Thursday, October 9, 2014

2014 Grape Update

2014 in the Pac NW is a great year for grapes. Any poor wine from 2014 represents an inept winemaker.Here's my report from my winemaking:

Cayuga: Really good numbers: pH 3.38 and TA 0.68%. A really nicely low TA, due to our hot summer and long ripening period. Fermenting in carboys now; great fruit from Lon's 112 lbs and from our Le Mans vines 28 lbs. Just a great year with large clusters that got ripe with superb flavors. Will be my first dry Cayuga, given that low acid.

My Mixed Red ("Rosso Misto") from our Le Mans vines: 7 lb Cascade, 17 lb Regent; 10 lb Delicatessen. Great fruit; great flavors. I put in some Rayon d'Or (white) for color fixing but with those reds it isn't necessary. just racked onto oak and sulfited tonight. Smells good. Vivid dark rich, glass-staining purple. Drinking decently now; surprising for a raw wine. pH 3.54 and TA 0.77% (it was 1.16%!!! but MLF really took that acid down; I can drop it a further 0.05% with cold stabilization, so I'll end up with 0.72% TA, which is a bit high for a red so I might add the faintest hint of sugar to balance it up and if I do my job well the tasters wouldn't even notice.

Leon: Picked late due to my travel schedule, so the pH was higher than the target of 3.4 or less. But I wanted it to hang in our most excellent summer, to see how the flavors changed. It turned a bit bricky as pH shot up to 4.12 during primary ferm. But that was only for a few days, and I added tartaric acid to drop pH to 3.69, which returned the good purple color. When pH was 4.12, TA was 0.85%--too high--but MLF really did its job: Tonight I racked and oaked, and it tested at pH 3.73 (pretty good; wish it was a smidge lower) and TA 0.58%, which was low enough that I could add the least bit of tartaric, to squeeze down the pH and help keep the wine fresh and more-stable in terms of shelf life; I boosted TA to 0.62% and I can use CS to take it right back to 0.57% (while maintaining the new, lower pH). Color is a fairly deep purple for a Leon; I'm pleased. The wine is disjointed; hasn't come together yet, but has nice fruit. I don't pick up any off flavors that I could attribute to fermenting on the skins, but I will try a batch with limited skin contact (quick skin color transfer) next year, as an experiment, given advice received from other Leon-makers elsewhere in the US. I think adding the white grapes really does help maintain the color (the old Syrah-Viognier trick).

Need to bottle the 2013s soon. Running out of glassware!

Kenton

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thoughts on California's Central Coast

Just back from a week on California's Central Coast. We flew to Oakland, then drove to:

1. Santa Cruz: Not so great. Downtown is superb, and Laili Restaurant is a treasure. But the beach is average at best and full of homeless folks, and there hasn't been much done to make it usable or pretty. Some kind of failed casino is now a huge arcade with homeless camped in front. Not our favorite tourist site. And where is the fabled hippie vibe? Heck--come to Portland for that. Not S.Cruz.

2. Moss Landing--Found a GREAT little diner for breakfast. Truly superb Hispanic chefs in there. Told them they're the greatest.

3. Monterrey: As fun as I remember. Stand-up paddleboarding. Sea lions. The woman in the tourist center was the most helpful and informative person on earth. Friendly, Classy. Upscale. Pretty. Interesting. Cannery Row is still good. Sand Bar restaurant is wonderful.

4. Pacific Grove: Where I would live if I wanted to live on CA's coast. Which I don't. Lovely downtown and beaches.

5. Paso Robles. Great downtown; well done folks! But it's HOT there in September. And, sad to say, the wines are not good. Not even Turley or Tablas Creek are very good. I think it's too hot there to make great wine. Wineries are coasting on their laurels. It's too bad. I speculate that many Californians think their state's wine is good, when in fact most of it isn't. Check out Walla Walla, folks. There is quality there, AND it's cheaper.

6. San Luis Obispo: Lovely town! Lovely downtown! Lovely fig laurel trees. Great restaurants (check out Red Luna). I love this town. Cal Poly makes it a cleaner, brighter place.

7. Santa Barbara: OK, but full of homeless and some bug that bit us and caused painful swelling and itching. Terribly hot there and not one house or business in the city seems to have A/C. Won't be back. Kayaking was fun, but the hurricane that hit Cabo caused freaky and quite scary waves in SB.

8. Bakersfield: (OK, this was on our way back using I-5, and it's a sentimental fave for me since I worked there a few times, decades ago): Still flat, still hot, and we tried Noriega's Basque Restaurant for dinner, but it was neither Basque nor good. They served the following well-known Basque dishes: Chicken Cacciatorre; Steak; Spaghetti; Lettuce Salad with Vinegrette.

