How many points is that wine? What about Wine Critic’s Scores and Evaluations?

It is very helpful to rely upon the ‘paid for’ and ‘free’ critic’s advice and written evaluations when purchasing wine.  Shelf talkers tout the expert’s scores to influence what bottle(s) of wine you will ultimately purchase.  Should you believe them?

For the well-known wine raters, I have been watching their scoring and reading their reviews long enough that I have formed an opinion as to ‘how’ they score wine.  I know who always rates higher than the others or which reviewer(s) likes fruit forward, highly extracted and high alcohol wines.  Why does that matter?  Because while I can tell you the flavor profile of a varietal from various places around the world and I can look to see what the vintage and nature gave us that year, it’s helpful to read the opinion of someone that has tasted that bottle.  I can then decide if it will be what I am searching for.

Sometimes these reviews will contain an unknown nugget of information. For example, ‘while this is a Cotes du Rhone wine, it is crafted from 100% Syrah grapes.’  That’s important information as most Cotes du Rhone are made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (referred to as a GSM) and maybe Cinsault.  Chateau de Sainte-Cosme winery is in Gigondas, which by law, to label the wine ‘Gigondas’ it must be a GSM blend with possibly some Cinsault.  So, if I had merely relied upon the Cotes du Rhone designation expecting a GSM gem, it would not meet my expectations.  Clear as mud, huh?

If the expert’s review gives a range, like 89-91 points, I am confident the wine was tasted from the barrel and prior to bottling.  Why does that matter?  Since the wine is still in the barrel, it is possible the final wine could taste somewhat different due to blending and/or filtering or completion of malolactic fermentation for example. The evaluation before bottling might not match the final product.  In that instance, it’s good to see if other critics rated the wine after bottling to get a more up-to-date snapshot.

A store like K&L Wine Merchants lists their offerings on their website which has a picture of the bottle, a list of the wine critic’s scores and commentary, general information about the grape, the country, and a description of the subregion/appellation.  In addition, if the staff was able to taste the wine, a review written by the staff member will also appear as well as the date tasted.  I find that all so very helpful and lean a bit toward purchasing when all the critic’s scores seem to align.  I take that nudge based upon my experience with judging at wine competitions.  On any panel you can have a wide range of medals considered as we evaluate each wine independently and then come together to discuss and to agree on a final award.  However, for the wines that are exceptional, the entire panel always seems to be in agreement before ever coming together for discussion.

Does the lack of a rating mean the wine is not good?  For a publication such as Wine Spectator, they indicate they review approximately 16,000 wines on an annual basis and those wines are important wines, readily available and distributed in major markets.  So, lack of a score does not mean a wine is not good.  Similarly, the lack of a medal from a wine competition also does not suggest it’s not good as wineries choose how they spend their marketing dollars and competitions do cost money to enter.

How about reviews on Apps such as Vinvino?  The creators of this site tout that their community of millions of wine lovers really know their stuff and are passionate about sharing that knowledge.  However, we do not know what their experience level is or their qualifications for judging wine.  As a worst-case scenario, the rater could really dislike French wines and be an All-American wine fruit bomb wine drinker.  And, remember, Vinvino sells wine based on these ratings.

Critic’s scores and evaluations can be very useful tools when you cannot taste a European wine or travel to Paso Robles or Lodi to visit a winery to taste before you buy.  Equally useful are Vintage Charts published annually which will give you a quick look to determine if the vintage was a blow out success or had some serious viticultural challenges.  Again, just an additional piece of information as good wine can be made in not so good vintages.

Finally, remember that the scores were assigned and evaluations penned at a frozen point in time.  The challenge is that you are not purchasing Pepsi Cola or Coors beer, for example, that is ‘finished’ when bottled or canned.  Wine is a living, breathing beverage that develops and changes over time.  That plum, for example, that tasted so fresh to Robert Parker shortly after bottling is impacted first by the aerobic conditions in the barrel and then by the reductive time in the bottle.  The various components of tannin, both from the cluster and skin as well as the barrel, phenolics, and fruit all integrate over time and hopefully for the better.  However, most wine is meant to be drunk young and fruit generally begins to lose its luster after about 6 months.  So, when reading that evaluation from November of 2017, expect that the wine you will meet in the glass may be very different.

A wine’s score(s) and evaluation(s) are great tools to help you find new treasures to enjoy but are not absolute.  Wine is more often drunk beyond its time than too early. 




2016 Domaine Grand Veneur “Champauvins” Cotes du Rhone-Villages

I had the pleasure of tasting this bottling from Alain Jaume at an event the other night, coming back around the room and sampling it twice just to make sure. 

