Category Archives: Wine Education

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign!

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Calvin & Hobbes – Bill Waterson, Copyright – Andrews McMeel Publishing

I am not the only one seeing the changing face of the U.S. wine industry and the industry resistance to any kind of meaningful response.

Sources

Wine-Searcher just posted an article regarding a recent wine symposium where the topic of conversation has been adjusting to the changing market. See my previous article at this link: Trends Changing the Wine Industry and the Wine-Searcher article at this link: Gloomy Outlook for Small Wineries.

Can Small Wineries Survive the Changes?

Here are the data points changing the face of the wine industry with limited response by producers (the numbers across multiple sources had some variation, so the figures below are approximate):

  • 90% of all wine made in the U.S. is sold by the 320 wineries that exceed 50,000 cases of production. Of that 90%, more than half is dominated by the top FIVE: Gallo, Wine Group, Constellation, Trinchero and Delicato. The other 9,000+ wineries are bringing only 10% of all wine production to market in the U.S.**
  • With the recent on-going consolidation in wine distribution, the top FOUR by volume nationally (Southern, Republic, Breakthru & Young’s) deliver approximately 60% of all wine distributed in the U.S., but represent only 30% of the wineries.**
  • In the case of wineries producing fewer than 10,000 cases, distributors were responsible for only 33% of sales in 2016. A 6% decrease over the previous year and the trend is continuing.**

Is your head swimming with numbers yet? Suffice to say, BIG has become financially BETTER today and could very well push SMALL to the side of the road. Why? The answer is in the numbers above. How do those other 70% of under-represented wineries bring their wine to market? Winery Direct-to-Consumer (DtC) sales is only 2% of all wine sold in the U.S. currently.

Solutions

Small wineries better become experts at marketing, capturing clientele and earning their continuing loyalty… and fast! If they do not already have a developed DtC customer base, it is near too late. Those who wish to survive, should be investing now! The large distributors dominating the market already have large portfolios of wine labels and shelf-space and wine lists only have so much room.

There were two great hopes: the loosening of rules in cross-state shipping of wine allowing the emergence of online wine retailers and the advent of wine big-box retailers (think Total Wine). At one time, it was looking like these two channels buying winery-direct could represent small wineries and fill the gap. Although just like the DtC space, they are missing the expertise to deliver the volume of sales needed. Can online retailers get better at building inviting online platforms and tools to identify and explore the consumer palate? Can big-box retailers provide a better buying experience that allows thousands of labels to be properly represented? Unfortunately recently, wine commerce laws have become stricter (see recent changes in FL) and it is making it more challenging for both of these channels to grow fast enough to fill the gap.

Why Should Consumers Care?

Well, if you have favorite wines produced by wineries with under a 10K case output… supporting them with your DtC purchases will become important to their continued survival and your continuing supply. It is that simple. The survival of small wineries is in your hands…

 

**Reference sources for this article were: Various Wines & Vines articles, Grand View Research – Wine Market Trends Report, Forbes Food & Agriculture articles, L.E.K. Insights  – Trends Affecting the Wine Industry, Dr. Liz Thach MW – Blog and Statista – Alcoholic Beverage Statistics. The internet provides so much rich content, if you search!

 

 

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1984/1985 Napa Vintages: Comparative Blind Tasting

Recently, I attended a single-blind* tasting with a group of wine collectors whom I regularly meet to share interesting wine. While it has lately become popular to bash the direction of Napa reds and the influence of Robert Parker on the Napa wine industry, here was a chance to evaluate the longevity of Napa wines, BEFORE the wine style began to change. I will try to walk you thru the mindset of a single-blind tasting and wine evaluation. Hopefully, you will find it interesting. Hitch-up your britches, pour a glass of wine and let’s git after it…

(*”Single-blind” is the term used when you are provided with only general information, say: growing region and vintage, or Bordeaux blend and cool climate vineyard. With a minimum of information for context, you must then determine as much about the wine as possible, such as: grape varietal(s), winery – maybe even winemaker, etc. “Double-blind” tasting would include no information about the wine prior to tasting.)

Starter

I always enjoy starting a wine evening off with bubbly, but 1983 Dom Perignon? What a start to a great evening. The Dom still had medium+ acidity, was well balanced, but had moved beyond nutty to more of a brown butter component. The age on the wine gave it a beautiful texture. For those who have not drunk aged Champagne, the texture can be so gorgeous, it is worth tasting for the mouthfeel alone. The young Veuve Clicquot was bright and bracing as it should be.

The Cat (Wine) is Out of the Bag

Out of the bag quite literally… Here are the pics of the bottles out of their paper bags, after we wrote our tasting notes and had attempted to select which bottles matched which producer. Our host served charcuterie, bread and some beautiful pate I really enjoyed to clear/accompany the palate.

1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Very balanced wine, but reaching its limit. Still with medium acidity and medium-minus tannins, this drank reasonably well, but the oxidation had taken over the fruit and was a few years beyond its drinking window. The fruit had moved to more prune and raisin, than fresh fruit flavors. This would have drunk better at around 35 years of age, around 10 years ago. The brownish color around the rim and prune flavors gave it away, almost all of us identified this wine correctly.

1984 Diamond Creek Vineyard Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine still had strong tannins. It was a little watery with a very restrained nose and palate. Diamond Mountain region wines in the past have tasted big, tannic, with subdued fruit and without much nuance (IMO)… but with age, developed great mouthfeel. Exactly how this wine tasted. This was an easy tell, with some tasting history to reference.