Overall, Monterrey remains the place to go, and Big Sur really rocks! Just don't go for the wine.

BTW, the drought is for real. We saw dry-farmed vineyards really suffering--many plants dying--and ditto for many almond orchards.




Monday, August 25, 2014

Beware the overpriced, overhyped California wines

Some of them just don't deliver much quality for the price. Exhibit A:

I attended an expensive dinner recently, where the food was triumphant but most of the (high-end) California wines poured were decidedly subpar. A 2012 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay was absolutely fantastic, but a 2013 Belle Glos "Clark and Telephone" Pinot Noir was just OK (and I like the fruitier "more American" California Pinot style), and a 2012 Emmolo Napa Valley Merlot was actually quite bad-it offered up nothing but a little TCA. A pour from a second bottle was hardly better. Finally, a very spendy 2012 Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet (we're talking way over $100, I think) had little to show for itself--bland, with no bouquet and no distinctive features on the palate. There are at least fifty cabs out of Washington State that would blow it away.

Possibly the bad wines were just my poor fortune, and possibly the other bottles were great. But for those prices do you really want to risk a bad bottle?

I have a Quilceda Creek Red Wine ($40 about about 92 score) that was equally bad. But we know many expensive wines are wonderful (almost anything by Christophe Baron at Cayuse, for example).

I say again that too much of California is overhyped and overpriced; it makes me wonder how many Californians really understand good wine, or do they convince themselves, in a pique of insularity, that their swill is the best and other states' wines are inferior? That would be sad.

Have said all this, of course there are many, many wonderful California wines, and I intend to continue finding them. But there is SO much evidence that fantastic wines can be found for under $30 that do you really want to spend $150 on a bottle? Really?

Overpaying for wine is the easiest thing. Even a dunce could do it. What is much more impressive is locating well-made wines that don't break the bank.

If you think good wines must be expensive, Italy, Spain, off-the-beaten-track CA and WA would beg to show you different.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Researching the less-expensive 100 point (Parker's rating) wines on the market in the US:

Here are (IMO) the best choices for the wines rated 100 points by Robert Parker. (I omitted many on his list because they are either much more expensive, or I couldn't find them available on the retail market.)

Old World:
1. 1990 Montrose $500 (at this age, this is a good choice)
http://www.rlliquidassets.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=20401

2. 2009 Montrose $319 (only 1 bottle left)
http://www.winemadeeasy.com/chateau-montrose-saint-estephe-2009-750-ml-33680.html

3. 2009 Clos Fourtet: $295 (needs 5 years of cellaring, then it keeps for 50 years; this is a good choice)
http://www.finewinesinternational.com/do/product/2009_Clos_Fourtet_23470

4. 2009 La Mondotte: $395 (2015-2045)
https://kahnsfinewines.securemp.com/wine/wine-by-varietal/red-wine-blends/bordeaux/la-mondotte-st-emilion/mpsfi/6d063c49-cd32-447b-b7bb-d4b180b5ac92

5. 2009 Leoville Poyferre: $250 (2018-2040--very tempting and a Second Growth)
https://www.beltramos.com/wines/2009-Chateau-Leoville-Poyferre-Saint-Julien-w3132535d0

6. 2009 L'evangile $395:
http://www.sokolin.com/2009-l-evangile-45660-750-ai?fee=2&fep=19379&utm_source=Wine%20Searcher&utm_medium=Feed&utm_campaign=Product

and the older Bordeaux that I can still find are much spendier:

7. 2000 Lafleur: $1699
8. 2009 Le Pin: $3600
9. 2005 L'Eglise-Clinet: $769
10. 2000 Cheval Blanc: $600

New World:

1. 2005 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cab: $250 K&L (now-2033)
http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1038278&cid=TPV-Winesearcher

2. 2007 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cab: $275 (2017-2037)
http://www.belmontwine.com/bwe03732.html

If I went New World, I would get one of the Quil Creek cabs. 

And here are the Napa cabs (ignoring the utterly ridiculous prices):

3. 2005 Colgin Cariad Proprietary Red: $375 (hold until 2015)
4. 2007 Colgin Cariad Prop Red: $500
5. 2002 Dalla Valle Maya: $585
6. 2007 Harlan: $940
7. 2007 Kapcsandy State Lane Cab: $400 (2012-2042)
8. 2008 Kapcsandy State Lane Cab: $400

Finally, there is also a Cayuse '08 Impusivo Tempranillo. Haven't been able to find it yet in the market, though.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our almond habit is sucking California dry:

Fascinating Mother Jones story.

