This blog has been pretty quiet since returning from Oregon last week. But that is about to change – next week will see several posts including our full product line tasting of Chile’s Los Vascos wines, the recounting of a tasting of Paso Robles’ LXV wines and a new boutique local wine tour business serving California’s Central Coast AVAs, and Dorianne and I will be heading up to Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills AVAs this coming week for a bit of a tour.
In the meantime, The Wine Stalker (LINK) has included us in a really great article about wine bloggers who live a distance from wine regions.
The Rest Of Us: Wine Blogging Outside Of Wine Country ~ The Wine Stalker – A blog for WINE GEEKS & WINE LOVERS (LINK):
“How is your travel availability to actually go to wine regions or blogger conferences?
Again, my wife and I travel nearly full time, 1/2 in the US and 1/2 in Europe. I lead wine tours in France (http://deluxewinetours.com/), so I get to meet a lot of French winemakers. We also spend a lot of time in Spain. This year we will also travel in the Ukraine and Poland, so I am looking forward to seeing what’s happening there.”
So thanks to The Wine Stalker for including us in the blog.
And, since you are here already, time is running out to register for our amazing October 2016 Tour of northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône where we will enjoy some of the finest wines in France.
We will spend seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River in a 5 star hotel, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.
Hôtel Le Prieuré
This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.
I was in Berkeley, CA for a week on business and I did a bit of exploration of the wine scene here. This is not my first time here, and I have blogged about Berkeley before (LINK).
The big news here is the possible scandal associated with the Premier Cru Wine Store bankruptcy (LINK). You can read about that if you wish. Of course, the great Kermit Lynch is here with his legendary wine shop(LINK) – I visited there in May. There are a lot of very good restaurants here with wine lists of varying length, breath an depth.
The wine highlight of this trip was two visits to Vintage Berkeley (LINK) a wine shop on College Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood (I was staying nearby). The owners of Vintage Berkeley also own Solano Cellars Wines.
The shop on College Avenue has a focus on wines of the world priced under $30. There is a “back room” with more pricey bottles. I saw a lot of wine labels that were new to me, and a few that I recognized. Most of the latter were in the back room.
There is usually a wine tasting going on, and on my first visit, the proprietors were offering a couple of French wines from the Rhône Valley. There were about eight customers tasting and shopping. I had a good conversation with several of the customers and the staff. I was told that there would be a winemaker tasting of Clos Saron wines on Saturday.
On Saturday evening, I returned and met Gideon Beinstock, the winemaker for Clos Saron, which is located in Yuba County, California, in the northern section of the Sierra Foothills AVA. The total production of Clos Saron is 800 cases, so don’t be looking for these at your local supermarket. They are currently re-planting some of their vines, so they are only bottling estate Pinot Noirs, three of them. The rest of their wines are sourced elsewhere. Here is the list from the tasting, which is most of the wines that they produce:
I found the Cinsaults and the Carignans to be very interesting wines. The Cinsault vines were planted in 1885 and the Carignan vines in 1900. The blends that featured these wines were well-structured with relatively high acid and moderate tanins. They should age well and are interesting on a number of levels.
I was not a big fan of any of the Pinots, but to be fair, they are all young. Perhaps with a few years in the bottle, they will soften a bit. There was too much acidity for my taste, although each did have a distinctive nose and flavor range.
I bought a nice bottle of Terra Sanctus Priorat Blend from Catalunya and went home. The wine was excellent – well balanced, just short of chewy, with a nice viscosity and dark fruit and notes of minerality. I know I only scratched the surface of the Berkeley wine scene on this trip – but I will return!
In Matt Kramer’s column on WineSpectator.com, posted on Nov 3rd (LINK TO POST), he speaks of a growing phenomenon that he labels “Wine Democracy,” or the emergence of a more egalitarian approach to wine criticism as a whole.
Where in the past, only those with access to some “journalistic real estate in a newspaper or magazine” had a voice in the wine world – the rest of us were more passive consumers of the opinions of these few critics and taste makers. Now, via social media and the blogosphere, everyone can be a critic. And while there are certainly tiers of influence, the audience for wine opinion is doubtlessly more varied and diverse than it used to be; and that audience contains many who also feel free to give opinion (like yours truly).
But there is more to this phenomenon than technological innovation. There is also a cultural evolution process that is unfolding, and egalitarianism is part of where many people are finding themselves in terms of values. The old ways of looking to “experts” to define opinion and then following that opinion without much questioning, is fading fast. Now, a values system variously labeled “postmodernism,” Cultural Creative,” and Green (in Spiral Dynamics) has emerged and is becoming more and more prevalent.
Some of the key values of this level of cultural development are:
a high value for egalitarianism – anti-hierarchical.
all voices must be heard on any issue before a decision is made.
all (or almost all) opinions have equal validity.
feelings are more important than outcome – it is important that everyone feel good about what is decided.
