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Columns – Michael Franz

The Great 2010 Vintage from Barolo, Volume One
Michael Franz
Jul 1, 2014

Let's not beat around the bush here: The 2010 vintage wines from Barolo are the most complete and compelling group of wines that I've ever tasted from this region. Just to be clear about what's entailed in that assessment, I might also note that Barolo is Italy's finest wine region, and that the region has enjoyed a historically unprecedented string of 12 excellent to very good vintages out of the past 14 years. Add all of this up, and you get a conclusion of obvious importance: The new releases of Barolo from 2010 stand as one of the most extraordinary sets of wines ever made on this planet.

Remarkable Rieslings, Round Two
Michael Franz
Jun 24, 2014

In my capacity as Guy With World's Best Job, I spent several days in Germany last month tasting extraordinary renditions of Riesling from around the world. The occasion was an International Riesling Symposium, hosted by Wilhelm Weil at Schloss Rheinhartshausen in the Rheingau region. Several of the addresses and technical presentations were interesting and informative, but the event's highlights were all provided by the wines. To be clear, it wasn't just that delicious wines were shown. Rather, the event included wines offering object lessons in Riesling's amazing versatility in different styles and growing sites, as well as its peerless power to show multiple facets of beauty over vast spans of developmental time.

Remarkable Rieslings
Michael Franz
Jun 3, 2014

In my capacity as Guy With World's Best Job, I spent much of last week in Germany, tasting extraordinary renditions of Riesling from around the world. The occasion was an International Riesling Symposium, hosted by Wilhelm Weil at Schloss Rheinhartshausen in the Rheingau region. Several of the addresses and technical presentations were interesting and informative, but the event's highlights were all provided by the wines. To be clear, it wasn't just that delicious wines were shown. Rather, the event included wines offering object lessons in Riesling's amazing versatility in different styles and growing sites, as well as its peerless power to show multiple facets of beauty over vast spans of developmental time.

Who's On First? Champagne's Earliest Houses
Michael Franz
May 6, 2014

The Champagne region has a fascinating history of wine production stretching back to Roman times, but its modern phase dates from the rise of the first Champagne 'houses,' namely, Gosset and Ruinart. Both have strong claims to the title of being Champagne's oldest house, just as both are among today's very best producers.

Food and Wine Pairing: Not Rocket Science
Michael Franz
Apr 8, 2014

Sommeliers hold a higher profile right now than they have for a generation--or maybe two. Or maybe ever. That's almost entirely a good thing, but there's one down-side: Once people hear about the rise of a class of professionals who are expert in selecting the right wine for their meal, a lot of those people are going to figure that they can't do this adequately for themselves. That outcome is probably inevitable as a nation-wide phenomenon, but it need not befall you in particular. Getting tasty, workable matches between wines and foods is really not terribly difficult, and it certainly need not be the esoteric mystery religion that is depicted by certain self-serving sommeliers and wine writers.

Fine Wine--In Your Backyard
Michael Franz
Mar 11, 2014

While judging some excellent wines for the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that many casual wine consumers may not be aware of an important development on the USA wine scene: Fine wine is being made in your neck of the woods--almost regardless of where you live in the woods. And as a result, wine is reaping great benefits in terms of acceptance and appreciation within American culture.

The Most Exciting Wines of 2013
Michael Franz
Feb 11, 2014

It is never too late to reflect on peak wine experiences, so please forgive the fact that I'm only now passing along my 'greatest hits' from the past year. My not-too-bad excuse is that I was waiting until I'd had a chance to present most of the wines at a class for Washington, D.C.'s Capital Wine School before running this column (so as not to deflate the surprise element of the tasting), but a snowstorm on the initial date caused a postponement of the class. Better late than never, however, and I'd bet my life that a single sip of any of these ten wines would put you into an exceedingly forgiving mood.

Tempranillo Goes Boom
Michael Franz
Jan 21, 2014

Researchers at the University of Adelaide recently published the first comprehensive database of the world's wine grapes and regions. Compiled during the past year using statistics from more than 500 regions in 44 countries, with data on 1,271 vine varieties, the database includes 99 percent of global wine production, according to its compilers. No doubt this is a treasure trove of interesting information, but Question #1 is: Which variety is the world's fastest-expanding wine grape? The answer is Spain's fabulous, fascinating Tempranillo.

Drink Better Wine Despite Post-Holiday Austerity
Michael Franz
Jan 14, 2014

The holidays are over. Belts have been loosened, but the masses are heading to the gym in droves. By contrast, wine lovers are generally tightening their belts in terms of spending, as budgets were battered by end-of-year gifts and entertaining. Nevertheless, there's no way in hell that we're going to stop enjoying our favorite drink, so here are some tips about how to continue enjoying wine while spending less money.

The Most Important Wine News of the Year
Michael Franz
Jan 1, 2014

There is perhaps some room for dispute about the degree to which human activities are responsible for climate changes across the globe, but the reality of alarmingly rapid change is now virtually indisputable. Included among those whose direct experience can establish this fact most tellingly are grape growers in the wine industry.

Prosecco's Struggle Against…Prosecco
Michael Franz
Dec 26, 2013

Prosecco, Italy's frothy, fun-loving sparkling wine, is booming. However, recent history in the wine trade has proved that not every boom is a boon. Whenever a wine category catches commercial fire, the wine trade strains every nerve to keep up with skyrocketing demand. But just as a rocket in the boost phase torches everything beneath it, a booming wine category can incinerate the reputation of the high-quality wine that provided a foundation for the initial lift-off. That is exactly what booming--but often uninspiring--Prosecco DOC is threatening to do to the high-quality Prosecco DOCG grown on the steep hills in the Prosecco heartland around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano.

Thanksgiving Wine: What to Serve, and How to Serve It
Michael Franz
Nov 19, 2013

Residents of the United States now consume more wine than any other nation in the world, and odds are overwhelming that they consume more of it on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year. You might guess, on that basis, that we really know what we're doing when picking wines for the occasion. However, almost all of the evidence runs to the contrary. The key facts are these: Most Americans are inexperienced and intimidated when it comes to pairing wines and foods (even on their best day), and, due to the peculiarities of the typical Thanksgiving meal, this is definitely not our best day.

