California Wine all tastes the same? Says who?

Well, finally back to blogging. After an intense weekend at the Wine Bloggers Conference, followed by four full days of running around Sonoma and Napa – and Fairfield, and Berkeley and San Francisco – and then returning to a new position at the newspaper in Quebec City, and mulling over about twenty different potential post subjects, I finally managed to focus long enough on one subject. And here it is.

One of the things that truly struck me, throughout the tastings I attended at the Wine Bloggers Conference and in the days that followed, was the great diversity of wines I tasted. Yes, there were a good lot of big, fruity, oaky cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays, but there was also a great deal more, in terms of grape varieties, climate variations and winemaking styles. More than I had expected, certainly.

Over my week, I had everything from grassy sauvignon blanc to jammy zinfandels, rustic carignan to (more…)

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Blogging Live from Santa Rosa, CA

Well, here we are. A whole bunch of bloggers, usually glued to their screen, pretty much alone in their office (or kitchen, or television room), writing for people from often far away, are gathered for the weekend in Santa Rosa, at the heart of Sonoma. We’ll still be glued to our screens, but all together (and there are vineyard walks in the program, mind you…)

It’s time for the Wine Bloggers Conference, the first of its kind in North America, and only the second in the world, after the European Wine Bloggers Conference held late August in Spain. Both conferences have been exceeding expectations, if only in terms of attendance. Both got booked to capacity – and beyond.

Over 160 people are attending (more…)

Poetry in a bottle, and all the hard work that goes into it

Opening a bottle, pouring yourself a glass, sensing the complex aromas and flavors, the velvety texture: that’s the pleasure of wine.

But to get there, it’s good to remember just how much hard work has been put in by everyone that’s hard at work in the vineyards and cellars. As Wayne Young writes on the Bastianich Winery blog:

There’s  romantic misconception about the harvest… Grape Picking. Most people imagine lovely ladies in sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets of beautiful fruit through the vineyards…

I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar working with tanks and pumps and hoses, than 4 hours picking grapes. It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work.

Wayne has been doing a great job giving a sense of what harvest is all about, by describing everything from the equipment and how it’s used to fermentation, grape varieties, the method of drying grapes by appassimento, wasp attacks and the quick onset of a storm, just as fresh grapes are waiting to be brought into the winery. In other words, (more…)

Tasting Note: 1998 Conundrum, Caymus Vineyards

If you do things well enough, you can make pretty much anything work in winemaking. Even combinations and approaches that simply shouldn’t make sense.

Want proof? Try some Conundrum, the impossibly complicated blend created by Caymus winemaker John Bolta. It’s made from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, viognier and muscat from Napa Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and (more…)

Wine Bloggers, getting (it) together

There are a lot of conversations going on on the internet, a lot of communities coming together through blogs and Web 2.0 sites, a lot of people talking and learning about subjects of common interests through social media. But in the end, there is nothing yet that can truly replace face to face meetings and live conversation.

This is why, in August and October, there will be not one but two Wine Blogger Conferences that will allow wine bloggers from around Europe and the Americas to come together and discuss issues that matter to them and to the wine world. Oh yeah. And to taste wines and have great meals together – something that still can’t really be done over the Internet.

The first one, (more…)

Wine Blogging Wednesday #46: The Whiter Side of Rhône

White wines are certainly the neglected side of the Rhône vineyards. The reputation of the whites is greatly overshadowed by that of reds like Cornas, Côte-Rôtie or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

It might just be a question of math, mind you: according to official statistics, red wine represents 86% of total Rhône wine production. White is only 5%, a little more than half the production of rosé (9%). In Australia, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, all together, represent less than 2% of the total area planted in white varietals, according to government statistics (see page 17 of the publication). Same thing in California, where the 15,757 tons of viognier crushed in 2007 are the only noticeable white Rhône blip among the 1.37 million tons of white grapes produced in 2007 (see page 6 of the California Department of Agriculture grape crush report). I’m beginning to agree with James, who started a discussion on the Open Wine Consortium about the most underrated white varietals, and put roussanne as his choice of underdog.

Mind you, the varietals can be challenging. When overripe, they quickly get heavy, overly sweet and overloaded with tropical fruit. I know, some people might call that luscious and rich, but I find it all gets a little cloying. Which is why I appreciate the balance found in, say, (more…)

Wine on the air: time for the barbecue

Last week, I got an invitation from Sharman Yarnell, host of Showtime, a Saturday morning show on Montreal station CJAD, to talk about summer wines and, more specifically good wines for the barbecue. Sharman was charming and fun to work with, and I certainly hope to do it again some time. I have to say it’s always nice, when you’re blogging, to reach towards other media. And I’ve always loved doing radio.

I put together a list of accessible wines that could come in handy for the grilling season (more…)

Tasting note: 1997 California Cabernet Sauvignon

On the evening following the death of Napa Valley legend Robert Mondavi, I headed with a higher than usual level of anticipation to my main wine tasting group’s tasting on 1997 California Cabernet Sauvignon. The events of the day put the tasting under a special light, with everyone wondering, on arrival, whether or not a Mondavi cabernet would be part of this enticing line-up.

The first sip of the evening, after touring the aromatic landscapes of the nine wines decanted for the occasion, was accompanied with a toast to Robert Mondavi, with everyone saluting the spirit of the man. Doing it with the best vintage in recent memory seemed quite fitting.

We were tasting blind, which I always prefer, but when the bottles were pulled out at the end of the tasting (more…)

A toast to Robert Mondavi

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the very first wine experience that gave me a real sense of what wine could be about came from a bottle of Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 1987. And I have several very good memories of drinking Mondavi wines, before the days of the Constellation takeover that took the Mondavi Winery away from the Mondavis. To Kalon Fumé Blanc 2004, for instance, is one of the greatest New World whites I’ve tasted.

So it was with a real sense of sadness that I read, today, that Robert Mondavi, the patriarch of that famed wine family, died today at the age of 94. Wine Spectator immediately sent out an e-mail to subscribers and put up a whole special section on its web site. The news (more…)

Published in: on May 16, 2008 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Make your own wine (it’s not what you think)

Just about anyone who loves wine with any degree of seriousness starts thinking, at one point or another, that it would be great to make their own wine. There are those who will pick up demijohns and buckets of must and all that and produce their own Château Moi, with highly varying degrees of success. My father-in-law makes a very decent white wine. I’m not quite as enthralled by his red.

Anyway, there are other options out there. You could, for instance, buy your own vineyard, with a house and all the equipment you need. If you have half a million dollar or more, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But then, of course, don’t forget that you’ll have to do all the vineyard work – and there is a lot of that. Oh. And sell the wine, too…

On the other hand, you could decide to go the luxurious and exclusive way, with a lot of pampering, instead of vine pruning and compost shoveling, and sign up for Cliff Lede Vineyards‘ BYOB program. It’s a three-day, all expenses paid, limousine-driven (more…)