August 27, 2012

An old friend returns

Our friend Tim (Teeem!) from Seattle is in town for a bike mechanic certification program. He's a great guy whom we've known for years, a wedding guest even, one of a rarefied number. He also enjoys a little red wine and eating lots of meat. It's been nice to have him stay.

A few nights ago, I thought it was time to break out the 2004 Trignon Gigondas, which I bought with Tim several years ago on a family visit to Seattle. We had gone to a local wine shop to look around and I saw the Trignon. Notice the price tag, clearly a mistake at $13. Since when has Gigondas, at least decent Gigondas, cost that little? In my naivete, I mentioned to a clerk that the price seemed too low, and what was the response?


"Um, no, that's the correct price."

I persisted, surprised, as if milk were $.99 a gallon. "Really? I haven't seen Gigondas that cheap in years."

"Well, it's not mismarked. That's the correct price."

Um, ok. It wasn't, it still isn't, but I tried. So I bought it and saved a bottle until now, five or six years later.

So how was it? Pretty fantastic. Still fresh but maturing, in what us wine geeks like to say is a "really good place." Also not bretty, as I remember the' 95 being several years back in our SF days. I'm no clean wine freak, but brett influence on wine gets pretty boring after a while, like new oak. I find I open southern Rhones these days with trepidation. No worries here.

The flavors were full and juicy, with a mix of warm fruit, stones, lavender and other garrigue notes that defines excellent southern Rhone valley reds for me. I could sniff and taste a wine like this for hours, slowly, caught in a perfect moment and not willing to let go too soon. Or ever, if one could.

Randall Graham of Bonny Doon said something at the wine bloggers conference recently that's stuck in my mind. He asked what does wine show us about humanity, about beauty? And he suggested that wines that move us move us to poetic language. Not sure if that's true in my case, poetry anyway. But I know that feeling and this wine provoked it.

And at a price you can't beat.

August 26, 2012


Ok, finally a moment to recount the Wine Bloggers Conference 2012 that happened in Portland last weekend. I went into the event a bit skeptical about how professional the experience would be. Is it self-hatred? I'm a blogger, yet I feared that other bloggers might not be serious enough, whatever that really means. I guess I just didn't want to be part of some kind of shill fest of people looking to promote anything they could get for free, with each day devolving into a booze cruise party.

So how was it? Really good. The event attracted lots of bloggers, some more experienced and knowledgeable than others, as well as lots of other categories of industry people. Journalists, producers, publicists, vendors, and because it was in my hometown, lots of old and new friends who were a delight to spend time with.

Yes, there were sponsors providing lots of opportunities to taste their wines and otherwise hear their pitches. So what? We tried wines of Oregon, of course, and Alsace, Franciacorta, Greece, Mallorca, Sardenia, among others. Several were exceptional. Several were ordinary. All were worth my time.

I skipped the Thursday evening reception in favor of Friday's conference kickoff events at the Doubletree Hotel in Portland. There was a general tasting of wines of the world, a wistful keynote by Randall Graham, speed tasting of whites and roses (not my favorite moment to be sure), then field trips to various wine regions close to Portland. I was on the bus to Sokol Blosser winery in the Dundee Hills, where we learned about soils with Rolin Soles of Argyle and David Millman of Domaine Drouhin. Then we had a tasting in the cellar of several notable Dundee Hills wineries, more tasting outside with some delicious food from Red Hills Market and ice cream from Salt and Straw. Don't forget the beautiful scenery of the Dundee Hills, including the iconic tree pictured below that Eyrie fans might notice. Then back to the Doubletree for the sort of unfortunate night of many bottles. This was one of the weaker moments, with way too many bottles in a warm room where smaller, less formal gatherings would have been better.

Saturday saw lots of breakout sessions on topics like social media and what is wine blogging anyway. I enjoyed the learning sessions but then took advantage of Winebow's session on unusual grape varieties of the world, a blind tasting of seven wines led by Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, a terrific session host. Ever had Hondarrabi Zuri? How about Sauvignon Gris? Neither had I, knowingly anyway. Then there was an uncomfortable keynote by author Rex Pickett, who's a name dropper and terribly prone to talk about things he "can't talk about" and then keeps talking but doesn't say much and you're left wondering, what? Then more speed tasting of red wines, this more successful in content than the whites and rose. Then a break before dinner hosted and prepared by King Estate Winery. Not shabby, and I enjoyed good company at my dinner table.

I was especially impressed with the people who came to the conference. Lots of internet wine geeks from the pre-blog days, a few MWs at least, the organizer of VinItaly, you name it, I kept turning around and meeting people I was glad to meet and look forward to seeing again.

