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“One Foot Old World, One Foot New World” (Quivira Recent Releases)

Vinted on July 17, 2014 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Ask Quivira winemaker (sorry, winegrower, as they prefer to call him) Hugh Chappelle for the Cliff Notes version of their style, and this is what you’ll get:

“One foot Old World, one foot New World.”

That’s a pretty darned good summation, based on my recent visit to their Dry Creek Valley winery. I should give you a similar Cliff Notes version of the entire Quivira story, before we get into the wines: A corporate drug company executive (Henry Wendt) gets attracted to a spot in Dry Creek Valley in the `80s, and as a avid fisherman gets upset at the decline in fish population in the nearby creek. Conventional farming is blamed, and a move to sustainable farming and Biodynamics ensues in the mid 2000s, after which Pete and Terri Kight purchase the place. Now they have 93 acres planted primarily to Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, along with a smattering of Rhone varieties such as Viognier, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

Quivira makes about 13,000 cases a year, using fruit from three estate vineyards, with a modest, restrained style that typically garners modest, restrained scores from mainstream wine critics.

Which, I think, means that those critics are missing the point of Quivira’s wines, which isn’t about conforming to a preconceived notion of how certain varieties – like Zinfandel – ought to be crafted (presumably into the highest bombast style wines possible). Maybe they’re taking the wild boar on Quivira’s label (a depiction of an adopted pet named Ruby who “died fat and happy” according to the Quivira staff) too literally, and assuming that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Whatever…

Much of what Quivira seems to be about is turning those conventional notions of Californian Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel on their (sow’s) ears…

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“Tough To Spit” (Dispatch From 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition)

Vinted on July 10, 2014 binned in elegant wines, going pro, sexy wines, wine industry events, wine review

Every once in a while, you get a gig that is so good, you just have to pinch yourself to test if it’s all real and you’re actually getting paid to have so much fun.

Such was the case at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition, which wrapped up a couple of weeks ago and recently announced its results. Over 30 countries and 26 U.S. states compete in this competition, which is billed as America’s largest such international vinous battle royale. The pinch-inducing vibe came courtesy of my lucky draw in amazing wine competition panel-mates, which included cult winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett (small tidbit of advice: do not get between her and shoe shopping!) and competition organizer Anthony Dias Blue. The latter meant, of course, that at some point our panel would probably be getting some of the better wines entered into the comp, and that indeed did come to pass when we kicked off the second day of judging and were greeted with the wine lover’s breakfast of champions: a stellar flight of mostly vintage bubbly.

Did I mention that I love my “job?” Well, I do.

As for the specifics: the judges were divvied up about 3-4 at a table, tasting several related flights blind, knowing basically only the residual sugar, grapes, and price points of each wine. A splendid time was had by all (at least as far as I could tell), and I was happy to have leant my judging palate to a competition that was so well-organized, well-run, and that represented such a stellar group of wine-biz-insider-type judges. As always, I felt that I was bringing the overall class levels down a few notches by my attendance, though I think I made up for it in humor (we laughed a lot at our table…).

Anyway, here are a few of the stellar picks from that stellar bubbly lineup that had my table more-or-less swooning..

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Crowd Pleasers For The Grill, From Cretans (Highlights From Wines Of Crete 2014 Tastings)

Vinted on July 3, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, going pro, wine review

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking about the native varieties of Crete at tastings in both NYC and D.C., organized by The Connected Table and Wines of Crete.

Minor pronunciation snafus aside, I had a blast introducing the trade to the grape varieties and wines on display at both events, and it’s exciting to see where Crete is taking things from a vinous quality perspective as they move out of their modern bulk wine phase, the irony of which is that Crete used to own the fine wine market in the Mediterranean for nearly 2000 years (much more on that when my feature on Crete hits the pages of the newly revamped SOMM Journal in the August issue; in the meantime, you can watch Nostos Wines’ Alexandra Manousakis – also in attendance at the tasting events – talk about Crete’s wine challenges).

Now that those gigs are behind us and the checks have been cashed (meaning I am off the payroll, so to speak, when it comes to Crete’s wines), I can give you a couple of quick-hit selections from those tastings, just in time for 4th of July outdoor grilling duty.

In this case, the recommendations are from bonna-fide Cretans, and not from a cretin (meaning me) as is usually the case here on 1WD (fine, whatever, I’ll cut it out); both hail from Heraklion, the center of winemaking on Crete (and just about the center of the island itself)…

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Georgia (Sangiovese) On My Mind (Dispatch From The 2014 Critics Challenge)

Vinted on June 26, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

No, you didn’t see one of these selections coming, okay?

Don’t even try it. No one, least of all me, would buy it for even a second.

This Summer, I once again had the pleasure of judging at the Critics Challenge in (stay classy) San Diego, my second stint as a judge there. A more well-executed U.S. wine competition you’re unlikely to encounter, and the judging panels boast some impressive collective credentials. Before I get into the two most memorable (for me) wines coming out of this year’s incarnation of the event (full results are here), I should give you a quick primer on how Critics Challenge works.

The judges are paid (well… duh), and for two days each is given a series of wine flights organized by category and tasted blind (residual sugar, grape variety, and category are known, in some cases vintage as well). The judges work in pairs, awarding (or denying) medals as they deem appropriate, and each wine is officially awarded the highest of the two medals determined by the pair of judges. The assumption, of course, is that as judges we all know what the hell we’re doing.

For 2014, I was fortunate enough to be paired of with writer and educator Deb Parker Wong, someone for whom the term “consummate professional” was invented, and a judge with a methodically brilliant tasting approach. I’ll stop here before this turns into a Deb valentine, but I feel compelled to add that Deb also possesses the rare and uncanny ability to double the elegance quotient of any room into which she walks (since I possess the equally rare and uncanny ability to halve a room’s elegance quotient, our judging table vicinity essentially remained elegance neutral)…

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