2011 Wine Spectator New York Wine Experience October 20-22

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience is coming to the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City Thursday October 20th through Saturday October 22nd.

The event includes grand tastings similar to those I wrote about back in May as part of the Boston Grand Tour event. The New York Wine Experience also includes moderated sit down seminars and a grand award banquet. Total cost for the full experience: $1,875.

But don't let sticker shock scare you away - there are more affordable options. The award banquet costs $400 a la carte. The value play, I think, is the $250 grand tastings which run Thursday and Friday from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm.

$250 for a wine tasting might sound like a lot. And it is. But if you're looking to try some of the best wines produced in the world today in an efficient and indulgent manner, tastings like this are a great way to go.

Here's a list of producers pouring that caught my eye:
  • Beaucastel
  • Carter
  • Cassanova di Neri
  • Cheval Blanc
  • Clerc Milon
  • Cos d'Estournel
  • Dominus
  • Donum
  • DuMOL
  • Felsina
  • Gaja
  • Harlan
  • Haut-Brion
  • Kistler
  • Kosta Browne
  • Lafite Rothschild
  • Lynch-Bages
  • Chateau Margaux
  • Peter Michael
  • Mouton Rothschild
  • Opus One
  • Ornellaia
  • Papapietro Perry
  • Joseph Phelps
  • Pichon-Longueville-Baron
  • Pontet-Canet
  • Revana
  • Ridge
  • Domaine Saint Prefert
  • Sassicaia
  • Saxum
  • Schrader
  • Tenuta Sette Ponti
  • Shafer
  • Staglin
  • Vieux Telegraphe
  • Chateau d'Yquem
Perhaps even more amazing is the wineries pouring I didn't include. Folks like Beaux Freres, Caymus, Siduri, and Loring. If it's like the Boston tasting each producer is only pouring a single wine - and it's their best. Better yet in many cases it's the winemakers themselves pouring the wines.

Have a look at my write-up from the Boston Grand Tour event to get a feel for what's in store.

For more information visit the 2011 New York Wine Experience website.


On the 5 Star System and the 100 Point Scale

Monday, September 26, 2011

Netflix's streaming selection has always been pathetic but since we recently cancelled it we've been checking out more of the content we'd previously ignored - like HBO On Demand. Last night we watched "Hereafter" with Matt Damon and I really enjoyed it. It hit the spot on a quiet Sunday evening after the kids had gone to bed. I tend to like Matt Damon movies and I liked the way three stories came together. The melancholy music and cinematography was enjoyable too.

If I were describing to you in person whether I liked it and how much I liked it I'd probably say "It was pretty good!" with enthusiastically raised eyebrows and an earnest head nod. I'd recommend it, but I wouldn't want to be held liable if you didn't like it. That being the case, and since it's a movie rather than wine, I'd rate it 3.75 out of 5 stars. But what does that mean?

When it comes to ratings systems for wine, I really like the 100-point scale because it's immediately intuitive and because it's the dominant system used for rating wine.

But the 5 star scale seems to be dominant in movies. And music. And apps. And for rating businesses on Yelp. Yet I'm more confused on how to use the 5 star scale than the 100-point scale. Why?

I think it may have to do with having more experience reading and relating to wine ratings using the 100-point scale. There's nuance built into the 100-point scale that's not immediately apparent. While I can look at a Yelp review for a Pho restaurant in Chinatown and tell that more people liked a 4 star place than a 3.5 star place, how do I decide whether to give a place 3 or 4 stars? I don't know.

Netflix describes the 5 star rating system as follows:
5 starsLoved it
4 starsReally liked it
3 starsLiked it
2 starsDid not like it
1 starHated it

Using that scale as a reference, a 3.75 star rating for "Hereafter" feels right. I liked it. But did I "really like it"? Probably not. Two weeks from now I may not remember it.

If it were a wine I'd probably rate it 88 points. But how could that be? 3.75 divided by 5 equals 75. How can 3.75 mean "88"?

For starters the 100 point scale doesn't go below 50. You get 50 points just for turning in a bottle of wine. It's possible to get a 1-star review for a product on Amazon that really disappointed you. Or a restaurant you'd never go back to. But there's more to it than that.

The Meaning Behind the Numbers

One thing that's not immediately obvious when you see a numerical rating for a wine is how it fared compared to other wines. Anyone can tell that a critic likes a 91 point wine more than an 86 point wine. But what about an 82?

Wine Spectator describes their 100 point scale as follows:
  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
  • 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
  • 50-74 Not recommended
Okay, so anything rated 80 or better is good. 80 or better somewhat correlates to "recommended" whereas 74 or below is "not recommended". However, only truly horrendous wines seem to be not recommended.

