Tag Archives: Bordeaux

My favorite wines of 2015

28 Dec

These are my favorite wines of 2015.  I probably tasted some other wines that should have made the list, but if I didn’t write a note about it, I don’t remember it.  I did a number of handwritten notes for the Diploma class that I was taking & those generally were tossed.  I listed the wines by vintage with the non-vintage wines first.  These aren’t in order of preference.  I have prices by the wines, but of course prices vary. If I were to go through all of the wines I tasted in 2015 & taste them again, I’m sure that I would have come to different conclusions about a few.

My list this year is dominated by Bordeaux, Napa, & Champagne.  That isn’t because I prefer those regions to others.  It is a reflection of what I had the opportunity to try in 2015.  I don’t have any Burgundy on the list, although I had some very nice Burgundies this year.  I just didn’t have any that blew me away (that I managed to save tasting notes for at least).  I attended a couple of huge Bordeaux tastings & was able to pull from notes for over 200 Bordeaux wines that I tasted in 2015, so that region may be over represented.  That being said, they were great wines that couldn’t be left off the list.

There are four sweet wines on the list.  I know that some of my friends who like wine wouldn’t ever consider drinking a sweet wine.  These are all examples of why a great sweet wine can hold its own with any other wine in the world.  Anyone who opts not to try them because they don’t like sweet wines is just missing out.  I’m happy to drink their share.

With all of those disclaimers, I will say that there are some tremendous wines here.   If you have a chance, you should give them a try.

Please feel free to leave comments below & let me know what wines you liked best in 2015.

NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne Chapuy $46chapuy

This is liquid French toast.  I could add things like flavors of poached pear
& peach & spice.  I could mention the creamy nature of the wine or the nice minerality, but really liquid French toast says it all. 1,850 cases made.

NV Brut Rose’ Andre Clouet Champagne $42clouet

I tasted this on an evening when I tasted 85 Champagnes.  One of my notes for this wine is this is why so many others just got a “meh.”  This is a great rose’ Champagne, especially for the price.  It has rich red fruit, floral notes, & the classic toast brioche that you want.



1998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux  $601998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux

I drank this over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the third day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  There are honey, jam, & marmalade flavors. They never become cloying due to the crisp acidity.  Other intense flavors of this wine include beeswax, luscious apple & pear notes. La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”

2000 Cuvee 2000 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut $100henriot cuvee

This spends 12 years on the lees & it shows.  It has an intense nose of marmalade, orange peel, liqueur, acacia, peach, apricot, & toast, with other floral notes blending in.  The flavors follow the nose, with a nutty flavor thrown in as well.  The fruit is incredibly fresh given the age.  This tastes like a wine that could be spread on toast!  It is just an excellent creamy, rich wine.  It could pair with a wide variety of food, but I would prefer just to sip it.



2004 Brut Rose’ Dom Pérignon Champagne 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Chardonnay. $324Dom Perignon rose 2004

This had a high intensity nose with floral notes, red fruit & tart cherry.  On the palate, it had the red fruit & tart cherry, but it also showed some citrus…particularly grapefruit.  This wine has light pinot noir notes similar to a light Burgundy.  There are toast notes at the long finish.  This is just a delicious, complex wine.  It is great by itself, but would be wonderful with fish, chicken, or cheese.

2005 Clos des Goisses Champagne Philipponnat Brut $161

philponnatWhile I think this is excellent Champagne, I know that it won’t be for everyone.  It is a single vineyard wine, which is somewhat unusual in a region known for blending.  It does not go through malolactic fermentation to soften the acid, which is also not the way the majority of champagne is produced.  It s barrel fermented & then spends 9 years on the lees.  It is finished with a 4 grams per liter dosage of sugar, which is on the dry side.  It is 67% pinot noir & 33% chardonnay.  The finished product is creamy with a nice all-spice character & a lingering finish.

2009 Domaine de Baumards Clos du Papillon Savennières $36papillon

This has the minerality & smokiness that I look for in a
Savennières. I also tasted beeswax & honey, although somehow even with the honey flavor it is still dead dry.  This is a terrific food wine.  It would be easier to list the things that it wouldn’t pair with than to list all of the ones where it would.  Asian food would be a go to though.

2010 Chateau Rauzan Gassies  Bordeaux 2nd Growth Rauzan Gassies 2010(Margaux) $63

Dark ruby. There is an interesting nose to this wine.  It has dark fruit with leather & dust.  I would peg this as Bordeaux from a distance.  It has much more vibrant fruit than I expected, with blackberry & raspberry & some boysenberry.  There is some minerality, but not the leather that I expected.  It is really a delicious fruit forward wine.  This is either a great example of new wine making techniques in Bordeaux or a terrible one depending on how you feel about Parkerization.

2010 Chateau Calon Segur Saint-Estephe  $110 3rd Growth 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdotcalon segur

Deep ruby colored wine.  It has a beautiful nose, with red fruit black fruit spice & perfume.  If they can get this into cologne I would buy it.  There is a heavy toasted oak flavor that I am getting as coffee.  I’m also getting a lot of dark fruit on the palate.  The tannins & acid seem to be only medium.  This will age, but maybe not as much as some of the others from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage.  If I had a case of this I don’t think that aging would be an issue though since I would drink it all before a year was out.  There is always a good reason to drink a wine like this, fireplace weather, nice steak, it’s Tuesday, whatever.  It has a long finish with some blueberry.

2010 Chateau Angelus St. Émilion Grand Cru $400

saint_emilion_chateau_l'angelus_2010This is almost black. It has blackberry on the nose with some liquorice.  The palate has intense anise with plum & raspberry.  It has medium plus tannin & acid.  This is a powerful wine.  It almost overpowers right now, but it is delicious & this won’t get anything but better for the next 10 years.


2010 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde de Guigal $60Cote-Rotie
This has a garnet color.  It has a perfumed nose with blueberry, savory spices, rose, smoked meat, & acacia. There are nicely integrated, almost silky tannins.  Flavors of smoked meat with baking spices, savory spices, pepper, dark red fruit & some blueberry (almost smoked).  It’s a good quality wine that will improve with age


2010 Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Émilion Grand Cru $1,500
cheval blanc 2010a52% Cabernet Franc 48% Merlot.

This smells like St. Émilion. I get dust & cherry & raspberry.  On the palate I get darker raspberry medium acid & tannins.  It is a juicy & delicious wine.  I really don’t see how someone who doesn’t like merlot wouldn’t like this!  Rib roast would be great with this, but you can’t really go wrong.  It is hard to justify the price of this wine & I can’t see myself buying a bottle anytime soon, but it is an excellent wine.

