Friday, August 31, 2007

2006 Castoro Cellars Viognier Reserve

Ah, the beginning of a welcome three-day weekend... and the end of another week. Which means, of course, another review of the one wine per week.

This time it's the 2006 Viognier Reserve from Castoro Cellars. A step up in price from my previous reviews, this one set me back $9.99 at Trader Joe's.

The winery website lists a 2006 Viognier Reserve from the Stone's Throw Estate. The label on the one I purchased from TJ's merely says Central Coast so I don't know if they are the same, but the retail price of the Stone's Throw is $19.95 so I suspect they are different.

As for the wine: It was a nice, pale clear color. On the nose were flowers and a nutty component. It also smelled slightly corked so I don't know if this was an off bottle or not.

Tastewise: initially I tried this a bit too cold so as it warmed up the flavors changed quite a bit. When cold it tasted more like a gewurtz, with flavors of flowers and lychee, along with a citrusy tang with plenty of acidity that turned sourish on the finish. As the wine warmed up more to room temperature, it smoothed out and the initial impression was of yellow peaches - sort of like the canned cling variety. In the middle it begain to slightly sour, and the aftertaste was rather short and even more sour. Not much complexity here.

This was certainly not the aromatic fruit basket I was expecting for this varietal. Aside from the peach impression when it had warmed up, the wine was on the miserly side with its flavors and aromas. I'm thinking maybe I got a bad or atypical bottle because of what seemed to me to be a slight corky quality, so I'm going to keep the thumbs sideways on this one. Or maybe curled up like the Wicked Witch of the East's feet when the Wicked Witch of the West tried to remove the ruby slippers from them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Outsourcing Grapes Overseas Now?

It’s been happening with computers, electronics, clothing.. it was only a matter of time before it happened in the wine industry, too. What is it? Outsourcing. Offshore outsourcing, to be exact.

Industry giant Cal Pacific Winery announced it is leading the way to the next logical stage of producing wines: sending grapes overseas to China to undergo vinification and bottling, and then shipping the finished product ba
ck to the U.S. for sale.

I interviewed Larry Worthington, President and CEO of Cal Pacific about his pioneering this recent development.

Me: Could you please tell me a little bit more about your plans to outsource the making of your wines to China?


Worthington: It’s really quite simple. We conducted a production cost analysis for our wines and determined that we could achieve a significant reduction in our costs by vinifying our wines overseas, China to be exact, bottling it over there and then sending it back here to the States.

Me: Do you really save that much mo
ney?

Worthington: Oh yes. Significantly. And I intend to pass those savings on to the consumer. My goal is to make good wine more affordable and I’ll even stand upon my head to make a better deal.

Me: How exactly does this processing take place? Do you ship the grapes or the grape juice, or what?

Worthington: We harvest the grapes, put them into giant vats and then send the whole bunches in refrigerated containers onboard cargo ships to China.

Me: That must take a while, though. I thought it was critical to pick grapes at just the right time and then get them into the winery for the crush as quickly as possible. Don’t your grapes go bad sitting on a ship for so long?

Worthington: Oh not at all. W
e pick the grapes way before they’re ripe and then let them ripen during their journey. By the time they get to China, they’re ready to be de-stemmed, crushed, and begin fermentation.

Me: Under-ripe grapes?

Worthington: What’s wrong with that? Do you think growers wait until tomatoes are ripe before they pick them and ship them to the store? Or avocados? Take a look at tomatoes right after they’ve been harvested – they could
all be in that movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Bananas, too. Chiquita’s got a warehouse full of green ones.

Me: But it seems that grapes for wine would be a different case.

Worthington: Fruits are fruits. We uh, compensate for any underripe character while they’re being processed in China.


Me: Some consumer and patriotic groups have criticized you for taking jobs away from Americans and sending them overseas.

Worthington: Oh you mean those people who sneak into Wal Mart during off hours when they think no one is looking? I have to weigh what’s more beneficial for the consumer. If I make the wine in China, I can sell for a lower price, more people can buy the wine and it helps out the whole industry because we have more wine drinkers. A few must sacrifice for many. What’s a little collateral damage?

Me: I know this just started up
, but how have the sales of the outsourced wine been?

Worthington: Wonderful, wonderful. It seems people are very happy with the lowered price-point. Right now we’re running a special promotion in which each bottle of wine comes packaged with selected Microsoft software.

Me: That’s a first. One last ques
tion. Is there any truth to the rumor that the U.S.D.A. has contacted you regarding a requirement that along with the alcohol content, you begin posting the lead content of your wines on your wine labels?

Worthington: No comment.


Me: Thank you for your time, Mr. Worthington.

Worthington: You’re welcome. If you’re ever up in wine country, make sure that you go see Cal Pacific.

[small print note: the above article ranks HIGH on the leg pull-o-meter]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Magnificent Obsession

It’s been hot here in Southern California. Way too hot.

When is it going to cool down??? I came home yesterday and it was 87 degrees inside the house. As you might expect, I quickly checked the temperature inside of the Emerson Suites (my two identical eight-bottle wine storage units, in case you didn’t know).

It’s a bit alarming – the max temperature in one unit hit 61.3 degrees and the other was 60.8. As our too-hot summer wears on, does that mean global warming is affecting my wine storage units? The hot ambient temperatures keep chipping away, slowly wearing down the resistance of my little thermoelectric gizmos?

Does every wino fret about temperatures and storage conditions? I think so. I know I do. Since most of us don’t have natural cellars, and living in Southern California would make trying to have a passive wine cellar pointless anyway, the solution for many is to use a wine refrigerator or cooling unit.

Once we purchase one (or two or three as the case may be), how many of us endlessly obsess over the interior temperatures?

There’s an informative post over on the Chowhound Wine Board concerning people’s experience with the Magic Chef 45-bottle wine storage unit currently on sale (or that was on sale) at Home Depot. The most recent posts centered on the variance between the top and bottom shelves. One poster said the temperature at the top was nearly 70, while at the bottom it was 50, and each shelf’s temperature changed in 5-degree increments.

That seems a rather severe gradient within one box.

Another poster said theirs did not vary as much – 60 at the top, 50 at the bottom. Various other posts to this thread lead me to believe that there are quite a few inconsistencies with the performance of this Magic Chef cooler from unit to unit. I think if I had one I’d probably ruin the thing because I’d be constantly opening the door to move the temperature probe from one spot to another to see if the entire enclosed space was cooling properly.

As you might have guessed, I’ve read what I can on the WWW regarding other people’s experiences with their wine cooling units. There’s quite a range.

Some have complained that their units got so cold it froze the wine. Others, that they could never get their units to be cold enough. Still others complained because their units just plain broke down and the manufacturer was of little help. And many, many people are very, very happy with what they have. But a common thread linking them all seems to be an obsession with ensuring their units are keeping their precious wine collections in a healthy state.

On the Vinotemp site, some of the condenser-based units have this little note posted on their individual web pages:

It is a normal function of the unit for the temperature to fluctuate. The unit is designed to cycle and this fluctuation of 5 degrees prevents the unit from excessive cycling.

From what I’ve read, the “experts” tell you that maintaining a steady, unvarying temperature (or at least one that changes very slowly over time) is more important than the actual temperature itself – assuming that temperature remains low enough not to damage the wine. So if the temperature inside your unit can roller coaster up and down 5 degrees throughout the day, is that good for your wine?