If we look at Spectator's recent ratings for 2009 California Pinot Noir only 1 wine out of 356 was rated less than 80. Only one! All of the wines were good. All of the children were above average.
What Really Matters

That's not to say their ratings are useless. Far from it. You just have to look a little harder for the meaning in the ratings. Side note: Other publications have the same or even more optimistic curves so the phenomenon isn't specific to Spectator by any means.

What I'm looking for when I look at the chart above is to find the wines in the top 20% that are attainable for a reasonable price. Or the wines rated 90 or better than can be had for $30 or less.

I like the 100 point scale because it establishes a rank order and a bell curve. On its own a numerical rating doesn't mean much. But if I can find a wine a critic describes as being the best of the best I can find what they think are the best values and make buying decisions based on that. If it works out well I'll rely on the critic again. If not I won't.

But it's more complicated than that.

Should Cost Influence Ratings?

Movies pretty much all cost the same but with wine and restaurants costs vary. Should the cost of a wine or a restaurant play a part in how it's rated?

Wine ratings from the major publications do not include a component for value. They attempt to rate wine according to its quality. Yet I read wine reviews all the time that say something to the effect of "I'd rate this wine 86 points but since it's only 10 bucks I'll give it 90 points".

That seems strange because I'm expecting everyone to follow along with the same convention - that price shouldn't play into the rating. Yet I can understand why there would be ambiguity on the matter. 

Rating According to Peer Group 

Can a BBQ joint get a 5 star rating? Is there such thing as a 100 point White Zinfadel?

In wine there seems to be an unwritten rule that prestigious categories like Bordeaux, Napa Cab, Brunello and others should get the highest ratings. Things aren't normalized. The best Sauvignon Blanc never scores as highly as the best white Burgundy.

With hotels there is a measure of how excellent and full-service the establishment is baked into its 5-star rating. But when rating pizza places should I compare those side by side with my favorite fine dining establishments? Or should my favorite burrito joint get 5 stars like my favorite steakhouse?

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down? 

Film critic Roger Ebert touches on this subject in this piece. He points out that his former colleague Gene Siskel liked the definitive "thumbs up/thumbs down" approach. Did you like it or not? No sitting on the fence. I have to say, as a casual consumer of their recommendations I never had difficulty interpreting what "two thumbs up" meant.

Maybe others are confused by the 5 star system as well. Here comes Stamped - which reduces the equation down to one question: "Does it deserve your friend’s stamp of approval?" Fast and simple. Quick and dirty. 

Maybe I'm overreacting to be concerned a friend might think less of me if I "Stamp" a movie or give a restaurant "thumbs up" when it's just "pretty good". There's nuance in this stuff. But at the same time maybe you just want to give a quick review and move on.

140 Character Reviews 

And that's why I've been seeking out a venue to post 140 character reviews of things. Yelp seems to want me to spend so much time writing a review that I feel like if I've spent that much time it's worthy of a blog post. And based on interactions I've had with Foursquare's founder on Twitter, they don't seem to be interested in the market either.

So I just tweet my thoughts and move on. If you know of a good site for sharing micro reviews of businesses let me know. Because I'd like to contribute. And I'd like to read the reviews. Because I'd like to know what 100 regular people think as much as what 3 heavy content creators think.

Rating Inflation and Compression 

Bringing this back to wine, I think it's undeniable there's excessive enthusiasm for wines rated on the 100 point scale. If I had a nickel for every time I read a review describing an "excessively tannic wine" with "a bitter streak at the end" that was "hard to get through" and ended up getting dumped out yet received an 80 point (or better!) rating I'd probably have about $10 by now.

Yet I can understand why people give 82 point ratings to bad wines. Because they want their ratings to be normalized to the dominant wine critics in the field who they themselves are probably being excessively friendly to the wineries and importers who supplied them with samples.

It's a real dilemma. Do we as amateur wine critics normalize our ratings such that the meaning of our numerical ratings align with the pros? Or do we forge our own more conservative approach that aligns with the intent of the guidelines behind the ratings ranges that pretty much everyone agrees on? It's a tough question and I honestly don't know the right answer.

If nothing else, next time you write a CellarTracker review for a wine, try checking whether the numerical rating aligns with the tenor of your tasting note. Did you give an 80+ rating to a wine you didn't like? If so, why? 

Quality vs. Personal Preference 

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something really interesting here and that's this: Movie rating scales invite critics (amateur and professional) to share how much they like something. Wine ratings invite everyone to assess a wine's "inherent quality".

In short - what a bunch of a bunk that is.

If critics are assessing wine according to its quality and they themselves can't find something to like or get excited about it's unlikely the ratings will serve what should be their primary purpose which is to give consumers actionable buy indicators? Not likely. 