Carmenère on the Rise
Michael Franz
Sep 24, 2013

Vines have been cultivated for winemaking for thousands of years, so we've already identified all of the world's potentially great grape varieties, right? Wrong. Way wrong, and I'll bet that there are at least a dozen grapes that will be regarded as top-tier cultivars a century from now that are, today, virtually unknown. If this sounds implausible to you, you might reflect that Spain's Albariño and Argentina's Malbec--now considered genuinely great wines--were barely up on anyone's radar in the late 1990s. And if you're still not persuaded, I've got another fascinating case in point for you: Carmenère from Chile.

Best of Barolo from 2009
Michael Franz
Aug 27, 2013

Barolo is the greatest wine of Italy, in my considered opinion, and once again this summer, I made a pilgrimage to Alba to taste the new releases. Exactly 235 of them, to be precise, and now that I'm sufficiently recovered from encountering all of those tannins, I'm ready to weigh in on the 2009 vintage. That growing season was irregular and challenging in some important respects, producing wines that are--you guessed it--irregular and challenging. At their best, the 2009s from Barolo are wonderfully complex and remarkably approachable. At their worst, they are cooked and disjointed and marred by harsh tannins, characteristics that moved one of my fellow tasters to deem them 'fit only for sale in supermarkets in France.'

Regarding Regal Riesling
Michael Franz
Jul 30, 2013

I've long regarded Riesling as the world's greatest white wine variety, and after three days of intensive tastings last week at a global Riesling forum in Seattle, I'm renewed in my willingness to make a case for it against anybody who would deny Riesling a place at the pinnacle of the pyramid.

A First Taste of Israel
Michael Franz
Jul 2, 2013

Speaking candidly, I love to travel. One of the best things about my long love affair with wine is that it has enabled me to weasel my way all over the world. I won't detail the wonderful destinations or the sheer number of trips, and for good reasons: It is bad karma to gloat over good fortune, and sheer envy might prompt some reader to hack my computer or slash my tires. Anyway, I love to travel, and if somebody calls at the last minute to learn if I'm up for checking out the food and wine scene in Israel, there's no suspense. I'm going. The only question is whether the wine will be passably good, so that I can enjoy the trip with a reasonably clean conscience. So guess what? The wine was remarkably good.

Barbaresco 2010: Excellence in an Era of Promise and Peril
Michael Franz
Jun 18, 2013

Lovers of the great Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco have never had it so good. And I mean never. Outstanding vintages were relatively rare in these appellations for the century leading up to the mid-1990s, occurring perhaps two or three years out of each decade. However, since 1996, every single year except 2002 has been at least very good, and absolutely superb vintages were seen in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2004, and 2006. Having just blind-tasted dozens of new releases of 2010 Barbaresco, it now seems likely that this year will join the other 5 to be regarded as a genuinely great year.

Fontanafredda: Awakening of a Sleeping Giant?
Michael Franz
May 21, 2013

Promise of a renaissance at Fontanafredda was kindled when the estate was purchased in 2008 by Oscar Farinetti, an Italian businessman who is also the brains and bucks behind Eataly in New York. Although 2008 doesn't seem like the best year in which to make a giant real estate purchase, there's no doubting the long-term value of what he purchased. Fontanafredda is surely among Europe's top ten estates in terms of latent potential, and at some point in the future, it seems almost inevitable that all of that potential will be actualized. The only question is, how long will that take?

How Long Should I Age This Wine?
Michael Franz
Apr 9, 2013

For me, this is the toughest of all commonly asked consumer questions about wine. That is to say, this is the toughest one to answer in a straightforward way that is useful to the questioner in practical terms. To be clear, the problem isn't that this is a dumb question. On the contrary, it is a question that every novice wine-lover should ask. After all, everybody is somewhat aware that wine is unique by comparison to spirits or beer in an important respect: Wine holds the potential to develop in a positive way after we purchase it, though it can also be degraded if held too long.

Time to Think Temperature
Michael Franz
Mar 12, 2013

Temperature is a crucial factor in wine appreciation, yet it is a factor that is insufficiently appreciated by many consumers. Wine critics and competition judges know that any wine will taste dramatically different when tasted at different temperatures. Similarly, sommeliers and connoisseurs know that the season or even the ambient temperature in a room will affect the appeal of almost any wine--whether advantageously or adversely. Being thoroughly informed about the importance of temperature is one of the most helpful ways to pick better wines and get the most out of them, usually without spending a dime.

Faiveley's Phenomenal Turnaround
Michael Franz
Feb 12, 2013

When I last paid a visit to the famous Burgundy house of Faiveley, the year was 2007 and things were in flux. I was told that the wines I was tasting weren't indicative of the stylistic direction in which Faiveley was headed. The wines before me were notably hard and even rather austere, and not just in my judgment: That same assessment was shared and even forwarded by my hosts. Nevertheless, I was told, a change was afoot that would yield more approachable and generous wines. My reaction? 'Time will tell' is about right as a characterization of what I thought at the time, though my natural skepticism probably salted this tentative reaction with an edge of, 'talk is cheap' and 'easier said than done.'

South Africa Rising, Vol. II
Michael Franz
Jan 22, 2013

Which country is the world's most rapidly improving wine producer? The answer is South Africa, as I argued last week in the first installment of this roundup of current releases. Of course, the ultimate argument on all such questions resides not in the verbiage but in the vino, so I invite you to taste for yourself from the outstanding reds wines identified in the category profiles below.

South Africa Rising, Vol. I
Michael Franz
Jan 15, 2013

Which country is the world's most rapidly improving wine producer? The answer is South Africa, and this isn't even a close call. After 15 years of very spotty performance as South African wines were reintroduced to world markets in the wake of Nelson Mandela's election in 1994, the country's industry has recently achieved impressive breadth and consistency of quality. Many producers--as opposed to a few stars--are now making excellent wines. Multiple regions are performing at high levels, and they're doing it with both reds and whites, year after year.

