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Ambiguously Gay Marketing, French Bocce, & a CA 2nd Label (Sampling Pétanque)

Vinted on June 18, 2009 binned in wine review

I liked Mike Brunson almost immediately.

When I met the Michel-Schlumberger winemaker, it was a brilliantly sunny and warm October day in Sonoma, and the Michel-Schlumberger estate was certainly living up to its reputation in terms of gorgeous places to visit in Dry Creek Valley.

Mike seemed pretty down to earth for someone who was making a go at creating ‘prestige cuvee’ style wines that retail for $50+ a bottle.  He certainly knew the estate property like the back of his hand, and was clearly committed to understanding every aspect of biodynamic wine grape cultivation.

What sealed the deal for me, though, was when we started chatting about the winery’s dog.

“You can learn a lot about somebody from how they treat dogs,” he said.  “That and whether or not they like Reggae.”

As far as I was concerned, truer words have rarely been spoken.

Of course, it helps that Michel-Schlumberger pumps out some really tasty (though pricey) wine, and that my visit will forever be etched into the ‘happy-place’ recesses of my memory, not because of the beauty of the grounds (which were stunning), but because lunch consisted of the tastiest portion of pork shoulder that has ever crossed my lips.  It was the kind of pork that I imagine would be served to carnivores in heaven.

So what does this have to do with French Bocce, or ambiguously gay marketing?

A lot, actually….

Read the rest of this stuff »

Have Bottle, Will Gag (Reviewing Etching Expressions Custom Wine Gifts)

Vinted on June 17, 2009 binned in wine products, wine review

UPDATE: Etching Expressions contacted me in the Summer of 2012 to indicate that they offer a lot more wine choices now than what was chosen to fill the sample bottle sent to me when I penned this review back in 2009. From the looks of those choices (and the pretty reasonable prices at which some are offered), it’s probably worth taking a second gander at the options.

A little while ago (ok, well, probably longer than that… I’ve been busy…) I took part in a promotion to sample a bottle from a company called Etching Expressions.

Etching Expressions offers an interesting gift idea: customized bottles of wine (prices starting around $65), where your customization is actually etched into the wine bottle glass itself, making for a possible conversation-starting keepsake after the vino inside is long gone.

Etching Expressions sent me a bottle of what I think is their house Cabernet, inside of a very cool bottle that sported an etched version of my “Wine Rules” T-shirt logo.  In terms of the bottle, I was mightily impressed – the etching job is top-notch (not that I’m a glassworks expert, but it wasn’t flawed in any noticeable way), and it looked very, very cool.  There’s no question that this sort of gift is going to get tongues flapping at a dinner party.

As for the wine itself… here’s how my sample was described on the Etching Expressions website:

California Blended Cabernet Sauvignon: A little tannin in the nose, along with plum and berry. A dash of vanilla? The taste is light for a Cab, but has a nice balance between fruit and tannin.

The wine wasn’t flawed in any noticeable way, unless you’d categorize being unbelievably bad to the point of undrinkable to be a flaw.  For me, there was no question that this sort of wine is going to get tongues flapping at a dinner party – as in gagging-flapping.

This was one of those rare moments when I actually hesitated after smelling the wine, uncertain as to whether or not I should even let it hit my palate. In terms of what I can tell you about the wine without using expletives, “thin & acerbic” comes to mind.  So unless you want to seriously piss off your friends, family, boss, etc., you’d do well to pick one of the brand name selections and avoid the house wine options if you’re considering going with an etched bottle of wine as a gift option.

Cheers!

(images: 1WineDude)

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!

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