- Written by Rand Sealey
Comments on the Wall Street Journal "A Taste of Illusion" Article
The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal issue of Nov. 14-15 featured a front page article written by Leonard Mlodinow who teaches randomness at Caltech, entitled "A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion" about how "They pour, sip and with passion and snobbery, glorify and doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss." It is a very interesting article, and I agree with much of it, although it makes more assumptions than it should. Wine evaluation can be highly subjective, and results can vary significantly. But I do have a few comments to make.
My first comment is about the contention that "even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more." I agree that even the most seasoned taster cannot identify more than four components at one moment. But wine continually changes in the glass so that multiple components can be identified in repeated nosings and sips. In re-evaluating wines from samples purchased at tasting rooms, I generally will spend 10-20 minutes smelling, tasting and swirling to pick up the various components. Continued tasting can reveal more nuances or shortcomings as well. I also do believe that the more complex a wine is, the more components there are to be identified (so I'll just go on and keep providing detailed descriptions in my reviews).
I totally agree with the randomness of wine competitions. I have already addressed this in my blog of September 28 which concurs with the conclusions of Robert Hodgson that "winning a Gold medal is largely a matter of chance." This is the same study that the Wall Street Journal Article refers to.
My final comment is about the range of deviation among ratings of the same wine, even from the same reviewer. Robert Parker admits a possible deviation of 2-3 points on his 100 point scale. Given that the 100 point system is really a 20 point one since 80 points is the baseline for a good commercial wine, a deviation of 3 points is a 15% one. With the 20 point system I use (see my blog of September 7) there is a 16 points baseline which means that a deviation of a half point is one-eighth or 12.5%. With either system, there is at least that much subjectivity (probably more) involved. I readily admit my ratings can deviate by a half point or so, depending on when and how I tasted a particular wine.
In short, wine reviewers are not infallible. We all have our preferences and biases, and as one critic commented, "We're not robots." But at the same time, wine tasting is not necessarily an "Illusion," but rather a sensory experience that can convey differing impressions to different tasters. It is up to the consumer to decide what he or she likes best. Wine ratings can only be guidelines, not arbitrary pronouncements.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Wine Economist - A Stimulating Blog
A few days ago, I got a new signup to my Review of Washington Wines. It was from Mike Veseth, Robert G. Albertson Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound and publisher of The Wine Economist. The website describes the publication as "What do you get when you cross the Wine Spectator, America's best-selling wine magazine, with the Economist, the world's leading business weekly? The answer is this blog, The Wine Economist, which analyzes and interprets today's global wine markets. Why? Because when it comes to what's in your wineglass, supply and demand sometimes matters as much as climate and soil."
I checked out the website and found it to be provocative and stimulating. There are a myriad of articles about wine in terms of supply and demand, and as a global market. The latest posting, November 1, is about "Extreme Value Wine Goes Mainstream," and how supermarkets, and specifically Grocery Outlet, have been marketing wines at seemingly ridiculously low prices: $3.99, $4.99 and $5.99 a bottle, from all over the world. Excess winery inventory somehow seems to end up somewhere on grocery shelves. Other recent posts are: "Wine as a Liberal Art" about exposing students to wine; "Starbucks and the Coffee-Wine Paradox" which discusses the paradox of "why do the best wines cost so much more, in relative terms, than the best coffees;" and "Wine and the China Syndrome" about the dream and the reality of the China market.
The Wine Economist is highly recommended for anyone who wants to read about the wine market - premium or mass - and its globalization. To find out more, go to: www.wineeconomist.com.
Walla Walla Valley 2009 Crush Wraps Up
Over the past few days, I have been talking to winemakers and sampling wines from the 2009 vintage in the tank or barrel. It was an extraordinarily hectic harvest. Picking and crush were going along just fine from mid September to early October as well ripened, healthy grapes were bought in (mostly Merlot and Syrah). Then cold, wet, freezing weather set in beginning on October 12th. So then there was a big rush to bring in grapes before freezing produced mush. One winemaker told me his winery crushed 35 tons in two days. But the grapes I saw on the conveyer belt looked great. And I liked what I smelled and tasted from the tank and barrel: deep-colored, wonderfully aromatic wines, just awaiting malolactic fermentation.