2010 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Premier Cru Superieur 2010 $650yquem

This is cold liquid honey, only better. The acid is great, so the sugar isn’t cloying.  There is some lemon & citrus, peach, white flowers and lanolin, but the honey is overpowering in a good way.  This is a short review, but there isn’t much to add.  This isn’t just one of the great sweet wines of the world; it is one of the great wines of the world period.

climens2010 Chateau Climens 2010 Barsac Premiere Cru $125

Wow!  If you like Yquem, you should try this.  It isn’t as smooth, but it is honeyed & interesting & hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It tastes of honeyed, lanolin.  There are also tropical fruit notes including mango & pineapple.  I also noticed some apricot & vanilla.  It has really high acid. This is very nice.


2012 Spreitzer Rosengarten Grosses Gewachs VDP Riesling Trocken  Rheingau 13% $37.99

This medium gold wine has thick clear legs, which in this case are indicative of the sugar content.  The nose has a pronounced intensity with baked fruit flavors, peach, nectarine, apricot, nuttiness, & caramel. There is a botrytis note here as well. This wine is still developing. On the palate, the wine is sweet with medium plus acid which keeps the sweetness from being cloying.  The palate has a long finish that reveals that it is Riesling rather than Sauternes. There are mineral notes on the palate.  There is almost a mushroom taste, which indicates botrytis.  The big botrytis marker of orange marmalade is there as well.  This is an outstanding wine that can be drunk now, but should age well for years.

black bottleThe Black Bottle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $1,000

I know this wine is stupidly expensive, but every time I try it I really like it.  It has beautiful blackberry, raspberry, plum, chocolate & mint. There are nice medium plus tannins that have a green tea quality.  It has a long finish.  It is 15.2% alcohol, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high. This is an odd wine to review because I have tried two different vintages & really liked both of them.  At the same time, I think it is more expensive than Napa Cabernet should really be at this point.  I believe that it sells out each year though, so I guess it is worth it. Either way, it is a delicious wine.

2013 Antonutti Poppone (Not available yet in the U.S. about $20)poppone

Merlot & Pignola grapes are dried like an Amarone.  After fermentation, it goes into barrel for 12 months.  It tastes like roasted raspberry chipotle.  There is also some tart cherry.  This is a ridiculously interesting wine.  I want to drink a bottle of it while I’m grilling & then have it with grilled meat.

2013 Hofgut Falkenstein Riesling Sekt. Brut 11.5% Germany sektSaar BA $26.99

60-80 year old vines all grown on slate
This is a lemon green sparkling wine with persistent small bubbles. The nose shows  petrol, citrus, lemon, honey, honeysuckle, mineral, slate, & lime. It is dry, with high acid, medium alcohol, & medium  plus intensity.  I tasted citrus including lemon& tart & sour lime.  There was also white flower, honeysuckle, & honey.  This is a very good quality sparkling wine.  The intensity of complex flavors is enhanced by the high acid. This would be great with seafood. It is a mouthwatering wine. Drink now or over  3-5 years This might be cheating a bit since I don’t know that it is as good as the other wines on the list.  On the other hand, if you compare its price to some of the others on the list, it is just amazing quality for the price.

2014 Azienda Agricole Franco Roero Chardonnay  (No price here because it isn’t available yet in the United States)Franco roero chardonnay

This surprised me.  It is in a Bordeaux bottle & I expected something light.  Instead this is a heavy, textured Chardonnay with lots of toasted nuts. There is no oak so I have no idea how they do this. Citrus with lemon peel is a major component.  This is the best non burgundy Chardonnay I have had in some time.

tullio2014 Ca’ Tullio Traminer  Not available in the U.S. About $10 Euro

This is a dead dry Gewürztraminer.  It has lots of floral notes & fresh fruit on the nose that make you think that it is going to be sweet, but it finishes dry. It has floral flavors with plenty of lychees. This is really a fantastic wine for the price.  I will lay in a supply when this becomes available in the U.S.



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



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.


Bad Week for the referees, but always a good week to try new wines

21 Nov

Holding defense

Week 11 was a bad week for the officials

After a couple of bad weeks, the NFL needed a quite week from the officials.  They didn’t get it.  There were 2 incidents that may have caused the wrong team to win a game & an official apparently cursed a player.

On the final play of the Patriots /Jaguars game, Tom Brady threw into the end zone.  The pass was short & was intercepted.  One official threw a yellow flag.  After consulting with another official, he picked up the flag.  He announced that there was no flag on the play & the game was over & that was it.  Later after the teams were in their locker rooms and the fans were heading home, the league announced that the flag had been for defensive pass interference and that they had picked up the flag because in their view, the pass was uncatchable.

Leaving aside the idea that what is uncatchable to Rob Gronkowski isn’t the same as to a normal human, and also leaving aside the idea that if it was uncatchable, it was because Luke Kuechly had illegally pulled Gronkowski several yards from where he wanted to be, it was still a bad call.  While there may have been some question as to whether this was defensive pass interference, there is no question that it was defensive holding.

The NFL rule book is online like everything else these days.  Here is what it says…


Article 6

A defensive player may not: (a) tackle or hold an opponent other than a runner. Otherwise, he may use his hands, arms or body only to defend or protect himself against an obstructing opponent in an attempt to reach a runner. After a loose ball has touched the ground, a defensive player may legally block or otherwise use his hands or arms to push or pull an opponent out of the way in a personal attempt to recover the ball.

Penalty: For illegal contact or holding by the defense: Loss of five yards and automatic first down.

Kuechly was clearly guilty of defensive holding.  By rule, the ball should have been placed at the 13 yard line & the Patriots should have been given one untimed down to attempt a touchdown.  If they succeeded, they would have won.  If they failed and there was not another defensive penalty, then the Panthers would have won.  One shot from the 13 yard line isn’t an automatic touchdown by any means, but the Patriots deserved that final chance.  Frankly I would have bet on them either succeeding or getting a pass interference call (which would have given them a shot from the 1 yard line).

Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice-president in charge of officiating, who is now an analyst announced on November 19th that he believes that it was pass interference.  At his Tuesday press conference, Coach Jeff Fisher, who has been on the NFL Competition Committee forever said “I personally feel like the flag went down for a reason, and it looked like a foul to me.”

