Lost: My Wine Spectator is not equipped with navigation.

spectator n. onlooker, watcher, observer, viewer, witness, passerby, bystander, *rubbernecker.

wine n. a spectacular liquid expression of hope, fear, beauty, and life meant only to be observed as it swirls from a bottle into my glass lifting aromatic bliss to my nose and sending a complex array of flavors to my lips.

Just recently [as in, 5 minutes before posting this edition of the tiffandsauce blog] I posted a short piece titled Only the Stones where I stumble over words to describe my attitude and opinion when it comes to critical scores and ratings on wine.  This post had been collecting dust in the drafts folder because I feel its a little clunky, not concise, and an incomplete thought on the topic at hand.  Then I realized, I often write in incomplete thoughts.  There are sentence fragments strewn about, I ramble off topic, and my reader may or may not follow me all the way through.  So I went ahead and blasted that thing out of the drafts folder and into the blog-o-sphere because I’m not afraid of my own incomplete or slightly confusing thoughts.  Go with me here folks – the purpose of these postings is certainly to be informative first and foremost.  But riding in the backseat behind the information that takes the wheel, I want us [us is me the writer and you the reader] to carry a conversation that leaves room for questions and opinions on all sides of a topic.  Take these posts where you want to go with them, that’s the beauty of this thing here: it’s wine, it’s words, it’s a fostering of wisdom through that discourse.

Let’s carry on.  In Only the Stones, I say this about professional wine reviews:

…while I certainly appreciate what a wine critic has to say, I most definitely do not live and die by the numbers when I am considering the wines that are best for me or best for a consulting client.  This being said, I would never wish for a world of wine where there were no benchmarks and no scores to follow.  For me, scores are a road map for a leisurely journey rather than GPS navigation in heavy traffic to an appointment you’re late for.  There are options along your route and the options are laid out to enhance your pleasure rather than to bring you to your destination with the least delay.

And then I opened up the June 30 2016 edition of Wine Spectator and flipped through a few interesting features, noticed that the cover was about the re-birth of Bordeaux, realized that had little to do with me or most of the wines I drink [Bordeaux is always sending me flowers and boxes of chocolates but I’m in a committed relationship elsewhere….], so…I finally landed in the BUYING GUIDE.  I know, I know, my workday is really starting to sound like such drudgery.  I scan a few Italian scores and wish I drank more Brunello, reading farther I start to salivate for good Ribera del Duero…I’m craving some funky Toro Tempranillo with ballsy tannins now…and….I land in California.  This should be goooood…I can’t wait to see how many awesome Pinots from 2013 are over 90 points…and don’t get me started on the cabs that other critics have been showering with 98, 99, and 100 point scores!  And, there are only 3 Cabs with decent scores.  Aaaaand, there’s not a single California Pinot Noir scored over 89 points.  And…the top 89 point score was for J Piont Noir.  AND then I begin to read the justification for these scores in the text of each and every 89, 88, and 87 point score all the way down the column until my face is making the most ugly resting bitch face I think it has ever made.

Just a few fine examples of statements made by James Laube taken from the June 30 2016 Wine Spectator Buying Guide:WS063016_CoverUS.indd

 

88 LaFolette Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain Van der Kamp Vineyard 2013 $42  Medium-weight, with ripe plum, blueberry and raspberry flavors, showing a streak of earthiness down the middle that gives this an edgy, tannic texture and a drying aftertastes.  Drink now.  884 cases made.

88 Lynmar Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Freestone 2013 $60  Notes of damp, fresh -turned earth, vanilla and cherry form the core, with drying and gripping tannins.  Drink now.  483 cases made.

88 Saracina Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Day Ranch Vineyard 2013 $38  This Pinot weaves together a complex mix of loamy earth, anise, graphite and dark berry flavors, tilting toward acidity and grippy tannins, with room to grow.  Drink now.  470 cases made.

88 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Burt Williams’ Morning Dew Ranch 2013 $78  An edgy youngster, exhibiting chunky raspberry, wild berry, savory herb, dusty earth and anise flavors, this will benefit from short-term cellaring.  Drink now.  562 cases made.

88 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Precious Mountain Vineyard 2013 $95  Very tight and detailed, with a taut core of mineral-laced red and dark berry, turning somewhat simpler on the finish.  Drink now.  412 cases made.

87 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands Weir Vineyard 2013 $58  This is young and unevolved, with dusty, drying tannins and notes of cherry, plum and rose petal.  Should gain with time.  Drink now.  512 cases made.

With my pout turning into an all-out frown I reach the end of the California Pinot Noir reviews and a few thoughts return to my miffed-up mind.  First, I take a mental step back and think:  tiff, you’re just mad that you love Williams Selyem wines and James Laube, a very knowledgeable and experienced wine critic, does not love them as much as you.  Then I read the above reviews again and think to myself:  no, stop.  Every single one of the above reviews [and there were more than just these] references the newly-released wines being youthful, tight, unevolved, and tannic.  Every single review lists some lovely Pinot Noir appropriate characteristics such as: dusty, earthy, wild, savory, mineral-laced, detailed.  Almost every review alludes to the idea that the wines could benefit from some age.  And then every single review ends by blankly stating:  DRINK NOW.

