Galloni leaves Robert Parker’s publication The Wine Advocate: anatomy of a coup? And does TWA even matter anymore?

Back in early December, when the news broke that wine critic Robert Parker was selling a substantial stake in his long-running publication The Wine Advocate, pretty much every wine writer and blogger weighed in on the news.  I held off on saying anything on this blog, mostly because I generally try to write about wines and not wine personalities (the occasional exception being information about winemakers as further background on the wines), but also because I felt like the other shoe was yet to drop.

The other shoe (or at least the first of a series of “other shoes”?) dropped Tuesday, when Antonio Galloni, the TWA critic declared in the past by Parker himself to be his “heir apparent”, announced he was leaving The Wine Advocate to start his own venture,  This came as no surprise to me, because my view of the likely goings-on behind the scenes at TWA went something like this:

  • When Parker started announcing Galloni as his “heir apparent” a few years ago, I felt it was somewhat likely that this had something to do not only with the fact that Galloni has a good palate but also that his career in finance probably gave him the means, both in terms of personal capital and connections/knowledge, to put together a buyout over time to provide an exit strategy for Parker, who was nearing retirement age but not quite ready to hand over the reins yet.
  • When the news broke in December 2012 that Parker had decided to sell a substantial stake to a group of investors from Singapore who had originally approached the TWA writer covering Asia/Australia, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Ms. Perrotti-Brown was also installed as editor-in-chief of TWA.  Though Parker downplayed the editor-in-chief duties handed to Brown as mostly ministerial, the timing seemed hardly coincidental. It seemed to me that Perrotti-Brown had engineered a deal that offered Parker more money than he could turn down, and more money than Galloni (who was presumably caught by surprise) could put together to match in the short time frame left (with Parker likely anxious to close by the end of 2012 due to tax reasons) and quite naturally, would include a more prominent seat for Ms. Perrotti-Brown in the new regime.  Surprise eleventh-hour coup in place, with Parker insisting he was still in charge for now, the rivalry for control among TWA: the Next Generation was on, but mostly over.
  • If my theory is correct that Parker and Galloni had a framework for handover in place previously, around which Ms. Perrotti-Brown was hoping to do a surprise end run, that would explain why she could not go to Galloni (or any of the other TWA writers) to try to cut a deal to keep him at TWA before announcement of the sale was inevitable, as one might have otherwise expected as part of such an acquisition deal.   And perhaps, it explains why, on the topic of which TWA writers would be retained, Perrotti-Brown would let this shot-across-the-bow quote  appear in the WSJ article about the deal: “There is a plethora of good wine writers out there. It’s a buyer’s market”.
  • Presumably that set the stage for Galloni to plan his own surprise announcement in response, that he would leave to establish his own wine writing kingdom rather than stay as usurped crown prince in the TWA domain.  Whether he can parlay his TWA cred into a successful, differently-styled venture of his own remains to be seen.

The question remains, what’s left of TWA with Galloni leaving?  While speculation has begun as to which experts on Italy, Burgundy, Champagne and California will be found to step into Galloni’s shoes, it’s hard for me to think that this model even works anymore, at least in the U.S.  The wine consumer in America has changed.

For the generation that grew up with Robert Parker, “cool”may have been discovering French wines, mainly from Bordeaux, and then-emerging wines from California.  And sure, there will always be trophy-chasers and speculators that will look for a Parker-like guide; perhaps, as TWA’s new owners seem to be betting, the real market for such a guide in the future is Asia.  But for America, let’s look at real drinkers as opposed to collectors.  Today, young American wine consumers are increasingly priced out of TWA’s traditional bread-and-butter regions like Bordeaux, California and Italy, so they don’t need The Wine Advocate.  Moreover, I don’t think they want to be told which wines to buy, the way that the generations before wanted The Wine Advocate to do for them.  The Millenials that I know are very open to wines from all regions of all varieties.  If they have mainstream tastes, they are just looking to graduate from the Franzia box wine that they chugged in college to say, today’s emerging market wines, like Argentinean malbec or a Portuguese red that gives value for the money.  They aren’t hell-bent on being validated as having the dozen highest-rated wines out there, they’re just looking for one good wine at a time.

Those that tend toward more geekery aren’t likely to look to the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, or any single source to find new wines, really.  The young wine geeks I know in New York (granted, perhaps not a representative sample of what the whole country is like) are more likely to be turned on to wines in a variety of ways.  By trying it at their local wine bar (which in New York may well be Ten Bells, Bar Veloce, or Terroir, etc., where they’re more likely to drink lagrein than Lagrange) for example.  Cool and emerging for this generation is not drinking wines from the huge brand conglomerates that own Bordeaux and Napa, it’s finding some funky selection from edgy distributors like Dressner or Jenny and Francois at a geeky neighborhood shop like Chambers Street Wines,  Frankly Wines or Blanc et Rouge.  There, they’re buying grower fizz, gruner, or they’re not buying wine at all – they are just as open to craft beers, spirits like scotch, and mixologist creations.  Or they’re finding wines from Wine Disorder, from a blog like Brooklynguy’s, or more likely, a blog that one of their friends writes.

