Posts Filed Under wine review
Simple – there aren’t any.
Ok, well maybe it’s not that simple, actually.
Astute 1WineDude.com readers have pointed out that I have yet to clearly explain my wine rating system; or, more accurately, my lack of a wine rating system. So… I will try to explain it but bear with me, because while I love wine and I love talking about wine, I really hate talking about talking-about wine.
If 1WineDude.com had a Mission Statement or Credo (it doesn’t, by the way), it might look something like this:
a) Drink Wine. b) Have Fun. c) Learn Something.
Generally speaking, I don’t review wines in my blog posts, unless reviewing a wine gives me an opportunity to also have fun and pass on some interesting wine learning along the way…
When I do review a wine, I try to be as objective as possible, but generally I don’t taste wines blind (unless that somehow can also provide an opportunity for b) and c) above). Why not? Well, when’s the last time that you tasted a wine blind? People just don’t do that at the dinner table, unless they haven’t been paying their electricity bills.
When I read about a wine, I usually want to know the answers to a few key questions: a) How does it taste? b) Are the aromas / flavors things that I like? c) Is it worth the price?
That’s it. You don’t need a rating for that. If I wanted to be inundated with numbers, and read boring lifestyle pieces from snarky old billionaires that have too much money and free time, who want to regale themselves with their stories of how they travel every year to Old World wine countries with the Duchy of Snob-a-tonia, and won’t touch a wine that isn’t rated 95 “points” or higher, blah-blah-blah… well, there’s already a magazine for that kind of stuff.
What I don’t want to see are a bunch of numbers. A number tells me nothing about whether or not I’ll like a wine and if it offers good value for money – which for me is the majority of the equation, so to speak.
Also, I don’t know anyone who “speaks” in points. I’ve never, ever said to someone at dinner “ooohhh, this wine is soooo a 94!” And I doubt that I ever will. Unless I think it’s funny at the time and I’m at dinner with one of the guys from Wine Enthusiast…
I’m wagering that since you’re here on this blog, you’re thinking somewhat along the same lines when it comes to wine ratings. Since we’ve established then that none of us like wine rating numbers, I’ve instead included in this post some graphics of George W. Bush’s Presidential approval ratings ratings (they’re going down, by the way). Enjoy!
Now for some odd reason, I seem to ruffle feathers with the established wine critic community whenever I talk about this rating stuff on my blog. Oh well! To those whom I hath offended, I say: “Hey, thanks for reading!”
Please note that I am NOT bashing wine rating scores in general here. I just don’t happen to like them so I’m not using them. I am, however, totally poking fun at the Bush Administration.
Hope this clears up my stance on the conspicuous lack of wine ratings here at Dude central. I look forward to not rating many more wines for you in the future!
(images: gallup.com, wikimedia.org)
Sit back, relax, and prepare for the unfolding of a twisted, Twisted Tale…
It was a dark and stormy night.
Actually, no, it wasn’t – it was one of those brilliant summer evenings when breeze is just strong and cool enough that it feels like a waft of heaven when you open up all the windows in the house. But that sounds a really lame start to a twisted tale… ah, forget it…
Anyway, I was recently contacted by Jeff Stai, head honcho of Twisted Oak winery in Calaveras County, CA, to see if I’d be interested in sampling their new limited-availability red, River of Skulls.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? River of Skulls. Especially when it’s in italics.
RIVER OF SKULLS!!! Mwah-hah-hah-HAH-HAAAAH!!!!!
Jeff is an eminently likable and very funny fellow, with a fondness for blogging and rubber chickens (you can follow Jeff at twitter to see what I mean). So, I was game to check out his wine.
Jeff did insist on one hideously vile and twisted condition, though: In exchange for receiving his new wine, I must henceforth from this day onward follow Satan!!!…
Now, at first I thought this would be difficult, seeing as how I don’t actually believe in Satan and all. But then I found this guy over at twitter, clicked the “Follow” button and – viola! – problem solved!
