here come the suits!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The dynamics of blogging are a vertiginous mix of opinion, rumor, innuendo, gossip, slander, invective, and the occasional fact. And that’s what makes it fun. Let’s face it, traditional journalism, as those of us old enough to have participated in its heyday may recall, paid homage to accuracy and objectivity. Not saying it was always there, but the concept that journalism carried with it certain responsibilities for fairness and accuracy was generally present. That is not true for blogging.

I don’t care what your subject is, none of the old reliable landmarks or unspoken rules of the game seem to exist. The free-for-all aspect of blogging opens the door to everyone to participate, which brings with it an exhilarating sense of freedom. It’s also a little bit of the inmates running the asylum. Who’s the referee? Especially when it comes to overseeing anonymous comments.


Monday, September 27, 2010

The wines of Cayuse are outriders in every respect. This Washington winery is located entirely in Oregon – vineyards and production facility. Its downtown Walla Walla tasting room has been shuttered for years. The proprietor, M. Christophe Baron, is a James Dean-style rebel – only with a cause. His cause is biodynamics, an extremely labor-intensive and demanding form of viticulture that has recently come under fire. Hoax?

washington wines in the spotlight

Friday, September 24, 2010

The current issue of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has been scrutinized and celebrated since it appeared a couple of weeks ago, lavishing praise on the wines of this state. Even the Washington Wine Commission, a politically-savvy enterprise that carefully sidesteps commentary on all but a handful of critical efforts, put out a press release trumpeting the fact that out of 810 recommended wines, reviewer Dr. Jay Miller had “scored 469 Washington wines 90 points or higher… up nearly 40% from the 338 Washington wines that scored 90+ in 2009.”

There is absolutely no doubt that such praise is manna from heaven at any time, but especially now, and I am certainly not going to cast a shadow on any of it. But I would like to comment on a few missing and/or under-rated (in my view) wines and wineries, beginning with three that were rather mysteriously left out of the tastings organized for Dr. Miller.

wine in the spotlight: abeja 2007 reserve cabernet sauvignon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Abeja is one of just 20 wineries that received a five star rating in the just-released second edition of “Washington Wines and Wineries: the Essential Guide” (UC Press). No other section of the book caused me to do as much soul-searching as these 20 selections, but Abeja’s place there was never in doubt.

Founding partner and winemaker John Abbott brought an impeccable track record with him when he left Canoe Ridge for Abeja. He’d done especially well with Chardonnay and Merlot, reaching all the way back to his early years at Pine Ridge and Acacia. But his goal at Abeja, he explained from the start, was to produce estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, made to the highest standard.

friday wrap

Friday, September 17, 2010

These corks are made for pullin’…

Email of the week came with this enticing invite: “I would like to invite you to Patsy’s Italian Restaurant for ‘Come Fly With Us,’ a four-course, wine-paired dinner featuring the wines of the Sinatra Family Estates. Nancy Sinatra will be in attendance to celebrate the collection - the 2007 ‘Come Fly With Me,’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the soon-to-be-released 2008 ‘Nothing but the Best,’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a preview of the 2008 Sangiovese blend ‘La Voce.’” Why stop there? How about offering (at a bargain price) a “Boots Are Made For Stompin’” presswine…?

highlights of new washington wine releases

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We’re rolling into the fall new release season, and it’s especially exciting with my book just out and book signings coming up throughout the next few months. Here are some of the highlights of my most recent tastings with wineries that are featured in the book. I’m listing just one wine per winery, but I could just as easily list almost all of them. Each of these wines will be scored in the 90’s in my upcoming Wine Enthusiast reviews. Many are in very limited supply and may quickly sell out, so I wouldn’t wait.

the invention of flavor

Monday, September 13, 2010

Did anyone write about flavor before the modern era of wine writing? Did the effort to taste and describe wine flavors lead to an appreciation for this most-neglected and difficult to categorize of the five senses? You might take this as hyperbole, but stop for a moment and consider this note, copied word for word from the back of a Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate Mint ice cream carton.

what a friend we have in cheeses

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trying times these are, for grape growers, wineries, and anyone trying to get a small winery up and running. But there’s good news with the bad, especially for consumers. The days when pricing your wine as high as possible as a mark of quality? egomania? sheer bravado? seem to have drawn to a close.

Though not as common an occurrence in Washington as in Oregon and California, this state has had its share of wannabe’s who felt that a high price tag on their first or second vintage was going to impress people. As far as I can tell, they are all gone, and deservedly so, or at the very least, humbled into pricing their wines more competitively.

put a cork in it!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The cork lobby is at it again, launching a campaign with the snappy title “I Love Natural Cork,” asking consumers, as might a Bible-thumping preacher, to pledge their allegiance to the mighty cork.

According to an article posted on the Decanter website, the cork strokers are saying that “Natural cork in your wine bottle does more than just preserve and improve the quality and character of your wine. It preserves a centuries-long way of life in the rural communities of the Mediterranean cork oak forests, its incredible wildlife as well as the planet by absorbing CO2.” Somehow, they’ve inveigled Britain's Prince Charles into throwing his support behind such vague assertions.

blogging as performance art

Monday, September 06, 2010

My post entitled ‘Critical Path’ brought some interesting comments, which tied into a remark from a friend at a weekend dinner party. It had to do with the distinction between performance art and what I’ll call fixed art (for lack of a better term). Fixed art is something permanent – a painting, a book, a record. Performance art is something malleable, something that changes with each new audience.

critical path

Thursday, September 02, 2010

I can’t recall a time when I’ve gone to see my doctor or dentist and asked them to do free work on me. Same with the guys who service my car. Call me a hopeless traditionalist, but I sincerely believe that anyone who makes a living with a certain skill-set ought to be paid for their expertise. So when I am asked for my “thoughts” on a particular wine or wine label or wine concept, I generally decline. My “thoughts” are all in my reviews, available when published. But other than that, I would expect to be paid as a consultant. Giving away hard-won expertise doesn’t feel right.

Even so, once in a while – like yesterday – I do it.

selling the score

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The eagerly-awaited annual review of Washington wines in the Wine Advocate has arrived, and the blizzard of tweets and Facebook posts indicates a lot of very positive scores. I am going to take a day or two to digest the full report, before weighing in with my own comments. But I couldn’t help but notice that, despite years and years of hearing protests from folks in the wine industry about how consumers rely upon scores to make purchasing decisions, when they should trust their palates, it is those in the industry who trumpet the scores first, longest and loudest. Very few of these posts even mention the verbiage; it’s all about the numbers.