Monday, December 20, 2010

Rosenblum tasting notes: a tease

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Rosenblum Cellars winemaker John Kane
I'm not sure how many of my readers know I write a monthly column for Wine Review Online, an online-only wine magazine published by Robert Whitley.

WRO's business model is to let you read columns for free, while the wine reviews sit behind a pay wall. A big part of its appeal is that the columnists are all well-established wine writers, including a former editor of mine, Linda Murphy. The idea is that you (or somebody) will pay to read a database of reviews after you read the interesting writing we produce.

WRO isn't the only site to charge for wine reviews: Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate, the big names, charge for access to their databases. A big difference is that WRO has no print component at all. We also have no Robert Parker and no James Laube, for better and worse. There would be no point in competing with them to find the biggest Cabernets in the world (good luck with that, Mr. Suckling); perhaps we are a worthwhile alternative for people who want something more and/or different. If you try to use those guys to find a good Riesling or Burgundy or Tokaji Aszu, you're going to overpay for inferior products because it's just not what they're good at. The idea is that somewhere on the strong WRO roster will be somebody who knows what they're talking about on many types and styles of wine.

My own style of reviewing there usually involves writing about wineries and regions whose people and story I find compelling, much as I do here, except with a greater focus on the wines themselves. I like to think I can objectively evaluate any wine -- hence the fact that I had Big House White from a 3-liter box with Thanksgiving dinner because I thought it was perfect for it. But I enjoy a bottle a lot more when there's a tale behind it.

So I thought I would give you a little taste of what's behind the pay wall at Wine Review Online, with a couple of reviews that accompanied my column last week on Rosenblum Cellars. You can read that column here.

That column came about because I like to think I'm open-minded. I had been picking on Rosenblum Cellars in tiny ways on this blog for a while after they were bought by Diageo, using them as an example of a winery that had turned into a brand. Their winemaker, John Kane, one of the few holdovers from the days of Kent Rosenblum, wanted a chance to respond, so I gave it to him. We tasted wines together and talked about the changes. And I ultimately decided to give the column to WRO, rather than run it here, because I wanted to add my reviews to its database.

But that also meant that my blog readers who have seen me sniping at Rosenblum Cellars can't see what I think of Kane's wines. So I'm going to run a couple of my reviews here, two good and one less so, to show you the kind of stuff behind the pay wall at Wine Review Online. Perhaps a subscription is a great Christmas gift?

Note: Below is my original copy. If they read better on Wine Review Online, it is because they have been edited by the estimable Michael Franz.

Rosenblum Carla's Reserve Contra Costa County Zinfandel 2007 ($35)
This used to be a vineyard designate; now it's a "reserve." Why? K-Mart bought half the vineyard to build a parking lot, and Rosenblum, which has access to the neighboring vineyard, is hedging its future by changing the name now. Try this now; the blackberry fruit is so juicy that I felt like I could taste the blackberry seeds. Great acidity and nice savory notes of toasted almond and sea salt, with a hint of slate in the aroma. 15.6% alcohol. Screw K-Mart. Shop smart; shop S-Mart. 92

Rosenblum "Heritage Clones" California Petite Sirah 2007 ($18)
Blackberry fruit that barely outweighs a meaty, gamy character with notes of black pepper, graphite and black licorice. A wild child. 14.8% alcohol. 92 (Buy it here)

Rosenblum Maggie's Reserve Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($45)

Cofermented with 2.5% whole cluster Semillon, an interesting technique that leads to a layered wine -- black currant, toast, alcohol -- that comes across as disjointed. 15.8% alcohol. 87

6 comments:

Casey said...

John Kane is a great guy and even better winemaker. I think he has dialed the Rosenblum style back just a bit and that's where it needed to go. Disclosure: I sell fruit to Rosenblum.

W. Blake Gray said...

Yes, there's big and there's too big. I found most of his wines to be the former.

ColoradoWinePress said...

Nice article and thanks for the tasting note peak, though do you really consider a disjointed wine to be very good (87)? Maybe I'm just a grade inflation curmudgeon but I can't stand how many 90+ scores are out there! I know most people only publish the highest scores without bruising winery egos by saying, "I'm 74 points on that." I think more lower scores need to be announced to the consumer because you can find a 90+ score for almost any wine (ahem, J. Newman). Perhaps if the public sees lots of low 80s scores for XYZ Winery and only one 93 they might actually be better informed consumers!

I apologize for the hijack, but your score actually inspired me to post on this on my site, so I thank you again, sir!

W. Blake Gray said...

CWP: It's a good topic and one I have written on in the past. The 100-point scale has become at most a 20-point scale.

On this site, and on Wine Review Online, I would not publish a score below 80 points. I would give it "NR" -- not rated -- for a variety of reasons.

But I find revisiting this debate all the time tiresome. You read Palate Press; you can find a lengthy debate I had with Remy Charest about the 100-point scale there, and in the new Palate Press book. Buy one for Christmas!

In a sentence, I didn't create the scale nor do I believe it's the best, but it's the system most Americans use and I'm trying to provide reader service.

Please see my next blog post for some context on what average Americans think are wine issues that matter.

About this specific wine: It's interesting, it's complex, it has an interesting background. Most wine geeks would want to try a Zin cofermented with Semillon. And it's drinkable. I'd rather drink it than a straightforward cherry-oak-vanilla style Zin. But it's not all positive; it has flaws that don't outweigh its virtues. To me, that's an 87.

W. Blake Gray said...

FYI, here's a link to the Palate Press debate:

http://palatepress.com/2010/10/wine/points-counter-points/

ColoradoWinePress said...

Yes, I read that Palate Press debate and I don't disagree with you. While I also don't think that any point system (you say 20 point but I think it is really only a 11-point system <89, 90, ... 100) is the best system, I do use this "extra" information to make purchase decisions.

My main objection is score inflation. From your original tasting note I didn't see 87 points matching the prose. However, from your more detailed explanation in a previous comment you make a good argument why you think it is worthy of 87 points. When there are fewer words/explanation in a tasting note the score dominates. Too many people rely on scores rather than make an argument why they do or do not recommend a wine. This is a bad thing.