Search for “Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet 2004” via Google, and you will quickly notice a few things:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
With the enormous and successful Twitter Taste Live! / Hospice du Rhone / Wine Riot! combined event behind us, attention can now start to be focused on yet another series of big wine-related events that are entering the Collective Dude-O-Sphere (as I’ve dubbed that pocket of the Universe that contains my ever-decreasing amounts of free time). These events are “big” either in scope, in the momentum behind them (i.e., brand-new, first-of-their-kind) or in potential to get me in trouble with the would-be wine writing pundits (is there a synonym for pundit that starts with ‘W’?).
The first of these will have me heading out to Long Island to take part in the first-ever TasteCamp East. TasteCamp is the brainchild of fellow wine blogger Lenn Thompson, who focuses primarily on NY area wine. Lenn, along with area groups like the Long Island Merlot Alliance, has organized a mini wine blogger assault on the fine wineries of the LI region, consisting mostly of East Coast wine bloggers, that will have us visiting a surprisingly large amount of wineries and winemakers in surprisingly small amount of time (May 1-3). I’ll be reporting as often as I can during the event, but bear in mind that May 1st is my wedding anniversary and Mrs. Dudette might not be takin’ too kindly to no laptop PCs that day!
The next trip, chronologically, is the juicy, controversial one – so let’s hold off on that one for a few (I know… I’m a jerk)…
July 24-26 will have me back in Napa/Sonoma for the 2nd North American Wine Bloggers Conference, which will be just as big and bold (in terms of participants and sponsors) as last year’s event. I am stoked to get back out to CA wine country, and to meet up again with the great and colorful cast of the NA wine blogging community. I’ve got the trip bookended by visits with wine producers whose exciting wines have been featured here in the virtual pages of 1WineDude, and a sojourn north to Washington state – so there will be a sh*tload of wine blog article material coming out of that trip.
Having said that… I’m torn about the topics that will be discussed at the WBC, mostly because I find quite a few of them either not interesting for you (“Wine Blogging Monetization: How-To”), not interesting for me (“Search Engine Optimization, Traffic Building, and blogs”), or so old, tired and over-discussed that they’re now the dusty, mummified remains of what might have once been viable discussion points (“Panel for Unified Standards for Ethics”… Zzzzzz…). I probably won’t be reporting on any of that, but will be reporting on the people, wines, and wine producers that we meet there. The WBC recently came under a bit of misdirected fire from none other than wine uber-critic Robert Parker. Parker got much of it very, very wrong, but I suspect this was due as much to misunderstanding as anything else. I’ll let you read the details, but will tell you that I happen to be paying my own way to WBC (and to TasteCamp).
Which brings us to our more, er…, delicate topic of the day.
In mid-May, I’ll be going on a wine junket. As in, I’m not paying my own way on that one.
There, I said it. Everyone, take cover!!! And for god’s sake, PROTECT THE CHILDREN!!!
Wait, the server didn’t crash? The world is still turning? Gravity is still functioning, and the atom hasn’t destabilized?
Well, I’ll be!
The topic of wine junkets (which, roughly defined, is an all-expenses-paid trip for press types to a wine region/event/etc. for the purpose of exposing them – and therefore, hopefully, their readers/markets/etc. – to wines that are made by clients of those footing the bill) has taken on a sizzling red-hot temperature recently. This was due in no small part to the writing of Tyler Colman (a.k.a. Dr. Vino), who recently drew attention to an event that was attended by one of the contributors to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Jay Miller. At one point, it was unclear if Mr. Miller paid for his own expenses at the event (which is WA policy, confirmed by Tyler in correspondence with Parker) or if he didn’t (which, theoretically, would violate that policy and possibly tarnish the perception of impartiality that is key to the WA’s success with its readership). The brouhaha sparked ethics discussions / debates around the web, and precipitated a personal treatise on wine writing ethics by Jancis Robinson.
One’s individual reaction to this probably ranges anywhere from deep-seated, intense passion, to a long, subdued yawn – depending on how involved you are with matters concerning the wine press (not a wine press… ah, you get the idea). As one particularly witty member of the wine blogging community, Terence Hughes, put it via twitter:
“junkets, mountain, molehill.”
In general, I’m inclined to agree with Terence, but I suppose it can’t hurt too badly to have the topic of sticking to your own code of ethics discussed in yet another wine blog post, right?
[ On second thought, don’t answer that. I’m just glad there’s a wine blogging world controversy that doesn’t somehow involve impugning my personal character – this time, I’m the one munching on the popcorn (for once)! ]
Anyway, Tyler’s post is timely for me, because I’ve decided to finally accept a wine junket invitation, in part because I want to know what all the hubbub is about, and in part because it will get me back over to Germany wine country without having to foot the bill myself or depleting my cache of BA miles.
I haven’t decided if I’ll write about it, or if I do what angle I’ll take, but I can tell you that whatever I write is going to be objective. I’ll let you decide whether or not this violates anything in my code of ethics, which I’ve updated to include junkets even though it probably didn’t need it.
