Archive for the ‘Wine critiquing’ Category

Ying Yang Wine

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

As the US rep for Israel’s Carmel Winery I have many responsibilities…beyond increasing sales.  I am proud to be working for Carmel as Carmel the winery has followed nicely in the wine progression.  Recent years have seen the winemaking at Carmel move beyond the fruit-bomb, powerhouse wines to finesse, more elegant wines.

If you are a wine lover who enjoys big robust wines you are no alone.  The truth is, depending upon my mood, I too love these wines.  But at this stage in my wine progression I have come to appreciate the subtle elegance of wines that have not been aged in lots of new oak, that do not have 15% alcohol, whose acid is still quite apparent and that might actually be overpowered by a big rare steak (my favorite food) – something that would NEVER happen to a Cabernet Sauvignon.

I bring this up (again) as we will be unveiling a new Carmel wine here in the US in the coming weeks; Carmel 2007 Mediterranean.  The wine, as its name might indicate is a blend of (mostly) Mediterranean varietals made in a subdued style with very little new oak.  This wine is not a fruit bomb and is not robust.  While it does have a nice extraction, I worry that consumers will try it and be disappointed.  It is easy to put a big, brawny wine in one’s mouth and say WOW – this is good.  But it is much more difficult to fully appreciate a wine that doesn’t scream at the top of its lungs.  The restrained wine may possess an endless amount of brilliance, but in a world of muscle-neck wines the quiet wine could easily get lost.

There are many wine critics out there and the ones that have been most successful seem to advocate on behalf of big, robust wines.  I wonder if they truly believe that these are “better” wines, or if they have come to realize that these wines are easier for the masses to appreciate and as such would prefer to recommend this style to a style that might leave people wanting more.

Who knows.

What I do know is that the Carmel “Mediterranean” is a well made wine that will require a lot of hand selling.  But I look forward to talking wine with those who are truly “wine curious” and I hope I am able to enlighten some of these people to the benefits of a restrained and elegant wine.

Happy non-fruit-bomb wine tasting!


Bad wine – what to say (or not say)?

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

We live at a time when there is lots of good wine on the market.  Modern technology and competition have respectively both enabled and forced wineries to make wines of high quality.  Even the cheap (budget) wines out there are drinkable.  But what about those are just plain bad?  As a wine writer and aspiring wine V-logger how do I handle the issue of reviewing a bad wine?  How do the PAID wine critics face themselves after announcing to their readers that someone’s hard work is crap?

For the most part, I have tried to follow the old adage; “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.  If I thought a wine was bad, I would simply say NOTHING.  Don’t write about it.  And even if I thought a wine was mediocre, I might write the positives about the wine, and skip the mediocre parts.  But does this hurt my credibility?  Can I be taken seriously if I only have nice things to say?  What of the controversial wine panning?  Dare I potentially burn bridges out there?  Will I piss people off if I say that I think their wine sucks?

An argument can be made for both sides.  But I think the reality is that I can not play both sides of the fence.  And things have gotten even murkier…I am now working within the industry for an importer/manufacturer/producer of wine.  Even if I managed to somehow remain unbiased, I think my employer would be pretty pissed if I had anything bad to say about their wines.  And they would have every right to feel the way they did.

Moving forward, as I figure out how to VLOG (uploading & editing video can’t be THAT hard, can it?), I will start regularly popping corks (twisting caps) on bottles that have been sent to me over the past few months.  Though I am sure these people aren’t gonna thank me if I have less than complimentary things to say, it will be hard to hide my expression on video.  So I guess that will keep things REAL.

And as to the wines I work with, well, I’ll try to include a disclosure of sorts as the industry is attempting to move to greater transparency & I believe I must play by the rules if I want to maintain professional credibility.

On an only somewhat related note, I would be remiss if I did not mention a big event taking place tomorrow night.  I have helped out a bit in the planning of this event.  It is the big KOSHER RESTAURANT & WINE EXPERIENCE.  This is the 4th year this annual event is taking place.  This year there will be about 20 food purveyors to go along with the 40+ wineries.  The response has been tremendous.  Looks like another sellout.  Shoot me a message and introduce yourself if you will be there.  We’ll have a drink…on me;)

Happy Wine Critic free wine tasting!


Confessions of a wine blogger

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

I’m preparing to fly to KC to lead a wine tasting in a few days.  But not before I head to Boston to do a wine training.  I was recently asked my opinion about a wine by the CEO of a multi-million dollar wine importer.  And today I was asked to be a contributing writer to a well regarded wine website.  SO WHO THE HECK AM I???… (more…)

The Cali Cab that wasn’t a fruit bomb

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

I’ve had the wine before.  It is a kosher Cabernet Sauvigon from California.  Not Napa Valley, but Alexander Valley fruit.  Having tasted previous vintages of it, I was not surprised to hear that it was awarded 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.

2005 Herzog Special Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

For those of you who do not know, The Alexander Valley is in Northern Sonoma County just North, Northwest of the more famous Napa Valley.  Like Napa it is littered with wineries where they produce great wines.   And while the nuances of the wines made in Napa & Sonoma are different, my experience has been that the styles of wine are similar.  Big, extracted, fruity, high (but generally balanced) alcohol, etc.

I’ll make a confession here…I like big fruity wines.  As a matter of fact my favorite meal is a rare steak & big bad cab.  Sure these tooth staining wines will overpower the flavors of most dishes but it goes oh so well with steak and other hearty rich meats, stews & chops.

So the 90 point score was of no surprise to me.  A big Alexander Cab got a high score.  But then I tried it…

WOW.  This wine reminded me immediately of the wines from another California winery;  Edmunds St John.  Steve Edmunds makes leaner, lower alcohol, terroir driven wines.  And his “Rocks & Gravel” GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend is a favorite of mine – when I’m not eating steak 😉

So tasting this lean, earthy, minerally wine was a real treat.  A Cali cab that I can enjoy with more than just a steak.  At 13.8% alcohol with its nice tight structure, this wine wont overpower some of my other favorite foods like chicken, salmon or pasta.  My wife commented on the pretty floral nose while I enjoyed its clean, tart,  forest berry flavors.

And to top it off this wine is mevushal (flash pasteurized).  But no stewed or cooked fruit.  Just real lean & fresh.  Beautiful.

So if you are looking for Cali Cab that got a 90 from the critics but isn’t a fruit bomb go check out the Herzog Special Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Happy non-fruit bomb Cab tasting!


Different wine styles

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Following up on yesterday’s post I continue to ponder the divergent styles of wine.  And as such, was somewhat surprised to see this excerpt within an email from “Vibrant Rioja”:

Rioja Tinto Reserva
Flavors – Modern styles of Reserva tend to have flavor profiles towards chocolate, sweet spices, and what Spaniards call sabores balsámicos – fennel, anise, licorice. Classic styles of Reserva tend to have more developed, earthier aromas with less noticeable fresh fruit, but more complexity and finesse

We know the different styles exist.  And I believe there is a market for each style.  Modern vs. Classic.  New World vs. Old World.  Natural vs. Manipulated.  Call it what you want.  These two styles exist.

Which is better?  Well whichever style you prefer of course.  Just as there are critics who seem to prefer one style, there are also those who clearly prefer the other.

I must admit that I am not sure why I am so fascinated by all of this.  Maybe because as my palate has evolved I have seen my own preferences change (from modern to classic).  But the fact is that I still do enjoy many “modern” wines.  Just as there are some supposedly “classic” wines that I find to be lacking fruit, character, personality, etc.

If you have any questions about this feel free to write.  And if you have an opinion please feel free to share.  Either way, forget region, price, rating, label, whatever – try as much wine as you can, figure out your preferred style, and ENJOY!

Happy  YOUR style wine tasting!


Reviewing wine – how to remain unbiased?

