Against the Paris night, and the twinkling lights of the Place Saint-Michel, I began my wine odyssey. With no wine knowledge and no French, I simply ordered “Bordeaux”. Sometimes a bottle of red would arrive, sometimes white. No matter, it was wet and delicious. And there, at that outdoor cafe in 1986, my love affair with wine began.
My Wine Career: I’ve been in the wine business now since 1995, not including a 6 month stint in 1991 when I worked at David Bruce. There I did a little bit of everything: picking, pressing, additions, pump overs, topping, and bottling. For 9 years of my career, I worked for The Wine Club, a large wine retailer in California. There I had various rolls, including both a store manager and the wine buyer in two of their stores, San Francisco and Santa Clara. I spent a further 9 years in The Estates Group, the fine wine division of Young’s Market Company, a large California Wine and Spirits distributor. Currently I’m employed by a very small French Wine Importer that specializes in Burgundy doing sales and marketing. As always, I am totally immersed in wine.
My current fascination? The hills, contours, and exposition of vineyards in Burgundy. The hot and cold pockets of air created by them are something I consider when examining this region. More difficult from my seat here in front of my computer, is the effects of the wind on the trapping of heat in Burgundy. In the past, these were even more critical factors in a region where conditions of marginal ripening have been a problem in all but the most perfectly situated of vineyards in the Cote d’Or. These are still important factors today, but their influence is waning due to rising average temperatures across the Cote d’Or. Global warming has already been a game changer in Burgundy, and is likely change it dramatically further. Are we witnessing the greatest age of Burgundy? And will that age be short-lived? Very likely global warming has brought us the greatest age of Burgundy, and as it gets warmer, it will destroy what we know Burgundy to be. My detailed study of Burgundy today maybe somewhat like my focus of study at UC Berkeley in the mid 1980s: Communism and the Soviet revolution. It was fascinating at the time, but 5 years later, in 1991, the USSR was gone.
My favorite wines? Aromatic reds. Cote d’Or Pinot Noir and Beaujolais, Aglianico, and Nebbiolo are the wines that really resonate with me, though my focus is pretty squarely on Burgundy right now (because of my job.) The more I drink of these wines, the more difficulty I have going back to many new world wines. I’m going to have to be careful, not to skew my palate too much, but I really desire wines to have an intellectual quality to them, to be complex, and weightless. These wines often have a certain lean-ness, but this must be balanced by a broad-enough, soft-enough palate to still be enjoyable. There has to be a little fat on those bones!
My focus? I want to know why the wines of one vineyard tastes different from another, and what can I expect the next time I taste an example of this micro-climate.
I don’t tend to review wines I don’t like. You will only see positive reviews here. The intent of this blog is informational about regions and winemaking, and the exploration of the trends of the wine world. There are plenty of professional reviewers who attempt to be encyclopedic in their coverage. Yet they still fail to cover some fantastic producers. And worse, most wine reviewers never tells us much about the wines or where the wine is from, or why the wine is the way it is. Some focus way too much on when it rained, or when it hailed. Yawn.
Small wines. These are the real wines, and these are where a winemaker’s talent really shows. I also believe it is the small wines that allows taster to grow and learn the most. Anyone, especially the beginners love the Grand Cru Burgundy with their rich ripe sweet fruit. It is the village and Premier Cru wines that really represent Burgundy. To understand these wines is to understand Burgundy. Yes, this is a convenient argument since Grand Crus are prohibitively expensive, but Grand Cru represents only a tiny percentage of Burgundy. I say, let the one percent have the one percent.
Scores. Honestly, I don’t believe in scores. When I taste wine, I don’t taste scores. But I realizes people seem to need them to understand if the reviewer likes the wine or not, and how much. The down side is that points become a psychological barrier. People think, oh, it’s only 88 points, it’s not worth buying. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is very little difference between an 88 point wine and a 91 point wine. In fact, the same wine tasted on a different occasion can show very differently. My explanation of the difference between one reviewers score and another’s are two-fold. 1st, the highest score a wine receives represents the best a wine has shown while being reviewed. The lowest score, the worst it has shown while being reviewed. Between the two scores, lies the wine in question. The 2nd factor in the breadth of scores is some wine writers like wine a lot more than others. The Wine Enthusiast reviewers seem to genuinely love and are excited about wine. The Wine Spectator reviewers, not as much. It comes out in their prose, and sometimes in their scores. I just don’t get the feeling they really, really love wine.
My Scores: From me you may see a set of scores. Some wines may succeed in one sense remarkably well, but not amaze in another. Take a big soft Cabernet. The overall impression might be soft and indistinct, but if you really explore its dark core of fruit you might find some really remarkable, and rare sets of flavors within. Another example of where I might give a range of scores is the difference in style preferences. I try to take into account whenever a wine might be divisive concerning quality or success. And lastly I might us a score range for a wine that I have difficulty getting an exact bearing on – since it is a momentary decision that assigns 89 point score and a 91 point score, one that could easily been decided the other way. Realistically there is no qualitative difference between an 89 and a 91, but one that is scored higher will be perceived as the better wine, because if you reviewed it again, it would likely garner different score altogether.
80-86 points: Technically correct but simple (I probably will never review a wine that falls below 86 points.) 87-90 Technically correct, with complex or wow elements. 91-94 points: wines that are exceptionally well made that are both intellectually interesting and have a wow factor. 95-97 points: Technically perfect wines with extremely complex character, wines that are impeccably balanced with perfectly integrated acids and tannins. Absolute these are wow wines. 98-100 points: Who am I kidding? I’m not reviewing this level of wines.
Why a blog? My wife bugged me for years to do a blog. She points to the fact that I remember the wine we had on our first date over 20 years ago, and I can’t remember much else. When I found myself on an hour and forty minute train ride to work a few days a week, I started tapping out a few pieces for a blog. I was a wine buyer then and I had some things to say that were pretty interesting (at least to me) to say. But these were long pieces, and were challenging more challenging for me to self-edit as they were to write. But they talked about trends and styles. About buying decision and wine prices in a changing market. They were meaty. But I between the difficulty of putting them out, and the extremely low clicks, it just didn’t seem worth it. No-one was reading it. They were niche pieces, written for wine professionals who didn’t want to think about work when they weren’t working.
I almost quit. I’d put out a piece once every three weeks. Maybe 5 people a day would click on it, and I was doubting if anyone ever read them. But I started getting some really nice notes from people about how they were impressed with my writing. And it may have had some influence on me getting my new position at Atherton. They wanted someone who could write about wine. I could. But with my new job, I was no longer tasting new wines every day, and my writing options started drying up. Opinion pieces just weren’t working. So I started focusing on wine reviews but ones that I could dig as deeply as possible about where the wine came from, and why it is the way it is, and finally who made it, in as much as these things are possible to do from a computer desk. I started to enjoy the process. It became a way for me to really get to know as much as I could about very specific regions or vineyards, as I could possibly discover, and apply everything I already knew about wine to analyze and understand beyond the label. The wines come from a combination of work wines,and wines I buy on my own with my own limited budget.