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One Wino’s Inspiration (Wine Blogging Wednesday #57)

Vinted on May 13, 2009 binned in wine blogging wednesday, wine review

I need to go on record right now that I hate Jeff Lefevere*.

Why do I hate Jeff…  Well, for one, he has the best-looking wine blog in all of the blog-o-world.  If his blog design were a person, it would be Warren Beatty, and it would walk around with a smile and a demure but slightly aloof stance, confident that your wife would do him in a heartbeat and not even think twice about you or your kids, because he’s just that cool.

He (I mean Jeff, not the personified Beatty-esque incarnation of Jeff’s blog) is also a phenomenally talented writer; his prose puts the writing on the majority of wine blogs (including some of those penned by professional writers) to shame.

So, there’s jealousy,  That’s clearly one reason.

Also, I don’t understand at all his Vin de Napkin comics, and it pisses me off that I’m possibly too dumb to appreciate them.

I guess that’s also jealously?

Anyway, after today, Jeff pissed me off even more because he’s managed to host the only Wine Blogging Wednesday topic that has completely stumped me (I’m not usually at a loss for words… like, ever…).  The theme is “California Inspiration,” which Jeff intended to be a homage to the late and inspirational CA wine icon Robert Mondavi, as this week marks the first anniversary of Mondavi’s passing.

The idea is that we should recount a moment of inspiration, a story centering around a specific wine.

Jeff… you magnificent bastard… you have stumped me.  Why?  Because while capturing the essence of a fleeting inspirational moment in time might be a talented trained journalist’s idea of a writing warm-up exercise, it’s a bear of an activity for hacks like me.

Curse you, Lefevere!  May the fleas of one thousand camels infest your armpits!!!

* – Note: I don’t actually hate Jeff Lefevere.  In fact, he is an extremely nice guy with whom I had the pleasure of hanging out during the first Wine Bloggers Conference.  I’m just stalling because I don’t have a wittier intro.

Wait. I take that back.  I actually do have a story.  So, I need to go on record right now that I no longer hate Jeff Lefevere.

 

My Story

You know, if it weren’t for two winemakers, and two specific wines, I might not be writing to you right now. 

A few months ago (circa September 2008), I had contemplated giving up wine blogging entirely.  I loved writing, and I loved wine.  But I wasn’t sure that wine blogging was going to be viable for me.  I had a full-time career at a big CPG company.  My wife was pregnant.  I loved playing in the band, and didn’t see myself curtailing those activities or short-changing my family in the battle for my non-work time.  I was pretty sure that wine blogging was going to have to go (it wasn’t exactly paying the bills, either).

There were new wine blogs cropping up pretty much every week.  It was a crowded field, and while the majority of those that I’d met who were involved with wine were amazing people, there were enough ‘bad apples’ gunnin’ for me that I felt a little… battle weary.

Then, I got contacted by the staff at Opus One and Penns Woods wineries – two of the finest purveyors of red wine on both coasts – to tour their wineries.  Why did they ask me to do this?  Because of my writing on 1WineDude.  The results of those visits sparked something in my pea-sized, alcohol-wizened brain.  “I’m just some punk kid from Delaware – what the hell was I doing talking to these amazing winemaking teams?  Holy crap, I’d better take this thing more seriously.”

After getting uber-wine-geeky with Opus One’s Michael Silacci and Penns Woods’ Gino Razzi, I recounted the experiences in the virtual pages of 1WineDude, and put their wines head to head in a blind tasting.  Links to the resulting posts are below, and they remain some of my favorites, probably because they convinced me not to hang up the wine bloggin’ spurs:

Since that time, 1WineDude has seen steady and progressive modest success, whether you measure it in terms of income, traffic, subscribers, or – best of all – in the number of readers, bloggers, industry folk, and winemakers that I consider to be friends.  If I’d given up last year, I’d have missed out on a crazy amount of life-expanding and enriching experiences.  Finding the right balance between family, career, music, and wine is a constant struggle for me – but the rewards on all fronts are worth the effort.

So in my case, we have a sort of minor tragedy turned into a sort of minor victory.  Thanks to two wines.  Sort of.

Cheers!