What?

Taking a scenic route here….  When sauce and I try and get from point A to point B with the two of us in a car I’m usually behind the wheel and he mans the GPS thingy on his phone that I don’t like to touch because it intimidates me with all of it’s bossy orders.  That female computer robot voice shouts at me and rattles my shaky feminine driving skills.  Turn right in 800 feet. Your destination will be on the left.  I turn right, I look left, it’s a deserted railroad yard.  I’m downtown LA in a deserted railroad yard.  We’re going to be late to the tasting.  I followed the bossy voice.  I swear I did every single step!

GPS Map

Back to the Wine Watcher [ahem] Wine Spectator.

I understand this publication to be focused towards consumers who wish to enhance their wine experiences, further their wine knowledge, and perhaps gain a bit of confidence in the rings with the rest of the wine world.  Professional scores and reviews can [and should] be a helpful guide in the process of benchmarking your current collections and tastes while finding new wines to add to your repertoire.  This scenic route can be a pleasing journey but at roads end I would still like to arrive at my intended destination. In this case, I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m going to look up and find myself deserted in the aisle of a big-box-o-wine store with James Laube shouting at me to DRINK IT NOW!  While my feminine driving skills are a bit shaky [shh, this is a fib, I’m quite a confident driver just don’t tell sauce that], my wine skills don’t feel new or unfamiliar to me.  My most recent trip through the Buying Guide gave me the impression that I’m completely lost on my wine journey and perhaps I’m partly at fault for using a passerby in the wine world like a GPS rather than simply enjoying the scenic path that their suggested route sent me off on.

Columbus Map of the World

By hearing opposing opinion on wines I feel strongly about will I gain insight and broaden my own point of view?  Only if I have confidence in the validity of the opposition.  Only if I have respect for their argument.  I do feel that I have a desire to be constantly learning and improving but I don’t feel that I will accomplish that through reading contrite and condescending accounts on wines from a critic that is contradicting both his own words and the words of the publication for which he writes.  My respect for this sort of wine commentary is gone and here’s just a small example to illustrate why.  Back on November 20, 2013 the 2013 Vintage Report for California was posted to WineSpectator.com only to state:

Winemakers from Santa Barbara to Mendocino report that this year’s growing season was golden for most parts of the Golden State

While I may not always agree with scores and reviews, I want to at least find them to be a helpful guide for both myself and for consumers.  I want to know that the information will be useful.  I want to know that the professional critics will reach beyond opinion and provide well-informed and seasoned point-of-view insights into the wines they write on. In asking these things, I feel I have been let down after reading one contradiction after the next on a handful of incredible 2013 California Pinot Noirs.  Don’t tell me that a wine is edgy, youthful, tight, tannic, unevolved, and would benefit from cellaring and then tell me to DRINK NOW.  Please don’t tell me that a wine is detailed and complex and then list off amazing descriptors that support this statement and then tell me that while the wine should gain (with time) to DRINK NOW.  And please, don’t tell me in the Vintage Report that 2013 is Golden and then in 2016 rate a string of 2013 wines as good, very good but….DRINK NOW.  These last couple of turns that should have me arriving at my destination after I took the suggested route of a Wine Rubbernecker have dropped me off at a column of wines scoring Very Good but not good enough to be considered Outstanding or Classic from a vintage deemed “Golden”.  I guess we need go Platinum for anything to reach above 90 points in California for Mr. Laube.  My dearly beloved California Winemakers, I say to you all, you have my heart in your Pinot Noir wines ’til death -whether Bronze- or Platinum-level scores.  And I know that you know that only the stones will remain.


More for your reading pleasure…

The 2013 Vintage Report on California from WineSpectator.com

Only the Stones from myself on tiffandsauce.com

 

Masterpiece Theatre | wine and the art of limited production

IMG_1261

This is a one of one original piece of artwork.  It is very rare (I just said there’s only 1 in existence).  It was painted by my three year old son.  I signed it for him in pencil…he can’t quite write his name yet.  He can’t read yet either, so I will write this:  the monetary value of this painting is about two cents.  To me, of course, it’s priceless.  He works in “mixed media” a lot too…if you know what I mean.  I will try and post up one of those next time I have a spare moment.  But for now, this example of his fine art will serve my purpose.

Now let’s dive straight into wine after that slightly confusing and mildly amusing introduction.  I talk a lot on our website, facebook video feeds, and right here on tiffandsauce about small production / allocated / limited availability wines.  While I really champion this category of wines because they are a personal interest of mine, I am also fully aware that there is a band of skeptics who beg the question | “Does scarcity make it good?”

Being  quite the doubter myself – and always welcoming a healthy debate – I will pull up a seat and play a few hands at this game. Here’s my attempt to explain my affinity for small production wines…and please feel free to either blast me or bandwagon me in the comments.

