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December 28, 2007

Mary Ewing-Mulligan's Top Producer and Wine from 2007

Each of our regular WRO contributors has selected a Wine of the Year and a Wine Producer of the Year for 2007.  We will feature one of their write-ups each day in this space through the end of the year, and if you'd like to nominate a wine or winery , email your choices to [email protected]  --Ed.

Producer of the Year:  Dominio de Valdepusa, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain:  This wine estate--along with its iconic founder, Carlos Falco, the Marqués de Griñon--deserves recognition on several levels.  One reason, of course, is for the quality of the wines; these include ageworthy Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, an intriguing Petit Verdot, and a wine called Emeritus that is a blend of all these varieties.  Another reason is the estate's intelligent and innovative application of technology in the vineyards, such as partial root drying to conserve water, and dendrometers to measure, record and fine-tune water uptake of the vines.  A final reason is leadership.  No one has done more than Carlos Falco to inspire the complete turnaround of the huge Castilla-LaMancha wine region from a bulk wine area on the precipice of ruin to a vibrant modern region, if still somewhat low on its learning curve.  Falco has led by example.  In the 1970s he planted Cabernet on the property owned by his family since the 13th century, and began building the Dominio de Valdepusa estate winery in 1989.  In 2003, Dominio de Valdepusa became Spain's first wine estate to be granted its own DO.  Falco's success has not only earned international respect for his wines but also has enabled winemakers all across Spain's largest region to dare to excel.

Wine of the Year:  2003 Rubicon, Napa Valley--Rutherford:  An impressive sequel to the excellent 2002 Rubicon, this red wine boasts all the characteristics of a world-class Cabernet-dominant blend.  It has real concentration of fresh flavor on the nose, great depth and great length on the palate, tannin that runs all through the wine but with delicacy, softness and suppleness that envelop the tannin, and that enigmatic quality of seeming round.  It has enormous elegance and real definition of flavor, and is an impressively complete wine.

Posted by Mary Ewing-Mulligan at 9:56 AM

December 26, 2007

Linda Murphy's 2007 Producer and Wine of the Year

Each of our regular WRO contributors has selected a Wine of the Year and a Wine Producer of the Year for 2007.  We will feature one of their write-ups each day in this space through the end of the year, and if you'd like to nominate a wine or winery , email your choices to [email protected]  --Ed.

Producer of the Year: Lynmar Winery, Russian River Valley, California.  Lynn Fritz founded Lynmar in 1990, and through the early 2000s, the wines were good, but not great.  But by 2004, Fritz was deep into the replanting of his cool, fog-influenced Quail Hill Vineyard near Sebastopol, had contracts to buy grapes from top-notch neighbouring vineyards, had hired Hugh Chappelle away from Flowers Vineyard and Winery on the Sonoma Coast to direct winemaking, and recruited consultants Paul Hobbs (winemaking) and Greg Adams (vineyards).  After just one vintage, their efforts flash like a Las Vegas neon sign, with the 2005 Lynmar Chardonnays and Pinot Noir showing admirable balance and grace.  I was blown away by the 2005 Sereinité Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($50), a Chablis-like wine that combines minerality and refreshing acidity with sunny ripe fruit.  Other thoroughbreds in the stable include the delicious 2005 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($36), which has a polished mouthfeel and black cherry, black raspberry, cola and earth notes.  The 2005 Quail Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($60) is similar, yet a step up in interest and complexity.  It's elegant, firmly structured and refreshingly acidic, all of which suggest it will improve over the next three to four years.  I also love the crisp Russian River Valley Vin Gris ($20); it's sold out, so look for the 2007 bottling in spring 2008.  Lynmar gets my vote for Producer of the Year, as much for what it's doing now as for where it's going.  Watch this space.