Here is a link to some information about this phenomenon (LINK). You can see some of these values expressed in the column, but like most people, Kramer is apparently unaware of the cultural evolutionary models (as most people are), so instead of seeing a naturally unfolding way of being human, he sees people being different and, for the most part, wrong.
A quote from Mr. Kramer: “These determined detectors of snobbery and elitism are like old-fashioned anti-communists: they’re sure that subversive snobs and elitists are lurking everywhere.
“In today’s wine democracy, equality of opportunity (to express oneself) too often is steamrollered into a much more simplistic ‘equality.’ All wines are equally good because all opinions are equally valid. Any deviation from that is seen as, well, you know.”
What Mr. Kramer is describing is something that is not going away. In fact, it will grow as more and more people evolve culturally toward this level of being. In the meanwhile, get used to people turning away from the few “experts” and finding ways to not only form their own opinions, but to express them as well. Not all of these opinions will be of equal value, as the post by Mr. Kramer points out, but the days of a wide audience of consumers following a few select wine critics are over.
It’s the times; they’re a changin’. As always, your comments are welcome.
As reported on Euronews.com (LINK), and International Business Times (LINK), Italy is now the largest wine producer in the world, surpassing France.
From IBT: “Italy’s projected wine production is up 13% on the previous year and 5% on the average for the past five years, for a total output of 48.8 million hectolitres (1,289,159,610. gallons [US, liquid]), figures submitted by member states to the EU Commission in mid-September show.
Lack of rain and a heatwave have instead caused a 1% contraction of French production, which relegated the country at the second place with 46.4 million hectolitres (1,225,758,317 gallons [US, liquid]). The world-famous regions of Beaujolais and Bourgogne were among the worst affected and wine lovers with a taste for local bottles could face a price rise in the coming months, according to Les Eechos newspaper.
Italy and France have long been the sole duellists for the title of world top wine producer, both in terms of quantity and quality. However, 2015 has arguably been a particularly favourable year for the Italians after Ferrari (Trentodoc) won the prestigious sparkling wine producer of the year award.”
Spain is in third place with 36.6 million hectolitres ( 966,869,707 gallons [US, liquid]).
Here is an excellent article from Fortune.com on issues with marketing the wines of Spain. I have always said that Spanish Wines are the best value in the world today. We recently spent six weeks in Spain and had amazing wines from a variety of regions at very reasonable prices.
Here is a quote from the article:
“The Spanish wine industry’s exporting issues, which have long been a source of concern, have come to the fore in recent years. Spanish wine exports have tripled since 1995, And last year, exports grew 22.4% to 2.3 billion liters, according to the Spanish Observatory of Wine Markets (OEMV), helping the country pass Italy as the world’s biggest wine exporter by volume.
“The problem is that exports have been dominated by low-price/low-profit bulk wine, which accounted for 55% of Spain’s export volume last year.
“Spain’s biggest market in 2014 was France, which bought 518 million liters of Spanish wine—for only €0.47 per liter (about $0.53). Much of that bulk wine shipped to France was then bottled, marked up, and resold as a French product.”
We can all use some additional knowledge about wine and wine enjoyment. This week, I came across three very good articles from the wine media community that help us do just that.
First, Why Does Wine Taste Different on an Airplane? (LINK TO ARTICLE) a very good article from Business Insider – Australia about the effects of cabin pressure on wine and on you, the drinker. An excerpt (in the original Australian), read the article at the link above:
“Much like having a cold, the pressurised cabin and its dry air numbs your taste buds, and compromises your sense of smell by drying out your nose. Since flavour is a combination of both (in fact, almost 80% of taste is based on smell) things taste different on a plane. Apparently, our sense of salty and sweet can drop as much as 30% on a plane.”
Something to think about before you order that expensive Burgundy in first class.
Second, from Andrew Jefford in Decanter: Tasting notes – the shame of the wine world? (LINK TO ARTICLE) is not exactly what you might expect on this topic. Here is an excerpt, read the article at the link above:
“The issue, it seems to me, is as follows. The writing of descriptive (as opposed to academic) wine notes is a specialized form of wine entertainment, and is quickly seen as such by users. No one takes them literally; they are liberally sprinkled with salt by the experienced reader, and soon leach more water than an aubergine. The tongue is always somewhere in the writer’s cheek (or should be). They are drafted with a smile, in a spirit of levity (or should be). That’s how the genre works.”
Third, again from Decanter, How to Understand Wine (LINK TO ARTICLE) is a very good primer on the qualities that create the experiences that you have when you drink wine. Here is an excerpt, read the article at the link above:
“Try tasting one glass of plain water, then a second with some lemon juice added: you’ll notice the effect of the acidity in your mouth. Any fruit needs some acidity to be enjoyable, and wine – the juice of the grape, at heart – is no exception.