Drew Brees got a call in the Saints/49ers game that most quarterbacks wouldn’t have gotten & it probably changed the outcome of the game.  I don’t think this was as egregious as the non-call in the Patriots game, but I do think that it’s a call that Drew Brees (or Tom Brady, or Aaron Rogers or Peyton Manning) would get, but Matt Schaub or Geno Smith or another 20 or so quarterbacks would not have gotten.

With San Francisco leading 20-17 with 3:18 left in the game, the Saints were driving.  They had a third in 2 on the 49ers 35 yard line.  When Brees dropped back to pass, Ahmad Brooks beat his man (Zach Strief) and sacked Brees.  He knocked the ball out of his hands and it was recovered by San Francisco’s Patrick Willis.

The referees threw a flag & said that Brooks had roughed the passer by hitting him in the head or neck.  If you watch the video, you see that he hits Brees in the chest, which is kind of hard considering that he is 6 foot 3 inches & 259 pounds & Brees is probably 5 foot 11 inches.  Brees starts to fall/slide down (as you might expect when hit by 259 pounds at full speed.  To check this for yourself, you can strap skates to a refrigerator & have someone roll it down hill on top of you.  When Brees slides down, that puts Brooks’ arm around his neck.  It is a quick thing and obviously wasn’t intended, but I can see how it might be called.  The truth is that if that were Josh McCown at quarterback, there would be no call and the 49ers would be able to burn some time off the clock and maybe win the game.  Instead, the Saints got the ball back, eventually kicked a field goal to tie the game and then later kicked another to win it.  Perhaps the Niners would have been incompetent with the ball.  They certainly looked terrible out there for much of the game.  Perhaps everything would have played out the same except that the Saints would have had to go for a touchdown at the end and they might have gotten that.  Various things could have happened, but the bottom line is that the referee’s call on such a borderline hit changed the course of the game dramatically.

The referees also missed an incident in the Colts/Titans game.  Colts linebacker Erik Walden tore the helmet off Titans tight end Delanie Walker & then used his own helmet to head butt Walker in the face.  That isn’t just unnecessary roughness.  It is unnecessary roughness with a side order of assault.  After the league reviewed the film, Walden was suspended for his week 12 game, but he should have been kicked out of the game on Sunday & the Titans should have gotten 15 yards and a first down.

Maybe the worst referee issue for the week was something that was only brought to light after the game.  After the Washington/Philadelphia game, Washington player Trent Williams claimed that umpire Roy Ellison called him a “garbage a*** disrespectful motherf*****” during Washington’s loss, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Other players backed him up on this claim after initially telling him to shut up so that he wouldn’t be fined for criticizing the official.  That certainly calls into question whether Ellison was objective in calling the game.

I’m certain that there are referees who dislike particular players.  There are probably referees who have a rooting interest in games.  I hope that there aren’t any referees who have a bet on a game.  The referees are an important part of the game.  It is unfortunate when the integrity of the game is called into question because of their actions on the field.

Recently there was a fund raiser that benefited the school system my daughters attend.  At the event they had around 35 wineries, primarily from the El Dorado area, pouring their wines.  Here are a few I tasted.  I was making my notes on my phone, so these aren’t the most detailed notes ever.  I had to leave a couple off because I couldn’t figure out after the fact which winery was the correct one.  I wasn’t familiar with the region, so it was a nice opportunity to learn and taste.

El Dorado was one of the three largest wine producers in the early years of California wineries.  They ranked behind Los Angeles and Sonoma County.  After prohibition, they mostly disappeared.  Since being designated as an AVA in 1983, the area has grown to about 2,000 acres and 50 wineries.  The wineries range from 1,200-3,500 feet in elevation. They tend to be planted on slopes rather than on flat land.  It seems like they should have a long growing season with highs in the 50’s in December & January and in the low 90’s in July & August.

Sierra Vista Vineyards El Dorado Viognier 2011

This has a nice varietally correct nose.  You get white peach & floral notes.  Unfortunately it disappoints on the palate. It manages to be thin & a little hot at the same time.  It smells great though.
Miraflores 2007 Syrah

Very solid Syrah black pepper & dark fruit are the primary components.  I think there is some French oak as well. This is solid, but not exceptional.

Nevada City Winery Zinfandel 2011

Sweet candied fruit, probably too candied for me. Some drier herbal notes on the nose. That herbal component comes across as medicinal on the palate. I also get some cherry here, which is probably atypical for Zinfandel.
Cedarville Vineyards Zinfandel 2011

There is a lot of oak on the nose.  That gives it a nice coffee smell or maybe chicory.  Deep red fruit flavors mingle with tobacco & nutty oak.  This is a great example of this style.  The oak may be too much for some, but others will love it.

Busby Cellars Barbera 2010

Here’s a fruit forward wine. This had a nice combination of juicy red fruit, leather, & maybe a hint of brettanomyces. On second taste, more than a hint. This would be nice with an herbed roast or a pizza with sausage & caramelized onions.

Ciotti Old Vine Zinfandel Placer County 2011

This is a nice chocolaty Zinfandel with a backbone of earthiness. It has moderate tannins.  Raspberry is the primary fruit.

1374259135_1.Amour_Prive_Logo_hi_re   Amour Prive’ Hommage Rive Gauche 2010

This winery is in the Sierra Foothills, but brings their fruit in at night from Napa.  As you might expect from the name, this is a homage to a left bank Bordeaux style wine.  It is a muscular wine with good tannins & earthiness. It reminds me of raspberry dipped in cocoa. Basically, it is a big Bordeaux  style wine.  At $84 a bottle, it probably isn’t for everyone, but it is worth drinking.

Sierra Vista Roussanne 2011

Apricot is the primary fruit, but there isn’t much here.  After it opened up I got some toasted spiced pear, which was nice. This is better than I first thought. It isn’t a favorite, but it is a solid wine.

Moniz Family Wine Cuvee Olivia 2010

67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc.  The fruit comes from Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valleys.  It’s a classic Bordeaux blend, but doesn’t taste like Bordeaux .  The first impression I got was all new world fruit. It does have some dust to it that is nice.  This is a pretty tasty wine, but there isn’t much on the nose.  At $16 a bottle, it is worth buying a bottle & decanting it to see if the nose will open up with time.

