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Prime Time: Another New Kid on the ‘Napa Cab’ Block

Vinted on December 8, 2008 binned in California wine, wine review

Remember our not-so-old friends, Volta? Seems there are a few other winemakers out there who do, too.

Take Ted Henry of the newly-minted wine producers Prime Cellars in Napa.

“I was in Volta‘s Winemaker Massimo’s class at UC Davis,” Ted told me. “We used to drink beers together in his Silver Oak days…”

As it turns out, Volta isn’t the only tiny Napa winery that kicked off an innagural, premium Cabernet release in the 2005 vintage. The promising 2005 red wine harvest in Napa also saw the birth of Prime Cellars (who recently contacted me to send me a sample after reading Volta’s first-ever review here at 1WineDude.com), founded by UC Davis alumni and marching band-mates Ted & Lisa Henry, and Curtis Mann (handling winemaking, marketing, and sales chores, respectively).

Unlike Volta, Prime is going for a less high-octane Cab. (their 2005 release clocks in at 13.6% abv, which is about a full percent lower than Volta’s Cab)…


The back-label on their first release, dubbed “District 4″ Cabernet, does the best job of summing up the story of their endeavor so far: “Hand picked… Small Lot… French Oak… Empty bank account.”

Let’s check out the wine…

2005 Prime Cellars “District 4″ Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

Sourced from Grasso Vineyard in Napa’s east hills (Coombsville), which is a relatively cool growing area that can still achieve ripeness for traditional Bordeaux varietals like Cab Sauv.

The vitals: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 7 on 1103P rootstock), 3 day cold soak, 23 days on the skins, 22 months spent in New French, used French, and new Hungarian oak (1/3 in each).

My thoughts: Even though this wine is lower in alcohol (13.6%) than the typical bordering-on-port style of CA Cab popular today, the first thing that hits you about this wine is that it smells (and looks) powerful.

The nose is dominated by black plum, with a hint of dried black fruits and elegant spice (rather than hefty oak). After several minutes in the glass, pepper and dried herbs start to creep out, and once in a while you sniff some wet dirt (but in a good way).

Take a sip, and and the fruits get a little more red (cherries and currants), but still “feel” dried. The tannins are smooth but almost coffee-thick, and the coffee notees stick around on a finish that is almost half a minute long.

Like it’s prime number namesake, Prime’s District 4 achieves an excellent balance, with almost nothing in divisive proportion; its fruit, tannic & acidic structure, alcohol, and spice seem measured out in harmonious doses with almost recipe-like precision. While in balance, these elements haven’t blended harmoniously together yet – it needs time, either by an hour or two in a decanter, or prefreably 4 years (in a bottle, of course).

This first Prime Cellars release is only 147 cases – so you’ll probably want to visit their website if you want to get your hands on it; chances are it won’t show up at your local wine shop yet.

Although I undermine my perception of ay sort of wine expertise when I say things like this, I need to tell you that I’m stumped as to wether or not the `05 District 4 will ever capitalize on its integration potential.

But I suppose I’d put more money on that than one me being able to hold out 4 years before drinking another bottle.

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, PrimeCellars.com)

A Local Wine Menage-a-Trois Soiree via Twitter

Vinted on November 26, 2008 binned in Tales of the Purple Monkey, twitter, wine products, wine review


This exciting edition (is there any other kind?) of Tales of the Purple Monkey has Plumboo (that’s the monkey) and me taking on one wine, but in three slightly (but importantly) different ways.

Last week, I participated in several Twitter Taste Live events, one of them being co-hosted by BinEndsWine.com and DrVino.com titled “Drink Local!” in which we reviewed local (to the reviewers., that is) wines. My previous post on the event has more background detail (and a recap of the twitter conversations).

Because I’m a homer, and I’m lazy, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I reviewed Penns Woods’ 2004 Ameritage Reserve (a Bordeaux style red blend), but with a twist – I presented the wine in three different “formats”:

  1. Poured directly from the bottle
  2. Decanted 3+ hours before serving
  3. “Decanted” directly from the bottle using a wine gadget called the Wine Soiree.

The Soiree looks like a glass Christmas tree ornament, or a sex toy for the very, very adventurous. Or an elegant alien spacecraft for extraterrestrial fleas…

Anyway, according to the Wine Soiree website and promotional materials, it is supposed to function somewhat like a decanter, using the principle of aeration. Wine contains many volatile chemicals that impart aroma, flavor, and also help to integrate a wine’s components so that it tastes better. Exposing those volatile components to air starts the process. This is one reason why decanting hefty red wines for a time before drinking them helps to make the wine more accessible and softer.

I poured all of my “versions” of the Penns Woods Ameritage into identical ISO tasting glasses (because I’m a nerd and I do own those, thank you very much) and had a go at each in comparison.

