the blog slog

Friday, April 30, 2010

I first put up a website and wine blog three years ago, and followed it with revisions, updates, makeovers and complete do-overs (after hitting the “oops” button on the computer and irretrievably deleting the whole thing). But this current version, blessedly stable and user-friendly, has only been running since the beginning of the year. I made a commitment to myself to update it daily for a year, then see what gives. It’s a steep learning curve.

I’m still in the dark when it comes to gathering statistics on who is visiting this site. That chore is slowly but surely moving up the to-do list. But I know that even the verifiably popular wine blogs don’t attract a whole lot of traffic. And much of what comes is from other bloggers.

washington wines catching fire

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Amidst the gloom ‘n’ doomers populating the wine business these days, some upbeat voices are starting to be heard. In recent days I spoke with a couple of widely-traveled winemakers who independently noted that they are getting a much warmer reception out of state, especially from somms and retailers who are paying attention to domestic wines that offer some Euro styling, pretty fruit, and good value.

The case for Washington quality has been effectively stated by now. The Washington Wine Commission road shows have taken this region’s top wines to London, Tokyo and points in-between for years. My first book (UC Press – Washington Wines & Wineries) was written specifically to synthesize and summarize the reasons for accepting Washington wines as world class. My upcoming book moves on from there, assuming that readers already have heard the quality message. It’s now time to talk about value.

the joys of j. bookwalter

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Though it is my usual practice when reviewing wines to taste them over a period of many hours, often days, it is rare that I spend an entire evening completely engrossed in them, as I did last night with five new reds from J. Bookwalter.

Founded in 1983 by Jerry and Jean Bookwalter, the winery has been managed and re-invented by son John Bookwalter during the past decade. And re-invented is not too strong a word. Currently serving as president of the Washington Wine Commission, John Bookwalter is dynamic, motivated and completely dedicated to quality.

All but one of his first nine vintages were made under the guidance of the legendary Zelma Long. She has now moved on (to pursue a Ph.D. I am told) and Claude Gros, who also consults for SeaSmoke, is her replacement. The 2007s, begun with Long and blended with Gros, are the best ever from J. Bookwalter.

the good, the bad, and the clueless

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It happened again the other day. As I went through a tasting of new releases I scanned the winery’s tasting notes/tech sheets. And found my jaw inadvertently dropping with astonishment. I’ll get to that in a moment.

For those who don’t normally see a tech sheet, these days such information is usually posted online. So it’s available to anyone with an interest in the rather dry details of winemaking. Some wineries are content to note just the basics – vintage, AVA, case production. But the optional details are endless – fermentation practices, yeasts, clones, vineyards, blending percentages, barrel regimens, acidity, residual sugar, pH, and on and on. Bring it, I say. You cannot give me too much information.

the big squeeze

Monday, April 26, 2010

The power went out just as I was about to write my blog the other day. I found myself stuck for several hours with old technology – a book. It had some interesting comments on the wine market. Let me give you a few choice quotes. I have not changed anything below other than to compress the quotes and delete a few place names.

how not to stand out from the crowd

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thinking of starting a winery? Just a small, artisanal boutique, specializing in wines of place? Want to blend right in with every other passionate wine-abee that’s come down the pike in the last 10 years? OK then; here’s a top 10 list of what to do in order not to stand out from the crowd!

grace under fire

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yesterday’s blog entry talked about the results one new winery reported following some positive reviews. Today I want to look at the other side of the coin. What happens when the reviews are unexpectedly downbeat?

beat the press

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine writers (often referred to generically as ‘The Press’) get blamed for all sorts of ills. The 100 point system is a fiendish plot to dictate quality and pin a numerical score on an artistic product. Corporate plonk? It’s The Press, greedy for advertising. High alcohol wines? Blame Robert Parker. In fact, Alice Feiring has built an entire career out of blaming Robert Parker.

it's a sin to sell a lie

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Associated Press reported over the weekend on a new campaign to privatize liquor stores in Washington State. ‘Modernize Washington’ is its name, and its chances look to be about on a par with a snowball in hell. But that’s not to say it’s an entirely futile effort.

the name game

Friday, April 16, 2010

American wines labeled Port have been made at least since Repeal, and probably before, but the term is now illegal. It is part of a “Standards of Identity” agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. Along with Port, 16 other semi-generic wine names are covered under this new agreement: Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Hock, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Retsina, Rhine Wine, Sauterne, Haut Sauterne, Sherry, and Tokay. It’s a law that makes sense, and corrects decades of abuse (how many older Americans still think Chablis is any cheap, sweet white wine?, or believe that all Burgundies should be “hearty”?)!

But – there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there? – but it is a bit ironic that in some instances these words may actually be the best choices.

r.i.p. three martini lunch

Thursday, April 15, 2010

As anyone who watches “Mad Men” can attest, the two (or three) martini lunch was de rigeur back in the day. In fact, my own father was a Madison Avenue ad man in his younger days, and a pitcher of martinis was always his evening companion. I don’t suppose it was his first pitcher of the day either.