1985 Silver Oak Alexander Valley (Sonoma) Cabernet Sauvignon

This was the fruitiest of the bunch and had the most obvious oak.  This was the surprise of the evening (IMO). Recent vintages of Silver Oak Cab Sauv are not generally viewed as being able to stand up to extended aging, but this 80’s era vintage was balanced and still fruity. A nice wine with tremendous character for 30+ years of age. With the most obvious oak on the nose and palate, this fit the Silver Oak tasting profile, making for a high probability of accuracy.

1984 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

I mistook the next two for each other. I have always had an odd relationship with BV as a producer. I have not really cared for their lower priced wines, having only a minimum of value (IMO), while their famous Georges de Latour release every year is good, but over-priced. They also seem to develop complex flavors in their higher priced wine, some flavors of which I don’t care for. So, I may have gone into this tasting with preconceived notions… which is always an interesting aspect of blind tasting. I guessed this wine was the Joseph Phelps, mostly because I enjoyed this wine as having the most balanced profile of the wines tasted and having the most gorgeous mouthfeel. Frankly, I didn’t think a BV wine could be this good. (buzzer sound) Well, I blew that one! Chalk one up for having a closed mind.

1985 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I described this one in my notes with the typical wine industry generic term, “food friendly”. The kiss of the death for uninteresting wine in a tasting note in the U.S. This was the most acidic of the bunch. Which was amazing, since this wine was 33 years old. It was a little vegetal with a touch of tomato, but no green bell pepper… both characteristics of under-ripe Cab Sauv. Hard to believe this wine was from a warm vintage. This could only happen in a Napa vintage before 1995. No self-respecting Napa producer would ever harvest Cab this early in a warm year today. I enjoyed this wine the least of the bunch. Poor balance and “interesting”, but not particularly pleasant flavor profile.

1988 Lynch Bages Bordeaux Blend

This was smokey, with medium+ acidity and medium tannin. This was another example of an aged Bordeaux showing balance after extended aging. The flavor profile included an earthiness, that when you taste enough of 1st-5th growth Bordeaux wine, you come to recognize. Still with fresh fruit (blackberry) and stewed currants, the fruit was forward on the palate. I am not a huge fan of Pauillac region wines. I prefer the St. Estephe and Margaux regions in Bordeaux, but this was drinking nicely at 30 years and was a strong representative of Left Bank Bordeaux.

The Finish

IMG Port Btl

Just WOW!

This aged, vintage port was exceptional! The fruit had lasted very well. Not too sweet, tasting like a more recent vintage… but for a port, this wine was so balanced… integrated alcohol, good acidity, soft & full mouthfeel. All of us agreed, this was the outstanding wine of the evening. I wish I could hold on to ports this long. This one was worth the wait.

Recap

Well, there you have it. A great evening! I hope you enjoyed the personal perspective and found insight into blind tasting methodology. I think you can see, blind tasting accuracy is mostly: having tasted a lot of wine labels and being able to hold them in your memory. These were all exceptional wines, wines I would score from 90-99 on the Parker scale. We definitely proved the point, most collectors can easily identify Bordeaux in a line-up of Napa Cabs. All of us guessed the Lynch Bages correctly.

Napa Cab Sauv: Now & Back Then

Not many are allowed the opportunity to taste a selection of Napa Cabs from the 70’s & 80’s. This was a great experience. I will reiterate comments made before about Napa in the last 30+ years… Prior to 1995 Napa made true Bordeaux style wines: structured, leaner, lower alcohol and well-suited for extended aging. 1995 to 2003 was an interim period, where Napa Cabs were fruitier and more ripe than before, but still able to handle 10-20 years in the bottle. 2004 and after, most of the wine was produced for optimum drinking windows in the 5-10 year range. This is just a gross generality. There are individual exceptions with both shorter and longer aging windows, but in general, I have found this evaluation to hold true.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Trends Changing the Wine Industry

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Silicon Valley Bank has been producing state of the beverage industry reports for years. I try to make sure I read the formal report every year, but they also write a blog for the wine industry that I check-in on occasionally. The data can deliver insights that bring an interesting perspective to market trends.

Data is Predicting Changes

The U.S. wine industry has been on a steam roller building big gains in revenue and beverage market share drawing in new consumers from younger generations of social drinkers. The recent data is showing significant slowing of that growth, even in areas that have been hot in the past, such as: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Super Premium Wines, Direct-to-Consumer Sales and On-Premises (restaurant) Consumption. Unfortunately, the growth in the number of small growers and producers is not slowing to match pace. Many of these producers are being drawn to the lifestyle, not the business opportunity and the industry is reaching a tipping point for several reasons.

TRENDS

Restaurant Wine Sales is Slowing

Distribution is their own worst enemy here. In an effort to control local beverage markets, they are actually causing irreparable harm to their dealer’s ability to respond to market trends. Destructive strategies, such as:

  • Withholding well-known brands of beer and spirits, if specific high-profit wines being promoted are not purchased.
  • Extending credit limits, or terms to obtain leverage on buying decisions.