Two November Review "Best Buys" on Sale at Esquin
In this month's Esquin Newsletter, I spotted these two "Best Buys" from the November issue of my Review of Washington Wines (just put on line).
2008 Renegade Wine Company Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($14.99) 17.5+/20 points
2007 Beresan "The Buzz" Red, Walla Walla Valley ($17.99) 18/20 points
- Written by Rand Sealey
Wine and Cheese Pairings
Last week, I picked up some samples of new releases from Ashley Trout's Flying Trout Wines. On the fact sheet for her 2007 Old Vines Malbec (to be reviewed in the November issue of my Review) was the suggested Cheese Pairing: Manchego and Taleggio. Lynn and I tried this pairing. The creamy but firm sheep's milk Spanish Manchego and the rich, creamy cow's milk Taleggio from the foothills of the Italian Alps both went beautifully with the Malbec. This gave me the idea of suggesting other wine and cheese pairings that we have found to work well with Washington wines.
Merlot - This varietal goes well with slightly creamy cheeses: Wensleydale (cow's milk) and Ossau-Iraty (sheep's milk from the French Pyrenees). These also go well with Petit Verdot as a stand-alone varietal.
Cabernet Sauvignon - English cheddars such as Montgomery's and Neal's Yard go nicely with Cabernet Sauvignon, also with Cabernet Franc.
Syrah - This variety calls for fairly firm, flavorful cheeses such as Manchego, Garrotxa (sheep's milk from Spain) and Vella Dry Jack (Sonoma, Calif.).
Malbec - In addition to Manchego and Taleggio (see above) this wine goes well with Shropshire Blue and Brie. Malbec is one of the few red wines that can go with double or triple cream cheeses.
Chardonnay - Alpine cow's milk cheeses such as Gruyere and Alpenzeller go well with this. Also Morbier from Franche-Comte.
Viognier - Rich cheeses such as Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog (California goat milk) and Mt. Townsend Seastack (Washington, cow's milk) go well with this rich, aromatic variety.
Marsanne and/or Roussanne - These call for slightly creamy, flavorful cheeses. Garrotxa (see above) and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon (a wax rind goat cheese) go well with these full-bodied whites. The slightly tangy cow's milk Welsh Caerphilly also works nicely.
Avoid double and triple creams such as Brie and St. Andre except with sweetish whites such as Riesling. One exception is Malbec (see above)
TMSA Holdings Acquires madwine.com
A couple of days ago, I received a press release from Chuck Lefevre, the proprietor of TMSA Holdings, owner of Esquin, in my email box. Part of it states:
The purchase brings two great brands - MadWine and Esquin Wine Merchants - under one roof. For customers, this will mean unprecedented access to domestic and international wines.
"Pairing MadWine with Esquin is an incredible opportunity for us to expose the great wines of Washington state to the rest of the country," says Chuck Lefevre, owner of TMSA and Esquin Wine Merchants. "In fact, MadWine will offer more Washington wines than any other on-line retailer."
MadWine ships to all states that permit shipments from out of state. Go to www.madwine.com. For the Esquin website, go to www.esquin.com
- Written by Rand Sealey
Impressions of Recent Washington Vintages
Washington State has been blessed with a string of fine vintages since 2005, but their characteristics do vary from year to year. Here is a summary of my impressions of these vintages together with some fine examples of them.
The 2005 vintage could be considered a "classic" vintage, not so much in a qualitative sense as a structural one. Many of the wines, especially Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are fairly tight knit rather than textured, yet with moderate fruits and acids. It is more of a Cabernet/Merlot vintage than a Syrah one. All but one of the Review's highest rated wines of this vintage are Cabernets or "Bordeaux" blends: Pepper Bridge Reserve (19.5/20 points) TL Cellars Les Collines Cabernet (19.5) Nicholas Cole Reserve (19.5). The only exception is the SYZYGY Saros 134, a Tempranillo-Malbec blend (19.5).