So what has happened? As MagnumGourmet commented recently, “wine is still viewed as a luxury (special occasion) item by most of the country. Two major changes must take place to really increase consumption in the States.

a t.a.s.t.e. of the future

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Almost lost among boxes of wines waiting for me in my locker at Seattle Wine Storage last week was a small package from Janet Trefethen. Walnuts! I thought – for years there was an annual holiday gift of walnuts from the estate. But the holidays are long gone, and so, I believe, are the walnut trees.

A note inside the box explained things.

an expert appraisal of Washington terroir

Monday, April 12, 2010

A lengthy and highly informative comment by Alan Busacca was posted late Friday, to a blog entry about the Columbia Gorge AVA in Washington. Because his post is so interesting, and likely to be missed, I am putting it up in its entirety today. The original blog entry (and all comments) can be found in the archives dated March 24, 2010.

hand built wines

Friday, April 09, 2010

A comment on yesterday’s blog, from Steve Snyder, quotes a piece entitled “Revisiting Conspicuous Consumption” that apparently speaks to a consumer trend toward hand-built vs. mass-produced products. This sort of return to “honest craftsmanship” is a recurring theme in American history, and in many respects it’s overdue to appear again. I don’t know how it might impact the wine behemoths who control the vast majority of wine sales, but I am pretty sure it would be helpful to the little wineries that are making under 3000 cases annually – in Washington, that’s all but the top 30 or so labels out of more than 650.

An e-mail from Brett and Denise Isenhower also showed up yesterday speaking to this very topic.

drinking beer on a champagne budget

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The other night Mrs. G and I went out for burgers to Quinn's, a trendy gastropub here in Seattle. The place was packed, the food was creative yet comforting, as gastropub food is supposed to be. (While I’m on it, can’t anyone come up with a better term? Gastropub sounds like some intestinal malfunction in public. But I digress.)

Apart from the food, what impressed was the beer list. There were dozens upon dozens of choices, from around the world, all inviting and priced around $6 to $10. One good beer fills my wagon these days, and it’s a lot easier to find a great $6 beer than a great $6 glass of wine. I was reminded of this as I perused some interesting statistics just in from the Wine Institute in California.

are restaurant wines too expensive?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

In general, for as long as I’ve been studying restaurant wine lists, I would answer that question with a big YES! But things are changing, and more and more restaurants are responding to current economic realities by trimming their lists, selling down their cellars, and – hosannah! – lowering prices.

It has always seemed obvious that a savvy restaurant wine manager could more than compensate for lower bottle prices by selling more wine. And yet, few have been willing to try it. Perhaps it requires special skills, or the economics of scale, or simply a willingness to go out on a limb. But whatever it takes, Jake Kosseff has what it takes.

are washington wines too expensive?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

This is one of the most common complaints I hear on a regular basis from readers of my blog and newspaper columns. I can’t recall how often I have tried to debunk this idea, but it still persists. It persists to such a degree that even among those with a direct connection to the wine business it still arises, as it did yesterday in the context of a business meeting with the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

So I posed the question on my Facebook page, and a torrent of responses came in.

in praise of older vines

Monday, April 05, 2010

There is no official regulation for the term old vines in this country, but it generally receives more respect than reserve – another unregulated descriptor. It could be that no one thinks it really makes a difference whether you use old vines or not; or it could be that old vines command a certain amount of respect, from vintners and consumers alike. I believe in this second theory.

Whether provable or not, I always seem to find more nuance and detail in wines from old vines. I think of the century old grenache from Australia, or the original plantings in Priorat, or the remaining old field blends from California, such as at Old Hill in Sonoma where I spent a peaceful four days this past winter. Recently, some old vine wines have crossed my palate that impressed equally, though they were white wines, not red.

the world of occasions

Friday, April 02, 2010

Nobody enjoys an occasion more than I do. In fact, my close friends pretty much know me as “Mr. Occasion.” National Pickle Week, Canary Molting Month, Veterans of Golf Cart Collisions Day – you name it, if it’s an occasion, I’m there. Which is why I was so glad to stumble upon this excellent website.

wagga wagga washington?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Beer has again overtaken wine as the nation’s number one escape valve of choice, and it’s no secret that the global wine industry is locked in a titanic battle for survival. Wineries around the world are singing the blues, because there’s an ocean of cheap wine out there, and the competition for buyers is cut-throat.

Unless you are Chateau Mouton, Lafite or Latour, your Bordeaux wine is probably going to be converted into biodiesel fuel before you’ll ever sell it all. Are you Australian? Better have a yellow-tailed kangaroo on the label or toss your shiraz in the garaze; it’s not going anywhere. California? – hoo boy. Ever hear of global warming? If you’re a California grape grower, it’s time to switch to raisins. Here in Washington, these dire circumstances have not gone unnoticed.