Several posts ago I wrote about purchasing a digital thermometer at Wal Mart and comparing its reading to the built-in readout on my Emerson cooling unit. The Emerson said 57 and the Wal Mart said 59. Last weekend I bought a 2nd digital thermometer, again $5.00 at the register even though the shelf tag said $11.88. If they want to give me a rollback on prices, who am I to complain?

I set the two thermometers up side by side, as you can see in the above picture. The Emerson Suite on the left seems to be a little bit warmer than the one on the right. I start to worry. Then I realize, by “warmer” I am talking in terms of fractions of a degree – I have to tell myself to chill out!

I also compared the ambient temperature readings on both – the current, minimum and maximums, and it turns out they are within a couple of tenths of a degree to each other so I am assuming either they are giving me the correct temperature, or they are both similarly mis-calibrated.

87 degrees on the outside, 59 to 60 degrees on the inside (or 57 degrees, if I want to believe what the coolers themselves tell me).. that isn’t bad at all. I need to just count my blessings instead of obsessing about the temperatures! After reading what others have said about their wine units, I need to just listen to my own: they’re telling me, just do your job and let us do ours!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Knockoff Wines - Y Pay More?

My earlier post about a fictitious wine bar selling knockoffs of famous wines caused a stir on a couple of wine forums, in part because some people thought it was for real. The idea of mixing common wines with various additives to make a cheap wine resemble a more famous and expensive one is something that may not be too far-fetched. Is it really possible? Or feasible?

Here are some things to consider:

First of all, where would you draw the line as to whether or not a wine knockoff was legal? Obviously you could not represent it as being the same exact wine. But what if you wrote a note on the label letting buyers know that the wine in the replicated but differently labeled bottle resembled wine X?

For example, take the shelves at Wal Mart. They sell their own Equate brands of various items such as mouthwash and tell you on their label to compare the active ingredient in their house brand to the more famous Listerine brand. In the case of wine, isn’t the active ingredient fermented grape juice? Then both original and copy share the same active ingredient, don’t they? Imagine a bottle of wine with the Equate label on it, telling you to compare the active ingredient, pinot noir, to a Richebourg, and then asking, “Y Pay More?”

Secondly, assuming someone really could recreate a famous wine, would people even purchase the “generic” version? In my blog example, a glass of 1982 Chateau Petrus cost $18. A glass of the real thing would probably cost about 100 times as much, if not more. But even so, is it worth paying 1/100 the price tag of the real thing just to see what it tastes like?

There are plenty of counterfeit items floating around that were purchased both knowingly and unknowingly by people, often purely for snob appeal – Gucci bags, Rolex watches, etc., but those are intended to be sold as the real thing and are represented to buyers as being the genuine article. That’s obviously illegal. What I’m talking about here is a situation in which an inexpensive wine has been doctored to resemble a much more expensive wine but is represented as being a replica, not the original.

What snob appeal is there in drinking a knockoff wine? It’s not like you can put that wine into the more expensive wine bottle it is supposed to resemble, because in order to get that wine bottle you’d first have to have bought the wine (or else have gone rummaging through the trash bins of a Wine Spectator Grand Award restaurant) - in which case you wouldn’t need to buy the cheap stuff in the first place. It’s not like using a Nordstrom’s box or bag to use for wrapping a gift that really came from Big Lots. Bags and boxes are cheap and easily obtained; not so an empty bottle of ’82 Petrus or ’89 Romanee Conti.

Honestly, I really don’t think I would be interested in drinking a knockoff of something, no matter how cheap it was, or how closely it supposedly resembled the real thing. It just wouldn’t be the real thing and I would not be able to move away from that fact.

Thirdly, exactly how do you determine what the knockoff is supposed to taste like? I guess you could subscribe to the Wine Advocate, read Mr. Parker’s tasting notes for highly-rated wines and then try and come up with a wine that fits with what he says (but wouldn’t all your wines sort of have the same style, haha?). But if you wanted to be more specific and thus bought the actual wine you wanted to copy, there are still problems associated with that approach.

Two bottles of the same wine may not taste identical. So which one do you copy? But let’s say that the two do taste similar enough so that they have a distinctive enough taste that sets them apart from other wines. Even if you could replicate the taste of the wine at that moment in time (and you’d also have to do the same not only for the taste, but the aroma, the color, the texture, aftertaste, etc.), that doesn’t guarantee your replica is going to evolve in the same manner as the original. In fact, it probably won’t. So you would have to sell your replica by the glass within a very short time window before it veered away from the genuine article's development. After you’ve bottled it, a year or even a few months down the line, the juice inside may have changed drastically from when it was bottled.

Another issue: who would decide if your replica had crossed the border of legality? If you were not labeling it as the original but instead as something resembling the original, who would be called in to testify that they were close enough in taste that you are really producing a counterfeit? Or, to testify that what you are claiming to resemble the original tastes so awful that you are giving the original a bad name because people will think the original is as horrible as your replica?

By the time your case got to court, the evidence would have spoiled. Plus, what are people going to do, call expert witnesses to testify as to how close two wines resembled each other? Prosecution calls Robert Parker, Defense calls Jancis Robinson..

I’d like to think that even if someone could perfectly duplicate all the components of a great wine, there would still be something lacking in the copy. Like the alien invaders hatched from pods in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there would be something missing from the copy that the original possessed – the spirit, or the soul of the wine would be lacking. Not measurable, but nonetheless an integral part of the original that couldn’t be duplicated at any cost.

When I first envisioned my wine bar spoof, I pictured a bunch of trendy folks crowding into a trendy room, swirling and sipping their trendy glasses of trendy knockoff wines while making smart conversation with one another. But it’s not as easy as all that, as the above discourse pointed out.

Now another question: is the stemware used at Metamorphosis 88 made by Riedel? Only Sam Soon and Jin-heon know for sure.

Monday, August 27, 2007

15 Minutes of Fame...

You may be wondering what the heck the above picture is supposed to represent. Is it Enron’s stock price history? George Bush’s popularity? Alberto Gonzales' career path? Sadly no, it’s a graph of this blog's site visits last week, displaying the rapid ascension to my figurative 15 minutes of fame (literally it was more like several hours) and then speedy descent back to blog obscurity.

Those of you who remain readers may already suspect what triggered the sudden spike in visitors to OneWinePerWeek.com (yes, I bought the domain name so now you can reach me via www.wineoneperweek.com as well as www.monkuwino.com, too. Just get here if you can).

I’ve posted several spoof articles on this site, but last Monday’s was apparently a bit too believable and some people weren’t quite sure if it was fact or fiction. It was an article about a (purely fictitious) wine bar called Metamorphosis 88 that featured ‘knockoff’ versions of famous wines, such as Chateau Petrus 1982. In addition to that highly regarded and fabulously expensive wine, I listed several other examples of similar wines on the menu of the wine bar’s knockoffs.

Somehow it came to the attention of the owner of one of the wineries on that list – Michael Browne of Kosta Browne, no less- which prompted him to post a message on Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com. The message heading was, Has anyone heard of this? I can’t believe it. Then he proceeded to write, Am I reading this right? I can’t believe this is being done, followed by a link to the Metamorphosis 88 post on this site.

Well, that spawned a discussion about the post (and thankfully, someone pointed out that I had declared Metamorphosis 88 to be a spoof in the comments section) and as you might imagine, a lot of people clicked on the link supplied by Mr. Browne.

And that’s why the traffic to this blog spiked for that day.

It was also helped by a post on the Wine Spectator Forum, as well as a few other places on the WWW.

Then, as expected, the traffic took a downturn over the next few days as is painfully evident in the above graph. Hence my “15 minutes of fame,” but now the spotlight is pointed elsewhere.

