Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Helix Merlot - 2005 Washington State

There’s a lot of Merlot that comes out of Washington State, and especially Walla Walla. I can remember the day when Walla Walla received all kinds of accolades and high scores for their Merlot. In the mean time, other red grapes from the Walla Walla Valley have appeared: Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Nebbiolo, and Cinsault have taken some of the attention away from our faithful and steady Merlot. It’s been a grape that has not let us down, and when California was talking smack about "merlot is only a blending grape" we proved differently producing a single variety (attn: wine blogging police - or is it "varietal?") wines and have received world acclaim.

Reininger Winery made a smart move creating their second label, Helix, in 2004. For the Helix label, Reininger sources fruit from the larger Columbia Valley. This allows Reininger to increase production and expand distribution. This also allows the Reininger label to continue to maintain a limited production. The Reininger label is produced with fruit that is sourced from only the Walla Walla Valley. Helix can target a new group of wine lovers while keeping costs down. When I discovered the Helix Merlot - 2005 received a 89 from the Wine Enthusiast, I had to wonder why? Is it because of a second label thinking it should not be as good or is the real problem here - - another Merlot? I also thought about those "pointy people" who walk into a winery or wine store only wanting to buy 90+ scored wine, and often without tasting. What wines do they drink for every day sipping and especially when their pointy-friends are not around? Do they drink costly 90+ scored wines? Perhaps they are secret 89 secret sippers when nobody is looking.

My opinion: this is a Merlot that you could take to a dinner party and still be proud of it at $22. Overall, it is 97% Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the first sip of this dark wine, the taste is full bodied with hints of cherries. It’s a mouthful with just a hint of spice and cedar. This Helix Merlot should definitely paired and enjoyed with foods, such as a native Washington State salmon to grilled vegetables or beef. A pocket full of Hershey kisses works for me.

This ain't no blending grape. It’s a Merlot that can stand up to the best - - even stand up to a Merlot with 90 or 91 points!

L'Ecole No. 89

The Walla Walla stalwart L'Ecole No. 41 is no stranger to 90+ point wine ratings in the established wine mags. So I was particularly happy to find their 2004 Columbia Valley Merlot, an 89 point score proudly displayed below it on the wine store shelf.

How does a winery that's often the darling of established wine mags. sink below the "90" threshold?

Probably because it scored 89 at Wine Spectator... and a 90 nearly everywhere else!

Now, that one is just too good to pass up for the 89 Project, right?

It might also explain why they thought they could get away with charging well over $20 per bottle on this sucker...

Anyway, the L'Ecole No. 41 2004 Columbia Valley Merlot just qualifies as a single-varietal labeling, being 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Petit Verdot (presumably for good measure).

What I liked most about the big mag. reviews on this wine is how similar they all are. You tell me - which one do you think is the 89-pointer review:

1) "This is a classy, sophisticated wine, blended from a wide range of Washington vineyards. It’s really a Right Bank-styled Bordeaux blend. Berries and spice, chocolate and herb, and many other lightly applied nuances make this a pleasure to sip."

2) "Crisp in texture and generous in flavor, offering currant and blackberry fruit that’s shaded with herbal notes as the finish lingers. Drink now through 2008."

3) "Deep garnet color with a brick rim. Dark chocolate covered fruit, mocha, and roasted nut aromas. A round entry leads to a dry-yet-fruity medium-full bodied palate with baked plum, baker’s chocolate, and spicy, mocha flavors. Finishes with a long, toasty oak and fresh plum skin fade."

Yeah, I thought so.

Kind of helps to prove one of the points of the 89 Project, right?

Somehow, WS decided to dip below the 90 mark when reviewing this wine. Why? To start answering that question, I'll offer my take on this wine:

It's almost Zin-level big and jammy. One whiff, and you know that you boarded the bus to "over 14% abv land" so if that's not your ticket, you'd better get off now. Blueberry and blackberry aromas jump up at you from the glass. When I say jump up at you, I mean like "two house pets greeting you at the door" jump up.

"Ohhh! Oh! Me first! Me FIRST!"

"Noooo! ME! Pet ME FIRST!!!"

It's not a coordinated effort.

