Tag Archives: wine

Why Chenin Blanc should be the answer to your ABC problem

18 Jun

No football article this time.  I need to work on my article on why Roger Goodell must go.  Maybe next week…  In the meantime, here is why Chenin Blanc could be your new favorite wine

 

Many people are members of the ABC club.  That is, they are looking for anything but Chardonnay to drink.  I actually love a great Chardonnay, but I understand how people can tire of it.  It is one of the most planted white grapes in the world & much of it ranges from boring to awful.  Chardonnay has some versatility though.  It can be rich & oaky, or it can be light & fruity.  It would be nice to find another grape that could fill that niche.  I’m here to tell you that Chenin Blanc fits the bill.

Chenin Blanc, frequently just called Chenin, can make slightly sweet or dry crisp wines that have guava, peach, & pear flavors.  At better quality, it can make dry smoky wines that age for decades.  When oak barrel fermented, it can rival the best vanilla & butter textured Chardonnays.  When picked as a late harvest grape or a noble rot infected grape, it makes a sweet wine that can age 50 years or more.   It is also a great grape for sparkling wines.  That is a versatile grape!

Like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is grown in many places across the globe; unfortunately it is treated like a red headed stepchild in many of those growing regions.  While solid Chenin Blanc is made in Australia, California (Chalone in particular), & Texas, it really only gets the respect it deserves in The Loire Valley in France & in South Africa.

Chenin Blanc is a grape that has naturally high acid.  In particular, it is able to ripen well in a hot climate without losing too much acid.  It also has a tendency towards high yields.  It is susceptible to botrytis. It has good resistance to disease & wind. It buds early & ripens late. All of these factors affect the wines that are produced in the middle Loire & South Africa.  I’ll write about the regions to give you more details, but you don’t really need to know all of this to pick out a good bottle.  It doesn’t hurt though.

The Loire wine regions

The Loire wine regions

The Loire is a wine region in France that basically follows the Loire River.  It runs from the Atlantic near Nantes east towards Burgundy.  It is north of the wine region of Bordeaux, but South of Paris & the wines of Champagne.  It has 4 distinct growing regions & really would be divided into 4 different appellations if not for the Loire & tradition.  The middle 2 sections of the Loire are the great Chenin growing areas. The middle Loire has a basically continental climate.  That means that it has short cold winters & long dry summers.  Spring frost can be a problem, & sometimes it rains around harvest time.  The Loire itself has the biggest effect on the local mesoclimates.  The river reflects light & that helps grapes ripen even when it might normally be a bit too cool for full ripeness due to the latitude.  It also provides cooling breezes that help the grapes retain acidity when it is hot.  Finally, the river helps provide the moisture necessary for noble rot/botrytis.

The Loire produces several different styles of Chenin, from dry, to off dry, to luxurious sweet wines.  The grape is so ubiquitous there that it was once called Franc Blanc.  Today it is often called Pineau or Pineau de la Loire.

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

In the Loire, the grape is usually unblended, although in Anjou or Saumur it is possible to add 20% Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & in wines labeled Touraine there can be a broader mixture.  The best Chenin in the Loire will be unblended.

Mechanical harvesting is used in much of the Loire. It cannot be used for the production of the classic sweet Chenin Blancs.  The best of these wines will be made from grapes infected by botrytis.  This necessitates more than one harvesting session.  These are called tries & 2 are required & sometimes 3 or 4 are used to make sure that only the grapes that have shriveled with botrytis are picked.  It is a long process which risks a fall rain & the loss of crops.  It results in higher priced wines, but they are still inexpensive compared to other botrytis wines such as Sauternes.

There are few hard & fast rules for the fermentation process & the treatment of the wine in the Loire.  There are some common themes.  There is generally no Malolactic fermentation for the wines.  There is generally no new oak used or very little.  Some lees contact is not uncommon.  Because the climate is cool, it is normal to chaptalize the wine.  Adding sugar up to a 2.5% alcohol increase is allowed & is common except for in warmer years. Most modern wineries have stainless steel tanks with temperature control.  In the Loire it is sometimes necessary to warm the must before & during fermentation to get the wine to finish fermentation. There are some people experimenting with new oak & malolactic fermentation in the hopes of capturing some of the market for oaked Chardonnay.  This is a tiny minority of the market.

