Three questions for the wine industry & three questions for each NFL team for the new season

4 Sep

harvest  We are heading into fall!  That means the grape harvest is beginning & football is back!  The new seasons are full of opportunity.  They  are also full of questions.  I have put together three questions about the wine industry going into the fall.  I have also come up with 3 questions for each NFL team as we begin the season.

Three wine questions

  • How long will the drought last in California & will it necessitate permanent changes?

The USDA now says that 60% of California is in “exceptional drought”, while the rest of the state is either classified as being in “drought” or “extreme drought.”  Wines & Vines reported that the University of California at Davis found the current drought is “responsible for the greatest loss of water for agriculture in history.”  They found that the total economic impact to the state was $2.2 billion so far.  Nearly 430,000 acres of the state’s irrigated cropland is going out of production.  If things don’t change, that will be disastrous for America’s food supply & for the wine industry.

Some people in the Central Valley are pulling out 50 year old avocado & citrus trees because of the drought & are planting grapes instead because they use less water.  It is a weird story to watch unfold.

  • What will China’s impact on the wine industry be over the next few years? The working theory for the last few years has been that the Chinese marketing is going to become a behemoth, especially for high end reds. More recently the Chinese government has cracked down on ostentatious displays of wealth, which has tamped down the sale of wine significantly.  In the long term, there are plans to plant so many vineyards in China that they should pass the United States in vineyard acreage.
  • Will the combination of big brands & big retailers doom the industry? Over the last decade the big wine companies have gotten much bigger.  At the same time, the bigger retailer shave gotten much bigger & more influential.  As a result, a very small number of people now determine an inordinate amount of the shelf space at retailers across the country.  I can think of at least one example where someone who doesn’t drink wine at all buys wine for a chain of over 50 stores.  Is that someone who will find you the next cool wine to try?   There will always be innovative wineries making great wine.  The question is how much of it will we see on the shelves & at restaurants?  I sometimes get depressed when I go to a restaurant or a grocery store & see the available wines.  Of course I get excited when I go to a winery I haven’t visited & discover an amazing new wine.  I just hope that the guys making innovative wine will be able to get it in front of an audience.

3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL

  • I would love to go a year without a key player being lost for the season because the opponent goes for his knees instead of a form tackle. It is a cheap shot & anyone who thinks that you can’t make legal tackles without going low is just wrong & probably a little scared of trying.
  • It would be nice to go a year without hearing a commentator say a variation of the phrase “when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” It is a common saying.  I did a Google search & got 62,000,000 matches for it.  We will probably hear it a lot this year about teams like the Browns, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders etc.  The reality is that the Packers weren’t hampered by having Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers.  The 49ers were all right having Joe Montana & Steve Young.  Danny White was no Roger Staubach, but it sure was good having him as the back-up & successor for Staubach.  Having Tom Brady on the bench when Drew Bledsoe went down may have been the best thing to ever happen to the New England Patriots.  Having 1 great quarterback & no one behind him leads to problems like Green Bay had last year without Aaron Rodgers, or the debacle in Indianapolis when Manning was hurt, or the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.  Smart teams need a really good back-up quarterback and a plan for the future.
  • I would like to go through the rest of the year & have All of the news be football related & not have 1 player get arrested for drunken driving or spousal abuse or any of the myriad other crimes that have seemingly flooded the NFL this off season. Take out your aggressions on the field in a legal manner & use some of the millions of dollars you get paid to call for a limo service.

3 Questions for every NFL team this year

Arizona Cardinals

  • Can they maintain their momentum from last year?

They won 7 of their last 9 games  last year & just missed the playoffs.  They have had a number of changes during the offseason & it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off.

  • Will the defense be as good as it has been the last two years?

Over the last two years the team has changed defensive coordinators and a number of key players, but has been consistently excellent.  This year they are missing at least 3 key starters from last year’s team.    Can they put together a third year of excellence?

  • Will we see the Carson Palmer we saw last year?

Palmer’s career seemed to bottom out in 2012 in Oakland.  When he was traded to the Cardinals, expectations were low.  He confounded expectations with easily his best season since 2005.  He passed for the most yards in his career & completed 63.3% of his passes.  He still threw too many interceptions (22), but he gave the team the first hope they have had at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired.  His performance this year will go a long way to determining the answer to the first Cardinals question.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Who will run the football? Steven Jackson is having hamstring problems again.

He has said he will be ready to start the first game, but hamstring injuries can hang on past expectations.

  • Will the defense be able to stop anyone?

They were 29th in sacks last year & their main rushing threats are another year older.

  • Is Julio Jones fully recovered?

He has looked great in limited action during pre-season, but pre-season isn’t the same as the real thing.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Will the running game improve?

Last year Ray Rice had a 3.1 yard per carry average after never dropping below 4 yards per carry in his career.  They have brought in more help this year, but probably the biggest addition is Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.  He has brought with him the zone blocking system that consistently produced great running attacks in Houston & Denver.

  • Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?

Flacco got paid like an elite quarterback after his Super Bowl MVP performance.  Despite that, Flacco has never performed like an elite quarterback for an entire season.  He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in any of the last 3 seasons.  He threw 19 touchdowns with 22 interceptions last year.  If he were another quarterback he would be facing competition, but he isn’t…at least this year.

  • Will Steve Smith help the offense enough to make a real difference?

At 35, & with a reputation as a bit of a jackass, the Carolina Panthers decided to cut Smith despite not having a solid replacement on board.  The Ravens immediately picked him up.  Can his intense work ethic enable him to perform at a high level with a new team at an age when most wide receivers are in decline?

Buffalo Bills

  • Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?

Normally you would think that a high draft pick like E.J. Manuel would get a couple of years to prove himself.  With the pending sale of the team though, everyone is in win now or lose your job mode.  Manuel hasn’t impressed yet & I can see them turning to Kyle Orton sooner rather than later.  Week 9 is their bye week, but if things are going south, I could see a switch before then

  • Is there any way that Sammy Watkins was worth it?

The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to draft Sammy Watkins.  It may turn out to be a great deal, but even if he turns out to be a good to great receiver, the move reeks of desperation.

  • Can the defense carry the team?

Last year the team was able to really pressure the quarterback, but had trouble against the run.  Bringing in Brandon Spikes should help with run defense & they arguably have the best defense in the AFC East, but the Bills have been underachievers for years.  Will this be the year they turn it around?

Carolina Panthers

  • Does Dave Gettleman really have a plan at wide receiver?

Very few G.M.s would be comfortable going into a season with no wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass from the quarterback the previous year.  If you knew the quarterback was going to miss most of training camp, you might be even more unlikely to do it wouldn’t you?  Not Dave Gettleman.  We’ll see what happens.  They weren’t exactly the most impressive receiving corps in the world last year, so maybe it will work out.

  • Will Cam Newton be 100% for most of the year?

Newton missed most of training camp & the he suffered a rib injury in the third preseason game.  Will he be able to develop timing with his new receivers?  Will he be able to run like he has in the past?

  • Will the secondary hold up?

The secondary features a number of solid players, but many are either new to the team, or on the backside of their career, or both (Roman Harper).  How will they look 10 or 12 games into the season?

Chicago Bears

  • Does Chicago have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL?

It isn’t difficult to make a case that Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are the best pair of receivers on a team.  They combined for over 2,700 yards & 189 catches last year.  Individually they are difficult to defend & together, almost impossible.  The question is whether the rest of the receiving crew can take advantage of single coverage to help the team win more games.

  • Can the new defensive parts come together in time?

The biggest concern for the Bears in the off season was to fix a broken defense.  They brought in high profile free agents like Jared Allen & Lamarr Houston.  They also used their first round pick on a safety & drafted two defensive ends,  Due to injury & personal issues, the entire projected starting defense has not taken a snap together during the preseason.  Will they come together?

  • Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?

It’s a perennial question with him & if he can’t, will Jimmy Clausen be able to fill in as well as Josh McCown did last year?

Cincinnati Bengals

  • How will the team respond to the loss of both coordinators? The good news is that the Bengals have been successful enough that both Mike Zimmer & Jay Gruden became head coaches this offseason.  That is unprecedented for the Bengals!  Now the question is how will they move on?  It looks like they have capable replacements, but it can’t be seamless can it?
  • Can Andy Dalton play in the playoffs as if it were a regular season game? I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Dalton has obviously not been as good in the playoffs as he has in the regular season & that is a huge part of the reason why they have made the playoffs 3 years in a row, but lost in the 1st round each year.
  • If they don’t move beyond the first round in the playoffs, is Marvin Lewis in danger of being fired? Lewis is at an even 500 for his career at Cincinnati.  He has had some success & an equal amount of failure.  He is signed for one year after this.  If things go wrong this year, will he be back?

Cleveland Browns

  • How short will the leash be on Brian Hoyer & how will that impact his performance?

Competition is a great thing, but when a quarterback feels like any bad play could get him benched, it can cause problems.  Brian Hoyer looked pretty good last year and I think he deserved a shot at the starting job in Cleveland.  The problem is that if he doesn’t look great, there will immediately be calls for him to be benched for Johnny Manziel.  That can lead to trying to make every play perfect & every throw perfect & that usually leads something far from perfection.

  • Do the Browns have a secret plan to replace Josh Gordon?

They knew during the draft that he would probably be suspended for most or all of the season.  They didn’t make any major moves to replace him.  Miles Austin has a lot of potential, but he also has a lot of hamstring issues.  I truly don’t see what their plan is.

  • Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?

Tate put up great numbers in relief of Arian Foster in Houston.  He also showed real toughness playing through injuries.  The difference for him this year isn’t just that he is the starting running back; it is that he won’t be playing in a zone blocking system.  There are probably some players who have been successful running behind zone blocking & then were successful with a team running more traditional blocking patterns, but I can’t think of any.  That’s part of how the Denver Broncos used to be able to seemingly plug in anyone at running back & have them rush for 1,000 yards.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Will Tony Romo be able to play at the top of his game?

Jerry Jones keeps saying that Romo is fully recovered from back surgery.  I’m not sure that I trust him as a qualified doctor (or general manager really).  As bad as the team’s defense was last year, they still finished 8-8 in large part because Romo figuratively carried the team on his back.  His back may literally be too weak to do it again this year.

  • The defense can’t be any worse can it?

Normally I would say that regression to the mean would get the Cowboys defense back to just bad, rather than historically bad.  The signs are not good though.  Salary cap problems led to the cowboys parting ways with DeMarcus Ware & Jason Hatcher. Then Sean Lee had his seemingly annual season ending injury.  That is a lot to replace.  The defense hasn’t impressed in the pre-season.  If they can just be mediocre, the Cowboys could make the playoffs.  I just don’t know if they can move up to mediocre.

  • Is this Jason Garrett’s last year as coach?

Despite Jerry Jones giving him consistent support, it feels like Garrett has been on the hot seat for years.  If he can’t hit 9-7 or better this year, I can’t see him coming back for another year.

Denver Broncos

  • Should Wes Welker walk away?

Welker will miss the first 4 games of the year due to a suspension for taking MDMA that was spiked with amphetamines.   This is of course why you should always buy name brand MDMA instead of the generic knockoffs.  I’m hoping I can get my blog sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s Ecstasy.  “With a name like Ecstasy, it has to be good!”

Welker has had 3 concussions in his last 10 games.  All professional football is dangerous & professional football players knowingly take those risks.  On the other hand, when you are a receiver with a history of concussions and a job that depends on you catching passes across the middle in traffic, you might want to think about having a long happy life with your beautiful wife & being able to be coherent at your kid’s graduation (if he has kids down the line).  Welker has made over 25 million dollars during his career & seems to have a flair for betting on horses.  Maybe he should think about walking away relatively healthy.

  • Can Peyton Manning equal last year?

The offense looks like it could potentially be better than last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had another phenomenal year.  The counterargument of course is that Father Time is undefeated & Manning will be no exception.  In 2001 & 2002 Rich Gannon was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, something that had never been done in consecutive seasons.  In 2002, he was the league MVP. Then he was injured in 2003 and was never the same.  I don’t think Manning will go that route, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever.

  • Will the defense be dominant?

John Elway added big free agent pickups like Aquib Talib & DeMarcus Ware to the defense & Von Miller is healthy this year.  On paper, they should be one of the best defenses in the league.  Of course plenty of things look good on paper. As the philosopher Mike Tyson poetically put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Detroit Lions

  • Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?

I think Caldwell will bring needed discipline to the Lions, but there is definitely some doubt about his credentials.  In 8 years as a college coach, he compiled a record of 26-63.  At the NFL level he & Peyton Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl.  Of course without Peyton Manning in 2011 the team went 2-14.  I think that part of that was on the GM for not trying to bring in a better quarterback than Curtis Painter.  The question remains, can he really win without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback?

  • Can the team play with discipline?

If this team could have avoided stupid penalties & Matt Stafford throwing stupid interceptions, they would have made the playoffs.  An argument could be made that they have a Super Bowl quality team (except at cornerback), but I don’t think many people outside of Detroit expect much from this team because they have had so many self-inflicted wounds over the years.

  • Can Joe Lombardi bring balance & creativity to the Lions offense?

It is hard to blame a team for building its offense around the best wide receiver in football.  That being said, it hasn’t worked so far and the team has been incredibly predictable.  Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks in New Orleans and has spent the last 4 years learning from Sean Payton, who is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

  • Will the defense be improved?

The defense was the weak link for the Packers last year.  In the offseason they added Julius Peppers, who might still be able to help, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year due to injury.  If they can improve the defense, they could be Super Bowl contenders.

  • Can the team achieve a balance between pass & run?

Eddie Lacy had a breakout year at running back for the Packers last year, but I don’t think he would have done it without the injury to Aaron Rodgers.  Once Rodgers was out, the team turned to Lacy & he responded.  Will they balance their run/pass distribution, or will they go back to their pass heavy offense of the last few years.

  • Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?

Who is Corey Linsley?  He’s the rookie starting center for the Packers.  Last year’s starter is gone to Tampa Bay & the projected starter, JC Letter was injured in the 3rd pre-season game.  That doesn’t give Linsley much time to work with the starters & learn the no-huddle signals.

Houston Texans

  • Do they really think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is their best choice at quarterback?

I was kind of excited about Fitzpatrick when he first started for the Bills.  I thought he was a smart player with a good arm & mediocre receivers.  After watching him over the years I saw a guy who could be good for a few quarters & absolutely horrible for a few more.  I really don’t see how he is a better option than Matt Schaub…except that he isn’t Matt Schaub.  Maybe Ryan Mallett will do something.

  • Can Arian Foster return to his previous form or is he done?

Just a few years ago, you could make an argument that Arian Foster was the best complete running back in football.  He was a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball.  He picked up blocks in passing situations when he wasn’t slipping out of the back field to make spectacular catches.  As a result, he carried the ball more than just about anyone else in the league.  Over the last couple of years he has been constantly injured.  Every so often though he flashes the kind of brilliance that shows what he is capable of when he is healthy.  Will he stay healthy, & if he does, can he be the same player again?

  • Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?

He has looked good at moments this preseason & when he dropped back in coverage he has looked pretty bad.  In theory, he should have huge numbers by virtue of playing with J.J. Watt.  In his last collegiate year Clowney didn’t have impressive numbers.  The reason given by many commentators was that he was double & triple teamed.  This year he won’t see many double teams since Watt commands a lot of attention.  If he is the real deal, Clowney should have double digit sacks.  I don’t know how he will do in coverage.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Will Reggie Wayne be as effective as 2 years ago?

Wayne makes a profound difference to this team.  He is a leader & a playmaker.  He is also a 35 year old coming back from an ACL injury.

  • How well will Bjoern Werner play the first 4 weeks?

He didn’t look great as a rookie last year.  This year he will start at least the first 4 games while Robert Mathis is suspended.  If he can’t bring a solid pass rush, the secondary will have a hard time.  Peyton Manning will be the opposing quarterback week one, so it could be a rough start.

  • How strong will play be this year?

Speaking of playing against good quarterbacks, how much will they miss Antoine Bethea?  Right now it looks like they will rotate players based on the situation, but no one really stood out in preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • After this preseason, will they really sit Blake Bortles for his rookie season? Normally I think it is a good idea for rookie quarterbacks to redshirt a year if it won’t cost anyone their jobs.  After seeing Bortles in preseason & then looking at their schedule, I think they might as well start him now.  I don’t think they face an elite defense until week 7, & that’s the Browns, so it probably won’t be a high scoring game.
  • Will Toby Gerhardt be effective as a lead back? He has looked great in relief of Adrian Peterson, but he never has had to carry a team.  This will be a real test.
  • Whoever plays quarterback, does he have weapons to throw to now?

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?

Last week I was reading an article about breakout rookies & the writer mentioned that one new Chief could be the most dynamic play-maker for the Chiefs since Dante Hall.  That’s about par for the course for the coverage that Jamaal Charles gets these days.  Today’s season preview on NFL Network had pundits talking about how Marshawn Lynch was the only challenger to Adrian Peterson & LeSean McCoy for best running back in the NFL.  Here are the average all-purpose yards per season for the running backs: Peterson 1,748,  McCoy 1,520, Charles 1,507, Lynch1,274.  Of course that is based on dividing annually & including the year where Charles only played 2 games.  Taking that out, his average yardage per year is 1,790 yards per year.  In his first year he was a backup & only rushed 67 times.  There are only 8 running backs in the history of the NFL to average 5 yards or more per carry for their career (minimum of 750 attempts).  Adrian Peterson is #8 with a 5.0 average.  Charles is #1, with 5.79 yards per carry, ahead of Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, & Barry Sanders.  He personally generated 35% of the Chief’s offense last year.  What does he need to do…besides play in a bigger market?

  • Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?

Last year the team made it to the playoffs by beating up on losing teams.  This year they will have a much harder schedule.

  • Can the offensive line perform?

The line was a strength last year.  Now their previous left tackle has left in free agency.  They are hoping that Eric Fisher, who was underwhelming at right tackle last year will be able to slide to left tackle.  They are playing a guard (Jeff Allen) at right tackle to start the season.  That doesn’t sound like a formula for success.

Miami Dolphins

  • Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?

When Wallace was signed as a free agent after his years in Pittsburgh, he was expected to become the #1 receiver & the team’s deep threat.  Instead, he had an average year.  Technically he had his most receptions, but only by 1 catch.  He also posted his lowest average yards per catch.  This may have been a chicken & egg thing where the quality of the quarterback made the difference & Ryan Tannehill just wasn’t able to get the ball to him the way Ben Roethlisberger did even though Wallace wasn’t his #1 receiver or maybe Wallace just tops out around 73 catches per year.

  • Is Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have wanted since Dan Marino?

His numbers so far have been just on the edge of what you expect for a franchise quarterback.  He is just under 60% in completions (59.4%).  His passer rating is 79.1 & that is too low to succeed long term.  I think he has the tools, but if he doesn’t perform this year, he may be looking for a job next year.

  • The offensive line has to be better right?

Just bringing in Brandon Albert at left tackle should make a huge difference & the team was historically bad last year.  On the other hand, their starting center will miss half of the season & that hurts.  It is hard for Tannehill to be the best that he can be & Wallace to be the best he can be, if the offensive line doesn’t improve dramatically.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Is there any chance Matt Cassel can play during the regular season the way that he did in the preseason?

A recent Onion article claimed that his real skill was his “growing ability to get the F*ck out of running back Adrian Peterson’s way.”   There is something to that for any Viking quarterback, but it isn’t enough.  After decent play last year, Cassel has looked sharp in the preseason.  He completed 26 of 39 passes (66.6 percent) for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  If he can play like that, he might keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench & they might surprise some people this year.

  • Can Peterson continue to carry the load?

Peterson will turn 29 this year & he has a ton of carries.  The Vikings let his back-up walk in free agency this year.  Will he be able to carry the team again?

  • Will the change to an outdoor stadium help them or hurt them?

The Vikings will play home games at least the next 2 years at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium I think that the outdoor setting could really benefit the team.  Teams with a great running game can be dangerous in snowy weather.  The Vikings haven’t really been a team that has taken advantage of the fast turf of an indoor stadium the way the Saints have, so I on’t think they will lose much there.

New England Patriots

  • Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

With Rob Gronkowsky healthy at tight end, the Patriots are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.  Without him, they have questions in the red zone & at the tight end position.  You don’t want to make one player more important than the rest, but his various health issues over the last few years have made a huge difference.  I think that if he had been 100% healthy during Super Bowl XLVI  that the Patriots would have won.  Basically, he was worth more than the 4 point difference in that game.

  • Can most of the other key players stay healthy?

Injuries are always a worry for every team.  The Patriots this year are counting on a number of recently injured people to be key contributors.  Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Dominique Easley and others are all expected to play an important roll this year & I don’t know if any of them will be able to perform as advertised this year.

  • Will the offensive line hold up? This year marks the first time since 1999 that there will be a new offensive line coach.  Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of the season last year after working for the Patriots for 30 years (with a 2 year hiatus).  Tom Brady has benefited from a comfort level with the offensive line for his entire career.   Dave DeGuglielmo replaces him.  There is a camp battle to determine the starting center & Sebastian Vollmer hasn’t been able to practice.  That being said, the starting offensive line has looked good in pre-season.  The backup quarterbacks have been running for their lives though!  The line still needs work.

I originally wrote this before they traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs.  Now it is a huge question.

New Orleans Saints

  • Will they miss Darren Sproles?

Sproles was especially good at the screen game.  Will Pierre Thomas make up the difference?

  • Will the defense be better than last year?

Rob Ryan worked miracles with the defense last year & they added Jairus Byrd at safety & should be better.  Of course now the other teams in the division will have a year of tape & may make adjustments.

  • Can they win on the road?

The Saints have been almost unbeatable over the last few years at home.  On the road they have been very beatable.  If they can win a couple of extra road games during the regular season, they might be able to play at home in the playoffs.

New York Giants

  • Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?

I know the fan base loved to hate former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.  When things went well, Eli Manning got the credit.  When they didn’t Gilbride got the blame.  This year Manning may have to stand on his own.  He hasn’t looked good.  Even after 4 preseason games, Manning has only looked good in 1 2 minute drill.

  • Will the offensive line be better?

Last year’s line didn’t do a good job of protecting Manning.  Because of that, 2 free agents were brought in to be starters.  Now one of them, Geoff Schwartz, is already injured.

  • Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?

A few years back, he was considered a breakout star & one of the best defensive players in the game.  Recently, he really looks like just another guy.  If he can get close to his old form, the defense will be improved.

New York Jets

  • Will Chris Johnson have a great season?

Chris Johnson was deemed expendable by the Titans mainly because of his huge contract, but also because of his declining yards per carry (3.9 last year).  One thing I think people forget is that Johnson’s best years came when he had a mobile quarterback.  The defense had to account for Vince Young on every play.  That tiny bit of extra time helped Johnson break some extraordinarily long runs. I don’t think he would have hit 2,000 yards without Young & his yards per carry have dropped without a running quarterback threat.  That could change this year with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick at quarterback.

  • Will it be Smith or Vick handing off to Johnson by midseason?

Rex Ryan may be coaching for his job this year and he may not be able to give Geno Smith as much time to develop as he gave Mark Sanchez.  The Jets don’t have their bye week until the 11th week, which may help Geno.  If they had a 4th or 5th week bye, I think there would be pressure to make a change if things weren’t going well.  Either way, Smith has to throw fewer interceptions to keep his starting position.

  • Rex Ryan always manages to field a tough defense.  He will do it again this year right?

He has done some amazing jobs in the past, but if he can turn his current defensive backfield into some semblance of NFL quality, I will be impressed.  I think he is going to rely on pressuring the quarterback & hoping that they don’t have time to find the open man.  That will be tough with the Murderers Row of quarterbacks they will face this year including Brady (twice), Rivers, Rodgers, Cutler, Stafford, & Peyton Manning.  That would be a tough assignment for any defensive backfield, much less what the Jets will field this year.

Oakland Raiders

  • Can Matt Schaub get his mojo back? (The Raiders don’t think so.  They are going with Carr)

I was expecting Matt Schaub to bounce back to something like his previous years’ performance.  That isn’t what we have seen so far this preseason.  He hasn’t looked good & the Raider’s receiving corps has looked worse.  I’m still holding out hope though.

  • Will all of the new parts jell in time to save jobs in the front office?

On paper, this year’s team is much improved from last year’s.  The combination of veteran players & highly touted rookies is actually pretty impressive (even if some of the players are on the back slope of their careers).  The biggest problem to me though is that it is hard to get that many new players to work together quickly.  It may take a half dozen games to get everyone on the same page & by that point, Schaub may be benched & the coach could be on even more of a hot seat.

  • Where will the team play next year?

It is amazing that with the lease expiring this year, so little is getting done on the stadium front for the Raiders.  I generally am annoyed when NFL clubs want to upgrade or replace their stadium every few years in a constant pursuit of more money.  It is certainly frustrating to see public money used to support billionaire owners.  On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much to ask the toilets to work.  Last year during baseball season it rained & the sewers backed up.  In fact it happened at least 3 times.  Ryan Cook, the Oakland A’s reliever, described the scene to reporters as “a sewage volcano.”   Additionally, because the A’s & Raiders share a stadium with a grass field, there is a baseball diamond shaped patch of dirt in the field for much of the season.  It really is a mess.  Mark Davis has visited San Antonio as a possible spot to move the team.  I don’t believe that this will happen, but a move back to Los Angeles might make sense.  I think the only thing standing in the way might be that the NFL owners like using the threat of moving a team to L.A. more than they actually like the idea of having a team there.  For some reason they also keep talking about putting two teams there instead of one, which seems like a stupid idea.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Will the team miss DeSean Jackson this year or will Darren Sproles make Eagles fans forget him?

DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes last year for 1,332 yards but the Eagles let him go apparently due to a personality conflict.  They didn’t add a dynamic wide receiver to replace him, but they did add a running back who caught 71 pases for 604 yards last year from Drew Brees.  Darren Sproles rushed for 220 yards last year, but he was most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.  He didn’t average as much per catch, but he was a nice change of pace.  How coach Chip Kelly will use him with LeSean McCoy also in the backfield is a question, but Kelly is nothing if not inventive.

  • Can the secondary keep up?

One advantage of the Eagles offense is that it can wear out a defense.  One disadvantage is that when things don’t work, it can put the Eagles defense back on the field quickly.  Their secondary doesn’t scare anyone.  I’m not sure if division quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, & Eli Manning will be at their best, but each of them has shown they can terrorize a good secondary & I don’t know if the Eagles have even that.

  • Nick Foles can’t be that consistent again can he?

Last year he had an insane 27/2 touchdown to interception ratio.  I don’t think anyone expects him to duplicate that this year.  In pre-season, for what that’s worth (not much), he has 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Now that opposing defenses have a season of film watching him in Kelly’s offense, will he be able to adjust?

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?

Last year Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola wrote that Pittsburgh’s depth was so thin that the team was doing the NFL equivalent of walking a tightrope with no net. That blew up on them.  They have made moves this off season, but sometimes it is hard to tell if depth has improved until we get a few games into the season.

  • Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?

The Steelers do not change coaches like the Browns.  Heck, they don’t change coaches as often as the rest of the division put together.   Of course they also don’t go 3 years without a winning record.  If things don’t improve this year, will they make a change?

  • Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?

There were a lot of people who thought that maybe last year would be his last in Pittsburgh because of age & salary issues.  Instead he is back, & is a team captain for the first time in his career.  He has definitely lost some speed, but he has a great feel for the game in crucial situations & that is hard to teach.

Saint Louis Rams

  • Can they win with Shaun Hill? He is a 12 year veteran & that is a good thing in a backup.  I don’t know how well he will perform as a starter.  He has never started more than 11 games.  In 2010 when he started 11 games filling in for Matthew Stafford, the team went 6-10.
  • Will the receiving corps be strength? The Rams have been drafting receivers for years.  They have 5 receivers on the roster that have been drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2011.  They also picked up Kenny Britt this off season.  Shouldn’t the receiving corps be pretty good this year?
  • Are the Rams just doomed because of the strength of their division? That might be too on the nose, but I think it is really the biggest worry.  The Rams should have a strong defense.  They will probably have a competent offense.  There are divisions where that would make you a contender.  Unfortunately for the Rams, the NFC West is not one of those divisions.

San Diego Chargers

  • Can Dwight Freeney help the defense? After spending his entire career with the Colts, they decided that he was done in 2013.  He signed with the Chargers, but was hurt early in the season.  If he can be 80% of what he was, he should help the defense.  You know he would love to sack Peyton Manning a time or two.
  • Can the defense stop the run? In 2012, the Chargers defense was ranked #13 in run defense.  That isn’t great, but it is much better than their 31st place ranking last year.  They have three rookies & a couple of second year players that will need to step up.
  • How critical will the loss of Jeromey Clarey be for the offensive line? Clarey had hip surgery last week and could miss the entire season. Right guard may not be the crucial line spot, but Clarey is the longest tenured player on the line & his leadership will be missed.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Can they team get its players to act like responsible citizens?

I know that the vast majority of their players are probably good guys, but they do seem to have a problem.   There have been 10 arrests of 49er players since 2012, which means they lead the league in something, but not something that you want to brag about.

  • Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last year as coach?

I expect that they will reach an agreement on a new contract for the head coach, but there have been growing signs of tension between the G.M. & the coach.  It is unusual for a coach who has won as often as Harbaugh to go into a lame duck year without an extension.  If he were to become a free agent next year, I have to feel that someone (Jerry Jones/whoever buys the Bills) would throw crazy money at him to bring him to town.

  • Will Colin Kaepernick play better than he has in the preseason?

On paper, this is the best receiving corps for San Francisco since Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens were on the team.  In three preseason games, he completed 12 of 22 passes (54.5%) for 115 yards & no touchdowns.  He looked like the 1 read & tuck the ball guy that we saw at times last year when the receiving corps was depleted by injury.  I expect he will get better, but it will need to be a lot better & it will need to happen quickly if they want to keep pace in their division.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Can they repeat?

Seattle is in an enviable position compared to other teams.  Their biggest question is whether they can be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since New England in 2003/2004.  It is hard to repeat.

  • Will the offensive line be a weakness?

They don’t have many areas of concern, but offensive line could be one early.  Their left tackle missed most of the pre-season & their right tackle is a rookie.

  • Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?

Lynch is 28 & the wheels tend to come off for running backs at 30 or so.  That should mean he has a couple more good years left at least.  On the other hand, he has averaged over 325 touches over the last three years & that is a lot for anyone.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • How much improvement can fans expect this year? There is real hope in Tampa Bay this year after several years of constantly lowering expectations.  Over the last few years a team has managed to move from worst to first in their division.  That would be extremely difficult in the NFC South.  I expect the team to be much better this year.
  • Can Josh McCown excel as a starter? He was very good last year subbing for Jay Cutler in Chicago, but can he really make it as a full time starter?  There is a reason that his career has included stops at Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte, Hartford (The Colonials in the UFL), San Francisco, & finally Chicago.
  • How much will the defense improve? Lovie Smith has been known as a defensive guru & the Bears leaned on defense (sometimes to the detriment of the offense).  The talent seems to be there & you know the coaching will be there.  The question is how much improvement we can expect in one year.

Tennessee Titans

  • Will Bishop Sankey or Shonn Greene be an improvement on Chris Johnson at running back?

Sankey looks like he may develop into a feature back.  Greene has had success in the past.  They are definitely cheaper than Johnson, but will they deliver as many yards?

  • Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?

Locker has shown some real ability…when he has been on the field.  The problem has been that he has been injured frequently.  If he can’t put it tgether this year, the Titans may have to move on.

  • Ken Whisenhunt was terrible at evaluating quarterbacks in Arizona. Will he do a better job in Tennessee?

