Category Archives: Rants

My musings on wine

Final Thoughts

This will be my final post, so it’s a doozy. Scroll all the way down the page to see each portion.

Touring Bronco Wine Co.

I got the chance to see where Charles Shaw is bottled and shipped from in Napa. Here are the highlights:

Fred Franzia is a simple man. He drives from his home in the Central Valley to Napa in an old truck with a ton of miles. He calls his workers a “hell of an asset”. He has delivered more than 500 million CASES of two buck chuck through one distribution channel, Trader Joe’s.
Continue reading

Winexpression to Close

I must fly away to another flowerAfter almost 8 years, I have decided that my Wine Blogging journey has come to an end. Thanks to all the readers, PR staff, and fellow wine bloggers that supported me through this journey. I have a few posts to finish up and will explain a bit more, but basically this forum has run it’s course in my life and I am ready to move on. I have valued the feedback I have received and thank you all for your support. Stay tuned for a few more posts with the most valuable wine lessons I’ve learned, tips for wine bloggers, and some final reviews and notes from recent tastings I have attended.

Best,

Jathan.

Wente’s Day Of Discovery A Success

Day of Discovery Poster

Wente launched their first ‘Day of Discovery‘ on September 4, 2010 with great success! Their motto for the day was “Good wine, good music, good food, good times!” and that is exactly what they delivered. A variety of bands performed all day long from three separate stages. Food and drink were available for purchase and the tasting rooms were open to patrons.

Tickets were $29 in advance and $35 at the door, which may seem pricey if you are viewing this just as a winery event, especially taking into consideration that food and drink were not allowed to be brought in. However, if you view it from the standpoint of attending an all day concert, and especially to Wente’s regular Summer concert series, ticket prices were more than reasonable.

Over all, the event was very enjoyable. The food was prepared nicely and the purchase area seemed well organized. There were plenty of great choices including Burgers, Sandwiches, and Salads, snacks for the kids like popcorn, and a wide array of drinks including Wente’s assorted wines that are always palate pleasing. Tasting room fees were also reasonable ($5 versus places like Napa where you’re likely to pay upwards of $20) and the bands chosen to play were well rounded. Being that this was the wineries first event of it’s kind, with each successive year, I’m sure improvements will be made. For what it’s worth, these are my thoughts on how they can improve:

Wente takes great strides in all aspects of their operations to practice sustainable agriculture. Their website outlines an extensive and impressive list of areas in which they are “practicing what they preach”(http://www.wentevineyards.com/wine/sustainable_agriculture1/). A few tweaks, however, to their ‘Day of Discovery’ would enhance their sustainability, such as using biodegradable cups and utensils. Also, water was provided in the tasting rooms and eventually at the end of the food line, but my guess is that many were not aware of it. Why not encourage patrons to bring an empty, refillable water bottle, and provide refilling stations throughout the grounds, which would greatly reduce the amount of bottles that need to be recycled, as well as those that end up in the garbage?

A bit more information could have been provided on the musical acts themselves at the event. Genre, artist bio’s, and the other details would give those that didn’t have the time to visit all the artists websites the chance to plan who they wanted to see a little better, since many acts perform at the same time throughout the day.

This turned into a very nice afternoon of enjoyable wine, excellent live music from some rising talent, tasty food, and great association. I guess they got their slogan right.

Photo Credits: Charles Communications and Kimberly Charles

Disclosure: I attended this event on a press pass

Happy 6 Year Anniversary Winexpression

cabernet_grape_clusterFour score and two thousand one hundred and eleven days ago, this wine blog first graced the world with it’s presence. In a lack luster post with minimal verbiage and a link that now points to a broken page, the blog set a standard that it has continued to uphold down to today.

This site still remains a hobby for myself, and as a means to inform my friends of wine news, values, and the occasional rare find. Are there better wine bloggers out there with more dedication, a better grasp of grammatical syntacticationality, and more time on their hands? You betcha! But, that doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the keyboard or slowing down. On the contrary, I believe this medium is constantly developing and I plan on progressing with it.

Here’s to another 6 years.