In this changing landscape, wine writers (and that includes bloggers and not just traditional, subscriber-model formerly-print “critics”) will succeed if they focus on artisanal wines, the stories behind them and the qualities that make them fresh, distinctive and worth a look.  While I don’t necessarily try to be that hipster with this blog all the time, I hope this site will be one of the many voices you’ll look to for ideas.  If the days where one voice could make or break winemakers and influence the style of wines made worldwide are in the past, I for one will be glad.


2010 Bordeaux In-Bottle Tasting Notes from UGC Bordeaux: Overview, blancs and Right Bank reds

Going into last week’s UGC Bordeaux tasting in New York, I was half prepared to reverse myself on a call I made after tasting some 2010s as barrel samples: that 2010 was almost as good as 2009, but not quite, unless you are a fan of classical vintages of Bordeaux instead of riper ones.  As a fan of classical vintages, I thought that I may well love the 2010 Bordeaux in a way similar to how I adore 2010 Burgundies above their 2009 counterparts in almost every case. Today I can report that no reversal is necessary, but I can modify my statement with a bit more detail.

To sum up, I find 2010 to be a very good vintage in Bordeaux, roughly on par with 2009, but in a different style. While a number of chateaux made better wines in 2010 than in 2009, overall I find 2009 to be more consistent across the board.  The most important point is the difference in style – where ’09s were lush, ripe and easy to like, I find the reds from ’10 to have a profile characterized by cool dark fruits, lots of structure and in a notable number of cases, a strong licorice note that is more than I care for, though I expect that will moderate in time.  I found some of these wines very difficult to judge – moreso than any of the last four vintages at the same stage, or even the 2010s as barrel samples. As a result, there were a number of wines I didn’t assign a score range to, wherebeauregard 2010 I didn’t feel that I could make a call with confidence. I think the nature of the 2010 vintage means these wines are less likable early than the ’09s, but in time, 2009/2010 will be very comparable to the 1990 vs 1989 dynamic of pretty equal but stylistically different vintages.

To my surprise, despite reports from various critics about the freshness of the 2010s, based on my tasting I was a bit disappointed in this regard. While the pH numbers may indicate high acids, something about the overall balance of the 2010s, characterized by lots of tannin and high alcohol levels, left me feeling that most of the 2010s had adequate acid but not an impression of true freshness, at least at this young stage of their existence.  There are of course exceptions – Carbonnieux and Dom. de Chevalier among whites, and the Pichons among the reds, to name a few – but the whites from 2010 can’t come close to matching the lively 2007s, for example.

Early reports have cited high alcohol levels in the 2010s, and my overall impression is that the wines indeed feel quite alcoholic, despite their balance. In St. Emilion some wines are a bit extracted; by comparison, the Pomerols and Graves reds seem to have an easy (rather than full-throttle) power – a certain charm without trying too hard.  More on the other communes in my next post.  For now, here are my notes on Graves blancs and reds from the Right Bank – St. Emilion and Pomerol.

Graves whites (Pessac Leognan)

2010 Haut Bergey blanc – honeyed sweetness on the nose, with a slightly stinky mineral funk. On the palate, decent with Graves typicity. 89-902010 De Fieuzal blanc – not as strong in the mineral funk as the Haut Bergey, this is a more pleasing and harmonious wine. I like this better than most vintages of de Fieuzal, this may be an outperformer at the right price in the value category. 91+

2010 Larrivet Haut Brion blanc – dewy, quality fruits on the nose. Palate shows a rich style as is typical for this house, with fruit that’s on the tropical side (pineapples etc), again of a high quality. A shade better than de Fieuzal if you like a richer style. 91-92

2010 Carbonnieux blanc* – first sample very shy and tight, only giving up a tiny bit of mineral impression that is more refined than any of the wines tasted thus far.  On the palate, a citrusy acidity makes this wine fresh and portends longevity.  Retasted after some of the other top whites, this was a bit more giving.  Overall, like other recent vintages, this shows the most finesse and delicacy among the Graves whites.  Very good, but doesn’t seem to excite me as much as the 2009. Considering price, this is again the runaway winner in this category if you like nuance over power. 92-93+

2010 La Tour Martillac blanc – very consistent with prior vintage – a slightly stinky mineral funk on the nose.  Palate is competent but undistinguished.  Lacks freshness or liveliness.  87-88.

2010 Pape Clement blanc – very pretty nose – a mix of mineral funk and tropical, dewy fruits.  Feels alcoholic.  Very good wine, but doesn’t touch the 2007 and the extraordinary lift of that vintage. 92-93

2010 Smith Haut Lafitte blanc – Has a racy acidity but the fruit is not as attractive as that in the Pape Clement and even the Larrivet Haut Brion.  Still definitely in the top group of whites today but doesn’t quite move me.  91-92.

Accidentally skipped but tasted later before the Graves reds:

2010 Domaine de Chevalier blanc* – has a lightness and freshness on the nose with sweet, quality fruits – probably the prettiest of all the whites today.  On the palate, a touch heavy, a bit more powerful and dewy than I prefer.  Good acid here though, so this should age gracefully. 92-93


Right Bank/St. Emilion

2010 Canon – very dark-fruited, anisette profile.  Tight, structured.  If this is any indication, the 2010s are showing very differently from the 2009s, and even tighter than the 2010s in barrel.  Can hardly get anything from this, not rating it.

