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09.22.2014

From the Quiet Garden: The Wines of Pichler-Krutzler, Wachau, Austria

Winemaker Erich Krutzler has carried a lot of baggage in his life. At 46 he is still a relatively young man, but when he smiles from under his mop of slightly graying bangs, you can see the miles he has traveled in the corners of his eyes. Even leaving aside the difficulty of purchasing vineyards in the very limited market of Austria's Wachau valley, beginning a wine label wasn't going to be easy for Krutzler. For starters, there was the long shadow of Blaufränkisch to step away from. Krutzler was partners with Roland Velich when he began the MORIC... continue reading

09.17.2014

The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines

Many things motivate the ambitious wine lover, but the curious joy of discovery often ranks highest among the forces that drive us to drink widely. Few things compare to the electric thrill of opening a completely unknown bottle or taking up an inscrutable glass only to be rewarded not just with something tasty, but something fantastic. This feeling remains one of the main reasons I continue to dutifully work through all the unsolicited wine that comes to my door. Because for all the mediocre and totally uninspiring wines I get, there are gems. This is the story of one of... continue reading

09.07.2014

Hourglass, Napa Valley: Current and Upcoming Releases

There is no single recipe for greatness when it comes to Napa wine, but starting with a great plot of land can take you a long way. The only problem is, a lot of people don't necessarily know a great plot of land when they see one. Sometimes these plots of land can be hidden in plain sight until the right person comes along to notice. When Jeff Smith's father moved the family to St. Helena in 1964, he wasn't thinking about wine, he was thinking about real estate development. He was also thinking about the tiny trickle of... continue reading

08.20.2014

MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch

"I am hardcore," says Roland Velich, describing his winemaking while lounging in the mid-century modern comfort of his living room, where the decor, the casual angle of his body and the informality of this tasting seem to belie this claim. But putting my nose in the outsized Burgundy glass I hold in front of me, and smelling an intoxicating perfume of crushed juniper, forest berries, and wet loam, I recognize, as I have every time I have had a chance to taste his wines, the fruits of an obsession that can easily bear up to that characterization. Like others... continue reading

07.21.2014

The King of Zweigelt: The Wines of Umathum, Burgenland

Austria, for good reasons, continues to be better known around the world for its white wines than its reds. It's hard to compete with such an incredible wealth of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. And in truth, far more bad red wine is made in Austria than good. But over the last decade or two, Austria has been making serious strides in its red wine production, following the lead of a few producers who have long been dedicated to the potential of Austria's native red grapes. Few would deny that Josef "Pepi" Umathum belongs in that number, and many would... continue reading

07.09.2014

Drew Wines, Mendocino, CA: Recent Releases

Jason Drew is talking to me about ripeness. "It's not easy to answer the question of what ripe tastes like," he says. "If the flavors are at their most optimum on the vine, then it's too late. There is that perfect moment of ripeness that occurs, but the challenging part is figuring out when to strike to get it. The perfect point isn't clear to the observer at the time, though. You have to have some kind of instinct or intuition, and to pick the grape before it crosses that line." As I'm listening to him, I get the... continue reading

06.21.2014

Weingut Veyder-Malburg, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

In Austria's Wachau valley, it's hard to pay attention to what winemakers tell you, especially when they're talking with you in a vineyard. The Danube twists olive and lazy below incredibly steep hillsides terraced with centuries-old rock walls, each containing but a single row of vines, climbing for thousands of feet from the floodplain. Never mind the vertigo that anyone susceptible to heights might feel perched on these ledges that perch precariously on slopes many would not ski down -- the view is so incredible that you easily lose yourself in the vast majesty. When I first visited Veyder-Malburg,... continue reading

05.15.2014

The Abbot's Dinner: A Tale of New Beginnings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Few things excite me more than getting a peek into the birth of a promising new winery. Especially when such beginnings are humble and hard fought. I knew I was in for something good when I pulled up in the driveway of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's newest winery only to find a tin shed on a slightly overgrown lot. We leapt over large puddles in the muddy gravel of the driveway to take shelter under the corrugated metal overhang that shielded the door, and were met by the young and delightfully cheerful Nathalie Reynaud, who sweetly began apologizing (through an interpreter) for... continue reading

05.01.2014

25 Years in the Hills: A Seven Hills Winery Retrospective

We're funny, us humans. We like to draw these imaginary lines on the earth and give names to the places on either side, and then we treat those figments of our imaginations like they mean something. The mental model of a map becomes so ingrained in us that when we look at the world around us, its as if we can see those imaginary lines. Grapes, of course, don't care much for maps. They like to grow where they like to grow, just as the soil that makes this so meanders without regard to the political boundaries we draw... continue reading

02.15.2014

2008 Rivers-Marie "Summa Old Vines" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

We hear a lot (and I certainly write a lot) about wineries or wine labels that represent the realization of a lifelong dream. Or equally as often they are the expression of someone's ultimate vision, usually something like: "I want to make the most awesome [fill in the blank with varietal or appellation] ever." These wineries and wines begin with a story already formed within them -- a story of the life and trials and tribulations involved in getting the opportunity to pursue the dream or that vision, and the wines are the first chapters of its completion. But there... continue reading

01.09.2014

Friuli Meets California: The Wines of Arbe Garbe

You can take the boy out of Friuli, but you can't take the Friuli out of the boy. One quick flash of his boyish smile and it's easy to understand the bright conviviality that you taste in Enrico Bertoz and his wife Letizia's wines. Like the man, they are positively brimming with big love -- a zesty, sunny cheer that is, like his smile, quite infectious. Bertoz, 37, spends his days making wine for Flora Springs Winery in Napa (and as a brief aside, seems to have made a wonderful improvement to the wines in his recent years there). Look... continue reading

12.01.2013

Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick

I've decided that Matthew Rorick, despite his muscular frame and the weathered crow's feet of a classic California surf bum, is the crazy cat lady of California wine. When I tell him this, he puts his strong-jawed, blonde-stubbled face in his hands with a mock sob and shakes his head. His longish blond locks spill over wine-stained fingers. "Its true, it's true," he chokes with laughter. He raises his head with a smile. "No, I couldn't possibly take another one! OK, OK come on in, come on in," he pantomimes, ushering yet another obscure grape variety into the fold of... continue reading

10.23.2013

Icon Wines of Napa: A Tasting

What would you do if someone offered to hold a tasting of all the best Cabernets in Napa according to you? You'd give them a list, and then do a little dance, and then you'd show up early with bells on. That's not entirely how it went down, but a few weeks ago I was indeed invited to help put on a tasting of many of Napa's top wines for a group of visiting writers, sommeliers, and wine buyers from all over the world. Organized by the Wine Institute, this tasting and the dinner that followed were the penultimate... continue reading

10.12.2013

Matthiasson Wines, Napa: Current Releases

If there is anything that could be described as a fabric of winemaking influence in Napa, it consists of a loose-knit network of shining threads connecting winemakers and wineries. There was a time in Napa when this network consisted of a few bright nodes from which all other connections spread. Icons such as Andre Tchelistcheff and Myron Nightingale were some of the strongest hubs of winemaking influence that spread to populate an entire valley with a next generation of vintners. With each generation, the web of influence has become more diffuse. Still, there are defined constellations of winemakers who... continue reading

10.09.2013

Drinking The Past: The Wines of Zorah, Armenia

Wines are always a link to our past. At the very least they tell a story of a previous season, capturing in the bottle and in the glass the sum of one circuit around the sun. But there is still more. Wine is also the repository of hopes, dreams, struggles, and levity -- all the humanity that conspires to harness the soil, the weather, and the unruly grape into something delicious. But occasionally, wine can be yet even more. Some wines tell stories and represent a past much deeper and more profound than one, or even several, generations of toil... continue reading

09.22.2013

An Obsession With Pinot: The Wines of Jamie Kutch

"I was always a hobby person as a kid, but I I would push them beyond where anyone would normally go," chuckles winemaker Jamie Kutch. The last real hobby I had was DJing. We're not just talking about playing music, we're talking turntables, mixing, blending, scratching and shredding. This was an era when I was going to college in the Bronx, smoking a little pot and watching my roommate play with his turntables. He had been DJing for six or seven years at that point. I decided it was something I wanted to do, and within six months I... continue reading

08.22.2013

Schlossgut Diel, Nahe, Germany: Current Releases

When Caroline Diel was seven, she was old enough to wonder whether or not her father loved her as much as her older brother, Victor. After all, her father had been making a wine called Cuvee Victor for several years. The question was clearly too much for her father, who capitulated immediately and began to make a Riesling named Cuvee Caroline. "But then by 1990," she recalls, "there was such a huge demand for Cuvee Victor, that my parents told me, 'Unfortunately we don't have enough wine to make yours anymore. We have to put it all into Cuvee... continue reading

08.21.2013

From Blogger to Winemaker: The Wines of Two Shepherds

The longer I write about wine, the more roads to passion I discover. It was only a matter of time, then, before the ranks of successful winemakers became populated with wine bloggers. William Allen is one of several people I know of whose passion for wine led them first to blog about it, and then more recently to make it. Such a journey is not remarkable on its own -- more than a few wine writers have decided to try their hands at making the stuff they've spun yarns about for years. The fact that Allen happens to have been... continue reading

07.30.2013

Weingut Dönnhoff, Nahe, Germany: Current Releases

Some great wines obscure their own greatness, and seemingly get noticed out of the corner of your eye, and then only if you're only paying close attention. Some great wines sidle up next to you, inclining their heads as if to say, "Hey there, good lookin'." And then there are the great wines that blow through the doors of the restaurant and knock you speechless on your ass. Welcome to Weingut Dönhoff, unquestionably home to some of the world's greatest Rieslings. Weingut Dönhoff sits unassumingly on the green banks of the placid and pastoral Nahe river, nestled in the... continue reading

07.23.2013

Eva Fricke, Rheingau, Germany: Current Releases

Eva Frick's eyes are the same shade as her electric turquoise tennis shoes. They are so arresting that it can be hard to concentrate on her soft-spoken and humble answers to my somewhat persistent questions about how a young lady like herself, who didn't even like wine when she started her career is now making some of the most interesting wines in the Rheingau region of Germany. "At first," she says, "I just liked being outside. I liked the individual, creative part of the profession. You can see it as plain agriculture, if you like, but you can also... continue reading

07.20.2013

Benanti Winery, Sicily: Current Releases

Few places so viscerally evoke their terroir as do the vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Especially when the mountain booms ominously, belching lava, smoke, and ash thousands of feet into the air above. Standing in the black soils from which gnarled 100-year-old vines reach like arthritic hands while fine bits of pulverized volcanic rock drift down from the sky, to add a few more powdery grains to the fine-grained soil at your feet, you can all but taste the terroir. You certainly can smell it, a faint flinty brimstone tinged with sea air. Standing a... continue reading

06.22.2013

Massican Wines, Napa: Current Releases

Let's begin with the fact that, in my opinion, Dan Petroski makes the single best bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the entire state of California. In a world full of superlatives and cliché, I cringe whenever I find myself saying things like "it blew my mind" but his Sauvignon Blanc really did blow my mind the first time I tasted it. This wine makes you want to violently grab your nearest Napa winemaker (whose 14.5% alcohol, 100% New French Oak Sauvignon Blanc sells out every year) by the lapels and shake them, shouting, "Why the hell can't you make wine... continue reading

06.17.2013

Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases

Andrea Franchetti is worrying about a door. It's two days before the Contrada dell'Etna, the main seasonal tasting of Etna wines, and Franchetti is hosting the event at his winery, in the new salon behind his main winery building. A crew of workers is busy pressure testing the fountain that has also recently been installed in the courtyard in the fading light of the afternoon. My Italian is poor, so I can't quite tell just how annoyed the soft-spoken Franchetti is, but it's clear he's not happy that the doors to his tasting salon are hanging a good inch... continue reading