If I'm honest, flavor profile plays way too large a factor in the numerical ratings I assign to wines. People have different tastes so not everyone will agree on what tastes good. But such is life. All we can do is the best we can do describing to others how much we liked something and why.

What do you think? How should we be using the 5 star scale to rate things? What's the best way to concisely convey to someone else how much you like something? Does the answer depend on what's being rated? If so why?


Tasting Report: 25 2009 California Pinot Noirs

Friday, September 23, 2011

I didn't set out to taste through so many 2009 California Pinot Noirs. Rather, it happened naturally as I enjoyed so many of the early bottles I tried and continued as I explored bottlings from new and familiar producers. At some points it felt like I couldn't miss with this vintage. In the $40-$60 range there are some amazing wines available.

But there are also some tremendous values in the $20-$30 range, and even south of $20 if you look hard enough.

I probably exerted equal effort tracking down and trying 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs, but you haven't seen a post from me on that vintage. If I did write about it, the headline would probably be "Whatever happened to 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir?" For me, it's been an eye-opening experience that solidifies California as a more reliable place to buy Pinot Noir.

But that's just my palate talking. There are some great Pinots produced in both regions and I'll look forward to continuing the search.

Have a look at the ratings below and click through to read community tasting notes on CellarTracker. To find them at a retailer near you, click the Wine-Searcher link on CellarTracker.