The finish has herbs on it, for sure, but they are aflame in the unmistakable astringency of booziness.

It's not a bad wine by any stretch, but it's a total brute of Merlot, and you need to be in the mood for that.

This could be one instance where I actually *agree* with Wine Spectator (a rare occasion indeed), if the intent of dropping below 90 points was to give this wine a level of separation from more refined Merlot offerings. Theirs was the 2nd review, by the way.

File this one in the "pretty good, but I expected a bit more from you guys" category.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Short Post on a Tasty Petite Sirah

Hello all-my first cross-post to the 89 Project! Dhonig alerted me to the fact that one of the wines I posted about in my Petite Sirah posting today scored an 89 from the Wine Enthusiast. Perhaps they just aren't enthusiastic about Petite Sirah, because this was an excellent wine. Of course, it's now 10 years old, so perhaps the reviewers would have a different opinion after tasting it with 10 years of age!

Among the great line up for the Petite Sirah Tasting with the PSychos on Friday night was the 1998 Stag's Leap Petite Sirah from Napa. The wine needed quite a bit of time in the decanter, but eventually opened up to be a great wine. Given the time it needed, I imagine it has quite a bit of age left in it.

The wine had a classic Petite Sirah nose, blueberry, cream, vanilla, smoke and licorice. In the mouth it showed more vanilla, some licorice, lots of blueberry (I underlined it 3 times to make sure I remembered!), milk chocolate, and some other dark fruit. We had the wine with both bitter and dark chocolate, which really made the flavors come alive.

You can read about the Stag's Leap, and the other Petite Sirahs in the evening's line up in my post, here.

2002 Warrenmang Grand Pyrenees, Australia

A well made wine with a blend of 34% Shiraz, 33% Cabernet Franc and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pyrenees in Southern Australia. This growing region is making a name for itself here in the states and I am seeing new producers making quality wines. This is a monster of a wine and needs a little breathing time. Aromas of raspberry chocolate ganache, fresh tobacco leaf and fresh sage.

On the palate the chocolate onslaught continues with more cherry than raspberry in the mix. Spicy and smooth, the flavors spread like a silk chocolate blanket in your mouth. The finish is long and lingering. Pair this wine with grilled meats, smoked dry rubs, or any full flavored strong cheeses.

Price: $30
ABV: 14.5%

~Marc Hinton @ Enobytes

Wine Biz Radio

The 89 Project on Wine Biz Radio, Monday, August 25, 2008. Click the picture:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

By George, I think They've Got It!

As Gilbert & Sullivan once wrote, "Here's a howdy-do":

If the 89 Project is meant to give a modest amount of additional publicity to wines that might otherwise go unnoticed, what do you do with a wine that is actively promoting its 89 point status?

If it's Georges Duboeuf's 2006 Chardonnay Reserve (Vin de Pays D'oc), you drink it. And enjoy it. Because it's good, and at $10 (or under) you could drink a lot of this wine - even on a tight budget.

Duboeuf is not an outfit armed with dummies. Known as le roi du Beaujolais, they are one of the largest French wine merchants, with as much marketing muscle and resources behind them as probably any big wine operation in France.

With the 2006 Chardonnay Reserve, Duboeuf seems to be playing up the 89 point status (see inset pic for an in-store example). With a snazzy opaque bottle and a card proudly announcing its 89 point Wine Advocate score, it's almost daring you to ignore it.

"Hey, boss, check me out over here. I'm cheap. And I damn nearly got a 90. Go ahead. Pass me up. Make my day!"

As for the wine: The nose is a bit muted and a little out of balance with the alcohol dominating. On the palate, though, there's tropical fruit and sweet vanilla. While the fruit isn't complex, the wine has enough balance to be crowd-pleasing and make it a bit of a steal at its current price.

So go ahead. Pass this wine up just because it's an 89.

Duboeuf dares ya.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did the Wine Spectator Eat Crow Paired with a Glass of Blush from the Osteria L'Intrepido Menu?