To those of you who were reading this blog prior to those 15 minutes, and to those of you who arrived during those 15 minutes and decided to stick around and see what else there was and what may be, I’d like to say thank you very much! I really do appreciate your dropping by to see what’s going on over here.

Tomorrow: a discussion pertaining to the subject of the Metamorphosis 88 posting: are wine knockoffs legal and even if they are, are they feasible?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Logo

Someone sent a message to me the other day in which one of the sentences began, Obviously you're a woman.." In my reply I corrected them, but it was certainly an honest mistake given the profile picture that I had up on the page at the time (see the poor besotted thing below). When I image-Googled the word "wino" that particular picture came up as #3; I thought it was twistedly funny so I commandeered it for this blog.

Then on the Wine Life Today and Domaine547 sites, I ran across something called Gravatars which I found out are Web-wide avatars I could use to identify myself on blogs that made use of this feature. So I thought, why not? But I also thought, do I want this tragic wino (wina for the feminine case?) following me around the web as my (gr)avatar? Methinks perhaps not, although that was the subject of much hot debate between me and myself before finally deciding to chuck the old picture. Hence, the new logo. I'm no Photoshop wiz and don't even know how to use it; I just did something quick on Fireworks and uploaded it. I guess it's a bit classier than the old one although it's the same old low-class blog posts.

Maybe some of you are wondering, what's a Monkuwino, anyway? Monku in Japanese means to whine or complain. I know hardly any Japanese words but for some reason I seem to remember hearing my parents use this all the time when talking to or referring to me in my formative years.. So I've sort of made this a part of my web moniker. On other sites you can see me identified as Monkuboy (like on Chowhound or Amazon) and on other wine-related sites as either Monkuboy or Monkuwino. Not that you probably care, but I thought I'd do some explaining in case you did.

For old time's sake, here's the old picture one last time:

I have to say that she was more noble than she appears. She actually told me I should replace her, for my own good. I hesitated. She persisted. Our parting conversation went like this:

Me: I want you to stay.

Her: Look, do you have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if I stayed here with you? Sooner or later you'd regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. Nine chances out of ten people would see my picture and refer you to Alcoholics Anonymous. Isn't that right?

Me: You're just saying that to make me let you go.

Her: I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know that this is where you belong, with your blog, writing about one wine per week. Not like me, with my one bottle an hour.

Me: But what about us?

Her: We'll always have Metamorphosis 88.

Me: And I said I'd never leave you..

Her: What do you expect? You're a man. You're all like that.

Me: Well, so long, baby. Here's looking at you, kid.

Her: You're really blurry.

And she staggered out of my blog, bound for another one of the countless sidewalks beneath a neon sign.

Friday, August 24, 2007

2006 Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Costières-de-Nîmes Rosé

Whoa, that's one long name on that label! Longer than the finish on the wine! Haha, sorry, that wasn't nice. I assure you, the wine is nicer than my remark.

You may notice that the style of the photo is different than my previous reviews. The normal picture I took of the wine in the glass next to the bottle came out looking like I was drinking chocolate - not good for a rosé! So I replaced it with a picture of just the label, which apparently is something more suited to my picture-taking abilities.

This week's wine was another $7.99'er, from the L.A. Wine Company. If you're getting tired of all the wines so far being $7.99 and also predominantly rosés, take heart because this was the last wine at that price tag and also the last rosé residing in the Emerson Suites.

On to the wine: It had a pretty cranberry or light fruit punch color. The aromas were a bit subdued, with red berries and some white pepper. In the mouth the wine was silky and tasted like a mixed berry pie, with acidity emerging in the middle and lasting through the short aftertaste. There was also a slight lemony undertone.

Overall, this was a nice, simple and decently fruity wine that was easy to drink. For the $7.99 price, it gets two thumbs up.

***

When I log onto Cellar Tracker, I generally take a look at the first page or two of tasting notes to see what people are posting. Here is what someone posted tonight about the 2004 Kistler Sonoma County Chardonnay:

Way too much oak and way too little fruit. Had potential but just couldn't get past the oak treatment. A bit of granny smith apple and bartlett pear but for the most part....oak in all of it's buttery vanilla cedar characteristics.

And the rating? A 90. I know Kistler has a great reputation (and also is pretty expensive) but I am wondering if this wine garnered a 90 solely on the basis of it having the Kistler label? The description doesn't sound like a 90-point wine. I'm not commenting yay or nay on Kistler since I haven't tasted anything from them in years, but rather I'm commenting about scores seemingly not matching tasting notes. Since I was writing this at the same time I had logged onto Cellar Tracker, I thought I'd add this little observation to tonight's posting.

That's all for now.. ah, it's the weekend! Have a fine one!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Book Review

I think maybe I am going to have to install a “tongue-in-cheek” meter on this blogsite so you readers will know what to expect from the day’s posting.

Since I am not very good at creating images (only stealing pictures), I’ll just tell you that today’s entry is LOW on the tongue-in-cheek meter, i.e., it’s for real. No leg-puller today.

Many of you have probably already read Natalie MacLean's book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass. It’s been on the store shelves since August of 2006 but slow me, who is normally reading business books, only found out about it recently.

I’m glad I did!

One of, if not the best wine-related books I’ve read is Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route. The man knows how to write, and obviously, get you interested in wines. Mainly the wine he imports, but he’s done much to promote the wine industry overall. Long ago I began enjoying his monthly store newsletters, often thinking they should be strung together in a book, and when I found out he had actually written a book I dashed to the store to get my own copy.

Ms. MacLean’s book reminds me of Mr. Lynch’s. Marketing experts will tell you that if you want to capture someone’s attention, tell a good story. That’s what both of these authors do – they tell a good story, taking you along on a first-person journey through their world of wine and making you feel as though you are participating with them in their endeavors.

Contrast this to the majority of wine books, which, in my own little opinion, all seem like reading school textbooks and, like school textbooks, all pretty much tend to say the same thing. Or become dated, as in the case of books that contain wine reviews and ratings. You read them for facts and not for entertainment. There’s definitely a place for them but I wouldn’t call them pleasure reading.

Red, White and Drunk~ is without a doubt entertaining but it’s also educational. Rather than listening to a recitation of facts, however, Ms. MacLean engages you as her buddy while she humbly shares her knowledge with you. And quite humorously too, I might add.

I won’t go into much detail about the book. The adventures include visits to some very famous domains in Burgundy, being an employee for a day in a wine shop, a guest sommelier, prepping and hosting a dinner party, etc. – just the kind of things she does as part of her job and part of her life - but made very engaging by her writing talent, including her choice of words and descriptions.

So why am I reviewing her book so late in the game? Because I just found out about it and I wanted to tell her thank you for a good read and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so. Also, I don’t mean to imply that MacLean’s and Lynch’s books are the only games in town and everything else is a dry textbook; there’s others in the same vein (or at least I think they are) that I plan on getting to, such as Lawrence Osborne’s, The Accidental Connoisseur : an Irreverent Journey Though the Wine World, but I’ve got so many books in the queue, who knows how long it’ll take me to get there.

Meanwhile, I wanted to say that Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass is a worthwhile read. Without a doubt, it deserves two hearty thumbs up. And so does Adventures on the Wine Route.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Protests Greet 1st California Wine Czar Nominee

Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger may have thought he’d chosen a slam dunk nominee for the inaugural office of California’s Wine Czar, but he thought wrong.

The environmentally-friendly nominee, Al Gore, has run into opposition from the public who claim that he is not as “green” as he seems.

The former Vice-President under Bill Clinton, as well as the democratic presidential candidate in 2000 and now best known for his campaign to stop global warming, confronted protestors outside of the Capitol Building in Sacramento last Tuesday following his interview with Governor Schwarzenegger.

Critics say that while the spotlight has focused on Gore’s admirable war against global warming, it has also served to keep other aspects of his life in the dark. “We did a little investigating.” said Marie Curran, spokesperson for the California Grape Enthusiasts. “We discovered that Mr. Gore’s wine collection consists almost entirely of wines containing undocumented grapes. Bottles of generic “chablis” and “hearty burgundy” line his shelves. How can he be in charge of an agency dedicated to weeding out undocumented grapes when he stockpiles them himself?”

Curran continued. “As you know, the new Wine Czar will have to be a resident of California. Mr. Gore lives in Tennessee at the moment but we learned that he is currently in escrow to purchase 22 acres in the Stag’s Leap area of the Napa Valley. These 22 acres currently have established vineyards, which he plans to bulldoze to make way for a 142-room mansion, each room of which will have its own electrical power station! Does that sound right to you? And on top of that, the man flew out here in his private Lear jet. I don’t think he’s the right person for the job.”

When confronted by these allegations, an angry Gore retorted, “Yes, I flew out here in my Lear jet. Time was of the essence. Did you think I’d roll into town in a truck looking like Jed Clampett? The esteemed governor wanted to see me right away so I complied.”

The nominee had this to say about his collection featuring “undocumented grapes” and plans to destroy valuable vineyards to make way for his mansion. “I do admit to these things, but I am compensating for this by purchasing ‘grape offsets.’”

Gore further explained, “’grape offsets’ are a way to make restitution for putting dents into the environment. I’m paying back for my transgressions. There are various ways to do this, but in my case I have paid for subscriptions to the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, as well as 14 other wine-related publications.”

A steaming Ms. Curran asked him, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

“People like Robert Parker and the folks at the Wine Spectator, along with the editors and contributors to the other 14 publications, are all dedicated to the betterment of the wine industry by educating people to make more informed choices when purchasing wine. In the long run, that will raise the quality of the wines on store shelves. California, which has the lion’s share of wine sales in the country, will reap the lion’s share of benefits. That’s how I am employing my ‘grape offsets.’”

“That’s going to offset all the damage you’re causing? And your drinking undocumented grapes?” screamed Curran.

“Those wine publications are not cheap,” shot back Gore. “It’s $75 per year just for the Wine Advocate alone.”

“What about the paper it wastes? You could have at least subscribed to the online edition!” yelled Curran. But by then it was too late, Gore had gotten into the limousine that would transport him to the airport and back to more familiar and friendly turf in Tennessee.

Governator Schwarzenegger was asked for his comments. “I did not realize this man was going to cause such a controversy. But I still support him. He has done many important things; without the Internet how would anyone order wines online? His contribution to inventing the screw cap that is now becoming more prevalent on wine bottles in invaluable, as is his work at the University of California at Davis in inventing the aroma wheel.” In response to a whispered remark from an aide behind him, the governator mumbled, “Well that is what the man told me. Why should he lie?”

Still confronted by a wave of skepticism, the Governator added, “Look, look my friends. You should have seen who else applied. Why, I had Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton all come to me and ask to be made Co-Czars. When I told them holding that position would not exempt them from drunk driving arrests, they withdrew their applications.”

Shaking his head, the Governator continued, “That would not have been a good idea. I would have had my hands full with these girlie women.”

“I bet you would have!” shouted Ms. Curran as the Governator exited the Capitol.

It appears for the time being that there is chaos surrounding the nomination for the first California Wine Czar. We will continue to provide you with updates as they happen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I Was Fibbin'

I received the following comment about yesterday's post:

is this a joke? I see no evidence of the wine bar when I google, or on chowhound.

The wine bar mentioned by the commenter was a fictional Metamorphosis 88, and was the subject of the blog post. Yup, fictional; you'd have a better chance of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than you would the Metamorphosis 88 wine bar.

I just made the whole thing up.

Another commenter had this to say: I didn't think the dude from American Pie had a wine bar... [by the way, the link for American Pie was supplied by him, not me]. While I'm setting the record straight about Metamorphosis 88, I might as well add that the dude from American Pie, John Cho, is not the dude in the picture from yesterday. That dude is Hyun Bin, a popular Korean actor.

The woman (dudess?) in the picture is Kim Sun Ah, and yesterday's pictures, as well as today's above, are from My Name is Kim Sam Soon, a popular Korean Drama that aired last year. I thought that pair made a good couple, so I used them as the fictitious owners of the fictitious wine bar.

Now today's post is not really about Korean Drama (or "KD"), - this is a wine blog, after all- but I figured I ought to clear the air so as not to mislead anyone or send anyone on a wild goose chase. To slide this over into a discussion about wine, I thought I'd share an observation I have made from watching numerous KD's with my wife, who is a tireless, obsessed KD addict:

Many of the characters in the KD's are pretty well off, so frequently scenes will take place in nice restaurants. Almost all the time, the characters have wine with their meal. And almost all the time, they use gorgeous stemware: long stems with large bowls that look like Riedels. The wines are filled to just the right point, and the stemware is handled properly, picked up by the stems and not by the bowls. Makes me thirsty just watching the episodes!

The only American movie I can recall that used such nice stemware is Kate and Leopold. Kate (Meg Ryan) has some really nice looking wine glasses in her apartment. And she looks so relaxed and comfortable when she's consuming her wine from them. I like the movie, but it's the wine glasses that caught my attention, I guess because most of the time in the movies or tv, the glasses are much more ordinary. My wife thinks I am nuts because that's the only comment I made about the movie - when we were watching it, I said, "hey, those are some nice wine glasses she has!"

Anyway, that's the post for the day. My apologies to anyone who was misled by yesterday's post. All I can say is, there'll be more leg-pullers coming up! Now being that I'm in California, the distinction between reality and absurdity is often blurred...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hottest Wine Bar in the World?

Imagine a wine bar with a list of wines by the glass like this:

Chateau Petrus 1982
La Tache 1990
Brunello di Montalcino, Biondi Santi, 1997
Batard Montrachet, Domai
ne Leflaive, 1995
Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian RiverValley 2004
Kistler Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, 2005
Caymus Cabernet, Special Selection, 2002
Guigal Cote Rotie, La Landonne, 2003
Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel 1989
Grange Hermitage, 2002
Chateau Musar, 1999

Now imagine that the most expensive glass from the above is only $18.00. And we’re not talking about a microscopic drop, we’re talking a
bout a full 6 ounce serving.

Too good to be true? Ask the folks who have been lucky enough to get a seat at the hottest wine bar in the country, perhaps the world, Metamorphosis 88 in Santa Monica, California.

There is a catch, however. It’s posted in the disclaimer at the top of the wine list for all to see:

To our valued customers: We invite you to try any and all of the wines listed below but be advised that they are not the wines from the actual winery. They are our specially blended versions of these famous wines made from other wines and do not contain any of the actual wines listed. We think you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference
between the original and our specially blended versions, however.

In other words, these wines are knockoffs.

Like the perfumes you see on mall store shelves or magazine ads that promise a scent indistinguishable from, but at prices only a fraction of the real thing, Metamorphosis 88 is doing the same thing with famous wines.

The fact that these wines are not the real thing hasn’t seemed to phase the overflow crowds who have been flocking to the Main Street entrance of this wine bar since April 1 of this year. “I’m not an wine connoisseur by any means,” says frequent customer Jim Starkey, “but I know what I like and these wines are good. Better than the stuff I buy at the store, that’s for sure.”

