Saturday, December 23, 2006

Boys' Night Out Las Vegas Rendezvous

It was impossible to pass up the opportunity to trek to Las Vegas for a BNO (boys’ night-out) last month. Stephen Marshall, executive chef of the Medici at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas, obliged to prepare a special dinner menu to match up with whatever wines we could muster. A consensus, more or less, evolved over the wine theme, and as soon as all the bottles were gathered up and styrofoamed for the airplane check-in, the Vegas affair was afoot


A trio of Champagnes started the evening. Eric uncorked the surprise performer, an unpretentious and somewhat obscure non-vintage Champagne Brut Rosé de Saignée from Duval-Leroy. Duval-Leroy, a venerable estate in Vertus, is one of the few Champagne houses that produce pink Champagne using the traditional saignée method. It’s the long method of making pink wines—instead of simply mixing some red wine to white wine to produce a rosé, Duval-Leroy uses 100% Pinot Noir, macerating the skin with the first-pressed juice for about 24 to 48 hours to allow just enough time for the skin color to “bleed” and produce a wine with a lovely salmon pink hue. This Champagne put out its seductive charms with its baked fruit aromas and rich, mouthfilling flavors of dense fruitcake. Matt detected “almond and almond extract”. It was truly captivating Champagne! At least 3 puffs.

Duval Leroy Rose.JPG

The 1997 Champagne Brut Rosé “Cuvée Alexandra” Laurent-Perrier that followed was more reticent. A deep salmon pink color. On the nose, it smelled as yeasty as baking bread; and after a while in the glass it starts to taste more like Burgundy, deliciously nutty and minerally. It is built to last and with its firm, sturdy character, tastes like it can age another 10 years or more. This 1997 is just the fourth release of this special Champagne as it’s only made in special years. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay—all from grand cru vineyards—vinification starts with a short maceration period of the two grapes to extract the color. 3 ½ puffs was the consensus score after considerable deliberation and comparison with the Duval-Leroy.


We drank the 1995 Comtes Blanc de Blancs Taittinger in style, while riding in the limo en route to the restaurant. Serious tasting was not easy as the Champagne sloshed in the glass most of the way. It was quite creamy and the flavors were again reminiscent of a big white Burgundy. Almost brutally dry, mouthfilling and very minerally. This bottle was just way too tight and young. It really needs several more years to mellow as it is quite a brute right now. 3 ½ puffs.

Taittinger Comtes '95.JPG

As soon as we settled down around the spacious round chef’s table, the next flight commenced. It was an interesting pair of Corton-Charlemagne from the distant past: 1978 Joseph Drouhin and 1982 Bonneau du Martray.The Bonneau du Martray estate is of course the embodiment of Corton-Charlemagne itself. It’s the giant of the appellation, owning a whopping 9-plus hectares of vineyard, and it’s almost sole production is Corton-Charlemagne (an inconsequential amount of red Corton is also produced). It’s situated on the Pernand side where the character is more mineral and elegant and the wines more long-lived. The 1982 is mature, but still very fresh; tasting of honeyed fruits with hints of citrus/orange. What a brilliant bottle from a so-so Burgundy vintage! It is clearly one of Bonneau du Martray’s best. That after nearly a quarter of a century, this wine can be so fresh-tasting and elegant is proof of the superiority of the Bonneau du Martray terroir. Veteran and novice wine collectors, alike, who focus mainly on “vintages of the century” are missing out and overspending; oftentimes, great wines are produced in unheralded years. Group score is 3 puffs.

How lucky can we get to have not one, but two great Corton-Charlemagne experiences in one night! The 1978 Corton-Charlemagne from Joseph Drouhin was another stellar performer, but it was more reticent. From the get-go it was outclassed by the Bonneau du Martray. But an hour or so later, the Drouhin blossomed and blew us away! Looking back, maybe we should have decanted it. Some experts do recommend decanting aged grand cru white Burgundies, particularly Corton-Charlemagne. At any rate, the two Corton-Charlemagnes couldn’t be more different. Drouhin, a negociant, nevertheless has owned a parcel in Corton-Charlemagne for quite some time, so this is a domaine wine. 1978 was another average, at best, white Burgundy vintage, yet this is one of the great Corton-Charlemagnes from Drouhin. Ha! Ha! Another reason to throw away vintage charts. Tight for a while, but later fragrant with floral, toasted bread scents. This has penetrating depth, very long, vivid, and totally focused. The flavors are just amazingly persistent. Consider the fact that this Chardonnay has evolved for nearly thirty years! Group score is 3 ½ puffs.

Drouhin Corton-Charl 78.JPG

Well, on with the reds from this point on. What follows is the main theme of the evening: 1982 Bordeaux. To sort of “cleanse” both our glasses and palates a bottle of 1984 Pichon-Lalande (“glass-coater”, says Steve) was passed around. No one expected much from this lowly bottle, but it more than did its job. A touch earthy and mushroomy, with the familiar Pichon-Lalande floral-sweet cedar-plum scents coming through. Graceful and still weighty on the palate. I’m reminded of what Michael Broadbent wrote about one of his favorite Bordeaux: “certainly fully mature, an easy style of wine, the tannin so noticeable at a tasting bench would be unnoticeable with food; it would merely serve to refresh, leave the mouth clean and dry—an aid to the digestion. That is what good claret is for.”

Pichon Lalande 82 84.JPG

The first 4 puffer of the evening was the 1982 Pichon-Lalande. This beauty exuded floral, violets, and earthy scents. Very lush, sweet, and somewhat chocolatey. It felt fresh on the palate, with its good acid balance, and the tannins were rich and velvety smooth. Never forceful, but totally persistent in its long finish. It held steady in the glass throughout the evening. What a gloriously harmonious wine! Will it continue to improve? I think that’s a subjective notion. I very much like the way it is right now, mature yet youthfully fresh and energetic. There is no question in my mind that this is at its peak.