Wine of the Year:  I was fortunate to taste many great wines in 2007, including a handful of 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that are not at all overripe, yet generous in flavor and richness; some cuvée de prestige Champagnes, and sparkling wines from California and Oregon that get more complex by the year, and some glorious aged Burgundies.  You know, the expensive stuff.  Yet year after year, an inexpensive 'little' California white wine made from grapes grown in a mostly disrespected region catches my attention, and this year, the attraction is particularly strong.  The 2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Clarksburg Dry Chenin Blanc is out-and-out tasty (think juicy peaches and tropical fruits with a dab of honey), unwooded, just a touch sweet (0.6% residual sugar), low in alcohol (12.5%), food-friendly, amazingly consistent in quality and just $10 or so a bottle.  What more could one want?  DCV is located in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, yet this wine is produced from purchased grapes grown in the Clarksburg appellation in the Sacramento Delta, an area thought to be too warm for high-quality viticulture--yet Chenin Blanc, once California's most-planted grape but scarce today, thrives there.  I toast Dry Creek Vineyard wife-and-husband proprietors Kim Stare Wallace and Don Wallace, and their winemaker, Bill Knuttel, for sticking with a varietal that long ago (and shamefully) fell out of favor.  That their Chenin Blanc comes from an unfashionable region and sells at a price any wine drinker can afford makes the story even better.

Posted by Linda Murphy at 11:11 AM

December 25, 2007

Paul Lukacs' Picks for 2007 Producer and Wine of the Year

Each of our regular WRO contributors has selected a Wine of the Year and a Wine Producer of the Year for 2007.  We will feature one of their write-ups each day in this space through the end of the year, and if you'd like to nominate a wine or winery , email your choices to [email protected]  --Ed.

Producer of the Year:  Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville, Washington):  Is there any other place in the winemaking world where one company so dominates production and yet is so admired by virtually everyone in the business?  Chateau Ste Michelle is the flagship winery in a company now called Ste Michelle Wine Estates.  The company includes other Washington wineries--Columbia Crest, Col Solare, Northstar, Snoqualmie--as well as select California and Oregon properties.  (It also is an important importer.)  In the Evergreen State, Ste. Michelle is the proverbial Goliath, as it controls the majority of premium wine production in the state. 

You might think that other Washington producers would feel resentful, or aggrieved, or perhaps jealous towards Ste. Michelle.  But from everything I can gather, just the opposite is the case.  No one I have ever talked with has anything but praise and admiration for the company.  Everyone says that without Ste. Michelle, Washington would still be a wine backwater.  Instead, it today produces some of the most exciting wines in the United States.  Many of those wines sport the Ste. Michelle label, which is one of the most reliable for not only quality but also for fair value in the country.  So for the role it plays in Washington as well as in the country at large, and for the sheer pleasure that its wines provide for so many people, Chateau Ste. Michelle is my 2007 'Producer of the Year.'

Wine of the Year:  Tierce, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling 2005 ($30):  A brief trip to the Finger Lakes last spring proved revelatory.  Not because many wines, especially Rieslings, tasted good (from past experience, I already knew they would), but because the top renditions now are being made in a truly dry style.  Ever since Dr. Konstantin Frank first proved back in the 1950s and 1960s that quality wine could be made from Riesling and other European vinifera grape varieties, fine wines have come from ambitious vintners in the Finger Lakes.  Yet until now, most of the Rieslings were off-dry, since German wines from the Mosel were the original inspiration for Dr. Frank.  Today, however, the very best are bone dry.  They offer riveting flavors, and can proudly hold their own with top dry Rieslings from Alsace, Australia, Germany, or anywhere else in the world.

Of all the exciting Finger Lakes wines I tasted, Tierce was the most enthralling.  It's a collaborative venture between three of the area's most talented winemakers--Peter Bell of Fox Run, Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road, and Dave Whiting of Red Newt Cellars.  Tierce debuted with the 2004 vintage, and the story of its emergence encapsulates what is happening in the region at large.  As Whiting tells it, 'We didn't have any preconceived notions as to style when we started.  We just wanted to make the very best wine we could.'  The idea was for each winemaker to contribute wine from his home winery.  'But when we got together and tasted each other's wines, it became clear that Tierce was going to have to be completely dry.  Even though we didn't say so, we all knew that dry Riesling is the future here.' 

Both the 2004 and the 2005 vintages of Tierce taste vivid, with juicy fruit, bracing acidity, and a wealth of chalky, mineral-tinged undertones.  They're simply fantastic.

Posted by Paul Lukacs at 1:56 PM

December 24, 2007

Ed McCarthy's Picks for Producer and Wine of the Year, 2007

Each of our regular WRO contributors has selected a Wine of the Year and a Wine Producer of the Year for 2007.  We will feature one of their write-ups each day in this space through the end of the year, and if you'd like to nominate a wine or winery , email your choices to [email protected]  --Ed.