New Year's Resolution: Improve Restaurant Wine Lists
Michael Franz
Dec 25, 2012

In this week before New Year's Eve, with a fresh start on the horizon and resolutions being made right and left, I have a proposal: Let's push to improve restaurant wine lists in the United States.

Bubble Up: Superior Italian Sparklers from Franciacorta
Michael Franz
Dec 18, 2012

I like Prosecco as much as the next guy. Maybe as much as the next two or three guys. But Prosecco has its limitations, and if you want to taste how very good Italian sparkling wine can be, you'll need to travel the road that runs through Franciacorta. You won't mind the trip--provided that you don't have anything against gorgeous scenery, fabulous wine, and some of the best food in Italy. When traveling there in June of this year, I shot about a million photos and ate like a fiend, but I'd better stay focused on the wines, which are probably the most under-appreciated sparklers in the entire world.

Holiday Wine Strategy: Spend Less, Enjoy More
Michael Franz
Nov 20, 2012

One way or another, you are likely to embark soon on an austerity program as we sink into the depths of the holiday buying season. Either you'll be sick of buying things or financially incapable of continuing to do so. Both of these scenarios imperil your enjoyment of wine, so today's question would be: Is it possible to spend less but still enhance the pleasure derived from wine? My answer is emphatically affirmative, and I've got half a dozen suggestions that can help you do exactly that.

All's Well that Ends Well: Barolo from 2008
Michael Franz
Sep 4, 2012

Nebbiolo's astonishing winning streak in Piedmont remains unbroken. If you wonder whether I'm engaging in hype or hyperbole when employing a word like 'astonishing,' consider this: For the past century, excellent vintages for Barolo and its famously finicky Nebbiolo grape have been witnessed only once or twice per decade. However, since 1996, excellent vintages have been enjoyed every single year--with the sole exception of 2002. And now, having recently tasted hundreds of newly released 2008 wines from Barolo, I can declare unequivocally that the region and its winemakers somehow managed to achieve outstanding results from a growing season that once looked like a disaster.

Ten Tips for De-Stressing Wine
Michael Franz
Jul 31, 2012

We're now at the very height of summer, and during summertime living is supposed to be--according to a famous song--easy. Wine should be a part of that. It should be relaxing. It should be a pleasant, welcoming beverage that offers evening respite from the problems of the day. It should not, itself, pose additional problems. But for a great many people it does exactly that.

Piedmont's Scary Winning Streak Continues
Michael Franz
Jul 10, 2012

I try to stay away from making grand pronouncements, but occasionally the facts are such that nothing less will do: Of all the world's major wine regions, none can boast a stretch of success remotely rivaling that of Italy's Piedmont region during the past 15 years. This has been a strikingly successful period for all of Piedmont's wines, but for those made from the regal but famously difficult Nebbiolo grape, the run of great vintages is downright astonishing. Indeed, the winning streak for the most important renditions of Nebbiolo--Barbaresco and Barolo--is so unprecedented historically that it is, well…a little bit scary.

The Distinctively Delicious Wines of Uruguay
Michael Franz
Jun 5, 2012

Uruguay's wines bear little resemblance to those of Argentina or Chile. They display a stylistic profile all their own, and it is a first-rate profile incorporating moderate ripeness and fresh acidity (as in European wines) but generous fruit and relatively soft structure, as in New World wines. Uruguay is home to a truly distinctive terroir that leaves a deeply etched signature on its wines, both white and red, consequently they are as interesting as they are delicious.

Best Bubbles for This--Or Any--Season
Michael Franz
May 15, 2012

It is well known that an overwhelmingly large percentage of sparkling wine is purchased and consumed during the last six weeks of the calendar year. In my view, this fact should be lamented as widely as it is known, since high-quality sparkling wine is no mere a celebratory prop, but rather one of the world's most delicious and versatile wine types. I don't think a special occasion is required to bust into the bubbly, but since graduations and weddings abound in late spring, now is a good time to stack up multiple reasons and strike a blow in favor of year-round enjoyment of excellent sparklers.

A Big Claim on Behalf of Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva
Michael Franz
Apr 10, 2012

Many of the world's most accomplished wine appellations are struggling to minimize their market share losses in today's crisis-racked commercial climate. Taking that into account, one can only image how challenging it must be to try to break into the top ranks of world wine regions. That is precisely the challenge confronting producers of Sangiovese di Romagna, whose often-terrific wines deserve to emerge from international obscurity--as well as the giant shadow cast by neighboring Tuscany. They deserve a place in the limelight, but they'll only get it if consumers open themselves to the possibility that northern Italy might still hold wonders for wine lovers that have yet to be discovered.

A Golden Age, However Well Disguised
Michael Franz
Mar 20, 2012

Nobody could be blamed for failing to see the present time as a peak period in almost any respect, given that we've got so many nasty problems. Still, it is always difficult to assess the present without the benefit of hindsight, and there's a strong chance that we're failing to appreciate some current realities precisely because of our economic and political problems. Here's one to consider: There has never, ever, been such a great time to buy wine.

Sidetracks to Great Wine: Ten Top Destinations
Michael Franz
Feb 14, 2012

If you travel internationally, many of the world's most storied vineyards are only a few minutes away. For example, if your travels include a stop at the aviation hub in Frankfurt, a rented car and 45 minutes of bat-out-of-hell fun on the autobahn will deliver you to one of the greatest wine estates in Germany. Or, if you can feign illness and bug out of your boring business meeting in Adelaide, you can be sipping Shiraz in McLaren Vale within the hour.

Resolutions for the New Wine Year
Michael Franz
Jan 24, 2012

New Year's Eve has long been my favorite holiday of the year, and a big reason for that is that the turn of the year is a great marker for reflection and changes of course--a process that extends through the whole month of January for me. Now, I would not presume to tell you how you should change your own life course, though perhaps you'd be open to a handful of suggestions for reflection regarding your approach to wine.

Brut and Beyond: Exploring Champagne's Range of Styles
Michael Franz
Dec 27, 2011

Champagne is the single most joyous of all the world's wines, and there's really only one sad thing about it: Most consumers never taste beyond standard-issue non-vintage Brut to discover the distinctively delicious wines that exist out on Champagne's stylistic margins. This column is intended to encourage you to do exactly that, whether your year-end choice might be a Vintage wine, Non-Dossage, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs or Demi-Sec.