Hailing from the Southern Rhone, this wine is a Cotes du Rhone Villages, a step up from the generic Cotes du Rhone wines. These bottlings of ‘Villages’ are frequently found here in the US as they can represent some of the best values in the market and are priced less than a Gigondas or a Chateauneuf du Pape wine.  However, as with all wines, producers do matter and Alain Jaume delivers quality.

Visually, the wine was dark ruby in color with a solid core.  On the nose, a good dose of black cherry, blackberry, lavender, and tobacco leaf with a bit of peppery spice presented. On the palate, the wine was full bodied and concentrated with good red and black fruits and that Southern Rhone garrique element…lavender, spice and sun kissed rocks.  There are tannins present with medium acidity which helps to bring all the elements together.  The finish lingers.  A very tasty wine!

This is a GSM blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre.  I found it locally at these sellers:

K&L Wine Merchants      $ 19.99

The Wine Steward       $ 25.99  (discount given on case sales)

Total Wine     $ 23.99  (discount given on purchase of 6 wines)

If you are looking for a rock-solid wine for the Holidays, this will deliver a lot of flavor and body at a modest price. 

Established in the northern part of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the commune of Orange, the Jaume family has been dedicated to the art of wine growing since 1826. Founded by Mathieu Jaume, the Domaine is now run by the 5th and 6th generations of Jaumes: Alain Jaume & his children Christophe, Sébastien, and Hélène.



Does ‘vintage’ matter?

I thoroughly enjoyed this 2009 Tronquoy-Lalande last evening.  The wine was inky in color thanks to the addition of Petit Verdot in this St. Estephe Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight at first, the nose opened up to black cherries, dark berries, tobacco with a hint of French roasted coffee and minerality.  The oak structure was present but soft and the oak was well integrated in the wine.  On the palate, it still had primary fruit flavors with good structure and soft tannins. The finish was long and all the elements described were evident in the finale.  A really good bottle of Left Bank Bordeaux!

The media touted 2009 as a great vintage just to turn around in 2010 and claim it as the better of the two.  The 2009 vintage had almost perfect weather and growing conditions producing wines that are a bit softer in tannin and more approachable in their youth.  The 2009 Tronquoy-Lalande from St. Estephe (at 10 years of age) was a good representation of the deliciousness of this vintage.  As for the 2010 vintage, the conditions were somewhat variable and although it is considered a classic vintage as well, the 2010 wines are more tannic and will take more time to soften and integrate.  I suspect some may lose their fruit before the transformation occurs.

So, does vintage matter?  Yes!  Maybe not if you are purchasing ‘Wednesday wines’ to enjoy with your pizza tonight, but certainly if you are investing your money in wines to hold for a while.  I consider ‘Wednesday wines’ to be good quality wine, ready to drink now and not intended to age.  For the cellar, I purchase classic examples of wines of good quality, not ready to drink now but to hold as these should improve with age…hopefully.

To borrow (and tweak) a line from Forrest Gump, ‘Wine is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.”  It’s the journey that really counts and you can be sure you will always learn something and enjoy yourself along the way!



What are you serving with your Thanksgiving fare?

For a great start with appetizers, soup and salad, I’ll serve the La Petite Marquise Crémant de Loire Brut ($12.99 from K&L Wine Merchants).  It’s a sparkling wine made like champagne, but it sits light and fresh on the palate without the yeasty taste or a big price.  It is crafted from a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

Going a bit out of the box, I picked up two Darcy Kent wines from Livermore after attending a Darcy Kent Vineyards pairing dinner at the Thunderbird Lodge in Lake Tahoe: a 2017 Gruner Veltliner from Rava Blackjack Vineyard in Monterey and a 2018 Victories Rose Malbec from the San Francisco Bay.  The Gruner is dry but flavorful with white peach, pepper and a bit of lime. The Malbec rose is lush as it was crafted with a slight bit of residual sugar which makes the wine creamy on the palate.  Both these wines will sparkle with the herbal flavors of the meal and the roasted butternut squash as a side.  Note: these selections are both low in alcohol as well.

For red wines, I am offering the Pardon & Fils Les Mouilles Julienas 2017 at $17.99 and the Domaine Pardon Cuvee Hugo Fleurie 2017 at $19.99, both from Total Wine.  Yes, this is Gamay from Beaujolais.  I love Gamay.  Not the market driven swill released in November which was nothing but a ploy to get rid of a lot of wine they could not otherwise sell.  The southern half of Beaujolais makes that inferior wine.  The northern half of Beaujolais has different soil, has slopes and the area has 10 ‘Cru’s’ which, in a fantastic year, can be hard to tell apart from a true Burgundy wine.  The two wines I have chosen are from Cru vineyards: Fleurie and Julienas. 

