Alcohol: Can We Please Stop the Whining and Get to Some Thinking?

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The alcohol issue has become an abyss. In the most recent flare up, Bob Parker went on a tear, and Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow among others responded. But I think the discussion continues to miss the real issue, which is not the merits of low alcohol wine vs. high alcohol wine.The real question, it seems to me is, where in the world are the terroirs that allow grapes to just barely tip the scales into perfect ripeness WITHOUT the next ten dominoes falling and catapulting the wine’s alcohol level skyward?

I think certain places can get ripeness while sidestepping high alcohol. Among them: Rioja; Tuscany; parts of the Rhone; Austria; the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys; parts of Sonoma; British Columbia; Oregon; parts of Chile; even parts of Australia. And of course, Bordeaux in warm years; Napa Valley in cool ones. More than weather is undoubtedly at work, however, including the complex issue of the efficiency of various yeast strains in converting sugars to alcohol; and the complex role that rootstocks and clones play.

I wish we heard from more winemakers about these things, rather than rehash the elliptical (and pointlessly simplistic) conversation that suggests it’s all just about preference and picking date.
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How Far We Have NOT Come

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Lynn Penner Ash, the first female winemaker in Oregon.


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March–Women’s History Month—reminds us of how far we have NOT come. According to the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE), only 9.8% of California wineries have women winemakers. This, even though the first women graduates out of UC Davis’ renown Viticulture and Enology program—Mary Ann Graf and Zelma Long, graduated in the mid-1970s. Curiously, the appellation with the most women winemakers is Sonoma (12.4%) followed by Napa (12.2%). The AAWE hypothesizes that women winemakers immediately gravitate to high-end wine vs. beverage wine which accounts for their higher representation in appellations like Sonoma and Napa that make luxury wine. But there may be something else at work too.

My theory is that Sonoma has the most women winemakers because it’s a pinot noir hotbed. Recently, in conducting research for The NEW Wine Bible (to be released Spring 2015), I discovered the fact that Oregon has slightly more women winemakers than California, despite having 1/27th the grape acreage. Indeed, in the one U.S. state devoted to pinot noir, women account for over 10% of all winemakers.

One question seemed obvious: Do women choose pinot noir? Or does it choose them? I asked Lynn Penner Ash—who became the first female winemaker in Oregon in 1988–her view. Recounting the early days, she said, “In the beginning, Oregon was made up of very small family-owned wineries, and we wanted everyone to do well to establish Oregon as a place for world-class pinot noir. Female or male, if you were willing to work hard at making pinot, you were welcome.” But Penner Ash said there were also more subtle powers at work. “Pinot noir is a reflective grape. We strive to be guardians of it–but not dominators–which some might say reflects a more feminine sensibility.”

What are your thoughts on women, pinot , and winemaking?
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Man with the Magic Touch Getting Even More Magical

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In the time-to-be adventurous department, here are four new discoveries of tiny production wines, each of which is made by Philippe Melka, the geologist turned winemaker with the golden (and expensive) touch.
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Last year at the Atelier Melka tasting, too many of Philippe’s wines tasted the same (and were, to me, predictable). Only Lail and Vineyard 29 stood out as fully distinctive. This year, it was a whole new story. Maybe, in part, it was the cooler 2011 vintage. But, whatever the reason, the Melka stamp of saturated fruit no longer seems to dominate as much, and in backing off, he has allowed the gems he works with to shine.
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The top four wines to watch:
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GANDONA ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Napa Valley)
From a 116-acre winemaking estate near Colgin, Bryant, and Ovid on Pritchard Hill comes this vivid cabernet that dances on the palate with waves of delicious sophisticated flavor.
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GEMSTONE ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Yountville, Napa Valley)
Great young cabernet should have a sense of freshness (the Bordelaise are adamant on this point), and Gemstone exudes it, creating a terrific tension of opposition between the fruit and the structure.
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PERFECT SEASON Cabernet Sauvignon 20110 (Knights Valley)
Like another great Knights Valley estate (Peter Michael), Perfect Season makes cabernet that’s categorically different than Napa cab. It’s more broad, more dense, more fudge than bitter chocolate.
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QTR 2011 (St. Helena, Napa Valley)
QTR stands for Quality Time remaining…what card carrying boomer wouldn’t love the name? And the wine is classy—structured, rich and elegant.
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Randall Grahm Goes Quince-otic

