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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)

Wine Blogging Wednesday #51: "Baked Goods"

Vinted on November 12, 2008 binned in best of, wine blogging wednesday, wine review


Welcome to Wine Blogging Wednesday #51(WineDude)!
Dude here is hosting the 51st edition of the venerable WBW, and today’s theme is Baked Goods – reviews of wines that are deliberately heated (aka “Madeirized”), and we’re also allowing reviews of sweet Fortified wines to be included. For the scoop on how Wine Blogging Wednesday works, check out the WBW site. More details on the background of the theme can be found here.

Now… let’s get this funk started!

I love Madeira. Love is a strong word. And I love Madeira.

It’s often sweet, incredibly tasty, high in refreshing acidity, and because it’s already been exposed to oxygen and heat (which would utterly destroy normal wines), it’s virtually indestructible.

A Madeira wine from 1935 will pretty much taste the same today as it did in 1935, even if opened and enjoyed tablespoon by luscious tablespoon from then until now. Not only is it tasty, indestructible, and food-friendly, it also boasts an abv of 19% or more. It’s a bad-ass wine!…

Normally, I’d expound on the storied history of Madeira, and give you background on the traditional styles of Madeira, food pairings, etc.

But…

Rather than take you through the history of Madeira wine – which I figured might be covered by one or more of the other fine WBW participants anyway (and if not can easily be found in detailed play-by-play on the web) – I thought I’d instead show you, by way of comparison, just how bad-ass Madeira actually is.

Let’s compare kick-ass, indestructible Madeira to the so-called “Invincible” IRON MAN:

The
“Invincible” IRON MAN

Totally Kick-Ass

Indestructible Madeira


Abilities

Superhuman strength, Repulsor-ray technology, Genius-level intellect

Intense aroma

, Mouth-watering acidity

, Ass-kicking 19%+ abv
Edge: Madeira

Protection

Bullet-proof, temperature-resistant armorTIE

Impervious to hot ovens, attic temperatures, and long, perilous sea voyages

– TIE

Creator

Stan Lee

The Dutch Armada


Edge: Madeira

Nemesis

The Mandarin
, Alcoholism
, Soft spot for Pepper Pots
, Very large magnets

Edge: IRON MAN

Cork Taint


Tastes Like

Metal alloy

Nuts, caramel, dried figs. -
Edge: Madeira

Result of
Oxidation

Rust

Characteristics of nuts and honey

Edge: Madeira

No contest: Madeira totally trumps IRON MAN, 5-2.

Anyway, traditional Madeira comes in four flavors of grapes, each chosen to highlight a particular style of the wine, examples of which I tasted in comparison (witness below).


Notice how the color of each wine gets darker? This is a key to the style, which range from dry and nutty to lusciously sweet and caramely (is that a word…?):

Blandy’s Dry Sercial (Aged 5 Years in oak): Made from the Sercial grape, grown in the cooler high-altitude regions of the Madeira island. Sherry-like, nutty (almonds, baby!) with searing acidity. Pass the hors d’oeuvres!

Blandy’s 5 Year Vedelho: Made from Verdelho (also grown in the cooler Northern part of the island) – Sherry-like, but this time its darker and more ‘Oloroso-ish'; the oak is more pronounced, and there’s touch of sweetness balancing the acidity.

Cossart Gordon Medium Rich Bual (15 years): From the Bual grape (probably my favorite) from the warmer southern portion of Madeira, it ripens to higher levels so it can be made into a sweeter style. And sweet it is – as in sweet fig, vanilla, and hazelnut, with a long nutty finish.

Blandy’s Malmsey 10 Year: Malmsey is the malvasia grape, grown in the warmest and lowest-altitude regions of Madeira. These wines can become ultra-indestructible and typically have a near-perfect balance between acidity and sweetness. In this case, the wine is bursting with burnt caramel, rum, honey, and smoke, with a smooth, luscious mouthfeel.

