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On The Road | 1 Wine Dude - Page 31

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Lessons In Longevity: Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, And The Coming Of Age Of World-Class Napa Reds

Vinted on March 10, 2011 binned in best of, California wine, kick-ass wines, on the road

Tim Mondavi’s eyes betray almost everything in their expressiveness; probably more than he realizes.

One moment, when recalling some memory or detail of spearheading the development of Opus One, they might be bright, almost dancing, even though his demeanor is serious and workmanlike – as if there’s something fond and comforting about revisiting the time for him.  The next, they’re sharp and piercing despite his relaxed posture and polite phrases (in this case, when I mentioned someone in the CA wine industry with whom I suspect Tim doesn’t see eye-to-eye).

Occasionally eyes, words, and demeanor align like stars in a constellation: for instance, when Tim recounts – using a rather damn good Godfather impersonation – his frustration in once having to hold up a large canvas over a series of days in Mondavi’s famed To Kalon vineyard so that his daughter, Chiara, could finish painting the image (titled “Light  of the vine”) that would grace the label for his budding high-end red wine project, Continuum.

I spent the better part of five hours picking Tim Mondavi’s brain on a sunny day in late February, when visiting Continuum’s Pritchard Hill estate as a lunch guest; as far as Tim knew, I was coming to get a taste of the 2008 vintage of a wine brand that I’ve already publicly praised as being well-worth seeking out even if it is pricey. But as far as I was concerned, class was in session, the topic was the history of Napa winemaking, and I was the student.  I just had to convince Tim – who has been around since the earliest days of the development of Napa’s modern fine wine industry – to start teaching.  Not easy – but turns out it was well worth the effort.

Lesson one: the only living things in the Valley with more wine-related history than the Mondavis probably have wood for arms and grapes for children; that history doesn’t guarantee great wine, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt your chances any.

Sunny days on Pritchard Hill, in Napa’s eastern ridge, provide for a glorious view (Oakville and Lake Hennessey are a stone’s throw away, and on a good day you can pick out buildings in downtown San Francisco), so we took to a 4×4 and toured the forty-odd acres of Continuum’s vineyard plantings, on land that once belonged to a former marine biologist.  Stopped for a moment at a spot that overlooks the estate’s farmhouse, Tim recalled how his father reacted to the site.

“In 2008, just before my father left for the great vineyard in the sky, we took him up here to see the vineyard, right before we purchased it,” he said, pointing directly to the spot where he helped an ailing Robert Mondavi take in the view. “He was in a wheelchair by then, and he couldn’t talk much.  But when he saw this vineyard, his eyes lit up.”

That explains the eyes, right?…

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On The Road: Chile & Argentina Wine Countries

Vinted on March 7, 2011 binned in on the road

I’ll be asking for your patience over the next couple of weeks, as I continue the trend of upping the travel here on 1WineDude (hey, you told me you wanted more travel pieces, after all!).

This jaunt is going to feel bittersweet for me: for one thing, I’m stoked to be heading to Chile and Argentina (although I am not sure how warmly I will be greeted by the Chileans after my little mention here of their greener wines last October… let’s hope they have a short memory…); for another, it’s still time away from my family right on the heels of previous travel to the Left Coast for the Pro Wine Writers Symposium and Premiere Napa Valley.

The trade-off for your patience in indulging a bit  of inconsistency (I’ll still be trying to connect and post from Chile and Argentina whenever and wherever possible) is that things might get quiet here over the coming weeks, which not only is blogging anathema in general in that it breaks some of the fundamental rules of playing in the blog-o-world, but it also means that we mess around a bit with part of the contract that I have with you out there reading this blog: namely, the publication schedule that I’ve been rigorously (and not without some pain – especially the borderline-carpal-tunnel-variety) following since October…

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Is There A New Pecking Order For Cult Napa Cabs? (Records Are Busted At Premiere Napa Valley 2011)

Vinted on February 28, 2011 binned in best of, California wine, on the road, wine industry events

Is there a new pecking order for cult Napa Cabs?

