Monthly Archives: March 2010

Thoughts on Vintage Reports

You always hear a lot about vintage variation and it’s importance on the wine produced during said vintage. There are a variety of vintage charts out there that will tell you which vintage from a particular region was great or horrible, but those are sometimes fallible. Don’t get me wrong vintage charts are a great resource for a baseline of understanding a broad scope of how a vintage performed but it doesn’t tell you the whole story.

A vintage report can sometimes be misleading, depending on how it was produced. People like Parker and Spectator seek out the best Chateaus, wineries and Bodegas to taste from, not necessarily the little artisan winemaker down the street. For better or worse it can give you a false impression of what the weather has done for a region. The little guy could have explored some vineyard tactics to thwart late season rain that larger producers didn’t want to risk and thus pulled their fruit early. Some people think that vintage assessments are made to early, and thus you hear about “sleeper vintages”. Ones that took a while to come into their own, and were initially not given superior marks. Incidentally, these “sleeper vintages” can provide some excellent values.

I think that vintage reports can sometimes provide too much information. Meaning that, it provides just enough information for a person to ignore a wine that may be perfectly fine or even great, but is overlooked because “2004” only got a 85 rating. That could lead us to a discussion on ratings in general but that is another post.

By the tone of this post, it may seem that I don’t put much credit in vintage reports but in fact I do. As I said at the beginning of the post, it gives you a great jumping off point for research on a wine. Also, one of the biggest places I think it helps is restaurant wine lists. On a list where you don’t recognize a single label, knowing that a certain vintage was supposedly “perfect” may help you in finding a nice bottle.

Weather is a key factor in wine making, grapes are an agricultural product and thus rely heavily on the right weather conditions. Technology has come a long way to help mitigate some of the problems that can occur in an off vintage, but nothing can really help a cold, rainy growing season. The problem with weather is that it can sometimes be fairly localized. What’s happening on one side of the county may not be happening on the other side. For larger more developed growing regions, vintage reports are usually broken down into smaller AVA reports and provide a better micro-vintage report.

One of the best and free vintage reports out there is over on Enobytes blog. I always wish there was better free detailed content on vintages out there versus just ratings. Parker publishes that information but you have to pay for it, and Spectator and Enthusiast both do, but again it’s in their magazines. Wineries will often have vintage report information on their sites but always end up telling you they were very pleased with how things turned out, not always giving you the complete picture.

In the end, take vintage report information with a grain of salt, well, maybe two grains.

Categories: wine education | Tags: | 1 Comment

A different approach!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting with the folks at Lovingston Winery in rural Lovingtson, Virginia. Far South on the Monticello Wine Trail, they are set off of a back road, nestled into a hill deemed “Josie’s Knoll”. To say that they are on the Wine Trail is a stretch, they are quite a bit away from their surrounding wineries and that’s okay, it works for their business model. Their model is completely different from any other winery I have visited here in Virginia. Instead of focusing on tourism, events and traffic through a tasting room, or attending festivals, their primary source of sales comes via the wholesale market in retail shops and restaurants. Not to say they don’t welcome visitors to their winery, they are more than happy for you to make an appointment. It’s an interesting concept for a Virginia winery and one that comes with an adjustment to their pricing structure. Honestly when they handed me their tasting/price sheet I thought it was the wholesale version. They are pricing their wines to be competitive on a global scale, with their most expensive wine selling for $19 retail, the Reserve Merlot, and the rest from $12-$14. Their Cab Franc is very tasty and retails for $12, pretty amazing considering the amount of hands on production they have. (gravity flow, double sorting, seed removal during fermentation, etc.)

Being in retail wine sales for my day job, I appreciate the lower prices as a lot of times comments regarding Virginia wines are negativity towards the pricing. I do hope they can afford to keep pricing wine this way, as they are pretty small. At around 2K cases, I imagine it’s hard to absorb the chunk that the distributor takes, especially at the low retail prices they are shooting for. In addition to the fact that this is the primary means of their sales vs. most VA wineries, where wholesale is a small percentage.

large tanks setup for gravity flow operations

Both Stephanie and her dad visited with me and gave me the full spiel on their wines and impressed me with their knowledge of wine and wine making. I didn’t get to meet the winemaker, Riaan Rossouw who is South African, a shame because I hear he is a hoot to talk with.

