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~ September 2008 Archives ~



Confessions of a Wine Counterfeiter

Faked world-class wines are in the news enough these days that I can decisively call them trendy. They've already got a book and their own Hollywood movie on the way. But I didn't know just how chic counterfeit wine was until I found out that my friend Lettie Teague (who happens to be the executive wine editor of Food & Wine Magazine) recently spent some time faking a bottle of 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild for a dinner party. Of course, like many of Teague's most interesting wine-related exploits, this latest adventure was done in the service of a story, which... continue reading


Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: October 14, San Francisco

I've beat the drum a lot about public wine tastings, but there's just no getting around the fact that they are the best way for wine lovers to educate their palates. There's just no substitute for tasting a lot of wines in a single "sitting" to learn what the differences are, and more importantly, what you like. One of the other nice things about public tastings, put on as they are by big organizations, or in this case, publications, is that they often allow you to taste wines that you might not get a chance to taste otherwise for some... continue reading


Pinotage Old and New: Tasting Notes and Thoughts from South Africa

Depending on your history as a wine lover, your individual tastes, and perhaps your nationalistic pride, a mention of the grape variety Pinotage either conjures up everything good about South African wine, or makes you want to skip wine for the night and order a beer. Before I came to South Africa I had managed to taste a couple of Pinotage wines, and the best that I had tasted was merely just decent -- every one of them had a green, vegetal, slightly burnt quality to it. In the worst of these wines, this flavor dominated. In the best, it... continue reading


Some Thoughts on South African Wine

I've now been in South Africa for about three full days, and I've tasted, by rough estimation, about 300 or more South African wines, ranging from some of the most common, to some of the smallest production, most sought after wines in the country. I've got a ton of tasting notes and scores for all these wines that I'm working on, but in the meantime, I thought I'd ramble a bit about what I'm learning, thinking, and concluding about South Africa, their wine industry, and their wine. GENERAL IMPRESSIONS OF SOUTH AFRICA This place is great. The people are warm,... continue reading


Tasting the Red Wines of Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa! I've come down to the Cape Winelands to dive deep into South African wine in a way that isn't possible in the United States. In most wine stores I'm lucky to find a handful of South African wines at most, and forget about restaurants, which often just have a single representative wine on their list, if anything at all. So I'm here under the imposing shadow of Table Mountain to attend Cape Wine 08, the biannual South African wine convention -- their equivalent of VinItaly or VinExpo. I'll be visiting a few wine producers,... continue reading


San Francisco's FallFest 2008: October 11, San Francisco

It seems like every major city has dozens of food and wine festivals every year. San Francisco, compared to many urban centers, tends to be more selective in what it puts on, however. And that's a good thing, because I've certainly been to enough crappy food and wine events with lousy food and wine (and too little of either) to last my lifetime. Honestly, the first time I attended FallFest in San Francisco, I expected it to be yet another mediocre attempt at a gourmet food and wine festival. But I was more than pleasantly surprised that first year, and... continue reading


1996 Walter Hansel Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

One of the greatest, though imminently forgivable, crimes perpetrated by a large number of even the most knowledgeable wine lovers consists of the tendency to consume great wines before they have had the opportunity to fully develop. Sometimes referred to as "infanticide," this practice varies in its levels of extremity depending on the category of wine. In my opinion, perhaps the most slighted of all categories in this respect is California Pinot Noir. While it may not have the aging potential of Burgundy (though we don't really know for sure -- no one has been making really serious Pinot Noir... continue reading


Why Do Winemakers Hate Journalists?

Perhaps the only thing worse for winemakers than getting a below average review in a wine publication is being mentioned in any publication that describes itself as investigative. "Normal" journalists, namely those that don't normally focus on food, wine, or lifestyle issues, have a pretty lousy reputation in the wine industry, and sometimes for good reason. Especially when they publish pieces like this. Or when they try for a "new angle" on a particular issue. The issue of ingredient labeling on wine has been discussed at length in the United States, and it's apparently also under discussion in the EU.... continue reading


Sake Day Tasting: October 1, San Francisco

Japan has given many things to the world that I cherish, but few of them have an unofficial holiday that gives me the excuse to celebrate them. But every October first, along with sake lovers all over Japan and around the world, I get to observe Nihonshu no Hi, also known as Sake Day. Like wine, no one knows exactly when sake first made an appearance. In a similar fashion to grape wine, the knowledge that fermented rice eventually yields an alcoholic beverage was probably discovered in accidental and then later deliberate stages, as innovative and curious folks explored ways... continue reading


Facts and Opinions about High Alcohol Wines

Compared to sports fans, wine lovers of different stripes don't have a lot to have really heated arguments about. Even when my fellow wine geeks get into it about whether Romanee Conti is worth the money, or whether Biodynamics is more voodoo than science, there's less vehemence than you'd find at any pre-season football game. If there is one exception to this rule in the mild mannered arena of mutual wine enjoyment and camaraderie, it may be the modern hysteria about rising alcohol levels in wine. I've written before about the degree to which I think that this is a... continue reading


Notes from the Manresa Sake Dinner

Last week, I was joined by an adventurous group of diners and drinkers for a completely unique meal at Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, California. The result of months of discussions and planning between myself, Chef David Kinch, and Wine Director Jeff Bareilles, The Sake Dinner was an extraordinary experience. To my knowledge, no non-Japanese, U.S. restaurant of the caliber of Manresa has ever done a tasting menu exclusively to be paired with world-class sake as we did last Wednesday night. Chef Kinch created a special eight-course meal that drew on his deep love of Japanese cuisine and its influence... continue reading


2005 Gargiulo Vineyards "G Major Seven Study - 575 OVX Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa

There's something really cool about seeing a young winery start to hit its stride. I've only seen a few newborn calves and foals in their first moments after birth as they learn to use their spindly legs, but it's hard not to feel a sense of pride when after a few minutes, they go galloping around in circles. I was first introduced to Gargiulo Vineyards at a wine bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I just happened to stop by for a drink, and April Gargiulo was on hand, pouring what was then her family's second release... continue reading


Wine 2.0 Event and Tasting: September 18, New York City

Internet technologies are changing every aspect of life and commerce in industrialized societies. While the wine industry is often slower to adopt new technologies than some, wineries, wine retailers, and wine consumers are all benefiting from the creative application of technology, whether that's through easier ways to buy, sell, learn about, or market wine. As critical as I can be of some of these applications of technology, I'm convinced that the wine industry (or the world, for that matter) will never be the same. There are a lot of wine tasting events out there that afford wine lovers the opportunity... continue reading


Robert Parker Watch Your Back

In the circles of wine lovers I travel in, many folks make a common observation about the evolving landscape of wine criticism. Namely that the era of Robert M. Parker, Jr. is coming to a close, and a new world of wine critics are emerging. I'm not sure I'd personally describe what I see happening in the wine world in quite those terms, but it's clear that Parker has been doing some succession planning in the past couple of years with many of the new additions to his staff. It's also clear that there are many new voices in the... continue reading


Who Should I Visit in South Africa?

About two years ago, I headed off to New Zealand for the first time, armed with lots of recommendations from readers that proved very valuable. I discovered a couple of wines that I had not heard of, and dined at a couple of restaurants that were highlights of my trip. So I'm asking you again, dear readers, for advice. In two weeks I am headed to Cape Wine 2008, the biennial South African wine festival, with a singular goal: to taste as much darn South African wine as I possibly can in 8 days. Lesser goals include: finding a fantastic... continue reading


Minogawa Shuzo "Koshino Omachi" Daiginjo, Niigata Prefecture

In the wine world, the grapes matter. Move past the varietal surface of wine consumption, and you'll quickly descend into a world where the qualities of a given wine (say, Russian River Pinot Noir) are discussed in terms of how Dijon clone 667 grapes do on Riparia Gloire rootstock. In the world of sake, a lot of things matter, from the water, to the yeast, to the Koji mold -- and of course, the rice. To say that rice is to sake as grapes are to wine is not entirely accurate. For instance, the primary differences in how two different... continue reading


Are EU Lawmakers Going to Destroy the Italian Wine Industry?

France, you get a free pass today. The European Common Market Organization is my newest punching bag when it comes to idiotic wine regulations. I can hardly believe it, but new wine industry reforms proposed by this body apparently will result in the elimination of Italy's DOC and IGT designations for wine. WHAT!?!? If that doesn't make your blood boil, then you're not paying attention. These reforms, which would go into effect in 2009 if adopted, seem to suggest the equivalent action to taking all of the individual Bordeaux appellations and replacing them with just two: "Left Bank" and "Right... continue reading


Wine Criticism According to W.H. Auden

At the risk of betraying my political leanings and reinforcing recent suggestions that my home city is filled with cocktail party elitists, I have to admit that (apart from wine) by far the best $14 I spend every year is my subscription to Harper's Magazine. One of my great pleasures in life is sitting down for an uninterrupted session with the "Readings" section of the magazine, which, for those who might be unfamiliar with the publication, is a collection of excerpts, snippits, essays, transcripts, declassified memos, poetry, and all manner of brief things that never fail to delight, inspire, and... continue reading


A Real Nigerian Wine Scam

Anyone who has an e-mail account and has checked it at least once in the last 10 years has probably received an e-mail that begins: DEAR SIR, CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS PROPOSAL HAVING CONSULTED WITH MY COLLEAGUES AND BASED ON THE INFORMATION GATHERED FROM THE NIGERIAN CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY, I HAVE THE PRIVILEGE TO REQUEST FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE TO TRANSFER THE SUM OF $47,500,000.00 (FORTY SEVEN MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS) INTO YOUR ACCOUNTS. Known as the Nigerian Scam, or more properly an Advanced Fee scam, this sort of fraud has been incredibly successful, despite what may seem... continue reading


Freeman Vineyard and Winery, Sebastopol, CA: Current Releases

Say what you want about the state of America, I know of no other place where it remains so imminently possible to realize your dreams. These days it takes a lot of money to do it, but this country is still one of the easiest places to decide that you want to achieve something, and then set out to do it. This is especially true in the wine business which, despite being a far cry from the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps success stories that typify the American Dream, continues to support those who decide to take their strongest passions and turn them into... continue reading

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Most Recent Entries

Confessions of a Wine Counterfeiter Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting: October 14, San Francisco Pinotage Old and New: Tasting Notes and Thoughts from South Africa Some Thoughts on South African Wine Tasting the Red Wines of Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa San Francisco's FallFest 2008: October 11, San Francisco 1996 Walter Hansel Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Why Do Winemakers Hate Journalists? Sake Day Tasting: October 1, San Francisco Facts and Opinions about High Alcohol Wines

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud