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Out Of The Fire, Into The Spotlight (Paso Robles Cabernet Starts Coming Of Age)

Vinted on June 20, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

Back in 2011, I wondered (aloud, in Internet terms) if Paso Robles wines were too boozy hot.

Now, after attending (as a media guest) the 2013 Paso Robles Cab Collective’s CABs of Distinction tasting events, I’m wondering if they’re a bit too oaky. But I’m also now wondering when Paso wines will start being hailed as where smart wine geeks go to get compelling, age-worthy reds for half the price of Napa and (in some cases) Sonoma.

After backing off the push on Rhone Valley varieties a bit, and focusing on the soft tannins and consistent lush ripeness of their Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso as a region is now seeing an influx of both winemaking talent and the money needed to push for both quality and recognition. All of which means that Paso is going to be nipping with extreme prejudice at the heels of its better known Northern California winemaking neighbors.

There are many ways that this tale could be told, but I want to focus on the winemaker panel discussion that took place during the 2013 CABs (Cabernet And Bordeaux) of Distinction event, moderated by my friend Steve Heimoff, held at Windfall Farms (because that’s the part you wouldn’t have had access to, my previous feature on Paso centered on a similar winemakers panel and that just felt like too much serendipity to ignore, and finally because I am way too lazy to write short tasting notes on dozens of wines tasted later at the Grand Tasting portion of the event… sorry, okay?). The title, aptly, was “Paso Robles Cab, Its History and Future.”

The bottom line, the recurring theme, the battle cry I heard from the Paso Robles reds at the moment is this: while they lack the complexity of Northern CA’s finest, they have already achieved some of the ripeness, silkiness and aging potential. Watch out, peeps Paso Cab is now well on its way (or as Steve put in when introducing the winemaking panel: “this past year has been the tipping point in my thinking of Paso Robles wine”)…

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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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Planes, Trains, And Single-Day Butt-Numbing Automobile Rides To Dão (Quinta dos Roques Recent Releases)

Vinted on May 30, 2013 binned in elegant wines, overachiever wines, wine review

The first thing I need to tell you is that I’m deeply grateful to ViniPortugal for having invited me to Lisbon to judge in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge (the first time they’ve opened it up to international judging), and for the hospitality that they showed to me while I was there.

I have to tell you this first because I’m about to spend the next few hundred words sounding as if I’m undermining every word of that previous sentence, even though it happens to be the truth, truth that’s balder than Bruce Willis.

What’s also the Die-Hard-With-A-Vengeance-bald truth is that, despite the fact that I’m about to recommend a Dão producer (Quinta dos Roques / Quinta das Maias) to you, I cannot tell you diddly-squat about them. I know, we are off to a swimming start here, aren’t we? Hang on, it will get better, I promise.

Here’s the thing: the Wines of Portugal public relations folks face a daunting task in trying to herd a large amount of fiercely independent winemaking and food-crafting cats. If they ever get the PR situation to match their culinary and wine prowess, I suspect they would conquer the planet storm trooper style. Until then, though, you won’t need to stock up on any ammo, based on my recent experiences (but I still love you, Portugal!).

Exhibit A: I, along with about ten fellow newly-minted international judging alumni, spent more time on a bus traveling from Lisbon to Dão and back in one day in May than I spent (by about an hour) in a plane flying from Philly to Lisbon, all in the name of tasting the wares of a few of the best-regarded producers in Dão. The number of wines we tasted that day? About 12. The number of bottles of water or beer (or anything else) aboard the bus on that 7+ hour jaunt? Zero.

Exhibit B: We were served a fixed menu of bacalhau (traditional Portuguese salted cod, of which there are rumored to be one thousand different preparations) five times in four days, often successively for dinner and lunch on the same days (including the day of our Dão expedition). When we burst out laughing at the final dinner when we each received a serving of cod the size of my mastiff’s head, I was asked “what’s wrong, don’t you like it?” My reply: “I didn’t say that; it’s amazing food, but I don’t like anything five times in one week no matter how amazing it is… with the possible exception of sex with my wife…”

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