HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us

THE GRAPEVINE

Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline.com on Twitter

Critics Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge

Winemaker Challenge

Columns – Panos Kakaviatos

Dry White 'Oscar' Worthy Summer Bargains from Bordeaux
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 21, 2020

Even as we muddle through a challenging 2020, many still overlook dry white Bordeaux, despite articles about 'hidden gems.' And by such gems, I do not mean dry whites from the famous Graves region, specifically from the Pessac-Léognan appellation in the northern part of that region, which includes such well-known (and pricey) brands as Haut Brion Blanc, Smith Haut Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier. Nor do I refer to dry whites produced by celebrated Médoc estates like Châteaux Margaux, Lynch Bages, Lagrange and Mouton Rothschild. No, the above average wine quality 'gems' include dry whites recently bottled from the 2019 vintage. Most of these winners are readily available in the United States and cost between $10 and $20 per bottle; not only are they inexpensive, but also of above average in quality.

People are Paying Attention to Bordeaux 2019 Futures
Panos Kakaviatos
Jun 9, 2020

COVID-19 has caused a great many deaths and dislocations, so in any reasonable ranking of repercussions, wine-related problems rank pretty low. With that acknowledged, wine remains important for many of us, and the recent rash of illness has caused the cancellation of many a fine wine related event, including one of most important: barrel tastings of Bordeaux's latest vintage, which were scheduled in late March and early April. Even though merchants are using scores from famous critics-including some very high ones-to peddle futures, the muted campaign for the '19s is just what the doctor ordered… for consumers at least. And not just for health reasons.

Champagne in the Time of Coronavirus
Panos Kakaviatos
Apr 14, 2020

Last month on a high-speed train from Paris to Strasbourg, France, I got nervous as another passenger opposite me kept coughing without covering his mouth. To make things worse, the train was delayed because of a faulty rail, resulting in another hour on top of the two-hour (crowded) train ride to spend in this person's vicinity. The news of the novel Coronavirus already had reached France, but lockdown was not to happen for another 10 days, and I wondered whether this one-evening trip to Paris--to attend a dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Champagne Gonet-Médeville--was worth the risk.

Who Needs Wine Experts?
Panos Kakaviatos
Feb 18, 2020

Especially in our social media era, wine experts who work as critics face growing competition from websites and Internet platforms that reflect consumer-shared experiences as an alternative to relying on the palate of a single critic, who may be seen as influenced by the wine trade or even a snob. With a user count of over 40 million (and growing), the Vivino application, for example, records two million wine searches worldwide each day, putting into online practice the University of Davis study, with no limit as to how many wines each consumer can submit and describe. Forums like Cellar Tracker tend to highlight higher-end wines, averaging scores from wine consumers so that a 'box score' is trusted, bringing the notion of 'trusting your own palate' to a larger online scale.

Protectionism Works Both Ways: Background Factors for Understanding Wine Tariffs
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 1, 2020

I have been living in France for the better part of the last 22 years, and I adore French wine as reflecting some of the very best vineyards - and terroirs - in the world, from Bordeaux and Burgundy, to the Rhône Valley and Champagne. But what has always struck me - even in 2020 - is persistent bias among the French against non-French wines, whether Greek, Hungarian, Chilean or American.

Burgundy Bargains? Still Possible at Pernand Vergelesses
Panos Kakaviatos
Oct 29, 2019

Situated among the hills of Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses straddles the famous Hill of Corton and the villages Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny, harboring prestigious Grands Crus of Corton in red and Corton-Charlemangne in white. Over lunch at the excellent Ermitage de Corton, vintners Rémi Rollin (of the excellent Domaine Rollin) and Françoise Jeanniard of the eponymous vineyard told me that Pernand Vergelesses soils are not quite as impressive as the best of the grand cru Corton vineyards, which have more limestone, Rollin said. Indeed, Bianchi refers to Pernand Vergelesses as the 'child' of Corton Charlemagne. Could well be, but the tasting proved that among these 'children' one finds wines worthy of their 'parents' -- and for less money.

Gevrey-Chambertin and 2017
Panos Kakaviatos
Aug 27, 2019

With two high yield vintages in a row, could 2017 and 2018 be softening skyscraping prices in Burgundy? Price watchers like Liv-Ex earlier this month stressed that a price decline for its index of 150 Burgundy wines over six consecutive months has 'not been seen' since it began collecting such data back in 2003. Even if prices may be leveling off, all is relative, because Burgundy prices remain high, as even a casual glance on wine-searcher.com would indicate. Back in 2003, most U.S. buyers would have paid $20 for a bottle of fine village level Burgundy wine, which today costs at least double for many brands, if not triple -- or even quadruple for some. Meanwhile, many lovely 2017 reds may get overlooked as coming from a vintage lacking the 'legendary' moniker. So, savvy buyers should look to it not just for relatively better price-quality ratios, but also for its sheer juicy and bright fruit appeal, as evidenced for example from a recent tasting I did of village, premiers and grands crus of Gevrey-Chambertin.