Premiere Napa Valley Wines & NFL week 10 thoughts

16 Nov

I try wines that are all different prices and different varietals.  I love finding a new inexpensive wine that I can drink on a regular basis.  This week I’m not writing about those wines.  This time around, I am writing about stupidly rare wines that won’t make the “by the glass” list at your local Chili’s any time soon.  These are wines I tried last night at a “Cult Cabernet” event.  I have them listed in the order that I tasted them.

premiere napa valley Several of these wines are “Premiere Napa Valley” wines.  This is a charity program in Napa Valley.  17 wineries are picked each year and they each make a special wine.  There is a barrel tasting for the industry and the wines are auctioned off.  Each winery’s wine is sold as a group, so only one buyer buys all of the Premiere Napa Valley production from that winery.  Eventually the wines are bottled.  They make a minimum of 60 bottles (5 cases) up to a maximum of 240 bottles (20 cases).  Since this is a big industry event and a charity event, the wineries outdo themselves to make great, age-worthy wines.

Piña 2009 Wolff Vineyard Yountville Cabernet 15.2%

Piña’s wine maker is Anna Monticelli.  She went to UC Davis & has primarily worked in Napa, but her first harvest was at Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux.  Piña is located on the Silverado Trail and it is easy to overlook it.  I drove down the Silverado Trail on Thursday and my main concern was not having a wreck, not looking for wineries that didn’t have huge signs.

This has a tremendous dark fruit nose.  I get blackberry & boysenberry on the nose.  There are solid tannins, but there is a supple, velvety quality here that is in no way covered up by the tannin. It has a deep flavor profile with a long finish.  There is some dark cherry on the finish.  It’s a nice, mouthwatering Cabernet.

On my 2nd tasting it was harder to separate the fruit on the nose.  It just smells like dark ripe fruit.  After a minute I still get blackberry & boysenberry, but maybe some Bing cherry as well.

Wine Enthusiast gave this 94 points & it runs about $85.

Premiere Napa Valley Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Vineyard Cabernet 2010 bottle #45 of 60 bottles produced 14.5%

There is some earth on the nose here, but in general the nose is muted.  The wine was decanted, but it could probably use some more time.  Nice tannins & great big fruit.  I guess I would pick blackberry as the primary fruit.  Truthfully, the tannins are high enough that I am having trouble picking out subtle details.  Right now this is kind of just hitting you on the head & saying I am a Napa Cab!  I do get some sage & a light hint of leather.  I would love to taste this again later, but that isn’t likely.

Aged in 75% new French oak for 17 months.  This costs about $250.

Premiere Napa Valley Sterling Cabernet 2010 1st Calistoga 15.2% 20 cases produced

Elegant fruit.  This is a “wow!” wine. There is raspberry with cocoa dusting on the nose. I get big tannins, but they don’t overpower the wine like on the Nickel & Nickel.  Very long dry finish, that leaves you thinking about it & reaching for more.  At the core of this wine there is a fresh fruit center.

This is their 1st Calistoga designated wine.  It sells for $110.

Blankiet Paradise Hill Red Napa 2008 15.2%
82.5% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, with the remainder made up of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Blankiet has only been around since 1996.  They are in the Mayacamas Mountains above Yountville. There is ripe fruit on the nose.  I get big plum & blackberry.  There is delicious blackberry & chocolate on the palate. This is a big & juicy wine with lighter tannins, or maybe just lighter, compared to what I have been trying.  I taste cassis & blackberry, & chocolate… with maybe a bit of cherry.  The tannins come up a little as I drink it so I think it will age well.  I like this a lot.

I tried it a second time & I am really wishing I had a steak with a red wine & cherry sauce.  The tannins are good, so the first time around it may have been a reaction to the tannins on the other wines.  There is a long finish that accents the chocolate.  If I were going to spend $190 on a Cabernet, this is one that would be worth it.  Robert Parker gave it a 95+ rating.

Philip Togni Cabernet Spring Mountain Estate 2008 no alcohol % on label
This wine has a classic Cabernet nose.  This actually has a Bordeaux nose to it. That Bordeaux feeling continues on the palate.  After all of the fresh fruit cabs, this is a dusty cab.  It has nice tannins & that “eating fruit while walking on a dirt road” thing that I associate with Bordeaux & Saint Émilion in particular.  There is raspberry mixed with herbs & something that reminds me of evergreen.  There is some cassis as well.

The winery recently won a tasting in Brussels for its 1990 Cabernet where the completion included La Tour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton, and California Cabernets.  I don’t know how they got away without having the alcohol percentage on the label.  That seems like it violates TTB rules.

Premiere Napa Valley Cimarossa Poppy Flat Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 14.7% 60 bottles produced This was bottle 59 of 60.
Plum, raspberry & cherry on the nose. There is a tiny bit of chocolate on the nose as well.  I get blackberry with leather on the palate.  The tannins are stronger than a young mother’s love, but not as strong as the Nickel & Nickel.  There is a little mint here.  I didn’t notice it at first, but when I closed my eyes & thought about it, I really got a thin mint taste…if your thin mints were made with 97% cacao instead of milk chocolate.  Nice long finish.  Once again, this is a nice wine.

The grapes come from a 1.3 acre block with northwest exposure.  The wine was aged 22 months in French oak.  I thought that the wine was pronounced similar to Cimarron, but it is Italian & it is pronounced Chimarossa.  You learn something new every day.

Premiere Napa Valley Saint Supery Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 #40 of 240 14.8%
One of the tasting notes with this said that it had a “brandied oak” taste.  I have no idea what that means, but I know where they get the brandy idea.  This wine doesn’t taste hot at all, but it really has an almost port/brandy finish to it.  It does have noticeable oak, but it is pretty well integrated.  I think the only part that stands out as oaky is that the dryness of the finish is distinctly from the oak rather than something else. There is cassis & licorice.  This is a delicious, complex Cabernet.  I don’t know if this is the best of the batch, but it is probably the most interesting.

2nd tasting.  This has a really dark color.  I think that there was some concentration of flavor & alcohol here from evaporation from the barrel.  This is called the angel’s share of the wine.  As the wine sits in the barrel, oxygen slowly enters and matures the wine.  At the same time, some of the wine evaporates, and that is the “Angel’s Share.”  This evaporation isn’t consistent across the board.  The alcohol in the wine doesn’t evaporate as quickly as the other liquids.  So you end up with higher alcohol and a more concentrated flavor.  That gives me that brandy taste.  Some people might associate that taste with being oxidized, but that isn’t the case here.  On this second tasting I’m getting more of the herbal notes of the wine.  I don’t know if that is from this bottle being open longer or just thinking about it more. I also taste mocha, cherry, and black currant.  After tasting it a second time I think this is currently drinking the best of the batch.  That doesn’t mean it is the best, or will be the best long term, but right now this is a darn tasty wine.  This is $160.
Random NFL thoughts after week 10

1)      The NFL shouldn’t test for marijuana use.