2010 Canon La Gaffeliere – Much more expressive nose than the 2010 Canon tasted before it: perfumed, dark sweet fruits with some damp earth aromas.  The palate is tasty but a touch bitter on the finish, but I think it will resolve; there is high quality fruit here.  Modern but the oak is not overpowering, actually. 93-94; liked this even better than the very good 2009.

2010 Figeac* – [Notes on the nose lost due to technical glitch] The Figeac is very good on the palate, also showing the graphite notes apparent on the nose. Feels alcoholic, but the exuberant, rich and mineral-laden 2010 Figeac is showing way better than the 2009 did last year at the same stage yet stays in line with the historical style of this chateau.  Probably the best Figeac I have tasted – this should be one for the ages. 93-95

2010 Clos Fourtet* – Excellent nose – perfumed, with a damp muddy earth that I really like.  Tannic and dry on the palate, this is gorgeous: beautiful fruit, very balanced with the structure, earthy elements, graphite notes, etc. Again, better than the 2009.  93-95

2010 Grand Mayne – Notes lost, but from memory, this did not particularly impress me; rated it at the time 89-91. Don’t think it will reach the heights of the very good 2005, which showed well recently.

2010 La Couspaude – Quite good – graphite notes intermix with sweetish fruit, and a touch of exotic Indian spices.  Peters out slightly on the finish.  An overperformer for the price? 92-93

2010 La Gaffeliere – has a tightly wound nose, like the Canon.  Has a touch of curry spice in there.  Palate is dark and structured, very tightly wound at this point. Not rating this at this time, but my feeling is that this will be very good.

2010 Larcis Ducasse – Shows a little modern, opulent and open on the nose, with a nice perfume to the fruit.  A little neutral on the palate; just didn’t seem to have much oomph.  The fruit on the palate doesn’t have either power or much charm to distinguish this at this stage. 89-91

2010 Pavie Macquin – Powerful, perhaps a bit extracted, showing a touch of bitterness on the finish but there’s a lot of sweet fruit of definite quality here to balance it out. 92-94.

2010 Troplong Mondot  A bit bitter on the finish, but should resolve okay considering the sweet underlying fruit. 92-94+


Right Bank/Pomerol

2010 Gazin – Nose is very dark-fruited and a little bit tight.  Palate again shows a dark licorice character. This vintage is not really hitting me compared to other recent vintages. 91-92+

2010 Beauregard*- a value play in Pomerol?  More red-fruited than most of wines today, plus a stoniness showing on the musky cologne nose as well.  Smooth, pretty but should show nice delinieation someday.  Refreshingly different in the context of this tasting filled with dense wines. 92-94.

2010 Clinet – has a balance between red- and purple-fruitedness that’s unusual in this tasting.  Smooth on the palate, not overextracted.  A very pretty wine.  Will outlast the Beauregard, but the Beau may well show better young.  92-94+

2010 La Conseillante*- has a refined mineral rockiness, dark  purple fruits, graphite.  Shows licorice notes on the refined but slightly austere palate, with a lot of earthiness. True to the house style, this wine is not really about the fruit, but is exactly what it intends to be.  Elegant, composed, regal. 93-95.  A complete toss-up as to which is better between this and the 2009.

2010 La Pointe – A bit of dirt/earthiness on the nose.  Good and smooth on the palate, red-to-purple fruited; profile a bit similar to Clinet, so this might be a good value alternative? 91-93

2010 Le Bon Pasteur – flavor profile is more cherry here than most of the other wines here, which tend toward dark plums.  This is ok, but doesn’t particularly move me. 89-91+

Stay tuned in the coming days for reports on Graves reds, Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, the Medoc and Sauternes/Barsac!  -Alan


2009 Bordeaux tasting notes in bottle, Part 4: St. Julien and Pauillac

With 2009 Bordeaux having arrived in many stores now, and the Union des Grands Crus  tastings for 2010 about to start around the U.S., it’s a good time to revisit my notes from the UGC tasting of 2009s.  Today’s post focuses on what I felt were the two strongest appellations of the 2009 tastings – St. Julien and Pauillac.  Pauillac is often considered the grandaddy of them all, with its powerful, structured, regal wines like Lafite, Latour, the Pichons, etc.  But St. Julien may well have had the strongest showing across the board at the UGC tastings of 2009s – with most wines showing as open and lovely, with ripe, appealing fruit.  True to reputation, though, I believe the Pauillacs will age best among 2009s, not only because of their structured, tannic profile, but also because the producers of Pauillac seemed to do a great job of controlling the considerable ripeness of the 2009 vintage, imbuing the wines with a nice, lively plum-like acidity that should serve as a wonderful backbone for the wines to age on.  The prices for the 2009s are high – be prepared – but for the dollars spent, there are some legendary wines to be had, like the Pichon Lalande and the Leoville Barton.  I’ll be back with more on Bordeaux again soon, after next week’s tastings of the 2010s – it will be interesting to debate for many years as to which of these two exceptional vintages is the better one.  In the meanwhile, here are my notes on the 2009 St. Juliens and Pauillacs:

St. Julien

  • 2009 Château Léoville Barton – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a very nice nose – great balance between ripe fruit and mineral and classic varietal character. On the palate, a little more tannic than a lot of the wines tasted today, but clearly has the fruit to back it up. Doesn’t rely on oak for the spice; not showing a lot of minerality now, but I predict it will come out in time. One of the best wines here today. 94-96. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Gruaud Larose – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a prettiness, a refined floral quality, a touch of green pepper and some slatey minerality as well. Showing good ripeness with leafy underpinnings, this has all the earmarks of a classic Gruaud Larose in the making, and in the long run, will stand up to pretty much any wine in the vintage in my opinion. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Langoa Barton – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Lots of sweet fruit on the nose – very appealing. Ripe, rounded – shows the vintage. Some mineral as well; very comparable to the Lagrange in a slightly riper style. 93-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Léoville Poyferré – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Nose very similar to the Leoville Barton in its balance between sweet fruit and rocky minerality. One the palate, the fruit is not quite as engaging as in the Barton, but slightly more plummy acidity makes this a great choice for anyone wanting a little less sweetness to the fruit. Very, very good. 94-95 (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Saint-Pierre – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)The 2009 St. Pierre is very pretty, with perfumed fruit and a touch of mineral – a slightly fuller feeling nose than some of the other St. Juliens. Nice stoniness on the palate, with slightly plummy acidity. Almost tastes more like some of the Pauillacs from this tasting, in its combination of fresh acidity and controlled ripeness. 93-94+. A great under-the-radar choice that has pleased me in prior vintages. (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Branaire (Duluc-Ducru) – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)On the nose, slightly riper and more appealing than the Beychevelle, with more quality to the fruit. Peppery on the palate, with the ripeness of 2009 showing well. 92-93+ (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Lagrange (St. Julien) – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Nose a bit more refined than Beychevelle or Branaire. Really quite good on the palate – minerality makes this a nice cheaper alternative to Gruaud Larose? 93-94 (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Talbot – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)As in many years, the 2009 Talbot feels like a good, lower-cost alternative to Gruaud Larose – stony with good fruit. 92-93+ (93 points)
  • 2009 Château Beychevelle – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)Has a touch of a certain sweetness to the fruit, very typical of Beychevelle. Cherry licorice flavors, like many of the Left Bank wines today. Smooth, middle of the road, solid with the character of the vintage, but nothing to particularly distinguish this from the other wines tasted today. 92-93 (92 points)
  • 2009 Château Gloria – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien (1/25/2012)A lot of coffee on the nose, relying a bit on the oak here, but ripe fruits, very appealing wine, given the price level, this is fine. On the palate, decent concentration, middle-of-the road ripeness for the vintage, with some dark notes to anchor the wine. Good for what it is. 92-93 (92 points)


  • 2009 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Nice stone/crushed rock aromas on the nose here; excellent balance with very pleasing, fullish fruit here, without going over the top. With a sweet perfumey note as well, there’s an excellent balance between fruit, acidity, minerality – really good stuff. 94-96. Right up there with the Leoville Barton. Great Bordeaux typicity. Factoring in price, this is one to look for in this great vintage. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)The opposite of Pichon Baron right now, in terms of how each is showing on this day. Pretty, refined, among the best wines of the day already, just on the nose. Has a sweetness to the perfumed fruit, which is of incredibly high quality (perhaps only the Pape Clement had fruit of similar quality in this tasting). Nice plummy acidity underpins the fruit here, boding well for aging. Not a power wine at all – finesse through and through. The pretty, perfumed fruit and superlative fruit pushes this to the top of the pack. Might even be hard to identify as a 2009 – it’s so not playing the ripeness game here. 94-96, at least. (95 points)
  • 2009 Château Lynch-Bages – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Has considerably more heft than the Pichon Lalande tasted just before it. Notes of exotic Asian spice and mossy earth show on the nose. Classic Pauillac with real power to it, but characterized more by floral beauty than spicy power like some other wines today. Plummy tart acidity here, like many of the Pauillacs today, which seem to have controlled the ripeness of the vintage very well. Excellent wine. 93-95. (94 points)
  • 2009 Château Clerc Milon – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)After slipping in the 2008 UGC tasting, the 2009 Clerc Milon rounds back into form to beat out stablemate Chateau d’Armailhac – a little fuller, slightly higher quality fruit here with a touch of damp earth. Palate doesn’t quite live up to the perfumey nose, but still a good claret. I might still prefer the 2005. Has a slightly tart acidity like some of the other Pauillacs today. 92-93 (92 points)
  • 2009 Château d’Armailhac – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)Has fairly full, slightly pruney fruit, with a touch of perfume on the nose. Palate is also quite full for Armailhac, smooth, fairly round. Will be a good Pauillac; not much mineral showing now, but you can see a touch of leafy green, and some stone and graphite. My favorite Armailhac of recent years, better even than the 2005, for my palate. (92 points)
  • 2009 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac (1/25/2012)First taste doesn’t do much for me – smooth but not refined in feel, with surprisingly plummy acidity for the vintage. Not much power or ripeness considering the vintage. 90-91?  Second taste from different bottle: better, with some lead pencil character, fairly tannic with again, the plummy acidity. Perhaps given the character of the vintage, I was expecting something powerful and opulent like the 1990 Baron, but this is surprisingly middle-of-the-road in feel to me. Still, undoubtedly better than the first sample, 92ish and I’m willing to give upside up to 93+ on this one based on track record and the structure showing here. (92 points)