Euell Owen, another regular, describes himself as an avid collector and experienced taster. “These wines are amazing. I’ve had the good fortune to taste a number of the original, real wines and frankly, I’m not so sure I could tell the difference in a blind tasting between what they serve and the originals. These are dead-ringers for the real thing.”

Metamorphosis 88 is the brainchild of a Korean couple, Hyun Jin-heon and Kim Sam Soon (note: in Korean culture, the surname is given first, unlike Western culture). Following is an interview I conducted with this very gracious and elegant pair, aided by our interpreter, Henry Kim:

Me: What gave you the idea behind Metamorphosis?

Jin-heon: My father was an avid wine collector. Growing up in Seoul, I had the fortune of trying many of the world’s finest wines. When I found out how much they cost I was shocked. I thought it was very unfortunate that most people could not afford to try such wonderful wines. It was Sam Soon who came up with the idea to add ingredients to a wine to alter the flavor. She’s the genius! (laughs)

Sam Soon: I had never tasted wine before I met Sam Shik – uh, I mean Jin-heon [editor’s note: Jin-heon’s nickname is Sam Shik]. When he introduced me to wine I was fascinated by how good they tasted and how they were so different from each other. One day I cooked dinner for Jin-heon and bought a bottle of wine from the store in my neighborhood. It was awful! I had assumed all wines were as good as the ones I had with Jin-heon but he
told me that the ones we drank were very rare and expensive.

Me: And you didn’t like that idea?

Sam Soon: Not at all! I was grateful to be introduced to such good wine from Jin-heon and his family and wanted to share this with other people. But not when it cost so much money.

Jin-heon: Sam Soon is an excellent cook. She said to me, why can’t you mix other things into the wine to make it taste better? I looked at her and thought, why not? That’s something I had never thought about. Once she gets started on som
ething, she doesn’t stop. She started buying lots of cheap bottles and then experimented with them.

Sam Soon: Wine has all sorts of tastes. Fruits, vegetables, butter, smoke, stones, plus some have a lot of acid or tannin and many other things. I thought I could duplicate these flavors in the wine so that’s what I tried to do. One night I told Jin-heon that the bottle we had just drunk would be the one I would copy as my first experiment.

Jin-heon: And she did it! She has an incredible memory for tastes and scents. She wouldn’t let me try anything until she thought she had done it right. One day she gave me a sample glass of a wine and asked me to try it. I was amazed. It tasted just like the wine we had drank that night.

Me: Which was..?

Jin-heon: A 1996 Corton Charlemagne from Louis Jadot. She had copied the fruit, the minerals, the whole taste of the wine and even the texture.

Sam Soon: He kept asking me if I had bought a bottle of this somewhere and was trying to fool him. I kept saying no, and he kept saying I must have. A bottle like that would be more than a week’s wages for me! Maybe even a month. How could I
afford that?

Me: And then your idea blossomed from there?

Jin-heon: Yes it did. Sam Soon kept experimenting and practicing with different wines and got better and better.

Me: How do you do this? What kind of ingredien
ts do you use?

Sam Soon: (laughs) Well I am afraid I cannot tell you too much because the recipes are my secret. But I can tell you I start with the original wine and taste it very carefully. Then I buy the starter, or base wine that I think will be able to be turned into a duplicate of the real wine.

Me: An expensive starter wine?

Sam Soon: No, not at all. Most of them cost less than $5 a bottle. I make sure to use a wine that is made in large amounts so I can buy enough for
our wine bar. Then I experiment by adding ingredients that I think will make my base wine taste like the target wine. It is a trial and error process but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. You just need to add a little, little bit of whatever ingredient is needed.

Jin-heon: Most of the time just a little. Not always. Remember all that Hawaiian Punch you had to add to make those Australian shiraz wines? Or how you had to leave those oak chips overnight in that wine to make California chardonnay? Oops, I guess I said too much.

Me: And so you just mix and match some ingredients? Like how do you do it? Wouldn’t people be able to tell there are pieces of something floating around in the wine?

Sam Soon: I only add the essence of something. For example, I will stir the wine a few times with a peel, or a slice of fruit or vegetable. I also us
e some wine enhancers to get the desired taste when I am copying an older wine like a 1982 Bordeaux.

Me: What sort of wine enhancer?

Sam Soon: I use things like a Clef Du Vin. I also use a Vinturi and sometimes a Catania.

Me: Those things work?

Sam Soon: (just smiles)

Jin-heon: We also found out that some things made for hi-fi or audio systems also have an effect on the wine, like the Brilliant Pebbles and Clever Little Clock. Let’s see, there is also the Hallograph Soundfield Optimizer and the True Tone Duplex Cover..

Me: Uh, Jin-heon, your wife is giving you a look.. (she is glaring at him with her finger over her lips).

Jin-heon: Oh, uh, I guess I’ve said too much already. But you get the idea.

Me: And so your specialty is picking very highly rated wines for your wine bar, Sam Soon figures out how to duplicate them, and you put them on your list?

Sam Soon: That’s right, and we don’t charge a lot of
money for them so that allows everyone to try them.

Me: Given how crowded your bar is every night, I guess people must like it.

Jin-heon: Satisfaction guaranteed! We have people all the time who will bring in their own bottle of wine to compare to what Sam Soon does and they are shocked.

Sam Soon: It doesn’t always taste the same becau
se even two bottles of the same wine will not taste the same, but it has the same character. You could not tell that the glass we pour is a different wine from the original that they bring in.

Me: Rumor has it that Gary Vaynerchuck, the Wine Library TV guy, is going to do a blind comparison tasting on his video show to see if he can tell which wine is the real thing and which one is from Sam Soon. Any truth to this?

Jin-heon: (shrugs and smiles). Can’t say.


Me: Have you received any flak from the actual wineries who make the original wines that you are copying?

Jin-heon: Oh, yes. We have received various notices from their lawyers but we point to our menu disclaimer which says very clearly that these wines are not the originals and do not contain any of the original wines in them.


Sam Soon: It is no different than when you buy generic drugs or the store brand of something. The bottle says “compare this to so-and-so” and you can see it has the same ingredient as the name brand drug but costs much less. We all start with the sam
e base ingredient, which is grapes, and then go from there.

Me: I guess you have a point, there. Well, thank you very much for allowing me this interview today. I wish you much success.

Jin-heon: You are most welcome.

Sam Soon: Yes, thank you for your well-wishes.

Jin-heon and Sam Soon are a class act, and they make a cute couple, as well. I imagine it’s only a short matter of time before their idea spawns numerous imitators, but for now it seems like they’re the only game in town. And putting together quite a winning record, I might add.



Friday, August 17, 2007

2006 Château Guiot Costières-de-Nîmes Rosé

Well again, not a very flattering picture. Methinks the camera batteries need changing. Pretty lame excuse, huh? Youthinks the photographer needs changing. Methinks maybe youthinks right.

And also, again, the wine of the week is a wine that cost $7.99, and from the L.A. Wine Company. You might be surprised to know that I have only one more $7.99 wine sitting among the Sweet 16, given how it seems all the wines of the week happen to be at that price.

Despite the picture, the color of this 2006 Château Guiot Costières de Nîmes Rosé was an attractive cranberry. The predominant aroma I sensed was strawberry pie with whipped cream, along with an underlying mineral/gravelly component.

Taste-wise, I got a mixture of sourish-cherry and cranberries, watermelon, and again the gravelly mineral component. There was more of that stony mineral in the somewhat tannic finish. Acidity was crisp and in balance.

Overall this was an interesting wine, with perhaps just a shade too much of a mineral aspect compared to the fruit, but I thought it was pretty tasty. Two thumbs up, good QPR.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Record-Setting Grapes Soured by Controversy

They broke the record but many in the wine world are grumbling.

78 years ago, Beckstein Vineyards won 24 gold medals for its legendary 1926 Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon, a record that no one wine has come close to matching since then, and a record generally con
ceded that would stand forever.

Not so. On Thursday August 9, 2007, the Barebond Winery 2005 Syrah from Potters Field in Kern County won gold medal number 25 to shatter the previous record.

The close-knit community of vintners is normally quick to congratulate one of their own for accolades and achievements but in this case it is more like sour grapes.

One winemaker who spoke under condition of anonymity seemed to capture the overall sentiment being expressed across California’s wine country. “It’s no secret these are doctored wines,” he said. “Clearly things have been added throughout the entire vinifying process illegally and it’s a shame that Barebond is so quick to proudly boast of the medals they’ve received. No way can any wine, not even the finest first growths of Bordeaux, the grand crus of Burgundy, or the finest California or any wine area can offer, approach the combination of silky smoothness, ripe fruit and brute strength and power yet finesse exhibited by this wine. It isn’t possible to do this naturally. This is a doctored, artificial wine.”













Critics also point out that the age of the vineyards makes the wine even more suspect. Just 11 years ago Potters Field did not exist; it was basically a junkyard (see photo, above left). They ask, how could a junkyard turn into an award-winning vineyard in such a short period of time? (see photo, above right) And, they add, in Kern County of all places, a region not known for its grapes.

“They’re all jealous,” laughed Dennis Hurmill, Barebond’s owner. “We won these 25 gold medals fair and square. Just because the land used to be a junkyard has nothing to do with it. Maybe all the things people threw in it contributed to the terroir that’s reflected in the bottle. Who knows, maybe even some discarded used motor oil oozed into the soil giving the grapes that silky smooth character? Let them complain all they want, the record stands, and we’re going after numbers 26, 27, 28, to infinity and beyond.”

Several people have reported suspicious activity taking place in the heavily-guarded Potters Field late at night. Another anonymous source claimed they saw lights and heard heavy machinery making very odd noises almost every night during the growing season. “They’ve got some chickens running around the vineyards,” the source told us. “One day one of them wandered over the property line and I caught it. Biggest damn chicken I ever saw. We cooked it up a couple of days later and it was also the tastiest damn chicken any of us ever ate. There’s definitely something they’re adding to the soil in Potters Field that’s making everything produced from it so delicious.”

“Ok, I confess,” Barebond owner Hurmill said with a twinkle in his eye. “Those lights are UFO’s and aliens from another planet with much more advanced wine technologies have been helping me out. Send out your helicopters so you can see the crop circles in my vineyard!” Hurmill let out a hearty laugh and shook his head. “Can’t they just accept it?”

Another anonymous critic had this to say: “You know what adds insult to injury? Barebond hit their 25th gold at that stupid California PC Wine Competition, the one in which every wine entered got a gold medal. What a slap in the face.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Tale of Two Temperatures

Today's post transports you, the reader, back to the mundane. No fake news stories, just a commentary regarding the accuracy of the temperature reading inside my little wine storage unit, aka the Emerson Suites.

The unit (actually units, since I added a second one) comes with a digital temperature readout. Curious me bought a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer at WalMart the other day to see (1) how the temperature per the thermometer compares to what the Emerson Suite tells me it is, and (2) check the minimum and maximum temperatures both inside the unit and outside. I must add I was pleasantly surprised at the checkstand as the shelf tag said the thermometer cost $11.95 but the register rang up an even $5.00. Such a bargain!

On the first point: I put the outdoor probe inside the wine unit, hanging from the top shelf near the 2nd bottle from the left. As you can clearly see, the temp reading is 59.0 degrees. As you can not-so-clearly see, the temp readout from the wine unit says 57 degrees. Hmm.. I have to tell you, every time I check the wine unit readout, it is always 57 degrees. I thought, wow, that's really good. Now I am wondering if somehow they program the readout to equal the desired temp you set using the buttons on the handle. The program would read something like this:

GET desired temp owner inputs via buttons
WAIT a little bit so owner is not suspicious
DISPLAY desired temp to make owner happy

Well, that's a pretty cynical view and I don't think that is the case. I'm not sure where the built in temp sensor is inside my Emerson Suite but I do allow for variations within the box depending on the location. So 59 degrees isn't so bad. The minimum reading was 58.2 degrees and the max was 59.2 so a 1 degree variation over the course of 24 hours is not bad at all.

Now to point #2: The outside temperature, i.e., the room temperature, hit a max of 87 degrees and a minimum of 76 degrees. That's HOT! Not surprising, since Southern California seems to be in the midst of an all-summer-long unbearable heat wave that is driving me nuts. 87 degrees inside the house! But it has been at least 100 outside so I'll count my blessings. You can bet I make a beeline to the thermostat when I get home from work!

Conclusion: while I would ideally like my Emerson Suites to keep its valued occupants at a year-round 57 degrees, I certainly can't complain under the circumstances. Not when it is doing an admirable job of keeping the temps below 60 degrees when the surrounding air gets over 27 degrees higher than the inside.

That was just one of the suites I tested. I don't want to keep opening and closing the door, paranoid that I am. I'll test the other one when I remove the next wine of the week (i.e., when I have to open the door).

Pretty mundane subject, huh? Tomorrow: another shocking news article!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Furor Erupts Over 1st California PC Wine Competition

The first annual California PC Wine Competition got off to a rocky start last Saturday, marred by criticism from many of its participants.

For those unfamiliar with the competition, the results of the three-day long judging culminated in every single wine entry receiving a gold medal. Gordon Brisbane, the event’s founder and chairman, explained it thusly: “California produces some of the world’s greatest wines, and maintains a uniformly high standard across the board, higher probably than anywhere else in the world. We wanted to promote the idea that in California, everyone’s a winner. That’s why every wine entered won a gold medal, one that can be proudly displayed on the retail shelf or website.”

Reporters pointed out that in reality, it’s a fact of life that some wines are better than others and asked Brisbane how he could justify giving every wine the same award. “Maybe some wines taste better than others but it’s all subjective,” he declared. “Otherwise, every wine critic would give the same rating to the same wine. Meanwhile, a lot of effort went into crafting these wines – the blood, sweat and tears from everyone connected to the final product in the bottle ought to be rewarded. That’s why I’d like to think that when the vintners receive the medal, they can say, ‘You’ve made me so very happy.’ Everyone should be rewarded for their efforts – everyone’s a winner. We're so glad they came into our lives.”

Not so, say a lot of wineries. Nick Wheaton, winemaker for the award-winning Smoke and Mirrors Winery famous for its pinot noirs, complained. “Our wines have met with high acclaim in the press and among consumers. They’re acknowledged as among the best pinot noirs in the state, even the world. How can you put us in the same category as some generic-labeled ‘burgundy’ plonk selling by the jug for $2.99 at the corner liquor store?”

“You’ve got to consider a wine’s self-esteem,” insists Brisbane. “Take merlots, for example, and how they have suffered through no fault of their own because of the movie Sideways. Most of them are collecting dust on the shelves, unwanted, and just think what that’s doing to their development. I say give them a gold and watch the wine bloom. You’ve got to make the wines feel good about themselves and in turn they’re going to taste good to the consumers.”

Wheaton had no response to this except to say, “that man is nuts.”

Along with the vintner’s fury over the uniform awards came even more anger when it was disclosed that all wines entered from any source, not just California, were awarded a gold medal.

“This is supposed to be a California wine competition, and I use the word ‘competition’ very lightly,” muttered Phil Lamont, CEO of Kosta Lotta Vineyards, another highly respected and decorated producer. “Yet, all these wines from all over the place somehow got in and were also given gold medals. Yes, some of them were good wines but some of them were nothing but juice from undocumented grapes. Wines from outside California, even outside our nation’s borders, in a California competition and made with undocumented grapes, no less. Revolting.”

“Let’s not forget the wines made inside the state from undocumented grapes, too,” added Wheaton who was finally able to regain his voice. “Should wines made from undocumented grapes be allowed to win anything at all?”

Brisbane laughs at Lamont, Wheaton, and others who share their views. “I say let’s open our borders. Life’s too short to be running around being so nitpicky. The wine industry is a tough one and I say let’s build up the esteem of everyone. Golds all around – everyone’s a winner.”

After hearing this, both Wheaton and Lamont could only respond, “that man is totally nuts.”

And the controversy continues. For a complete list of winners in this competition, look in the worldwide registry of wineries.

Monday, August 13, 2007

California Wine Commissioner/Czar?

Marshall left a comment regarding my earlier satirical post about our California legislature proposing to set up a Wine Standards board to evaluate every single table wine before it could be sold in the state. He said, You scared me for a second, there! Government wine screeners? God forbid! :)

Given how our legislature seems to want to control people’s lives as much as possible, maybe I wasn’t too far off the mark. Can’t you just imagine another tangled swarm of
bureaucrats using up your tax money and mine to tell us what wines we are able to buy?

And just who would head up that swarm? I imagine it would be the newly created office
of Wine Commissioner, headed by either an elected or appointed official. I also imagine it would be some recycled, tired politician who used to hold some other high office within the state, and who wants to remain in the recycling chain where he or she can sit around patting other recycled politicians on the back while continuing to collect their fat paychecks. In fact, isn't that why some state agencies or commissions are created in the first place - for political payback?

Or, widening the search to non-Californians, how about the guy who's picture is up on top? "Before I invented th
e internet I'd like to tell you about the time I slightly altered the process of fermenting my own wine at home. I did something a little differently and next thing you know, I told everyone to come quickly because I was drinking the stars!" Or after the elections next year, an unemployed Dick Chaney is a possibility but you'd have to watch out for him hunting folks in the vineyards.

Actually my idea of a Wine Commissioner would be a no-nonsense individual who couldn't be bought out, and would be tough on maintaining standards. Like this guy:


On that note, stay tuned for another “news” item tomorrow. 10-4!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"I Made the Coq Au Vin With Your Bottle of Sea Smoke"



Make sure you've got the sound turned on for full effect..

Nothing much today.. just thought I'd use that 5-second video of the little creature you saw in yesterday's post, with an appropriate caption.

Couple of area sightings: 2001 Trambusti Brunello di Montalcino at Trader Joe's, $19.99. There's a thread on it at Mark Squire's Bulletin Board at ERobertParker.com. On the other end of the pricing scale ($20 is the vertical limit for me), the 2005 Redcliffe New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can be had at Big Lots for $1.00. Cellar Tracker had some favorable reviews, too. I don't think Big Lots offers any case discounts, though.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Invasion of the "Undocumented Grapes?"

Growing public backlash against substandard wine has prompted the California Legislature to propose action to rectify the situation.

One of the bills currently on the table would require all wines produced in the state to pass a “minimum qualifications taste test” before they could be put on shelves for sale.

“Why shouldn’t every wine that gets sold in California possess minimum standards of taste?” asked Congressman Daniel Urlunk (D-Death Valley). “What’s the purpose of fermenting grapes if you’re going to turn out an inferior product? This is no different than the tests we've implemented for graduating high school, or the licensing exams for professional positions such as the Bar Exam, CPA exam, exams for dentists, doctors, barbers, etc."

When asked exactly what the standard would be for obtaining a passing grade, Urlunk responded, “Simple. Wines that would be the equivalent of a 70-79 rating from Robert Parker would pass, while anything below a 70 gets rejected.” Robert Parker is a noted wine critic and publisher of the Wine Advocate, a popular wine newsletter that commands a lot of respect within the industry.

When questioned further on how Mr. Parker could possibly taste all the wines to determine which ones made the grade, Urlunk told reporters, “What are you, idiots? Of course he can’t taste all the wines. That’s why my bill also proposes the establishment of a state agency with trained panelists to evaluate the wines.”

Strong opposition to the bill has already arisen from some large producers in the wine industry, who say it discriminates against jug and box wines. Pete Noah, spokesmen for FrenchSwede Colony Wines, had this to say: “Sales of jug and box wines account for a significant portion of total wine sales in the state. Why should we leave their fate to an arbitrary tasting panel? Let the consumer be the judge. If they don’t like a wine then they won’t buy it, plain and simple. On the other hand, to reject wines for sale would be disastrous for the winery and in turn, for the state’s economy.”

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” retorted Urlunk when told of Noah’s remarks. “Plain and simple, the reason these big jug-producing wineries don’t like my bill is because frankly, their wines won’t pass the basic test to qualify for sale. And the reason they won’t pass is because their wines contain grapes of questionable pedigree - in other words, undocumented grapes. Who knows what is sitting in that bottle labeled ‘chablis’ or ‘burgundy?’ A lot of those grapes are here illegally, and that’s why they won’t pass muster.”

Urlunks remarks really steamed Noah. “That smacks of discrimination,” he snorted. “Undocumented grapes are the backbone of the California wine industry. Yes, they cost less but without them, wine prices would be much higher overall, and ultimately that would hurt the consumer. Not everyone can afford to pay for a bottle of expensive cabernet or chardonnay. The undocumented grapes fill a real niche in our economy.”

The congressman had a scatching retort to the wine spokesperson. “Undocumented grapes use up our precious water – and as you know, we’re in the middle of severe drought – plus they waste our fertilizer as well as take more than their fair share of California sunshine. Not only that but these illegal – excuse me, ‘undocumented’ grapes occupy aceage that could be used by legitimate grape varieties such as cabernet, pinot noir, chardonnay and yes, even merlot.”

Reporters asked Urlunk how he planned on dealing with the undocumented grape problem,
considering it seems to be so prevalent in California. “First thing we have to do is tighten up our borders to prevent more of these renegades from being planted. Then we focus on stopping them from using up resources that could instead be used on legitimate grape varietals. We have to really come down hard on the wineries that employ these grapes.” The congressman was adamant. “The wine industry is facing a crisis and it is polarizing everyone. We have got to nip this in the bud, so to speak.”

Rumor has it that a volunteer vigilante group has also formed to watch for instances of undocumented grapes being planted in the wine country. Consisting solely of women, they are calling themselves the “Minute Maids.”

Friday, August 10, 2007

D'Arenberg 2005 The Stump Jump - White

What's odd about the bottle is that it is a white wine with a red capsule. Isn't that weird?

The 2005 Stump Jump from D'Arenberg, is a blend of 63% riesling, 20% sauvignon blanc, 10% marsanne and 10% rousanne. D'arenberg also makes a red blend. I wonder if the red blend has a green or yellow capsule?

Pale in color, it had flowery, grapefruit aromas and on the 4th and 5th days, notes of almonds. The wine was preserved using Private Preserve. Taste-wise, it was like drinking a sauvignon blanc without the grassiness. Loads of grapefruit, loads of zippy acidity, and more tart fruits like lemon-lime and green apple were in each mouthful.

I rolled it around in my mouth a while and the flavors remained consistent. Sometimes I detected a slight peach component but for the most part, grapefruit ruled all with a King Kong command. This wine had a long, grapefruity finish.

This bottle set me back $7.99 at Trader Joe's. That's a decent price for this wine. What's the thumb verdict? One thumb up and one thumb down. It's refreshing but one-dimensional. I would never have guessed that the predominant grape was riesling, either. And that's the wine of the week for this week!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Points Say the Darndest Things!

(note: the following contains a lot of digressing so perhaps you can read one paragraph per night just before going to sleep)

Maintaining the Sweet 16 is on one hand easy and on one hand tough. Good that I only have two hands. Easy, because it's not like I have to buy a lot of wine; there can only be 16 occupying the Emerson Suites at any given time (well, 17 if you count sticking one in the fridge for that week's consumption). Tough, because that means I am faced with purchasing only a select few from among a multitude of contenders calling out to me.

Just how do I go about choosing, anyway? As I search, whether it be at the store or online, I'm bombarded by numerical ratings. I get several e-letters from wine shops, all of which prominently display the latest 90+ ratings the featured wines have received. I must confess that when I see that the 90 or higher score came from Robert Parker, I do take notice as I place credence in what he has to say. But there are so many other sources for these scores, many of whom I've never heard of. I'm sure wineries and distributors are constantly combing the web and other media searching for someone, anyone, anyone at all who has handed out a 90 or better to their wine.

Here's what I used to do: I'd eagerly await the current issue of the Wine Advocate, see what wines earned a 90 or higher score, then go looking for them. Here's part of what I do now: I find a wine that looks interesting and then in addition to reading the shelf card, I do a bit of research on the net to see what people have said about it, such as on Cellar Tracker and in the blogosphere. I don't need to search for what Parker, the Wine Spectator, or any other critic/publication said (I no longer subscribe to the Wine Advocate - nothing against Mr. Parker but it isn't cost-justified for someone like me) because believe me, if they said anything good about it, it's going to be on that shelf card screaming at you in bold letters. Then if all checks out, I go back and buy it - unless I'm somewhere far away where it's inconvenient to return quickly. Then heck, I'll just buy it and hope I made the right choice. How's that for a scientific method?

The thing about numbers is that they don't really tell you anything about the wine itself. Maybe you ran across someone who loves wines that smell like fertilizer and they found the perfect clos des manures to which they award a 98. Or one person's 95 can be the same as another person's 88. That's particularly true on Cellar Tracker where two comments can seem very much alike but the numerical scores are disparate. We seem to be talking grade inflation here also, as from what I read on Cellar Tracker, an average wine should receive a rating between 75 and 79. Yet, from what I've seen, ratings 79 and below are reserved for wines that figuratively (and I supposed literally) stink. If a wine is no good, then down into the sub-80's it goes. Hardly anything ranks below an 80. But can that mean that almost every wine is better than average? What the heck does "average" mean, then?

What we have here is a bell curve heavily skewed to the right. Another possibility is that the average Cellar Tracker user knows more about wines than the average joe and thus the population of wines reviewed therein is automatically skewed to the above-average side. Well, whatever.. the thing is, without the comments, who knows what these numerical scores represent? Nothing drives me more nuts than reading consumer reviews on various sites (Circuit City, for example) for which the reviewer has given only a score but no explanatory comments as to why they gave the score they did.

So what exactly am I trying to say in this post where I am digressing from one end to the other? That everywhere you go, points are flying left and right - well not just any points, but two-digit points that begin with a "9" are all over the place. For me, there's some comfort in having a wine ranked in the 90's by a recognized authority such as Mr. Parker, but unlike my earlier days, I'm not searching these out. These days I'm going by intuition - if the wine just seems right, whatever that means, into the cart it goes.

By the way, do you remember Art Linkletter? He used to have a weekday afternoon show back when television was clean, called Art Linkletter's House Party. And on it towards the end he'd have a segment called Kids Say The Darndest Things, during which he would interview 4 elementary school kids and ask them various questions to which some of them would give the darndest answers. You may remember Bill Cosby doing this a few years ago, but Art Linkletter was the original.

Anyway, that's where I came up with the title for the blog post today. Oh, and one time our elementary school happened to get chosen for the show, and yours truly was one of them kids! My most memorable part of the day was throwing up in the limousine on the way back from CBS studios to school. Did I say anything darndest? I only remember two things he asked us, one to another kid and one to me. If you want to know what they were and our responses, leave a comment.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Statistics on the Sweet 16 (zzzzzz...)

Once again I'm going to disappoint folks who are googling for stats on the NCAA "sweet 16" and wound up here, but I decided to call the occupants of my adjoining Emerson Suites wine storage/coolers the "Sweet 16." The stats on these 16:

# of bottles: 16

Average price: $13.21

Median price: $12.99

Average price of all wines since starting this blog (consumed plus the Sweet 16): $11.79

Median price of all wines since starting this blog (consumed plus the Sweet 16): $10.74

Range: $7.99 to $18.99

The trend is an upward one. Not surprising since if you notice, all of the wines of the week so far have cost $7.99. This might as well have been named the OneSevenDollarsAndNinetyNineCentsWinePerWeekBlog instead.

But as you can see from the stats, there are some wines in the queue that cost more than $7.99 and eventually they will all find their way onto these pages.

As always, thanks for visiting!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Avoiding Excess - The Sweet 16

Some NCAA hoop fans will be scratching their heads if they wind up here after googling "sweet 16" but that can't be helped.

I guess this isn't your normal wine blog, what with my musing about how to maintain a maximum "cellar" of only 16 wines due to self-imposed limitations but if you're willing to sit through it, I'm willing to write it (which I'd do anyway).

Today is an example of what I have to go through and why I stick mainly to perusing the bins at Costco rather than wine shops. I visited Topline Wine & Spirits in Glendale today for the purpose of replenishing my supply of Private Preserve cannisters. Their price of $5.99 per is $4 lower than anywhere else I've found, plus it was a good excuse to do some browsing.

Topline has some very good stuff at very good prices (there's no link since as far as I know, they have no website) and I have to pat myself on the back for being good and avoiding all the temptations that were winking at me with their shapely bottles. I'm here for my Private Preserve and not for any wines because all 16 slots are FILLED, I had to keep reminding myself. Costco, with its limited inventory, is bad enough so just imagine what it was like walking up and down the aisles at Topline.

On top of that, I need to make sure I conduct proper future space planning since I've got some bottles coming from Cameron Hughes in October, as well as starting to have WineQ start shipping the items in my queue when the weather is more amicable. Well, I just gotta maintain some discipline! There are SO many attractive bottles out there and every one I purchase gets me excited to try it. At a rate of one per week, however, all those exciting bottles keep getting pushed out further and further into the future, during which time more and more will be appearing on the shelves that look equally, if not more attractive. That's it, stick to the Sweet 16.. a nice, manageable number.

By the way, I was googling various terms pertaining to overload, excess, etc., for this post and the above picture came up when typing "overwhelmed" in the search box. It's from this site. I couldn't find a picture with a bunch of bottles but this one I did find gets the idea across. Plus, I wondered how long it took them to pile up all that paper - that is one heckuva lot of paper! Just think.. that could be wine..