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Merlot-Bashing Is For Douchebags (A Restrained And Tempered Report From The #PNV12 Vintage Perspective Tasting)

Vinted on March 13, 2012 binned in commentary, on the road, wine industry events, wine review

[ Editor's note: While the following article contains a serious view on - and producer recommendations regarding - recent Napa Valley Merlot vintages, it employs a facetious style that may or may not offend you, depending primarily on whether or not you posses a sense of humor. If you are easily offended and/or have misplaced your sense of humor, please take care in reading the article. Also, if you're a Merlot-hater who disagrees with anything that you find in this post, then you are wrong. And probably a jerk. Oh, crap... did I just offend you? Sorry... ]

Last year, I had a run-in with Napa Valley Pinot Noir at a multi-vintage perspective tasting held by the Napa Valley Vintners Association at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. It was… not a fun experience. In fact, it was sort of like having your palate beat up in a bar fight, with cigarette ashes poured over it for spite afterward, only slightly more dignified.

So it’s with much relief that I tell you the 2012 version of the NVV perspective tasting was substantially more pleasant, and gave me the opportunity to go through a blind tasting of three different vintages (2007, 2008 & 2009) from nine different producers. I skipped the overly-crowded Cabernet tasting entirely (hey, the Premiere Napa Valley auction was the following morning, and there’s only so much big-ass Cab I can handle in a 24-hour period) and went straight for the substantially less-well-attended tasting of that most-maligned of reds, Merlot.

After that short PNV Merlot immersion, I’m here to tell you a few things… but I want to start with this:

Merlot-bashing is for douchebags.

Seriously… over-generalizing to the point of hating on anything in the wine world is just plain stupid, because nothing contains more exceptions to prove the rules than the wine world. Hating on Merlot because a fictional character in a movie that is eight friggin’ years old (the movie, I mean, not the character… an 8-year-old bitching about wine in a major motion picture wouldn’t even be funny, it would just be weird) said that it makes sucky wine (and this is a character who actually drinks Merlot at the end of the same damn film)…? Well, that move is just so douchebaggy that we’d need to farm out design work to third-world sweat tech shops (hey Apple… are you listening??) in order to raise the manpower required to create enough instrumentation to measure the enormity of the douchbaggy-ness…

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#PNV12 Raises Hopes, Along With Sh*tload Of Dollars (And Oak… And Tannin…)

Vinted on March 8, 2012 binned in on the road, wine industry events, wine review

Premiere Napa Valley – the annual auction event in which Napa Valley Vintners members create small-quantity, one-of-a-kind wine lots that are then bid on by wine industry/retailer types – is, basically, a total zoo.

And I love that it’s a zoo. It’s my kind of wine geek’s zoo: equal parts social event, fund-raiser, total chaos, and killer (but often big, thick, dense, tannic) juice. As I have for the past few years, I spent the last Saturday in February at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, tasting some of the NVV’s ultra-premium wares and watching the subsequent auction action (which becomes SRO rather quickly in the CIA’s top-floor conference area).

PNV is viewed as a bit of a bellwether for the U.S. fine wine biz’s economic outlook in general. I’ve seen it in lean years, when the parties are subdued and the auction results are pleasantly surprising when they’re decent. And I’ve seen it in years like 2012, when the parties were packed and everyone’s hopes were higher than the abv % in most of the Valley’s biggest Cab blends.

If PNV is a true wine biz litmus test, then the high-end of the market should feel pretty good, because the auction raked in $3.1M this year – a 31% increase over last year’s record take-away. The top lots went courtesy of Dana Estates, Kapcsandy, Ovid, Checkerboard Vineyards, Vine Hill Ranch, Joseph Phelps, Amuse Bouche, Duckhorn, Silver Oak, Levy and McClellan, and Shafer. And no, those were NOT necessarily my personal faves from the event, but I’m not bidding on any PNV lots so what the hell do I know. You can see who paid what for what by visiting www.premierenapawines.com (you know, in case you’re in the mood for spending $1000 on a bottle of Napa juice).

