Another two-fer

Vinum Cellars Chenin Vio '08 (left)
Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: Since I was buying for my wife, this seemed like a good option: right price point, recommended by Whole Foods (a Top 10 selection) and a blend of two of my wife's favorite varietals. A well-designed label helped too, since it wasn't kitschy like some of the others I've fallen for. What struck me about this was how, despite the preponderance of chenin in the blend, both grapes really seemed to come through. The nose was floral, almost approaching a pinot grigio. On the tongue, the taste seemed to go from dry initially to a middle sweetness to a dryer finish. That certainly scores high on the adventure scale, but I couldn't get over the fact that the taste seemed a little one-dimensional for my tastes. For all of its shape-shifting, there wasn't a whole lot else I could pick out. Still, a very serviceable drink.
Do-over? I'd have no problem with that
Ingredients: 80 percent chenin blanc, 20 percent viognier
Final Grade: B+

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon '07 (right)
Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: Silly me, looking for another good-valued cab again. The price was decent enough, and their sauv had been decent enough. Plus they're big into organic farming, and I can't think of a good reason not to support that. At first glance, however, I was a little concerned with the vintage being so recent. So I don't know if the vintage had anything to do with it, but I didn't find it to be a rather unimpressive match with the porterhouse I had that night. The nose grabbed you with a powerful, slightly minty aroma. The taste was just about what you'd expect from a cab. But it failed to wow me; there wasn't anything terribly distinctive I can report back about the wine, other than being precisely what you'd expect. It was drinkable and I had no problem going back for a second glass, but it felt like there should've been more there than what was there.
Do-over? In a pinch, yes
Final Grade: C+


No Time Tempranillo '07

Country: Spain
Thoughts: I was leery of the bottle from the get-go; the whole thing looks a little too polished for me (right down to the digit-style font in "No Time"). Polish often equals marketing, but the desire to try a new varietal outweighed my hesitations. And an interesting drink it was; it seemed to be a white trapped in a red body. The fruitiness was quite apparent from the start, yet it retained a mellow sort of character. It wasn't like some of the lusher pinot grigios, where the fruit flavor beats you about the head. Instead, it was more restrained, like you'd find in many other whites. It went down well and was a pleasure to drink, ending with a dry, silvery-sort of finish that I seem to get from most reds. While I can't say it was a stunner and a do-over at any price, it was a surprising delight. And that's really all we're looking for, no?
Do-over? It's one of the Whole Foods good value series, so yes (if it's still on sale)
Final Grade: B

Casa Silva Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon '06

Country: Chile
Thoughts: And so begins a new milestone for the blog, when reds have come of age - for me at least - to get their own grades and categories. In the past, they've gotten neither. But starting here, we'll venture to give them the respect (or ridicule) they deserve. We stumbled upon this cab while preparing for our friend's birthday party on Monday night. While at Total Wine, I joked to my wife that I was perusing the cab aisle for a good value. But this was as close as we could get: a bottle under $20 that was rated 90ish by an outfit I'd never heard of. But seeing as we were pressed for time, that was good enough. My great failing in this whole experiment was to take notes, however, thinking I'd remember enough about it. And since alcohol and functioning brain cells tend not to go together, I'm left here typing words pretty much out of my ass. Suffice it to say, I don't remember thinking this wine was either spectacular or sorry, but seemed to be in line with the few cabs I've had. Nevertheless, and despite my promises earlier, I must give this an incomplete. How can you judge what you can't remember?
Do-over? Well, at this point, yeah.
Final Grade: INC


An answer

I hope you were all able to read the second comment on yesterday's post. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Matthews for stopping by and sharing his opinion. You are always welcome here, sir.

Looking back, I believe my rhetoric was a little sharper than it needed to be. And for that, I apologize.

I agree with Mr. Matthews that Wine Spectator is an ally. We all share the same passion.

But I think Wine Spectator comes up woefully short when it comes to people new to wine. Even before I started learning about wine, I knew what Wine Spectator was and I knew it was the authority in the industry. With such brand recognition, Wine Spectator seems to be in the perfect position to offer advice to those of us feeling our way through the vineyard.

By and large, wine newbies aren't their audience, of course. But I feel they are missing a considerable segment of the wine-drinking population. I think Wine Spectator can bridge the gap between newbies and experienced wine drinkers.

The one thing I always wished I had was a beginner's guide to wine drinking. Take, for instance, 10 of the most well-known varietals out there: chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling, sauvignon blanc, viognier, cab, merlot, zin, pinot noir, syrah. Give me a brief description of the grape and its history.

Now, using the vast repository of knowledge that Wine Spectator has, give me three wines in a range of prices that best exemplify those varietals. Give me one under $20, one under $60 and one over $60. If possible, use ones that are likely to be found in major wine stores.

Then, tell me exactly what I should be noticing, from nose to palate to finish. Like that the defining characteristic of sauv is its grassiness in the nose. Find easy-to-understand terms and give me a sense of how that can change from location to location.

A thorough, knowledgeable guide would be a boon to newbies, like myself, everywhere. Think of it like the old GM ladder (if you can forgive their current financial mess): you started off young with a Chevy, moved to Buick when you were older and then, perhaps, a Cadillac.

By providing that steppingstone, I think Wine Spectator can only build its brand awareness. When newbies feel comfortable enough to step up to the regular magazine, you'll be there for them.

Currently, Wine Spectator does not do this. And that remains my greatest frustration with their products.

