Thursday, April 25, 2019

Zos Halo wine preserver is a worthless gadget

I'll keep this brief. The Zos Halo wine preserver, which purports to preserve an open bottle of wine by removing the oxygen from it, is a worthless high-tech gadget.

I have tried two Zos Halos, both supplied by the company for review, and did not find any practical use for either of them.

In both, short battery life was a problem. My first Halo lasted only one use, a bottle of wine that I tried to preserve for two weeks. The battery failed and so did the wine, which tasted flat.

For the second Halo, I tried using it for shorter periods of two or three days. The two LR 44 batteries still only lasted for 16 total days of use. You could work with that if there was a benefit.

But I didn't taste any. I tried opening two identical bottles of wine, pouring out half of each and resealing the bottles. One bottle I sealed with the Zos Halo. The other I sealed by sticking the cork back in.

After two days, I detected no difference. After three days, I detected no difference. After a week, they were slightly different -- but neither tasted fresh enough for me to want to drink it. 

Zos has been heavily pitching this gadget as a gift for weddings or Mother's Day. It's understandable: it's not as expensive as a Coravin, and in theory it's more permanent than a bottle of wine.

But it's junk. If you give it as a gift the recipient will play with it for a bottle or two and then put it in the back of a dusty closet and forget it forever. Maybe this is true of most wedding gifts: ice cream makers, bread slicers. But at least those work.

I intended to review this gadget for Wine Searcher because if it worked, it would be a great boon to enophiles. Instead, I am doing my civic duty with this post. Don't waste your money on a Zos Halo.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Shocking consensus winner in 1978 comparative tasting

At harvest time in September 1978, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed a historic peace pact
Last month I was invited to a blind tasting in Seattle of 1978 Bordeaux-style reds. The wines had all been purchased from a man who stored them in perfect conditions in an underground cellar.

Doug Charles
Doug Charles, co-owner of the suburban wine shop Compass Wines, bought the whole collection when the owner decided quite suddenly to sell his house. Charles said the wines had been bought for drinking, not investing, and there were many one-of-a-kind bottles. He'll sell most of them at Compass but he noticed that he had 10 single bottles from 1978 and thought it would be interesting to invite some industry folks.

I'm not sure how I rated an invite. I sat next to Bob Betz, who had been an assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle at the time and worked on some of the wines in the tasting. Gary Figgins, founder of Leonetti Cellar, was also there. Leonetti's 1978 Cabernet put Washington state on the world wine map when Wine & Spirits called it the best Cabernet in the world. It's nice to be the least dignified guest.

Gary Figgins
We had two Bordeaux second-growths:
Chateau Montrose Saint-Est├Ęphe 1978 (no back label; no alcohol statement)
Grand Vin de Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases Saint-Julien 1978 (11 to 14% alcohol)

Four wines from Washington:
Chateau Ste Michelle Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12 1/2%)
Chateau Ste Michelle Washington State Merlot 1978 (12%)
Leonetti Cellar Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (13%)
Ste. Michelle Chateau Reserve Cold Creek Vineyards Benton County Washington Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12 1/2%)

And four California wines:
Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12%)
Franciscan Vineyards Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12.9%)
Louis M. Martini Private Reserve California Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12 1/2%)
Sebastiani North Coast Counties Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 (12.9%)

Nobody billed this as The Judgment of Seattle because nobody can claim that these were the very best wines from California and Bordeaux at the time. The two Bordeaux second-growths were well-regarded, as was Louis Martini Private Reserve. But they weren't carefully chosen to represent their areas: they just happened to be the one-off bottles this particular collector had left.

As for the Washington wines, Leonetti, unknown on its release, became a superstar, and Ste Michelle's "Chateau Reserve" line was its high end at the time. But the two other Chateau Ste Michelle wines were their supermarket line, which Charles believes were priced under $5. The Sebastiani was also probably in that price range; the others would have cost more.

Most of the experts, including me, tried to pinpoint which wines were which and often failed. But not always. One wine was bretty as hell, with no other flavors remaining, and we all correctly deduced that it was French.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What the Aquilinis are up to on Red Mountain

Aquilini Brands president Barry Olivier
Since 2013, when a mysterious man in a turban outbid a host of wineries at an auction for 670 acres of unplanted land on Red Mountain, the Washington wine industry has been wondering: who the heck are these people, and what are they up to?

The man in a turban, whose name I do not know, worked for the Aquilinis, a Canadian family of billionaires that owns the Vancouver Canucks hockey team and its arena. They're reportedly the world's largest farmers and processors of blueberries and cranberries, and they also own real-estate developments and several fine-dining restaurants in Vancouver. (Here are more details on Francesco Aquilini's Wikipedia page.)

But this is their first foray into wine, and it's a huge one, with important implications for the Washington wine industry. The Red Mountain AVA is Washington's trendiest region, responsible for many of its highest-rated wines. But Red Mountain is tiny: only 4040 acres total, with about 2400 planted. Of the Aquilinis' 670 acres, 535 are in the AVA. The Aquilinis are now Red Mountain's largest grape farmers by volume, and they will play a huge role in determining how Red Mountain is perceived in the future.

But when the Aquilinis harvested their first crop last year, they couldn't find buyers because they have so few contacts in the industry.

Hence this blog post. I did a story for Wine-Searcher about Red Mountain AVA for consumers because the wines merit it. This post is basically for the Washington wine industry. I spent a whole day with both Aquilini vineyard teams last month. Everybody else I talked to before or after asked, what are the Aquilinis up to? Well, I'll tell you.

There are two separate Aquilini wine operations