Tag Archives: Robert M. Parker Jr.

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

Stephan Vineyards L’Aventure and Friend

I decided to stand-up a couple of my favorites for my birthday and decided it would be a L’Aventure night!

I am a huge fan of red blends, especially Southern Rhone style. In my opinion, L’Aventure is the quintessential producer in this category in the USA. The winemaker and owner Stephan Asseo is a French ex-pat that moved to the U.S. to make red-blends from the fabulous Terroir on the West Side of Paso Robles. He was looking to escape the French limitations of the AOC laws and he has done it in a big way. L’Aventure wines capture the perfect balance of the big red Paso profile, while still maintaining elegance and balance. The Estate Cuvee in some vintage years, has easily made it into my top 50 list of best bottles of all time. If you like Robert Parker Jr. picks, you will adore these wines. If you enjoy Stephen Tanzer’s picks you will enjoy these wines and marvel at the finesse of wines with such power.

Mr. Asseo often uses Cab Sauv in his red wines and I appreciate this working outside of traditional boundaries. You don’t often see Syrah and Mourvedre blended with Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot in a wine, but in the hands of a master winemaker, the winery is able to encourage just the right contribution from each to make a harmonious whole. Mr. Asseo is also a block blender extraordinaire… with 58 acres separated into 40 blocks, each vinified separately, then blended… he has developed a system to coax the just the right character from each Micro-Terroir and has the palate to blend them properly. Virtually all L’Aventure wines are comparatively high in alcohol, but are well balanced and do not seem hot. L’Aventure wines are definitely priced within the premium space in the marketplace, but they are also one of the very few producers in this category that continually delivers on value.

I enjoyed these wines with friends and was unable to take detailed notes, so I will only be able to provide general impressions. The group had a wonderful time and enjoyed the wine immensely. In my mind, it is always preferable to share a special bottle at a romantic dinner, or with friends!

Plus 16

2009 L’Aventure Plus 16

California, Paso Robles

This wine was more “true” Southern Rhone in profile with 42% Mourvedre in the mix. A touch earthy in character (from the Mourvedre), with all of the beautiful blue and black fruit that they usually coax from their grapes. A slightly heavier mouth-feel, with great balance. A little lighter on the structure, even with 42% Cab Sauv. It is possible, the six years in a bottle have softened the tannins and acidity a bit. This wine is definitely in its prime drinking window, perhaps 2015-2017. If you have this in your cellar, don’t let this sit too much longer!

Estate Cuvee

2010 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee

California, Paso Robles

Another “Wow” moment with an Estate Cuvee. A big, powerful red, with more structure than the Plus 16. Less earthy with no Mourvedre here, instead – a liberal dose of 16% Petit Verdot. An unbelievable 15.7% alcohol and you can barely tell it is an adult beverage. Soft, plush texture and a nice backbone. Just a gorgeous wine, drinking beautifully at five years in the bottle. Drinking window of 2015-2020, depending on your feeling about tannic structure.

Viader

2007 Viader Syrah

California, Napa Valley

The Viader is a 100% Syrah blended from two different clones – Rhone and Barossa. I really enjoyed this wine, the others in the group, not so much. The drawback, the 14.9% alcohol was very evident. This Viader wine had a refined, silky texture that I thoroughly appreciated after the mouth-coating L’Aventure wines. This was right on its drinking window with wonderful black fruit, nice acidity and a good tannic backbone. Drinking window of 2013-2016. If not for the hot profile, this wine would have held its own against the two previously enjoyed. I will make an observation here that I have noticed many times previously. Napa premium wine producers better develop an understanding of the changing palate of the American wine drinker, or they will be left behind by other wine regions in the U.S. Hot tasting wines are losing their appeal. Realistically, the alcohol over-shadows any subtle flavors that might be experienced with the hors d’oeuvres, or an accompanying meal.

Conclusion

Balance in a well-made wine still wins the day. If the winemaker goes big… he/she better have a deft hand at counter-balancing the hedonistic character of the wine. The Estate Cuvee was a gem!

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Wine Marketing – The Gap Between Europe and the U.S.

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Can European Wine Producers Access the Mainstream U.S. Market?

I have two acquaintances from Europe on a work visa here in the States.  It is always interesting to hear their perspective on wine.  They view wine very differently than the majority of my U.S. friends.  When I am looking for someone to explore and appreciate the complexities of Northern Rhone, or Burgundy with me…  it is rarely my U.S. friends.  Decades of high Robert Parker scores have been driving demand for high alcohol, big oak and rich mouth-feel and have skewed the high-dollar U.S. Cabernet market towards palates that have been trained to demand it.  I know, because that was mine back in the day.  It’s all good though.  I have come to enjoy both the big & bold and lighter complex styles.  Although I must say, the wines that fill that special place for me are often the more balanced lighter wines of Italian origin.  With such major differences in style preference between here and there, can a wine executive from Europe having grown up with a different wine sensibility…  truly understand the American consumer?

Many Europeans Experience Wine as an Accompaniment to Food

Until 2010, I primarily drank wine before, or after a meal, but rarely with. Based on my friends, acquaintances and wine education events, this is the primary wine experience for the majority of Americans.  It wasn’t until my Sommelier training that I was introduced to the idea of wine as an accompaniment to food.  Too many U.S. consumers evaluate wines and make buy decisions based on tasting without paired food.  I don’t believe this is well understood by wine industry executives in Europe. The popularity of the big fruit-forward taste profile in the U.S. is a good barometer for this discussion.

Is There an Assumption of Basic Wine Knowledge?

There are a few points to make on this topic. Wine is a common fixture on most French, Italian and Spanish dinner tables, consequently children are exposed to wine at a very early age.  This leads to basic wine knowledge being assumed by many Europeans.  In addition, branding regional food and wine by city, or area name is well understood there. In the U.S., this is a confusing and foreign concept. Until another approach to marketing is developed, the under $50/btl. retail wine market here will continue to be an elusive target for European producers.

Many Europeans might cringe at the idea that the most popular food dish in America is probably boxed mac & cheese.  The foodie movement is a relatively new trend here.  Working with consumers in the U.S. means starting with people from the ground up and building demand with little steps.

Red Wine Health Benefits Comic

Are European Producers Targeting Only U.S. Collectors and Connoisseurs?

Importing marketing, or sales professionals from Europe is a thoroughly misguided idea… unless you are trying to target the 5% of the total market (by volume) that are the collectors and connoisseurs. I have had only a few experiences with Europeans in a sales role for wineries in the U.S.  They have all been French and were the singular worst experiences I have had during all my wine trips to California over the years.

Changing the American Wine Paradigm

The challenge in the American market is convincing the average consumer that wine is not just for special occasions and holidays… or… is not just a glass on tap (yes, most winebars are now serving on tap) with friends before, or after dinner.

Wine Wimp

Conclusion

The more I talk to people in wine marketing in the U.S., the more I realize how misguided many are… and how absolutely correct the winemakers usually are… winemakers and vineyard managers are just farmers at heart.  It is this wine for the “regular Joe” story that resonates with the average American Consumer. If wine is to gain greater market share here, it should be experienced as relaxed and fun, with no rules. Put together an effective explanation of why focusing on wine can make life richer… and there you have a marketing campaign that will have an impact in the U.S.

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2011 Apothic Red

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Apothic Red Blend

California

Wine Tasting Note:

Finally broke-down and purchased a bottle, after a few non-collector friends raved about it. This wine is difficult to review impartially, because it resides smack in the middle between styles: neither Port, Bandol, or Southern Rhone blend. With a little commitment in one direction, it could have been so much better. NOTE: this is NOT a wine for an educated palate, or to enjoy with food. This is THE most over-oaked wine I have ever tasted, BUT the blend of varietals IS interesting. The nose is full of oak, rich/sweet vanilla, butter and black fruit. I would guess 2-3% residual sugar, extended maceration for the heavy extraction and I would bet this is aged on the lees for softness and buttery flavors. The front of the palate follows the nose adding a mid-palate of sweet mocha and then a medium-long finish bringing back the beginning. Additional flavors are present, but my palate is already fatigued and overwhelmed. There is so much oak, the fruit has no freshness and has that stewed jam/jelly quality… not quite in the port category though. Very low tannins and medium-low acidity, but the texture is velvetty and coats the mouth. 88 from Robert Parker, really? Wow! This wine is made for a specific market demographic, is of decent quality, but is definitely not for the traditional wine drinker. It is sweet, soft and missing acidity & tannins. I might keep this around for guests that were primarily cocktail drinkers, but wanted to join us in a glass of wine before, or after supper.

