1) It is the darkest of times for wine writing. The general decline in the consumption of real journalistic reporting has resulted in immensely talented people being out of regular wine-writing-work. The black cloud enveloping the wine writing sphere is actually the dark cloak of the grim reaper; that silver lining you see is his scythe, gleaming against the available light, raised to the apex of its arc in his cold, bony hands, beginning its inexorable path to cut wine writing down at its haunches.
2) It is the brightest of times for wine writing, for those who are comfortable with ambiguity and have an entrepreneurial bent. Since information about wine is now being consumed in almost an infinite array of forms on-line (with no-to-low-cost barriers to entry to almost all of them), those with passion, drive, talent and business sense can earn a comfortable living – if they’re able to market themselves and build their own personal brands. Success stories include new and traditional media types (and those like Dominique Browning who have successfully leveraged both).
3) Apparently, I have fooled a good number of people into thinking that I know what I am talking about. I think there might be a good book idea in there somewhere, but I won’t bother to pitch it because the traditional publishing industry has 14 billion levels of checks and bureaucracy and is (almost) hopelessly broken.
4) Everything positive that you’ve ever heard about the legendary Gerald Asher is probably true. His keynote speech seamlessly wove together wine writing history, wine sales, insight into the human condition, and prostitution – and that was just in the first three minutes.
5) Please stop telling me that Napa wines are never Bretty, or that their ripe fruits will outshine any Bretty stank even after years in the bottle. Because I sampled some older vintages at the post-prandial (does anyone not love that word?) tastings at the Symposium, and while most were NOT Bretty, those that were displayed way more fruit-of-the-barnyard than fruit-of-the-vine, if you catch my drift.
(more after the jump…)
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Into the valley of Napa
Rode the six hundred (ok, maybe a few less than that)
Pinot to right of them,
Pinot to left of them,
Pinot in front of them
Volley’d & thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell…
– with sincere apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In case the title of today’s article lacks clarity for some of you (presumably the wildly hungover among you), I should note that Napa Valley Pinot Noir and I seem to have come to a… disagreement.
Which is a shame, really, because NV PN, though never svelte, has several qualities that make it potentially likable company. Velvety mouthfeel. Bright red fruit. Heft that can be attractive when balanced with the right levels of food-friendly acidity.
But make no mistake about it, NV PN has mistreated me. My tongue might actually have bruises from the most recent fisticuffs between us.
Last week, the 2011 Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley wrapped up with a blind perspective tasting of three vintages (2007 through 2009) of both Napa Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs at the Rudd Center of the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. Since we had little over an hour to blind-taste our way through numbered beakers of samples of each of the three vintages from multiple wineries, I chose what I thought would be the more interesting route: skip the Cabs (ample samples of those back in the dancing waters of Philly, after all) and instead face off against the samples of Pinots (less of those anyway, 24 wines in all – 3 vintages from eight different wineries). The wines were a finalist list culled down from 100+ submissions back in December by members of the Vintage Perspective Tasting jury.
Anyway – go for the Pinot, maybe learn something new. Expand the horizons. Get out of the comfort zone. Can’t hurt, right?
Wrong. Turns out blind-tasting those NV Pinots was, for me, the sensory equivalent of taking a knife to a gun fight. I have since crawled shamefully back into the safety of my comfort zone, tending my wounds and muttering unintelligibly in pain. You win, Napa Pinots. Please don’t hurt me again…
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Is there a new pecking order for cult Napa Cabs?
Well, the case could certainly be made after this past Saturday’s Premiere Napa Valley: the part-auction, part-networking-event, part-total-insanity in which small, selected barrels/lots from some of Napa’s most celebrated wine producers are auctioned off to collectors, buyers and importers, as special, once-in-a-lifetime future bottlings. The idea is that those wines are unique to each winning bidder, as the small lots from each producer are sold in their entirety to the winning bidder for that lot (I attended on the heels of the 2011 Pro Wine Writers Symposium).
Last year’s auction started off a little grim due to the down economy. The atmosphere was a little more convivial this year and when the biddings kicked off, the auction room was packed and the excitement, to my eyes and ears anyway, was more palpable. But when a Japanese importer got into a friendly-but-intense bidding battle over Scarecrow’s 5-case 2011 Premiere lot, the festivities took on the air of a rock concert, with cheering, clapping and smiles. No dancing or head-banging, though.
The winning bid by the Japanese importer was $125,000 – roughly $2,000 per bottle of Scarecrow’s stuff on offer that day.
We may just have a new King of cult Napa Cabs, and a renewed focus on Scarecrow’s winemaker Celia Welch – not only was the $125K the highest bid of the day for any of the 200 auction lots on offer, it was the highest winning bid in the history of the Premiere Napa Valley auction.
Will that Japanese importer ever break even on this weekend’s historic transaction? Probably not, at least not when it comes to recovering the investment on that particular wine. BUT… very likely the cache factor will send more business their way, so it seems a smart move commercially.
Is the news good for CA wine? Probably – if there were a better indication of the economy for high-end wine recovering, I’ve yet to see it. I did hear grumbling on the auction floor by other producers that the historic bid was more fanfare and marketing over substance, but there were plenty of people raving about the quality of the Scarecrow lot wine, and I think any Napa Cab producer needs to see the forest through the trees here – I can’t think of any way in which this won’t benefit the recovering industry here, generally-speaking.
More to come on all of this later in the week – including my notes on some of the other auction lot wines, and video of the history-making gavel being slammed on that Scarecrow auction (for now, you’ll have to settle for my crappy cell phone picture of the winning moment from the “results board”).
What do YOU think? Is Scarecrow’s record-breaking success a boon for Napa Cab.? or is it a score-whoring setback for fine wine at affordable prices? Shout it out in the comments!
- 99 Royal Tokaji Mezes Maly 6 Puttonyos (Tokaji): Honey, quince, white tea, orange, sultana & a little slice of nearly pure heaven. $150 A #
- 01 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): A truly elegant (& fairly-priced) diamond in the purple-soaked, extracted rough of the NV $80 A #
- 07 Stony Hill Chardonnay (Napa Valley): Pretty, svelte & food-friendly; but just a little too rough around the edges goin’ down. $35 B #
- 07 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Like an artistic engineering feat; the real beauty is in the structure $135 A- #
- 08 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel (Calistoga): The lighter, spicier side of jammy Zin. Close access to grilled burgers required. $30 B+ #
- 09 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (Napa Valley): If you like citrus & peaches, you’ve found your happy place (but the seats are pricey) $50 B+ #
- 09 Chateau Montelena Riesling (Potter Valley): Gotta give them props for getting lime and a nice citrusy zing from a warm spot. $24 B- #
- 03 Marcassin Bondi Home Ranch Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): Savory, earthy but BIG. Hey, even famous statues look cracked from close up $180 B+ #
- 09 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs (Nahe): The white flowers & apricot put it firmly into “Wow!” territory $60 A #
- 03 Chateau Pontet-Canet (Pauillac): Hot year gives enough pure, bombastic black cherry to keep the stinky funk menace in check. B+ $85 #
- NV Bollinger Special Cuvee (Champagne): The house’s hand is toasty, lush & full of green apple. And it’s definitely a winning hand. $65 B+ #