Palmer 82.JPG

A pristine-looking bottle of 1982 Palmer followed next. Let me say first that it is a highly attractive wine for its powerful fruit and robust character. But it remains a puzzler as it is rough-edged and its expression is muddled. There is a lack of the Palmer elegance and, instead, more cru bourgeois. Will it still blossom in later years? Nevertheless, good wine is still good wine, as it adequately accompanied a marvelous plate of medium-rare New York strip venison in a sauce infused with juniper oil extract. 3 puffs.


The 1982 Cos d’Estournel had no hesitation; it opened up immediately as soon as it hit the glass. Mouthfilling, soft, and lush, with flavors of dark chocolate-coated blackberries. It’s almost like a fruit-bomb, soft-centered and lacking grip, yet its energy and liveliness are essentially what still make it so good. It, too, was great with the venison, proving that great producers like Palmer and Cos don’t have to come up with perfect wines to be enjoyable 24 years after the vintage. 3 puffs.

Leoville Lascases 82.JPG

More than any other vintage, 1982 pushed Léoville-Las-Cases to the front ranks of Bordeaux's quality hierarchy and made its name synonymous with the term, “super-second”. Perhaps its greatest success, the 1982 is still backward and evolving, yet the potential is clear. The nose has reached a point of lovely maturity, with its bouquet of tobacco and sweet herbs. On the palate it is already austere and elegant and still backed by excellent concentration of fruit that is very cassis. After an hour or so in the glass, its power is more evident in its firmness and muscular concentration. This is a serious wine, not a drink to trifle with; its character is dry and cerebral, not sensual. 4 puffs.

It’s interesting to observe that the 1982 Mouton-Rothschild is not so dissimilar to the 1982 Léoville-Las-Cases as both are still backward wines and probably another decade till peak. But the Mouton is definitely seductive, with its sweet and spicy cigar box nose; its velvety tannins; and its lush, concentrated flavors of cassis and ripe plums. The sweet flavors stay long on the mid-palate, and then turn austere and elegant on the lengthy finish, with notable freshness and good acid balance. In today’s tendency for low-acid, high alcohol wines, it’s notable that this powerful, long-lived Mouton has 11.5% alcohol! 4 puffs.

In the midst of all these Bordeaux, a 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia was passed around. To be honest, I failed to take notes on this one and my memory may not do enough justice to it. Suffice it to say that is was still drinking young and it was quite a change from the Bordeaux not just for its more voluminous fruit, but for its sharp minty flavors. A standout Cabernet Sauvignon I’m sure.

This whole dinner affair was undoubtedly exhilarating but quite fatiguing as well. At least four hours had passed from the time we started, and there was one more drink to go and, of course, cigars. We repaired to the outside patio to polish off the decanted 1963 Fonseca Port. The red mahogany-colored liquid was very sweet and velvety. Its fragrant nose recalled preserved plums, chocolate, and cedar. In the mouth it was powerful, aggressive, almost rough, but it caressed with its heady sweet raspberry, earthy, licorice flavors. Very long, sustained finish. An astonishing Port for its power and youth!

Fonseca Port 63.JPG

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"A Good Year" The Movie

(The limestone covered vineyards of Château la Canorgue. Photo courtesy of Beaune Imports)

Getting serious Hollywood heavyweights like Director Ridley Scott and Actor Russell Crowe to do a slapstick film on wine is almost bizarre. Yet, their new movie "A Good Year" is a lot of fun to watch, especially if you approach it like you would a good rosé.

Based on Peter Mayle's book of the same title, the movie tells the tale of a obsessively competitive boy, tutored early on about the charms of wine by his uncle during summers spent at the latter's vineyard in Provence, who grew up to be a greedy, backstabbing monster of an investment banker in the City of London (he calls his minions "lab rats"). From the moment Max Skinner, the investment banker (played by Russell Crowe), received a letter from France informing him about his uncle's death and his impending inheritance, the movie becomes altogether predictable, so you can just sit back and laugh at the run of jokes and hilarious scenes that Ridley Scott stitched together.

Wine buffs would delight in how wine is the catalyst in the movie. No, there is no discussion here of malolactic fermentation or of showing off great trophy wines as in "Sideways". The opening scene sets the tone with the boy Skinner being schooled on the appreciation of wine by his uncle who opens a bottle of 1969 Bandol, Domaine Tempier. The uncle pours a full glass for himself and he cuts the next glass with water for his nephew. Asked by the boy why he likes wine, the uncle explains that "wine is incapable of lying".

But the real star of the movie is the Provençal setting. Much of it was filmed on location at the beautful estate of Château la Canorgue in the Lubéron hills of Provence. Its picturesque Roman villa, with a natural stone swimming pool, overlooking the limestone covered vineyards is stunning.

Enough said. Go see the movie and enjoy!

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Uva Cure!


There's been a spate of reports recently about the remarkable healing powers of wine, specifically red wine.

A study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that Cabernet Sauvignon may help cure Alzheimer's disease. It appears that Cabernet Sauvignon stimulates a protein that prevents Alzheimer's from developing. The study was done on mice and not on humans.

Another study, also involving mice, done by the Harvard Medical School and the Naitonal Institute on Aging, showed that large doses of resveratrol, a substance found in red wine, "lowers the rate of diabetes, liver problems and other fat-related ill effects in obese mice", says a New York Times article.


These studies certainly appear to be good reasons to keep drinking wine. But I do remember Julia Child's comment on a TV show with Jacques Pepin when they were cooking salmon. Pepin extolled the benefits of Omega-3 found in salmon, to which Child immediately retorted, "but we don't eat salmon for medicine!" Amen

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The BNO California Pinot Noir Theme

Our BNO (Boys’ Night Out) wine group was called into order on August 25th. The theme this time was California Pinot Noir. But as always, there were tasty deviations from the theme.

To start things off the sparkler was a California Mumm's Napa Blanc de Noirs Rosé ("in honor of our Kawleeforniaa theme", said Kevin). Appropriate with the theme as this is made with Pinot Noir. “Highly rated, good value also. Very nice wine—loads of Pinot fruit, decent balance.” (Kevin)

Ours hosts (John and Bonnie) put out an outstanding spread of appetizers, with different cheeses (Brie and Parmesian) coupled with Bruschetta and salami. Fabulous with the Mumm’s Napa. The presence of Bonnie added a new element to BNO, as she’s so far the only woman to have joined the group—a most welcome intrusion (?), so to speak.


Williams Selyem’s 2002 Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard got drained quickly. “Classy, clean, fragrant”, says Kevin. Unfortunately, our main scribe for the night didn’t pull his pen fast enough to take copious notes and had only this comment: “I started taking notes well after they were gone, and my recollections would not do them justice, although the Selyem was Bonnie’s favorite wine.”

Hereafter, Steve’s notetaking was exemplary.

"Dinner was an outstanding cut of prime rib, with baked potatoes and all the fixings, a great compliment to the wines which rapidly began flowing. We scored them on the puff system, with 4 puffs being the highest accolade that a wine can receive. The wines started to flow fairly rapidly, and continued flowing all through dinner. The comments are not presented in the order of opening and the comments represent many opinions, and for me personally, many glasses of wine:


1976 Hanzell - Who says California Pinots can’t age? This wine exceeded everyone’s expectations and was fabulous! An unbelievable nose, full of anise, leather, strawberries forest floor, mushrooms and rose petals. It was very concentrated in appearance, dark, deep, with little bit of a burnt edge. Full flavored, with a very complete mouth feel, good fruit, well integrated, but still with notable acid. 15.4% alchohol. 3.5 puffs

1994 Hanzell – A deep ruby color, more leather, earth and forest floor, the sweet fruit has not emerged yet, but the wines are clearly cousins. Very tight right out of the bottle, still tannic and full of acid, the fruit started to emerge later in the evening. Very balanced, chewy and rich on the palette, the overwhelming view of the group was that it was just to young, and it needs more time to emerge and develop. This (like the previous bottle) was clearly viewed as a serious food wine. 3.5 puffs


1999 Marcassin, marcassin vineyards: If the Hanzell, was a brute, a school yard bully, the Marcassin was a graceful ballerina (I told you I had several glasses of wine as I started writing). Because I brought this wine, I was expecting it to blow away the competition (at leased based upon auction price). The wine was delightful, if the Hanzell was a food wine, this was a wine that cried for a party. Soft and lush on the palette, a complete wine. Perfectly integrated, round and balanced in the mouth, bursting with soft red fruits, raspberry, strawberry. Beautiful nose, incredibly subtle, with rose petal, flowers and red fruit. 3.0 puffs

1984 Calera - WOW, what a surprise! The killer wine of the evening, certainly blowing away my expectations. Fragrant and earthy, an explosive intoxicating nose of red fruit and violets. Complete mouth feel, a multi-dimensional wine, perfectly balanced acid and soft tannins, not soft in the mouth more chewy, full of violets and richness. At it’s peak, Great right now, nothing to improve. The most complete wine of the evening, stylistaclly, more French than Californian. If the Hanzell is food, and the Marcassin is party, this is the wine I would take to desert island wine. 4.0 puffs

1996 Gary Farrell – One of California’s legendary wine makers. Lighter than the others, but still rich in color. Light pomegranite and plum fragrance on the still tight nose. Mouth feel was a little disappointing, thin on mid and back palette, a little flat, perhaps past it’s prime. Drink now, still a great wine, but it had some brutal competition, which hurt it in a head to head comparison. 2.5 puffs”

Kevin chimed in: “Williams Selyem ' 02., suggested what the G. Farrell might have been like 3-4 yrs. earlier. Dry mouthfeel, good acidity, some rhubarb notes, I didn't think this would improve.” (Kevin)

“If I could drink mahogany, this would be it.”

“1927 Cockburn Port - It’s nights like this, that I feel lucky to be associated with this wine group. Any one of these wines would be a huge treat on it’s own, but to have them together, and then to end on a wine like is pure luck. The bottle fill was low shoulder, but no signs of seepage. The port was a bit cold on opening, and very tight. The color was jewel like, garnet in color, but clear, not at all cloudy. Kevin swears by his port tongs for opening old bottles, and if this bottle was any indication, I may have to risk personal injury and switch. Opening a bottle with port tongs involves fire, red hot metal, ice cubes and broken glass. As it warmed, it’s richness emerged, a heady nose of black walnut, tobacco and caramel. If I could drink mahogany, this would be it. In a blind tasting, I would have picked this as a late 80’s early 90’s wine. A bit light on the front palette, but it gained weight and muscle as it went on. The finish went on and on, 60+ seconds. A viscous and oily mouth feel, after sweet dark fruits on front palette (cherries and blackberries), a spicy richness of carroway and nutmeg emerged. YUM YUM!!!!!” Very nice wine."

Kevin’s comments: “Cockburn ' 27. I agree, youngish, my thought was more like ' 60 or ' 66. Cockburn pre 40's vintages, even more austere and tight than its reputation for those qualities in later years. Would have been fun to see how it would have developed with a day or two--I agree Steve, opened up considerably, lean, elegant, dry, good acidity."

No “puffs” were recorded for this wine. I don’t know if it was just in the euphoria of the moment or no one bothered any more, but I guess it’s safe to assume this Cockburn is a four pointer.