Well, the case could certainly be made after this past Saturday’s Premiere Napa Valley: the part-auction, part-networking-event, part-total-insanity in which small, selected barrels/lots from some of Napa’s most celebrated wine producers are auctioned off to collectors, buyers and importers, as special, once-in-a-lifetime future bottlings.  The idea is that those wines are unique to each winning bidder, as the small lots from each producer are sold in their entirety to the winning bidder for that lot (I attended on the heels of the 2011 Pro Wine Writers Symposium).

Last year’s auction started off a little grim due to the down economy.  The atmosphere was a little more convivial this year and when the biddings kicked off, the auction room was packed and the excitement, to my eyes and ears anyway, was more palpable.  But when a Japanese importer got into a friendly-but-intense bidding battle over Scarecrow’s 5-case 2011 Premiere lot, the festivities took on the air of a rock concert, with cheering, clapping and smiles.  No dancing or head-banging, though.

The winning bid by the Japanese importer was $125,000 – roughly $2,000 per bottle of Scarecrow’s stuff on offer that day.

We may just have a new King of cult Napa Cabs, and a renewed focus on Scarecrow’s winemaker Celia Welch – not only was the $125K the highest bid of the day for any of the 200 auction lots on offer, it was the highest winning bid in the history of the Premiere Napa Valley auction.

Will that Japanese importer ever break even on this weekend’s historic transaction?  Probably not, at least not when it comes to recovering the investment on that particular wine.  BUT… very likely the cache factor will send more business their way, so it seems a smart move commercially.

Is the news good for CA wine?  Probably – if there were a better indication of the economy for high-end wine recovering, I’ve yet to see it.  I did hear grumbling on the auction floor by other producers that the historic bid was more fanfare and marketing over substance, but there were plenty of people raving about the quality of the Scarecrow lot wine, and I think any Napa Cab producer needs to see the forest through the trees here – I can’t think of any way in which this won’t benefit the recovering industry here, generally-speaking.

More to come on all of this later in the week – including my notes on some of the other auction lot wines, and video of the history-making gavel being slammed on that Scarecrow auction (for now, you’ll have to settle for my crappy cell phone picture of the winning moment from the “results board”).

What do YOU think?  Is Scarecrow’s record-breaking success a boon for Napa Cab.?  or is it a score-whoring setback for fine wine at affordable prices?  Shout it out in the comments!

Cheers!

The Wines of Afros: Vinho Verde Gets Serious

Vinted on January 13, 2011 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, on the road, wine review

The words “Vinho Verde” conjure up a particular image in the minds of wine lovers: usually that of a tall green bottle of spritzy, refreshing and (usually very) inexpensive Portuguese white wine that rarely speaks to the soul but sure as hell speaks to a parched throat on a hot Summer’s day. It’s the kind of wine you buy by the case (and with some very good examples to be found well under $10 a bottle, you can afford it), toss into a cooler, and lug out for hot, sunny day picnics.

In essence, Vinho Verde can have a soft spot in the hearts of wine geeks (this one included), specifically because they’re wines for imbibing and not wines for contemplating.

Just across the border from Portugal’s Vinho Verde region – in Spain – however, you will find whites made from the same varieties (Verdehlo, Loureiro, etc.), made in similar climates, but that cost several times the price as a typical Vinho Verde. The message? The Spanish versions of wines from those grapes are just more… graves than their Portuguese counterparts.

It’s a situation that’s often left wine geeks like me wondering why the Portuguese don’t get a bit more serious themselves when it comes to Vinho Verde.  Nothing against simple Vinho Verde of course (in fact I’d personally be pretty pissed off if those inexpensive quaffers dropped out of the marketplace), but why not add a few bottlings that take  Alvarinho or Lourerio to a more thought-provoking level?

Why not get all graves on us?

Turns out that finding serious Vinho Verde is not a question of Portuguese desire or capability, but of production and distribution.

Because Vinho Verde is, in fact, trying to raise the profile of their wines to heights lofty enough to match the vines that grow up (and up, and up) the high trellises that dot the area (actually, the vines can be found growing up just about anything in Vinho Verde, the better to protect them from mold and mildew in the wet weather). And it’s not just still whites that are in their crosshairs – they’re also targeting reds and sparklers (of both color persuasions) – and if the wines of Afros are any indication, they’re on to something…

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