Producer of the Year:  My pick is Giacomo Conterno Winery, Monforte, Piedmont, Italy.  I can think of no other wine producer whose every wine produced is a rare gem.  Roberto Conterno, winemaker and son of the late Giovanni Conterno, is carrying on nobly in his father's footsteps.  Roberto now makes only three wines by the traditional method (no barriques; extensive maceration and aging, etc.) just like his father: Barolo Cascina Francia from the same-named vineyard in the neighboring village of Serralunga; Barolo 'Monfortino,' also from Cascina Francia but given a warmer fermentation and aged longer; and an outstanding Barbera d'Alba, from the same vineyard. 

The 2002 vintage in the Barolo zone was written off by almost all of the producers in the area because of poor weather; you will find practically no 2002 Barolos or Barbarescos.  Roberto Conterno took on the vintage as a challenge and made a small quantity of 2002 Barolo Monfortino only; no Barolo Cascina Francia.  I have tasted it, and I agree with Roberto that is one of the greatest Monfortinos ever, which means it's one of the greatest Barolos ever produced.  It's so huge and awesome that Roberto chose to release his 2003 Barolo Cascina Francia--which is a teriffic Barolo for this challenging vintage--two years before the 2002 Monfortino, scheduled to be released in 2009.  This Barolo will be a monument to the winery and the winemaker; in my book, they don't come any better. (Importer: Polaner Selections; Rare Wine Company).

Wine of the Year:  1996 Krug Champagne.  I am already on record re: the 1996 vintage in Champagne--for me, the greatest vintage since the 1964 and 1966.  I have advised readers to buy any reputable 1996s that they can find.  Unfortunately, many 1996s have disappeared from the market.  Word spread quickly among Champagne lovers, and '96s have been scooped up.  Try finding the amazing 1996 Roederer Cristal, for instance (Cristal is always released early, and always in short supply).  Fortunately, Krug invariably releases its two rare beauties, Vintage Krug and Krug Clos des Mesnil, late, with lots of aging built-in.  Both of these babies arrived in the U.S. this year for the first time.  The only way you can get Krug's single-vineyard Blanc de Blancs, Clos des Mesnil, is to shell out $1,000, in a few select stores. I've tried both wines, and frankly I prefer the stupendous '96 Vintage Krug, a blockbuster of a Champagne that is still available in a few places, but not for long, for around $300 to $325 (Importer: Moët-Hennessy USA).  That's still a lot of money, I know, but I think it's so good that I sprang for two bottles myself.

This is how I described it in Wine Review Online two months ago:  "Combine one of the great Champagnes with one of Champagne's all-time great vintages and you have perfection.  The incredible '96 Krug is already majestic, although it will evolve into another-worldly state in ten years.  But who can wait when it's this good?  Powerful aromas of ripe pear and honey, with floral notes.  Great acidity, exceptional fruit.  It fills the mouth with all sorts of complex, winey flavors, even now.  When I first tasted the '96 Krug in May, 2007, I rated it '99.' now I'm rating it even with the 1928 Krug. 100"

Posted by Ed McCarthy at 10:04 AM

December 23, 2007

Wine and Winery of the Year from Marguerite Thomas

Each of our regular WRO contributors has selected a Wine of the Year and a Wine Producer of the Year for 2007.  We will feature one of their write-ups each day in this space through the end of the year, and if you'd like to nominate a wine or winery , email your choices to [email protected]  --Ed.

Producer of the Year: There are countless wineries whose stories have captured my heart this year (and whose wines, needless to say, have captured my palate).  I've been impressed by the way certain venerable wineries all over the world (some of them family-owned for generations) have had the courage to remain relevant by making viticultural and winemaking changes without compromising the overall tradition and integrity of their wine.  I've been awed by established wineries that have taken the huge leap into biodynamic viticulture.  I've been likewise impressed by individual wineries which continue to turn out fabulous wines year after year despite changes in ownership, corporate direction and the vagaries of climate changes and consumer volatility.

