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1WineDude | A Serious Wine Blog for the Not-So-Serious Drinker - Page 340

Old and In The Way?: The Future of Wine Criticism

Vinted on September 12, 2008 binned in commentary
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

I just got through a ridiculously well-written article by Mike Steinberger, titled “Every one a critic: the future of wine writing” and available for download at CellarTracker.com (or in print in Issue 19 2008 of World of Fine Wine magazine). The man just has mad writing skills!

In the article, Steinberger discusses the factors that made Robert Parker such a force in the fine wine market, and how his retirement (Parker is now in his 60s) will leave a void in the world of wine criticism.

Steinberger offers the Internet voices of wine criticism as a potential for filling that void, since it is unlikely that anyone after Parker will have the clout, work ethic, and financial independence to take Parker’s place (especially considering the outrageous prices that top-scoring First Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy can fetch nowadays – upwards of $1000 USD per bottle in some cases), and the Internet provides very low barriers to entry.

What was interesting for me was what Steinberger didn’t touch on in his excellent article…


For starters, history has shown us that when you have a virtual dictator / enlightened despot (depending on your viewpoint) wielding such individual control and influence, as is the case with Parker, they hand-pick their successor in order to ensure the orderly hand-over of power, and to keep their vision alive. The followers, well, they follow. Think Putin in Russia, for example. So isn’t it still possible that Parker may groom someone from within his own ranks at the Wine Advocate to take his place on the throne of Bordeaux wine critique?

I think we’d find that many Bordeaux, Rhone, and California wineries, and the Wine Advocate faithful, all of whom sometimes follow Parker’s scores with almost religious fervor, would line up behind that pick with relatively little resistance.

The other thing that Steinberger didn’t explore was the age range of the core Wine Advocate / Parker / Wine Spectator audience. I’d imagine (though I’ve no means to confirm this), that this group is aging right along with Parker. This isn’t a dig on aging wine aficionados or critics (despite my arguably provocative post title); it’s just an acknowledgment that there is currently a baby boomer generation driving the wine market, and that generation does things differently than the next one will when it comes to buying wine.

From Steinbergers article: “Certainly, the leading [wine] publications look to be in fairly ruddy health. Wine Spectator is a thriving franchise, and there is no reason to think this will change anytime soon.”

Is this really true…? I wonder if the generation that comprises the Wine Spectator faithful isn’t already being replaced in the marketplace by a new generation that expects to get their information from a broad range of expertise, validated by real-world experiences and real-time recommendations, and expects to get that information instantly via global social connections made over the Internet.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see Wine Spectator, even with their on-line presence, fitting that bill…

One thing’s for sure: Things are gonna get interesting from here!

Cheers!
(image: tralfaz-archives.com)

Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Brett?

Vinted on September 11, 2008 binned in commentary, wine tips, winemaking


If you’re talking Brett as in Brett Favre, then not me – I’m a Steelers fan, baby!

If you’re talking Brett as in the yeast Brettanomyces, then that’s a different story entirely. Lots of wine folks are scared of that puppy. And with pretty good reason – chances are that if you’ve ever had red wine, you’ve run into Brett. And unlike the Steelers rushing, hurrying and sacking the other big, bad Brett, when you run into brettanomyces, it’s you that could be the one on the wrong side of that meeting…

The trouble with brett is that it’s not all bad (although the jury is still out in the wine world on this one). In small enough amounts, brett creates compounds that potentially add interesting complexity to a wine, with smokey, spicy elements (yum!). Too much brett, and you have reduced fruit aromas, and wine reminiscent of medicine, Band-Aids, and stinky barnyards (yuck!)


Like a boring dinner guest, brett is notoriously difficult to get rid of. (Crap, did I just end a sentence in a preposition?). It’s been found lodged deep into the staves of new oak barrels (one of its favorite hideouts), to the point where no cleaning will ever get it out. And it can basically chill out in a dormant state for long periods of time until it finds food (in the wine) – and it doesn’t need much food to get its party started.

What’s a winemaker to do?

