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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

04.26.2014

Château de Beaucastel: The Difficult Vintages

For most lovers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel needs no introduction. One of the largest, most storied, and most respected estates in the region, its documented history goes back to the 16th Century, and its history as a wine estate, back to the 19th Century. As a modern wine producer, its reputation remains inseparably tied the Perrin family, who began shepherding the estate in 1909, and continue to do so today, three generations later. Farming 291 mistral-swept acres in the northernmost portion of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, Beaucastel remains one of the largest domaines in the appellation. The Perrin family... continue reading

03.27.2014

Checking On Some Older CA Pinot Noir

Once upon a time, among the many criticisms leveled at California wine, there existed the notion that California wines did not age as well as their European counterparts. While such notions are less common these days, I still frequently run across the assumptions that most California wine needs to be consumed within 10 years. "Is this stuff going to be any good?" someone will ask me, brandishing a 2001 wine they found in a corner of their wine rack. Despite ranking in the top tier of world-class wines that California produces, Pinot Noir in particular falls prey to doubts about... 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

02.17.2013

Hawke's Bay Wines With Some Age On Them

With the clouds turning a peachy pink against the always-riveting-blue sky above Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, I found myself strolling around the grounds of Clearview Estate sampling bits of the region's past. To celebrate the final evening of the few days that I and a few dozen other journalists, sommeliers, and wine buyers had spent immersed in the region, several producers grabbed a couple of older bottles from their cellars and offered them up for a leisurely tasting as the last rays of the day hit the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers above the gentle swells of the bay. New Zealand's... continue reading

11.23.2012

The Legendary Wines of Napa: Tasting Notes

Last weekend I had the singular pleasure of co-leading a tasting with the title Legends of Napa Valley. I wrote about my impressions of the tasting overall, and the lessons that it offered, such as they were, about the aging of Napa wines across the last five decades, as part of my monthly column for Jancis Robinson. Now that I'm done editorializing, we can get down to the wines themselves. Below I offer my tasting notes for every wine that we tasted, in the order we tasted them. We tasted in four flights, two each day. The start of every... 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

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

09.10.2011

1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru, Burgundy

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

05.21.2011

1983 Schloss Schonborn Rudesheimer Bichofsberg Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau, Germany

Wine is the closest we come to alchemy. And ironically, the most magical transmutation that takes place within wine is almost entirely out of our control. Far be it for me to deny winemakers their due for what is surely the magical feat of assisting in the transformation of simple grapes into fluids that evoke things as exotic as mangos, lavender, chocolate, and wood smoke. But at least half of the magic in wine comes from what happens to it when we stop messing with it and leave it to its own devices for a decade or two. Aged Riesling,... continue reading

03.02.2011

1971 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, Mosel, Germany

As you know, I think wine reviews should be more than just tasting notes and scores. They should be the stories of the people and the places behind the wines. While the people quite often bring the most life to the story of a wine, sometimes the place, even the vineyard itself, can be the most prominent character in the drama. In the case of this wine, the story consists of the inextricable link between a family and a vineyard. By most accounts, the Prum family has owned vineyards in and around the town of Wehlen in Germany's Mosel river... continue reading

01.02.2011

My Burgundy Nights: Tasting Notes from Les Trois Glorieuses

I've written already about my experiences as a first timer at the Hospices du Beaune in November, the events known as Les Trois Glorieuses and in particular the incredibly orgy of wine drinking that is La Paulee de Meursault. For seven or eight hours (the longest lunch you may ever have) more incredible wine is opened up than any sane human being really knows what to do with. I admit to being completely charmed by the event. I've never attended such a raucous, convivial party of wine lovers, where such great wine flowed so freely. Strangers share their most precious... continue reading

11.30.2010

1957 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Blanco, Rioja, Spain

There are few wineries in Spain whose names conjure the heritage and prestige evoked by R. Lopez de Heredia. Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia was born in Santiago, Chile in 1857. At the age of 12 he was sent by his family to Spain to study with the Jesuits, and nearly became a doctor before discovering the world of business, leaving his brother Fernando to realize the family dream of having a doctor for a son. When he was 19 years old, Don Rafael arrived at the railway station in Haro, Spain suffused with the aromas of wine. The railway... 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

08.23.2010

1997 Calera Wine Company "Mills Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, CA

Those of you who know me well understand the soft spot I have in my heart for iconoclastic winemakers. The crazier the better, in my book, but at the very least, so steadfastly committed to their idea of what makes for great wine that they're willing to persist in their quest even when everyone else says they are nuts. And that's exactly what most people said when they spotted Josh Jensen driving up and down California in his beat-up Volkswagen stopping here and there to get out of the car and sprinkle hydrochloric acid on the ground -- even those... continue reading

05.07.2008

1990 Trimbach "Cuvee Frederic Emile" Riesling, Alsace

I can remember a time when the word "Alsace" only brought to mind dim memories of my 5th grade class discussion on some valley that people were fighting about in one of those big wars. In those days I definitely couldn't spell Gewurztraminer, and I had only tried one or two of them. Perhaps you'd call me a late bloomer when it came to Alsatian wine, but bloom I eventually did, and now I'm a quiet, but fierce devotee of what I believe to be some of the most individualistic wines on the planet. Alsace has always been an... continue reading

03.14.2008

1974 Charles Krug "Vintage Selection - Lot F1" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Do you want to know a little secret? I'm probably going to catch hell for telling you, especially from my friend Jack who served this wine to me, and who let me in on the secret in the first place. But he should know better than to tell a blogger anything. So here goes: Pre-1980 California Cabernets are some of the best buys in the wine world right now. Sure, some of them, especially pristine bottlings of reserve Beringer, BV, Heitz, or Stags' Leap wines are going for hundreds of dollars per bottle, but with a little effort you can... continue reading

11.27.2007

Jack Tastes Old...Wines

The generosity and collegiality of wine lovers remains one of the tiny miracles of wine for me. I am constantly impressed by the willingness to share their treasures that bonds so many lovers of wine together. Some people seem to get a particular joy from providing others the opportunity to try wines that they would not normally be able to enjoy. In my experience, one should always have a policy of providing friends with the chance to share their best bottles with someone who appreciates them. It's an important service, and one that I'm proud to perform. I happen to... continue reading

10.14.2007

1997 Colgin "Herb Lamb Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

There are several tiers of wines that can legitimately and confidently wear the name tag: HELLO MY NAME IS: Cult Napa Cabernet at any party they happen to attend. The top tier is populated by Screaming Eagle, a single wine that practically invented the phrase "cult Cabernet." Below the hysterically unattainable pricing and scarcity of the Eagle, however, there are several wines which clearly deserve the moniker, and which tend to get consumed a bit more often, if only because in doing so, a wine lover isn't drinking a the equivalent of a San Francisco monthly mortgage payment. That's not... continue reading

08.31.2007

1970 Chateau Gazin Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

It shows a particular breed of idiocy that the American public has turned its nose up at a grape as the result of a flippant line in a clever but unremarkable movie. While we have thousands of Americans who now hate Merlot, there are still thousands more who think nothing of throwing down a couple of thousand dollars for a bottle of Petrus after a winning streak in Vegas. I'm also willing to bet that there's a good portion of that latter crowd who don't even know that they're drinking Merlot. Those of us whose wine tastes aren't easily swayed... continue reading

08.18.2007

1988 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanca, Rioja Alta, Spain

There are few wineries in Spain whose names conjure the heritage and prestige evoked by R. Lopez de Heredia. Don Rafael Lopez de Heredia was born in Santiago, Chile in 1857. At the age of 12 he was sent by his family to Spain to study with the Jesuits, and nearly became a doctor before discovering the world of business, leaving his brother Fernando to realize the family dream of having a doctor for a son. When he was 19 years old, Don Rafael arrived at the railway station in Haro, Spain basked in the aromas of wine. The railway... continue reading

05.23.2007

1993 Williams Selyem "Rochioli Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

It's not every day that I get to tell the majority of the wine world that they're dead wrong, so forgive me if I savor this a little. There is a widespread belief in critical circles that California Pinot Noir does not age well. Like all blanket stereotypes there is some truth to this, especially among those wines that are made in the lush fruit-driven style that is popular these days. And furthermore it may be true that California Pinot Noir can't age as long as Burgundy can (though we're about a decade away from even being able to put... continue reading

04.27.2007

1988 Chateau Climens Sauternes-Barsac, Bordeaux, France

There are an endless number of formative wine experiences to provide enthusiastic wine lovers with memorable introductions to new levels of wine appreciation or knowledge. These moments, which are so easily to forget in a lifetime of serious wine drinking, should definitely be cherished in the same way we might hang onto the infant drawings of our children. Most wine lovers don't remember their first taste of Cabernet or Merlot. These early introductions to different varietals are best forgotten anyway, coming as they often do in bottles that could charitably be called "value priced." There is one type of wine,... continue reading

03.26.2007

1991 Gravner Ribolla Gialla, Friuli Venezia Giulia, 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

11.14.2006

1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais "Cuvée Rousseau Deslandes," Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