Actually, that’s not what happened. Jeff sent the wine with no strings attached. I know, kinda lame, right?
Anyway, the wine’s namesake is a bit twisted. From the bottle:
In 1805, Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga was ordered by the Spanish Governor of California to explore the Great Central Valley. displace the local Natives, and re-name everything he found. Well, one day Gabe and his horsemen came across a river the banks of which were littered with skulls. No one knows for sure how the skulls came to be on the banks of this river. Perhaps they were the remains of an ancient battle, or a terrible plague. Or perhaps it was a really great party that suddenly went horribly wrong.Whatever the case old Gabe, being a true master of the obvious, named this river “El Rio De Las Calaveras” or in English, “The River of Skulls.”
Now, before we get into the River of Skulls (dum-DUM!) bottle, I need to give you some twisted background on the primary varietal in this sucker…
River of Skulls is 90% Mourvedre, a grape of Spanish origin (where it’s called monastrell or mataro, depending upon location), where it’s widely planted. It’s also found in Provence, the Southern Rhone, and with limited (spotty) success in California. Mourvedre ripens slowly, and it likes heat & wind (which help it against rotting). Its wines are not shy and tend to be used for blending because of their tannic, alcoholic spiciness.
Interestingly, Mourvedre is a true survivor. It was practically wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s, and it wasn’t until after World War II that suitable rootstock was found on which Mourvedre could thrive without succumbing to the nasty little aphid.
Speaking of twisted tales, if you have time check out the life cycle of phylloxera – any species that produces a male with no mouth or digestive system is just, well, totally twisted!
Anyway, back to the wine: Twisted Oak provides a great deal of information about River of SKULLS (dum-DUM!) in the wine’s production notes (worth checking out if you’re feeling particuarly geeky). Interestingly (lots of interesting things going on in this twisted tale…), about 1/4 of the grapes were fermented uncrushed, in order to bring out more cherry fruit characteristics in the finished wine.
It worked. Here’s what I found – dried cherries galore, vanilla oakiness, and tobacco leaf spiciness. The palate was full of even more smokiness and spice – and booze. Nothing shy about the booze in this sucker, but I’m Ok with that because I expect it from this grape. It’s when I get 14.9% white wines and Bordeaux style red blends from CA that I start to get all, well, twisted inside. On the second day of tasting, I got more raspberry and blueberry than on Day 1 – still going strong. River of Skulls is a wine that’s worth the $28 price tag, especially if you’ve got some smoked or peppered meat to serve with it. Boo-yeah!
Well, there you have it. A wine tale that was quite twisted, though not in the ways we might have originally expected. For more twistedness, check out Twisted Oak winery’s blog.
And be on the look out for Jeff, and for that Satan character…
(images: twistedoak.com, avenuevine.com, southparkstudios.com)
It’s been one month since I posted about the 89 Project, the brainchild of 2 Days Per Bottle‘s David Honig. I figured it was time for a check in to see how the little guy was faring!
You might recall from my previous post (the one that Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff, bless his soul, interpreted so darn incorrectly as a disparagement of the 100 Point wine rating system, which isn’t quite what I was goin’ for…) that the 89 Project is a collaborative effort involving several bloggers that pokes a bit of good-natured fun at the current state of wine ratings. When you rate wines using a 100 point scale (like the big boy wine reviews in the big boy wine mags), giving a wine a 90 or above is ticket to 30% plus price hikes. Conversely, an 89 or below might get you into the discount bin – and could get overlooked by the general wine buying public, since many retailers don’t publicize those wines. A viscous cycle of non-showcasing, non-buying, non-showcasing, non-buying ensues.
Anyway, the 89 Project has wine bloggers from all over wine blog-o-land giving their take on 89-point wines. If you’re interested in learning more of the goals and genesis behind the project, check out David’s explanation via podcast from his guest appearance on WineBizRadio.com.
I’m pleased to report that the 89 Project is not only still alive, it’s alive & kicking. Not only was it featured on WineBizRadio.com, it’s also got its own discussion group over at the Open Wine Consortium (I love me some OWC!), and it’s now up to 30 contributors….