And for the newbies out there, Cockburn is pronounced: Koh-burn. My friend, Dennis Foley, reinforced this fact on me when he commented, quite accurately I would say, that:
"cock burn is a condition, while Cockburn is a Port".

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

R.W. Apple, Jr.

Global gourmand and New York Times super-journalist, R.W. Apple, Jr., passed away today at the age of 71.

A gifted journlist with a prodigious appetite for fine food and wine, he used such talents to perfection, reporting blissfully about his food adventures around the world. He was unique among journalists as he criss-crossed the world of news reporting and that of food and wine.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Hail to Olive Garden, Wine Marketer Extraordinaire!

Olive Garden.jpg

The hugely popular Italian-themed restaurant chain Olive Garden is not just good with breadsticks, but it's also the top wine seller among restaurants in the country. With nearly 600 locations, the chain goes through over half a million cases a year according to recent reports. Okay, they don't exactly sell classified-growth Bordeaux or Napa cults, but their wine program is a smashing success and, therefore, remarkable considering that the chain targets middle America, not upscale gourmands who are usually regarded as the main wine consumers in this country.

How does Olive Garden entice their customers to drink wine? It starts with an easy to understand, one-page wine list dominated by wines selling in the range of $20-$30 per bottle. The list is classified not by price, grape varietal, or geography, but by flavor profile: something more understandable and friendly to their customers. They have "Slight Sweet" (white Zinfandel, Riesling, Asti), "Light & Fruity" (Pinot Grigio), "Full & Smooth" (Chardonnay), "Smooth & Fruity" (Pinot Noir, Valpolicella), "Soft Berry Flavors" (Merlot, Chianti), and "Robust & Rich" (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Barolo, Amarone). Mark-ups are 2X-3X retail. Brands are well-known mass market, large-volume producers such as Sutter Home, Robert Mondavi, Penfolds, Cavit, Yellow Tail, and Kendall-Jackson.

But the restaurant also hooks customers by having a staff member go around offering free tastes of some of their wines. Though white Zinfandel still accounts for 40% of wine sales, customers are increasingly moving on to Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

This is a welcome exception to the wine establishements' dependence on wine critics' scores to promote wines. It's good to see restaurants like the Olive Garden tackle the marketing successfully with, shall we say, a more user-friendly approach.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Passing of a Giant

(photo courtesy of Martine's Wines)

Burgundy legend, Henri Jayer, passed away last Wednesday. He was 84.

In wine there are few who are truly legends and Henri Jayer was one of them. So legendary that some presumed that he passed away many years ago mainly because he laid low and turned over his estate to his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget, in 1996.

Jayer leaves a legacy that is hard to overestimate as the vineyard and winemaking practices he espoused are routinely applied by vignerons and winemakers all over the world today. His motto was: “quality before anything else”. He freely gave advice and mentored fellow Burgundians such as the late Denis Mortet, Philippe Charlopin, Jean-Michel Meo, and of course his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget.

In the vineyard, he pruned severely to reduce yields, and he plowed to discourage surface roots and encourage roots to go down deeply. He also harvested late, making sure that the crops have reached full ripeness.

But it was in the cellar that the Jayer method was copied widely by winemakers all over the world, whether making wine with Pinot Noir or other grape varietals. He brutally sorted. He fully destemmed. He cold-soaked for a week to extract color and aroma and macerated with the skins for up to a month. Then he aged his wines in 100% new oak

Although the Jayer method can easily be copied, the results are seldom duplicated. The secret, if it’s any secret at all, is that one must still know the wines that one is making. That is something that cannot be taught or copied.

Next time you enjoy a Burgundy or Pinot Noir offer a toast to Henri Jayer, as there's a good chance the wine you may be drinking has his imprint on it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Future of the Wine Advocate

It is the sign of the times. Instead of waiting for the next printed issue of the Wine Advocate to announce sweeping changes in its staffing, Robert Parker opted to post a thread on the Squires forum housed in the Web site.

Details about the new staff critics dominated Parker's post, but he also revealed new directions for the Wine Advocate's reporting and Web strategies. Parker has entrusted David Schildknecht to handle the bulk of the Wine Advocate's content. In addition to his current beat in Germany and Alsace, Schildknecht will also be covering Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Languedoc-Roussilllon, New Zealand, and South Africa. Yet that's not all, with more critics on hand, the Wine Advocate is also looking to reach out to other wine frontiers heretofore given little coverage. Thus, Schildknecht's mandate includes reporting Central Europe and the United States' East Coast and Midwest winegrowing regions. Given his wide-ranging role, no doubt Schildknecht is Parker's new right hand man.

During the runup to the announcement, Parker observers heavily predicted Antonio Galloni, the young New York-based editor and publisher of the popular online Piedmont Report, to join the Wine Advocate. They were, of course, correct. Galloni will be covering all of Italy this time and, get this, the entire content of the Piedmont Report will be made accessible in

The other two new members of the staff are Parker cronies. Dr. J. Miller, Parker's longtime friend and supposed clone, will be taking on wine regions known for producing Port-like wines: Australia, Spain, and of course Oporto. Plus, he will be reporting on wines of the Pacific Northwest and South America. Meanwhile, Mark Squires gets the all-important task of writing about the dry wines of Portugal.

Parker, presumably, is a much happier man now, as he gets to focus on his main bailiwick of Bordeaux, Rhône Valley (and Provence), and California.

Parker also hinted bringing in a "critic-at-large" for the Web site. One who's "a prolific writer who will provide remarkable diversity and expertise, and will represent a point of view outside the American perspective that now dominates this site.” Hmmm. Could this be Michel Bettane?

Highlighting the importance of engaging readers directly via the Web, Parker also stated increased Web participation of the Wine Advocate staff: “All of us will be even more active on the Mark Squires Bulletin Board that appears on the web site”. For sure, this new emphasis on the Web will draw even more traffic to the Web site.

