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September 16, 2020

Welcoming Norm Roby to Wine Review Online

Please join me in welcoming Norm Roby as a Columnist to WRO.  Many of our readers may remember Norm most clearly from his decade long stint as a columnist for The Wine Spectator and from his work as a member of the Spectator’s tasting panel.  However, he has had a long and exceptionally interesting love affair with wine involving many other activities that contributed to the inventory of experience and breadth of perspective he’ll bring to his columns on WRO.

Like so many romances with wine, Norm’s began somewhat by good fortune.  He began pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at U.C. Davis (which he earned, by the way) without knowing of that university’s fame in the fields of winemaking and viticulture.  Needing a break between teaching undergraduates and heading to the library to conduct his dissertation research, he audited a wine course presented by the famed Professor Maynard Amerine.

The wine gods were not done coaxing Norm in their direction.  On the very day after defending his dissertation, he was asked by his department chair if he’d be interested in joining a faculty exchange program with...the University of Bordeaux.  Already interested in wine, and armed with letters of introduction from the legendary Sacramento wine guru Darrell Corti, Norm deepened his interest and added Old World experience to his California background.

After returning to California and turning away from the life of an academic, be worked as part of the Media Department at the California Wine Institute (writing, of course, but also working with members of the press).  Budget cuts set him in search of a next gig, which was with Vintage Magazine in New York, writing feature articles about California wine.  Next stop was the stint with The Wine Spectator, and both during and after his work with that publication, he also wrote for magazines such as the Robb Report and House & Garden plus newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News.

Norm also co-authored The Connoisseur’s Handbook of California Wines with Charlie Olken, which went through multiple revisions and four editions published by Alfred A. Knopf.  At this same time, he taught wine classes for the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and became the U.S.A. correspondent for Decanter magazine.  Not long thereafter, he spent ten years living part-time in the broader Bordeaux region, traveling extensively when he wasn’t immersed in the nearby glories of southwestern France.

There’s more, but I’m already exhausted just from recounting all of this…so I’ll break it off at this point to assure that you shift your eyes to the right to read Norm’s first WRO column, which you can get to by following (or pasting) this link:  http://winereviewonline.com/Norm_Roby_E_Commerce_One.cfm

As you’ll see, he’s anything but stuck in the past, focusing instead on the rapidly expanding world of online wine sales, with special reference to the current boom related to the need for home delivery—as well as the unprecedented availability of high-end wines that were formerly directed predominantly to restaurants.

Welcome aboard Norm…we’re delighted to have you as a colleague!
Posted by Michael Franz at 6:25 PM

September 9, 2020

Welcoming John Anderson to Wine Review Online

Please join me in welcoming John Anderson as a regular columnist to Wine Review Online.  

Although I’ve been aware of his wine writing—and other writing—for years now, we’ve met exactly once…at a baggage carousel in New York, where he hailed our mutual friend, WRO columnist Michael Apstein, as Apstein and I were returning from some wine-soaked adventure in Europe.

So, though I can’t claim to know John more than in passing, we are off to a great start, on account of an important fact:  Of all our columnists during my 15-year run as editor of WRO, he’s the first to write a first column introducing himself.

Consequently, my work is nearly done here, but as his column is more an intro to his wine writing than his broader work, let’s detail both here, so you’ll know with whom you’re dealing when you dig in:

John Anderson, a sixth generation Texan and longtime New Yorker, has been writing about wine for almost four decades.  For many years a Contributing Writer and regular tasting panelist at Wine & Spirits, he has been wine columnist for The New York Observer, Boston magazine, and The American Lawyer magazine, and his wine writing has appeared in New York magazine, Food & Wine, Texas Monthly, and Fortune, among other venues.

John received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale (1983) and taught American Studies and English at Yale, Penn and Swarthmore.  He is the author of well-received non-fiction books about the 1985 MOVE Bombing in Philadelphia (Burning Down the House, Norton), the travails of the Barnes art collection (Art Held Hostage, Norton, in both hardback and a revised paperback), and the Abramoff and DeLay political scandals (Follow the Money, Scribner).  He appeared as one of the lead talking heads in the much praised documentary, “The Art of the Steal,” which was largely based on his Art Held Hostage.  His print and film work has come in for praise by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York, The New York Review of Books, The Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, Time, and Newsweek.

John lives in Ossining, New York with his wife, son, mother-in-law and four cats.  

One wonders about the four cats (I love cats, but what...was the 3rd a bit lacking?), yet with writing chops like these, let’s look forward to what he’s got in store for us!

Posted by Michael Franz at 8:09 PM

September 2, 2020

A Flashback Opportunity from Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Once in a while an unusual tasting sample hits my queue – one so unusual that it requires going a bit beyond the normal “taste, rate, research, write” sequence that tends to feed the WRO wine reviews machine.  A library offering of three Cabernet Sauvignons – vintages 2008, 2009 and 2010 - from the folks at Hawk and Horse Vineyards in California’s Lake County provided me with a unique chance to look into the past, and I’d say the opportunity could certainly be an educational one for you, too.  It is a rare treat to get a chance to revisit wines – especially a wine that I rated highly the first time around – to learn what evolution in the bottle has wrought.

I reviewed the 2010 Cabernet back in 2014, and had this to say:

Hawk and Horse, Red Hills (Lake County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($65):  If you like your Cab bold, full-bodied and bright, this is a wine for you.  It's rare to find a wine that's this fully extracted that maintains solid varietal character without going over the top.  Big blackberry, cassis, damp earth, toast, mild herbs and spices are present in both aroma and flavor, all singing over solid acidic structure and supple tannins.  The finish has a firm grip, but remains bright and integrated.  It's delicious now, and will reward further aging.  Contains 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, organically grown.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge.  96

I’m pleased to report that this baby is still singing a delicious, age-worthy tune at this stage, showing no signs of adverse effect from the passage of time, despite 2010 haing been considered a difficult vintage a decade ago.

Part of the fun provided by tasting this set is seeing how the source vineyard started to hit its stride, with the 2009 being a much riper expression than the ’10, but still showing a flash of the acidity that comes from the large diurnal temperature swings the site gets at 2200 feet of elevation.  The ’08 vintage in general was widely regarded as disappointing after four stellar years in a row in California, and this particular wine from that year is still quite tightly wound, with quite a bit of oak influence up front and in the finish, but shows signs of relaxing and opening up.

Our mini-tour additionally offers some insight into the long and distinguished career of Dr. Richard Peterson, who consulted on the winemaking.  A side note: if you haven’t read his autobiographical book entitled The Winemaker, your California wine history course is not complete.

If you roll in this price tier – the set is available from the winery for $330 - it’d be instructive to get a couple of sets and revisit again 6-10 years from now.  It’s clear that proper care was taken in each vintage, and that showcasing age-worthiness and vintage variation is a goal at the winery.  If you need a little push, remember that this sort of chance is hard to come by – especially right now – so gather some like-minded friends, chip in for a set or two…and taste some history.

Posted by Rich Cook at 6:23 PM