But I've decided that my choice for Winery of the Year is not going to go to one of these much esteemed wineries with an impressive proven track record, but rather to a newcomer.  I've selected this young winery out of admiration for the way it has entered the fray with an ambitious vision, good planning, and stunning winemaking success.  Edward Sellers, a new producer in Paso Robles, California, shot out of the starting gate very recently (I think his first vintage was 2004) and is charging ahead with a bevy of luscious, gorgeously balanced Rhône-inspired wines.  Among the Edward Sellers wines I've been fortunate enough to sample are Roussanne, Viognier, Blanc du Rhône (Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier), Grenache, 'Cognito' (a red Rhône blend with a jolt of Zinfandel), and Cuvée des Cinq, a powerful and complex blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault.  Sellers' grapes are sourced from the best vineyards on the limestone hills on the west side of Paso Robles, and are all handpicked.  Not every wine is perfect, but Sellers' winemaker Amy Butler knows how to coax the sunny, boisterous personality out of these Rhône grapes, and she also understands that this fruit is capable of showing considerable elegance.   I'm looking forward to enjoying Edward Sellers wines for many years to come.

Wine of the year:  I might have chosen some of the fantastic bubbles I've been privileged to drink this year since fizz is always my favorite.  I considered, too, choosing one of the surprisingly food-friendly big Zinfandels I've encountered in 2007, or one of the sensational white Burgundies I imbibed in France last summer.  But when I look back over all my Wine Review Online reviews for 2007 I see that the highest number of points I gave was to Quinta do Noval 'Nacional' 2003, on which I bestowed 96 points. A bottle of this gorgeous Port costs $600 however, and since it is virtually unobtainable anyway as only 2000 or so bottles of it were produced, I feel obliged remove it from my roster of candidates.  The second highest rating I doled out in 2007 out was 95 points for--surprise!--another Quinta do Noval wine, the 2004 Vintage Port.  At $100 it's not exactly a steal either, but taken in context $100 is hardly an inflated price for a superior bottle of dessert wine, especially when you consider all the hands-on work that went into producing it, and for that matter foots-on work too.  After the grapes are harvested by hand they are crushed by human feet in the time-honored (but rapidly disappearing) method of extracting juice from grapes as gently and efficiently as possible.  Quinta do Noval's memorable 2004 Vintage Port is an extraordinarily rich and intense elixir that is seductive, powerful, elegant, and deeply, deeply satisfying.

Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 10:31 AM

December 22, 2007

Last Minute Shopper's Primer on California Bubbly

If you're shopping this weekend for holiday bubbly, I recommend Ed McCarthy's Featured Article "Sparkling Suggestions for the Holidays."  And Tina Caputo, the latest addition to our superb crew of columnists here at WRO, has written a piece on alternative bubblies that will be posted next week.

But I had some thoughts of my own on California sparkling wine that were published in newspapers around the country last week in my Copley News Service "Wine Talk" column. I would like to share.

Domaine Carneros

A high-quality act from the Taittinger house of Champagne, Domaine Carneros is a boutique producer with but three cuvees ranging in price from $25 to $65, all of them vintage dated. The flagship wine, Le Reve, is a blanc de blancs tetes de cuvee that is very good albeit a pale version of the Champagne house's superstar Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. The vintage rose ($35), however, is on a par with roses from the top houses in Champagne.

Price range: $25-$65. Quality range: 89-93.

Domaine Chandon

A kissing cousin of the famous Moet & Chandon, which was the first Champagne house to invest in California. Domaine Chandon has been in transition in recent years, but has maintained quality with its high end Etoile and Etoile Rose, which are now bottled with crown caps instead of corks. The non-vintage Bruts of Chandon have always possessed an earthy quality that subdues the ripe California grapes from which the wines are made, making it more 'Champagne' in style and less like a California bubbly.

Price range: $17-$45. Quality range: 86-91.

Gloria Ferrer

Owned by the Spanish company Freixenet, the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world, Gloria Ferrer has always been a value producer, though it recently reached for the high end with its superb Carneros Cuvee ($50), a blanc de blancs that is aged nine years on the yeast lees before disgorgement. From its very first vintage, 1995, Carneros Cuvee has been one of California's finest and most complex sparkling wines. The non-vintage Bruts are consistently well balanced and complex.

Price range: $20-$50. Quality range: 86-93.

Iron Horse Vineyards

The house of Barry and Audrey Sterling offers a sweeping array of sparkling vintage cuvees, and every single one is a winner, though I am most fond of their Blanc de Blancs LD, or 'late disgorged.' The LD is often aged seven years or more on the yeast lees and is consistently one of California's most complex and age-worthy bubblies. Located in the very cool Green Valley, a sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley, Iron Horse sparkling wines (they also produce red and white table wines) are remarkable and noteworthy for their tight Champagne-like structure.