And feel free to drop me an email at wellesleywinepress@gmail.com if you think I might be of assistance tracking these down.
  • 2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard - $44 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (8/1/2011)
    Hard to think of a more delicious wine than this. It brings the same rich, plush satisfaction of the 2008 but (at this point) balances it out a bit with a layer of brighter flavors on initial attack. Behind this are the same slightly-sweet spice notes, cherry pipe tobacco, and enjoyable fruit flavors found in the prior vintage. Dangerously difficult to stop drinking. Highly recommended - back up the truck. Read more... (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $52 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (7/1/2011)
    CA Pinot Perfection. (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/20/2011)
    Drank this bottle with great friends after an afternoon of golf. A really beautiful wine but I didn't geek out and analyze it so no formal tasting notes.
    Also tasted at Wine Spectator's Grand Tour stop in Boston. I think this wine is every bit as good as the Sonoma Coast. (95 points WWP)
  • 2009 Failla (Failla Jordan) Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch - $45 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/6/2011)
    Another one of these California Pinot Noirs that charms with it's fruit-forward aromatics and ultimately satisfies for how clean and free of "off" notes it is. Pure. Something for everyone I think, with aromas of tart cherries, orange oil, and soft leather. Well balanced. Silky smooth on the palate with a beautiful finish without any strange aftertastes. Fantastic stuff. Read more... (93 points WWP)
  • 2009 Black Kite Pinot Noir Kite's Rest - $42 - USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (8/28/2011)
    Another beautiful 09 California Pinot Noir. Rich black cherries and slightly sweet spice backed by earth and minerality. Love it. (93 points WWP)
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Pinot Noir Rebecca’s Vineyard - $37 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (4/17/2011)
    Fresh and lively with a real sense of place. You can taste the Russian River Valley in this wine. On the nose I get fresh cut strawberries and hints of a moderate oak regiment that reveals itself as a friendly Vanilla Coke sort of thing. Really nice. On the palate, it charms with generous fruit and signature Pinot Noir herbaceousness. Long finish.
    Beautiful wine. I really like it. (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands - $29 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (7/10/2011)
    A powerful and focused wine with classic California Pinot Noir markings. It's generously fruit-forward with primarily black cherry notes but refrains from straying into over-ripe territory - at least for my palate. It finishes clean with just the slightest bit of heat on the backend. Overall an outstanding wine. Read more... (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Chasseur Pinot Noir Sonoma County - $30 - USA, California, Sonoma County (6/1/2011)
    Dark in color, almost Cab-like. Cherry candy fruit on the nose along with tobacco leaf that emerges with some air. Rich mouth feel. May dominate food but on its own it's a beauty.
    Fresh fruit. Reminded me Crane Orchard's cold storage of fresh produce in Fennville, Michigan. For that alone this wine curries favor with me but that aside I think it's still an outstanding wine. (91-92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Zepaltas Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (7/9/2011)
    Perfectly ripe sweet cherries and pipe tobacco on the nose. Ultra-soft mouthfeel. A little CA Pinot twang with rich fruit flavors on the palate. I sense low acidity levels and hardly any tannins. I enjoyed it. (92 points WWP)
  • 2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/18/2011)
    Classic CA Pinot Noir. Really nice. A little cloudy and it actually threw a little silty sediment. I don't think I'll be in a hurry to drink these. Mentally budgeting myself to one per 6 months but I bet I'll be lucky to avoid the temptation of opening one a month. Really like the style here. A producer to get to know better. (91 points WWP)
  • 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir - $20- USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands (3/26/2011)
    I read a lot of tasting notes saying how a wine really opened up after an hour our two. You're about to read another one of those.
    I bought quite a bit of this wine so when I first opened it I was a little disappointed. It was a little tight, tart, and awkward. But after sipping on it over the course of an evening it really developed beautifully. The aromas and flavors get darker and and richer over time. Some slightly silty tannins in the background.
    All in all I think it's great now and all indications are it would improve from just a little bottle age. Nothing crazy - just a year or two. If you want to drink it now, I'd recommend trying a sip, decanting or aerating, or saving a good portion of the bottle for the next night.
    What was remaining in the bottle the 2nd day was very good which is unusual for a domestic Pinot Noir and a good indication this needs a little time. (90-91 points WWP)
  • 2009 Balletto Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled - $24 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/20/2011)
    Rich but not overripe. Black cherry and cola notes. A little rough around the edges but there's so much right here it's hard not to love. Really nice wine. Read more... (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Michael Pozzan Winery Pinot Noir Annabella Special Selection - $14 - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (12/1/2010)
    After an ever-so-slight step backwards in 2008, I think this 2009 Annabella is back on track as a solid 90 point Pinot Noir. Combine that with its wide availability in the $12 range and I think this deserves a slot in the rotation of anyone who likes fruit-forward domestic Pinot Noir.
    Medium-dark in color and ready to go immediately upon opening. Aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, dark cherries, and dusty fresh blackberries in a briar patch. The initial attack is straight fruit. Silky tannins and it finishes clean with a hint of earth and slight tartness which balances out its otherwise fruity nature.
    This wine is money and if you don't like it your opinion is false. Just kidding, but kind of not kidding. I drink Pinot Noir more than any other variety and I'm convinced this wine would fool a lot of people blind, hanging with $30-$50 Pinot Noir. Noticeably better than the 08. On par with the 07.
    Highly recommended. One of the best Pinot Noirs I've found in this price range the past year. (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $39 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (5/20/2011)
    So much good stuff going on here but a slightly herbal "off" note bit me on almost every sip. An otherwise pretty wine - would like to try other bottlings from this producer. (90 points WWP)
  • 2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Meiomi - $22 - USA, California (2/2/2011)
    I was very interested to try the 09 vintage of this wine after thoroughly enjoying the 08 (92 pts across a half-dozen bottles). The signature sweet spice is still there but I also get ample chimney smoke at Christmas. It's a little unusual - we'll see whether I sense it in future bottles. But I still think this is a solid wine. Will buy more for sure. (89 points WWP)
  • 2009 Rickshaw Pinot Noir Sonoma County - $16 - USA, California, Sonoma County (2/12/2011)
    The wine is nicely transparent visually but clings to the glass due to its 14.6% alcohol and high viscosity. The nose lacks some markers that would otherwise tip its hand as being Pinot Noir when tasted blind, but in its place it there is ample round fruit and a hint of spice. Really pleases with root beer flavors on the palate on top of supporting round fruit. Some acidity. Hard not to like this. 90 points if you're in the mood for a relaxing vacation in southern California, significantly lower if you'd rather be reading a book about Burgundy on a cold winter night. (89 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sean Minor Pinot Noir Four Bears - $18 - USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (2/2/2011)
    A luscious, fruit-forward CA Pinot Noir. A great value at around $15. (86-88 points WWP)
  • 2009 Capiaux Cellars Pinot Noir Chimera - $28 - USA, California, Sonoma County (6/28/2011)
    Disappointingly dour personality. Lacks richness you'd think would come with the color and replaces it with a peculiar bitter finish. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - $29 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (2/28/2011)
    I'm a little disappointed with this wine. A little over-ripe and hot at points. Something in the flavor profile feels a little off to me, but still - an enjoyable bottle overall. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Sebastopol Hills Pinot Noir - $9.99 - USA, California, Sonoma County (5/12/2011)
    My bottle lists the ABV at 13.8%.
    It's only 20-30% opaque which bodes well for it behaving like a Pinot Noir. On the nose I get ample fruit, herbal tea, and a tangy (signature?) California Pinot Noir note.
    On the palate it's classic domestic Pinot Noir with strawberry flavors, silky smooth texture, and hardly any tannic bite. Doesn't get overly fruity but it's satisfyingly flavorful.
    Bottom line: This is legit Pinot Noir for $9.99. The only thing lacking is acidity and perhaps some minerality. But it scores points for what it *doesn't* have: I didn't detect any off-putting aromas or flavors.
    Well done and a value at $9.99. (87 points WWP)
  • 2009 Byron Pinot Noir - $16 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (12/22/2010)
    A 90 point nose but for me it was downhill from there. Still, a nice wine in an attractive package. Might buy again in the $13 range. (86 points WWP)
  • 2009 Our Cellars Pinot Noir Hamilton-Steven's - $8.99 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (3/30/2011)
    Hard to argue with an $8.99 RRV Pinot Noir, and this one fights above its weight class. Unfortunately it's got rough edges the first night and runs a little hot at points. The second night it's softer but the fruit has faded as well. That said you can do a lot worse for $8.99 in this category. (84 points WWP)
  • 2009 Beringer Vineyards Pinot Noir Founders' Estate - $9 - USA, California (12/9/2010)
    A little bashful upon opening, but after just a little time it delivers round candied fruit backed by vanilla. Scores points for revealing a variety of aromas as it evolves. However, it lacks acidity, depth, and length of finish so it's hard to be taken seriously. But as a daily drinker it may deserve consideration in your line-up. At least once. (84 points WWP)
  • 2009 Caretaker Wines Pinot Noir - $9.99 - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley (4/6/2011)
    A pretty nice nose, but too many bitter off notes on the palate to make it worth buying again. (83 points WWP)
  • 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir - $20 - USA, California, Sonoma County (11/27/2010)
    So young it practically tastes unfinished to me. Won't open another bottle for a year. (NR)
Posted from CellarTracker

Okay, I hope you enjoyed 2009 California Pinot Noir week here on the WWP. 
Next up: 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Are they as good as the 2007s?

Subscribe to the WWP so we can continue the conversation.


Best 2009 California Pinot Noirs Under $30

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In my prior post about Wine Spectator's 2009 California Pinot Noir ratings I mentioned I'd be talking more about the best values under $30. I'll get into that in today's post, but before going further I'd like to encourage you to subscribe to Wine Spectator.

I truly enjoyed reading through this Pinot Noir issue in particular. There's something unmatchable about taking a break from staring at the computer monitor and thumbing through glossy pages while enjoying a glass of wine. The issues arrive with higher frequency this time of year, covering the most interesting categories for the upcoming holiday buying season, so it's a great time to subscribe.

You can even use airline miles (here's how) and once you have a print subscription you can get an online subscription for 50% off. I constantly refer to their ratings database. Not just for the scores but for production levels, prices, and historical rating trends for a given winery.

But the thing I like best about the magazine is how it turns me on to new producers.

If we look at the top rated 2009 California Pinot Noirs they've rated so far, cap the price at $30, and sort based on the WWP QPR (what's that?) we find a select group of wines:

Price Rating WWP QPR
 Loring Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 93 2.07
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 93 2.07
 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 92 1.64
 Chasseur Pinot Noir Sonoma County $30 92 1.59
 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley $28 91 1.35
 Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 91 1.30
 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $29 91 1.30
 Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $20 89 1.19
 Sarapo Pinot Noir Carneros-Sonoma County Donato $20 89 1.19

I touched on Loring and Siduri in my prior post. I consider them to be cornerstones of value in California Pinot Noir and once we get past them we see a few names that might not be as familiar.

First - Chasseur. Their $30, 92 point 2009 Sonoma County Pinot Noir is one to seek out. I've tried two bottles of the wine and each time I've been impressed (91-92 points). The CellarTracker median for this wine is currently 90.5. They produced 562 cases of the 2009 Sonoma County and distribute to the east coast so there is still an opportunity to buy this wine at retail. I bought mine at Grapes the Wine Co in White Plains, NY (review of the store here - I think he still has some). Consult Wine-Searcher for retailers with availability near you.
The next producer is new to me - Alta Maria. They've got a tasting room in Los Olivos and although they've submitted wines to Spectator for review previously none have been rated 90 or better. Spectator rated their 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 91 points and The Wine Advocate's Antonio Galloni rated it 92 points so there's multiple critics praising this vintage for them. The CellarTracker median is currently 89.5 and with 1,660 cases produced we see some availability across the country at retail with prices as low as $22.94. Might be a good mailing list to get on as well.

Strangely, it's hard to get excited about 89 point rated wines (c'mon, admit it - it is). But given the $20 price point of the last two wines on the list they're worth discussing:

Laguna Ridge is a second label from Lynmar who produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from (mostly) the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. Lynmar's Pinots range in price between $40 and $120 and Spectator rated their 2009s between 88 and 94 points. 492 cases of the 2009 Laguna Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir were produced. No CellarTracker ratings yet. Scarce availability at retail so far.

Sarapo resells small lots of wine from artisan wineries. It's run by Eric Kent's winemakers and deals mostly in the grape varieties Eric Kent is known for: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The 89 point 2009 Sarapo Pinot Noir Carneros-Sonoma County Donato can be found at retail for $19.99 and eligible for mixed case discounts which would bring it down to $16.99 or so. One to consider on the more affordable end of the spectrum. There's even some availability in Massachusetts.


