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The Other Side Of Oz (Beechworth’s Small Producers And The Heart Of Bareknuckled Australian Winemaking)

Vinted on May 24, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Beechworth, a rural (even by Aussie wine region standards) area in eastern Victoria that sits just south of Rutherglen. The region was made famous by Giaconda, whose premium Chardonnays are in such high demand that they’re now offered en primeur.

But I’m not here to see Giaconda (okay, that mostly had to do with the fact that it was closed when I visited). I’m across the street, where Keppell Smith has set up shop for his Savaterre brand – and at seventeen years running, he’s just gotten around to building a modern winemaking facility. This is the other side of Oz, where handfuls of tiny producers are setting up garage-style winemaking efforts, using natural cork, and otherwise eschewing the penchants of ginormous Aussie wine conglomerates’ for squeaky-clean, screw-capped, and what many wine geeks often criticize as characterless wines.

Smith comments on what he’s trying to avoid, and his words, I come to learn later, more-or-less sum up the approach of producers throughout Beechworth: “Fuck me dead! There’s nothing worse than a ‘so what’ wine!

Ask Smith why he chose this spot to plant grapes, and his answer, similarly, will tell you everything; only this time, it’s everything about his approach to winemaking (and, I gathered, to life itself – Smith seems incapable of hiding his true feelings about anything… even by Aussie transparency standards).

“Because of this,” he says, picking up a handful of brownish, unforgiving, decomposed granite. “Because of this shitty, shitty, crappy, shitty soil!”…

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What’s In A Name, Anyway? (Recent Releases From Steven Mirassou’s Not-Quite-Family-Named Brands)

After six generations of pressing grapes in California, the Mirassou family has only one son left who owns a wine brand: Steven Mirassou.

But he can’t legally use his own name on his bottles, despite the fact that Mirassou’s have been making wine since the mid-1800s, probably longer than any other CA winemaking family. He cannot use the family name because Gallo picked up the Mirassou brand in 2003. David Mirassou now represents that brand for Gallo, but the San Jose winery where they once made their products is long gone.

The family-name-scooped-up-by-the-big-conglomerate story that seems to be rampant in the wine world (whether you’re a Mondavi in CA or a Taylor in NY) doesn’t seem to have slowed Steven Mirassou down much, though.

After setting up shop under the Steven Kent brand (which is as far as he can go legally in terms of sticking his name on the bottles) in Livermore, along with La Rochelle winemaker Tom Stutz he’s crafting some of the most stunning – and exciting – wines in all of California…

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Winners Of The DLW 2012 Colorado Wine Taste-Off (And Why CO Wine Might Already Have World-Class Potential)

The conclusion of the recent 2012 Drink Local Wine Conference in Denver was a “taste-off” competition of sorts in which twenty-plus Colorado wine producers each poured two of their offerings, with the media and attendees voting on which of those offerings were the “best” on hand (technically, one producer wasn’t pouring wine, in terms of grape wine, but showcased their Mead – Redstone Meadery, who took the “people’s choice” award for their intriguing Nectar Of The Hops).

As a competition, it was fun but given the levity and structure of the proceedings, it shouldn’t be taken as a be-all, end-all statement on CO wine hierarchy (we are talking about a competition with a quarter of the state’s producers, only pouring two wines each); but gems are gems no matter how or where you happen to uncover them.

I will get to my thoughts on the gems – the winners on the wine side of that taste-off – in just a minute (or three), but first I want to tell you about the clearest winner of the Taste-Off:

Colorado wine.

While I maintain my stance (firmly, I should add) that the region is a “nascent” producer in that Colorado has not fully cracked the code of what grapes to plant where to consistently produce world-class wines, and while the quality levels between (and even among the offerings within each of the) producers is still way too broad (there’s plenty of mediocre wine to be had), I can also tell you emphatically that there seems to be no ceiling for Colorado wine’s quality potential.

Colorado is already making world-class wines – it just happens to be in tiny quantities and can’t be made consistently enough (quite a bit of that being due to extreme vintage variation brought on by the intensity of its continental, high-elevation climate). And while you’re certainly likely to find some real clunkers in CO (its bad wines are epic in their terribleness), the best ones really are gems worth wading through the muck to unearth; in some cases – particularly in the case of one of the DLW Taste-Off winners – CO wine has already arrived

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A Champion Is Crowned: The 2012 1WD Petite Sirah Taste-Off Finals

Vinted on April 12, 2012 binned in kick-ass wines, wine review

In a thrilling, tightly-fought contest, the 2009 Frank Family Vineyards SJ Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah was crowned Champion of the 2012 1WineDude.com Petite Sirah Taste-Off tournament, edging out its Napa neighbor rival in the finals, the 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah.

The contest was widely dubbed “The Slapper Down In Napa” by the press, since both finalists hailed from California’s Napa Valley winemaking region.

“Wow… just… wow!” Frank Family’s violet aromas told reporters when asked about its game MVP award-winning performance during the bought. “You know, we were favored, but a lot of people maybe thought that we were too big, that the tannins and alcohol would hog the ball… but we played like a team today!” the MVP remarked as it choked back tears of joy.

Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah had been a meaty, deep and demanding wine throughout the tournament, widely agreed that it lived up to its $40 SRP ranking, and garnering a reputation as the “George Foreman” of the field of sixteen: stocky, focused and powerful.

But it wasn’t enough against the highly-ranked, slightly-favored Frank Family Vineyards PS. Punishing and also powerful – and, at times, criticized as being too flamboyant for its own good – the 2009 Frank Family displayed depth and poise and prettiness in the final round, to augment its power-forward tannin-and-grip game. Like Ali or Michael Jordan, it was just fun to watch it do its thing – and see it win it all.

Both wines insisted that that they’d be going right back to work on the current vintage.

“Win or now win, vines gotta be pruned, and eventually grapes gotta get picked – and crushed,” Frank Family Vineyards PS told reporters at the close of their post-championship press conference.

No stops in Disneyland for these two stalwarts; only a momentary pause to contemplate and appreciate a fleeting moment (or two) of glory…

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