(images: sacbee.com, 1WineDude)

I’m Such a Fool For You (Reflections on Howell Mountain Cabernet)

Vinted on April 29, 2009 binned in California wine, wine review

Search for “Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet 2004” via Google, and you will quickly notice a few things:

  1. Apparently, if you post any information about Cornerstone on the web, you’re contractually obligated to use a few of the same well-produced photos of Cornerstone wine.  Sort of like how any mention of Australia in textbooks is accompanied by a picture of the Sydney Opera House.  Anyway, I’ve used the same ones in this post just in case, so I don’t get in trouble.
  2. The reviews are glowing (here’s a well-written example).

So now I’m thinking, great, who needs to contribute another favorable review of this thing?  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  But this is not a post about Cornerstone, as much as it is a post about me being a Fool, and about the subjectivity of wine tasting in general.

You see, I realized that it was important that I write about my experience with this wine, because tasting the Cornerstone made me realize just how biased I am when I’m tasting, and how much my personal tastes influence my wine recommendations and (mini) reviews.

First, let’s talk about the wine, which comes to me as a sample via Craig Camp, general manager of Cornerstone and is a fine blogger in his own right, and who I think is a good guy despite the fact that he only gave me one bottle of this wine.  Anyway, my thoughts on the 2004:

At first I got a little smoked meat on the nose, like how you might smell after eating a Bacon Explosion.  Dark, ultra-concentrated fruit.  The fruit is massive but it’s friendly, and you can smell the structure in this wine.  It comes to you like a friendly fat guy in a perfectly-tailored 3-piece suit.  This is Santa Claus on his day off, hosting a dinner party – that kind of friendly.  There is dried plum / prune action all over the place, but there’s so much else going on it’ll make your head spin.  Concentrate on one aspect, and it goes deep – like the black pepper; really hone in on it, and I swear to god it will practically make you sneeze there is so much pepper.  Hone in on the licorice and you’ll feel like you just popped open a bag of some kind of high-end black Twizzlers at the Cineplex… you get the idea.

And this is before I’ve even tasted it.

In your mouth, it’s dense.  The black fruit carries itself all the way through to the finish, which is plenty long, and it’s approachable now because the tannins are grilled-fig-wrapped-in-bacon chewy.  But they (the tannins, not the figs) give you just enough kick at the end, which reveals the whole point, unfolding in front of you like a treasure map that finally points you exactly where you need to dig: the balance of structure and intensity of fruit.  It’s almost a mind-f*ck, those last few seconds just get you right into the brain of the winemaking staff at Cornerstone.

That’s how I saw it, anyway.

So the interesting thing (for me) is, in tasting this wine, I had a fundamental realization, a small milestone in my personal wine-journey, similar to the first time I paired a buttery Chardonnay with lobster and thought, “OK, this is what everyone was talking about when they said that the right food & wine pairing makes all the difference.”

I realized that I’ve tasted that same balance of intense, focused berry fruit and velvety-chewy tannin structure before.  It’s a hallmark of Howell Mountain, which for me is the best site for growing Cabernet outside of Bordeaux.

Period.  End of discussion.  Check, please.

I’m a total fool for Howell Mountain Cab. fruit.  It’s kind of sad how much I’m Howell Mountain’s fruit bitch.  In my mind’s eye, I can imagine walking among some of the Cabernet vines of Howell Mountain, stopping to peruse a ripe cluster still on the vine, and the cluster begins to speak to me.

In this mental vision, the Howell Mountain Cab. fruit has the voice of Mr. T.:

Howell Mountain Cab Fruit: Hey. Suckah!  What kind a fool are you?

Me: <Looks around, fearing for my own sanity>.  Uhm… what?

HMCF: I asked you a question.  What kind of fool are you, suckah?!?

Me: <Leaning in closer to examine the grapes, which vaguely resemble the head of Mr. T.>.  Uhm… I dunno… why are you talking to me?  Am I drunk?

HMCF: I’ll give you the answer right now.  You a DAMN fool.

Me: Dude, that is soooo not cool…

HMCF: What other kind of fool are you?

Me: Uhm… I dunno… the drunk kind?

HMCF: WRONG, Suckah!  You MY fool!!!

Me: <collapses into fetal position; weeps>

Guess you had to be there.

