the PLCB and the state of Pennsylvania a Communist institution.  To that end, we realized that the PLCB actually belonged to the People of the Commonwealth, so naturally we turned control of the PLCB over to the People, in order to completely fulfill the Communist manifesto.  Quite simle, really.”

Once the Commonwealth’s citizens were informed that they now controlled the PLCB, they promptly disbanded the institution, thus ending nearly 90 years of monopolized alcohol control in the state.

When asked what he would do now that the PLCB had been disbanded, former CEO Conti replied, “Well, I guess I’ll have a drink.  There’s a sweet Oregon Pinot I’ve been dying to try, but until now the PLCB laws had made it too expensive for them to sell here…”

Govenor Ed Rendell was understandably unavailable for comment…

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