Whisenhunt resisted staring Kurt Warner in Arizona, but eventually benefitted from the decision.  Other than that, the Cardinals quarterback position was a hot mess during his tenure.  Will he do better this time?

Washington Redskins

  • How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?

If he can perform closer to his rookie season than to last year, Washington has an outside shot at the playoffs.  If he plays closer to his level last year at least next year they will get to actually use the high draft pick they earn.

  • Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?

Jackson managed to work himself out of a job in Philadelphia apparently more because of his attitude than his ball skills.  If he can mesh with his new team, he should be a huge addition to the team.

  • How will Jay Gruden handle the transition as a first time head coach in the NFL?

I think that he is better prepared to be an NFL coach than most.  His time in the Arena League gave him experience as a head coach, general manager, & general promoter for the game.  He won more than one Arena League Championship during those years.  Working as an assistant coach for his brother Jon, he won a Super Bowl.  As offensive coordinator he was part of the team getting the Bengals to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in franchise history.  He should be prepared.  Of course he has never worked for someone like Dan Snyder, but I think he is ready for the football aspects of the job.

Hurry up offense & hurry up wine tasting

17 Jul

mw redI recently attended the first annual American Cabernet Sauvignon wine tasting put on by the Masters of Wine Institute.  There were 101 examples of Cabernets to try from California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Virginia, & Washington State.  I talked to them about adding some Texas Cabernets next year & was told that they reached out for some this year & didn’t get a response.  I’m sure that will change next year.  We had roughly 4 hours to try the wines.  I didn’t get them all sampled, but managed to try 51 wines in under about 3 hours and 50 minutes.  That’s a new wine roughly every 4 ½ minutes.  I added up the prices on the wines I tried & if I had bought a bottle of each to try, it would have cost me $4,821.91.  That made the $100 entry price for the event quite the bargain.

The obvious football corollary for me was the hurry up offense.  The hurry up offense has been derided as a gimmick and has sometimes been considered somehow less credible than a traditional offense.  Over the years though, it has showed it can be an important part of the NFL experience.  One of the wines I tried was from Double Back Wines, which is owned by former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe (New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys).

Here are the wines that I tried in the Cabernet Sauvignon tasting.  Most of the wines were from 2011.  The request was that wineries provide their 2011 Cabernet or if that was not available, their most recent release.  You will see some obvious exceptions to the rule. These are in the order in which I tasted them.  These notes are pretty sparse, but that is a function of the event. If you see some deterioration in the notes as I progress, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  I have added a few notes about the wines after the fact including some pricing information.   I was spitting more than I was drinking, but even spitting, some alcohol is absorbed by the lining of the mouth.  I should add that I was not driving anywhere that night!

One important thing that I should note is that most of these wines are years from their peak.  A lot of the tasting notes are similar because certain traits seem to show up more quickly.  The nuances that distinguish a great Cabernet can take several more years to develop.  It would be interesting to duplicate this tasting with the same 2011 Cabernets in 5 years.

Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 Monticello Virginia $39.99
Dark purple almost black. Raspberry & blackberry on the nose & that follows through on the palate. Mild tannins. Long finish.

Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tuthills Lane Vineyard Long Island, New York State $100
This has a deep color moving from purple to black. It has strong blackberry notes on the nose.  It is a nicely rounded fruit forward wine without many tannins.  The main fruits are ripe blackberry & plum. It has a somewhat short finish.

Ridge 1997 Monte Bello  Santa Cruz Mountains $150
This is a traditional Bordeaux blend.  Cabernet predominates.  It is almost black with red rims. It has a delicate nose, or maybe it needs to open up.  Red fruit, with raspberry & some spice. Spice with some fairly hard tannins.  This wine has years still to go. As it softens up a bit, the softer spice & licorice comes out.

I tried this again almost an hour later & it has opened up quite a bit.  The nose still doesn’t show much, but the taste is amazing.  The tannins have mellowed out.  The spice & the raspberry have come together & this is a delightful wine.  This is the best I have tried tonight to this point, but of course it isn’t a fair comparison because of the difference in vintage.

Daou Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 Paso Robles  $57.99
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot.Big ripe fruit both on the nose & the palate. This is almost overpowering after the Ridge, which has more finesse.   It has big sweet fruit with low tannins.  I can see how this would be a fan favorite, but it is really kind of one note to me.

Canyon Wind Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Grand Valley Colorado $29.95
Candy apple on the nose.  This is a sweet, low tannin wine with some herbal components.  This wine did not work for me.

Antica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa $55
There are complex herbal notes on the nose. It tastes of dark fruit with a strong herbal component.  There is definitely some sage & fennel in this. Medium tannins, long finish.  Delicious wine! Parker gave it a 92.

Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $350
This has fresh red fruit.  There are soft spices.  It has medium to low tannins.  I really noticed cranberry on the second sip.  This is a soft & easy to drink wine. I saw some reviews of this wine that touted its minerality, but I didn’t get that in this tasting.  I really enjoyed this wine, but I couldn’t spend $350 on it.

Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $55
The nose needs to open up.  There is some red fruit. I also taste plum with some black pepper.  This has solid tannins. I need to try this again later.  I wanted to try it again that night, but didn’t get back to it.

La Jota Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2011 $75
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged in 90% new French oak. There is raspberry & cherry on the nose.  It has soft, slightly sweet, fruit, but not in a bad way at all.  It has medium tannins.  I like this more on the second taste.  This is a nice example of Napa Cabernet.

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2010 $115
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot.This has an earthy nose.  This almost reminds me of a South African Cabernet.  There are some herbs, some raspberry, some leather, medium tannins. This is a well-built Cabernet that I think will age extremely well for 20+ years. This would probably be delicious with wild game. One thing I like about this wine is the earthiness.  There have been so many wines that were all about bright fresh fruit that I was ready for something with a little more nuance. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $79.99
Blackberry & black cherry on the nose.  Black & Bing cherry on the palate.  Mild tannins.  Nice long finish with cherry & spice.

Maybach 2010 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Calistoga $150
This took a second to open up. Then it had blackberry on the nose with medium to high tannins.  It has sweet red fruit.  The fruit has almost an overripe quality to it.  I don’t mean that they picked it too late.  It tastes a bit like biting into a plum that has been sitting a little too long & concentrated sugars.  This is actually pretty tasty.  It doesn’t have a lot of nuance, but it is very good. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Krupp Brothers 2009 M5 Stagecoach Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon $119
90% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  Very soft dark fruit.  If you were going to describe a wine as velvety, this would be a good one to use. The finish almost goes from lighter to darker fruit as you drink it. There is some mint and spice as well.  It is very easy to drink.  It has low tannins.

Black Bottle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountains Magnum $800
The fruit on this thing just about explodes in your mouth.  It does have a nice balance of tannin as well, so I think it would be great with a steak.  There are also some pie spices here. I enjoyed this wine, but I’m having a little trouble understanding the price.

Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Block 007 Estate Vineyard 2012 $18
This sure is young!  There is candy fruit on the nose.  This wine tastes almost exactly like the Luden’s cherry throat drops that I bought the last time the girls were sick.  I guess that means it has some cherry & menthol.  It does have a ton of tannins, so this may develop into someone completely different.

Anakota 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyards Knight’s Valley $69.99
Complex nose with some fruit and some herbal notes.  It is kind of hard to pick anything out in particular. There is fennel and dried herb.  There are medium tannins. To me this wine tastes a little hollow.  The finish is nice.  The immediate taste is nice, but the mid palate is lacking to me.  All of the critics seem to love it though.  Wine Advocate gave it 95 points and Wine Enthusiast gave it 92.

Benziger 2010 Signaterra Sunny Slope Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $49
This has a very spicy nose.  Its color is almost black.  It needs to open up.  I really don’t get anything from it.14.5% alcohol, but it tastes hotter.  This is a biodynamic wine.  It has medium plus tannins.  I definitely want to try this another time when I can decant it.

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $65
Super tight wine.  All I got was that it was sweet & soft.  I’ll see if I can try it again later. (I didn’t get the chance)

Arrowood Reserve, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Speciale  Sonoma County  $90                                                                                                                                                                       Black fruit and chocolate.  It has high tannins.  It is soft on the mid palate.  I liked this wine.

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2010 $75
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2%Malbec.  There is licorice on the nose. It is full of black fruit.  It s nicely balanced.  I taste blackberry & plum with cinnamon & spice.   As it develops I get more red fruit as well.  This is a very solid wine.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010 Alexander School Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $40
Inky black wine with a smell that is somehow inky black as well.  I actually get some soy sauce on the nose with the red fruit.  I like this wine, but it is light at the front & heavy at the back.  That is odd.  It is good though. I think that the herbal component is stronger than the fruit.  Tons of tannin again, so it may change later.

Jordan 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $56
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  There isn’t much on the nose.  There is sweet fresh red fruit. I wish I could write more about this wine because it is so popular, but at this stage of its development, it is just a sweet fruit forward wine.  While I was tasting, some other people tried it  & the general verdict was sweet & tight.

Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $75
The really light nose contrasts with the heavily spiced taste on this wine.  This has big fruit, but it is really all about the spice.  You could almost heat this wine up & serve it as wassail. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, brown sugar, it’s all there.  There is some nice plum here as well.  This would be a nice wine to sip by the fireside or on Christmas Eve.

Trione Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $67
I don’t usually comment on this sort of thing, but his is a seriously heavy bottle.  I don’t know how much they spent on the bottles, but they weren’t cheap.  The wine is very dark, almost black.  It has good mouth feel. There is a ton of tannin!  It has sweet dark fruit.  I think this might be a fantastic wine in about 3 years.  It really needs some time.

Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2011 $32
Dark red fruit in a dark red wine.  It has moderate tannins.  This is a well-integrated & tasty wine, but I am having trouble pulling out individual characteristics.  I would say raspberry & spice are elements of the flavor.

Double Back Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2010 $89
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  Tight nose.  This is a beautifully balanced wine.  It has medium to high tannins.  The alcohol is 14.4% & you can tell it, but it isn’t out of balance. Light cinnamon spice mixed with tarragon & other spices, melds well with the bramble fruit. I liked this and wouldn’t mind setting a few bottles aside to see how it ages.  I expect it to get a lot better over the next few years.

Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Walla Walla $109
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Carmenere. This is a complex and interesting wine.  I taste fennel & licorice, earth & leather.  This is a really solid wine & I may find it more interesting at the moment because it is different & stands out.  97 points in Wine Advocate. (So it may  not have just been how I felt at the time).

Pepper Bridge 2010 Walla Walla $60
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. This is almost black again.  This may be a trend in Washington.  This wine was all right.  Realistically I think it would be better with a few more years or hours opened, but it is just ok.  I wouldn’t normally review this wine because I am not getting it. It is a soft wine with high tannins.  How does that happen? I tried it a second time & still don’t get it. Everyone else loves it. It has huge tannins!  It has some cherry & plum.

Va Piano Columbia Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
Here is a soft easy drinking wine.  This is an elegant wine.  It has dark fruit with some olive characteristics.  It has chocolate & beaucoup tannins.  There is a long finish.  I really liked this wine.  This is perhaps the second best wine so far.  This one is definitely a good wine for the price.

Woodward Canyon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State $59
Super black wine.  There is licorice on the nose.  This is a very light smooth wine.  There are some earthy textures at the finish.  This is not a bad wine, but not comparable to the previous Washington wines.

Efeste Big Papa 2010 Big Block Cabernet Sauvignon Washington $54
Black dark red fruit with herbs on the nose.  This is a super smooth wine. It has high tannins.  There is dark fruit with a brambly, almost thorny quality.  The tannins are literally mouth puckering. Very nice finish.

DeLille cellars Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Washington $65
Soft, dark fruit (mostly blackberry) on the nose. Almost black again.  Some earth, but more of a dusty smell.  14.2%  & you can feel it.  It is in balance, but you can tell that it has higher alcohol.  Root beer & licorice on the palate.   You also get a lot of fresh plum.  It took me a minute to get into the wine, but once I did, I really enjoyed it.

Cadence 2010 Camerata. Red Mountain Cara Mia Vineyard $60
85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% each Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Not as black as the other Washington wines.  This is more of a dark red wine.  I would usually have called this a really dark red wine if I hadn’t just gone through all of those other Washington State Cabs.  This has a beautiful Bordeaux style nose.  There is spice & red fruit on the palate. This is a very solid wine.  The red fruit & the spice mingle together in a particularly nice way. Soft tannins & some sweetness.  I probably wouldn’t have like this wine very much without the spice, but with it, I think it is very tasty.

Boudreaux 2008 Champoux & Loess Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon  Washington $100
This has a perfumed finish.  Boysenberry is the main fruit that I get.  This is a wine that shows fruit at first, but finishes with an herbal brambly note.  This may have a weird name, but it is a solid wine.

Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon  Columbia Valley 2011 $36
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot.  Light sweet nose.  Not in the ballpark of the good wines.  I have really enjoyed some of their wines, but this doesn’t measure up today.

Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 $50
This smells a little like a Thanksgiving cranberry salad.  I get cranberry & nut on the nose. Nice wine, but it is nothing special.

Col Solare 2010 Columbia Valley. $55 14.5%
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec) Nice nose.  Some herb some red fruit.  Pretty nice.,  really tasty wine.  Well balanced & well integrated.  Maybe some olive, some herb.  Very easy drinking wine.  Solid tannins.  Just a good red wine.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
This smells like a tapenade.  It has low tannins & big dark fruit.  This is a big dark wine with a long lasting finish.  I was trying to think of a good pairing & I really couldn’t.  It is a good wine & good to sip, but I would drink this by itself. On my last taste I got a really strong meaty taste.

Betz Family Vineyards Pere de Famille 2011 Magnum $150 (for the magnum)
This is a Cabernet dominated blend, but I don’t know the blend.  It has a distinctively earthy nose.
It has a taste of menthol and earth.  It is distinctive & delicious.  In some ways this is a weird & cool wine.

Snowden Vineyards 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $70                                                                                                                                                                           The nose smells like alcohol & fig, but the wine is actually really soft, with sweet fig & a hint of herbs.  The alcohol is 15.5%, but despite smelling hot, it doesn’t taste hot at all.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009 $110
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot This is such a smooth wine.  The main impression is smooth & sweet.  Once again I know this is a popular wine, but it tastes sweet & smooth & generic. I talked to a few other people & it was a common refrain.  It is interesting to me that people like this wine so much. Perhaps I am not tasting it at the right time.  Perhaps I am just weird.

Robert Foley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $86
This has a dusty nose. This is a fruit forward & smooth wine, but it has nuance that the Silver Oak lacked.  It tends toward the same sweet red fruit of the silver oak, but it is just more interesting.  The finish is full of plum.

Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012 $54
Dirt & licorice on the nose.  It has a sweet finish.  Lots of cherry candy.  Not a wine for me.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $28
Menthol & mint on the nose.  I tasted bitter cherry with some herb.  It has very high tannins.  This wine is well balanced & would be good with red meat.  .

Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $139
This is as black as a Washington Cabernet.  It has a nice nose, with licorice & herbs.  The flavor accents the dark fruit, licorice, & some herbs.  This is a very nice wine.  It also throws a lot of sediment.  It was the only wine of the night where I noticed sediment, although that could have been happenstance.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2005 Napa Valley $175
92% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Petit Verdot; 1% Merlot.This wine has such a pretty nose.  There is some chocolate on the nose, but it isn’t close to the chocolate on the palate. This wine tastes more like hot chocolate than anything I have had.  This wine is soft & easy to drink & if you like cocoa, you should try it.  It sounds like I am selling this wine short, but I’m not.  There are some cherries & some herbs in the mix, but the key to the wine is the mix of mocha and bitter chocolate on the palate.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley?  The official handout says Napa, but I can’t find a 2011 Napa Cab from them.  There is a Sonoma one & a Napa one in 2010. $34
This may be the archetype of California Cabernet. I think it is what people expect at a restaurant when they order a Napa Cabernet. To me, it is solid, but not interesting.  It has blackberry as the primary fruit & has a sweet finish.