The result? Check out the following excerpt from my twitter feed during the Twitter Taste Live event:

10:41
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl Yo yo YO! I’m tasting 2004 Penns Woods Ameritage Reserve. Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Sangiovese, & whatever other reds the winemaker (Gino Razzi) wants
10:42
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl From the Brandywine valley of SE PA
10:42
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl I did a little experiment. I have 3 glasses of the same wine, but each is different…
10:43
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl #1 was poured directly from the bottle. #2 was decanted 3+ hrs. #3 was poured using that in-bottle Soiree decanter thing-y
10:44
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl #1 direct from the bottle: smoke (a LOT of it); cedar; black currants; a little rough around the edges on the tannins; good finish
10:44
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl According to Mrs. Dudette: “It’s like licking a chimney there’s so much smoke! But in a good way.”
10:45
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl #2 decanted 3+ hrs: MUCH smoother, with more dark cherry; the oak is more integrated and the finish seems to go forever…
10:46
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl I might be still tasting this finish tomorrow when I brush my teeth in the morning!!!
10:47
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl #3 ‘decanted’ via the soiree: has the currant & cedar elements of #1, but not as integrated as #2; finish is la bit onger than #1
10:48
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl This Soiree does something… and it seems good to aerate a wine in a pinch or when a decanter is not available.
10:48
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl but it ain’t quite like decanting!
10:50
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl As for the wine itself – very good, not his best vintage tho. The 2005 has more promise; 2002 is… well… freakin’ sublime!
10:51
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl This 04 is a bit too expensive for what it is, but it’s a very, very well made Bord’x style blend. And YES it is from PA!
10:53
Twitter 1winedude: #ttl So in summary: Penns Woods make a kick-ass wine, and the Soiree does actually do… something; but not as much something as a decanter

As it turns out, the Soiree does indeed seem to aerate the wine… somewhat. For me, the Soiree doesn’t compare to actual decanting, which in this experiment I found to be far superior. Still, I think the Soiree could work in a pinch if you are desperate to decant and/or to take the edge off of a serious red, but can’t wait for proper decanting (winery tasting rooms come to mind).

It you can get past the sight of a Christmas tree ornament sitting on top of your wine bottle, that is.

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, drvino.com)

Twitter Taste Live: Drink Charitably! TONIGHT 8PM ET

Vinted on November 21, 2008 binned in 1WD LIVE, twitter, twitter taste live, wine industry events, wine review


Hey folks – a reminder for you that Twitter Taste Live is happening again tonight at 8PM ET.

This round will be for charity, as we will be drinking and reviewing the wines of Humanitas! (details available here).

Hope to see you online at twitter (you can also follow along with the action live below, and/or come back to this post for a recap after the event)…

——————————

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Cheers!

Ditch Your Wine Tasting "Training Wheels" (The Trouble With Wine Ratings, Part 3)

Vinted on November 19, 2008 binned in commentary, wine review

“Scores are like your training wheels – hopefully you take them off at some point.” – Joel Peterson

I’ve never been a big fan of wine ratings or wine scoring systems. Mostly because I don’t know anyone who speaks in ratings. Even sports fans (who, justifiably, love numbers, rankings, and comparisons) don’t really speak in ratings.

Man, the Steelers offensive line was totally an 87 in last night’s game…

Preposterous.

I also find it odd that wine rating talk generates so much passion when it is discussed. As cases in point, I offer two recent examples:

  1. Wine Enthusiast editor Steve Heimoff’s critique of Mutineer magazine’s critique of wine ratings (and Mutineer editor Alan Kropf’s response).
  2. A thread on the excellent wine social networking website OpenWineConsortium.org, titled “What are the faults with the 100 point [wine rating] system” which, as of this writing, has eleven pages of responses.

I shudder to think of the cross-talk that might ensue on the web in response to the granddaddy of wine rating lists, Wine Spectators’ Top 10 Wines of the year (only five of which I’ve actually sampled…).

Me, I’ve changed my tune slightly on wine ratings since I wrote two articles about the trouble with wine ratings (Part 1 and Part 2). That’s because I’ve come to realize something very important when it comes to wine ratings…

There is no trouble with wine ratings.

Think about it – there is no harm at all in rating a wine. In fact, wine ratings have played an integral part in wine criticism, which itself has played an integral part in furthering wine into the incredibly exciting state that it’s in today. There are over 7,000 wine brands available to U.S. wine consumers – somebody has to help consumers make sense of it all. As former wine writer and Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson told me recently over lunch (much more to come on that, by the way, in an upcoming post): “If we didn’t have wine critics, we’d have to invent them!”

The trouble comes in how the ratings are used.

A rating system makes an assumption that there is an absolute,” said Joel. “We know that there are no absolutes. It’s a more measure of like than of absolute quality.”

To back up his observation, Joel told me a story about a tasting experiment that he performed with a group of experienced wine tasters: he took all of the Zinfandels that he could find that scored 90+ points in the big wine mags, and had them taste the wines blind. The result: all of the wines scored between 85 and 96 points.

Joel then took all of the 90+ scoring wines from that tasting and had them taste those wines again at a later time. The result: the wines scored between 85 and 96 points!

Scoring is relative, and it’s naturally tailored to the taster’s palate. The trouble is, people put too much faith in scores without reading the fine print.

Joel’s take: “Robert Parker was really the change-over point. A wine critic can make make or break a wine in the same way that a music critic can make or break a live music performance. Scores are like your training wheels – hopefully you take them off at some point.”

Would you ride down the street proudly on your shiny Schwinn bicycle with banana seat, handlebar horn, and red sparkle paint job with training wheels still attached? All the while bragging to your friends about how you only ride bikes with training wheels on them?

Well, that’s pretty much what you’re doing if you decide to only buy wines from the Wine Spectator top 100 list, or if you insist that a sommelier only show you wines rating 94 points or above when dining at a restaurant.

Where you goin’, training-wheel boy??

Far better, I think, to discover your own palate.

And then ditch those training wheels.

Cheers!
(images: allposters.com, ehow.com)

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