Gatao Vinho Verde

Country: Portugal
Thoughts: So there's a cat on the label - hard to see because of the unavoidable glare - which is why Grace the cat also appears. Plus "el gato" is Spanish for cat, so I'm guessing the Portuguese add an "a" in there for some reason. This wine had a similar problem as the white below: poor labeling which left me unsure what I was drinking. Perhaps it was because it came right after trying the rather dry V-Solo, but the sweetness in the Gatao hit me like a roundhouse. "Jarring" may be about the right word for it; it seemed to fall just shy of riesling. The nose offered no clue either, as it was quiet. And the finish was, well, unusual. After each sip - and I mean every one - it burned going down the hatch. Again, that could be some sort of reaction with what I ate or drank prior to that, but it was not a fun experience. If my wife likes it, perhaps it's worth getting again and retrying. Maybe my impressions would change... maybe not.
Do-over? Not unless a fire extinguisher is handy
Final Grade: D+

A two-fer

V-Solo Verdejo (left)
Country: Spain
Thoughts: I've been blessed by getting good wine after good wine at Whole Foods, and at great prices too. Perhaps it caught up with me here. I was under the impression that this was some kind of secretive blend; there was no indication anywhere just what kind of wine this was. By the nose and taste alone, a good chunk - if not all - seemed to be sauvignon blanc. The telltale grassiness was more than a little evident; and if someone like me can pick it out, then anyone can. But it lacked a certain crispness, and the finish was rather predictable. An average wine with so little available information? I'll look elsewhere in the bargain aisle, thanks.
Do-over? Not for me
Final Grade: C-

Legado Malbec (right)
Country: Argentina
Thoughts: I think I've gotten enough reds under my belt to be able to assign a letter grade. So this is our virgin entry: I know that Argentinian malbecs are a popular choice for consumers at the moment, and I've been lucky to have one that I would gladly drink again. This one, however, didn't measure up quite so well. It's been several days since I tried it, so the details have become a little foggy. But I just remember thinking that I wish this wine would jump up and grab me and give me a reason to get into it, but it never did. That previous malbec had a good mouthfeel and an inviting bouquet. This had neither, at least not to the level of the previous wine. Sorry I can't be more specific with it other than to say I've had better and fully intend to have better in the near future.
Do-over? Not of this label, no
Final Grade: C

Thanks to Dave McIntyre's always-interesting Washington Post column, we've learned that verdejo is its own varietal. This particular grape "celebrates the commoner," he writes, though I fear this example is nearer to flipping the bird.


Where have I been? And why am I back?

Some of you know me. Those that do realize the tumultuous few months it's been, particularly as it pertains to the old professional life.

I didn't intend to stop writing about wine; it just happened. Then again, how many events happen to us that really were expected?

Nevertheless, I was nudged to peck the keyboard again by my brother-in-law and by a more unseemly force. During a recent vacation, I passed the idle time by reading A Very Good Year by Mike Weiss, which traces a vintage of Ferrari-Carano's Fume Blanc from vine to table.

While I won't give away the conclusion, it again reinforced something that had been nagging at me for some time: Wine Spectator is full of shit.

Read their wine reviews. How does anyone make sense of that silliness? What relevance is there for us who are not sommeliers, who merely desire for a worthwhile drink from time to time? Where is the thought that maybe, just maybe, you can pay less than $20 for a damn good bottle of wine?

Yes, they do their top values list or what have you. But it's such a small selection of what they review, and they're reviewing to a different standard.

I do agree that varietal characteristics should be of some importance. If you buy a sauv, there should be some sort of representation of that grape in the bottle. I readily admit that I fall short in these areas, particularly as it relates to the less-popular whites and most reds.

But the most important question is never answered: Is it a good drink? Is it worth buying again?

My answers are subjective, just as Spectator's numbers are. But I like to think I'm representative of some segment of the population that thinks, you know what? I don't much care about fig and honeysuckle and whatever inane terms they use to describe a wine. I just want something enjoyable. (Plus I don't ask for a fee for the privilege of reading what I think.)

Wine doesn't have to be as hard as certain places make it. You either like it or you don't, and we're not going to agree on every grade or every synopsis.

So here's the difference: I don't portray myself as an authority. I'm one man with an idea of what he likes and what he doesn't. I try to give as full a picture of the wine as I can in terms that anyone can understand. But it's just one person's opinion.

You could get into the conflict-of-interest argument, as the book does. I buy my own wine. No one is clamoring for me to sample their product. Frankly, I hope it never gets to that point; I'm sick of most sports enough as it is. I'd hate to tire of wine too.

I think my problem with WS is more of a conflict of perception. Let me make this clear: They are wine experts. They know of what they speak.

But their magazine and the way it carries itself is very off-putting. It glorifies the Grand Crus and French first-growths that most of us will never have the means to get our hands on, whether monetarily or simply as a matter of availability. In every edition I've bought, I see long articles about charity events or wine auctions that, again, are beyond the reach of most of us.

It sells an image, a lifestyle that mirrors that of the products it reviews: Wine is luxurious, for people in the know, for the affluent, a way to distinguish one's self from the riffraff of Bud Light drinkers.

It is my firm belief that wine need not be that way.

And that's why I'm here. Wine can be discussed in layman's terms; it is not the province of the rich or knowledgeable. Wine can be good even if it doesn't adhere to strict interpretations. Wine can be a good way to blow off some steam.

I'm confident Wine Spectator does not subscribe to this line of thinking. Which explains why I will not be subscribing to them.

I'll be back tomorrow to detail some of my offseason exploits and write about a few wines I've had recently.

Thanks for sticking with me.