Some notes on a couple of favorites from my tasting…
2007 Cabernet Franc ($12) – (10% Merlot) – full of earthy notes (especially on the nose) black currant, sauteed green pepper, and raspberry. Juicy in the mid-palate but still maintained a nice “leanness”, with a medium to full body.

2006 Reserve Merlot ($19) – load of fruit up front, highlighted by black cherry and pomegranate, with leather and a hint of cigar box provided some nice earth tones at the back of the palate. Full bodied and well structured – nice effort (from a non-merlot fan)

2009 Petite Manseng ($13) – (2% RS) – very rich, ripe apricot and mango, very tropical. The slight sweetness is very balanced as the wine had some good back end acidity.

Cheers to Lovingston for a nice visit and some tasty juice!

Categories: $10-$20, virginia wine, wine review, wine tasting | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Virginia Wine Expo 2010

I attending the 3rd and final day of the Virginia Wine Expo yesterday and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t overcrowded and that I wasn’t fighting with floundering drunks to talk to the winemakers. Don’t get me wrong, by the end of the day, there were a few stumbling around, but not enough to bother anyone. Although I did hear Saturday was a different story, with record crowds.

My main plan for the day was to visit wineries I had never been too/heard of and also to stop and say hi to my favorite wineries and winemakers. The plan was achieved with great success and after 4 hours of talking about & tasting VA wine, I was horse and ready for a beer!

Some of my highlights will be no surprise to people that read this blog and know which wines always perform well with my palate but there are a few new ones.

Philip Carter – 2008 Chardonnay – beautiful, one of the best Chardonnay’s I have tasted in Virginia. Very Burgundian in style, similar to Saint Veran or Mersault. Slightly more toasty, but excellent and surprising minerality.

Well Hung Vineyards (I can’t wait until these ladies get a tasting room, they are a hoot) – 2008 Cabernet Franc – shows great promise, nice red fruit, green bean, and classic CF spiciness. Was a bit thin in the mid-palate but showed up again at the finish.

Rosemont 2007 Meritage (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot) – lots of dried fig, mocha and black currant, spicy with loads of tannins – will age well

BlenheimThe 2008 Painted Red is coming together, starting to integrate better even since my tasting 6 weeks ago. My favorites of the lineup that Kirsty brought were the 2008 Petite Verdot with beautiful structure, black currant, blueberry, menthol, spicy black pepper and a hint of chalkiness; 2008 Cabernet Franc with blackberry, green veggie medley and spicebox; and the new NV White Table Wine (this year 100% Chardonnay w/ .6RS) with a clean and ripe tropical fruit profile, melon and poached pear.

PollakPollak only brought three wines, all very nice, as I brought all three home. 2008 Durant White, excellent everyday white with citrus, apricot and granny smith apple; 2007 Cabernet Franc – still rocking – spicy with raspberry and red currant and hints of mint, cocoa and sauteed collard greens – is drinking really well; 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – lavender, blackberry, eucalyptus and red currant with touches of floral notes. Full and focused with still a lot of tannic structure.

MountfairFritz, winemaker and co-owner brought the only bottling that he had (sold out of everything else for the time being) which was the 2008 Inaugural along with Brad McCarthy’s Stick Dog Riesling and Chardonnay. As with our last tasting with Fritz, Brads wines are still showing extremely well and I still can’t believe his Riesling is from Virginia. The 2008 Inaugural had lots of dark fruit, hints of red clay and a touch of barnyard. After talking to Brad, he wasn’t too pleased with the “barnyness” of the wine (although i liked it) and hopes to isolate the barrel(s) that contain the barny causing Brett.

These were my favorites but this isn’t to say there wasn’t other good wines. On the event as a whole, I know I was there on the less crowded day but the amount of space that was used for the event was immense and very well laid out.  Being the freak about glasses that I am, I also really appreciate the fact that you get a nice Schott-Zwiesel glass with you entry fee.

Look forward to next year. Cheers!

Categories: wine tasting | 1 Comment