A successful restaurant wine inventory should have wines covering well-known lower priced labels, lesser-known value in the middle range and highly scored, high priced wine that garner recognition. This approach tends to satisfy a much wider range of consumer, offer a selection all can explore/enjoy/afford and provide up-sell opportunities for the staff when the occasion calls for it. Instead, distributors in many states are preventing this type of responsive approach. Read the piece at this link for additional info:  Restaurant Wine Sales

Fruit/Wine Supply Exceeding Demand

Wine travel in Europe teaches you one thing: don’t be afraid to order cheap table wine with a meal there. Even table wine in Europe can be very good. The growing over-supply issue may change the landscape in the U.S. For many years now, the $10-15/btl retail price has delivered poor quality in the U.S. I am hoping this market trend will bring more, better quality fruit and wine to the market at reduced prices, instead of vineyards dropping the excess fruit to rot in the fields. See information on this at this link:  Wine Supply

Premium Wine Sales are Flat

The continued growth in this category is coming primarily from price increases, not the volume of wine. Interestingly enough, consumption of premium craft beer has also weakened. This is very likely being caused by an aging Boomer generation drinking less wine, without Millennials filling the gap. The younger generation seems to be moving towards exploration and looking for value, rather than committing to older high-priced labels. See information on this at this link: Premium Wine Sales

Direct-to-Consumer Beverage Sales Continues to Grow

As long as State legislatures and the Supreme Court continue to keep their hands off this segment of wine/beer/spirits distribution… this will likely be the savior of the small producer… for those that get it right. With the extensive consolidation in the beverage distribution industry in the last few years, there is just not enough room on the shelf for the growing number of labels, especially for smaller producers without a sizable marketing budget. The continuing growth in the number of small producers will force an understanding of how to connect and maintain a relationship with a clientele, or fail. Wineries must continue to move towards improving the wine experience for potential customers, rather than provide a traditional tasting room as the only engagement. This is the only segment left in the wine industry that offers a solid business opportunity, but selling out each vintage will increasingly become a challenge, without the bulk purchasing distribution can offer. The trick will be how to build the DtC channel for each producer. With most small wineries being about the farming, or the winemaking… there will need to be a newly developed understanding of marketing and customer engagement. It will be a matter of survival. See information on this at this link: Small Winery Sales

Changes are Coming

The U.S. wine industry is likely to look quite different five years from now. There is a good chance, with the Millennial penchant for exploring new wines, that imported wine sales will grow faster than domestic in the future. This pressure may actually force the U.S. wine industry to get better at producing quality in that $10-15/btl range that typically does not exist today. An outcome I am looking forward to…

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Wine Apps & Mobile Sites

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All aspects of the beverage industry are working so hard to leverage technology, online social media and media access… the efforts are humorous at times. Often I feel bombarded by recommendations from the wine industry: in person, in writing, by software, on websites.

How Do They Know What I Will Enjoy?

We now have apps for retailers, apps for consumers, apps for wineries, apps for restaurants, etc… all designed to help either respond to demand, create demand, or convince me which wines to buy. I am so tired of this deluge of software telling me what I should know about the beverage market/industry, or what I should be buying. If this software can attract enough participation, a database can be developed to identify popular flavor profiles, but how does this really help me? Do I really need to know what the other guy is buying?

I get so frustrated with wine stewards, tasting room attendants, retail clerks AND apps wanting to tell me what beverage is popular, because I am sure to enjoy it. Since when am I sure to appreciate a beverage, because it appeals to the next guy? I don’t need more sources telling me what other people prefer, I need more direct assistance leveraging my preferences to select beverages I KNOW I will enjoy.

The wine industry makes the wrong assumption. I don’t need to be told what to buy, I need an understanding of the actual tasting experience with the product. I need an app that I can input my data: likes wine with high acidity, texture, complex flavors, fruit forward… and it pops out matching wines. It could be for Bourbon too: caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, a little spicy, not too sweet and not too hot… and I get a list. This is where technology could actually pair demand with production and offer both buyer assistance AND seller demand creation.

Why Isn’t Anyone Working on This?

I have been asked to look at/test run several wine apps. Most all depend on sharing consumption trends. The ones that try to do it the right way, all get it wrong, i.e. just because I enjoy black coffee, doesn’t mean I will appreciate savory flavors in wine. I am going to put it out there in the public domain, the questions needed to structure a questionnaire that captures real wine preferences:

  1. Prefer wine with/without food?
  2. Drinking the wine now, or holding in your cellar?
  3. Easy drinking, slightly sweet wines?
  4. Wines that clear your palate and are crisp?
  5. Textured wines with good mouthfeel?
  6. Can you appreciate savory flavors in wine (complexity)? Must a wine be very fruity to appreciate?
  7. Do you prefer reds with red, or black fruit flavors? Whites with citrus, tropical, or stone fruit flavors?
  8. How much dry/cottony feeling in the mouth can you appreciate?
  9. What is your budget?

Let me ask these questions of a wine enthusiast and I can pick out a wine they will enjoy 9 out of 10 times. I have done this with friends so many times… So why is that so hard to design software around? Picture a wine app that is loaded on a tablet that could assist an attendant to make a recommendation based on these simple questions?

If you have simple questions that can provide insight into wine preferences, please share.

