my very first hangover

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hangovers, like girlfriends, acquire a certain luster as they fade into the distant past. A patina of romantic daring begins to dress up the grim facts of the matter; an invigorating sense of risk-taking adventure overtakes the more painful regrets. “Boy, I really tested the limits with that one!” you may hear yourself say. Eventually, the tenuous border between fact and fantasy dissolves altogether. For those of us not gifted athletically, there is little to boast about when recalling the days of our youth, so we turn to the creation of epic myths. What better material than tales of wretched excess?

My first hangover remains a bit of a memory blur, perhaps because at the time I was just five years old. A casual, Saturday afternoon cocktail party was winding down, the guests scattered across a “Leave It To Beaver”-ish living room, in my parents’ modest frame house on Long Island. The refreshments would have included bowls of pretzels and mixed nuts, along with my mother’s famous cheese log, which more closely resembled a cheese pancake, sprinkled with chopped pistachios. The drinks were probably potent versions of the popular favorites — dry martinis, gin and tonics, maybe rum and coke for the ladies.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some 20 years ago I set out to write my first wine book, a slim paperback modeled on the Hugh Johnson annual guides. This would be a comprehensive overview of what then were all lumped together as Northwest wines – the title of the book. I wrote it with co-author Jeff Prather, then sommelier and wine buyer for Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle. When it was published, it was in fact a comprehensive guide to virtually all the wineries of Oregon and Washington – roughly 210 in all – which, oddly enough, is close to the same number of wineries profiled in my newest book. Maybe that is where I max out?

Here is what I wrote in the spring of 1993 as an introduction:

the year’s best northwest wine bargains (quality and value)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bargain hunting seems to be on everyone’s to do list these days, especially right after the holiday gift giving frenzy. I took a look back through all my reviews for Wine Enthusiast during the past year to see what would turn up with certain parameters. The parameters: the wine received either a Best Buy or an Editors’ Choice designation, and carried a suggested retail of $30 or less. (Don’t pound on me; I know that for many people that is no bargain). For me, for this list, under $30 and scoring 93 points or better is hereby defined as a bargain.

So, here are the wines that rank as the best quality for the price wines of the year.

are blog readers the new literocracy?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A lot of discussion in the early years of blogging revolved around the “death” of print media, the increasing “irrelevance” of old guard writers and critics, and the seemingly valuable access, for both bloggers and blog readers, that the internet provided.

Well, print media has not died, and some of the best bloggers are those who still maintain ties to print. But the issue of access has another side to it that I have not seen discussed. It is the type of person who chooses to wade through the vast ocean of online content, select the content that matters most to their particular life and interests, and to comment on what they are reading.

Here is where blog readers have really separated themselves from the mewling pack of ax-grinding meatheads who seem to dominate the comment boards of many print publications’ online sites.

a look back and a glimpse ahead

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In just a few weeks I will celebrate 10 years of writing a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times. At the conclusion of my first year, I wrote a Christmas Day wrap up entitled “Gifts and Blessings.” I thought it interesting to look back at some of what I was thinking, and add a current comment or two (in boldface).

“Today is a day for opening gifts and counting blessings, and in the words of my favorite fictional hero, Captain Jack Aubrey, ‘I give you joy of them.’ As we prepare to embark on a new year’s worth of wine adventuring, here is the course I would like to sail together.

paulg’s top 100 pacific northwest wines for 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

This is the sixth year I have compiled a personal Top 100 list, based on tastings done over the 12 month period commencing November 1, 2010 and running through October 31, 2011. This time around, I decided to make the competition even tougher than before, by including the wines of Oregon in the mix. During the previous five years, I confess that my focus on Washington, and the research required to write two editions of my Washington wine book, meant that my grip on Oregon considerably slipped. But in 2011 I made four or five separate trips to our neighbor state, tasted many hundreds of wines, visited quite a few wineries, attended several wine festivals, and basically came away with a very positive impression of what is happening throughout the state (not just in the Willamette valley).

So, as in years past, I searched through a year’s worth of tasting notes, and selected one wine from each of 100 wineries. I choose the highest-scoring wine of the year for that winery. Every winery gets just a single slot on the list! It seems to me to be the best way to showcase the full breadth and depth of the industry’s offerings, rather than having a Top 100 list dominated by a smaller number of wineries.

The 100 wines are ranked in order, first according to their score (on a 100-point scale) and within each scoring category by price (cheaper wines rank higher). Among all 93-point wines, for example, the least expensive will rank highest, and the most expensive lowest. The original suggested retail price is also listed.

further thoughts on the naches heights ava

Friday, December 16, 2011

Approved! The 12th Washington AVA is Naches Heights. The news was lost in the shuffle a bit, as two new California AVAs were granted at the same time. But for Washington, it represents another important step in the vivisection of the enormous Columbia Valley (Washington’s equivalent to, say, North Coast).

The defining difference of this new region appears to be its unique soil characteristics. As the application explains:

new ava... help wanted... congratulations

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Last spring (April 25) I proposed that Ancient Lakes would next be certified as the 12th Washington AVA. Now it appears I was wrong. The 12th man – if you will allow a nod to the ‘Hawks – looks to be Naches Heights. A poster on my blog, who seems to be on top of this application’s fortunes, writes that “Naches Heights AVA final rule (approval) will be on the Federal Register tomorrow, establishment effective in a month.”

The new AVA, located north of the city of Yakima, contains just three wineries and roughly 40 acres of vineyard (out of more than 13,000 acres to be included). The application points out the “single, elevated Tieton andesite plateau landform that ends in andesite cliffs that descend into the valleys surrounding the plateau.” Unlike the great majority of eastern Washington vineyard land, it was not impacted by the Missoula floods that followed the last ice age. It is affected by being in the rain shadow of the Cascade mountains, and has one of the highest (perhaps the highest) elevations in the state, beginning at 1200 feet.

it’s time to take the handcuffs off merlot!

Monday, December 12, 2011

As I wrote in this week’s Seattle Times Wine Adviser column, merlot has received little or no respect as a wine category in recent years. Yet despite its dramatic fall from favor following the release of the film ‘Sideways’, it has remained among the leaders in terms of plantings and production. It remains the number three most planted grape (tied with zinfandel) in California, behind cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. In fact, there is more merlot acreage in California than all the wine grape acreage in Washington combined.

Yet California winemakers can’t seem to find a handle on what merlot is, or even what it should taste like, unless it is treated (and priced) like the very best cabernet sauvignon. In lineup after lineup of widely-available, under $10 California wine brands, the merlot is predictably the worst of the reds. The zinfandels and cabernets are always better – always. And generally, if the wines are line priced, as most of these corporate brands are, the reds will all cost about the same – at most a buck or so apart. In other words, you don’t pay a premium for better quality.

In Washington, on the other hand, it is really not that difficult to find a merlot priced at $6 or $8 that is real wine, rather than just watery plonk. I try to avoid generalizations (honest, I do!) but this is one you can take to the bank. Washington merlots are the best, in every price range, in the country, in the hemisphere, and in the entire New World.

at last! the solution to the high alcohol conundrum

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Many in “The Press” (myself included) have lobbied/ ranted/ complained against the relentless rise in alcohol levels of finished wines, notably west coast reds. As long ago as 2005, when I was researching the first edition of my book, I spoke with a number of well-regarded, experienced Washington winemakers, who assured me that they were doing all kinds of experimental work, in both vineyard and winery, to find ways to ripen grapes physiologically at lower sugar (hence alcohol) levels.

As far as my own reviewing practices are concerned, I have made a concerted effort to thwart any (potential) prejudice against high alcohol wines, and I believe that if you look through the scores, you will see that I do not, have not, and will not penalize wines simply for being 15, 16, or 17+ percent finished alcohol (well 17+ is pushing it). What I do downgrade are wines whose high alcohol is palpable. If I can smell it, and feel it (a burning sensation in the throat after the flavors fade); if the alcohol and barrel regimen together obliterate all other flavors and scents; yes, then the score comes down.

But how are we doing with all the experimentation? Well, I’m delighted to report that new releases from 2010 seem to indicate that alcohol levels are coming down! And better yet, flavors and elegance are on the rise. And I’m pretty sure I know why.

wine enthusiast top 100, schildknecht, and pg in oregon

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The final Top 100 list from Wine Enthusiast has been released, and though it contains fewer Washington entries (and unfortunately, none from Oregon) than the magazine's earlier Top 100 lists (Best Buys, Cellar Selections), the wines selected are all certainly world class. Here are my original reviews and scores for the Washington wines on the list:

what lies beyond jay miller?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dr. Vino (and other sources) are reporting that Robert Parker has announced that Jay Miller will no longer be writing for The Wine Advocate. The usual blather about what a great job Miller has done, is followed by the mandatory denial that his sudden departure has anything to do with the current scandal regarding pay to play reviews in Spain.

My only interest in any of this is how it will impact the wineries of the Pacific Northwest. According to the report I read, David Schildknecht will now review the wines of Oregon and Washington.