Merryvale 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. This is another soft, easy drinking slightly sweet red.  Vanilla and blackberry are the primary components for me.

Swanson 2010 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Oakville $75
This has soft sweet tannins.  At this point of the tasting, this is generic.  That probably has more to do with it being the 49th wine I tried than its own failings.  It wasn’t a bad wine, I just didn’t have anything t say about it.

Spring Mountain Vineyards 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Spring Mountain  $75
The first thing I typed about this wine was prune.  There are definitely other elements to the wine.  I tasted spice, earth, and leather, but they were all wrapped up in prune.  The nose also has a distinct prune note to it.

Grgich Hills 2010 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Yountville $140
This shows very ripe fruit with some plum, blackberry and cocoa.  It has low tannins & ripe fruit, but it doesn’t come off as sweet.  It is a nicely integrated wine & a good place to stop for the night.

 

The hurry up offense by any other name is a lot of fun

I think my first exposure to a hurry up offense was watching Roger Staubach run around like a crazy man at the end of a Sunday game, hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat & often doing so.  I know that there were times when I wondered why they didn’t have the same urgency at the beginning of the game that they had in the last few minutes. I didn’t know it, but there were already people out there working to make that a reality.  In fact, the seeds were sown as far back as 1933 when throwing the football was considered somewhat shady.

Mouse DavisDarrel “Mouse” Davis is often referred to as the godfather of the Run & Shoot.  There is even a new documentary, The Mouse that Roars by J. David Miller & Spencer Lee that argues that modern NFL & NCAA offenses are primarily proliferations of concepts that Davis introduced.  Davis definitely deserves credit for popularizing the concepts, but he didn’t invent them.

ellison

Tiger Ellison

In 1933 Glenn “Tiger” Ellison started to coach the Middletown Ohio High School football team. He also taught English.  I don’t know how well his English students did, but his quarterbacks did very well.  He produced 8 All-State quarterbacks and was named coach of the year in 1961, mainly due to his innovative offensive scheme.  In 1965 Parker Publishing released his book Run & Shoot Football: Offense of the Future (which you can find on Amazon for about $45).  One of the people who turned to Ellison was Mouse Davis.  He then installed the offense to great effect at Oregon & Portland State.

In 1975, June Jones was playing quarterback for his third different college football team.  That usually isn’t a recipe for success.  Things worked out a bit differently for him.  Although Portland State had not had much success passing in the past, Jones was a nice match for the Run & Shoot offense that offensive coordinator Mouse Davis had installed.  In two years, Jones ended up passing for 5,798 yards with 50 TD against 20 interceptions.  That was enough to launch him in to a 6 year career as a professional quarterback.  He spent 5 years with the Atlanta Falcons & a year in the CFL with Toronto.

After his playing career wound down, Jones got into coaching.  In 1984 he became the wide receiver coach for the Houston Gamblers in the new United States Football League (USFL).  The man who brought him onboard was offensive coordinator Mouse Davis.

They installed the Run & Shoot offense & with Gambler’s quarterback Jim Kelly, they rewrote the professional football record books.  In their first season, Kelly passed for 5,793 yards and 45 touchdowns.  They were the first team in professional football to have 2 receivers with over 100 receptions.  Richard Johnson had 115 & Ricky Sanders pulled in 101 catches.  The team finished 13-3.

The Run & Shoot starts with motion from the receivers with adjustments to their routes on the fly based on defensive reactions.  It generally uses 1 running back and up to 4 wide receivers.  It depends on the quarterback being smart enough to read & react to the defensive coverage, especially how the defense shifts after the wide receivers go in motion.  Some concepts are really basic.  If the defense puts fewer than 5 men in the box, you should run the football.  You will have a numbers advantage.  If they keep men in the box, you should have a mismatch with at least one receiver.  There is a lot more to it, but that gives you an idea.  Another crucial point is that you can run every play from your base offense.  That means that you can line up quickly without huddling and pressure the defense.  If they bring in two lighter players on the line to spread out & cover receivers, you can repeatedly run the ball at the lighter line without giving them time to bring in the big boys.  Conversely, if they have the lanes clogged with 300+ pound defensive lineman, you run lots of quick passes & wear them down.  You control the pace.  You don’t go fast all of the time, but the defense never knows when you will put down the accelerator.

The USFL may not have stayed around for too long, but the concept of the Run & Shoot was here to stay.

In 1988, Sam Wyche adapted the offense & emphasized the no huddle aspect for the Cincinnati Bengals.  They called the system the “Attack Offense.”  With quarterback Boomer Esiason they managed to make it to the Super Bowl although they lost to another innovative coach & quarterback (Bill Walsh & Joe Montana).  Walsh had even written a book which said the offense of the future wouldn’t huddle and the quarterback would call the plays with just 1 word at the line.

The team the Bengals defeated to advance to the Super Bowl was the Buffalo Bills.  As the USFL imploded, the Bills acquired a franchise quarterback who knew a little something about a no huddle offense.  Quarterback Jim Kelly teamed with head coach Marv Levy & offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda to install their “K-Gun” offense.  Their fantastic use of the no huddle & aspects of the Run & Shoot enabled them to become the only team to advance to 4 straight Super Bowls.  Although the lost all 4 (Wide Right), they were an amazing offensive team.  Kelly finished his pro career with over 45,000 yards passing and was named to the Hall of Fame.

June Jones spent time in the NFL as a head coach & has been extremely successful with his offense in the college ranks.  Mouse Davis also coached college offenses to record heights.  In the meantime, a number of NFL teams adopted portions of the system.  More teams put 3 or 4 receivers on the line & receivers in motion became somewhat standard.  There was still a feeling that portions of the hurry up offense were just a college gimmick. In fact the next big hurry up offense coach was in the college ranks.

Chip Kelly used perhaps the fastest no huddle offense ever to lead Oregon into national prominence.  Kelly moved from the defensive side of the ball (at Johns Hopkins) to line coach & then to offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.  In 7 of his 8 seasons at New Hampshire his “Blur” offense averaged over 400 yards per game.  In his final 4 seasons there, the team averaged more than 30 points per game.  That got him the offensive coordinator job and soon the head coaching job at Oregon.

At Oregon, he took an also ran team to an unprecedented 4 straight BCS berths.  That made him the coaching candidate du jour for the NFL. He was contacted by NFL coaches like Pete Carroll & Bill Belichick to discuss the offense.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted him to become their head coach in 20012.  He turned that opportunity down, but the next year he accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.  In the meantime his use of the spread offensive concepts frustrated other college coaches.  My favorite interview on the subject is with South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in an interview at footballscoop.com.  In that interview he sounds like my kids when they lose to someone & whine that it wasn’t fair.  He said “One thing that has gotten into it that I’ve been pretty outspoken, that I really think is starting to deteriorate some of college football is the hurry up offenses.”  “What it’s about now is who can snap the football before the other team lines up.  You can’t hardly get your players on and off the field.  You can’t get your signals in and out.  It’s become who has the best signal system or verbiage system”

There were definitely doubters of Kelly’s transition to the pros.  The message boards were full of people saying that he would be back coaching a college team by the next year.  Instead, he coached the Eagles to a division championship.  The team averaged 417 yards per game & almost 28 points, which was a marked increase from the previous year.

In the meantime, other NFL teams have incorporated more of the hurry up offense into their systems.  The New England Patriots use a 1 or 2 word system to call plays that greatly speeds the process.  Tom Brady will step to the line & say something like “Bama right” & that will tell the team what the play is & what the formation will be.  It can move lightning fast when they want it to. In 2011 they left a serious impression on Tampa Bay defender Gerald McCoy in a preseason game  Afterwards he said “Man, I’m telling you man, they came out, they’d turn around huddle, snap, oh, ‘There’s the Mike, Go!’ I was like, ‘Dang! Um, Mr. Brady, can we line up?’ He didn’t care. He was like, ‘You’re not going to line up.”’ McCoy said. “When we turned around one time I checked back around and my hand was going to the grass and they were like, ‘Hut!’ And I said, ‘Noooooooooooo!’”  That’s a reaction that will keep offenses moving quickly& defensive players hurrying to catch up.  I would have loved to see that when I was a kid & I’m happy I get to see it now.  I wonder what Staubach would have done in that kind of offense.

Roger Staubach

 

 

Studying for an WSET test on the impact of critics in the wine industry+ a new NFL award

12 Jun

Tuesday morning I took a test in San Francisco as part of the Diploma program for the Wine & Spirit Educational Trust.  Going in we knew that the topic would have something to do with wine critics, Robert Parker in particular, and how thy impact production and consumers.  It would probably also have something to do with how the role of the critic has changed.  We would get the question and then have 75 minutes to write a paper about it.  We wouldn’t have access to any notes.

I figured that one way to study would be to write a general essay that covered all of that.  That way, it would just be a matter of trying to put the same information back down during the test.  As far as helping me study, I think it helped.  I didn’t have any trouble remembering enough for the test.  My real problem was that it was done with pencil and paper, which seems insanely antiquated these days.  The hardest part for me was trying to keep my handwriting semi-legible while my hand cramped as I tried to write as fast as I possibly could.  It seemed more like a test of how fast you could write than how much you knew about the subject.  It was the same for everyone though.  We’ll see how I did in a couple of months.

Here is what I wrote as a study exercise.

The relationship between consumer, wine media, & the industry

How has the role of the wine critic changed over the last few years?  What, if any, power does Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator hold in the wine business today?

Robert Parker When Robert Parker started his Wine Advocate publication in 1978 the wine world was much simpler.  Parker frequently notes that Vega Sicilia, which he touts as the best wine in Spain was not even available in America in 1978.  The number of wines on the shelf in general was much smaller than what is available today. Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times wrote “If you could transport yourself back to 1982, you’d find a much more constrained world, where great wine meant Bordeaux and Burgundy, with perhaps some Champagne thrown in. The Rhône? In a great shop you might find Rhônes in a section marked “country wines.’’ Italy? Straw bottles of Chianti, perhaps some dusty bottles of Barolo and a lot of awful Lambruscos and Soaves. California? Just moving out of the jug wine era into the age of white zinfandel.

Except for the great names, wine was still largely a local business. As had been true for centuries, most of the different wines of the world would be sold within 100 miles of where they had been made.”

Huge wine chains like Total Wine & More & BevMo! were years in the future.   America was still recovering from the effects of prohibition, but thanks in part to the success of the Judgment of Paris, was primed to learn more about wine.

Robert Parker’s real breakthrough came when he declared the 1982 Bordeaux vintage to be excellent despite the mainstream of critics believing otherwise.  Their feeling was that the wines were overly ripe with too little acid.  Ultimately, Parker’s view was accepted fairly quickly and this brought him worldwide attention.  Thirty years later Eric Asimov wrote in Time Magazine that the 1982 Bordeaux vintage was “possibly the most significant wine vintage ever.”

Another person who saw an opportunity in the wine recommendation business was Marvin Shanken.  He purchased The Wine Spectator in 1979.  It had been founded as a tabloid newspaper in San Diego in 1976.  Shanken had a different approach than Parker.  While the Wine Advocate was a very straight forward no frills listing of wines with reviews & no advertising, The Wine Spectator became a slick lifestyle magazine with plenty of ads.  It reviewed wines of course and adopted Parker’s 100 point rating system, but the reviews were just a part of the magazine.  The Wine Spectator featured travel guides to wine regions, interviews with wine makers, and recipes for wine pairing among many other aspects of a wine lifestyle to which most Americans had never been exposed. In 2008 the Luxury Institute named the Wine Spectator as the #1 business and consumer publication among wealthy readers.

There have been other publications and other critics who had a strong voice in the market place.  The Wine Enthusiast, Decanter Magazine, Eric Asimov at the New York Times, Steve Tanzer at International Wine Cellar, & Jancis Robinson have all had influence.  None of them have been as widely quoted or as powerful as Parker & the Wine Spectator.  In particular, Robert Parker has had an impact on the way that wines are sold and even on the way that wines are made around the world.  I believe that the impact has occurred on the retail and the en primeur portion of the market, and that it then began to transform wine making itself.

The immediate impact of Parker’s rise to fame and influence was on the en primeur market in Bordeaux.  The idea behind the en primeur market is that customers can buy wine while it is still in barrel.  This is helpful to the buyer because they can get access to wines with limited production and in the case of an excellent vintage (or positive changes in currency rates), they can sometimes buy the wine for less than it would cost by the time it is bottled.  For the producer, cash flow is the primary advantage.  They get paid as much as 18 months before they bottle the wine.  In the wine business as in any business, cash flow is king.

Political scientist Colin Hay did a statistical analysis of the en primeur Bordeaux market prices and concluded that Parker ratings alone caused a 50% increase in the release price between 2004 and 2005.  In 2002, due to concerns about potential terrorism, Parker did not travel to Europe to do barrel tastings.  That meant that wineries had to set their prices without knowing the Parker scores.  Michael Visser and colleagues crunched the numbers and in the June 2008 issue of The Economic Journal they reported that prices were 2.8 Euros per bottle cheaper than they should have been based on his later reviews.  I looked up the exchange rate at the time & that is roughly a $14.16 difference per case.  Multiplied over thousands & thousands of cases, that adds up to quite a bit.

The next place where Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator reviews make a difference is in sales & price at retail.  Wines that receive a score of 90 or more are virtually guaranteed higher and faster sales on that vintage.  Additionally, they have some ability to raise the price on the next vintage.  A good review from Robert Parker might feel like a gift handed down from Zeus.  Adam & Dianna Lee moved from Texas to California to start Siduri Winery.  They only had $24,000 and didn’t own any vineyards.  Their first release in 1994 received a 90+ rating from Robert Parker.  The attention allowed them to sell futures (American style en primeur) on their next vintage.  That cash infusion allowed them to buy more grapes and build their brand to the point where they produce 7,500 cases a year with as many as 20 different wines (primarily Pinot Noir).

In an interview in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kim Beto a vice president for the large distributor Southern Wine & Spirits said “Every sommelier in the world will say, ‘I don’t care about ratings.’ But they won’t buy (Joseph Phelps) Insignia until it gets 100 points. Then they beg for it.”  According to a 2001 study of Bordeaux wines, a one-point bump in Robert Parker’s wine ratings averages equates to a 7% increase in price, and the price difference can be much greater at the high end. The Olive, Spain’s largest daily English website wrote that a Parker score of 95+ has been calculated as worth 7 to 8 million Euros to the winery.

When a winery knows that pleasing one person can make them an extra 7-8 million Euros (or almost 9.5 million U.S.), they have a lot of incentive to please that person!  That is where Parker and the Wine Spectator (particularly James Laube) began to change wine. According to multiple reports, the quality and cleanliness of wine making has dramatically improved since the mid 1970’s.  Some of that change has come because of advances in technology.  Some of it has been directly related to the greater attention that the critics in the media have placed on wineries. When wineries are trying to compete in a world market rather than with just the local wineries, they have to stand out.  Parker & the Wine Spectator gave them an opportunity to stand out, but they had to earn it.  “There’s no doubt that the 100-point score has played a role in the growing popularity of wine,” “Over all, it’s been one of the most important things elevating the quality of wines around the world,” said Jon Fredrikson, a wine consultant with over 40 years of experience in the wine business (New York Times 2006). “Producers care about their scores.”

It is a good thing when the critics help lead wine makers to higher standards in the production, packaging, and preservation of their wines.  The problem that I see is when wineries try to emulate a single style that they perceive will gain them high wine ratings.  I mentioned earlier that the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux was considered by some critics as over ripe & under acidic.  It turns out that this seems to be exactly the style of wine that Robert Parker and James Laube prefer.  They enjoy other wines, but the ones that get the best ratings tend to be wines with big upfront fruit, heavy French oak, and soft tannins.  Those can be great wines, but sometimes it is nice to have something different.  There is a suspicion that a worldwide style is developing to promote this one approach.  Many critics have lamented a homogenization of world wine production.  Parker isn’t the only person blamed for this.   Michel Rolland one of his favorite wine makers, consults for over a hundred wineries & brings this style with him when he comes on board.  Of course Rolland probably wouldn’t be as powerful if he had not been championed by Parker.  One wine consultant who is upfront in helping customers target a high Robert Parker score is Leo McCloskey.  His company, Enologix, promises to assist wine makers in boosting their average national critic’s scores.  He has said in multiple interviews that the typical winery signing up with Enologix achieves a five-point rise over its previous year’s average scores for red wines and a six point increase for white.  In a New York Times interview with Dave Darlington, McCloskey is quoted as telling a client ”Your grapes are growing at Style 3,” ”That’s the pitch your terroir is throwing you. But Parker, Laube and the consumer are at Style 4, so you need to ask yourself, How can I get my wine stylistically in the right ballpark?”  That question encapsulates everything that people who worry about wines losing a sense of terroir fear.  Instead of working with the micro climate that you have to produce the right wine in the best style for your vineyard, the goal is to manipulate the fruit or the juice to make the wine in a generic style.  McCloskey isn’t the only person doing this.  He is probably just the most upfront about it.  The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed wine consultant Barry Gnekow.   “I say to winemakers all the time, ‘You’re only as good as your last score,’ ” Gnekow says. “You’ve got to follow the basics. Number one, you’ve got to make a good-quality wine.  “The first entry into the venue is expensive French oak barrels. You’re not going to get the scores with American oak. That’s what (Wine Spectator‘s) Laube and Parker taste all the time — wines aged in expensive oak barrels. The next step is letting those grapes get really, really ripe. That gives the wine power, oomph, really big body. The consequence is high alcohol.”

One of the responses to people who criticize chasing Parker points is that the wines sell.  This is manifestly true.  People like to buy highly rated wines.  That high rating is an effective stand in for a wine clerk who knows his business.  There are certainly great wine advocates in some retail stores.  I love talking to those people.  Unfortunately you are much more likely to be standing in a lonely aisle with no help at all.  From about 1980 to 2000, the main thing to help you make your wine choice for the evening was the shelf talker under the bottle.  The 100 point system made it easier than reading a complex review with phrases like “an aggressive wine with granular tannins and an almost petulant streak of chicory.”  Instead it said “90 points Wine Spectator.”  You could look at a row of wines & say, “well this one got an 85 & that one got a 90.  I’m buying the 90.”  Wine Spectator made it easy for retailers.  They sent out the scores & a sample sheet of shelf talkers to print a week in advance.  That gave the retailer time to stock up on the highly rated wines & to get the shelf talkers in place.

In recent years I believe that the wine market, like almost every retail market has undergone a seismic shift.  Parker & Wine Spectator still have power, but the real review power has shifted to the internet.  I don’t mean wine reviews on blog sites like mine are changing anyone’s buying habits, although I am sure some bloggers have some influence.  The real influence is the aggregate reviews of regular wine buyers. It may take a while before retail stores grasp it, but people are buying in a different way.  According to an October 2008 survey by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, a research and consulting firm, 70% of Americans say they consult product reviews or consumer ratings before making a purchase.  Amazon.com, which now sells wine, led the way.  There are plenty of wine specific examples though.  According to their website, CellarTracker was created in 2003 as a way for founder Eric LeVine (which is a great name for a wine guy) to keep track of his own wine collection.  He extended the program for a couple of friends to use and saw enough potential that he opened it up to about a hundred people to use.  By 2004 he quit his job at Microsoft and committed himself to CellarTracker full time.  They now have hundreds of thousands of registered users and many times that in people who just check out the site for reviews.  They have over 3.7 million wine reviews on the site.  Now when you are standing in the aisle at BevMo! You can use their mobile app to look up a wine or a wine region and see how it has been rated by other wine drinkers.  They still use the 100 point scale, but it has a more democratic feel to it.  Not only is it more democratic, but the numbers are also more persuasive.  An excellent research project reported in the American Association of Wine Economists journal found “empirical evidence that there is social influence on private wine evaluations that is greater than the effect of expert’s ratings and prices combined.”  Oddly enough they found that the first few reviews set the tone for the rest of the reviews.  They concluded “Our findings suggest, social influence is more important that expert’s views, and social influence is not informational but normative.”  Their study didn’t make note of the importance of a large number of reviews, but one published in the Journal of Marketing did.  They studied Amazon.com reviews and discovered that the sheer number of reviews, regardless of what they discussed or how favorable they were, had a positive impact on sales.  A Nielsen survey from2007 found that only 14% of people trust ads, but 78% trust customer recommendations.

Of course brands will still advertise.  Constellation Brands (the largest wine producer in the world) now invests 25% of its marketing budget in digital marketing with a focus on mobile platforms.  In an article on MobileMarketer.com, they discussed their plans and their successes.  They believe that sales increased by 13.5 million dollars on Arbor Mist that can be directly attributed to their Facebook page (which is hard for me to believe).  They are introducing apps by themselves and partnering with Hello Vino.  They even work with Shopkick to enable them to push notices with coupons and product information when customers are at Target stores.

Well known blogger Joe Roberts (1 Wine Dude) hates it when people say that wine is resistant to social media because it is somehow different than other products.  In various places, he has noted that there are 50 million online conversations annually about wine among over 16 million wine consumers. “To think that wine will be immune from the trends that have impacted just about everything else is total folly.”

So if social media & the wisdom of the crowds is the answer, will Robert Parker & the Wine Spectator’s influence go away completely?  I don’t believe so.  Many people, particularly Jancis Robinson have called for an end to the 100 point system.  I believe that it is too entrenched.  It was eagerly adopted for a reason and the largest wine resource in the world uses it.  That will be one ongoing influence.  More directly, I believe that Parker’s influence on the en primeur system will remain for years to come as long as he stays healthy enough to travel to France once a year.  This is simply because it is harder to crowd source.  Thousands of people will not be allowed to taste barrel samples from all of the key Bordeaux Chateaus. The en primeur system may be in trouble, but it is still important & Parker is still a huge part of it.  On Monday he said that his report this year would be 2 weeks late and it sent the internet into a flurry.

I am afraid that the stylistic influence may linger longer than Parker himself will last.  Wineries have moved to this bolder, less terroir driven system of making wine.  Although there are always outliers, this is the way that many wine makers are used to.  It is the way that they train new assistant wine makers.  It is also the way that people have been drinking wine for the last 20 years.  It will take a long time to break that cycle.  Dennis Miller used to say that the “reason Eskimos enjoy blubber; it’s the only fucking thing available at the Arctic buffet.”  Many wine drinkers prefer big Cabernets in the Parker style because that is what they have drunk for years.  I think that the sheer volume of information about lighter wines and the increasing availability of wines through the internet will eventually lead to more people trying more diverse wines.  It will take a while though.  The Millennials  seem to be more interested in exploring a wider wine world, although I had hoped to get through this article without mentioning them.  I almost made it. Foxbusiness.com quoted Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines “Millennials are storming the wine market and they want adventure and demand more transparency and authenticity from winemakers.” He estimates that one-third of his costumers are of this generation.  They may still mostly top out at $20 per bottle, but as they age, their income will grow and they will become more influential on the wine industry.

The final legacy of Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator and other dedicated wine critics over the last 20-30 years is something that will stand.  I believe that wineries as a whole will be more honest about their wines and will be more dedicated to producing quality wine than they were prior to 1978.  That is something in which those critics can take pride.

I figured this was a good opportunity to review some wines by Siduri Winery since I mentioned them earlier.  Siduri produces wine with grapes sourced from California and Oregon

Siduri-logo-color-300x199Siduri Winery is located in a nondescript office park in Santa Rosa.  I showed up on a day they were closed & I didn’t realize it.  The girl working the front office offered to pour for me since they had wines open.  I said I could come back another day, but she was very nice about it & so I tried some wines.  They had both their Siduri Wines and their Novy Family Wines.  My notes are really sparse because I felt bad about taking up their time on a day off.  I did end up buying a couple of wines.  I highly recommend stopping by Siduri Winery, but you should probably check their schedule first.

2012 Siduri Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir $32

The stand-out flavors to me were spice and orange peel.  There is also some red fruit and an herbal note.  The wine is purple in the middle and pink on the edges.

2012 Siduri Winery Sonoma County Pinot Noir $22

I tasted sage with spice, but I primarily tasted herbal notes on this wine.  There was some red fruit as well, but I definitely came away thinking about the herbal components.

2012 Siduri Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $32

This purple to pink Pinot Noir had a strong blend of cherry and menthol.  It had soft tannins.  It looks bigger than it tastes if that makes sense.  It is so dark that you expect a bigger wine.  It was enjoyable though.

2012 Siduri Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $32

This was milder than the first three.  It has herbal notes and dried cherry fruit.  I also got a little mushroom, which I tend to like in Pinot Noir.  This wine was poured at the White House Holiday Party in December of 2013.

2011 Siduri Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir $49

This is a nice Pinot Noir.  It is solid on the mid palate, with good spice and a long finish.  It has darker fruit flavors than the cherry that has dominated the others.  There is a little leather and some menthol as well.  Since I talked about critics earlier I should mention that this got a slew of good reviews.  It received 92 from Wine Enthusiast, 91 from The Wine Advocate, and 90 points from Wine Spectator.

2011 Siduri Winery Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir $54

This is another deep purple wine in the center with pink edges.  This has a very nice blend of cinnamon, cherry, and dried red fruit(mostly raspberry).  It has medium tannins. This has a really long finish.  The critics loved this one too.  It received 92 from Wine Enthusiast, 90 from The Wine Advocate, and 90 points from Wine Spectator.

2011 Siduri Winery Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir $51

This deep purple Pinot Noir has a long finish.  There is cherry and a little red liquorice.  It also has the menthol and  spice that seems to be a trademark.  It had mild tannins.  The Wine Advocate gave this 92+ points.

2012 Novy Family Wines Russian River Valley Zinfandel $22

This has dark red fruit and there is some nice cranberry here.  I got a little bit of alcohol on the nose.  The wine clocks in at 15.7% alcohol & it may be a bit over the top.

2012 Novy Family Wines Simpson Vineyard Grenache $29

This is a tannic wine with dry red raspberry fruit.  There is some red liquorice.  I think this will taste better in a year or two.

2010 Novy Family Wines Rosella’s Vineyard Syrah $29

This is an inky dark Syrah.  It has strong bacon notes and a generally meaty taste.  It has dark red fruit and some nice black pepper.  I took home a bottle.

2011 Novy Family Wines Gary’s Vineyard Syrah $32

This is full of menthol, bacon, and smoked meat.  There is also black pepper and a bit of dark chocolate.  It received 91+ from The Wine Advocate and 91 from International Wine Cellar.

2012 Novy Family Wines Sierra Mar Vineyard Syrah $29

This is a more silky wine than the other Syrahs.  It still has that dark bacon thing running through it though!  There is also some coffee and dark fruit.  You really can’t go wrong with any of the Novy Syrahs.

 

If you are a football fan & made it through all of that, I’m impressed.  Since I’m close to 4,000 words already, I’ll do something quick this time.

I want to start a new award this year.  It would be for the worst NFL predictions.  I would like to find the predictions/statements that were not just wrong, but comically wrong due to either timing or just the size of the error.  I would like to name this “The McCleon Award” after Dexter McCleon, the former defensive back for the St. Louis Rams.  He was caught on camera with 1:21 seconds left in Super XXXVI saying “Tom Brady…overrated…Tom Brady…overrated.”  Then Tom Brady completed 5 of 8 passes, with 2 of the incompletions being spikes to stop the clock, to set up the winning field goal.  If McCleon had said that earlier in the game, it wouldn’t have been as funny, but right before a classic drive to win the game, it was perfect.  So if you see or hear anything like that during the upcoming season, please let me know.

Tom Brady after Super Bowl XXXVI

Tom Brady after Super Bowl XXXVI

 

 

A trip to some Oregon wineries & reasons for hope for the Oakland Raiders

31 May

I took a business trip to Oregon a couple of months ago.  There was just enough time to visit a few wineries along the way.  Here are the wineries I visited with a little bit about them & the wines.

Chehalem tasting-room Chehalem Winery

We were driving through Newberg Oregon & stopped at their downtown tasting room.  It was late in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t a surprise that we were the only ones in the tasting room.  The guy who served us was friendly & helpful.

I was familiar with the winery, but really didn’t know that much about it beyond their larger production Pinot Noir.  In truth, I kind of thought that the name was Yiddish.  It turns out that it is a Calapooia word that means either “gentle land” or “valley of flowers.”  The owners try to be good stewards of the land.  Many of their wines are certified sustainable by the Oregon Certified Sustainable Program.  They are working on a path to be carbon neutral.

The key question though is whether or not their wines are worth drinking.  I definitely think that they are.

Chehalem Winery Pinot Blanc 2012 Stoller Vineyard $29
There was a strong aroma of stone fruit on the nose.  I definitely smelled peach & apricot.  It had a nice mouth feel.  It goes into neutral oak & that gives it some mouth feel without tasting oaky.  The wine is 13.8% & feels perhaps a little hot.  It finished creamy with some honey notes.  This received 92 points in Wine Enthusiast.

Chehalem Winery Stoller Valley Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay 2011. 350 cases produced (not on their site)
Nutty oak on the nose.  I tasted cream & nut & lemon.  This is a delicious Chardonnay.  It has a long finish that accents the lemon.  There is also some lemon curd, which sounds the same as lemon, but is really a textural difference.  The glycerol is pretty high & that gives it some sweetness.  The finish is distinctly lemony.  There is some French oak aging on this wine, but I don’t have the details.  Whatever they did was the right amount though.  This is highly enjoyable.

Chehalem Winery Grüner Veltliner Ridgecrest Vineyards 2013 (not on their site)
Sometimes when I taste a Grüner  Veltliner from some place other than Austria, the nose isn’t quite right.  Often it is too sweet.  The nose is perfect on this wine.  I think that you could pick out the varietal at 10 paces. On the palate I got primarily apricot. There is also some spice, green apple, & peach.  There is also a ton of acid.  As good as this wine was by itself, it is a wine that really is best with food.  I think this would have been great with some fried calamari with a spicy remoulade.  I brought a bottle home with me, so I may try that.  This is a mouthwatering wine with a lingering finish.  It is a terrific example of an Oregon Grüner Veltliner.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Estate Grown Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2013 (not on their site)

With its light pink color, this wine had the look of the rose’ wines that give the genre a bad rap.  Of course that’s a reason not to judge a wine by its color.  The nose is a light strawberry & rose petal.  There is nice acidity on the finish.  The wine’s flavor is a mélange of strawberry, cherry, & a hint of vanilla. The residual sugar clocks in at 0.02 & the total acidity is at 8.23, so it has body, with a tart finish.  The wine has a little spritz to it.  I don’t know if that was added by sparging or if it is natural.  Either way, it is delightful.  This isn’t the most complex wine that I have had recently, but it delivers exactly what it should.

This is an excellent rose’.  I wish that I had saved a bottle for Easter brunch.  I think it would be great with salmon or Eggs Benedict.

Chehalem doesn’t make a rose’ every year & it goes fast when they do.  I managed to pick up a bottle a couple of weeks prior to the official release after promising not to write about it for two weeks.  Time’s up, so if you like Pinot Noir rose’, check out their website before they run out of it.
Chehalem Winery Three Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $32

The name is somewhat self-explanatory.  The grapes for this wine come from three different vineyards. It was light in color with almost a brown in the center.  There was cherry on the nose with some rose petal.  The alcohol was 12.7%, but tasted a little higher to me.  It had pretty solid tannins.  On the palate, there was plenty of ripe cherry, with a small amount of spice.  It had a long finish with the tannins being a big part of that finish.  The taste is dry though, rather than the sweetness you might expect on an Oregon Pinot Noir with a long finish.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $50
This had a nice color that moved from pink to red.  It had a pretty, delicate nose with strawberry & cherry.  There was a very subtle white pepper on the finish.  The main flavors were light cocoa with cherry.  To me this was a very enjoyable light Oregon Pinot Noir. It clocked in at 13% alcohol.  It received 90 Points in Wine Spectator, which might be higher than I would give it.  I liked it, but I don’t think I would plunk down $50 for it versus some of their other wines.

