Posts Filed Under on the road

On Planting A Vineyard By Hand, And Not Getting Your Wines Reviewed By U.S. Critics (Yarra’s Giant Steps)

Vinted on June 14, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines

“I can’t review your wines, they have too much acid.”

Those were words that a reviewer at one of the U.S. wine glossies told Aussie Yarra Valley producer’s Giant Steps head honcho Phil Sexton (according to Phil, anyway).

To which Phil’s reaction was, apparently, something to the effect of “but that’s the whole point!” Linear acidity, mineral liveliness, longevity – those are clearly what Yarra Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all about, if you taste enough of the stuff to be able to formulate an educated opinion on them. So Phil’s response to that unnamed critic was certainly more… diplomatic than mine would have been.

Intrepid 1WD readers will know that Giant Steps Chardonnay has done very well on the virtual pages here, so when I traveled to the Yarra Valley to visit Giant Steps (also purveyors of Innocent Bystander wines and Little Creatures beer, as well as a bistro in the Yarra). So I was pretty keen to see how Phil’s single-vineyard wines were doing in the U.S. market.

“We’re likely to pull out of the U.S., actually,” Sexton told me over dinner. The running joke of the evening was that I might have helped to sell the other case of Giant Steps in the U.S. with my previous high praise for their Chard. That was small beer consolation, though, and I ‘m not talking Little Creatures; I was genuinely disheartened to hear that GS wines get little critical play, and few sales, in my home country, while the seemingly much (much) smarter Aussies are buying the hell out of them

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Auction Napa Valley 2012: One Dude’s Tasting Notes

Vinted on June 12, 2012 binned in on the road, wine review

Part of the madness of Auction Napa Valley (the annual over-the-top charity shin-dig that this year raked in about $8 million) – and the fun – is that both the one-percenters and the rest of us can bid on barrels of upcoming Napa Valley wine releases (and, in some cases, special one-of-a-kind lots) during the event’s barrel auction day (an e-auction also takes place, which is probably where more of the 99-percenters can realistically get in on the action).

This year, the barrel auction was held inside the extensive caves at Jarvis, a producer who brings their grapes underground into their man-made caves, with those grapes not seeing the light of day again until they exit as high-end, bottle-aged wines.

It’s a fun event, where wine producers, press, and the one-percenters (okay… that’s unfair… let’s say two-percenters) mingle on the lawn, sampling NV producer wines and enjoying a sh*tload of foodstuffs from local purveyors (and it wasn’t exactly run-of-the-mill food-truck fare, either – at one station, you could sample a mini version of The French Laundry’s famous salmon tartare “ice cream cone”).

2012’s version was a bit hectic (apparently so hectic that I was able to only take photos in portait orientation, from the looks of the inset pics), but in a fun way. However, the mayhem made even the hockey-arena-sized event space in Jarvis’ caves seem crowded. I gave up on critically assessing the barrel lots pretty quickly, once it became clear that it was going to take me a few minutes per taste just to work my way through the throngs enough to access the spit buckets.

So… I only got to about thirty of the hundred-or-so auction lots that day, and while it might come as no surprise to hear that a Philippe Melka wine and a Scarecow lot were vying for the highest-bid bragging rights during the auction, it might surprise those of you who have been following the NV wine scene to learn that Scarecrow came in second this time, losing out to Melka’s first-ever barrel auction wine under his own label.

Following are my takes on the best of what I got around to tasting critically that day, before I gave the hell up to the whole enticing craziness and just started drinking (mostly Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, since it was hot and sunny) instead of tasting… as well as some thoughts on the 2010 NV vintage overall…

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Roots, Reconnected (Tasting Inglenook’s 1960 Cabnernet)

Vinted on June 7, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Jeff Smith, of Hourglass wines (and who, incidentally, just took the rather bold move of parting ways with long-standing and celebrated consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade and Plumpjack alumnus Anthony “Tony” Biagi), knows his Napa Valley wine history.

Fortunately for me (more on that in a minute or two).

Smith’s roots are there, as grew up in the Napa wine scene, his family having now seen the whole kit-and-caboodle; from the bootstrapping farmers who, in his words, “picked up the scattered bones of an industry after Prohibition and phylloxera,” to the influx of outsiders flush with cash and dreams of world-class vanity projects on which they could invest (squander?) their fortunes.

In other words, Smith remembers when it was pronounced Mon-DAY-vee and not Mon-DAH-vee.

Napa’s is a winemaking history that many a wine lover has heard about, but few have really delved deeply into from a visceral standpoint, simply due to the fact that there isn’t much of the wine from those “old days” around to taste, most of it having been imbibed, or gone bad, a long time ago.

The really fortunate part for me was that when Jeff and I caught up over dinner at Press in St. Helena, he was in the mood to reconnect with the Valley’s roots, by way of directly sampling some of Napa’s history… from about the time when his former employer Robert Mondavi nearly single-handedly reinvented the Californian fine wine scene…

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