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~ February 2012 Archives ~



2012 Rhone Rangers Tasting: March 25, San Francisco

We've been having an odd winter here in San Francisco. Up until a few days ago it seemed like we had completely skipped winter and moved straight into Spring. All of the plants around here are confused. They had begun to bud and grow, and now they're getting buffeted by rain and cold winds. Go figure. Regardless of whether we're actually going to get one, we're barreling towards Spring, and with spring in San Francisco comes lots of wine tasting events, and a few really good ones. The Annual Rhone Rangers Tasting in San Francisco is certainly one of the... continue reading


Book Review: The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book by Harry Karis

It's not entirely clear to me which is more remarkable: the fact that before this book was published there was no definitive guide to one of France's most unique and historical wine regions, or the fact that this gorgeously exhaustive guide was entirely self-published by a wine lover who decided to do something about that lack. Regardless, it can easily be said that the world of wine books is greatly enriched now that Harry Karis has published his opus, The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book. I feel something of a kinship with Karis, though I've yet to meet him, because he seems... continue reading


The Essence of Wine: Chocolate

Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch Montezuma's gift was given first to the heavens, and only then to the rest of mankind, the latin theobroma cacao, literally meaning "fruit of the gods." When Cortez returned to Spain bearing the exotic dark fruit of the Aztecs, the world was never the same again. Synonymous with pleasure, from an infant's first taste to the connoisseur's careful snap, few foods in existence rival the raw passion of chocolate. Its complex chemistry reveals itself not only on the tongue, but in the hidden pathways of our minds, which react to it not just as a... continue reading


Napa's Best Cabernet: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley 2012

It looks like the California wine industry is officially out of the recession. Yesterday, at the annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction, the Napa Valley Vintners Association cleaned up, earning a total of $3.1 million, a gain of 31% from 2011's total. As usual, the auction featured 200 unique wines, most from the 2010 vintage, which were sold to raise funds for the organization. These wines are made solely for the auction in quantities of 5, 10, or 20 cases, and often represent the highest quality wine that each producer can make. For anyone (such as myself) with no aspirations... continue reading


Vinography Images: Napa Frost Protection

Napa Frost Protection NAPA, CA: A Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is sprayed with water to protect the dormant vines from frost. With the warm weather this year, the vines in Napa are already begging to show signs of bud break and growth, making vintners increasingly nervous about the possibility of upcoming frosts, and the damage they could do to the harvest. INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or "save target as" and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image... continue reading


2012 New York Wine Expo: March 2-4, New York City

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


The Essence of Wine: Pepper

Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch Lives were lost. Empires were built. The new world was discovered. All for the sharp spark of taste with the power to transform mere food to cuisine. It's hard to imagine the shock and astonishment that must have accompanied some human's first bite into a dried peppercorn. The incredibly disproportionate rush of flavor contained in these crinkled, colorful motes easily arrests us, even when we know it is coming. Pepper's explosive character finds a dual analogue in wine, which both stirs us with an equally surprising kaleidoscope of flavors, and also occasionally includes notes of... continue reading


Next Week: My First Wine Trip to Germany and Austria

I've always wondered just how many Rieslings I could taste in a single day before my teeth cracked and fell out of my face. I'm about to find out. In a couple of weeks I'll be headed to the frigid banks of the Rhine to engage in what can only be called an endurance sport: tasting as much German wine as possible in four days at the international wine expo known as ProWein. Italians have their VinItaly. The Bordelais have their VinExpo. And the Germans and Austrians have ProWein. Held in a massive convention center in Düsseldorf over several days,... continue reading


Wine, Rap, and the Power of Product Placement

No one should ever underestimate the power of the American media and entertainment universe. Pinot Noir producers tried valiantly for years to increase consumption of that grape variety by the American public with little success. Then a fun little movie comes out that glorifies the grape, and sales shoot through the roof. Rap may well be the best thing that ever happened to Cristal champagne, or, perhaps according to them, the worst. Rapper Jay-Z and others were constantly weaving the $250 champagne into their lyrics (and serving it at the clubs they owned), and sales predictably skyrocketed. But then in... continue reading


