Friday, November 30, 2012

Ravenswood's Joel Peterson: What score would you give his ashes?

Thousands of ZAP attendees have their photo taken with Joel Peterson
Earlier this week Wine-searcher published a Q&A I did with Ravenswood Vice President of Winemaking Joel Peterson.

Joel's a brilliant guy, funny and always worth talking to. Dr. Vino already found something in this interview to blog about: Ravenswood once got two ratings from the same magazine for the same wine that were 5 points different.

This is probably my favorite section:

Where would you like to be buried?
I would like to have my ashes sprinkled at Bedrock, the vineyard that I own. Nothing could be finer than to be part of the wines some day. To appear molecularly in somebody's glass of wine.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wines by the clone: Too geeky to drink?

See how much wine is left in these bottles. Yet I liked them all
Earlier this week I opened three $50 Pinot Noirs at once, to drink almost by myself. (My wife wanted half a glass).

The wines were three shades of delicious: all by Erath, all from the Prince Hill vineyard in Oregon's Dundee Hills region. I could have happily drank any one of them.

Instead, in the course of two nights I finished about 2/3 of the one I liked best, which happens to be one of my favorite Pinot Noirs of the last month. The one my wife preferred has about a glass and a half missing. And my 2nd choice, which I liked perfectly well, is missing less than a glass.

You often see articles comparing similar wines. The New York Times opens 20 Languedoc reds. The San Francisco Chronicle compares 45 Russian River Valley Chardonnays. Or a single wine blogger compares 3 Pinot Noirs.

But we never write about the aftermath.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grgich Hills pushes the acid higher

Ivo Jeramaz
Early in harvest season, I promised a blog profile to the wineries that posted the three lowest pHs for harvested grapes. This is the first of those profiles.

Grgich Hills is a Napa Valley favorite of ordinary people, but not critics. In the last decade that has come to mean something unexpected: it's a winery that promotes balance.

Because it doesn't make blockbuster wines, Grgich Hills doesn't get high ratings from the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. But Ivo Jeramaz, who has taken over winemaking duties from his uncle Mike Grgich, says he has not trouble selling all the wines he makes, and not at low prices either.

I have long been a fan of Grgich Hills white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites from Napa, with great texture and good complexity, yet plenty of freshness. At $30, it's the best value from the winery.

Grgich Hills Chardonnay ($42) is one of the best Chards in the Valley; always well-balanced, a good food wine in a regional category where they're rare. It's also one of my wife's favorite Napa Valley wines; she likes the restrained fruit and she likes Mike Grgich. Grgich's American dream-come-true story appeals to her.

I used to recommend Miljenko's Old Vines Zinfandel -- it's a nice wine -- but $114 is just too much for Zin.

Jeramaz got my attention by harvesting grapes for still wine at under 3 pH. You just don't hear of that in California. When I contacted Jeramaz, I offered him the choice of any story format he wanted. We could talk about Grgich's history, or taste the wines together and discuss them. We could talk about biodynamics. Or we could do something entirely different. Another low-pH winner, Adam Lee, chose to turn the tables and interview me (a decision I suspect he now regrets because he recorded about a 75-minute interview and now has to edit it.) So what did Jeramaz want?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Red Friday: Buy a Gray Report t-shirt

Here's the perfect Christmas gift for the blog lover on your list. A Gray Report t-shirt, with a unique design by digital media professor Dr. Stephanie Tripp. Guess where the QR code leads you!

Each custom-designed, Gildan Ultra 100% cotton t-shirt will be delivered directly to you, or your intended gift recipient. You may include a free gift message. Delivery takes about two weeks, so there's plenty of time for your friend to get the shirt -- and send you one in return.

The price is just $30 per shirt, less than it costs to taste Opus One. Shipping to the US and Canada is free! (International readers, contact me for shipping prices.)

Ordering is via Paypal, so all major credit cards accepted.

Sizes for the pictured shirt are unisex. You can order in adult S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL or 4XL. (2XL and up $32). There are also youth sizes YXS to YXL. Get a set for the whole family!

Here's how to order: Pay here:


Then send me the size(s) you want and your mailing address. You may also include a free gift message.

Thanks for supporting The Gray Report!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wine from Jordan and Turkey

Winemaker Rob Davis (left) with John and Sally Jordan
Year after year, Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are two of the most popular wines in US restaurants. The Jordans are interesting people, and their winemaker, one of the longest-tenured in the world, strives for balance at a time when his neighbors are seduced by power.

And yet, few people write about Jordan. As I explain in my Wine Review Online column this month,

"Jordan sits near the top of consumer polls while the wine media, depending on its focus, extols something cheaper, weirder, more powerful, harder to get, newer, more traditional…you name it."
It's a good story, thanks in part to the unusual frankness of John Jordan. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twinkies, eyeglasses and the zombie apocalypse

Where will I find new eyeglasses after the zombie apocalypse?

