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The Terminator, Finger Lakes and the passing of a great wine pub

Wine Report 09Those of us in the wine industry know August is a sleeper month. Sales always drop as folks head out of town for some rest before school starts again. This calm-before-the-storm is a relief to many of us because we're about to embark on Trade Tasting Season, which starts in just a couple of weeks - and is, quite frankly, insane. Further evidence of this quiet month is just how little truly newsworthy wine "news" is out there these days. No less, Decanter comes through for us once again this week! Here are three articles that rose to the top for me:

Wine from Finger Lakes wins top prize. (Do they really think any other region can compete?)

Find out what "The Terminator" is doing to get CA back on the consumer radar...

Sad news for wine professionals... Our beloved Wine Report is going off-line.

What's your reaction to these news tidbits?

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Fine Wine, health and reality TV

The Winemakers, care of: http://thewinemakers.tv/aboutThis week Decanter "wins" for the most captivating wine news. Tune into these fast-paced articles over your morning coffee. These headlines are sure to get you sailing right into your weekend! Here's a preview:

Reservatrol, the compound found in red wines that often gets plugged for its health cache has made headlines once again - as having anti-inflammatory properties. But does everyone agree? Find out here.

I'm more likely to be watching the Red Sox or Sports Center than any mainstream TV program. But I am a sucker for Top Chef and Project Runway, and this fall I may have to add another one to my list of "must-sees": The Winemakers!

Last but not least, as we continue to watch Aussie wine sales dwindle at the shop (it seems the public might be over "it" and onto South America for cheap, satisfying wine finds) some wines from down under are proving quite tasty, albethem at a higher price point. Now it seems a concerted effort will be made by top wineries to establish Australia as something much more than plonk-worthy. Read more here.

Will you be tuning in to "The Winemakers" this fall? What's your take on Aussie wines these days?

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This week in wine news (rapid-fire style)!

At the beach!With summer schedules coming into effect and the summer warmth finally landing on our New England shores, it's time to bring wine news to you in a briefer package. Starting this week, we'll be delivering wine news in ~ 200 words or less, offering something to whet your whistle as you daydream about weekend beach adventures ahead, but nothing to keep you from getting out by the early closing bell.  Here goes!

WalMart to resume wine/liquor sales: Tisk, tisk. Don't you prefer to support fine wines shops who provide expertise, find boutique selections you don't see everywhere, and offer these at the best price they can -  all without donning a horrifyingly bright-blue smock?

Gallstones less likely among wine drinkers: The latest in wine/health news suggests a glass of wine or two a day can prevent the formation of gallstones. Another good reason to toast to health!

LATE-BREAKING insider rumor: Gruner Veltliner and Godello are identical twins!

** Can anyone confirm these (verbal) reports? **

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Friday wine news to keep you on your toes

Thanks to Ping Lo at ABC Local for the image: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2008/01/07/2133246.htm?site=melbourneThis just in:  if you like Toasted Head Chardonnay, take note! R.H. Phillips is closing up shop. The product is being moved to Robert Mondavi's Woodbridge enterprise. I'm sorry to hear about the closure not because I enjoy Toasted Head, but because it is closing to improve "efficiency". Granted, this is no doubt a wise business move. But if you've ever read about the French winemakers scrambling to make ends meet just to produce their wines because they feel so passionately about creating something wonderful, it is more tragic. Not that I'm comparing the small French winemaker/viticulturist to a larger than life U.S. corporate entity that churns out wine like water. Rather, to me wine at its best is artisanal. I simply wish Big Business had nothing to do with it. That said, and knowing that's how it is in some cases, I'm bummed the local community will suffer. Meanwhile, on the heels of my Leftover Bubbly article, it turns out Zork is set to launch a special closure for sparkling wines - one where you open the bottle and can reseal it with the same closure thereafter. Studies indicate the wine will keep it's mojo for several days after being opened. I'll believe it when I see it - though if anyone can do it, it'll be Zork.

But the grand prize on wine journalism this week goes to (drum roll, please...) Decanter, for Richard Woodard's article about scientists' efforts in South Africa to pinpoint the reason these wines have a general reputation for smelling (and tasting) of burnt rubber.  I'm chuckling because research to date has been "inconclusive" and - get this - they "have not yet estabilished scientifically...whether it is unique to South Africa". Having just completed the March-May trade tasting season (which included several fairly large South African portfolios), I'm pretty confident stating here this characteristic is ABSOLUTELY unique to South Africa.

And so my question heading into the Memorial Day weekend is....

Why does it feel like New World wine regions in particular are constantly trying to use technology or science to "prove" some characteristic about their wine? Does anyone else feel this way? Can't it just be what it is?

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Pinot Noir vintage "wars"

Siduri Pinot NoirWith Passover starting today and Easter a few days away, I should probably pick one or the other - or both - religious holidays to give a few wine pointers about. But today I'm inspired to go a different route; so if it was  holiday wine you were hoping for my musings about,  I hope instead you'll use this as an opportunity to get your own feet wet in your local shop (if you haven't already - tisk, tisk!) and see what your local buyer might recommend. (A Riesling or Gewurtztraminer for your Ham dinner, perhaps? Or maybe you're having lamb and need a dynamic red blend from the Cote du Rhone or even California? But I digress...) We've been tasting a bunch of Pinot Noir again lately at the shop. (A tough job, but someone has to do it!) We usually get on the Pinot tasting wagon around the winter holidays because it pairs so well with Thanksgiving dinner and is often a special selection at Christmas. Well, it turns out we're at this crazy point in the year where two vintages are available: the 2006 vintage is still perfectly delicious, but the 2007's are starting to get a bit more of a 'push' from salesmen.  Just this week Wine Spectator magazine reported the same thing via Monday's Tasting Highlights article. And so here I am telling my own tale in the very, very informal "battle of the Pinots".

First, let's remember each vintage in each (sub)region of the world is unique. I recommend Googling various grapes and regions for vintage reports particular to a given year - and then reading a myriad articles for greater perspective on the lay of the land. Second, please, please remember good wine can be made in a bad year. That's what we call winemaker expertise.  (Of course, pretty much anyone can make good wine in a good year.) Finally, each individual wine sings its own tune. So ultimately, you have to taste to know.

By point of reference, I found 2006 largely produced a solid batch of domestic Pinot Noirs. Of course there were some hits, some homeruns (go Pedroia and Varitek! ahem, sorry...) and some horrible misses. But for the most part, the wines are solid across the board. You simply need to know what style you prefer (ligher, earthier, meatier/fleshier, coca cola or beets, etc.) and ask your wine buyer which one is likely to suit your palate - but I argue 2006 Pinots largely don't suck.

The 2007s, on the other hand, struggled out of the gates last fall. It was a rainy year here in the States, with varying results depending on when the grapes were harvested and how badly the rains fell in a given (sub)appellation. When we started tasting through these wines in anticipation of Christmas last fall, many were a bit rough around the edges, still tight and green and a bit disjointed, showing very little fruit at all. We suspected they just needed some time to 'settle in' and would improve in as little as six months.

Wouldn't you know,  it's been just about that time? Today, with some bottle time under its belt, the O'Reilly's Pinot Noir is more reminiscent of its fan-favorite 2006 counterpart; the Siduri '07 Pinots are absolutely sudductive; the '07 Dobbes Family Estates Assemblage Cuvee (and their less expensive offering under the "Wine by Joe" label) are solid, solid wines; and.... the list goes on!

This Wednesday I encourage you to get out and about and try your own grouping of Pinots from both vintage years (whichever part of the world you prefer) and see which strikes your fancy!

Have you had your own 2006 vs. 2007 Pinot Noir taste-off yet? Were they from the same vineyard, or different selections all together? Tell us your impressions!

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Friday wine news: Health, Religion, Technology & Travel

Cow Teeth - Thanks to: www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?p=5384675A few headlines crossing myriad academics, if you will, caught my attention this week. Here's what rose to the top of my reading list: Wine & Health - While this may be a "duh" moment for some readers, I thought it was worth bringing this article from WebMD to your attention: white wine can also be responsible for teeth staining. Grape tannin (or shmutz) leaves its mark on your teeth, whether you are drinking wine made from white or red grapes. Of course, red wine's impact is more direct or immediate. But white can leave a mark too. Click on the link above to discover why! Is this news to you?

Wine & Religion - With Passover coming up, this is the time to be buying your Kosher wines. Gaiter & Brecher break down a few of their favorite Kosher Riesling offerings, a terrific varietal to enjoy with an important meal.  Remember, these wines get a bad rep for being sweet, when more often it is the ripe fruit and florals that require a little mind over matter to appreciate the actual dryness of the wine. Which Kosher wines do you enjoy each year?

Wine & Technology - This article actually bugs me a little because of my ying/yang reaction to new technologies available for wine making. (Of course, I really just don't want to see robots roaming the world doing everything for us.) But anyway, apparently there's a new technology available that will "tell winemakers when their wine has finished aging", reports Sophie Kevany of Decanter. Click on the link to learn more. Does this development irritate you, too?

Wine & Travel - or Wine & Laws, depending on your perspective. France hit the wine headlines multiple times this week, but this one seemed to be the most pertinent as summer vacation approaches. On July 31, 2009, France will ban outdoor consumption. I simply cannot imagine a vacation in France, sitting in their many cafes withOUT a glass of wine, a beer or a cocktail in hand. It is an oxymoron. And it outrages me.  Do you even think this move will ameliorate France's drinking "problem"?

Please comment below! Lots of interesting fodder this week....

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Sip from the fountain of youth! Toast Madiran.

Ch. Peyros Vielles VignesHave you discovered a few (more) gray hairs? Have you convinced yourself laugh lines are endearing or add character to your face? For a girl who decided years ago her freckles are really lucky spots (I do have the luck of the Irish, afterall), it makes sense I'm all about an optimistic outlook when it comes to (signs of) aging. Of course, I do my part to stay ahead of the curve: I eat healthfully, exercise regularly, take my vitamins, brush my teeth and drink Madiran wines. Wait... what was the last one? YES! I drink from the fountain of youth, aka Tannat-based wines from the Madiran, France. I had no idea the additional health benefits when I first started enjoying red wines from the Madiran. I mean, we've all read various studies about the benefits associated with an occasional glass of red wine. But Madiran wines are additionally beneficial. Tannat, the primary red grape in these wines, has a ridiculously high level of procyanidins. These bad boys have serious heart-healthy cache: they keep the cells in your arteries in the pink, supply your body with boucoups antioxidants and can even lower your blood pressure and keep cholesterol in check.

And no, drinking these wines is not like being forced to eat spinach when you were a kid (my nemesis). As its name connotes, Tannat grapes are high in tannin, producing structured wines capable of aging. But this grape also can bring intense fruit and lovely spices to the table, not to mention a welcome helping of earthiness. In the Madiran in particular, vintners work their magic to bring the latter component forward and soften the wine's edges by blending in a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or even Fer.

There are two Madiran red wines in particular that strike my fancy: 2004 Domaine Moureou Madiran; and 2003 Chateau Peyros Ville Vignes Madiran. Both are teeth-stainers, rustic, and filled with dark berry fruits (blackberries, blackcurrants, black cherries, etc.), plums and offer a touch of vanilla given up by the oak barrels they age in. The herbs and spices will tickle you pink as each sip reveals a new flavor. Because it is the offspring of wine innovator Patrick Ducourneau (father of micro-oxygenation), the Moureau has a lovely roudness to it. To my palate, the Peyros is destinct in its own right, offering up a unique, delicious and intriguing earthy/stoney minerality. Both are their own beast, ripe for hearty meats, stews or even a Buffalo burger hot off the grill. Try one, try both or seek out others. Just be sure to tell us what you think!

Fun Fact: The Madiran boasts one of the highest percentages of Centarians  in the world!

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2007 Burgundy: a challenging vintage

The Domaine Perdrix Echezeaux Grand Cru (Pinot Noir) was one of my favorites...Like the growers champagne tasting I attended in December, the ones I make a real point to get to are not run of the mill, but more of a treat. HD for wine lovers, if you will. Last week I had the pleasure of attending two Burgundy 2007 tastings. The Sorting Table and Wildman & Sons were in town to share their portfolio of 2007 Burgs with the trade. Burgundy is considered one of the most difficult regions in the world to work. Pinot Noir is an incredibly finicky grape and the climatic conditions each year are just as challenging. No surprise, these are really special events where invitees taste wines that can go for as much as $300+/bottle.

These tastings are also incredibly challenging to attend. Because of the timing of the event - just a few months post-harvest - the wines are typically barrel samples, which have been 'bottled' for the tastings here in the States; they are meant to give us a taste of what these wines will become. And by "become" I mean in quite a while.... Burgundy's reds (almost exclusively Pinot Noir) are not thought to come into their prime for at least another decade, and sometimes as much as three. The whites (almost exclusively Chardonnay) can also be aged for quite some time.

The 2007 vintage is said to be one of the most difficult in recent memory - but producing solid wines for those who tended their vines methodically, with tremendous care throughout the ups and downs of the vintage cycle. It was a long, warm spring suggesting an earlier harvest would be necessary. But it proceeded to rain, with temps consistently below average, throughout July and August. Finally in late August the sun decided to shine again and the northern winds arrived to dry things out in September. For those who really worked hard all vintage to give the grapes a chance - and then waited to pick - the fruit was ripe enough to produce concentrated, nuanced wines.

Those with greater experience tasting young Burgundy argue the Chardonnays are more consistently better than the Pinots in '07. For my part, though I hesitate to generalize, at each tasting I found the whites, indeed, were very vibrant, delightfully unadulterated and rightly displaying their characteristic minerality and searing acidity. The reds I tasted were mixed; the best offered the lovely concentrated fruit, nuanced earthiness and tremendous finesse one should expect from great Burgundy, while others were more diluted and characterless.

For the sake of this post (and my lengthy word count) I've deliberately refrained from going into greater detail about each of the specific (important) sub-regions within Burgundy - and the villages within these - which do make a difference on the predominant characteristics of a given red/white Burgundy. I fully encourage you to dig deeper to learn more about each. But, for a report on the 2007 vintage, definitely check out this resource. Very helpful, delightfully nerdy information therein.

Have you experienced great Burgundy? What vintage was the wine?

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Flag on the play! Judging wines is no easy task

Flag on the play! On the heels of the Super Bowl, it's hard not to think about the role of referees in sports. I love instant replay technology. Some of those calls are ridiculously hard to make.  Such technology helps us to keep everything on the up and up. Meanwhile, because football coaches are only allotted a certain number of  Challenge Calls each half and they are penalized if they get it wrong helps keep everyone honest - and the game clipping along at a reasonable pace. We're dealing with a different kind of sport when it comes to wine.  As a former springboard diver, I argue wine is more like a diving competition where 5 judges have a say in a person's performance. Is this fair?

On the one hand, whenever you are dealing with a subjective entity you have to go with a panel of judges to render a conclusion. In the case of diving, whenever my mom was judging me, my scores were lower. Naturally she feared giving me too high a score so as to show favoritism.  Fortunately, they drop the high and the low scores on each panel and average the middle 3.  It's not a perfect system but it's the closest thing to fair you can get.

It doesn't always work that way for wine. It seems that each competition has its own judging process, typically on either a 100 point or 20 point scale. Rules are established as to what attributes a wine must have to score a certain rating, but I don't think they ever drop a score. Goodness knows they should! There are a lot of external factors that make this particular 'sport' a challenge to referee.

A recent study conducted by Robert T. Johnson over three years showed "of approximately 65 judging panels... just 30 panels achieved anything close to similar results, with the data pointing to "judge inconsistency, lack of concordance--or both" as reasons for the variation. The phenomenon was so pronounced, in fact, that one panel of judges rejected two samples of identical wine, only to award the same wine a double gold in a third tasting." (Source: Wines & Vines) The abstract of the official report made an interesting point, too: wines that are bad, are consistently rated poorly; it's the good to great wines that prove more of a challenge to judge fairly.

So what do scores really mean? Who are these so-called "experts"?  How can we know they don't suffer from palate fatigue after tasting 100 some odd wines in a given time period? I know from personal tasting experience my judgment is definitely questionable by 6pm on Tuesday Tasting Day at the shop, as compared to when my energy, mind and palate is "fresh" at 10am. Am I drunk? Not at all. We spit so you don't have to. The truth is, no matter how professional you are, circumstances dictate your experience with a wine. Subjectivity is the only writing on the wall.

What are we to do? Well, the average consumer can rest assured there are numerous folks out there in the trade assessing the quality of a wine. Consumers are automatically tasting the better stuff on the market - even if it isn't your preference. But for me this kind of study simply underscores what I'm always saying: context is everything; scores are relative. Find your congenial wine guru after giving a few "judges" a try based on knowledge and compatibility and then taste from their cup of suggestions.

Do you think wine judging is a worthwhile undertaking or too subjective to have much merit?

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