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Posts Filed Under kick-ass wines

What’s Young Is Old Again (Irony In Uruguay, And Narbona’s Recent Releases)

Vinted on May 16, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

In Carmelo, about three hours drive from the bustling city of Montevideo in Uruguay, along the river that divides the country from Argentina, there exists the picturesque hamlet of Narbona, the kind of place with such  overwhelming quantities of irony that it causes story-relating fingers like mine to nearly freeze at the keyboard.

Where to begin?

It’s probably best to start with Winemaker Maria Valeria Chiola. Female winemakers aren’t exactly the norm in the relatively conservative sphere of Uruguayan winemaking, but the ironic (or maybe just surprising?) thing is not her sex, but the fact that twenty-eight year old Chiola is, at such a young age, making some of the best wine that I tasted during my travels there. And she has almost no sense whatsoever of what a powerful example she could be for the promotion of wine in Uruguay abroad, mostly because the cult of winemaker personality that dominates the fine wine media in the U.S. is pretty much non-existent in that small country (another irony).

Chiola has some pedigree, of course: her father has a winery in Canelones and she’s worked at Miner (among other places). She claims winemaking duties fall exclusively to her, an intern, and infrequent consultation with Michel Rolland (Rolland himself meets with her only twice per year). She suggested that there is healthy tension between the winemaking styles she’s after and the styles that are being pushed by the Rolland consultants.

Whatever is going on between tenderfoot winemaker and veteran consultant, much of that tension seems to be working in the wines’ favor. More on that in a minute or two, after we visit some of the other ironies dripping from the Narbona story…

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What We Drank When Shelby Left Us

Vinted on April 25, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

Last month, I had the sad duty of bidding farewell to Shelby Vittek, who most of you know as “The Young Unpaid Shelby,” the 1WD intern. Shelby’s official internship (the actually-earning-university-credits part) concluded at the end of March. Everyone in Roberts HQ has been sad to see her go, most palpably my daughter who literally hung herself around Shelby’s right leg, mockingly begging her not to leave.

Only a few weeks removed from having Shelby around to help out, and I can say that I wish I’d grabbed the other leg and begged her to stay. From cataloging samples and finally making sense out of the sample pool mess that had taken over my basement, to working directly with Google on performing the technical legwork required for setting up The Punch Down show, to performing research that made its way into several articles across all my various gigs, Shelby totally crushed it as an intern. So much so that we’re discussing opportunities to keep her on in some (hopefully paying) capacity, along with the occasional guest post.

Which is, I think, where Shelby really shone during her 1WD tenure: behind the keyboard. Her guest posts were stellar, her writing chops are impressive, and I can tell you that she’s bright when it comes to yielding knowledge of the wine world (so much so that her smarties outshine some people that I know who involved in the business and are twice her age).

All of which is another way of saying that if you’re in the biz and are reading this, you ought to seriously consider this young woman if you’ve got a job opening requiring great communication skills combined with practical wine knowledge and a drive to continuously improve on both.

Now that I’ve given you my commercial for Shelby’s professional value-add, we can talk about the fun stuff: namely, wines that she picked to serve during her send-off dinner…

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Hourglass Recent Releases (Or, “Reports Of Napa’s Vintage From Hell Might Be Overblown”)

Vinted on January 24, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

I, along with a small cadre of other wine media peeps, recently got invited to one of those on-line Q&A / sample tasting thangs highlighting recent releases from high-end Napa Valley producer Hourglass (so named due to the shape of their vineyard holdings, which form part of the narrowest spots in the North-South winegrowing continuum that makes up the Valley).

Hourglass founder and Napa native Jeff Smith is a bit of a friend, and it took me a lot of prodding over dinner last year to get him to talk for even brief periods about happenings at Hourglass (and spill the beans that he would be parting ways with longtime consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade / Plumpjack alumnus Anthony Biagi).

I figured that I owed Jeff one from that dinner, and hadn’t done an on-line tasting in a while, so I thought, “what the hell, send me the half-bottle samples and let’s do this; also, Mrs. Dudette gets all googley-eyed when expensive reds show up at the door.” Of course, it’s always fun to watch winemakers and proprietors that you know personally grapple with the uncomfortable scenario of being left alone to fend for themselves live on camera (in this case, they fared pretty well, actually). And at the very least, I figured it would be a chance to see what Biagi did with the blends, and get a feel for how much negative impact the touted-as-epically-horrendous 2010 Napa vintage actually had.

If the 2010 Hourglass releases are any indication, turns out the answer to the question of how much gloom-and-doom is to be expected from Napa’s 2010 vintage is “not that much…”

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Churchill’s Vintage Port Recent (And Not So Recent) Releases

“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
– Johnny Graham

As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.

The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).

Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).

Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the  list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…

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