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Randall Grahm has done it again–surprised and shocked the wine world, but this time it’s not wine, but hard cider, that’s doing the shocking. And it’s shockingly delicious: 58% pear, 33% apple, and 9% quince, this sparkler is fresh, vibrant and NOT your eleven year-old’s apple juice (at least, not MY eleven year-old’s). Check out my review of Bonny Doon “¿Querry?” Sparkling Hard Cider 2011 ($16): Bonny Doon Cider Tasting
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A Wine by Any Other Name…

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I’m really puzzled by the fact that gewürztraminer has never really clicked in the U.S. It’s big; it’s luscious; it’s fleshy; it’s mouth filling. What’s the hang-up? Can’t be the idea of sweetness because gewurz isn’t sweet. Can it be the name? Since the greatest gewurzs come from France (Alsace), maybe the French should create a French-sounding slang term for it… (petite epice?)

Anyway, the best gewurzs all have amazing kinectic vibration– that’s what I think the spice is…a kind of tactile buzz on the palate. And the seesaw of flavor between bitterness and fruitiness in gewurz is mesmerizing. I suppose I love gewurz most of all because it is distinctive. It is not anything; it is something. Writing the NEW Wine Bible, I was in delirium as we hit the Alsace tastings. Day after day of sensory fireworks. The absolutely most mind-blowing ones after those tastings were the gewurzs from: Kuentz-Bas, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag, and Domaine Weinbach.

In the U.S. gewurz pickings are slim (where have all the courageous winemakers gone?). But in Anderson Valley, Lazy Creek Vineyards, now owned by Don and Rhonda Carano (of Ferrari Carano), makes one that’s scrumptious. Check out my video tasting notes on their gewurz here: Lazy Creek Vineyards Tasting
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THE MOST LOVED WINE BIBLE CONTEST

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Got a torn, tattered, ratty, smudged, stained, post-it covered, and marked-up Wine Bible? We’d love to see it! Send us a photo and a few words about your book, and we’ll enter you in the Most Loved Wine Bible Contest. The Grand Prize winner will receive a private wine seminar with Karen MacNeil in the Napa Valley for four people, as well as a personalized copy of The NEW Wine Bible, hot off-the-press in spring 2015. Twenty runners up will also receive signed copies of The NEW Wine Bible. Please see below for details.
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Details
• The contest starts February 1, 2014 and ends January 31, 2015
• Each month, the top books will be announced on Facebook. Monthly winners will be added to the pool of finalists.
• On February 1, 2015, the Grand Prize winner and the 20 runners-up will be selected from the pool of finalists and notified that they’ve won.
• Karen will host a private wine seminar for the Grand Prize owner of the Most Loved Wine Bible (and three of that person’s friends) in the Napa Valley.
• The 20 runners up will receive a signed copy of The NEW Wine Bible the minute it is published, in spring 2015.
• How to enter: Send two photos of your book, your full name, email address, and phone number, as well as an optional short note about your book, to elizabeth@karenmacnenil.com or post it to the “Most Loved Wine Bible Contest” Facebook page.
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Rules
• One submission per person
• The Grand Prize includes the seminar and seminar wines but does not include travel to or accommodations in the Napa Valley.
• Employees of Karen MacNeil & Company are not eligible to participate.
• This contest is not sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Facebook
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For questions, please email noelia@karenmacneil.com
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Good luck!
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World of Pinot Noir 2012

World of Pinot Noir, March 1-2, 2012: Karen MacNeil hosted two lively seminars at this year’s World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) event in Shell Beach, California. The first panel addressed the issue of alcohol and balance in pinot noir, while the second panel delved into the controversial question of what minerality is and how it is present in pinot noir. For information on next year’s WOPN event, visit their website.
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Flavor! Napa Valley, November 15-17, 2012

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Legends of the Napa Valley, November 16: Karen MacNeil will be on the panel of this legendary tasting event, along with Alder Yarrow and Nicholas Jackson, with Anthony Dias Blue as the host. Seventy seven wines that put Napa on the world wine map, from 1952-2009, will be poured and discussed by the panel and by the winemakers themselves.
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A Hedonist’s Ultimate Tasting, November 17: Karen MacNeil will co-host this tasting with David Funaro, Chef Chocolatier at Godiva. Nine Napa Valley wines will be paired with luscious Godiva chocolates, in a true testament to hedonism.
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All of the net proceeds from Flavor! Napa Valley support programs and scholarships at the Culinary Institute of America.
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Karen MacNeil Takes Research Trip to Champagne

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October 2012: Karen MacNeil visits Champagne, France this month to research new developments in the area. All new research will appear in The New Wine Bible, due to be published in 2014.
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