Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I write negative reviews

There is just a bit of a brouhaha in the wining blogosphere about negative reviews. Some people write them, some don't. Should you? Yes. You should.

Why do people write wine review blogs? That is an interesting question, and it needs to broken down a bit.

First, why do people wine blog? There are as many reasons as there are bloggers, but they all come down to pretty much the same thing. They love wine, and today you blog what you love. It makes you feel a little closer, it gets you more involved, it makes you part of a community with the same interest, and it allows you to share your love with others. Of course, some people blog as part of a business, wineries, retailers, marketers, etc., but even they are doing something they love and joining a community of others that feel the same way.

Second, why do wine bloggers write wine review blogs? That's a slightly different story. There are lots of wine blogs out there that are not wine review blogs. Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog does not review wine at all. It blogs the wine business, and particularly the conflict between wine lovers and wine distributors (along with lots of other interesting things). The Wine Connoisseur blogs the news about wine. Dr. Vino does some reviews, but blogs the wine industry in depth as well. Then there are the straight review blogs. Good Wine Under $20 focuses on wines at a reasonable price. Wannabe Wino reviews what she drinks, often from winery trips. There are so many out there I can't do justice to them all. What they all have in common, though, is that they love wine, and they share that love with you, the reader.

That is what we do for ourselves. What do we do for the reader? We provide, I hope, a service. When I look at statistics from my own site I find that more than half my views come from wine searches. People type "Villa Maria" or "Rockaway" into the little Google box, looking for reviews. What do they find? If they come to my blog, they find positive AND negative reviews. If they go to other blogs they might only find positive ones. Are we doing those consumers a service if we do not warn them away from garbage? In my opinion, no. So why do some people only write positive reviews? Good question. Let's ask them.

From the tremendous and well-respected Vinography, Is there any point to negative wine reviews?

1. There was so much mediocre wine out there in the world that lukewarm or negative reviews could easily take up the majority of my writing time.

2. Writing negative reviews is about as fun as completing the writing comprehension section of the SAT.

3. People mostly want to know which wines are great much more than they want to know which wines to avoid.


a. Many times, I don't necessarily know that the bottle I happen to be reviewing isn't simply just a bit off -- whether from a fault that I am not detecting or identifying or simply due to bottle variation of some sort or another.

b. A bad review is quite damaging, because it is often read as a condemnation of the winery itself (despite any care or attention put to the contrary by the author) even though the particular wine in question could be part of a portfolio of truly stellar wines.

c. Likewise, bad reviews are often read (and written by irresponsible critics) as being absolute and categorical judgements about a winery, when in fact they are mere evaluations of a specific wine in a specific vintage. That particular wine could have been great the year before, or it could get great the next year. But bad reviews hang around in the minds of consumers like skeletons in the closet, much longer than they should.

d. Bad reviews also hang around in the minds of winemakers and winery owners a lot longer than they should. Like it or not, anyone who seriously attempts to write consistently about wine in a critical fashion has a symbiotic (or as Jancis Robinson would put it, a parasitic) relationship with the wine industry. Bad reviews burn bridges in ways that make it difficult for the writer to ply their craft.

Are these good reasons? In my own opinion, not at all. I am not alone, either. The very first person to comment in response asked:

What if you substituted "a good review" in the points above (a,b,c, and d)-does your logic also follow through (in the opposite direction) on these wineries?


Now let's break that down a bit more, okay?

1. There was so much mediocre wine out there in the world that lukewarm or negative reviews could easily take up the majority of my writing time.

Really? Do you really drink that much bad wine? Why? I expect most bloggers are fairly discriminating about what they purchase. Do I get bad wine? Absolutely. But is it the norm? Nope. I generally don't buy something awful, and since I promise to write good AND bad reviews, people don't often send less than their best efforts.