While there are a few new names to discover here, we haven't seen any mindbending QPRs revealed - at least not yet. It's been mostly a "get what you pay for" vintage as notable for the highly regarded producers who were snubbed (more on that another time perhaps) as it was for the reliable producers who delivered great wines in a great vintage.

That doesn't mean it's a bad vintage to buy from - far from it. It just means that for the most part we'll have to pay $25 and up to get an outstanding bottle of California Pinot Noir.

But that doesn't mean there's not a few gems out there Spectator didn't rate. Or that we just don't agree on. Check back later this week and I'll share my tasting notes for the 25+ 2009 California Pinot Noirs I've tried so far. I think there'll be some gems in there worth discovering.

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Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite affordable California Pinot Noir producers?


2009 California Pinot Noir Inside the Numbers: 8 Producers to Seek Out

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Just how good is the 2009 California Pinot Noir Vintage? More than 55% of the wines rated by Wine Spectator have clocked in at 90 points or better. To put that into context, just 42% of the 2007 California Pinot Noirs rated by Spectator rated 90 or better - and they called 2007 the best vintage of California Pinot Noir ever.

Below is a chart showing 2009 ratings vs. 2007. Notice how in 2009 the mode (most frequently occurring rating) is 92 points whereas in 2007 it was 88 points:

Point being: There are a ton of terrific wines to track down from this vintage. But how many of the highly rated wines are attainable? How many of the values are actionable?

First, I want to understand which of the wines are the best values according to Spectator. I could easily sort on wines rated 90 or better costing less than $30 but I want to discover value at all price points. To do this I sift through the data and apply the WWP QPR Calculator (what's that?) to the wines rated so far for 2009.
The WWP QPR attempts to quantify the way deal hounds react to ratings within a category considering price. A WWP QPR rating of "1.0" is fair value and from there bigger numbers are better, numbers less than 1.0 are worse.

I then sorted the wines according to the WWP QPR to discover the top values according to the way I react to ratings and price. According to these metrics here are the best values in 2009 California Pinot Noir according to Wine Spectator ratings:

Price Rating WWP QPR
 Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldridge Vineyard $45 95 2.12
 Failla Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch $45 95 2.12
 Loring Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 93 2.07
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 93 2.07
 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard $48 95 1.98
 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $52 95 1.83
 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard $54 95 1.76
 Freeman Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $44 94 1.72
 Loring Pinot Noir Paso Robles Russell Family Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Loring Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Durell Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir California 4-Barrel $72 96 1.67
 Rochioli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Little Hill $72 96 1.67

First off, notice that the highest WWP QPR is 2.12 which equates to "Very Good" value. It's nowhere near the 6.05 "Oustanding" the 97 point/$25 2009 Carlisle Sonoma County Sarah achieved. Keep that in mind as you're considering various offers. Although 2009 California Pinot Noir is a great vintage it's still difficult to get behind this category as being a value play.

Unless you compare it to Napa Cab. Whereas quality Napa Cab seems to start around $60 and goes up from there, most of these wines can be had in the $40 to $60 range. I love the flavor profile of California Pinot Noir so for me this is the most exciting region in wine right now.

Let's dive into some of these producers and specific wines for a moment. Is there an opportunity to buy these wines now? If not, is there an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a mailing list that's going to be hard to get on in the future?

Let's start at the top - with Dehlinger. Their 2009 Goldridge Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of three wines on the cover of the October 15th issue. I hadn't heard of them until a friend in the neighborhood brought over a bottle of their Syrah to share. I was impressed with it and he graciously shared a couple bottles from his 2008 allocation. I thought their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir was outstanding, rating it 93 points. Spectator dropped a 95 point rating on it. They might not have been on everyone's radar screen until these 2009s though. Their website says they're 75% mailing list and you'll occasionally see them available at retail.

I wrote about the 2009 Failla (pronounced FAY-la) Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir last month. I'd go 93 points on it (to Spectator's 95) and encourage you to check them out if they're not on your radar screen yet. Again, mostly mailing list but some availability at retail if you look around.

I don't think any single producer is happier about Spectator's report than Brian Loring. His appellation wines priced at $29 provide real QPR-benders, and their $45 single vineyard bottlings snared slightly higher numbers which make their 2009s values across the board. Their mailing list has long been one of the most consumer-friendly around with compelling sample packs for new customers and until just recently free shipping. Their 2010 mailer arrived recently and if this batch of ratings for the 2009 confirms the quality they believed was present in those wines expect the 2010s to be spectacular. Get on their mailing list now before its too late.

In addition to A.P. Vin's 95 point bottling from Rosella's Vineyard (what high end CA Pinot producer doesn't produce wine from Rosella's?) they've got at least 8 single vineyard Pinots from the usual suspects (Keefer, Gary's, Ridgetop, Clos Pepe etc) rated between 91 and 95. Some decent availability at retail so keep an eye out for them and give 'em a try.

Kosta Browne continues to be one of the consistent producers of 95+ rated California Pinot Noir. They're very difficult to find at retail and if you do the prices are typically inflated. Considering their appellation wines are "only" $48 theirs is a mailing list to get on for sure. I just got an allocation this year after about a three year wait. It was worth it. Their 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast bottlings are both unbelievable wines. They seem to have found a way to reign in the alcohol levels some criticized them for while maintaining this velvety mouthfeel I find utterly amazing. Theirs are benchmark California Pinot Noirs.

Perhaps a more familiar brand given their production levels and the amount of time they've been around, Siduri once again did very well with this vintage. Although they don't own their own vineyards they do produce wines from all over California and even Oregon. I thought their 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands (an appellation to keep an eye on) was perhaps the most widely available, reasonably priced window into what this vintage is about. More on that here.

Freeman is a producer I'm sure I've tried but don't know much about. Not to be confused with Joseph Phelps' Freestone Pinot Noir label (add them to the list of frequently confused wine brands) they had 4 2009 Pinot Noirs which all received 90 points or better ranging from $44 to $54.

There's a fantastic article in the magazine about the history of Pinot Noir in California and Rochioli's vineyards are credited with being where it all began. Although their appellation bottlings can be found at retail their single vineyard wines are sold almost entirely by mailing list. Along with Dehlinger and Kosta Browne, their 2009 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir graces the cover of the magazine. To taste their wines feels like it would be a taste into the history of the grape in the region. For that and other reasons (many speak highly of their wines) it's one to seek out.


Spectator's viewpoint is just one of many out there (some say Laube favors the high alcohol fruit bombs) but it's the one I have the most trust and experience with. Antonio Galloni has taken over tasting the wines of California from Robert Parker - which is actually a good thing in my view since the grape never seemed to be Parker's favorite. Some look to Allan Meadows (http://www.burghound.com) but his coverage of California Pinot Noir will always be a sideshow.

If you love domestic Pinot Noir like I do you'd enjoy The Pinot Report which focuses exclusively on the category. Definitely a resource to check out.

Or if you're looking for help finding wines all the critics agree on - and are values - check out The Wine Blue Book.

Soon I'll be writing about some of the best wines 2009 California Pinot Noir under $30. And writing up a tasting report of the wines I've tasted from the vintage. I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press so we can keep in touch.

Question of the Day: What do you think of the 2009 California Pinot Noir vintage? Which producers would you recommend checking out?


Deal Alert: 93 WS $15 Spanish Red

Monday, September 12, 2011

It might be lost in the excitement surrounding the highly acclaimed 2009 California Pinot Noir vintage, but if you look on page 87 of the October 15, 2011 issue of Wine Spectator you'll see a round up of Top Wines from Spain.

In the midst of a number of wines rated 93 points, wedged in between a $200 Numanthia-Termes and a $250 Bodegas Roda is the 2004 Bodegas Resalte de Penafiel Ribera del Duero de Restia Crianza Selected Harvest at $15.

What do I know about this wine? Nothing. But I know where to buy it.

While I was trying to track the wine down I received an email from The Spirit Shoppe (a WWP advertsier) offering it at a fair price. I asked owner Devin Vollmer what was up with this wine? Why was a 2004 just being rated? He answered on their Facebook page that most Crianza is cellared for 2 years (so 09s are being released for the most part) but this wine was just arriving in the states.


As of now The Spirit Shoppe is the only place in the country I see offering this wine. It's $18.69 per bottle with free shipping in MA if you buy a mixed case of wine. Check out their assortment of 09 CdPs, CdRs, and domestic Pinot Noir to round out a case:

Buy this wine online at The Spirit Shoppe 

Question of the Day: Have you tried this wine or other vintages?


Ride Wine & Dine Event this Friday at The Boston Harbor Hotel

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This Friday, September 9th, 2011 is the eighth annual Ride Wine & Dine Fund Raiser at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Proceeds benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute by way of the Pan Mass Challenge.

The event is sponsored by The Martignetti Companies (the wine and spirits distributor) and The Boston Harbor Hotel and includes food and wine from around the world along with a silent auction of wine and live entertainment. Here's the schedule:

Champagne Reception & Registration

International Wine & Food Tasting
Silent Auction Bidding

Close of Silent Auction
Begin Live Auction

Music & Dancing

I attended the event last year so let me know if you have any questions on the format. The International Tasting consisted of about 6 different stations offering food and wine pairings from countries like France, Italy, etc.

