Q & A

Be sure to stay tuned to the Q & A page!  Feel free to e-mail me your questions anytime.  I will try to update it at least once a week.  Cheers!

Ratings and Scores

“How many points did this get from Wine Spectator?”

This question and others like it are the bane of my existence as a wine professional.  Frankly, I really don’t care what the people at Wine Spectator think.  Nor Robert Parker or the school of people that write for him.  And I absolutely loathe it when, in the middle of a sentence about how much I love a particular wine, a narrow-minded customer asks me how someone else feels about it.  My job is to evaluate wines based on my own experiences, come to my own conclusions, and share my opinions. Instead, because of this hateful query, my job is often reduced to giving commentary on others’ opinions.

Too often customers insist on making purchases based on what they read in an article or on a posted review.  I can’t tell you how many customers come into the store in December holding their copy of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List.  Ugh.  We usually play rock-paper-scissors or draw straws and the loser has to wait on these people while the others point and snicker. “This particular wine has been sold out since June, but we do have the new vintage of it and it’s just as good or maybe even better,” we will say.  “No,” he says, “I want the one that’s on this list” and walks away dejected.

The thing is, it could very well be that a wine that scored 94 points from Spectator only scored 87 with Tanzer and 79 with Parker.  It could also be that I personally have tasted this wine and thought it was total crap.  This happens more often than you’d think, partly due to advertising, politics, incentives, etc.  Many people in my business protest the special treatment some of these critics receive from certain wineries that inevitably score highly every year.  But the truth is that the person who evaluated the wine and gave it 94 points is just an average person with an average opinion, just as valuable as mine or as the guy that gave it 79.  Store associates put up the highest rating because we’re not dummies and we want to sell wine.

I guess a big part of my problem is that I just don’t agree with assigning numerical value to works of art.  I’ve been to Florence, seen Michaelangelo’s David and never at any point in my experience there thought “I give that 98 points.”  I don’t listen to Rachmaninoff and worry about what rating it was given or ask someone where it fell on Joe Music’s list of best concertos that year.  I sit back, relax and appreciate its beauty.

Now, this doesn’t mean these publications aren’t terrific references.  Many of their articles are informative and interesting.  And granted, sometimes their reviews are spot-on.  I’ve given in to the 96 pointer hype on occasion and have been extremely glad I did.  But just as often I’ve tasted a highly rated wine, shrugged and said “Yeah, it’s good but 96 points? Eh.”

My point is: We simply can’t take scores from these publications as absolute truth.  It’s like I tell customers: Just because a book is on the New York Times Best Seller list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for you.  It might be a great thriller by Tom Clancy, but if what you like to read is steamy romance novels, you’re just not gonna dig it.  And you just shouldn’t force yourself into a certain style just because someone told you it’s better than what you know.

So, listen to your friends, your relatives, and the pros at your local wine shops.  Don’t discount the opinions of people you trust just because some fellow you’ve never met wrote an article saying you should spend $150 on something you’ve never heard of.  Take chances now and then, try new things sometimes; but most importantly, drink what you like.

It’s Rosé Season!

Muga Rosado

Unfortunately for American wine drinkers, pink wine has gotten a pretty bad rap in our country over the last couple decades.  Most of us blame the likes of Carlo Rossi, Franzia, and Sutter Home for creating inferior blush wines that have inundated our market for an entire generation.  I try not to judge, but come on people.  White zinfandel sucks.

The good news is: Dry rosé is making a serious comeback.  In 2009, reports claim dry rosé sales accounted for a record 11% of wine sales in this country.  And there is nothing better this time of year than a crisp, fruity and delicious rosé.  Southern France is credited for the best in the world, but other areas are starting to turn out some great ones as well.  In the US, California is leading the charge, with Oregon making a real push the last two or three years.  Spain, South America, Australia, and South Africa are all making excellent strides, and rosés from other parts of France are making a statement as well.

Rosé is basically just a very light version of a red wine and can be made in a variety of ways.  The grapes are picked and pressed.  Then, instead of soaking the juice in the grape skins as usual, the skins are removed after about two days or so, and the wine is then fermented.  The second way is a method called saignée, when some of the pinkish juice is removed from a vat of red wine very early on.  The pink stuff becomes rosé, while the rest gains more concentrated tannin and color and grows up to be a real red wine.  Lastly, some rose is made from blending white wine and red wine; but this practice isn’t as common, is often frowned upon, and is usually saved for a big ole batch of jug wine.  In any case, rosés are bottled promptly, usually released the following spring and are meant for immediate consumption and delight.

So what does this stuff taste like? Well, when it’s done right dry rosé is lively but elegant; and tastes like fresh strawberries and raspberries, maybe a little watermelon, and just a little hint of rose petal.  Some are more delicate and floral, while others are much more vibrant and juicy.  I’ve had a few really intense, jammy rosés, and I’ve had a few that reminded me a bit too much of my grandmother’s perfume.  The best of them balance all these things and bring a smile to my face like nothing else can do.

