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50 Great Portuguese Wines 2014 (Getting Nerdy With Wine & Spirits Mag’s Joshua Greene)

Vinted on February 13, 2014 under on the road, wine industry events, wine review

Nearly exactly twelve months ago, I was a media guest at the NYC unveiling of the 50 Great Portuguese Wines of 2013, as selected by MW/MS/TBA (total bad-ass) Doug Frost (see last year’s write-up for tasting notes and my video interview with Mr. Frosty).

This year, I was once again a media guest for the unveiling of the 2014 edition of the Great 50, this time selected by Wine & Spirits magazine guru Joshua Greene, and held at the (incredible) NYC Public Library. I spent quite a bit of time tasting at this year’s event, so much so that I nearly doubled my usually paltry number of wines tasted (the low amount on average is a function of two things: 1) I am slow, because I think rapid-tasting of wines is an insane endeavor, and I’ve come to question the validity of ratings/reviews that come out of only spending a few seconds with a wine, and 2) I’m a gadfly, and spend much of my time at these events chatting people up).

I also spent a few minutes talking with Joshua about the selection process used for this year’s list. You can download our brief chat, or listen via the embed/link below. You’ll find Joshua’s process interesting, and no doubt there’s ample fodder there for further discussion. But given there’s a sh*t-ton of interesting wines to tell you about, I’m going to leave our chat to speak for itself, and get right into the juice…

Joshua Greene dishes on selecting the 50 greatest wines in Portugal

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Paving The Off-The-Beaten Southern California Wine Path (Four Brix Recent Releases)

Vinted on January 16, 2014 under kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review

Depending on who you are, California’s Ventura County will spark up a number of mental images: beach stay-cations; Tony Stark’s mansion; a place to refill the gas tank en route to wine country in Northern California.

But there are a host of urban wineries (now numbering over a dozen) that are attempting to carve out a wine trail in Ventura, buoyed by the success of kosher powerhouse Herzog and critical darling The Ojai Vineyard, and sourcing grapes from their more famous Northern Cali cousin regions.

I’ll be talking more about all of this in a feature (I’ve yet to write…!) for PalatePress.com, based on press trip I took to the region last year. The short version of the tale is that I admired the gumption of those urban, bootstrapped wineries, most of which have been established by former hobbyists who went totally off the deep end and graduated their production into rented winemaking spaces, tasting rooms, and in some cases full-time gigs (can’t say they’re not courageous…).

Has Ventura arrived, wine-speaking? Not yet. Are they doing better than we ought to reasonably expect from such a ragtag group of independent upstarts? Yeah. Mini-reviews will be coming forthwith,  but a brief highlight of some of my faves is up now at Answers.com.  More of that trip will be put to light in the prospective Palate Press piece (only with less consonance… probably…).

Anyway, one of those upstart standouts is Four Brix Winery, a play on the U.S. grape ripeness measurement, and the number in the name represents four of the wine regions that got the founding partners (the Noonan, Simonsgaard and Stewart families) into this whole wine mess in the first place: Spain, Italy, France, and (naturally) California. If you find that a bit kitschy, just wait until you see how they name their wines…

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Chenin Blanc, By The Numbers (Stellenrust Recent Releases)

Vinted on October 17, 2013 under elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road

Make your way through the typically-wine-country picturesque town of Stellenbosch in South Africa, pass by the nigh-unpronounceable Blaauwklippen and Paradyskloof (I gave up on trying those tongue-twisters, personally), and you’ll find yourself at a gorgeous mountain-studded spot – Stellenrustwhere they number their Chenin Blanc.

But then, you’d probably expect a numerical focus from a place where the proprietor’s name is Dr. Tertius Boshoff. C’mon, if it was from a crime novel you’d roll your eyes!

Boshoff looks nothing like what you’d expect from that name (I envision a modern rendering of Hugo Strange). But he does seem PhD-serious about his wines, and an estate that dates back to 1928 (which is not that long ago by some South African standards, actually) and now encompasses about 400 HA of vineyards across Stellenbosch and the cooler, higher elevation Bottelary Hills, near Cape Town.

The Stellenrust tasting room is a bit of an odd experience, ultra-modern inside but fashioned in some sort of Greco-Roman homage on the outside. And of course, just to throw you off, the wines are French-influenced, with some (their “JJ” line) being made entirely by hand, no machinery allowed.

Confused yet? It’s okay, because the wines are worth the oddities…

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Rain, Raisins And Retrospect: Klein Constantia’s Battle To Hold On To The Past

Vinted on September 26, 2013 under elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

“This would be impressive, really, if you could see any of it.”

We’re driving through a winding, makeshift “road” of mud and ditches in the hills of Constantia. I’m wincing in sciatic pain with every bump, which come approximately forty nanoseconds apart courtesy of the damage done by a South African winter of intense rainfall and flooding. The impossibly young winemaker Matthew Day is my guide on a day in which the clouds have decided to settle almost directly on top of Klein Constantia’s mountainous estate vineyards.

It doesn’t help that I’m also having panic attacks with almost as much frequency as we’re encountering those bumps, thanks to what the orthopedist told me about my blown-out lumbar disk, just before I left for South Africa: “you should be okay to travel… but if your ankles roll, or you loose control of your bowels, then that’s a medical emergency that will require immediate surgery.”

Loose control of my bowels?!??? This is NOT what you tell a borderline-hypochondriac who’s prone to anxiety attacks right before he’s about to get on a plane for two days of non-stop travel!

Let’s just say that it’s tough to focus on cloud-covered viticultural beauty when you’re irrationally-but-constantly worried about literally loosing your sh*t.

There’s a point to our vineyard tour, which we have to abandon early due more to the poor state of the muddy roads than to my physical and mental issues. Day looks out at the wet mist; “our goal is to farm here for the next three hundred years, and we only have this soil to do it; so we’re trying to get away from the ‘old style’ of farming.”

The “old style” – spraying pesticides, conventionally farming – is about the only “old” thing from which Klein Constantia is attempting to move away. Otherwise, the focus is to restore the quality behind a name that was once synonymous with the greatest wines in the world…

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