 

***** I will put the challenge out there. If there is a wine app that handles wine evaluation in this fashion, please contact me. I will promote your solution anywhere I can. *****

 

 

 

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Petit Manseng – An Obscure Wine Worth Finding

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2016 Callaghan Vineyards Greg’s – White Wine

Winery: Sonoita, AZ / Fruit: Willcox AVA, AZ

Wine Tasting Note:

Score: 92/100

My first impression: WOW! Second time tasting Petit Manseng and this knocked me off my feet. This Arizona origin wine was so much better than the first bottle I tasted from Virginia. Kent Callaghan did a great job of producing a seriously good wine from a virtually unknown grape. Rich, floral nose of white flowers, honeysuckle and citrus. The palate was honey, creme brulee, red apple and lemon curd. The wine had crazy high acidity and high alcohol. This could have stood up to being over-oaked. So glad that was not the case. The mouth-feel was rich and smooth and the finish was very long with a touch of clove at the end. This varietal presents like a cross between Chardonnay and Viognier. As I understand it, this grape is used in making a well-known sweet late-harvest wine from the Jurancon in the Southwest region of France. This wine was very fruity, but finishes dry. It is easy to see the potential for shifting the emphasis to a sweet wine. The Petit Manseng vines love the heat and are known for producing high acid fruit, even in very warm and sunny climates. The vines have naturally small berries with very thick skins and tend to ripen with very long hang times – without mold, or mildew. It is almost as if this variety was built with Arizona in mind. It is hard to believe the primary parent variety is Traminer. I like this stuff. If you are a fan of high acid white wines, this will be right up your alley. Enjoy!

 

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Five Vintages of Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage

Tasting a Historic Wine Label Across the 80’s and 90’s

A small group of wine collectors of which I was fortunate to be included sat down to taste one man’s contribution to a very special event. This group is passionate about wine and we all manage to contribute in a way that makes each meeting a special event. This month, one of our members Jay Bileti offered to share these special wines and the story behind them. I was the one who brought the Reynvaan from Milton-Freedman (“The Rocks”) AVA. I had the temerity to include this wine in our tasting. I am a huge fan of classic Northern Rhone French wines and was curious how one of the more well-known Northern Rhone style Syrah growing regions in the U.S. (home of Cayuse) would compare side-by-side.

The Wines

  • 1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle” Hermitage AOC
  • 2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks” Walla Walla AVA

A History

Hermitage is a wine growing region that has been viewed as special for literally centuries. So long in fact, that it was actually mentioned in the writings of Roman author/philosopher Pliny the Elder in the 1st Century AD. The 1961 vintage of La Chapelle is one of the most famous wines of the last 60 years, often compared with the greatest wines ever produced in France. The label is steeped in French fine wine history and the winemaker Gerard Jaboulet was one of the best-loved and most famous characters of his time. Unfortunately, he abruptly passed away in 1995. Some conjecture circumstances in the last few years may have affected the vintages in the years before this death. Critics noted a marked fall-off in quality from the early 90’s until after the acquisition of the winery and vineyards by Jean-Jacques Frey in 2005 and we had the perfect selection of wine to test those scores and confirm/deny the idea for ourselves. See Jancis Robinson’s article on the topic at:

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/hermitage-la-chapelle-the-rise-and-fall-of-a-great-wine

“Northern Rhone Style” Wine

What defines this style of wine and what makes it special? Northern Rhone is a cool climate region as opposed to, say the famous Chateauneuf du Pape warm climate region. Both regions grow Syrah, but the cooler climate, sunny days and steep hillside vineyards in the Northern Rhone cause the fruit to draw something different from the vines. These wines tend to have more finesse, than brute force. Delicate in their sensibility, but with tremendous acid and tannic structure. Age-worthy wines that develop a silky and complex profile, with flavors that are equally savory and fruity with time in the bottle. Without referencing a specific Northern Rhone wine label, more in keeping a wine type in mind, I can write a generic tasting note to help you understand the character of these wines:

A nose of forest floor, sometimes bacon fat, or cured meat, with herbs like sage, or tarragon in the background. An intense palate of dark, brooding blackberry fruit (occasionally blueberry too), with earth, mushroom and herbs and a silky, sometimes oily mouthfeel. The cool climate produces grapes high in acid and the extracted style produces high tannins. Often the mid-palate presents dark chocolate, that lasts with the fruit and the tannin, through to a very long finish. These wines are always made dry, age forever, are great with food, or as cocktail wines, have a beautiful aromatic nose and show tremendous balance and finesse.

TASTING NOTES

The different vintages were amazingly consistent in profile regarding flavors. So, I will not repeat the same descriptors with each wine. The primary differences were in balance, structure, complexity, intensity and mouth-feel. The first note below provides the additional detail that more broadly applies to most of these wines. All of the wines were decanted for several hours.

1986 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 98/100 

This is not everyone’s kind of wine. In fact, I was the only one of the group that put this wine at the top of my list. The nose had a slightly musty, moldy odor that built a visual of an old wine cave in France. The complexity of the nose immediately drew me in. There were aromas of blackberry, sweet browned butter, forest floor and black pepper showing. The palate was still fruit forward, but was equally matched by the savory flavors from the nose. The black pepper did not show through to the palate. There was a mid-palate of dark chocolate and a long finish. The structure was perfectly balanced. With medium tannin still present and medium plus acidity. The mouth-feel was soft on the attack, becoming fine grained tannin and then finishing with a good grip. An amazing wine that showed everything in a world class wine. The rest of the group couldn’t get past the musty nose. For me, it added character. If this is a problem for your sensibilities, knock off a couple of points and you will get a more representative score.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 96/100

This wine was almost everyone’s favorite in the group. Not as intense as the 1986, with more fruit on the nose and palate. Even softer, with medium minus tannin and medium acidity. This wine was missing the bigger mouth-feel of the previous wine and did not have enough tannin left to provide a good sense of structure. Not quite as balanced and the finish was a bit shorter. Don’t get me wrong, this was a fabulous wine too and I would drink it every day if I had an unlimited supply, but in a world class sense, just a step under the 1986.

