“When I retire, I don’t want to see the wine writing profession wither away.”
That was one of the many provocative things that Robert Parker said before–get this–a room of wine writers (which prompted some chortles on twitter about new career paths). Granted, wine writing and journalism more generally have changed since Parker was at his peak. But the après-Parker era will not be one of silence; indeed, diversity of opinion is now the norm.
At any rate, Richard Jennings attended the talk and he posted key passages from Parker’s talk as well as the above picture. Here are some of the winning quotes:
* “The wine world is so big. Yes, there are styles of wines I don’t like. Orange wine, natural wines and low alcohol wines. Truth is on my side and history will prove I am right.”
* On tasting the controversial Pavie 2003 this month: “[I] was having problems with it though. The gritty tannins seemed to me to be excessive. It is a vintage that’s evolving very fast. I kept those problems to myself though, until today.”
* On closing eBob to non-subscribers: “No one at The Wine Advocate has any regrets about closing it…[Bulletin board editor] Mark Squires kept throwing people off, warning them at first. It just got worse and worse though. [Squires] was turning into a schizophrenic because so many people were complaining.”
* “People do still want to read tasting notes.”
* On Asia and China: “I want to leave some kind of legacy in Asia. [The Chinese] are great students and fast learners. They’re too respectful to challenge you on anything, but they’re learning.”
* On the Wine Advocate’s new owners: “I’m not the majority owner anymore.”
Check out the full summary.
The rain in California falls mostly in the winter. I think that’s how it went in Pygmalion. At any rate, the rain has decidedly NOT been falling this off-season for the vines. While that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for California’s wine industry–some older vines have deep roots–it does mean less water to go around and and a descent into the politics of water scarcity. New vines and a lot of older vines in the Golden State rely on drip irrigation–it will be interesting if “dry farming,” which some claim produces wines that are more expressive of their terroirs then irrigated vines, catches on this season out of necessity. Also affected are increasingly popular “cover crops,” the nitrogen-rich plants that some vineyard managers sow between the vines to plow under and provide natural fertilization for the soil.
Jason Haas (right), of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, one of the hardest hit areas in the state, told Bloomberg News that competition from overseas will limit how much California producers can pass drought costs on to consumers. Aquifers and wells may cover some of the shortfall, but, again, welcome to water politics, perhaps a dominant theme for this century in much of the country.
California produces 89% of American wine. The San Joaquin Valley alone cranks out 60%. The Central Valley also produces many of the country’s fruit, nuts and vegetables–America’s salad bowl, if you will, rather than its breadbasket. Mather Jones has a terrific infographic on how the California drought could affect you no matter where you live. (Btw, since it takes about 600 to 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine, they therefore claim it takes 180 – 240 gallons of water to make a bottle of wine. Vintners, winemakers: does that strike you as an exaggeration?)
On a somewhat optimistic note, rain is on the way. Randall Grahm, who makes his Bonny Doon wines on and around California’s central coast, tweeted today: “The fact that rain (and lots of it) is forecast for later this week is the best thing I’ve read in forever. #betterthan95ptsfromparker”
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A committee in the French Senate declared the obvious this week in adding an amendment that would make wine an official part of French heritage.
Cries of “um, duh!” could be heard in the land that makes some of the best wines in the world today and up until fifty years ago had a per capita consumption of 100 liters per person.
That it has come to this underscores the threats the wine industry faces abroad but particularly at home. Overseas, French wine has lost market share in the US to new world producers (although, at the high end, the mindshare remains huge). But at home, wine has come under threat from advertising restrictions, tougher laws against drunken driving, an ascendent force that sees wine/alcohol as a public health problem, a proposal to raise the tax on wine 1,000%, and truly nutty proposals to bar media discussion of health benefits of wine and a ban on talking about wine on the internet! So, in light of these domestic developments, such a declaration by the senate becomes more understandable as it gives the wine industry to something they can use to bolster their position.
We wish them bonne chance. But perhaps the best thing we could do for them is take a sip of the heritage and say santé! (Or, wait, is it not healthy…?)
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SIPPED: Jancis Robinson argues in favor of the “classics” over wines from obscure grapes just for the sense of obscurity. Twitter fight ensues.
SPIT: the legislative efforts to mandate warehousing wine in NY for 24 hours prior to end delivery have regained some momentum, unfortunately. The NY Post argues it would add $2 to a bottle of wine. Some distributors and producers have bonded together so create a web site where NY consumers can send their legislators a note of protest. #stopthecorktax
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Game time: see if you can correctly identify the photo of an official state wine cellar with the correct country, US, UK, and France.
Okay, okay, it’s photographic hyperbole — but the White House really doesn’t have a wine cellar to speak of. Downing Street (top) buys the wines on release and stores them for official occasions. Buckingham Palace has some terrific wines too as you may recall that when Obama went there on a state visit, the Queen uncorked some DRC and ’63 port. The Elysée Palace (middle) has an impressive cellar, as you might expect. The White House, by contrast, procures wines for state functions on-demand so rarely serves wines with much age on them.
The relative paucity of the White House wine cellar has its roots in our country’s love/hate relationship with alcohol: loved it so much that it became a political issue leading to Prohibition. While the shadow of Prohibition looms over the industry in the form of restrictions interstate shipments (among other things), the fact is that Americans are into wine now, as witnessed by instagram feeds or the fact that per capita consumption has increased for 20 consecutive years. So a big chunk of America would probably take pride in having some decent American wines slumbering in the White House basement.
How likely is that to happen? When pigs fly. The UK and France have both reduced their wine collections recently in the name of austerity. China introduced a ban on expensive alcohol at state banquets in the last quarter of 2011. And with an economy that’s not exactly firing on all cylinders here, there’s no way the White House would engender criticism for that kind of expenditure. Still, an American wine lover can but dream. Maybe, as a matter of national pride, Bill Koch could endow the White House with a starter collection of well-vetted wines from his cellar?
Breaking from tradition, the White House announced the wines to be served at tonight’s state dinner honoring President Francois Hollande and Madame–oh nevermind. So instead of engaging in subterfuge or speculation, we have the list. Here they are:
Morlet “La Proportion Doree” 2011 — Napa Valley, California (find this wine)
Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 — Columbia Valley, Washington (find this wine)
Thibaut-Jannison “Blanc de Chardonnay” — Monticello, Virginia (find this wine)
Uh, come again? These are odd wines to serve at a state dinner. First, they are modest but after getting blowback from actually serving some expensive wines, the Obama White House seems to have made a conscious choice to bring down the price of the wines. This is unfortunate: given the White House policy of only serving American wines, they really should showcase the best of what America is making, irrespective of price. Sure, State Dinners are expensive, but has anyone taken a look at the Department of Defense budget and procurement lately? Fine wine at a state dinner is the equivalent of a few toilet seats and wrenches at the DoD.
Further, the French connections here seem modest at best. Sure, Obama and Hollande went to Monticello yesterday so why not pile that on again and play the French vintner card (oh, and White House Usher Dan Shanks seems to LOVE LOVE LOVE that wine since he serves it with great regularity). A French director of winemaking at Allen Shoup’s Long Shadows project that made the Chester Kidder? Yikes, seems like grasping at straws. Why not one of the delicious wines from Domaine Drouhin in Oregon if you wanted the French vintner/Northwest angle? Or, since it is being served with beef, how about Dominus, made in Napa under the watchful eye of Christian Moueix. The 1991 is drinking beautifully and, ya know, is fit for a Président.
And the Morlet sweet white “La Proportion Doree“? Really, their “Coup de Coeur” might be their best wine to pour for President Hollande! But the French vintner thing is kind of played out by this point. Why not pour something from new wave California, inspired by France made by Americans, such as a trousseau? There are so many ways to play this other than the foursquare approach that Shanks chose.
At any rate, hats off to Michelle Obama for serving the greens and pickled vegetables from the White House garden. And, also in contrast to previous state dinners, the kitchen is using Twitter and Instagram to distribute photos of the foods. Menu after the jump.
At the dinner, guests will first enter the White House and proceed through a receiving line to be greeted inside the oval-shaped Blue Room by Obama and his wife, before exiting and boarding an old-fashioned trolley for a ride to the tent for dinner and Blige’s high-octane musical performance.
The first course will feature American Osetra caviar, farmed from the estuaries of Illinois, paired with quail eggs from Pennsylvania and a dozen varieties of potatoes from farms in New York, Idaho and California.
That will be followed by a salad of petite radishes and baby carrots on a bed of lettuce and splashed with red-wine vinaigrette made using honey from the beehive on the South Lawn. The salad will be served in a clear, glass bowl and resemble a terrarium.
The main course, dry-aged rib eye beef from a farm in Greeley, Colo., will be served with blue cheese, charred shallots, oyster mushrooms and braised chard.
Dessert is chocolate malted cake, described as a modern version of a layer cake made with bittersweet chocolate from Obama’s native Hawaii, Florida tangerines and served with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. After dinner, guests can dip into a serving dish made entirely of sugar to sample fudge made of Vermont maple syrup, shortbread cookies made with lavender from Mrs. Obama’s garden and cotton candy dusted with orange zest. via AP
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When fear of wine counterfeits remains high in the wine wine auction market, bidders will pay a premium for wines with superlative provenance. Such was the case with the Burgundies from the H. B. Harris collection, which fetched $7.5 million over the weekend in Chicago at Hart Davis Hart.
Harris, a real estate developer known to his friends and family as “Bubba,” got into wine in his twenties. He amassed a trove of fine wine that he kept initially in an apartment that he had customized into a wine cellar but then switched to professional storage in 1994. He died last year at the age of 78.
The 986 lots at the Hart Davis Hart auction all sold and the total of the auction exceeded the $4 – $6 million estimate. HDH printed some of the original receipts in the catalogue. I liked the fact that Mr. Harris bought the ’85 Jayer Cros Parantoux for $68.99 a bottle or $828/case back in the day. Six of those bottles ended up selling for $101,575 on Saturday.
Wine enthusiasts know that where grape vines grow can contribute to the flavors of the resulting wine. But Pedro Parra has decided to dig a little deeper: the “terroir consultant” has excavated over 20,000 holes to study vineyard soils.
Based in Chile but trained in Paris, the Chilean has more views about soil than your average wine consumer. For one, he tries to drink only wines from a certain soil type, rather than amorphous blends. And even there, not even all soils pass the sniff test: clay soils produce wines that are too fruity and sweet for him, with sensations in the front of the mouth that he admits have broad appeal, though just not for him. He’s more of a schist, granite or limestone man.
To illustrate the flavor profiles of each type of soil, Parra led a tasting in New York City last week in a midday tasting at Hearth restaurant. Paul Grieco, a partner in the restaurant as well as the Terroir wine bars who was also chosen as the second most influential person in NYC wine, invited Parra to lead the tasting of 19 red wines, including several wines from his Chilean project, the Clos des Fous.
“When you have a chance to taste a lot of wine by rock, you will start to organize wines by rock,” Parra told the small group of people from the wine trade.
He offered us this primer:
* Limestone: you feel it first in the tongue and is more lateral.
* Schist: is powerful and lateral.
* Granite: always a little dry with a sensation more in the back of the mouth, almost in the jawbone.
* Gravel: wine is always more alcoholic and can have a burn on the nose.
* Basalt: similar to schist.
Armed with these generalities, we dove into the first flight. As they hailed from Barolo to Burgundy, there were so many factors to account for in the glass that it was hard to focus on the soil type alone. I decided that I liked limestone the best. Except for when the granite really came through. Gah–is this all a pile of schist? In the end, the most important variable was often the hand of the winemaker. That said, Parra argues there are often fundamental characteristics of certain vineyards that can’t be airbrushed out; he even told a vineyard owner frustrated at not being able to reduce the tannins in a wine that he should give up on that site and go to another soil type that would more easily produce the sort of wine he was looking to make.
Does the site actually transfer minerals from the dirt to the glass? Parra says that the discussion has lamentably been dominated by scientists. “It’s not minerals from the soil. It’s the sensation in the mouth – natural acidity or fake acidity.”
Paul Grieco, who sired the Summer of Riesling, told the group that he’s fine-tuning his winespeak: “I used to use the word minerality a shit ton; I’m trying to use different words and be more specific now.”
Soil type often leads vintners in the new world to new vineyard sites. Josh Jensen worked in Burgundy and then came back to California, looked for limestone and planted the vineyards for Calera. More recently, Keven Harvey and the team at Rhys have scouted sites scrupulously. Parra indicated that while other factors such as weather were involved, with a good site, “you start with a 50% chance of doing it better than the other guys.”
Asked about any up-and-coming areas based purely on geology, Parra surprised the room by declaring Canada as one to watch, specifically in the Okanagan Valley. He also added Armenia and Georgia, as well as a remote southern part of Chile.
In the end, there was a consensus at my table that the tasting left us with a lot of unanswered questions. That’s not a bad thing since the answers will be found in further tasting. And I’ll keep an eye out for soil types mapped on wines I’m tasting. Getting down and dirty, if you will.
I love a good documentary. I just saw “Blackfish,” about the treatment of killer whales at Sea World and thought it was effective in taking an issue that I hadn’t really thought about, making me interested in it, and giving me some basis for forming an opinion about the issue (free the whales!). “The Cove” was similar in presenting the capture and brutal killing of dolphins in Japan; that documentary was gorgeously shot had a dramatic tension as the camera crew inserted themselves into the narrative. In that vein, Morgan Spurlock’s stunt of eating McDonald’s for 30 days in “Super Size Me” was a good way of getting at the broader issue of the health and fast food. More recently, my kids and I enjoyed the “The Short Game,” a Netflix original about competitive golfing among seven and eight year olds. Again, we don’t even golf but it had good arc and did raise the issue of how much is too much competition for such young kids as well as what it takes to succeed at an early age.
This is all a long-winded background to the fact that Decanter reports that a documentary entitled “Sour Grapes” is in the works about the Rudy Kurniawan wine counterfeiting story. They say that the film is being made by a British team with the full cooperation of Laurent Ponsot and will be completed by the end of this year.
While I look forward to seeing the documentary, I’m not sure a documentary is the best treatment for the material. The Rudy saga is terrific and it definitely has the ability to draw the interest of the casual viewer not really into wine. But to me it is a character-driven story that speaks to the larger themes of hubris, duplicity, gullibility and more. In other words, the stuff of Shakespeare more than policy issues, such as dolphin hunting, orca abuse, or nutrition gone off the rails. So I hope that this documentary treatment doesn’t crowd out what I see as the huge possibility of a fictionalized movie version, in the vein of “Catch Me If You Can,” which was based on a true story of check forgery and grossed almost $200 million. However, I’m not exactly sure who is working on such a treatment of the story so I guess we as wine enthusiasts will take what we can get in terms of further exposure to the story and the wine world.
Because having a blockbuster movie about wine might just be the best way for the Rudy saga to end, assuming it gets more people into wine generally and not just into ’45 DRC RC. Look where that got some people!
We’re closing in on the start of my next wine class at NYU! Now in its eighth year. It’s open to all adult learners and, don’t worry, there aren’t any grades and the only homework is tasting wine.
In classes running for six consecutive Wednesdays, we explore the fundamentals of tasting, lap up history and geography, and delve into hot-button issues of the day. Join us–it will be fun! Starts next week.