In Portland, Oregon last week at the meeting of the American Society for Wine Economists, a presentation was given by wine writer, Robin Goldstein. Apparently, he performed a "sting operation" on the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards. In summary:

1. A fake restaurant was created - Osteria L'Intrepido.
2. Location of fake restaurant was in Milan, Italy.
3. A website for fake restaurant - Osteria L’Intrepido was designed.
4. A wine list was built using the lowest scoring Italian wines from the Wine Spectator magazine.
5. Fake restaurant enters Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards.
6.TA-DAAAA!!! Fake restaurant wins "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence!"

At this time the Wine Spectator hasn't said much other than it was an elaborate hoax. They have only acknowledged this on their WS Forum, their chat-message board - nothing front page at this time. However, I have to rebuke a comment on the forum from James Molesworth, Senior Editor of the WS. "This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic..."

James, I would like to give the Wine Spectator the benefit of the doubt until all of the facts are in. In the mean time, don't bottle all of the blogosphere together with one cork. That kind of defensive response is often typical if guilt is involved. So, let's not shift blame on everybody else and let's keep with the topic at hand, shall we? Besides, if blogging is a lazy person's journalism, then why does the WS participate in the blogosphere and why is the 89 Project blogging for free?

And my point and exactly does all of the above have to do with the 89 Project? If Goldstein's "research" proves to be with merit, then wineries and winemakers may ponder the credibility of their scores from the Wine Spectator and especially those scores below 90 points that have influenced and turned away wine sales from the high-point driven wine consumer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another pretty bottle

Segura Viudas

I've said before that, unlike most women, I don't buy wine because it has a pretty label, but this is the second time I've been suckered into buying a pretty bottle: A nonvintage Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, which scored an 89 with Wine Enthusiast. This Spanish Cava is made from Spanish grapes using the traditional Champagne method (which basically means that the second fermentation, where the bubbles are produced, is done in the bottle, creating a more complex wine and smaller bubbles).

This bubbly has been in my fridge for a few months now, and I opened it the night we got back from vacation, when the laundry was piled up, the fridge was bare, and sushi takeout sounded like the best post-vacation meal idea ever. The Cava was fruity, fresh, and fragrant, slightly yeasty but not overly so, and a perfect accompaniment to the sushi.

The bottle has a grapevine-inscribed metal coaster on the bottom and the Segura Viudas crest on top. Of course, the heavy bottle isn't doing much for my carbon footprint, but it's so lovely, I think I'll keep it since I can't toss it into the recycling bin anyway.

Price: $14.49 (about prices)

Rating: Great value (about ratings)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Longhop Old Vine Grenache 2005 Adelaide Plains

We've had this wine open in our store over the past two days, so I figured it's a good time to give it a pop. Before I get to my thoughts on this selection, here are a couple of interesting points:
  • The 2005 vintage scored 89pts from WA, the 2006 scored 91pts, from the quotes below who can tell which is the 91 pointer?
    • "exhibits strawberry, raspberry, pepper, spice, and background wood characteristics. This fruit-forward, medium to full-bodied, soft Grenache is best consumed over the next several years."
    • "exhibits notes of garrigue, black cherry, and raspberry. Layered and ripe, with gobs of spicy flavor, soft tannins, and excellent length, it can be enjoyed now and over the next 6-8 years."
  • This brings another dimension to the debate... text... the actual review which is ignored by so many as they quickly scan the document looking for the next rock star to add to the cellar. Or worse... the next purchase for the shelves of the shop! ...But that is a topic for another day. A topic, we probably don't want to get into! My point... very often you'll find the text review to be much more complimentary than the number, but that is meaningless. As a former importer I can tell you; my basement is filled with case cards with great text but no 9- in the top corner. They make good kindling for a fire, but that's about it!
  • Point 2: WS gave this one an 84, WA gave it an 89, that's a five point spread. Not huge, but sizeable enough. I remember a few years back, a certain Ribera del Duero clocked in at 91 points in one publication and got panned with a 78 in another. Bad bottles aside, how can this be? If a point system is the "best" method to judge quality, how can one wine score so differently? What the point system doesn't account for is palate preference. We're all different, we all like different wines. A score can absolutely be part of your buying decision but you need to trust your own palate above all others.
  • Oh, and one more problem with 9-'s. Producer's (some, few) now build wine's in order to secure a 90+. And you can't blame them, it's the difference between an empty warehouse and a full one. That's a slippery slope, one that will lead to the extinction of terroir.
Enough rambling, back to the wine in front of me. I like it. In fact, I like it a lot, and I'm not a bid Aussie type of guy. Yes, it's a powerhouse, the fruit is packed in there, and the alcohol is way too high for my typical taste at 15%, but I've found myself continually going back for another taste. That's how a wine should be judged. Do you want another glass? Yes or no? Also, I should note, this stood up very well over night, just a touch of heat on the finish, but the fruit was still very pure.

For us, here at Bin Ends, we love 89's! Many times it will allow us to sell the wine at up to a 45% savings, and judging by the reviews above, I'd take the $16 bottle over the over the $30 bottle any day of the week.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Wannabe

A recent discussion, from a featured blog in a prominent wine magazine, brought up the term, "wannabe wine critic." And of course the topic of discussion that led to this name was the usual suspect: the wine point system. The author of the blog suggested that the wannabe wine critics (referring to the majority of the wine bloggers) are better advised to find something more constructive to do than bash the 100-point wine system. Okay...okay, so even I'll admit that this bash has a tendency to be deja vu.

But looming around the corner is another "wannabe." This wannabe is also a product of the 100-point wine system. It plays with the pure-hearted tasting room attendants and the eager wine store owners, leaving them in a mixed state of euphoria, yet frustration. It makes the believers of terroir tremble. And who exactly is this other - - "wannabe?"

When the point system was created it was a good thing - - it was a base for the wine consumer to help guide their palate and assist in their wine purchases. And as we know, the point system can bring glory to a wine or - - death. In my opinion, the main thing the point system is guilty of is creating a monster out of the wine consumer. Now if you want to use the term, "wannabe," there's two sides to this: the point system has created a bunch of "wannabe wine aficionados!" A group that live their social lives and their wine purchases by wine points - - and obviously they do not trust their own palates. In the wine retail environment, more times than I care to count, I've witnessed a customer walk in the door with his sole mission to be about the highly-pointed wine. Often buying at least a case and when asked if he wanted to taste the wine he was buying, usually shrugged it off. These wine buyers rarely tasted. And of course, we all knew those cases would be his new trophy to share with other "trophy hunters."

At a B&B, overheard a conversation from other guests who "only visit wineries with 90 points and above wines." They were oblivious that the winemaker has to enter the wines to be judged and pointed. What you say? The wine point fairy doesn’t come to them? Too bad for these wannabe wine aficionados to be missing out on some real jewels - - excellent, yet affordable wines and possible up-and-coming wines by ignoring those who are not subscribing to a point system. These actions and comments from wannabe wine aficionados remind me of cartoons of caveman beating their chests because they built a bigger fire or a locker room of men bragging about who has the stem on their glass.

Sure, don't get me wrong - - there is nothing better than selling a case or two of wine to a customer and certainly, his dollar doesn't look any different from those who do not subscribe to points. To explain this feeling is like selling your first car, a car full of memories and a set of wheels you babied for years. But you sell it to the highest bidder who will use it to race at the local demolition derby. And there is also a bit of disappointment when you know the "wannabe wine aficionado" would not be able to tell me the difference in taste from the 89 Syrah and the 90 Cabernet, let alone will never understand how and why the wine judge arrived at his/her decision. And perhaps, just maybe lurking in the wannabe wine aficionado's subconscious is the inadequacies of trusting their own palate. Will they be able to admit to other wannabe wine aficionados they enjoyed a wine that scored a whopping 88? Will they be the laugh of the McMansion neighborhood gourmet supper club if they bring a bottle of wine that was given anything less than a 90?

Okay, so maybe I am guilty of being silly and the romantic wine aficionado dinosaur who is about the craft, the science, the terroir and even the personality and story of the winemaker, instead of being one of the cool kids by enjoying the wine for the points. What is this - - doesn't anybody trust their own taste buds anymore? At my home, during an evening of wine tasting with friends, we "wannabe wine critics" talk about the craftsmanship and personality of the wine and it isn't the scores and the points that brings the wine to the dinner table - - and after all, isn't that really the point?

The 89 Project gets noticed

Our own 1WineDude seems to have started the trouble with his post, The Trouble with Wine Ratings. The article is a fairly even-handed description of the weaknesses of the 100-point system. Then a funny thing happened. One of the guys who makes a living using the 100-point system took offense. Please note, I do not know Steve Heimoff, he is probably a delightful fellow, and by his own admission he was cranky and hungover when he wrote his article. That said, it was a pretty typical lashing out by traditional print media at bloggers. Mr. Heimoff completely misunderstood what the Dude was writing, and that misunderstanding formed the basis for the attack:

1WD concludes by bashing — not us critics — but the consumers who like and trust us.... Then, astonishingly, he announces that he and some other bloggers who are fed up with the 100-point system are launching their own, alternative wine rating system, “The 89 Project.” It purportedly will take wines that the rest of us critics give 89 points (which is famous in the industry for being the kiss of death because it’s not 90) and have the members of the 89 project review them.

This is a little like rifling through the stuff celebrities throw out in their recycling bins to find something valuable or saleable. Or maybe I’m just cranky and hung over this morning because the airport experience has really funked me out and I’m in a bad mood. Anyhow — the wannabe wine critics out there are better advised to find something more constructive to do than bash the 100-point system. It’s not a career builder.

The Dude responded, pointing out:

If you take a look at the 89 Project home page, you'll find that its charter is to try to bring exposure to the wines that fail to meet a 90 or above score in the 100 point scale - these wines are perennially doomed to lower sales figures, because consumers consider the 1 point difference between a 90 and an 89 score to be substantial (but probably not so for a 93 vs. a 94).

So, this is *not* an alternative rating system - it's simply a review of these wines in our own voices. I don't plan to give any of these wines a review based on a scale - I simply describe what I taste and explain if I think it's good value for money (or not).

I was a bit less gentle, rather gleefully jumping all over what Steve probably, in retrospect, would admit was a pretty bad analogy, the whole celebrity trash thing:

Reallly? Are you now saying that when you rate a wine a 90 it is worth keeping, but when you rate it an 89 you, the self-identified “celebrity,” are discarding it? That really does put the lie to the idea that an 89 really is a very good rating, and that you are not aware of your actions when you make that 1% arbitrary distinction. This arrogance is particularly absurd in the wine-rating world, where you and other, well, I guess you want us to call you “celebrities” now, can vary in your own arbitrary ratings by half a dozen points or more.

Aside from my own crankiness, and for that I apologize, I found this exchange fascinating. This was a well-known and well-respected wine reviewer admitting what The 89 Project is all about, that one point difference from 90 down to 89 is the equivalent of throwing the wine in the garbage. That seems a rather ignominious end for a 1% (actually, 2%, since the 100-point scale starts at 51, but what the heck, let's play along with the myth) difference based upon an individual's qualitative judgment.

Catie, our own Walla Walla Wine Woman, chimed in from the perspective of a wine retailer, observing:

In the wine retail environment, more times than I care to count has a customer walked in the door with his sole mission to be about the highly-pointed wine, bought two cases and when asked if they wanted to at least taste the wine they were buying, usually shrugged it off. They rarely tasted. And of course, we all knew those cases would be his new trophy to share with other “trophy hunters.” At a B&B, overheard conversation from other guests: they “only visited wineries that sold wine with 94 points and above, being oblivious that the winemaker has to enter the wines, the wine point fairy usually come to them? Too bad for these wine posers, to be missing out on some real jewels and possible up and coming wines by ignoring those who are not subscribing to a point system. These actions from posers remind me of stories I have read of caveman beating their chests because they built a bigger fire or a locker room of men bragging…never mind.

Steve, to his credit, responded with a similar story.

Alex, from Eating Leeds, responded as well, saying:

My understanding of the 89 Project is that, amongst other things, it aims to question the consumer’s reliance on the points system. It is NOT positing a replacement - it’s more a case of, OK, let’s look at wines that have scored 89 points and see what we think. That’s very similar to saying “let’s only buy wines at x pricepoint/made from y grape and see what we think”.