Priorat: Where Seeing Isn't Quite Believing
Michael Franz
Nov 22, 2011

Perhaps you've heard the old saying: 'Just as great art arises from suffering artists, great wine stems from suffering vines.' Old sayings often prove true, but sometimes they turn out to be nonsense, so it's wise to subject them to examination. If you want to put this one to the test, there's no doubt that the best place to do it is in the astonishing Spanish region of Priorat.

Ignited in Collio
Michael Franz
Oct 25, 2011

Economics is sometimes described -- only half-jokingly -- as 'The Dismal Science,' and among its more dismal tenets is the Law of Diminishing Returns. In essence, this 'Law' maintains that the more you do something, the less you get out of it each time. At the risk of sounding jaded, I confess that I've found this to be true of the trips that I take to explore wine regions. After maintaining an aggressive travel schedule for more than 15 years, checking off one important appellation after another, the percentage of times when I return fully enflamed about a place is now diminishing on a curve so tellingly smooth that it could make even an economist smile. But not so fast, Dr. Dismal, because I've just returned from Collio, where I found the most impressive lineup of distinctive, compelling wines I've seen in more than a decade.

Next Up from Soaring Spain: Cariñena
Michael Franz
Sep 27, 2011

I'll bet that you've heard this story before, but I'll also bet that you'll share my opinion that it's the sort of story that never grows tiresome: 'Traditional Spanish wine region with ideal climate and very old vines finds new sense of purpose and sends delicious, high value wines into world markets.' If you want yet another case in point, we can head northwest from Madrid on the road toward Aragon and the lovely city of Zaragoza, where we'll find ourselves in the region of Cariñena in less than two hours.

American Whites: Shining Exceptions to the Dull Rule
Michael Franz
Aug 30, 2011

This may get your hackles up if you are a patriotic American, but everyone knows that acknowledging a problem is a necessary step toward improvement. So: There's a general consensus among open-minded, broadly experienced, professional tasters that white wines from the United States are boring. Embarrassingly boring. Generally speaking, they compare poorly against whites from other countries in terms of aromatic expressiveness, vibrancy of flavor, minerality, and acidic structure.

Barolo's Marvelous 2007 Vintage
Michael Franz
Aug 2, 2011

As we know, all good things must end. And since Barolo has enjoyed the strongest series of vintages in its history since 1996, I was entirely prepared to hear the sound of a string snapping when travelling to Alba this summer to taste the new releases from the 2007 vintage. Advance word had it that a warm growing season produced ripe, soft wines with less detail and structure than the 2006s, which didn't quite sound like my cup of tea. But the indisputable fact is that the 2007 Barolos are terrific.

The Nebbiolo Prima Tastings: Roero and Barbaresco
Michael Franz
Jul 5, 2011

If the doom-sayers are correct and we're all in big trouble due to climate change, then we might as well have a giant party--with the drinks consisting of Nebbiolo-based wines from Italy's Piedmont region. Without any doubt these wines have benefited more from warm growing seasons during the past 15 years than any other in the world, and without any hyperbole I can state that the wines on the market from this time span are quite simply the best in history.

Barolo and Barbaresco vs. Burgundy
Michael Franz
Jun 7, 2011

Barolo and Barbaresco have decisively surpassed red Burgundy in value at prices between $35 and $55. Top renditions of Red Burgundy retain their place near the very pinacle of the world wine pyramid, but skyrocketing prices have taken most of the truly excellent examples of the breed into price ranges above $70. As this has been happening over the course of the past decade, Barolo and Barbaresco have enjoyed a series of outstanding vintages without historical precedent, yet prices have remained remarkably stable. The upshot is simple and clear: If you want to buy genuinely great, aromatically complex, medium-bodied wine for $35 to $55, you can either exhaust yourself looking for the few red Burgundies that fit this description, or avail yourself of the dozens of amazing Barolos and Barbarescos available in this price range.

Tax Relief in a Bottle
Michael Franz
Apr 12, 2011

Although the economic climate has improved marginally during recent months, most of us remain far more cost-conscious than we were prior to the onset of the Great Recession. And before this week is out, cost-consciousness may become almost universal, since Uncle Sam will hit many of us with a tax bill--even as spiking gas prices hit everyone else. Nevertheless, being cost-conscious about wine is not such a bad thing these days, for the very good reason that wine is almost unique among retail products in becoming two things at once: Better and more affordable.

A New Star from Indispensable Italy
Michael Franz
Mar 15, 2011

If you love wine with food, you know already that Italian reds are indispensable at the table--whether or not the table is set with Italian food. No other country can rival Italy for sheer numbers of reds that combine freshness with complexity. Similarly, far more Italian reds combine relatively light weight with strongly expressive aroma and flavor, and these two combinations make Italian reds supremely versatile and delightful with food. As a result, I regard it as major news when an Italian region starts producing excellent reds in serious numbers, and that is exactly what has happened recently in the northeastern region of Romagna.

Bordeaux Buys from the Right Bank
Michael Franz
Feb 15, 2011

My column from last month offered a general overview of recent vintages from the appellations of Bordeaux's Right Bank, but now it is time to get specific by pointing toward top properties and winning wines. During an intensive week of tastings in late December, I visited 23 chateaux and tasted hundreds of new releases and barrel samples from the 10 appellations that comprise Bordeaux's Right Bank, and the notes that follow will recount the highlights of those tastings.

Right Bank, Right Now
Michael Franz
Jan 18, 2011

If you will be able to scrape a little cash together--either now or during the next 18 months--you'll have a chance to acquire some truly amazing wines from the 'Right Bank' appellations in Bordeaux. I understand that the 'if' in the preceding sentence is a key word; most of us are strapped for cash these days, and it takes some serious cash to score the top wines from right Right Bank appellations like Pomerol and St.-Emilion. However, I would suggest that the word 'little' should also be taken seriously, since less famous appellations like Lalande de Pomerol and the St.-Emilion 'satellite' AOCs have produced some gorgeous but reasonably priced wines in recent years, especially in the spectacular forthcoming vintages of 2009 and 2010.

A Surprising Finding for Thanksgiving and Beyond
Michael Franz
Nov 23, 2010

I'm posting this column in the week of Thanksgiving, which is the one week during the year when food pairing is the topic preoccupying all wine lovers. My situation is a little different than most people's, as I've been preoccupied with experiments in wine-and-food pairing for the entirety of the past year, and have hit upon some lessons that will change the wines that I pour at my table for years to come. One finding is particularly pertinent for Thanksgiving dinner, but also for the austere economic climate to which we'll return afterward.

The 'Other' Bordeaux Classification of 1855
Michael Franz
Oct 26, 2010

Many wine lovers are well acquainted with the world's most famous wine classification: Le classement de 1855, which set a pecking order for red Bordeaux that has proved remarkably accurate over the ensuing century and a half. Prepared for the Paris Universal Exposition of that same year, it has since become a fixture in the world of wine and remains the single most important influence on public perceptions of the relative stature of Bordeaux reds. Yet even sophisticated wine enthusiasts are often unaware that this historic classification also identifies top producers of the marvelous sweet white wines of Sauternes.

La Rioja on a Roll
Michael Franz
Sep 28, 2010

Rioja, Spain's most important wine region, is again at the very top of its game. Let's get specific about what that means. First, there has never been as much excellent red wine from Rioja on the market as there is right now. Second, the high tide of excellent reds is the result of some superb vintages but also of more lasting stylistic improvements that bode well for the future. And third, continuing economic difficulties in Spain and around the world have softened many prices and eased availability for many allocated wines, making the present moment look like a sort of Golden Age for lovers of Rioja.

Back to the Point(s)
Michael Franz
Aug 31, 2010

WRO reader Kent Benson writes, "It seems to me, if you are going to assign a score and claim a great degree of precision, you should provide a detailed description of how such precision is achieved. Without such an explanation, how is the reader to know if a reviewer is emulating Parker's system, has created a different system, or has no system at all, other than assigning a number based upon overall admiration?"

Memo from the Dark Side: In Defense of the 100-Point Scale
Michael Franz
Aug 3, 2010

Exactly five years have passed since we launched Wine Review Online, making this seem like a good time for a bit of stock-taking. Of the various things we've done while developing the site, the one that has drawn the most flak has been the adoption of the 100-point scale for evaluating wines. Scoring wines on this scale was new to me five years ago, and it was new to almost all of us who write for WRO. I took this step with some apprehension and found the transition quite uncomfortable, but after employing the 100-point scale continuously for years, I've concluded that most objections to it are rooted in prejudice, misconception or flawed reasoning.

Barolo Bounty
Michael Franz
Jul 6, 2010

The 2006 bottlings of Barolo--as well as Riservas from 2004--are now arriving on our shores, and they are terrific. The 2006 Barolo wines clearly continue a historically unprecedented streak of strong vintages running all the way back to 1996, with the single exception of 2002. The top wines from 2006 will rival their counterparts from the very best recent years--1996, 1999 and 2004--and since many of the top wines are produced in relatively small quantities, savvy Barolo lovers should pay sharp attention. Right now.

Stars Align for Piedmont
Michael Franz
Jun 8, 2010

In a time when the news is pretty grim on many fronts, it is especially pleasant to point to something wonderful that is suddenly the best it has ever been: Nebbiolo from Piedmont. The great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco have recently enjoyed an extended streak of excellent vintages that is simply unprecedented. For long-time lovers of Barolo and Barbaresco--or for those newly curious about Italy's most fascinating reds--the upshot is clear: If you have a piggy bank, grab a hammer.

Verdejo from Rueda: Spain's Best White?
Michael Franz
May 11, 2010

A key aspect of the amazing renaissance in Spanish wine during the past 15 years has been the emergence of world-class white table wines made from indigenous grapes. Not long ago, white Spanish table wines were quite rare in export markets. This situation has changed dramatically during the past decade, and today Spain exports hundreds of thousands of cases of white table wine to a single country like the United States. Particular regions exporting whites from Spain have turned from selling themselves as curiosities and started seeking stature by claiming to be the best that the country can offer.

Tax Time Bargains and Splurges
Michael Franz
Apr 13, 2010

With tax returns due this week, every wine lover in the USA is either confronting a hit to the ol' wine budget or getting a refund that might permit a little splurge. In either case, I've got some advice for you. Those of you who will be shelling out to the IRS get priority. Everybody knows that times are already tough enough without Uncle Sam digging into your pocket, so as a counterweight to this double-whammy, let me offer the good news that affordable wines have never been as good as they are right now.

Bargain Wines for Tax Season: Better than Ever
Michael Franz
Mar 16, 2010

The deadline for filing income tax returns is looming over us once again, so your financial forecast will soon be coming clear: Either you're about to send a check to Uncle Sam or he's about to send one to you. This will also clarify your vinous forecast: Either you'll be sticking to bargain wines for a while, or you should be considering a celebratory splurge.

Lighten Up: Appreciating Loire Valley Reds
Michael Franz
Jan 19, 2010

The Loire Valley is one of the world's greatest--but most under-appreciated--sources for fresh, versatile, unfussy wines. There's actually good news in this, since the gap between the renown of Loire wines and their true quality allows savvy wine lovers to snap up excellent wines that are priced well below their actual value. This is true for Loire whites and sparklers, but the discrepancy between performance and price is probably widest for the region's delicious reds, which feature a light, soft profile that makes them perfect for many foods that would be overwhelmed by the big, brawny reds that are so popular these days.

Wines for Holiday Feasts
Michael Franz
Dec 22, 2009

Wine writers have wallpapered the world with recommendations for Thanksgiving turkey, but comparatively few suggestions have been offered for year-end feasts such as Christmas dinner. Since I live to eat and love to drink, I figure I'm the man for the job, so here we go with six wine ideas for a half dozen dinners: Standing Rib Roast, Roasted Lamb, Goose, Pork Roast, Baked Ham and Roasted Turkey.

A Wine Aesthetic for Our Time?
Michael Franz
Nov 24, 2009

Even if it were not Thanksgiving week, nobody would be surprised by the suggestion that a wine writer should be thankful for his job. However, you may be a bit surprised to learn exactly why I am most thankful for my opportunity to write about wine, and maybe you'll find in this a new way to think about your own relation to this most amazing beverage--one that is perhaps appropriate for our troubled economic times.

Stemware Sanity--and a Little Magic
Michael Franz
Oct 27, 2009

In my view, glassware sanity is a moderate stance somewhere between a scoffing minimalism and an obsessive maximalism. Scoffers dismiss the importance of fine glassware and the proliferation of specialized glasses that purportedly enhance the experience of particular wine types. At the other extreme, obsessives would have you believe that you are committing a sacrilege if you try to drink your Brunello di Montalcino out of anything but a purpose-built Brunello glass. However, both of these positions end up looking silly in the light of repeated testing.

Travel Log: Rioja
Michael Franz
Sep 29, 2009

If you have never had an opportunity to go winery touring in Rioja, but have an interest in what the experience might be like, then read on. I hit 18 bodegas in an ultra-intense four-day stretch recently, and, having now largely recovered, I can report that Rioja is one of the world's most interesting and pleasurable destinations for wine lovers and trade members.

In Praise of Alsace Riesling
Michael Franz
Sep 1, 2009

When people regard something that lies outside the cultural mainstream as peerlessly beautiful, it often bothers them that others don't appreciate it more fully.

Wine Tour Time: Dazzling Destinations in France
Michael Franz
Aug 4, 2009

August is the year's leading month for vacations and travel, and the economy is beginning to show signs of recovery, so the question arises: Where should you go (next August if not this) for a world-class, on-site wine experience?

Wine Cool
Michael Franz
Jul 7, 2009

Temperature is a crucial factor in wine appreciation, yet it is a factor that is insufficiently appreciated by many consumers. Wine critics and competition judges know that any wine will taste dramatically different when tasted at different temperatures. Similarly, sommeliers and connoisseurs know that the season or even the ambient temperature in a room will affect the appeal of almost any wine--whether advantageously or adversely. Being thoroughly informed about the importance of temperature is one of the most helpful ways to pick better wines and get the most out of them, usually without spending a dime.

Yet another Reason to Love Albariño
Michael Franz
Jun 9, 2009

I can still remember how strikingly delicious my first taste of Albariño was, and how embarrassed I was in the wake of the experience. It happened on the last night of my first trip to Spain, in December of 1997, in a restaurant in Madrid. My friends and I were waiting for a companion who was late in showing up, and as time dragged on, an impatient member of our party suggested that we order a bottle of wine. The issue of what to order was dispatched immediately when two people at the table called--simultaneously--for an Albariño. Not knowing what that was, and not wanting to expose myself as a doofus, I just sat there silently as a bottle of 1996 Morgadio from Rias Baixas was presented and then poured.

Sherry Surprise: Terrific at the Table
Michael Franz
May 12, 2009

Although my background as a life-long Sherry lover should have prepared me for an adulthood of comprehensive Sherry appreciation, I confess that I needed a recent Conversion Experience to jolt me into awareness of what a terrific partner Sherry can be for foods--and an impressively wide range of foods at that.

Tax Day 2009: Adding Insult to Injury
Michael Franz
Apr 14, 2009

As though things were not rough enough already on the economic front, Uncle Sam is about to stick his hand in the pocket of many millions of Americans tomorrow for 2008 income taxes. So why, you ask, am I belaboring this painfully obvious point in a column that is supposed to be devoted to wine? The answer is that Tax Day is the one time each year when all wine lovers are focused simultaneously on a development affecting their wine budget.

Micro-Diffusion and the Rise of American Wine
Michael Franz
Mar 17, 2009

What we need to weave wine more deeply into the fabric of American culture is a true diffusion of winegrowing that spreads it not only among but also within the 50 states. Second, such a 'micro-diffusion,' which is actually underway at the moment, will reap important benefits not only for the cultural acceptance of wine in the USA, but also for the quality of American wines.

Tracking Spain's Elusive Tempranillo
Michael Franz
Jan 20, 2009

The remarkable recent renaissance of Spanish wine has intensified worldwide interest in Spain's most famous red grape: Tempranillo. With Tempranillo-based reds from regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero rising to challenge the best bottlings from Bordeaux and beyond, the grape is destined for comparisons with the world's top red varieties.

The Case for Champagne
Michael Franz
Dec 23, 2008

There are very good reasons to believe that Champagne is the world's greatest wine. Excellent Champagne can provide innumerable aromatic nuances. It can deliver remarkable depth and persistence of flavor while remaining restrained in intensity and delicate in body. Its subtle power is demonstrated by its (underappreciated) ability to stand up to many foods, and to develop positively over many years of ageing. No other wine is as invigorating, and no wine can match it for textural complexity. Period.

Five Lessons Thankfully Learned
Michael Franz
Nov 25, 2008

Turkey is pretty far down my list of favorite foods, and Thanksgiving is not a culinary highlight of my year so much an opportunity to fulfill its basic purpose: Reflect on things for which I should be thankful. The close of this year marks my 15th as a wine writer, and since this is clearly the World's Best Job, it would be very bad karma not to wax grateful on any anniversary ending with a five or a zero.

South Africa's Arrival
Michael Franz
Oct 28, 2008

This column follows on the heels of one that I published here on WRO a month ago with a title that referred to South Africa as the "Fragile Flower of the Wine World." Both are based upon a week of intensive tastings and interviews conducted in the Cape region in September, and whereas the initial article focused on the general fragility of the country, this one assesses South African wines on their current merits. After relaying a lot of rather distressing information on the first round, I'm pleased to be able to report that the current merits of South African wine are pretty damned impressive.

South Africa: Fragile Flower of the Wine World
Michael Franz
Sep 30, 2008

I'm writing this column on the heels of a trip to South Africa, reflecting on a week of observation that leaves me doubting that any wine producing country in the world can match South Africa for fascination--or fragility. I've followed developments in South Africa as closely as I could since first visiting nearly a decade ago, and during that time have seen the country's wine industry knocking on the door of vinous excellence while also glancing furtively over its figurative shoulder at the possibility of social and political disaster.

Going Local: The Way to a Wine Culture for the USA
Michael Franz
Sep 2, 2008

There's a good chance that a very promising development on the American wine scene has been sneaking up on you unnoticed: Fine wine is being made in your neck of the woods--almost regardless of where you live in the woods. And as a result, wine is reaping great benefits in terms of acceptance and appreciation within American culture.

Heat Beating Tips for Wine in Summer
Michael Franz
Jul 8, 2008

It is July, and I'm inside the notorious Washington, D.C. Beltway, which means that at least two things are happening: Lots of wine is being consumed, and lots of wine is being mishandled and consumed in error, on account of the torrid, steamy heat.

Resurgent Rioja
Michael Franz
Jun 10, 2008

I have a lot to say in praise of Rioja in this column, but for the sake of credibility, want to note as my point of departure that almost everything I have published about the region during the past 15 years has been critical. In my view, Rioja has let other Spanish regions steal its thunder due to a complacent sense of entitlement. However, Rioja has recently set a lot of things right, and is coming back--big time.

The Achilles Heel of American Wine
Michael Franz
May 13, 2008

There is a scandal in the American wine industry, and it isn't what you might guess. It has nothing to do with the use of chemicals or scary additives. Nor is it about strange manipulative processes like 'reverse osmosis' or 'spinning cones.' The scandal in American wine is that the United States produces remarkably few excellent wines costing twelve bucks or less.

Riesling Romance in Oregon
Michael Franz
Apr 15, 2008

I love Oregon's beautiful wine country, and I love the wonderful culture that has sprung up there among producers, which is very innovative and ambitious in terms of quality, but refreshingly unpretentious in its bearing. And I have been madly in love with Riesling for two decades. So when I learned last year that my favorite white grape is enjoying a renaissance in what may be my favorite American region, it was like hearing that a romance had bloomed between a couple of dear friends.

Franz Responds to Apstein on Wine Pricing
Michael Franz
Mar 18, 2008

WRO readers who have seen Michael Apstein's column from last week on wine pricing will have noticed that he deliberately yanked on my chain in an attempt to provoke a response. Well, it worked. I had promised that this month's column would be a profile of Rieslings now coming out of Oregon, but I'll need to put that off for a month, since I can't resist the pleasure of a genuine dispute with an intelligent friend.

Regions to Watch in 2008
Michael Franz
Jan 22, 2008

As the very happy occupant of The World's Best Job, I am exceedingly fortunate to be able to taste thousands of wonderful wines each year. I've been at it for 15 years now, and I feel as lucky today as I did when I was first able to weasel my way into wine writing. I'm sure that it would be no surprise to anyone that I love the job. However, you might be a bit surprised to learn that my greatest pleasure in the job is an intellectual one rather than a gustatory one, namely, discovering wine producing regions that are on the rise or making a new leap in quality.

Outlook for 2008: Cool is the Rule and Light is Right
Michael Franz
Dec 25, 2007

I tasted about 9,000 wines in 2007, and when you check out that many bottles, you get a pretty good idea of which way the wind is blowing in the world of wine. There's now some pretty compelling evidence indicating that lighter wines featuring greater purity of fruit are gaining rapidly in popularity, and that consumers are showing increasing antipathy to wines with conspicuous levels of wood and alcohol.

Australian Wine Industry in Crisis
Michael Franz
Nov 27, 2007

The Australian wine industry is in trouble. Pretty serious trouble too, and from more than one source. Five years ago, Australia looked like a juggernaut in the wine world, with production and exports growing by leaps and bounds and a very strong competitive profile. But things have started to turn sour in the past couple of years.

Murcia's Emerging Excellence: A Concurring Opinion
Michael Franz
Oct 30, 2007

There's no "party line" or "house style" here at Wine Review Online, where our contributors are quite free to take issue with one another. Against this backdrop, you may perhaps attribute more significance to a strong convergence of opinion when we arrive at one. Which we have: I wholeheartedly endorse Michael Apstein's views on the remarkable Spanish wines of Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas in his column, 'The Mystery and Magic of Murcia' from last week's issue of WRO.

Fine Wine in a New York Minute
Michael Franz
Oct 2, 2007

I have tasted some very interesting and distinctive wines from New York over the years, and have always wanted to get a much more comprehensive sense of what winemakers across that state are achieving. But I knew of no easy way to do this. Until now.

Buying Burgundy: The Problem, and a Solution
Michael Franz
Aug 7, 2007

It seems to me that the smart way for the average consumer to buy great Burgundy from small estates is to focus on the wines of exemplary importers or exporters. The very best US importers (or exporters working from France) serve an important gate-keeping function as they select the best producers for their portfolios. I hope to profile the Burgundies of several of these top importers and exporters in coming months, but wish to start with an overview of the terrific wines of Jeanne-Marie de Champs.

Prosecco: Revelry and Research
Michael Franz
Jul 10, 2007

If you are new to Prosecco, I'd reiterate my advice from last month's column and suggest that you just experiment in a relaxed way with a bunch of different bottlings. If you've got some experience with Prosecco, you are perhaps starting to notice that these wines differ quite interestingly from one another, and I'd recommend that you gear up your thinking as well as your drinking.

Rethinking Prosecco...Yet Again
Michael Franz
Jun 12, 2007

Prosecco is among the world's easiest wines to enjoy. Yet, despite that fact (and partly because of it), Prosecco is not the world's easiest wine to understand or regard properly. I confess that I have misunderstood it, and not just once, but twice. I want to help you avoid my mistakes, so bear with me and read on.

Provence: Rising on a Pink Wave
Michael Franz
May 15, 2007

I recently found myself driving behind a guy with one of those license plate holders reading, "I'd Rather be Sailing." I thought, me too, but since we're just fantasizing here, can't we do better than that? Much better would be: "I'd rather be sailing on the French Riviera with one hand on the tiller and the other holding a cold glass of Provençal rosé."

Tax Time Bargains and Splurges
Michael Franz
Apr 17, 2007

APRIL 17, 2007: The deadline for filing income tax returns is upon us today, so your financial forecast should be clear: Either you're about to send a check to Uncle Sam or he's about to send one to you. This will also clarify your vinous forecast: Either you'll be shopping for bargain wines for a while, or you should be ready for a celebratory splurge.

Importer on the Rise: Roy Cloud and Vintage '59
Michael Franz
Feb 20, 2007

It seems pretty clear to me that the most important person involved in getting you a great glass of something distinctive and compelling is the importer of artisan wines. Based on this conviction, I devote a couple of columns each year to importers doing exemplary work by connecting us to terrific wines from some corner of the world. In that vein, I'm pleased to introduce you to Roy Cloud of Vintage '59 Imports.

Oregon's Chehalem Mountains: A New Refuge from Pinot Mediocrity
Michael Franz
Jan 23, 2007

On December 27, 2006, a new appellation (or AVA, American Viticultural Area) was granted for the Chehalem Mountains by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Who cares? Anybody who wants to be part of the ongoing process of understanding the varied expressions of Pinot Noir arising from the distinctly different growing conditions in the northern Willamette Valley, which is indisputably one of the world's great Pinot terroirs.

Pursuing Pinot Precision: Oregon's Dundee Hills
Michael Franz
Dec 26, 2006

Pinot Noir is the world's greatest grape of place, and the spot in the world where the most interesting work is currently being done on the relation of Pinot and place is in Oregon. During the past few years, Oregon's vintners have pressed beyond emphasizing their state's general strength with Pinot Noir to distinguish and legalize more particular growing regions.

South African Chenin Blanc: From Workhorse to Thoroughbred
Michael Franz
Nov 28, 2006

As 2006 draws to a close, I'm thinking back to the vinous highlights of the year. Although I was very fortunate to taste all sorts of fancy wines from around the world, few offered as much pure pleasure as a couple dozen delicious surprises that I tasted in South Africa in April. What was surprising about these wines was that they were made from a grape that rarely gets much respect: Chenin Blanc

Reconnecting with Alsace
Michael Franz
Aug 8, 2006

Last month, when seeing the gorgeous vineyards of Alsace for the first time in six years, my first thought was, "Why the hell haven't I been here for six years?" Although I managed to travel to Alsace four times between 1992 and 2000, tasting explorations in other locales have kept me away more recently, resulting in several sorts of deprivation.

Colline Teramane: Abruzzo's Gem
Michael Franz
Jul 11, 2006

Abruzzo (also called Abruzzi) is a mountainous region on the central section of Italy's Adriatic coast. Like Sicily and Puglia, it produces a lot of ordinary wines but also a really few excellent ones. The best are whites made from Trebbiano d'Abruzzo and reds from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and the reds from the Colline Teramane are clearly the best of the best.

Sotiris Bafitis: Bringing Great Greeks to the USA
Michael Franz
Jun 13, 2006

When considering whom we should thank for the recent arrival of great Greek wines in the USA, we should not forget the crucial role of the importer. And to my knowledge no importer has has done more to bring excellent Greek wines into America and out of the Greek restaurant subculture than Sotiris Bafitis.

Reconsidering South Africa
Michael Franz
Apr 18, 2006

After eight days of tasting, touring and talking with winemakers in South Africa earlier this month, I'd no longer introduce a novice to South African wine by highlighting the country's 350 years of winemaking experience. On the contrary: I'd note that this country's wine industry is essentially a new one, and is just now getting poised to show how good it can be.

Montelena at the Summit
Michael Franz
Mar 21, 2006

The release of Chateau Montelena's 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is noteworthy for several reasons: the wine is terrific, and its release marks the 25th vintage to be released in the winery's "modern" era. I've been fortunate to taste many of those exemplary Cabernets over the years, and I always come away from the experience impressed by what the wines are--and what they are not. What they are not: over-ripe, over-oaked or over-hyped. What they are: complex but focused, powerful but balanced and refined but ageworthy.

Aurelio Cabestrero: Importing Great Grapes from Spain
Michael Franz
Feb 21, 2006

Very few consumers pay any attention to the small print on the back of a wine bottle. In most cases, they aren't missing much. In some instances, however, they're missing something very important when they don't notice a name associated with the line reading, "Imported by...." I'd like to propose another name for consideration in the ranks of America's most significant importers: Aurelio Cabestrero, president and owner of Grapes of Spain, Inc.

Wine Reads for 2006
Michael Franz
Jan 24, 2006

Enjoying wine is a simple matter for anyone who can work a corkscrew, but becoming truly knowledgeable about the subject requires many years of tasting and study. Roughly 55,000 different bottlings are available in the United States alone, and if you wish to understand the many factors that account for variations in character and quality, you'll need to keep your nose in a book as well as in a glass.

Talking Turkey: All Hands on Deck
Michael Franz
Nov 20, 2005

Thanksgiving dinner involves lots of twists, ironies and challenges for lovers of food and wine. We could all use a few new ideas for responding to these challenges, and this column will give you a sense of how each of us at Wine Review Online deals with the day.

Washington's Smokin' Syrahs
Michael Franz
Oct 25, 2005

The state of Washington is poised to become America's premier source for Syrah. If you doubt the truth of that statement, I've got some wines that will likely turn you into a believer. And if you question the significance of the statement, you should consider how rare it is for any state to surpass California in vinous achievement with a major grape variety.

Oregon's Stylish Chardonnays
Michael Franz
Aug 30, 2005

I like big, lush, California Chardonnay as much as the next guy, but there's a limit to how much lobster and swordfish anyone can eat. When I've got a taste for more moderate food, I want a leaner, more versatile wine that won't overwhelm it, and lately I like what I see when looking up from California toward Oregon.

Pass the Rosé, Mack
Michael Franz
Aug 1, 2005

They say that confession is good for the soul, so here goes: when I began writing about rosé wines, I did so without having the slightest interest in the stuff. Although I was well aware that dry rosé is a very different animal than sweet "white Zinfandel," I just didn't think of rosé as worthy of my attention.