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Kick-ass Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 16

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PR Jonesin’ And The Temple Of Parker Scores (Adventures In Wine Tasting At Chile’s Errazuriz)

Quick quiz for you: How many times can you listen to a winery’s PR guy mention Robert Parker scores before you want to shove wine barrel bungs into your ears to drown out all sound?

For me, the answer is “somewhere around 25 times,” which is about the amount I endured in the impressive underground barrel storage area of Errazuriz during my recent visit to Chile. I certainly don’t blame their PR for dousing me with the Robert Parker score hose during my visit – Errazuriz are clearly (and justifiably) proud of the accolades that their wines have received; they’ve been at the production of high-end, “icon” wines longer than just about anybody else in Chile, after all.  But… what I had a difficult time with was the relentlessness with which that stream of scores was trained at my poor, unsuspecting ears.

God knows I don’t hate Parker, and I don’t hate wine scores (I find them very limiting, and rife for misuse, but don’t hate them).  While I find Parker’s palate prefers wines that, to me, come off a bit on the brutish side (and quite a few of Errazuriz’s releases fall into that category), I’m sure plenty of people who like the higher-scoring Parker selections likely find my highly-rated selections on the tepid, shy side.

All further proof that you owe it to yourself to learn your own taste preferences before following the advice of critics too closely, I suppose.

Anyway… back to the cellar of PR pain…

I actually tried to derail said PR person by mentioning (when we were discussing Bordeaux wine prices versus those of Chile’s finest reds) that I’d interviewed Parker fairly recently.  I figured what the hell, maybe telling him I’d had contact with Parker would at least change the context of the current discussion about Parker.  Nope – that tactic had about the same effect as trying to stop a charging elephant with a grade-school-classroom-grade spitball.  So I turned it into a learning opportunity, and the lesson was this:

Reciting a litany of wine scores isn’t really marketing!

It wasn’t helping the oppressive vibe any that day that the icon winery at Errazuriz is impressively imposing in its starkness, or that the barrel rooms have brick and calcareous rock that measures up to two and a half inches thick in some places – while good for withstanding Chile’s earthquakes, the whole thing came off as being a bit too overwhelming, and it all felt just a tad old school.

Quite a marked contrast to the experience I had just a few hours earlier when visiting Errazuriz’s western vineyard location, the gorgeous Chilhue Manzanar (“seagull’s place” in Mapudungun, the language of the region’s indigenous Mapuche people) 120 km northwest of Santiago, and mere 12 km from the Pacific ocean…

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Visiting Hestan: More Money Than God, And A Pretty Tasty Cabernet, Too

The point when (or is that where… damn, I can never keep that straight) any normal person realizes that Stanley Cheng is loaded, and I mean God-calls-him-when-He-needs-a-loan loaded, probably comes pretty early during the course of meeting him; in my case, it came about ten minutes before I met him, while coasting up the lengthy, gated drive that marks the entrance to his newly-finished home and vineyard estate in the outskirts of Napa Valley.

It wasn’t the need for a security gate, the fact that he could actually afford a piece of land that spacious in Napa Valley, or even the fairy-tale mansion at the end of the drive that tipped me off to the Laurentian-abyss-level deep pockets; it turns out I’m too obtuse to pick up even those obvious clues.  In fact, at first I thought the house had to be a winery facility made up to look like a mansion, because it just seemed too big and gorgeous to really be someone’s home.

No, for me the moment came when I pulled up to the much sparser but still handsome building a little more than halfway between the gates and the mansion, thinking that it had to be Stanley’s house because it was about three times the size of my place.  Then I took a peep through the large glass doors and noticed that I wasn’t peering into an office building or a residence, but into a sort of garage / gymnasium.

That’s when it hit me that Stanley Cheng had more money than god…

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Movie Stars, Vineyard Maps And Dirty Undie Drawers: Chateau Montelena’s Winter Rebuilding Project

“You’re actually the first journalist to see this.”

Loaded words spoken to me when walking down the back staircase at Chateau Montelena to the cellar room. And they’re not just fully-packed AK-47 words because I’ve received no formal training in journalism; it’s because there’s pressure when someone trusts you enough let you take a peek into the dirty underwear drawer of a movie star.

Ok, so it’s not actually a dirty undie drawer; but it’s the equivalent, anyway, when that movie star isn’t a recognizable pretty face plastered across billboards and silver screens worldwide, but is a winery.  And make no mistake about it, Chateau Montelena is, indeed, a movie star.

The steady stream of tourists and visitors arriving right on my heels at 9AM, popping photos of the Calistoga winery’s iconic stone castle exterior was evidence enough of that, considering that your average Napa Valley wine country tourist turns around once they hit downtown St. Helena on Route 29.  If you want to visit Montelena, you have to find Montelena, and to find Montelena you have to be going slightly out of your way; you have to be looking for it.

The recently-expanded parking lot is the best evidence of Chateau Montelena’s new-found popularity – where they previously got by with space for about eleven cars, they’ve had to expand to a new lot that can accommodate several times that number. It’s all part of the strange dichotomy that seems to have defined the image of Montelena in the minds of wine lovers over last few decades: a familiar name and yet not a familiar destination.  Even though its name became etched into the consciousness of U.S. wine lovers after Chateau Montelena’s then-unknown Chardonnay bested its more celebrated French counterparts in the famed 1976 “Judgement of Paris” tasting, real fame – movie star fame – didn’t come until 2008 when the movie Bottle Shock hit the theaters, giving the `76 Paris tasting the Hollywood treatment.

Too Hollywood, as it turns out.  Ask Montelena’s assistant winemaker, Matt Crafton – who as a lanky, tall, affable, laid-back-but-knowledgeable guy seems to fit like a glove into Montelena’s NorCal culture – how accurately Bottle Shock portrayed Montelena’s history, and you get a pause, followed by a smile and an answer that says everything by hardly saying anything:

“Well… There was a Paris tasting; the Barretts did exist; we did win.”

All the rest, as they say, is basically Hollywood bullsh*t…

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No Limits, No Excuses: Trinchero Goes For Broke

As in, almost literally going for broke, because I don’t think they’re actually profitable yet.  And that’s just fine with the people footing the bills.  Sounds nuts but it will all make sense in minute. Or three…

What would you do if you went to work every day with almost no limitations? Tools, money, ideas – nothing really holding you back?

It’s a situation to which many would instantly want to switch if given the chance, but with which almost none of us can truly identify, and most likely most of us never will.  But it’s pretty much the business-as-usual case for Trinchero’s young winemaker Mario Monticelli.

That’s because Mario works for Bob Trinchero, who owns the Sutter Home empire and the guy whose family name has been tied to wine in some way/shape/form for over 100 years (Bob Trinchero was recently inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame, a choice that I like to think of as a nice little reminder that while we all like to wax poetic over the tiny fine wine market, it’s the Fres, Sycamore Lanes, and White Zinfandels of the world that really make this industry GO).  Interestingly, Trinchero’s beautiful St. Helena winemaking property has the new-kid-on-the-block, no-expenses-spared feel despite Sutter Home having about as deep a set of historical roots in the Napa Valley as any other producer along Highway 29.

“It’s a dream job,” Mario told me when I visited in February. “But it also means you have no excuses!”…

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