06.08.2013

Fromm Winery, Marlborough, New Zealand: Current Releases

When was the last time you thanked the Cold War for giving you a great glass of wine? It's not an everyday occurrence for me either, but with the afternoon sunlight streaming in over my shoulder as winemaker Hätsch Kalberer passionately described what was behind the wine I had in my glass, the idea that this pleasurable Pinot was due, in some measure, to the threat of nuclear annihilation made me smile all the wider. (In fact, it turns out that Marlborough Pinot Noir as a whole owes a lot to the nuclear arms race, but hold that thought for... continue reading

05.30.2013

Keplinger Wines, Napa: Current Releases

One of the most often proclaimed credentials for winemakers in California consists of having been trained in the Old World. While plenty of California winemakers often "work a harvest" somewhere, it still remains uncommon to find those individuals that have spent multiple years abroad making wine before coming back to the U.S. The number of winemakers in California that have not just consulted, but lived and worked for three or more years in Bordeaux or Burgundy before coming back to make Cabernet or Pinot locally is quite low, but there are those such as David Ramey and Ted Lemon whose... continue reading

05.18.2013

Pietradolce Winery, Solichiatta, Sicily: Recent Releases

Michele Faro loves his mother, and I do too. In fact, I wanted to kiss the woman after a long day of driving from the northern tip of Sicily down to the eastern slopes of Mount Etna. Tired and hungry, I arrived at the tiny boutique hotel that Faro has named after his mother, Donna Carmela, and sat down to a bowl of her rustic pork ragu and freshly made pasta, and practically burst into tears it was so good. Simple, essential, bursting with flavor, and perfectly spiced -- the tangy tomato sauce playing counterpoint to the rich, fatty saltiness... continue reading

05.09.2013

Framingham Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand: Current Releases

Sometimes the true story of a winery is not found in its history, tracing back the ownership from generation to generation. The story of some wineries begins when someone decides to start afresh with the materials of the past, looking forward instead of back. Rex Brooke-Taylor was certainly forward looking when he planted his Marlborough Vineyards in 1980 and 1981. An engineer from Wellington, Brooke-Taylor named his winery Framingham after his ancestral estate in East Anglia, and had the unusual foresight to plant Phylloxera-resistant rootstock in an era when many couldn't imagine the pest making it to New Zealand's... continue reading

05.05.2013

Bressan Mastri Vinai, Friuli Izonzo, Italy: Current Releases

I'm not entirely sure why some of the best wines in the world are made by people who are more than a little crazy, but there are enough wacko winemakers out there to make it clear that the connection between great wine and eccentric iconoclasts is more than mere coincidence. Even more telling are the number of these "eno savants" (to perhaps coin a phrase) that live in Friuli, in northeast Italy. Once upon a time, there was no Italy, there was only the river Isonzo, winding its way down out of the Alps towards the Adriatic sea. From the... continue reading

04.30.2013

Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily: Upcoming Releases

"It's not going to be big enough," says Frank Cornelissen, watching the backhoe dig out the foundations of his second generation winery in the shadow of the little village church. But before I can ask him why he's bothering to build a winery that he knows isn't going to handle his dreams, he adds, "That's why we bought another cellar. We'll move into that one eventually. The third one will be right." Eventually, in Cornelissen time frames, is about 10 years. It's all part of a plan he is executing with the frenetic passion of a man running across a... continue reading

04.25.2013

Churton Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand: Recent Releases

Sometimes we head off into the world searching for our heart's desire only to return home to find that what we needed was right in our own back yard. Like all literary tropes, this one has more than a grain of truth. When Sam Weaver and his wife Mandy decided to move to New Zealand from their native England, they found themselves a pretty house at the base of a hill with a gorgeous view and a lot of big trees. Ten years later, after searching throughout Marlborough for a hillside vineyard to buy, Weaver realized he had been... continue reading

04.21.2013

Stella di Campalto, Castelnuovo dell'Abate, Italy: Current Releases

Some stories are just about enough to make you believe in fate. Fifteen years ago, no one in their right mind would have ever predicted that the young Stella di Campalto would be one of the most exciting new producers of Brunello di Montalcino in the last decade. Being of sound mind, she certainly couldn't have imagined it herself, especially given the fact that she didn't drink wine. But luckily for her, and for those of us who love Brunello di Montalcino, she had an aunt who was decidedly not in her right mind. "My mother's family is from Florence,... continue reading

04.03.2013

2009 Ladera Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa

I've been drinking wine for nearly 50% of my life at this point, taking notes on wine for almost 20 years, and writing this blog for nine, 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

03.23.2013

Te Whare Ra, Marlborough, New Zealand: Current Releases

"I think if I hear 'wine must be such a great lifestyle' one more time," says Anna Flowerday, "I think I'm going to punch someone. A lot of people don't understand the crazy hours, the way that wine is such an all encompassing thing." "It's not a lifestyle, it's a life" agrees her husband Jason, as they both dry off their well-worn hands and settle down into dusty chairs in the chilly and slightly ramshackle workroom-cum-enology lab that sits towards the back of their small winery, named Te Whare Ra. A team of two other workers continues racking wine while... continue reading

03.16.2013

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

03.09.2013

Bilancia Wines, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand: Current Releases

New Zealand's Hawke's Bay wine region nestles up against the astonishing natural harbor that lends the area its name, sprawling primarily across flat, former river-beds. These generally gravel-rich and nutrient-poor soils, including the increasingly well-known Gimblett Gravels sub-region, have lent themselves to little else but grape growing. But when they first began to be planted in the early part of the 20th Century, everyone discovered just how good they were for wine. Consequently, you don't see many hillside vineyards in Hawke's Bay. When the former floodplains of the area's many rivers have leveled out such a gorgeous section of land... continue reading

02.26.2013

The Best of Napa's 2011 Cabernets: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley

This past Saturday, Napa Valley held what the Napa Valley Vintners association refers to as its "Annual Bake Sale." The event officially named Premiere Napa Valley is held each February as a fundraiser for the Vintners' operations, and is open only to members of the trade (retailers, corporate buyers, and the like). Every year, this auction provides a gauge of the overall demand for Napa wine, and perhaps a broader barometer of the American fine wine market overall. Judging by the auction's proceeds of $3.04 million, which didn't quite top last year's record haul of $3.1 million, the demand for... continue reading

02.09.2013

Man O'War Vineyards, Waiheke Island, New Zealand: Current Releases

Under painfully blue skies and across the turquoise waters of the Hauraki Gulf on a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, it's hard to believe you're approaching wine country as the rolling hills of Waiheke Island fill your view. But climb off the ferry in the small cove dotted with lolling sailboats, and wind your way over the hill through the little village with no stoplights, and soon enough, you'll see a vineyard. Continue down the road a ways after a left hand turn and past the place where the pavement runs out permanently, and other than sheep paddocks, stands of... continue reading

01.24.2013

Best of the West: Tasting the Wines of the Extreme Sonoma Coast

What are the most exciting wines being made in the state of California? From nooks, crannies, ridges and ruffles of western Sonoma county, some of the country's best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines are being eked out of chilly vineyards by passionate winemakers who are at the vanguard of where wine is going in this state. These winemakers, who have sought out some of the most extreme (read: cold) vineyard sites in Sonoma county, have recently rallied together under the banner of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association. In August, they put on their second annual public tasting and... continue reading

01.01.2013

2007 Shafer Vineyards "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, Napa

In a family wine business, one of the most crucial moments in the history of the enterprise will always be when the parent decides to hand over control of the family's winery to the next generation. This is a time honored tradition, and one that has marked wine dynasties old and new. In Napa's short modern history (following the end of Prohibition) only a few families have achieved or are even trying to create the kind of family legacy that has ensured the continuing success of many old world wineries. Doug Shafer and his father John Shafer have been working... continue reading

12.12.2012

2011 Tatomer "Paragon" Gruner Veltliner, Edna Valley

When you meet some winemakers, who are seemingly making a living at a pursuit borne entirely of passion, it's hard not to look at success in their chosen field as a product of luck. Many of them will encourage this impression, speaking honestly of how lucky they are to be doing what they love, and to have been successful at it. The younger they are, the more likely they are to talk this way. Such surfaces belie the deeper truth of what it takes to really make it as a winemaker -- the incredible amount of work, persistence, and knowledge... continue reading

12.08.2012

Smith Madrone Winery, Napa: Current Releases

There are more legends, stories, fairytales, and fables than anyone could count that all involve some guy up on a mountainside somewhere. Sometimes a hermit, sometimes a wizard, sometimes a troll -- sometimes just an old man who went to sleep under a tree for a long, long time. No matter what the story, there's always something a little different about the guy on the mountain, something that is both scary and alluring at the same time. Stu Smith might be living out yet another version of one of these tales. The fact that Stu sports a big gray and... continue reading

12.03.2012

Pasaeli Winery, Izmir, Turkey: Current Releases

At the age of 17, Seyit Karagozoglu was far from home. For three years he had been away from his native Turkey at a boarding school in Switzerland. His father, a tobacco dealer, wanted him to receive an international education. One weekend in his third year, Karagozoglu's father came to visit, and they went out to dinner. His father ordered a bottle of Musigny, and gave the young man a glass. "It was the first time I had ever had a French wine, and I remember the taste to this day. How could a wine be this good?" says Karagozoglu.... continue reading

11.25.2012

Kocabag Winery, Cappadocia, Turkey: Current Releases

From the small airport of Nevsehir you must cross the Kizilirmak or "the red river," the longest river in Turkey which earns its name each spring as it fills with the iron-rich soils washed down from the painted hills of Cappadocia. But for now, the river exists in placid greenish-gray, slightly turbid from the recent rains, flowing as ever towards its end in the Black Sea. Once across the narrow bridge, the road climbs back onto the the terraced plateaus of former floodplains which silently date this wide expanse of high desert to somewhere between ancient and eternal. It's easy... continue reading

11.19.2012

Cobb Wines, Sonoma Coast, CA: Two Vineyards, Four Vintages

When we are children, we don't necessarily comprehend what our parents do for fun, and when we do, we rarely approve. As a teenager, the view from Ross Cobb's room included a few dozen Pinot Noir vines that his father, David Cobb, a marine biologist and environmental scientist, had planted in the backyard of their Mill Valley home. The fact that his parents were spending their Tuesday and Thursday nights taking viticulture classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College, and their weekends looking at land in Sonoma meant very little to him. "It seemed like a funny hobby, but I... continue reading

11.05.2012

Highlights from the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Event

I attend a lot of public tasting events for the same reason I tell my readers to attend them. They are simply the best way to educate the palate, and often the only way to get a chance to taste certain wines that you might not otherwise have a chance to afford. Such tastings can be quite exhausting and by the end of the event, I'm usually ready to take a nap. At the end of the annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting every year, however, I find myself wishing I had another couple of hours to wander around... continue reading

11.03.2012

Vivier Wines, Napa: Current Releases

Most winemakers have some story of how they discovered wine. It's quite commonplace in Europe to simply grow up in a winemaking family, but here in the U.S. most winemakers don't have that luxury. Instead they often can recall a specific moment when the world of wine opened up to them, and they recognized the possibility of finding their life's work in it. Stéphane Vivier grew up in the heart of Burgundy, but his family, which hailed from elsewhere, was not a winemaking family, unless you count the small batches of homemade wine by aunts and uncles. When asked how... continue reading

10.08.2012

MORIC, Burgenland, Austria: Current Releases

One of the greatest pleasures in the life of the truly wine-curious emerges in the revelatory taste -- that moment when an unknown wine hits the palate and assails the mind with an unexpected intensity of interest, complexity, and pleasure. The pursuit of such moments motivates much of my tasting, and various shades of this experience prove the most important rewards of the thousands of hours and thousands of wines I spend on my wine activities. I had tasted Blaufrankisch before my first sip of the wines from MORIC, but if you'll pardon the poetry, I had never really tasted... continue reading