Heady Times, Heady Wines: Climate Change and the Enduring Appeal of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Panos Kakaviatos
Jun 25, 2019

A joyful ceremony earlier this month to induct new ambassadors to the official fraternity of Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- the Eschansonnerie des Papes -- ended with soulful singing in the local Occitan dialect. Participants gathered in a restored cellar section of the ancient Châteauneuf-du-Pape castle to enjoy opulent reds from the famous southern Rhône wine region, served Middle Age-style from amphorae. Regarding that opulence, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape have become stronger in terms of richness and alcohol in recent years, partly due to climate change, which is raising some concerns among vintners about the need to preserve balancing freshness as climate change progresses. Alcohol labels, as indicated on labels, are sometimes seen at 16% in recent years. And that is just the official indication…not necessarily the actual percentage.

2018 Bordeaux: Should We be Concerned Over High Alcohol and Low Acidity?
Panos Kakaviatos
Apr 30, 2019

In trying to understand 2018 in Bordeaux, some have been focusing on the balance between acidity and alcohol. You could say that about any vintage, but in 2018, the superlatives over barrel samples mirror bigger alcohol: 'Did you taste Château Montrose?' one eager American buyer asked me. 'It's tremendous'! Château Montrose clocks in at 14.8% alcohol with low acidity. A Bordeaux-based wine trader marveled at how 'enthralled' the wine trade is with Château Calon Ségur, which clocks in at 14.9% alcohol… and rather low acidity. It is worthy to note that 80% of the blend is Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc combined). Alcohol levels have been creeping ever higher in Bordeaux, and for various reasons, including later harvesting and lower yields for more concentration and higher potential alcohol. Climate change has also been a factor.

Madeira: A Wine Time Machine That Works
Panos Kakaviatos
Mar 5, 2019

For under $40 off the volcanic island of Madeira, you can enjoy three hours cruising on a replica of Christopher Columbus's galleon 'Santa Maria.' Before he crossed the Atlantic on his legendary voyage back in 1492, Columbus lived for a few years in the Madeira archipelago, which had been discovered earlier that century by Portuguese sailors. Cruising over the waves, it is easy to imagine yourself in a bygone, swashbuckling, risk-taking era, especially considering how small the Santa María was: A single deck craft about 58 feet long with three small masts. The modern motor used for the replica on days with less wind brings you back to a more mundane present, but there is no denying the fabulous history of Madeira and its eponymous wine.

Discovering Montecucco
Panos Kakaviatos
Jan 8, 2019

A good way to confirm wine quality from a given region, after having been invited there on a press trip, is to test the wines by pouring them for assessment by people who had not attended the trip. That's precisely what I did following a tour of Montecucco, Tuscany this past September, to prove the point that Montecucco wines can achieve excellent price/quality ratios, especially for lovers of Sangiovese-based blends.

Getting Fresh in Saint Emilion
Panos Kakaviatos
Nov 13, 2018

In the grand history of winemaking, it was not that long ago when high octane and large scaled 'Garage Wines' were enjoying a heyday in Saint-Émilion, starting in the 1990s. In ensuing years, some voices -- including many sommeliers that favor freshness from Bordeaux -- began to criticize these wines as 'Parkerized.' In 2003, I interviewed Parker, who not only defended the movement, but also called it a 'revolution that is taking place and that will only grow.' In many ways, he has been proven correct. Star garage wine Château Valandraud was not only promoted in 2012 to a Grand Cru Classé B in Saint-Émilion, but is a top seller. Others, like Péby-Faugères, Rol Valentin and Gracia, also sell well. And yet in more recent years, more and more winemakers are talking about the importance of freshness in wine.

Santorini Assyrtiko: Terroir-Driven Whites Impress Even the French
Panos Kakaviatos
Sep 18, 2018

The high-speed ferry from Athens cuts the time it takes to get to the Cycladic island of Santorini by over half, faster than when I first visited the sun-drenched volcanic island 30 years ago. Boats now have WiFi, too. Another major difference from the past is that Santorini includes Greece's top white wines, which are sold increasingly in markets worldwide. And the star variety is Assyrtiko. In the late 1980s, I recall one or two wineries. Today, the island has a wine route for 18 estates, says George Skopelitis, who lives and works on Santorini for the Greek Agriculture Ministry. Just five years ago, there were only thirteen. Assyrtiko takes its roots from Santorini, encompassing well over half of its vineyard area. While the grape is planted in other parts of Greece -- and increasingly in wine regions outside the country -- the windswept island permits roots to dig deep into black ash-rich soil, lending distinctive wet stone aspects to the bone dry style which, at its best, is like fine white Burgundy.

Alsace: Indicate Dryness Levels Up Front
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 24, 2018

Last month in Colmar, at the biennial "Millésimes d'Alsace" event, the Alsace Wine Council introduced a new logo and refurbished website (vinsalsace.com) including excellent information on all 51 grand crus from this famous French northeastern wine region. A stunning video to promote the new logo was also provided, one that matches the quality of a glitzy Champagne marketing campaign, complete with drone-shot HD images of gorgeous vineyard slopes, accentuating the region's many terroirs. Shortly after viewing the video, I joined a wine writer for lunch, where we enjoyed a Domaine Allimant-Laugner Alsace Grand Cru Praelatenberg 2014. You may have not yet heard of Praelatenberg -- and might wonder about its pronunciation -- but the new Vins Alsace website, translated into 10 languages, explains it nicely: 'The panoramic viewpoints from the majestic Haut-Koenigsbourg castle overlook the sharp slopes of Praelatenberg. This rich terroir produces generous and structured wines founded on a base of intense minerality.' That's very appealing, but still, any of us might wonder, how dry was the wine?

Pasos First
Panos Kakaviatos
Jul 17, 2018

Panos