The Eagle has Landed

While on a short, but much needed vacation I was made aware that Charles Banks was in fact leaving Screaming Eagle. I have readers who are particularly fond of the wines at SCREAMING EAGLE and I should point out an aside that if they would like to share those wines my door is always open. Most of my readers appreciate the buzz because it doesn't advocate spending your sons future tuition on high-end (and in this case SUPER high end wines), and turn their noses up on the idea that a dowry sized price tag on a single bottle of Napa Cabernet is about as ridiculous as Sarah Palin key note speaking at a Mensa conference... Have I had it? Yes and I think that it is absolutely sublime. Would I drive a Ferrari? Heck yes, if I had no qualms about money. What Banks did say about his parting ways with S.E. was that he wanted to go somewhere where he oversaw reasonable retail costs again.
I'm not rich by any means, I'm fairly sure I'd actually keep up with this blog if I had to work less on amassing a fortune great enough to keep up with my ferocity for wine; but I have to appreciate small gestures such as his. S.E. has gotten as glutted and inflated as formerly humble estates like HARLAN and OPUS ONE. Do I like those wines? I'd probably push a baby seal in front of a bus for a vintage Harlan Cabernet; but will I?
And thats the point Im trying to make. Most owners of successful and still filthy rich vineyards will SAY they want the prices to fall back down to reasonable numbers; but the honest truth is that they are just SAYING that. Banks stood up for the everyman, and those everymen couldn't have ever bought his wines to begin with. Before I get on my pedestal I must reiterate that he's not going to win a pulitzer prize, or get a ticker tape parade; but I hope that my audience out there goes wherever he sets his sights, and supports a shining beam of hope for an increasingly exclusive Appelation like Napa Valley. No you don't see a lot of charity and admiration for the every day wine drinker, not unless his everyday plonk has a price tag that looks like his phone number. Go out right now, and by right now I mean when you have a special occasion, and buy a bottle of HARTWELL: MISTE HILL. I love Ben Touqett, and I think his wines for the Hartwell family are some of the best if not THE best wines under $70 dollars. Succulent, off drying, rich but not overly obtrusive; his Cabernet Sauvignon is a parade of flavors for even the pickiest of wine enthusiasts. I'm a huge BARLOWE fan too, yes it's huge, but dang it thats what we Napa Nuts love the most; so deal with it.
If you take anything from this, its don't let someone tell you that the most innaccesible wines of the West Coast are necessarily WORTH IT; I mean hell even Charles freakin Banks took a stand. Go out there and find yourself a wine that suits YOUR budget. An associate of mine, and a cool dude, Todd Anderson sells his GHOST HORSE Cabernet Sauvignon at staggering heights; but I find the wine faultless. Did I pay for it? Heck no, but if I had the kind of money his clients do, I'd always buy faultless wines. What do I buy? I buy the best wines for my own budget, and so should you. Furthermore I buy wines and suggest wines with integrity, so again it is always a pleasure to see the little guy get a big supporter....


Cru-s Control

Greetings and a belated salutations; I have been all over the place this last almost year since my last posting, something that I will soon remedy.
As we approach the summer months, I am reminded of two things I hold dear; warm weather and the opportunity to buy futures in Bordeaux wines. A future is when you buy the wine, knowing ahead of time that it will be some time before you recieve that wine. Never fear, however, because in this increasingly young drinking(wine, as well as the age of the consumer) society it's probably safer in the hands of the Chateaus(yes I realize the french spelling is Chateaux) rather than in the hands of your impetuous social circles. It is in that vein that I am talking about the often lauded 'Premiere Crus' of Bordeaux's west bank.
2007 was an okay year for Bordeaux, and the artisans of their craft did make some generally above average wines out of sub average grapes- but the issue now becomes; why would we still pay such outlandish prices for just 'good juice'. I call it the 'Because We Say So' method of not just Bordeaux but of a good sized portion of Napa Valley as well. Chateau Latour, my favorite of the 2007 pluckings is just shy of $500, while the venerably lofty Chateau Mouton Rothschild is well over $700. Now these wines are far beyond a common market place good, but are they really worth the near mortgage payment price tags that they demand?
It's all relative to your budget, says the man who drinks a good deal for free, and I must tell you that I never buy them with my own money. There are too many good second and third cru class wines that are just as vibrant and expressive of the West Bank to even remotely consider a chapter 11 appetite. Will I buy a Premiere Cru future from 2009? It's hard to tell not having tasted the promises so many other critics have hailed as the best vintage in a generation, but one thing is for certain; I will buy the one I think stands up the best, not the rock star BS that the Rothschild shadow imposes. I will second that by saying that Rothschild wines can be good, even outstanding; but I will not be bullied into praising them above all others. I have had a few chances to try pre-1973 Mouton Rothschild(the year it was elevated to Premiere status) and I can safely say that when it was fighting for respect, it was just a darn better wine.
No stick to your guns when you buy these wines, and if you can try something like Chateau Carboneaux; affordable and surprisingly vivacious. Try investing in Chateau Gruad-Larosse; it's a fraction of the price with practically the same lifespan. Don't look at Premiere Cru as the head of it's class(no pun intended) unless it's willing to fork over the same explosive flavors and textures.



No, affordism isn't a word. Fordism is the mass production of a product, and therein a certain decline in personality as a result. Affordism is what I call Napa Valley Cabernets these days. In an effort to make a buck, the boutique has become bulk chic, and we lost our bond with minisculism. Minisculism isn't a word, but it's what I call low allocation as a byproduct of low production and a hand-picked attention to detail.
Napa Cabernets have just become over done, and I don't mean all of them, but for argument sake I'd say that encompasses a good 75% of the main stream market. I love Krupp Brothers, I love Alpha Omega and I love Burly. With that said, they're probably wines you wouldn't really know. You know the Caymus' and you know the Silver Oaks', and they're not bad wines, they're just staples. Staples is a word that means dependability, and the real staple definition of these wines is that you can find them everywhere. Don't think because its readily available that makes it better than its small scale competitors, it generally means the opposite. If you have less juice, and more personal attention, you tend to get a more cultured wine.
I know I harp about Napa a lot, but that's the area I see so much potential in. I love love love the personality and environment of Northern California, and though there are literally dozens of other great areas, I feel a certain magentism to Napa/Sonoma and try to herald a certain return to heroism that it was elevated to in the 1970's.
Try something new, you may in fact be surprised, and if you want to spend less money, go ahead and gamble on the less expensive wines that you've never spotted in your local grocery store...


Wine-ding Down?

I was at a tasting with a pair of friends who used to work in wine.  I say work in wine, because for them, it was a job and not a passion.  For me, wine is passion, but thankfully I also pay the bills because of it.  We're at this tasting and he, lets call him John, turns to me and says "Don't you just despise Silver Oak?" Our other friend in turn, says, "You mean Silver CHOKE?"  
When did we ever feel like we're better than staples of the wine world?  Chris Walker, a good friend and coworker will probably be shocked at reading this; Silver Oak, Caymus, Mondavi are all good wines.  Doug Baron who makes Silver Oak does a great job at giving the American Public what they want, utilizing American Oak to embolden his Cabernets to fit our massive palettes.  Chuck Wagner of Caymus put Cult Cabernets on the map and in our major retail markets.  Mondavi, well Mondavi showed us that wine was fit for everyone.  I've had his '76 Cabernet Reserve, and it's just now peaking.  Chris has a passion for wine that rivals my own, and he too is hesitant to mock someone's hard fought creations.  He, like myself, recognizes that sometimes we want something that people know and are impressed by.  I know that a Corvette is not necessarily the BEST car, but darned if it doesn't make heads turn.  If you ever want to impress a sommelier, ask them if they have any Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard.  It's from back when Jason Meyer was the owner/winemaker and it may be some of the best wine to ever come out of California.  I had the '84 vintage a few months ago, and I nearly cried.  It's not cheap, but its a legacy that you can be a part of, and that should impress yourself. 
In short, if it's that popular, it's not a bad wine; you simply don't like it.  I love Frog's Leap Merlot, but for some reason people think that 100% Merlot isn't savage enough for our lifestyles.  Chris likes Gran Reservas, but some people think they're too fleshy and spice driven.  Who cares if you're not drinking it?  Leave the wine making to the pros and drink what you like, believe me they know what they're doing better than we do.  

Chard-ly worth the effort

          I like Chardonnays.  I'm not an ABC Wine Drinker(Anything but Chardonnay), but I see where they are coming from.  In an effort to embody the American Muscle Mentality, California has created a 'race' of bigger, tougher, more aggressive white titans that hardly resemble the Burgundian gems we first sought to emulate.  
I call it the 'Kendall Jackson effect'.  Somehow, years ago Chardonnay drinkers fell in love with really oaky wines.  Is that a bad thing?  You like what you like, and in this authors opinion, it's Rock and Roll versus Alternative Rock; the latter being a guilty pleasure and rarely maintaining any real merit.  So Jess Jackson and his brilliant team put together an oaky Chardonnay, and somehow it ended up in every restaurant that served workaday wine drinkers.  Now I don't know why it happened, or how it happened, but someone started messing with Malolactic Fermentation.  Malolactic Fermentation uses lactic bacteria to convert the harsh(but beautiful) malic acid into the more familiar lactic acid.  It's great in Red Wines, especially Tempranillo, but makes your Chardonnay taste more like Country Home Margarine if over done.  Fast forward a decade or so of 'juiced up juice', and we start seeing a trend of this 'Land O Lake' over buttery Chardonnay Chic.  
I like Chardonnays with butterscotch under tones, Jean Hofliger made a great example of this at Newton and then again at Alpha Omega.  Frank Family and Miner also make SUBTLE buttered toasty Chards as well, and that's why you don't see more of them.  The fact of the matter is, Macon and Fouisse appreciate a clean acidity, and we simply appreciate grandeur.  Jordan Chardonnay is overlooked because of it's lack of oak and butter, but I adore its Burgundian similarities.  It's clean pear and creamy mango mesh well with undertones of sweet honeysuckle.  I try not to bash anyones wines, because it really takes all types, so I apologize to Jess and his team because they make good wines, I just cannot take this Jacksonian era of over zest any longer.  
If you want quality Chardonnay, know too you may have to pay more, but the outcome is far greater.  Paying $25 dollars for a good Chardonnay is a blessing considering what us Cab Heads pay for our favorites.  Feel lucky that you aren't addicted to a wine that can easily stack up to $70-$100, and listen to us when we suggest sed wines.  Go find a bottle of Lambert Bridge Chardonnay and enjoy it's tight roping of Butterscotch, but also enjoy the fact that some of the fruit is still succulent like it's meant to be
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The No-Spitter Twitter

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Fair Drinkum

The Australians have a phrase that, unfortunately, hasn't caught on like 'Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbi'.  Firstly, they're called Prawns, and they throw snags(sausages) on the Barbi.  Secondly, the phrase 'Fair Dinkum' better sums up the Aussie, care free mentality.  Fair Dinkum means, 'Fair Deal' or 'Holy Cow, how great'.  It's used to fully communicate that sometimes it's not too good to be true.
The same is true about their wines.  From the bombastic Shiraz' of Barossa to the delicately oaked Chardonnays of Margaret River; Australia has become the go-to face of wine on a global scale.  Since James Busby brought Rhone fruit to the Valleys of Barossa's flat lands in the 1830s, Australia has advanced their wine industry at a pace that makes France and Italy(heck even us) look like viticultural snails.  Owing current vintage zip to a painfully long drought, the newer versions of the classics are pulling back that over lacquered, port like juice and coming out with the perfect reservations we expect from everyday wine.  I love love love the juice that Chris Ringland puts out, and now that he is on as the winemaker for Marquis-Phillips, it's only getting better.  A good deal of his wines see oaking in French rather than American, and in this writer's opinion they're all the better for it.  American Oak has nearly 4 times the lactone content that French does, and it really shoots the fruit into orbit.  Though most Barossa Shiraz sees American Coopering, the ones that get a solid French Connection are my personal favorites.  Look for the Number 9 Shiraz, it's got just enough Currant and Cassis up front, but the mid palette is a mix of tahitian vanilla bean and humidor spice.  
Seriously, check out the land down under, it's a fair deal and it's a tasty one.