Well, there are plenty of cleaning techniques that help the situation, and some winemakers will carefully rack and test their wines at each stage of the winemaking process to minimize the impact of brett on their finished wines.

But there is something else that they can do to minimize brett. The trouble is, it goes against conventional marketing wisdom in the chase for high-scoring wines on the hundred-point wine scale!

They can harvest their grapes earlier.

According to a recent article on Sommelier Journal magazine, harvesting grapes earlier reduces the pH levels, which brett doesn’t like. Lower pH levels also help to make anti-brett initiatives (like using sulfer dioxide) more effective.

The trouble is, if you harvest earlier, your grapes can’t achieve the raisin-like ripeness and high alcohol extremes favored by some point-giving wine critics out there.

Just sayin’.

Reduce Band-Aid action, and increase the amount of lower-alcohol, elegant red wines available in the marketplace? Hmmm… I’m sooooo in on that, baby!
Cheers!
(images: maximumgrilledsteelers.com, vignaioli.it, jackstrawspizza.com)

Twisted Wine for Twisted Times

Vinted on September 10, 2008 binned in wine review

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.”

Freak-a-zoid!

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…

Cheers!
(images: twistedoak.com, avenuevine.com, southparkstudios.com)

Wine Studies, Sex, and the Art of Anticipation

Vinted on September 8, 2008 binned in commentary, wine appreciation

Or maybe that should be the Science of Anticipation…

Back in January (yes, I am just now getting around to this – hey, I’ve got a newborn at the house; what’s your excuse?), findings were published from a study that measured participant’s brain reactions to tasting wine. The trick: it was the same wine, but they were told that the wine was either cheap, or relatively expensive. Guess what – participants enjoyed the wine more when they were told it had a higher price.

With all the duping going on in the wine industry the past few weeks (including an embarrassing gaff for Wine Spectator, and the claim that wine bloggers – Dude included! – were duped by winery marketers), I thought it would be fun to revisit this little ditty, and cast a different light on it in lieu of recent events.

According to one article on the study findings:
“Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating nonintrinsic attributes of goods.”

[ My translation: instead of telling you that the wine is “an everyday guzzler” or “as close to sublime perfection as humans are likely to reach,” they just upped or lowered the price. ]

This struck me as totally odd (in terms of this being contrary to economic assumptions). I mean, aren’t we talking about something that marketing types, hucksters, clever business folk, and seductresses have known for maybe hundreds of years? Not only does a higher price give you the cache factor of shelling out for “the best,” setting a higher price does something else just as important:

It gives your brain the opportunity to indulge in anticipation of experiencing “the best.” Which is, I’d argue, an essential element in making a “good” experience – a meal, a movie, a date, a wine, and (especially!) sex – “great.”…


What studies like this one don’t mean is that you can’t tell the difference between wine that is pure plonk and wine that is superb. Almost anyone can do that, provided that they are willing to do a little bit of learning beforehand.

The studies don’t mean that all wines are created equal. In a lot of ways, the current wine market does set prices fairly, and you tend (with some exceptions, of course) to get what you pay for.

The studies also don’t mean that you need fancy-schmancy wine certifications, or advanced study under your belt, to appreciate wine. For that, you only need an open mind, patience, and the willingness to learn. Incidentally, these are the same things that you need to better appreciate a good meal, a movie, a date, and (especially!) sex.

I’m not sure what enlightenment we’re hoping to reach with all of this wine duping afoot, but I can tell you this: You know what they say about sex? ” When it’s good, it’s great. And when it’s bad, well, it’s still pretty good!”

The same applies to wine (and other great experience-givers) because, fundamentally, wine gives us pleasure, connect us together, and provide us the opportunity to open our minds a bit further than they were a few minutes before.

And if we indulge in a bit of anticipation to heighten the experience? From what I can tell, the most harm it might cause us is to think that the experience is a bit better than someone else thought it was.

That’s a trade-off I’d take any day of the week.

Cheers!

(images: .geocities.com/SoHo/Nook, danielpadilla.com)


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