And before the would-be wine writing W-pundits start talking about how the traveling, wining and dining will manipulate my poor, naive blogger countenance and influence me to wax poetic about the wines I’ll be served: you need to know that this will be my 5th trip to German wine country, and that I could afford stays at any of the hotels we’d visit, or meals at any of the restaurants, etc. Will the freebies influence my opinion of the wines poured on the junket? Probably, but I’m fairly confident that it won’t matter that much, since the primary focus of 1WineDude.com is not to be an advocacy group for wine collectors – the blog is NOT primarily about rating wines – it’s an education vehicle about wine for the intermediate wine lover. I’m also fairly confident that the winemakers I talk to on this trip won’t be a bunch of liars (one would hope, right?).
Anyway – Just be aware that it will be the German Wine Institute and the European Union that will be footing the bill on this one, not me, and make your own judgments.
It will also be my 10th trip in 11 consecutive weeks – so there’s no way I’d be going unless I thought I and 1WineDude.com readers might get serious value out of it. Because as much as I dislike changing diapers, I dislike not seeing wife and baby daughter even more!
Here’s something that you don’t see every day.
I’m about to give props to Wine Spectator.
And I’m going to apologize to their Forum members.
I will wait a moment to let the air of collective “WTF?!???” clear the room.
Ok… also, please pick your jaws up from the floor.
First, let’s provide a bit of background: A recent post on Tyler Coleman’s blog (Dr. Vino) explored a controversy on the eRobertParker.com forums, and in a comment on Tyler’s post I chimed in with the following extremely unhelpful comment (reproduced here because the post has about 1 billion comments now and I don’t want you to have to page through them to find it… I hope Tyler doesn’t mind!):
On April 16th, 2009 at 5:59 am ,1WineDude wrote:
The Wine Spectator forum is far, *far* worse. I’ve watched their moderators join in on discussions that clearly violate the forum’s participation policies…
Afterward, I was contacted by Tom Matthews, the Executive Editor of Wine Spectator. He wanted more information on my criticism, and I advised him that the thread I was primarily referencing no longer existed on the forum (apparently having been removed sometime last year), but that there were other examples of what I considered overly-aggressive treatment of me and other bloggers on the WS forums.
In exchanging e-mails with Tom, I was impressed that he cared enough about this to follow it up seriously. I also realized during our echange that my comment on Tyler’s post just sounds like a nasty, snide, negative attack. It’s got no background or context, tells no story, doesn’t explain how it relates the eBob forum controversy… it’s just totally and completely unhelpful. It’s useless.
So, I apologized to Tom, and I offered an apology on the WS forum (that one is probably turning some heads), and I’ve apologized on Tyler’s post via a follow-up comment – though again it might be tough to find it in the thread of gazillion comments, so here it is below:
On April 19th, 2009 at 3:36 pm ,1WineDude wrote:
Hi all – I’ve been corresponding with Tom Matthews regarding my previous comment in this post about the Wine Spectator forums.
I’ve subsequently apologized in the forum and to Tom, because by not providing the background of *why* I think the WS forums are worse, my comment simply comes off as a snide attack.
I am sorry about that. If anyone wants to know why I don’t like the WS forums and called them a snake pit on my blog, you can check out the threads available here and see for yourself how I was treated:
I don’t respect the forums any more than I did previously, but thanks to Tom reaching out to me I can understand fully why my comment could be perceived as a snide attack, so I’m officially saying that I’m sorry for that. I may really dislike some of the WS forum members, but I still believe that everyone, including those that treated me badly, deserve more respect than what I showed here via my comment.
I’ve not changed my view of the Wine Spectator forums – I still think discussions there sometimes devolve into a snake-pit of acrimony, mostly due to the input of a few very rotten apples spoiling the bunch, and a lack of sufficient moderation.
But I also truly believe what I wrote above – everyone deserves a basic level of respect, not snide hit-and-run sideswipe comments without context. Even the folks who might not think that I deserve respect.
I’d happily debate any WS forum member on the relative value of blogs vs. wine mags, on how differently I think that they should treat new forum members, or on how different and positive discourse is on alternative sites like the Open Wine Consortium. But I shouldn’t have blasted the WS forum in a public setting without providing the proper context to back it up, and I’m deeply grateful to Tom for reaching out to me and with meaningful, civil discourse pointing out the un-helpfulness of my comment.
I should also add, for the benefit of my harshest critics on the WS forum: Tom mentioned to me that he’s a follower of the 1WineDude.com blog. I’ve got your chin band-aids here, folks – I’m sure many of you will be needing them after that.
Anyway – Mad props to Tom, and apologies to the WS forum members.
Now, if any WS forum members would like to apologize to me and my fellow wine bloggers for any past disrespectful transgressions from civil discourse on their part… I’m sure we’re all ears…!