2. Writing negative reviews is about as fun as completing the writing comprehension section of the SAT.

I respectfully disagree. In fact, I don't think I ever had more fun writing a review than when I channeled Dr. Suess and wrote a haiku for Deerfield Merlot Cuvee.

3. People mostly want to know which wines are great much more than they want to know which wines to avoid.

Upon what do you base this conclusion? I look at my statistics and find that people search bad wine as often as they search good wine.

a. Many times, I don't necessarily know that the bottle I happen to be reviewing isn't simply just a bit off -- whether from a fault that I am not detecting or identifying or simply due to bottle variation of some sort or another.

While this is true, it is equally true that the next sucker could end up with a bottle just as bad. Also, there is a huge difference between "this might be a bit flawed" or "it ain't great" and "oh man is this awful overworked over-alcoholed manufactured oak powdered crap."

b. A bad review is quite damaging, because it is often read as a condemnation of the winery itself (despite any care or attention put to the contrary by the author) even though the particular wine in question could be part of a portfolio of truly stellar wines.

Is a good review praising a winery itself, even if they have bad stuff in their portfolio? Also, isn't this best handled by the review? You don't just write "good" or "bad." You write a review, right?

c. Likewise, bad reviews are often read (and written by irresponsible critics) as being absolute and categorical judgements about a winery, when in fact they are mere evaluations of a specific wine in a specific vintage. That particular wine could have been great the year before, or it could get great the next year. But bad reviews hang around in the minds of consumers like skeletons in the closet, much longer than they should.

See (b), supra.

d. Bad reviews also hang around in the minds of winemakers and winery owners a lot longer than they should. Like it or not, anyone who seriously attempts to write consistently about wine in a critical fashion has a symbiotic (or as Jancis Robinson would put it, a parasitic) relationship with the wine industry. Bad reviews burn bridges in ways that make it difficult for the writer to ply their craft.

This is, by far, the worst reason not to write bad reviews. If you fear the wineries' reaction, then you are being bullied into the very parisitic relationship described by Robinson. If you accept that, even applaud it, then you have a credibility problem. Worse, if enough people do the same, then your credibility problem bleeds into the entire wine-writing blogosphere.

Other very well-known and well-respected wine bloggers also write only positive reviews, like Another Wine Blog:

Anyway, when a wine is reviewed on this site it is because we enjoyed it and we want to share that information with our readers. It is that simple. It does not make one bit of difference if a friend gave it to us as a gift, or if it came from one of our wine clubs, if it came from the grocery store, or if a wine industry person sent it to be reviewed, the review will be positive and it will be honest. Does anyone really want to hear about the Franzia that was served at some reception? Or the crap bottle the local wine megastore lackey conned me into buying because he is an idiot and ordered too much of it? I may write about the megastore or the lackey, but who cares about the bad wine? Besides, someone might like that wine. My palate is not omniscient, despite a drunken boast or two I may have made to the contrary.

Hey, wait a minute. I already know about the Franzia, but I sure want to know about the crap bottle before my own local wine megastore lackey cons me into buying the same thing. As for your palate, well, doesn't the same conversation go the same way for wine you like? Also, it is not just a matter your palate, unless all you write is "good" or "bad." If, on the other hand, you explain WHY you didn't like it- over-extracted, too hot, too sweet, out of character for the grape, etc., then people can judge for themselves whether to follow your recommendation.

Stop thinking about "wine review" for a minute and think about "review." A movie, two tickets, sodas and snacks, costs a fair chunk of change these days. Do you read movie reviews before you go? I do. Not just that, but I consider a poor review a favor. It is not just the reviewer's conclusion that matters, but the content as well. If a movie reviewer writes "this was not a good movie because it was poorly edited, jumped from unconnected scene to unconnected scene, and substituted gore and violence for a coherent story," I am going to take a pass. On the other hand, if it says "this was not a good movie because it had far too much gratuitous starlet nudity, but otherwise held together well," well, I'm going. Twice. See how that works? As wine writers, we WRITE, not merely opine.

