Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Under the Radar Italy - Gini Soave Classico 2010

Italy is such a vast source of wine. Every other day it seems I read another article about some little known DOC where amazing juice comes from practically unheard of grapes. My favorite blogger Tom Hyland of "Learn Italian Wines" has written extensively on Italian whites of late and it's clear that they are in general a vast and largely under-appreciated category. His post on Soave back in June was eye opening and led me right down to my local joint to see what they had from the region. I remember Bolla's Soave from my youth as being a regular bottle in our house. Choices were fewer back then. Now however, there are great examples of excellent Soave here in the states and tonight's entry level pour from Gini, a top producer in the zone, is one of them.

Made from 100% Garganega grapes that are produced just a bit shy of organic, this bottling is a great example of just how good these wines can be. After a bit of airing, it's aromas open to reveal pineapple, white peach and honey along with floral and nutty nuances. In the mouth, it's medium-bodied white fruit flavors are less tropical than the nose suggests yet fairly bold and wonderfully textured. There is excellent balancing acidity and a long minerally finish. Garganega is an indigenous varietal that ripens late and is too often blended with other varietals such as Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano. On it's own though, it can produce great wines like Gini's. Fermented entirely in stainless and left to rest on it's lees for 6 months, this beauty set me back $13.99. It's imported by Michael Skurnick.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wine Ratings - The Fallacy of the 100 Point Scale

While working the Friday rush hour at my local wine shop this summer, I came to notice the different kinds of buyers and their strategies. There's the browsers, the label shoppers, the knowledgeable folks who want to talk wine and take a recommendation and the folks who buy by the numbers. These wine shoppers limit their choices to the wines that have big scores from the big critics. Robert Parker, Steve Tanzer and The Wine Spectator are probably the most high profile critics in the business and they all use the 100 point scale. Now don't get me wrong, all of these professionals have been reviewing wine for a lot longer than me and they all have impeccable credentials. I follow Parker and Tanzer in particular, the former because he is the most influential and the latter because I love his tasting notes and the fact that he talks to a lot of the winemakers.

The problem I have is that in our numbers oriented society, the 100 point scale can lead consumers to wrong conclusions. These consumers spend their shopping time reading the "shelf talkers" that are put up by the reps for the wholesalers to tout their high scoring products. But there are many different styles of wine. So for example, 88 points for a Beaujolais and 88 points for a California Cabernet are two completely different worlds. A lighter styled and delicate Beaujolais will probably not please someone with a taste for bigger, brawnier Cali Cab, 88 point score or not. It's way more important to actually read the reviewer's comments on the wine than to focus on the number. Foxglove Chardonnay (which I have written up) from California's Central Coast received a 90 point score from Robert Parker for the '09 vintage. The '09 had sold through and the '10 was on the shelf. This one particular customer would not buy the '10 no matter how hard I tried to convince him that there was probably very little difference between the two vintages. California has remarkably consistent weather and thus has very few bad vintages. Factor in a reputable producer like Varner, the winery that makes Foxglove, and you have about a 90% chance of  acquiring a very good to excellent wine. No 90 point score? Sorry, no sale. It's really disappointing to me when I see that. And, the '10 ended up getting a 90 from Parker anyway. Here's another example. A reviewer gives 90 point scores to both a $7.99 Spanish wine and an $80 red Burgundy. The consumer may think that the Spanish wine is the equal of that Burgundy. Not a chance. Again, these wines are from two different worlds. The Spanish wine will be fruity and basic while the Burgundy will have more elegance, complexity and staying power in terms of being able to age, all the while picking up more nuance and smoothing out it's components. Those two 90 point scores are not equal. What the reviewer says about the wine is much more important than the number itself.

In addition, having grown up in an educational system where numbers rule, some of these shoppers think that anything under 90 points is not even worth drinking. Will there really be an obvious difference between an 87 point wine and a 90 point wine? Probably not, and if so would one be able to pick out which is which in a blind tasting? I doubt it. It's sad because consumers consistently miss out on some really tasty juice simply because there is no number at all, or no big number attached to it. For me, wine is a living thing that changes and matures, even over the short term and even in the everyday category. And that means that it just can't be quantified, no matter how hard we try.  Cheers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Real Deal Oregon - Rascal Pinot Noir

I've always loved Oregon Pinot Noir. It kind of bridges the old world style of Burgundy and the very fruity new world style of California with elements of both. In general, Oregon Pinots are fruitier than the former but sexier and more delicate than the latter and Pinot Noir fans should really experiment with these wines. If you're describing your everyday Pinot as "jammy", then it won't work for me. If your everyday Pinot is opaque, then it's probably too ripe and sweet for me. Pinot Noir should be light colored and translucent.

Which brings me to today's great find, Rascal Pinot Noir 2011 from the Great Oregon Wine Company. This may be the best entry level Pinot Noir I've tasted and at $8.99, it's a steal. Plus it's pure Willamette Valley fruit. Nowadays, the origin designation you get at this price point usually says something like "California", which means you get Central Valley fruit. Classic Pinot aromas of raspberry, cherry and cinnamon spice greet you. In the mouth, it's light bodied yet full flavored with wonderful red berry flavors, excellent acidity and a toasty note on the back end. It finishes a bit short, but all in all, this is a great example of what I think real Pinot Noir should be. This beauty paired perfectly with a simple roast chicken and it's delicate nature should also make it a great fit with grilled salmon. Cheers.

Update - I get a lot of hits on this post so I thought an update was in order. Once the 2011 of this wine sold out, the producers bottled a non-vintage version which probably consisted of 2010 and 2011 juice. Both '10 and '11 were small yield vintages. The bottling was okay but a lot of retailers passed on it as it is harder to sell non-vintage.  It appears that the 2012 Oregon vintage is both better and higher yielding then '10 or '11 and hopefully the 2012 Rascal will be released soon.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Parusso Rosato "Paruss" 2011

The Armando Parusso Estate in Monforte d'Alba, Italy is one of the most well known and highly regarded wineries in Piedmont. Known for their high end Barolos made from the Nebbiolo grape, they have been turning out world class wines for a long time. Nebbiolo is absolutely one of my favorite grapes and can be found not only as Barolo, but as Barbaresco and the entry level Nebbiolo d'Alba as well. It's also found in the wines of more out of the way places such as Ghemme and Carema as well.

Here however, we focus on the everyday wine for everyday consumption so when Nebbiolo roses started showing up on retailer's shelves a few years ago, I took note. This summer has been brutally hot here on the east coast and we have been drinking a lot of chilled wine. The Nebbiolo rose called "Paruss" from the Parusso estate is a fantastic $11.99 value. It's got big aromas of watermelon and light red berries along with floral and mineral notes. The flavors are just as big with the berries in the lead, notes of honey and a slight peppery quality. The bright, balancing acidity makes this a great food wine. Imported by Montecastelli, don't hesitate to pick up a bottle of this great summer quaffer. We drank this with a fantastic Mario Batali dish - chicken thighs with saffron, green olives and mint. Cheers.