This does not mean that I am in favor of smoking marijuana, because I’m not.  It isn’t because I am in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, although I am.  It just seems ridiculous that the NFL & the NFL Player’s Union can’t agree on human growth hormone testing, that the Tour de France does a much better job testing athletes for various performance enhancing drugs (& still managed to let Lance Armstrong slip through).  It is that the main drug they seem to make a focus, isn’t a performance enhancing drug.  I guess an argument could be made that marijuana is a pain reliever & that makes it a PED, but ibuprofen is a pain reliever & isn’t on the banned list.  They are able to give pain shots to players before and during games to get them on the field.  So that can’t be the problem.  The bottom line is that pot isn’t a performance enhancing drug in the understood sense of the word.  Pot smokers don’t build more muscle mass and get hyper motivated to exercise.  They don’t get incredible focus during a game like Adderall users claim.  Generally it seems to make you more likely to sit on your butt, watch TV, & order pizza.  That is probably performance diminishing rather than enhancing.  Maybe there is a hacky sack player out there who has data to disprove my contention, but I doubt that they will get around to publishing it.

The NFL needs to work on their real problems, and marijuana use by players doesn’t make the top 10.  When they can get all their players to take a taxi home after a night out drinking or get them to quit waving guns around like gangsters, maybe they can spare the time to worry about pot.

2)      I can’t believe it, but the New York Giants have a chance to win the NFC East.  They have been the beneficiaries of some amazing luck over the last few weeks.  They played the Vikings when the team lost its mind and started Josh Freeman when he didn’t know the playbook and had no rhythm with his receivers.  Next, they played the Eagles.  Michael Vick came back too soon from a hamstring injury and re-injured it.  That put 3rd string rookie Matt Barkley in and he looked like a 3rd string rookie.  So they won despite not scoring a touchdown (the first time they have won that way in 11 years).  They got their bye week and then played the Raiders with Terrell Pryor gimping around with an injury (which will keep him out of the next game) & managed to beat them by 4 points.  This Sunday they get to play the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers out, their initial backup quarterback out, & now their practice squad quarterback Scott Tolzein starting.  If I were Tony Romo, I would be worried about what could happen between now & November 24th when the Giants play the Cowboys.  Quarterbacks with a game coming up with the Giants have the health of a drummer for Spinal Tap.  I’m expecting spontaneous combustion.

The NFC East is pretty bad this year, but it would be even worse if the Giants manage to win it without having to beat any teams with a healthy starting quarterback.  Realistically, when you consider how they have played and their remaining schedule, they shouldn’t do any better than 6-10, but the last few weeks have been amazing for them.

3)      I really am surprised at how fast and how far the Texans have fallen.  I know that the defense isn’t the same without Brian Cushing.  I know that they have had more than their share of injuries.  It still doesn’t add up to 7 losses in a row.  They have been competitive in the last 3 games, but have lost all three by a combined 7 points.  I actually thought the team had a shot at the Super Bowl this year and now I think it is likely we will see a new coaching staff there next year.  They should win 3 of their next 4 games (Raiders, Jags, Patriots, Jags), but I can’t see them winning more than 6 games this year and that should do it for the coaching staff.

4)      The new NFL timeout emphasis for injured players is a disaster waiting to happen.  The NFL just distributed a video saying that the league office tells officials to call an injury time out any time they believe that a player is injured, whether they ask for it or not.  I understand that they are trying to promote player safety, but this has some real opportunity to be a problem.  Here is a potential scenario.  Team A is behind by 1 point in the 4th quarter.  They complete a pass in bounds to the 10 yard line & race to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball to kill the clock with 9 seconds left because they have no time outs,  and then kick the winning field goal (we’ll assume that the kicker is not Texan’s kicker Randy Bullock).  Player X is hopping on one foot as he gets to the line, but he makes it on time.  Under the regular rules, team A stops the clock and kicks the field goal and wins the game.  Under the new emphasis, the referee notices that player X looks injured.  He calls for an injury time out.  Since team A is out of time outs, there is a mandatory 10 second run off.  The game is over and team A loses.  That may seem farfetched, but I can absolutely see it.  Maybe the referees wouldn’t want to call it when it might determine the outcome of the game, but in that case, they probably shouldn’t call it at all if they can’t call it consistently.

Thoughts about week 9 in the NFL & notes from a quick trip to Napa

6 Nov

I was in Napa last week for work.  I had a terrific lunch at C Casa in the Oxbow Market, which is always good for a visit.  After lunch I had time to hit just two wineries before I drove home.  I picked Laird Family Estate & Trefethen Family Estate.  They make some good wines & are practically across the street from each other.  Here’s what I tried, with a little info about the wineries.

Laird Family Estate

Ken Laird started the vineyard in 1970 when he bought a 70 acre orchard that had gone south.  He was $150,000.00 short of having enough money to buy it, but Robert Mondavi loaned him the money on the provision that he plant 50% Gamay grapes.  He agreed & planted 50% Gamay & 50% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Mondavi was his original client for fruit.  These days they make their own wine, & do custom crush for a number of other wineries.

Laird Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Big Ranch Oak Knoll Appellation

This is a big New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc.  It has gooseberries or cat pee or whatever you want to call it on the nose. On the palate, I got kiwi, guava, & other tropical fruits.  The mouth feel is great.  I didn’t notice this much at first, but pink grapefruit is a big part of the finish.  I really enjoyed this wine.

The Oak Knoll appellation is at the southern end of Napa.  It has less rainfall & one effect of that is that the ground warms up earlier.  This contributes to a longer growing season than in some other parts of Napa.  Despite the ground getting warmer earlier, this is actually one of the cooler appellations in Napa (other than Carneros).  It is near San Pablo Bay, & that keeps it from getting too hot.  So you get a long growing season, without baking out acid.

Laird Family Estate Chardonnay Cold Creek 2010 Carneros

Laird Family makes two Chardonnays.  This one is a single vineyard wine.  It spends 11 months in a 50% blend of new & used French oak. Continuing the 50/50 theme,  50% of it goes through malolactic fermentation.  There is toasted nut and bread on the nose.  This is a classic California style Chardonnay, done about as well as you can do it. It has lots of coffee notes & toffee.  It also has some notes that remind me of pineapple upside down cake.  This is a really tasty Chardonnay.