1994 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 92/100

Alcohol was the most prominent characteristic on the nose. The nose was weaker and less complex. More fruit-forward than the others, with some black pepper on the palate at the finish. Much less balance and finesse showing, with medium tannin and medium acidity. This vintage was definitely not of the same caliber as the 80’s vintage wines previously tasted.

1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     Score: 91/100

This wine was enjoyed the least by the group. Everything from the 1994 with even a weaker nose. Showed more fruit than the ’94 and more black pepper on the finish. The structure was up a notch to medium plus acidity and tannin. This wine was a touch disjointed and was missing the elegance of the previous wines completely.

1998 Paul Jaboulet Aine “La Chapelle”     96/100

This wine was second on my list. Very fruity nose with noticeable alcohol. The flavors/aromas were more intense, as if moving back towards the 80’s vintages. This was the first wine with a touch of menthol on the palate. Nice dark chocolate component with a very long finish. The structure showed high tannins and high acidity, but had enough fruit to balance this approach to a bigger style wine. This wasn’t the same kind of wine as the 80’s vintages, but excellent in its own right. This is balanced enough to actually improve with more bottle age. Perhaps a drinking window of 2016 – 2026, with the best years to enjoy in the early 2020’s.

2012 Reynvaan “In the Rocks”     Score: 93/100

So, here is the “sleeper”. I enjoyed this wine too, but this was less of a food wine than the La Chapelle vintages. Blackberry, mushroom and forest floor on the nose with sort of a grape hard candy component. The fruit on the palate became blackberry and grape jelly with a really interesting savory black/green olive tapenade that persisted, moving to dark chocolate on the mid-palate and finish. Good, rich intensity, but less tannin than I would prefer. The medium plus acidity added structure. This was most definitely made with a Northern Rhone profile in mind… tending towards a New World approach that brings more fruit and a softer feel. If structure is your thing (like me), this wine was reaching the end of its drinking window. I would say 2015 – 2020. Not enough tannin, or acidity to be more than a (better) fruity cocktail wine after 10 years. Keep in mind, a value comparison is in order too. This wine is a third of the price (or less) compared to recent vintages of the La Chapelle.

I wrote a previous tasting note on this wine in 2015 here: https://bit.ly/2l28hnW. I thought it was slightly better when younger.

Why Was the Reynvaan Bottling Added to the Tasting?

“The Rocks” is an up and coming Syrah region in the U.S. Established as recently as 2015. Winemakers/vineyard managers are early in maximizing its potential. Give the winemakers and the vines another 10 – 20 years and we may have another Hermitage, or Cote-Rotie type region on our hands. The AVA gets its name from the intensely rocky soil. These soil conditions tend to produce intensity and add savory aspects to the wine, most likely because the vines are so stressed. See pic below to get an idea:

Progression of Quality with La Chapelle

I would agree with Jancis Robinson and many other critics that assert the mid-90’s wines fell off in quality… but I would disagree that it was not until after 2005 that the quality began to improve. That 1998 La Chapelle was a much better wine than the 1995, albeit a wine with less finesse. Oh, and by the way… ALL of these wines were fabulous. This article was an attempt to share a well-considered evaluation of wines at the pinnacle of quality in the industry.

This tasting has convinced me I need to find a later vintage of La Chapelle to compare these to. I am curious where the new owner took this historied wine label.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, French Wine, Northern Rhone, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Scoring Systems: What You Need to Know

The Scoring Systems

Three systems are most commonly used for wine scoring today: Robert Parker’s 100 Point System, UC Davis’ 20 point System and the Gold-Silver-Bronze Medal designations. So, let’s dive into each and understand their components, focus and determine their real-world reliability.

UC Davis & Medal Scoring Systems

Often, these two are tied together.

Medal System:

  • Gold-medal:     18.5–20.0 points – Outstanding quality
  • Silver-medal:   17.0–18.4 points – Excellent standard
  • Bronze-medal: 15.5–16.9 points – Very good wine for its class

UC Davis System:

  • 17 – 20  Outstanding
  • 13 – 16   Standard wines with no defect
  • 9 – 12     Commercially acceptable with no defect
  • 5 – 8       Below commercial acceptability
  • 1 – 5       Completely spoiled
  1. Appearance (2 points)
  2. Color (2 points)
  3. Aroma and Bouquet (4 points)
  4. Total Acidity (2 points)
  5. Sugar (1 point)
  6. Body (1 point)
  7. Flavor (2 point)
  8. Acescency (Bitterness) (2 points)
  9. Astringency (Tannin) (2 points)
  10. General Quality (2 points)

The glaring missing pieces are Balance, Complexity, Finish and Age-Ability. Without these factors, fine wine cannot accurately be judged. The UC Davis System has an inherent bias toward poor to mediocre wines. The problem is the potential for a 16 pt. score (bronze medal) for a typical Concord sweet wine, in comparison to a 16 pt. score for a mediocre Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is eminently more drinkable, yet carries the same score. This system allows too much weight for components that would be assumed with fine wine, such as Appearance and Color and virtually none where fine wine shines, such as Balance, Age-ability, etc. This evens the playing field for amateur wines and narrows the gap between the professional and amateur wine categories. BEWARE of medal designations and UC Davis scoring. If you enjoy fine wines and in particular, if you collect Old World wines, this scoring system is not for you.

