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(Surprising) Results Of The 2013 Critics Challenge

Late last month, I wrapped up a stint at the fourth and final wine competition in which I’d be judging in 2013, the 10th Annual Critics Challenge in (Stay Classy) San Diego.

The results of that comp. have been announced. Following are some thoughts on the Critics Challenge itself, and notes on some of the winning wines.

All hyperbole aside, I loved judging at the Critics Challenge with a passion that burns like the core of a million undiscovered stars [ Editor’s Note: not all hyperbole has been taken aside ]. And so, this might turn out to be a love letter of sorts to the CC.

The only CC cavil I’ve got is that the location, a bit outside of downtown (Stay Classy) San Diego isn’t the most convenient or picturesque of spots (unless you really enjoy close-up views of twelve-lane highways and strip malls). Otherwise, the CC is the kind of wine comp. in which almost any judge wishes he could take part: high-caliber judges who aren’t douchebags, a volunteer staff that keeps pace with any (I’ve yet encountered) worldwide, a well-organized agenda, generally very-good-to-excellent wines being entered, and a total dismissal of what has become a meaningless award given in American wine comps. (the Bronze Medal). I can’t even fault them for giving me that Petit Sirah flight, since a) many of them were good, and b) they gave us Sensodyne whitening toothpaste.

Each of the CC judges is paired up, with each pair getting a volunteer captain to coordinate logistics, and the highest medal awarded between the pair for any given wine becomes the final award chosen (predicated on the idea that if you only invite judges who know what the hell they’re doing, this system should turn out to be fair to the wines and to consumers). In what I can only conclude was a fit of insanity, head honcho Robert Whitley paired me with ThirstyGirl.com founder and all-around-awesome-girl Leslie Sbrocco; we beat the oddsmakers, though, in that neither of us was either kicked out of the comp. or arrested by the (Stay Classy) San Diego police…

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Wine Competition Myths Busted (California State Fair 2013 Commercial Wine Competition Results)

As of last week, the results of the 2013 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition have been fully revealed, and July 4th seemed an auspicious time to recap the (all American) Best of Show winners from the comp. (itself a bit of an American institution, having been established in the 1800s), and share my thoughts on my fave wine of the competition from the judge’s seat.

And now that I’ve completed my tour of the International wine judging circuit for 2013 (having lent my palate to the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards, the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, the 2013 CA State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and the 2013 Critics Challenge), this also seems like a good opportunity to confirm or bust up several wine competition myths, since wine comps. in general are once again under attack in the media as “junk science” (can anyone, anywhere, name one single soul who has ever proffered wine competition judging as an actual scientific endeavor? Because I’d like to be first in line to kick that person in the gluteus max).

First, let’s tackle the wine comp. myths, because that will go a long way in explaining why some of the wines that won Best of Show in the newly-revamped CA State Fair comp. (now headed up by my friends and long-time wine writers Mike Dunne and Rick Kushman, both of whom have done yeomen’s work in bringing new levels of both fun and professionalism to the event)…

Warning… 1800+ word screed ahead… you have been warned!…

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Because It Takes A Philly Boy To Show You Californians How To Make Syrah (Kieran Robinson Recent Releases)

Vinted on June 27, 2013 under elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

A few weeks ago I got an intriguing email from a California vintner; intriguing in that he was, he told me, originally from my neck of the woods (near Philly in Southeastern PA), and would soon be in town for a wedding. Could we get together over lunch to taste some of the wines he’d been working on (note: ending of sentence with preposition is intentional for casual effect – deal with it, grammar nerds!)?

I couldn’t say no to that one; I’ve had too much good luck with tasting wines made by now-Californians with close PA ties.

The former Philly Boy in question was Kieran Robinson, now an assistant winemaker at Jericho Canyon Vineyard in Calistoga, and who makes his own Bennett Valley Syrah under the Kieran Robinson Wines label (more on that in a minute or two). I’ve now got a bit of a soft spot for Jericho Canyon, because they are the only winery that I can recall that actually filled out my (facetious) Useless California Vintage Report Template (seriously, this has to increase their general ballsy-awesomeness quotient by at least a couple of points, right? – check out their choices).

Anyway, turns out my lucky streak has remained intact, because they guy is making excellent Syrah, the kind of wines that could get overlooked by lazier retailers and distributors, but could send wine geeks swooning.

Before we talk about the wines, we should talk about the guy, as his interesting and circuitous path to winemaking experience has done a lot, I think, to give him both the confidence (or is it insanity?) and the know-how to make Syrah with this kind of vintage- and geographic-driven expressiveness…

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Out Of The Fire, Into The Spotlight (Paso Robles Cabernet Starts Coming Of Age)

Back in 2011, I wondered (aloud, in Internet terms) if Paso Robles wines were too boozy hot.

Now, after attending (as a media guest) the 2013 Paso Robles Cab Collective’s CABs of Distinction tasting events, I’m wondering if they’re a bit too oaky. But I’m also now wondering when Paso wines will start being hailed as where smart wine geeks go to get compelling, age-worthy reds for half the price of Napa and (in some cases) Sonoma.

After backing off the push on Rhone Valley varieties a bit, and focusing on the soft tannins and consistent lush ripeness of their Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso as a region is now seeing an influx of both winemaking talent and the money needed to push for both quality and recognition. All of which means that Paso is going to be nipping with extreme prejudice at the heels of its better known Northern California winemaking neighbors.

There are many ways that this tale could be told, but I want to focus on the winemaker panel discussion that took place during the 2013 CABs (Cabernet And Bordeaux) of Distinction event, moderated by my friend Steve Heimoff, held at Windfall Farms (because that’s the part you wouldn’t have had access to, my previous feature on Paso centered on a similar winemakers panel and that just felt like too much serendipity to ignore, and finally because I am way too lazy to write short tasting notes on dozens of wines tasted later at the Grand Tasting portion of the event… sorry, okay?). The title, aptly, was “Paso Robles Cab, Its History and Future.”

The bottom line, the recurring theme, the battle cry I heard from the Paso Robles reds at the moment is this: while they lack the complexity of Northern CA’s finest, they have already achieved some of the ripeness, silkiness and aging potential. Watch out, peeps Paso Cab is now well on its way (or as Steve put in when introducing the winemaking panel: “this past year has been the tipping point in my thinking of Paso Robles wine”)…

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