Movies give us another more concrete lesson, too. Do you remember David Manning? He was a fictitious film critic created by Sony to create poster quotes. Sony ended up paying out $1.5M in settlement for that fraud. I am not equating positive-review-only bloggers with "David Manning." I do suggest, however, that positive-review-only blogs will hurt our credibility. People will start to wonder "is this another David Manning?"

Look again at your statistics. If a potential consumer Googles "Chateau Perfection" they will find it. But what if they Google "Chateau Plonque"? You know it's crap. You know it's Sahara meets Gigli, yet you leave them to discover that on their own.

Now add one more factor, free wine. Is there an added responsibility to write negative reviews if you are getting free samples? Or is that just cutting off your hand to spite your face, a guaranteed path to making the UPS guy a stranger, to a life of having to buy all your own wine? The answer, to me, is both. Yes, you risk missing out on freebies if the winemakers have a more "friendly" set of bloggers they can count on to laud the good stuff and bury the bad. At that point, though, you are a free PR arm of the winery. You might not be "David Manning," but are you getting too close? Are you at least Larry King, notorious as the softest interview in politics, instead of being Meet the Press?

What is the bottom line to all this? The blogosphere is still new, and the wine blogosphere newer still. We are still feeling out our place in the world. In my own very personal opinion, writing only positive reviews might score you a few more free bottles, but your free bottles might cost my credibility. It might also do a disservice to the next consumer with the bad luck to run into that wine megastore lackey.

One commenter in a related thread observed that my reasoning means I have to review every sample I receive. He's right. I do. See my wine review policy at the top of the right hand colum. I don't do it on anybody's schedule, but I do it. Do you?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Round-Up

N.V. Mumm Napa Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs

Type- Rosé - Sparkling
Producer- Mumm Napa
Variety- Pinot Noir
Designation- Blanc de Noirs
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Napa Valley
Appellation- Napa Valley
Price- $15.99

My family has one of the best Thanksgiving traditions ever. Mimosa! I needed something bubbly to add to the OJ, and this was the cheapest bottle in the cellar. It was actually too good for mimosa, but you've got to do what you've got to do.

The color was a pale salmon pink, tinting slightly toward orange. It had a steady stream of small bubbles. There was a lot of fruit on the nose, strawberry, banana, and a hint, a tiny hint, of lemon zest. Minerality, not fruit, drove the attack, plus a little bit of lime. Some banana and white grapefruit appeared on the mid-palate, with mineral and lemon juice on the finish. It was tart, bright, acidic and clean.

2005 Redline Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard

Type- Red
Producer- Redline
Variety- Pinot Noir
Vineyard- Cedar Lane Vineyard
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Arroyo Seco
From- WineQ
Price- $19.99

This wine went pretty quickly and I did not get much in the way of notes. It went well with the meal. in general, it was pretty good. it had a bit of earth and some depth, something I look for to distinguish a drinkable under-$30 pinot from its more common cherry-cola-and-black-tea brethren. I will definitely revisit this, so stay tuned.

2006 Georges Dubœuf Pouilly-Fuissé

Type- White
Producer- Georges Dubœuf
Variety- Chardonnay
Country- France
Region- Burgundy
SubRegion- Mâconnais
Appellation- Pouilly-Fuissé

Night One
Soft tropical fruit led the nose of this wine, banana, pineapple, along with a bit of light toast. On the palate it was thick and oily, tasting of banana, pineapple, and green apple. White pepper appeared on the mid-palate. It had a long, slightly dusty finish.

Night Two

The nose the next day was softer and a little spicier, more like banana bread than bananas, plus pineapple and a bit of nutmeg. The palate was much more citrusy than the nose, with spice and acidity. Lemon, lime, and gingersnaps, softened on the mid-palate to expose underlying pineapple. The finish was short, dropping suddenly.