Laird Family Estate Jillian’s Blend 2010 65% cab, 20% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 5% Malbec 

Jillian did not blend this wine.  She is the youngest family member & the staff was talking about what she wore for Halloween the previous day.  All of the fruit is from Napa, but it comes from three different vineyards.  It is a finesse wine with some fruit to back it up.  I tasted candied cherry, brown sugar.  It has really solid tannins that make me think that this could be even better in a few years.  There is a little bit of cinnamon.

Laird Family Estate 2010 Cabernet 60% flat Rock Ranch 40% Mast Ranch
This started soft with dark chocolate & some cherry.  It actually has strong tannins…almost astringent.  There is some vanilla & in some ways this wine reminds me of vanilla Coco-cola.  I enjoyed this wine, but I wouldn’t pay $90 for it.

Laird Family Estate 2010 Suscol Ranch Syrah Napa Valley
Blueberry & bacon fat…really…on the nose for me.  Blueberry is a key fruit component, with tar and some dark herbal notes.  The tannin is really high.  They just went from the 2008 to the 2010 with nothing in between, and this we will be better in a year or two.  There is plenty of vanilla on the finish.  I would like to try the 2008, so I can see how this wine will change.  It tastes good now & there is a ton of potential.


Trefethen in the fall.  You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen in the fall. You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen Family Vineyards

The original vineyards and winery were established in 1886.  It was called Eschol.  My Mother-in Law would recognize that word as the valley of enormous grapes, a cluster of which were brought back to Moses to show him fruit from the promised land.

In 1968 the property was purchased by Eugene and Katie Trefethen.  They added property to it, but kept the original barn/winery.  Over the years they restored the winery and now it is the only remaining 19th century gravity flow winery in Napa.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trefethen gained international fame in 1979 when its 1976 Chardonnay won 1st place in the Wine Olympics organized by the French food and wine magazine GaultMillau.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Dry Riesling 2012
Fruity with lime & floral notes.  There might be some pink grapefruit on the finish.  This has nice acidity & a generally nice balance.  I know that Riesling & spicy Asian food is kind of a cliché, but this would really be nice with spicy Asian food.  This vintage won the 2013 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.  That’s a cool competition sponsored by a shellfish company to find the best wine to pair with their oysters.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Viognier 2012
Four Months in French oak really changed the character of this wine.  The nose is really muted & isn’t floral.  It smells like vanilla & bread.  Once you taste it, it is still hard to identify as Viognier. This is actually a really tasty wine. It has everything that I think most people like in a California Chardonnay.  It just doesn’t taste like Viognier.  There is apple & coconut here.  I think this would be good with Indian food.  It is a nice wine, but I wouldn’t ever use it in a class to show people how Viognier should taste.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Cabernet Franc 2010
As opposed to the Viognier, this has a classic Cabernet Franc nose.   It is clean with just a touch of bell pepper.  The wine has a depth that I don’t often see in Cab Franc.  It has great tannins.  This was just released, so that will probably fade a bit as it ages.  It is actually kind of hard to pick out the flavors here. There is raspberry, mint, & spice.  I don’t really get a bell pepper flavor.  I think it comes out more as mint.  The final taste gives me more of that bell pepper.  I wish that I had this when I had lamb tacos earlier at C casa.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Merlot 2010
Smells like berry & coffee.  On my first taste, I thought that this was pretty simple.  On the second taste I got more complexity.  The tannins are really high.  I wish that I were trying an older vintage because I don’t think that I am getting this one at its best.  It is packed with tannin & I can tell it will be good, but it is a little hard to get a handle on it right now.  There is bright red fruit with cherry & chocolate. This would be good with duck or steak, but mostly it would be good with time.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
There is spice on the nose with some licorice & cherry.  It has deep flavors and solid tannins.  I get primarily dark fruit, plum, cherry, & blackberry. Once again, this wine will be better in 5 years than it is now.  I taste cassis, caramel, & a tiny bit of black pepper on the finish.  It has a really good dusty taste on the finish.  It doesn’t taste like Bordeaux, but that dustiness reminds me of Saint-Émilion.  The fruit is from the north western corner of Oak Knoll.  That puts it near the Yountville & Stag’s Leap appellations.  Wine Enthusiast gave this a whopping 97 points.  It is an excellent Cabernet and I really want to see what it tastes like in 3-5 years.  I guess I better pick up a few bottles.  At $60 each, it isn’t cheap, but it delivers for the price.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Dragon’s Tooth 2010  58% Malbec 22% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Petit Verdot

Really smooth and almost velvety.  It has dark fruit like blackberry that is close to sweet.  This goes down easy.  I don’t know that I would pay $75 for this, but if someone else paid, I would drink this all night long.  It has good tannin, but not over the top like the last few.  It is just a nice wine that will age well.  Wine Enthusiast gave it a 93 & recommended it with grilled sausages and grilled tomatoes.  They even included a recipe.

Touchdown Blount!

Touchdown Blount!

Here are a few thoughts about week 9 in the NFL

1)      The officiating bothered me in the Chiefs/Bills game.  I think Marquise Goodwin made the catch in the 4th quarter for the Bills.  He held on to the ball to the ground, bounced twice, & then it was kicked out of his hands. I think it was a bad call that might have made a difference in the game.  There were several other questionable calls.  The roughing the passer penalty against the chiefs was terrible, so I’m not saying it was all one way.  It is just frustrating to watch a game and feel that the outcome was impacted by the officials in a negative way.

2)      The Patriots should trade with the Buccaneers all of the time. The Legarrette Blount trade was a great deal for the Patriots.  When they traded Jeff Demps (and a 7th round pick) to get him, it looked like 2 teams swapping players that would get cut anyway.  Blount had been replaced by Doug Martin as the starter in Tampa Bay and was on the outs with the coach.  Jeff Demps seemed to have tons of potential, but he was on injured reserve last year and was training for track during pre-season this year.  This season for Tampa Bay, he has touched the ball 8 times for a total of 128 yards (including kickoff returns).  Blount is playing a solid reserve role for the Patriots at running back and is also returning kicks with Leon Washington injured.  He has 85 touches and 661 total yards.  He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry running the ball and he tends to get the tough yards.  He had some nice runs to close out the game against Pittsburgh in week 9 and his 5 yard touchdown run at the end was impressive.  He just refused to go down.