Basic Chenin Blanc from the Loire has flavors of apple & pear, nuts, & mineral. They can be tight & acidic with a chalky minerality when first bottled. Time in the bottle is necessary for the full range of flavors to appear.  The best wines can age for 50 years or more.  During that time they develop secondary characteristics of honey & beeswax.  As the wines become sweeter, they show sweeter jellied fruits with the same notes.  The botrytis infected wines show the honey & beeswax much more quickly & have more luscious apple & pear marmalade notes. Great Loire Chenin Blanc can be one of the best & most long lived wines in the world.

In Savennières, Chenin is almost always dry.  They wait later than average to harvest the grapes, allowing them to achieve greater ripeness.  Then they ferment them completely dry.  That results in a wine with richness & a bit higher alcohol.  These wines can be somewhat austere in the first few years after bottling.  The best examples will last as long as 50 years & develop complex flavors.  The first thing I notice about a good Savennières is the combination of minerality & smokiness.  This is one of those wines that can fool you.  You might swear it had oak in it, but it doesn’t.  papillonThat smoky flavor is from the fruit.  Good examples also tend to show beeswax & honey.  If you are looking for a fruity & easy drinking wine, this isn’t for you.  If you want a great wine to pair with food & one that offers unexpected delights, give it a try.  I think Savennières pairs well with a wide variety of food.  Probably only Riesling is more versatile.  It isn’t the easiest wine to find.  It doesn’t look like Total Wine or Bev Mo ever stock it.  I picked up a bottle of Domaine des Baumard at Specs in Houston & at a little shop in Santa Fe.  I found Domaine de Baumard’s Clos du Papillon at a Whole Foods.  Check with your local store.

The wines of Anjou, Coteaux de l’Aubance, Jasnières, Montlouis, Saumur, and Vouvray have a wide range of sweetness levels.  In Vouvray the wine generally has some sweetness.  The labels will sometimes guide you, but not always. Tim Atkin MW says that the Loire producers favor a BBC management approach to labeling, “tell the public nothing.”  Generally you can expect the wine to be off dry.  Sometimes they will say something like “Vouvray Sec” & you will know it is dry.  Experimentation is probably your best bet here.  These wines can be great with spicy food.  The drier versions make great poolside wines on a hot day.

The high acidity of Chenin Blanc makes it a great candidate for sparkling wine.  In the Loire, it is used to make Crémant de Loire & sparkling Vouvray.  Crémant is just a French word for Champagne style sparkling wine that is not from Champagne.  Outside of the Loire it is also used in Crémant de Limoux in Southern France.  These wines may not be as refined as Champagne, but they can be vibrant wines showing peach & honey notes.  As with the wines, these can be dry or slightly sweet.  Most of the time, a dry sparkling wine will be labeled as “Brut” or “Sec”, while a slightly sweet sparkler will be labeled as “off-dry” or “demi-sec.”

The wines of the Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume are best known for their sweet Chenin Blanc.  Where the wine is labeled according to sweetness it will be sec (dry), demi-sec (medium dry), or moelleux (sweet).  Top producers include Claude Papin, Domaine Richou, & Huet.  The best of these wines are produced with grapes that have been infected by botrytis cinerea.  Botrytis is also called noble rot (marketing!).  Essentially it is a fungus that in just the right conditions (damp in the morning, dry in the afternoon) grows on the grapes & sucks the water from them.  That concentrates the sugar in the wine, making the grapes sweeter.  It also gives the fruit interesting honey & marmalade flavors.  It sounds, & truthfully looks a bit disgusting, but it makes great wine.  Anyone who eats mushrooms or yogurt should be able to handle a little fungus being involved in the production of their wine.  As I mentioned, these grapes all have to be hand-picked.  Pickers go through the vineyard & hand select the infected grapes, leaving the rest.  They will sometimes make 2 or 3 tries through the vineyard to get enough to make the wine.  That costs money, but it is worth it.  These are luscious wines with honey & jam & marmalade notes.  The cool thing about them is that they still have a backbone of acidity.  These wines last for decades & improve as they go.  Many people think of them as strictly dessert wines, but I prefer them with pâté or blue cheese.  I think that is one of the great wine pairings of all time.

I drank a bottle of Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux 1998 over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the 3rd 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.  It was everything that I mentioned above & more.  La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”  I paid $38 for my bottle & I have seen it at around $60 online.  That’s pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things for a world class wine.