Now do you see why I use the word “love” when I’m talking Madeira?

Just don’t tell Mrs. Dudette… she might get jealous…

Cheers!
(images: 1winedude.com, malone.blogs.com, historyguy.com, wikimedia.org, sahistory.org.za, d210.tv, wilsoncrfeekwinery.com, fruitsstar.com, purplemissues.blogspot.com)

Portable vs Potable II: A Tetrapak Smackdown (or "Garbage In, Garbage Out")

Vinted on October 30, 2008 binned in Tales of the Purple Monkey, wine review


In this exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey, Plumboo (that’s the monkey) and I take on some wine samples provided in Tetrapak packaging. And narrowly survive!

During the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier this week, one of the event sponsors, Tetra Pak, supplied us with samples of wines from wineries that are using their packaging for their products…

Specifically, Plumboo and I tried juice-carton portions of French rabbit‘s ‘petit’ Merlot/Cabernet blend, and Three Thieves‘ “Bandit” Chardonnay, assisted by Mrs. Dudette who was hankerin’ for some vino when I cracked them open. Er, I mean, popped them open. Or peeled them open, actually.

Before I pass judgment on the wines (warning: it won’t be pretty), I should bring some positive karma to this post by giving some attention to what Tetra Pak is all about.

I can really get bahind what Tetra Pak is all about, which is making coin in a green, sustainable way. Their manufacturing is officially carbon nuetral. The packaging that they produce (think milk cartons) requires less material and less weight than glass to hold the same amount of liquid – which also reduces the carbon footprint needed to ship whatever liquid is in the Tetra Pak container.

So… I do NOT blame Tetra Pak for what Plumboo and I had to endure, because their packaging is neutral and theoretically shouldn’t be imparting any flavor or odor qualities to the wine inside.

Qualities like an aroma of bug spray – which was in such prevalent quantity in the French Rabbit ‘petit’ red blend that I expected to find the words “Contains DEET” on the back of the carton.

As for the Bandit, we found it one-dimensional. And that dimension was astringency.

Green is Good. But it doesn’t change the time-tested rule of “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

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

88 – The Number of The Beast?

Vinted on October 23, 2008 binned in wine review

Another ditty for The 89 Project has me tasting a devil of a wine that good ol’ Wine Enthusiast dubbed a “Best Buy” and gave 88 points (hey, it’s not technically an 89, but it’s close enough for government work, right?): Concha y Toro’s 2007 “Casillero del Diablo” Chardonnay Reserve (Casablanca Valley, Chile).

Speak of the Devil. And just in time for Halloween, too.

You know how for some lower-budget wines, you read the tasting descriptor on the back of the bottle and it sort of, but not really, describes how the wine tastes to you; or worse, seems to be describing a completely different wine than the one that you’re drinking?

This is not one of those times. The descriptor on the back of the Casillero del Diablo bottle is frighteningly (get it?) accurate:

“A crisp [editor’s note: i.e., it’s got decent acidity] Chardonnay [well, duh] packed with tropical fruit flavors [there is definately some grapefruit and melon going down in this puppy] “and subtle hints of vanilla [the oak doesn’t skewer your nostrils like a wooden pitchfork]. Medium bodied with good balance [it’s not a booze-hound from hell] and a fresh finish [i.e., the finish is short but it’s good].”

Color me impressed. Especially for a wine this cheap (about $10 USD).

Normally the 89-point range is the Number of the Beast, the veritable wine kiss o’ death. But Concha y Toro ought to be very pleased with this rating at this price point. If anything, it’s a testament to how well poised Chile is to rule the wine world at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Sure, the CdD Reserve is far from complex. But it’s got the Fire. It has the Force. It has the power to make it’s evil take it’s course!

YeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
[Insert trademark Bruce Dickinson awesome butt-kicking heavy metal scream here].

Cheers!
images: (1winedude.com, ironmaidenwallpaper.com)

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