Price range: $31-$80. Quality range: 89-95.

J Vineyards & Winery

Always elegant and fairly reasonable in price, J produces four sparklers, including its flagship vintage Brut and a Brut Rose. Both are exquisite, but particularly appealing is the luscious Brut Rose, which may be the finest domestic Brut Rose of them all. There's also a pricey Late Disgorged bottling ($115) but I've never tasted it.

Price range: $30-$115. Quality range: 90-93.


Many wine enthusiasts of a certain age popped their first 'Champagne' cork on a bottle of Korbel, the granddaddy of California bubbly. These are excellent value bubblies, particularly the simple but delicious Brut Rose ($10) and the very dry Brut Natural ($12).

Price range: $10-$29. Quality range: 85-90.

Mumm Napa Valley

In the realm of quality for price there is no better deal in California bubbly than Mumm Napa Valley. These are sparkling wines that are clearly made from sun-ripened California grapes, yet they don't lack for complexity and are always polished and delicious, even at the bottom rungs of their non-vintage cuvees. At the highest end, the Mumm DVX is creamy and alluring, and will have its fans even in the league of other tetes de cuvee vintages.

Price range: $18-$65. Quality range: 88-94.

Roederer Estate

Located in the cool Anderson Valley, this French-owned company has held the high ground in California bubbly for better than a decade. It hasn't slipped so much as its competitors have caught up. Still, you could place Roederer's non-vintage Brut in a blind tasting with non-vintage Champagnes (which I have done many times) and fool even the most discerning experts. The tetes de cuvee L'Hermitage remains one of the world's great values in high-class bubbly at $45.

Prices range: $24-$45. Quality range: 90-96.


This venerable Napa Valley producer paved the way for California then fell into the shadows somewhat as other stars emerged. But Schramsberg is back on its game and its vintage Brut and Blanc de Blancs show depth and complexity as well as ripe California fruit. The bomb (we mean this in the good sense) is the 2000 J Schram, which is as good as any bubbly made in the U.S.

Price range: $18-$90. Quality range: 87-96.

To comment, email [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:01 AM

December 21, 2007

Listen to Sonoma Cutrer Winemaker Terry Adams Today!

My featured guest today on the Whitley on Wine radio show (2 p.m. PT, 5 p.m. ET) is Terry Adams, Director of Winemaking at Sonoma Cutrer since 1991.

Sonoma Cutrer is a Chardonnay specialist and its Les Pierres vineyard is arguably one of America's finest two or three sites for this grape variety. The philosophy is unabashedly Burgundian at Sonoma Cutrer, to the point that it has developed and maintained what it calls a grand cru program since Terry took over from his mentor, founding winemaker Bill Bonetti.

Terry will be with us for the first half-hour before we are joined by Wine Review Online's very own cooking babe, Sarah Belk King, who will have a number of great dishes for holiday parties.

If you can't be with us for the entire hour, or you won't be near a computer when we broadcast, visit SignOnRadion.com now and subscribe to the podcast (RSS feed) and listen any time you like.

The Dec. 14 show has now been posted in the archive, though the show details are missing. We enjoyed an all-too-brief conversation with Michael Jordan, a Master Sommelier and the Wine Director at the Disneyland Resort's Napa Rose Resturant.

Jordan oversees one of Southern California's finest wine lists, the pride of which is the 80-wines-by-the-glass program. Rebecca Moot (Home Cooking) also stopped in with a couple of practical cook-at-home recipes. Michael and Rebecca took up the first half-hour in Segment 1, and were followed by Champagne for Dummies author Ed McCarthy in Segment 2.

Ed offered many great Champagne suggestions for holiday planning, and gave a rundown on top California sparklers, cava and prosecco. Don't miss it!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 9:13 AM

December 17, 2007

Judges Announced for 25th San Diego International Wine Competition

If you follow this space you probably already know I am a strong advocate of wine competitions. I have judged in numerous international wine contests around the globe, and I'm also Director of  three major international wine competitions here in the U.S.

Competing is useful for wineries on two levels. First, it's an opportunity for a winery to see how its wines stack up against the competition (this is only true of those wineries unafraid of what they might learn about their wines). Second, it's a chance to gain recognition for solidly made wines that might nor be reviewed by one of the influential wine publications, or perhaps be reviewed less than enthusiastically due to the bias of a particular critic.

Over the years I believe wine competitions have served the industry and wine consumerism well because they're set the bar higher and pushed the envelope on quality; at the same time giving broad exposure to well-made wines that might otherwise be overlooked.

Robert Mondavi must have had something like that in mind when he toured the nation tasting wine and food journalists on his earliest Cabernet Sauvignons. He loved to meet in a restaurant and have a critic order a Bordeaux for comparison. Mondavi was never afraid to watch his Cab go mano y mano with the finest French wine any critic could throw at it. He won some, he lost some. But history tells us he won far more than he lost.

I'm bringing this up now because I've just confirmed the roster of judges for the 25th annual San Diego International Wine Competition, and I can hardly wait for the new year. Our own Michael Franz, Editor of Wine Review Online, will serve as Chief Judge of the SDIWC for the second consecutive year, and we have a banner crop of judges coming in for the silver anniversary event, April 19-20, 2008.

I'm also pleased to announce that Gold and Silver medal-winning wines will be published on the Reviews page of Wine Review Online shortly after the event, and thus available by text message on your cell phone or PDA through a new Wine Reviews On Demand text-message service I will announce later this week.

Our results are followed closely by savvy wine buyers and always elicit a tremendous response when announced in my syndicated Copley News Service "Wine Talk" Column.

2008 SDIWC Judges

Chief Judge
Michael Franz, Editor WineReviewOnline.com


Michael Beaulac, Winemaker, St. Supery Winery
Sarah Belk King, WineReviewOnline.com
Richard Carey, Winemaker, Vitis Research
Kimberly Charles, Charles Communications
Jac Cole, Winemaker, Spring Mountain Vineyards
Mark Deegan, Henry Wine Group
Traci Dutton, Culinary Institute of America
Gary Eberle, Winemaker, Eberle Winery
Bob Foster, California Grapevine
Dixie Gill, Premium Port Wines
Patty Held-Uthlaut, Stone Hill Winery
Ashley Hepworth, Winemaker, Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Linda Jones-McKee, Wine East Magazine
John Larchet, Winemaker, The Australian Premium Wine Collection
David Lattin, Winemaker, Kuleto Estate
Adam LaZarre, Winemaker, Hahn Estates
Mark Lovett, Connoisseur
Tim McDonald, Wine Spoken Here
Jon McPherson, Winemaker, South Coast Winery
Linda Murphy, WineReviewOnline.com/Decanter/Jancis Robinson.com
Rebecca Murphy, Dallas Morning News
Damian Parker, Winemaker, Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Ron Rawlinson, Domaine Alfred
Lisa Redwine, Wine Director Molly's Restaurant
Ray Pompilio, Wine Appreciation Guild
Nick Ponomareff, California Grapevine
Roman Roth, Winemaker, Wolffer Estate
Eric Runyon, Southern Wine & Spirits
Bob Small, Los Angeles International Wine Competition
Lisa Weeks, TGIC Imports
Duncan Williams, Winemaker, Fallbrook Winery
Wilfred Wong, E-Commerce, Beverages & More

Email questions or comments to [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:25 AM

December 15, 2007

Sarah Offers Up a Great Match for Chanukah

Our very own Sarah Belk King has a recipe and wine pairing for Chanukah over at Wine Enthusiast Online.

Sally (as Sarah likes to be called) also plans to whip up a few holiday pairings for the Whitley on Wine radio show Friday at 2:30 p.m. PT. That final show before our holiday break will feature Sonoma Cutrer winemaker Terry Adams. Sign up for the podcast (by subscribing to the RSS feed) and listen anytime.

I also plan to run down the list of my wines of the year, based upon the totality of my 2007 tastings, as well as Winery of the Year for those who missed it.

Watch this space for more on wines of the year and winery/producer of the year from our WRO contributors. This has become an annual exercise, and our well-traveled columnists generally spread the love around the wine globe, often with surprising but carefully reasoned selections.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:02 PM

December 14, 2007

Listen to McCarthy on Bubbly for the Holidays!

Ed McCarthy, author of Champagne for Dummies and a featured columnist here at Wine Review Online, will join me on the radio today to discuss Champagne and sparkling wine for the holidays.

