“Billy C. is drinking Sandeman Port down at the old café
And the river goes by slowly, the river likes it that way.”
– The Knuckleball Suite, Peter Mulvey
In the world of wine, there are a few images that stand the test of time and can truly be described as iconic, instantly conjuring up the history not just of a long-standing producer, but also of the entire region that producer calls home. And when you’re iconic in the world of wine, with its long historical perspective… well, then you’re just f*cking iconic, period.
In America, we have such an icon: the Missionary-style tower at Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley has come to represent not only the history of fine winemaking at RMW, but the entire modern history of fine winemaking in all of Napa (and by extension all of the U.S.), by virtue of the man who just about singlehandedly started it all.
The world of Port in Portugal has such an icon, too: The Don – that tall, dark-cloaked stranger that stands so prominently on the Gaia side of the river Douro (and who’s a lot more Zoro than creepy-flasher), is instantly recognizable to anyone walking along the shoreline in Porto. George Massiot Brown’s poster design from the 1920s has come to represent not only the 200+ years of Port-producing history that began with Scotsman George Sandeman – to many, it represents Port, period.
So when you’re offered samples of the icon’s range of age-designated Tawny Ports (from 10 to 40 years old) for possible review, you think twice about turning them down. In fact, in that scenario, as a wine geek you really have only two options: 1) decline the samples, or 2) plan on staging a comparative tasting and pairing them with Apple, Cranberry & Walnut Pie with Stilton (from page 208 of Sid Goldstein’s excellent The Wine Lover’s Cookbook).
You can guess which option I picked…
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Well… are they?
Some background: Wine critics generally use a 100-point scale when evaluating wines (I know most of you know this, bear with the exposition, people!). I don’t, because I think it implies a level of accuracy in evaluating a moving-target product (that can change within hours in the glass, let alone within years in the bottle) and so I (begrudgingly – hey, you asked for them!) use a “fuzzier” scale to evaluate the wine that I’m fortunate (and, ok, sometimes not-so-fortunate) enough to have cross my lips.
Generally, it’s assumed that many (probably most) wine critics reserve some part of their rating score for a wine’s color. For example, long-time Wine Spectator editor James Suckling once explained via video how he doles out his points when reviewing a wine, in which “things like color get 15 points.”
But is a wine’s color an important enough aspect on which to base 15% or so of one’s critical rating? According to a (very) informal poll I took recently via twitter and facebook, the answer is probably “No.”…
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Looks like I’m far from the only one with a penchant for interviewing rock stars about their vinous habits: the Winter 2011 issue of Guitar Aficionado has been dubbed “The Wine Issue” with interviews with wine-making and wine-collecting rockers – and it prominently features a (pretty cool) guitar-shaped decanter on the cover (see inset pic).
According to the GA website:
“In Guitar Aficionado’s Winter 2011 issue, we bring you the rockers, vintners, and oenophiles that celebrate the grape. Rush’s esteemed guitar and bass duo, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, discuss their decades-long love affair with the world’s finest wines; the Police’s Andy Summers talks wine and guitars; celebrated vintner and guitarist Paul Gargiulo says there’s a little music in every bottle that leaves his idyllic estate; and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan and Daytona drive’s Scott Pruett tell tales of their winemaking ventures.
The issue also features articles on the wine tourism opportunities in Chile, as well as wine-and-music pairings by celebrity restaurateur / vintner Joe Bastianich (whose line-up of wines are generally pretty darn good, by the way).
Might just have to go get myself a copy of that, even if it does celebrate an instrument with at least one too many strings on it…
By the way, if you’re looking for rock star wine-related interviews, we got some right here:
In this episode of 1WineDude TV, I attempt to simplify one of the greatest of cool-weather beverages, Port – and I try to tell you most of what you will ever need to know about Port in under five minutes. I fail, primarily because I go way over five minutes, but along the way I reveal a simple fact about Port that just might blow your mind, and taste a great (and relatively inexpensive!) introduction to the Ruby Port style. Enjoy!
Tasted in this episode:
Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port (Porto)
Apparently this long-standing Reserve Ruby Port (Cockburn’s invented the Reserve category in the late 1960s) from this long-standing producer (they’ve been in the Port biz for about 200 years) was revamped recently when Symington Family Estates gobbled up Cockburn’s last year – the grapes are primarily from the Quinta do Canais vineyard in the upper Douro, and the style has been tweaked along with the packaging. The result is a higher-quality Reserve Port that’s quite true to its Ruby colors: semi-dried fruits like fig and date can be found, along with dark cherries, plums and the “signature” peppery spice that marks a good Ruby. Chocolate notes send the whole thing down the hatch in a fairly well-balanced, elegant, and downright genteel package. A solid buy for cooler evening, post-dinner, fireside-chat action.