Parker’s 100 Point System

  • 50 Points for Showing Up 🙂
  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

OK, this has its problems too. Certainly not scientific, or very systematic, but it weighs the important characteristics of fine wines. This too is missing the balance and complexity components, but allows enough latitude to score (let’s say) a U.S. 1997 Robert Mondavi Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvigon versus a French 2000 Chateau La Gaffeliere. Something the UC Davis and Medal systems do not.

Frankly, this system will just not work for evaluating an amateur winemaker’s sweet 2017 Chambourcin (native hybrid grape), BECAUSE Old World style wine quality is in another category of its own. So far removed, that any 20 Point System equivalent would require adding decimal quantifiers (i.e. 19.1, 19.2, etc.) to attempt to make an equivalency work.


5/28/18 – I have had a few comments from those who follow my blog about not including the WSET “Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine”.  I have never seen this system used by a wine writer in their media product (although some components are similar to UC Davis system). I am not sure it would/could be a commercially viable solution. I would appreciate any feedback on this, though. I am sure there are some that are using it in the background and converting it to the more common scoring systems (WSET Graduates your thoughts?)


A ” Wine Judge Certification Program”

This year I had an interesting experience with a wine judge training/certification program (Wine Judge Certification Program – WJCP) run by the American Wine Society (AWS). There are very few programs like this, specifically certifying wine judges in the U.S.

This program introduced me to a whole new subset in the wine continuum: amateur winemakers, native grape species and fruit wines. It became very clear to me quickly, AWS has a significant piece of their membership focused on this area. In fact, they have changed the UC Davis scoring system to make it more internally friendly to these wines. I also found out, there are many wine competitions across the Eastern half of the U.S. specifically focused on these type of wines. Who knew!!

Full Disclosure: This focus seemed quite odd and I could never get my head around it. I did make the decision to stop investing in these classes and have since exited the program.

I had never seen a bottle of anything in this category, before these classes. My closest familiarity was the Mogen David Concord wine my parents drank over ice occasionally. Who knew there was a whole wine culture that focused on this type of wine. I still remember the worst hangover of my life from drinking 3 bottles of Annie Green Springs when I was a teenager. I suppose someone has to evaluate these wines, but using the same scoring system to evaluate an aged Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is nothing but tragic. What happened to the idea that wine and local cuisine is a match made in heaven? Certainly, not with these wines.

The Jumble and Ambiguity of Wine Scoring

If it hasn’t become clear yet, there is an enormous amount of confusion surrounding these scoring systems. So, how can we use them to choose wines to match our tastes? Personally, I ignore the 20 pt. and Medal Systems completely and I take the 100 pt. System scores with a grain of salt… unless I am familiar with the judges palate. For example, I have a pretty good idea of what these wine writers/judges rate highly: Parker, Suckling, Galloni and Tanzer. I can make a reasonable guess at quality from 100 pt. system scores generated by these wine writers.

So, what do you do? Well, if you are a fine wine drinker, I would surely ignore the 20 pt. and medal systems. From there, it is all homework. Get to know what your favorite wine writers tend to score highly, learn their palate a bit and use their scores to make your choices!

P.S.

If I could develop my own scoring system for the wines I drink, it would be a version of a 100 pt. system and look something like this:

  • 5 Points for First Impression or Color
  • 15 Points for Acidity
  • 10 Points for Tannin and its Texture/Mouth-Feel
  • 15 Points for Aroma or Bouquet
  • 10 Points for Flavor
  • 10 Points for Finish
  • 15 Points for Balance
  • 10 Points for Complexity (mid-palate & layered flavors)
  • 10 Points for Aging Potential

A red wine theoretically could have a perfect score of 100. White/rose wine with no tannin would have 90 as a perfect score. Without balance, complexity and aging potential, 35 points are lost! With this type of system you could easily get the point swing needed to separate amateur wines from bottle-aged fine wines.

Many of these components are too subjective to make it onto a judges sheet at an amateur wine competition. The focus there has to be on the basics: no faults, or objectionable components. How many people get to formally judge better wines anyway? Only a lucky few…

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L’Aventure Six Year Vertical Tasting

Birthday Doings

Well, this year for my birthday I settled on this celebration idea. My wife and I asked some close friends over and we ploughed through an interesting selection of #L’Aventure wines:

L’Aventure Optimus – Red Blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, 2011-2016 (six) Vintages

L’Aventure Cote a Cote – Red Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, 2014 Vintage

Tasting Notes

As a setup, I have been studying for a wine judge certification program sponsored by the American Wine Society (AWS) lately and they have adopted the UC Davis 20 pt. scoring system. I was not as familiar with this system, as the Robert Parker 100 pt. system, so this was an opportunity to dive into the detail using a vertical to test the nuance. Here is the UC Davis breakdown for higher quality wines:

  • 17 – 20 pts. Wines of outstanding characteristics having no defects
  • 13 – 16         Standard wines with neither oustanding character or defect
  • 9 – 12           Wines of commercial acceptability with noticeable defects

Revised 5/27/18:

I have come to learn how unrepresentative the 20 Point scoring system can be with the fine wine category. As I have evaluated more wine with this system it has become clear, all of these L’Aventure wines should be in the “outstanding” category over 18 pts. This makes it very difficult to define the nuanced differences between these vintages. I have converted these scores to the 100 Point System to better represent this vertical comparison.