Hostess' bankruptcy put this terrifying thought in my head last week. I was trying to explain baby boomers' lamentations about the disappearance of Twinkies to my wife, who didn't grow up here. Bad baked goods made with totally artificial ingredients: what's the appeal?

I explained that in "Zombieland,"* Woody Harrelson wanted a Twinkie because it represented the society that was gone, and because they're filled with so many preservatives that they would last forever. Unless the survivors could find bread in a can in an unlooted country store, Twinkies would be their only taste of anything made from amber waves of grain.

Then my wife asked the question about the eyeglasses. It's a poser.

Life after the zombie apocalypse wouldn't go so well for me if I broke my glasses.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

European Wine Bloggers' Conference 2012: The review

The traditional method of transportation still in use at a vineyard in Diyarbakir
The most amazing thing about this year's European Wine Bloggers' Conference is that there wasn't a single time block without at least one interesting panel.

The highlights were panels on wines from the area. We learned we were tasting history reborn.

It's possible that some of the same grapes domesticated 8,000 years ago are still lingering in the feral vineyards of Kurd-dominated Eastern Turkey. Turkey is the world's sixth-largest grape grower, but most of those grapes are eaten or drunk as juice. Scientists are just scratching the surface of the genetic riches here, and we got to hear about some of the results.

Joel Butler explaining Turkey's terroir
It's a tough call for my favorite panel of the event. The tasting of Turkey's indigenous grapes with Joel Butler laid the foundation for everything we learned about the wines afterward. Patrick McGovern and José Vouillamoz taught me as much about the domestication and early history of wine in an hour as I probably knew previously.

We learned about raki, the anise-based spirit that dominates the Turkish alcohol market because it's not in the Koran. (It's also surprisingly good with food.)

And Tim Atkin and Charles Metcalfe led perhaps the best 7-wine tasting of the year, a look at fine wines from Georgia (amphora-based natural wines), Lebanon (elegance is the defining characteristic), Armenia and Turkey.

The whole conference had a seriousness that, I'm sorry to say, isn't really associated with blogger get-togethers in the US.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

One-stop shopping: Cocktails, wedding rings, ammo

Turner's Sports Bar, Boise ID
Trolls? Most recent Yelp review: "Keep your head down and don't make eye contact." 
Me, I shot this photo and got back in the car.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

100-point scale and natural wine at the European Wine Bloggers' Conference

Forgive the brevity, I'm typing this from a hotel lobby in Elazig, Turkey, which has shaky wifi but hopefully another great Turkish breakfast: several kinds of olives and cheese, fresh salad, many kinds of bread, fresh and dried fruit including sour cherries and mulberries, and super-strong Turkish tea. I want to run a photo post of my breakfast, but that's like being a parody of a blogger, although I did meet a guy last week who set up a website that follows the everyday adventures of one pair of his jeans.

I had the great fortune to attend the European Wine Bloggers' Conference last weekend in Izmir, Turkey. I covered for Wine Searcher two seminars of continuing interest to wine freaks 'n geeks. Those stories are already posted; Wine Searcher is trying to become a fast-publishing daily wine news site. And they pay money, which is why my stories are there. Hopefully they get what they pay for.

The debate on blind tasting and the 100-point scale was lively as always; the story is here. The highlight: a new system for rating your friends.

The panel on natural wine was so one-sided that people who aren't really known as proponents of the ideology, including Vinography's Alder Yarrow and myself, stood up to try to present what a natural wine advocate might have said, had she been there. To find out what Alice Feiring would actually have said, I emailed her and put her response in the story.

I need a little more sleep and a few more glasses of Turkish wine to put my thoughts in perspective on the EWBC overall, but I will say this: it's a fun conference attended by serious people. Rémy Charest tweeted that from the EWBC, people tweet, "I disagree with your view on malolactic fermentation." From the American WBC people tweet, "Party in room 137. Woot!" Seated among three authors of recent scholarly books on wine at the grand banquet, I have to agree -- even though I wooted more than my share of Öküzgözü.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

One week working at a winery: I fought the valve and the valve won

 Kent Benson
By Kent Benson

Have you ever wondered exactly how a destemmer works? Posing that question to a winemaker a couple years ago was the genesis of my quest to find out firsthand how all the winemaking processes I had read about for years really happen.

As a wine educator I field a lot of questions about wine and winemaking, most of which are as easy to handle as an infield blooper. But, when someone asked me how a destemmer removes grapes from the stems, it was more like a hot grounder ricocheting off the heel of my glove.

Then and there I decided to put down The Oxford Companion to Wine and pick up a barrel filling wand. I wanted to work in a winery. With a full-time job and bills to pay, I could only spare a week for my hands-on, vinous experience. So, the question was, what winemaker in their right mind would want a complete novice gumming up the works in their winery for a week during the busy harvest season?

With some helpful suggestions from W. Blake Gray, I sent emails to a dozen or so wineries in the Paso Robles area, asking if they might help me fulfill my quest. I even volunteered my services for free, making sure they understood they would get precisely what they paid for. (I ended up getting paid anyway!) I chose Paso Robles solely because a friend there could put me up and I’d save on lodging.

Only two wineries responded. Both invited me to come.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The two Americas of premium wine drinkers: the Prestige/Intrigue divide

People outside the US always want to know how to get their wine noticed in the US market. The key is to understand that there are two very different markets for premium wine drinkers*, not unlike the red state/blue state breakdown in US politics.

* I'm defining "premium wine" as anything $15 and above. Wineries able to compete in the $10 supermarket scrum don't need or want advice from bloggers.

Let's call it the Prestige/Intrigue divide.

Prestige drinkers want the best wines. Intrigue drinkers want the most interesting wines. There is some overlap -- Burgundy is an intersection -- but the core philosophy is very different.

Just as with the red state/blue state divide, most wine drinkers live in a one-sided media bubble. Prestige drinkers read Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate, if they read wine publications at all. Most major wine bloggers are Intrigue drinkers.

The reason some wine debates (natural wine; wine ratings) are so shrill and repetitive is that they neatly divide the two sides.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day wine poll: What will you drink most next year?

In honor of Election Day, let's vote. What wines do you expect to drink most in 2013?

You can make multiple selections and there is a space for write-ins. Unlike for President, the choices are not mutually exclusive, which is good because lots of people like Cabernet and Pinot. (Nobody likes Obama and Romney.)

This is both a popularity contest and some info for me on what you might want to see covered more.

Please vote in the real election today (see my California endorsements). If you have to kill time waiting in line, hopefully this poll works on your cellphone and you can warm up those decision-making neural pathways.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Is "Order something different" bad advice?

Which is better: To have a second glass of a drink you enjoy, or experiment and drink something you like less?

Last weekend a friend visited San Francisco from rural swing-state America.* We went to Bar Tartine, as famous for its beer list as its wine. I'm a wine guy, but fermented and spicy food (we had sauerkraut with hot chile paste as an app) is a great beer pairing. Doug is from my previous life as a sportswriter; he likes a cold one and amiably takes what's on offer. He took a recommendation from the server for a wet hopped ale, Ruhstaller Blue Heron Yard Hop Sac, and loved it. I had a glass of Massican Annia 2011, a Tocai Friulano-based blend from Napa Valley, and we were both happy.

*(California residents: my election endorsements are here.) 

When Doug's glass ran dry, the server came over and asked if he wanted another. "Sure," Doug said, "I'll have the same."

"Order something different," I said. So he did: a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA.

He doesn't know me as a wine geek. When we worked together, I may have had a reputation for knowing the one good country restaurant in every town with a high-school football team one might have to cover (when in Eustis, Florida, check out King's Taste barbecue). I wish that was the only reputation I had, but that's another story. (Calling the NFL a Communist-style enterprise in print stays with you.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vin de Tahiti: Man vs. nature

I confess, I was sitting here when I could have been interviewing the winemaker. Sorry.
In making wine in French Polynesia, Dominique Auroy is taking on a challenge as formidable as rafting across the Pacific Ocean.

The soil is salty. Sea water laps within a few meters of the vines, which are grown on a tiny island across a channel from Rangiroa, where scuba divers (like me) come to swim with dolphins, sharks and turtles.

The weather is unrelentingly hot. Storage is a problem because air conditioning is expensive. Every kind of supply -- even drinking water -- must be flown from Tahiti to the airport in Rangiroa, then brought over the channel by boat. 

To add an extra degree of difficulty, the vines have tropical pests that have never been seen in vineyards anywhere in the world. One particularly voracious beetle couldn't even be identified by experts at the University of Montpellier.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Three Halloween photos

Maybe my new blog photo. What do you think?

Dr. Blake Downs: An obvious costume choice for me. If you haven't seen the brilliantly sick show Childrens Hospital, here's one of my favorite episodes.

Below, I didn't get any great shots of the Giants' victory parade because I was just too far back. The first shot captures the fun, I hope. And the second is just a weird cultural collision: a mosque atop a check cashing place, which probably charges higher rates than Islamic law allows, with Giants fans at both levels. Baseball, the great unifier -- at least when the local team wins.

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