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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Are Wine Writers Bad Writers?

bordxHow often have you read a wine review and wondered what, exactly, quince tastes like? I’ve never had a quince. Will I enjoy a wine that tastes of quince? I have no idea. By the same token, I’d bet you’ve tasted a wine whose label proudly proclaims rich mocha on the finish, but all you can taste is grapes. What gives? Are the people who review and describe wines bad writers? Wine_Snob_300x285The wine world has often been criticized as being snobby and pretentious. While the industry has made great strides in recent years, making wine more affordable and approachable, there are wine writers out there who aren’t doing wine any favors with their tongue-twisting, nose-in-the-air reviews. wine-snob-logo1NPR’s Sacramento affiliate, Capital Public Radio, recently shared an interview with Rick Kushman on this topic. Kushman is the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, and also co-hosts, with Paul Wagner, a radio show called Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul. Kushman and Wagner have been collecting examples of bad wine writing from listeners. Listen to the 11 minute Capital Public Radio broadcast here, for some dizzying examples. If you’ve got more time, check out the full 49 minute Bottle Talk episode here.

For a little added fun, check out this Random Wine Review Generator. Here’s one I got: “The 2005 Zinfandel from Chateau Cousteau fuses nihilistic rosemary undertones with a melancholy parsnip aftertaste.” Mmm, delicious. enhanced-buzz-11670-1304238593-20

Yes, reviews and descriptions are helpful. But no matter how flowery and poetic the review, or how descriptively detailed the label…Drink what you like!

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We made 3 promises to our customers

How many companies do you know that ask for customer input, then actually use the results to improve the business? I know of one: Naked Wines. Read about it here.

The Truth About Wine

Last July, we asked our Angel customers what they wanted us to focus on this year. And then we promised to do those things.

The three winners were:

  • More killer wines under $10 Angel price
  • More hidden gems that you wouldn’t discover without our help
  • Updates when your favorite wines are back in stock, running out or being funded again.

Why did we ask our customers how to run our business?

Our Angels aren’t just wine shoppers – they are the lifeblood of our company. Without their support, our winemakers wouldn’t be able to make their wines and we wouldn’t be able to run this company. So Angels should feel like they’re really involved in everything. Even business decisions!

So rather than sit around in a board room trying to figure out what we can do to make customers happy (that’s not the naked way to do things), we just asked our…

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Review: Kimbao Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Kimbao Reserve Cabernet 2013

This is a very nice, rich, full Cabernet from Chile. It is produced by winemakers Constanza Schwaderer and Filipe Garcia, and distributed via Naked Wines. Prior to this bottle, I’d not been a big fan of Chilean Cabernet. Constanza and Filipe have changed my mind. Here’s what I thought:

The color is inky purple in the glass. Initial aromas are blackberry and some clove-like spice.

I poured straight from the bottle and found it to be a bit tight and tannic. However, after I ran it through my Vinturi, the wine is smooth and full bodied.

The dominant flavor is fresh picked blackberry. There are also flavors of black currant, with oak and a hint of violet around the edges. The finish lingers with berry and spice.

There are ample tannins, with nicely balanced acidity which helps prolong the finish. This wine definitely has aging potential, but with proper aeration/decanting it is quite enjoyable now.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Hearts

NW LogoThis wine is available exclusively through Naked Wines for $11.99. Naked Wines operates in the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. Click here for a voucher worth $100 off a first time order of $160 or more. You’ll be glad you did!

Destination: The Old Sugar Mill


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Located less than 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento, the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, CA, is a wine lover’s dream destination. Take a scenic drive along the Sacramento River to the home of 11 tasting rooms, and several full winery operations. Besides the wine, the venue hosts a number of events including Art Walks, Yoga and Wine, Food Truck Mania, seasonal events, and frequent weddings. This is truly a one-stop wonderland.

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Photo Credit: The Friends of the Clarksburg Library https://oldsugarmill.hosting-advantage.com/osm_construction/04_20_35.jpg

As the name implies, this regional hub for Central Valley wines is housed in an old sugar production mill. But that’s not the most interesting bit about this historic building. Formerly owned by the Amalgamated Sugar Company, it was originally located at Smithfield, Utah. In 1933, the plant was closed, dismantled, and transported brick-by-brick to its current location. It was reassembled between 1934-1936 and resumed operation, processing sugar beets into granular sugar. In 1993, the location closed as a sugar processing plant forever, and remained vacant until 2000. In that year, John Carvalho, Jr., purchased the location and began renovation and conversion into a winery and tourism destination. [1], [2]

Most of the current occupants of the Old Sugar Mill are wineries from the Clarksburg AVA, although other California AVA’s are represented also. These include Fair Play AVA in the Sierra Foothills (Perry Creek Winery) and Trinity County AVA (Merlo Family Estate).

IMG_0424The buildings themselves are worth the visit. The massive, high-ceiling brick edifices are beautiful; the architecture reminiscent of a bygone era.

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When you pass through the main doors, you enter the main building that houses nine of the tasting rooms, and a barrel room that functions as an event hall.

IMG_0425The Barrel RoomIMG_0428

Continue through the building and out the back doors, where you’ll find a large lawn area where Food Truck events and weddings are held. Also out back are the other two tasting rooms. Bring a picnic lunch, or buy something from one of the ever-present food trucks, and make an afternoon of it! IMG_0430

With 11 wineries all in one place, you have plenty of choices and options. In addition to the outdoor seating, many tasting rooms have seating areas for leisurely tasting enjoyment. Most tasting rooms charge $5 for tasting; typically 6-8 pours; but will waive the tasting charge with a purchase. On this trip, we visited four wineries.

Draconis Vineyards specializes in just two varietals: Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and their wines are excellent. Their tasting room staff is friendly and helpful.

Perry Creek and Draconis

Perry Creek and Draconis

Clarksburg Wine Company has a huge selection of reds and whites. Give their Delta Blanc white blend and the Delta Rouge red blend a try!

Clarksburg Wine Company

Clarksburg Wine Company

Merlo Family Estate produces rich, delicious wines from the volcanic soils of Trinity County. Be sure to say “hi” to their tasting room manager, Djimi. In the summer months, he’ll likely be sporting his kilt.

Merlo Family Vineyards

Merlo Family Vineyards

Heringer Estates operates their winery on site at the Old Sugar Mill. They offer a wide portfolio of wines, including such unusual varietals as Tannat and Teroldedo.

Heringer Estates

Heringer Estates

The Old Sugar Mill is a dog friendly venue. Well behaved dogs on leashes are welcome. Many tasting rooms have water and/or snacks available for four-footed visitors.

Colette the Cavalier King Charles

Colette the Cavalier King Charles

If you are in the area, be sure to stop by for a visit! Here’s a map to help you find the way!

Cheers!!

P.S. The Old Sugar Mill website appears to be undergoing renovation, so the best way to get information is by visiting the Old Sugar Mill Facebook page, where you can find a complete listing of upcoming events.

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[1] https://oldsugarmill.hosting-advantage.com/pages/history.html

[2] http://www.lodinews.com/lodi_living/article_b319ccfa-598e-11e1-b8c1-001871e3ce6c.html

Review: Hob Nob Wicked Red Blend 2012

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Just in time for Halloween comes the limited edition Hob Nob Wicked Red Blend. Sporting a Calavera, or “Sugar Skull”; the traditional Mexican Dia De Los Muetros symbol; on the label, this wine actually hails from France. The Languedoc-Roussillon region, to be precise.

As stated on the label, this is a Limited Edition wine, released each year around Halloween. It is a great wine to bring to an All Hallows Eve party; full of surprises and devilishly good. The Languedoc-Roussillon region is known for excellent wines at outstanding values. Hob Nob Wicked Red Blend is no exception. A traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah, with some Cabernet Sauvignon as well, the folks at Hob Nob threw a surprise into this blend: Pinot Noir. The Pinot adds zing; a brisk acidity and layers of complexity to make this wine the life of the party! With plenty of backbone and structure, plus lively acidity, it pairs with a variety of foods; even a juicy grilled rib eye steak!

From the back label: “Celebrate Halloween with Hob Nob Wicked Red Limited Edition, a fruit forward, opulent red blend with hints of oak, hazelnut, mocha, and an eerily smooth finish. Are you ready to get Wicked?”

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Here’s what I thought of the 2012 Hob Nob Wicked Red Blend, as posted on Vivino:

“Fun label, good wine. Deep burgundy color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry bramble and dark berry, with some earthy notes. On the tongue the first thing I notice is the smooth body and bright acidity. Flavors of blackberry and fresh raspberry with cherry and cedar. The acidity creates a fresh, long finish.”

I got mine at Total Wine & More for $8.99. Tasty wine at a scary-good value! Get some, before it vanishes!

Cheers!

How to Avoid Subjectivity in Wine Reviews

How do you avoid subjectivity in wine reviews?

You can’t.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ve all read wine reviews in magazines and wine-industry websites. These are written by trained, often certified, wine professionals. In addition, social media has enabled us all to become wine reviewers. Sites like Cellar Tracker, Vivino, and Delectable allow consumers to rate and review wines on the go, using Smart Phone apps.

Cellar Tracker

Cellar Tracker

Vivino

Vivino

Delectable

Delectable

This can be a great help in the wine aisle, overwhelmed by the vast selection and not knowing what’s good. Simply pull out your phone and check the reviews!

There are also a number of online retailers that encourage consumers to rate and review the wines they buy.

With all those reviews out there, professional and amateur, how can you know which wines you’ll like?

Subjectivity is about individual experiences and perceptions. Its how you feel, what you enjoy; your personal preferences. Whereas you may really like a particular wine, the next person may disdain it.

Objectivity, on the other hand, refers to fact-based findings. When you go to the doctor, you describe your symptoms: pain and swelling in your ankle, for example. Perhaps you assume you sprained your ankle, but your symptoms are your subjective perception of what is wrong. Doctor Reading X RayThe doctor orders x-rays. The objective fact established by the x-ray shows that you actually broke your ankle. With objectivity, your doctor can properly treat your injury.

Wine is a subjective experience. Everybody has different preferences, tastes, likes, and dislikes. Some people only like white wine. Some people only like sweet wine. There are “ABC’ers” – Anything But Chardonnay. Paul Giamatt Drinking Spit BucketOthers, influenced by popular culture, and won’t drink Merlot. Price and value play a part, too. I know people who simply won’t spend more than $7 or $8 on a bottle of wine.

So are wine reviews of any value? Yes, but…

Wine reviews express the subjective opinion of another person. Professional reviewers, with years of training and tasting experience, can guide you to a wine you may enjoy. But…only if you share a similar taste profile and preferences. I have found that the best way to use reviews is to find reviewer with similar subjective preferences to mine. This requires a lot of reading, but pretty quickly you can identify who likes what you like.

Another thing to remember about professional reviews is that most (if not all) of the wines they review are samples submitted by the producer. That is, the reviewer is not paying for these wines. Professional reviewers rarely consider price in their ratings. It is easy to rave about a $200 wine when you’re not paying for it. One refreshing exception is Jon Thorsen, “The Reverse Wine Snob“, whose tagline is “Thumbing Your Nose at Bottles Over $20”. He has devised a rating scale that considers price as well as taste and quality.[1]

But what about amateurs?

In today’s social media culture, anybody can post a wine review. While this can make it more challenging to sift through the chaff to find a good match with your profile, it can be done. But…you have to be careful. The quality of the reviews runs the gamut, from one-or-two words (e.g. “loved it”), to troll-like wine bashing, to well-written and thoughtful. Again, finding and following a few users with whom you find unity will go a long way to helping you find that new favorite wine.

When I rate wines, my ratings (five-star scale) are based on how much I liked or enjoyed a wine at a given time in a given setting. I’ve found that the same wine can taste different in different situations. In my reviews, I try to be as descriptive as possible, so readers can decide if a given wine might taste like what they like.

Notable among online retailers encouraging ratings is Naked Wines, where members communicate directly with the winemakers through reviews and comments. Naked Wines actually uses member feedback to determine which wines to produce in future years. (Get your $100 voucher here!)

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Isn’t the 100 point scale objective?

The 100 point wine rating scale, popularized by Robert Parker in the 1970’s [2], is helpful, but has come under increased scrutiny recently [3]. Critics argue that it is one-dimentional – it does not consider situational nuances; it favors higher-end, more expensive wines; and…wait for it…it is largely subjective, based on the preferences and biases of the reviewer. Robert Parker’s 92 might be an 85 for me, and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, over the years, a number of wines have earned a perfect 100 points from professional reviewers. These wines are the gold-standard for a particular varietal or region. Let’s assume for a moment that all the experts agree that these are all 100 point wines. That would be pretty objective! However, for the average consumer, pure objectivity would require tasting every 100 point wine of every varietal and region to get a baseline for quality. As much as I’d love to do this, it simply isn’t possible. Furthermore, since wine is subjective, not everyone will love every 100 point wine.

100 Pt Wines

So what to do?

Embrace the subjectivity in wine. Part of the marvel and enjoyment is the fact that we are all different. There is enough variety that everyone can find something they like. Read reviews, both of professionals, published in magazines and on wine websites, and amateurs on social media, apps, and blogs. Follow those who share your preference, but don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new, too.

Finally, try not to get distracted by reviews. They are just opinions. The most important thing to remember is…

Drink what you like!

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[1] http://www.reversewinesnob.com/p/rating-system.html

[2] https://www.erobertparker.com/info/legend.asp

[3] http://wineeconomist.com/2008/05/27/tyranny-of-the-100-point-wine-scale/

https://grapecollective.com/articles/death-of-the-100-point-system

http://firstwefeast.com/drink/the-future-of-the-100-point-wine-system/

Review: Spier Chenin Blanc 2015

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Once upon a time, I was pretty much a red-only wine drinker. In the past couple of years, however, I’ve ventured into whites and Rosés, as well. As I continued my journey in the realm of whites, I came across this delightful, refreshing Chenin Blanc.

I’m a recent convert to Chenin Blanc. I have childhood memories of neighborhood parties, where the adults were drinking cheap, jug Chenin Blanc. I recall it being a very sweet, low-end wine. As a result, when I started enjoying wine, I avoided Chenin Blanc.

Fortunately, that changed when I received a sample of a Chenin Blanc. Tasted with a fresh, open mind, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thus began the quest for more delicious Chenin Blancs.

Today my quest brought me to this delightful example. From the Western Cape region of South Africa, the Spier 2015 is light, crisp, and refreshing. The color is light Amber in the glass. Initial aromas are apricot and tropical fruit. The wine presents with a luscious mouthfeel balanced by fresh acidity. The stone and tropical fruit flavors continue on the tongue with mango, passion fruit, and peach, as well as fresh pear. Typical of the recent Chenin Blancs I have had, this is dry, but fruit-driven giving it a pleasantly sweet feel. The wine finishes well, and is very refreshing.

As summer like weather continues to persist in Northern California, cool, refreshing whites are a delightful way to relax. Spier Chenin Blanc 2015 is a good pick. I found it at Total Wine & More for only $7.99, making it affordable as well as enjoyable.