Personally, I’ve been having me a good time with my 89 Project contributions (you can check out my 89 Project reviews here). First, it’s an absolute hoot to go through a wine store looking for points, which I usually avoid like the plague (because, let’s face it, nobody talks in points, unless they work for Wine Spectator…). It’s even more fun to run through the wine store pushing a cart, taking pictures of the point ratings and getting positively giddy when you are finding wines clearly labeled as being given ratings less than 90 points.
The wine shop employees (especially in my local PLCB stores) think I’m totally insane now. It’s great…
So – stayed tuned to the 89 Project. You might find some interesting recommendations that you might otherwise have missed. And if you go looking for some of these wines, you just might, if you’re lucky, get yourself one hell of an “interesting” reputation among the wine shop employees in your neck of the woods…
(images: ggpht.com, wikimedia.org)
Here’s a question for you budding wine history buffs out there.
To make it challenging, it’s in the form of an SSAT ‘association’ test question. You know, the ones you had in grade school, that were so odd that they presumably measured your ability to mimic the exact thinking process of the test question authors:
Rodney Strong is to Sonoma as
A) Dandelion is to Space Shuttle
B) Robert Mondavi is to Napa Valley
C) Absquatulate is to Pedantic
D) PLCB is to Communism
The CORRECT Answer is B) Robert Mondavi is to Napa Valley.
[ If you picked A), you may want to seek professional help, by the way. ]
Though not quite as famous a household name as Mondavi, Rodney Strong did every bit as much to put Sonoma wines on the map as Mondavi did to promote his beloved Napa Valley. Like Mondavi, Strong recognized the potential of a unique spot of California land to become more than just an assembly line for cheap jug wines, and pioneered Sonoma until it could stand with sure footing on the world stage of fine wine production.
Planting his first vines in 1959 (when there were less than 20 wineries in the U.S., and table fruit was seen as the future of Sonoma agriculture), Strong spearheaded a quality movement that resulted in an explosion of Sonoma wineries, some capable of producing wines that are considered among the world’s best.
There were detractors. Regarding them, Strong once said, “You are never going to please everybody, and if you try, it is the shortest route to mediocrity you will ever find.“
Those are not the words of a follower. There the words you say when you are trying to make history.
Rodney Strong Vineyards (the winery founded by Strong) is still going, well, strong. And like their namesake, they are also making wine history…
Over the last ten years, Tom Klien, owner of RSV, has been quietly setting the stage to create the ultimate expression of Strong’s dream of fine Sonoma wine – by crafting a flagship ‘winery-within-a-winery’ brand, with the potential to achieve cult Cabernet status. The result is Rockaway Vineyard, which is releasing its inaugural vintage (2005), on September 1st.
Klien began Rockaway by purchasing – and then replanting – choice vineyards in the northern stretches of Alexander Valley. He then brought together a near dream team to make wine from those plots. According to RSV’s PR Director, Robert Larson, “the team assembled to make Rockaway favorably compares with any in the world. Rick Sayre [RSV’s primary wine-maker] has the history at Rodney Strong to know and grow the capability of quality production. [Winemaking consultant] David Ramey has the known capacity to make extraordinary wine. Gary Patzwald is as good as they come when it comes to an amazing palate and an incredible commitment to nailing the details. Doug McIlroy [director of wine-growing] has an incredible background and years of experience growing wine in Sonoma County. Bob Steinhauer is very well regarded in the winegrowing world due to his time with Beringer.”
If you want to create the ultimate expression of Sonoma Cabernet, then you’d better pick an amazing spot for your vines – because land in CA wine country isn’t exactly being given away. RSV thinks that they’ve found such a sweet spot for Rockaway.
“CA viticulture and winemaking is ever-evolving, and the high-end game includes narrowing down to sweet-spots in a variety of ways,” says Larson. “There are single rows and plots within vineyards that taste better than others. You’ll notice, by viewing our website, that we communicate the vineyard’s USGS coordinates, which is our way of saying that place is, above all else, the most important factor in quality wine.”