P.S. For actually making it to the end of that rant, you are automatically entered in our free book drawing! Just leave a comment below (anything really, a :) smiley is fine) and you’re in. Six winner’s will be selected on Tuesday morning, September 1, and you can pick any book below (first come first served, the first winner will be able to choose from any book, the second will be down whatever the first person choose, and so on)I’ll update this post Updated with a more extensive list of books to choose from:

Wine For Dummies (For Dummies (Cooking))

The Wine Bible

A Year in Wine

Passion for Pinot: A Journey Through America’s Pinot Noir Country

The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

WineWise

A Life Uncorked

Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution

The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste (P.S.)

Wine Spectator’s Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine, Eighth Edition

The Science of Wine

The Concise Wine Guide

The Sommelier’s Guide to Wine: A Primer for Selecting, Serving, and Savoring Wine (Sommelier’s Guide to Wine: Everything You Need to Know for Selecting)

THE RULES

One entry per person please. Open to U.S. residents only. No entries after Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM PST will be accepted. The winner’s will be announced Tuesday, randomly chosen posts from the comments section of this page! Once the first winner makes their selection, that book will no longer be available from the list, and subsequent winners will have a smaller selection to choose from. Some links may be pointing at the wrong edition of the book, but for the most part, I believe we are pretty accurate.

Update: Comments are closed! The winners will be announced today and notified via email.

Top 10 Wine Myths Debunked

Copyright Winexpression

Urban legends and myths continue to dupe us. Until the Paris tasting in 1976, the myth that France was the only Country that could produce high quality wine lived on in oenophiles minds. Even though you may laugh at the myths below some people are still fooled by them. Let’s try to set the record straight.

10. Fruit used to describe wine went into making it.

cherriesFalse. Unless you are buying a wine made from a fruit other than grapes, it is made from the grape varietal on the label, and not from fruit used to describe it (e.g., black cherry, strawberry, kiwi). It’s comparable to artificial flavors, i.e. they taste similar to whatever is being copied but do not contain the actual ingredient. So when you see, “hints of raspberry, cherry, and vanilla” on the label, the producer is simply describing how the wine tastes similar to these components, they weren’t actually used in the production of the wine.

9. You need a different wine glass for different types of wines.

wine_glassesFalse. Again, this is a myth that was debunked a long time ago. You do need a tulip shaped glass or a glass that tappers towards the top to concentrate the aroma toward your nose, but, different shapes to place wine on your tongue in different areas or to aerate the wine faster aren’t necessary. Get yourself a nice set of stemware (Riedel Ouverture Red Wine, Zinfandel or these Riedel O Stemless) and save the space in your cupboard. If you need to let a young wine breathe quickly, try one of these aerators or get a Decanter.

8.You can’t age wines sealed with an alternative closure

twist_off_capFalse. In fact, the data shows that screw caps, or twist-offs as they are sometimes called, are more consistent at sealing wine than cork. One study, cited in the March 31, 2005 issue of Wine Spectator on pages 59-60, found that screw caps allowed .001 cc’s of oxygen per day on average, versus corks that allowed anywhere from to .1 to .001 cc’s of air to enter a wine bottle. In fact, 7 of the 35 bottles sealed with cork allowed .1 cc’s! That means twist-offs are more consistent and let in less oxygen over time, which would result in longer bottle aging. The cork industry would like to have you believe otherwise, but don’t buy it, screw caps are here to stay and you won’t have a problem letting these wines age.

7. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Sherry, and Port are grape varieties.

chateau_margauxFalse. Thanks to a confusing labeling system from the old world this is a common mistake wine consumers make. Cities in France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, among others, restrict production of grape varieties in their area. For a winery to receive legal approval and label their wine, it must be made in the manner mandated by the organization that oversees production there. That means Champagne is not a variety of wine, but the place where some sparkling wine is made. Want to make a non-sparkling wine in the Champagne region from say, Cabernet Sauvignon, and write that on the label? You can’t. Same with Bordeaux, which is a blend of different red varietal grapes, Burgundy, which is primarily made from Pinot Noir, and Port, which is made from various red and white grape varieties. More information can be found here [Wikipedia].