Seriously? Farmers are spending a million dollars to drill each well to 2500', in order to get enough water to grow almonds? This is drawing down the aquifers faster than they can replenish themselves. The San Joaquin Valley is dropping 11 inches per year.

A similar story is in West Texas, where the industrial-sized cotton farms are so thirsty that the aquifer there is going dry.

That is not sustainable. That is treating the Earth like it is a throwaway resource. Until our space travel capability gets much more advanced, this is nuts, pardon the pun.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Improving the Quality-Price Ratio (QPR)

QPR, in its simplest form, is a great concept but if you consider it even slightly, it quickly falls apart. It is clear that it's an inferior measure of wine value.

Consider an 85-point wine selling for $11 (whose QPR is 85/11 = 7.7) and an 91 point wine selling for $17 (QPR = 5.3). Does anybody really think that the $11 bottle is a 45% better value simply because it has a 45% higher QPR? Nope; in fact, the $17 bottle is likely the better value.


Clearly, something is wrong with QPR.


So I've been reading about different ideas regarding improving the QPR calculation. I borrowed one part of a solution offered by Robert Dwyer in this blog post: He notes that wine value increases exponentially as they rise through the 90-100 point range, and that makes a lot of sense to me, as the scores lie along a bell curve of distribution, so a 99 pointer is much, much rarer (and more valuable) than a 93 pointer (assuming that there is agreement on those two scores for two different wines).


I don't care for the proposed formula that Mr. Dwyer offers, but I borrowed one element from his article: I used the following factors as "weighting factors" to multiply by a wine's score:


90 points: 1.0 x (no effect on quality)

93 points: 2x
96 points: 4x
99 points: 8x

To take a couple of real-life examples: 2010 Chat Leoville Las Cases has average professional score of 98.3, so its QPR is: 98.3 x 7.3 weighting factor / $340 = 2.11.


A 2013 Lafite has average score of 93.5, so its QPR is 93.5 x 2.4 weighting factor / $480 = 0.47.


96-98 point 2013 Mouton at $360 (higher score and lower price) was hardly better, with a score of just 0.65. 


But 2013 Montrose (from a poor year, but it gets a great average score of 94 and the price is right at $90) gets the highest Bordeaux score in my 20-wine sample: 2.61. 


If you are choosing between the first two wines for investment purposes, the Leoville Las Cases (a Super Second Growth) looks like the far better choice. The Lafite might appreciate more, on a percentage basis, over time, but it has a higher starting price to overcome, so I expect its ROR to be less than the LLC, over time. We shall see.


I'm not sure if this revised method is close to accurate, but I think it's a huge improvement over regular QPR. I just used it to make a wine purchase.


What does this tell us? I think it suggests that First Growths on the market today are overpriced for the wine quality they bring. That's not shocking, but the corollary is a bit shocking: If you invest in the Super Second Growths (Pichon Lalande, Montrose, Leoville Las Cases, and a few others), you might do better over time than with the Firsts. Particularly in an off year where the prices are down but your target wine gets great scores. 


I think that, twenty years from now, people won't look at my 2013s and think, "oh, no! those are from a poor year." I think they will see the wine's age and its high scores, and buy those bottles. As I say, time will tell. Collecting Bordeaux is a Great Experiment. 


In a great year, the First Growths have CRAZY prices, and, via my revised QPR calculation, pretty lousy QPR, So I think my days of buying First Growths may be over. 


Life is all about finding, and exploiting, value. Let others overpay for wine; it is the easiest thing; any idiot can do it. Finding the best wines at the lowest cost--now there is a trick.



QPR

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Scary news: Duckhorn is planting a vineyard in our precious Red Mountain (WA) AVA

In my humble opinion about this news, I hope Duckhorn doesn't screw this up. Every time I've had Duckhorn's CA wines, I've disliked them, and they are certainly not worth anywhere near their exorbitant prices. I view Duckhorn as a winery which screws over ignorant consumers with low quality and high prices, covered with an unfortunately-opaque marketing gloss. The wine world would be better off without them. So it was with not a little trepidation that I read that Duckhorn is horning in on one of America's best winegrape sites: Red Mountain AVA (near Benton City WA). It would be great if such fantastic land could be saved for winemakers and winery owners who know how to make good wine and are willing to sell it for a fair price.

Holding my breath . . .


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hail Bordeaux!