After Saturday dinner, there was more wines of the world to taste, then the official unofficial after parties in various hotel rooms. I stopped by the Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers Association tasting to say hello. Then I went to the Drink Alsatian event for the highlight of the weekend, a four year vertical of Trimbach's Clos St. Hune Rielsing. Oh my god, the '97 was magical and the others simply otherworldly. Sometimes I get jaded in the world of wine, but these wines were incredible.

Ok, that sounds like a lot of wine and it was. I spit pretty much everything until later in the evenings or at the Saturday dinner. I also didn't stay at the hotel but was smart enough to ride my bike the few minutes from my house. Two days was plenty, so I skipped the final Sunday morning events and called it a good conference. So good, I'm thinking I very well may go next year when the event is in Penticton, BC, which I happened to visit a year ago this weekend. A lovely place with special memories for me, though I won't be staying at the Holiday House.

August 16, 2012

Wine Bloggers Conference Portland

I've been wine blogging since 2005 but never really got into the whole blogging thing. You know, monetizing the site with ads and link exchanges and all that. Or going into the whole free wine solicitation thing. I've gotten a few sample bottles and books, but nothing much, and that's not what I'm really into doing.

My blog has been more a personal thing. Blogs are vain, so I initially referred to this as a vanity site, self publishing like the old vanity press days. Maybe I'm more comfortable with vanity now. I don't solicit the samples or have the ads. And I don't have an issue with baring my loosely wine-related soul on this page.

But I always knew sooner or later I ought to get a little more connected to wine blogging. Then I saw the Wine Bloggers Conference was coming to Portland this year, now this weekend. So I signed up and now I'm curious to spend my weekend in the company of other amateur writers (and a few legit ones).

My conference goals? That would require planning and a list, neither of which I do naturally. Still...
  • Meet other bloggers. If you see me, introduce yourself. 
  • Figure out why people wine blog. Is is just for the free samples? Is it ego? Is it a love of wine and this a medium to share that love?
  • Does anyone make money from ads on their sites? Don't worry, I'm not going that route. Just curious.
  • Is wine blogging serious? And what is wine blogging these days?
On that last one, there's a thread on Wine Berserkers about a producer actively avoiding professional critic reviews. Some people are critical, saying he's only doing it because he can. He's not like more people who rely on scores to sell wine. I think those people are mistaken, seeing established media as the only route to go. This in a new media forum even. The irony.

This producer isn't necessarily looking for "traditional" bloggers, if there's a blogging tradition. He's specified Cellartracker as one place he'd like see reviews, and ideally lots of them, rather than in The Wine Advocate or Burghound. Are Cellartracker users blogging? Or are blogs simply web logs with a pretty set layout and fuctionality?

I think it's more the former, so that blogging is wider reaching than many might think. And it's potentially more significant to consumers than many producers and even internet wine forum participants think.

But we'll find out more at the Wine Bloggers Conference. I'm hoping it's good and not an amateur hour shill show. And not just because I paid my money and want to learn and have fun.

Next year's event is in Penticton, BC, a place I've come to love. I wouldn't mind a reason to go back again, though I think I need to find somewhere else to stay than the Holiday House. I need to mix things up.

August 06, 2012

Argentenian malbec worth writing about

It is not snobbish to dislike so much widely available Argentinian malbec. Malbec is the new merlot. It is potentially great wine from a noble grape of Bordeaux, the Dordogne and the Loire. It's just being turned into a caricature of itself, purple and softly fruited, sweetish even when it's called dry, all for a comfortably broad internationalized market.

Of course, there is good malbec. You just have to dig a little.

I was visiting a local grocer and chatting with the wine buyer recently. I noticed he had a lot of South American wines and he readily told me how much value he finds in the wines, especially those from Argentina.

I told him my dilemma with Argentinian malbec and he was understanding. I said I don't like wines with so much fruit. I don't want dirty wines, just winey wines. Wines that taste like wine, not a creamsicle. So he told me about Patti - an old school producer - who's turning the reins over to a younger generation but still does things on a small scale.

He recommended the 2005 Carmello Patti Malbec Mendoza, for $25. That is a lot more than usual Argentian malbec, but it's worth it. The steward told me the wine was pretty ready to drink and he was right. It's deeply cherry red in color with a fresh but maturing, penatrating aroma, full of cherries and cherry pits, violets and tar.

The flavors are soft and full, cured fruit flavors mingled with older wood and gravel notes, purely malbec in its shades of what I know from Cahors and the Touraine in France. There isn't much tannin and I can see why this might be better sooner than later. For now, this is serious wine, elegant and rich, pure and complex all at once.

What I like the most is - this probably tastes like what Mendoza malbec really tastes like. Not fussed with, not dirty, ripe but not overripe. Just pure wine goodness that, finally, has me thinking I have a response when people ask me about Argentinian malbec.