Friday, December 14, 2012

Five predictions for 2013

2012 has been an eventful year in the wine industry. There are more licensed American wineries than ever before (almost three times as many wineries as breweries...). California (and Colorado) had a bumper crop of high (not exceptional) quality. The Rudy Kurniawan story made headlines in the non-wine world after he was arrested for producing and selling millions of dollars of fraudulent wine. And in probably the biggest news that wasn't really wasn't that big (see yesterday's post), Robert Parker, Jr. announced that he was stepping down as editor-in-chief of the Wine Advocate, opening a second office in Singapore and sold a share of the ownership to three Asian investors (rumor is they aren't all Asian...). So what will 2013 bring in terms of worthy wine news?

Here are five prognostications:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

So I lied... (or at least a change of heart)

Yesterday, I tweeted that I was abstaining from writing a blog post about Robert Parker, Jr.'s announcement regarding the changes taking place at the Wine Advocate. I had a change of heart. This seemingly game-changing news story has been so blown out of proportion that I figured I had to throw my two cents (and common sense) into the bloggers' ring of buffoonery. Yes, the way this announcement was handled could have been improved, but that seems to be Lettie Teague's fault (which comes back to Parker for personally selecting her to write the story). Aside from that, this news isn't really worthy of the massive attention it has received.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Celebrating a safe return

Sparkling wine is all too often reserved only for celebrations. New Year's Eve, promotions, weddings and the birth of a new child are all typical occasions for open a bottle of bubbly. I most certainly believe that sparkling wines should be drunk as often as white and red wines. As regular readers will now, for most of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, I opened a bottle of sparkling wine every week to continue the celebration of the birth of my first child, Benjamin. While each bottle was in a way a celebration of Ben, sparkling wine became a regular part of our routine for one year. This journey allowed my wife and I to explore a style of wine that we often neglected. It was quite eye opening that changed the way my wife and I approached sparkling wine.

One thing that didn't change throughout that year was the fact that sparkling wine is still the go-to wine for commemorating significant events in our lives. So, when my younger brother returned from a nine-month tour in Afghanistan it only made sense to open something sparkling. Any soldier's safe return home is something that should be celebrated, but showing my, and my family's, bias my brother's return is all the more special. My brother and I don't always see eye-to-eye politically and I wasn't a huge advocate of his joining the Army a few years ago. And when he decided to become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, my whole family wondered why he wanted to do perhaps the most dangerous job in all of the Army. For those who don't know what EOD is, watch The Hurt Locker. My brother has been to Iraq and Afghanistan and most likely seen things that most of us only get a Hollywood version of on the big screen. Having him home is a wonderful feeling that only others with family members in the military can fully understand.

Ben saying, "Welcome home!"
After the Captain retired to bed following a long series of flights home, my parents and I went back to my house and opened a bottle of 2005 J Vineyards & Winery Vintage Brut to celebrate his safe return. It didn't matter that the wine offered a wonderful toasty and appley nose. The rich yeasty, fruity palate didn't mean much. The long finish that followed delicious marzipan and butterscotch apple flavors seemed trivial. All that mattered in those moments were that my family, along with a handful of other families, was able to celebrate the safe return of a brave individual who risked his life so that we could enjoy something as insignificant as a wonderful bottle of wine.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sometimes a parent needs to show the child who's boss... (cabernetly speaking, of course)

I occasionally get together with a group of people that I met online at the Wine Spectator Forums. I like to call the group, "The Strange Men I Met Online," but my wife doesn't like that name, for some reason (though she does like the group). About 6 or 7 of us get together a few times a year (most of the time with our significant others) and taste wine. It has been a great experience because these guys are some of the friendliest and most generous individuals I've met. We all love wine, good wine, and like to bring fun and interesting bottles to share with each other. Maybe it was the company, but some of the best wines I've ever had have come on occasions with this group.

So, a few weeks ago we got together to open a handful of cabernets. In the conversation leading up to the tasting, no one ever said sauvignon, so I decided to throw in some ringers and bring two cabernet franc-based blends. The host was kind enough to grill some delicious flank steak and others brought a variety of sides. All of the wines were brought in brown bags, so each attendee only knew which wine he or she brought. I did a quick peek at one bottle that I didn't bring because that individual was trying to decide if the wine needed further decanting; so I new three of the labels. The bags were all labeled 1-8 and pre-poured into glasses at each place setting at the dinner table. I assessed the wines before we ate and then adjusted my assessments as I tried the wines with food.

Wine 1: lots of red fruits; redcurrant and raspberry, cedar, smoke, cinnamon, leather and tobacco. Nice, but not anything special. My #4 (tie) Very Good/Excellent

Wine 2: Similar to #1 but bigger/darker. Blackberries, spicy tobacco, vanilla, great nose. My #2 Excellent

Wine 3: light, funky, cranberries, red fruits, herbal, green, dilly, chemically, flat. Quite a disappointment. My #8. Average/Good

Wine 4: What a nose! Red cherries, raspberries, earth and mushrooms. Lots of fruit; blackberries and raspberries on the palate complemented by licorice, rosemary and roasted meat. Concentrated and complex. Clearly the best of the lineup. My WOTN. Excellent

Wine 5: Most Bordeaux-like of the group right off the back. Tobacco, green pepper, forest floor, mushrooms, kind of a salty nori flavor, very minerally, almost syrah-like. My #4 (tie) This changed a lot in the glass and might have been higher with a few more hours to follow its evolution. Very Good/Excellent

Wine 6: Started off a lot like #3. Dilly, chemically, flat, oaky. This also improved with time and started reveal good complexity and flavors, but still was near the bottom of the pack for me at the end of the night because of how it started. Needs time. My #7. Good/Very Good

Wine 7: Red and Black fruits, leather, cedar, good acidity, spicy tobacco. Like a smaller version of #2. My #3. Very Good/Excellent

Wine 8: Poured after the previous 7 from a magnum. Lots of blue and black fruits. Nice but simple. A little grapey but goes down smooth. My #5. Very Good

Each person voted for his or her top three wines of the evening.

Wine 4 was clearly the group WOTN with 4 first place votes.
Wine 2 was group's second with 5 second place votes.
Wine 8 was third.
Wine 6 was fourth.
Wine 5 was fifth.
Wine 7 was sixth with only 1 second and 1 third place votes.
Wine 1 and Wine 3 didn't get any top 3 votes.

After all the votes were tallied, we unveiled the wines.

Wine 1 = 2006 Caymus Vineyards, Special Selection, Napa Valley AVA
Wine 2 = 2006 Maybach Family Vineyards, Materium, Oakville AVA

Wine 3 = 2002 Quilceda Creek, Columbia Valley AVA
Wine 4 = 2006 Ovid Napa Valley, D7.86, Napa Valley AVA

Wine 5 = 2006 Cayuse Vineyards, Camaspelo, Walla Walla AVA
Wine 6 = 2010 Ruby Trust Cellars, The Smuggler, Grand Valley AVA

Wine 7 = 2001 Lokoya, Diamond Mountain District AVA
Wine 8 = 1999 Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA

The group was surprised to see two cabernet francs in the lineup and one easily coming out on top. They were not surprised to see Colorado represented, as I usually bring a local wine. I was not as impressed with the Ruby Trust as I was when I first tried it a few months ago at the release party. I actually thought it was the Quilceda Creek I noticed before it was bagged. During previous experiences with Quilceda Creek I have found it to show lots of dill and herbal characteristics that I found in both Wines 3 and 6. Wine 6 just seem to say Quilceda Creek to me more. I'm not a huge fan of the QC bottles I've had, but I guess comparing a Colorado wine to a wine that some people say is the best cabernet sauvignon in the U.S. isn't the worst critique!

The Smuggler only saw 30 minutes in a decanter and was in the glass for about 3 hours. Near the end of the evening it had lost most of the unpleasant (to me) characteristics, so I would recommend ample aeration if you plan on opening it any time soon, but best to just wait a few years. It was also the youngest wine, by four years, and the least expensive in the lineup. Despite my thoughts on The Smuggler (74% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon), the rest of the group was more endeared to it. It also might have helped had I not been thinking Quilceda Creek; goes to show there can also be a negative label bias for big name wines.

