Monday, July 23, 2012

A Penis Image Too Far?

Now folks, I am a fan of Moet Champagne and of Scarlett Johansson.  But I think that these adds might be edging too much from subconscious aspirational nudging to full on porn.  Your thoughts?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Biodynamic Book Report

I just finished an interesting read, Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, by Katherine Cole.  Biodynamic winemaking, sorry, grape growing,  is very trendy nowadays and quite controversial as many of its practices seem wierd and silly.  Cole's treatment is admirably open minded and I recommend it to anyone interested in just what the fuss is all about.

The practice, in my opinion, breaks down into two parts.  The first half is all about refusing chemical and biological fertilizers and insecticides while embracing older and more traditional methods of vineyard management.  An example of this is using natural compost as fertilizer.  Another really cool one is to keep an area near the vineyard as an "insectary" where one can see what is being attracted to the area and what they are eating.  Then one can plant cover crops they will like more than grapes, or encourage predators like bats and owls to control population growth.  Creating and working with an ecosystem rather than trying to destroy everything that isn't your crop is a solid idea that many have latched onto without embracing the more idiosyncratic ideas of biodynamics.

Healthy soils are the key here, and that makes sense.  However, the idea goes against lost of conventional wisdom that vines need poor soils to produce really great grapes.  If the vines struggle to survive, the saying goes, they will put more energy into grapes and less into producing wood and leaves.  This is where a focus on Oregon and Pinot Noir is perhaps a failing of Cole's book.  Pinot vines are naturally low in vigor, that is they tend not to produce much wood.  If one were to look at Angelo Gaja's vines in Barolo, by contrast, the case for biodynamics looks pretty thin.  The Nebbiolo vines that make up his $300 wines grow like weeds and he has to keep the soil in a constant state of nitrogen deficit just to control them!  Also, Oregon Pinot vineyards tend to be grown on thin soil hillsides that were once pine forest or hazelnut orchard, rather than say, the rich benchlands of the Napa Valley floor.  Where the soil is already good, composting and fertilizing is just silly.  Some great estates of Bordeaux, for example, spread manure once only every 14 years.

The second part of the book is a fun look at the crazy parts of biodynamics.  It's father, Rudy Steiner, was a mystic who believed in gnomes and spirits, among other things.  One important part of his teachings was based on homeopathy, where 
The low concentrations of homeopathic remedies, often lacking even a single molecule of the diluted substance, lead to an objection that has dogged homeopathy since the 19th century: how, then, can the substance have any effect? Modern advocates of homeopathy have suggested that "water has a memory"—that during mixing and succussion, the substance leaves an enduring effect on the water, perhaps a "vibration", and this produces an effect on the patient.  source: wiki.
So this is where Biodynamics takes a decidedly crystal-humming tone.  They mix homeopathic preps in tubs that are shaped like a pregnant woman's belly and erect sculpture-looking things to channel energy and who know, attract gnomes?  Drive gnomes away?

Does it produce a great grape?  Sometimes these wines are better than others in their class.  I've sure tasted some awesome biodynamic wines, and in my personal opinion that can be attributed to close management of ecosystems rather than mystics.  It's sauce for the recipe, that's for sure, and a fun read.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lumos Wine Company

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with Dai Crisp, owner of Lumos Wine Company.  Lumos is a relative newcomer to the winemaking scene in Oregon's Willamette Valley, but is making some excellent Pinot Gris, Gewurtz, and Pinot Noir.  Mr. Crisp formerly worked at Temperance Hill and Croft.  They have a small estate vineyard (Wren), but continue to source a lot of their fruit from Temperance Hill.

It was kind of a random meeting, I just happened to be in the restaurant when he and the wholesaler stopped by to chat up our sommelier.  But he was a very engaging guy, a real geek of the kind I get along with very well.  We talked pinot mutations, valve and propeller pumps that won't oxidize grape must, what happens to vineyards if the winter is too mild - serious geek.

The wines were pretty good too.  His base level 2008 pinot was rich and elegant at the same time, and I didn't hate either of his Pinot Gris selections, one done all in tank and another with some neutral oak treatment.  I mention the Pinot Gris thing...I don't hate it, but I haven't had much that was noteworthy.  Ever.  If I had the choice, I would just as soon pick another Alsace variety in most cases.  Stay tuned, however, I am planning a big tasting to retrain my palate on the issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sucking up to my teacher

About a month ago, I was privileged to be a judge at the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition.  Now that the winners have been announced, I wanted to take a post to describe the tasting sheet we used.  It was designed by Jay Youmans, MW, my teacher for the WSET Diploma process.  At the risk of being a suckup, I liked it.

Tasting wine in a competition process is unique and very different from tasting in your living room, or even blind tasting under test conditions.  You have six wines in front of you that are probably the same grape, same region, and same vintage.  The basic taste is the same, for example, all merlot.  The tasting sheet doesn't ask to spend time going back and forth between a black raspberry and a blackberry descriptor.  It says, "yes, it's black fruit, let's move on."  The sheet is not about recognizing a wine, but evaluating it.  Are the flavors ripe?  What are the qualities of the tannins?  How much color got extracted?  We are expected to judge each wine individually, but when you are done, you get a really excellent look at what was possible with that bunch of fruit, and how close each individual winemaker got to that Platonic ideal.

So I encourage everyone to try this technique as a way to really jump forward in your trasting.  Get a bunch of wines, at least 6, from the same place and vintage.  Try to vary your purchases by price point, if you can. Have somebody else bag them and be critical!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A very brief review of a good book I jest finished, The Art and Business of Champagne, by Dan Ginsberg. Ginsberg was the only American ever to head up a Champagne house, and as a businessman in his own right, wrote a unique and excellent text on the wine. It was opinionated and passionate and well written. The descriptions of each village were excellent to the serious student of wine, but I doubt anyone needed vintage reports going back to the early 1900s.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Due Diligence

The blogosphere is atwitter about a recent case of possible fraud at Spectrum Auctions in London with Vanquish Wine Ltd..  The facts as I gather, are these: 13 lots of Domaine Romanee Conti were pulled on the eve of the auction because label irregularities had been alleged.  The problems were spotted by attorney Don Cornwell, a noted Burgundy collector and appear to have been consigned, through an intermediary, by  Rudy Kurniawan, who has been involved in the auction of several suspicious lots in years past (1, 2, 3). 

Most of the blog entries and news reports I have read focus on Mr. Kurniawan, with historical asides to the Harvey Rodenstock fiasco where an entire cottage industry of fake bottle production and sales destroyed many a reputation and jarred the faith we might like to have in the auction house industry.

The best post I read also brought me a story I had not heard before.  Mike Steinberger writes the WineDiarist, and he reports that in 2008,  bottles of Domaine Ponsot’s Clos St-Denis from 1945, 1949, 1959, 1962, 1966, and 1971 were pulled from auction because the night before, the Domaine's owner flew in to remind them that they didn't begin making Clos St-Denis until 1982!  Mr. Steinberger's takeaway from the most recent DRC flap is that interested parties on the internet keep auction houses honest. 

My takeaway is what the hell do those auction employees do for a living?  We aren't discussing the results of mass spectrometer readings or carbon dating of glass here, just looking at a few websites to find out a wine actually exists!  WTF?  "Hrm, lesee Chateu FirstGrowth, medium neck fill, cork a quarter-inch shorter than it should be, label written in what appears to be crayon...sounds good!"  If you guys want to earn your percentage, you might want to do just a little work.  It reminds me of people buying bonds after only looking at their Moody's rating.  ...and you know how many years of recession can be linked to that!

From my own collecting persepective, I worry about small ticket items that I might buy from internet houses.  If firms cannot be trusted to check into bottles worth $5000, do you think they're gonna bother with my $100 lots?  Food for thought, people.  Let's be careful out there.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Shout Out to K Vintners

I've often blogged about frequent disconnections between pricing and demand or pricing and quality.  This is one of those entries, but in a rather different way.  Charles Smith aka K Vintners is one of the superstars of the New World winemaking scene.  Indigenous yeasts, yields below 2 ton/acre, whole cluster fermentation, huge extraction, high pH...foot crushing for God's sake!  His wines are the real deal, from their inexpensive line of Charles Smith wines to their top cuvees.

Royal City is the product of the best fruit of the Stoneridge vineyard in Walla Walla, only about 4 barrels are made.  In the past four years, this fruit has received four 99 point ratings and one 98 from Robert Parker.  Now, we can quibble all day about rating systems and Parker's palate, but any way you slice it, that's a solid fantastic track record.

Last week I tried a bottle of the 2006.
A brooding monster of blueberries, blackberries, chocolate, spices, pepper, and tar. The more I smell and taste, the more descriptors I get - black olive, petrol, bacon fat, black cherries... The tannins are round and ripe, but huge. They combine with the acid to form a structure that handles all this fruit and flavor and manages to find elegance and awesome length. Wow.

Now to pricing.  First Growth Bordeaux don't get those kind of ratings and they cost $1000.  Charles Smith only costs $100, and he hasn't raised his price ever.  Mr. Smith, it's okay to make some money.  You've got the goods, it's okay.  Last month, I got my offer email and Royal City was listed at $120, but only a few hours later, another email notice reset the price back to $100.  I don't really want to pay more, but dude, it's worth it.  We won't complain.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Tequilla Interlude

Picture a group of marketers sitting around a table.

"I think we've gone as far as we can with pretty glass bottles for justifying expensive tequilla."

"Yea, those vodka guys have it so easy.  Every 3 months they come out with a new flavor to maintain their buzz.  Imagine, marshmallow vodka!"

"So what we need is a new product line extension."

"Tequiza didn't work out so well."

"And all those alcopops don't actually use tequilla, they use flavored malt beverage.  I miss Zima"

"Stay on topic.  Okay, consider this, the money is in drinks people can use to make cocktails at trendy clubs, and for us that means young blanco tequilla.  But the better profits are in the more prestigious aged lines."

"So what we need is a blanco we can charge anjeo money for."

"Yes.  In a nice bottle."

"What if we took anejo and filtered out all the aged taste qualities..."

"Wait, wait!  We can use crappy tequilla that technically qualifies as aged but sucks, 'cause we're gonna filter out all the character anyway!"

"That is so fucking money."

Ladies and gentlemen, I haven't tasted this.  I am speaking out of ignorance.  But can't you just picture it?

Don Julio Anejo Claro.  So embarrassing it isn't even listed on the Don Julio Website.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to Open Champagne with a Saber

Don't try this with your Kramer knife, or with Champagne you don't mind losing several ounces of, but opening a sparkling wine with a saber is a spectacular way to celebrate an occasion.  Follow these easy steps:

1. Get a big heavy knife.
2. Go outside with friends and clear an area for the cork and wine to fly.
3. Carefully remove the foil and cage, always pointing the cork away from you.
4. Hold the bottle like this:

5. Run the knife down the neck of the bottle and give the lip of the bottle a hard smack with the BACK edge of the knife.

If you do it strongly enough, the whole top of the bottle will pop off clean, and fly about 5 or 6 feet and you can bask in the amazement and appreciation of all.

Note: Gosset has a neck that just BEGS to be sabered, but it's just too nice to loose that little bit.  And don't use a $1000 knife like the Korin pictured above.  I know, you are only using the back, but still...