Tag Archives: fine wine

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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California Wine Has Been Changing

Sarcasm Seems Appropriate

Confession: I am a collector of wine. Hmmmm… Yep, the tone works. Lately, I am feeling like I need to apologize to wineries, retailers and distributors for collecting and storing their product. Maybe I need to start a Collector’s Anonymous group? Perhaps, I can develop a 12 step approach to curing my apparent illness and become famous. You may ask yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of this problem?” It has been camouflaged, lurking around the edges of changing demographics and trending demand.

These days, I am feeling the need to justify a collector’s version of wine appreciation. The majority of my wine inventory is 8-15 years old and some as much as 25. As my inventory ages, the enjoyment of complex, textured and elegant wine grows. This wine world I live in, is no longer fashionable to the industry crowd.

$$Another Impact of Changing Demographics$$

Let’s use Napa wineries as an example. 25-30 years ago most major Bordeaux style red wine producers in Napa (Beringer, Mondavi, Montelena, Jos Phelps, etc.) all were producing wines capable of aging 15-30 years (some more). After 2000, those drinking windows started moving and became 10-12 years. The next threshold was crossed about 2014. Now, many of the traditional Napa wines I drink have had drinking windows landing somewhere in a 5-8 year range. I now have to be careful NOT to hold these wines too long. It just goes against my grain to pop $100/btl wine in less than 5 years!

Why should the average wine consumer care? To produce earlier drinking red wines, the style usually requires more time in contact with new American oak, often are more extracted, higher in alcohol and less acidic. In short, easier drinking wines that are appealing to the younger, less experienced palate.

I am now thinking of canceling many of my California wine clubs and moving to more Bordeaux product. Even many Chianti, Chianti Classico and Brunello wineries have succumbed. Barolo and Barbaresco too, but those wines had aging windows of 25-50 years and are now landing at 10-25 years. I can live with that. Too many wineries are relenting to the economic pressure of appealing to the growing Millenial segment that is looking for drink-now wines, even in the luxury price range (over $50/btl). Caymus and Silver Oak are the well-known examples to reference in this category.

Old World Sensibility Matters

Balance, balance and more balance! All this extended cold soak and maceration and barrel aging in New American Oak, ugh! Many red wines are now so heavily extracted, they ruin all but the richest foods. Yes, oak makes the wine rounder and adds pleasing vanilla flavors… It also adds wood and butter in reds (like Chardonnay) and destroys the freshness of the fruit. If you enjoy wine with food, forget it. These wines are so round, they will not cut through accompanying food.

Thank goodness I still have Bordeaux to turn to. Fewer and fewer Napa wineries care about producing a structured, balanced red wine that can age. My wine buying days have not ended yet, just turned to 10 year old red Bordeaux from auction!

 

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Rico Soave!!

               

Pardon the reference to cliche 90’s pop culture, but it does kind of capture the feeling. This producer will turn your world upside down! Soave… memories of wine as a kid were my relatives drinking cheap Soave on a weekend afternoon. Of course, that graduated to Mogen-David Concord wine with dinner.

This was my understanding of Soave for decades. Now, I know how wrong I was. My wife and I visited Soave, Italy a few years ago and found a producer that was mind-blowingly good: Pieropan. Since then I have purchased this wine domestically and have held it in my cellar for a few years. My wife and I just popped a 2013 Pieropan Soave Classico. What a beautiful white wine!

2013 Pieropan Soave Classico

Soave, Italy

Tasting Note:

Nose is rich with candied lemon rind, lemon mousse and chalky minerality. The mouthfeel of this five year old white wine is astonishing. The texture is like melted butter! The fruit is fresh and crisp on the attack with high acidity. The oak is noticeable, but not overpowering. The palate follows the nose closely, but adds more complexity with green apple, pear and floral elderberry. The lemon mousse on the palate is gorgeous! The attack moves on to a slightly bitter, chalky mid-palate of key lime and a fruity finish that lasts forever. The few years of bottle age significantly improved the mouthfeel of this wine.

I only have a few bottles left. I need to buy more. At under $20/btl this is an exceptional deal!

 

 

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Wine Collector’s Group Tasting

Introduction

This was our first group meeting and we elected to stay away from tasting themes and bring wines from our cellars we wanted to share. With that much diversity it was important to get the tasting order right (which I think we did). Great lineup! It was great to share all this wine with folks who can appreciate it!

FLIGHT 1 – EVENING OF RED WINE (7 NOTES)

We wanted to taste these in order of power, complexity and nuance and one of our members who was tasked to sequence the wines was awfully close… in this order: CdP, Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux, Dunn, Barnett and Saxum. The only change I would have made is swapping the order of the Barnett and Saxum.

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Fresh strawberry and raspberry on the nose. Fresh fruit on the attack that subsides to a light, medium length bitter chocolate finish. High tannins and medium plus acidity. Soft wine (in Barolo terms) without a lot of mouthfeel. Wishing for more complexity here… some floral or tar aspects would add interest, but is missing. Beautiful young Barolo, but missing the complexity that would rate this higher. Perhaps, more age will bring out more nuance.

France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Beautiful nose of fresh strawberry. Barely fruit-forward with fresh sweet strawberry on the palate, an earthy mid-palate and a medium length sour strawberry finish. Medium acidity and low tannins. As a 1978 CdP this was special. Having a soft texture with a fair amount of acidity and tannins, this expressed the best of the region in an aged format. I could drink this wine all night. Finishing the bottle was a definite disappointment. Complex, fruit-forward, soft wine, still with good structure… if every wine I aged in my cellar turned out like this, I would be laying everything down. This was a wine worth waiting for. Who knew CdPs could last 40 years!

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Plum and blackberry on the nose. Fruit forward palate of red and black fruit with a bitter chocolate mid-palate that follows through to a medium length finish. High acidity and high tannins. Wonderful Margaux-like round, soft mouthfeel. Still young Brunello that probably needs another 5 years (or so) to enter its best drinking window. Enjoyable now, but still developing.

USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain

Fruity nose of boysenberry, plum and blackberry. Blackberry and plum on the attack with a leather mid-palate. A slightly bitter, mildly fruity short finish. Medium plus acidity and tannin. Soft mouthfeel from resolved tannin. This wine is drinking great right now. Could be slightly past its optimum drinking window, but still a fantastic wine. Drink up!

France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru

Rich blackberry and plum on the nose with a touch of herbal mint. The palate is barely fruit forward with plum in front giving way to blackberry. Medium acidity and medium plus tannin. Earth, leather and tobacco on the mid-palate with a fresh, medium length blackberry finish. Very balanced wine in its drinking window. Soft mouthfeel with a slightly silky texture. Drink now.

USA, California, Napa Valley

Blackberry with heavy oak on the nose. Fruit forward blackberry palate. A nicely integrated high alcohol wine. Simpler flavor profile focused more on the velvety texture. Very much like Silver Oak, but not quite as fruity. Integrated and balanced wine with medium plus acidity and tannins.

USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Willow Creek District

Red and black fruit on the nose with a touch of alcohol. Fruit forward with blackberry from the Syrah and earthiness from the Mourvèdre. The touch of strawberry/raspberry from the Grenache does not present until the finish. This is a really gorgeous wine that was meant to drink in a 5-10 year window. High acidity and medium plus tannin. Long fruity finish. Solid fruit-forward structured wine. A Saxum drinking super well when young. Interesting to have such a silky mouthfeel without more age on it! Give this a few more years and it will continue to improve.

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Can an Out of Balance Wine Taste Better Over Time?

Somm Training

I was taught that wines made out of balance, never come around with age. Out of balance – always out of balance! When the tannins, acidity, fruit and alcohol are not complementary in a wine, they will all resolve at a similar rate and never be harmonious. I have always selected young wines to age in my cellar by this measure. Bordeaux wine (in particular) can shut down for a year(s) until ready for drinking, but I have never experience something as traumatic as this.

The Experience

This is a wine I have history with. I was so looking forward to tasting this after some age in the bottle. It was gorgeous, with great potential when tasted out of the barrel.  We drank our first bottle about five years ago, after 8 years in my cellar. Gosh, what a mess of a wine. We opened the second bottle about two years ago and it was even worse. All we experienced was alcohol and acidity! Well, we popped the last bottle a few weeks ago and SURPRISE! Please find my tasting note below:

2005 St. Supery Cabernet Franc

Napa Valley, CA

This was the last bottle of three, with an interesting personal history. Tasted this wine in the barrel prior to bottling back in 2005. Amazing wine in the barrel. The first two bottles drunk over the last five years were an awful mess. My first experience with a wine this out of balance significantly improving with time. The first two bottles had very noticeable alcohol, extreme acidity and fruit in the background. Apparently, this disjointed wine needed time to come together. Just popped the last bottle and it was beautiful! Fruit forward nose of blackberry, plum and mint. Palate is soft and inviting. Approach is just barely fruit forward following the nose. The alcohol has become integrated and the very high acidity has softened. The tannins have resolved leaving both structure and mouthfeel, without astringency. The fruit persists into a long finish. What was unpleasant before, has flipped a switch and reached its potential. First time I have experienced a mess of a wine coming together over time. It took 13 years of awful tasting wine for this to finally reach its drinking window. I have heard similar stories, but never experienced a radical transformation myself. If you are holding a bottle, this is your time. Let me know if you have had the same experience.

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Filed under Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

The Zinfandel Dilemma

I attended a presentation today at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference by a group of four Zin winery owners sponsored by ZAP (Zin Advocates & Producers) and heard this plea: we are serious winemakers producing serious wine, we deserve to be taken seriously! The session was titled “Zinfandel: Old and New.” I was expecting a serious discussion about old and new wine styles, but instead we heard the usual tired Zin topic: comparing old vs. young vine Zin. Not that this isn’t a viable topic, it has just been covered many times in many places and not really what these winemakers were passionate about. The ZAP moderator had to focus the discussion back on promoting the vineyards several times. This brings me to the reason for this commentary. I have seen it many times, when a winery doesn’t understand how best to develop a coordinated marketing plan, the focus is put on expression of place (terroir). There are definitely worse ideas, but Zinfandel in particular is a special case. Zinfandel has an identity problem first and foremost and if that isn’t addressed, all discussion of place is lost in the noise.

Red Zinfandel Wine & Consumer Perception

Zinfandel is the most manipulated wine grape on the planet. It is made in so many styles, you really have no idea what to expect every time you open a bottle from an unfamiliar producer. In contrast, when I pop Bordeaux/Meritage, Burgundy, or Rhône style wines, regardless of where they are made, I have a rough idea of what I will be tasting. That is a serious problem. If ZAP is trying to bring Zin into the premium space, they should be focusing on this issue. Collectors and restarauteurs need to have a point of reference. It must be quite difficult to build a marketing plan around a wine profile that is not generally familiar. Does the marketplace need some sort of generally accepted Zin style indicators?

So, here we go… my attempt to address this challenge:

RICH Zinfandel – Characterized by winemaking technique aimed at broad general appeal and high volume production. Usually driven by ideas like: whole cluster vacuum fermentation to add extraction and big fruit flavors, extended cold soak for more extraction, late harvest to accentuate over-ripe and raisiny fruit flavors and optical sorting to isolate late harvest raisins to make a concentrated must used to fortify larger batch production. Good examples would be Lodi and Paso Robles producers chasing the jammy Zin profile.

WARM CLIMATE Zinfandel – These would be producers in warm climate areas with a fine wine sensibility. Using Guyot trellising and vertical shoot positioning to build a Bordeaux style approach to Zin. This type of winemaking in these locations makes what I would call Zin with finesse. Not overly fruit-forward with low tannins and medium to medium-high acidity, often shooting for soft wines with good mouthfeel. Napa and Dry Creek Zin producers would be the example here.

COOL CLIMATE Zinfandel – These producers are trying to build a leaner style Zin with medium to high tannins and high to very high acidity. Often traditionalists, these estate vineyards are usually head-trained and laid out with more space 8’x8’ or 8’x12’ between the vines building a large cluster approach to fruit production. Zin tends to always drive fruity flavor profiles, so growing in a location with just enough sun and warmth to ripen the fruit seems to work. This is probably a “truer” expression of Zin for you purists and builds a wine much better for pairing with food. Producers from Amador and El Dorado Counties and Russian River are examples in this category.

Zinfandel BLEND – This is the newest idea in the industry and popularized by the very successful release of “The Prisoner” by Orin Swift orginally. Zinfandel as a varietal has broken through the stigma and become a more common blending grape. Several producers in Paso Robles have begun using Zin to add a fruit-forward and aromatic character in lieu of the traditional Grenache found in most Rhone blends. I find the result quite interesting. Try an example of a red blend with Zinfandel in the mix. When done well, these wines can be fruit-forward, acidic, tannic and have great mouthfeel all at once.

 Wine Tasting Session

2015 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard – Mildly fruit-forward and slightly sour. Much like a Chianti without the structure. Some complexity would add interest. Medium acidity and tannins.

2015 Cedarville Vineyard Zinfandel – A fruit-forward nose and palate with black cherry and strawberry. A light mid-palate and finish of bitter dark chocolate. Medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins. This had a nice aromatic nose. Nice effort that maintains the integrity of the Zin profile, while offering a structured food-friendly approach.

2015 Proulx Zinfandel – A strong red fruit profile with a brambly note and a dominating nail polish character on the nose. Medium-high acidity and medium tannins.

2015 Limerick Lane Wines 1910 Block – This is loosely a Zinfandel “field blend”. More blackberry than the other wines tasted here (more black vs. red fruit). The enhanced black fruit is likely due to the other red varietals planted in this vineyard. There was a brambly character that added a pleasant complexity. High acidity and medium tannins.

Cool Climate Zinfandel

These four wines were grown in areas where at least the evenings are quite cool and the fruit is often picked a little earlier than other California Zin producers. These wine profiles were deliberately built to offer a more classic style of red wine with good structure and to pair well with food. Think food pairings like poultry, or pork – in particular, a Thanksgiving meal sort of sensibility.

Zinfandel Marketing

How do YOU feel about Zinfandel? It can be made in a very serious wine style, but is not often thought of this way. Marketing is critical for the producers in this style. It was mentioned in the session that these producers were not successfully selling into the Midwest and East Coast markets. The answer has to be an organization like ZAP that could develop a product identity well understood by the wine community.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Lodi, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel

Hidden in Plain Sight

My wife and I spent years visiting Napa Valley thinking that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was THE Napa Stags Leap… Not that I put research, or thought into it, but I had no idea there were TWO. Many years ago, my wife and I arranged a tasting appointment at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and were hit over the head with their rustic approach to red wine. It is always a difficult decision to buy wines that require 10 years in the cellar to enjoy. We made that calculation in those early years and never visited that Stag’s Leap again. Surprise, discovering there is another similarly named winery with a completely different approach to making wine!

Trade Tasting at Stags’ Leap Winery

This was a beautiful property. Everything you could want in a destination winery property: picturesque, historical buildings with architectural interest and a colorful history all tucked back in a forested valley, off the Silverado Trail on the East Side of Napa Valley. Although, what was truly special was the wine.

Christophe Paubert – Winemaker

This was an opportunity to tour the facility, taste the product, hear the winemaker discuss his wines, ask questions and immerse yourself in this winery’s experience. The best kind of wine country adventure! Christophe is a passionate, down-to-earth guy with a vision for his wine. An Old World artist with a New World sensibility. Here is one of those special winemakers who succeeds in leaving his signature behind with every wine produced. Each red wine had a special character to the tannins… all very structured, with age-ability. Even young, the tannins were so fine, as to make the wine approachable on release. After 20+ years of collecting and tasting premium wine, you learn to recognize a deft hand. Grainy, rustic tannins in red wine become a bludgeon, beating you over the head. This heavy-handed, unpleasant approach to red wine magnifies a seeming lack of experience (interest?) in a refined approach to collectible wine production. On the other hand, this winemaker understands the importance of nuance in his approach. Think muscular, with a gentle side and a focus on aromas that draw you in. I have always had a soft spot for winemakers that pay attention to the nose when building their wine profile.

The Wines

2016 Viognier – Alsatian white wine feel with citrus and tropical fruits, minerality and a touch of spice. Huge acid backbone for a Viognier. Interesting and complex with a profile that could pair well with foods, or be drunk on its own.

2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay – Mix of new/neutral oak and stainless. No malolactic ferment. Tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. This is an Old World style Chardonnay that does not use a malo ferment to tame the acidity and add butter flavors (yay!) Contact with the lees has been used to add texture. This is a crisp, aromatic, high acid Chardonnay. Perfect pairing for seafood and white cream sauces, but fruity and interesting enough to drink on its own.

2014 Block 20 Estate Merlot – A lighter, more structured style than your typical Napa Merlot. A Right Bank Bordeaux feel, but with such fine, approachable tannins, it takes you down the path to Margaux. Plummy fruit forward nose and palate, with a rich brown butter flavor adding interest. The brown butter often comes from a combination of aging on the lees and just the right toast on the barrels. Christophe asserted this was just the character of this vintage’s fruit. Either way, a special Merlot that highlights the best of both Old and New World wines.

2014 Twelve Falls Estate Red – I just wanted to bathe in this stuff! Unusual blend of Cab Sauv, Petite Sirah and Merlot. The PS was handled in such a way that it complimented the other varietals, instead of overwhelming them. Plum, blackberry, blueberry, spice and everything nice! High acidity and high tannins. Superb red blend!

2014 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon –  Needed time to open and unwind. Steadily blooming flavors and complexity over time. This is a highly structured Cab Sauv with very high acidity and high tannins. Fruit forward blackberry and currant out front, with earth and leather to the mid-palate. I found myself wishing for a bit longer finish, but the silky mouth-feel filled the gap. Beautiful approachable young Napa Cab Sauv.

2014 Ne Cede Malis Estate Field Blend Red – Odd field blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals both red and white. Areas of this block in the estate vineyards were planted back to 1920. High acidity and high tannins, busy flavors and silky mouthfeel. Quite nice on the nose and on the palate. I think I am a touch too traditional… the wine had me thinking too much about identifying varietals and associated flavors. I know complex red blends are becoming more popular, taking us back to a hundred years ago when field blends were much more common, but recognizing wine styles brings a certain amount of comfort. This wine could easily grow on me, but would take time.

Stags’ Leap Wine Style

Consistently fine tannins and an aromatic nose were indicative of these wines. All highly structured, age-able and food friendly, these wines were also soft, pretty and approachable when young. Characteristic of a talented winemaker working with high quality fruit. Tasting appointments are required. Call ahead and take the time to find this hidden gem. It will be well worth your while.

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel, Winemaker Interview