09.29.2012

2007 Ruston Family Vineyards "La Maestra" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

I love Napa and its wines, but the bits of it that are truly dear to my heart tend to be off the beaten path, away from the big shiny wineries that front the main roads, with parking lots big enough for tour buses. Finding the "down home" bits of Napa has become harder and harder, but thankfully not impossible. It is still easy, with a little sleuthing, to track down tiny producers that cling to their little vineyards, making small quantities of good wine, and selling them for a reasonable price. Often, these last bastions of down-to-earth winemaking and... continue reading

09.08.2012

Domaine Coffinet-Duvernay, Chassagne-Montrachet, Burgundy: Some Current Releases

Burgundy is nothing if not consistent. The unbroken line that the region traces back through thousands of years of winegrowing history anchors the soul of the place as firmly as it does its vines. Families, too, for sometimes dozens of generations, seem rooted in place, as the father's wines give way to those of the son, preserving and slowly evolving the family link to the place. Anyone who has visited Burgundy and descended into the mold-encrusted cellars understands how everything there is steeped in time and tradition, as if somehow you could strip away a few trappings of modernity like... continue reading

09.04.2012

2009 Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa

In some quarters, speaking of the greatness to be found in California Chardonnay will earn nothing but sniggers and the complete loss of credibility when it comes to quality wine. The cognoscenti of the wine world, with few exceptions, have largely written off California's rendition of one of the world's greatest grapes as a failed experiment with excess: too much ripeness and too much oak. Of course, most American wine drinkers care not a whit for what the elite of the wine world think. They never even hear their babbling. Instead they're content to keep buying the slightly sweet, overly... continue reading

08.18.2012

Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane

As a child, the lure of archeology cannot be denied. Fantasies of discovering ancient treasures fuel the dreams of many youngsters, as they did my adolescent imagination. These days, such notions have been replaced in my life with interests no less exciting in the wine world. For the curious wine lover, opportunities abound to explore the treasures of the past in the form of old vines, recently discovered and under rehabilitation by vintners around the world. I delight in tasting wines made from gnarled old plants to which no one paid attention for years until someone realized they might make... continue reading

08.05.2012

Treasure in the Hills: Tasting Oregon's Rieslings

"Pssst. Hey buddy. Wanna taste some Riesling?" said the shadowy figure in the trench coat from behind a tree. I must say, I wasn't surprised at this open solicitation in broad daylight amidst the festivities of the International Pinot Noir Celebration. After all, it had happened to me once before -- a mysterious invitation to slip away from the orgy of Pinot Noir for something a little more.... racy. In fact, I've come to eagerly anticipate the opportunity to check in on the progress of Oregon's least known wine trend. In the land of hills awash with fantastic Pinot Noir,... continue reading

07.21.2012

Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

Standing at the edge of the Danube on a cold spring day, gazing at darkening clouds above the picturesque church of Spitz that is set against a natural bowl of steep terraced hillsides lined with vines, it would be so easy to imagine that you are actually looking backward through time. Other than the modern highway snaking past this little village at the northern end of Austria's Wachau wine region, some barely visible power lines, and the occasional hum of aircraft, not much seems to have changed since the 13th century, when countless hands built these stone terraces that now... continue reading

07.11.2012

2008 Ovid Proprietary Red Wine, Napa Valley

I've learned a lot about many things in the course of meeting with Napa winemakers and writing about Napa wines for more than eight years. But I tell you, few lessons have been beaten into my head more than the dangers of looking for a vacation home in Napa. If you have the means to buy a nice place in the Napa Valley you are already imperiled. If you start looking, however, you expose yourself to supernatural forces whose breadth and depth have yet to be mapped. Much like the famed Bermuda Triangle, the Napa Valley chews you up and... continue reading

07.07.2012

Love is All You Need: The Magical Wines of Imre Kaló

The road from Tokaj to Eger, Hungary, tells something of the country's story. An early spring afternoon shows lush, gently undulating farmland stretching to either side of the two-lane blacktop, which unrolls in front of me with stoic determination. It is going somewhere, at least in contrast with the countryside, which seems just as intensely to be nowhere specifically. Indeed, for many miles, this slice of green fields dotted with trees and tractors could well be anywhere in the world, at least until the hulking, nearly-empty industrial cities rise from the horizon and place a definitive pin on the map,... continue reading

05.27.2012

Futo Wines, Napa: Current Releases

In some ways the stories aren't all that different. A wealthy businessman falls in love with wine at some point, starts visiting Napa, and eventually dreams of owning a vineyard, to make a small amount of wine, just for fun. A vineyard is purchased, wine made, and everyone lives happily ever after. I can't tell you how many times I've watched this narrative play out in Napa, and tasted the result. Nine times out of ten, the wine that results from such a venture never transcends being merely good, even for those that have spent top dollar on grapes and... continue reading

05.25.2012

Zoltan Demeter, Tokaj, Hungary: Current Releases

It's hard to fathom what it must be like to have the world change beneath your feet overnight. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, I was a relatively clueless high schooler for whom the news was elating, but only in a purely theoretical sense. For a whole generation of Eastern Europeans, however, the event wrought an entirely new future. When the wall came down, Zoltan Demeter was a Hungarian student, dreaming of a future as a winemaker. Before 1989, that future in Hungary would have involved working for one of the huge state-run winemaking companies whose primary mission was... continue reading

05.19.2012

Domaine Marcel Deiss, Alsace: Current Releases

Alsace, the oft-contested and much-coveted skinny strip of land between northeastern France and its neighbor Germany, is an odd and unique place. Like several other such zones around the world, it has been a part of so many different countries and empires that it enjoys a sort of twilight zone atmosphere, where place names reflect one language, spoken words another, and family histories often both or none of the above. Alsace is also a unique landscape sculpted by both rivers and volcanic events, but bearing the unmistakable and essential traces of a more ancient geological past as the bottom of... continue reading

05.07.2012

Weingut Nikolaihof, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

There are certain places in this world that feel as if they exist outside of time. Or perhaps they exist inside of time but move much slower than the world around them. As I stepped through the doorway into the inner courtyard of Weingut Nikolaihof, a stones throw from the Danube, and saw the morning light filtering down through the century-old linden tree, the world narrowed down to this quiet bounded space. Gravel crunched under my feet, and there was a stillness as I gazed up at the bell tower that spoke of the building's storied past as part of... continue reading

05.05.2012

Napa Royalty: Tasting the Wines of Oakville

While often considered a single "place" when it comes to wine, Napa is hardly a monolithic growing region. Each of its 14 established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) lays claim to a separate identity, characterized by geology, microclimate, and different histories of production. The Oakville AVA has one of the most storied of such histories. It is home to the famed To Kalon Vineyard, purchased by H.W. Crabb in 1868, shortly after the installation of a railroad stop made the tiny village of Oakville spring to life. In 1876 Crabb's neighbor John Benson bottled his inaugural vintage of Far Niente wine... continue reading

04.26.2012

Matthiasson, Napa Valley: Current Releases

The past of most wine regions becomes physically embodied in its most iconic destinations, whether grand Chateaux, or venerable old cellars. The future of many wine regions, on the other hand, can be much harder to find. It is often tucked away, or sometimes hiding in plain sight, but usually off the beaten pathways of expectation. One incarnation of Napa Valley's future, or at least a future furtively hoped for by many, can indeed be found in a place most unexpected. Just off of Highway 29, down a back street, a modern sub-division gives way to the valley's ubiquitous vineyards,... continue reading

04.12.2012

Weingut Veyder-Malberg, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases

In Austria's Wachau valley, it's hard to pay attention to what winemakers tell you, especially when they're talking with you in a vineyard. The Danube twists olive and lazy below incredibly steep hillsides terraced with centuries-old rock walls, each containing but a single row of vines, climbing for thousands of feet from the floodplain. Never mind the vertigo that anyone susceptible to heights might feel perched on these ledges that perch precariously on slopes many would not ski down -- the view is so incredible that you easily lose yourself in the vast majesty. My appointment with Peter Veyder-Malberg was... continue reading

04.07.2012

Weingut Nigl, Kremstal, Austria: Current Releases

If you begin in the medieval town of Krems, and turn your back on the Danube to instead follow the Krems river from where it hits the Danube back up a narrow valley, you will eventually find yourself in the village of Senftenberg, gazing up at an ancient church perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the valley, itself overshadowed by the crumbling ruin of a castle. If you bring yourself right up to the base of the escarpment, you may find yourself imagining life in this little valley in the 16th century, dark and feudal, punctuated with the pleasures of... continue reading

04.01.2012

Acid Freaks Unite!: Tasting Notes from In Pursuit of Balance 2012

I may be mangling the quote a little, but I swear I saw someone on twitter the other day say something along the lines of: "It may be possible that there's a wine out there with too much acidity, but I have yet to taste it." I couldn't agree more. For me, acidity (and perhaps more specifically, the perception of acidity -- since they are a little different) is a crucial component that can make or break a wine. I love wines that have higher levels of acidity. They make the mouth water, they give life to the fruit, they... continue reading

03.24.2012

The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines

It's hard to imagine an age when wine might have literally been seen as treasure. Certainly those of us with the privilege of living in first-world countries take the idea of drinking wine for granted as an everyday pleasure. There was a time, however, that wine, especially the good stuff, was more valuable than gold in some places in this world. So valuable, in fact, that it could be used to buy your way out from underneath the control of an empire. With a mouthful of the finest Ruster Ausbruch swirling around your tongue, it's not difficult to accept the... continue reading

03.21.2012

The Beauty of Blaufrankisch: Tasting Wines from Leithaberg, Austria

My first tastes of Austrian red wine were without context, and I will admit, not favorable. In tasting through the various portfolios of different importers, I would taste a lot of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner and occasionally find a red or two scattered in the mix. My impressions were not fully formed, but they weren't encouraging. But then I had the wines of the MORIC project in 2007, and I realized I was missing something. More importantly I realized that there was great potential in a place and a grape to produce a wine that was quite profound. Therefore it... continue reading

03.18.2012

Weinlaubenhof Kracher, Burgenland, Austria: Current Releases

When it comes to dessert wines, most people have heard of Sauternes or ice wine (location unspecific). Perhaps some have heard of Tokaji, the sweet wines of Hungary. But few have heard of the sweet wines of Austria's Burgenland region. There are several reasons for this. Dessert wine isn't all that popular, Burgenland doesn't make all that much of it to begin with, and those who actually do know about these wines tend to buy as many as they can afford and guard them like buried treasure. The sweet wines of Burgenland are one of Austria's best kept secrets, and... continue reading

03.04.2012

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy: Current Releases

You don't get very far in a journey towards being a wine lover without hearing the words "Romanée-Conti" spoken with some combination of reverence and amazement. And in today's world of Asian fueled wine-auction speculation, even those with casual interest in wine have heard of this famous domaine. Equally referred to as both the best wines in the world and the most expensive, the wines produced by the small Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are inarguably some of the most revered and sought after wines in the world. Their price and scarcity mean that many wine lovers with modest means may... continue reading

02.26.2012

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

02.18.2012

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

02.08.2012

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

01.28.2012

2006 Peay Vineyards Roussane/Marsanne Blend, Sonoma Coast

As a wine reviewer who gets paid next to nothing for his work, I have the luxury of only reviewing wines that I think are worth writing about. I've got no deadlines, no quotas to fill, and no obligation to anyone. All of which means that it's always a great pleasure to say nice things about a wine or wines that I enjoy. But this is perhaps the most pleasurable kind of review I write. The review of a winery whose wines I can safely say are all spectacularly good -- so good that I will simply buy any wine... continue reading

01.19.2012

2008 Alta Maria Vineyards Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley

If I were doing now what I thought I would probably do with my life as a sophomore in college, I would be a photographer living in a tent or an old VW Bus somewhere, splitting my time between rock climbing and taking pictures of stuff that most people wouldn't give a second glance. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I offer it as proof of how little sense I had of what path my life would take. James Ontiveros, on the other hand, was spending his sophomore year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo going to classes... continue reading

12.24.2011

Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Russian River Valley: Some Current Releases

