Weekly Interview: Dan Wampfler

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-30-2015

Dan Wampfler

Dan Wampfler

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week we continue our series of features on Walla Walla winemakers by interviewing Dan Wampfler, the winemaker at Dunham Cellars.

If you have been following our series on Walla Walla closely, you may recall that Reggie Mace explained how Dan initially got Reggie involved in the wine industry. We’ve observed similar dynamics over and over again in our interviews of Walla Walla winemakers. No doubt it is a testament to the cooperative atmosphere that Walla Walla winemakers have continually reported. Throughout its expansion, it seems, the place as remained a close-knit community.

Dan embodies that warm, welcoming community. As you’ll see, his personality shines through his responses to our questions.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Love for Low-alcohol

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-30-2015

Out with the high-alc Napa Cab, in with the Beaujolais (Flickr: cbcastro)

Out with the high-alcohol Napa Cab, in with the Beaujolais! (Flickr: cbcastro)

Eric Asimov announces the focus of his next wine school: Langhe Nebbiolo.

In response to student misconduct, Dartmouth College to “ban hard liquor,” reports the New York Times. “The ban will apply to any liquor that is 15 percent alcohol — barely more than most wine.”

“California wine is known for its ripe flavors and higher alcohol, but could a change be on the horizon?” In Wine-Searcher, W. Blake Gray approaches the subject of lower alcohol wines in California.

The Drinks Business talks with Mark Andrew of Roberson about “the new type of wine commentator.”

“Skurnik Wines & Spirits isn’t just an incubator of sales talent but a source of some of the greatest wines in the world.” In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague looks at the company’s success.

“Kendall-Jackson Owners Buy California Pinot Powerhouse Siduri,” reports Wine Spectator.

In Palate Press, Elisabetta Tosi profiles the “Venissa Project,” which aims to re-discover and re-grow vineyards on Mazzorbo, an island in the Venetian lagoon.

Ever wonder which wine-stain remover works best? Wired put them to the test.

In the Village Voice, Lauren Mowery offers tips on wines to pair with your Super Bowl snacks.

“Is the U.S. Wine Market Balanced?” asks Wine & Vines.

Chad Walsh interviews Isabelle Legeron about her new book, Natural Wine, in Food Republic.

Daily Wine News: Zin Revivals

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-29-2015

Zinfandel in Napa (Flickr: naotakem)

Zinfandel in Napa (Flickr: naotakem)

“Are the best old-vine zinfandels great to a significant degree because the vineyards are so old, or simply because they’re in the right place?” Wine & Spirits Magazine explores whether or not young vines can make great zinfandel, too.

In 2014, the number of North American wineries grew 7%, reports Wine & Vines. California is home to 47% of the U.S. total.

In Wine Spectator, Tim Fish talks with Jake and Scot Bilbro, two brothers working to revive Sonoma’s Limerick Lane winery and its Zinfandel wines.

In Grape Collective, Ethan Millspaugh offers “10 urban wineries to visit in 2015.”

In 2014, most of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine sales went to five states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois, reports Wine-Searcher. Overall, DTC sales rose by 13%.

Will Lyons wants to know “who’s driving world wine consumption?” in the Wall Street Journal. “The findings may surprise you.”

The French Laundry wasn’t the only restaurant targeted by wine thieves during Christmas.

In the Sacramento Bee, Mike Dunne profiles Shadow Ranch Vineyard & Winery of El Dorado County.

According to the Drinks Business, the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA) aims to put Australia on the fine wine map.

In Forbes, Adam Morganstern reviews Talia Baiocchi’s book, Sherry.

The Question of Terroir: On the Mezcal Trail in Oaxaca (Part 2/2)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 01-28-2015

IMG_1276Before reading, please check out the first part of this piece.

Many of the agave distilleries, which are essentially farms (known as palenques), function as they have for generations. Simple, rustic structures, each unique but similar, shield the distillery operations while remaining party exposed to the elements. Here, nothing goes to waste: the bricks of the scant distillery structures are made from byproducts from the distillation.

Depending on the work happening that day, you’ll end up with very different photographs: a strangely simmering pile of dirt topped by a cross to ward off devils, under which the agave piñas bake and take on their characteristically smoky flavor; a donkey walking in languorous circles, turning a large stone (the tahona) wheel over a cement well to mash the agave, recently broken down by hand with a machete.

Getting to know the product itself involves wrapping one’s head around endless contingencies. There are at least eight species of agave used to produce mezcal in Oaxaca. Blending is common. While it used to be the case that the only single variety mezcals on the market were espadina and tobala, it’s increasingly common to see successful producers offering examples of the entire range, in addition to their blends, so that you can discover the pleasures of each through comparison. And while some plants are cultivated in rows, others grow wild; many producers celebrate this fact with bottlings of only the wild agave.

In addition to the complexity of the crop itself, there are a few different production methods, such as the common copper pot distillation and the more traditional, and rare, clay pot distillation. Add to this all of those variables familiar to wine production—differences in soil, elevation, and ripeness, as well as the vicissitudes of the native yeasts used in fermentation and, of course, age—and the potential differences increase exponentially.

IMG_1247These differences are readily available to taste, too, offering intellectual interest to the appreciation of mezcal. To really experience mezcal, just about everybody agrees that you need to drink the purer, un-oaked (blanco) varietals. And indeed, Mezcal has brilliance and the impression of a transparency familiar to wine drinkers that favor the expression of terroir. Unlike tequila, which I believe is at its best and most expressive with at least some oak regimen, oak tends to undermine mezcal. While great tequila is fruity, often oaky, and smoothly polished, great mezcal is transparent, pure, essential.

As a whole, the mezcal is complex on the nose and palate, with subtle fruit, smoke, vegetal, and spice notes. As opposed to those other spirits privileged enough to be called refined, such as scotch and brandy, mezcal, equally complex, is brazenly elemental. It’s rugged earth and explosive sunshine captured in liquid form.

My favorite example was a blend from the one traditional clay pot distillery we visited. I don’t know that this resulted from the clay pot itself, but as with wine makers that favor traditional methods, reflecting a certain sensitivity to their work, I wonder if this rare approach reflects a sensibility conducive to increased care and attention. Brightly fruity, minerally, and only slightly smoky, with a pleasing vegetal edge, this example stood out because of its transparency. It tasted just as good when I tried it back home. The worst examples had overtones of sherry—perhaps partly oxidized. In the lesser examples, I also tended to find a cheesy, lactic flavor.

Concerning the question of terroir transparency, I confess I’m of two minds. The purity of mezcal is real. But does it speak to a specific place?

On the one hand, at least painting with a broad brush, it’s clear that it does. I doubt that any spirit better reflects whether or not, for instance, the crop was grown in a more or less cool place. Therefore, there are clearly large-scale regional differences to attend to, as well as more subtle differences that result from, for instance, elevation—it’s not hard to believe that wild plants growing high up on the side of a Oaxacan mountain will taste altogether different than plants that see direct sunlight on the valley floor.

IMG_1240On the other hand, I have it on good authority that the implication made by Certain Famous Artisanal Mezcal Producers that label the bottles like wineries do, with the name of the region, village, or farm, have a lot of latitude in that labeling. In fact, those labels reflect mostly only where the mezcal is made—not where the agave is grown. Experientially this rings true. Trucks with loads filled with agave piñas were common; not that I think this settles the issue.

But it’s not just this. Again, experientially, even though I concede that, just as with mezcal, there are endless variables that eternally muddy the issue of terroir in wine, I’ve discovered in my life more than a few obvious examples of transparency to soil between varietals in a winemaker’s line that I’m left with no doubt.

In some limited sense, just about everything reflects terroir. In the end though, my belief is that the grape is a privileged vessel, almost uniquely suited to conveying subtle differences in environment.

In my experience only the oyster, which so perfectly reflects its place of origin, is comparable to the grape. And this is why both are, as we all know, favored by the gods themselves.

With the agave plant, I have so many doubts. I have doubts related to the violence of the distillation process; I have doubts related to the sheer mass of the plant. Also, there remains questions about the extent to which there is even the kind of soil variation in Oaxaca that would make it interesting to map in the first place—is there reason to think that Oaxaca has the soil complexity of Burgundy, Alsace, or even Virginia? In any event, the point is moot: as far as I know nobody has made even a basic overture towards tracing mezcal flavor to soil type.

So what do we mean when we speak of terroir in mezcal? Perhaps we mean it only in the limited sense. Yet, there seems to be more to it.

Questions remain. I suggest travelling to Oaxaca to answer them for your self.

Daily Wine News: Vinjustice

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-28-2015

Zraly30th“When you’ve been in the wine business long enough, as soon as you walk into a store, or peruse a wine list, you see exactly who is playing ball with whom.” Sophie Barrett ponders wine politics and “vinjustice” in the wine-selling business.

Mike Veseth, the wine economist, reviews the 30th Anniversary Edition of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.

Bon Appetit assesses the world of wine and women on TV for “instances when TV has made the right vixen-to-varietal match.”

“So what is the big deal about Blaufränkisch?” asks Darrel Joseph in Wine-Searcher.

According to Decanter, “Hungary’s Tokaj wine region is to get a 330m-euro investment to both upgrade its vineyards and bolster the international reputation of its wines.”

In the Drinks Business, Concha y Toro winemaker, Marcelo Papa, wants to go back to the style of wines the winery made in the ‘70s by picking earlier and using less oak.

In VinePair, Adam Teeter explains “How Black America Fell in Love With a Kosher Wine from Italy.”

In Wine Spectator, the story of how a Japanese winery is helping students with special needs.

Elsewhere in Wine Spectator, the New York State Liquor Authority’s prosecution of Albany wine retailer, Empire Wine, for shipping to out-of-state customers has been postponed for now.

The Telegraph reports the results of a new study, which claims one drink-free day a week could reduce risk of disease.

The Question of Terroir: On the Mezcal Trail in Oaxaca (Part 1/2)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 01-27-2015

IMG_1279Mezcal is commonly called the “next big thing” in the spirit world, largely because of its supposed ability to transmit terroir.

But because it’s produced in small batches through traditional, even ancient, farming practices — and scarce here in the States — it’s expensive. In Oaxaca Mexico, however, even great examples are dirt cheap and readily available. This is why you need to go to the source, where you’ll discover a world of cultural, environmental, and gastronomic interest that rivals even even the best wine regions.

Terroir is an imprecise word used too freely in the wine world. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that the term was actually underused here, and it’s no doubt a good, enlightened thing that the concept serves as the philosophical center of the post-Parker wine world. But as is always the case with philosophical centers, at the point they become centers, which is a kind of blind spot, there is a cost. Terroir is now omnipresent in wine marketing — now used to signify the relation of wine to soil and climate where that relation is essentially uninteresting, now used to obfuscate the hard reality of overt flaws like Brett infection.

Indeed, the vast majority of claims made about terroir in the wine world are, frankly, bogus. This does not in any way mean, however, that terroir is not an ideal worth pursuing.

Successful marketing campaigns work across industries. The rebellion you purchase when drinking a fun, young Pepsi product is the same rebellion you purchase when you “express your individuality” by choosing a Mac over a PC.

So it was only a matter of time before terroir would be used to describe beverages other than wine. And of course, beverage experts, like Michael Jackson in his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, have long made the argument that great spirits, opposed in his formulation to those that are merely corporate products, reflect their place of origin.

They have a point. But as a wizened wine geek, it is with some good healthy skepticism that I approach the claims by the spirit industry about terroir expression. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Bubbly Boom

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-27-2015

Willamette Valley's Arygle sparkling wine (Flickr: turbobumble)

Arygle Winery’s sparkling wine from Willamette Valley (Flickr: turbobumble)

“It is has become obvious by the sheer increase in visibility on the shelves that sparkling wine in the Pacific Northwest is on the rise. And it’s here to stay.” In Palate Press, Mary Cressler is excited about the rise of bubbly being made in Oregon and Washington.

In Decanter, Andrew Jefford discusses sparkling wine production in France and inequalities of French wine classification.

“Continued use of term on U.S. sparkling wine may erode consumer trust in labeling, some say.” In Wines & Vines, Jane Firstenfeld tackles the issue of “mislabeled” Champagne.

“Does 100 point thinking poison the mind?” asks Jamie Goode.

What happens when you put a bottle of Croft Quinta da Roêda 2012 Vintage Port in an ultrasonic cleaner? Novelist Christina Nichol finds out in the Wall Street Journal.

On the HoseMaster, “A Master Sommelier Judges at a Wine Competition.”

Jancis Robinson on wine glasses and how to use them.

According to Bloomsberg Businessweek, “Marsala Wine is Coming Back,” and not as an ingredient to cook with.

The oldest-vine wines in Washington come from Snipes Mountain, where vines were planted in 1917.

In Grape Collective, Rachael Doob profiles Eric LeVine, founder of CellarTracker.

Elsewhere in Grape Collective, Christopher Barnes interviews Shannon Kruschel of Two Hands Wines in Barossa.

Gearing Up for #BerserkerDay

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 01-26-2015

berserkerslogoMany wine geeks spend all their free time on Wine Berserkers, a wine discussion board that was launched in 2008 after Todd French, an oenophile in San Clemente, was kicked off Robert Parker’s e-bulletin board. Today, Wine Berserkers is world’s most active wine board. It boasts nearly 20,000 members and receives nearly 9,000 visitors each day.

Tomorrow, Wine Berserkers is expecting to receive more traffic than ever before. The reason? BerserkerDay.

Every year, French invites wineries, retailers, and others to offer “berserk” deals. These deals are posted throughout the day — and many are absolutely unreal. It’s completely free — retailers don’t pay to participate, and this year, BerserkerDay is open to the public. You don’t even have to be registered on Wine Berserkers. (That said, paying members can preview the deals today!)

As French explains, “this day of deals is a fantastic way for those ITB to give back to consumers, and also the reverse, as many, many new and exciting wineries/producers/wines are discovered by Berserkers on BerserkerDay, with purchases made, and discussions from those who might have experience with them.”

So check it out. And make sure your credit card is ready for some serious damage!

 

Daily Wine News: Gone Too Far?

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-26-2015

Farewell, odd SkyMall wine things we never knew we needed

Farewell, odd SkyMall wine things we never knew we needed

“I am a romantic about wine. I don’t mind saying it, even though some people may consider that soft and unrealistic…” In the New York Times, Eric Asimov wants to bring romance back to wine.

If you take good wine and just carbonate it, can it be good? Jon Bonné explores Abe Schoener’s latest experiment.

In the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson worries that things “may well have gone too far” for white Burgundies and other ambitious Chardonnays as a result of a revolution in white winemaking.

The majority of wine stolen from French Laundry was recovered in North Carolina, reports the Napa Valley Register.

“Just as the young generation of wine professionals coming up have a lot to offer in their fresh perspective, so do younger wines.” Alfonso Cevola ruminates on the “search for a Holy Grail wine experience.”

SkyMall has (finally) filed for bankruptcy. Tyler Colman remembers all the bizarre and “random wine stuff!” they once sold.

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Vindu Goel reports on wine fraud in Napa.

Forbes talks to Isabelle Legeron — “That Crazy French Woman” — about natural wines and her new appropriately named book, Natural Wine.

In Wine-Searcher, Adam Lechmere attempts to pair wine with insects.

In the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre looks at how our individual experience flavors the wine in our glass.

James Laube looks to South African vintners’ efforts to make wines that can age for decades in Wine Spectator.

Wine Reviews: Bodegas Numanthia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-24-2015

If you know Toro, you know Bodegas Numanthia. This estate’s bruiser reds have received praise from many respected voices in the wine world. And, when you taste the wines, it’s easy to understand why they engender so much excitement.

These wines come out slugging. They’re not shifty boxers, they’re fat heavyweights who lean on their opponents and knock them out with single punches to the temple. The intense power and concentration in these wines demands attention. But by their nature, they lack the finesse, sleekness, elegance.

So, I tasted these three wines sighted, and then left them for 24 hours before re-tasting. All three are incredibly young, and they showed much better after being open a full day, when they started to calm down (relatively speaking).

I appreciate these wines. I admire the guts and glory approach. In this weight division, Numanthia is a titleholder. And in these cold winter months, decanting one of these bad boys by the fire sounds great.

If you want to experience all the brute force, drink the Termes now. My personal preference would be to cellar them all for at least three years, the Termanthia much longer.

Read the rest of this entry »