2005 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay Reserve

Type- White
Producer- Villa Maria
Variety- Sauvignon Blanc
Designation- Clifford Bay Reserve
Country- New Zealand
Region- South Island
SubRegion- Marlborough
Appellation- Marlborough

Night One

What the heck is that smell? This one got passed around the table and everybody said the same thing, "wait a minute, I know it, ...wait a minute, ... no, I can't place it." Then I broke out the good glass and it was obvious. Asparagus. There was also some ginger snap and vanilla custard. There were also ginger snaps and vanilla custard on the palate, moving to lemon meringue on the mid-palate. Underlying all of it was the green taste of asparagus. It was also surprisingly fat for a Sauv. Blanc, particularly from New Zealand.

Night Two

The asparagus smell was much stronger, overpowering any fruit. It smelled like asparagus and slightly rancid butter. On the palate, well, it was just a disaster. Imagine, if you must, boiling asparagus in pineapple juice until it all dissolves. Strain it and drink it. Or don't. I'm sure not drinking any more of this crap.

2001 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage

Type- Red - Fortified
Producer- Dow
Variety- Port Blend
Designation- Late Bottled Vintage
Country- Portugal
Region- Douro
Appellation Porto

The nose wasn't giving up a lot, but if you worked at it you could get some licorice. The palate was just loaded with raisins and prunes, plus a bit of blueberry syrup. The finish simply collapsed.

Chocolate Stout and Raspberry Lambic Float

You will never want a root beer float again. Float some vanilla ice cream in 2 parts chocolate stout to 1 part raspberry lambic. Once a little of the ice cream melts, taking away a bit of the beer bite and adding creaminess, well, it is a grown-up ice cream float. Everybody who tries it is always stunned. I would not hesitate to serve this as a fun finish to an upscale barbecue on a hot summer's day.


The Wooden Guys are still recovering. We will all report back details later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Wooden Guys on Thanksgiving wine

Here is their two-step process for picking out that perfect Thanksgiving wine. Ready? Make sure you have a pen and some paper to write all this down. Okay, here goes.



Monday, November 24, 2008

Sonoma Vineyards Syrah 2007

Type- Red
Producer- Sonoma Vineyards
Variety- Syrah
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Sonoma County
Alcohol- 13.8%
Price- approx. $20.00

"Ta-Dah!" The Little Wooden Guy thinks he's found a good wine at a great price.

I received this as a free sample from Sonoma Vineyards. This is their first release of Syrah and it will have a suggested retail price of $15. According to the information sent with the wine, the fruit comes from the Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley.

Night One

Color was deep inky purple, going to bright shiny ruby at the edges.

The nose is a pleasure, a meat and jam-filled treat. Bunches of black fruit are softened with some bloody meat, along with cinnamon and black pepper. It is the kind of wine you can just smell for the longest time, forgetting for a while you are supposed to drink the stuff.

Blackberries, barely sweet real ones, not jam, and black pepper are clearly delineated flavors on the initial attack. Sometimes you struggle to discern one taste from the next, or to distinguish different kinds of black fruit. This is not one of those times. No, this is like blackberries dusted with black pepper just popping in your mouth. The mid-palate turned slightly toward red fruit, tart unsweetened cranberries. An hour later some chocolate joined the red fruit. The finish was mid-length. Fine smooth tannins are a little mouth-drying, but not puckering like a young cabernet, offering plenty of structure.

Night Two

After a night under the screw-cap top alcohol seems to have concentrated. The nose was hot for about an hour after re-opening. Once that blew off black fruit led the nose, along with some chocolate.

Plums and some blueberries, plus loads of milk chocolate, open the attack. This seems to have sweetened considerably over night. Some vanilla appeared on the mid-palate, an obvious result of eight months in French and American oak, but it was balanced, not over-powering. The finish fell off rather quickly.