The other cabernet franc was amongst everyone's top three. Ovid produces a flagship proprietary blend every year from its estate in the esteemed Pritchard Hill area of Napa Valley. You can read about Ovid and its neighbors in my Sommelier Journal article on Pritchard Hill. Ovid also produces an Experiment line of wines from barrels not used in the cabernet sauvignon blend. Usually, the Experiment wines are dominated by cabernet franc. I've enjoyed the regular Ovid wines, but still find the unique Experiments more to my liking. The D7.86 was no different. The D7.86 was a blend of 61% cabernet franc, 29% merlot and 10 % cabernet sauvignon. If you ever come across any Ovid wines (and can afford them, as the don't come cheap) give them a try. I actually recommend the same for any Pritchard Hill winery. I think that area in the hills above Oakville is one of Napa's prime places for the highest quality wines.

I also found it somewhat ironic that a cabernet franc showed up some pretty serious cabernet sauvignons at a cab tasting. Cab franc is, afterall, cab sauv's genetic parent. Caberent franc and sauvignon blanc were crossed in the 17th century in southwest France with cabernet sauvignon resulting from that yield night. Even though cabernet sauvignon is king in California nowadays, a parent still has to show the child who's boss every once in a while...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wine as Art and Art as Wine (and a visit at Eric Kent)

Wine is a science. Wine is Art. Wine is a craft. Wine is a commodity. Wine is a luxury. Wine is a many things to many people. Wine should be drunk. Wine should be discussed. Wine should be savored. Wine should be collected. Yet, any way you look at it, wine is meant to be enjoyed. Luckily, there are many different ways to enjoy wine. Some people like to feel tipsy. Some people like to simply smell the aromas for hours. Some people even like to collect it. Some do so for financial gain (or adrenaline rush or even ego). Some people even collect wine as Art. No, not necessarily for the masterpiece inside, but the label.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Unity in the wine world

Unity is perhaps the second most important aspect of the wine world. Quality would of course be number one, but working together is a close second. Think about about the world's greatest wine regions. They all have at least two things in common. They all produce quality wines and they all have a common identity. That common identity did not happen on its own and did not arise from each individual producer working selfishly by themselves. This idea of unity is certainly more important as the wine world continues to flatten in the global economy and competition continues to increase every day.

Forty years ago America was still considered the backwater of the wine world by industry elites. Yes, Ohio and Missouri wines were internationally known in the 1800s, but a little something called Prohibition cut America's wine industry off at the knees. In the 1960s and 1970s, several concurrent events led to California (and by proxy America) putting itself back on the world wine map. Perhaps most important were the efforts of Robert Mondavi. Mondavi split from his family and started his own family in the Napa Valley in 1966. He not only worked his tail off to build one of the most famous American wineries, but he put selling California and the Napa Valley ahead of his own namesake winery. He knew that if he consumers considered California and Napa Valley wines amongst the best in the world, his brand would benefit as well. He understood the importance of unity.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The confluence and disconnect of Regional Wine Week and Wine Spectator's Top 100

This week Wine Spectator announces its Top 100 wines of 2012. Now many people pay no attention to this list, but a lot of people do. The list sparks debates amongst enthusiasts and drives prices up for the top 10 wines and helps move many of the other ninety off shelves quickly. I'm not huge proponent of the list, but I think it probably does more good than harm overall to the broader wine industry. Rather than get into the details of the argument, I suggest you read Evan Dawson's recently penned thoughtful defense of the list in Palate Press.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The role of tourism in the local wine industry

At first glance, wine and tourism may not seem to go hand in hand. The traditional model for wine distribution is through what's called the three-tier system. Since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the sale of alcoholic beverages has been dominated and controlled by this model. Wineries sell their wine to a distributor and the distributor in turn resells their portfolio of products to retailers. One of the purposes of this system is to supposedly act like a safety net and protect the general population. In theory, consumers and retailers are unburdened with pressure and coersion from producers. However, in the social media age we now live in, consumers are increasingly more interested in building relationships with the producers whose products they buy. Many wineries have figured this out and are very active via social media channels. Other wineries and wine regions have also become more active in promoting enotourism and developing their direct to consumer sales channel.

Enotourism, or wine tourism, focuses on getting travelers to visit, taste and purchase wine at the source. While it may not seem like a novel idea to most wine enthusiasts, wine tourism is an important activity in the industry, yet has room to become even more important. Most people buy wine at a retail store or a restaurant and that is the extent of their relationship with a winery. A handful of consumers may actually buy wine directly from the producer via their website or mailing list. Actually visiting a winery is not something a majority of wine drinkers do regularly. Developing the wine traveler segment is key to many wineries' business models. Next week, I will be in Santa Rosa, CA to attend the second annual Wine Tourism conference to gather with 200 or so other people looking for ways to enhance the role of tourism in the wine industry. I attended last year and it was very interesting to hear about how wineries in California, New York and Oregon are approaching the tourism market.

In Colorado, tourism is an important sales channel for many of the wineries, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Of the 100+ wineries in the Centennial State, only a dozen or so are sold through a distributor. All of the Colorado wineries are also licensed wholesalers and can sell their products directly to retailers, but many choose to not do so because of the exceptional hard work it takes for family-owned wineries to be successful. A majority of the state's wineries sell most of their wine out of their tasting rooms. This can be a successful model, especially when a small winery is located in a highly-visited wine region, like Napa Valley. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), Colorado is not necessarily considered a destination wine region filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic with cars and buses filling tasting room parking lots.

In Colorado, most tasting room traffic is limited to the RV crowd of people simply passing through and perhaps looking for wines with a touch of sweetness. That's not to say consumers don't specifically travel to wineries here to seek out "premium" wine, just that the current tourist base is somewhat limited. The same crowd also visits Napa Valley. But Napa also attracts the type of consumer that is not afraid to spend thousands of dollars on a case or two of wine. I have rarely heard a Colorado winery tell me about an instance such as that happening in their winery. A three or six-bottle purchase is often a big deal. Some wineries are thankfully growing their (or just starting) wine clubs, but most still rely on just the drop-in traffic to sell most of their wine. Fortunately, the somewhat limited tourism foundation that currently exists implies that the potential for tourism growth is great. It will be interesting to see how much, if at all, Trip Advisor's Top Ten ranking of Palisade, CO as a wine destination will increase visitor traffic. Wineries need to to everything they can to drive traffic if they are focusing their sales channels on their tasting room. This brings me back to the first paragraph.

While many wineries in Colorado have decided that tourism is their priority, they cannot forget about the traditional model. Only a handful of Colorado wines can be found on retail shelves, and almost all of these producers utilize a distributor. Even fewer local wines can be found on restaurant wine lists. The blame for this does not solely reside on the wineries and some wineries have excelled in this regard. A few have even put all of their energy into the retail tier and have forgone the tasting room/tourist route altogether. However, the wineries who have been less successful (and the local industry as a whole) are going to have work hard to convince retailers and restaurants that they have been wrong to relegate Colorado wine to the bottom shelf at the back of the store or to exclude them from the list altogether. Most people still are introduced to new wines via restaurants and retailers. To reach those new customers (and there are lots of them) local wineries are going to have to start putting more energy (and expense) into developing these sales channels in addition to their own tasting rooms. What role do you think tourism should play in emerging wine regions like Colorado?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Showing Colorado some wine love

It is not often that you see wine regions other than the big four (California, New York, Oregon or Washington) mentioned in the national media spotlight. Combined, those four states make up over 97% of U.S. wine production. The other 92% of states account only 3% of domestic wine production, so it kind of makes sense that they don't get a lot of press. As a result, it is a big deal when states like Colorado share the spotlight with the big states.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

DrinkLocalWine.com celebrates Regional Wine Week in November

DrinkLocalWine will hold its fifth annual Regional Wine Week from Nov. 12 to 16 , where wine writers, bloggers and enthusiasts share information about wine from "The Other 47" states (excluding California, Washington and Oregon) - providing a one-stop shop to see what's cutting edge in regional wine. The non-profit proudly proclaims that the fourth annual regional wine week, held last year in October, was one of the most successful in the group’'s history.