As you might guess, this is one of Ed's favorite topics and you can count on an entertaining and informative conversation. Ed will come on during the final half-hour of Whitley on Wine, which airs at 2 p.m. PT (5 p.m. ET) on SignOn San Diego, the website of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

We'll kick off the show with Michael Jordan, Master Sommelier and General Manager of the Napa Rose restaurant at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

Jordan oversees one of the great restaurant wine lists in Southern California and he's sure to have a few wonderful wine-serving suggestions for the holidays.

Between Michael and Ed we will air our debut segment of "Home Cooking" with Rebecca Moot. Rebecca will offer up a few of her favorite practical home recipes that anyone, including me, could whip up in their own kitchen. In coming months Rebecca will make occasional guest appearances as her schedule permits.

While you're there, sign up for our podcasts and check out the archive, which we will be adding to over the coming weeks with replays of previous Whitley on Wine shows.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 1:52 PM

December 11, 2007

Listen to Winemaker James Hall Now!

SignOn San Diego is finally making progress on its radio archive, so you can now begin to access my winemaker interviews from the Whitley on Wine radio show, which is aired live over the internet every Friday at 2 p.m.

The first archive posted is from last week's show (Dec. 7) featuring winemaker James Hall of Patz & Hall. I've recently taken a shine to this Sonoma County-based Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist, largely because the current releases rock.

Hall gave me one of the secrets of Patz & Hall's recent success, as well as background on many of the stellar vineyards that are in the P&H portfolio. My interview with Hall takes up the first three segments. He was followed by sommelier Jesse Rodriguez of the restaurant Addison, at the Grand Del Mar Hotel. Rodriguez had built an impressive cellar at Addison since leaving Thomas Keller's famed French Laundry.

Additional archives from previous shows will be posted soon. Stay tuned!

Click here to listen.

To comment, email [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 3:45 PM

December 10, 2007

Major League Parker Diss!

My greatest hope for the New Year is that wine merchants will finally wake up to the reality that much of the wine-buying public is out of sync with Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) and Jim Laube (The Wine Spectator).

Evidence mounts every day. You can find the disconnects vividly portrayed in the hundreds of wine blogs and dozens of online wine publications, such as Wine Review Online, that have sprouted over the past several years.

Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Page is one of the oldest and most successful of these. I was intrigued by the Dec. 7, 2007 30 Second Wine Advisor posting under the headline: Parker swings, misses:

I respect Parker for his consistency. But, like a lot of other wine geeks I know, I find the wines he rates in the 90- to 100-point range to be too big, alcoholic and fruit-forward for me. The wines he dismisses in the 80-point range tend to be the kind of more subtle and elegant wines that I enjoy.

That's all right. Different strokes, etc. But Parker's Aug. 29, 2007 report on six new 2005 releases from one of my favorite California wineries, Edmunds St. John, crosses a line for me.

Parker rates these wines from 84 to 87 on his famous 100-point scale, which seems fair enough. Edmunds St. John is one of the few California producers that makes wines with a consistent European sensibility, respecting the soil ("terroir") in which they're grown. They're wines meant to age, and wines meant to go with food; and thus perhaps not to the liking of a critic who seems to prefer amped-up, concentrated wines better suited for cocktail-style sipping.

But the language accompanying the reviews reads not merely as critical but mean-spirited, almost snide. "There appears to be a deliberate attempt to make French-styled wines," Parker wrote. "Of course, California is not France, and therein may suggest (sic) the problem. If you want to make a French wine, do it in France."

The article went on to say that a group of wine geeks and professionals (such as sommeliers) assembled to taste the wines Parker had dissed, and it quickly became apparent Parker was completely out of touch with the group consensus.

That's fine, but it doesn't make Parker wrong. What's important for wine enthusiasts to know -- particularly those who sell wine -- is that Parker and Laube don't have a lock on the truth. There are other credible voices with a completely different slant on what tastes good.

As they say, read the whole thing.

To comment, email [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:15 PM

December 6, 2007

"Getting It" on the High Alcohol Debate

I am generally of a mind to write about wines I can recommend. There are simply too many wines and wineries to waste words on those that are of little interest, mediocre, or downright bad.

But yesterday, during one of my regular tastings, I came across a wine from a top producer that stopped me in my tracks. It was the Hess Collection 2006 Su'skol Vineyard Chardonnay.

Hess has long been one of my "go-to" wineries in the Napa Valley; a winery I prize for its commitment to quality at a reasonable price (all things being relative, what's reasonable in the Napa Valley might be considered pricey in Paso Robles).

As a rule, Hess wines are well-balanced and not given to the excesses of the moment. This is particularly true of its flagship Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.

So my expectations were reasonably high for the Su'skol Vineyard Chardonnay. Sadly, I was stunned by the "heat" on this wine. So much so that I quickly checked the alcohol level. It came in at 14.7 percent. That's high, particularly for a Chardonnay, but the impression on the palate was even greater and I wouldn't be surprised at all if a lab analysis returned a much higher number.

My assistant, Felicia, had been wondering what all the hullabaloo over "high-alc" wines was about, so I encouraged her to take a sip. Felicia loves Chardonnay -- I mean to the exclusion of wonderful Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings and most other whites -- but she wrinkled her nose at the Hess.

"Now I get it!" she said as she shook her head.

Good. I'm glad somebody "gets" it.

To comment, email [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:39 AM

December 5, 2007

Napa's '03 Cabs Even Better with Time

It was just about a year ago that I took umbrage in this space with the negative assessment by a major wine publication, The Wine Spectator, of the 2003 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

A few recent experiences have bolstered my conviction that "WS" got it wrong on 2003. On a November visit to the valley, I stopped in at Spring Mountain Vineyards and Kuleto Estate, tasting their '03 Cabs and scratching my head over the negativity aimed at what turned out to be a glorious vintage for many.

Both of these producers performed very well in this maligned vintage, as did the likes of Spottswoode, Joseph Phelps and many others.

I also recently had the occasion to sample the 2003 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (97 points), and the entire Stags Leap District Appelllation Collection, a whopping 15 entries ($1200 retail). All of the Cabs in the collection were drawn from the '03 vintage.

Other than the Steltzner, which I was not fond of on stylistic grounds (it's a bit overripe for my taste sensibilities), all of the wines were rock solid, and a few were sensational. Or, about the same as it would be in a more highly rated vintage.

For me, 2003 is a stellar vintage for Napa Valley Cabs and warrants a strong "buy" recommendation, particularly from the top estates.

So, don't you wonder, what were they thinking when they crafted the bum rap on Napa '03?

To comment, email [email protected].

Posted by Robert Whitley at 1:07 PM

December 1, 2007

A Tale of Two Pinots

Regular readers of this space will know that I have recently grown fond of the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming from the folks at Patz & Hall.

The wines are not only delicious but instructive, for they focus on specific California vineyards that possess unique characteristics. That fact alone is no revelation, but I was struck yesterday by the vast differences between two new Pinots I sampled from Patz & Hall.

One was a 2005 Hyde Vineyard ($60) and the other a 2005 Pisoni Vineyard ($80). Hyde is located in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley and Pisoni is down in Monterey County, in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

The first thing that grabbed me about the Pisoni was the bouquet. It filled the room as the wine was poured into the glass. That sort of intensely floral, spicy, earthy nose is difficult to come by and almost always a signal that what's in the glass is equally impressive.

Indeed, the 2005 Patz & Hall is a stunner. It's a sexy, succulent, layered beauty that will no doubt please any crowd. But I noticed the alcohol. It weighs in at a hefty 15.2 percent. Let there be no doubt that this is a big, bold Pinot Noir. But it finishes a little sweet, or at least leaves the impression of sweetness.

I've noticed this quite often in the Pinots from Pisoni and its kissing cousin Pinot Noir vineyard, the cultish Gary's Vineyard that is nearby.

The 2005 Patz & Hall Hyde Pinot Noir, on the other hand, seemed closed by comparison, not nearly as flashy on the nose nor as exhuberant on the palate.

You may find this surprising, but I preferred the Hyde. I also checked the alcohol, which was not insubstantial, but clearly lower at 14.2 than the bodacious Pisoni.

Other than the alcohol, the Hyde has everything the Pisoni offers, but in a tighter package. Lovely notes of earth and spice, remarkable depth, and wonderful texture, with real length in the mouth. If I could only have one, this would be the one.

Trust me, I wouldn't turn down either. But I celebrate the fact that as wine enthusiasts we have choices. You can serve the flashy Pisoni now and save the more grounded Hyde for later.

Or you can decide for yourself that the razzle-dazzle fruit of Pisoni is not your thing; that you prefer a more subdued, mineral-driven Burgundian style of Pinot. Or not.

It is not so important whether one is better than the other. They are different. You either like it, or you don't.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:06 PM