May 2007 Archives

Seeking Closure

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A Bottle Top Overcomes Its Screwed Up Rep

by Robert P. Farmer

By now anyone who has been paying attention has heard the details in the discussion about screw caps. Once vilified in fine wine circles as the bellwether of bad taste, winemakers and wine lovers alike now embrace the ordinary screw cap. The reasons for this are myriad. But the practice, supported by evidence and sound science, still have yet to gain widespread acceptance in the wine industry.

When Drinking Pink, Don’t Think

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contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Too hard, that is. Every spring I marvel at the countless articles about rosé (AKA pink) wine that pop up under the headline “Think Pink.” When the fact of the matter is that this curious step child of the wine world really shouldn’t be thought of too much at all.

case in point
The other day I enthusiastically poured a glass of a pink wine I’d just picked out for a friend. Its festive red flower-strewn label reminded me of Cabaret posters and its bright pink juice was just as lively. It was, in short, the quintessential bottle of rosé. When I asked my friend what he thought of it he reflected for a moment and just said, “It’s fun.”

That’s it!? “Fun”?!

The wine writer in me recoiled at the insult his brief response implied. For someone who regularly constructs lengthy (don’t you dare call them “flowery”!) write-ups of the good stuff, I was taken aback at his limited description. After all, the guy knows I must have selected the bottle with more than just a moment’s consideration.

when brief is okay
When I pressed him for more information my friend stood by his “fun” descriptor. Upon noting my crestfallen look he went on to explain that it might – sort of – remind him of watermelon. Or sweet tarts. But really, he wrapped up reassuringly, that all had nothing to do with the fact that the wine was, without a doubt, quite good.

As I knocked back another swallow of the pink stuff I had to agree that it was, indeed, a good wine. But more importantly, it was undeniably fun.

tasting notes
2005 Mas de Bazan Rosado, DO Utiel-Requena, Spain
Fun, with a sprinkling of watermelon and an afterthought of sweet tarts. (No further thinking required.)

A Piece of Auction Napa Valley History

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The War of the Apostrophes and its Accord

The Napa Valley Wine Auction, or Auction Napa Valley as it is now known, has featured in its lots many interesting, rare, and original wines over the years.

Several of those wines have come with stories as compelling as the vintages themselves: historic reunions of long estranged family members, scarce cult wines, elbow-rubbing opportunities with Hollywood celebrities, and accords between feuding neighbors. One such wine, offered to the highest bidder during the 1986 wine auction, was the result of the settlement of hostilities over . . . an apostrophe.

Wine & Prejudice

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contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Like Elizabeth Bennet, I sometimes misjudge characters based on false notions I have of their true nature. But where Elizabeth erred in judging men, I sometimes make my mistakes in appraising wine. And while this may sound like a trivial comparison – certainly Ms. Bennet has been called one of English literature’s great heroines, and I’m just a newbie wine critic still shy of my two-year anniversary as a certified sommelier – I’m hoping you’ll find it refreshingly tongue-in-cheek and perhaps even a little enlightening.

You see, it’s my opinion that our relationship to wine is a lot like our relationship to the opposite sex. As with potential mates, we sometimes incorrectly conclude that a wine isn’t meant for us based on external factors like labels, prices, and point scores. But these factors don’t always account for what really counts – the more subtle things lingering inside the bottle. Read on for a short list of common pitfalls when it comes to appraising a wine’s character and how to avoid stumbling into them.

The most frequently misjudged things when it comes to wine, labels tell us very little about the quality of what’s inside the bottle. I’m always surprised at how some of the worst wines I sample have the most appealing labels, while some of the most amazing wines I’ve stumbled upon often come in the most anonymous-looking packages. My point: The Wickhams of the wine world are plentiful. These are wines that trick you into believing they’re something special simply by wooing you with their flashy exteriors. The moral: don’t judge a wine by its label.

Another common prejudice pitfall! In the wine world especially, price and quality simply aren’t always on par. I’ve had just as many amazing $15 wines as $50 wines, although the best versions on the lower end have taken a little more work to find, I’ll admit. At the same time, there are a handful of wines out there that are extremely expensive and totally out of this world – in other words, absolutely worth it! These are the Darcys of the wine world, and when you find one, be sure to savor it.

In the same way that a handful of snobby aristocrats dictated who was popular in Jane Austen’s 19th Century England, a few influential wine critics tell today’s consumers which wines are worth buying. But, just as the aristocrats of Ms. Bennet’s time represented a singular – albeit influential – take on popular society, today’s wine critics aren’t the ONLY arbiters of taste when it comes to what’s in your glass. At the end of the day, what really matters in your perception of a wine is if it resonates with you personally, whether that be because it’s been well received by a certain critic or because it just blew your mind. In the latter instance, be sure to buy a case.

leslieRudd.jpgLeslie Rudd is an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a real heart for the Napa Valley. Already a proprietor of Dean & DeLuca, Rudd Winery, Edge Hill Estate, PRESS restaurant, and Distillery 209, he recently adopted the historic Oakville Grocery in an effort to restore the beloved destination for wine country visitors.

Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Rudd officially began his career following his student years at Wichita State University. Unofficially, he began it at the age of eight when his parents started what is now the Standard Beverage Corporation (SBC). Spending his spare time at the company, Rudd learned about entrepreneurship when other children were riding bikes. He eventually became owner and CEO of SBC, molding the business into the largest wine and spirits wholesaler in the state of Kansas.

Petite Sirah, The Not So Little Prince

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fa_little_prince.jpgIt's one of the most heart-warming wine stories of recent times: a tale of love and loyalty, family tradition, and the perilous passage through deserts of neglect to reach the lush garden of commercial success. The hero of this romantic journey? A forgotten prince known as Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was born of French parents in the 1800s. His father was Syrah, long renowned for the famed red wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. His mother was the less noble but passing fair Peloursin. Yet somehow they abandoned or lost their offspring. He finally turned up in Livermore Valley east of San Francisco, planted by Irish immigrant James Concannon in 1883. But no one knew who he was.
syrahGlasses.jpgMany years after the movie debuted, they're still giving "Sideways" tours down in Santa Barbara County, and they will be for years to come. That's how it is with movies that cement an image of a place in the popular mind. Santa Barbara's wine country is now Pinot Noir country, and that's that.

Except that it isn't. For some of us, Santa Barbara County's chunk of the massive Central Coast appellation is Syrah country.   It's where Zaca Mesa winery, founded in 1972, still preserves what it calls the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Central Coast and still makes illuminating Syrah. It's where Bob Lindquist went to work in 1975, and then founded Qupé to make some of California's first breakthrough Syrahs in the early 1980s. Those wines made it onto the wine list at Chez Panisse, which wielded more influence in those days than most people can imagine, and Syrah was effectively launched on its current rocket ride to star status.
Everett.Ridge.TR.jpgIt may be a small AVA (American Viticultural Area) but one whose wines you are not likely to overlook. Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County has long been a grape-growing region respected for its zinfandels.

This small AVA is only 16 miles long and two miles wide - that's measured ridge to ridge, however, the actual valley growing zone is much narrower. There are more than 9,000 acres planted at this time and even though zinfandels are well known here, it is second in acreage to cabernet sauvignon.