Google-mapping GPS coordinates to show off your vineyard plots? Now that’s confidence.
And it seems well-founded: southwest facing slopes, with good elevation (approx. 750 ft), the chosen Rockaway plots are made up of gravelly clay and sandstone, with good drainage. All the elements are there for excellent CA Cabernet. On paper, at least.
So what do they do with that fruit, now that their primo vines are producing some fit for vinifying? Back to our friend, Mr. Larson: “Rockaway is completely made from free-run juice, and from only the best rows/vines on the vineyard. Everything that can be done to ensure getting perfect berries into the fermentation tanks is done. The grapes are sorted in the vineyard, picked into half-ton bins and delivered early in the morning, right next to the tank where they’ll undergo fermentation. There, they are cluster sorted again, de-stemmed, and berry sorted, prior to being gently pumped – using a pump like used for fruit-cocktail, very gentle – into tanks. Every detail and decision in building the winery-within-a-winery was about preserving the fruit.”
In other words, if you’re sitting on potentially amazing fruit, don’t f–k it up.
Alright, so it’s quality from the word go – on paper. How does vintage numero uno taste? Here are the vitals: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot; 24 months in 100% French Oak barrels; 15.4% abv (yowza!).
Rockaway’s color is gorgeously opaque, almost inky. At first, the nose reveals about as much as trying to look at a Picaso through a glass of this sucker’s dark color. It starts closed, like a powerfully clenched fist. And then, with some air, come hints of black fruit, cassis, and oak; they are not overwhelming, but they are as pure as the wine is dark. In your mouth, prune flavors dominate, finishing long and strong with hints of raisin and alcohol (at 15%+ abv, there’s just no getting around that).
As closed and powerful as Rockaway is, it’s suprisingly accessible now (it just needs meat, and a lot of decanting). It’s got plenty of potential to get better with ageing; there’s just enough pure fruit to stand up to all of that booze. In about 6 years, a miracle might occur in that bottle… It’s as good and solid a young Cab. as I’ve ever tasted out of California – complexity TBD, but the purity of fruit is right there. Reminds me a bit of Opus One (but likely way cheaper, and with a little more California swagger).
You might be wondering what the ‘big boys” of wine media think about Rockaway’s inaugural effort. You know, Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, etc., etc., etc.
Well, we don’t know, because they haven’t published their reviews yet.
And that’s the final bit of pioneering history-making surrounding this stellar first effort from Rockaway. Upon its release, reviews of this wine are hitting the blogosphere before they are hitting Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, and other “traditional” wine media.
That’s because, for what may be the first time ever, a high-end wine debut is in the hands of wine bloggers simultaneously as the long-established wine mags.
What a second… Wine Bloggers’ reviews are hitting before Robert Parker has the chance to give this wine 90+ points and send the purchase price into the stratosphere? What the hell are Rockaway thinking? Are they clinically insane? Why on earth would they do that?
I posed this question (sans the effusiveness, and without questioning his sanity directly) to Rob Larson: “Pulling the trigger is based on a hunch, and a gut feeling about how people are gathering information and forming their buying decisions on this style and level of wine.”
And here you thought that wine bloggers were just a bunch of wannabe wine critics.
Not any more, apparently.
Seems that Rodney Strong’s pioneering, history-making spirit that helped to put Sonoma on the map has done something else: it’s helped to put Wine Blogging on the map as well.
History in the making, indeed.
If you want to get your hands on Rockaway, you’ll need to sign up on the mailing list. I suggest you do it quickly, ’cause just like a fashionable cult Cab., it’s an allocated brand – the mailing list is the only place it will be available to wine consumers.
Tell ’em 1WineDude sent ya. And while you’re at it, ask them to save me another bottle…
Full disclosure: 1WineDude.com is part of a group of bloggers who have received Rockaway for reviewing purposes. For more on this historic release, follow these other fine wine bloggers:
(images: 1WineDude.com, RockawayVineyard.com)