This is a very good QPR (quality to price ratio) wine. It gives some classic Syrah tastes, particularly the black pepper and smooth tannins. For a mere $15 this is a nice bottle.

Humanitas Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2006

Type- Red
Producer- Humanitas
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Paso Robles
Alcohol- 13.8%

I received this as a free sample from Humanitas Wines, as part of Twitter Taste Live.

Night One

Toast and hazelnuts open the nose. Black fruit appears once you get all the way into the glass, along with some vanilla.

On the palate, the fruit is very jammy up front, full of plums and blackberries. That is followed almost immediately with chocolate, a lot of chocolate. Tannins are fine and dusty. It sweetens significantly on the mid-palate. It turns to brown sugar and vanilla, clear evidence of a lot of oak. Is it too much oak? Let's give it a second night before we decide.

Night Two

The nose changed completely from Night One to Night Two. Now it showed blackcurrant, eucalyptus and a little cinnamon.

The palate was different too. There was still plenty of dark fruit, blackberry, plum skins, and a little blueberry. The chocolate was still there, too, milk chocolate. Tannins were very fine and added leather to the mid-length finish.

This was a nice bottle of wine. It was not, on Night Two, overpoweringly sweet and sugary. With significant decanting, or even better some years in the cellar, this promises to be a nice wine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

2004 La Rochelle Pinot Noir

Type- Red
Producer- La Rochelle
Variety- Pinot Noir
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Central Coast
Appellation- Monterey
From WineQ
Approx. $20

The Wooden Guys had no interest in the clearly flawed bottle. The farm animals from Webkinz, on the other hand, felt right at home amidst the brett.

Night One

Major funk blew out of the bottle upon opening. After an hour or two it seemed to settle down, but not disappear. Beneath it there were some great flavors, enough to think an unflawed bottle might be good. Black cherries, cranberries, smoked meat and some tomato all made for a very interesting, if not a tad heavy, palate. Tannins were smooth, acidity bright. Unfortunately ...

Night Two

The funk had funk of its own. It was just overpowering. There was plenty of barnyard and a distinct smell of moldy cherries. Two hours later a lot of the funk was gone, but not all. The nose smelled surprisingly of burnt toast spread with strawberry jam. There was dark cerry, watermelon, nutmeg, vanilla and tarragon, in that order, from attack to finish.

There is a lot of promise beneath the obvious flaw in this particular bottle. If I had an opportunity, I would give it a second try.

Just out of the bottle

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2004 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Type- Red
Producer- Rodney Strong
Variety- Cabernet Sauvignon
Designation- Reserve
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Sonoma County
Alcohol- 14.3%

The Wooden Guys tried this Rodney Strong Reserve the night after they had Rodney Strong's new Rockaway single vineyard release. The comparison was interesting. I suspect the Reserve from '04 grew up to be Rockaway the next year, at twice the price.

Night One

The first obvious thing to note about the bottle is its size and weight. It is unusually heavy and has very thick neck. The bottle, empty, weighed in at 871 grams, about halfway between a normal bottle and the Rockaway mega-bottle. The cork is natural, and of normal size and length, shorter than the one in the Rockaway.

The nose is a little hot (not a surprise at 14.3% REPORTED alcohol, which allows up to 15.3% alcohol) and a little closed. There is some blackcurrant and vanilla. It should open a lot more overnight.

The palate offers very sweet dark fruit and sweet smooth tannins. The fruit is blackcurrant, very ripe blackberry and just a hint of black cherry. Cedar and vanilla show up on the mid-palate. The finish is sweet and long, tannins smooth but leathery.

The tannins provide a good backbone and the nose was closed. I would not be surprised to see big changes on Night Two.

Night Two

The nose and palate are similar to the Rockaway, though not quite so complex. The nose had plenty of dark fruit, blackcurant and plums. there was also some spicy cedar and vanilla.

On the palate, just like the Rockaway, it opened with black fruit, moved toward very sweet brown sugar and vanilla on the mid-palate, ending with clying borwn sugar sweetness. Tannins were smooth and sweet.

Like the Rockaway before it, I expect this will improve as the fruit and wood settle down a bit. Still, it is very sweet and oaky, lacking in terroir and complexity. this is a very personal point of view from somebody who prefers more classic Bordeaux to modern heavily worked Cali Cabs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Vintage- 2005
Type- Red
Producer- Rodney Strong
Variety- 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 4% Petite Verdot
Vineyard- Rockaway
Country- USA
Region- California
SubRegion- Sonoma County
Appellation- Alexander Valley
Alcohol 15.4%

The Big Wooden Guy's first impression of this wine has to do with the weight of the bottle. It weighs a ton. Well, actually, it weighs 2 pounds, 3.8 ounces (1.015 kilograms), EMPTY! For comparison, the bottle for 1998 Sociando Mallet weighs 1 pound 4.7 ounces (0.58 kilograms). Add that it was sent to me (for free, a sample, full disclosure here) in Styrofoam packing, and this thing is a carbon footprint nightmare. There is a paper label on the back containing all the legally required information. The front, though, lacks a label. Instead it is simply embossed "ROCKAWAY," with an embossed vineyard running all the way around the bottle. Everything about the bottle says "TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!"

Night One

The color is very deep dark garnet almost all the way to the edge, where it finally gives way to about an 1/8" of bright ruby.

The nose is rich and jammy, filled with dark fruit. It is mostly blackcurrant and plum, with some blackberries and eucalyptus at the back end of a big sniff. After an hour of so open a fleeting glimpse of espresso played hide-and-seek amid the fruit.

This was just as dark on the palate, very jammy and sweet. Blackcurrants and mulberry, along with some meaty smokiness opened the attack. Cedar and vanilla made their first appearance on the mid-palate, which quickly evolved to vanilla and brown sugar on toast. The sugar is cloying, the finish long but too sweet, all brown sugar and maple syrup.

Five hours it changed some. Tannins started to appear as the jammy fruit settled down a bit. There was more blackberry, less mulberry and blackcurrant, with a strong smooth leathery tannin backbone. There was a quick vegetal hint in the mid-palate. The finish, though, is still dominated by vanilla, brown sugar and maple.

Night Two

The nose seems to have settled down quite a lot. There is still plenty of fruit but it is balanced by some earth. There is also some licorice and a bit of mixed eucalyptus and menthol.

The wine settled down a great deal on the palate, too. There are still plenty of big flavors, blackberries and plums, but Night Two brings more nuance and more layers. The attack has blackberries and plums, plus licorice and a little spice. The mid-palate is greatly expanded, bringing unsweetened chocolate, cherries, and toasted almond skins. Tannins are smooth and fine, but pronounced. There is plenty of backbone to this, enough to give a few years, at the least, in the cellar.

This is a great big modern wine, very ripe and fruity, very powerful. It is not really my personal style. I prefer a bit more subtlety. That said, this has the potential to be good after several years in the cellar to settle down and integrate. $80 is a good chunk of change to spend on potential. Unfortunately, that is actually below the going rate for similar California Cabs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bokisch Vineyards Graciano 2005

Type: Red
Producer: Bokisch Vineyards
Variety: Graciano
Country USA
Region California
SubRegion Central Valley
Appellation Lodi
Alc. 14.5%
$25.99 from WineQ

The Little Wooden Guy appreciates wines made to drink fresh, rather than cellar.

Night One

A rich earthy smell first out of the bottle changes slowly to more fruit and spice after an hour or so in the glass. Red cherries and wild strawberries, asian spices and a touch of vanilla all overlay faint earth and mild mushrooms.

Curiously, red fruit on the nose turns to darker fruit on the palate, blackberries and blackcurrants along with unsweetened cranberries. The darker fruit fades on the mid-palate as a bit of underlying earth joins the tart, even slightly bitter, cranberries. It all leads to a mid-length richly tannic finish.