Rosés are perfect for salad courses, especially something with a fresh raspberry or strawberry vinaigrette.  I also love rosé with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, with prosciutto di Parma or Serrano ham, with many seafood dishes, as well as lighter pastas and sandwiches.  A nice, juicy rosé is absolutely perfect for your next picnic or barbeque; as well as for your Thanksgiving table.  (Don’t worry; I will come back to that later in the year.) For cheeses, I like rosé with a fresh goat’s milk cheese such as Humboldt Fog or Caña de Cabra.  Surprisingly, a nice 5 or 6 year cheddar is also a delicious accompaniment with some fresh apple or pear slices.  In short, dry rosé is one of the most versatile kinds of wines there is, as well as a wonderful springtime sipper.  Did I mention most good bottles only cost $10 – $15?!

Belle Glos Rosé

So, without further ado, here’s some of my perennial favorites, as well as some recommended accompaniments.   Cheers!

Name Dropping

To me, meeting a famous winemaker or owner is like meeting a rock star.  My nerves kick in, I get a little sweaty, and my knees shake.  I stammer a little because these are celebrities in my industry and I never know quite what to say.  So I usually end up gushing inarticulately, saying something lame like “Gosh, I just love your wines.” Yeah, smoooooooth.   More often than not I am able to recover, but I don’t think I will ever escape the butterflies.

My most recent brush with fame was yesterday afternoon, when one of our favorite reps waltzed in with one of her ride-alongs in tow.  “I brought some treats in for you guys in case you’re thirsty,” she said with a wink.  Being that it was well after lunch time, we were indeed thirsty.  Then, almost as an afterthought, she motioned to the fellow next to her and said “Oh, this is Steve Beckmen.”

Cuvée Le Bec

Beckmen Vineyards is one of the great wineries in Santa Ynez and has been one of my favorites in that area for many years now.  They’re credited as one of the pioneers of the “Rhone Ranger” wineries in Southern California, and have built a superb reputation for meticulous work in their vineyards, as well as for their finely crafted, all estate grown wines.    Probably the most notable bottling is the Cuvée le Bec, a Rhone-style blend that rocks your face off for only about $18.  It’s one of those wines that is always good, every vintage, on every occasion.  I’ve only tasted their entry level, higher production wines, but I imagine their single vineyard and single block stuff (mostly wine club only) is to die for.

So when the introductions were made, I stiff-armed my colleague, practically jumped across my desk, shook Steve’s hand vigorously and said “It’s sooooooo nice to meet you.  Gosh, I just love your wines.”  Oh.  Shit.  No, no, this isn’t going to happen today, I thought.  I took a breath, regained my composure, found my glass and dove in.  We spent about twenty minutes chatting and tasting a few of his wines.  We talked about the rise in popularity of Rhone varietals, about biodynamic farming, and about the possible addition of the new Happy Canyon AVA.   He was kind, gracious, intelligent, and meeting him will certainly turn out to be one of the highlights of my year.

Honestly, meeting people like Steve is the best part of my job.  Of course I love tasting wine– especially really good ones.  But most of my best memories with regard to wine involve the people behind them.   I’ve had wonderful encounters with the likes of Walt Flowers, Peter Franus, David Hopkins (Bridlewood,) Jennifer Halleck, and Steve Bird.  Jim Clendenon (Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Vineyards) is one of the coolest, most intelligent people I’ve met; and discussing his wines with him is like what I’d imagine talking sonatas with Mozart would be like.  I saw a twinkle in his eye once, like a kid on Christmas morning, when I mentioned his syrah was a dead ringer for a great Côte Rôtie.  Clendenen is the Peyton Manning of winemakers.   Even if you’re not a fan (how could you not be) you still have to respect his talent and admire his ambition.  Then there’s Niccolo Capponi, one of the owners of Villa Calcinaia in Italy.  I met him four years ago and his booming voice and contagious, boisterous laugh still echo in my memory.  “This is my Kate Moss wine” he told me that afternoon.  “It’s like, there’s not a lot of meat on its bones but it’s really nice to look at and its so sexy, eh?” I told so many people that story in the following months, and every single one of them bought at least one bottle.  He makes great wines and he’s easily one of the most unique characters I’ve ever come across.

These are the people that make wine wonderful.  They make it taste good; but more importantly, they make it tell a beautiful story.  And though I imagine none of them remembers me, I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to meet them and I look forward to my next rock star moment.  Even if I stutter like a moron.

Field Stone Winery & Vineyard

Estate Petit Sirah
Field Stone

It’s only fitting that my first post is about this wonderful winery in Alexander Valley.   The view of the vineyards and rolling hills is spectacular.  The picnic area is lovely; the tasting room is quaint.  And the people are just amazing.

You see, both my parents work here.  Nepotism aside however, this spot is one you simply have to visit.

Field Stone produces some of the best wines in Sonoma, though you’d never know it from their modest price point.  They make great wines in the tradition of Alexander Valley, like cab, merlot and chard.  They make a snappy sauv blanc for hot afternoons, and a port-style fortified wine for cool evenings.  But winemaker Pat Murray’s best work is on sangiovese, petit sirah and viognier.  Inevitably I will talk about some of these in the future but for now, just believe me when I say every bottle is a homerun.

So book a trip to Healdsburg California and visit Field Stone Winery.  Ask for Tom in the tasting room, and tell him his daughter sent you.  You will not be disappointed.

Here’s their info:

10075 Highway 128

Healdsburg, CA 95448

1-800-54-GRAPE (1-800-544-7273)