Chehalem Winery Ridgecrest Vineyard  Pinot Noir 2010 395 cases $50
In a blind tasting I would miss this & guess Burgundy based on the nose.  There were some earth & bramble notes along with Bing cherry & tobacco.  To me this had a very cool nose.  This had a bigger mouth feel than the Three Vineyards, but still not like a warm weather Pinot Noir.   On the palate there were earthy, leathery notes that mixed nicely with sour cherry.  This was a great Pinot!  For my $50, I would go this route instead of the Coral Creek.  Wine Enthusiast gave it 93 points & Parker & Wine Enthusiast gave it 91 & 90 points respectively.

Vines at Archery Summit

Vines at Archery Summit

Archery Summit Vineyards

Archery Summit Vineyards has been around for over 20 years. They are best known for their Pinot Noir.  They have the winery set up so that it can take advantage of gravity flow over 5 levels.  The grapes are handpicked, since as you can see from the photo, mechanical harvesters would not work here.

I was fighting allergies the morning I tried wines at Archery Summit.  I would like to try these again when I could really smell the wine.  The tasting notes are somewhat abbreviated.

The service at Archery Summit was great!  The main person waiting on us was friendly and informative and as various people cycled through the small tasting area, they all stopped to say hi & were fun to chat with for a short time.
Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012 Willamette Valley $24
This had a generous smell of apple with a baked apple on the nose & the palate.  It had nice acid & was definitely an easy drinking wine.

Archery Summit 2013 Vireton Rose’ $24
This is a 100% free run juice Pinot Noir Rose’.  It is fairly dry.  The color is salmon pink.  It had good legs.  It actually had nice dusty notes that I didn’t expect.  That may sound odd, but a dusty smell or slight dusty taste in a Pinot Noir is a good thing & here it was an indicator that this was a serious wine rather than a cheap & sweet blush.  It had a light, but tasty flavor.  Cherry and orange were the dominant flavors that I noted.  My allergies made it hard to get a handle on the wine.

Archery Summit 2012 Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot noir $49
This had a dark red to purple color.  There was spice & plum on the nose.  I tasted ripe fruit with some baked flavors.  There was a hint of coco powder as well.   On the finish, there was a strong taste of cinnamon.

Archery Summit Dundee hills 2011 Archer’s Edge Estate (A list wine club members only)
The vines for this wine were planted in 2007. This is the first year of production.  This had a more intense nose than the premier cuvée. It had good, lingering tannins. This was a complex wine that I think would be better in a couple of years as the tannins polymerize.  In the meantime, the primary fruit flavors that I noticed were raspberry & cherry.  As I drank it I also noticed blueberry becoming more prominent.  I definitely would like to try this wine five years from now.  The wine was aged for 9 months in French oak, with only 29% of that oak new.
Archery Summit 2011 Looney Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir $85
This has a more delicate nose than the previous Pinot Noirs, but it was fairly complex.  There was a lot going on with this wine.  It was layered & enjoyable.  Bitter cherry flavors were accented with herbs.  The tannins were still pretty good, so this will get better, but it is a tasty wine right now. It had clean fruit flavors. I tasted plum, raspberry, cherry, & orange zest.  This wine spent 10 months in 35% new French oak.

Archery Summit 2011 Red Hills Estate Dundee Hills Pinot noir $100
There was black fruit on the nose.  It had a relatively darker color, tending to the black & purple range. It had good acid, & tannin. There was some cocoa, with loads of dark cherry flavors. I also noticed some blueberry and cinnamon. This would be great with roast duck. It had a very dry finish.  For what it is worth, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 92 in Wine Advocate.  The wine spent a year in French oak with 44% of that new oak.

Archery Summit Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir $150
To me this had a light nose, with a wide variety of smells on the nose, but nothing stood out in particular.  There was a general aroma of spice more than anything. Of course that could have been my nose rather than the wine. This had a long velvety finish. It also had good mouth feel. This was a big, but elegant Pinot Noir.  The primary flavors were Bing cherry, raspberry, and spice (some cinnamon, some allspice, and something else).  It had a dry finish with tart cherry.  It definitely had big tannins for Pinot noir!  For those who care, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 90 in Wine Advocate.  This spent 10 months in French oak, but a higher percentage of it was new oak than on the other wines.  This was 55% new oak.

The cave at Archery Summit

The cave at Archery Summit

a torii at Torii Mor

a torii at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

Torii Mor Winery

Torii Mor winery has been around since 1993.  More significantly, its Olson Estate Vineyard was planted in 1972, making it one of the older Pinot Noir Vineyards in Oregon.  Torii refers to the Japanese gates often found at the entrance to gardens.  There is a small Japanese garden on the property and a strong Japanese design influence throughout the tasting room.  Mor means earth in Scandanavia.  Combining the two, gives you a gateway to the earth.  Burgundy native Jacques Tardy is the wine maker.  The winery is LEED certified so this is another environmentally conscious winery.

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Torii Mor 2013 Pinot Blanc $20
There was apricot on the nose.  It was a light pale straw color.  I tasted a little bit of residual sugar.  The defining characteristics for me were the apricot & some baked pie crust.  This was an easy drinker.  There was enough acidity that the sweetness was not cloying, but was instead nicely refreshing.  A portion of this wine saw neutral oak and I believe that contributed to the nice mouth feel of the wine.

Torii Mor Black Label 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $24
This is the Torii Mor wine that you are most likely to see in the broad market.  I smelled cherry & raspberry on the nose. There was light cherry & cocoa on the palate with light tannins.  It had a round mouth feel with some acid at the finish.  The wine saw 10 months in a combination of French and Hungarian oak.  This was a solid Pinot Noir for the price although it wasn’t anything special.  This received 89 points in Wine Spectator.

Torii Mor Reserve Deux Verres 2011 Pinot noir $38

This is a blend of fruit from eight different vineyards.  There are also eight different Pinot Noir clones, which I think is a good idea,  The wine is red in the center and goes pink at the edges.  There was some alcohol on the nose with tart cherry.  I tasted some light earth flavors with a hint of mushroom, although cherry was the primary flavor.  I tasted both fresh bright cherry and a darker deeper cherry. This had bigger tannins than the black label.  It had a slightly sweet finish.

Torii Mor La Colina vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir $55

There was some copper color on this wine.  It had a delicate nose with some rose petal notes.  I tasted dried fruit. Dried cherry was the primary fruit to me.  It had a lingering finish of dried cherry & rose petals.  This is an interesting wine that I would like to try with food.  I liked it the more I sipped it.  This spent 15 months in mostly neutral oak.  To me this wine was a real step up in quality from the previous two Pinots.  Of course that was reflected in the price, but sometimes that’s how it is.

Torii Mor Olsen Estate Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir  $60 200 cases

This had a light cherry red color.  It has darker, more intense fruit on the nose. It has deeper flavors as wall.  There is some cherry & some mushroom.  This is distinctly an Oregon Pinot, but it has some real Burgundian structure & flavor.  There was soft spice at the end.  This was a very nice Pinot noir.  One of the best I have had in a while. Of course I wrote that note before I tried the next one.  The wine spent 21 months in French oak.  17.5% of that was new oak.

Torii Mor Temperance Hills vineyards 2003 Pinot Noir $60 195 cases
When we were there, they were pouring this wine from their library.  It had an earthy nose.  The wine still had the cherry of their other Pinot Noirs, but there was definitely an earthy note to it.  It had a deeper red color than their other Pinots.  This was an earthy wine with  black cherry, and allspice.  This still had great tannins.  The finish accented a brighter cherry flavor.  This would be fantastic with wild game.  I think it would be great with duck or pheasant.  This was a delicious wine and I had to take a bottle home with me.  When I am looking back over my favorite wines of 2014, I think this will make my list.

Torii Mor 2010 Syrah Port $45
This dessert wine had big red flavors with brown sugar on the nose.  I liked this a lot.  It had a sweet, but not syrupy brown sugar with blueberry flavor.  There was lingering blueberry on the finish.  To me this was very good.  I’m not the biggest Port or Port style wine fan in the world, but I enjoyed this.

 

The Autumn wind is a Raider

The Autumn wind is a Raider

Now that I have talked wine for a bit, I better think about football.  Right now I am thinking that there is actually hope for the future of the Raiders.  I know that you are thinking that this is just the wine talking.  Actually I haven’t had anything to drink today, although of course dinner is coming soon.

The Oakland Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002.  During that time they have only finished with more than 5 wins in 2 seasons.  In 2011 they won 8 games.  At the end of that season, owner Al Davis fired coach Tom Cable, more for off the field issues than for on the field performance.  Cable broke the jaw of an assistant coach and there were allegations of violence towards women.  Hue Jackson was named the new coach.  He managed another 8-8 season the next year despite the turbulence of the death of Al Davis and the loss of quarterback Jason Campbell to injury but was also fired.  Once again, it seemed that off the field issues might have contributed to the firing.  His influence on the trade that brought Carson Palmer to the team to replace Campbell was held against him and he seemed to be attempting to seize power in a way that was not subtle and was not appreciated by the rest of the organization.

Reggie McKenzie was brought in as the new General Manager and he fired Jackson and hired Dennis Allen, who is the first head coach with a defensive background for the Raiders since John Madden.  McKenzie a former Raider linebacker, who had spent 18 years with the Green Bay Packers was tasked with overhauling the roster.  When he came on board, the team had $154 million committed to the roster for the year and the salary cap was $120 million.  He only had few picks in the 2012 draft because of prior trades, but he still couldn’t afford them. Something had to give. He released many highly paid veterans in order to get under the cap.

Unsurprisingly, releasing veteran players and not having a lot of draft picks was not a formula for short term success.  The team has gone 4-12 each of the last two years.  There is a feeling that this year the team had better improve if McKenzie & Allen want to return for a fourth year.  “There are no built-in excuses anymore,” Davis said to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

With that in mind and with $65 million in salary cap room the team has made aggressive moves this year.  Their initial moves were surprising.  They let go of some young talent like Jared Veldheer and Lamar Houston and replaced them with older players that don’t seem to be an upgrade.  Once they started signing players, there were several commentators that said that the Raiders were signing the dream team of 2009 free agency due to the number of older players that they signed.

Despite this, and despite the fact that they play possibly the hardest NFL schedule in 2014, I think the Raiders are set up for success.  It may not be this year, and they may be the Los Angeles Raiders before it happens, but I think it is coming.  Here are a few reasons why.

They have drastically improved their quarterback situation.  Terrell Pryor flashed signs of being a competent starting quarterback last year, but he just wasn’t consistent.  He couldn’t read the field and it seemed that if the defense took away half of the field, he would attempt to run.  After early running success, the defenses caught up to him.

For the price of a sixth round draft pick, the Raiders acquired Matt Schaub from Houston.  Schaub had a bad year in Houston last year, but he has been a Pro Bowl quarterback.  I think he has the possibility to bounce back.  I really wonder if he was fully recovered from his lisfranc surgery at the end of 2011.  That seems to be an injury that can take 18 month or more to heal.  Last year it looked like he couldn’t step into his throw and get velocity on the ball.  I think that contributed to some of his interceptions.  It could be that he is having a Jake Delhomme style career meltdown, but I would expect regression to the mean this year for Schaub.  For him that’s a completion rate around 64%, about 3,317 passing ards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.  Those might not be All Pro numbers, but I have to think Raiders fans would be happy.

I think that he is the best quarterback the Raiders have had in years.  That may be more of a reflection on the Raiders than on Schaub, but it is a step forward.  The last Raiders quarterback to make the Pro Bowl was Rich Gannon in 2002 when he was the NFL MVP.  Since then, they have had a string of backups starting games for them and well over the hill former starters.  In 2007 instead of drafting Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson, they used the number 1 overall pick on Jamarcus Russell.  Russell managed to pass for 18 touchdowns versus 23 interceptions and 4,083 yards total for his career before eating himself out of the league.

Schaub’s 89.8 career passer rating looks great when compared to Raider starters like Josh McCown 77.5, Kerry Collins 73.8, Terrell Pryor’s 69.1, and Russell’s 65.2. If he can just have an average year, the Raiders will be better at the most important position.  I also think that allowing new draft pick Derek Carr to sit on the bench for a year or two will help him adjust to the pro game.

I don’t know if Maurice Jones Drew has enough left to make a difference at running back.  At least the team isn’t pinning all of their hopes on Darren McFadden to stay healthy for once.  I do know that Maurice Jones Drew will see fewer defenders in the box than he had in years.  I think that if he cuts back his carries and the passing game is decent, that he can have a couple of solid years while the team develops their newer running backs.  Last year he averaged over 15 carries per game & it seemed like more.  He consistently was running into 8 men in the box and not too many backs this side of Adrian Peterson are effective in that situation.

The receiving corps has improved with the addition of James Jones from the Packers.  I also think that Rod Streater will look much better with Schaub throwing him the ball.  He had 60 catches last year for 888 yards with generally bad quarterback play.  Denarius Moore isn’t going to develop into the #1 receiver that the Raiders hoped he would, but he is a terrific #3 receiver.  Andre Holmes has size and speed.  Mychal Rivera is more of a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end.  Matt Schaub might be able to use him the way he used Owen Daniels in Houston.  I don’t expect Greg Little to suddenly start holding onto passes with more frequency, but otherwise the receiving situation isn’t bad at all.

Signing Justin Tuck & LaMarr Woodley will pay dividends beyond their own performance.  The Raiders have been losers for so long that it had become ingrained in the culture.  Bringing in players who can still contribute, who have Super Bowl rings should provide veteran leadership and possibly a change in the culture of the club.  Pairing Tuck with Antonio Smith on the defensive line should result in more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in a division with solid quarterbacks across the board. I think drafting Khalil Mack in the first round instead of a quarterback was the right move as well.  Letting him work with Woodley should be a positive.  I think that the secondary will still be the weak spot on the defense, but if the defensive line can bring more pressure, which they really should, then the secondary will look better.

Overall, this looks like a team with a nice mixture of youth and experience.  They should score more point and allow fewer scored against them.  The only problem is that they are in a tough division and play a killer schedule this year between the teams they play and the travel schedule.  They have several east coast games and a game in London.

If the Raiders win more than 6 games this year, that would actually be pretty good.  If they catch a few breaks and go 8-8 that would actually be quite an achievement.  If they were playing in the AFC South, I think that they could be a playoff team.  That isn’t the case though.

If they manage an 8-8 season, I hope that Davis keeps McKenzie around.  I also would love to see the Raiders stay in Oakland.  I think that they belong there.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised though to see them head into the 2015 season in Los Angeles with a new coach and general manager.  There is a lot riding on this season.  I think that there is reason for optimism though.  We just need to see how it plays out on the field.

European structure versus New World freedom (passing off a class assignment as a blog post)

1 May

I am taking the Diploma class from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.  I just passed Unit 2 and am now taking Unit 1 online.  I know that taking Unit 2 before Unit 1 makes no sense.  That’s the system though.  Anyway, I just took a practice test for Unit 1, but I managed to be late with it, so I can’t get a test grade.  It doesn’t matter to my final score, but the input would have been helpful.  I figured I would post this here & see if I can get any input.  It also helps me get a post out here without writing anything else.

This is an essay question.  I wasn’t allowed to use any notes and I had 75 minutes to answer it.  I’m sure I could have written something better with reference to notes, but this is what I could knock out in 75 minutes with no notes.

Here was the question

  1. Why was Europe’s quality wine system created, and what aspects of wine production does it regulate? (25% weighting)
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the quality wine system from the point of view of the producer and consumer? (25% weighting)
  3. Why has the new world had success with the varietal approach? (25% weighting)
  4. What can tomorrow’s wine industry learn from these contrasting new and old world approaches, and use going forward? (25% weighting)

Here’s my answer

European structure versus New World freedom

Although it oversimplifies a more complex issue, it is generally fair to say that European wine making is determined by quality wine regulations while New World wine making is not.  There are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.