Anyway…

How biased is that?  Pretty biased, probably.

If a Howell Mountain wine sucks and I review, I’m pretty sure I will say that it sucks, even if it is from Howell Mountain.  But I’m also guessing that when I taste a good Howell Mountain Cab, it’s already getting a leg up on other Cabs I might be trying around that same time.

Consider me squarely in the “wine tasting is subjective” camp.  My palate has its preferences, just like everybody else’s.  And they will probably make themselves known in my write-ups, articles, and reviews, whether I like it or not – just like every other wine writing dude and dudette out there.

Cheers, fools!

You’ve Come a Long Way, Eyfel (2 Examples of the Rise of Kosher Wines)

Vinted on April 15, 2009 binned in wine blogging wednesday, wine review

talespm2

This exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey has Plumboo (the monkey) and me (not a monkey but likely descended form them) traveling to the exotic Middle East, specifically crossing the oft-disputed borders into Israel to sample kosher wines as part of the Wine Blogging Wednesday blog carnival.

This month’s WBW is being hosted by The Cork Dork, and is focused squarely on kosher wines as the Passover event comes to a close.

    I decided to explore a couple of extremes with this review, so we’ll be looking at two very different wines that have a few common threads uniting them – they’re both kosher, they’re both results of the relatively recent explosion in quality fine wine from the region, they’re both Petite Syrah based wines from Israel, and they’re both pretty damn good.

According to Hugh Johnson, most countries that produce wine have some form of kosher wine on the market, and they’re usually a long way removed from the sacramental wines and kiddush that once made kosher synonymous with “crap” when it came to wine (instead of it’s actual meaning, which is “pure”).  Kosher winemaking basically follows the same process as un-kosher winemaking, with the exception that the winery workers must be religious Jews and there should be nothing un-kosher added during the winemaking process.

Twenty years ago, Tom Stevenson reported in the New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that “fine wine is nonexistent in the Levant.”  Now, in the book’s 4th Edition, he highlights that due to a “boom in boutique wineries” over the past decade (it should also be noted that an influx of California wine technology didn’t hurt, either), we now find “growth, diversification, and exhilarating promise in the wines form Lebanon and Israel.”

Between those two countries, Israel has far less land under vine than Lebanon, but exports much more of its increasingly yummy final product into the international kosher wine market.  According to the World Atlas of Wine, a fine wine culture has taken hold in Israel, and appears to be built to last. 

What’s truly amazing is how short our collective historical memories are when it comes to Israeli wine in general.  For centuries Israel lay on the wine route that ran from Egypt to Mesopotamia, and wine use in Jewish culture dates back literally before their recorded cultural history.  The word wine crops up over 200 times in the Bible.  Viewed that way, Israel’s fall from wine grace was a temporary blip on the historical radar.  Given Israel’s mild climate, varied soil types and state-of-the-art irrigation, it’s a wonder their wine quality revolution didn’t happen more quickly (for more on Israel’s winemaking history, check out Andre Domine’s Wine).

The proof, though, is in the puddin’ – or in this case, it’s in the Petite Sirah. 

After unfortunately missing an NYC expo of Israeli wine earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to receive samples of Israeli wine from a few different sources.  Hence the opportunity to feature two of them here, both from the same grape but miles apart in terms of style.

First up is a wine from Recanati’s Reserve label, a (mostly) Petite Sirah (with a little Zinfandel mixed in) from Galilee.  New World style all the way, with dark blackberry jam, spices & pepper notes.  Absolutely screams fro something grilled (and I’m not talkin’ veggies).  If you’d told me it was from CA, I’d probably have believed you – which is not to say it’s a copy-cat wine, but that it’s achieved very good quality and excellent concentration of fruit.

Next up, I tried another kosher offering from Carmel, which was founded over 125 years ago by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite and a Zionist.  Carmel is now one of the largest wine producers in Eastern Mediterranean.  Their 2004 Carmel Vintage is a port-style dessert wine made form Petite Sirah and clocks in at a hefty 18% abv.  On the nose, it’s got elements of dried blueberry and blackberry syrup, with smoke (compliments of many months aging in French oak) following up the rear flank.  The palate is all dried prune and sweet maple syrup.  I was really digging this – in fact, you would dig almost anything after 3 glasses of this (part from the hangover you’d endure later).  You could let your imagination run a bit wild with potential dessert pairing for this one, but you’d do just fine sipping it on its own after a hearty meal.