This year, DrinkLocalWine will announce the site and dates for its national DrinkLocalWine Conference during Regional Wine Week for the first time, giving away two pairs of tickets. The annual conference, which spotlights regional wine, was held in Denver this past April and featured the Colorado wine industry and its cool-climate varieties like riesling, gewürztraminer and cabernet franc. Previously, the conference has been held in Missouri, Virginia and Texas.

Writers from across the United States are asked to post stories to their blogs, websites, magazines and newspapers about their favorite regional and local wines, wineries and events. Then, the DrinkLocalWine website aggregates the stories, providing a snapshot of regional wine. Over the past four years, writers from across the country have covered dozens of states' wine industries.

Regional Wine Week is open to anyone – from professional wine writers to wine enthusiasts with Facebook pages or Tumblr sites –to submit stories about wineries, winemakers and wines from the Other 47 states. For information about Regional Wine Week or to submit a story link, contact Jeff Siegel, President and co-founder of the organization, at jeff-siegel@hotmail.com. Let's keep Colorado in the national spotlight!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Of wine writers and idiots

A few days ago, I read something that both puzzled and impressed me. Steve Heimoff wrote a rambling article about the Alma Wine Academy and orange wines. What caught my attention was that Steve professed his ignorance of this rather unusual, and small category of wines. Orange wines actually have a long history, but they have seen an increased awareness in the media (and not just no-name bloggers like me but big hitters like Ray Isle and Eric Asimov) for more than a few years. Sure, these skin-macerated white wines, often aged in clay amphora, are not the next-big-thing in the wine world that even my mother knows about, but they're not a new, unknown phenomenon.

I figured, and so did a lot of other readers, that a "fairly well-known, a big fish" like Steve would be in the know. However, I was even more impressed that Steve was willing to share his ignorance with his readers. It is not too often that the biggest names in the wine writing world admit that they don't know something. It takes a lot of confidence to undermine one's expertise. If only more critics would admit when they get something wrong or don't know something, we'd all trust them a bit more. Well done, Steve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A classic pairing? Pinot and Salmon...

Pairing food and wine is often a confounding experience. Luckily, there are a lot of people/websites/books out there offering suggestions for perfect pairings. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect food and wine pairing. Sure some pairings might work better than others, but the important thing is to drink what you like and will enjoy. If you're craving a crisp sauvignon blanc while you eat a steak, then by all means don't let some talking head tell you otherwise. If you want a big bold cabernet sauvignon with your Sole Meunière, go for it. Sure, switching those pairings might make more sense flavor and texture-wise in most cases, but not in all cases.

One of the classic pairings is supposedly pinot noir and salmon. Some times it works, but the past few times I've opened a pinot noir with salmon the pairing simply fell short. So, when I cooked salmon recently I decided to switch things up. I didn't go with the other suggested pairings for salmon: chardonnay or riesling. I actually chose pinot. Not pinot noir, but pinot gris. And it worked. So I tried it again a few nights later with a different pinot gris. Lo and behold, it was another great pairing. Don't be beholden to the "best" pairing when a different one might be better. So next time you eat salmon grab a glass of pinot, but make it pinot gris!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Look west, Colorado (think big, act small)

Colorado is not California. That statement shouldn't surprise you. Colorado shouldn't try to be California. Colorado can make equally good, yet different wine. However, Colorado should try to learn from California. California invented the wheel when it comes to the modern wine industry. Colorado shouldn't try to reinvent that wheel. Re-imagine and improve the wheel, sure, but not reinvent it.

Not only should Colorado try to learn from California, Colorado wineries should try to learn from the world's largest wine company: Constellation Brands. Constellation owns over 100 wine, spirit and beer brands across the globe, and yet the average consumer is probably unaware that the wine they love may actually be a part of a large multinational corporation instead of the small family operation they think. No, Colorado wineries are not going to become global powers; I say this because Constellation owns some of the most famous California wine brands. Two of Constellations' wineries are the focus of this post. Through these wineries, Constellation thinks big (real big), but in many cases acts small.

Case in point: Robert Mondavi Winery. Now, Constellation had nothing to do with RMW until they bought out the Mondavi family in 2004. Nevertheless, they sell the story of the winery as if it were their own, as smart marketers should. The story of Robert Mondavi should be of considerable interest to Colorado wineries, yet I wonder how many actually truly understand what he did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The fiction of cult wine

The word "cult" gets thrown around a lot in the wine industry. The idea of cult wine started in the 1990s with the rise of critically acclaimed, limited production California cabernet sauvignons such as Bryant Family Vineyard, Grace Family Vineyards, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle. The initial prices of these wines were high to start with, but not absurdly so. Bryant released at $36, Grace Family at $25, Harlan at $65 and Screaming Eagle an astonishing $50. These big names aside, the first California wine to actually eclipse the triple digit price tag was Diamond Creek with their 1978 Lake Vineyard release. It wasn't until customers began flipping the wines at auction for many times what they paid to the winery after the wines received numerous 99 and 100-point scores from Robert Parker that their prices began their stratospheric rise. The age of cult wine was born.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wine critic vs. wine writer (which is more important?)

A few recent posts by W. Blake Gray got me thinking about the difference between wine critics and wine writers. Wine critiquing and wine writing are two different activities that are often confused as the same thing. Dave McIntyre, wine columnist for the Washington Post, eloquently explained that "the writer tells wine's story in a way that hopefully gets the reader thirsty, while the critic can tell the reader which wines are worth buying." This isn't to say that they are mutually exclusive, and in fact most wine critics will claim they do both. But can someone do both at the same time? To paraphrase McIntyre, critical analysis of wine (i.e., blind tasting) takes wine out of its context, but for wine writers context is the story.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's a winery's responsibility?

What is a winery's responsibility? Is the responsibility to the consumers or to itself? Should a winery always strive to make the best wine possible or should it simply offer commercially viable (i.e. not flawed) wine at a fair price? Should a winemaker only make wine he or she likes or should consumer preferences be considered? Should a vineyard be planted with popular variety, such as cabernet sauvignon, because it will sell or should a lesser-known variety, like petit manseng, be grown if it is better suited for the site?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bring on the alternative packaging

Colorado wineries are doing a lot of things well. In the past year, a handful of wineries have redesigned their labels. More and more local wines can be found on Denver restaurant wine lists. I've noticed James Molesworth of Wine Spectator tweeting about tasting Colorado wines on more than one occasion. Most importantly, the quality of what is in the bottle is improving with every release. Those are all good things that help the industry improve as a whole.

However, there is one wine industry trend that hasn't really found its way into Colorado wineries: alternative packaging. Before I go on, I will concede to the fact that The Infinite Monkey Theorem has made a splash with its canned wine. A few other wineries are also selling wine to restaurants in kegs, but consumers don't get to see those kegs sitting on retail shelves. Other than the enterprising TIMT, I can't think of another Colorado wine sold in anything but glass bottles. No bag-in-a-box. No Tetra Pak cartons.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is Colorado wine really too expensive?

Last year, a Westword blogger posted about why Colorado wine still sucks. One of her statements was that Colorado wine is too expensive. Yet in her next statement about marketing issues (with which I agree), she picked the winery with the most expensive bottles as getting it. A few weeks ago, Wine Spectator posted a blog about Long Island wines being expensive relative to other wine regions. The attack on the price of regional wines seems to a common theme whenever someone is trying to rationalize why these wines aren't as popular as mass-produced wines. The one thing I don't get is how people can compare boutique wineries with industrial wine factories. Colorado wineries are not going to be able to produce hundreds of thousands of cases of $6 wine with cute animals on the label, but compared to Napa Valley and Walla Walla, Colorado produces some reasonably priced wine. I can count on one hand the number of bottles of Colorado wine that sell for over $50. Sure, across the board the quality may not be equivalent, but neither is the product when you compare Colorado to California's Central Valley or Australia's Riverina and Riverland regions. So, is Colorado wine really too expensive?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Is all press good press?

Sometimes the truth hurts. Last week, Ben O'Donnell of Wine Spectator wrote an article about the image problems facing Long Island wines. The article struck a nerve with one Long Island winemaker, Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards, because he thought O'Donnell "missed the whole story." Massoud commented on the original story and his comments were republished by the New York Cork Report. Massoud inferred that O'Donnell was unfairly highlighting the negative aspects of the industry when he should have been praising the positives. O'Donnell did not wax poetic about Long Island wines, but he was honest and optimistic.

Sadly, I think Massoud missed the bigger picture. There is no hiding from the fact that many consumers perceive wines from states not named California, Oregon or Washington as being inferior. Glossing over the image problems is not going to solve them. O'Donnell's assertions were not unfounded. I can assure you that wines from New York, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan and even Iowa can be pretty damn good, but nevertheless a perception still exists that prevents many people from even giving these wine regions the chance that they deserve. Perhaps people that wouldn't give Long Island wines the time of day may want to try them simply because Wine Spectator decided to write about them. This is a good thing.

I thought that O'Donnell did a fair job of writing about why a negative perception of Long Island wines exists and how wineries are working to change that perception. He did offer praise where it was due. Sometimes wineries don't like to hear constructive criticism. I have tried telling a few Colorado winemakers that they may have issues, ranging from winemaking flaws to label design, with some of their wines. Often my concerns are met with defensive denials. It is hard to grow an emerging wine region in market share and overall quality when many in the industry turn a blind eye to inconvenient facts. But perhaps the most important thing O'Donnell did with his article was to raise the level of discourse about "local" wine. All too often smaller and newer wine regions are forgotten by the powers that be; media and otherwise.

Restaurants can be invaluable to fostering growth in an emerging wine region. As O'Donnell also explained, Long Island wines are often not widely distributed, yet may be found on the wine lists of top Manhattan restaurants. The same can be said for Colorado wines. "I remember tasting Colorado wine 5 years ago when I first moved to Denver" Jensen Cummings, executive chef at Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar, told me. Cummings continued, "Not impressed, was an understatement." Sadly, many consumers feel the same way. When wine drinkers have a less then impressive California wine, chances are they will still buy another California wine in the future. However, one bad experience with a local wine is often the nail in the coffin. Even if they give the local wine region another shot, it can take years to clear the bad taste out of their mouth. "It wasn't until last year that," Cummings admitted, that he "blind tasted some CO wines and I was flabbergasted how good they were." Row 14 now offers an array of Colorado wines on the wine list to complement the local ingredients in Cummings' dishes. "I am constantly visited by winemakers and importers from around the world and when given the opportunity to blind taste them I give them a CO wine," added owner David Schneider. "They are always impressed and never guess that the product is local." Turning skeptics into evangelists is a step in the right direction.

I think that the increase in restaurant acceptance of local wines is starting to create waves in the media as well. Over the past few days, former Wine Spectator editor James Suckling has posted about Virginia and British Columbia wine on his website. Suckling isn't exactly known for pushing the envelope in exploring new wine regions, so his willingness to publish content about two overlooked regions is promising. Wine Spectator has been a bit better than most other traditional media outlets, but stories about wine regions in the other 47 states are still rare. New York and Arizona seem to get the most love, but they did recently publish an interview I conducted that focused on Colorado. I predict that as the general public becomes more aware of local wines, publications like Wine Spectator will write about them more.

But back to my main idea. Should Long Island wineries be upset with Wine Spectator for discussing issues that they are facing. I don't think so. I think that wineries should use this type of media mention as a stepping stone for improvement and consumer awareness. While not focusing on the problems, emerging wine regions need to accept that they have quality and consistency issues, be willing to learn from criticism and turn any press into good press. Emerging wine regions need to turn more skeptics into supporters and even evangelists.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the blind tasting bandwagon

Yesterday, W. Blake Gray (why the W, Blake?) wrote a blog post about blind tasting. The piece was presented as a review of his two-part interview with New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov. In the interview, Asimov stated that blind tasting is infantilizing and "dumbed down way of looking at wine." Gray strongly disagreed with Asimov on the issue of blind tasting. His post was well presented and provided a very interesting discussion on the merits of reviewing wines via blind and non-blind protocols. However, one little line sparked a bit of consternation from a few of his readers (including yours truly). Gray's statement, "Wine Spectator says they blind taste, but nobody believes them" even elicited a response from Wine Spectator's executive editor. I don't know if Blake truly believes his own statement (he said he'll post on the issue soon), but blind tasting methods seem to be a bit controversial and thus deserve a more attention.

If you happen to also read Steve Heimoff's eponymous wine blog, you may have noticed that Steve often claims that he tastes and scores California wines in a blind setting; in accordance with Wine Enthusiast's tasting policy. I've confronted Steve a few times on the issue and he has mostly resorted to ignoring my comments. Personally, I couldn't care less if a critic reviews wines with the labels visible or with no information except what's in the glass in front of him or her. There are advantages and disadvantages to both techniques. Honestly, I think a critic must taste in both settings to successfully evaluate wines.

Now, what I do care about is when stated policies are not followed, misleading or falsely attacked. I have no reason to doubt that Wine Spectator indeed rates wines in a blind setting. My only beef with Wine Spectator is that tasting flights are organized in such narrow terms that preconceptions may influence scores. If you knew that you were tasting a group of wines that cost more than $100 from a prestigious region, you might tend to give higher scores based on expectations. The same can be said about if you were tasting wines from "other" wine regions such as Colorado, New York or Virginia. Ben O'Donnell had a great article on the perceptions many consumers have about American wines not from California, Oregon or Washington. Why should critics be excluded from having the same perceptions? Knowing that you are tasting such wines might affect critical analysis. Now if a flight of wines was not qualified by price or region but by only one factor, such as American red Bordeaux blends, the results *might* be much different. I've seen it happen many times when a Colorado wine outshines more prestigious and expensive counterparts. I've also seen Colorado wines go down in flames against much better competition. Can't win them all... unless you stack the deck.

Steve Heimoff's approach is a bit different. He organizes his own tastings by placing bottles into brown bags, closing his eyes and magically forgetting which wines he is tasting. Now, I like reading Steve's blog and I admit that I sometimes taste wines in the same way. But the difference between Steve and me is that I'm not awarding wines with high scores and claim to move markets. Steve's level of influence (and he is a very influential and respected critic) is in a state of disaccord with his methods. I would think that someone that sees Antonio Galloni and James Laube as peers would have a bit more of a rigorous tasting technique.

Now, you may ask why is it ok for me to occasionally "blind" taste the same way? I don't write short reviews on thousands of wines as if they existed in a vacuum. I don't have a databse of all of my tasting notes. Most of my reviews are focused on one, or just a few wines and how I experience them. I don't focus solely on the subjective traits of a wine, but more often than not write about the story behind the wine or something more personal. I would love to taste wine blind more often, but because I am not a professional critic it is not that easy for me to do so. Tasting with the label visible is also ok, because that is how almost all consumers experience wine. In fact, I mostly just open a bottle of wine to drink with dinner with my lovely wife. This way, I am able to experience wine a normal consumer would. I just pay more attention to the qualities and how the wine changes through the evening and then write about it.

So if consumers don't drink wine in a blind setting, why and how does one drink blind? Gray proclaimed three reasons, with which I don't disagree. Really though, they all boil down to one reason: to eliminate bias. If there is a bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle sitting in front of you, you have information that can affect your assessment of the wine. You might expect it to be a perfect wine and score it according to expectations. If you are let down by the wine you might score it lower. But of course you can't possibly score it below 90 points because it is worth thousands of dollars after all and nothing that expensive could possibly be less than 90 points. Aren't all 89-pt wines worse than feed lot runoff? If you don't know what you are drinking you are able to evaluate a wine purely on its qualities presented in the glass. You don't know if you've had a bad experience with the wine before. You don't know if it is from a region that you may think can't produce excellent wine. And finally, you won't be swayed by a wine's $500 or $5 price tag.