Overall, Parker is to be congratulated on most of these changes. The strong presence of Schildknecht and Galloni gives the Wine Advocate great credibility in the areas these two gentlemen will cover. No doubt they will help boost readership for the Wine Advocate, which, needless to say, must happen as the publication now has a considerable payroll to meet.

Perhaps more importantly, the reorganization also paves the way for the publication to thrive beyond Parker. The Wine Advocate is now a viable brand on its own. Competing wine media should take notice.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

New TV Series on Wine Seeks to "Demystify" Wine

The Cork Dorks, a new educational TV series on wine, will air soon on a Public TV channel in your location. Hosted by two wine industry characters ("the cork dorks", get it?), the 30-minute episode features on-location shots at vineyards and wineries as the hosts goof around and explain heady winemaking terms as "green harvest" and "skin-to-juice ratio".

Their narration is helped along by nifty "Powerpoint"-type bullet-point presentation graphics and catchy numbered lists borrowed from glossy magazine headlines, such as: "The 6 Napa Wineries That Made Napa What It Is Today", "4 Things That Wine Lovers Should Do (But Probably Don't)", and "3 Secrets of Wine Labels".

This is a truly educational program that's slick and entertaining as well. The hosts do succeed in demystifying many aspects about wine, but let's hope they don't succeed too much. Edutainment shows like these could be deceptive. It might make you more wine smart but not necessarily enhance or widen your appreciation of wine.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Doomed to 40 Years of Vintages of the Century

If climate scientists in Europe are to be believed, it looks like Europe's major winegrowing regions might "suffer" through a vintage of the century for almost each year of the next 40 to 50 years. These experts predict that "Europe will experience 50 percent less rainfall in summer and 30 percent more rainfall in winter", according to a recent report in the Financial Times.

In short, such a forecast means a weather similar to that of 2005, which has produced one of the greatest vintages in the winegrowing regions of Bordeaux, the Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, the Rhône, Piedmont, and Germany. Already 2006 is shaping up so far as another stellar year in many of France's wine regions. July is reported the hottest on record since 1950 and though rainfall was 10% higher than average, June's rainfall was down to just 50% of average.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Upheaval in Parker's Domaine


According to recent news reports, Wine Advocate staffers, Pierre Rovani and Daniel Thomases, will soon be leaving the publication founded and owned by wine critic Robert Parker. Rovani, Parker's supposed "heir apparent", who worked for a wine retailer at the time Parker recruited him in 1996, is said to be weary of his career as a wine critic and is yearning to return to the wine trade.

Since news of the staff changes broke out, the grapevine has been rife with speculation. So what's next for the Wine Advocate? Who will Parker recruit as replacements? Will he just retire and sell the publication? Is a merger in the cards, possbily with Allen Meadows' Burghound or Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Great Whites

We had another inspirational get-together the other week, and the theme this time was white wines. The folks in the group were generous as always to share interesting bottles from their stash. We started out with a powerful and richly scented 1998 Corton-Charlemagne-Louis Latour, which is just starting to come out. Full, elegant, and very long, it is still some years away from peak. A plate of smoked salmon matched the wine's richness.


Next ones up were a pair of Chablis Grand Cru Valmur from Verget, one a 1997 and the other a 1995. Both were lively, vibrant wines. The 1995 was soft and lush, really seductive that evening, while the 1997 was more mineral, very long, and complex; not yet peak and showing great potential in a few more years. 1997 Chablis vintage has really turned out some nice bottles. These wines were delicious with a plate of juicy white asparagus wrapped in crisped bacon.

The pair that followed were a 1991 Chevalier-Montrachet-Leflaive and a 1994 Corton-Charlemagne-Louis Latour. The Chevalier had a powerful, mineral nose but is very reticent still. Towards the end of the dinner it opened up some more revealing signs of its excellent potential in probably another five years or so.

In contrast, the '94 Corton-Charlemagne was almost overwhelming in its heady, rich vibrant flavors which kept unfolding in the mouth. Structured and very long on the finish. This is a great white Burgundy with years of enjoyment ahead.

With this pair we enjoyed an amazingly succulent and perfectly cooked baked halibut in white wine (the '98 Corton Charlemagne) and toasted pine nuts. For white Burgundy fans this is a recipe to treasure.


Probably the highlight of the evening was the duo of white Bordeaux, sister wines from the Graves actually. A 1981 Laville Haut-Brion (the white of La Mission Haut-Brion) and a 1982 Haut-Brion Blanc, both in glorious condition. The Laville, still pale and light in color, displayed an attractive mineral, citrus nose; a very elegant body; and luscious flavors underpinned by its delicate minerality. It is bone-dry and well-balanced. Drinking just right and probably will not get much better than this.

The '82 Haut-Brion was simply unbelievable. Not that I've tried many, but this has got to be one of the greatest whie Bordeaux ever made because it is hard to imagine anything surpassing it or even equaling it in overall performance. In color it is still light and pale. Apart from the aging label, the wine itself appears not to show its age as its bouquet and flavors are deliciously vibrant as well as very richly layered and powerful. The oak is still quite evident, and the wine is so well-structured with good acid balance that it is easy to expect it to drink well for at least another decade. Phenomenal! This from a blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon. About 1,000 cases were made.

Ah, but that's not all. The excellent Veal Piccata we had truly brought out all the goodness in the wines, providing the necessary foil and contrast to such wonderful bottles.