I will never be able to taste all the wines out there, no matter how hard I try, just as I'll never be able to travel to all the places I want to go in the world. Wine offers a landscape of exploration seemingly as varied as the world around us, and just as likely to offer up surprises and treasures to those who are intent enough, or lucky enough, to find them. Great wines sometimes just sneak up on you. They are like precious gems, or veins of gold. Many of the main sources are well known and consistently... continue reading

10.28.2006

1996 Domaine Marcel Deiss "Burg" Riesling, Alsace

I can remember the first time I heard of a place called Alsace. I was sitting in my middle school world-history course with some teacher whose name I've long forgotten, and we began to talk about a region called the Alsace-Lorraine. At that point, it was a vague strip of land which seemed tiny and insignificant in scale compared to the European continent surrounding it, and I remember wondering just why the French and Germans both cared so much about the place. I'll come clean and say that my understanding of the significance of the Alsatian role in geopolitical history... continue reading

08.29.2006

1988 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France

Wine, when at its most triumphant and expressive, nearly defies description. Some people speak of "perfect wines" which is always a problematic moniker, because the appreciation of wine is always contextual and always subjective. But there are some wines that have a magic to them -- from the instant they touch your lips to the residual memories that linger for days after their consumption. These wines bafflingly seem to be more than the sum of their parts, as if someone added two and three and got six -- they shine brighter and deeper than it seems possible for a simple... continue reading

08.02.2006

1994 Domaine Aux Moines Chenin Blanc, Savennieres-Roche Aux Moines, France

South-central France has many distinguishing characteristics, but the one that cannot be avoided and ignored, and certainly cannot be underestimated, is the Massif Central. This huge upwelling of ancient granite, and the limestone and sandstone it sloughed aside as it rose, present a formidable obstacle for anyone attempting to drive from, say, Clermont-Ferrand to Nimes. As large mountain ranges have a habit of doing, it also drives many of the weather systems in the area, capturing moisture, and unleashing it in torrents. Somewhere in a sub-range of the Massif Central called the Cévennes, a trickle begins amidst granite and limestone,... continue reading

05.11.2006

1989 Fiorano (Boncompagni Ludovisi) Botte 48 Semillion, Roma, Italy

So what is a perfect wine, anyway? There are several answers to that question, one of my favorites being, "There are no perfect wines, only perfect bottles." Most folks who buy and drink their favorite wines with regularity know that some bottles just are better than others. Another answer to the question might be, "There are no perfect wines, just perfect tasting moments," where the wine drinker gets some celestial alignment between all things important to wine tasting -- the flavors of the wine, the environment of tasting, the company, and the food on the table. Finally, of course, I... continue reading

03.15.2006

1995 Hau Xia Cabernet Sauvignon, Changli of Hebei Province, China

I've been wanting to try Chinese wine for a year or so, as I've followed the increasing growth of the Chinese wine industry and the growing popularity of wine in China. On a business trip to LA a couple of weeks ago, I happened to eat a rushed meal at the bar in a restaurant with an extensive by-the-glass list, and what should appear on one of the pages but this little gem. When I placed my order, the bartender raised his eyebrow, and said "Oh, adventurous, aren't you?" I don't normally take that as an encouraging sign, but I... continue reading

12.29.2005

1986 Fiorano (Boncompagni Ludovisi) Malvasia Bianca VdT Botte 25, Latium, Italy

I've insisted many times that the story behind a wine is an important part of my enjoyment of a wine -- knowing about who made a wine and the circumstance of its creation is part of appreciating it fully. Sometimes, though, the story of a wine is so compelling that it can transform the experience of drinking the wine into something else entirely. Such is the case with the wines of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. The story behind this man, his wine cellar, and the wines that he made was so extraordinary when I first heard it, I hardly imagined that... continue reading

11.08.2005

1999 Calera Wine Company "Jensen" Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, CA

Something special, in my opinion is going on in the hills to the east of Salinas. Calera Wine Company sits atop Mount Harlan on the east side of Highway 101 about halfway between Salinas and Soledad in the Central Coast appellation of California. Formerly the site of an ancient limestone quarry (hence the name Calera, which means "lime kiln" in Spanish) the winery was established in 1974 by Josh Jensen with the intent to make primarily Pinot Noir in the classic Burgundian style. Having worked more than a few harvests for producers like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domain Dujac,... continue reading

10.27.2005

1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Jebsal" Pinot Gris VT, Alsace

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

09.17.2005

1996 Stony Hill Semillon de Soleil, Napa

OK. I admit it. I really don't like dessert wines. Eiswein? Forget it. Muscat? Ick. Even many Sauternes just are overkill on the sweetness. I really need a wine to have enough acidity to cut through the sweetness before I will pay attention. Too many dessert wines are cloying and sticky, basically as appealing to me as drinking a mouthful of maple syrup. So when a dessert wine has the right balance of sugar, acid, and alcohol, when there is more than one dominant flavor in the wine, I tend to sit up and take notice. I don't know how... continue reading

08.06.2005

1985 Chateaux Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac (Bordeax), France

There's something remarkable about the generosity of wine lovers and collectors. Their willingness to share a bottle, even the most expensive bottle that they have cared for and stored sometimes for decades, often with complete strangers never ceases to fill me with wonder, admiration, and pride. I have the same tendency. We're good folk, us wine lovers. Even the biggest snobs I've met, ones that I can barely stand to be in a room with are perfectly willing, and even excited to pop open a dusty bottle and share it with people they know will appreciate it. I got invited,... continue reading

07.06.2005

1994 Zind Humbrecht "Heimbourg" Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, Turkheim, Alsace

Today we are exploring off-dry wines as part of the monthly virtual tasting event known as Wine Blogging Wednesday. This month's tasting is hosted by Beau over at Basic Juice. My entry in this category is an Alsatian wine from one of the most famous producers in the region, Domaine Zind Humbrecht. The father and son operation has been in existence since 1959 when the marriage of the Zind and Humbrecht families brought together a passion for winemaking and some of the best land in Alsace under one roof. Leonard Humbrecht and his son Olivier (notable for being France's first... continue reading

06.24.2005

1980 Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve "Lemmon-Chabot Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

The only way to start a story about Beringer Winery is: Once Upon A Time, there were two brothers, Frederick and Jacob Beringer. They grew up in Mainz in the Rhine Valley of Germany, and both emigrated to the United States in the late 1800's. Within a few years they had explored as far west as they could get, and recognized the terrain of Napa as being suited for grape growing. In 1876 they founded the Beringer Brothers Winery, which is now the oldest operating winery in Napa Valley. Jacob had worked in the cellars in Germany, and Frederick... continue reading

06.24.2005

A New Category: Older Vintages

Today I am inaugurating a new category of wine reviews focusing on older vintages. Sometimes called "library wines" these wines are found only in the cellars of collectors, on auction blocks around the world, in finer restaurants, and at the wineries themselves. As my personal cellar tends to not go back farther than a decade at most, I don't end up drinking these wines regularly. On occasion through the generosity of a friend, or just being in the right place at the right time, I do sometimes get a chance to sample an older wine (more than a decade), and... continue reading

10.17.2004

The Legendary Year For Bordeaux: What Does 1982 Taste Like?

THE BACKGROUND Picture this: the young Robert M. Parker, Jr. has been selling his newsletter, The Wine Advocate for four years with some success. His notion of applying a numeric score to wines is a novel one, and he hasn't exactly hit the big time. As per usual, he makes the pilgrimage to Bordeaux in the spring for the marathon of tastings, and by the end of the year he is a bit of a lone loud voice in the crowd, proclaiming the triumph of the vintage amidst more than a little doubt. Within a relatively short period of time... continue reading

05.24.2004

1995 Ovello Barbaresco Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

This is the secret forgotten wine. The frozen man of wine, stuck in a glacier and thawed out in someones backyard. Or filed away in an importers warehouse, like the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But then what happens when the importer goes out of business ? People who know people get to scoop up amazing values and interesting wines that should have been off the marketplace years ago. Of course, I'm making it sound like an exclusive thing, which its not (you can get it various places on the Internet) but... continue reading

04.18.2004

1995 Providence Vineyards "Marangai," Matakana, New Zealand

I don't often cellar wines for long periods of time, but occasionally I'll leave a bottle to sit for 6 or 7 years either because I'm curious how it will change, or because I think it's a special wine that I want to save for a special occasion. This wine falls into the second category. After living and working in Japan for nearly 2 years, I returned to the States, leaving behing a "family" of Japanese co-workers with whom I helped build an office from the ground up. One of my parting gifts from one of the senior members of... continue reading

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Most Recent Entries

25 Years in the Hills: A Seven Hills Winery Retrospective Château de Beaucastel: The Difficult Vintages Checking On Some Older CA Pinot Noir Icon Wines of Napa: A Tasting Hawke's Bay Wines With Some Age On Them The Legendary Wines of Napa: Tasting Notes 2006 Peay Vineyards Roussane/Marsanne Blend, Sonoma Coast 2001 York Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District, Napa 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru, Burgundy 1983 Schloss Schonborn Rudesheimer Bichofsberg Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau, Germany

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.