Throwing a blind tasting: planning and pouring for Leo’s Blind Tasting Club

I’ve written in the past about participating in various blind tastings, but this week I had the opportunity for a new challenge: throwing a blind tasting.  I’m part of a group here in New York unofficially known as “Leo’s Blind Tasting Club”, which follows an idea put forth by founding member Leo F: rather than the common wine group structure of “everyone bring a bottle”, we take turns hosting the monthly tastings, and the host for each tasting supplies all of the wines for that particular evening.  This allows for the
host to plan a very coordinated double blind tasting, with themes for each flight or even an overall theme for the whole tasting. This month was my first turn hosting.

Most of the members of the club have a deeper cellar than I have, so I wasn’t going to be able to match other club tastings where, say, hosts poured entire flights of gems from the 70s or 80s.  In planning my tasting, I decided to build around what I could offer to the group: the benefit of my experiences as a wine blogger.  I’ve had the opportunity to taste a lot of wines off the beaten path, as at trade tastings featuring wines from non-mainstream regions like the Jura, Greece, Portugal, Toro, Navarra, right down to groupings as specific as cool-climate chardonnays from Canada.  In those wine travels I’ve come across a number of overachievers, and have often said to myself “this wine could totally pass for a wine from [fill in a heralded region].” A tasting like this one was a perfect opportunity to test some of those hypotheses.

As a starter wine to welcome the group to Trattoria L’Incontro in Astoria, where this dinner was held, I poured my favorite champagne of all time – the 2001 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée, which I’ve blogged about in the past in this post.  Paired with cheese and vegetable-filled cream puff hors-d’oeuvres, this got us off to a great start- lively and exciting, showing complexity uncommon in the 2001 vintage and mouth-watering acid, this drew raves.  Although I warned the group that I would be pitching curve balls on this night, everyone pretty much called this as champagne, with pretty accurate guesses on age, mostly ranging from 1996 to 2002.

Onto the first white flight, built around comparing some French chardonnays from less vaunted regions to a very typical white Burgundy. The first wine in the flight shows golden color and a slightly smoky, flinty nose.   Out of nine blind tasters, this garners a few votes as favorite of the flight, and some guess Burgundy; other guesses include pinot gris and gruner veltliner.  This one is the 2009 Domaine Tissot (André & Mireille now Stéphane) Arbois Les Bruyères. Although savagnin, poulsard and trousseau seem to get more of the buzz around Jura wines, I feel the chardonnays from the Jura are underrated and stand up well to white Burgs, as I think this one does.

The next wine, buttery-opulent but saved by counterbalancing acidity, is our benchmark wine of the flight, 2007 Domaine / Maison Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes.  This wine gets a majority of votes for wine of the flight – but not because everyone is a Cote d’Or Burgundy snob.  In fact, more people guess Cali Continue reading

Wine and a Movie, Oregon edition: Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” and Cameron pinot noir

Today’s post is the next installment of my Wine and a Movie feature, and today I have an appreciation of the works of two acclaimed but probably under-discussed master craftsmen.  On the film side, we have Gus Van Sant, who you may know by his films “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk”, among others, although I want to focus on 2008’s “Paranoid Park”, based on a novel of the same name by Blake Nelson, and my favorite of Van Sant’s films.

On the wine side of things, I present 2010 Cameron pinot noir, from the Dundee Hills AVA, made by John Paul, one of the pinot pioneers of Oregon.  While “Burgundian” is a word mentioned in conjunction with a lot of pinot noirs from Oregon, Cameron is among the very few producers in the US whose wines truly deserve the label. Also, Cameron has possibly the coolest official winery bottle shot I have seen, here it is (with “Jackson Pawlick”):

Paranoid Park opens with a preview of what the viewer is in store for: risky and unusual music choices that don’t always work but keep the audience on its toes, eschewing the easy comfort of cliches for pieces that subtly portend what is to come in the story.  Nino Rota’s “Porticina Segreta” alternates between whimsical and foreboding, and Billy Swan’s 70’s hit “I Can Help” serves as unpredictable anthem to introduce us the film’s protagonist, Alex Trumaine, a sixteen year old skater kid in modern-day Portland, while simultaneously hinting through its lyrics at the drama set to unfold.

The 2010 Cameron pinot noir is also full of surprises.  The nose offers funky earth more often offered in wines from the Cote d’Or than Oregon.  The fruit has a racy, tart edge but is full with intensity that you expect from single-vineyard wines but not from an entry-level appellation blend.  There’s plenty of Oregon pinot noir typicity here, but the savory loaminess that I find too dominant in many Oregon pinots functions here as a lovely earthy accent.  I purchased my bottle for $35 and was quite happy, but certain retailers in Oregon often sell this bottling for under $20.  At that price, this wine is a sick, sick deal considering the Cameron wines are hand-crafted and sustainably farmed.  If you can find it under $20 this is probably the best American pinot noir in its price range.

While “Paranoid Park” employs dreamy visuals (courtesy of star cinematographer Christopher Doyle, also making an onscreen cameo) to tell its elliptical story, the real genius of this film lies in its sound: from score and source music to the inventive sound design that seals the viewer’s immersion into Alex’s world as the mystery surrounding the death of a railroad security guard near a skate park known as ‘Paranoid Park’ is peeled back layer by layer.

One of the few terms as overused as “Burgundian” is “Hitchcockian”, as applied to countless copycat films that mimic the Master of Suspense rather than taking his inspiration in new directions.  “Paranoid Park” plays to me like a film that Alfred Hitchcock would make in the modern day (with a splash of Kieslowski thrown in), which coming from as big a Hitchcock fan as I am, is a true compliment, especially considering that I’ve never been able to watch the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” that Van Sant did early in his career.    The dialogue among teenagers here is largely improvised, coming across as how kids of that age really talk as opposed to the overwritten teens seen so often in modern TV and film.  Flashes of humor buffet the story’s progression, and Alex’s relationship with his vapid cheerleader girlfriend, and the choice of music underneath one of their arguments, is a real hoot.

If you think that poetry can’t be found in a movie about skate punks, or a humble appellation blend domestic pinot, sit back, hit the play button and let the shifting aromas and textures of the Cameron Dundee Hills pinot noir accompany the lyrical soundscapes and visuals of Gus Van Sant’s underrated Pacific Northwest drama.  The strains of Elliott Smith’s “Angeles” and Cast King’s “Outlaw”, together with the advice of the more substantive female in Alex’s world, his friend Macy, serve as an appropriate coda to the film, and perhaps, the last sips of the bottle.  Cheers,


Pre-release scouting report: Anthill Farms

Just a quick post today with some tasting notes that may be useful for anyone looking to buy wines from the Anthill Farms 2012 Fall release slated to go live today.  I don’t have time to do a full background on Anthill Farms this time, but in a nutshell, they are an up-and-coming producer making mostly pinot noirs and syrahs sourced from the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley/Mendocino county regions.  In general, I find AF wines to be balanced but approachable, with generous fruit but delicacy as well.  The pinot noirs offer quality comparable to favorites of mine like Copain, Rhys and Rivers-Marie and the single vineyard bottlings are priced attractively, sometimes at around the same price as appellation blend bottlings from their competitors.  I had the chance to taste some Anthill Farms pinots at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York a few months ago, and a few of those wines are in today’s release.  I’ve also included some other historical tasting notes from my own past purchases of AF wines. To join the mailing list, visit


  • 2010 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (4/18/2012)
    A bit of a citrus blossom topnote on the nose, from the stems – reminds me a bit of some Rhys wines on the nose, and Anthony F. says he could see a similarity to Rhys’ old Alesia Falstaff bottling. Structured and full on the palate. Balanced with a really nice juiciness. Smooth, pretty, good acidity. 91-92 (92 points)
  • 2009 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Comptche Ridge Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County (4/18/2012)
    From Mendocino, a little north of Anderson Valley. More perfumed on the nose than the 2010 Demuth, with some dirt/mud in there as well. Served a bit cold, this has spice and pepper on the palate. Quite good – will look into picking up this bottling in the future. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2010 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (4/18/2012)
    A little spicy, otherwise very Anderson Valley in its restraint, floral as well. Very pretty, slightly high-toned. Anthony Filiberti suggests that this may be a shade more elegant than the ’09 in style. Fruit forward, a hint of stewed character to the red cherry fruits on the palate. Consistent overall with last year’s Demuth which I really dug. (91 points)
  • 2009 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Abbey-Harris Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (2/19/2012)
    Too early to drink this, but I wanted another check in ahead of the new Anthill release. Pretty aromatics, very Anderson Valley. Not as approachable as the Demuth that showed so well recently, but this may be the more serious wine, with tannic material that needs time to resolve. 90ish today, up to 92+ in the future. (92 points)
  • 2009 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (11/20/2011)
    Really enjoyable – has the elements I want in a CA pinot – light, silky texture, appealing fruit, fresh acidity. The fruit is quite sweet and has a bit of sap to it. My only quibble is that on the finish, the sweetness to the fruit reminds me slightly of saccharine. With extended air, floral notes and a touch of anise come out on the nose. Some might find this a bit thin, but I find it properly delicate for a pinot. 92, seriously pushing 93 at times – an irresistable wine, and surprisingly approachable now. (92 points)
  • 2008 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (11/22/2010)
    Had a small pour; tried hard but couldn’t detect smoke on the nose of this small sample anyway. The palate was what I expected, a bit tart with cranberry and rhubarb flavors and cool climate in style. Decent, and not marred by smoke on the palate, at least for the one gulp I had. Fine but lacks excitement. 87-88+. Overall, the profile tends toward what I like so I look forward to trying single-vineyard bottlings and other vintages of this. (88 points)

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om CellarTracker

Sick of the same old pinot grigio? Try these instead

Like pinot grigio but yearning for something new to round out this summer?  Or do you have one of those friends who will touch nothing but their standby Santa Margherita?  If so, you are in luck – there are lots of good alternatives that can give you the same fruity but savory profile.  Here are two of my go-to ABG (anything but grigio) standbys:

1.  Greek whites, especially assyrtiko and athiri.  These two white varieties widely grown in Greece reminded me of pinot grigio from the first time I tasted them.  The Sigalas assyrtiko is perhaps the best known Greek white because of its ubiquity in wine geek circles, but the last time I tasted their range of whites I actually preferred the Sigalas assyrtiko-athiri blend:

  • 2010 Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri– Greece, Aegean, Santorini (5/10/2011)On the nose, mineral and fresh, slightly green with light savory olive. On the palate, has a certain fullness to it – smooth and kind of pretty. Has some substance to it. Paired with oysters though, this was not quite a magical match; felt a bit overpowered – almost felt like a Seven-Up when tasted after the oyster with cocktail sauce. 90-91 (90 points)

 2.  Grechetto from Umbria.  If you want to stick to Italy but are ready to try a white from an up-and-coming region, white wines from the Umbria region based on the grechetto grape are an excellent choice.  I have tasted the Grecante and Anima Umbria bottlings from Arnaldo Caprai multiple times and they offered green olive-inflected salinity in addition to crisp fruit, both at under $15 a bottle.  The Anima Umbria made for a refreshing summer sipper to offset spicy Thai curry this weekend, so don’t think of it only as a partner for Italian fare.

  • 2009 Arnaldo-Caprai Grechetto Colli Martani Grecante– Italy, Umbria, Colli Martani (3/25/2012)Medium-gold color, this is moderately fruity, with a slight savory green olive edge. An excellent choice to pair with light spring or summer fare, perhaps grilled fish. Those looking for an alternative to pinot grigio will enjoy this, as will fans of Greek assyrtiko and the like.

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The wines tasted in this post were tasted at free tastings open to members of the wine trade and media, and the Caprai wines were also tasted by means of review sample bottles received from the distributor.


Because d’Anger is my middle name: d’Angerville 2007 vs 2008 premier crus

I recently was fortunate enough to attend a tasting comparing two vintages across four 1er cru vineyards of the acclaimed Volnay producer Marquis d’Angerville.  For those of you who aren’t Burgundy fiends, Volnay is a village in the Cote de Beaune that is known for turning out reds that can be lacy and silky in texture, if perhaps a bit thinner or less accomplished than those of the more heralded villages in the Cotes de Nuits.

The vintages we tasted were 2007 and 2008, which are generally affordable vintages compared to more hyped vintages like 2005 and 2009 for burgundies.  Although it seems most Burgundy critics and fans prefer the 2008 vintage generally, my impression coming into the tasting based on a small sample size was that I preferred 2007 by a bit.  This was based on having had some very good 2007 village to 1er cru bottlings from producers like JF Mugnier and Henri Gouges (yes Gouges, who apparently has been making most of their bottlings in a more approachable style than they have been known for in the past) and some early tastings of 2008s that left me underhwelmed.  I come out of the d’Angerville tasting, the first time I have tasted 2007s and 2008s side by side, with the opposite impression, liking the 2008 version more in most cases.

Before moving on to the d’Angerville wines specifically, a bit about the evolution of the 2008s as I have seen it.  When a first tasted some sixty or so 2008s (including about 20 whites) as barrel samples, I was concerned that most of the wines were irredeemably acidic.
At that stage, I pretty much had to go to premier cru or grand cru wines to find enough quality fruit to balance the acid; bourgognes and village wines were painfully tart.

In late 2010, when I got to taste a full range of 20+ wines from Domaine d’Ardhuy in bottle, I began to feel that the 2008s were starting to come around, fleshing out a bit in bottle.

Two years later, with this d’Angerville tasting, I find the 08s to be relatively open and showing perfumed if not particularly complex fruit.

And what of the acid that concerned me so at the barrel tasting stage? Sure enough, it retains a certain stridency in most cases that is just enough to keep the 2008s from being a complete success. On their own, the 08s are enjoyable if imperfect wines that can be had at more reasonable prices than the more heralded 2009s and 2010s.  Tasted side by side with 2010s, as I was able to do with a number of Daniel Rion wines recently, the shortcomings of the 2008s are more easily apparent. Still, Burgundy lovers should enjoy the vintage for what it is, where good prices can be found.

The 2007s can generally be found in the same price range as the 2008s, so tasting the d’Angerville wines in flights of two, comparing the 2007 and 2008 versions of the same wine each time, was particularly instructive for me.  We tasted premier cru bottlings from Caillerets, Champans, Taillepieds and a monopole, Clos des Ducs.  In all cases except one, I preferred the 2008 for Continue reading

AmWino Memorial Day Edition: a few wallet-friendly BBQ pairings

For many people, Memorial Day is not just a day to honor fallen heroes, it’s also the kick-off of the summer barbecue season.  Today I just wanted to share a few BBQ-friendly pairings that have worked for me in recent weekend cookouts.

The first wine is a Sicilian white that pairs well with grilled shrimp – the 2010 Inzolia from D’Alessandro Azienda Agricola.  The grape variety is inzolia, and as you might expect from a hot island like Sicily, this $15 white wine is crisp and serves as a great counterpoint to seafood, with a touch of minerality and a dollop of body and richness to please the tongue.  Try it as a refreshing partner to some grilled shrimp with spicy barbecue or cocktail sauce.

Moving on to reds, I was recently reminded that the king of bbq-friendly red wines is probably zinfandel from California.  The peppery, brambly flavor of zin stands up well to the often fiery hot spice of barbecued meats, and one budgety zin that outplayed some high-class Bordeaux competition for me recently was the 2010 Frei Brothers Reserve Dry Creek Valley zinfandel.  Dry Creek is an appellation within Sonoma County that is well known for turning out great zinfandel, and this edition has a lot to like: it’s also a green wine, with Frei Brothers’ sustainable farming practices, acreage devoted to preservation of wildlife habitats, and eco-friendly packaging including lighter glass bottles for lighter carbon footprint to recyclable pulp shipping materials.  The wine itself was fruity and aromatic, with lots of peppery cherry flavors that amplified turkey burgers with wasabi mayo quite nicely.  At about $16, you can load up on this one for the whole summer.

Both wines included in this report were tasted from review sample bottles received from the wineries or their representatives.

California Chardonnay, reimagined? In Pursuit of Balance tasting report

California chardonnay has a bit of an image problem.  And probably deservedly so.  For years and years, it has seemed like most California chardonnays you’d come across tasted like oak-butter bombs, leaning heavily on the twin crutches of heavy oak treatment and malolactic fermentation.  With such heavy makeup on, a lot of CA chardonnay presented a flashy profile that may have caught the attention of new drinkers that need something obvious, but turned off many more experienced drinkers.  I know many wine drinkers who will actually refuse a glass offered to them once they hear that it’s Cali chard.

Those people may have reason to start tasting again.  Recently I have seen encouraging signs that many California chardonnay producers have started to set their sights on making crisp, sometimes minerally chardonnays rather than lush but flabby ones.  But its not necessarily about not using oak or malo – even the best examples of CA chard do to some degree – to me its about finding the balance point at which you can have pleasing fruit, crispness without greenness, and acid cut that’s tensile without being shrill.  Several producers who fit this bill were recently pouring their wines at the New York tasting of the group In Pursuit of Balance, a group of pinot and chardonnay producers aiming to make more restrained and elegant wines.

One producer that really hit one out of the park for me at the IPOB tasting was Ceritas.  I first met Winemaker John Raytek a number of years ago while visiting Copain, where he was the assistant winemaker at the time.  I’ve been aware for a few years that John had struck out on his own with Ceritas and have been meaning to taste his wines ever since then, but never quite got around to it; now that I’ve had my first taste he did a good job of making me regret not tracking down the wines sooner.  In particular, I thought the 2010 Heintz Vineyard chardonnay showed great balance and dimension – with some delectable richness to its high quality fruit without being cloying, hints of smoke and mineral on the nose, and glorious tingling acidity to keep the palate enlivened and refreshed.  For those who like to have a personal connection to wines and their makers, there are a lot of other reasons to like Ceritas – John and his wife Phoebe Bass bring a very personable touch to Ceritas.  I also appreciated that when I ordered some of the chardonnay, that it came with a nice retro-styled postcard about the history of the Heintz vineyard, and was shipped in environmentally-friendly non-styrofoam pulp packaging.  Wax capsules on the bottles also add a nice touch.  Overall, everything is done in a very thoughtful way – and you can tell that the winemaking is similarly thoughtful; you can get a sense for what I mean by visiting the Ceritas website.

Another producer whose chard was among my favorites was Littorai.  Winemaker Ted Lemon is a pioneering winemaker in many ways – and to my palate he produced the strongest lineup across the board at IPOB, which included both chardonnays and pinot noirs.  I will write more about him and his pinot noirs in an upcoming blog post, but for now, let me note that his 2010 Thieriot chardonnay, with all due respect to Thomas Rivers Brown, was everything I hoped the Rivers-Marie Thieriot chard would be (but hasn’t quite been yet) – lean, minerally, crisp.  If you’re a chablis drinker, Littorai is the California chardonnay you should check out.

A few other chardonnays of note: Copain’s 2010 Brosseau chardonnay was another top contender.  Richer than I might’ve expected given winemaker Wells Guthrie’s low-brix approach in recent vintages, the Brosseau nonetheless was pretty darn delicious.  Wells told me that with respect to white wines, he has shifted focus to chardonnay from his former efforts with the marsanne and roussanne varieties.  Personally, I look forward to tasting the Brosseau and the Ceritas wines in each new vintage to see whether teacher or former assistant turns out the better chardonnay.  We consumers will win on both counts, I’m sure.

Finally, Chanin Wine Company’s 2010 Los Alamos chardonnay stood out because it managed to keep a fresh, crisp edge, which I haven’t found often in Santa Barbara chards, which tend to be a bit richer but softer.  Gavin Chanin is a promising young winemaker to keep an eye on.

Full tasting notes on chardonnays that I tasted from the IPOB tasting: