A wine week worth Chronicling

Ever since I quasi-retired and became a freelance wine-and-other-stuff scribe in 2014, I haven’t had anything but good weeks. Well, there was the one where a quack podiatrist said he needed to cut off my big toe, but we salvaged the week and the digit.

Some weeks are better than others, of course. And occasionally one of them will be spectacular. Last week was one of those, bookended by two stupendous wine experiences.

I started the week in Sonoma, judging the San Francisco Chronicle competition. At a party Monday night, someone brought a magnum of 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. It actually took a bit of time to “open up,” but after a few swirls. not only did the predictable leather, herb and tobacco notes assert themselves on the nose and palate, but some seriously pretty red fruit peaked through. It tasted like old wine, but unlike so much old wine in which varietal/regional character is lost, this tasted like a Bordeaux. And a stellar one at that.

Also noteworthy that evening were several wines from Flowers, where our hostess, Alexandra, serves as director. The pinot noirs and chardonnay were as wonderful as billed, but the revelation was a varietal I had no idea they make: pinot meunier, packed with wild fruit and spices. Yum.

Three days of judging followed, 90 to 110 wines a day. Yes, it’s work, but my panel was collegial and sharp. I learned something interesting from first-time judge Joy Merrilees, director of winemaking and production at the outstanding Shannon Ridge winery: Napa vintners like to buy Lake County grapes for reasons beyond economics. “They like that Lake County red fruit character to blend with Napa black fruit.”

At Friday’s sweepstakes (that’s the estimable SF Chronicle wine columnist Esther Mobley at left with some fat guy), we assessed more than 50 best-of-class winers to determine the very best wines in five categories.

As it turned out, my favorites were the winners in three realms: Breathless Sonoma Valley Blanc de Noirs in the sparkling category, the 2016 deLorimier 2016 Crazy Creek Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve among reds and the 2017 Ferrante Winery (Ohio) Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine in “specialty” wines. I didn’t care much for the white-wine winner, the $6 (!) Trader Moon Wine Company’s 2018 California Honey Moon Viognier, but I did rather like the rosé champ, Ferrari-Carano’s 2019 Sonoma County Dry Sangiovese Rosé.

That would have been enough to make for a fabulous week, but perhaps the best was yet to come.

On Saturday back in Turdraland, my ridiculously generous friend Larry had invited us and a half-dozen others for an afternoon repast of the semi-rare Nantucket Bay scallops. They more than met our grand expectations, but the wines almost stole the show. We started with hip-hop stars’ favorite, Cristal Champagne, and lemme just say that the 1996 vintage is a megastar in its own right.

With the scallops and pasta, a simple preparation because fantabulous ingredients should be treated that way, we had a range of whites from Burgundy, including insanely tasty 2012 Louis Jadot “Les Demoiselles” Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet and 2008 Bonneau de Martray Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had those sublime wines before, and I know for sure that the dessert course brought a first-time bottle, a 1993 Chateau Pajzos Esszencia (on the right at left). Produced only in the best vintages, this is considered by many to be Hungary’s finest Takaji. It’s fermented from raisins but tastes like much richer fruits such as apricots and pears, with butterscotch notes and a spot-on harmony between fruit and acid as a wine can have.

Can you say “Holy Red Foley,” boys and girls? I can and will every time I think about that wondrous week.


Weigh in, please

These f@#*-ing proposed tariffs are beyond horrific. My friend Annette is going to D.C. to testify, and we could not ask for a better advocate.

But it would be great if others could join me in writing to the guv’mint about this f@#*-ing fiasco. The estimable Jancis Robinson puts it best:

URGENT: Please do what you can to prevent the proposed tariffs of up to 100% on a wide range of European imports into the US. Wherever you are based in the world, you have until Tuesday 7 January to register your comments on this proposal that would lead not only to far higher prices but also to layoffs and very probably the demise of many of the sort of smaller enterprises you prize most. Send your thoughts on this unfair offshoot of the international Airbus trade dispute to the US government here. It’s easy. Act NOW.”

And this from Karen MacNeil:

“We urge you to do what you can. A 100% tariff on European wines, foods and other products will have terrible consequences for us all, and needless to say could represent significant hardship for my of the wine producers we love.”


Linkin’ logs 12-30-19

As we approach another annum, I vow to share more Interweb goodies like these:

• I’ve heard of Salmon Safe vineyard designations but not of salmon-influenced wines, at least till now.

• Looks like some ancients might have been making (sorry!) a boatload of wine back in the day.

• Elizabeth Warren was way, way out of line in the last debate re. wine caves, and this column completely nails why.

• My brain might have been engaged by this article a couple of years ago, and I might even have posted, but have no qualms about potentially reposting it.

• Finally, my favorite wine meme/saying of 2019:


Linkin’ logs 11-26-19

The good, the bad and the scary on the vinous front:

• There’s some really cool wine coming out of Slovenia, which also is home to perhaps the world’s oldest vine.

• Anyone who has been to Venice had to have been saddened by the recent flooding, and there might be more bad news on the vinous front.

• Space: the final frontier for wine’s evolution?

• The Cycles Gladiator wines got banned in Alabama because of their risqué labels, so I’m guessing the new Mouton-Rothschild release might be facing a similar fate.

• The headline is a little off here: should be “Local chefs share Thanksgiving wine tips.”

• Interesting poll, and interesting points, about whether independent retailers can survive, and how they should proceed.

• Finally, some sage advice that should come in especially handy if the Turkey Day talk turns to politics:


Linkin’ logs 11-12-19

Looking forward and back on the InterWebs:

• This woman could make a fortune hiring herself out to upgrade refrigerators.

• “Stalin-era Soviet Union” is not a phrase that one expects to show up in the same sentence as “Champagne.” Until now.

• While I’ve never rooted for the Boston Celtics, I’ve always been intrigued by the folks who provided their moniker. Turns out they were wine lovers.

• Looks like wine production will be down this year, which doesn’t augur well for friendly prices. Neither do tariffs, but with challenges comes opportunity.

• I guess people love wine so much that they’re even making it out of potatoes in Peru.

• Finally, this might be the best primer on ordering wine I’ve yet seen:


Linkin’ logs 10-8-19

As usual, I’m hopelessly behind with this stuff:

• What exactly is terroir? Almost a third of Brits think they know.

• Here’s a truly classic example of how if you wait long enough, everything will come back in style.

• My friend Sean Sullivan has an incisive, insightful take on barrels (or no barrels). He also digs into how misleading alcohol listings can be.

• Live long and prosper, palate and brain.

• This might be Japan’s version of sacramental wine :o).

• Finally, my friend Mark, wine and comic-strip aficionado, shared this gem:



Too smart for my own good: Revelations at Sonoma-Cutrer

Today’s lesson, at least for me: Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s not good. In this case, really good.

I had been working under the assumption (a practice fraught with figurative potholes) that because Sonoma-Cutrer was the most popular by-the-glass chardonnay at U.S. restaurants, it must be the kind of oaky, buttery chard that i do not favor.


It’s actually a pretty zesty rendition, undergirding its bright California fruit with a brisk foundation. I checked to make sure that the setting – between two verdant croquet layouts backed by rolling vineyards – wasn’t seducing my taste buds. Nope. This wine was the real deal.

And that wasn’t all. My way better half and I dined with head winemaker Mick Schroeter, as delightful an Aussie (is that redundant?) as one would want to meet. (Have I mentioned that I love my job?). He made it clear that the mega-popular wine’s style emanated from great grapes and an ardor for harmony in the finished product.

Later, winery manager Mark Elcombe was waxing poetically about a new sparkling offering at the winery. So we asked Mick about it, and he obliged us by motioning to the empty tasting room. And this 60-40 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay was as advertised, an exciting, uplifting, delicious concoction.

As we were preparing to leave, I mentioned to Mark that while the wines at the dinner – two chards and a pinot – were quite the treat, I had hoped to taste their sauvignon blanc. Voila, back to the tasting room and another tantalizing delight, with citrus and spice notes and a marvelously bracing finish.

It capped one of my favorite winery dinners ever – and served as a fitting reminder that assumptions are made to be impugned.


Linkin’ logs 9-3-19

Been ramblin’, then scrollin’, where I stumbled across these:

• My kind of fountain: dispensing rosé and shiraz.

• The good people of Florence (and the not-so-good ones) have always known how to live cleverly, as this portal shows.

• “Old Vines” can be a misleading label lure, but not with wine from this baby.

• I had a gut feeling (sorry!) that this potentially positive news would get some pushback.

• I have yet to meet a winemaker or grape-grower who doesn’t believ in climate change. They’re certainly dealing with it in Burgundy.

• Finally, hope you don’t have a spouse like this one (h/t to my friend Mark):


Linkin’ logs: 8-11-19

Lot of catching up to do, but here’s a start:

• As a longtime Megan Rapinhoe fan, I’m not surprised that she celebrated with a stellar bottle of bubbles.

• As an even longer-time Patrick Stewart fan, I’m delighted that wine is being made in the name of his most indelible character.

• This was inevitable, and kinda cool: Marijuana growers talk about terroir.

• One of my favorite winery visits ever was with Boots Brounstein at Diamond Creek. She was spry and spritely 18 months ago but moved to another realm last week.

• When it comes to native grapes, Cincinnati has a great claim to being the nexus.

• On the other hand – isn’t there invariably an “other hand”? – the rise of legal cannabis might not be a good thing for wine and spirits.

• Finally, this sign speaks for us all: