Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Pregnant Palate Pause Leads one to Conclude that Wine Ratings are Useless to the Average Consumer

As you may have noticed, I've taken a pregnant pause from tasting wine for a very good reason. In that period my husband and I got to meet the most wonderful person; our daughter. As we've gotten the hang of parenting, I've managed to dabble again in wine tasting with some surprising thoughts. When you take a break from tasting wine and return, it becomes apparent that a certain amount of group think has besieged the wine critiquing populace. It appears that when some taste and rate many wines for a living, their heavily used palate develops blind spots to certain characteristics of wine. This then encourages bad behavior in winemaking that has led to some Pinot Noir become almost indistinguishable from Syrah because some critics seem to enjoy this type of flavor profile.

My return to tasting was a bit of a shock as it was marked by many wines that seemed polluted by heavy oak influence that to the frequent imbiber most likely is perceived as a hint of vanilla, but to my reborn palate felt as if the heavy toast barrel had come to punch out any enjoyment from the moment. Taking a "pregnant" pause from wine reaffirmed my fervent belief that winemakers should allow the wine to reflect its roots with as little intervention as possible. Great wine is truly made in the vineyard.

In this vein, I have found myself migrating to less trendy varietals in new world wines where critics ratings bear less weight and thus allow winemakers more freedom. Food friendly wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Gris, California & French Sparkling, Sangiovese, Cab Franc, and Grenache strike me as the value and excitement in this current market and where I think the average wine drinker will find the most interesting offerings at bargain prices. So many flagship varietals such as syrah, cabernet, and pinot noir have become hard to gauge in value and often taste little like the actual grape and more like a heavy toast 2 year old oak french barrel. The average wine consumer looking for guidance cannot be well served or may well be turned off by wines rated highly by critics who through frequent tasting, have formed blind spots to some heavy handed interventionist techniques. It then appears logical that wine ratings and wine critics are perhaps not the best source of information for the general wine consumer.

So what is the best source of guidance for the average consumer? The best advice remains that one should always drink what they enjoy and if they do not like what is in their glass, try something else. Branch out past your cabernets and your pinots and try some less known varietals. Continue the hunt for what makes you raise an eyebrow and finally pay attention to what is in your glass. You will learn best through your own adventures. Life is too short to drink bad wine. Cheers!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Imagine you are hosting your own OTBN event and in walks Dorothy and John...

Tim Duggan is probably one of the more eclectic and entertaining individuals you could encounter in the Central Coast Wine Country. Always ready to wax philosophical about wine or find what works for your palate, not to mention having worked for some of the best winemakers in Santa Barbara County, and now making his own wines as well as running Wine Country with his family and working for Longoria Wines as their Sales & Marketing Director….., we were happy to get a chance to interview him on some magical Open that Bottle Night Happenstance.

Hi Tim. We‘re glad to get a chance to chat with you about one of the more serendipitous wine experiences I ever heard of. Before we get to that, how did you think your OTBN event would go and what wine did you choose and why?

Well, Sherrill O'Neill, my mom, is a huge follower of the Wall Street Journal wine section and thought that OTBN would be a cool party to host at Wine Country. We invited a bunch of people we knew in the wine business and all of the people on our mailing list, but only expected around 25 people to show up - this down economy has really put the dampers on frivolity. We ended up opening a 3L bottle of the Santa Barbara County Auction 2004 Pinot Noir Cuvee - a blend of pinot from 10 wineries produced for auction at the event. It turned out to be a pretty darn good wine, too - rich and ripe with a slight hint of pepper.

Considering this is the 10th year of a tradition that Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher started as long time wine writers for the Wall Street Journal, and you decide to host your own Open That Bottle Night event, and in walks in Dorothy and John… what ensued? Did you recognize them at first, what did they bring to pour?...We want the scoop….

At the point that Dorothy and John walked in there were only about 10 people in the room. I've never met them before, but have heard them talk on the radio a few times. Sherrill recognized them immediately but was literally struck dumb when they came in the door and asked if they could participate in our OTBN. I knew for sure who they were when I saw the wine that they pulled out - A 1999 Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine from Westport Rivers in Massachusetts. I mean who else would roll into Santa Barbara County with a wine like that. The wine by the way was stunningly good - better than any domestic sparkler I've ever tasted. To make an already long story short, I introduced myself to them and told them what an honor it was to have them show up to our party - pointing out that it was a miracle that Sherrill - who was still standing mute next to me - was still upright because they are her favorite wine writers. The rest of the evening was great. They talked to every guest as the place filled up to about 60 people and then they left to go eat in the bar at Mattei's Tavern.

What were the big wine standouts that night from Wine Country’s OTBN ?

The 2004 Auction Cuvee and the 1999 Westport Rivers sparkler were excellent. We also had a criminally young, but extremely tasty 2006 Chambolle-Musigny from Dujac Pere et Fils, a mini-vertical of Longoria Fe Ciega Pinot Noir from 2003-2005, a Brewer Clifton sparkling wine from 1993 that was great, and a 2002 Syrah from Santo Tomas ,a Baja California producer, that was pretty neat. There were other nice high-end Pinot Noirs and Syrahs from the crew of diligent Los Olivos wine pourers from the various tasting rooms in town - Andrew Murray, Consilience, Addamo, etc. Of course we opened a 2005 Sforzando Cabernet Franc, because I'll damned if I didn't show my own wine to the only nationally published wine writers to ever come into our store. They even told me that they liked it before I told them that I made it

What can you possibly do next year to top this?

Have an 80's theme party and wait for Elvis Costello to show up. Honestly, this was the serendipitous highlight of my 9 years in the wine business. But we will definitely be having another OTBN on February 27,2010 and I'll make sure that Dorothy and John know they are invited.

Any upcoming events at Wine Country that you think our readers would enjoy attending?

We have a mini-event called Global Wine Splashdown - a monthly comparative tasting between three wines of the same varietal - one from SBC, one from another country, and a third from abroad, California at large, or local; every day as a part of our tasting flight. This March is Grenache, April will be Pinot Noir, followed by Sauvignon Blanc in May and then Chardonnay in June.

All right now that we got the scoop on OTBN, we’d love to learn more about you.

What is your favorite varietal and why?

Pinot Noir hands down, although good Grenache is up there. I like medium-bodied wines with subtlety and good acidity. Not the kind of wines that Parker and Laube tend to give high scores to and not really popular with consumers who have cut their teeth on wine by chasing big scores from them. This is actually kind of good for me - most of my favorite wines have had very little change in price or availability in the last 10 years.

In tough times, people seem to be leaning towards beer, why should they reconsider wine? How can the wine novice find some good bargains?

Wine is better for you, but if I have a choice between a good beer at $10 a six-pack or or a plonky bottle of wine for the same price, then it's not even a tough decision. But honestly, the biggest mistake that people make in trying to find affordable wine is buying it at a grocery or big box store. Most of the affordable wines there are suspect - either cobbled together dishonestly and with no craft or mass-produced in frightening ways. They'd be the Natural Ice of beer world - good in a pinch to get drunk at a frat party, but not good to have with food that you or someone else has taken time to prepare. Instead, go to your local specialty wine retailer and tell them what kind of wine you are looking for and for what price. I can get anyone an affordable bottle of good wine, but they have to communicate with me and trust me.

It may be easier to list where you haven’t worked in Santa Barbara County but share with us a favorite memory or two from your work in the wine industry?

So many great events and memories. Meeting my wife, Kathleen, at the Firestone Tap Room after a hard day of slinging Sauvignon Blanc in the Buttonwood tasting room. World of Pinot Noir Paulee in 2005 at the ABC/Qupe winery was awesome. Being on a panel about SBC Pinot Noir at the Santa Fe Wine and Chili Festival with Bruno D'Alphonso and Dick Dore. Every Fiddlehead event. Trips to NY, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, etc. Bringing my own Cabernet Franc to last year's Franc fest. Spinning all vinyl in the Buttonwood tasting room. My vineyard wedding. Your vineyard wedding. It's been a fun ride.

What is your favorite wine and food pairing ever?

2002 Fiddlehead Pinot Noir Cuvee 728 with a both great neo-classic paella and then a roulade of veal with root vegetable gratin at Espuma in Rehoboth Beach,DE. It showed the versatility and elegance of the wine by being a perfect compliment to both diverse dishes.

What is your favorite wine and food pairing for our everyday reader to recreate at home?

