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“The elves are dressed in leather
And the angels are in chains
The sugar plums are rancid
And the stockings are in flames!”
– from “Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap
Amidst the elite wine world personalities, there are a handful of famous names that hate the modern style of California wines. Actually, “hate” is a strong word. But hate them they do. They consider these wines almost evil, as if they were the tool (or at least the preferred quaffs) of Satan himself.
As for me, I am not among them (neither an elite famous wine personality, nor a hater of big, bold CA wines).
God knows that I’ve got no issue with a wine “fruit bomb,” provided that big, bold, and powerfully alcoholic is the best expression of that winery’s fruit. What I don’t like is when wines are busty for the sake of the almighty dollar (as in, forgoing an expression of terroir and / or style to instead chase after the palates of a few wine critics, whose increased scores can mean a price point increase of 30% or more per bottle on the wine market). Homogenization is a perversion of this style of wine marketing. But it’s not the fault of this style of winemaking in and of itself.
So, for the 2008 Christmas dinner at Chateau Dude, I decided to raid the sample shipping boxes for the biggest, boldest CA wines to pair with grilled lobster tail, bison steak, and various cuts of Angus beef (all expertly prepared by my brother-in-law).
Franciscan’s 2006 Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay (Carneros, about $40), and a 2005 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Reserve (where else… Napa, about $140).
The story behind The Franciscan (does anyone else think that name sounds like a potential Monty Python skit?): 15 months sur lie in 100% new oak, fermented with wild yeasts using 15-20% of the barrel wines, 14.5% abv; various 90+ point ratings ensued.
The Mondavi? 18 months in 100% new French oak, hand harvested & sorted, a tiny amount (5%) of Cabernet Franc thrown in, 15% abv; 90+ point reviews ensued.
You get the picture. Christmas with The Devil, I thought.
The Franciscan (I just love how that sounds) was the more unabashedly Californian. It doesn’t get much bigger than this, it’s a wine that struts it’s stuff. There is so much vanilla and oak, I actually picked up a hint of cream soda-pop among the citrus, apple, and even banana (banana cream pie, anyone?). What rescues this potent beast from potenital oak hell is the acidity – for CA, the acidity is downright racy. Yes, it pairs amazingly well with grilled lobster. I’m not sure what else it would pair well with, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not gonna go so far as to call it a “triumph of viticulture and winemaking.”
As expected, the Mondavi was a killer match with steak. I decanted this puppy for nearly four hours before serving it. At first, coming out of the decanter, it was all black cherry compote – and I mean, spread-it-over-toast first-thing-in-the-morning compote. With time in the glass, things got decidely more complex: figs, plum, red currant, hints of cedar, a little olive. The finish carried quality fruit and spice and was more than respectibly long. I really felt as though it needed abotu six years in the bottle to really integrate, and I didn’t find the high abv too overpowering.
These are both very good wines. Whether or not they’re worth the price is a discussion I leave up to you (more on my take on paying for the cache factor of CA wines can be found in my recent articles about Opus One).
The problem is not that wines like these are being made. The problem is that too many wines like these that shouldn’t be made are being made.
If there’s something to hate here, it’s not the original CA blockbusters – it’s the greedy drive of copycat wineries the world over chasing after a buck, forgoing the individuality of their vineyard sites and the best quality of their fruit. We can and should challenge those wineries to do better; if we end up with the ubiquity of the ‘Bic Mac’ of wines, then I have truly seen The Devil, and The Devil is us!
Anyway, let’s fire up that grill, shall we?
(images: spinaltapfan.com, 1WineDude.com)
Looks like the staff over at Mutineer Magazine has given 1WineDude.com a Christmas present and included 1WD in their list of Blogs You Should Be Reading (in December/January Issue #3)!
Some of you may recall that I wrote about Mutineer Magazine back in August in my post about Wine Mags that are Worth Reading, in which I called them the most promising up & comer mag: “Is it smarmy? Sure, it’s smarmy, in the same way that MAXIM is a bit too pleased with itself – a style appreciated most by 20-somethings who don’t know any better, but also appealing to 30-somethings who do know better, but don’t care anyway and can therefore appreciate the small touches of irony sprinkled throughout the articles.“
I’m happy to report that Mutineer is still going strong and appears to be unabashedly flying the youthful flag of new wine media and trying its best to live up to its namesake. I enjoyed Issue #3 (still a little smarmy, and still using a bit too much of the first-person perspective, but undoubtedly entertaining), and found it’s varied content to be held together coherently by the theme of bringing fine drinks back to the masses (laid out in more detail in one of their December blog posts by Co-Editor in Chief Alan Kropf).
They also talk about some guy from NJ, and what blogs like his mean in terms of the impact of “new media” on the wine industry. Whatever (just kidding, GV).
From this issue’s Letter from the Editors:
“What [Gary] Vaynerchuk represents is the potential of the growing efforts in new beverage media, yet these efforts remain largely ignored by mainstream beverage print media, which often seem more interested in becoming wine culture than covering it. These new media endeavors are achieving something never before realized in fine beverage, they are arming consumers with the knowledge and confidence to not have to rely on numerical ratings to replace actual understanding, which some of the largest print publications rely on for achieving any kind of relevance… The good news is that the Internet has leveled the playing field to the point where these publications’ lack of vision and connection with the culture they supposedly serve will be their own downfall, and through this failure will arise a new kind of fine beverage communication and culture.”
If I have a complaint, it’s that they listed my blog as launching in October 2008 (I wish!). Also, I was hoping for a goofier picture of me to be used for the article…
Anyway, thanks to Mutineer for the luv!
