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~ February 2009 Archives ~



Tonight is Open That Bottle Night

For the last ten years, the final Saturday in February has become an important night for wine lovers around the world. Each year, this particular Saturday provides the excuse to open that special bottle of wine that you've got tucked away for that special occasion that never seems to arrive. Open That Bottle Night was invented by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, the husband-and-wife team that writes the wine column for the Wall Street Journal. Here's how they described their invention of this night in their memoir, Love by the Glass, after writing a column about how people should... continue reading


Vinography Images: Grape Light

Grape Light The grape consists of three primary elements, the skin, the pulp, and the seeds. The skin is actually several layers of material: the bloom, a wax and cutin layer that prevents dehydration of the berry and the epidermis, which contains the pigments and tannins so important to wine color, structure, and flavor. The pulp is a grouping of about 40 veined cells that are connected in a vascular network to a central structure known as the brush, which connects the inner part of the grape to the little bit of stem known as the pedicel which in... continue reading


In Search of the Cynical Winemaker

I had a conversation the other night with a fellow wine writer that unsettled me. We were tasting a number of different wines, and comparing notes on a few that weren't so hot, and that's when she said something along the lines of "Can you believe how cynical these winemakers must be?" At first, I wasn't quite understanding what she meant, but as we talked, it became clear that she meant quite literally, that many winemakers in Napa are making wine that they know is bad, just because they think it is what the public wants. She went on to... continue reading


Cast Your Vote in the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards

The finalists for the 2009 edition of the American Wine Blog Awards have been announced, and I'm pleased to report that Vinography is up for three awards: Best Writing, Best Wine Reviews, and Best Overall Wine Blog. I've been publishing this blog for more than 5 years now, and one of the most satisfying aspects of this (second) job of mine continues to be the support that I receive from readers like you. That support manifests in many ways: the comments you leave on the site, the fact that you even bother to come back here to read every day,... continue reading


The Best Cabernet In Napa: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley 2009

One of my favorite events each year involves the opportunity to sample some of the best wines that Napa produces in a given vintage. At Premiere Napa Valley, an auction that serves as the world's most expensive "bake sale" to support the efforts of the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners Association, journalists like me get a chance to sneak a taste of hundreds of unique wines that are purchased by the nation's top wine retailers at staggeringly high prices. This year, as every year, 200 member wineries each crafted a unique auction lot of wine that in most cases represents the... continue reading


San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Tasting: February 28, San Francisco

If there is one public wine tasting event that rivals San Francisco's yearly ZAP Zinfandel tasting for sheer size and chaos, it could only be the annual Chronicle Wine Competition Tasting. Every year the San Francisco Chronicle (with a lot of help) holds a wine competition, judged by more than 60 wine professionals, in which they award medals to their top choices from among over 4,700 wines from all across America. This competition has grown over the last 8 years to be the largest competitive tasting of American wines in the world. The judges hand out hundreds of medals and... continue reading


Eric Asimov and the Tyranny of the Tasting Note in American Wine Culture

As many of you know, I spent the last week as a speaker and attendee at the fifth annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. The conference is a wonderful break from my day job, and an opportunity to fully exercise a region of my brain and a personal passion that only squeezes out in dribs and drabs here every day. One of the best sessions at this year's conference was a talk given by my friend Eric Asimov, the chief wine critic for the New York Times, entitled The Tyranny of The Tasting Note. Over the course of about 45... continue reading


Kapcsándy Family Winery, Napa: Current Releases

Napa has a way of turning modest dreams into major productions. Lou Kapcsándy and his wife Bobbie decided to retire to Napa mostly out of nostalgia for the picnics and wine tasting they used to do as a young married couple living in Sausalito. Forty years after the first of these romantic escapes, their retirement dream included only a little cottage with at most an acre or so of vines, so Lou could putter in the garage and make a barrel or two of wine from his backyard fruit. Three years after the family, including their son Louis, made the... continue reading


Vinography Images: The Vineyard and the Golden Oaks

The Vineyard and the Golden Oaks In many ways, most vineyards look an awful lot alike. Rows upon rows of vines marching across the landscape. They distinguish themselves from one another by the composition and shape of the earth beneath them, but perhaps most distinctively, by their placement in the larger landscape. Those tucked in amongst the waving grasses and old live oaks in California wine country are some of my favorites, especially when the evening light turns them heavenly gold. -- Alder Yarrow INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or... continue reading


We Need Another French Revolution

My beloved Gallic friends: you've done it once before, and now it is time again to rise up and overthrow the tyrannical laws that threaten to hobble your future. France is in danger and she needs her people to join together and walk the path of righteousness instead of descending into evil. We all knew President Sarkozy was a teetotaler before he was elected. But one of the planks of his platform for election was to be the reform of the ailing wine industry. And, indeed, the government took some steps in the right direction at one point, though there... continue reading


At The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

This afternoon I again had the honor of joining some of the best wine writers in the world for the beginning of a three day discussion of the craft of wine writing. This is my third year as a speaker and moderator at this event, which features some of the true luminaries of the wine world. This year I, and the other sixty-or-so folks who are attending, will have a chance to share a glass of wine and some thoughts with Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Elin McCoy of Bloomberg, Corie Brown (most recently) of the LA Times,... continue reading


The Best Zinfandel in California: Tasting ZAP 2009

In this tough economic climate, people are spending less on the discretionary side of their budgets. If you had asked me to make predictions, I would have told you that this would likely have led to fewer people attending this year's ZAP Zinfandel festival. Certainly market data are showing us that people are buying less expensive wines, and I would have thought that meant spending $69 for a chance to taste a whole lot of Zinfandel would be hard to justify. But the line snaking around the edge of the parking lot, and the crowds inside proved me entirely wrong... continue reading


New York Wine Expo & Tasting: February 27-28, New York

OK New Yorkers, listen up. Most of the time, America looks your way with envy. You've got the best restaurants, the best films, the best theater, the best art scene, it goes on and on. But one thing you ain't got so much of is good public wine tasting events. Which is why there's always a bit of jealousy in the voices of my friends in New York when we talk about the wine events that happen every month or so here in San Francisco. So here's your chance to fix that in a big way: The New York Wine... continue reading


Vinography Images: The Perfect Cluster

The Perfect Cluster Is there such thing as the perfect cluster of grapes? As wine lovers we don't spend much time contemplating grapes on this scale. Almost no one does in the wine industry, save, for a brief moment, a field worker with knife in hand. The perfect cluster exists only for that brief moment of examination before the snick of the blade, and then the bunch becomes the fabled drop in the ocean. But this is an ocean we get to sip! -- Alder Yarrow INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link... continue reading


Book Review: Wines & Wineries of California's Central Coast by William Ausmus

Review by Arthur Przebinda. The Central Coast is a huge appellation. Compiling a comprehensive guide to its wineries is nearly a Herculean task. William A. Ausmus, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Communications professor, set out do that with his book: Wines & Wineries of California's Central Coast: A Complete Guide from Monterey to Santa Barbara. The book consists of a very good 30-page introduction and a main section with winery profiles. The latter is divided into three parts, each focusing on a separate county: Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Each of these contains its own detailed introduction,... continue reading


Cocaine is Not a Good Substitute for a Nice Glass of Wine

Listen, wine drinkers. I know times are tough. Everyone has less disposable income these days, and it's tougher than ever to justify paying a lot for wine. That's why champagne sales have plummeted, and there's a constant fire sale on most wines that cost more than $100 these days. We all have to do what we can to manage in these economic times, and if that means cutting back on wine consumption, or buying lower priced bottles, so be it. There are other things that are more important than wine, so it's OK to trade down a little. But whatever... continue reading


Winners of the DWR Champagne Chair Contest Announced

Some of you may remember my little piece about one of my favorite holiday traditions, the DWR Champagne Chair contest, where furniture retailer Design Within Reach challenges creative people around the world to design a miniature chair using only the closure materials from a single bottle of sparkling wine. Working in the design industry, I'm always tickled to see a convergence of wine and design, as it's unfortunately none too common. This contest produces some truly inspired work every year, as people around the world fiddle with cork, wire, foil, and all manner of strange tools to produce tiny chairs... continue reading


Dark and Delicious Petite Sirah Tasting: February 20, Alameda

I've referred to it in the past as "the beast." Possessing tannins that need to be tamed through intelligent winemaking, Petite Sirah can truly be a monster of a wine. One of the least-well -known red grape varieties that are commonly grown in California, it does not command legions of rabid followers like Zinfandel or Cabernet or even Syrah, from which it takes its misleading name. In the right hands, however, Petite Sirah can be a stunning wine -- deep, resonant, and rich. Petite Sirah has been grown in California for a long time, but apart from some limited success... continue reading


2005 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa

I've been drinking wine for more than 30% of my life at this point, taking notes on wine for ten years, and writing this blog for five, but despite that fact, it's not exactly common for me to be able to say with certainty that I've tasted every vintage of a particular wine made by any one winery. Even those wineries whose inaugural vintages debuted since Vinography became a going concern I am generally not able to taste their wines with regularity every single year. But there are a few wineries whose wines I have been buying and tasting since... continue reading


Vinography Images: The Tonnellerie

The Tonnellerie The toasting of barrels in a Tonnellerie (or cooperage) serves two purposes -- to shape the barrel to its final form, and to season the wood. The heating process dramatically alters the woods physical and chemical composition. The resulting seasoning or "toast" provides a buffer between the alcohol in wine and the tannins in the wood. In general, the less a barrel is toasted the more tannins and other wood characteristics will be leached into the wine by alcohol. Wine matured in lightly toasted barrels therefore tends to taste "oaky" or "woody," while wine matured in heavily... continue reading


How Your Wine Gets Here, and Goes Bad Along the Way

As Americans we have a reputation for not knowing, or even wanting to know, where our food comes from. It's a stereotype to be sure, but like all stereotypes, it has more than a grain of truth behind it. But if we give little thought to how our steaks get into those little styrofoam containers with the shrink wrap, we give even less thought to how exactly the bottles we buy get onto the shelves we pull them down from. If we did, we might think twice about plunking down $30 for a random bottle of wine in our local... continue reading


Nominations are Open for the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards

You, dear readers, are here because you "get it." You most likely understand what is the point of a wine blog in the first place. You're out there (here? everywhere?) enjoying finding out about wine and exploring your passion in a new medium. Chances are, if you're like many readers, this is only one of several wine blogs that you read, or at least check in with from time to time. We wine bloggers thank you for your continued support, and in that spirit of support I would like to urge you to participate in the third annual American Wine... continue reading


Messages in a Bottle: What is an Honest Wine?

The other day, in the course of constructing a review, I found myself describing a wine as "honest." And I meant it. But I've been thinking a lot about that word, and what it really means. I believe honesty is important in a wine, and on reflection, I think much of my personal quest, when it comes to what I choose to pay real money to drink, involves the search for the honest wines among the crowd. That crowd, I should say, does not consist of dishonest wines. I'm not deliberately setting up a dichotomy here between the "real" and... continue reading


The Best of Brunello: Tasting the Latest Wines from Montalcino

Anyone who doesn't fall even just a little bit in love with Tuscany the first time they visit should probably be locked away from the world. There's something magical about the place that suffuses every bit of the landscape, the food, the people, and the very air. The first time I visited with (then girlfriend) Ruth we managed to hit it perfectly at the peak of Spring -- the hills were green, the poppies in full bloom, little puffy clouds in the sky, 80 degrees... you get the picture. Makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it. While we were there,... continue reading

But Wait, There's More!

This page only has the last sixty entries in this category. If you're interested in digging farther into my archives, you'll want to use the complete list of archives to access my articles by month.

Calendar of Postings

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Most Recent Entries

Tonight is Open That Bottle Night Vinography Images: Grape Light In Search of the Cynical Winemaker Cast Your Vote in the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards The Best Cabernet In Napa: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Tasting: February 28, San Francisco Eric Asimov and the Tyranny of the Tasting Note in American Wine Culture Kapcsándy Family Winery, Napa: Current Releases Vinography Images: The Vineyard and the Golden Oaks We Need Another French Revolution

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