In many wine producing areas of Europe, the location of the vineyard determines the grape varietal or varietals.  It may also control the percentages of those varietals in the bottle.  Beyond that, the classification systems in certain areas such as Burgundy and Bordeaux ultimately dictate the final price of the wine.  In most of the New World, the grower is free to plant whatever grape that they feel will grow well and will be saleable either as a direct producer of wine or as a crop to be sold to a winery.  The winery itself has the freedom to make whatever wine they feel will taste and sell the best.  They are also able to age the wine the amount of time that they desire, rather than depending on iron clad rules such as those governing the release of reserve wines such as Brunello.

Although we tend to look at the current European quality wine system as something scientifically created and based on empirical data, that is not really the case.  Despite some real work to match the best grape to the site, (especially the work done by the Cistercian monks) the current system is a hodgepodge of quirks masquerading as wine truths.  In 1395 Philip the Bold dictated that the Gamay grape should no longer be planted in Burgundy and the Pinot Noir grape should be the red grape planted.  He said that the Gamay was a “disloyal” grape.  This is probably the first step towards the European quality system. The most famous classification system of course is the 1855 Bordeaux classification.  In this case, Napoleon wanted a classification of the best Bordeaux wines.  The list that was submitted was pretty good for its time, especially in the Medoc.  Unfortunately there were a number of wineries left off the classification.  Even worse was that the 1855 classification ossified and has only been slightly updated over the last 159 years.  Wineries like Chateau Petrus were not part of the classification and wineries which have changed hands and expanded their vineyards have the same rating as they did 159 years ago.  This would be somewhat analogous to picking the best automobile manufacturers in the 1920’s and then basing everything about producing and selling automobiles on how those cars were produced.  There are certainly some things about an old Packard that I admire more than my Toyota Prius, but it would be absurd to argue that since Toyota didn’t exist in 1929 that you should run out and buy a Packard today. Over the years the various wine regions adopted their own systems of Crus or other quality control system.  The various local regulations have generally been adopted with few changes into the European Union wine regulations.  Key changes in that system occurred in 1978, 1999, and most recently in 2008.  Much of the thrust of those laws has been to reduce the “wine lake” in Europe.

The current European system regulates where you can plant vineyards.  In many regions it dictates what grapes can be used (Bordeaux and Burgundy for instance).  The division of the EU into growing regions dictates whether sugar or acid can be added to the must.   Alcohol percentages are also regulated based on those growing regions.  Percentages of various substances like iron, copper, sulfur dioxide, and total acidity are regulated.   In some areas, harvest times are still regulated and in a few areas mechanization of harvest is forbidden.  Irrigation can be allowed or not allowed depending on the regulations.  The maturation and handling of the wines can be dictated as well.  This is not true in all regions.  The Languedoc has much more freedom than Bordeaux for example.  Labeling is also regulated.  The most important aspect of labeling is the Cru or Classified Growth system.  A Grand Cru wine is always a Grand Cru wine and a Premier Cru wine is always a Premier Cru no matter which wine is actually the best in a given year.

For some consumers the quality system makes wine buying easier.  If they want to buy a Southern Rhone wine, they feel comfortable believing that a Cotes du Rhone Villages will be better than a standard Cotes du Rhone.  They would be willing to spend more money on a Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun than on a Villages without an AOC name.  They would also expect that a Châteauneuf du Pape would be a superior wine to the others I have mentioned.  These consumers can navigate the system so that even if it is a producer with which they are not familiar, they should have a sense of the quality and even the style of the wine.

For producers, the system can be good because it reduces the number of decisions that a grower or a winery must navigate.  It also helps to regulate income.  Wineries with a certain designation can generally count on steady income.  That allows for planning over generations rather than over seasons.

The first problem with that system is that it is too complex for the average wine drinker to memorize.  A relatively new wine drinker might know that they enjoy a slightly sweet Riesling, but they probably have no idea how to read a German wine label.  They might buy an American or Australian wine labeled as a “Sweet Riesling” rather than trying to figure out if you were supposed to store a Kabinett Riesling in a cabinet.  Wine drinkers who are willing to spend a lot of money on a wine might know that they like Syrah and know that it is also called Shiraz.  That doesn’t mean that they know that a Northern Rhone red is made from the grape they love.  They might buy a Penfold’s Grange without batting an eye, but be unwilling to try a Chave Hermitage because it is a high priced wine of unknown type to them.

The larger problem to me is that the systems can stifle innovation.  The original Super Tuscan wines like Tignanello had to be labeled as IGT wines because they did not qualify for any higher status under Italian law.  It took a lot of confidence (and money in the bank) to produce a superior wine that couldn’t be labeled as on par with the worst DOC Chianti of its time.  Most producers in Europe cannot make that leap of faith either because of lack of funds or regulatory prohibition.  There are times when the laws are treated with a wink and a nod.  There are certainly vineyards that use drip irrigation when they are not legally allowed to.  I have known Italian wine makers who added water to reduce alcohol content on highly ripe grapes.  Those types of things happen because they are hard to enforce.  However, many choices that New World wine makers make are simply not allowed to European wine makers.

There are other issues with the European system, but the final one I will mention is the static nature of the Classified Growth system and similar systems.  Obviously none of the wineries in the 1855 classification have the same wine maker today.  The French response to that is that the terroir is the same.   In most cases that is not true.  When a 2nd Growth purchases adjacent land that belongs to a 3rd Growth, that vineyard is now part of a 2nd Growth.  Its terroir has not changed.  The grapes it produces are not now automatically better.  Nevertheless, fruit from that vineyard is now worth more and wine produced from it can now be labeled as a 2nd Growth.   Only the most Bordeaux obsessed consumer might be capable of keeping up with these changes.   The terroir has also changed over the years due to changes in climate patterns.  As the Earth warms, the region that was designated as a Premier Cru vineyard for the production of Pinot Noir may become too hot to produce the best Pinot Noir.  In 50 years, should the consumer still be expected to pay more for a Grand Cru Burgundy than an English Chardonnay?  Probably, but you never know.  Perhaps the climate in England will be perfect & it will just be too hot in Burgundy.

The New World has generally taken what we think of as a newer approach to vine planting and labeling.  In truth, the experimentation that is going on in planting a variety of grapes in a single region to see what happens is ancient.  Pliny the Elder wrote about different vines being planted in different places.  The Cistercian monks kept careful records of what was planted where and how well it grew.  This process took hundreds of years.  It just seems like things have been the way that they are now forever.

Early American wines tended to take their names from successful European names, regardless of what was actually in the bottle.  We can still see that marketing in Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy, which may be hearty, but certainly isn’t from Burgundy and definitely isn’t made with Pinot Noir.  Over the years, wine marketers found that labeling by varietal increased sales.  The consumer was willing to try a new brand or a new label as long as they recognized the grape.  It was easier to learn that you liked Chardonnay and didn’t like Sauvignon Blanc than it was to learn that you liked white Burgundy and didn’t like white Bordeaux.  It also made it easier for merchants to rack the wines.  Now you could push your shopping cart through the grocery store’s wine section and easily find what you wanted without learning to speak German or memorize regional wine styles.  There are a variety of reasons why the New World consumer is more comfortable with this approach.  I think that the biggest reason in the United States is because the U.S. does not have the several century long continuity of wine experience that Europeans possess.  In England it was customary for years to buy a pipe of Port for a new born male.  That was generally enough to last him for his life.  French children grew up drinking wine with dinner, and wine and grape growing was not a distant concept to them.  In the early United States, wine was difficult to produce due to climate issues.  Americans drank more beer and spirits than wine.  Even worse for a culture of wine knowledge, Prohibition snapped what little wine history the country had built.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that wine really began its climb to prominence in America.

While the American experience is not the only New World experience, it was formative.  The U.S, market has helped to shape the markets of New World producers such as Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand.

As the New World industry has matured and as the customers have matured with it, there has been a willingness to try more blends.  Building that base with varietal labeling was an essential part of preparing the consumer.  Many of the successful blends still state the varietals on the label.  That gives the consumer a comfort level.  If they know that they like Shiraz and they know that they like Cabernet Sauvignon, why not try that Australian Shiraz/Cabernet blend?  The varietals are the base of the pyramid of their wine knowledge.  As they learn what they like, they are able to be a little more adventurous without getting too far from their comfort zone.

In the future I believe that we will see some swapping of systems.  I doubt that the United States will ever adopt rigid controls on what grapes can be produced in what appellation.  I do think that certain grapes are becoming strongly associated with certain areas.  Casual consumers know that Napa makes great Cabernet Sauvignon and that Oregon makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  Those with more knowledge might expect to enjoy a Lodi Zinfandel or a Texas High Plains Roussanne.  Those associations will probably grow stronger as wine makers duplicate the Cistercian’s process of discovering the best grape for the area and as consumers demand more of a particular grape from a particular area.  There will be good and bad to that process.  Some less known areas will produce better, more appropriate wines and will make more money doing so.  Unfortunately there will be some grapes squeezed out of areas.  If everyone wants to buy Carneros Chardonnay, why would you grow Chenin Blanc there, even if you produced a nice Chenin Blanc?  I do believe that New World regions are still in a long process of understanding the terroir of their vineyards and I believe that there is much to learn from the European experience.

On the European side, I believe that more wineries will experiment with new production techniques and new production equipment as it is proven in the New World.  As New World wineries prove the effectiveness of newer techniques, it would be interesting to see how those techniques work in Europe.  I’m not advocating that all wine should be produced the same.  I think that there are ways in which Europe changed its wines too much in certain regions over the last 20 years.  There are some cases in Bordeaux where grapes were allowed to ripen probably too much because they wanted to make New World style wines and get higher points from Robert Parker.  There are also areas like Spain where wine makers have adopted New World practices like smaller barrels with less aging and occasionally using stainless steel.  That has meant that there are more clean and tasty Spanish wines than you would have found 20 years ago.  I expect that trend to continue.

New World wineries are beginning to adopt some Old World blending into their portfolios.  The success of the various Rhone Ranger wines shows how blending can be both financially and esthetically beneficial.  In American wine shops we are seeing more European wines labeled with varietal information.  There are white Burgundies that say that they are Chardonnay on the front label.  I have seen Rhone wines with varietal breakdowns on the back of the label…a label surely created exclusively for export.  There are a number of German wines that are produced with labels that could be from California.  I think those trends will continue on both sides of the Atlantic.

Finally, I hope that European governments will be open to changing the rules as wine regions experience climate change.  The worst case scenarios may never happen, but if current trends continue, mesoclimates that are marginal for a particular grape (which is often where the best wine is produced) may no longer be suitable for that grape and might be better suited for something else.  I know that New World producers will be able to make the adjustments.  I sincerely hope that European producers will be able to as well.

Differences in political structure and in history have shaped the approaches of Old and New World wine producers.  No one system has proven to be the best and there is something that each can learn from the other.

 

If you have read this whole thing, I sure would appreciate your thoughts.  To stick with my general theme, I have some football thoughts below.

The main thing that I am thinking about football right now is that moving the draft to May is annoying!  It means that the teams don’t get a better feel for their team until May.  It means that many of the free agents remaining on the market may have to wait until June to find their new home.  The biggest thing is that I am just sick of listening to the commentators talk about who is rising & who is falling & what might happen on draft day.  It is bad every year, but this year it is a month longer and a month worse.

My other thought about draft day is that if I were a player invited to the draft, I wouldn’t go unless I was certain to be in the first 5 draft picks.   There are around 31 players tentatively set to show up in New York to sit in the green room and come out to get a hug from Roger Goodell.  Some of those guys won’t be drafted the first day and the cameras will be focused on them squirming in their chairs.  Watching Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers, or Geno Smith fall in the draft was uncomfortable at home and I have to think it was much worse for them in New York.   Why not stay home & hang out with your friends and family?  After the draft you will have to go to work and won’t be able to spend time with them for a while.  If you want to go to New York later, you will be able to afford to do it in style.  If you just want to be on TV, remember that you will be on TV for 16 games or so a year if you do your job.  The potential downside is worse than the upside to me.

 

N.F.L. free agency so far & reviews of some Bogle wines Ron Rivera might want to drink to drown his sorrows over free agency

22 Mar
Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Last year I explained why free agency is a crap-shoot & you can’t predict which teams really did the best.  Obviously this year I have to completely forget about that & make some predictions about which teams have done the best & worst in free agency, even though it is still going on as I type.

I still believe that it is true that no one wins the Super Bowl in March, but this year it looks like you can guarantee that you won’t even be in the hunt.  Here are the teams that I think have helped or hurt themselves the most so far.  I didn’t write about every team, just the ones who have made significant moves.   I haven’t included Oakland because I can’t really figure them out yet.

Teams that helped themselves

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made a lot of moves, but the moves they have made look good.  They signed Antonio Cromartie to a 1 year contract.  He didn’t have a great year last year, but he has been a solid cornerback.  The best thing for him & for the Cardinals is that he will handle the #2 receiver for the opposing team.  Pairing him with Patrick Peterson & Tyrann Mathieu creates a great defensive backfield for the Cardinals.  They also signed Jared Veldheer to a 5 year contract.  He might not be the left tackle of your dreams, but adding him & Ted Larsen to the line should keep Carson Palmer from having so many nightmares.

Denver Broncos

With the exception of losing Eric Decker to the Jets, everything seems to be going right for the Broncos this year.   The Super Bowl showed them how much improvement their defense needed to make this year.  John Elway is working on it with a vengeance.  They signed DeMarcus Ware, who should be amazing paired with Von Miller.  They replaced Champ Bailey with Aqib Talib, which not only upgraded their secondary, but also looked like it would hurt the Patriots.  It didn’t, but it was a great move either way.  On offense they replaced Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders, who should be able to stretch the field & open up some crossing routes for Wes Welker.

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have made a few key moves.  Adding Golden Tate at wide receiver looks like a smart choice.  He should see single coverage every game and has the opportunity to have a great year.  I think Jed Collins at fullback will be a good move as well.  If Jim Caldwell can get any discipline into this team in his first year, they should be a threat to make the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers don’t usually do much in free agency, but signing Julius Peppers was a big deal.  I think that he has a couple more good years in him & that might be enough to get the Packers deeper into the playoffs.  Despite having the 8th best scoring offense in the NFL last year, the Packers were still outscored overall by their opponents (by 11 points).  Signing Peppers might close that gap.

Indianapolis Colts

Hakeem Nicks had a bad season in a contract year, but his quarterback had a terrible year.  Now Nicks is on a 1 year prove it deal & will have Andrew Luck throwing to him, who should give him a chance to shine.  Signing D’Qwell Jackson looks like a good move.  At the moment, the Colts look likely to repeat their AFC South championship.

Jacksonville Jaguars

They haven’t made any splashy moves, but they have signed some solid players who should help.  Toby Gerhart has looked very good in limited duty for the Vikings.  Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood, & especially Red Bryant should help Gus Bradley continue to improve the defense.  I could see this team winning somewhere between 7-9 games next year.  They only play 5 playoff teams from 2013.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins always seem to be the champions of March & then can’t do much in the fall.  I do think that they have improved this year.  Their line last year was not only the worst in the league, but they also were involved in a bullying scandal that led to the firing of their line coach.  Of course I thought he should be fired for performance even before the report on bullying.  When you are the line coach for a team that gives up 58 sacks in one season, you probably know better than to take out a new mortgage on the house.  58 sacks are more than the Lions & Broncos allowed combined last year!  This year they have signed Brandon Albert who should be much better at left tackle.  Shelly Smith may not be a big name at guard, but he is solid & probably won’t go crazy & smash his own car with a baseball bat.  Cortland Finegan might turn out to be a decent signing at cornerback, although Jeff Fisher giving up on him isn’t a good sign.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have had some high profile busts in recent years with veteran players like Albert Haynesworth & Chad Johnson.  I don’t think that’s the case this year.  Losing Aqib Talib made it look like a secondary that was improving last year was going to regress.  Instead, the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis & Brandon Browner.  Browner can’t play until week 5, but after that they might have the best secondary in the NFL.  The key will be finding someone to stuff the run.  I think that the pass rushers will automatically get better this year because opposing quarterbacks are going to hold the ball longer trying to find an open receiver.  On offense I thought that Julian Edelman was a priority to re-sign so that Tom Brady wouldn’t lose his #1 receiver two off seasons in a row.  It took a while, but it happened.  I don’t know if Brandon Lafell will be a difference maker at wide receiver, but he has potential.  He dropped too many balls last year, but he is a big fast receiver & Brady is a more accurate quarterback than Cam Newton, so maybe the balls will be easier to catch.  If they can keep Legarrette Blount & find a way to make Vince Wilfork happy, this will be a great off season for the Patriots.  Even if they lose Blount, I think that the team has significantly improved.

Teams that hurt themselves

Carolina Panthers

They have signed Jerricho Cotchery to a 2 year contract & franchised defensive end Greg Hardy.  Otherwise this seems to be a nightmare offseason for Carolina fans.  For whatever reason, they really wanted to get rid of leading receiver Steve Smith.  Cutting him means that he will still count $4 million this year against their salary cap.  He signed with the Ravens for an average of 3.8 million a year.  Basically it cost more to cut him than to keep him.  Carolina’s receiving corps wasn’t spectacular last year, but it wasn’t terrible.  The other starting wide receivers were Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona, & Brandon Lafell, who signed with New England.  I’m sure that they will sign someone else & maybe they will trade for Desean Jackson which would really help.  At the moment though, the 5 wide receivers on their roster have caught 4 passes combined in the NFL.  So anyone reading this is at least tied for NFL catches with a starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers.  Congratulations!  Beginning the season with all new starting wide receivers is incredibly difficult.  You just have to look at how Tom Brady struggled last year to get on the same page with his new receivers.  Luckily for him, he had some experience with Julian Edelman & that helped while he got comfortable with all of the new guys.  Even with those problems, he at least had the offseason to work with them.  Cam Newton had surgery this week & won’t be able to work with his new receivers until the beginning of training camp at the earliest.

Right now I think Carolina is the most likely playoff team from last year to drop down to a losing season.  I feel bad for Coach Ron Rivera.  I think he has really been building something there & this year is going to be tough.  He has a great defense, but you won’t win many games scoring under 20 points against the Saints or Falcons in the NFC South.

Dallas Cowboys

I doubt even Jerry Jones thinks that his team is better today than it was a month ago.  I know that Jeremy Mincey was signed for depth rather than to replace Demarcus War, but any way you look at it, they aren’t as strong at that position.  Signing first round bust Brandon Weeden to be the 3rd string quarterback was probably a good idea.  Of course if Kyle Orton retires & Weeden is the backup quarterback, the Cowboys better hope that Tony Romo stays healthy.

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have basically sat out free agency.  Considering that they finished with the worst record in the league last year, you might think that they would be looking for help.  They did sign Jerrell Powell at nose tackle.  They released Owen Daniels, which I think was a mistake.  He was injured for 11 games last year, but has been relatively healthy otherwise.  He is only 31 & is a 2 time Pro Bowl player.  I always considered him a poor man’s Jason Witten & I mean that as a compliment.

New York Jets

I think that the Jets will be better on offense this year.  That’s partially because they couldn’t get worse, but also because they signed Eric Decker & while he wouldn’t be a number one receiver on most teams, he is a huge improvement for the Jets.  The problem is at cornerback.  The team released Antonio Cromartie because his contract was too rich.  I understand that, but they haven’t signed anyone nearly as good to replace him.  If you watch Jets games, you have probably seen Coach Rex Ryan spike his headphones into the ground in anger at some point.  I’ll bet that the look he has on his face when he does that is the exact look he had on his face when Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots.  In 2014, the Jets will face Tom Brady twice plus Peyton Manning Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, & Matthew Stafford once each.  That’s half of their games against quarterbacks with Pro Bowl credentials & as many as 5 games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  An elite cornerback would make a real difference there.  I’m sure that they will draft a cornerback or two & Rex is a great defensive coach, but that is still going to be a harsh introduction to the NFL for the rookie(s).

After typing this portion I found out that they have signed Mike Vick & might sign Desean Jackson.  That would help a lot.  It wouldn’t fix the defensive backfield though.

Revis signed with the Patriots??!!!

Seattle Seahawks

By the time this is posted they may have signed Jared Allen.  Even with that possibility, the Seahawks are learning just how hard it is to repeat as NFL champion.  There is a reason that no one has done it since the Patriots in 2004-2005.  After a Super Bowl victory, every player on the team wants to be paid like a Super Bowl champion & there is usually another team out there that will pay them that way.  With the salary cap & free agency, it is difficult to keep a team together.  The Seahawks have a big advantage in that they don’t have to pay Russell Wilson much.  He is still on his rookie contract & won’t be making Joe Flacco money for a while yet.  They have lost a lot of players though including Golden Tate, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons, & Walter Thurmond.  Those are all solid contributors.  I don’t think that they are going to fall out of the playoffs or anything  like that.  I just think that the team isn’t as good now as it was a couple of weeks ago.

The Broncos & the Patriots may not be breaking the Champagne out just yet, but I can definitely see how Rex Ryan & Ron Rivera might be ready for a few glasses of wine.  Here are some wine reviews to help choose a tasty distraction.

Bogle Vineyards

At the recent Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Bogle Vineyards was named Winery of the Year.  That is a pretty big accomplishment for a Clarksburg California winery.  Over the years they have experienced rapid growth & are now the 13th largest winery in the U.S.  Most of their wines are under $15 & occasionally my local grocery store has them for under $10.  A few of these wines are winery only, but most of them are in mass distribution.

I visited a few weeks ago & had a great time.  The tasting room is a pretty building with vineyards on the ground.  It is very close to the delta & the roads were covered with fog as we drove along.  If I didn’t have GPS I might not have found it.

I was with a business associate & we spent some time talking with other people tasting their wine.  On some wines I have more notes than others.

Blanc de Blanc 2011 sparkling

This is a Chardonnay based sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise (traditional Champagne method).  That means that it does its secondary fermentation in the bottle from which you are pouring.

This has very small bubbles & a light clean nose.  I smelled some butter & a yeasty note.  On the palate I also tasted a little green apple & some lemon or lemon curd.  This is a nice example of a Californian sparkling wine.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012

This was a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  It had intense grass & grapefruit flavors.  This is a solid summer wine.  It might make a nice wine to sip on the porch after cutting the grass.

Chardonnay 2012

Half of this wine is oaked and half of it is not.  The half in oak goes through sur lie aging, which means that the dead yeast cells are left in the wine as it ages.  The barrels have to be turned on a regular basis or the barrels have to be opened up & the wine stirred.  If you don’t stir the lees, you have reduction & some nasty tastes in your wine like rotten eggs & burnt match sticks.  If you do it right though, you have a wine with more mouth feel & a nice baked bread component. I didn’t need to look on their web site to know that this was American oak.  This wine almost has a mesquite flavor to it.  It was actually kind of weird, but in a good way.  I bought a bottle to take home.  The traditional Chardonnay flavors are there as well.  There is spiced vanilla, pear, and apple to compliment the baked bread.

I actually had this wine again last night & didn’t get the mesquite flavor, so that may have been an aberration.  The creamy butter flavors were more at the fore front.  It is still a very well made Chardonnay for the price.

Chenin Blanc 2012

Here’s another crisp white.  There are minimal oak and malolactic fermentation notes, but the wine still has nice acid.  The primary flavors are green apple & melon.

Riesling 2010

There is a small amount of the classic diesel nose to this wine.  It is still a sweet Riesling though, which is kind of an odd mix.  I usually expect Riesling with the pronounced diesel notes to be on the dry side.  It has good mouth feel & is actually a fairly nice Riesling.  It has a blend of apple, pear, & honey flavors.

Petite Sirah Nouveau 2010

Here’s a fun small production wine.  I don’t think I had ever tried a Petite Sirah made using carbonic maceration.  It has the classic bubble gum & banana nose associated with Nouveau Beaujolais.  The wine is actually softer on the palate as well, which I didn’t expect from Petite Sirah.  I has a light color, more pink than purple.  The wine has moderate tannins.  It would be nice with smoked ribs or spicy Mexican food.

Pinot Noir 2012

This wine sees a blend of French & American oak.  It has a clean nose of moderate intensity.  It is actually fairly big on the palate for a Pinot.  The tannins are soft.  I tasted plum with a little cinnamon & all spice.  It’s a fruit forward Pinot Noir & a textbook example of the New World fruity style.

Reserve Barbera 2010

This is another winery exclusive that is produced in small amounts.  If you remember Barbera as a thin acidic & tannic wine, that is understandable.  For years that’s what came out of Italy.  Over the last 20 years or so there have been many more fruit forward & food friendly Italian Barberas produced.  In the Sierra Foothills of California from which these grapes are sourced, there is the ability to really focus on the fruit.  The result is a fruit forward wine with blackberry, fig, & prune.  I also tasted some tobacco & herb, but really this wine is all about the fruitiness.

Petite Sirah 2011

I was surprised at how pink the Nouveau version was.  That isn’t the case here as this is the classic purple that you expect.  It has an intense nose & medium acidity.  There is plenty of dark fruit including blackberry.  I also tasted menthol & sage.  This is a very good Petite Sirah for the price.

Reserve Petite Sirah 2010

This wine is somewhere between purple & black.  It has jammy black fruit.  The overall impression is of dark rich fruit.  The wine has huge tannins, but they are well integrated.  This is a big, over the top wine, but in a good way.

Reserve Zinfandel 2010

This has a clean nose with red fruit.  It is soft on the mid palate.  It was probably harder to try this after the Reserve Petite Sirah since that was so tannic & overpowering.  This is a much more reserved wine with a velvety finish.  It has high tannins & high acidity.  My guess is that this wine will age very well.

Petite Sirah Port 2008

On the nose I smelled alcohol, raspberry, plum, & brown sugar.  On the palate I tasted raspberry, cherry, & plum.  The color of the wine is dark, but a little orange around the edges.  This is a well-rounded, easy to drink Port style wine.

Vines at Bogle

Vines at Bogle

Blind tasting is fun. Having a blind General Manager isn’t.

7 Mar

 

Jerry Jones looks sad  I had to do a blind tasting recently for a wine class.  I was able to identify the grape varietal, but only because I had the context of knowing that all three wines were made with the same grape.  That let me taste three very different wines & then see what the similarities were and what types of grapes could make these three diverse wines.  This was a case where if I had focused on only one aspect and not thought about the group as a whole, I would have failed.

Focusing on only one thing at a time and not thinking about the group as a whole seems to be a serious problem for Jerry Jones.  I had expected the Dallas Cowboys to be in much better salary cap shape in 2014.  This was the year where they no longer would suffer from the blatantly biased and punitive salary cap penalties that they and Washington faced because NY Giants owner John Mara was able to get his divisional rivals penalized for treating the uncapped year as an uncapped year.

I knew that there would be some contracts that had been back loaded to get them through the penalty years.  I just didn’t expect it to be this bad.  They were penalized $10 million for not being part of collusion in 2010.  This penalty was broken into 2 years at $5 million each.  This year the salary cap has been raised to $133 million, which is an increase of $10 million over last year.  Surely having an additional $15 million to spend would have the Cowboys sitting pretty right?  Unfortunately when the new year started, the Cowboys had $37 million (or almost 28%) of their cap space tied up in 2 players.  Tony Romo & DeMarcus Ware.  Projections showed them being somewhere between $20-$30 million over the cap.

On February 28th, the team cut 4 players, but that only saved $1 million in cap space. According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys reduced their cap problem a bit more on March 3 when Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee agreed to restructure their contracts. The move will save the team roughly $7 million. Finally, they restructured Tony Romo’s huge deal so that 12.5 million of his 2014 base salary of 13.5 million will be converted into a bonus.  That lets them spread that amount out over the remaining years of his contract.  That gets them to just about 1 million over the cap.  Of course it means that Romo’s cap hit will be way too high by the end of the contract.  At some point that bill has to come due.

There are doubtless more moves to come.  Miles Austin may be cut, which will save almost $5.5 million if he is designated as a June 1st cut.  DeMarcus Ware may have to take a pay cut.  Eventually they will get below the cap.  The problem is that they will have just barely cleared enough room to sign their draft picks & maybe a mid-tier free agent.  At the same time, they will have put themselves into the same position next year unless the cap dramatically increases (which it may).

The bottom line is that the Cowboys will have worked hard to meet the salary cap & preserve the core of a team that has gone 8-8 for the last 3 years.  Meanwhile, the Super Bowl champion Seahawks have almost $12 million in cap space.  At least a truly bad team like the Raiders has managed to get to a point where they have over $66 million in cap space & can try and fix their team over the next couple of years.  I think Jones needs to look at the entire roster.  Nothing suggests that will be the case though.  If Jerry Jones employed a General Manager who had put him in this position repeatedly, that GM would be fired. He should at least hold himself accountable.  At best for Cowboys fans, he should bring in some help.

Here are the wines we tried blind.

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron “La Butte du Trésor” Sec 2011 Loire Valley, Vouvray AC $14.99 12.5% alcohol

The wine was clear & bright with a pale straw color.  The nose had a crisp acidity and smelled of kiwi, green fruit, & green apple.  It was clean & intense.

Those green fruit flavors followed through on the palate.  I tasted kiwi, green apple, lime, & a bit of grapefruit.  It was dry, with a long finish.  The body was light, but the intensity was high.

Truthfully, I might have guessed that this was a Sauvignon Blanc if I hadn’t tried the other wines & known that they were all the same.  It reminded me more of a new world, Southern Hemisphere wine than of a Loire Valley Vouvray.

Botanica Chenin Blanc 2010$19.99 13.5% alcohol

After smelling this wine, I knew that we weren’t dealing with Sauvignon Blanc.  I narrowed it down to Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay immediately.  This wine was straw colored, but turning yellow.  The nose had obvious French oak with some cream, a little nuttiness, & lemon.  On the palate those same flavors came through, with the oak being the primary flavor.  It had a full body & the lingering lemon cream & nut made it an enjoyable wine.  It could have been a light Chardonnay or a medium bodied Chenin Blanc.

This wine is from the Western Cape of South Africa.  They make some fantastic Chenin Blancs over there.

Chateau Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon AC 2001 $31.99 (500ML) 12% alcohol

The final wine sealed it for me as Chenin Blanc.  It was a golden or deep amber color.  The smell of burnt sugar and caramel told me it was a sweet wine.  In fact, it was a nice sweet wine with acid that was nicely integrated, a long lasting finish with flavors of brown sugar and that tell-tale taste of botrytis.

The wine is from the Loire Valley.  It is hand-picked in several passes so that the grapes are picked at their ripest.  Most of them were infected with botrytis, which in this case is a beneficial fungus that sucks most of the water from the grape & concentrates the sugars.

Because the grapes are so ripe, there is more fructose than glucose in them.  That means that the wine will taste sweeter.  During fermentation, the glucose is converted into ethanol faster than the fructose.  Since there is residual sugar in this wine, it is primarily fructose, which tastes sweeter to us in wine.  That’s kind of getting into the geek side of things, but I think it is kind of neat.  Sometime I’ll get really geeky & explain why no wine is ever 100% dry since only the 6 carbon ring sugars change to ethanol.  The upshot is that this is a delicious dessert wine that is not fortified.

Once I had tasted all three & thought about them as a set, it was obvious to me that the wines were all Chenin Blanc.  While it isn’t the most prestigious grape out there, it is one of the more versatile.  There aren’t many grapes that can make a fruit forward crisp & acidic wine, a soft creamy wine, & a botrytis dessert wine.  It is all about keeping the big picture in mind.  Jerry Jones should try it.  I’ll probably just drink extra wine while I watch the Cowboys play.

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