taking the measure of a vintage

Monday, January 31, 2011

The new issue of Wine Enthusiast, for whom I write, includes an extensive vintage chart. Download it here (and note that you can zoom in to make it easier to read the pdf).

It assigns ratings to vintages dating back 20 years in all the major wine regions of the world. And its color coding allows users to guesstimate the drinkability of wines in their cellars. All in all, it conveys a great deal of information in a tightly condensed graphic.

so you want to be a wine writer!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I am often asked how I became a wine writer, and I understand why there is interest in finding an answer, but I have never really taken a crack at writing it down. My other blog – which runs weekly on www.wineandjazz.com – got me thinking about it again, and I wrote a brief summary (entitled 'Threads') of the long and winding road that got me to where I am today.

But however I ended up where I have, it is certainly not a road map for anyone else, and the world has changed dramatically and irrevocably since I began writing for a living 35 years ago. The emergence of social media, and especially the impact of blogging on wine writing, is the engine driving change today, but change was happening long before Facebook, Twitter or even the internet came along.

a sad farewell to olsen estates

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In the Spring of 2006, the Port of Benton published this cheery announcement:

“On March 17th, the Port of Benton hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in the North Prosser Business Park. Olsen Esates is building an 11,000 dquare foot building on 2.76 acres of land at the port. The new building will house a modern wine production facility, including a crushing pad, fermentation area, barrel and case good storage and tasting room.”

This would go on to be one of the founding wineries in what is now the Prosser Vintner's Village. 2006 was the first year that the Olsen family crushed grapes for their own label, after more than a quarter century of growing grapes for a variety of Washington producers. Sadly, 2009 was the last year that they made an Olsen Estates wine. No grapes were crushed in 2010, and the winery and all of its remaining inventory is being sold off.

top 10 washington wines of the month

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Here’s a rundown of the top 10 Washington wines I’ve tasted during the past month. I won’t print scores, but I am listing them in order from the highest on down. In case of a tie score, the cheaper wine is listed first. By any standard, these are all great wines.

sotp in the mane of the law!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spending time in California, I am struck by the sight of vast selections of liquor in the grocery stores. The Albertsons here in Palm Springs has more booze than wine, and better booze than wine. In fact, the wine section sucks. It’s row after row of California plonk and cheesy imports from the big California conglomerates. I looked high and low for anything from France. Anything.

But… nothing.

academy awards of wine?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I’ve been in Palm Springs for the past week, attending the Palm Springs Film Festival as a guest of the talented Mrs. G, whose film “A Not So Still Life” was included in the “Best of the Fest” and voted to the Top Five best films by the audiences. This evening we are watching the Golden Globes with a group of friends, gathered round a cozy courtyard on a balmy winter evening. Awards awards awards.

They’re fun, exhilarating, inscrutable, sometimes aggravating, but always fascinating, whether you are an observer or a participant. So why can’t the wine industry come up with a legitimate awards system to honor the best in the world?

refreshing a tired palate

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I rarely take part in large wine judgings, although I am often asked to participate. On the surface, such events seem like good opportunities to explore a variety of wines, meet and work with a range of wine business professionals, and expand my own palate.

But in reality, they are – to be blunt – marathon grinds. Yes, there are people who can do it; who can taste through 100 or 150 wines in a day. I can do it, if I must. But at what price? Let’s say I’m doing 10 flights of 12 wines each, a not uncommon average at a wine judging. I am going to sip each wine at least twice – so that’s 240 sips minimum. Yes, you spit religiously, but believe me, you get buzzed.

peddle to the medal

Monday, January 10, 2011

My headline is a bad pun, not a typo. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t receive some e-mails touting the latest medals won by some winery or other. Only the wineries themselves seem to assign much value to these things; every tasting room in the world is adorned with them. The Europeans clutter up wine labels with gold medals won in the 1800s; do they really think it matters?

But medals must sell wine, because many, perhaps most wineries peddle wine using their gold, silver, bronze, zirconium, etc. medals as some sort of quality gauge. And once in a blue moon, a medal-winning wine comes along that really means something.

wine in the spotlight: efesté 2009 lola chardonnay

Friday, January 07, 2011

In a remarkably brief period of time, Efesté's Brennon Leighton has leaped to the forefront of Washington winemakers. Granted, he’d completed four years of study at UC Davis, and apprenticed for some time at Chateau Ste. Michelle, working with the exceptionally talented Erik Olsen and his successor, Bob Bertheau, on Eroica and the Horse Heaven Hills sauvignon blancs.

But the first vintage of Efesté wines – 2005 – was released just three years ago, and it was not until the vintage of 2007 that Leighton was solely in charge of the winemaking. Yet with each new vintage has come acclaim – and case production has grown. And I am confident that there is no one making better white wines here than Leighton, and few that can match him. His selection of vineyards, his pinpoint picking decisions, his lovely, delicate touch at every step of the way, coaxes extraordinarily expressive aromas out of his wines, both whites and reds.

tulips you can kiss...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

I visited over the holidays with grower Kenny Hart, who manages a vineyard portfolio that includes some rising stars as well as established and favored sites. We tasted through the new (2007) releases of his Tulpen wines, and as good as they have been in the past, this vintage trumps them all.

Not only are the wines superb, built upon glorious fruit from carefully selected rows, but Hart has actually dropped his prices, which were already quite competitive. The only bad news is that in 2008 and 2009 he is virtually cutting his production in half, which means that only about four or five barrels of each of the five wines has been made. The advice from here is… grab the 2007s while the grabbing is good.

authenticity and typicity

Monday, January 03, 2011

The French, as is often the case with all things vinous, have a useful word that almost, but not quite, translates into equivalent English. Typicity, in English, is more commonly used in the sense of typical – something that is ordinary, unremarkable, similar to many others. The word suggests that there will be no surprises, and if a wine is “typical” it is very close to, if not completely, generic.

Typicité, in French, suggests more. 

From Wikipedia: “Typicity (French typicité, Italian tipicità) is a term in wine tasting used to describe the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins, and thus demonstrates the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced, i.e., how much a merlot wine tastes like a merlot. It is an important component in judging wine competition when wines of the same varietal are judged against each other.”