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Columns – Rich Cook

Wine Country Fires - Again?
Rich Cook
Oct 6, 2020

As if 2020 hasn't been a year of enough trial and tribulation, at this time of writing a good portion of our beloved wine producing regions are again under fire threat, with huge loss of property, inventory and vineyard land already in the books for the year. When lumped together with other wine growing area fires that have occurred in California over the last 13 years, the damages total billions of dollars in property damage and firefighting costs, not to mention priceless loss of life. From a wine production standpoint, the time that fires occur can have an even larger impact than loss of structures and equipment. This year, perhaps more than anytime sine the 2008 vintage, many wineries fear that a portion of their harvest may be smoke damaged to the point of no return, meaning that entire crops may not even be harvested.

'The Wine Glut' Finally Comes Home to Roost…
Rich Cook
Sep 1, 2020

It seems like I've been hearing about a wine glut for several years now. Each year more and more land has come to be under vine worldwide thanks to increased demand, and experts have been quick to celebrate the 'coming discount prices.' I don't know about you, but in my world the celebration seems to have preceded the 'coming discounting' for about the same number of years that the coming has been promised. Yet, here in the chaos of a pandemic that has closed winery tasting rooms-even as demand for wine is slackening as spirits become more popular, the 'coming' may finally have arrived. If, that is, you know where to look….

Zoom Zoom…
Rich Cook
Jul 28, 2020

Greetings from Critics Quarantine, where intrepid wine writers' passports and global entry cards are rendered useless, collecting dust until the day a boarding pass to a remote wine region pops up on our phone screens and we can head to the airport. In the meantime, I'm pleased to report that all is not lost, thanks to Zoom and creative thinking on the part of producers and marketers to get messages to us so that we can get them to you in turn. Here are highlights from a couple of Zoom tastings in which I've participated during the past month….

Note to the ABC Club: Time to Disband
Rich Cook
Jun 30, 2020

I count myself fortunate to have the chore of tasting a lot of wine. In the thirty-five years or so that I've been tasting wine - the last fifteen quite seriously - I've seen quality improve at an absolutely amazing rate, and I've seen trends come and go. From the Sideways effect to Moscato's meteoric rise and almost equally dramatic flame-out, forces that affect the wine marketplace keep interesting products coming across my desk. Additionally, continued innovation in practice keeps widening possibilities for winemakers all over the world, perhaps nowhere more so than here in the wild west where a pioneering spirit remains intact. One particular grape seems to remain constant in the quantity that I see, though it has traveled quite a stylistic arc over the years. So, that said, I'm warning you ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) club members right up front: I'm about to talk about domestic Chardonnay and why I think it's one of the most exciting frontiers in the wine world.

Quarantine Chronicles: Dreaming Remote, Enjoying Local
Rich Cook
May 19, 2020

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get a little stir crazy. Doing nothing but working from home, taking occasional trips out for food, the rare trips to the office and the complete reimagining of other jobs has me dreaming of what I'll do once restrictions are lifted. Mrs. Wine Critic and I were scheduled to be in Great Britain two weeks ago, taking in the new sparkling wine region southeast of London (and the new staging of Les Miserables at the Sondheim) but it was not to be, and I suspect it won't be for some time to come. Since the easing of restrictions will likely go out in small doses and keep travel fairly local, let's pay an introductory visit to some of my favorite local producers here in San Diego County - California's original wine region - and see a renaissance in progress. Maybe I'll entice you to travel this direction when the world opens up again....

Stuck at Home with Wine … What to Do?
Rich Cook
Apr 14, 2020

The times we're currently living in have required some altering of our day to day lives. Thankfully, wine continues to be enjoyed around the world, yet even that is looking and feeling different than usual. You may find yourself consuming more of it than what's normal for you, or perhaps you're going through your stock slower than you might - I'm sure there are as many variables as there are wine drinkers. As we stare down the possibility that we might be somewhat isolated for some time to come, I offer a few suggestions here that might lessen the disruption while keeping you sane and drinking well in the process.

A Judgement of Judgement
Rich Cook
Mar 10, 2020

Where did the idea for "blind" wine competitions come from, and why did it take off? I suspect it has largely to do with a tasting that came to be known as The Judgement of Paris, where in 1976 Stephen Spurrier assembled the best of France and the best of California for a blind tasting. The results put California wine on the international stage, and it's impossible to overstate the importance that single event had on the California wine industry. In addition, it had the effect of emphasizing the idea that tasting wines blind, side by side, is a way to minimize any prejudice that might play in to rating a wine. In the wine world, or more accurately the wine business, this idea can be of great benefit to both producers and consumers.

One Hundred Points?
Rich Cook
Feb 4, 2020

I was struck recently that over my twelve plus years writing about wines that I've only given out four perfect scores to wines, and perhaps more strikingly, that I've given two such scores in the past two months. This got me wondering: What is it that gives me the inclination -- or even the right -- to drop such an 'honor' on a bottle, and why does it happen so infrequently? And beyond that, why should anyone care?

Appellation St. Helena: A Great 'Where' in Your Glass
Rich Cook
Dec 10, 2019

As wine lovers, we have a desire to know more than simple matters of taste. We seek a deeper understanding of exactly how what is in our glass came into being to enhance the experience, to contextualize the aromas and flavors that we sense, and gain some insight as to why we are receiving such pleasure. Aficionados can, to a person, point to a specific bottle that somehow awakened a passion for learning all that can be learned about how THAT got from the ground to the glass - THAT scent, THAT taste, THAT joy. For some, the quest focuses on the 'where' of the equation. Where in the world did this come from, and what about 'the where' helps to explain the why, the how and the who of the glass in question?

Postcard from 'Bollicine di Montagna': TrentoDOC Takes Its Place on the World Stage
Rich Cook
Oct 8, 2019

Although TrentoDOC (short for Trento Denomiazione di Origine Controllata - thanks for that, marketeers!) has been around since 1993, its declaration was made possible much further back, when Giulio Ferrari sourced fruit in the Dolomite foothills around Trento back in 1902, with the intent of making a sparkling wine that would rival those he found in Epernay. Today that hope is a reality, with the DOC counting 53 producers among its ranks and soon to add two more. TrentoDOC is a sub appellation in the northwest portion of the larger Trentino region, focused specifically on 'Metodo Classico' sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier, with most producers focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Who Should You Trust for Wine Buying Advice?
Rich Cook
Aug 6, 2019

No doubt you've been exposed to myriad opinions about what makes for the most trustworthy source for good information about a particular bottle of wine. Is it the solo critic, providing a tasting note and perhaps a score of one type or another? Is it a shelf talker perched below a bottle on a shelf, maybe written by the shop's proprietor, or sourced from a popular publication, or even the producer? Is it crowd-sourcing of opinions from purchasers of that particular bottle? Is it a social media post by a friend that extols the virtues of the evening's selection? Is it a medal from one of any number of judging events held annually around the world?