Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why I decided not to post tasting notes

Like a beach many miles from the sea: what a Roero Arneis vineyard looks like before planting
This month my column for Palate Press is about Roero Arneis. It's an interesting story and I'm not going to tell it here. What I do want to talk about here is tasting notes and scores.

I have tasting notes and scores on all the wines I recommended at the end of the article. Normally I would have appended them. That's how mainstream wine writing works, and that's fine.

In the case of Roero Arneis, I felt that there is an ideal taste profile, which I describe in the article. I like that taste profile a lot. Sure, there are variations within it, and I could write my tasting notes in such a way that they all sound very different. And there are variations of quality. 

There are several reasons I decided not to run tasting notes: the first two regarding the nature of wine tasting, and the others because of the relationship between wine consumers and the media.

1. The wines were tasted under very different circumstances

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Austerity is in for Napa Carneros Chardonnay

Remember when Carneros Chardonnay was buttery? Those days are mostly over.

Recently I took part in a private tasting of more than 30 Napa Carneros Chardonnays under WSET rules, which I wrote about here. I was supposed to be paid (check IS in the mail, right), but the downside of that is, I couldn't keep my notes. All I have is the general impression, but it's a powerful one.

Austerity is in for Napa Carneros Chardonnay.

None of the wines we tasted had the rich, buttery taste Rombauer has made famous. (Note: We didn't actually taste Rombauer, though most of its grapes come from Carneros.)

Even more surprising, very few wines tasted of French oak. Sometimes people put "oaky and buttery" together as a descriptor, but they are very different. Malolactic fermentation that causes butteriness is often prevented in the world's greatest Chardonnays, whereas toasty oak is more often a welcome component. But most of these wines tasted of citrus fruit, alcohol and acidity.

At the end of the tasting, I wondered if this is the best path for Carneros Chardonnay.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My favorite Canadian wines from Northern Lands 2017

For three days every two years, cosmopolitan Edmonton is the capital of Canadian wine, unless* (see below)
Canada's wine scene just keeps getting better. I had the opportunity to blind-taste a lot of fine wines at the recent Northern Lands event in Edmonton, and I came away particularly impressed with the semi-cool climate varieties, especially Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Given their quality, Canada's best red wines are also good value by world standards. The wines I'm going to recommend here can generally be had for $30 to $50. There aren't many very cheap Canadian wines, but on the other hand, Canadian wineries can't get away with charging Napa Valley prices, even for terrific wines.

The wines I list here are all available in the U.S. through a single California-based importer, WineVIP. Most of the vintages are a bit behind the new releases I judged, but the prices are in some cases cheaper than they are in Canada.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A tale of three wine competitions

This photo from 2016 was not one of the three competitions I describe. I just like the photo.
Last month I took part in three very different competitive wine tastings. Let me describe them, and you try to guess where they were held.

1) A room full of old white men (there was one female judge, no non-white judges, and I may have been the youngest judge in the room) sat at tables of three, tasted wines together, and tried to give as many gold medals as possible. Silver medals were inadequate. If you didn't want to give a gold medal to a wine, you had to explain yourself first to the other judges and then to the competition director.

2) An ethnically diverse group of men and women sat around a table and frantically rated wines for 16 different characteristics. The tastings were timed and tasters had about one minute per wine. Each spot on the scorecard had to be filled out: Clarity, Intensity (visual), Color, Condition, Intensity (nose), Development, Aroma characteristics, Sweetness, Acidity, Alcohol, Body, Intensity (flavor), Finish, Flavor characteristics, Quality level, Score. (I feel stressed all over again just typing that in.)

3) A geographically diverse group of men and women sat at different tables tasting flights of wine. The objective was to pick the best and runner-up of each variety. More than one table got each flight, so every wine was considered by at least 6 judges. The top scoring wines moved to the next round, while the midrange scorers were tested again. In the final round, at least three tables of judges got each flight, and each judge ranked the wines of the flight in order. Discussion was allowed but the ultimate decision was made by combining and averaging scores.

So, where do you think these competitions were held? Guess now; the answer is after the photo.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Stephen Tanzer shows price matters in Napa Cabernet

Photo courtesy of Vinous
Last week Stephen Tanzer published a retrospective tasting of 2007 Napa Cabernets in Vinous. His column about the wines is available for free; only the tasting notes are behind the paywall.

I asked for (and received) access to the notes from Vinous because, to be honest, I expected to find something outrageous. Tanzer writes in a balanced manner. Glass half full:

The better ‘07s are beautiful, sleek Napa Valley examples with outstanding density, glorious fruit and excellent equilibrium. 

But glass half empty:

I tasted more than three dozen wines that did not make the cut for this article (i.e., I rated them lower than 85 points). And to my palate, more of these disappointing wines were unpleasantly green, bitter-edged, overextracted, excessively tannic, clumsily acidified, oxidative, volatile or dried by oak than chunky or over the top.

Reading that bugged me, because with Napa Valley Cabernet, we are talking about one of the most expensive wines in the world. It's difficult to find any Napa Cabs under $50; wines are just as likely to be over $100 as under. For that kind of money, people expect the wine to be good. They don't expect to shell out $125 for a wine, cellar it for years, and then have it taste like ... well, Tanzer says it better than I would.

So what I wanted to know is, how expensive were these bad wines?