Posts Filed Under wine review

Sweet Sixteen (Highlights From The 2019 Critics Challenge Wine Competition)

Vinted on July 3, 2019 binned in on the road, wine industry events, wine review
San Diego 2019

A few weeks ago, I visited San Diego for yet another stint of judging at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition, now in its sixteenth year. As is always the case with CC, the organization, staff, and execution were all top-notch, allowing us critic-judge-types to give the wines their fair due under the palate evaluation microscope. As is always the case with CC, I count myself extremely fortunate to have once again fooled everyone into thinking that I have some talent been invited to join such a finely-tuned event.

Critics Challenge 2019
Joe big wine
It was a big time, when little guys drank big wines…

For those who are new to CC, a quick word on the format: judges are usually paired (or in some rare cases, trio-ed) into panels and judge several flights of wines blind. All of the judges are wine critics with wine competition experience, and judge all of the wines independently, awarding Silver, Gold, or Platinum medals (there is no Bronze category in CC). For each wine, the highest medal awarded “wins,” so judges in the same panel need not agree for a wine to be awarded a medal (in my experience, we do often discuss the results and generally agree about 80% – or more – of the time).

Now that the results have been published, I can share some of my thoughts on a few of the excellent wines that my panel were able to taste, and to Platinum (which, in wine judging parlance, is absolutely a verb; as in “did you Platinum anything this morning?” and – with the appropriate past-tense – “yeah, we totally Platinumed some killer dessert wines in that last flight”).

And so, here are a handful of interesting wines that stood out to me over two days of evaluation, with the more interesting result being that they are from less than a handful of producers…

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Texas Four-Step (A Deeper Dive Into Texas Hill Wine Country)

Vinted on June 27, 2019 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review
Texas BBQ
You know that you’re in Texas when…

While I enjoy the thrill of the new, in some ways I am a creature of habit.

Specifically, I have both a habit of getting invited to wine regions that don’t make the usual list of media darling locales, and I have a habit of accepting those invitations because, well, new. And so it was that I recently found myself in Texas, touring that state’s budding Hill Country wine scene as part of a media jaunt, and generally annoying Dallas Cowboy fans by telling them how great I think that the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers is.

Interestingly, this Texas Hill Country has a streak of uniqueness, even for a state famous for its larger-than-life machismo flamboyance. To wit: the region is rich in immigrant history (tellingly, it was home too the German Free Thinkers movement), to the point that the area opposed secession from the Union during the American Civil War (a Union monument to the Abolitionists who were killed for refusing to fight for the Confederacy still stands in Comfort, TX).

Apart from those living in Texas, Hill Country remains off of the fine wine radar. Its tasting rooms, however, are generally packed to the gills on the weekends, due to a combination of favorable factors:

  1. Proximity to Austin and Houston,
  2. A budding fine wine appreciation culture that still has disposable cash to spend on vino, given that the region in general didn’t dip as severely as the rest of the nation during the most recent economic downturn, and
  3. Actually some really, really good wine being made locally.

It’s that latter part, of course, that is the focus today here on these virtual pages; bonus points, of course, …

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Long-haired Hippy Good Guy (Spicewood Vineyards Recent Releases)

Vinted on June 20, 2019 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review
Ron Yates Spicewood
Long-haired hippy Texan Ron Yates holds court at Spicewood’s tasting room

“It only took me… eleven years!” remarked Ron Yates, owner of the family-run Spicewood Vineyards, which produces about three thousand cases from about forty acres in the about-as-unlikely-as-they-come-at-first-but-upon-further-review-kind-of-inevitable fine wine region of Texas Hill Country.

Yates was speaking about the fact that he and Texas-native winemaker Todd Crowell can now offer an all-estate tasting list. Getting there, apparently, wasn’t all that easy; or, at least, not straightforward. Yates was studying law and working in the record label business (High Wire Music, once home of Toad the Wet Sprocket front-man Glen Phillips, a personal 1WD fave), when he caught the fine wine bug. In unlikely-but-inevitable fashion, his cousins Ed and Susan Auler own Fall Creek Vineyards; but that’s not really what got him into wine. That would be… Spanish Tempranillo. Of course, right?

Spicewood vines

“That’s my favorite grape in the whole world,” Yates told me when I visited his tasting room in Spicewood, TX (as part of a media jaunt). While a student in his twenties at the University of Texas, Yates spent a semester in Spain, living with a host family whose son just happened to be grape grower in Ribera del Duero (see what I mean about kind-of-inevitable?). A love affair with that region’s signature red grape thus ensued. “A good bottle of Tempranillo was as cheap as a bottle of water back then” Yates recalled.

Years later, in 2007, thoroughly enthralled with things vinous, Yates began courting then Spiwood’s then owners Edward and Madeleine Manigold, eventually buying from them. The vineyards, sandy loam with a well-draining limestone bed, had potential; the vines, though, needed some work. They reduced the `92 plantings, removing “stuff that just shouldn’t be here [in Texas] with the heat.” Yates’ grandfather helped him with the lease and purchase; “he was so excited that his long-haired, hippy grandchild was leaving the music biz and getting into agriculture!” Turns out, it was a pretty good move after all…

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2 Legit 2 Quit (The Revitalization of Château Pédesclaux)

Vinted on June 13, 2019 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, overachiever wines, wine review
Château Pédesclaux lineup

Ah, good old, dependable Château Pédesclaux.

Well, for those in the know when it comes to Bordeaux, this Pauillac producer was dependable for decades… in that one could usually depend on it to under-perform.

Established back in 1810 by the wine broker who gave it its name (Pierre Urbain Pédesclaux), Pédesclaux rose to prominence rather quickly by Bordeaux standards, being classified as Fifth Growth in 1855. The 20th Century saw successions of ownership and neglect; at one point in the 1950s, the estate was tagged for demolition.

In 2009, Pédesclaux was picked up by Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti (owners of Chateau Lilian Ladouys), who, according to current manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (with whom, through the miracles of modern technology, I had a nice remote online chat) set about to “legitimize” the estate. This started with the vineyards, which were replanted, reworked, expanded, and eventually given a treatment so detailed that they are now classified into nineteen different terroirs (ranging from gravel to limestone to clay), vinified into 116 different tank fermentations, and aged in barrels from nine different coopers, all to make about 270,000 bottles of just two wine labels.

The aim now is to surprise with a bit of over-performance, even at the $50/bottle price tag. Bache-Gabrielsen put it this way: “The idea is to have freshness, tannins that are just mature, and to make you salivate and want another glass.” Pédesclaux now puts a borderline-obsessive amount of effort into their Grand Vin’s texture. “We want precision in our tannins,” Bache-Gabrielsen explained. He describes their harvest as “al dente” (now my new favorite term for picking ripeness).

The result? Pretty damned nice…

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