Finally, I can not say enough about the half-bottle of 1977 Kopke Colheita, a vintage tawny that's so rich and dark it's not easy regarding it as a Tawny. A spectacular bottle that's drinking at its best. Powerful, but velvety smooth and fresh-tasting, with a lingering finish that is very seductive. A great bottle to polish off the evening.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Price of Coping With Cult Cabernet Sauvignon Subscriptions

The new owners of Oakville's cult Cabernet Sauvignon producer, Screaming Eagle, just announced a big jump in price of their famous wine from $300 a bottle to $500 a bottle, a record release price for a California wine. Undoubtedly, the new owners' confidence in jacking up the price so heftily and so soon after they just acquired the property springs from the soaring prices of Bordeaux 2005 classed growths, as first growths like Lafite have hit $700 a bottle. Also, it must be noted that secondary market pricing for Screaming Eagle ranges from $1,000 to over $2,000 a bottle.

Knowing how Napa wine producers keep close tabs of their neighbors' pricing, it won't be long now until other top labels ratchet up their prices. Wineries with equally serious claims for cult wine status like Harlan, Bryant, Colgin, Araujo, and Sloan are likely to almost double their price tags if not this year then by next year.

Folks lucky enough to be in the subscription lists of these cult labels, however, would be scratching their heads when they receive their next offer letters in the mail. Coping with their allocations and, therefore, staying in the subscription lists would mean coughing up a lot of dough. Hopefully, many would not opt sending their kids to public schools, instead. Hey, maybe wineries, just like car dealerships, would tie up with banks to offer innovative financing schemes. A Screaming Eagle Visa card maybe?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Grgich Fund-Raiser Dinner

Grgich Hills' Mike Grgich, who first became famous as winemaker for Chateau Montelena where he made the 1973 Chardonnay that won the celebrated 1976 Paris Tasting, is being honored with a tribute dinner to raise funds for the scholarship progarm under his name at the CIA Greystone.


To be auctioned at the dinner is a case of the winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. For the winning bidder, let's just hope this Chardonnay is still drinkable.

The date for the event is August 18th at CIA Greystone in St. Helena, Napa. Dinner cost is $250 per. For more info contact Pam Harter at 707.963.2784 by no later than Aug. 1st.

Monday, July 3, 2006

A Fun Summer Read


This is a great, little book to to read if you just want to escape into a world of Provençal adventure filled with colorful local characters; detailed descriptions of food, wine, and vineyards; and harmless cloak-and-dagger intrigue as only Peter Mayle could concoct. To say more is to give something away as this is a book you can finish non-stop in just a few hours.

If you're always promising to yourself that you would finish reading at least one novel a year, then this is the book to start with. And, oh, may I suggest a nice glass of red Bordeaux to accompany it, as you will definitely work up a thirst flipping through the pages.

A Good Year by Peter Mayle. Published 2004 by Alfred A. Knopf. 287 pages.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lafite-Rothschild Opens at a Record Price

The Bordeaux 2005 en primeur campaign is starting to resemble more the high-tech IPO boom of the 1990s. Record prices are being set everyday. First growth Haut-Brion released at an all-time high, yet sold its initial offering in just a few days. From the looks of it, that offer still left a chunk of money on the table.

Witness Lafite-Rothschild now opening up at about $600 a bottle! And going by recent trends, this offering price would probably sell out in a few days. Meanwhile, the two hottest first growths, Latour and Margaux, have not yet offered.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Haut-Brion is First of the Firsts

The big news of the week from the Bordeaux 2005 en primeur campaign was the almost sneaky release of first-growth Haut-Brion late on Friday. The château price of about $300 a bottle translated to $450 a bottle at retail. A record price by a long shot.

Still, Haut-Brion, which traditionally is priced at a premium over the other first-growths, may have left something on the table. London merchants are estimating wistfully that first-growth prices could hit over $7,000 a case. Apparently, this optimism is fueled by the overwhelming advance orders for these ultimate Bordeaux luxuries.

Meanwhile, right bank first-growths, Cheval Blanc and Petrus, which both report to have produced spectacular wines, seem to be taking it easy and appear to be in no rush to commit, though it's becoming very tempting now to do so.

If you're in the hunt for these highly sought-after first-growths, stay tuned early tomorrow Monday and throughout the weekl

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bordeaux 2005: Big Classed Growths Finally Here

This week started with a sudden flurry of offerings of some of the big names in Bordeaux. After weeks of suspense and growing acrimony in the trade, media, and among consumers, for the delay and the high prices, the aristocratic chateaux have finally shown their hands.

Lynch-Bages, Leoville-Barton, Montrose, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande, Rauzan-Segla, Palmer, Grand Puy Lacoste, and L'Evangile have released their prices. To no surprise, they are all record highs; it's only a question of how shockingly high. In that regard, Palmer is the hands-down winner as its opening price is nearly $250 a bottle. Trailing closely is L'Evangile at almost $200 a bottle.

But I would say the surprise shocker of all is Pape-Clement, the Graves producer, with a price of nearly $150 a bottle, more than triple the 2000 price and over twice its 2004 offering!

Monday, June 12, 2006

The "Judgement" Gets Sillier

The Judgement in Paris belongs to the same reality show genre as tv's Iron Chef--highly entertaining, but short in meaning. Is Batali better than Flay? Flay better than Morimoto? Quite meaningless, isn't it? It's a show, not a contest.

Yet, the U.S. House of Representatives, three years after issuing its bizarre "freedom fries" resolution, passed another resolution last week that purports to honor the "victory" of U.S. winemakers, but is obviously another attempt to bash France and very little to do with wine. This silliness is a total waste of taxpayers' dollars.

The resolution's title is "Recognizing the 30th Anniversary of the Victory of United States Winemakers at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting" and it was sponsored by California Democrat, MIke Thompson, who lives in Napa and is also a California grape grower.

So there's the real rub. And you think that our politicians are fighting against special interests!

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Int'l Wine & Food Society (Marin Branch) June Event

The International Wine & Food Society Marin County Branch has two fabulous back-to-back wine and food events in Beverly Hills at Spago's Restaurant on Friday June 23 for dinner and Saturday June 24 for lunch.

The Friday dinner features 1990 Cristal, 1961 Calon Segur in magnum, 1971 Chambertin Latour, and 1939 and 1944 Armagnac Monluc, among other things. For Saturday lunch, the highlights include 1949 Musigny Comte de Vogue in jeroboam and 1934, 1949, and 1959 Corton-Grancey Latour. Cost is $950 for share pour or $1,150 for full pour for non-members for each event.

If you are interested in attending these events contact Jack Rubyn, Chairman of IWFS, to sign up. or 415.332.6937.

All Bets are Off on 2005 Lascombes

As far as the 2005 Bordeaux en primeur campaign is concerned, the big story of the week so far is the offering of 2nd Growth Margaux, Lascombes, at a whopping price of $80-$90 a bottle! Of course, this is on the strength of widespread critical acclaim for this vintage. With such dizzying price, God forbid what the rest of the other top classed growths would be selling for.

To put the unbelievable pricing in perspective, compare the 2005 futures with the 2004 Lascombes futures, which also received high praise from critics, at just $40 a bottle. Or better yet, with one of the greatest Lascombes ever, the 2000 vintage, which wine critic Clive Coates described as a "Lascombes for the ages", at $50-$60 on retail shelves these days.

My suggestion is simple, skip this offering.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Melka Again to the Rescue

The lawsuit of Roy Estate LLC against cult-winemaker, Helen Turley, and her husband, John Wetlaufer, ended in a settlement, it was announced today in a press release. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

The announcement did say that consulting winemaker, Philippe Melka,was hired by Roy Estate last year to take charge of the winemaking starting with the 2005 vintage. Melka's expanding portfolio of luxury brand wines in Napa is unprecedented. And if Helen Turly and John Wetlaufer get involved in more lawsuits, Melka's client list could keep getting longer.

Bordeaux 2005 Futures' Medoc Releases Validate High Prices

Last week's releases saw the 2005 Bordeaux Futures campaign kicked it up another notch with a slew of high-profile, prestigious Medoc chateaux offering their wines. Two of the most noteworthy releases were Gruaud-Larose and Sociando-Mallet.

The significanlty higher en primeur prices for both wines validate the expected premium pricing for this 2005 vintage. Gruaud-Larose is the first second growth to release and its price hover at around $60 a bottle, while Sociando-Mallet was offered at just over $40 a bottle. Despite the higher pricing both offers are selling briskly, especially the latter, an indication that there is good demand for these prestigious, well-praised wines within the $40-$60 price range. Whether buyers are willing to shell out more for the bulk of classed growths yet to be released is a big question mark.

Two of my favorite classed growths also released last week, but sadly I can not recommend them as their en primeur prices are just out of hand. Duhart-Milon and Haut-Bages Liberal are being offered at an unreasonable $35-$40 a bottle. I may pay these prices on actual release, but not for Futures.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Turley in Second Lawsuit in Two Years

Another lawsuit is shaping up in Napa involving celebrated winemaker "goddess", Helen Turley, and her husband, John Wetlaufer. Just two years ago, the couple was also involved in a lawsuit against a former client, Don Bryant of Bryant Family Vineyards, which they won.

This time around, though, Turley is the defendant as she's being sued by her client, Roy Estate LLC of Napa, for breach of contract. Roy Estate is claiming that it has a long-term contract with Turley to oversee winemaking and vineyard management and to help market its new high-end wine. Turley, for her part, is denying there was ever a long-term agreement.

Interestingly, in her prior lawsuit against Bryant, it was Turley who sued Bryant for prematurely ending their agreement.

At any rate, it's entirely possible that the two parties would end up shaking hands and starting anew. For Turley and her husband, it's been a remarkably lucrative deal so far as they've been paid a whopping $800,000 by Roy Estate between 2001 and 2005. As for Roy Estate, having sunk that much money already, not to mention for the vineyard and the upcoming construction of a winery, it would need someone as bankable as Turley to charge the luxury price its wine must command.

C'mon guys, this is Napa. Let's make money, er wine, not war.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

California Honors Zinfandel

Sacramento is closer to designating Zinfandel as a historic California wine under a bill approved by the Senate last May 18th. The bill's author is Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Franciso, who represents parts of Sonoma County, home to numerous Zinfandel wine producers. Sadly, it's a dubious, watered-down honor, but it's nevertheless a tribute to California's most classic wine. Sen. Migden's original bill proposed to make Zinfandel the state's official wine, but this was thwarted by producers of other grape varietals. One can say that Zinfandel fell victim to a bunch of sour grapes.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

White Zinfandel in the French Laundry?

Fred Franzia, head of Bronco Wine Co., smarting from his loss to the Napa Valley Vintners that stops him from using his Napa Ridge brand on wines containing less than 75% Napa-grown grapes, issued a blind-tasting challenge to Napa winemakers against a new brand he's creating. He says that if they win he'll buy them dinner anywhere, including the French Laundry. But on one condition, he says, that the winner will drink his white Zinfandel in the French Laundry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Hermes Family Closing In On Pichon Lalande


One of the most fabled estates of Bordeaux, venerable second-growth, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, is close to being sold to the Hermes family, owners of the famous Parisian fashion house.

Pichon Lalande, as it's commonly called, was established in the late 17th century. Edouard and Louis Mialhe took over the estate in 1925, and in 1978, their daughter, May Eliane de Lencquesaing became proprietress and administrator. Under Madame de Lencquesaing the estate reached new heights and the quality of the grand vin has become second only to the first growths and at times even surpasses them.