Spottswoode Estate, Napa: Current Releases

Great wines are always tapestries of story, with people and place making up the warp and weft of their fabric. When a family stays long enough in one place, they grow roots that can never fully come free from the soil. Such a connection doesn't take centuries, but merely a couple of generations. When children grow up running through the vines, they may wander away, but are often drawn back inexorably to the place where their roots run deepest. Such is the story of two generations of women and a place called Spottswoode, an estate in the picturesque town of... continue reading


2012 World of Pinot Noir Tasting: March 2-3, Shell Beach, CA

Everyone's definition of idyllic varies, but for many people it doesn't get much better than standing on the cliffs above the Pacific ocean on a warm evening, watching the sun go down with a glass of Pinot Noir in hand. If that sort of thing gives you the warm fuzzies inside, then you're a shoe-in for attending an event called the World of Pinot Noir, held every March in the little seaside town of Shell Beach. Over two days, Pinot Noir producers from all over the world, along with the people who like to drink what they make, descend on... continue reading


Vinography Images: Creatures in the Fog

Creatures in the Fog ALEXANDER VALLEY, CA: A dormant Zinfandel vineyard looks like strange creatures shrouded in winter fog in Sonoma County. INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or "save target as" and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops. To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these. PRINTS: Fine art prints of this... continue reading


Critically Tasting Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

One of my unbroken refrains here at Vinography has to do with the value of large public wine tastings as opportunities to educate the palate. There's just nothing like the chance to taste a lot of wines side by side to teach you a thing or two -- about what you like and what you don't, as well as the character of a grape, a region, or a vintage. Tastings held by regional wine marketing organizations continue to proliferate in the San Francisco Bay Area, much to my delight. So when the winery association of the Santa Lucia Highlands decided... continue reading


The Essence of Wine: Cherry

Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch Biting into a perfectly ripe cherry represents one of life's perfections of flavor and sensation. The firm skin parts under a modicum of pressure, and a gorgeous melody unfolds on the tongue — high notes of juicy acidity, rich baritones of velvety sweet red fruit, an earthy alto bitterness of skin, and a tangy tenor quality burst in the mouth in a way that makes it all too easy to overindulge. Cherry's singular flavors, from the dark black to the bright bing and the sweet yellow rainier, are a familiar refrain in many wines, made... continue reading


2012 Pinot Noir Summit: February 25, San Francisco

Every January, unbeknownst to most wine consumers, a group of wine writers, sommeliers, and other wine industry professionals spend the entire month doing nothing but tasting Pinot Noir. Over many successive days, through rigorous double-blind tastings, these judges whittle down hundreds of Pinot Noirs from all over the world (though mostly California and Oregon) to a select final few. This process is called the Pinot Noir Shootout, and it is put on every year by an organization called Affairs of The Vine. I have participated as a judge for this event in the past and lived to tell the tale.... continue reading


Vinography Images: Sunset Chardonnay

Sunset Chardonnay SANTA BARBARA, CA: A Chardonnay vineyard in full fall color near Los Alamos in Santa Barbara County at sunset. INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or "save target as" and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops. To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these. PRINTS: Fine art prints of this image... continue reading


2012 Anderson Valley Alsace Varietals Festival: February 18, Boonville, CA

Based on what you read about in the paper, magazines, etc, you'd think that pretty much the only wines that California produces are Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Oh yeah, there's Syrah, but who buys that anymore? California actually produces many fantastic wines that aren't made from these dominant grape varieties, but most people don't drink them. At least not often. And some people haven't even heard of them. Enter what may be the most unique wine festival in California and perhaps the country. Some of the most under-appreciated and least consumed wines in the state are... continue reading


Ehlers Estate, Napa: Current Releases

Who ever heard of a non-profit winery? In Napa no less. The first time the folks at Ehlers Estate told me they were, I laughed. But yes it's true. In the midst of Napa, there is a small winery that feeds all its profits back into the cardiovascular research foundation that owns it. There is, of course, a story behind this most unusual of affairs. The Ehlers Estate was established in 1886 by Bernard Ehlers, who erected a winery building and carved his name in the stone above the doorway. Ehlers purchased the estate for $7,000 in gold coins from... continue reading


The Essence of Wine: Wet Stones

Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch Perhaps you have lingered in a mountain stream, climbed alpine ridge-tops or descended crevasses. Perhaps you have tasted rain on your tongue, or drunk deeply from a stone cistern, echoing with time. Even if you simply revel in petrichor, the smell of pavement just after a cloudburst, or remember washing chalkboards in school, you understand the smell and the taste of wet stone. Some say deep questing roots that probe and fracture rock can transmute the minerals themselves into wine. Science has no easy answers for the relationship between bedrock and berry, but what may... continue reading


Don Cornwell, The Fine Wine Bidder's Hero

Don Cornwell may well be a wine fraudster's worst nightmare -- a highly motivated, highly educated, and extremely experienced collector who is tired of seeing people pay outrageous sums for fake wine and of auction houses that seem to have no qualms about selling it to them. Cornwell has been collecting burgundy for more than three decades. But he's not just a wealthy lawyer with a taste for Pinot Noir. By night he's the owner and editor of the Oxidized Burgundies Wiki Site, which is building a community database of experiences with prematurely oxidized white burgundies. And by day he... continue reading


La Paulee 2012 Burgundy Tasting: February 22-25, San Francisco

Every budding wine lover faces what can often seem like a daunting mountain to climb. There are so many wines in the world to learn about and experience, it's not hard to feel overwhelmed. It's also quite common to feel a certain sense of frustration, the kind characterized by an ambition that far outstrips our own means to fulfill it. Many of the wines that passionate wine lovers wish they could taste are simply out of reach -- too rare, too popular, and too expensive. When I was first starting out in my journey down the roads of wine, the... continue reading


The Best Zinfandels of California: Tasting at ZAP 2012

You can always count on the ZAP Zinfandel festival in San Francisco to draw a crowd, no matter what the economy is doing. The fact that things are picking up, both for business, and specifically in the wine world, meant for a very lively event last week. The big news was a new venue for this traditionally mobbed tasting, that most attendees seemed to love, myself included. While the arrangement of vintners left something to be desired (tables were supposed to be alphabetical, but it was more like alphabet soup than a line from A to Z), everything else about... continue reading


Vinography Images: Bright Zinfandel

Bright Zinfandel ALEXANDER VALLEY, CA: A brightly backlit zinfandel grape leaf turns vivid red in Autumn in Sonoma County. I've got Zinfandel on the brain this week thanks to the ZAP festival. INSTRUCTIONS: Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting "save link as" or "save target as" and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops. To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC... continue reading


Social Media and the Wine Industry: A New Era

Ordinary wine consumers may want to skip this post. On occasion I write purely for the wine industry, and today I'd like to address the role of social media in the wine industry. Whenever I write these kinds of things, I like to remind people that by day I run a company called HYDRANT that gets paid a lot of money to help big brands be extremely successful marketing, selling, and engaging with their customers online. In short, what follows below isn't just random opinion. Let's be clear, first, what I mean by social media, a phrase that has become... continue reading


2012 Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah Tasting: February 17, 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 those who attended last week's ZAP Zinfandel festival, or the loyal drinkers of Cabernet, or even those who swear by 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... continue reading

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Most Recent Entries

2012 Rhone Rangers Tasting: March 25, San Francisco Book Review: The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book by Harry Karis The Essence of Wine: Chocolate Napa's Best Cabernet: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley 2012 Vinography Images: Napa Frost Protection 2012 New York Wine Expo: March 2-4, New York City The Essence of Wine: Pepper Next Week: My First Wine Trip to Germany and Austria Wine, Rap, and the Power of Product Placement Spottswoode Estate, Napa: Current Releases

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