“Too little acidity, and the wine will taste flabby and over-sweet. Too much, and it will be tart, astringent and sour.”
Spending time with articles like these increases your wine knowledge and increased knowledge allows for increased wine enjoyment. The more you know, the more you can find what you like and avoid what you don’t like.
You may also want to review these sites more thoroughly and subscribe if you think it will be of value to you.
From The NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: an article questioning those lengthy and often indiscernible tasting notes from wine critics. While tasting notes are often helpful (I prefer to loom at them after tasting a wineto see if I agree or to identify a quality that I noticed but did not identify myself). So read the article and see what you think.
Quote: “Frustrated with the state of modern winespeak, some academics, sommeliers, and critics are attempting to rein in tasting notes and develop new idioms that convey quality more concretely. A group of researchers known as the American Association of Wine Economists has waged a nearly decade-long crusade against overwrought .and unreliable flavor descriptions. In 2007, the association’s Journal of Wine Economics ran an analysis of wine critiAcs which concluded that the industry was, in no uncertain terms, ‘intrinsically bullshit-prone.’ ‘We, the wine-drinking public, are happy to read their evaluations, because we are largely ignorant of the quality of wines,’ the study’s author, the Princeton economist Richard Quandt, wrote. (He and the president of the Wine Economists, Orley Ashenfelter, shun tasting notes in their own wine club.) Another contributor, Jordi Ballester, is a researcher at the Center for Taste and Feeding Behavior, in Dijon, France, who’s spent his career weeding out wine bullshit—or what he more politely terms ‘fuzzy concepts.'”
@EricAsimov on Twitter tipped me off about this article (LINK) by Sarah Miller on the Kitchenette Blog about the VOX video (see below) that has been circulating on the internet recently. The video says that Expensive Wine is for Suckers and features a tasting panel by a few folks at VOX of three Cabernet Sauvignons from different price points. They all liked the cheap one, ergo, expensive wines are for suckers.
Sarah Miller’s hilarious blog post in response (CAUTION: ADULT LANGUAGE!!!) takes VOX and the host of others who blithely support their findings to task in a very significant and entertaining way. It’s a long read, but, IMHO, worth it. First, here is the video:
And here is my take.
I agree with MIller in the basic premise of her post – that there is no definitive line that says what wine is good and what wine is bad; that less expensive wines from large producers tend to be altered with additives to create something other than what the and grapes and terroir might have created on their own; and that the way we appreciate wine changes with greater knowledge and experience.
Since wine enjoyment is so subjective, each individual will find that his or her experience differs from others’, including many or all of the “experts” in the wine media. This is not unusual, as pointed out in the article – the masses often desire the simplest types of foods, drinks, music and movies. Thus the more expensive wines, those that represent higher quality fruit and true wine making craftsmanship, will tend to be appreciated by smaller numbers of people – more complexity = fewer adherents.
Here is a quote from the article: “Back to the whole cheap wine versus expensive wine thing. Cheap wine is awful. It used to taste like vinegar, and now, more often than not, it tastes like pancake syrup. It is made quickly and with little care. The grapes in it are often too ripe or not ripe enough. Good wine tastes like violets and flowers and fruit and spices and being blown away by it is an experience you are not required to have—but you should believe that it exists, because it does. Yes, of course, there are good wine values and bad ones. There is no one in the wine industry with a brain who thinks that every single bottle of $40 wine is universally better than every single bottle of $18 wine, or that every single person will like a $40 bottle better than a $8 one. As Schneider (a sommelier quoted in the article) pointed out, we aren’t robots.”
The philosopher Ken Wilber writes about the concept of span versus depth: the greater the span of something, the less depth and vice versa. A fast food restaurant will sell many more meals in a day than a fine dining restaurant; an action film with lots of explosions and little if any plot will out draw a character-driven film based on fine literature. Why should wine appreciation be any different?
If you like cheap wine, drink cheap wine. If you like expensive wine, drink that. But I suggest that you not let price, or ratings points, or labels, or other external factors be anything more than suggestions for you. If you are new to wine, find out what you like and drink that. Perhaps you will want to explore other types of wine over time; perhaps you will want to learn more about wines and wine making and that will influence what you drink.
My only caution, as I have stated in other posts, is to watch those really cheap wines produced in large quantities, as they are, more often than not, made with a lot of additives that you do not know about and that may not be good for you. The amount and type of additives tends to change and lessen as the price point of wines goes up, but not in an absolutely predictable fashion. Someday, stricter labeling requirements(LINK TO A GOOD ARTICLE) may help with this issue, but for now, you are pretty much on your own.