What's hot in the wine world tends to focus the most attention. The newest superstar winemaker. The hot new vineyard. The latest cult wine brand. The stratospheric auction results in Hong Kong. But in so many ways, these bright lights are not at all representative of the real world of wine -- a world in which farmers and winemakers (sometimes the same person) work day after day to produce something that not only fires their passion, but also pays their bills. For every winery that makes news, there are dozens or hundreds that never seem to get much of the... continue reading

12.15.2011

2001 York Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District, Napa

One of the most gratifying experiences I have as a wine lover and very, very small time wine collector involves pulling a dusty bottle off the shelf from where it has slumbered for years, and popping it open to find an utterly fantastic wine. I don't own a lot of wine, and I have even fewer bottles that I've been deliberately aging long enough for them to be mature, so this experience isn't a regular occurrence for me, but when it happens, it engenders nothing short of joy. I think it was 2003 when I bought a couple of bottles... continue reading

12.06.2011

Piña Napa Valley: Current Releases

If one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people. Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery,... continue reading

12.03.2011

2008 Lang & Reed "Two Fourteen" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley

All of us wine lovers inevitably discover, in the course of our explorations, our own secret wineries. These are the wines that we hold close to our chest, revealing them to those with whom we share only our choicest of morsels, which often include such things as parking spaces, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and great movies and books. As I'm in the business of sharing great wine with readers all the time, I can't really afford to hold much back. But I'd be lying if I told you I had reviewed or written about all my most favorite wineries around the world.... continue reading

11.19.2011

Tatomer Wines: Current Releases

When you meet some winemakers, who are seemingly making a living at a pursuit borne entirely of passion, it's hard not to look at success in their chosen field as a product of luck. Many of them will encourage this impression, speaking honestly of how lucky they are to be doing what they love, and to have been successful at it. The younger they are, the more likely they are to talk this way. Such surfaces belie the deeper truth of what it takes to really make it as a winemaker -- the incredible amount of work, persistence, and knowledge... continue reading

11.14.2011

2007 Meteor Vineyard "Perseid" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Barry Schuler may know a thing or two about running multi-billion dollar technology companies, but what he really wants to talk about, given the chance, is food and wine. The former CEO of AOL, Schuler often gets credited along with Steve Case (who preceded Schuler as CEO) for the company's success in the late Nineties. But while his colleagues and most of America's top technology executives were returning home at the end of their long days to comfortable suburbs near major metropolitan areas, at the end of the week Schuler was making his way back to Napa, California. Schuler may... continue reading

10.05.2011

2006 Arnot-Roberts "Clary Ranch" Syrah, Sonoma Coast

The reported death of California Syrah has been greatly exaggerated. That's the topic for a rant some other time. But it's a fitting way to open this review of a wine that represents my favorite kind of wine discovery: a situation where someone pours me a glass that I'm not paying that much attention to, I stick my nose in it, take a sip, and then the next thirty seconds of my life are some combination of a sense of whiplash and usually more than a few very positive expletives. I love it when wines literally turn my head, as... continue reading

09.20.2011

2008 Star Lane Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley

There are those in the wine world who seek out (and often pay for) the best possible advice they can get. Winemaking and winegrowing are sciences as much as they are arts, and these days, there are plenty of experts to be had in both arenas. And then there are those in the wine world that no matter what the scientists, experts, and even their friends say, choose to follow their instincts. Call them pig-headed, call them eccentric, call them iconoclasts, there are certain people that will always walk their own paths when it comes to wine. Jim Dierberg seems... continue reading

09.15.2011

Penché Winery, Napa: Recent Releases

As you might imagine, I get sent a lot of Cabernet from Napa. At first I eagerly anticipated the arrival of every new label that I had never heard of, but over the years, I've become a bit jaded, as so many fail to rise above reasonably competent, over-oaked expressions of the grape. These days it's a lot harder to turn my head with a new Napa Cab, but when they arrived, two dark bottles with simple parallelogram labels did more than turn my head, they rocked me back on my heels. A successful orthodontist, Scott Asbill eventually picked up... continue reading

05.14.2011

Presqu'ile Winery, Santa Maria Valley: Current Releases

I'm wandering around the grand tasting tent at the World of Pinot Noir conference, focusing, as I often do, on a combination of wines that I know well, and those that I've never heard of. I walk up to a table with an unfamiliar label, get a little something poured into my glass, lift it up to my nose, and WHAM! It's like I've been slapped upside the head and my senses have just kicked into overdrive. All of a sudden I'm hyper-aware and focused on this delicious experience: a wine that grabs me by the lapels, shakes me... continue reading

04.05.2011

Low(er) Alcohol California Pinot Noir: Tasting Notes from 'In Pursuit of Balance'

Spring certainly seems to be Pinot Noir season in the Bay Area. Several major Pinot focused events -- the Pinot Noir Shootout, the World of Pinot Noir, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, the Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Passport Event, etc. -- all occur within a span of about three months. To this impressive list, we may be able to add yet one more annual event, judging by the crush of the crowd at the first ever "In Pursuit of Balance" tasting held a couple of weeks ago at RN74 in San Francisco. This was a somewhat unusual Pinot Noir... continue reading

03.26.2011

Montenidoli, San Gimignano, Tuscany: Some Current Releases

About three months ago, I found myself wandering around the halls at the Vino2011 tradeshow in New York. Put on by the Italian Trade Commission, it is the largest Italian wine show outside of Italy, and an opportunity to taste an awful lot of Italian wine in a very short period of time. Sometimes when I go to such events, I have a plan to focus on certain regions, or grape varieties, but sometimes I just wander to see what catches my eye. Which is how one afternoon I ended up in the back corner of a side hall where... continue reading

03.12.2011

Pinot Noir Everywhere: From the Expected to the Fringes

Yes, I'm on a Pinot Noir kick this week, thanks to my recent attendance at the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, California. I haven't had time to write up my notes from the grand tasting of several hundred Pinots that I tasted, but I did want to share some notes from an interesting assortment of wines that I had the opportunity to experience. What places come to mind most easily when you think of growing Pinot Noir? For me the list, in order, goes something like this: Burgundy, California, Oregon, and New Zealand. If I want to... continue reading

03.08.2011

The Young Turks of Burgundy: Allen Meadows with Domaine Marc Roy and Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley

As I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, California. In addition to the grand tasting of many different wines on the cliffs above the seaside, there were some focused tastings where moderators and panelists worked through some wines in great detail. I attended one entitled The Young Turks of Burgundy, led by Alan Meadows, the wine critic behind Burghound.Com, a newsletter that in the past decade, has become the de-facto critical authority on much of Burgundy, and especially the most famous part known as... continue reading

02.08.2011

2009 Patton Valley Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

When it comes to wineries I generally know I'm in for something good when I drive down a long dirt road (unsure if I'm headed in the right direction) and finally come upon some vineyards and a couple of small aluminum barns with harvest bins stacked outside. For many small winery operations, the barrel storage, the lab, the office, and the tasting room are all under one corrugated roof. I had the pleasure of winding my way down just such a road on a rainy Autumn day five years ago to arrive at the little operation that is Patton Valley... continue reading

02.02.2011

Domaine Jean Chartron, Puligny-Montrachet: 2009 Barrel Samples

One of the most characteristic qualities of the Burgundian wine experience is missing for visitors to the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Because of the shallowness of the water table, none of the winemakers have cellars. So instead of tramping down into an ancient cellar, you're more likely to be taken "around back" to the barrel shed, or some variation thereof. What the village lacks in ancient stone cellars, it makes up for in quality wine, of course. The little village (which today still has less than 1000 inhabitants) takes its name from its Roman designation Puliniacus, where vines were planted at... continue reading

12.23.2010

Dominique Cornin, Chaintré, France: Current Releases

When you wind your way up to the east out of the little village of Fuisse in the Mâconnais region of southern Burgundy, you should take time to look back over your shoulder at the beautiful little church with its plot of vines, and the hillside skating back up behind it to the west. The narrow road will curve around the shoulder of the hill (atop which sits what has long been called the "faerie woods") and if you bear to the left, you will quickly find yourself in the little village of Chaintré, the home of many men bearing... continue reading

12.19.2010

Domaine de la Vougeraie, Premeaux-Prissey, France: Some Current Releases

The village of Premeaux-Prissey is hardly more than a blip on the N74 as you head north towards Nuits-St-George. Blink and you'll miss it, along with the small sign that points you down the church lane to one of Burgundy's more remarkable domaines. Many domaines in Burgundy have existed under the same name for centuries, passed down through generations that have grown up living and farming in the same spot, each new generation working in the family's vineyard, which, on occasion, is right behind the house. Domaine de la Vougeraie is both the same and very different from these traditional... continue reading

12.11.2010

Domaine Buisson-Battault, Meursault, France: Current Releases and Library Wines

Part of the charm of Burgundy has to do with the context of many of the wineries and their cellars. Rather than the grand Chateaux with long driveways between rows of trees and vines (though Burgundy has a few of these) more often than not, you simply round the corner of a narrow street in a small village, walk through a wrought iron gate into a gravel driveway, into a garage with a few steel tanks, and then down a set of stairs attached to a normal looking stone house, into a 16th century vaulted brick cellar (most recently used... continue reading

11.27.2010

Domaine des Vignes du Maynes, Cruzille, France: Current Releases

I went to Burgundy to dig my feet into the dirt a bit. To get down on my hands and knees and smell the wet leaves, and to stand on the crest of the hills and see the lay of the land. But I also went to Burgundy hoping to spend some time off the beaten path. Sure, I wanted to taste some Corton Charlemagne, and have dinner at Clos Vougeot, but I also wanted to see if I could find my favorite kind of winegrower -- the kind that is more "crusty hermit" than "lab chemist." And so,... continue reading

11.15.2010

Domaine Vessigaud, Pouilly, France: Current Releases

Arguably, one of the key defining features of Burgundy as a wine region must be the huge plateau of limestone on which it sits. Like a solid layer of frosting atop a deeper cake of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, this limestone starts in the far north in Chablis and continues down into the southernmost parts of Burgundy. There exists a point in Burgundy, however, where this limestone ends, and rather abruptly at that. So sharply and starkly in fact, that you might easily fall to your death from the edge of it. Get too close, even, and the edge might... continue reading

11.11.2010

2007 Three Sticks "Durell Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

People tend to turn up their noses at the word "pedigree" as it is most often invoked in the context of class, but for both grapevines and the skills of the people who work them, a long history can make a big difference. The tiny Three Sticks winery started in 2002, but unlike many wine labels that spring up overnight with nary a grapevine to their name, Three Sticks emerged as a logical conclusion from the collision of several decades of experience in the wine industry and one of Sonoma County's most well known vineyards. Bill Price made his money... continue reading

10.25.2010

The Best Wines of the Year?: Taste Testing the Wine & Spirits Top 100

The difference between a good public wine tasting and a bad one can be quite dramatic. The bad ones are in crappy locations, are poorly organized, offer no food, and only mediocre wines. The good ones are, well, just the opposite -- nicely organized, well catered, and offer great wines. And the best ones? Well, they throw in a jazz quartet, and all you can eat oyster bar, a dessert bar, and wines that sometimes retail for hundreds of dollars, if you can find them, at all. And that's just what you get at the annual Wine and Spirits Top... continue reading

10.14.2010

2007 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateuneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France

My love of deeply complex white wines has been growing for some time. I'm not sure exactly when I learned that there was more to white wine than Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but ever since then, I have been seeking out white wines, and especially white blends, that lean towards the profound. I'd be hard pressed to pick a clear favorite among the bevy of beauties that fit the aforementioned description, but certainly one of the top contenders would be the white wines of the the southern Rhone Valley, and in particular this wine from Chateau de Beaucastel, Known for... continue reading

