Whither California Cabernets?

Mark Lipton 2005-08-26T18:08:33+00:000000003331200508 Wine

Recently, I received the latest issue of “Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wines” (CGCW), one of the older publications that reviews (mostly) California wines. In their Aug. 2005 issue, they reviewed 163 recently released California Cabernets, almost all of which came from the highly touted 2001-2 vintages. Of these 163, 1 (the 2002 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow) received their highest accolade of ***, whereas 16 received a rating of ** and 56 received a grade of *. If we take these three rankings as meaning bottles meriting serious attention, then 73/163 (44%) made the grade with less than 1% achieving the highest status and ~10% reaching **. Granted, many of the heavy hitters (Ridge, Phelps, Montelena e.g.) were missing from this issue, but as a survey of what’s on the market I believe that it gives us an accurate picture.

Much has been written in recent years about the tremendous strides made in winemaking in CA, so I decided to see it this was reflected in increasingly positive reviews in CGCW by digging out an older issue of CGCW (Vol. 6 from 1981) that looked at Cabs from the ’76-’77 vintages (drought years that produced some very good wines, but which weren’t heralded as great years). What I found was that, of 212 wines reviewed, 1 (<1%) got ***, 20 (10%) got ** and 46 (21%) received *. So, overall, 31% of the wines reviewed merited serious attention. What to make of all this number crunching? First of all, it appears that little if any change has been made at the top. It is true that the standards of the publication may have changed in the interim, but the fact remains that as few wines today receive their top marks as did 25 years ago. However, there is a significant increase in * wines, reflecting what I see as an overall increase in the baseline quality of winemaking and vineyard practices. This is also reflected by the absence of any “inverted glass” ratings (undrinkable wine) in the Aug. 2005 issue, as compared to 14 inverted glasses in the ’81 issue. However, this must be balanced by another significant change: whereas there were 11 Cabs labeled “Best Buy” in ’81, only 2 received that accolade in the latest issue. In many regards, this matches my own, wholly subjective impressions. CalCabs today are uniformly drinkable, well made wines that sell for usually absurdly high prices, with only a very few providing actual excitement. It is interesting to contrast the very successful 2001 vintage of Cabs with the 2000 vintage in Bordeaux. In both cases, the top wines sell for obscenely high prices, but it is noteworthy that the 2000 Bordeaux vintage produced many excellent wines from the satellite appellations that sold in the US for $15-20 a bottle; surveying this current crop of CalCabs, only one of the rated wines sold for less than $20. I contast this situation with what I remember from the late ’70s, when wineries like Conn Creek, Robert Keenan, Caymus and Franciscan (to name a few) made exciting, idiosyncratic, hit-or-miss wines that sold for reasonable sums of money and would not infrequently hit home runs. I am sure that there remain wineries in CA that still do this, but I fear that the vast majority have swapped inconsistency for mediocrity while at the same time pricing their wines out of all proportion to what’s reasonable.

News – Jimmy Watson Trophy 2005

Martin Field 2005-08-12T03:40:42+00:000000004231200508 Wine

The Geoff Merrill McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz 2004 won Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, the Jimmy Watson Trophy, at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show Awards dinner last night.

Geoff Merrill’s current reserve shiraz – selling for $40 – is the 1999 vintage, so we are unlikely to see the 2004 bottling on the shelves until 2009/2010.

The Jimmy Watson Trophy is awarded to the best 2004 vintage red from show classes 19 to 23, that is, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot noir, merlot, and other blends.

Of the nearly 4,400 wines judged, a staggering 1020 wines were in the running for this one main prize, one wag at the awards dinner suggesting that the trophy is so important to winemakers and the prestige of the Royal Melbourne Wine Show that the event will eventually be renamed the Royal Jimmy Watson Wine Show.

le contrôle

Philippe Pouchin 2005-08-10T00:00:55+00:000000005531200508 Vin @fr

Claude revenait des vignes de peautre sous les sources.

Visiblement en colère , tout ce qui se trouvait dans la trajectoire de son regard risquait gros.

” Bon, lui dit le dogue en souriant à ses côtés, ce n’est pas drôle de se faire contrôler mais ce n’est pas la mort ! ”

“Toi le Dogue ferme là hein, c’est pas l’ jour ! juste la veille de la récolte tu trouves que c’est vraiment le moment ? Les machines sont arrivées hier d’Espagne, les gars sont crevés, la campagne dans le Languedoc a été galère ! suis pas sur qu’ils vont tenir le coup, et les gars, et les machines ! Pas le temps de faire une maintenance correcte ! l’orage qui nous tourne autour depuis quinze jours ! la récolte qui menace de virer à tout moment et tu me dis que ce n’est pas la mort ?”


Eating Booze

Martin Field 2005-08-02T01:19:25+00:000000002531200508 Wine

‘Dad, what happens if I get breathalysed by the police after eating Tira Misu?’ The question came from the daughter who has a provisional driving licence – a licence that requires the driver to have zero blood alcohol content whilst driving.

I thought about it for a while and said that depending on how much booze was in the dessert she ran a small but real risk of registering an alcohol blood content on a breathalyser and could therefore jeopardise her licence.



Martin Field 2005-08-02T01:10:01+00:000000000131200508 Wine Tasting

Keo VSOP 12 year old Brandy – around $30. From Cyprus. Higher in alcohol (40%) and bigger in bottle (750ml) than most entry level brandies around. Tea-hued, warm sweetish nose, faint oak. Generously flavoured, nice aged spirity characters with maybe raisin like fruit and integrated barrel notes. Most enjoyable.


Micheletti – Bolgheri

Guly 2005-07-25T10:40:10+00:000000001031200507 Degustazioni di vino

Azienda: Micheletti
Localita': Bolgheri (LI)
Doc: Bolgheri
ha in produzione: 5
bottiglie prodotte (l’ anno): 25.000
Vino di punta: “Il Guardione” IGT – C.S. in purezza


End of the dozen bottle case of wine?

Martin Field 2005-07-20T02:01:26+00:000000002631200507 Wine

In a story in the Melbourne Age today (20 July 2005) Coles demands half-measure from wineries Leon Gettler reports that a major Australian liquor retailer has required its wine suppliers to package wine in six-pack cartons rather than 12-pack cartons from October 2005.

The main reason for this change is based on occupational health and safety issues – in other words, the repeated lifting of heavy 12-bottle cartons is seen a risk to the staff health – and who could argue with that?

No doubt other retailers will follow this lead and I don’t think it would be over the top to suggest that this will herald the end of the 12-bottle case of wine (and spirits for that matter) as we know it.

The obvious flow-on (no pun intended) will be the abolition of 12-bottle packs of 750ml beer bottles and even 24 and 30 pack slabs of 375ml beer cans and bottles. The costs to the beverage industry (not just small winemakers) to repackage will be massive – the profits to packaging companies sensational. Consumers, as usual, will bear the costs of this repackaging in the long run.

Les caprices du bouchon

Laure Bouvin 2005-07-18T12:54:46+00:000000004631200507 Vin @fr

L’émission Ça se bouffe pas, ça se mange de samedi dernier sur France-Inter était une rediffusion de l’émission du 22 janvier 2005 consacrée au bouchon de liège. On peut la réécouter jusqu’à samedi.

Merci à Marie-Anne pour l’info.

Le flacon importe, si tant est qu’on ait l’ivresse

Laure Bouvin 2005-07-04T20:45:48+00:000000004831200507 Vin @fr

Un billet chez Veuve Tarquine me rappelle qu’on est encore un peu frileux en matière d’étiquettes en France. Les standards d’un autre âge m’ennuient (et les lettres gothiques m’ont toujours fait un peu peur). Entendons-nous bien, un habit de princesse sur une âme de sorcière ne fera illusion qu’une fois. Mais une étiquette attrayante, qu’elle soit drôle, sobre ou artistique, sur un vin qui m’enchante, c’est un morceau de plaisir en plus.

Du domaine américain Bonny Doon Vineyard, j’ai aimé en particulier les plumage et ramage de Big House Red dont l’étiquette crée une atmosphère, on croirait une couverture de BD ; Cardinal Zin, colorée et vive, illustrée par Ralph Steadman ; Le Cigare Volant, un mélange décalé de SF rétro sur un décor classique. Pour leur simplicité et leurs couleurs, les étiquettes de Catherine et Pierre Breton remportent aussi mes suffrages.

Et vous, quelles sont les étiquettes qui vous ont marqué ?

Les Wine Miserables

Martin Field 2005-07-01T06:03:25+00:000000002531200507 Wine

Nothing beats getting together with a bunch of wine lovers to taste a selection of superior reds and whites. Drinking good wine is, after all, about enjoyment, fine dining, friendship and sharing. Isn’t it? Then how do you account for what I call ‘wine misers’?

We’ve all met one or two. They’re usually blokes. They know a lot about wine and spend a fair bit of money on it. Typically, they will own an interior-designed, expensively constructed cellar, that is well-stocked with the best that money can buy: top-shelf, imported, indented, aged and selected wines.

With a proud gleam in their beady eyes they like to take you on a guided tour, to point out the rarity of certain bottles and to explain the shelving and cataloguing system and the intricacies of the air-conditioning and the constant humidification.

Trouble is, when they eventually offer their by now exhausted and thirsty guest/s a post-tour drink, they will inevitably open a cleanskin, boasting, ‘Only seven bucks the bottle! The guy who sold me this reckons it’s the equivalent of a thirty-five dollar Coonawarra cabernet!’ It is more likely to taste like it’s only a step away from vat dregs, Chateau Cardboard or the vinegar factory.