Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is A Wine You Can’t Purchase Really Any Good?

As a part of the wine snob media I get plenty of tweets and emails from other wine writers boasting about some Chateau D’ Bigstuff somewhere in the world that just got a 99 rating. Immediately, I’m drawn in. My mind races and my palms get sweaty. All I can think about is “how do I get my hands on that wine?”. Well, the answer is good luck!

The truth is that most of the wines you read about in national and international wine reviews have already been long consumed by the vintner’s regular customers. If there are a few bottles available in this region it is because somebody accidentally purchased too much and they’ve been holding it in some warehouse hoping a big score would pop before they had to dump it down a drain.

The second thing about reading these damnable wine scores is that usually the wine that is being reported on is a vintage or two behind. If you do find a bottle of these famous wines you are likely to find vintages 1 to 3 years younger than the big scoring one. When you do get it home you find out that the wine you purchased isn’t from the same vineyard or sometimes even made by the same winemaker.

This brings me to my big philosophical pondering of the week. Is a wine you can’t purchase really any good? My answer is “no”…it is actually not good at all. The only wine that is really any good is the wine that you can reach out and actually drink. The one that meets your personal flavor profile. The one that you can pick up at a local shop, take home, sip, and enjoy with friends or dinner.

People constantly ask me what my favorite wine is. I always ponder the question and then answer “The one that I’m drinking tonight”. The truth is, I don’t trust scores. I don’t trust the media. And, I don’t trust other people telling me what is good or isn’t. I only trust the feel of the cork in my hands and what is being poured into my glass. If it smells and looks good I drink it. If it doesn’t I don’t. I’m not a wine snob. I’m just a simple guy who doesn’t like being told what I should like.

There is plenty of good wine from this region and around the world that is accessible. Several wineries within 100 miles of Pendleton proudly boast regular scores in the 90s in national magazines. Yes, it would be nice to enjoy a beautiful Bordeaux from the other side of the world, but honestly your chances of getting your hands on it are slim to none. Wouldn’t you rather have 5 bottles of really good wine from this region for the same price?

Now, if you want my opinion (and this is an opinion column) I suggest that you put away that fancy wine magazine. I challenge you to get up, go to the store and pick out a few bottles of wine you haven’t had before. Don’t always drink the same thing. Try new wines every day. And, whatever you do, don’t trust some magazine score to tell you what tastes good.

Have a great week, and enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When In Pendleton…Drink Whiskey

Probably the biggest hang-up I’ve had this week is wondering what kind of high-faluten wine article I could write that would stir up visiting cowboys and cowgirls from throughout the continent, and make them want to drink a glass of local Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s when it hit me. Not even I drink wine this week. So, after writing about wine for the Eastern Oregonian for a year and a half, here is my very first whiskey article.

Now, what kind of an article can a wine slob tell you all about whiskey. Well…I decided to do my very own independent research in the confines of my own house. No marketing people with their cute girls, or lick-on tattoos. Just me, 4 bottles, and my computer.

For the purposes of this article I will tell you that I compared four very popular brands of Canadian Whiskey. Just for the curious, Canadian style whiskey is a blended rye whiskey. Unlike American rye blends, that have to be no less than 60% rye malt, Canadian blends are not held to a particular level of rye in the mix.

First, I tasted my father’s favorite…Black Velvet. Manufactured by Diagio, one of the world’s largest alcoholic beverage distributors, Black Velvet has been a Canadian whiskey institution since 1945. A nose that is faintly sweet, but pretty much overpowered by the smell of rubbing alcohol. The taste is fairly smooth, with a bitter finish that tastes like grape seeds. Not bad…just not great.

Second, I tasted MacNaughton’s. I did several research cues on this fairly popular whiskey, and found absolutely nothing on it. There is no company that is even willing to openly claim it on the internet. Hmmmm…makes me nervous to even crack the seal, however I did for the sake of all of you. Well, I can tell you that with there is no aroma outside of cleaning solvents to this beverage. The flavor is of alcohol. I’m not sure of what kind even. I’ve never written anything bad about anyone, but I think I’ve just broken that rule!

My third sample was of the ever famous Crown Royal. Compared to the previous beverages, this was truly a delight. Crown, surprisingly enough is also manufactured by Diagio brands, however is well respected as Canada’s finest and most popular whiskey. The bouquet is warm, smooth, and brandy-like. Amber colored in the glass, it exudes rich flavors of honey, vanilla and spices. With a long, sweet finish, I’ll admit, it made me want to hum O Canada.

Last, but certainly not least, I tried the whiskey that got it’s name and logo from the town at the base of the blues, Pendleton. Created by Hood River Distillers in Hood River, Oregon in 2003, Pendleton whiskey is the fastest growing brand of Canadian blended whiskey on the American market.

A little lighter color in the glass than the Crown, the Pendleton is rich in earthy vanilla and baking spices on the nose. The nectar is sweet, with a strong flavor of homemade butterscotch like grandma used to make. A long butterscotch finish made me want to go back for more. From a wine-guy’s perspective, this is one worth sipping on all night.

I hope that this Roundup brings you home after a long, hot summer. And, now that you’re here, I hope that you can enjoy it along with your favorite beverage. Have a fantastic time, and Let ‘er Buck!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Does Good Cabernet Taste Like?

The last few weeks I’ve had several conversations with people in the wine industry about a few winemakers in the region, one in particular, who claim to make superior wines in an “old world style”. I’ll come right out and say that their wines taste like good vinegar to me, however good vinegar makes great salad dressing.

The problem is that there is not a consumer standard for what is supposedly good or bad. It really depends on what people like me, and others who are more educated and highly paid have to write about the wines that they drink. A good score means that you have to like it because some “expert” did.

In preparing for this article I did a little research, beyond just drinking, and was reminded of a few points of reference. A few years ago there was a funny movie that was produced about winemaking, and it wasn’t that over-rated movie Sideways. The movie is called Bottle Shock. You can rent it from most local movie rental places or even download it on Netflix.

Bottle Shock, set in 1976 in California’s wine country is about the story of Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant who sets out to prove that French wines are superior. He hosts the Judgement of Paris, the world’s first truly intercontinental judging of Cabernet and Chardonnay. The Americans beat the French, like usual, and the French whine, also like usual.

The rest of the movie you’ll have to watch for yourself. However, a few standards of what a good Cabernet are, are established during the Judgement of Paris. Those facts are pretty much immutable.

A good flavor profile for Cabernet Sauvignon begins with the grapes. Grapes that are picked right, with the right amount of sugar should have a soft vegetable flavor that is going to taste a little like Green Bell Pepper. A really established Cabernet vineyard, will produce flavors of Eucalyptus or Mint, which tells you that you are drinking pretty much the best of the best.

Spice is added to Cabernet Sauvignon through barrel aging. Depending on the wood and treatment by the cooper, barrels create different spices that will layer over the grape flavors to develop the wine’s complexity. Flavors of Vanilla, Cassis or Black Currant, Tobacco and Leather come from this aging process.

Lastly, a good winemaker balances the wine with just the right amount of tannin. Silky, smooth tannins that don’t overpower the fruit create a long and beautiful finish to the wine.

If you were wondering who won the 1976 Judgement of Paris, it was Stags Leap Vineyards, with their 1971. Stags Leap, now owned by our friends at St. Michelle, remains to be one of the outstanding examples of what a good cabernet should be. Of course, that region is full of other names such as Heitz or Rombauer.

Locally the best cabernet comes from just a few vineyards. Probably the most famous are Champoux, Seven Hills, Pepperbridge, and recently Ceil du’ Cheval. If you look on your label and see these names, you will likely be drinking what is likely to be the way a good Cabernet Sauvignon should taste.