The 2006 vintage comes on as being riper, fruitier and more open-knit than the '05. But some show considerable elegance and opulence. They frequently possess moderate acids and tannins and hence are attractive wines for near term, but not prolonged aging. Here, again, the "biggest" wines seem to Cabernet Sauvignons. Some of the best examples: Woodward Canyon Cabernet (19) Efeste "Big Papa" Cabernet (19) Spring Valley "Derby" Cabernet and "Uriah" Red (both 19) Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot (19) Adams Bench Reserve Cabernet (19) and Bergevin Lane Intuition Red (19.5). The two top Syrahs were Cadaretta (19) and Reininger Pepper Bridge (19).
The 2007 vintage is shaping up to be outstanding. Recently released wines show fine fruit as well as structure. Those vineyards that harvested low yields produced wines of great depth and concentration, wines to lay away for 3-10 years. This is also a vintage where Syrah is coming into its own. Best wines so far: Bergevin Lane "Princess" Syrah (19) Sleight of Hand Levitation Syrah (19) Archimage and Illusionist blends (both 19.5) Kerloo Syrahs (both 19) and more that are yet to be released or reviewed.
Most 2008 reds are still in the barrel, waiting to be bottled. Barrel tastings indicate much promise, including some possibly incredible wines: great fruit, depth and proportion. More to come. The best 2008 whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) are very fine - lovely perfume, fruit and balance. Best whites: aMaurice Viognier (19) Januik Cold Creek Chardonnay (19) Maison Bleue "Vallee du Soleil" Marsanne (19).
For the 2009 vintage, it's to early to tell. The reds are still fermenting and yet to be pressed and the whites are still in tanks. More later.
These are only generalizations and do not apply all wines of a particular vintage. There are always exceptions.
Walla Walla Valley Prepares for Fall Release Weekend
One of the year's top events in Walla Walla is Fall Release during the first weekend in November. It is less elaborate then the Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend when barrel rooms are decorated and lighted. Fall Release started out a few years ago when Cayuse (of the sought-after Syrahs which are sold to a limited customer list) released its wines the first weekend of November. Then other wineries followed suit so that the weekend became a major event. This year, even more wineries are having special open houses. All the hotels, motels and restaurants are fully booked for the weekend, a remarkable turn-around from Spring Release when many reservations were cancelled. Some winery people have commented that Fall Release seems to bring in more serious wine buyers. That turned out to be the case last year and may well be this year, too. I will report on the outcome in a future blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Washington Wine Pioneer David Lake Passes Away
It was with sadness that I read of the death of David Lake on October 5 in the Seattle Times' obituary of October 11. I had known David since the early 'eighties when he was the winemaker for Columbia Winery. I knew that he had been ill and had retired from winemaking in 2005. But, nevertheless, I sensed that the Washington wine industry had lost a real pioneer and a fine friend.
David's pioneering achievements were remarkable. He was the first U.S. winemaker (originally from Canada) to become a Master of Wine, a distinction that can be attained only by rigorous study and tasting, followed by examinations and blind tastings. He, with winegrower Mike Sauer, was instrumental in planting Washington's earliest Syrah vines at the Red Willow vineyard in the Yakima Valley. With his knowledge, he brought a worldwide perspective to winemaking in Washington State.
Whenever I met David, at the winery, at lunch or at tastings, he was always kind, generous and thoughtful. I remember special occasions when he took the time to meet with me on a one to one basis. He was a gentleman who commanded great respect. He will be sorely missed.
Three Eastern Washington Wineries Open Tasting Rooms in Woodinville
Two Walla Walla Valley wineries and one from Prosser have added to the growth of the burgeoning Woodinville wine scene. I believe this is a logical move as it brings these wineries closer to the Puget Sound populace.
Back in September, Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla opened a tasting room in the Hollywood Vineyard Plaza. In mid-October, Isenhower Cellars of Walla Walla joined forces with Maison Bleue to open shop at 15007 Woodinville-Redmond Road (between Silver Lake and Januik/Novelty Hill). Brett Isenhower will have to clone himself at two locations, while Jon Martinez has moved his entire Maison Bleue operation from Prosser to Woodinville.
These openings are just in time for St. Nicholas Day Open Houses, December 5th and 6th. For more information, visit the Woodinville Wine Country website.
For previous reviews, see the September issue of my Review of Washington Wines for Dusted Valley, June for Isenhower, and July for Maison Bleue.