Last year Tampa Bay traded another player who was in coach Schiano’s doghouse to the Patriots.  That was cornerback Aqib Talib, who was traded for a 4th round pick, which became William Gholston.  Gholston has 4 tackles this year.  Talib was a risk, because he had been suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.  Once he was able to play, Talib stepped right into the starting position for the Patriots.  Before being injured this year he had already intercepted 4 passes.  He has missed 3 games, but should be back soon.  The Patriots need him.  Their pass defense hasn’t been the same since his injury.  His ability to handle the other team’s top receiver one on one lets them use other players to cover weaknesses in pass or run defense.

Basically, if Tampa Bay calls about a trade, the Patriots should listen.

3)      Why did Brandon Weeden start any games this year?  I know that he was a first round draft pick for some reason, but the guys who drafted him and coached him were all fired.  He was 5-10 last year and has lost every game he started this year.  New general manager Mike Lombardi didn’t like the drafting of Weeden.  On NFL Network, he called it “a panicked disaster.”  This year when the Browns have played journeyman quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell they have won against everyone except the undefeated Chiefs.  When Weeden has played, they didn’t seem to have any confidence and have lost.  With the AFC North down this year, the Browns are in second place at 4-5.  The good news is that Weeden didn’t start any of their division games, so they are undefeated in their division.  If they can continue that trend, they have a chance to win their division.  They made it harder on themselves by starting Weeden at all.  I always thought it was a bad idea to draft him to replace Colt McCoy.  McCoy might not have been a franchise quarterback, but it was really hard to tell considering what they put around him.  He was clearly the best player on the offense for most of his time in Cleveland and I don’t really mean that as a compliment.  I thought it made sense to draft a couple of receivers and a running back and to work on the offensive line before trying to bring in a  1st round quarterback.  Most of the time you have to have Tom Brady type skills to make rookie wide receivers look good and no one was going to look good the way the line was playing (with the exception of Joe Thomas of course).

4)      Closing out games separates the good teams from the bad ones.  Bad teams seem to go into a slowdown mode the minute they get a 3 point lead in the third quarter.  San Diego played that way in week one of the season against Houston & seemed to do that a little on Sunday after they went up 14-7 over Washington.  There were other reasons that the Texans fell apart in the 2nd half on Sunday night, but a lack of killer instinct didn’t help.  That was a game that they should have won.  The Patriots showed a different approach.  When everyone in the stadium expected them to run to burn time off the clock and keep the ball away from the Steelers, who seemed to be scoring whenever they got the ball, Brady threw an 81 yard touchdown run on a go route.  Aside from Chip Kelly and the Eagles, there aren’t many teams that would have called that play.  It let the Steelers know that the Patriots weren’t going to take their foot off of their throat.

5)      Best wishes to Gary Kubiak & John Fox.  Get well soon.  Perhaps Gary Kubiak might need to take a year or more off to get well.  After a  transient ischemic attack (TIA) there is an increased chance of a stroke.  Some say it is as high as a 1 in 3 chance, although based on what I could find online, that sounds high.  Either way, he has plenty of money and he has a family that needs him.  Getting back into the high stress job coaching the Texans might not be the best thing for his health.  Whatever he decides, I wish him the best.


8 wines & 8 thoughts about the NFL week 8

2 Nov

8 Thoughts & 8 wines for NFL Week 8

This is great teamwork in action

1)      Bill Belichick & his staff teach smart situational football.

I’m impressed with the record of the New England Patriots in a year with so many injuries & such a jury rigged receiving corp.  I think that part of the reason that they have been able to remain so successful is that Patriots players play smart football.  Three defensive examples stood out to me in their victory over the Dolphins.  On one play Devin McCourty was in position to intercept a pass from Ryan Tannehill.  He realized that his momentum would prevent him from catching the ball in bounds and he tapped it like a volleyball back in bounds to Marquise Cole, who made a great catch & just barely kept his feet in bounds.  It was a great combination of athleticism & quick thinking.

With just under 3 minutes left in the game the Patriots blocked a  field goal attempt.  Steve Gregory recovered the ball and made a point of turning to stay in bounds.  That only made a difference of a few seconds on the game clock, but at that time of the game a few seconds can make a difference.  If you don’t believe me, ask the Dallas Cowboys.

On the Dolphins’ final offensive play, the ball was intercepted by Duron Harmon.  I noticed that McCourty & Cole immediately motioned for him to take a knee.  That meant that there was no chance of anything bad happening (fumble, penalty, etc.) & the offense could come out & take a knee & end the game.

Without talking about a specific play I should mention Rob Ninkovitch.  He isn’t the most physically gifted player in the NFL, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.  He is really stepping up his leadership role with Vince Wilfork & Jerod Mayo out for the season.

2)      I wish that the Jaguars would take a chance on Vince Young.  I know all of the perceived downside to Vince Young, but I think that the threat that he might run would free up Maurice Jones Drew the way it did Chris Johnson.  He isn’t the most accurate passer in the world, but he has been a consistent winner.  Additionally, compared to the current quarterbacks for the Jaguars, he looks like Joe Montana.  Young’s career quarterback rating at ESPN is 58.1 with a passer rating of 74.4.  The last year that he was a starter for the Titans, he posted a 98.6 rating.  Chad Henne does have a passer rating of 75, but his QBR is 42.3.  Blaine Gabbert has a passer rating of 66.4 & a QBR of 21.5 & even that may be giving him too much credit for short completions against prevent defenses.

I have been impressed with Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s willingness to keep trying & to take chances.  Last week they went for it on 4th down in their own territory & made several other plays that showed that the coach hasn’t thrown in the towel on a lost season.  They are probably going to get the first or second draft pick & draft (they hope) their quarterback of the future.  In the meantime, bringing in Vince Young might at least make the games entertaining to watch.  If they can’t do that, maybe the NFL could quit showing their games on TV.  I have watched more inept Jaguars quarterback play this year than seem reasonable.  I’m on the West Coast at the moment & due to the scheduling, 7 of the 8 Jaguars games have shown locally.  Even the people in Jacksonville shouldn’t be subjected to them that often.

3)      Matthew Stafford made the play of the day last Sunday.  The Cowboys have tons of coulda, woulda, shoulda, about the last few minutes of the game, but that doesn’t take away what a smart & gutsy play Stafford made.  When he decided to dive over the top for a touchdown instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, he took responsibility for a win or a loss.  If the Cowboys had paid attention & stopped him, he would have been killed in the press for single handedly losing the game.  The safe play would have been to spike the ball & then run a play.  Instead, he gambled & won.  That is a highlight reel play we will be seeing for years.

4)      For a few years now the Bills have been a trendy pick for the team that is going to turn things around & make a run.  For years they have disappointed.  So I am probably wrong here, but the Bills look like a team on the way up.  Thedefense is really playing well.  They have some injury issues at running back, but that’s nothing compared to their quarterback problems.  Thad Lewis has been playing injured, but has been doing a decent job.  That’s amazing considering how little was expected of him this year.  I think that the plan was for Kevin Kolb to start the season & to bring along rookie EJ Emanuel as the season progressed.  Lewis started the season on the practice squad as the 4th string quarterback.  When you are a quarterback that is still eligible for the practice squad in your 5th season, it is safe to say that not much is expected of you. After injuries to Kolb & Emanuel, Lewis jumped up to 1st string over Jeff Tuel.  He has done a solid job, but I think that when Emanuel can start a full season & the offense can be less of a drag on the defense, that the Bills will be a force in the AFC East.

5)      A lot of jokes have been made about the clown circus at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings & much of that has been deserved.  On the other hand, the defense isn’t getting nearly the blame that it deserves.  In 7 games, the Vikings have averaged over 23 points per game.  In fact, if you take out the game where they foolishly started Josh Freeman, who didn’t know the offense, they are averaging 26 points per game.  With a defense like the Chiefs have, that would be an undefeated season.  With a Vikings defense allowing 32.1 points per game, 1-6 is about right.

6)      I was expecting another terrible Monday Night game this week with the Rams & Seahawks.  It wasn’t a barn burner, but it was a nail biter.  If Greg Zuerlein hadn’t missed a 50 yard field goal in the 4th quarter, the Rams might have actually won.  They still had a shot on the last play of the game, but some unimaginative play calling and working with a backup quarterback kept them out of the end zone.  A lot of analysts have the Seahawks in ink on their Super Bowl prediction for the NFC, but that may be premature.

7)      Last week I wrote about the Cardinals needing a running game to be competitive.  I wish that I could say that I predicted Andre Ellington to have a breakout game like he did.  The 6th round pick got his first start and rushed for 154 yards.  I don’t know if he can contribute half of that every game from now on, but if he can, the Cardinals are going to be much tougher to beat.  Their defense doesn’t need a great offense.  A decent one will get them wins. If they could score as often as the Vikings, they would be contenders.

8)      The Raiders may not be very good, but they are fun to watch.  You never know when Terrell Pryor will make a huge play.  He isn’t always accurate & he is still learning to read a defense, but there is always the chance that he will put it together on any given play.  The Raiders defense still has some flaws, but they are playing like a team.  I think that the return of Charles Woodson has brought leadership and an understanding of what it takes to be a winning team to the defense.  This is a transition year for the team while they fix their salary cap problems.  It will be interesting to see if Pryor develops into a solid enough starter for them to stick with him for the next few years.  The Raiders are another team that looks like it is on the way up.

8 random wines of the week

1)      McCrea Cellars Rose’ non vintage
This is a blend of Carignan & Grenache.  I have tried to find out a little more about it, but have only found information about some other rose’s that they have made over the years.  This is a full bodied rose’ with nice spice.  It has a long finish.  It’s really one of the nicest American rose’s I have ever had.  I tried this at The Funky Door in Lubbock when the Glazer’s rep was showing it to the owner & Carrie let me tag along. I will buy a bottle of this when I get a chance!

2)      Upstream 2011 Malbec.  Made by Watts winery
This is a really light & fruity Malbec.  I actually like this a lot, but I don’t think that your average person who likes Malbec would identify it as Malbec.  It has lots of fresh red fruit.  The tannin doesn’t jump out, but it is fairly high & fairly dry.

3)      Saint Amant Mohr Fry Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)
Coffee, dark chocolate, & dark fruit combine with a long finish in this wine.  It’s a nice example of how to make a powerful Zinfandel, without going over the top.  It is well balanced at 14.9% alcohol.  Although there are no legal definitions for “old vine” in American wine labeling, this does have some old vines.  The Mohr Fry Ranch has two blocks of Zinfandel that are used in this wine.  One block was planted in 1901 & the other in 1944.

4)      Concho y Toro Casa Concho 2011 Chile Puente Alto

There is not much on the nose.  Nice cocoa powder on the palate.  Definitely some cassis in there as well.  Strong tannins.  Long finish.

5)      Jeremy Wine Company, The Lady red blend non-vintage (Lodi)

Good body, but it might be a little bit hot (high in alcohol for the non wine geeks out there).  After it settles down a bit, it doesn’t taste as hot.  It has lots of body, lots of tannin & structure.  This would be good with duck or lamb.  This has a really long finish.  The wine is a blend of Petite Verdot, Petit Sirah, & Cabernet Sauvignon.  I don’t know the percentages, but they are listed in order of prominence.  They only make about 120 cases of this wine & it runs about $25.

6)      Chasing Lions, North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Very astringent, but still fruity.  I might be tasting this at the wrong time, but this tastes like a decent wine with pizza, but nothing special.

7)      Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme Haut Medoc 2010
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot.  It smells of earth & berry & a little bit of coffee.  Strong tannins make this a very dry wine. It has fairly heavy oak.  This could use some more time in bottle to really enjoy it at its best.  It reminds me a little of a cocoa dusted espresso bean. Try this with lamb or something else with a decent amount of fat.  The winery has been around since the mid-17th century.  The current owners purchased it in 1990 & have recently made a commitment to sustainability.  For those who care about this sort of thing, this is a Cru Bourgeois.  For those who don’t, it is a solid wine worth the $20 and it is a wine that you can hang on to for a few years & it will probably taste better…but it wouldn’t be a bad choice tonight.

Girl Go Lightly Rose’  2011 11% alcohol
Based on the packaging, I am not the target customer for this wine.  The label has a drawing of a girl in a frilly pink dress & heels with her face covered by a bundle of balloons. I don’t know if balloons bundle or flock or whatever, but there is a grouping of them & bundle of balloons is alliterative.  As you might expect, this is sweet.  What I didn’t expect was that it still has varietal flavor.  Watermelon is the primary flavor.  I also get seem cherry.  It is an easy drinking rose’ for a hot day.  This would be nice with grilled chicken or spicy BBQ. This isn’t as complex or interesting as the McCrea Cellars Rose’, but it is about $15 cheaper.  I’m confident enough in my masculinity to drink a girly wine if they are going to do such a nice job of it.

Tasty wine in a girly package

Tasty wine in a girly package