Bay Area Foodies Featured in NYT

The popular Bay Area food blog Chez Pim and Daniel Patterson, former chef/owner of defunct Elizabeth Daniel restaurant in San Francisco, were featured in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Pim's spread was in the special Style issue of the Magazine and showed her and her groupie in various fashionista outfits while amusing themselves with her Thai cooking. Her Kanom Jeen Nam-Prik (Rice Noodles With Spicy Shrimp and Coconut) recipe sounds like a winner and seems perfect with the Riesling and wheat beer that they're sipping.
(photo below from New York Times)
Pim noodles.jpg

Patterson's spread featured cooking up those flavorful meat cuts that we don't usually see in US markets: pig's feet, lamb's neck, and beef cheeks. He says a good local source for these hard-to-find cuts is Golden Gate Meat Company in San Francisco (415-983-7800).

Not bad weekend reads. Altogether Bay Area foodies trimuphed once again.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

In with the News and Out with the Old

Welcome to the new news blog. After much development and tweaking we've finally updated our news blog.


Watch this space for exciting Vineyardgate news!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Quinault Starts Up 2005 BX Futures Campaign

Alain Raynaud's modern take on St.-Emilion, Quinault l'Enclos, is the first to release an offer for the 2005 en primeur. Its U.S. agent, Wine Source Selections, quotes an opening price of E26.00/bottle ex-cellars France.

Raynaud claims that "this is the best Quinault that I have ever made." A bold statement considering that the last five vintages have been stellar.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

IPNC Tickets Go On Sale Today

IPNC is celebrating its 20th year and tickets for the annual Pinot Noir fest go on sale today. July 28-30 is the schedule for the events. This year’s master of ceremonies is the acclaimed Burgundy writer, Remington Norman. Contact IPNC for registration details.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wine and Porn

Ah, wine and porn... So the two finally found a way to have, umm, an intercourse, so to speak.

Natalie Oliveros, the Vivid porn star known as Savanna Samson (“The New Devil in Miss Jones”), has just launched her new wine venture with a wine she calls Sogno Uno (Italian for “Dream One”). The Tuscan red wine was crafted for her by noted winemaker, Roberto Cipresso. Cipresso is based in Montalcino and produces Brunello from his family’s La Fiorita estate, but is perhaps more well known these days for his winery venture in Argentina, Achaval-Ferrer (check our wine listing).

Oliveros and Cipresso developed the wine together and the final blend for the 2001 release is 70% Cesanese, 20% Sangiovese, and 10% Montepulciano. Just 409 cases were ordered by Oliveros and it’s expected to retail for $38 a bottle.

Endowed with her show business experience, Oliveros has wasted no time in promoting her wine in the right circles. It’s reported that she has already gotten powerful wine critic, Robert M. Parker, Jr., to taste her wares. Apparently, Parker enjoyed the experience, as he found it “opulent and luscious”, and gave it an outstanding rating of 90-91 points. However, it was not reported how many seconds it took to finish.

With all the advanced accolades her new wine is getting, it appears that Oliveros is on her way to a highly successful second career, an opportunity much desired by porn stars. As the slogan goes in her hit film, “I Love This Business”: “A hard job is good to find”.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Pinot Paradise Tasting Event

Pinot Noir tasting event presented by the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association on March 25 & 26, 2006. Check it out here.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Silver Oak Fire Doesn’t Daunt Release Party

An early morning fire today at Silver Oak’s winery in Oakville, CA reportedly destroyed about 20 barrels of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Notwithstanding the fire, the release party for the winery’s flagship 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will still go on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Farewell to Denis Mortet

Vigneron Denis Mortet of Gevrey-Chambertin decided to end his life last Monday morning by shooting himself with a rifle. He was only 51. Very sad, as well as shocking and puzzling considering that he had reached such a high level of success in recent years. His rich, powerful red Burgundies, the darling of many wine critics, command high prices and are some of the most sought-after, especially in the U.S.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This Billionaire Collects Châteaus, Not Wines

Belgian billionaire, Albert Frère, who is co-owner of Château Cheval Blanc, is celebrating his 80th birthday on Saturday. Presumably, he is pouring his famed right bank Cabernet Franc for his friends this weekend. And considering that he is interested in also acquiring Taittinger—the whole house not just a bottle—he may be pouring that Champagne, too.

Monday, January 16, 2006

VDP-Newsletter No. 1 2006

Here’s the latest news from the VDP. The Prädikatsweingüter (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, or Association of Prädikat Wine Estates) – always active in promoting Germany’s finest wines via trade fairs, auctions, tastings, and a wide range of cultural-culinary events in conjunction with their wines.

ProWein 26 – 28 March 2006

114 member estates jointly exhibiting in an 800-square-meter stand, the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates (VDP) will be the largest German exhibitor at ProWein 2006 in Düsseldorf from 26 – 28 March.

Weinbörse 23 – 24 April 2006

The VDP’s annual spring trade fair in Mainz – the Weinbörse – will be the first official showing of no fewer than 150 members’ complete range of vintage 2005 wines.

Vintage 2005

In general, VDP members rate 2005 as a premium vintage for good sites.

David Schildknecht, Parker’s newly appointed expert on Germany, awards highest notes to VDP members’ First und Great Growths

In the latest issue of his magazine The Wine Advocate, the renowned American wine critic devoted 26 pages to German Riesling wines.

The WineBarn invites you to its annual trade Wine Tasting

Monday, 16th January 2006, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., IZ – German Information Centre, London, with personal appearances from some Germany’s leading producers.

Weingut St.Urbans-Hof - New Activities in the UK Market

Weingut St.Urbans-Hof is one of the largest privately held estate wineries in the Mosel Region. Since 1997 Nik Weis, the founder’s grandson is responsible for the winery. He owns parcels in some of the finest sites of the Mosel and Saar valleys. His philosophy is to produce wines that fully reflect the typical character of the vineyard site in which they are grown. With Iris Ellmann and “The Winebarn” he has found an importer who offers great contacts to restaurants of various categories. Especially the high end restaurant scene of London with its innovative sommeliers is where Nik wants to work with his wines.