The silent auction offers an opportunity to bid on an assortment of individual bottles and curated lots from around the world - all of which are available to take home that night. I noticed that famous brands tended to attract high bids while lesser known (but probably higher quality) wines could be had at attractive price points.

Towards the end of the silent auction I noticed fellow hard core wine geek deal hounds lurking around the table lording over the items they had their eye on. My bid $425 on this lot of Napa Cab was eclipsed at just the last moment but I did manage to score a signed magnum of 2007 O'Shaughnessy Cab for $150.

Over the last 7 years the event has raised more than $750,000 to fight cancer. Their goal is to raise more than $200,000 for the third year in a row.

Tickets cost $160 and are available online and at the door.
For more information visit: http://pmcwinebenefit.org


Best Summer Sangria

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This is a guest post from my wife Deanna who serves as the CMO of the Wellesley Wine Press. She also blogs at Casa Dwyer and you can follow her on Twitter.

Let's be honest. Not every bottle of wine is worthy of drinking on its own. I believe it's why Sangria was invented. This Summer I found myself craving a cool red drink that was approachable and delicious. I used several recipes and came up with what I think is a flavorful rendition wine lovers and newbies will both adore. I haven't yet seen my partner drink it, but, really, what does he know? *giggle*

Best Summer Sangria
(makes enough for 4 glasses)
Use a glass wine carafe like this one.

3 oranges, 2 juiced, 1 halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 lemon, 1/2 juiced, half thinly sliced crosswise
a small handful of fresh raspberries
1/4 cup blue agave sweetener
1/3 cup Amaretto (I like Amaretto di Saronno)
1 bottle dry red wine, chilled
Ice cubes, for serving

In a large pitcher, combine fresh orange juice, blue agave, and amaretto; stir well. Add wine, orange slices, lemon slices and raspberries. Fill glasses with ice before serving.


Editor's Note: Any red wine will do. I like to sacrifice pick an affordable juicy red like Grenache, Malbec or Monastrell, but really pretty much anything will work - even Two Buck Chuck. Like choosing your tequila when making a frozen margarita - it doesn't matter nearly as much when you're drinking it straight. Cheers.


A $6.99 Cali Cab Franc from Trader Joe's: Lightning in a Bottle?

Monday, September 5, 2011

"I've come to never expect greatness from a Cab Franc, and this one's no exception."
-Miles in Sideways

I stopped in at Trader Joe's the other day to see if they had any new interesting wines. The Gypsy and Lost Sonnet were long gone but they still had some Cocobon. I spotted a new wine in an interesting looking bottle - the 2010 Lazy Bones Paso Robles Cabernet Franc.

I've been doing a lot of LIFO drinking lately - last bottle in is the first out. I've got about 250 bottles on hand here but like cable television it sometimes seems like I'm not in the mood for any of them. Maybe that's because I'm thinking of new releases to write about here on the blog. Maybe it's because I'm looking for juicy delicious daily drinkers.

Who knows for sure, but I was interested in this Lazy Bones Cab Franc for two reasons:

First, I remember trying a Chimney Rock Napa Cab Franc about 10 years ago and really liking it. I also liked McKenzie-Mueller's Cab Franc, but both were kind of pricey ($30-$50 if I recall correctly). I liked the idea of revisiting this grape at the $6.99 price point.

Second, I remembered the line in Sideways quoted above where Miles expresses his lack of enthusiasm for Cab Franc. It's not as famous as his line about Merlot but given that he says it when in a Santa Ynez tasting room (I think it's Kalyra) I thought tasting this affordable Cab Franc from not-too-far-away Paso Robles would be interesting.

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere, Cabernet Franc is one of the six Bordeaux grape varieties. It's primarily a blending grape but most successfully produced as a single varietal wine in Chinon from France's Loire Valley. We also see it produced in the northeastern United States a bit. When it struggles it's because of overly vegetal aromas and/or extreme barnyard funk. When it's done well it can be beautiful.

What a build-up, right? I may have found lightning in a bottle! Unfortunately, the Lazy Bones was hard to get through. A single glass dumper-outer.

2010 Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc
13.6% Alcohol

This stuff is pretty awful. Stewy aromas with a watery transparent mid-palate. Even worse the second day. Avoid.

62/100 WWP: Not Recommended

That's not to say you can't find a great bottle of wine at Trader Joe's. Here's one I found for $5.99 I've been enjoying again and again. It even stood up under a stopper over the course of three nights. It displays characteristics I more readily associate with wines costing $30 and up. It's from Italy and it's readily available. I think the 2009 has come around and is drinking nicely. Check it out.

Question of the Day: Any recent discoveries in your local Trader Joe's?



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