10.05.2010

2001 Thierry Allemand "Cuvee Reynard" Cornas, Rhone Valley, France

As much as I love wines from all over the world, and as open and welcoming as I am of the newest upstart winemakers and their wares, when you come right down to it, there are winemakers (and their wines) out there in the world that just have more soul. And there are places, too that have more soul. And soul, when it comes to wine and winemaking, is a very good thing in my book. If I had to make a list of places that have soul, the Northern Rhone appellation of Cornas would be high on the list,... continue reading

09.02.2010

2007 Anaba Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

One of my greatest pleasures remains my "discovery" of small new wineries, and the opportunity to watch them mature over time. Of course, three vintages isn't exactly a lot of time to watch a winery mature, but it's quite exciting to see the third vintage of a winery that seemed to hit it out of the ballpark with their very first release. A couple of years ago some bottles showed up on my doorstep bearing the name Anaba in beautiful looping script. I was immediately intrigued to note that the first releases from this new Sonoma County winery were Rhone... continue reading

07.13.2010

Dom Pérignon, Champagne, France: Some Current Releases

Where to begin with Dom Pérignon? It is a brand, a wine, and a historical figure welded into an idea that has transcended itself to become an icon of culture. Pretty much every wine drinker has heard of Dom Pérignon. Ask them and they won't necessarily be able to tell you how. But Dom Pérignon universally means luxury, and it means Champagne. It is truly one of the world's most revered brands. But of course, Dom Pérignon is more than just a brand. Unlike the Nike logo, which will get slapped on everything from T-shirts to flip flops, the signature... continue reading

07.07.2010

The World's Best Burgundy? Tasting La La Paulée de San Francisco 2010

I won't be winning any awards this year for "timely reporting." It's now been more than three months since the event called La Paulée de San Francisco came to town, but I'm finally getting my notes from the grand tasting posted here. For those who aren't familiar with La Paulée, it offers the opportunity to spit out thousands of dollars of wine in the space of a couple of hours. In other words, it's one of world's best Burgundy tastings, where attendees get the chance to sample some wines that are made in such small quantities, and at such high... continue reading

07.02.2010

Secret Wines of the Napa Valley

The second of the two seminars I gave at the recent Aspen Food & Wine Classic festival was entitled "Secrets of the Napa Valley." The folks at Food & Wine magazine sort of have me slotted as the California guy, so every year I tend to do at least one Napa or Sonoma focused seminar. This year I wanted to highlight some of the least known wines or producers of Napa in an attempt to get people to broaden their horizons, and showcase some of the diversity that flies a bit under the surface of the sea of Cabernet. The... continue reading

06.25.2010

J.L. Chave, Mauve en Ardeche, France: Current Releases

Some places in this world are simply hallowed ground when it comes to winemaking. Of course every deep-rooted and honest winemaker treats his own land that way, but there are some places on earth that long ago transcended the brief attentions of mortal winemakers and instead exist in a pantheon of the world's greatest vineyard sites. No one knows exactly when the first vines were sunk into the impossibly steep granite hillsides in this particular elbow of the Rhone river valley, but in all likelihood there were grapes growing on the hillside now called Hermitage for more than five centuries... continue reading

06.23.2010

South African Gems: My Aspen Food & Wine Classic Seminar

As some of you know, I spent last week at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, where amongst a lot of drinking, socializing, and eating, I also gave two wine seminars. The first of those seminars was entitled South African Gems, and was an opportunity for me to showcase some of my very favorite South African wines for a crowd of about 160 people. Here's what it looked like, courtesy of my little Flip camera placed on the edge of one of the tables. The video offers the full seminar for those with the patience to watch. The wines I... continue reading

06.15.2010

2004 Cooper Garrod "Lone Oak Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains

One of the greatest joys in my life remains the feeling I get when stumbling upon a small winery whose name rings no bells, but who produces excellent wines. I don't know why this is, exactly, but it has replaced the childish joy I used to experience as a young boy when finding a small crystal on a hike, or setting a new personal record for stone skipping on a pond. Little wineries with high quality wines are like buried treasure, I guess, but these days my goal is not to hoard but to share as widely as possible. I... continue reading

06.05.2010

Sea Smoke Cellars, Santa Barbara: Current Releases

Sometimes as I'm traveling through wine country, I see beautiful pieces of land that aren't planted to grapes and I think to myself, "now why is it that someone hasn't turned that into a vineyard?" I don't pretend to have an eye for what makes good vineyard property, but those who do are constantly saying the same things about choice pieces of land everywhere. Sometimes these pieces of land become famous, or perhaps infamous is a better word, for their frustrating combination of appeal and unavailability. For years, even decades, the wine country of Santa Barbara, and the appellation of... continue reading

06.02.2010

2006 Hughes-Wellman Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena

While wines, and great wines in particular, are made with incredible forethought and planning, sometimes wine labels can spring up overnight as the result of an opportune conversation or new friendship. In 2005, a guy named Cameron Hughes met winemaker Sam Spencer. Sam, who has his own label called Spencer Roloson, had just been offered some choice Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, but wasn't interested in adding a Cabernet to his lineup. On a whim he offered to make the wine for Cameron, to bottle under his own label. Now you need to know something about Cameron to understand why the idea... continue reading

05.28.2010

2007 J Vineyards "Barrel 16" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

There was a time (think: late Seventies, early Eighties) when a lot of people would have put money on California being the next Champagne. It seems quite improbable now given California's reputation for Cabernet and the relative paucity of sparkling wine producers in the state. Yet there are many California winery names that have become synonymous with sparking wine (Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Korbel, Chandon, and more) and which have been producing sparkling wines for decades, and continue to do so. This is not the story of one of those brands. This is the story of the next generation. In the... continue reading

05.23.2010

1980 Soldera Case Basse Brunello Riserva, Montalcino, Italy

When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. On long plane flights I still occasionally pick up a book to read, and I still get a thrill from letting my imagination explore the fantastic possibilities of the future. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch as an analogy, but I get that same sort of thrill from exploring the world of wine. Every new wine offers an opportunity to discover and learn something new -- to recalibrate my own sense of possibility. On occasion, in my curiosity-driven stumbling through the world of wine, I come across... continue reading

05.17.2010

Noon Winery, McLaren Vale, Australia: Current Releases

The term garagiste, originally coined as a pejorative referring to the small wineries in Bordeaux's Right Bank who were making more modern style wines from purchased grapes, has been greatly overused to the point of cliché. Nonetheless, I consider it a very, very good sign when I discover the people that actually are making good wines in their garage. That's why on my recent trip to Australia as I trundled up the driveway of Noon Winery in McLaren Vale past old, gnarled vines of Grenache and into the garage that holds the ancient wooden fermenting vats and the basket press... continue reading

05.15.2010

2006 Marc Kreydenweiss "Clos Rebberg" Pinot Gris, Alsace, France

The wines of Alsace are some of the most unique and distinctive in the world. They are also some of my favorites, not only because they are delicious, but also because they are made by some of France's most individualistic and headstrong vintners. Alsace has long been a place apart, both from France and Germany, each of which have laid claim over the valleys and hills that lie west of the Rhine river which currently demarcates the border between the two nations. It's easy to characterize the region as a smooth and quirky blend between the two countries, but such... continue reading

05.08.2010

2007 Monastero Suore Cistercensi "Coenobium Rusticum" Bianco, Lazio, Italy

We owe much of modern viticulture and winemaking traditions to the church in some form or another. Even before the last supper's famous entreaty that gave rise to the concept of Christian transubstantiation, wine has been a sacred fluid that was grown and made by various religious orders who had the land, the time, and the knowledge to make it happen. In the past, most such organizations were the exclusive domain of men, and consequently so were the wines. Even as various religious orders for women have proliferated, it seems that most of those that make wine (or other... continue reading

05.06.2010

Jasper Hill Winery, Heathcote, Australia: Current Releases

The best wines in the world all share at least one thing in common, and that is a winemaker who brings a unique combination of both vision and passion to their work. At the age of thirty, winemaker Ron Laughton found himself managing the southern hemisphere's largest cheese factory, and with a total absence of passion for what he was doing. Having grown up on a farm and gotten degrees in chemistry and food science, Laughton worked all over the world for Kraft Foods before being headhunted by an Australian dairy company. His career path seemed as assured as it... continue reading

04.17.2010

Palmina Winery, Santa Barbara County: Current Releases

You know how some entrepreneurs seem to start businesses in their sleep? They create a company, make it profitable or sell it to someone, and then it seems like a week into their "vacation" they're starting another one, and another. The most successful of these seem to have the Midas touch, with each business more successful than the last, as if they can't help but make tons of money. There's an analogue to this type of personality in the wine world, and it is readily demonstrated by one Steve Clifton. Clifton is best known for his partnership in Brewer-Clifton wines... continue reading

04.04.2010

Giaconda Winery, Beechworth, Australia: Current Releases

I'm an armchair student of geology. There was a time when I thought I was going to be a mineralogist. But then I discovered photography and filmmaking -- and that was the end of my obsession with rocks. But I still have an appreciation, and an eye, for both small scale and large scale topography, which means that at least I tend to notice the geological features of the world around me. I know my synclines from my anticlines and can spot a terminal moraine, if you get my drift. That's why as I drove out of the Victorian Alps... continue reading

03.30.2010

Tasting the Artisans of Barossa Wines

I've just spent a couple of days in Australia's Barossa Valley, with its rolling hills of ancient rock worn down to nubs by the sands of time. I arrived in the first real rain of Autumn, the moisture a welcome relief for most everyone in the drought stricken region, and doubly so for the fact that almost all the fruit had been harvested. I came to the Barossa for two reasons. The first was to see some of the classic producers and lay my hands, or at least my eyes, on some of the oldest and some of the most... continue reading

03.28.2010

Yarra Yering Winery, Yarra Valley, Australia: Current Releases

The greatest wines of the world are undeniably a product of place, embodying the particular constellation of elements that can be captured by the seeking roots and waving leaves of a grapevine. But some very special wines are as much a product of intense passion and vision as they are of a specific terroir. Someone must choose the land, must drive the posts, must plant the vines, and of course, make the wine. These actions can be done with ordinary dedication or with extraordinary insight, and their results vary accordingly. As I journey through my adventure as a wine lover,... continue reading

03.26.2010

Castagna Winery, Beechworth, Australia: Current Releases

The little house with a peaked roof pokes up over the crest of the hill, and the vineyards in the back yard spill off to the north and west, like a silk wrap that is slipping off the shoulder. Despite the few acres of vineyards clustered around the newish looking house and barn, with a small patch of garden out back, you wouldn't necessarily know that this was a winery from the dirt lane that connects the small farm with the paved country lane at the bottom of the hill. Indeed, as you open the iron gate at the... continue reading

03.17.2010

Brittan Vineyards, Willamette Valley, OR: Inaugural Releases

Expressed briefly, making a great wine is rather quite simple. You find the right piece of ground; you put the right grapes in; you tend them well and harvest them at the right time; and then you smash them together and nudge the product gently away from its tendency towards vinegar. For some people, the most important step is finding the right piece of ground, and for anyone looking to start a winery, it is certainly the first step. It's really important. If you get it wrong, the rest of the stuff doesn't matter. At least, that's the way that... continue reading

03.05.2010

Italy's Best Wines: Tasting the Tre Bicchieri 2010

I pride myself on my broad tastes in wine. I like wine from everywhere, and don't believe I have a specific bias towards one region or another. However, each year, that claim is shaken a little as I emerge from what is one of the best wine tasting events held in San Francisco, The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting. For those unfamiliar with the Gambero Rosso, it is essentially an organization focused on the promotion and evaluation of Italian food and wine. Each year the organization publishes a guide by the same name. The Gambero Rosso is the Italian Wine... continue reading

02.24.2010

2005 Chateau-Grillet Vin Blanc, Rhone Valley, France

With just a quick glance at the bottle, you might think to yourself, "Oh, it's just some random little white wine from somewhere in France." After all, it's just a Vin Blanc with some unfamiliar name on it. But look a little closer, and you might start to get the idea that this isn't just any wine. For starters, the bottle is somewhat unusual, resembling something you might see in Germany or Austria. Indeed, it would be easy to mistake this wine as coming from the Alsace region of France for that reason. A slightly more studied glance at the... continue reading