A few common characteristics of these wines before we get started:

  • The percentages in the blends from year to year are adjusted by the winemaker Stephan Asseo.
  • The L’Aventure has a reputation for big, highly extracted, fruity wines. I was first introduced to this winery back in 2008 and what made it special then, was the tremendous balance Asseo was able to achieve in such over-the-top wines. In those early days, it was amazing the structure and nuanced flavors that were achieved.
  • I will not focus on the fruit flavors in the tasting notes. They are typical for these varietals. The Optimus has the usual plum and blackberry profile you might expect. Some years, the Cab Sauv added a tobacco mid-palate and other years the Petit Verdot improved the mouth-feel, but in general… what you would expect on the palate for this type of Red Blend. The Cote a Cote had the typical GSM profile of blackberry, strawberry/raspberry, a little spice and dark chocolate finish.

2011 Optimus – 93 Points

2011 was a cool vintage in Paso and it showed… in a good way. This was the only vintage that was medium bodied and showed some finesse.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 1.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2012 Optimus – 95 Points

This vintage was lighter on the Petit Verdot and did a great job of developing structure with High Acidity and Medium+ Tannin. This is a balanced wine with a little of everything you want from the popular “Red Blend” style.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 5/6, Taste/Texture – 6/6, Finish – 2.5/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

2013 Optimus – 89 Points

This vintage was considered a “classic” in Paso. Warm, early harvest with no surprises, but enough temp variation to develop good acidity. This vintage bottling was an example of a wine with too much obvious alcohol and not enough development of flavors. I think, too much under-developed Petit Verdot in the mix here. Too out of balance to improve with age.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Optimus – 92 Points

This vintage was consistently warm, without temp variation. There must be a micro-climate variation at the L’Aventure vineyards, because this bottling had Very High Acidity and the alcohol was not as pronounced. The structure here was very evident and this vintage will age longer than the previous. An opportunity to develop some additional complexity and improve over the next few years.

Appearance – 3/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 4.5/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1.5/2

2015 Optimus – 87 Points

This was an unusual weather year. For whatever reason, this bottling was all out of kilter. Too much burning alcohol on the nose and no harmony in the wine. A really poor year for this label.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3/6, Taste/Texture – 3.5/6, Finish – 2/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2016 Optimus – 90 Points

This vintage was very near the warmest on record in Paso, but Asseo was able to keep the alcohol in check here. This bottling is a little too young to assess properly against the previous vintages. This may turn into a comparatively better vintage after a few years in the bottle.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 3.5/6, Taste/Texture – 4/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 1/2

2014 Cote a Cote – 96 Points

I popped this just to give the group some perspective and comparison with a traditional GSM. I am a Southern Rhone guy, so this wine had a lot of appeal for me. I tried to be impartial. In my opinion, Paso does the mix of Grenache and Syrah as well as any location in the world. The Grenache adding beautiful aromatics and acidity and the Syrah, depth. I would have enjoyed a little more earthiness from the Mourvedre, but you can’t have everything. The Cote a Cote year over year tends to achieve good balance, while still offering the big, extracted, alcohol heavy style Asseo is trying to achieve.

Appearance – 2.5/3, Aroma/Bouquet – 6/6, Taste/Texture – 5/6, Finish – 3/3, Overall Impression – 2/2

Impressions

Some of you may feel, how can an educated palate enjoy this heavily extracted style (get this question sometimes)? L’Aventure has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Not much of a food wine, but an after dinner sipper for sure. My only major impression this night was the continuing evolution of this label’s wines towards easier drinking styles, without a lot of nuance. Back 10 years ago, these wines would blow your mind. Marrying structure, balance and finesse with the “big” wine character you would expect. That has been changing the last few years and moving towards simpler taste profiles. One last comment, these are not wines that are built to age. In general, I would say 7-8 years in the bottle max, before they begin their downhill decent.

Comment on the UC Davis Wine Scoring System

In my opinion, there are serious short-comings to this system. That 2011 was a beautiful wine with more finesse and balance than all of these… but it had a bit of a weak nose and slightly uneven depth of color. If I could have, I would have given this wine 4 pts. for overall impression. That 16/20 score did not reflect the true success of that wine. With the #UCDavis system, there is no way to give that wine the score it deserved…

 

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Filed under GSM Blend, Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

The Future of Wine Marketing?

Premium Branding and Targeted Marketing

Market Research

I try to spend time occasionally researching wine consumption and how those trends affect the industry. Along that line, a couple of media items came to my attention this week. This article published by Beverage Dynamics on current wine trends at – https://bit.ly/2JZ1cjp and the NPR Radio program regarding the history of Grey Goose brand Vodka and Jagermeister brand liqueur at – https://n.pr/2Fk3ZEg. Take a look for some background, or just follow along below. I will do my best to take you through the impressions this left with me that caused my view of wine marketing to veer in a very different direction.

2017 Wine Trends

This Beverage Dynamics piece lists:  the largest selling wine labels in U.S. by volume, their growth in the last year and the fastest growing labels coming up. So, I am reading through this piece and it occurs to me – with over a 600 bottle personal cellar, I don’t have one bottle of any of the labels mentioned. Not one! Why is that? I am sure some of these are decent daily-drinking wine. Not everything in our cellar is expensive wine. Why hadn’t I found one of these as a daily-drinker for my enjoyment? Had me thinking. Then I listened to this radio program…

Guerrilla Marketing & Beverage Industry

It appears Sidney Franks (of Grey Goose Vodka fame) was the original mastermind behind the concept of “guerrilla marketing” in the premium beverage business. Relative to the Jagermeister brand, he took a product enjoyed in the USA by old German guys, and gave it a new hip, young and fresh make-over. This very successful re-branding effort was accomplished by sending out young, trendy brand ambassadors to college bars to promote the product face-to-face. Wow! Grass-roots demand generation from the ground up! It is hard to believe such a simple idea built a brand in U.S. with over $500M+ in revenue.

Wine Marketing

Hang in there with me… So, I am thinking about the wine labels from the Beverage Dynamics piece and I realize, I can’t remember a single piece of advertising regarding these brands! Broadly distributed, high-volume labels don’t register on my radar. Not because I am a snob, just because these wines tend to be homogenized. All much alike – very drinkable, but without much character. I tend to tune out products that I don’t believe will be of interest… there it is: “will be of interest”. How does my brain decide what wine information should be filtered out? Even more interesting, what would it take to grab and hold my interest? Fodder for another piece down the road…

Wine Collectors

It took me over ten years to find a group of guys that collect classic premium wines in the Phoenix Metro area. It always struck me, why was that so difficult? What organization in the wine industry identifies the individual market segments and brings like-minded consumers together? I was thinking at least one producer would attempt to do this to promote their product and build demand. Nope. Nada. Nothing. How is that possible? I did find an organization a couple of years ago that I thought might be the answer: the American Wine Society, or AWS (http://www.americanwinesociety.org/). It didn’t work out at the time. The chapters in my area were focused on typical, easy drinking, lower price wines. After some investigation, I just lost interest. Then recently I ran into Jay Bileti (an officer at AWS) and he “listened”. The net result was gleaning out of the current membership a few folks whose interests leaned in this direction. Voila!, we had a wine collector’s tasting group. The point is: where is the industry involvement? It is becoming increasingly clear as the baby-boomer generation ages, marketing must become more focused, target specific price categories and connect with consumer interests. Implementing a little of that “Guerrilla” thinking and investing in filling this gap would have a huge impact on label/brand awareness. Add a few smart folks to the mix and you would have the next great Sidney Franks-like story in the wine business!

Wineries & Marketing Investment

The first simple idea would be for wine producers/marketing reps to reach out to consumer organizations like AWS. No, not the way it is done now, but to invest in surveying wine enthusiasts to identify consumer market segments, categorize interests, separate price categories, build palate profiles and associated taste models. THEN, provide services to connect individuals. The best marketing ideas build a COMMUNITY! This is where brand loyalty begins. Right now, none are willing to invest this way, because there is no vision for how to monetize it. This has to be the future for premium brand wine marketing as Boomers age. Just holding local wine tastings and wine dinners is not the full answer. I wonder, what would it take for a few producers to embrace this idea?

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Quarterly Wine Collector’s Tasting

Wine List

  1. Champagne – 2013 Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Val Vilaine

  2. Cru Beaujolais – 2015 Marcel Lapierre Morgon Cuvée Marcel Lapierre

  3. OR Pinot Noir – 2014 Thomas Pinot Noir Dundee Hills

  4. Barolo – 1971 Barisone Barolo

  5. Barolo – 1970 Cantine Villadoria Riserva Speciale

  6. Barolo – 2000 Paolo Scavino Cannubi

  7. CA Syrah – 2014 Sine Qua Non Syrah Piranha Waterdance

  8. Vintage Port – 1985 Fonseca Porto Vintage

Barolo Education

Comparing the older style 47 and 48 year old Baroli to the newer style 18 year old was fascinating. The first two were definitely pushing the limit on age. The Barisone had lost most of its fruit and was highly oxidized, but the Cantine Villadoria still had some fruit on the palate and although it was oxidized too… there was still a fresher fruit aspect. The 2000 Scavino was very nice and just hitting its stride for my palate. Just the right balance of fruit, acidity and tannin. It was interesting to compare the aged bottles. Granted, a single instance with only a small sample, but it would appear the vicinity of 20 years seems to produce amazing Baroli for my palate.

Grower – Producer Champagne

The Bouchard Champagne to start off the night was excellent. No dosage, but still had a fruity-sweet character for a Brut. The bubbles were so fine, it was definitely a signature for this producer. This has opened a new category of Champagne for me. I intend to look for more small production, grower vintage Champagne.

Cru Beaujolais Intro

For under $30, these premium Beaujolais seem to be an interesting category to explore. I have never really been down this path, having been heavily influenced by Beaujolais Nouveau which I do not enjoy. The clean, freshness of the fruit with a nice acidic backbone – this reminded me of a quality Carneros Pinot Noir, with more of a strawberry/raspberry fruit profile. Another wine category I intend to explore moving forward.

Sine Qua Non

Second time I have tasted this producer and this was consistent with the first impression. Very fruity, but reasonably balanced profile. NOT a food wine. I would like to be aware of the hospitality expressed in sharing this wine… this is an expensive bottle, but I have to tell you… this reminds me of some Australian d’Arenberg Syrah I have in my cellar at a more reasonable price point.

Vintage Port Finish

Perfect topper for the evening. Beautiful soft, vintage port wine to finish our evening. Not overly oxidized, with a good balance of fresh & stewed fruit. This was right on what a vintage port should be!

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