I advise you to taste wine like a Pro – a Pro at living, that is.
I was reading a nice little article about the Art of Living, by lifehack.org’s Dustin Wax, and it struck me that two of Dustin’s guidelines (“Pay Attention” and “Be Appreciative“) are applicable to wine appreciation as well as being a useful as a general approach to living.
Too many people that I meet either a) don’t give a sh*t about how to taste wine (i.e., they guzzle it) or b) are petrified that they are tasting wine the “wrong” way.
Neither approach will give you much true enjoyment when it comes to tasting wine.
These approaches both misuse the mechanics of wine tasting. You know the ones I’m talking about – Look, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Spit – they’re available all over the ‘net.
The mechanics are important, but they will no more help you to taste artfully than knowing how to hold a paintbrush will teach you how to express yourself through painting.
Really tasting wine is a bit of an art that is built upon the fundamentals of those mechanics. And it’s really no more difficult to taste artfully than it is to live artfully. The art of tasting really does come down to tasting with Attention and Gratitude.
- Attention is simply being mindful of the wine in the glass. Every wine, even total plonk, is trying to tell you something. You need only “listen” to it, giving it as much natural concentration and focus as you can (even if this is only a few good seconds of real concentration). Connect with that glass of wine. Merge with it, give it a moment where it’s just the two of you in all the universe.
- Gratitude is just that – be grateful for the moment you have with that wine. If it helps, tell it “thank you” (I’m not kidding). If you thank everything in your day to day life (even red lights!), you will be amazed at how your outlook starts to shift.
Attention & Gratitude – two great tastes that taste great together, at least when it comes to tasting wine. Try them out, and put a little art into your next wine & cheese party this holiday.
(images: flickr.com: jimmy-joe, cryptography.org )
Related 1WD articles you might enjoy:
Well, not worth it to me, anyway.
But before we get into the concept of wine cellar management and its possible relative worth to you, we need to talk about the related but different topics of Wine Storage and Tasting Notes.
These are not the same things as managing your wine cellar.
Wine Storage: K.I.S.S. (Keep is Simple, Suckah!)
Most of us aren’t planning on aging classified growth Bordeaux for 15 to 20 years. We’ve got wine that we plan on drinking in the next week, month, or year or two. This doesn’t require a long, drawn-out treatise and list of rules for storing all of those new bottles of vino you’ll hopefully be getting as holiday gifts.
Just follow a few simple tenants and you (and your wine) should be golden:
- Minimize exposure to light, heat, and vibration (get the wine off the top of the fridge, STAT!), and don’t store the wine in direct sunlight.
- Try to find the place in your home that has the least year-round temperature variation (you want the temperature to increase/decrease gradually, not spike up or down).
- Avoid areas that are too cold (under 50 degrees F) or too hot (over 70 F).
- Go for an area that allows you to store the wine on its side to keep the cork moist.
Tasting Notes: You need to take then. Yes, even you.
- If you want to up your Wine IQ, you have to take tasting notes. Tasting notes are essential to help you understand what you like (and, just as importantly, what you don’t like) in wine.
- You can make this as complex or as simple as you like, but I’d advise starting easy – easy as in Pen & Paper version 1.0. A small and portable notebook and a trusty pen are all you really need for this to get started.
As your budding wine collection grows, you will be tempted by all manner of progressively more sophisticated and complex offerings for both your wine storage and your tasting notes. Now we get into the strange and expensive world of Wine Cellar Management…
I don’t manage my wine cellar. In fact, it could be argued that my cellar manages me sometimes. OK, most of the time. Anyway, here are the reasons why I don’t actively manage my wine cellar:
- I’m cheap.
Hey, the economy is in the crapper – who’s got massive spare change set aside for an annexed basement room with mahogany wine racks, custom humidity controls, and designer lighting? Not me, baby. Custom wine cellars are massively expensive, and you probably don’t need one anyway.
My cellar has cheap IKEA wine racks to hold the bottles that aren’t still in their shipping boxes. In fact, one of my racks is leaning precariously ever more to the right, and I’ve yet to fix it. Wine cellar management solutions are also getting more and more expensive, especially the software versions – this is in part because in order for these to be useful, they need to pull from large databases of wine entries.
The point here is to ask yourself this: Do you spend any real quality time in the area where you store your wine? I don’t – so I’d much rather put my money into the wine itself, not into its storage or management.
- Many collectors and experts don’t manage their cellars, either.
I offer by way of example RUSH front man Geddy Lee, who not only plays kick-ass bass and is still writing rocking tunes well into his 50s, but also has a massive underground cellar (he’s partial to Burgundy and cru Beaujolais), housing thousands of wine bottles in his Toronto home. What method does Geddy, as an avid collector, use to track his wine?
If you feel compelled to track your wine purchases and tasting notes using some sort of managed system, I recommend going for one of the free solutions available on the web. This approach has the benefit of keeping a history of you wine adventures, and allows you to interact with dozens or even hundreds of other wine lovers who might be trying some of the same wines as you.
- If you get your wine from many sources, then it’s hard to beat CellarTracker.com– it’s free, and has over 65 thousand users who have logged nearly 11 million bottles of wine.
- If you source your wine primarily from one of the many great on-line wine clubs (check out the sidebar on the right for links to a few of these), then I’d recommend using their websites to track your tastings and stored wine bottles. Most of the on-line wine club websites have this option, along with social-networking features to let you share your tasting notes and comments with other club members.
I wish you many hassle-free hours of not really managing your cellar, but better managing and increasing your enjoyment of wine. And, of course, many more KISS and RUSH references!
(images: epicurious.blogs.com, kissonline.com, musicintheabstract.org)