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New York Times: Oregon Chardonnay Speaks Up

Nice article by Eric Asimov of the NY Times about the recent history of Oregonian Chardonnay, along with a great list of tasting notes:


Enjoying Wine in a Relationship

Some may have noticed that I have not written an entry about wine for quite some time. My absence from writing prolifically about my journeys through the wine world does have reason. For one, well work has just been nuts and I usually get to a 2nd or 3rd glass of wine before I feel I can write something about it, but then of course wonderful alcohol takes its effect and my ability to prose is severely limited. But for the second reason, I started dating someone about five months ago who really doesn’t drink wine. (My boyfriend’s going to kill me for writing this.) He doesn’t mind if I drink wine. He just doesn’t like tasting it, and isn’t too happy when he tastes it on my lips. He’s not upset, and he doesn’t say, “Oh, you can’t drink wine.” Because then I think I would just have to say, “Um…I like wine way too much – sorry!” But our moments of romance are a bit interrupted when I’m asked to brush my teeth before going any further. I completely understand – if I really didn’t like a food and tasted it on someone’s lips, I would ask them to purge the taste of it as well. So, usually I simply abstain from drinking unless I know we will not be together.

So what do you do when your significant other does not like wine and you do? It can affect romance, social activities, networking and simply hanging out. Like it or not, you liking wine and the other person not liking it is a big deal. Well one way to avoid the whole problem is simply not drinking wine around the other person. But, as I’ve found from my limited experience, this actually puts a strain on the relationship. Not a big one at first, mind you, but it will grow. The reason? Your significant other knows you.

They know you perhaps better than you know yourself. They can tell when you’re in the mood for some wine, craving a peppery pinot noir or a fruity zinfandel. Don’t try to hide it. I usually need to have a glass of wine in hand when I call my parents – not that it’s a chore and that I need a buzz to take away the pain. It just loosens the conversation a bit and makes conversation more fluid. My boyfriend knows this. If I don’t have wine in my hand, he gets inquisitive. Of course I’m thinking, “Well he doesn’t like the taste of wine, so I’ll go with a Fresca instead.” He knows me too well, and says, “BJ. Go get a glass of wine.” Ha! How about that for good communication?

The point is – abstaining entirely from wine when you’re significant other is around is impractical. Sure, sometimes it’s the appropriate action depending on the night’s activities. (I’ll leave that open to interpretation.) You need to discuss this with your significant other, especially if he or she is living with you. Then the whole abstaining thing really doesn’t work. Now if you want to cut down on wine a lot because you want to lose weight or you think you’re drinking too much, please do so. But I would not sacrifice what you see as a life-giving activity and hobby because it causes a bit of discomfort that a good tooth brushing usually takes care of.

Now let’s talk specifics. You and your significant other (S.O.) are having a nice dinner at home. You both decided on the ingredients and the menu, and you both contributed to cooking the meal, setting the table, the whole nine yards. As you finish cooking the meal and setting the modest feast (with plenty of aphrodisiacs) on the table, you think of a wine that would complement the meal perfectly. You have a bottle of it in the basement. The thought of it makes you close your eyes and “mmm” with delight. But here’s the dilemma: should you open a bottle of wine at this dinner if your S.O. will not partake with you? This is a romantic dinner, a meal where you and your SO are sharing something intimate with each other. By having wine while the other is having water or soda is bad taste and will, either consciously or subconsciously, separate you two. It will be as if you are each having your own meal. But what if my S.O. encourages me to get a glass of wine? What if she/he doesn’t mind? Ignore the desire! Even if they “say” it’s ok, it really won’t be.

Now, it is allowable if you two decide to have drinks with dinner, where you decide to have wine and he/she decides to have beer or cocktail. This is totally acceptable as each party is imbibing in alcohol, not just one. If just one of you is having alcohol, it will be as if the other is the DD (designated driver), who is present but really isn’t enjoying themselves at the party watching everyone else get drunk. So, as best you can, level the playing field. You can share the drinks if you wish, though the other probably won’t try your wine. But encourage them to try it. Then, after the meal, share a dessert drink to really even everything out – a coffee, espresso, chocolate martini or what have you. This will end the night on a great note. You are no longer interested in what you want, but are geared toward what you and your S.O. want together.

This is precisely why you should not have alcohol, specifically wine, at a dinner when your S.O. is not drinking – it is a sign of self-interest and selfishness. In a relationship, you should not necessarily be disinterested in your own wants and interests, but you should modify some of them to fit with the other person. And wine should be a tool of such transformation, of bringing people together, forming the bonds of friendship and relationship, helping to bring peace and love to people’s lives. Perhaps I am idealistic in thinking wine can do this much. But why shouldn’t I be? Don’t put that stopper back in the bottle just yet, take another whiff.

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ~ 85 pts ~ $14.95

For some reason, I find myself edging closer to white wines. This perplexes me, because a year ago I would have answered, “White wine? Psh! I’m a red-only wino, thank you very much!” But perhaps this scoff at the white grape comes from not a general distaste of the wine, but a series of unfortunate tastings that can be characterized easily as theme park wine. For many, sweet white wines are fun, easy to get to, and in the end serve a purpose that is sugary and instant gratification. I do not mean to balk or look down upon people who like really sweet wines. My roommate loves sweet wine – he thought a mulled wine was good to drink as a table wine, whereas I can’t stand the stuff. Whatever wine you like, embrace it and enjoy! For me, most white wines do not agree with me because I usually don’t like the sweeter wines – which explains why I really don’t like most Michigan wines.

But this Sauv Blanc is something entirely new to my palate and experience. Its appearance is nothing unusual – lemony straw-like. The nose is tight. Very tight. Lemon, ripe berries and citrus rind. I enjoyed the fresh smell of this wine immediately. The taste is equally tight, very acidic with an explosive taste of green pepper. Imagine taking the rind of a lemon, sprinkling it on a piece of green pepper and just chomping down. Yeah, intense, isn’t it! While I enjoyed the wine, though, it is definitely a wine that cannot be enjoyed with anything. I would highly suggest cheese, fish or chicken. The wine almost needs a complimentary food item to be tamed down a bit. I could definitely drink it by itself, but it is an acquired taste that does not go down quite as easily as, say, a mulled wine.

Now for a little bit about Whitehaven. A relatively new wine maker/seller, Whitehaven was founded in 1994 by Greg and Sue White, and Simon Waghorn. By all estimations their winery started as a small venture in New Zealand, likened to any other small winemaker found in the countryside of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan or Oregon. With 40 acres of land, it seemed like they were hoping for a local clientele. Now, Whitehaven distributes across the world (including, thankfully, the U.S.). They make a number of other wines, but are known for their whites. And their 2009 Sauv Blanc has won numerous awards, so perhaps the reader would be best to try that one instead? Or perhaps a comparison? If you do try both, let me know your thoughts!

Ghost Pines Merlot 2005 ~ 89 pts ~ $19.99

Hosting a wine party can be fun and informational, if you make wine the main event and purpose of the party. A month or two ago I hosted an outside wine party at the house, but what was going to be a sniffing, swirling and glass-gazing extravaganza actually turned into just a regular house party. Now, let me clarify. I absolutely loved the party. We had a bunch of visitors, and everyone had a great time. The wine, however, was secondary. This event actually accentuated the purpose of wine – more often than not it should not be the focus of attention. Wine helps bring people together, much in the same way beer brought our president and his visitors together. While this blog is indeed focusing on wine for wine’s sake, I also try to give a picture of what surrounds the wine. Tasting wine, critiquing it, giving it a score is helpful to gauge how to use wine appropriately. So, having a wine party, where scores are given, may be left for the wine enthusiasts rather than with people who don’t care whether they have a glass of chardonnay or a Bud Light in their hand.

107017I now continue with the current wine review: Ghost Pines’ Merlot, Vintage 2005. I bought this wine, honestly, because 1) it’s a Merlot, 2) it has a cool label, and 3) it cost $20. This was one of the wines for the party, and I wanted to perform an experiment – does a mid-priced wine with a cool label taste better than a cheaper wine? So, all in all I bought this wine without expecting much…but perhaps hoping for something special?

Let me say, however, that I am usually not a big fan of Merlot. I do tend to try it, and usually enjoy it for its fruitiness. But it’s because of its fruity flavor that I tend not to sway toward it. If I want fruity, I’ll have a white wine. In my reds I want something dark, sometimes bitter, earthy. So it is in this revealing that I say I really enjoyed this wine. With flavors of pepper, dark cherry and berry, it definitely had some substantial fruits, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pepper taste that is usually found in a Cab Sauv. Without being too dramatic, this wine gives a pleasant walk through Pepper-land, followed by Fruit-land shortly after. Very nice indeed.

Now for some background. Is it any surprise that this wine is made by Gallo? Well, actually it’s made by Louis Martini, but he, in fact, is owned by Gallo (who isn’t nowadays?) Martini began his first winery in 1933 with great success, having produced his first family wine much earlier in life and receiving an education in wine making from Italy. He prides himself on getting grapes from both Napa and Sonoma Valleys, a mark which, in my limited experience, I have not seen. That Martini draws from two major wine making valleys may pigeonhole him as dipping his finger in two Disney parks – they may be different but they’re still Disney: big, expensive, internationally known, and in some ways too big for its own good. I usually like to try wines outside the Napa culture, for the very reason that it seems to be saturated by wine. Yet, it is refreshing to see someone be a little creative and try mixing the best of both worlds.

Bota Box Shiraz 2006 ~ $21.99 ~ Rating: 83

wines_shiraz_new06Don’t let the price fool you – this is a relatively inexpensive wine in that four 750 ml bottles of wine fit into this nicely compact, eco-friendly box. Distinguishing it from other box brands who try to hide the fact they’re using cardboard to house their wine, Bota Box uses a light earthy brown cover. It gives a nod to the tree huggers out there, while showing off its design and its ability to be a wine contestant. Once again I bought this wine with my now two roommates in stow, and they both raised their eyebrows a bit. I am not drinking more wine, I tried telling them, but am attempting to be more economically sound. Whatever.

I let the wine sit for a few minutes before sniffing and tasting it, because dispensing wine from a box is kind of like popping open a cork to the wine. While some air gets to the wine when not being poured, it’s pretty well sealed up. When I finally swished the wine in my glass, the color of the wine is medium red with somewhat of a haze to it. The aroma has a little petrol to it as well as some dark red fruit smells like plum and cherry. The flavor is semi-dry, with the dark fruits coming out to play, along with some pepper and licorice. For a box wine, it’s quite dynamic and enjoyable, but can dry out the palate for those seeking a “refresher.” Some meal pairings would include hamburger, pizza, salad and various Mexican dishes with a little “zing” to them.

I would actually recommend not having this wine with a “meal,” however, but with a snack instead. Mozzarella and sliced tomato would be divine with this wine, as would crackers with cream cheese and pesto. As a boxed wine, I think this can be very beneficial as it would be very good at a small party with finger foods.

Now let’s delve into a little history behind Bota – no it’s not affiliated with Botox. Bota Box is one wine among several produced by DFV Wines in Manteca, California, the same wine makers who produce Gnarly Head, Joe Blow, 337, Delicato, Twisted and Clay Station. DFV had its beginning in 1924, when Gasparé Indelicato decided after moving from Italy to start growing grapes for wine and selling his produce locally. Even during the Prohibition Indelicato’s grapes were sought after by home winemakers. Eventually, when Prohibition was repealed, Indelicato decided to make his own wine out of his grapes instead of selling them to wine makers. Soon after his wine was sought after country-wide.

So that might be misconstrued as gold. It's bronze. Just deal with it.

Bota Box’s Shiraz 2006 won a bronze in San Francisco’s annual wine competition:

The 2005 seemed to be more likeable, but the 2006 vintage is nothing to sneeze at. Actually, be sure you don’t because that’s kind of gross. In the end, I’m ranking this a solid 83 points out of 100.

Cork or Screw Cap?

cork_p1160013You’re at your significant other’s place for dinner. The mood is set. The candles lit. The food from the kitchen smells divine, and you know this will be a spectacular dinner. Your date comes around the corner with a bottle of wine, and your excitement upswings. *scratch scratch squeaky* You look confused. The wine is pouring into the class – what happened to the corkscrew, the ever so popular air tight pop the cork makes when forced from its bottle. You frown as you see the screw cap lying on the table.

Now don’t pretend – you so would turn your nose up to a screw cap wine at a romantic dinner. There’s just something more romantic, sensual, personal about a cork. It’s earthy in a way that screw caps can’t even compare. And yalumba_screwcap_bw-717848yet, the debate is raging on in the wine world whether screw caps or corks should be the sealer of choice for winemakers.

Those in favor of screw caps bring up the disappointing reality of cork taint – when a wine is noticeably spoiled due to an infection of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The culprit of this infection has been attributed to the cork, however it could be anything from the barrel, to how a wine is stored, to the transportation of the wine. A faulty cork, however, could easily lead to TCA in the wine. Noticing it is not necessarily hard as the wine will smell like mold and taste like the socks of a football player. I had this happen to me once when I bought a bottle of wine from a small winemaker in Pennsylvania. I opened it and thought the mold monster attacked.

In any event, the presence of cork taint, which is a huge liability to winemakers as it ruins the wine and gives a bad reputation, has turned many winemakers to the screw cap or alternative stopping methods (try jumping in front of a car, that’ll stop you…I have a sick sense of humor). The screw cap dramatically reduces the presence of TCA, is easier to open as it does not require a cork screw, and makes for easy closing and reopening. Indeed, these are strong arguments. Some proponents of the screw cap also argue that by turning to the screw cap, winemakers are being more environmentally friendly by not using natural resources. Indeed, on the surface the screw cap seems “green.”

Not so, say environmentalists! Those concerned with our natural resources (shouldn’t that be everybody?) say that while cork harvesting affects our natural resources, the process usually does not destroy trees but simply harvests their bark. In about ten years, the cork bark would be ready to be harvested once again. If the cork industry plummets due to wine cork replacements, the land used by cork trees would be used for other means, potentially destroying those lands and the biological landscape therein. Indeed, currently the cork forests allow for “cattle grazing, game hunting and mushroom harvesting,” which would be taken away if the land were to be used for another type of farming. This is a HUGE argument which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other agencies are using for legislation to restrict the use of wine stoppers to only cork. Interestingly enough, Spain passed a law in 2006 stating all winemakers must use cork for their wine stoppers. While this measure was, I’m sure, as political as it was to benefit environmental agencies, it was, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. Here’s a map that shows how many areas have cork “forests” that are, arguably, a big part of our earth’s ecology:


I am by no means totally against the screw cap for wine bottles. I think it’s a cool innovation that is suitable for wines that should be drunk within a year of harvest. But, I think cork needs to be regularized. Perhaps winemakers should be required to have 75% of their wines using cork stoppers? There could be a compromise that would allow the use of the screw cap without devastating the cork industry.

The honest to God difference between the taste of a screw cap and cork wine is in the physics and chemistry of how wine reacts to oxygen and air components. When sealed with a cap, a wine is completely shut off from air. Doing this limits its aging because it just sits there without interaction. Dynamic wines usually become so overtime due to a miniscule amount of air introduced to the wine through the porous yet compact cork stopper. The cork lets the wine breath, even minimally so, resulting in enhanced flavors that become pronounced over time. Now, we all know that most of the time when you buy a bottle of wine from the store you drink it within a day or so. So, the time it takes for the oxygen to affect the wine is minimal and a fairly mute subject. However, if the wine is sitting on the shelf in the store for quite a while, that wine is actually aging. Just because you don’t store it in your cellar when you buy it doesn’t mean the wine doesn’t age.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough. My opinion is fairly clear on this issue. Since the wine cork stopper comprises about 70% of the cork market, I think it’s important to continue using cork as the primary stopper substance.

Update: 2006 Tormaresca Neprica on Wine Library TV!

That’s right ladies and germs, Mr. Vaynerchuck himself reviewed a wine I reviewed not too long ago. While he didn’t mention anything about tasting “toilet,” I’m quite surprised at how alike our reviews were! Well, I pointed out the pepper and the rust, but we both noticed how “earthy” this wine is. I think I might just go out and get another bottle!