Friday, September 26, 2008

A wine by any other point, tastes as sweet...

Or does it?

Last night, I attended the first of what I hope will be many Project 89 parties, with The Brix Chicks Liza & Xandria, Ward Kadel of WineLog and others. During our tasting, we tasted matched pairs of American Chardonnay, New Zealand Pinot Noir, and Australian Shiraz. One wine was given an 89 rating and one was given a 90 or above rating by one of the major critics. As we tasted these wines blind, we didn't know as we were drinking them, which was the "better" wine and which was not. I asked our team to give them our own ratings first and then reveal the "expert" opinions afterwards, to see if we agreed.

All wines were purchased from and can be found at various sources for less (click the link to search on Vinquire!)

First up, Chardonnay from North America.
Medium golden lemon color, with a nose of butterscotch, oak and straw.
I found tons of lemon, custard, and a zingy lemon zest flavor followed by flinty mineral flavors with a bit of chalk and vanilla finish. I did see a little bit of a musty aftertaste, but over all really enjoyed this wine.

I gave it 88 points. Wine Spectator gave it 90.

Even though I'm not typically a chard person, I would buy this wine for it's ease of drinking, particularly for a party.
The MacRostie was again, a very pale yellow color which I love in a Chard. It signals to me that it will not be an overoaked, over malolactic fermentation Sundial type wine. Thank god for that! On the nose, again there were tons of lemon and lemon zest aromas, with a hint of caramel & sandlewood.

This wine had a lot of spritz to it, and was almost bitter with it's citrus flavor. I thought it tasted a lot like flat 7-Up. And not in a good way, since there was a sharp aftertaste on the long finish.

I gave it an 86, primary because of the funky finish, although it was much better with food than without.

Wine Spectator gives it an 89.

Next, the Pinots. Both were from New Zealand, but each from a distinct area known for Piont Noir. Now I love me a NZ Pinot, so I was really excited about this pair.
The Amisfield was a gorgeous garnet red color, with earth, cherry kir, ceder and a slight mint nose.

When I first tasted this wine, there was massive bright red fruit; it was definately a lighter more traditional style of Pinot Noir, and it's juicy cranberry, straweberry and cherry flavors really pop out. There was a long fruit finish, that kept my mouth watering after the wine was gone.

Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a 91, Wine Spectator gave it a 90.

I gave this wine an 89.
The Te Kairanga was the first wine that brought out the Venturi, a handy dandy aeration device that forces a wine to act like it has been decanted and opens it up. Before we used the Venturi however, I noticed that this wine had a cloudy deep ruby color, much different from the first Pinot we tasted.

There were strong cherry cola flavors, with dried cherries and strong earth with musty leaves.
On the first taste, I really did not like this wine at all, and gave it an 84. After running it through the Venturi twice, I still found it to be lacking and had a strange finish, although I did increase my score to 85.

Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator both gave it an 88.

Finally, we threw in two big boys from Australia to really pack a punch.
This was a deep dark and brooding wine. On the nose, I found dark red fruits, and smoked meat.

It was lighter than I expected for the color and style, but was very pleasant with the cherry, raspberry and juicy fruit flavors.

I gave this wine an 89.

Wine Spectator also gave it an 89, while Wine Enthusiast gave it a lowly 86.
The deep blood red color of the Lodge smelled like dusty blackberries.
It was full bodied, but tasted slightly sour to me.

Even after running it through the Venturi, I still didn't care for this Shiraz, and only gave it an 87.

Robert Parker gave it a 90, as did Wine Spectator.

My question is, given that the Amisfield Pinot was $39.99, and the Te Kairanga was $19.79, is one point really worth a 200% price increase? I don't think so. If the Te Kairanga was given a 90 instead of an 89 would it be priced at $39? Probably. Are there other $20 wines that are undervalued? You bet.

I hope to do another 89 Project Party soon to taste more pairs!

The power of points is in marketing, not in enjoyment. So I say, points be damned and go out and drink what you like!

Happy Drinking!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hiding Those Points

Yesterday, I attended an anniversary wine tasting at a local wine store, Wine Sense, and there were several different distributors there showcasing some of their newest wines. Most of the distributors did not have sales materials at their tables but a couple did.

At one of those tables, the distributor had a shelf talker for the 2004 Richard Hamilton Gumprs Shiraz, basically just a quote from Robert Parker and its score, 89 points. Part of Parker's quote stated: "It will provide immense pleasure over the next 2-4 years."

I chatted with the distributor about the wine, the score and The 89 Project. He was in agreement that an 89 score can be the kiss of death for a wine, and that scores really should not dictate which wines to purchase and enjoy. In fact, he decided to remove the shelf talker from his table so that no one else would see the score and so they could judge the wine on its own merits. I was pleased that he did this and maybe there will be one less distributor pushing wine just because of its scores. Maybe all of us can get involved in conversations with distributors and try to persuade them not to use scores as much in their advertising.

As for the wine itself, refer back to Parker's quote from above. Why is a wine that provides "immense pleasure" only worth 89 points? That does not seem to make much sense. Those who buy only 90+ point wines would deprive themselve of a wine that Parker claims could bring them "immense pleasure."

I found this wine to be an atypical Aussie Shiraz. First, it had more of a light red color unlike some of the usual inky dark Shirazes. Though this wine had some delicious red fruit, especially cherry and raspberry, it was not a fruit bomb. It had a lighter body and was not jammy at all. It seemed more like a Rhone wine than the usual Aussie. It had decent complexity and a moderate finish. And at $20, this wine is a good value. Did Parker score this wine below 90 points because it was not a typical Aussie Shiraz? We shall never know.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where the Rubber Hits the Glass: d'Arenberg 2005 'The Custodian' Grenache

OK, so technically this one is an 88 (Wine Spectator). So sue me - it's close enough. And to make it even more intriguing... Stephen Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar gave it a... 90!

d'Arenberg 2005 'The Custodian' Grenache (McLaren Vale, Australia):

I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with the tasting notes on this one...

This wine is more full bodied, as you'd expect from Grenache it packs a buttload of booze (14.5% abv). Yes, it's got jammy fruit, along with lots and lots of berries (strawberry, cranberry...). But it feels a little 'hot', and gives the impression that this vintage is not fully representative of the big, explosive fruit that McLaren can deliver in warm years (2005 was a bit on the cool side for them).

Now, while technically I agree with WS on their sub-90 ruling, I don't agree with them on the core reasons for that ruling.

That's because I get something out of this wine that I think I shouldn't. It's floating just above the fruit after the mid-palate and it's seriously disrupting my enjoyment of the finish on this otherwise tasty sucker.

Rubber. Sniff-sniff. Damn! There is it again.

I confirmed this with some dinner guests who shared the wine (and no, we did not eat tire for dinner). They're not wine geeks, but once I pointed it out to them, there was no mistaking it.

My verdict: overall point reduction due to, well, Reduction.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Kiss My...

Last night I had dinner with a group of friends and one of my dining companions is a tasting room manager at a winery. Anne has at least 10 years of tasting room experience and the majority of those years in the winery environment have been in management.

One of the various topics at our dining table turned into the point system. Now mind you, we didn't spend a lot of time on the discussion, because the table of four (and we are all in the wine industry) are already in agreement that the present point system is flawed. Out of the blue I asked Anne, "So in theory, tell me about the 89 points that your bottle of wine received." To which she replied - -

"The kiss of death."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quinta do Roriz Prazo de Roriz 2004

Portuguese reds are still a bit of an anomaly, at least in this market (the Midwest). Yet while the majority of them are robust, delicious blends of grapes like Tinto Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, as is the Prazo de Roriz 2004, many of them are expensive, and therefore, not easily viable to sell. However, unlike many Portuguese reds, the Prazo de Roriz 2004 is very affordable.

What strikes me funny, in relation to the 89 project is that this wine, with a novella for tasting notes present, is the score Parker gave it: 89 points. The first sentence of the review sets the tone for the critique: “The 2004 Prazo de Roriz provides tons of value for the money, and is one of the fine deals in this report.” So what holds it back from a 90?


Because as my favorite reviewer, Dr. Jay Miller, who handles the Portugal beat for Parker, declares at almost the very end of the review: “The only criticism here is that this is a wine to drink young, and it has little upside in the cellar, which usually constrains my scoring.”
Amazing. How many consumers buy a wine based upon cellar potential? When most wine is meant to drink within the first year it was made? And this is a 2004, when many Spanish counterparts are on 2006. I am confused.

Personally, I find this wine to be an incredible drink for under $15. It has resounding fresh red fruit flavors, with delicious spice undertones, and a vibrancy throughout that I find missing in a lot of red wines. I would argue that many would confuse this with a California Zinfandel, but that there is a really much more going on than brambly jamminess equated with many Zins. This wine is very balanced, and extremely well-made.

The round-up of scores for this beauty are Wine Spectator, 90 points (they obviously felt it worthy of that 1 extra point), Stephen Tanzer, 88 points, Wine Enthusiast, 89 points, and Wine & Spirits, 86 points. And within all those reviews, not one thing derogatory mentioned about the wine. Take away the points, and all are fairly glowing criticisms.

So the only thing bad about this wine is it’s a “drink now” wine. Hmm. As a wine consumer, I would find that hard to perceive as a bad thing when I am probably taking it home to drink tonight. But that's just me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

I couldn't stop drinking it.

I'll never be a candidate for alcoholism because a migraine will set in long before I've had enough to become truly and fabulously wasted, so with that kind of medical history I've gotten very good at keeping my intake in check.

What could be called a liability helps me write better about wines, I think, because I allow myself to truly linger over the nuances instead of just taking big swigs for the buzz.

But last night, when I poured the 2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, I never wanted the experience to end. It was deliciously fruity with a solid backbone of acidity and grapefruit scents that charmed and invigorated. I've had the Kim Crawford before, but this time it was like falling in love with your best friend after you finally realize he has amazing, previously-overlooked qualities. I had to cut myself off after two glasses, and it was hard. Very hard.

I drank the Sauv Blanc with a steamed artichoke dipped in lemon butter. The two are a perfect match, but I found it to be even more true this time. The wine refreshed and cleansed the palate like no other wine, not even an extra-dry bubbly, could do after an artichoke.

Wine Enthusiast gave the 2007 an 89, and I don't know about the others. But if you're looking for artichoke's soulmate, look no further.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

àMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005

What the hell?

I just received my Fall Newsletter from àMaurice Cellars. In the newsletter they announced their new wine scores from Dr. Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate. àMaurice is a family-owned boutique winery located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla, WA. It’s a young winery with, I think, two vintages behind them. Their current production at this point is 2,200 cases and they expect to at least build to 4,000. Some of their wines are estate as they own 15 acres of vineyards, however they also purchase some contract fruit.

Last year during their Fall Release I stopped by and sampled their new wines. They were all very "swoon" worthy, but I was especially captivated with their Malbec and so was everyone else as they sold out - - quickly.

You know how after a day of wine tasting, if you taste too many wines or even get caught up in the winery’s ambiance, where you think all of the wines are the best until you taste them again after the fact? Alas, there always seems to be one wine out of the batch you purchased that just isn’t quite what you remembered. So a few months after the fact, I got to thinking - - was that bottle of àMaurice Malbec really as good as I thought it was when I first tasted it at the winery. Well, there’s only one way to tell - - open the bottle - - and I did - -

In fact, it was so good I rationed it for three evenings and with every day, it became more interesting and just as tasty as the first night I opened it. A beautiful inky plum color with a nose of dark fruit. It reminded me of a huckleberry coffee cake from a favorite family recipe made with the berries we picked during our vacations in Montana. On the first evening I opened the bottle of àMaurice Malbec, the wine ended with a graham cracker finish. The next evening the wine seemed more intense with the same flavors, but with dark cocoa added. The third and final evening, the wine remained to be full bodied but with a pleasant bit of spice at the end. For me, I felt this wine, even on the third day, had all of the components that I enjoy in a red wine. Have you ever been sad to see a bottle of wine empty? And it wasn’t about the alcohol, it was all about the pleasure of the taste - - to the last drop.

The wine left such an impression on me, I called Anna at àMaurice and told her I needed to have that Malbec to sell in my shop - - NOW! I took a big chance hearing rumors they were on their last bottles, but was delighted when Anna and Tom "found" a few bottles for my shop! So to make a long story short, I was really excited to see what Dr. Jay Miller had to say about the àMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005. He gave this beautiful bottle of wine - - drum roll - - 89 points!

One more time - what the hell?