Acck.
On the heels of torrential hail damage in recent years, another mega-hailstorm has destroyed thousands of grape acres in Bordeaux.

Acck.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bordeaux Futures - a bad deal?

This article asserts that a consumer who had bought Bordeaux futures in 2009, and sold them five years later, would have lost money. A lot of money.

While some are claiming that wine is a wasting asset and is always a bad investment, as always there are many complicating factors.

It's true that successfully investing in wine is very difficult. Here is a quick list of just some of the things that can go wrong if you try to make money by buying, holding, then someday selling fine wines:

1. You picked the wrong wines: either the market isn't interested in them later, or the wines didn't age well.
2. You chose the wrong vintage.
3. You stored the wines incorrectly.
4. The wines were stolen.
5. Your willpower is weak, and you drank the wines.
6. You couldn't find the right buyer or the right forum for resale.
7. You got divorced and your spouse took the wines.
8, Your friends or kids drank the wines.
9. You finally made money when you sold your wines, but you could have made more money if you had invested in something else.
10. The wines you bought were counterfeit.
11. The buyer you chose was a crook.
12. The wines were damaged when they were sent to you.
13. While in storage, some bottles were broken, or their labels were stained by other bottles that leaked.
14. You didn't hold the wines long enough.

However, if you choose the right wines (and First-Growth Bordeaux from a great year is always a good choice), and if you have superb storage and willpower, and can wait long enough, I still think that collectible wine is a worthwhile investment. Those bottles can improve for decades, and they become rarer over time as their brethren are consumed; this can provide a happy confluence of factors leading to higher prices for your wines.






Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Highest corkage fee in the world

Well, SOMEONE has to have the highest corkage fee in the world. It may as well be the French Laundry in Napa CA.

For only $150 they will extract the cork from your bottle of wine. Hell, I don't even let the restaurant pour the wine--it's just the tax we pay to be allowed the privilege of bringing our own wine to the restaurant.

Most restaurants pour only "baby" wines--they rob the cradle by buying and pouring wines that aren't even ready to drink yet. By the wine could have matured, it was already opened and poured for somebody. This is perhaps the greatest disappointment of the American Restaurant Experience. A few restaurants, such as Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa FL, have extensive wine cellars (OK, at Bern's it can't be underground, so it's a series of refrigerated warehouses), but those are more and more the exception.

It remains the best and cheapest way to have great wines for your dinner, to buy your own wine, age it for years in your own cellar, and take your bottle to the restaurant and pay a corkage fee. Why waste your money paying double or triple the wine's value, for a wine so young that you'll regret drinking it? Take your own bottle instead!

And never never never let the restaurant pour your bottle at your table. Tell them, right at the uncorking, that you will be handling the pouring. This is because the server doesn't know who wants how much wine, and indiscriminate pouring by the server will waste your wine into glasses where it won't be drunk.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hooray for Olympic Provisions!

We had a stellar meal again there. With a fantastic wine. 2006 Cayuse En Chamberlain Syrah. The wine's bouquet faded after ten minutes, but at the outset it was amazing: forest floor, flowers, mushrooms, some pepper and lots of meat fat. What a nose! The wine was big and purply on the palate. Delicious. Had it with the French Board (wow) and a nettle pesto pasta. Amazing!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Check this out: A map showing areas of the world that will lose, and gain, the ability to grow quality winegrapes

This map shows scientists' best guess of the effects of climate change upon the world's winegrape regions.

Note that Tri Cities, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla will see loss of vineyard acreage due to the increasing heat. Ditto for the areas south of the Great Lakes. The Willamette Valley gains the ability to grow more kinds of winegrapes. Bordeaux and Napa are huge losers, as are much of Italy and Spain. This is why growers in Champagne are planting in southern England. Yes, southern England. It's a game-changer, folks.

The article is here.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Say "Aye" to Scottish wines!

This article makes the incredible posit that Scotland (specifically the south-facing northern shore of the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh) is making good wines. And Champagne growers are buying properties in England, because their traditional region is getting too warm for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Our adaptations to the continuing warming of our planet are very creative. When will there be a land rush to the PacNW?

And, I hope, I very earnestly hope, that we can PLEASE move on from arguing whether the world is warming, and focus on WHY it is warming, and what if anything we should do about it?  Between the escalating deficits of this utterly bankrupt nation called the USA, and the radical and rapid weather changes of the planet, we are handing over to the next generation problems of such magnitude that our successors may be simply unable to make any dent.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Clay Amphorae - Perhaps the next big thing for wine

Upon thinking on it, the ancients knew how to make wooden containers (barrels) fairly early on. I wonder if they chose to use clay amphorae for making and storing wine, because of some preference for the clay material? Wiki says the Celts were making what we'd consider modern wooden barrels for wine in about 350BC (how cool is that?), and Herodotus mentioned the shipment of wine in palm-wood casks to Babylon, much earlier than that.

See the attached article. A guy in the Chehalem Oregon area is making amphorae and then making wine in them. They impart earthiness and minerality to the wines (no kidding! really?). It sounds pretty interesting, really.

Here is the article I found about the modern use of amphorae for wine.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Vines sleeping under a rare blanket of snow


third great wave of snow hitting Portland, Oregon now 1pm 2-8-2014.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Basics of food-wine pairing

What a great article about food-wine pairing. Summarizing:

1. Most meat and dairy contains fat. There are three ways to choose wine to "marry" well with the fat:
a. A wine with higher acid, which balances the fat;
b. A with higher tannin (from oak aging, or from time on the stems and seeds) cuts the fat in the mouth; and
c. A wine with higher alcohol matches the heaviness of the fatty food.

I might add that wine also cuts the fat chemically--just sautee some fatty meat and remove it, leaving some fat and fatty bits in the pan, and then add wine and scrape--the wine breaks up the fat. This is simplistic, but in my mind I visualize the wine's breaking up the fat before it can be deposited in my arteries ;)

2. With an acidic dish, make sure the wine has more acid than the food. This can mean reducing the amount of vinegar in a salad, or looking for higher-acid wines. In a white wine, about 0.70% Titrable Acid (TA) is a good target level to consider; in a red, it's often closer to 0.60%. If acid gets much higher than those target levels, then most wines will need some residual sugar (RS) to balance the high acid. But bear in mind that copious fruit in a wine can fool the tongue into thinking a wine is sweet when it's really dry.

3. Salty foods call for sweet or sparkling wines. 

4. Desserts need wines which are sweeter than the dessert.



California's drought creates life or death situation for grapevines

The drought gets worse and worse in California. This is the normal rainy season, but rainfall is a tiny fraction of normal. Ditto for the snowpack.

Now, vineyard owners are concerned for the survival of their vines. Read about it here.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

So if we're in a phase of global warming, why do we see record cold temperatures this week?

Interesting: There is a logical answer: The warming of the polar caps means there's less temperature difference between the poles and the equator, and that slows down the jet stream, which allows more events that block the jet stream for longer periods. This effect contributed to the strength of Hurricane Sandy, and it also allowed the deep southward plunge of polar air this week, which is breaking century-old records.

Read the article here.


I guess the "good" news is that someday the poles will be much warmer, even than today, so when the arctic air plunges southward, it won't be so cold. (Of course I'm kidding--that is far from good news. Miami and NYC will be underwater long before that happens. What we all need to be doing now is to minimize fossil fuel burning. If we put solar panels on every sun-exposed roof on Earth, we could cut our fossil fuel burning by probably 75%.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wineries quietly up for sale

Spectator reports that as many as 50% (fifty percent!!) of the west coast wineries are quietly up for sale, or should be:

8. West Coast Wineries Are Up for Sale—Quietly 
With buyers snapping up leading California wineries QupĂ©AraujoClos Pegase and Mayacamas over the year, and other players investing in Oregon and Washington, it seemed like the market for wineries is suddenly hot again on the West Coast. But it's an under-the-radar market. Plenty of wineries, faced with tough finances or generational change, are looking for buyers. But they're not advertising the fact. One of the buyers, Charles Banks, estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of California wineries are either in financial difficulty or aren’t as profitable as they could be. “And everyone is trying to be quiet because they’re not broke and their name may be on the winery.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Champagne glass styles

As we swing towards the new year, it's a good time to talk about the popular styles of champagne glasses. Check out this photo:


The glass on the left is the coupe style, popularized in Britain and purportedly based on a mold of Marie Antoinette's breast. While that is an enchanting story, it is scientifically a poor glass style for sparkling wine, as it over-aerates the wine and allows any bouquet to escape, and dissipates the bubbles too quickly.

The glass on the right is what you want for all sparkling wines. Note that the opening is smaller than the widest diameter of the bowl; this aids in trapping and concentrating the aromatics, thereby making them more detectable by the nose. And the taller, narrower bowl shape encourages and prolongs the formation of bubbles.

And this last bit is old hat for most of you readers, but please remember than Champagne comes only from that region in France. All other wines are called "sparkling wines" or, in some cases there is a different regionally-based name, like "cava" in Spain.

Happy New Year!