6. Pair white wine with fish or chicken and red wine with red meat

2005_linne_calodo_nemesisFalse. Although this is the most common answer to ‘what wine should I pair with what food,’ it is incorrect. The better way to pair food and wine is by anylizing the flavors of the food and the flavors of the wine. For example, if you are grilling fish and decide to season it with a little salt, lemon, and butter, a nice Sauvignon Blanc with citrus notes or a Chardonnay with buttery flavors would work great. If, however, it’s salmon that will be smothered in a blackberry sauce, you would be better suited in choosing a fruity red wine like a Pinot Noir, Merlot, or even a Syrah. The best thing to do is read the description of the wine from the label or a review on a blog and then pair like with like. It’s also helpful to understand that wines with firm tannins work better with salty dishes, or that acidic wines need a dish with a bit of acid, or how spicy food works better with wines with some residual sugar and not a high alcohol level. Just remember there are no hard and fast rules to this. Dr.Vino has been playing with impossible pairings for some time so search out advice if you get stumped, it’s available.

5. Wine lovers are snobs

rudd_center_tastingFalse. Only people that live in Napa or Bordeaux are….no, I kid. Actually, most serious wine lovers are students of it and are quite down to earth. It’s the people that mask their ignorance with arrogance you have to watch out for. True wine lovers are passionate about continuing their wine education, and are willing to share their knowledge and a glass with anyone interested.

4. You can discern wine quality by looking at the legs.

swirling_wineFalse. You swirl your glass, set it down and notice that a thin, clear layer has stuck to the inside of the glass, and begins to drip down. Sometimes referred to as tears, this is simply a small amount of alcohol and water that adheres to the surface of the glass and as the alcohol evaporates water is left dripping it’s way back in. Why? Water is a primary component in wine, and alcohol evaporates much quicker, so when left on the glass, the alcohol evaporates and the surface tension of the water increases forming drops that gravity takes control of. This is not a measure of the viscosity or the quality of the wine so don’t worry about it. Further reading on this phenomena can be found here [kitchensavy.com] and on Wikipedia.

3. Drink Red Wine At Room Temperature, White Wine Chilled

stormhoek_chilled_white_wineFalse. Although this idea isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s interpretation almost always is. Many see this as letting a red wine sit out on the counter so it can come to the current room temperature, and opening white wine right out of the fridge. The real idea behind room temperature for red wine was getting it to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the typical temperature of a “room” when this saying was popularized. Many professionals agree, the best way to enjoy wine if you don’t have the luxury of a temperature controlled storage device, is to put your red wines in the fridge for about 5 – 15 minutes before consuming, white wines about 20 – 30 minutes. If you store your wine in the fridge, take the whites out for at least 15 minutes before serving, reds at least 30. Again, it isn’t an exact science, but typically you’re looking for around 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a red, a little below that for a white, and a bit colder for anything that sparkles. Some argue that nuances aren’t observed in white wines that are too cold, which is true. I find that if you chill your wines, over the course of the evening they will warm up and you can observe the development through the night. Professor Bainbridge expands on the subject a bit at the bottom of this op-ed The Red Wines of Summer.

2. All wines get better with age.

vintage_1850False. Actually, a very small number of wines have the proper structure to hold up to aging. Most wines are made with the intention that they will be opened within a few years. The small amount of trophy wines that garner the majority of the press are the ones that have been built for longer aging, and most people don’t even buy these wines. So if you’ve been saving that white Zinfandel from 10 years ago because you think it’s getting better, might want to cut your losses now. (Can you say Re-gift?)

1. Smelling the cork in a restaurant will tell you if the wine is bad.

corksFalse. Cork’s smell like….well, cork, and won’t give you an indication of the quality of the wine. It’s the wine that you want to smell, the cork is only offered to you for a quick examination. So what should you be looking for when the waiter hands you the cork? If you’re buying an expensive bottle the biggest thing you want to avoid is fraud, and if you’re at a reputable restaurant, they’re going to be buying from reputable sources, but again, this is just a precaution. Does the winery’s name, logo, or other branding information appear on the cork? Has the cork been damaged, compromised, allowed seepage in any way? If it is a more expensive bottle, does the year stamped on the cork match the vintage of the wine?

Thoughts On Visiting Napa Valley California

Note: Winexpression is pleased to welcome a guest writer to the team! This person brings a fresh prospective on the world of wine, travel, food, photography, and the Wine Country lifestyle that interests so many. I am proud to post their well written content to this site, and if we can convince them to stay around, I’m sure we’ll receive many more entry’s in the future. This journalist and photographer will remain anonymous for now, but who knows, maybe they will want some credit for their work down the road. Please enjoy!

Update: We’ve decided on a name for The Anonymous Poster, and well, since we love acronyms, we’re going with T.A.P. :o)

Napa_mustard_and_vines

Living in the Bay Area, we are almost footsteps away from some of the most sought after wines in the world.  People from all parts of the earth come to experience what we, many times, take for granted.  What am I talking about?  The Napa Valley, of course!  It’s really quite interesting how little time we actually spend in this area.  But, in our defense, Napa can quickly become very expensive, as any of you know who have visited there before.  So we find it best to make our trips to the valley somewhat sporadic, but each time proves to be memorable.

This weekend we took an overnight trip which was just what we needed to recharge.  The weather wasn’t what most would consider ideal, it rained the entire time, but Napa is beautiful, rain or shine.

We booked a room at the Yountville Inn, a first time for us.  Our room was comfortable and very clean.  It featured open beam ceilings and a gas fireplace, which added to the warmth on a rainy weekend.  A buffet is offered each morning, serving Starbucks coffee, cereal, toasts, hard-boiled eggs, and a variety of baked goods from the Model Bakery, amongst other things.  A tasting card is also provided along with a map and a list of wineries that offer things such as complementary tastings or discounts on purchases.  This is a very nice touch for anyone visiting for the first time as it can help you to navigate through the myriads of wineries.  A word of caution, however, to those thinking of staying here, the walls are thin!  So much so that you can hear your neighbors everyday conversations as well as the toilets flushing.  Not exactly what you want to awaken to at midnight!  But, maybe if you’re a heavy sleeper it won’t matter much to you.

We visited some wineries that we’d been too before and some that were a first for us.  Our stops included Luna Vineyards, Domaine Chandon, Silverado Vineyards, Grgich Hills and Freemark Abbey.

Silverado has been a mainstay for us.  The tasting room is beautiful in that it has floor to ceiling glass doors that overlook the vineyards below.  There is a terrace with several bistro style tables outside, and when it isn’t raining, of course, they encourage you to take your tasting outside and enjoy the view.  But even if it is raining there are tables and chairs inside that allow you to relax and take in the view.  Since we are seasoned tasters at Silverado, we found ourselves sipping wine at one of the tables while leafing through cookbooks that are offered for purchase, instead of standing at the tasting counter.  The wine is sure to please and while you’re there, buy a Merlot filled chocolate ball (sold in a pack of 10 only)…a treat that will leave you wanting more!

Another winery that wasn’t new to us is Freemark Abbey.  It had been some time, though, since we’d visited, and we really like their wine so we decided to make it one of our stops.  The tasting room is warm and inviting with a large fireplace, a couch and chairs welcoming visitors.  The grounds are also well kept and beautiful.   Aside from the wines being outstanding, what really stood out to us was the high level of customer service offered.  Employees at some wineries can be very off-putting, even giving the consumer the feeling that they aren’t worthy enough to taste their wines.  But that was not the case at Freemark Abbey.  The staff was very friendly, informative and down to earth.  They even suggested that a tasting could be shared, but poured into separate glasses, for each to enjoy.   Granted, the tasting room wasn’t packed, which could lead to less individualized attention on some occasions, but when you have an employee who is genuinely interested in the consumer enjoying their wines, you feel it and it can make all the difference in the world.

Unfortunately, that was not the feeling we got at Grgich Hills.  It was our first stop on Monday, and while each employee had a couple they were pouring for, it was certainly not as busy as a winery can get.  The gentleman pouring for us had been attending to two women prior to our coming in.  While he offered pairing suggestions with each wine poured, there was sort of an air about him, if you will.  When questioned about their practice of organic and biodynamic farming, it was almost as if he spoke down to us.  Perhaps he was put off by the fact that we had a complementary tasting card, provided to us by our hotel.  Maybe he was just more interested in the woman he was pouring for rather than us.  Or maybe that is just his personality and we read him wrong.  Whatever the case, a tasting experience can really make or break a return to the winery.  And with over 300 wineries in the Napa valley alone, it’s not just your wine that should stand out above the others, it’s also your hospitality.  The competition is much too fierce to leave anything to chance.

All in all though, our trip was very enjoyable and you can be sure that it won’t be the last time we visit the Napa valley.  No matter how many times you visit you will always be drawn back to it’s beauty, the friendly wineries that you find, and of course the great wine that they pour.

Posted by T.A.P.

Poll: What Do You Do With A Corked Wine?

The work week ends, you dig down into your wine collection and pull out a special bottle you’ve been waiting to open. You peel off the foil and breath a sigh of relief when you see that the cork hasn’t been compromised. The first glass is poured, swirled, and …. wait a second. Something isn’t right, this wine smells like cork, cardboard, mold, or a wet basement. Or perhaps it smells fine, but on taking a sip you are overwhelmed with acidity; this thing is tart and undrinkable.

Now what?

What do you do with that wine? I have a feeling that most people do the same thing, dump it and move on. But shouldn’t we do more? If it was an electronic device, wouldn’t you take it back? Maybe most people do take their wines back, but that’s less than convenient if say, the wine was bought while on vacation.

Take the poll, and then let us know how you deal with this situation in the comments section of this post. Inquisitive minds want to know.

[poll id="3"]

Why Is My Wine Bad?

Is my Wine Bad?Despite technical innovations, sterile environments, a well trained wine making staff, and state of the art transportation and storage, wines today can still be bad, displaying faults that will ruin any wine lovers expectations. A whole number of things could have gone wrong, and below are just a few of the more common problems.

TCA – 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole “A Corked Wine”
You have probably had a bottle of corked wine if you’ve tried at least 12 different bottles of wine or so. Granted, TCA levels vary, so in trace amounts, you may have thought a wine wasn’t bad, but just displayed earthy or moldy characteristics. In heavier amounts, you probably related the smell to wet cardboard, a smelly basement, or a moldy stench and you knew the bottle was bad. As more wineries have moved to screw cap closures, the appearance of TCA has gone down, but it hasn’t been eradicated since the cause can also come from inside the winery. The beams in the building, barrels, wooden palates, and especially corks, all have naturally occurring organic phenols that react with chlorine and form chlorophenols, which in turn react with mold and moisture and form TCA. I’ve typically found more corked wines when trying a cheaper bottle of wine that was sealed with a cork, but it still happens at any price level.

Acescence or Volatile Acidity (VA)
Balsamic Vinegar – Good, Balsamic Montelena – Bad.
Another fault that you may have encountered is when your wine smells like nail polish or vinegar and tastes tangy and sour. This wine was ruined when bacteria produced high levels of acetic acid, which overwhelm the tartaric, malic, or lactic acids that are wanted and balance the wine. Acetic acid is a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation, and trace amounts are allowed by the government in your wine. It’s when those level get to high (usually above the allowable 0.12g/100ml in California) that the wine has taken on this unwanted profile and is said to have acescense.

Brettanomyces/Dekkera or “Brett”
This is the bottle that overwhelmingly smells like a horse stable, barnyard, leather or even a band-aid. Some wine makers allow small amounts of brett into their wines to add complexity, but when these aromas overpower the fruit profile of the wine, it’s gone to far and the bottle is bad. Brettanomyces is a yeast that usually finds the inside of a barrel a welcome home, and can soon spread through the entire winery if not controlled by proper wine making hygiene. Brett is made up of 4-ethyl phenol, 4 -ethylguaiacol, 4-ethyl catechol, and isvaleric acid and can be very difficult to get rid of once it takes over a winery.

Watch for these traits in your wine, and don’t be afraid to tell your waiter, the retailer, the winery, or your friend that you think there might be a problem. It’s better to discuss the problem then ignore it, and you’ll develop a better palate because of it. If you get a chance to visit Copia in Napa Valley, they have a tasting station where you can smell and identify these faults from controlled samples, which might be a good way to familiarize yourself for future identification.

Remember, friends don’t let friends drink bad wine, and wineries are more than happy to replace your bad bottle, so don’t hesitate to bring it to their attention.

Why I Stopped Buying Harlan Estate

Pricing for the last few vintages of Harlan Estate:

2001 – 225
2002 – 245
2003 – 265
2004 – 350????

2001 and 2002 vintages saw perfect scores (100) from Robert Parker Jr. Granted, this is a business, and I understand Bill Harlan is a savvy businessman, but wow, that sure is a turnoff, especially when this vintage didn’t score nearly as well as some previous vintages, with Parker predicting between 93-96.

It also appears that many new to the mailing list were offered the 2004 Estate, which means one of two things:

1. Production is up from 2000 Cases, or
2. Regular customers were also put off by the price increase, and they opted out this year.

Perhaps it’s a combination of both. I do recall a letter from Harlan saying they were ramping up the vineyards planted to the Maiden to eventually become part of the estate bottle, but I’m not sure when that would happen. I did have a large allocation increase over the 2003 vintage, but that could be because I ordered the estate 3 years in a row.

Researching some of the wine boards, apparently, I wasn’t the only one to drop off the list this year, as many long time buyers felt the same way as me.

So there you have it. If production has increased, it is more widely available, and not as precious. If long time customers were turned off by the price increase, it might be wise to rethink the pricing strategy, especially when these wine lovers are loyal and consistent, an ideal customer.

That said, I’ve got a message for Bill Harlan: It’s just fermented grape juice dude.

The Consumers Mistake

We’ve come to rely on this system for our wine purchases. It’s only human nature that we look for approval and quality in the products that we buy, and for wine, the 100 point system meets those needs. Robert Parker devised the system that became the backbone of his highly recognized bimonthly publication, the Wine Advocate. Ratings start with 50 Points (So in effect it is just a 50 point system) and points are added based on color, aroma, flavor, finish, and age-ability. Others followed suit including Wine Spectator, the Wine Enthusiast, etc. and have since immortalized this way to rate wine. Alongside the point rating, journals offer up extensive notes, which are proclaimed to be as important, if not more, than the score, but consumers don’t always see it that way.

However, the system has not gone without critique, and many wineries refuse to allow their wines to be dumbed down to a simple number rating. Critics argue it is impossible to decipher a 1 point variation in a wine, and that perhaps a broader system should be used. I have taken up the methodology of using the 100 point system, but only with even numbers from 50 on, thus creating a simpler 25 point system., i.e It’s either a 90 or a 92, I’ve got to decide. But regardless of how the system is tweaked, it remains flawed. How so?

Many have stated that you shouldn’t listen to critics because everyone’s tastes are different. That may be so, but there are so many wine critics nowadays, that surely you can find and align yourself with someone whose tastes are similar to yours. But that isn’t the problem. The problem lies with the consumer. Many consumers fail to explore, only purchasing wines highly rated. In turn, wine has become a material object to brag about owning, and instead of truly enjoying, a competitive outlet. If consumers didn’t cling to the 100 point system it wouldn’t be around today, but the fact of the matter is, they have, so it is.

Can wine truly be enjoyed without confirmation that it’s good? Can you be your own critic, and simply rate wine yourself? Is it possible to tell a friend about a wine you enjoyed without spouting off a critics score? The answer to all of these questions is of course, yes. But here I stand, caught in the middle, as both consumer and critic. The critic hopes that their comments are taken with a grain of salt, taken for what they are, merely an opinion. A critic hopes they can save you from buying a bad bottle, and point you toward the good. That has always been one of my goals. But do you really need saving?

As a consumer, I tire of having to keep up with ratings. I tire of having to pay higher prices every vintage, as my favorite winery raises prices 10% after receiving a great score the previous year. I tire of competing with my friends over who brought the better bottle to dinner, as determined by someone we both don’t know. So, I have decided to take ratings for what they are, an opinion. I will enjoy wine without wondering how many points it’s received, and I will continue to tell my friends about good wines I have enjoyed. I won’t obsess about the label I’m drinking or the one I am not. I will fully enjoy this amazing beverage, and I hope you will too.