Alex gets it.

Steve, thank you for the kind wishes and the publicity. Thank you also for the opportunity to clarify the purpose behind The 89 Project. We are all wine lovers. I would venture to say that if we were all in the same room our mutual love of wine would make us friends. I hope you don't mind, friend, if we keep digging through your trash once in a while, because one man's trash really can be another's treasure.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bodegas Juan Gil Juan Gil 2005

As a retailer, I am amazed by the number of people who won’t buy a wine that it 89 points. “What’s so wrong with 89 points out of 100?” I think to myself. I worked my butt off in high school to get 89 points, which was a B by the way, so I don’t see the issue. Yet so many of our customers think if it isn’t 90 or above, why bother? Well, along comes a spot light on the shortcomings of that thought process, The 89 Project, and I have been invited to help enlighten the masses. I humbly offer my first contribution to the site with the Bodegas Juan Gil Juan Gil 2005 from Jumilla.

This amazing red from the Spanish importer Jorge Ordonez is 100% pure Monastrell (Mourvedre) and demonstrates what is so amazing about the region of Jumilla. Big, bold, jammy fruit, expressive aromas, and full-bodied complexity – these are all attributes that you would expect the reviewers to be all over. And you’d be wrong.

Both Wine Spectator and Stephen Tanzer rewarded the Juan Gill with 89 points. Here are their reviews:

(Wine Spectator) “An expressive red, with blackberry, kirsch, chocolate and cola flavors in a plush texture. A modern style, but notes of game and leather keep this grounded. Monastrell. Drink now through 2011.” [Nov. 15, 2007]

(Stephen Tanzer) “Inky violet. Intense floral, spice and red berry aromas offer striking pungency and clarity. Sweet red fruit on the palate, dusted by sexy oak spices and gaining a suave gingerbread quality on the close. With its sweet finish and impressive silky persistence, this reminds me of a Southern Rhone wine.” [Sept/Oct. 2007]

My impression of both of these reviews is that the wine is really good. So why the 89 points? There isn’t any tell-tale indication of how they came up with just 89 points. And to be fair, the Wine Advocate gave the wine 90+ though Dr. Jay Miller, who I find to be incredibly lazy, posted no accompanying tasting notes – so there is no telling what made him give this wine the 90+ score.

The whole ratings scale is obtuse, yet nothing more mindboggling than all the 89 pointers out there. Do yourself a favor, and find yourself a wine with an 89 point score. Buy it, try it, and you will most certainly love it. And perhaps you may be influenced a bit to see the wine scores for what they truly are – crap.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Véro 2005

[Cross-posted from 2 Days per Bottle.]

Wine Advocate (89) David Schildknecht said it had refreshing brightness & called it a victory for consumers.

The little wooden guy, on the other hand, is not pleased with this wine. Read on to find out why.

12.5% alcohol

The color is very light clear red. The nose opens tart and fruity, sour cherry and strawberries. The fruit sweetens after the initial tartness, smelling candied with brown sugar or maple. There is also just enough of a whiff of earth to tell you it is likely French.

The palate opens all sour fruit, sour cherries and sour strawberries. That sweetens a little on the finish, adding a sense of red licorice. Tannins were slightly drying but smooth.

Will this close down on night two, or will it soften and open up, revealing something other than red fruit? Let us find out together.


Sour cherries and strawberries still lead the nose, but there is also some caramel and some sage. It actually seems, on the nose, to have closed a bit from night one. The palate is still sour cherries, but deeper, a bit richer, with blackberries throw in instead of the sweeter strawberries of the night before. A little Dr. Pepper followed, then a hint of spice. Overwhelmingly, though the sour cherries and blackberries dominated from start to finish, without significant transition to midpalate or finish.

This is a disappointingly one-dimensional wine. Yes, I know, at $19.99 it is practically free by the standards of 2005 Burgundy, but why bother? There are far more interesting wines from other regions for the same amount of scratch.

This strikes me as a pure QPR 89, a rating based upon its price in relation to the astronomical '05 Burgundy market. I would be willing to bet David Schildknecht would not be able to pick this out of a random case of pinot plonk one time out of ten in a blind tasting.