A blind experimental design is done by concealing information from participants that could introduce bias or somehow skew the results.  Blind wine tasting isn't exactly conducted according to scientific standards, so the terms single-blind and double-blind tasting mean different things than to academics. In a single-blind tasting the critic should be blind to all but one piece of information. You are tasting white Burgundy. You don't know if there is a Montrachet or a Pouilly-Vinzelles in the lineup. This way, you have some knowledge on what you should be looking for in the wines. If one of the wines tasted like grass and grapefruit, you'd know something was wrong. In a double-blind tasting a reviewer shouldn't know anything about what they are tasting. Often times a mix of different varietal wines and blends are lumped together. This method is more directed at assessing the critic than the wines, and is really only useful for parlor tricks or Master of Wine exams.

Does Steve Heimoff taste according to either of these designs? No. Does Wine Spectator? Yes, but with a bit more detail than just variety or region. Where Steve has intimate knowledge of what is in each bottle (he may or may not know which bottle is in which bag, but he has admitted that he can sometimes instantly tell which wines are which), Wine Spectator tasting coordinators set up the tasting so that the editors do not know which specific wines are on the table. Though by setting up flight of Oakville cabernet sauvignon that cost more than $75, the editor probably has a good guess which wines might be involved.

Now, if I were a professional critic, this is how I would set up a blind tasting. I would pick a broad, yet specific, range of wines (how's that for contradictory?). Perhaps I'd select rieslings from a recent vintage. I'd have my tasting coordinator (congratulations honey, you've got the job!) select a handful wines from a variety of regions and a range of price points. I'd ideally like to have California, Washington, Michigan, New York, Colorado, France and Germany represented. I wouldn't need Austria because we know that no Americans drink Austrian wine ;). This might require two or more flights. I'd have the wines poured in identical glasses, but I'd make sure not to see or touch any of the bottles. Who knows, maybe a heavy bottle would give away the producer or insert a bit of bias with regards to the quality of wine contained within. I'd spend a few minutes with each wine, getting to know it before moving on to the next. I'd also go back and forth amongst the wines to be able to compare and contrast the best that I could. I'd describe the characteristics I find in each wine and how those wines made me feel. After all isn't that why people drink wine; to feel something in their mouths and their minds (even if that feeling is numbness).

Despite my complaints, I truly believe that there is no perfect way to evaluate wine. As long as methods are clear and truthful, consumers can make determine which critic is best suited for them. However, people should always trust their own palate and never blindly follow even the most highly esteemed wine writer. The most important thing that Blake's post did yesterday is increase the dialogue. Wine is too often seen as an elitist commodity because people are sometimes afraid to talk about wine. Let's more talking about wine (anyone who has lived in Japan will get it....).

Friday, August 24, 2012

A lesson to be learned from Continuum Estate

Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to visit a winery in California with a pedigree unparalleled anywhere in the U.S. After driving up a long and winding road high in the Vaca Mountains on the east side of the Napa Valley, I found myself exploring vineyards with Tim Mondavi. In 2005, the year after the family's eponymous winery was purchased by Constellation Brands for over $1.3 billion, Tim, father Robert and sister Marcia launched their next wine endeavor. After making dozens of different wines for Robert Mondavi Winery for over three decades, Tim and his family decided to make just one wine that would be recognized amongst the best in the world. In honor of his family's winemaking past and looking forward to its future, Continuum was born.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From the cutting room floor...

A few months ago, I wrote an article about five female social media personalities who are important to the Colorado wine industry. The list caught Wine Spectator's editor Thomas Matthews' eye. He asked me to sit down with meteorologist Jennifer Broome to talk about her thoughts on the local wine wine industry. How awesome is it that the country's most influential wine periodical is interested in Colorado Wine! I spent several months working with the magazine's editors polishing the piece and last week Wine Spectator published the highlights of the interview on their website. Please check it out and share it with people you know who share your love of local wine!

As it happens and as I knew would happen, only a handful of the questions were selected to be published. I want share the rest of the interview with you here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Visit with Cathy Corison

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Corison Winery and sit down with the eponymous owner and winemaker herself. I can't believe it has taken me this long to finish writing this, but it has. Just as good wine deserves time, I guess writing about good wine takes time, too.

Corison Winery is located in the St. Helena appellation of the Napa Valley. If you haven't heard of Corison, then you obviously haven't been reading much about the new wave of California wines. Not that the Corison wines are considered a part of the big burly low-acid cult Napa cabs, but these wines are often cited as the counterbalance to too much concentration and alcohol that some say plague Napa Valley cabernet today. For her efforts, Corison was also named the San Francisco Chronicle's Winemaker of the Year in 2011.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rosé done right

With summer in full swing, many wine lovers are proudly popping the corks on one of wine's most neglected styles: Rosé. Almost every year as the days get longer and the temperature warms up, pinks wines get all sorts of press in the wine media for being a perfect summer wine. Don't get me wrong, I think rosé wine is a great wine to sip during the summer, but it is also a wine to be enjoyed all the time. Pink wine has its own style and characteristics that make it much easier to pair with a variety of foods than many white and red wines. Classically, rosé wines are thought to come from the Provence and Rhône Valley regions of southern France. Pink wines are made in most wine regions in the world and from many different grape varieties. But rosé's versatility and quality is often overlooked by most wine consumers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What real wine consumers think about alcohol in wine

Steve Heimoff gets off his rocker and takes a stroll around the crazy ward quite often over on his blog, especially when he is trying to drive traffic. Of his usual group of controversial topics, alcohol in wine is one that tends to get the 50 people in the U.S. that comment on wine blogs riled up. Alcohol is the second biggest component in a bottle of wine and relatively small changes (roughly +/- 10%) in its concentration seem to cause a large debate in the wine community. There is a large group of wine aficionados that scoff at wines that exceed 14% alcohol by volume (abv). This group claims that too much alcohol causes a wine to be unbalanced and "hot" (not Paris Hilton "hot"). On the other hand, many California-centric wine cognoscenti tend to not care if a wine exceeds 15% or even 16% abv. These high-alcohol wines tend to be low in acid but full of fruit flavors. Those with this purely hedonistic point of view, led by über-critic Robert Parker, tend to refer to members of the low-alcohol party as Anti-Flavor Wine Elites.

Steve was mostly correct in his assertion two weeks ago about the "anti-high alcohol revolution," or lack thereof, and I commend him for that. He claimed that "there is no trend against high alcohol in California." He may be technically correct, but he failed to acknowledge that there are more than a handful of winemakers in California that are intentionally making wine with lower levels of alcohol than they had been. However, California is known for its big, bold and fruity wines and that is not going to change because a small minority of wine consumers don't like those types of wines. There is a reason California wine is so popular.

This whole idea of a low-alcohol winemaking revolution is an interesting conversation piece amongst wine writers and the most devoted wine enthusiasts as we love to quibble over the minutia of pH, total acidity, residual sugar, rootstock and percent new oak. However, most of the wine buying public don't give two hoots about any of those details. The real question we should be asking is, do regular wine consumers think about alcohol levels in wine?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Making wine a spectator sport...

So when I got home from work yesterday my wife had started our yearly binge of watching Master Chef en masse on Hulu. Combined with many of the reports from last week's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the Colorado Urban Winefest, watching several episodes of Master Chef got me thinking about why wine isn't more of a spectator sport and on TV more often. I mean, the Food Network is a very popular television station. The summer is full of food-centric reality shows. Sure, most of them showcase Gordon Ramsey, but food is at least a supporting character. But where is the wine?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oh yeah, I have a blog... (and notes on the NextGen Wine Competition)

Wow, it has been quite a while since I've written a blog post! The few weeks have been busy, but mostly I've been lazy. I've got a lot to catch up on though! I was in California judging at a competition and made a few winery visits during my free time. I got back to Denver just in time for the Colorado Urban Winefest. And to top it off, I had a couple of great dinners with some impressive wines with friends and acquaintances the past few days.

I'll get to those stories in due time, but this post is about the NextGen Wine Competition. For the second year, I was invited by Vineyard and Winery Management (VWM) to judge at the NextGen Wine Competition. The competition was designed specifically with younger (and increasingly more important) wine consumers in mind, and was judged by qualified and knowledgeable wine industry millennials aged 21-35. Most of the judges were from California, but there were a handful from the likes of Colorado, Wisconsin and Illinois. One of the things that Rob Merletti, CEO/Publisher of VWM, mentioned in his speech at the judges' dinner was that he wanted to use the NextGen (and the other 5 competitions VWM owns) as a way to introduce the rest of the wine industry to the grapes and wines of the other 47 states not named California, Oregon and Washington. Being from the east coast, Rob explained that he was introduced to wine via the likes of Chambourcin, Norton and Baco Noir and he hopes that many of America's new wine consumers will discover wine via a similar path of non-traditional varieties from their local wine regions. I was pleasantly surprised that a few of the Cali judges knew what traminette was, but still too many were not aware of how brianna, muscadine and cayuga should be judged. Nevertheless, I applaud Rob and VWM for being so progressive with their vision of the future of the American wine industry. Oh, and vidal blanc made it to the sweepstakes tasting!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A first for "flash-deal" wine business

The past few years have seen an explosion of "flash-deal" websites like Living Social and Groupon. Every local newspaper and television station has one of their own now. These business models of course have found their way into the wine industry, too. These websites have a penchant for blasting emails to subscribers from several times a week to several times a day highlighting wines (often wines that the winery or distributor have a difficult time selling at full price) at discounts at up to 70% off the suggested retail price. I've bought by fair share of wines from the likes of Wines Til Sold Out, Invino and Lot 18, but a new platform launched in January that his piqued my interest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Made with Conviction: The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey

http://palatepress.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Lil-logo.jpgIn 1886, two Benedictine monks from Pennsylvania moved to Breckenridge, Colorado. Other monks followed and in the ensuing years they moved to the Arkansas River Valley near the town of Cañon City.  They founded the Holy Cross Abbey in 1924 as a summer home for the Pope. Well, that didn’t exactly work out and the monks instead operated a boy’s boarding school until 1985. The Abbey was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Despite the school’s closing, the Abbey remained in operation as offices and housing for the monks until 2006.

Continue reading at Palate Press: the online wine magazine.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Jeff Carr (Garfield Estates Vineyard & Winery)

Carol & Jeff Carr
Garfield Estates Vineyard and Winery was the winery that gave me my first a ha moment when it comes to Colorado wine. Back in 2007 after my wife and I moved back from Japan we spent a short weekend in the Grand Valley. We visited a few wineries that were pleasant enough, but Garfield Estates and Reeder Mesa Vineyards were the two that left an impression on me. It was a 2005 Garfield Estates Cabernet Franc that really made me recognize that Colorado was capable of producing terrific wine. I purchased one bottle of the cab franc and opened it a few months ago (I still need to publish the write-up) and it was even better than I remember. Also, just a few weeks ago, I had a 2009 Garfield Estates Syrah that was very good and will soon find its way into my cellar (only if more 2005 cab franc were available...). With the winery in Palisade and a tasting room at Colorado Winery Row in Denver, Jeff and Carol Carr offer a bi-slope wine experience that makes it easy to get to know their wines. Jeff was kind enough to answer our Winemaker questions this week.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Colorado (might) have its sh*t together...(a response to 1WineDude)

In between the time that he is prepping his young daughter for a singing career launched by posting videos on his website (oh wait, isn't that someone else?) and cleaning up after his rhinoceran-sized dog (did you know rhinoceros have no knees?), Joe Roberts is traveling the globe spitingt some of the best (and worst) wines the world has to offer. Last week, he made a quick stop in Colorado (two weeks in Australia and only four days in Colorado, really Joe??) for the Drink Local Wine Conference. I think that the conference was a smashing success, but then again I helped organize it so why wouldn't it be great?

This morning, Joe posted a late dispatch about the conference. The theme of his piece was the topic of one of three seminars at the conference, "Why Do Local Wine and Local Food Hate Each Other?" Unfortunately, I did not get to witness this panel discussion as I was washing glasses for the subsequent Nomacorc Twitter Taste-off. According to Joe (and probably most other people in the room), the panel's discussion revolved around the question, "Why don’t more local restaurants stock local wines, when they almost always stock local produce without much hesitation?" He concludes that local restaurants could (and should) celebrate local juice when three conditions are met. The Dude abides and claims that Colorado seems to have its sh*t together when it comes to these conditions, but he offers no further explanation. Well, I'm going to offer an explanation for Joe...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Braden Dodds (Ruby Trust Cellars)

Braden & Amy Dodds (left), Ray & Jean Bruening (right)
This past weekend saw the fourth annual Drink Local Wine conference make its mark on Denver. It was also the first public appearance by a new Colorado winery: Ruby Trust Cellars. And how just how did this new upstart fare? Their cabernet franc-based Smuggler (90% cab franc, 5% cab sauv and 5% petit verdot) was voted Best Red Wine by a group of 200 media and consumers. It looks like founders Ray and Jean Bruening are off to a pretty impressive start to their new venture.

After spending two decades as an options trader on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, Ray and his wife decided to slow things down and focus their passion for wine by crafting premium Colorado wine. They brought in winemaker Braden Dodds, who has made wine in California, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, to craft a series bold red blends with local fruit. Ruby Trust's first vintage release of approximately 400 cases has already sold out and is on the list of some of Colorado's top restaurants. Judging by the comments I heard from many of the media attendees at the conference, Ruby Trust is going to be force to be reckoned with in the Colorado wine industry. Make sure that you pick up a bottle from this newest award-winning winery on your next trip to the wine shop! And with that, please let me thank Braden Dodds for taking the time to answer the questions in our latest installment of Meet the Winemaker.

Friday, April 27, 2012

And what exactly is a Twitter Taste-off?

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be emceeing the Nomacorc Twitter Taste-off at the Drink Local Wine conference in Denver. Two dozen Colorado wineries will each be pouring two wines to a group of wine writers and approximately 150 consumers. Every person will be tasting and tweeting their thoughts, opinions and desires about Colorado wine. Their tweets will be displayed on screens at the taste-off, and everyone involved can follow the discussion - I encourage followers and wine lovers from around the world to join in on the fun. You can follow the conversation on Twitter on April 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. MDT using the hashtags #drinklocal and #colwine. Don't forget, this tasting is a "competition;" the media's choice and the People's choice will be recognized as the best wines of the afternoon.

Some pointers for those of you participating:

1. Tweet often!

2. Be honest. Sometimes constructive criticism is necessary. (Wineries, don't be offended if someone doesn't like your wine, it is not a personal attack on you.)

2. Retweet other's comments on your favorite wines.

3. When you're not tweeting, take advantage of being able to talk directly with the people responsible fro crafting the wine. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about what makes Colorado wine special.

4. Don't be afraid to spit. With almost 50 wines being offered, we don't want to have to clean up any messes or remove overly indulgent guests...

5. Use the hashtags #drinklocal and #colwine. This is our best way of generating buzz for Colorado wine at this event.

6. Have fun!

If you're there, be sure to stop by and say hi to me!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let DrinkLocalWine week commence...

The 2012 Drink Local Wine conference is now upon us. Wine and food media personalities from around the country are beginning to descend on Denver starting today! Activities include three media tours to wineries around the state, a media welcome dinner at the Governor's Residence at the Boettcher Mansion, three seminars featuring some of the top names in Colorado and regional wine, and the Nomacorc Twitter Taste-off with two dozen wineries pouring their best wines for media and the public alike to taste and tweet. After all of the Drink Local Wine festivities are complete, a few chosen tasters will stick around and judge at the Colorado Governor's Cup winemaking competition. The award-winning wines will be presented at a special tasting at the Governor's Residence on June 7, just days before the Colorado Urban Winefest in Sculpture Park at the Denver Performing Arts Complex on June 9. The next few weeks are going to be a busy time for the Colorado wine industry, but I think all this effort is going to pay off. People from around the country are finally going to see what Colorado wine has to offer.

In fact, one of the DLW media guests, Joe Roberts of 1WineDude.com and Playboy.com, penned a prologue to his experience at DLW. His main thesis was that he has low expectations for Colorado wine, but that he is not going to let his preconceived notion get in the way of fairly judging the local juice in the same way that he does wine from the world's major wine regions. He "firmly believe[s] that part of that encouragement is being brutally honest about the quality of each individual wine that crosses [his] lips when [he's] in critic mode." I commend him on this and hope that our local wineries are not offended if/when he pans some of their wines. Constructive criticism is something that I think some local vintners have a hard time accepting. All wineries, not just Colorado wineries, need to always seek ways to improve their wines, especially if they think that their wines are already great. As I've said before, there is no such thing as a perfect wine. If you're not always striving to improve, your beginning to fail.

That being said, I think Joe is going to be awesomely and pleasantly surprised. I think that the best of Colorado wine deserves to be in the same conversation with the best wines of the world. I've shown over and over again that when people have their preconceived notions about regional wine hidden by a brown bag they can see that Colorado's wineries can produce wine that is on the same quality level of wineries in Napa and Bordeaux. The Drink Local Wine conference is a small baby step in proving this to the rest of the world. I encourage all of my readers (my mom and my wife...) to raise a glass and celebrate local wine where ever you might be. And if you're in Colorado, I'd better see you at the Drink Local Wine conference this weekend and at the Colorado Urban Winefest June 9!


Monday, April 16, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Wrap-Up

Ben - 1 year
Each of the past 52 weeks, my wife and I have opened a bottle of sparkling wine in honor of our son Ben's first year. The wines helped us celebrate moments from bringing our baby home to him running around and beginning to talk. We've taken him on plane rides and road trips. He's attended two weddings and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a few new friends. We've had quite an adventure celebrating a year of firsts: the first time he rolled over, the first time he sat up, his first tooth, his first steps, his first signed word, his first spoken word, his first solid food, his first scratch, first day of school. I bet I could continue that list ad infinitum.

During this adventure, we drank 54 different sparkling wines (doubling up Mother's Day week and Valentine's Day) from 11 different countries. Here are a few statistics from this little endeavor:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Colorado vs. Virginia with Terroirist.com (Red Blends edition)

Last month, I found myself in Washington, D.C. for a work trip. On one of my free nights, I got together with David White, founder of Terroirist.com, and some members of his local tasting group for a Colorado vs. Virginia wine blind tasting. We opened 28 different bottles of wine from Colorado and Virginia, with a few ringers thrown in. We started the festivities with a flight of viogniers (12) followed by a slightly larger flight (16) of red blends. Today, I will post the results from the Red Blends flight. You can find the results for the viognier flight on yesterday's post.

All wines were wrapped in foil and randomly numbered. We poured two at a time, in no particular order (I've listed them here sequential for clarity). The group discussed each wine as they were tasted, but the identities were not revealed until all wines in a flight were tasted and voted on. The results revealed that while both regions have some work to do to be consider "world-class," they both produce some pretty good wine right now. The notes that follow are my own, though I do note the wines that were determined to be the best as voted on by the group. While I did take brief notes during the tasting, I somehow managed to not write down the vintages for the wines. C'est la vie!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Colorado vs. Virginia with Terroirist.com (Viognier edition)

Last month, I found myself in Washington, D.C. for a work trip. On one of my free nights, I got together with David White, founder of Terroirist.com, and some members of his local tasting group for a Colorado vs. Virginia wine blind tasting. We opened 28 different bottles of wine from Colorado and Virginia, with a few ringers thrown in. We started the festivities with a flight of viogniers (12) followed by a slightly larger flight (16) of red blends. Today, I will post the results from the Viognier flight. Check back tomorrow for the red blend results.

All wines were wrapped in foil and randomly numbered. We poured two at a time, in no particular order (I've listed them here sequential for clarity). The group discussed each wine as they were tasted, but the identities were not revealed until all wines in a flight were tasted and voted on. The results revealed that while both regions have some work to do to be consider "world-class," they both produce some pretty good wine right now. The notes that follow are my own, though I do note the wines that were determined to be the best as voted on by the group. While I did take brief notes during the tasting, I somehow managed to not write down the vintages for the wines. C'est la vie!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Champagne Doyard, Collection de l'An I

Well, we finally made it. We successfully raised our first child to one year of age. And in doing so, we consumed one bottle (sometimes more) of sparkling wine for the past 52 weeks. The past year has been just the first chapter on a fantastic journey that I hope lasts for the rest of my life. Everyone always says to cherish these early times in a child's life because they grow up so fast. I just never knew how fast this year would go and how much Ben would grow. From the helpless, wrinkly little baby we took home 4 hours after his birth to the walking and talking energetic (and sometimes quite impatient) little boy who always brings a smile to my face (well, maybe not when he smacks me in the face while I am asleep), I have enjoyed every moment so far. When my wife and I decided to open a bottle of bubbly for every week of his first year, I mostly thought it would be good to have consistent material for the blog. But opening a bottle to celebrate Ben every week has meant so much more. Every week for the past year we were able to relax, reflect and recover all in the name of Ben. Who knew something that requires so much work could be so fun and rewarding (well, all of you parents knew that already)!

Two weeks ago, Ben enjoyed his first Spring Break with Mom and his grandparents all came over for his birthday party. At the end of the day, he was covered in dirt, frosting and dog hair. What a good day for a little boy. Unfortunately, Ben started to feel a little under the weather at day care on his birthday. He recovered quickly, but he had to stay home with on Thursday and Friday. We had a good time just hanging out and enjoying the beautiful spring weather. We are so excited to have a yard that Ben can call his own and play in for the years to come.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I would walk 500 miles (well, at least drive 500 miles for Krug)

Krug House
Last December I received an email from Champagne Krug, inviting me to series of tastings and fun holiday events in swanky Aspen. Krug is Champagne legend, the likes of which I had never tasted. I immediately began plotting how my wife and I could arrange childcare for our nine-month old and make our way to Aspen on only a few days notice. However, given the short notice, we couldn’t make a weekend of it so I decided to drive there and back in the same day. After all, wine with a reputation like Krug is a worth driving for eight hours (round trip).

I set out early in the morning to make my one o’clock appointment. When you have an interview set up with Krug’s winemaker on her first visit to the United States you make sure you get there early. After a long drive with all the ski traffic, I made my way up the mountain roads of Aspen and pulled to up a palatial house with only a large bottle of Krug at the end of the driveway announcing that I had found my destination.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Clyde Spero (Spero Winery)

Clyde Spero
North Denver is not the ideal spot for a winery, but Clyde and June Spero have been making it work since 1996. Born to Italian immigrants, Clyde is definitely an old-school winemaker. In homage to his Italian ancestors Spero imports all of its uniquely shaped wine bottles from Italy. They have sourced their grapes from a variety of locations, including their own vineyard in Denver (which has since been removed), but also Palisade, CO, Lodi, CA and even an unlikely vineyard in Pueblo, CO. Spero's wines are definitely unique and quite popular amongst their supportive customer base. If you're looking for a new wine experience in Denver, stop by Spero's recently updated winery and say hello to Clyde and June!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Sektkellerei Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut

This was a busy week for Ben, which was perfect because it was spring break for Mom, so he was only at daycare for Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday evening, Grandma and Grandpa from Wisconsin flew in for Ben's first birthday party. It is very weird to think that Ben is almost one year old already! We actually had his party almost a week early and we sure lucked out with the weather. It was in the 70s and 80s for the better part of the last week of March. Ben had a grand time hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa; he went on walks, went to the park, played with new toys, and even played in the dirt a little bit! He had so much going on that I am sure that he will sleep well for the next week! I know I will.