I suppose the moral of this story is that kosher wines are no longer crap, in fact they’re pretty f—king good.  They had me at Shalom, anyway.

Cheers!

(images: jewcy.com, palmbay.com, natashascafe.com, 1winedude )

Tax Season (or “Wine For Muppets”)

Vinted on April 13, 2009 binned in wine review

I am a muppet.

I don’t mean that I’m a small, furry puppet that entertains millions of kids and adults – though it can certainly be argued that small, furry and puppet are all apt descriptors for me (on occasion).

What I mean is, I’ve acted like a total idiot.

My friends in the U.K. use the saying (“I’m a muppet!”) when they completely screw something up.  I suppose it makes sense… as in, “damn, I screwed that up so badly, I acted like a plush toy without a functioning brain,” etc.

So when it comes to my taxes, I’m definitely a muppet. Because I have, by my standards, a huge federal return coming back to me.  And that is definitely not what I want.

Why?  Because that means I gave a nice, hefty, interest-free loan to Uncle Sam.  That’s money I could have been using to buy wines, and instead it went to interesting pursuits that have primarily delayed our progress towards a more just and tolerant society – pursuits like blowing up Iraqi civilians or debating whether or not gay marriage will unravel the moral fabric of our culture.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

The reason I bring up taxes is that the nice folks over at Icon Estates Wines, who represent about a gazillion wine brands, have sent me samples under the theme of Top Wines For Tax Times.  These are witty “pairings” such as –

You’re getting a big refund! Congratulations, you’ve hit the sweet spot!  Celebrate with a delicious Jackson0Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine…”

Not a bid idea, except that we’ve already established that getting a big refund means you’ve acted like a muppet and therefore probably is not something for which you should be congratulated.

This would not stop me however, from lining up a few samples to at least celebrate the fact that our 2008 taxes are at least completed for filing.  So I picked the “Your brain is in a knot” wine (Estancia’s Monterey Riesling), which is at least partially true but not necessarily related to the processing of my taxes, followed by the “It took you forever but you wouldn’t give up” wine – not true for me, since I pay someone else to work on my taxes – and finally the Jackson-Triggs Icewine (made from Vidal), which of course is related to the refund, without the “congratulations you’re a muppet!” part.

Ok, just to recap, we started with Sesame Street, moved on to taxes, and now we’re sampling wine from three different wineries.  Now that we’re all caught up…

Wine #1 – Despite the fact that the Estanica Riesling is from a cooler area (Monterey) in CA terms, it’s still a relatively warm climate in Riesling terms and it shows on this wine, which is heavy on the apple and pears, and a little lower on the acidity and floral component.  Still, it would kick ass paired with shrimp.

Wine #2 – The 2005 Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) was a tad disappointing for me – nice alcohol level, but very heavy on the cherry fruit, almost cloying, without any of the extra pizzazz of secondary aromas that I like to finish off my Cabs.

Wine #3 – The clear winner of the night for me (and all of our dinner party, actually).  The Jackson-Triggs Vidal Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine (Niagara) is a great buy, with a ton of melon sorbet on the nose, and sweet lemon-lime with plenty of acidity on the palate.

I attribute the Jackson-Triggs being my favorite to the fact that Canadian icewine stomps all kinds of major ass.  In my experience, a wine drinker’s first encounter with Icewine roughly follows the trajectory graphed below. (click for larger version):

Whether or not you are a fan of sweet wine is irrelevant to Icewine’s awesomeness.  Icewine kicks so much ass, it may just be the Chuck Norris of wine (I bowed my head as I typed Chuck Norris’ name, by the way).  No offense is meant above to Heidi Klum, of course… it’s just a vehicle for the purpose of emphasis… but since I mentioned her, I should at least include a picture to help reinforce the awesomeness of Icewine, should I not?

Of course I should:

Cheers!

(images: sesamestreet.com, jacksotriggswinery.com, 1winedude, makemeheal .com)

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