So… PNV’s results suggest sunny days ahead for the fine wine market, but how were the wines themselves? In short: big (but not always!), oaky (but pretty well balanced), tannic as all get-out (but not exclusively) and for the most part really friggin’ good. In fact, one of them may have been the best PNV wine I’ve ever had (and one of the greatest CA wines I’ve ever tried)

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What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Kermit Lynch Interview!

Vinted on March 6, 2012 binned in 1WineDude TV, interviews, on the road

While I’m celebrating the 5th anniversary of 1WineDude.com this year, there’s a true living legend who is marking a much more meaningful – and impressive – milestone in 2012.

Importer, author, musician and iconoclast Kermit Lynch has been working in the wine biz for forty years (as long as I’ve been alive). And he’s managed to keep doing it successfully despite the big wine mags mostly labeling his wines “uncool” in favor of more bombastic, oak-infused, pedal-to-the-metal powerhouses.

Well, what goes around, comes around: wines of place, vibrancy, and context are cool again, and no one is cooler in the world of those wine than Kermit himself.

I caught up Kermit him in his Berkley, CA shop in February and geeked out with him over some delicious Corsican wine from Yves Leccia; the kind of wine that hits your palate like a life-force-giving tazer gun, inciting you with an immediate desire to finish the bottle (preferably over dinner and with friends). Kermit kindly agreed to a video interview – a rarity for this guy – which is posted below after the jump.

What does someone with forty years of against-the-grain vinous fortitude have to say about the most transformative moments in nearly half a century in the wine biz? What about the future of the wine world excites someone with that kind of perspective? And more importantly, will he let me play bass on his next album? Watch to find out!…

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Postcard From Cali (Or “Goats, The Hobbit, And Oakville Cab For Prog Rock Geeks”)

Vinted on February 28, 2012 binned in on the road

I hope you’ll forgive the quick-hit, “I was there, maaaaaan!” style post, but I’m still en medias res on my Napa jaunt, in which I’ve culled the raw material for what I think will be some great content for Playboy.com, Wines.com, and of course keeping the geekiest stuff for right here on 1WD.

But in between under-sleeping and breakfast, I wanted to give you a very brief run-down of a few of the more exciting things to which I was exposed while on the trip so far (other than the 80F weather and sunshine, and partying, I mean).

Leggo My Breggo

Boonville might be a bit of a sleepy little hamlet in Northern CA (okay… not might… and not a little…) but the wine scene in the nearby, relatively cool-ish Anderson Valley growing area is actually quite dynamic, if the poised wines of Breggo Cellars are any indication, anyway.  Breggo, by the way, is Boontling for “goat” (Boontling being a ribald sort-of dialect of American English that “developed” among the local, relatively-isolated farming community in Boonville in the 19th century… and no, I am not making that up).

It seems a bit of a coup that Cliff Lede scooped up Breggo in 2009, and with it their tall, lanky, mild-mannered winemaker Ryan Hodgins. Hodgins is one of those winemakers whose Alsatian-style vision for the wines – nearly as lean and angular as his own tall frame – is transparently open in just about every whiff of the juice he’s creating.

Breggo’s Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir is furthest along that continuum, a meaty, structured, complex wine that is able to offer grip and heft in a Pinot but still remain pretty and not feel like it’s brooding over your impending doom. Their whites, though, seem to get Hodgins the most excited and that’s probably because, while very good, they’ve yet to achieve the same port of arrival vision he’s got in mind for them. The Gewurztraminer in 2010 is rose-petal central, with ginger and limes, and tasting back to the 2008 showed great potential for laying the tuff down (think vinyl, hazelnuts, lychees, lemons).  Their Riesling is also no joke, with the 2009 being a pretty, floral, pear-wielding, chalky, grapefruity pleasure. I’m looking forward to seeing where this guy takes these wines over the next several years…

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