Sektkellerei Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut

It is not too often that you see a sparkling Grüner Veltliner. I was trying to find something unique for the penultimate bubbly. With my parents in town, I decided to have a little fun opening it. I really think that sabering sparkling wine is one of the coolest wine traditions and I have attempted it twice in the past, once successfully and the other not so much. I don't have a wine saber, so I grabbed a drywall saw. I found the seam on the bottle and in one fell swoop popped of the top of the bottle and the cork with an exceptionally clean decapitation. I was so eager to show of that I forgot to have someone record my feat. I poured a glass for the four adults, much to Ben's chagrin. The wine was a very light yellow with a slight green tint. The nose was subtle but with nice aromas of peaches, green apples and tart citrus. You will not confuse this Brut with a true Champagne, but it is nonetheless a nice wine. Not surprisingly, it tastes like Grüner Veltliner with bubbles added. The flavors were one-dimensional with crisp lime and grapefruit and a very short finish. It went down smoothly, but lacked any complexity. 12% abv Purchased $18. Good

Friday, March 30, 2012

Win tickets on the Colorado wine train from DrinkLocalWine.com

The California Zephyr
Not bad scenery for a regional wine state, no?
Who says regional wine can't be any fun? Obviously, people who don't read the blog -- or who have never enjoyed the Colorado wine train, which travels between Denver and Grand Junction on the state's Western Slope.The train goes through the Rockies, some of the best scenery in the country, before arriving in Grand Junction, the gateway to wine country in that part of the state.
 DLW is giving away two round-trip Amtrak tickets on the California Zephyr, between Denver and Grand Junction, as part of the fun for DLW 2012: Colorado. (Thank you, Amtrak, for the tickets). Entering is simple -- just go to the DLW Facebook page and fill out the form. If you don't like DLW already, hit the like button. It's not a requirement, but it would be nice. A drawing will be held during the conference to select the winner.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Meet the Winemaker: Matt Cookson (The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey)

Matt Cookson
Colorado's wineries tend be be found in homes, barns or industrial parks. One winery definitely breaks the mold when it comes to where wineries can be found. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey is located on the grounds of the historic Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City, CO. The Winery is also one of, if not the, biggest wineries in the state. They have a cult-like following amongst there customers and their popular events hosted at the winery are almost always sold out. One other characteristic that is unique to The Winery is that they buy grapes grown by prisoners at the Level V maximum security Colorado State Penitentiary located nearby. This week, we welcome winemaker Matt Cookson to the Meet the Winemaker interview series!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Spirit of the Andes, Sparkling Torrontés

It seems like summer arrived before spring even had a chance to begin here in Denver. It has been in the 70s for the better part of March and Ben is enjoying every minute of the great weather. We are really going to enjoy our new yard this summer and Ben has been quite helpful as I try to rake up all the leaves that I didn't get to last autumn. He tries his hardest to use our extra rake as I do the heavy lifting! He also loves to go on walks and waves furiously at every dog he sees. His hometown grandma and grandpa just got a new dog, so I think it will take a while until Ben and I can convince Mom to get a dog for ourselves (on a sad note, the dog my family got when I was in high school is no longer with us. Rest In Peace, Cleo. I'll miss you!). Until then, our cats will have to do. At least one of the cats enjoys Ben's company. The other usually leaves Ben with a nice scratch on his face any time he gets near. He currently is sporting a Dr. Evil-like scratch under his left eye just for attempting to touch the cat's tail.

With Ben's first birthday coming up quickly, he is starting to get presents from his relatives. His grandma and grandpa in Wisconsin sent him a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe and Grandma insisted that I put it together for him asap. Turns out that gifts from grandparents are payback for how Dad acted as a child. It took me the better part of an hour, a bit of sweat and more than a few choice words to put the damn thing together. But, it was definitely worth the effort as Ben loves it. He likes pushing it around the driveway, but he really loves when he gets in and Mom and Dad play "catch" with him. He already knows how to get in and out and operate the door, though he hasn't quite figured out that the door is only on the left side and gets frustrated when he tries to get in from the right. He's really going to like it when I get around to putting together the trailer that came with it!

Spirit of the Andes, Sparkling Torrontés, Valle de Uco, Argentina

Looking through my archives, I found it hard to believe that I've only posted on one wine from Argentina and no torrontés over the past two years. I do enjoy many South American wines and find that they often offer great values, but for some reason I find Argentine wines to a be a bit too mainstream for my tastes these days. Well, this wine is anything but mainstream. Sure, torrontés is a very popular grape, but this was the first time I've seen one with bubbles. As soon as I saw it on the shelf at Mondo Vino, I knew it was going to be this week's post. This eclectic wine has a very interesting label that just looks very Andean. The wine itself is a very pale yellow with very fine bubbles. The nose is very subtle, but aromas of green apples and limes are ever so slightly present. The flavor might be even more delicate. For a few seconds you can taste tart Granny Smith apples and lime zest, but not for much longer. I like the wine, but it is hard to be really get into it with the flavors fading so quickly. My wife had to put slices of pear into her glass, which I reluctantly tried with my second glass. The pears didn't add much to the wine, but they were a tasty dessert at the end of the glass. 13.8% abv Purchased $18. Average/Good

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Cara Mia Moscato d'Asti

It was good to get home this weekend. As I stated in Friday's post, I was out of town for most of last week on a work trip. Ben was home with Mom and got to enjoy the great Denver weather by going to the park and watching the geese. He loves watching those delicious waterfowl from the north. He's even toppled over a few times as he follows them with his eyes as they fly overhead. I guess he hasn't realized how top heavy he is. On a down note, he also had to go home from school early one day and miss the next. I usually stay home with him when doesn't go to daycare because of my flexible work schedule, but with me being gone, Mom had to line up a substitute and nurse the little guy back to health. He's just now starting to get back to 100%. Nevertheless, he was quite excited to see me walk through the door when I got home. He ran over to me and demanded that I pick him up. Is there really a better feeling than that?

2011 Cara Mia Moscato d'Asti, DOCG

One of the hottest wine trends of the past year is the rise of moscato wines. Even after months of denial, Steve Heimoff admitted as much recently. Moscato d'Asti is the region best known for producing the sweet and slightly sparkling low-alcohol wine. The best provide good complexity and length, but most importantly are refreshing. While this wine wasn't the best moscato I've ever had, it is a very nice wine. The blue bottle leaves a bit to be desired, but thank goodness it is what's inside that counts. Lots of apple, peach and pear aromas fill the glass. The sweetness is balanced nicely with good acidity and a pleasant fruity creaminess (think peaches and cream and a slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream) round out the palate. I think this is a lovely wine that most people will be able to enjoy. 5.5% abv Gift $14. Very Good

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ben's Bubbly: Iron Horse Vineyards, Blanc de Blancs

I've only missed one bubbly post over the past eleven months and I was not about to let it happen again. We actually drank the wine more than a week ago, but my work travels and a few other issues kept me from getting this posted on time. Even if it is going up at the end of the work week, I figured it is better to be late than not post at all.

Well, it is time to start thinking about the final bubbly; Ben's first birthday is less than a month away. We've had lots of different types, styles and origins of sparkling wine for each of the past 48 weeks. It is pretty amazing that we've been doing this little experiment considering most people only drink sparkling wine on New Year's Eve and a few other special occasions. If wine consumers really sit down and think about what is special in their lives, I'm sure that they will find many more reasons to drink bubblies. Not a week goes by that I am not reminded how special my little Ben is. He is growing up so fast and I love him more each day. It will be fun to one day in the distant future reread this entire series and reminisce about what he was doing each week for the first year of his life, but also to remember the wines we drank to celebrate. Ben will only have one first birthday and he of course will not remember it, but I want to pick a truly special wine to mark this momentous occasion. I was lucky enough to taste Krug a few months ago, so that might be the winner if I can find a bottle. I'll listen to suggestions, too.

Iron Horse Vineyards, Blanc de Blancs, Green Valley AVA

I stand by the statement that you should drink what you like. This 15-year old California sparkler is a good example. It was highly rated and not cheap ($33). My wife could only bear a few sips, whereas I thought it was fantastic. The dark gold color and distinct aromas of autolysis indicated that this was indeed a well-aged wine that saw a fair amount of lees contact. In fact, this bottle was disgorged after seven years (unheard of in all but the highest end Champagne and late-disgorged domestic sparklers). My wife thought there were funky aromas and a bit of kerosene. I thought it had much more complexity and personality than most of the sparklers we've had over the past year. Apples, pears, cinnamon, sourdough toast, lemon zest and sauteed mushrooms were just a few of the aromas and flavors that I enjoyed. Iron Horse Vineyards is one of the U.S. top sparkling wine houses and often are served at State Dinners at The White House (as it was this week, unofficially). I make no guarantees that you'll like it, but I definitely recommend picking up any Iron Horse wines you find. 13.5% abv. Purchased $33 Very Good