I will open the wines and explain what we have to our guests. I will encourage them to take small tastes of each wine before dinner. Then, all the bottles will go on the dinner table for them to revisit with the meal. It becomes an empowering game for our guests to be able to evaluate the wines and usually makes for some lively conversation because, of course, no one ever has an opinion!

For dessert, I will be serving a 2004 Château Tirecul la Gravière “Cuvée Chateau” Monbazillac. It’s 500 ml and it’s priced at $19.99 from K&L. It has some age on it and will be lucious with some Marscapone on top of that pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s on your Easter dinner table?

Got a text from a friend asking what wine to pair with Ham for Easter Dinner. Let’s face it, most of the time, that Ham is probably from the Honey Baked Store. While I could pontificate about the coating on the outside of the Ham, remember it’s about the people that will be at your table enjoying the holiday with you. What do THEY like?

If they are into wine, it’s going to be a tough call because the Honey Baked Ham you just bought is going to wreak havoc on most juice. So, forget the Cabernet or Merlot (because the sweet coating on the Ham will make a tannic wine taste bitter). But if you know your group will expect red wine, you could go with something from Beaujolais. Perhaps a Georges Dubeouf Beaujolais Villages or a Louis Jadot Beaujolais. (I would not upgrade to a Beaujolais Cru like Morgon or Fleurie as they will simply cost more and have more structure…unless you want to put a Cru on the table for you!) These recommended wines will not break the bank, will be fruity and ‘red,’ and will be a reasonable pairing for the Ham and all the accoutrements.

Another option is a Mumm Brut Rose which has nice body, is made from Pinot Noir, and serving it in a champagne flute makes for a festive presentation. Your family will feel special!

If you have adventurous guests coming, you could always consider a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer but I’m guessing Aunt Mabel probably would like a White Zinfandel just as well.

Why not end the dinner with something fun and different? What is your family heritage? If your ancestors were French, perhaps a Sauternes; if you are German, perhaps a Beerenauslese Riesling; and if Hungarian like me, perhaps a 5 Puttonyos Tokaji. Just a few examples but fun to end with a little ‘family ancestry’ which everyone will enjoy and will embrace experiencing something from the ‘Old World’ that Grandpa may have enjoyed. The wines mentioned could be served alongside an almond tart with Mascarpone! Save those chocolate bunnies for another night!

Happy Easter!

What the heck is the Mencia grape people are talking about?

Tasted wines from Bierzo (Spain), specifically the wines made from the Mencia grape. The selection included wines that were highly rated by the ‘experts’ and the region is being touted as ‘the most exciting up and coming region.’ After the tasting, I cannot help but think that the publications/writers are running out of things to yammer on about.

The wines were full bodied and reminded me of the Petite Sirah varietal which has a similar deep color and bold tannins. While it boasted a bit more acidity than Petite (and had cherry/pomegranate/anise aromas), it also presented a crushed gravel component that made me think of the ash that some cheeses are cave aged in. Didn’t blow my socks off!

It is believed that the first American grown Mencia crop was harvested from Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi, in 2017. Stay tuned to see what the future holds for this varietal here in the US.

Enjoyment of wine is closely tied to the moment and experience…

Had dinner at the Lodge at Tahoe Donner last night. Tuesday nights are ‘free corkage’ and it’s great fun to bring a bottle and enjoy the beautiful lighted trees outside the windows and watch the snow softly fall. When our waiter opened the bottle of Rosso, I was taken back to the moment I had my epithany for Rosso wines. (From the Montalcino area of Italy where Brunello is generally the sought after wine, the Rosso delivers both aroma and flavor at a more reasonable price and is crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso just like Brunello.)

Once upon a time we were in Italy, had visited a couple of wineries and had tickets to attend a concert by Andre Bocelli later that night in Siena. We purchased a Rosso to enjoy during the event and this bottle of Villa Poggio Salvi took me back to that moment in time. The wine was fresh and aromatic, with cherries and dried fruit aromas attacking our noses when opened. On the palate, the fruit was lively and had added components of graphite and a bit of iron and soft tobacco. The finish was lingering and very pleasant. I could almost hear Andre singing in the Campo in Siena… where is my CD!

2016 Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino
$14.99 from K & L Wines