Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lon Rombough

Lon Rombough has died. He was one of our foremost grape experts, and a friend, my mentor for hybrid grapes. He grew dozens of important grape varieties (and apples, quinces, and other fruits, too), published important books on fruits, was kind enough to let me visit (in Aurora OR) and learn from him, and even came to one of my wine tastings (of hybrid wines--the kind of grapes he grew).

He wrote to me just last week. It is very difficult to imagine this. We are all so frail.

It is hard to describe how much sheer knowledge and wisdom this man had, and how unselfishly he shared it. I will always think of him.

The takeaway is to find what you love, and do it, as he did. If your own "love" lies ever just in the future, being held off until some other day, don't wait too long. For someday will be our last day.


Sean Sullivan's Top 100 Washington Wines

Not too many surprises; here is the list.

Strange that the Figgins wine would rate so highly (it's a new label by the Leonetti's son). Odd, that Cayuse does not show up more frequently, although the No. 1 spot is pretty high praise.

Weird, that the list leaves out some pretty good labels: Cougar Crest, Basel, and many others. One cannot construct a Top 100 list without leaving out many, many great wines. That is the shortcoming of such lists. And the Quil Creek second-tier wines (Galatzine, Palengat), which score high 90's, as do many of the Cayuse wines, shouldn't be left off such lists, even if it is good to see some lesser names on it, such as Syzygy and Syncline.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reds vs Whites, part 2

Another thought about that Cal Davis study which concluded that even expert wine tasters cannot tell the difference between red and white wines, when blindfolded; we rely very heavily on the color clue to tell us what the wine will smell and taste like.

We're about to put that theory to the test with some of my winefriends with good palates. However, if this is correct, doesn't it mean that:

1. A dry white wine would be great with a steak?
2. A big red would be great with a salad, or a lean piece of fish?

And if that is right, then the whole concept of food-wine pairing takes a major hit.

What's going on here?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why do "Pro" wine scores vary so much, sometimes, from amateur drinker scores?

Let's compare some actual drinkers' wine notes, versus a Wine Spectator note on the same wine:

First, Wine Spectator:


Colli della Toscana Centrale Black Label 2006

Score: 92

Release Price: $60

Country: Italy

Region: Tuscany

Issue: Oct 31, 2009

Offers blackberry character, with cassis bush and cedar. Full-bodied, with currant and berry notes and hints of new oak. Long and silky, with a little too much new wood. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot. Best after 2011. 1,200 cases made. –JS

Now, some notes by actual drinkers like you and me, from CellarTracker:

Tasted by DesMarteau on 12/12/2011 & rated 88 points: - Purple color. It's overly acidic with a medium body. Bright texture with a long finish - Needs a bit of time.
Tasted by Cresus on 12/10/2011 & rated 90 points: Nice medium bodied Tuscan. Well balanced, good acidity. Nose of some berries. Tasty. (817 views)
Tasted by Atwellian on 11/12/2011 & rated 83 points: Better than last bottle. Still a bit thin but his bottle had better balance. Black currant, chocolate, weak mid-palate, decent finish. Still not a great QPR. (1777 views)
Tasted by goodericman on 11/4/2011 & rated 85 points: Just ok. Slight mustiness that blew off after about an hour. It's possible the bottle was slightly corked. Previously had a corked bottle from this supplier. But after some time, mellow cabernet and merlot flavors emerge, but with with a slight metallic taste. Short finish. Relatively simple wine. (1739 views)
Tasted by Anonymous on 10/31/2011 & rated 90 points: there was some good complexity here, very smooth, - great blend - looking forward to the next bottle at some point in the future (1719 views)
Tasted by Iceman611 on 10/22/2011 & rated 89 points: Exceptionally dry, dusty earth dominates the flavor profile. Even with cheese this is an interesting but tough wine. (1671 views)
Tasted by lizaambler on 10/17/2011 & rated 84 points: Needs more time. Extremely dry, with some bitterness. (1693 views)
Tasted by nlassow on 10/17/2011: Really needs air time. we gave it an hour+. Like other notes mention this is for sure the little brother to the white label. Would have expected the Merlot to add a nice layer of complexity to this but falls short of expectations. Not bad, but not going to impress anyone. (1820 views)
Tasted by DAE on 10/16/2011 & rated 88 points: Needs at least 30 minutes of breathing and then really develops. (1714 views)
Tasted by Atwellian on 10/13/2011 & rated 81 points: Pleasant, simple, not particularly interesting. Lacks depth, complexity, and not enough acidity or tannins for balance. Some bitter notes. Smooth finish. (1590 views)
Tasted by mikeaukenbals on 10/6/2011 & rated 89 points: after drinking both, i'm guessing that the black label is clearly inferior to white label. nothing special and still a bit tight now. (1707 views)

Wow--Spectator gives it 92 and I happen to be able to buy this $60 (retail release price) wine for just $20. But after I read the CT notes, I'm not going to buy it. The combined weight of many drinkers' cautionary notes , including some mid-80s scores, is concerning. I am not one to proclaim that only the wine pros can properly understand a wine--that would be ridiculous.

"lacks depth" "nothing special" "tough" " a bit thin" and "overly acidic" are phrases that will scare me away every time. So, sorry, Spectator!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

She's got "legs" and knows how to use them

This is an area fraught with misunderstanding. For a long time, many of us thought that legs on a wine glass (or "cathedral windows" or "baby's tears") were a favorable indication of something. We would hold up the glass and pronounce "it's got good legs," as if that meant something special. Some of us also thought that wine legs were an indication of glycerine, which is naturally-occurring in grapes and contributes to a feeling of greater body in the wine (thicker wine).

Um, sorry, but no on all counts. One of the great things about being human is that, very occasionally, we can learn why our earlier positions were wrong ;)

Thanks to winepros.org for this:

Wine legs originate from high ethanol, and are no indication whatsoever of quality.

The phenomenon, called the Gibbs-Marangoni effect after the two scientists who first explained it, occurs because of four properties of chemical physics. First, if the molecular attraction between solids and liquids called interfacial tension is slightly greater than thesurface tension which holds the liquid molecules together, the liquid "crawls" up the glass (assuming the glass is clean). Of wine's two primary components, alcohol evaporates faster than water. As the ethanol evaporates, gravity takes over, the surface tension is broken and the water runs back down into the glass in rivulets. These "legs" or "tears" are observable because of the difference in the way alcohol and water each refract light. The phenomenon occurs most readily in wines above 12% alcohol. Although ethanol, wine's primary alcohol, is a major contributor to the "body" of a wine, a high content does not alone guarantee fullness or texture in wine.

APPLICATION: Legs are the Lava Lamps of wine tasting; they provide contemplative amusement, but shed precious little illumination on the subject at hand. Next time someone showily remarks that a wine "has great legs," explain the principal and enlighten them. Or don't. In fact, you may get more satisfaction from chiming-in that you think "the wine also displays a great ass" and let it go at that. For a good parlor trick, cover a "weeping" glass with a card. The effect stops (no evaporation). Remove the card, the glass soon returns to "tears".

(photo credits to ShutterStop and The Bottle Stop)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Distributors going out of business

There isn't much press on this (which is interesting in and of itself), but I've learned that two of my wine distributors went out of business. They are Domaine Selections and Bacchus.

They represented a lot of good wines; those wineries had to scramble to find another distributor.

I suppose that if the number of distributors declines, the survivors will have more pricing power and can pay the wineries less for their wines, which may in turn push some wineries over the edge. But I think we still have enough large and small wine distributors here that that shouldn't be a problem.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Auction madness

The economy must be getting better:

I found an online wine auction site at a major wine retailer in another state. It is surprising how many wines they have at auction. If you are outbid by another bidder, the site tells you. It also warns you if the hammer time is approaching. It gives you the bid history, too.

I bid on a few lots, including one from my spouse's birthyear, but also some other good wines. I set max bids that would represent good deals (but, at least in my mind, are reasonable offers).

In every case (save one, but the auction on it doesn't end for four more days), the auction hammer prices ended up far in excess of any rational market prices. I imagine some wine lovers out there, staring at their screens for hours, and bidding up their wine in the excitement of online battle. What a great deal for the auction house/retailer! They get a commission from the seller.

But what a poor deal for the buyers! If only they knew what the lots should be worth . . .

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

reds versus whites

Here is a stunner:

The University of California at Davis tasting panel has conclusively shown over the years that blinded expert tasters can't taste the difference between red and white wines. We all use the color of a wine to drive us towards recognition of "red wine" and "white wine" flavor profiles (red and black fruits in the former case; white and citrus fruits in the latter case).

I bet few of you believe that. Let's try a dark room taste test!

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...