02.23.2010

Napa's Best Cabernet: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley 2010

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

02.13.2010

2007 Cornelissen MunJebel 4 Bianco, Etna, Sicily

Many of the world's greatest wines are also the most unlikely. Unlikely because most sane, rational, educated, and professional winemakers wouldn't be caught dead making wine in some of the strange ways and places that yield the truly exciting. It takes a strong vision, or as some might suggest, a special breed of insanity to break all the rules of modern winemaking and winegrowing, but those who break such rules often follow their passions across the border without a moment's thought to the uncharted territory they are exploring. High on the slopes of one of the world's most active volcanoes,... continue reading

01.23.2010

Garagiste Winemakers of Chile: Introducing MOVI

If I were Hugh Johnson or Jancis Robinson, I could clear my throat and begin my story with a distinguished pronouncement about how I've watched several wine regions around the globe evolve from their infancy to later stages of maturity. But I lack the perspective of someone who's been a professional observer of the industry for decades. While I may not be able to tell you how, exactly, I do know that wine regions evolve over the course of their history, and that Chile finds itself in a particular stage of evolution that most regions probably encounter after a few... continue reading

01.17.2010

Jemrose Wines, Bennett Valley, CA: Current Releases

Some people like to go to flea markets, where they will spend hours wandering around the stalls hoping to stumble on something wonderful. I spend hours wandering through huge public wine tastings in much the same way, and every once in a while I stumble across a winery that I've never heard of nor seen before, whose wines pull the needle off the record and bring me up short in breathless surprise. When I first tasted the wines from Jemrose in just such a fashion, they immediately impressed me, not just because they were so high quality, but also because... continue reading

01.12.2010

2001 Renaissance Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba

Every time I review a wine from some little producer whose wines I adore, I experience a pang of regret, because I know that by writing about these wineries and their wines, I only make them more expensive and harder to acquire for myself (and others). I do occasionally get e-mails from ticked off wine lovers bemoaning the fact that I've divulged one of their secret sources for great wine. But that's just an occupational hazard for me, and doesn't outweigh the joy of being able to say things like this: Listen up people. There is some seriously amazing wine... continue reading

01.05.2010

2007 Potel-Aviron Fleurie Vielles Vignes, Beaujolais, France

Should one of your New Years' resolutions be to broaden your wine horizons without breaking your wine budget, one of the places worth exploring would certainly be Beaujolais. Much maligned, or at the very least avoided -- and rightly so -- by many wine lovers whose experience with Beaujolais consists of a glass of banana-scented Nouveau in November, the region actually produces some truly wonderful wines that can be tremendous values. The Beaujolais region has seen a renaissance of winemaking in the past decade, with many serious, small producers trying to make wines that have much more in common with... continue reading

12.29.2009

Corison Winery, Napa: Current Releases

It's hard to get attention in the world of wine. Many wineries and winemakers struggle their entire careers for recognition, both deservedly and some, not quite. In the days of big marketing budgets and cult wines that are only figuratively on everyone's lips (and literally on the lips of very few), it's easy to overlook wineries that have quietly been doing their thing for decades. I can't tell you how many times I've driven by the understated Corison Winery on Highway 29 without ever going in. The number must literally be in the hundreds. While I've still not actually stopped... continue reading

12.19.2009

Olson Ogden Winery, Sonoma: Current Releases

I take a special interest in a particular class of winery. I call them estateless wineries, but they are wineries that have no permanent physical presence. These types of operations have no vineyards, own no buildings, and sometimes don't even own any equipment. Such wineries are most often the result of someone taking small steps towards their personal dream of being in the wine business, and are often sources for great wines at reasonable prices. Olson & Ogden winery is a perfect example of such a label. Proprietor John Ogden worked in the high tech corporate world for most of... continue reading

12.16.2009

Odfjell Winery, Chile: Current Releases

Many of the people I spoke to in Chile were quite proud of the diverse European immigrant populations that have seeded the country in previous centuries, especially those that brought with them skills, knowledge, and entrepreneurship. Even more recent immigrants, like Norwegian Dan Odfjell are welcomed, especially when they come bearing gifts. Odfjell brought two things to Chile with him. The first was his shipping empire which quickly established itself in Chile's busy ports. The second and perhaps more romantic gift, was the Fjord Horse. While you won't exactly find these horses running around all over Chile, you certainly can't... continue reading

12.06.2009

The Best Wines from Chile?: Tasting Notes for Wines over $40

As some of you know, I spent the last week traveling around Chile trying to get a sense of the country and its wines. It was my first trip there and I was quite excited to taste a lot of wine -- education by immersion, so to speak. With that in mind, my hosts for the week, the Wines of Chile organization, pulled together a tasting of what in Chile they refer to as "Icon Wines." These wines are usually the top wines in many wineries' portfolios, in some cases they are the only wines, and they generally retail for... continue reading

12.02.2009

Casa Marín Winery, Chile: Current Releases

For me, great wines always have a story behind them. It can be the story of the people who made it, the place it comes from, the story of how the grapes became the final wine, or a thousand other things that make a wine more than just the flavors and aromas in the glass. The best wines are overflowing with such stories, and discovering them for myself is one of the greatest joys of being a wine lover. In the far reaches of Chile's San Antonio valley, on a road that winds its way over the rolling hills towards... continue reading

11.17.2009

2003 Descendientes de J. Palacios "Moncerbal," Bierzo, Spain

This is one of those wines that I live for. The kind that begins with an unknown bottle thrust in front of me by a friend with a twinkle in their eye, and ends with a profound memory of taste that becomes one of those moments that wine lovers cherish. Such wines are not common, at least not for me, but they are what keep me passionate about drinking and writing and enjoying the world of wine. Occasionally still described by romanticizing writers as "off in a forgotten corner of Northwestern Spain," the winegrowing region of Bierzo can no longer... continue reading

11.11.2009

2007 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa

There are more legends, stories, fairytales, and fables than anyone could count that all involve some guy up on a mountainside somewhere. Sometimes a hermit, sometimes a wizard, sometimes a troll -- sometimes just an old man who went to sleep under a tree for a long, long time. No matter what the story, there's always something a little different about the guy on the mountain, something that is both scary and alluring at the same time. Stu Smith might be living out yet another version of one of these tales. The fact that Stu sports a big gray and... continue reading

11.04.2009

NV Henri Billiot "Cuvee Laetitia" Grand Cru Brut Champagne, Ambonnay, France

It seems that this week has me on a sparkling wine kick, and I see no reason to stop. As I often say (to myself and others who bother to listen): it took me a while to get here, but now I realize that we are all drinking far too little Champagne. These days, the whole world isn't drinking much Champagne, which is why the industry is in a bit of a crisis -- at least the really big players are. But this is not the wine of a big player. To say that Serge Billiot runs a small winery... continue reading

11.03.2009

Farmer Fizz: Tasting the Terry Theise Champagne Portfolio

Ask most people to name a good Champagne, and most will likely stall after a couple of well known names like "Cristal" or "Dom Perignon." Like many industries, the world of Champagne (and at this point I'm not talking about sparkling wine in general, but literally the stuff from the Champagne region of France) is represented in the minds of many and the world media by a few mega-brands whose very identities have come to stand for Champagne, and who often literally eclipse many others with their popularity. By some estimates, however, there are more than 3500 producers within... continue reading

10.10.2009

Blackbird Vineyards, Napa: Current Releases

As you likely know, I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and,... continue reading

10.07.2009

Bond Estates, Napa: A Retrospective Tasting

Like the saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I'd heard or read about a winery "sparing no expense" to get the "best possible fruit" to make the "best wine they could," I'd be a rich man. Winery owners and winemakers are like proud parents -- they see the best in their operations, and if they are aware of their flaws or shortcomings, when company is over, they put on their best face. After all, they're ultimately trying to sell wine. As someone who has spent a lot of time visiting wineries, and hearing the owners and... continue reading

09.24.2009

2006 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington

I make it my habit to pay attention to new, small wineries. Generally that means seeking them out at public tastings, perking up my ears when I hear the names of wineries I don't know, and approaching each box of unknown wine I get on my doorstep as the potential to be something new and exciting. Generally, whatever you might like to call these efforts of mine, if they can be described as efforts, tend to be focused on California. This has nothing to do with my preferences, so much as it does with where I live, who I know,... continue reading

09.15.2009

Kutch Wines, Sonoma: Current Releases

Every wine has a story behind it. Some are better than others. Every wine has a dream behind it. Some are bigger than others. While some people are content to drink wine their entire lives, and never once feel the urge to make it, there are those wine lovers who yearn for something more than they get out of even the best bottles. This is the story of a guy whose enthusiasm for wine got the best of him, and whose passion for his dreams got under the skin of some people who couldn't help but show him how to... continue reading

08.31.2009

Anaba Wines, Sonoma: Inaugural Releases

One of my greatest pleasures remains the surprise and delight of opening the very first wines made by a new winery and discovering in them both enjoyment and the signs of great potential. Alas, such pleasures are only occasional, which make them all the more exciting when they do occur. My latest opportunity to celebrate the beginnings of a new winery came at the hands of a few bottles that showed up on my doorstep bearing the name Anaba in beautiful looping script. I was immediately intrigued to note that the first releases from this new Sonoma County winery were... continue reading

08.29.2009

2001 Gravner "Anfora" Ribolla Gialla, Friuli, Italy

When it comes to winemaking there's New World, and there's Old World. There's new school, and of course, there's old school. And then there are a select few people and wines who make the old school winemakers look like young tykes with newfangled toys. In a world where "traditional" or "natural" winemaking has now become a self imposed designation of the most extreme proponents of biodynamic and non-interventionalist winemaking, Josko Gravner puts them all to shame. These people proclaim how in touch they are with the "traditional" methods of winemaking, but they're still using what Gravner would call modern technology:... continue reading

08.09.2009

1994 Zind-Humbrecht "Brand" Riesling, Alsace, France

For anyone who drinks Alsatian wines on a regular basis, let alone someone who considers themselves a fan or an aficionado of the unique wines from this narrow slice of northeastern France, it's pretty much impossible to have a discussion about the area without the name Zind-Humbrecht coming up. While everyone is reticent to pronounce any one winery "the best" no matter which region you're talking about, many people would be hard pressed to find a reason why you couldn't say that Zind-Humbrecht has the position fairly well covered for Alsace. The Humbrecht family has a long history in winemaking,... continue reading

08.08.2009

Piña Napa Valley: Current Releases

If one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people. Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery,... continue reading

08.02.2009

Patton Valley Vineyard, Willamette Valley: Current Releases

When it comes to wineries I generally know I'm in for something good when I drive down a long dirt road (unsure if I'm headed in the right direction) and finally come upon some vineyards and a couple of small aluminum barns with harvest bins stacked outside. For many small winery operations, the barrel storage, the lab, the office, and the tasting room are all under one corrugated roof. I had the pleasure of winding my way down just such a road on a rainy Autumn day three years ago to arrive at the little operation that is Patton Valley... continue reading

07.30.2009

Tasting Oregon Riesling...At the International Pinot Noir Celebration?

Adulterous. Maybe a little sneaky, and a tiny bit rebellious. There I was at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon -- a whole weekend dedicated to the glory of Oregon Pinot Noir and it's Burgundy forebears -- when someone in a trench coat pulled me aside and whispered, "Hey buddy, wanna taste some Riesling?" The thought, frankly, couldn't have been the furthest thing from my mind at that point. But when the shadowy figure suggested that this was a nearly comprehensive tasting of all the Rieslings made in the state of Oregon, give or take a few, my interest... continue reading

07.27.2009

Notes from the Al Fresco Tasting at IPNC 2009

I go to a lot of wine tastings, and have come to really appreciate those that are done right. It may not be immediately apparent how easily a large public tasting can be screwed up, but all it takes is one small thing to make it a really miserable experience. For instance, a lack of spit buckets has turned more than one big tasting event into a nightmare. The spacing of the tables, the labeling of the stations, the number of wines available, the availability of water, the offering of food, the temperature of the building -- these can all... continue reading

07.17.2009

Arista Winery, Russian River Valley: Current Releases

Given the chance, I highly recommend anyone to make the investment of time and money to watch a winery evolve from its very first vintage. It doesn't take much, just buying a bottle or two every year from a brand new winery that you think shows some promise, and then drinking them. Such observation is a wonderful study in personality. You get to see, or perhaps more accurately, taste, how a winemaker settles into a winery and its vineyards, and how he or she begins to express whatever it is that can be expressed through the wines. I've had the... continue reading

07.12.2009

2007 Point Concepcion "Celestina" Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County

I make it my habit to seek out and try a particular kind of wine that flies well under the radar of most wine lovers. Indeed, this kind of wine is all but unknown to most, yet some of my favorite wines in the world fall into this category -- a category that is not included in any book, classification, or encyclopedia of wines anywhere. These wines have something very special in common. Not the grapes used, nor the soils on which they are grown; not the country they come from, nor the climate in which they are grown. The... continue reading

07.09.2009

Domaine Tempier, Bandol, France: Current Releases

There are two types of people in the world, the joke goes: those who believe the world can be divided into two types of people and those who don't. Substitute wine for people and you might just as easily be charting those who firmly believe in the wall of tradition, history, and style that divides the so called Old World, from the New World. In principle, I object to a wine world so starkly divided, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally resort to the use of these labels and the generalizations they imply to make a... continue reading

07.06.2009

Lang & Reed Wine Company, Napa: Current Releases

All of us wine lovers inevitably discover, in the course of our explorations, our own secret wineries. These are the wines that we hold close to our chest, revealing them to those with whom we share only our choicest of morsels, which often include such things as parking spaces, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and great movies and books. As I'm in the business of sharing great wine with readers all the time, I can't really afford to hold much back. But I'd be lying if I told you I had reviewed or written about all my most favorite wineries around the world.... continue reading

07.02.2009

2007 J. Rochioli "River Block" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

It took me a long time in my evolution as a wine lover to truly understand the amount of money and sweat and energy that goes into building a world class winery over decades, even centuries. Many wine lovers early in their education (and in their earning power) are often flummoxed by prices for wines that start to head north of $80 or $90 per bottle. Should they pursue their love of wine long enough to really learn (and see for themselves) what kind of work goes into some of the world's best vineyards, and to taste the wine that... continue reading

06.27.2009

Giacomo Conterno Barolo and Barbera: Italy's Greatest Wines?

Because of our deep history with wine, the standards by which we judge today's efforts must be placed within the context of tradition. While we can judge California Pinot Noir on its own merits, we cannot understand or evaluate it completely without reference to Burgundy, its ancestral home. Burgundy will always be the benchmark for Pinot Noir, as it has been for centuries. Just as there exist regional benchmarks for grape varieties or wine styles, there also exist some individual wine producers, and even individual wines, that manage to define the uppermost limits of quality or the epitome of a... continue reading

06.17.2009

2006 Hourglass "Blueline Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

There is no single recipe for greatness when it comes to Napa wine, but starting with a great plot of land can take you a long way. The only problem is, a lot of people don't necessarily know a great plot of land when they see one. Sometimes these plots of land can be hidden in plain sight until the right person comes along to notice. When Jeff Smith's father moved the family to St. Helena in 1964, he wasn't thinking about wine, he was thinking about real estate development. He was also thinking about the tiny trickle of tourists... continue reading

06.15.2009

2005 Lieff "Auberge Road Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa

There are people who start wineries and work for a long time to get to the point that their names become synonymous with good wine, regardless of whether their names are on the bottle or not. And then there are those who you wonder at how they managed to avoid having their name on a wine bottle for as long as they did. Robert Lieff has a long history with wine, and with Napa Valley in particular. How he has managed to only just now end up with his name on a bottle, is in part a testament to his... continue reading

06.13.2009

2006 Hall "Exzellenz" Sacrashe Vineyard Proprietary Red Wine, Rutherford, Napa

The pleasures of childhood call to us as adults. The tug of nostalgia is so great that we so often find ourselves indulging in little things that remind us of our early years, and in some cases we throw ourselves passionately into the pursuit of the things we have lost. Kathryn Hall lost the vineyard that was her childhood playground. Despite having managed the vineyard for nearly a decade, letting it go after her father's death was the right thing to do. But her memories of growing up among the grape vines in Redwood Valley, coupled with her enduring love... continue reading

06.10.2009

Fontanella Family Wines, Napa: Inaugural Releases

When it comes to family-run wineries, I always enjoy seeing how the many different roles and responsibilities involved in a full-fledged winery are divvied up among the family. Often, the winery benefits from the luck of a child that has gone into marketing as a career, or a sibling that has gone back to school to learn about enology. The combined skills, passion, and familial bond that makes such wineries tick can sometimes make for quite a powerful operation. I don't think I've ever seen quite the combination represented by Jeff and Karen Fontanella. They're just a young couple in... continue reading

06.06.2009

2004 Erba Mountainside Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of science fiction books, the main character has invented a science called Psychohistory for predicting the behavior of large groups of people. And by large groups, I mean the entire galaxy. Based partly in sociology, partly in history, and heavily in math, the psychohistorians have developed algorithms that can be used to figure out what big groups of people will do in any situation. I'm not so sure there isn't some sort of algorithm that we might be able to construct to figure out the kind of person (apart from trained winemakers or wine business... continue reading

06.02.2009

Flowers Winery, Sonoma Coast: Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs

I love the places where wine grows in spite of the adversity heaped upon it by the place, the climate, and the geology. I also love the places where wine grows despite all conventional wisdom to the contrary -- the places everyone else avoided, but where visionary winegrowers and winemakers have staked their claims and bet their futures. Often times these two types of places are one in the same. Call them extreme vineyard sites. The places that most people would dismiss as infeasible for making wine, for one reason or another. Some of these places stay extreme, and the... continue reading

05.30.2009

2006 Jack Larkin Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

The allure of Napa is legendary, even clichéd. The wine country lifestyle, or whatever you want to call it, combined with the love of wine has inspired countless people to sell everything they own and head to Napa to try and live their own personal wine dream. There must be people who simply flounder and fail in these endeavors. Like many of the unfortunate, their stories never surface for most of us. We tend to only hear about those that succeed in turning their dreams into reality. Yet I continue to be astonished at just how many people seem to... continue reading

05.18.2009

Peay Vineyards, Sonoma Coast: Current Releases

As a wine reviewer who gets paid next to nothing for his work, I have the luxury of only reviewing wines that I think are worth writing about. I've got no deadlines, no quotas to fill, and no obligation to anyone. All of which means that it's always a great pleasure to say nice things about a wine or wines that I enjoy. But this is perhaps the most pleasurable kind of review I write. The review of a winery whose wines I can safely say are all spectacularly good -- so good that I will simply buy any wine... continue reading

05.16.2009

2005 Peacock Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa

I have a hard spot in my heart for peacocks. Spending summers with my father in Sonoma County as a kid, we had a neighbor with a bunch of peacocks that would wander over towards our house and hang out in the trees nearby. Beautiful birds? Yes. But they also have an incredibly loud, piercing call that at 5:00 AM makes you wonder what peacock stew tastes like. I recently learned what Peacock wine, er, rather Peacock Family wine tastes like, and we won't hold the bird's reputation against Christopher and Betsy Peacock, because the wine they're making from their... continue reading

05.03.2009

Outpost Wines, Napa: Current Releases

To the casual visitor or inexperienced wine lover, Napa may just be a name on a bottle, or a vision of vineyards stretched between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. But like many wine regions, Napa is only a word on a map and an official designation for a group of winegrowing regions that, at times, seem to have little in common. The extreme variations of climate, soils, and topography among the various sections of Napa County make the subdivision of the region into separate AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) an inevitability. The variety of terroirs represented by these 14... continue reading

04.25.2009

2005 François Blanchard "Violoncelite" Cabernet Franc, Touraine, France

Perhaps some of the most interesting wines in the world are made by cranks, crackpots, and wackos -- iconoclasts that keep time to their own secret rhythms and make wine in ways that often make sense only to them. You might say that I'm a collector of such wines and winemakers, in the same way that young boys collect baseball cards. And today I'll add another to my growing menagerie of eccentric visionaries that make extraordinary wine. François Blanchard is a jazz musician who one day found himself the owner of his family's (somewhat decrepit) wine estate and decided that... continue reading

04.09.2009

The World's Best Kosher Wine?: Tasting The Covenant

The more stories I hear about how some wineries get started, the more I tend to think that by far the best way to start a wine brand is almost by accident. Ten years ago if you had told wine writer Jeff Morgan that he'd eventually be making the best (and most expensive) Kosher wine in the world, he would have probably fallen off his chair laughing. At that point, his exposure to Kosher wine consisted of the seven consecutive years he wrote (what he says was) essentially the same story on Kosher wine for the Wine Spectator. I'm not... continue reading

04.02.2009

New Cabernets from Napa

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist or an exploratory marine biologist. I had dreams of discovering lost civilizations or new species in the oceans or jungles. I never quite managed to fulfill that dream, but I have managed to channel some of that passion into the discovery of new wines. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of new wineries in Napa. Other than the market forces that made making Napa wine pretty attractive, and therefore something people wanted to try, I'm not entirely sure what might be responsible for this serious... continue reading

03.17.2009

2006 Isole e Olena "Collezione de Marchi" Chardonnay, Tuscany, Italy

Chardonnay is just about the last grape variety I think about when I daydream about Italian wine. In casual conversation, I might have even been overheard to suggest that planting Chardonnay in Italy would be a waste of a good vineyard. Now, that isn't to say that I haven't had good Chardonnays from Italy -- I've had a couple of them that are quite good -- but with all the fabulous indigenous grape varieties that exist, I tend to confine my white wine drinking to grapes that are a little harder pronounce. All of which meant for the perfect set... continue reading

03.02.2009

Rivers-Marie Winery, Sonoma Coast: Current Releases

The creation of a new winery is always an exciting thing, especially when it is founded with the goal of being small, conscientious, and expressive of a particular place and grape. Like turning the corner in a new neighborhood and discovering a tiny shop that sells exquisite crafts, or finding a hole in the wall restaurant that serves the perfect version of a favorite dish, tasting great wine from a recently begun boutique winery is one of my favorite experiences in the world. We hear a lot (and I certainly write a lot) about wineries or wine labels that represent... continue reading

02.21.2009

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

02.08.2009

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

01.29.2009

2007 Cooper Mountain Vineyards "20th Anniversary Reserve" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

One of the great pleasures of wine appreciation will always be the process of tasting the wine of a single winery over a very long span of time. Tracking the products of a winery's labor over the years can be remarkably rewarding regardless of whether the experience is one of consistency, or of progress and change. I've only had the pleasure of tasting the last two vintages of wine from a little family winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Despite my recent introduction to Cooper Mountain Vineyards, I can almost taste the twenty years that came before this, their 20th vintage.... continue reading

01.17.2009

2004 Domaine de la Bouissiere Gigondas, France

The best known and highest quality wines of the world continue to get more expensive over time. This is a function of the increasing value of their brands, the increasing recognition of the regions they are grown in, and the rising demand for top tier wines. These price and popularity gains filter down from the most well known wines to those that are slightly less well known, producing the aggregate effect of price increases in most of the world's famous wine regions, at least for the wines that represent the upper end of the regions production. As a result, regions... continue reading

01.10.2009

2003 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa

There are more legends, stories, fairytales, and fables than anyone could count which all involve some guy up on a mountainside somewhere. Sometimes a hermit, sometimes a wizard, sometimes a troll -- sometimes just an old man who went to sleep under a tree for a long, long time. No matter what the story, there's always something a little different about the guy on the mountain, something that is both scary and alluring at the same time. Stu Smith might be living out yet another version of one of these tales. The fact that Stu sports a big gray and... continue reading

01.03.2009

Alfred Gratien Champagne, Epernay, France: Current Releases

The more good Champagne I have, the more it seems to me that you really get what you pay for. Unfortunately, what you have to pay for the really good stuff is out of the reach of most wine lovers, which was why I didn't like Champagne until several years after I started getting into wine. Now I love it, but only because I've been able to taste Champagnes like these. Alfred Gratien represents an interesting class of Champagne producer. When we speak of those who make Champagne, we most often talk about the Champagne "Houses" -- the massive brands... continue reading

12.24.2008

Two Hands Wine, Barossa, Australia: Current Releases

One of the things I love about the wine world is the way in which it rewards people with vision, initiative, talent, and above all, passion. I find it magical that someone can fall in love with wine, and decide that the most important thing for them to do for the rest of their lives is to make wine, and then actually make a living following that passion. Maybe the same thing happens in a lot of industries, but you just don't hear such stories about accounting. Or maybe we only ever hear about the success stories in the wine... continue reading

12.07.2008

2002 Bressan "Special Bottling" Pinot Nero, Friuli, Italy

I'm not entirely sure why some of the best wines in the world are made by people who are more than a little crazy, but there are enough wacko winemakers out there to make it clear that the connection between great wine and reclusive eccentrics is more than mere coincidence. Even more telling are the number of these "eno savants" (to perhaps coin a phrase) that live in Friuli, in northeast Italy. Once upon a time, there was no Italy, there was only the river Isonzo, winding its way down out of the Alps towards the Adriatic sea. From the... continue reading

12.06.2008

1996 J. Rochioli "West Block" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are wineries that are born great, those that achieve greatness, and those that have greatness thrust upon them. To explain: some fantastic wineries are started by people who are superstars already, and it hardly seems to matter what they do -- these properties are destined for success. Some top wineries seem to come from nowhere, and indeed have greatness thrust upon them, when out of the blue, their wine scores highly somewhere and they are vaulted from obscurity to fame. The majority of the best wineries in the world, however, fall into Malvolio's second category through... continue reading

11.26.2008

2006 Jean-Paul Thevenet "Vielles Vignes" Morgon, Beaujolais, France

The wine industry spends a lot of time and energy fighting for the attention of global consumers. In particular, they've tried hard to market seasonally to consumers, but they just can't quite compete with the likes of Oktoberfest for beer drinkers. The best that the wine industry has been able to come up with sends even the most tolerant wine lovers running for cover every November, as the rollout of Beaujolais Nouveau reaches ever more spectacular heights of commercial bling. It would be one thing if the wine was even somewhat drinkable. But these days, what passes for Beaujolais Nouveau... continue reading

11.23.2008

2006 Williams Selyem "Hirsch Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

We don't have a Cru classification in California (we just have mailing lists and release prices) but there are a few vineyards in the state that would most certainly be at the top of the list. Their names are well known to those wine lovers who can afford the generally expensive wines they produce, and one of them is unquestionably the Hirsch Vineyard. First planted in 1980 by farmer David Hirsch, the Hirsch Vineyard is located on the mountain ridges above the northern California town of Fort Ross at 1500 feet above the ocean surface and 3.5 miles as the... continue reading

11.08.2008

2006 Handley Cellars "Hein Vineyard" Pinot Blanc, Anderson Valley

California's Anderson Valley remains one of its least known and most under-appreciated wine regions. In particular I believe it to be under-appreciated for its Pinot Noir, in particular, and in some cases, its Alsatian varieties of wine. I offer a slight caveat to the latter because while Anderson Valley is certainly known for producing wines in the style and varieties of those found in Alsace, France, in my experience they are mixed in quality. But when winemakers manage to get things right, Anderson Valley can produce some stunning examples of wines that might, in the right circumstances be mistaken for... continue reading

11.04.2008

2004 La Stoppa "Ageno" White Blend, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Most people faced a with the choice of merely a specific color of wine to drink will consider their stated preference between the options of red, white, or pink. My choice is none of the above. If I had to swear my allegiance to one color of wine, it would be orange. I have a friend who has seriously suggested that the world ought to acknowledge orange as a legitimate fourth color when it comes to wine. I don't know that I'd go that far, but I would seriously suggest that everyone drink as much of it as they can... continue reading

10.24.2008

Cadaretta Winery, Walla Walla, WA: Current Releases

I make it my habit to pay attention to new, small wineries. Generally that means seeking them out at public tastings, perking up my ears when I hear the names of wineries I don't know, and approaching each box of unknown wine I get on my doorstep as the potential to be something new and exciting. Generally, whatever you might like to call these efforts of mine, if they can be described as efforts, tend to be focused on California. This probably comes as no surprise to most, but that has nothing to do with my preferences, so much as... continue reading

10.16.2008

2006 Blackbird Vineyards "Illustration" Proprietary Red Wine, Oak Knoll District, Napa

As you likely know, I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and,... continue reading

10.15.2008

Ehlers Estate, Napa: Current Releases

Who ever heard of a non-profit winery? The first time the folks at Ehlers Estate told me they were, I laughed. But somehow it's true -- amidst the glitz and glamour 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 coin from an... continue reading

10.03.2008

Sadie Family Wines, Swartland, South Africa: Current Releases

I went to South Africa to learn about its wines. This meant understanding first hand what the country's wine regions and winemakers were capable of, and by implication, how they stacked up against the rest of the world. My main activity in pursuit of this goal consisted of tasting hundreds and hundreds of wines at Cape Wine 2008, the biannual trade show of South African wine. After about 10 hours of doing nothing but tasting wines, I had learned a thing or two about South African wine, the wine regions, and the various styles of wine currently being made throughout... continue reading

10.01.2008

The Best South African Wines: Tasting the 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild

During my week in South Africa, I had a lot of educational experiences that involved serious spates of tasting, but perhaps one of the most insightful involved my attendance at the Cape Winemakers Guild pre-auction tasting. South Africa sports (to my knowledge) a rather unique organization known as the Cape Winemakers Guild. Started 25 years ago by eight South African winemakers, this association has been, and continues to be, the "who's who" of the country's winemaking talent. The CWG has as its mission to simply advance South African winemaking to the highest possible levels of quality and international recognition. Membership... continue reading

09.23.2008

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

09.20.2008

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

09.13.2008

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

09.02.2008

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

08.28.2008

1997 Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford

From the late 1800's to the first half of the twentieth century California represented a land of opportunity for many. In Northern California, this potential seems to have been realized in particular by Italian immigrants who settled North of San Francisco in great numbers, founding small towns up the coast and in the inland valleys. Drive Highway 1, Highway 12, Highway 116, and the Bohemian Highway North of the city and you'll pass old barns and homesteads, country stores, and several Italian restaurants that have been operating continuously since at least the Thirties. That these fiercely determined immigrants met with... continue reading

08.14.2008

2003 Meyer Family Cellars "Bonny's Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville

Heritage plays out in many ways in the Napa Valley. There are only a few remaining families that have been farming in the valley since Prohibition, and even those that have tenures lasting more than three decades are increasingly being supplanted by new blood or corporate interests. Some of those families that have left the valley after decades often move on to other enterprises after cashing out on their vineyard investments. However, it's tough to abandon Napa Valley once you've lived and loved there for so long. Winemaker Justin Meyer moved his family to the Anderson Valley in 1999 after... continue reading

08.02.2008

2005 Hughes-Wellman Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Good wine is rarely made by accident. So much can go wrong in the winemaking process that to get something that isn't complete dreck is a triumph, and those who are capable of creating fantastic wines are, despite their modesty and common protestations of "just letting nature take her course," truly talented artisans. While wines, and great wines in particular, are made with incredible forethought and planning, sometimes wine labels can spring up overnight as the result of an opportune conversation or new friendship. Such is the case with this wine, which may be the first and only vintage under... continue reading

07.26.2008

La Brancaia, Chianti, Italy: Current Releases

Tuscany will always hold a special place in my heart. If not for the dreamlike quality of the rolling Chianti hills in Spring, then for the fact that it was the place I realized I was probably going to marry the woman who is now my wife, and the place she fell in love with wine (she was already in love with me, thankfully) for the first time. The red wines of Tuscany can be as frustrating as they are fantastic. Just ask anyone who's had their share of lousy, watery Chianti at neighborhood Italian restaurants in the United States.... continue reading

07.21.2008

Vérité Wines, Sonoma: Current Releases

Formulaic is an adjective that is often leveled at some of California's top boutique wines and their winemaking. As if when you finally manage to afford all the components required to make a high-end wine, that somehow you just throw them together and, "poof" you've got yourself a $300, 94 point superstar. This stereotype is especially convenient for those who can't afford to drink such wines. I should know. I still can't afford to drink such wines, and while I've learned better now, about 10 years ago I believed that the only thing special about big name wines was how... continue reading

07.19.2008

2006 Baker Lane "Hurst Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Some people seem to get into the wine business through sheer determination. After years of saving, scraping, dreaming and planning, vineyard or winery ownership is the fulfillment of many people's long held (if not hard earned) fantasies. And then there are those people who somehow seem destined for it -- people whose stories you hear and you think, how on Earth did you manage not to do this earlier? If Stephen Singer was going to fall into one of these categories it would most certainly be the latter. In 2003 he became the proprietor of a small winery called Baker... continue reading

07.12.2008

Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss, Alsace: Current Releases

The wines of Alsace are some of the most unique and distinctive in the world. They are also some of my favorites, not only because they are delicious, but also because they are made by some of France's most individualistic and headstrong vintners. Alsace has long been a place apart, both from France and Germany, each of which have laid claim over the valleys and hills that lie west of the Rhine river which currently demarcates the border between the two nations. It's easy to characterize the region as a smooth and quirky blend between the two countries, but... continue reading

06.22.2008

2005 Star Lane Vineyards "Astral" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley

There are those in the wine world who seek out (and often pay for) the best possible advice they can get. Winemaking and winegrowing are sciences as much as they are arts, and these days, there are plenty of experts to be had in both arenas. And then there are those in the wine world that no matter what the scientists, experts, and even their friends say, choose to follow their instincts. Call them pig-headed, call them eccentric, call them iconoclasts, there are certain people that will always walk their own paths when it comes to wine. Jim Dierberg seems... continue reading

06.06.2008

Kamoizumi "Shusen - Three Dots" Junmai, Hiroshima Prefecture

In the world of sake, perhaps even more so than the world of wine, just when you think you've figured out that things work a certain way, you stumble across an exception that completely destroys whatever sense of predictability you might have been cultivating. It's fairly safe to say that most fine sakes should be served chilled, to preserve and highlight their subtleties and delicate qualities. However, there are a specific class of higher end sakes that not only can be served at room temperature, but actually benefit from a little warmth. These sakes bear no resemblance in style (or... continue reading

06.03.2008

2005 Blackbird Vineyards Proprietary Red Wine, Napa

I make it my business to keep my eye on new California wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma, as much as I can given the fact that I do a lot of other things besides write about wine. Whenever possible, I like to taste the first releases from these wineries. They are not always fantastic - some are good, some show potential, and some simply need to be written off as first efforts and retried again later. That's the thing about wines, just because they're not good now, that doesn't mean they won't be later, and, of course, vice versa.... continue reading

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Calendar of Postings

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Most Recent Entries

From the Quiet Garden: The Wines of Pichler-Krutzler, Wachau, Austria The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines Hourglass, Napa Valley: Current and Upcoming Releases MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch The King of Zweigelt: The Wines of Umathum, Burgenland Drew Wines, Mendocino, CA: Recent Releases Weingut Veyder-Malburg, Wachau, Austria: Current Releases The Abbot's Dinner: A Tale of New Beginnings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape 25 Years in the Hills: A Seven Hills Winery Retrospective 2008 Rivers-Marie "Summa Old Vines" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud 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 World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.