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I was recently contacted by some people representing an Australian wine.  They found my blog and asked me if I would be willing to receive some samples and review said wines.  I responded that I would be happy to give the wines a try, but that I would only review them if I had something positive to say.  I do not see the point in bashing a wine.  Not only might it be a wine that others will love, but what constructive purpose will my writing anything negative about their wine serve.

At the same time, and more on topic as it pertains to my title, how do I remain unbiased in my review.  The people were quite warm when they reached out and even complimentary.  I really WANTED to write nice things.

I have on several occasions been given reason to believe that a wine critic I have come to know will sometimes score wines made by people he likes a point higher than he might have had he not liked the people.

And I recently watched a critic reviewing a wine online whereby he admittedly gave the wine an extra point since it contained a varietal he particularly enjoys.


For starters, I do NOT score wines.  I find this to be silly.  One man’s 90 is another’s 75.   And what really is an 80 vs. an 85?  Or an 85 vs. and 89?  How about an 89 vs. a 90?  Or my biggest issue; a 91 vs a 95???

This takes me back to a previous post where I quoted a study that concluded that wine critics themselves can not replicate their own scores when tasting wines blind.

I do not have a solution for this.  I believe that we are all human and emotions will play a role in our judging of things that are subjective, such as food or wine.  If the cook is a friend, if the dish looks appealing, if the setting is just right – you WILL enjoy said meal, wine, etc  more than had things been different.

I suppose this is the reason why wine critics maintain as non-descript a setting as possible, re-taste wines several times and (claim to) taste blind.

Well, I’m unequivocally stating, and you can all quote me on this, that  I will NEVER use a 100 point scale to give a wine a score.  I can  see an A-F scale, or even a 1-10.  But 100 points…come on….be serious.

Without further ado, on to the wine in question.  I was sent the Ozzie-Ba-Ru 2003 Hunter Valley Shiraz.  And I was worried.  The typical Australia Shiraz style is one I am at present not a big fan of.   It is often very extracted, over the top fruity, and simply not a style I go for these days (though I loved this style wine as I was developing my palate).  Lo and behold I REALLY ENJOYED THE WINE.

A reasonable 13% alcohol in a screw cap package, this clear light reddish wine was full of aromas that were present but subdued.  Cherry cola/black cherry, raspberry, pine needles and a hint of earth on the nose.  These aromas opened up to secondary aromas of mocha and chocolate (or as my special lady, unprompted, said “white chocolate”).  The palate had a nice bracing acidity and well integrated tannins with big yet well balanced and not over the top fruit.  A wine with a very nice overall structure.  I’m not certain that this is an “A” wine, but it sure is close.  Nice job!

Happy unbiased (good luck) Wine Tasting

Wine Judging

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Before I get to today’s post I just want to mention that I attended the “Vino 2009″ Italian wine tasting this afternoon in NYC.  It was a HUGE event and I got to taste lots of Italian wines – wines I know little about.  I hope to have time to review my notes tomorrow so that I can comment further on the event, the wines and mention some standouts.

But today I want to briefly discuss WINE JUDGING.

I have admitted to friends & colleagues as well as here in this blog that I am confident that I can judge what I believe to be poor, OK, good or even very good wines (although I do think this is somewhat subjective).  That said, I have a hard time really deciphering GREAT wines, or those deemed to be great that often command respectively great price tags.  I hope(d) & expect that as I continue tasting my palate will continue to refine and one day I will get to the point when I can truly tell the difference between a very good wine & a great wine.

And then I read about a paper whereby the author (Robert Hodgson) showed with extensive analysis how wine judging is a very inaccurate science.  Apparently he found that 90% of judges are not able to replicate their scores for the same wine.  Or as he put it:

“About 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group.  Another 10 percent, on occasion, scored the same wine Bronze to Gold. Judges tend to be more consistent in what they don’t like than what they do.”

Felix Salmon for picked up on these findings and concluded “I’m beginning to think there’s really no such thing as a really good wine: there’s just really bad wine, and everything else”.

Felix my man, I think your conclusion is a bit extreme, but in many regards I think you are saying what many supposed wine experts do not want to admit.

Special thanks to wine buddy Marc for bringing this report to my attention.

Happy scores are worthless wine tasting!


Wine scores

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Let me first apologize for my online absence.  No excuses, but…  There was Yom Kippur, the sabbath and the subsequent not-so-short FLIGHT TO ISRAEL!  Yes, I am here in the Holy Land.  I arrived yesterday, just a few hours prior to the beginning of the holiday of “Sukkot” – described by as “the ‘Feast of Booths’ (or Tabernacles), named for the huts (sukkah) that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land”.


I am here in Israel for the holiday of course but also to spend time with family (my adorable niece…and her parents) and to work on my Israel wine project. 

While drinking wine with a wine industry friend this afternoon in his Succah I admitted that my palate was still not where I would like it to be.  He surprisingly asked why I felt that way.  I explained that I felt I could decipher between an 80 and 85 point wine and an 85 and 90 point wine.  BUT, I still feel like I struggle to truly decipher the supposed subtle differences between 90 point wines and 93 point wines.  To which he made a face and basically said HOGWASH!

Which of course got me thinking.  There is so much talk of scores as they relate to wines.  And I have written about scores here before.  SO, is there a difference between a wine given a score of 90 and a wine given a score of 93???

The aforementioned friend theorized that much of it has to do with marketing.  Many of the wines I have seen that have been given those 2-3 extra points are single vineyard wines.  With the idea that the specific site possesses some unique characteristics and should not be blended and subsequently LOSE those distinct characteristics.  I have heard this to be true and I do believe it – to a certain extent.  This line of thought invoked the expression “terroir”, described by Wikipedia as “a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influences and shapes the wine made from it”.

This post can go on and on about scores, their purpose, terroir, if it is real, etc.  But I don’t want to bore you with this debate.  I will sum up for now by saying that I have been thinking a lot about a new way to evaluate wines that will turn the traditional scoring method on its head.  It certainly will not replace the existing scoring method for those who use it to collect wines, drink high scoring wines, etc.  But I do expect that as I continue to flesh out the concept it will prove useful to casual wine drinkers.

Happy SCORELESS wine tasting (from Israel)!!


Tough life – Wines of Loire Valley

Friday, August 8th, 2008

You know, the life of a wine industry professional is real tough. Going out to taste wines, being given samples to taste, speaking with winemakers – some of the coolest people around – let me tell ya, I don’t know how I do it.

Last night I had the arduous task of tasting through some wines made from Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley with some contemporaries.

Loire Valley

We started with a sparkling wine, the Vouvrey Brut, Pinon NV. I’m still figuring out exactly how to better assess sparkling wines, but this one did have a nice chalky minerality and crisp tight bubbles – or so I think. Apparently these are desirable sparkling wine characteristics and that darn power of suggestion can be really influential.

Following the “bubbly” we tried 5 still wines. (more…)

Selling Wine – Must you love what you sell??

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

I’ve recently begun to work with a wine distributor. As part of my work I visited a store that is among the distributor’s top customers. I spent a good amount of time with the general manger at the store and I noticed that he wasn’t carrying a certain wine. The GM explained that while he is a big fan of most of the wines this company distributes, this particular wine, a Viognier, is not to his liking.

Which led to my homework for tonight. I’m pretty sure that I had previously tried the wine in question, and I remember liking it, but I wanted to re-taste it. Based on this producers track record and my strong affinity for just about all of their wines I was sure that it would be a case of my disagreeing with the GM. After all, I do believe that all of our palates are unique, and just because I like something, doesn’t mean this GM has to. Then again, if I felt strongly enough about the wine I decided that I would encourage the GM to try stocking the wine again – that although it was not to his liking, it was a nice wine and his customers would surely enjoy it.

Well, sure enough the wine was not much to my liking either. OVER OAKED…

oak barrels