Tag Archives: wine critic

Evaluating Evolving French Bordeaux Wine Styles

1986 Vintage Bordeaux Tasting

I recently had the good fortune to taste a flight of 1986 Gran Cru Bordeaux. They were:

  • Chateau Margaux
  • 2nd Label – Margaux Pavillion Rouge
  • Chateau Cos d’Estournel
  • Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron
  • Chateau Du-Cru Beaucaillou

I don’t often get a chance to taste labels like these in aged vintages, but I have drunk many wines in the last 20 years from producers in the French AOC regions of Margaux, St. Estephe, St. Julien and Pauillac. These Left Bank Bordeaux areas are the home of some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon produced in the world. Margaux is by far my favorite Left Bank region and St. Estephe next. Not that the others are not very good, just that these two regions match my palate better. I have been tasting Bordeaux Left Bank vintages back to the late 90’s. This was my first tasting from the 1980’s vintages.

My Impressions

These wines were all original purchase origin and were stored in near perfect conditions. There was hardly an oxidized brown tint at the edge of the glass with all these wines. The wines tasted amazingly fresh! None were fruit forward (if they were at release), but had good acidity and a few still had residual tannin. Perfectly balanced, these wines were expertly made… but in a completely different style than 2000 era Bordeaux wines. All tasted as if the fruit had been harvested early. There were vegetal and savory flavors reflecting a completely different winemaking and vineyard management style than today. Whether you enjoy wines with this much age on them is dependent upon your palate. All of these wines would have been fabulous accompanying a Black Truffle Risotto, although much of the nuance would have been lost. In the bigger picture, my palate has found Bordeaux Rouge Gran Crus from before 2000 tasted best at roughly 20 years of bottle age (depending on producer). After 2000, that started to change… In my experience, that has now become 10-15 years of bottle age.

Margaux AOC Region

I have tasted and enjoyed many different Margaux producers in quantity over the last 20 years: Brane Cantenac, Cantenac Brown, Giscours, Lascombes, Rauzan Segla, Prieure Lichine and my favorite Malescot St. Exupery. All of these with 5-10 years of bottle age tend to be fruit forward, structured, balanced and all often have a great… what I call “Margaux mouth-feel”. This is sometimes silky, but always softer, round and mouth-filling. This was missing from the older Margaux tasted here. In fact today, most Bordeaux premium wines are made to taste fruit-forward and vegetal flavors can be viewed as a fault. Especially for New World palates, I would suggest Margaux producers. These wines often are not as “muscular” as the other Left Bank regions.

Wine Styles… They Were a’Changin’

Bob Dylan aside, it was obvious something happened in the 90’s to the winemaking philosophy of Bordeaux producers. Most, would attribute this to chasing the Robert Parker 100 point score… and all that implied. Some would suggest back to the ’82 vintage, when Parker’s influence began… but I was not a wine drinker back then and can’t bear witness to that thinking. These comments attributed to the BBC in the late 80’s refer to this, “The globalist domination of the oenological press by Parker’s ideas has led to changes in viticulture and winemaking practices, such as reducing yield, harvesting grapes as late as possible for maximum ripeness, not filtering wine, and using new techniques—such as microoxygenation—to soften tannins. These widespread changes in technique have been called “Parkerization”… have led to a fear of homogenization of wine styles around the world as Parker’s tastes are irrevocably changing the way some French wines are made…”.

The changes in Bordeaux wine styles that began again in the 2000’s were most definitely impacted by attempting to appeal to the U.S. palate and open the U.S. market to more French exports. These changes I can attest to. I have witnessed that difference from 2000 to 2015. Personally, I feel the pendulum has swung a little too far towards softer, fruitier wines in France (and the U.S.) – as a generalization. As a wine consumer, your palate matters and whether you prefer these type of wines should be what drives your purchases, not wine critics.

The Experience

Tasting these wines was a tremendous opportunity. I don’t often have the chance to evaluate wine styles over 30+ years in any wine region. Tasting these 35 year old wines side-by-side was a real pleasure and thanks go to Mr. Mandel, a fellow wine collector here in Phoenix. His generous hospitality made this a truly special experience.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, International Wines by Region, Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting

Judging-Scoring Wines

Risky Business

At the risk of upsetting every wine critic/judge out there, I set out to create a wine scoring system that matched my view of fine wine. I will include this scoring template at the end of the article, for those that might be like-minded. Email me if you would like a self-calculating spreadsheet copy.

My Motivation

After pro Sommelier training (where scoring was discouraged), I was exposed to the WSET scoring method and wine judging courses. Both used a variation of the UC Davis 20 Point Scoring System. I was shocked how these systems were unable to separate amateur from premium wines effectively. In these classes, we scored fruit wines (cherry, blueberry, strawberry, etc.) and vitis labrusca wines (Concord, Chambourcin, Catawba, etc.). These wines were near undrinkable for me and were being given the same scores as mediocre Cali Cabernet. The methodology and scoring systems taught in these classes were intended to be appropriate for both amateur and fine wines. Although, away from class these same people would explain the intent of these systems was to score wines based on a comparison of LIKE wines. This is not how I understood the training and it is likely the public views this scoring similarly. This experience motivated me to build a scoring system that is weighted properly and could be used to provide comparatively accurate scores for amateur, professional AND fine wines, without a bias.

The Evaluation Criteria

First, it was necessary to determine what separates fine wine, from other wines. In that evaluation, I arrived at the following characteristics that are under-represented in the UC Davis System: Balance, Complexity, Finish and Aging Potential. All of these measures are intended to be scored in the UC Davis “Quality” category, but to make the scores more comparatively accurate, I decided these characteristics needed their own point categories. I then looked at what seemed to be weighted incorrectly in the UC Davis System and arrived at: Clarity, Color and Acidity. Four of twenty points for clarity and color is 20% of the score. This is weighted too heavily towards mediocre wines. Acidity was only 5% of the score – not weighted heavily enough. I realized, if I reduced the points for clarity and color, increased points for acidity and added balance, complexity, finish and aging potential categories… I might be able to devise a scoring system that could properly measure a Concord wine (for example) and build an appropriate score against say… an aged Bordeaux Gran Cru.

A Wine Scoring Template

Now I was ready to put my scoring template together. I realized that many media outlets still use the old Robert Parker 100 pt system and decided to add it to my template. I wanted to help both systems arrive at a roughly equivalent score. I realized this could only be done, if I started the 100 pt score at 50, instead of 0. You will see what I mean below. The closer the wine came to the premium category, the better my 100 pt method seemed to arrive at an accurate score. It was the opposite with my 20 pt method, albeit much closer to reality than the UC Davis 20 pt method.

After the long explanation, here is my effort to build a scoring system that can evaluate both a poor blueberry wine and a Gran Cru Bordeaux – with the same template – done accurately and with a logical systematic approach.

In the past, my Somm training won out and I tried not to add scores to my tasting notes. In retrospect, I think this was mostly due to being uncomfortable with the systems available. I intend to use my scoring template moving forward and hopefully develop consistency and comparative accuracy across my tasting notes.

Feedback

I would be very interested in other opinions regarding both the thinking that drove this creative process AND the relative accuracy using this scoring system. I am also open to modifying aspects, if the changes fit within the logic model used to build it. Please feel free to leave your comments on this page. Thanks!

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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Marketing, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Two Rhys Chardonnays

Rhys Alpine Vineyard

My wife and I pulled out a couple of stellar California Chardonnays from the cellar last night. Rhys really does stand out as a quality Chardonnay producer. I normally go to French White Burgundy for quality and value in this category, but Rhys has compared well and I do try to support the better quality USA wineries. I must admit, typically I do not enjoy New World white wines under $40/btl. In general, they are produced to accompany food, or as an easy drinking aperitif and have little nuance. The challenge is, moving from Old World Chardonnay to California, you have to be willing to spend $60-100/btl. for similar quality. I usually prefer to stick with comparable French whites and pay 1/2 to 3/4 the price. Unfortunately, even Rhys has been raising their bottle price lately and is approaching a poor value proposition with White Burgundies…

Here are my tasting notes on the two Rhys wines we drank last night:

2013 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

The nose is complex with citrus and tropical fruits… candied lemon, bright fresh lemon, banana and pineapple. There is a tinge of alcohol and a kiss of minerality too. The palate is more straight-forward. Fresh lemon, bitter lemon rind leading to a lemon curd finish that has a touch of sweetness. The main impression here is of an understated wine, the nuances of which will not be experienced with food. I think the mouth-feel is still developing, so with very high acidity, I would let this rest a few more years to achieve the best tasting experience (drinking window 2015-2020). This drinks very well now as a quality Cali Chard, but if you are willing to wait, I think this will mature to add another point or two to the rating.

2012 Rhys Alesia Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

At first pop, nice fruity candied meyer lemon on the nose that blows off after a few minutes. Nose settles down to a typical Cali Chard – lots of citrus, with some alcohol and a touch of concrete minerality. Very high acidity and well integrated alcohol. The palate is all citrus up front, with a mid-palate of bitter lemon rind and medium-long finish with a hint of vanilla. This wine is elevated by the mouth-feel. It has a delicate, silky texture that significantly enhances the drinking experience without food. With food, could be an excellent pairing with a citrus marinated pork loin. This is big enough to handle a few more years in the cellar, but is definitely in its drinking window now (drinking window 2014-2018).

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Filed under Chardonnay, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal

Is There a Standard for Quality in the #Wine Industry?

enjoy pic

Many wine consumers and industry professionals would assert that a “good” wine is any wine you enjoy. So, with a product where individual taste influences demand so heavily, is the concept of “quality” relevant? As I hear from consumers quite often, “I like, what I like”… I read and hear this point discussed often, but in direct contradiction, both the industry and consumers generally accept the role wine critics play as the arbiters of quality. The question has to be asked, if there is no generally accepted criteria with which to make that judgement, is attempting to assess wine quality a complete waste of time? Is there any value in professionals establishing standards for quality in the industry?

Is Measuring Quality Necessary?

There are three major sources* in the world wine industry for education: Wine Critics/Writers, The Court of Master Sommeliers and well-respected University Degree Programs (i.e. UC-Davis). By definition, in order for these sources to write, serve and teach wine, they must clearly establish generally accepted ideas defining quality and recognize trends in the industry supporting it. Are established quality standards really necessary, or even appropriate? I see so much vehement commentary on discussion boards regarding this topic – the idea of general consumer preference versus professional palates driving the industry…

slope

My recent posts have generated comments from within the industry suggesting I am on a slippery slope in asserting that one producer makes better wine than another. I don’t agree. Wine Critics do this everyday. Although effectively, this can only be justified if you establish a consistent, understandable criteria. Somm training does define a generally accepted wine profile for quality. This is based on an important premise: “in an assessment, it is not possible for one wine to taste better than another, but it is possible to be of higher quality**.” Learning to recognize and emphasize structure and balance as the major components of wine quality is emphasized over and over again.

On a personal level, I do enjoy wines that show these characteristics. You could argue that the training influenced by wine service professionals has fashioned my palate, or it may be that as my palate became more experienced, it naturally turned to these types of wines. In the industry, we have a responsibility to bring perspective, educate and in-turn help enrich the wine experience for wine enthusiasts newer to the calling. So, being a passionate wine enthusiast and having some professional training under my belt, I feel a responsibility to act as an industry ambassador in this regard.

There is so much variability and diversity in wine that there can be no absolutes. Consumers can and should drink what they enjoy, but there must also be a generally agreed upon model for quality that the industry can aspire to. Is it fair that Critics, Somm training organizations and Universities establish that model for the general public? I suppose it would depend on your point of view… Although, if personal preference were the only criteria, there would be no common point of reference.

I would be in favor of exploring another model, but I would hope demand would not establish that criteria. So, until we find another way, please don’t kill the messenger… Some wines simply ARE of higher quality than others, regardless of whether they have a large following, or not.

Fairness and Perspective

In deference and respect for all the hard work and commitment from everyone in the industry… I always attempt to be even-handed and often do agonize over fairness. All types of wine should be made for all the different palates in the world and my perspective on wine quality is simple: please, just offer a vision that is true to your product.

(* In the U.S. there is a fourth recognized source: The Society of Wine Educators.)

(** My effort to paraphrase an important principal in formal wine training)

Footnote: I find it fun and interesting that recent opinions expressed on this blog have rubbed a few people the wrong way. In response – I am not willing to assess wine like a kid’s soccer tournament… where win, or lose, everyone receives a trophy. I am offering the following disclaimer for those who want to believe I presume to be a formal authority on the wine industry… No, I am not an MS, but I certainly have received more formal training than many wine critics I have met. This website reflects MY study, personal thoughts, opinions and experiences regarding wine. I hope you enjoy my perspective…

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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Obama Serves Hollande “CHEAP” U.S. Wine

This title is quoted verbatim from the “The Drinks Business” online magazine as one of the Top Ten Most Important Wine Stories of 2014… see the whole article here:

http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2014/02/obama-serves-hollande-cheap-us-wine/

Trade Periodicals Trashing Their Own Industry?

What is wrong with a periodical that would publish a piece like this?  This is the attitude that validates the snobby reputation holding the wine industry back here in the U.S.  The beer or spirits industries would never generate a piece like this…

angry-obama

Your Reaction

How did you react when you read this? Personally, I started steaming out the ears…  Does wine have to be expensive to be good?  UGH, no of course not!  The wines selected by the White House were fine.  Did they need to serve Harlan Estate, Cayuse, or Bond at $200-$500/btl. to show a representative selection of U.S. wines?  If The Drinks Business had done some background research, they would have found the winemakers at these wineries all to be ex-pats from France who have been successful in America.  That is the more important message here.  Obama hit the nail right on the head.  While I may not agree with all of Obama’s politics, he does seem to demonstrate an excellent grasp of how to build a message.

Someone Had to Refute this Piece

There should have been more outrage from the industry regarding this.  Please join me in sending an email to this periodical and expressing your displeasure with this kind of reporting.  You can send an email to:  info@thedrinksbusiness.com.

This piece not only missed the entire intent of the Obama staff and why they chose these wines, but also violated the most basic tenet of our industry:  there is excellent value in wines all over the world!  I am so tired of the high-brow approach to wine prices.  The wine world does not revolve around premium wines from Bordeaux, France and Napa, CA only!

U.K. versus U.S.

I hope The Drinks Business does not reflect wine attitudes in the U.K.  Wine should be accessible.  This is especially good advice for European wine producers who want to capture more of the U.S. market.  Without much exposure to the wine industry in Europe, others will have to comment on the culture there, but I can assure you in the U.S.  –  even the most ardent collectors are mostly down-to-earth people who enjoy a relaxed wine atmosphere, without the hype.

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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry

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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Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2010 Herman Story Grenache Late Bloomer

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Herman Story Grenache Late Bloomer

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

After 1 hour decant. Nose is still strong with alcohol… at 15.8%, seems predictable. The nose is full of strawberry preserves and perfumed flowers, with trailing notes of forest floor. The palate is well integrated, making the high alcohol content hardly noticeable. Very high acidity and medium high tannins. This wine has structure… and its 100% Grenache? Much lighter than the Herman Story Syrahs and GSM’s, but by no means a simple wine. The texture is soft, but fills your mouth. The fruit flavors are in front, with the strawberry preserves dominating and some black cherry. The mid-palate is complex with tobacco and mocha flavors. The wine has a long finish with mouth-drying tannins, mocha and red-fruit flavors lasting on the palate. This is an impressive 100% Grenache. Herman Story always manages to get the most from his fruit. Rather than a simple easy-drinking fruity Grenache, this is a big, fruit-forward, complex wine that would be best drunk with some age, 2017-2020… I have always found it difficult to enjoy 100% Grenache – the strawberry flavors are better in a blended wine, but this is exceptional. The best 100% Grenache I have tasted.

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Filed under Grenache, Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

1969 Chateau Potensac

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Chateau Potensac

France, Bordeaux, Medoc

Wine Tasting Note:

This was just a bit of fun… bought this at auction a while back. Wasn’t expecting much, but it was an opportunity to see what 45 years would do to a decent wine. Opened this at a party last night. As expected, the cork was a challenge. The first pour had a nose of barnyard and must and the initial taste was thin, a bit oxidized and closed… but, if you can believe it, this ol’ gal still had enough structure to require time to open up. After an hour, a nose of sour red cherry began peeking out. The tannins were still very present and it had good acidity. Several of our guests tasted the wine and were not particularly impressed, but some had a background with French wine and understood it well enough to appreciate what it was. We added a cheese plate to the tasting and it handled the cheese well. So, now it’s the next day. I let the bottle sit on the kitchen counter and amazingly – it is still holding up! It is too watery, the fruit is almost gone and it is a touch oxidized, but all-in-all… a surprisingly decent wine after 45 years.

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Filed under Bordeaux, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, French Wine, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote Estate

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L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote Estate

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

When you pour, the aromas waft from the decanter, providing a glimpse of the big, fruit-forward wine to come. The nose is full of spicy plum and blackberry, vanilla and oak, with a little funk. The 15.9% alcohol is so well integrated, it is barely noticeable and comes across as a light menthol character. The palate is dominated by the Syrah and Mourvedre – the Grenache is nowhere to be found. The texture is big and chewy, but is still a baby next to the Estate Cuvee. The acidity is medium-high and the tannins have moderated somewhat with bottle-age, but are a solid medium-high – although very refined. There are layers to the aromas/flavors… a hint of sweet blueberry in front, moving to plum, blackberry and spice. The mid-palate picks up the vanilla and oak and the wine has a medium-long finish of dark chocolate that is not overly bitter. This wine attempts the perfect balance of a soft feminine character, with a masculine big, bold style. This wine could age another 5-10 years, easily. L’Aventure is the master of the new world Rhone blend!

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

2011 Dona Paula Estate Malbec

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Dona Paula Estate Malbec

Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo

Wine Tasting Note:

This is not a refined wine. New World style all the way. So if that is not your thing, please move on! Rich, fruity nose of blackberry, plum, black currant. Also, some oak, spice, leather and a touch of herbal spearmint. A bit of alcohol comes through too, but is not overwhelming. The palate is very fruit forward. All those black fruits hit you over the head right out the gate. Nice medium-high acidity, with a medium-low touch of tannins. Not enough structure for a premium wine, but just enough to please. The mid-palate is full of leather and spice notes and the medium length finish coats the mouth with sweet vanilla, oak and black fruit. This wine is silky-soft and dense. The value is good and the wine is much of what I would expect an Argentine Malbec to be. A bit too manipulated for me, but consistent with this style.

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Filed under Malbec, Mendoza, Wine by Varietal, Wine Critics, Wine from Argentina, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes