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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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Obscure Grapes, Dry British Humor, And Not-So-Dry Weather (Tasting And Recording At Philly’s Jet Wine Bar)

Vinted on June 12, 2014 binned in 1WineDude Radio, crowd pleaser wines, wine review

On a (very, very, monsoon-season-like) wet day in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in the basement of Philly’s Jet Wine Bar on South Street, being interviewed for a podcast by owner (and archeologist – she was about to embark on a multi-stop tour taking her to Italy, Scotland, and Iraq) Jill Weber and Brit-turned-PA-local Philip Silverstone.

We had a good time, recording two shows that you should now be able to check out now over at Phil’s website, talking wine and my first booze love, craft beer. The wine portion is embedded below for your listening convenience, peeps. The Time Out With Phillip Silverstone show can be heard anytime and anywhere worldwide via the free TuneIn Radio app or at TuneIn.com (search for Phillip Silverstone)

Jet is a freakin’ cool, cool place for a wine geek. Jill prides herself on championing the obscure, and it is for sure the obscure that gets championed at Jet. Let me put it this way: when I visited, some of the more recognizable grape variety names on her list were Ribolla Gialla, Trebbiano, and Bonarda. She had included selections from Morocco and Turkey. It was a wine geek’s wet dream, in multiple senses of the phrase. The food at Jet is also pretty tasty, so if you’re South Street bound and want a break from hoagies, beer and cheesesteaks, you’d do well to check it out.

Talking Wine on Time Out With Phillip Silverstone

Jill pulled out a few interesting selections for us to taste during recording that day, and I’d like to introduce you to each of those, all of which run about $15 a pop (suck it, you Joe-only-reviews-crazy-expensive-wines whiney-pants complainers!)…

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There’s A Wild Man In My Head (Cayuse Recent Releases)

Vinted on June 5, 2014 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

“And I’m
Not sorry for
The things I’ve said
There’s a wild man in my head
There’s a wild man
In my head”

Morrissey, “I’m Not Sorry”

Christophe Baron, the short, edgy, high-energy force behind Walla Walla’s controversial Cayuse, is sniffing dirt. And – in a very thick French accent that betrays his Charly-sur-Marne heritage and belies his nearly twenty-year stint in the Pacific Northwest – he’s imploring me to do the same.

“C’mon! You’ve come all this way to Cayuse! You’ve got to SMELL IT!!!”

Just moments before, a burly and beautiful Belgian draft horse was turning over this soil (in a vineyard named, for obvious reasons, “Horse Power”), so I am less than totally enthusiastic about the possibility of getting horse shit up my nostrils. But this guy’s energy is such that he makes me seem calm, so I acquiesce (as if I had a choice). These newer plantings were “designed for the horse,” Baron explains, with three-feet between the rows. “With the horse, you can’t rush it, you can’t force it. But the texture of the soil is like couscous… This is the reason why I’m here.”

Spend any appreciable time with Baron and you will not only sniff horse-powered dirt, you will hear impassioned proclamations such as “I am not a winemaker;” “Let’s all take off our clothes and get naked;” “There are a lot of things about Biodynamics you cannot quantify… you cannot quantify the smile on a beautiful woman;” “I’m like a dealer, I sell pleasure… liquid pleeeeeasuuuuuure;” and “no pictures on Facebook!” not all of which you might fully understand or be able to distinguish as serious or jovial.

But there’s one thing that is easy to understand: why Baron’s wines are controversial. Garnering stratospheric scores from The Wine Advocate and skyrocketing in secondary market prices after release, Cayuse offerings can be stunning, odd takes on Rhone-styled reds; often demanding, beguiling, and off-putting all at the same time. If you’ve ever watched a movie – or read a novel – that seems brilliant but has disturbing scenes in it, the kind of scenes that haunt you later but without which the central themes of the work wouldn’t be nearly as powerful, then you’ve got an idea of what it’s like to come face to face with Cayuse’s juice.

To understand these take-no-prisoners wines, you need to understand the background of the take-no-prisoners Baron, and Walla Walla’s take-no-prisoners geographical landscape…

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