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Results Of The 2013 Wines Of Portugal Challenge

Last month, I was one of the International judges in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, an annual event that was recently opened up to include wine-type-folks from outside of Portugal in the judging pool.

The results of that competition have just been published, and as their guest (okay, okay, and to make up a bit for hammering them about our butt-numbing trip to the Dão), I thought I’d share the results of the competition with you. Only, it will be 1WD style, so prepare for the opinionated and somewhat freakish.

I’m happy to report that the competition was both fun and well-run, apart from having to reuse stemware (and the tendency of some of my amiable panel-mates to fall into native Portuguese when discussing the results of each wine, which meant that in some cases I only understood that they were arguing – or agreeing – about a wine’s relative merits). I’m not so happy to report that the Portuguese still seem hell-bent on pushing Touriga Nacional as their flagship red wine grape, despite the fairly well-accepted notions that a) the TN wines, while potentially excellent and long-lived, are acquired tastes and are largely inferior to their blended counterparts, and b) Dão and Douro are a lot easier to pronounce for most English-speakers. Just sayin’.

Since many of you have no visibility into how these competitions work, I should share that no two wine competitions are run identically (at least not in my growing experience with them), and in this case our panel consisted of a couple of international judges (duh), and mostly folks from the Portuguese wine industry (Port, Madeira, etc.), headed up by a Portuguese winemaker as our panel chief (charged with keeping us all in line).

We tasted all of the wines blind, and then inputted our opinions electronically into a PC via drop-down boxes for various categories of evaluation (one of which, confusingly, was typicity, even though we tasted blind and weren’t told what we were evaluating). The drop-down choices translated in the system as numeric scores, which then translated into a medal (gold, silver, bronze, or no award).

I hated this system…

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Lopez de Heredia Not-So-Recent Recent Releases

Vinted on June 6, 2013 binned in kick-ass wines, wine review

Ideally, this article would begin with a preamble about visiting the historic property at Rioja’s R. Lopez de Heredia, telling you about how I ran my hands through the cobwebs and dust covering the old bottles in their “Cemetery” cellar museum, strolling in the half-light through the corridors of barrels in the late-1800s El Calado Cellar, finally taking in the sunset at the Viña Tondonia vineyards on the river Ebro.

But none of that has ever happened, so I’d be lying about all of it (unless you don’t count dreams as lying as a matter of technicality).

R. Lopez de Heredia remains the most iconic producer I’ve not visited while touring a wine region. The fact that I made it to Rioja and didn’t sneak away to see these guys is something that will haunt my days until I return there, and is a serious contender for number one on the list of reasons why I suck and should be destroyed.

While it wasn’t on the itinerary during my jaunt to Rioja last year, I did manage to order and drink the stuff that Heredia churns out every chance that I could get as we tapas-crawled our way through the narrow streets of the older towns there. And that’s because Heredia, along with La Rioja Alta, S.A. (which I did happen to visit), remains the class of act of Rioja, having established their vineyards in the early 1900s and progressively kicking higher and higher volumes of ass in the ensuing decades.

Now, this is the part in the feature where I’m supposed to tell you some history about Heredia, sprinkled with a few quotes from their winemaking or vineyard staff, setting the scene for the tasting notes on the wines that will follow. But we already know that I haven’t been to the place, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to regurgitate a bunch of text on their history that you could easily go and read on their website (hey, since you’re here reading this we can safely presume that you already know how to use the Internet, right?).

Instead, I will tell you that the time between when I received these Heredia samples – a ten day minimum that I normally wait before opening any wines, in order to allow the wines to recover from any shipping-induced bottle shock – and when I opened them can best be described as bitter, gnashing-of-teeth agony. And that all you really need to know about Heredia’s approach to making wine is that the white and red they sent me are just under ten and twenty years old, respectively, and are the current releases

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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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