South Africa has been growing Chenin Blanc for centuries, but only relatively recently have they tried to make high quality wine with it.  Initially the grape was planted to produce brandy due to its ability to get a large crop with good sugar & still retain acid.  It also has good resistance to disease & wind.  Wind can be a real issue in South Africa & can cause transpiration issues.  In fact it wasn’t even known as Chenin Blanc until the 1960’s.  It was called Steen. Chenin is still the most planted grape in South Africa, but at around 18% of the total crop, it has fallen off quite a bit.

There is still plenty of over cropped bland Chenin Blanc produced in South Africa.  It is sometimes sold under a varietal name or blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & sold with a fanciful name.  These wines tend to have green fruit flavors with melon & mango.  They aren’t necessarily bad wines.  They just aren’t memorable.

Since the 1990’s there has been a revolution in quality at the top end of the spectrum for South African wines.  Growers have been encouraged to reduce yields.  Top producers like De Trafford, Morgenhof, & Anura (my favorite) are using old vines to make big bold Chenin Blancs that can last as much as 10 years.

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Most top quality producers have air conditioned production facilities.  Some Chenin is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  Some producers ferment at least a portion of their Chenin in French or American oak barrels.  These barrels are in cold rooms due to the heat in South Africa combined with the heat of fermentation. Some Chenin is fermented in stainless steel & then aged in barrel for up to 24 months.

These wines show more tropical fruit than the wines of the Loire due to the warmer climate. Melon, mango, pineapple, & grapefruit are common flavors.  The wines that are fermented or aged in barrel will show the toast or nut notes from the oak.  American oak seems to be a current favorite.  It adds coconut flavors that work well with the other tropical flavors in the wines.

South African Chenin Blanc does not yet show the aging potential of Loire Chenin.  Unoaked Chenin in South Africa, which ranges from sweet to dry generally, is drinkable for 1-3 years.  The oaked Chenin usually is good for 3-5 years, but there are some examples that work for 10 years.

Chenin Blanc in South Africa generally does not show botrytis notes.  The heavy winds and arid climate make it unlikely for the fungus to survive in most of the wine region.

Though the wines are very different, both South Africa & the Loire produce high quality Chenin Blanc.  The next time you feel the need to satisfy your ABC desires, try a Chenin Blanc.  It could be your new favorite.

 

 

 

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

4 Sep

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

Three wine questions

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

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

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

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

3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL

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

3 Questions for every NFL team this year

Arizona Cardinals

  • Can they maintain their momentum from last year?

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta Falcons

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

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

  • Will the defense be able to stop anyone?

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

  • Is Julio Jones fully recovered?

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

Baltimore Ravens

  • Will the running game improve?

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

  • Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?

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

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

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

Buffalo Bills

  • Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?

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

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

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

  • Can the defense carry the team?

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

Carolina Panthers

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

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

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

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

  • Will the secondary hold up?

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

Chicago Bears

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

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

  • Can the new defensive parts come together in time?

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

  • Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?

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

Cincinnati Bengals

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

Cleveland Browns

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

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

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

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

  • Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?

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

Dallas Cowboys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver Broncos

  • Should Wes Welker walk away?

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

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

  • Can Peyton Manning equal last year?

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

  • Will the defense be dominant?

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

Detroit Lions

  • Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?

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

  • Can the team play with discipline?

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers

  • Will the defense be improved?

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

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

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

  • Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?

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

Houston Texans

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

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

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

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

  • Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?

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

Indianapolis Colts

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

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

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

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

  • How strong will play be this year?

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

Jacksonville Jaguars

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

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?

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

  • Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?

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

  • Can the offensive line perform?

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

Miami Dolphins

  • Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?

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

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

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

  • The offensive line has to be better right?

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

Minnesota Vikings

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

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

  • Can Peterson continue to carry the load?

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

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

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

New England Patriots

  • Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

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

  • Can most of the other key players stay healthy?

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

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

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

New Orleans Saints

  • Will they miss Darren Sproles?

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

  • Will the defense be better than last year?

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

  • Can they win on the road?

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

New York Giants

  • Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?

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

  • Will the offensive line be better?

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

  • Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?

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

New York Jets

  • Will Chris Johnson have a great season?

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland Raiders

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

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

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

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

  • Where will the team play next year?

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

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

  • Can the secondary keep up?

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

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

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

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?

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

  • Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?

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

  • Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?

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

Saint Louis Rams

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

San Diego Chargers

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

San Francisco 49ers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

  • Can they repeat?

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

  • Will the offensive line be a weakness?

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

  • Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

Tennessee Titans

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

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

  • Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?

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

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

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

Washington Redskins

  • How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?

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

  • Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?

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

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

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

Hurry up offense & hurry up wine tasting

17 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

ellison

Tiger Ellison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Staubach

 

 

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.

 

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

7 Mar

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the wines we tried blind.

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

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

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

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

Botanica Chenin Blanc 2010$19.99 13.5% alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harmony Wynelands

7 Feb

I visited Harmony Wynelands in Lodi recently.  I wanted to post pictures of how they have flooded some of their old vines because the drought has been so bad.  I figured as long as I was doing that, I should review their wines.  I have been pretty busy with work and a class I am taking, so I am behind on posting.  I’m sure I will have some pithy comments about the NFL soon.

The Organ at Harmony Wynelands

Harmony Wynelands is a small winery in Lodi.  They may produce anywhere from 1,000-5,000 cases in a given year.  They make some good wines, but they may make more money as a center for weddings and other events.  They have a pipe organ from an old movie theater in the tasting room and they have silent movie nights where the organ is played.  The winery is owned by Bob Hartzell, former president of the California Wine & Grape Growers Association.  Shaun MacKay is the winemaker & viticulturist.  Shaun was nice enough to hang out with me for a while and answer my esoteric questions about how they train their vines.  We also talked about their use of native yeast in some of their wines and the problems of working with vines as much as 100+ years. They are worth a stop if you are in Lodi.  That’s especially true if the weather is nice and you have time to sit outside and have a glass of wine.

Linda and Bob Hartzell and Shaun MacKay (center)

They were out of their 100% Alicante Bouschet wine.  I want to try that one next time around.  Here is what I tried…

Harmony Wynelands Chardonnay 2012 $16
This wine has tons of green apple.  It is fruity with no oak.  It is a pretty tasty wine for those who are tired of overly oaked Chardonnay.

Harmony Wynelands Riesling 2012 $19
I don’t know if I would have correctly identified this wine as Riesling when I first smelled it.  It is very floral.  I know that Riesling is a floral grape, but somehow this had an almost Muscat quality to the floral notes.  While this wine isn’t the style that I prefer, I can see how it is one of their better sellers.  It has a medium sweetness to it and I can see how it would be a great picnic wine for those who like their Riesling on the sweeter side.

Harmony Wynelands GMA 2011 $32
33% Grenache, 33% Mouvedre, 33% Alicante Bouschet                                                                 This has a more rich flavor with deeper notes than I really expected from this blend.  There is a little bit of spice on the nose.  On the palate I taste blackberry, boysenberry, and cinnamon.  I took home a bottle of this one.

Harmony Wynelands Pipe Dreams Old Vine Zinfandel $44                                                      This is a blend of 3 vintages. The grapes come from 40 year old vines. This has very deep flavors.  Part of that comes from 2 years in French oak.  I tasted black cherry and dark chocolate.  It’s a very fruit driven wine considering the oak influence.  It clocks in at 15.7% alcohol.  You definitely notice the alcohol, but it never seems too out of whack to me.  Half of the wine was fermented on native yeast.

Harmony Wynelands  Zinsation dessert wine $16 (I believe this was in a 500ml)
I get pruned and plummy fruit.  This will be a hit with anyone who likes Port style wines made with Zinfandel.  I need to pick up a bottle before I see my Dad again.  He will love it!  This wine wasn’t fortified, but it is still a big dessert wine.   The grapes were picked at 28 brix.  I’m impressed that Shaun was able to get to 16.5% alcohol on this wine primarily using native yeast.  Often native yeast has a lower alcohol tolerance and can die at much lower levels.  Even commercial yeast doesn’t tend to do well over 16%.

Harmony Wynelands Champagne $12.00
Sweet to off dry, French Colombard based sparkling wine.  This is a mild and lightly flavored sparkling wine, but it is actually pretty nice.  There isn’t much complexity here, but my guess is that it is primarily drunk at weddings at the winery and it would be perfect for a large group that might not enjoy dry nutty Champagne.Old vines flooded to relieve drought pressure

I guess I should throw in one comment on football here so…

Congratulations to Peyton Manning for having the best regular season ever for a quarterback who was stomped in the Super Bowl.

Watering

Another trip to Napa helps me find a couple of wines for Thanksgiving + this week’s football thoughts.

27 Nov

November the 14th started out as a rainy grey day in Napa.  We had a meeting with a printer that morning & then the guys and I had time to visit a couple of wineries before driving to Sacramento. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros.

Domaine Carneros 046

Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wine.  That makes sense because their official name is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger.  Taittinger has been producing Champagne since 1734. The Domaine Carneros main building was finished in 1989.  Their Pinot Noir facility behind the main house is designed to look like a classic French carriage house.  Despite the ancient look to the buildings, when the Pinot Noir facility was completed, it had the largest solar collection system of any winery in the world.  Their vinification techniques are also a nice blend of ancient tradition and modern technology.

As you might also guess, the winery is in Carneros, which is an appellation that includes the northern portion of both Napa & Sonoma.  Wine writer Alan Goldfarb calls Carneros “the sweet spot for Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.”  Those are 2 of the 3 grapes allowed in Champagne and Domaine Carneros does a great job on both.  They also make still wines from those grapes.

The winery is beautiful, and tastings are conducted at tables rather than at a bar.  We had a nice seat in front of the fireplace.  Here are the wines we tried.  I didn’t take very detailed notes this time because things moved fairly quickly and I tasted with two other people.
2009 Brut Cuvée $28.00
This was clean with a faint hint of baked bread.  There is a fresh melon flavor that took me a while to notice

2010 Brut Rose’ $37.00
There is some of the expected strawberry here, but there is more of an unexpected peach.
There is some raspberry as well. This is 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay.

Vermeil Demi Sec $36.00
This slightly sweet wine reminds me of baked apple & baked pear pie.  The pear notes are really enjoyable.  I’m more of a fan of dry sparkling wine, but this is nice.  It is a favorite with visitors to the winery.

Ultra Brut 2009 $39.00
This is serious stuff. It has a full mouth feel.  It reminds me of toasted fresh bread. There is also some toasted nut.  There is a small amount of cream. This would be great with the some Oscar Benedict, the crab version of eggs Benedict.  It would also be fantastic with crab smothered in butter or grilled.  It only has 4 grams per liter of sugar.  I love dry vintage sparkling wine.

Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le rêve means “the dream.” This is 100% Chardonnay (white from white) There is a long finish to this wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some. Soft gooey cheese.

Estate Pinot Noir 2011 $35.00
Dark fruit with mushroom & herbal notes. There is leather, and while it is nice that I am trying this on a cool, foggy day in front of the fire, it would be even better in a classic Victorian office with a fire…or perhaps with a brace of pheasant.  Ok…apparently it would be better if you were a British Lord.  That is often true.  The grapes spend 5 days in cold soak before fermentation.  There are 11 clones of Pinot Noir in the blend from 4 different organic estate vineyards.

Reserve Pinot Noir Famous Gate 2011 $75.00
This spends 16 months in French oak (48% new). It has smooth, fresher fruit than the estate Pinot Noir.  The other almost seems more nuanced.  Maybe it needs to open up.  I get raspberry, cherry, & herbs.  This may end up as a better wine, but for now I don’t think it is worth the extra $40.

I ended up with the Estate Pinot & the Ultra Brut Cuvee for potential Thanksgiving wines.  There is a Zinfandel sitting around that is in the mix as well.

048

After finishing up at Domaine Carneros, we reluctantly left the fireplace and moved over to Duckhorn Vineyards.  Duckhorn is another beautiful winery tasting room.  Instead of a French estate, this looks like a converted Craftsman house, although it was built for this purpose.  They have indoor seating & seating on a covered patio.  We sat out on the patio & they had gas heaters going.  It was starting to warm up and clear off.  Towards the end of the tasting, we could hear a frog croaking nearby and the sun came out.  Here is what we tried.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $45.00                                                                                                                                                                                                          This classic nose tends a little toward the New Zealand style.  It has a clean fruit filled nose. It tastes like lime, lemon, and guava.  It is a single vineyard wine and it spent 10 months on lees in new oak.  The oak definitely does not overpower the fruit.

Merlot 2010 $54.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                             90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc. 15 months French oak
Great nose.  There is strong dark fruit.  It has good tannins.  I tasted plum, cherry, blackberry, spice, maybe all-spice. 14.5% alcohol

Rector Creek Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00
18 months in French oak. 83% Merlot 17% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Licorice, dark cherry, herbal notes. Maybe sage & fennel. Little bit of pepper.  This is a really nice example of Napa Merlot.  This is $90, but worth it. There is a little earthiness here, but it tends more to bright fruit.   The 1st Merlot was released 4 months before the 2nd & that may have something to do with the big difference in oak integration.  Duckhorn also owns Paraduxx Winery on the Silverado trail in Yountville.  The fruit for this wine comes from that vineyard.

Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00

82% Merlot 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Cabernet Franc 1% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak  14.5%
this is a big dark red.   There is dark raspberry, with a chocolate core.  The dry cocoa on the nose is nice.  This wine gave me a little shiver.  That’s usually the sign that it is something special.  It has a long finish.  I like this better than the Rector Creek.  It received 92 points in Wine Advocate.

Monitor Ledge 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $95.00

77% Cabernet Sauvignon 19% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak
The nose is heavy oaky Cabernet.  It is actually much more smooth & silky on the palate.   Ripe strawberry mixes with a tiny bit of raisiny plum.  Very solid cabernet, but it pales in comparison to the next.

Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Head shaking, shivering good wine. This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

After we finished tasting all of the wines, one of the guys I work with had me stand up with my back turned to the table.  He rearranged the reds & had me taste and identify them.  I was able to nail all of them.  That told me two things.  First, it meant that I could keep getting paid to work in the wine business for another week.  Second, it meant that Duckhorn makes distinct wines.  They aren’t just slapping a label on every wine from a different vineyard & then treating them the same.  They are making wines with care for the differences between vineyards and the differences between lots of fruit.  That is impressive.

Random football thoughts of the week.

1)      It was good to see the Giants brought down to earth.  They were doing way too much talking for a team that hadn’t beaten a good team.  After losing their first 6 games, the Giants were on a bit of a roll due to playing 4 teams in a row with injured or backup quarterbacks.  From their locker room there was talk about running the table.  The smack talk really got out of control last week before they played the Dallas Cowboys.

Terrell Thomas said “No doubt. We’re gonna win this game.  You can tell ’em, put it on the bulletin board, it doesn’t matter because we have to win this game. Our season is on the line right now.”  Not to be outdone, Jason Pierre Paul said it would be a beat down for the Cowboys.  “We’re going to put it on them, man,” Pierre-Paul said after the Giants’ 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers which Packers’ starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers  watched from the sideline. “I’m pretty sure the offense is going to get going. The defense is going to get going even more. And the special teams will contribute to it…It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there.”  Later, Antrelle Rolle said “If JPP says there will be blood,” Rolle said, “then there will be blood.”

After the Cowboys won the game 24-21 and dealt a severe blow to the Giants’ playoff hopes, the Cowboys took the opportunity to mention that they had heard all of the re-game talk.  “They talked and they talked and they talked,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk.”  “I just finished eating a Giant, and there’s some leftover blood,” Jason Hatcher joked after smearing fake blood on his face. They said blood was going to be shed, right?”  “We talked about it,’’ tackle Tyron Smith told Mike Fisher (105.3 The Fan). “Not to be the team that does the talking. Be the team that does its job.’’

The Giants will probably bounce back against Washington and their terrible pass defense on Sunday.  After that though, they will play the Chargers, Seahawks, & Lions, & that sounds like 3 more losses to me.  The Giants aren’t eliminated from the playoffs just yet, but all of their bravado sounds a bit pathetic at the moment.

2)      Will Bruce Arians win coach of the year twice in a row?    Since 1957, the Associated Press has named a coach of the year in the NFL.  During that time, only 3 coaches have won the award in consecutive seasons. Allie Sherman won in 1961 & 1962. Don Shula tied George Allen in 1967 & won it outright in 1968.  Joe Gibbs won it in 1982 & 1983.  It would be amazing if Bruce Arians joined that group.

Bruce Arians didn’t get his first chance as an NFL head coach until he was 60 in 2012.  Prior to that, he had been the wide receiver coach, then the offensive coordinator from 2004-2011 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  After the Steelers lost in the wildcard round in January of 2012, the team announced that he had retired.  Arians said that he did not retire & that he was fired.  He was soon hired as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis drafted Andrew Luck with the 1st pick in the draft that year.  They earned that pick by virtue of having the worst record in the NFL in 2011.  Then their rookie head coach got leukemia.  While Chuck Pagano successfully fought his disease, Arians stepped in as interim head coach & led the Colts to a 9-3 record under his coaching.  That turnaround led him to win the AP coach if the year award & more importantly, it led him to the Arizona Cardinals head coaching position.

For the last several years, the Cardinals were a team that was 2 years away from being 2 years away.  They haven’t been able to find a quarterback to replace Kurt Warner.  Their line has been terrible, and their defense has been worn down from being on the field all of the time.  They have two 5-11 season sandwiched around one 8-8 season.  This year with Arians coaching, the Cardinals are 7-4.  Their remaining opponents are: at Eagles (6-5), vs. Rams (5-6), at Titans (5-6), at Seahawks (10-1), vs. 49ers (6-3)  If they beat the Eagles, Rams, & Titans, they should be able to play the 49’ers for the last NFC playoff spot.  Arians has gotten solid play out of Carson Palmer & the line hasn’t played great, but has improved enough for them to win.  The defense is playing lights out.  I don’t think that they are a great team yet, but Arians may be a great coach.  It is amazing that he didn’t get a chance until he turned 60.  I guess that should give me optimism that I have years to hit my potential!

4) Only 1 team has been eliminated from the NFL playoffs & it is the Falcons.  Who would have guessed?  Every year when the season begins it looks like most, or all, of the teams who made the playoffs will be back again.  Every year, a number of them don’t make it.  This year it looks like the Falcons will be joined in the staying home for New Year club by the Texans, the Vikings, & the Redskins.  It is a distinct possibility that the Packers & Ravens will miss the playoffs as well.  There is an outside chance that the 49’ers will miss the playoffs if they lose to the Cardinals in week 17.  That would mean that 7 of the 12 playoff teams from 2012 were not able to repeat that feat in 2013. It really makes you appreciate the teams that consistently succeed.  The Broncos are headed to their 3rd straight playoff appearance.  The Cincinnati Bengals have the opportunity to make the playoffs for the 3rd time in a row & 4th in 5 years, which is amazing for Cincinnati.  Seattle should make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row & the 3rd time in 4 years.  The Packers may not make it this year, but they have made it 4 years in a row.  This will be the New England Patriots 5th consecutive playoff appearance & their 10th in 11 years.

5) Vince Young’s NFL career is probably over.  I think that he should try the CFL.  Perhaps he will be able to prove himself again there and get back into the NFL.  Perhaps he will just be able to continue making a living playing football.  It just doesn’t look like he will get another chance in the NFL as it stands.  Alex Tanney was signed by Cleveland from the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad yesterday.  Cleveland lost Jason Campbell last week and had to go back to Brandon Weedon, who promptly fumbled the ball & then followed that up with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.  Cleveland has other problems that might have prevented them from making the playoffs, but quarterback is the biggest.  Weedon has just been terrible.  Who would have thought fans of a team would be saying “If only Brian Hoyer had stayed healthy!!!”?  Now Cleveland has brought in someone best known for his awesome youtube video of throwing tricks.  If quarterback situations in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Cleveland haven’t gotten Young a look, I don’t think that anything will.  Something similar applies to Tim Tebow, but I’ll write about that next week.

6) The Patriots could actually be the #1 seed in the AFC.  That sure didn’t look likely a few weeks ago.  If they win out against their remaining schedule: Texans (2-9), vs. Browns (4-7), at Dolphins (5-6), at Ravens (5-6), vs. Bills (4-7) they would be 13-3.  They would have the head to head tie breaker with the Broncos.  If you think Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable in November in Foxboro, wait until January.  The Broncos can’t afford to lose a game to their remaining opponents: Chiefs (9-2), vs. Titans (5-6), vs. Chargers (5-6), at Texans (2-9), at Raiders (4-7).  They probably won’t & will finish 14-2, but 1 loss could send them on the road. Since 2003, Tom Brady is 23-5 in games played when it is freezing, while Manning is 1-6.  For what it is worth, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a snowstorm for the Super Bowl in New York this year.

7) I don’t think that the Titans will make the playoffs, but at 5-6 they still have a pretty good shot.  They even have a legitimate chance to win the division.  If the Colts keep playing like they have since Reggie Wayne was injured, the Titans could actually win the division.  That may save Mike Munchak’s job.  The Broncos & Cardinals will probably stomp them and end any playoff hopes, but it is interesting to watch.

I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving full of good wine and good football!