Very nice on Night One. Will it get better, or fall off, tomorrow?

Night Two

Fruits are darker and softer on Night Two. The cherries have gone from bright Bing cherries to riper black cherries. The tart strawberries are gone, replaced by sweet blueberries and mulberries. The spice is mostly gone, too. The vanilla still lingers.

Most of the balance is gone, leaving a vanilla-loaded wooden fruit bomb, adding cloying brown sugar in the mid-palate and an overall sense of over-worked sweetness.

This was a very nice bottle of wine on Night One, and a big disappointment on Night Two. Does that mean it's bad? No, not at all. It means it is a good bottle of wine made to drink fresh, not to decant for hours or cellar for years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #51- Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana N.V.

Today's post is brought to you by Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted this month by 1 Wine Dude, who is not only a great wine blogger, but also the only one who tops "2 Days per Bottle" in link lists. The topic this month? Baked goods:

"Baked Goods" - wines that are deliberately heated, or Madeirized. According to the way-cool wine glossary at, Madeirized wines describes the "intentional oxidation of grapes in an estufa (hothouses used for this purpose in Madeira, where these wines are made). The resulting wines (typically whites) are sweet and caramelized in taste."

These wines often also have nutty aromas, a honey-like mouthfeel, and distinctive bronzed color. Yumminess! Examples include (of course) Madeira, but also wines in other parts of the world such as Australia's Rutherglen Tokays.

Now, Lenn and I do realize that these wines are not always easy to come by, so we're also allowing sweet Fortified wines into WBW 51(WineDude), which should provide enough options for everyone to contribute.

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana N.V.

Vintage N.V. Label 1 of 4
Type White - Fortified
Producer Bodegas Hidalgo
Variety Palomino Fino
Designation Manzanilla La Gitana
Country Spain
Region Andalucía
Appellation Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda
500 ml
$11.95 from Chambers Street Wines

Night One

The color is a very light bright yellow straw.

The nose on this is bright and delightful, fresh apple peel, nuts, and the frothy salty tops of waves on an Atlantic beach. On the palate it is very crisp and tight. The taste on the initial attack is very fresh tart apples dipped in kosher salt, followed by lightly toasted salted almonds. The finish lingers for a long time.

Night Two

The nose has not changed from Night One to Night Two. On the palate it is just as salty, with less fruit and some liquid smoke and toasted nuts. This is incredibly flavorful, but the flavors are unusual in a wine, even a fortified wine. Salt is really the predominant flavor, so if you are not a greek olive and feta fan don't bother. The finish is different, fruity with apples as an aftertaste.

I don't really love this wine. I am, however, quite fascinated by it.

UPDATE- a hat tip to Alex of Eating Leeds for the reminder, for Manzanilla is most definitely a food wine. I drank think with mixed salted nuts and dried fruit (almonds, pistachios, cherries, raisins). Even with the salted nuts this was too salty for my personal taste, but that is most definitely a personal palate observation, not a criticism of the wine itself.

2003 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Landslide

Type: Red
Producer: Simi
Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vineyard: Landslide
Country: USA
Region: California
SubRegion: Sonoma County
Appellation: Alexander Valley
14.1% alcohol
$26.99 Costco in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Little Wooden Guy is mixed on this one. On one hand, it's pretty much exactly what you would expect from a California Cab, even slightly interesting. On the other hand, at $26 a bottle, why bother?

Night One

Color was surprisingly light for Cabernet, bright ruby but slightly translucent.

The nose was a little hot (no surprise, with more than 14% alcohol. It was also bright and fruity, a mix of black and red fruits, cherries and plums, plus a little vanilla. It differed from most $30 California Cabernets by not having just loads and loads of prototypical blackcurrant.

The palate opens with cherries and blackberries. There is really no mid-palate. Acidity is bright and tannins are soft and leathery, like fine-cut suede. Finish is long.

Night Two

Now, after a night of rest, the nose disappoints, with bloated fruit and extravagant wood. The smell is all cherry pie filling, vanilla and cedar. The palate, too, is big and bloated, with pie filling, pie crust, brown sugar and cedar. There is no mid-palate at all.

This is a very commercial Cabernet, big fruit, big wood, big disappointment. It is a style that appeals to a lot of people (and grocery store buyers). I am just not the target audience.

2004 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Baronnie Madeleine

Type: Red
Producer: Couly-Dutheil
Variety: Cabernet Franc
Designation: La Baronnie Madeleine
Country: France
Region: Loire Valley
SubRegion: Touraine
Appellation: Chinon

$13.99 at Costco, in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Big Wooden Guy isn't sure if he should drink it or smoke it.

Night One

The classic identifying odor of Cabernet Franc is tobacco leaf. If you can't place that in your library of odor memories, find the nearest Costco and buy a bottle of this wine. The fruit is either non-existent or merely shut down. What you get is wave after wave of tobacco leaf. Smelling this wine is like walking through the back room of a cigar shop on Calle Ocho in Miami or Ybor City near Tampa (and perhaps, when we finally get done with our useless and counter-productive decades-long idiocy with Cuba, Havana).

Tobacco dominates the palate as well as the nose. If you sip some in, breathe in some air, swirl it around and really try, you can find some red fruit, cranberries and red currants. There is even dark chocolate on the mid-palate. However, tobacco is the dominating feature. The finish is medium length, as is the mouth feel. Acids are bright. Tannins make a light backbone, not overpowering but clearly there and wanting more time to integrate.

Night Two

A night made some difference, but I fear not enough. Tobacco still leads the nose. It has added some eucalyptus and menthol, plus a hint of fennel. On the palate, too, tobacco keeps the lead,with the addition of black olives. Now though, the eucalyptus shows up on the mid-palate.

Acidity remains very bright, along with light tannins, offering a good backbone for additional maturity. Will fruit appear later? Perhaps. It is hard to tell if it is merely shut down or non-existent. This wine, though, provides a classroom demonstration of what "tobacco" means in Cab Franc, and for a mere $13 is worth buying two bottles- one for the lesson, and another to see what happens in 2012.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Twitter Taste Live for Charity

My friend, Lenn Thompson, of Lenndevours, will be hosting a Twitter Taste Live with Humanitas Wines and Twitter Moms on November 21, 2008. Click the logo for more information.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chateau Haute-Bailly 2001

Grand Cru Classe' de Graves
$45.98 in Indianapolis, Indiana
12.5% alcohol by volume
imported by USA Wine Imports, New York, NY

This bottle of wine is a floral delight. On Night One it seems promise years of cellar growth to come, but we will know more about that on Night Two.

Night One

Purple flowers, lavendar and lilac, just float out of the glass, along with some dark plum and plum skins. On the palate the same flowers take center stage. There is fruit there, too, but it is hidden behind strong tannins that scream out for more years in the cellar. Plums, nee plum skins, are the primary fruit, but more will surely come out of hiding on Night Two. I hope you will join me to see if my prediction comes true.

Night Two

Floral aromas once again lead the nose on Night Two, but the additional time with some air brought out black fruit, more blackberry than blackcurrant, but both were there. The palate has more to offer than on Night One, but the overall impression is that this could use more time. Pencil lead, cassis, and tart plum skins are slowly wrapped in firm tannins as it moves from initial attack to mid-palate, where a hint of unsweetened chocolate makes a quick appearance. Acids and tannins are both pwoerful, but well-balanced. The finish is long.

This is good but still young. The sense of it is that it is just waking up now, just starting to come out of a closed phase. It might well be much better in as little as a year or two. There is plenty of backbone, acid and tannins, to give it time to grow and knit together.