Anything with good mushrooms and Pinot Noir. If you are ambitious in the kitchen then pair duck with Pinot Noir.

In keeping with Tim’s eclectic nature, I couldn’t resist some off topic questions:

If you couldn’t work in the Wine industry, what would you do? And don’t answer work in the beer industry…. But feel free to share your new favorite beer.

I'd probably work in business development for a non-profit (which is arguably what I do now in the wine business these days) or be a professional dinner party guest. Maybe go to law school. Write movie reviews? I don't know. My new favorite beer is Weihenstephaner Korbinian Dopplebock - dark and chewy with a noticeable mocha edge. It would be good with a Beef Stew or April baseball viewing.

Should I be devastated at the loss of Weapon X (Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles) to the Denver Broncos?

Duh, yes. He was getting a little old, but was the Eagles best player on defense for the last 10 years. It's hard to replace that kind of talent and experience. What will they do, suit Brian Westbrook up on defense, too?

Is Manny Ramirez good or bad for the Dodgers?

Frustratingly good, not just as a player but as a marketable persona. My prediction - He'll sign with them in a couple of weeks, hit .345 with 35 HRs and 126 RBI, open a chain of Latin food restaurants, be the subject of at least 2 viral videos, make Joe Torre smile, and lead the Dodgers to another improbable playoff run. The only players in his era that are at the same level with him in talent have tested positive for steroids. I'll take insanity over performance-enhancement scandals any day.

What do you think in pop culture has “jumped the shark” recently and why?

NBC and Jay Leno - how can you become more irrelevant to TV than by filling the 10pm time slot with an hour of the guy who wasn't relevant enough to keep the 11:30 time slot?...Twilight makes Harry Potter look like James Joyce...and Burn Without Reading might be the beginning of the end for the Coen Brothers - how do you make a movie that lame with that much talent?

And of course finally, what are you drinking right now?

2007 J Wilkes Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard - I gave up beer again for Lent.

Check out the Wall Street Journal Article "A Sparkling Night of Stature" by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher to get their OTBN perspective and you too can visit Wine Country in Los Olivos and check out their Facebook Fan Page to keep up with new events! You never know what they'll be pouring or who will be there tasting.


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Friday, December 12, 2008

December Wine Post: Baby Girl has arrived and all is well

It's been quite a while since this space has been updated but I do have two great adventures for tommorrow if you choose to accept them. Drive up to Santa Barbara and stop by Jaffurs to try Jaffurs Cellarmaster and Tasting Room Manager, Matt Brady's winemaking introduction.

The 2006 "Grandaddy Grenache" is the debut release from vino sapien wine co and will be served Saturday 13th 11-5pm at Jaffurs Wine Tasting Room in Santa Barbara. 819 E. Montecito St Santa Barbara

"The 2006 “Granddaddy Grenache” is the debut release from vino sapien wine company. vino sapien (“wise wine”) productions are inspired and dedicated to personally significant people in my life. This ultra-small lot was sourced from Thompson Vineyard in Los Alamos, and barrel aged 19 months. This wine explodes with candied cherries, cola, cinnamon and nutmeg spice, complex palate flavors and a silky smooth mouth feel, with a long drawn out finish. Grapes were hand farmed and old-world techniques were used in making this wine. Only 48 cases produced. " -From Jaffurs Newsletter.

Continue up to the wine ghetto and get into Palmina's Red White & Green Holiday Party!December 13th, 4.30 to 7.30pm At the Winery & Enoteca
$20 for Stagioni/Vendemmia members.$25 for the general public.

My husband and I made our first wine adventure up to Santa Ynez with our new little girl last week and managed to stop by Foxen for our wine club shipment. Everything they were pouring was great but I really enjoyed the 2007 Pinot Noir and the 2005 Happy Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon. No tasting notes yet, since I'm still learning to sip with an 8 week old in tow.
We also hit up the Buttonwood Pomegranate Fest and tasted some 2005 Cab Franc at Wine Country in Los Olivos. Tim Duggan and Graham Palmer's debut wine. Stop by to try some!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Santa Barbara County Wine Event Weekend

If you didn't have a reason to get out of town already. Here are a few more that might motivate you to head up to the Santa Ynez Valley this weekend. You might even want to call in sick on Friday and head up for an early start on the fun.



Its the annual Santa Barbara County Vintner's Festival. This event features wines from over 100 wineries in the area plus great food and music. Event is 1-4pm on Sat April 19th 2008 at River Park in Lompoc.

To compliment the festival, Pick up a Vintner's Visa at Wine Country in Los Olivos. ( $35 w/o festival ticket, $25 with your ticket). This gives you access to an amazing array of events running from Friday to Monday.

The list of events each day is just overwhelming. The standout on Friday looks to be a winemaker dinner with Flying Goat Cellars, Norm Yost's winery, at the La Purisima Mission. Additionally, Foley Estates will be open till 8pm and have light hord'oeuvres and wine tasting. Ken Brown Wines will also have an open house and library tasting. ( 11am- 4pm)

Saturday the big event is the festival of course but there is lots of other cool stuff to check out as well.

  • Babcock will be having an open house.
  • Palmina will be having a Friulian Symposium & Brunch prior to the festival.
  • Longoria will be having a Production Facility Open House so stop by there in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto prior to heading over to the festival.
So now you've gotten out of the festival and you're wondering what you can do now. There are tons of great winemaker dinners to choose from. Foxen's dinner at Alisal Ranch, Palmina's dinner at the Santa Ynez Inn, Buttonwood Farm's Taste the Futures dinner in the Vineyard featuring New West Catering, Core Dinner at Wine Country, and the Longoria dinner at the Ballard Inn. Check out this link for more information. Any of these would be amazing. You can't go wrong.

You still haven't had enough food, fun, wine. Well then there's Sunday!
  • One of my favorites is the ABC open house. For $15 bucks you get to taste wines from Au Bon Climat, Qupe, and Verdad. This is one of the two times a year that Jim Clendenen with Bob and Louisa Lindquist open the doors to their facility tucked away at Bien Nacido Vineyards. (11am-3pm)
  • Alma Rosa will also be having an open house with wine, food, and the music of Francisco Gonzalez a founder of the well known "Los Lobos". Admission is $15 dollars. ( 11am-5pm)
  • Jeff Wilkes of J Wilkes wines will be pouring over at Wine Country some of his new wines, library wines, and barrel samples. ( 11am-5pm)
  • Hitching Post wines will have an open house featuring their current releases and selected library wines, complete with Hitching Post appetizers! $15 per person (11am-3pm)
  • Kathy Josepth, of Fiddlehead Cellars, will be featuring a special library tasting so you can check out the aging potential of her wines. She will also have a great selection of cheeses and bbq.
This is just a taste of what's coming your way this weekend. To read more go to the check out the SB Vintner's Association Site. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

WBW: How Old World Cab Franc Reminds Me of Spring

The first days of spring growing up always seem to coincide with my preseason practice for softball. The smell of fresh cut grass, still dewy with March rains. The hint of leather in the air from your well worn glove. The breeze carrying faint floral scents that mingle with the dust of the infield. My old world Cab Franc after a swirl or two took me back to those memories with its nose of roses, celery, dark berries, green pepper, and leather. This wine was spring in a glass. Now I just have to dig out my old glove and get outside. I'm a big fan of Cabernet Franc and my wine for Wine Blogging Wednesday did not let me down. The other good news, is that I did not break the bank.

Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon "Les Chiens- Chien" for $15.99
This wine is a lovely balance of spice and silkiness with a pleasing gravely mouth feel that allows the finish to linger. This red is produced from 40-80 year old vines. I highly recommend this wine.

My wine was from Domaine547. While everyone is sold out of the 2004 we had, Domaine 547 has the 2005 if you are looking for your own supply. Snap it up now!

Thanks to Gary V for hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday#44!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cana's Feast Turns Grapes to Some Delicious Oregon Wine

Last time we stopped by Cana's Feast, it was known as Cuneo Cellars and the winery had a much smaller space. Previously their best wines were labeled under the Cana's Feast. The name refers to the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus was reported to have turned water into wine. From what we're told, they do use grapes from Southern Oregon, Eastern Washington, and the Willamette Valley to make the wine instead of water. One of my favorites about this tasting room is the expansive views from the property. Absolutely breathtaking. Lucky for us the wine's inside were a match for the scenery.

2005 Bricco Sangiovese
Bricco in Italian means the top of the hill hence the name since their Sangiovese is sourced from the vineyard at the top of the hill. This Sangiovese was delicious.
Bright juicy cherry, touch of cinnamon and leather. Fantastic fun wine thats judiciously exuberant yet restrained enough to pair with food. $34

2004 Bricco Two Rivers Blend ( Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, Petit Verdot)
Lovely, succulent cherry and earthy notes contrasting to make a delicious blend sourced from vineyards along the Rogue and Columbia River. Its a bargain at $20!

2005 Bricco Syrah $27
Co fermented with Viogner. Loads of dark fruit, leather and a finish of dark chocolate. $24

2005 Tre Novo Dolcepassa $35 A sweet, slightly raisiny dessert wine with lovely dark fruit and 7% residual sugar.

Cana's Feast also prices their wines in the tasting room the same as the average retail price in local wine shops or grocery stores so unlike many of the other Oregon wine tasting rooms, you don't have to feel ripped out when you see the same wine in the grocery store for less. Erath and Argyleboth charged a premium price in their tasting room compared to the same price you could get in the local Safeway. Sometimes it's best to taste and take your list to the local wine shop in wine country and pick up the same stuff for less. Cana's Feast was the exception the to rule.

Cana 's Feast tasting room is open 11-5pm most days. On Saturday's they have Enoteca Lunchs and Sunday's their tasting feature a menu of soup, cheeses, antipasti, and small plates. Their wine's are sourced from location in Oregon and Eastern Washington. A fun way to re stimulate your palate while tasting in the Willamette Valley which will predominately feature Pinot Noir at most wineries.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St Patrick's Day!


Happy Saint Patricks Day to everyone. Even though I am half Irish, I'm not a big fan of the corn beef and cabbage dinner and will be having salmon instead. My Irish grandmother told me in Ireland they often have salmon for St Paddy's day so I'm happy to leave the cornbeef and cabbage in the dust. Other key items are Guinness, Irish Soda Bread (Bristol Farms) and for the kid in you, the elusive Shamrock Shake from McDonalds. Last year was the first Paddy day that I was unable to locate my favorite guilty pleasure, the Shamrock Shake. The McDonald's register person made me feel like I was trapped in the Chappelle's Show's Pop Copy Skit by backing away from his register,raising his arms out to his side as if I had challenged his manhood. After this negative response to a simple question, I sadly left the McDonalds. How could they let me down? I rely on this "restaurant" for 2 things, reliable sausage egg and cheese mcmuffins for breakfast 3 times a year and the Shamrock Shake. I'm happy to see this post today at the LAist. It looks like they are back and I will hunt for mine today.

Or perhaps I will make this recipe instead. It sounds even better.

Ingredients:
2 cups Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
1/4 cup Low Fat Milk
1/2 York Peppermint Patty
1 Pack of York Wafer Bars
Reddi Whip
Chocolate Sprinkles
Green food coloring( optional)

Directions:
In a blender combine milk, ice cream and a few drops of food coloring. Blend to desired consistency. Pour into malt glass and top with a swirl of whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolates. Garnish with York patty and and wafer bars.

Show your support at Bring back the Shamrock Shake

And of course, wine just doesn't work today, Pour yourself a Guinness and enjoy your St Paddy's Day!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One of my favorite Wine Events of the Year: Melville Small Lot Pinot Noir Tasting

It's time for Melville's yearly debut of the 2006 estate small lot collection pinot noirs: High Density, Indigene, Terraces and Carrie's. For a tasting fee you get access to some of the most sought after Pinot Noir from Melville. Last year we retired to the tables and enjoyed chatting with Brent Melville who was whipping up some great complimentary Tri Tip. According to the site, he'll be barbecuing again this year. Tasty stuff, plus he's apt to go dig out some other new releases for sampling. This is event is fantastic every year and a great opportunity to taste some Pinot Noir. I've been a fan of the Carrie's and the Terraces since our wedding at Melville. Last year was the first year for the Indigene, Melville's first Pinot fermented with native yeast. I'm looking forward to see how it compares with the other selections.

Dates March 21st- March 23rd 2008 . Hours 11 am - 4pm. Link to Melville's site.

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