Berserkers Gather: A 100-Point Dinner

Posted by | Posted in Wine Events, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-30-2010

Courtesy of Bob Summers.

If you love wine enough to visit this blog, there’s a good chance you’ve visited (or heard of) Wine Berserkers, an online message board with about 4,000 users. Since launching in January 2008, the forum has generated nearly 35,000 topics.

The Berserker community is also a pretty close-knit group. Members are constantly trading wine and answering questions for newbies, and thanks to the “Offline Planner,” many Berserkers have met one another in real life at group wine tastings.

One of these recent tastings was a small, “100 points blind” dinner. (The wines had to receive 100 points from either the Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate.) While I wasn’t fortunate enough to attend (drat!), one of the attendees, Henry Willmore, kindly agreed to write a guest blog post for Terroirist detailing the dinner. His write-up is pasted below. Enjoy!

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Wine Country: Lewelling (RS)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-30-2010

Uploaded to flickr by delphaber

As the California wine industry has grown, the small towns in the Napa Valley have also expanded, such that many of these rural communities now have a distinctly suburban feel. Rows of houses and neatly manicured lawns suddenly give way to large vineyards.

The Lewelling vineyard fit this model, as it’s just a few blocks away from Highway 29 and St. Helena High School — but accessible only by dirt road. (As an aside, the layout at Lewelling reminded me of Trespass, which similarly seems to spring out of the middle of St. Helena.)

The Lewelling property was beautiful — and quite large. It also includes a few houses: one that’s used for tastings and other social functions, and a majestic, older building that was occupied by earlier generations of the Lewelling/Wight family.

Our guide Dave Wight, who runs the Lewelling vineyard, took us inside to taste the 2008 Estate and Wight bottlings of Lewelling Cab. They were absolutely outstanding — the best cabs we had on our trip. The Wight is selected from the best barrels and so costs more than the Estate. I could not taste an appreciable difference between the two. Both were exceptionally smooth, with beautiful dark fruits, chocolate, and the like on both the nose and the palate. Perfectly in balance. The nose and palate played perfectly with one another. An exceptionally clean finish as well; no heavy fruit aftertaste.

Dave was exceptionally personable, as well; he chatted with my two companions and me for at least an hour about all manner of topics.

Unfortunately, neither bottling was for sale. As soon as I come across Lewelling again, I’ll be sure to have my wallet at the ready.

(See David White’s previous account of Lewelling.)

Daily Wine News: Whipped Lightning!

Posted by | Posted in Wine News, Wine Politics | Posted on 11-30-2010

These shots need some Whipped Lightning.

Is buttermilk an “unsafe food additive” when combined with booze? Don’t be surprised if the FDA says so. Like Four Loko, “it has an excellent chance of hurting you, and a fairly good chance of tasting good.”

The Specialty Wine Retailers Association asks the Supreme Court if the 21st Amendment overrides the Commerce Clause, and therefore allows states to discriminate against out-of-state wine retailers. Tom Wark has more.

At WinePolicy, Angela Logomasini explains why it’s a good time to read up on direct shipping. She brings attention to an important paper from Wayne Brough at Freedomworks, my recent essay in the World of Fine Wine, and a piece she wrote on HR 5034 for Practical Winery and Vineyard. Angela’s article and Wayne’s paper are definitely worth reading.

Legendary wine writer Jancis Robinson looks at the expanding world of wine. Speaking of which, should I rip up my front yard and plant a vineyard? I’ve got about 1/16th of an acre to work with.

The Bible says that wine is a gift from God “to gladden the heart of man.” And finally, Israel is making some tasty wine. Having recently tasted and enjoyed an Israeli wine — a 2006 Galil Mountain Yiron — I’m already convinced.

Old School Rioja: ’54 and ’68 Lopez de Heredia

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Events, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-29-2010

A corner of the Lopez de Heredia cellar

I had the good fortune to attend a charity wine-tasting event in New York the other evening. It was a standard NYC charity affair — lots of well-to-do, well-dressed folks who knew little (to nothing) about the charity and were instead focused on tracking down a job or a spouse. You know, those endless pursuits that make the city that never sleeps so inexorably restless.

I was there for the wine. Two wines to be precise: the 1968 and 1954 Lopez de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Vina Tondonias.

Most could not resist the siren calls of the well-known Italian and California Cabernets and Bordeaux blends. There was a constant clamor to secure a spot in front of the tables pouring wines like Sassicaia, Silver Oak and Quintessa. The proprietors were busy — no time for talk or debate or a discussion of the merits of the wine. Instead, the theme of the evening seemed to be “Pour, baby, pour.”

These were great wines, made from grapes grown in meticulously groomed vineyards by winemakers who are no doubt incredibly passionate about their craft. But the wines being poured were from 2007. I don’t mean to take anything away from 2007. After all, it was a phenomenal vintage in Napa and a strong showing in Tuscany, following the much-hyped 2006 vintage. But drinking 2007 Bordeaux blends just after they’ve been bottled is not for me. If I want to have the enamel stripped from my teeth I can do it more cost-effectively by scheduling a dentist appointment.

Lopez de Heredia was founded around 1877 when Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia began construction of the building that is today known as the Lopez winery. The winery has been in family hands since and is today run by great-granddaughter Maria. The Lopez process of making wine is the same today as it was 130 years ago. The grapes are harvested by hand every October. Red grapes are destemmed and fermented with skins in large 240 hectolitre oak vats; wine is aged in American oak and then aged in bottle for varying amounts of time. Time is important to Lopez — unlike many modern commercial wineries. Even their most commercial wine must age in the bottle for a minimum of six months. The 1981 Gran Reserva was just released in 2006 — and it tasted like a baby in 2010. For those that are mathematically impaired, that is a whopping 25 years post-harvest!

The Lopez Gran Reservas, and the Tondonia in particular, are the estate’s finest wines. The Tondonia vineyard was founded between 1913 and 1914 by Don Rafael. It’s a beautiful 100-hectare vineyard located on the right bank of the Ebro river in Rioja planted mostly to the Tempranillo varietal. The Gran Reserva distinction is only granted to the highest-quality wine and is reserved for unique vintages that produce a truly exceptional crop.

The Gran Reserva wines spend an incredible eight years in the barrel before being bottled. Each year, a committee of three family members tastes the wine and tracks its progress. When the wine turns eight and is about to be bottled, the committee finally decides whether the wine is worthy of the “Gran Reserva” distinction. If so, then the wine spends at least another eight years aging in bottle before being released to the public. Since 1890, only 22 vintages of Lopez have made it to Gran Reserva status, including the 1954 and 1968.

Both the 1954 and the 1968 are still alive and kicking. That’s not a trivial statement, as these wines are 56 and 42 years old, respectively!

They drink like aged Grand Cru Burgundy; light on their feet, elegant, spherical in mouth feel and an oh-so-long finish. Both are now a brownish amber in color, but there is surprisingly little bricking for wines this old. Both wines still exhibit lovely aromatics, although the 1968 is more robust. The ’68 belies its old-age and gives off tastes of tobacco and dried cherries and cloves. The ’54 is smokier – tobacco and cigar smoke flavors are notable.

The tannins have faded but both wines (although the 1968 in more abundance) have a complex minerality and an acidic spine that makes them delicious (and makes you crave food).

Both wines are special, but for me, the 1968 was the wine of the night, with a little more fruit and a longer finish than the 1954. But perhaps what makes these wines truly special is that they still have more years of life in them. Here’s to another bottle of the 1968 in several years!

Wine Country: Failla

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-29-2010

Courtesy of Failla.

Day 2, Part 3. It’s no secret that I love the wines from Failla. In fact, I’m reasonably certain that I caught the wine bug on trip to Failla three years ago after tasting the ’05 Estate Syrah.

Failla was launched in 1998, when Ehren Jordan and his wife, Anne-Marie Failla, planted their first Estate vineyard on the Sonoma Coast and purchased fruit for their first releases — the ‘98 Alban Vineyard Viognier and ‘98 Que Syrah Syrah. (The winery was originally called “Failla Jordan,” but that ended after the 2000 vintage when Jordan Vineyards and Winery threatened a trademark suit.)

Ehren Jordan was a well-known winemaker before launching Failla. In the early 1990s, he worked on the business side of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, working his way up from a tour guide to the retail sales manager. He then left California for the Rhône Valley, where he learned to turn grapes into wine under famed winemaker Jean-Luc Columbo. Upon his return in 1994, Ehren’s former boss from Joseph Phelps, Bruce Neyers, offered him a job as the winemaking partner at Neyers Vineyards. That same year, he also landed a position with Helen Turley, helping make wines at both Marcassin and Turley Wine Cellars. Since 1996, he’s been the head winemaker at Turley, where he still works. Ehren is also a pilot, which helps him jet around wine country.

Failla’s portfolio mostly consists of Pinots. In addition to its Estate bottling, Ehren makes Pinots from the Russian River Valley’s Keefer Ranch and Appian Way; the Sonoma Coast’s Hirsch Vineyard, Peay Vineyard, Occidental Ridge, and Pearlessence Vineyard; and from Rancho Santa Rosa in the Santa Rita Hills. In 2001, Ehren even produced an Oregon bottling from the Willamette Valley’s famed Goldschmidt Vineyard.

Failla also produces two Chardonnays — one from its Estate Vineyard and one from the Keefer Ranch. And the winery produces several highly regarded Syrahs, from the Estate Vineyard and Napa Valley’s Phoenix Ranch.

Our tasting was led by Andrew Seagrave, who took us through six wines at Failla’s comfortable farmhouse/tasting room on the Silverado Trail:  2009 Chardonnay Estate Vineyard; 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast; 2007 Pinot Noir Peay Vineyard; 2007 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard; 2007 Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge; 2008 Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge.

Failla's first release. Taken in my kitchen.

The Chardonnay was fantastic. It had all the citrus, minerality, and acidity that I look for in Chardonnays – but also had a creaminess that helped create an extraordinarily long finish.

With regards to the Pinots, the ’07 from Hirsch and the ’07 Occidental Ridge were my favorites. I last had the ’07 Occidental Ridge in May – and while it was certainly tasty then, it seemed a bit too big (with too many notes of candied cherries) and young. It’s certainly mellowed out in the past six months. As for the Hirsch – it had that unique anise nose I’ve come to expect from that vineyard, but had tons of fruit and was incredibly approachable.

Daily Wine News: Coming to Dinner

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-29-2010

Thomas Keller. Uploaded to flickr by arnold | inuyaki.

For Christmas, buy your hairdresser a “light, gulpable wine like a dry rosé. It’s versatile and fuss-free — a great quaff for your coif.” Wine writer Natalie MacLean explains what bottles to purchase for the 10 toughest people on your holiday shopping list.

The French Laundry visits Hong Kong for four days. Price tag for dinner? $835, without wine. Anyone want to take me?

Veritas, the wine-centric restaurant in New York’s Flatiron district which closed this summer, reopens tomorrow. And it’s cheaper than it used to be — the menu is now a la carte. I’d like to eat there, too.

Why do 8 percent of people get sneezy and stuffed up after drinking wine? Glycoproteins. The headaches, though, should still be blamed on the booze.

Maryland moves a bit closer to legalizing direct shipping. Let’s hope this effort succeeds.

Randall Grahm looks at terroir.

About half of all wine in Russia is fake! Looks like the Russians need a Bill Koch.

An inspiring article on some garagistes in Vancouver.

Mike Steinberger brings attention to some niche wine websites. Terroirist isn’t mentioned, mainly because we don’t have a niche.

Wine Country: Myriad/Quivet (RS)

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-26-2010

Uploaded to flickr by derekGavey

We’ve all heard of garage winemakers, and that image stuck with me during our visit with Mike Smith, the maker of Myriad and Quivet. He makes his juice in space leased from Envy, and his tasting table is right in the midst of the barrels. The setting was delightfully unpretentious; I felt as if I were tasting wines with a new friend, and Mike was incredibly honest about his wines, the winemaking process, his story, and the ins and outs of the wine industry. Just a fantastic guy.

Mike opened up a bunch of bottles for us. His best offering, to my mind, was the first — the 2008 Quivet Las Madres Vineyard Syrah Hulda Bloc. Beautifully balanced, lots of fruit, but not overwhelming.

We then worked our way through a battery of 2008 cabs. Understandably, they all tasted young. I think that most will be better in a few years, once they’ve had some more time in the bottle. They were huge and perhaps a bit over-extracted, with tons of fruit on the nose and on the taste. Delicious, but somewhat out-of-balance to my palate. I imagine that time will soften some of the fruit flavors and heighten the wines’ secondary characteristics.

The 08 Syrah, though, is ready to go right now — and likely will be for some time. If you have the occasion to try some, you’re in for a treat.

(See David White’s previous account of Myriad/Quivet.)

Thanksgiving Open Thread

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 11-25-2010

Uploaded to flickr by *clairity*

Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey Day is notoriously confusing for the at-home sommelier. Every wine critic has a few recommendations. Perhaps the only common ground? That you should have a lot of wine on hand!

So what will you be having? Oregon Pinot? Central Coast Syrah? Bordeaux? Manischewitz? Let us know in the comments.

Daily Wine News: To Health!

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-24-2010

Famed Australian winemaker Stephen Pannell urges his countrymen to forego imported wine between January 1 and Australia Day (Jan. 26). Do we have an American wine month?

Marie Elena Martinez examines the “Biodynamic Wine Experience at Robert Sinskey Vineyards” over at the Huffington Post. She didn’t ask Stu Smith for comment.

Could hypoallergenic wine be on the way? Let’s hope so.

Another reason to drink red wine. It could help treat diabetes!

A Minor Wine Emergency: The Results

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-23-2010

Earlier this week I posted about the horror of coming home to an overheated wine ‘fridge. Here’s a rundown of how the seven wines I’ve consumed have fared after sitting in 90+ degree temps for the better part of a day:

1. 2007 Sunset Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Consumed the night of discovery. I’ve had many bottle of this wine in the past, and this was easily the best of the bunch. For a young wine, everything was in harmony, from the red fruits up front to the smooth vanilla finish. A perfect example of why I love Cab Franc.

2. 1995 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon Library Release – Consumed night of discovery due to its age. Didn’t hold out much hope that this had survived but it was in a great place. It performed like I expected, like a Cali cab of years past. Pleasantly surprised.

3. 2007 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks Vineyard – Consumed within a week. I have no experience with Eric Kent wines, but this wine smacked me in the face. It was similar to drinking liquefied strawberry jelly. Was it flawed?

4. 2006 Carlisle Russian River Valley Syrah – Consumed within a week. Unlike the Kent, I have plenty of experience with this particular bottling and vintage. This bottle was clearly cooked. Reminiscent of sticking your tongue to the end of a battery. Fed the drain.

5. 2003 Girard Artistry – Consumed within a week. Blah. Nothing happening here. Not bad, but certainly not good. No fruit, no tannin, just a light alcoholic taste. I have no frame of reference with this wine, but I believe it was killed by the temps based on CellarTracker notes.

6. 2005 Chateau de Clairefont Bordeaux – Consumed within two weeks. Another wine I have enjoyed several times in the past. Never a wine you’d mistake for a first growth, but always offered a solid amount of structure and character for the price (~$25). Not this bottle. Hints of light fruit were readily evident, but there wasn’t much else going on. The finish was incredibly short, which jived with the incredibly boring impression made by this bottle. Have to believe it was adversely affected by the heat, although not overtly cooked.

7. 2007 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinor Noir Freestone – After the first bottle of Kent pinot, I waited a few weeks to open this bottle to see if it would be different. It wasn’t. Anyone had these? Is this consistent with other Kent bottlings or do you think these were flawed?

8. 2006 Patrick Lesec Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Bargeton – This bottle is meant to age, so I’m hoping it held up. I plan to crack it soon as there’s no sense in waiting 15-20 years given the high probability that it won’t show as well as it should.

So what’d I learn from this unintentional experience? If this happens to you, open the bottles as soon as possible. In hindsight, I wish I would have opened the stars of this group in the hopes that they were clinging to life. Instead, I panicked and opened the Sunset Hills Cab Franc because it was familiar and would provide me a frame of reference. As it is, I’ve pulled through this traumatic and lived to drink another day.