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Old AND New World Style Wines

Drinking Too Many Napa Cabs…

Our trip to Italy last year brought one aspect of my wine consumption to the forefront… I drink too much New World style wine. The beginning of our trip, I was missing the oak and vanilla that I am comfortable with in many of the Cali & Washington reds I drink. American oak is much more of a flavor component, compared to the French, Hungarian and Slovenian oak used in Europe. In fact, of the 30 some odd wineries we visited in Italy, most were aging on neutral used oak… So why should this bother me? It is the idea of being able to enjoy and appreciate the subtleties of less manipulated wine. When we returned, drinking a Napa cab was a challenge initially. This realization has caused me to rethink how I would like to enjoy wine. Since then, I have expanded Italy and France in my cellar and pushed myself to drink more variety. No, I am not a masochist. I do really enjoy well made, balanced, less manipulated wines. I just find, now that I understand my palate better, I can appreciate both styles more fully.

Diversifying Your Cellar

This caused an interesting realization for me. Is it possible to move back and forth between each style and enjoy both? Certainly, there are extremes on both ends of the scale. Would I want to drink a Silver Oak Cab versus a Cain, or Ladera – where my palate is today? NO, but the Silver Oak is an extreme. Do I enjoy young Bordeaux, or Barolo in a cold vintage year? Not so much. You get the idea. I am trying to develop the palate and (I think more importantly) the mindset to appreciate both. This has been a challenge, especially after the change in palate I experienced after the two weeks in Italy. I think it was a good thing, though. Now, I find myself moving towards embracing more different wines. I may not choose to drink certain styles regularly, but I can enjoy the well-made ones, based on the quality they represent. I had a superb 2007 Sassicaia in Italy and last week I popped a wonderful 2001 Pride Mountain Reserve Cab. They were radically different, but I enjoyed them equally for what they were. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to some? Maybe it isn’t worth the effort? Don’t know… we’ll see where my palate takes me, as I continue down this path.

Drink the Wine You Like

OK, I am not saying you should drink certain wines strictly because of their quality, rather than the appeal to your palate. In fact, I truly hate that kind of wine snobbery. I am just trying to share what two weeks in Italy did to change me… Once the U.S. bias to my palate was purged, I discovered that I found some of these very subtle wines to be truly spectacular. A view that I had not reached, prior to the trip. If you too are immersed in wine as a hobby, perhaps, consider exploring a few weeks of wine that is a departure from the Parker faves. It may open your eyes to a deeper understanding of how you can enjoy less as more… one night, and then be hit over the head the next night… and be bowled over by both.

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Wine Industry Lost in the Weeds?

Read the recent Robert Parker rant yet? Jancis Robinson tackles the same topic in a little more even handed approach here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/31c989da-8829-11e3-8afa-00144feab7de.html#axzz2tNJZqg3D.

Does Knowing the Wine Grape Varietal Impact Your Enjoyment?

These recent commentaries are receiving much play in the wine media. Frankly, I wish someone could help me to understand this topic’s relevance? These pieces highlight the concern that the novelty of obscure varietals is trumping interest in wines from the traditional noble grape family. The first thing that comes to mind is the egos involved. Do they think THEY drive the market? So what, if mediocre wine from traditional grape varietals has lost much of its luster? Yes, there is a reason why three of the top five varietals are of French origin – because the French were the first to truly understand fine wine production and marketing! Do you care if the wine you are currently enjoying in your glass is made from Anglianico, or Blaufränkisch vs. Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot varietals?

fiddler-on-the-roof-1994

TRADITION!

I am rather sure Mr. Parker and Ms. Robinson had nothing to do with the guy playing a fiddle on the roof… but the analogy is  very apropos… Tradition – is for the stodgy industry professionals, or collectors who are trying to keep the value of their French wine investment intact.

indiana-jones-and-the-fate-of-atlantis-cover

ADVENTURE!

OK, continuing with the movie theme… adventure, romance, that is what most people are looking for in a luxury purchase! My goodness – professional wine critics, get a grip! Let’s go find unusual wines from strange places and lesser known varietals… THAT TASTE GREAT and pique our interest! YES, we must respect the knowledge and talent that provides the foundation for the industry, but it need not dominate the entire industry’s approach to the consumer –

 “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

There’s your message! …………… 🙂

Obligatory Small Print: Fiddler on the Roof and Indiana Jones are copyrighted and trademarked materials and were only used to make a point, not to make a buck. Which by the way, I do not. This is purely a non-profit endeavor, as the lack of income would evidence, like 95% of the other bloggers out there.

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The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale has Become…

As wine media has begun reaching the consumer and wine critics are becoming rock stars… You have to ask yourself, just exactly how does this rating system work? On many websites, you will find an attempt at an explanation that reflects how the major critics SEEM to interpret it, but… does anyone really know definitively? There are no hard and fast rules. So hear is a quick look under the hood from the perspective of using the ratings as a method of selecting wines for your cellar.

As you walk through wine websites, you begin to notice there are virtually no ratings under 80, or over 95. I think the worst rating I have ever given a wine is 82. Of course this seems absurd, but regardless, if this is the standard… what do the ratings really mean? If you are the type that needs to make sense of this mess, follow me on my journey.

Criteria for the System

What exactly do the ratings evaluate: drinkability, age-worthiness, structure, balance? How do you compare entirely different styles using the scale: red, white, old-world, new world, sweet, fortified, etc. I am sure you get my drift here. Every critic’s wine notes and evaluation process is based on a different standard, therefore there is no frame of reference for the consumer. So, do the ratings have any real value, or are they just marketing ploys? Well, perhaps the intent is entirely marketing-focused, but I believe I have found ways the ratings can assist me in my wine purchasing decisions:

Assumptions

The majority of wine critics (AND fine wines collectors) have developed an educated palate. This assumption is important and I think largely true. I know for myself, I may not like a wine that others view as enjoyable, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate its quality. If the winemaker has produced a quality wine in its structure, balance and extracted flavors/aromas… I will not give it a poor score, even when I do not care for the wine personally. Again, I think this to be largely the case with the most (but not all) professional/semi-professional critics. the breaking point here for me is at 90. If the wine is rated 90, or over from several sources, odds are – it is a quality wine… but that does not guarantee that YOU will enjoy it. It is simply a place to start weeding out bottles not worth the investment. In my case, I know, I am missing many wines I might enjoy in the 85-89 range, but I try to visit wineries to sample what I can of those.

Callibrating Your Palate

Calibrate a particular critic’s palate to yours. Take a few minutes to taste wine and compare your impressions to the critics ratings and find one that generally matches your impressions. In my case, of the major critics, I think Stephen Tanzer is the closest to my palate. It is worth the time to find your match. I place a little more weight on an evaluation, when ST writes the note. Again that is just me personally.

Should the System be Changed?

I have read and many have explained to me that winemaking technology has improved tremendously over the last two decades and therefore there truly is no more “bad” wine… which is the reason why ratings do not drop below 80 any longer. I am willing to accept that, but if that is the case, then we MUST move to another system. I also believe a criteria for a new ratings system needs to be established. When I choose to purchase wines I have not tasted, here is my criteria:

  • Structure and balance: acidity, tannins, all the parts work together? Fuller, rounder wine with a mid-palate?
  • Fruit: fruit-forward, or not
  • Texture: wine coats your mouth, or crisp and clean
  • Terroir: the wine includes an expression of the local terroir?
  • Finish: flavors linger?

IMHO, if we rated each of these categories 1-10, that would provide a useful wine rating and evaluation!

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