Connection |  I’ve met people involved in wine projects on a very grand scale.  I’ve spoken with people who produce wines in tiny operations.  And there is everything in between.  While I’m not going to advocate solely for one over another, I will say that when I meet with growers and vintners who have a small project that they hold dear there is a very special connection there.  No detail is too small in these operations because their margin of error is tiny.  Every bit of minutiae nags constantly at the forefront of their thoughts and in the event that error occurs – either human or by a force of nature – their project can be lost.  But here is the conundrum; what happens when the stakes are high, some quality issues crop up, and a producer feels the pressure to just go with what they got and bottle it up to try and save a lost cause?  Bad wine, that’s what happens.  This is why I find it important to follow the reputation & history of the growers and winemakers involved in a small production wine.  This is why I find it important to visit wineries and vineyard sites in person.  This is why I like to taste, evaluate, and discuss every wine that comes into my collection.  It’s a pre-screening, an interview if you will, that helps me to assure a quality presentation when I pass these wines on to a client.  And I know, in most cases, that this “interview” process is available to me when I’m dealing directly with an owner/winemaker of a small production label – and there is usually quite a bit of transparency involved as there is no corporate structure to duck behind.  Which brings me to my next point.

Control | I confess I am a control freak by nature.  There are few if any tasks that I let slip past my own hands and I admit that to be this way is exhausting at times.  But when it comes to knowing a wine, how it got into the bottle, and how it is when it’s pouring out – I want every detail.  While I devour this information as if it were a pint of salted caramel gelato, I would hesitate to place the burden of such an analysis onto every wine drinker that crosses my path.  This is where I take a step back and accept the fact that most people just want a delightful bottle to drink and don’t want it to become their full time job to find one or two of those.  So, I will but myself in the position to appear very nerdy, overly inquisitive, and downright bothersome to the unfortunate wine producers and purveyors that find themselves with an open bottle in front of me.  I will put myself out there to ask all of the dumb questions so that you don’t have to.  Really, it’s no trouble at all.  And at the end of this inquisition, I will be very grateful to my direct contact who had nobody to send in their place to intercept me.  At this point, some might question my need for all of this information.  After all, if I were such a control freak I would just stick to a few wines that I know are going to have some consistency from one bottle/vintage to the next then I could just shut up and drink the damn wine already.  And that brings me to my next draw from this deck of cards.

Artistry | This should be very simply stated:  If I wanted every bottle of wine to be the same as the last, I would save a few bucks and just drink a decent vodka.  Sidenote:  After requests for the same movie for the third or fourth or forty fourth time (I lost count) from our younger son, our older son told him “Variety is the spice of life, and some day you will understand that.”  Younger resorted to crying to get the movie he wanted.  The rest of us waited past his bedtime to watch something more interesting.  Now that’s spoiled, I know.  Really though, the concept is so simple yet it’s so ignored.  We are human and we are creatures of habit.  Sameness is comfort.  Repetition is our jam.  We get off on living up to our own expectations by not expecting anything at all.  When you reach a breaking point with this monotony, turn to a person who has passion about their life and about their work and emulate them.  Feel what they feel and let it convey passion onto your life and your work.  You will find this special genius in most artisan products and especially in artisan wines and that in itself trumps mass production for me any day.

Avarice | If you have had enough of the touch feely – let’s just get down to brass tax here.  We all love it when we have something that nobody else has.  If you want to redeem yourself for this naughty and greedy side of your human nature, the only way to do so with a small production wine is to share a small pour with someone close to you when you finally open up a bottle. It really is exciting when you have the pleasure of consuming a limited production wine and feeling in the moment that, unless you have more bottles of it, that may be your only glimpse into the moment of that wine.  If you wait a few years, or even longer, the probability of a recurrent wine moment becomes less likely.  Relish that moment – that’s what great wine is all about!

Authenticity | Here we have come full circle to join artistry with connection.  When you know the origin of a wine, when you know the story behind it, when you know the people crafting it it becomes real to you.  From here you can draw your own connections and build those wines into your own memories and experiences.  Find the wines that excite you (and of course that taste good to you) and make them special for yourself.  Identify with the people behind the wines, after all, you are probably including the juice they put into those bottles at your table on many a special occasion or gathering of family, friends, and good company. Why share those moments with anything less than authentic?

When I gather together my reasoning and rationalizing about why I search around for wines produced in tiny quantities I’m left with the notion that small production wines aren’t good simply because they are scarce.  They are good because they are a direct representation of the pride and workmanship of those growing the fruit and squeezing the berries.  My one of one Masterpiece hanging at the top of this page is priceless for me because I know the artist.  Each time I have the privilege of connecting a wine lover to a new artisan wine that becomes priceless to them, my glass is filled.

 

 

 

 

At Mending Wall

Walking the rows of fermentation tanks at the Mending Wall winery, the first impression is a sense of meticulous order that is borderline sterile.  It’s unnerving at first.  Sauce and I are standing in this enormous space holding glasses that contain a few splashes of Stone on Stone and our breaths come a little shorter.  Our gazes shift from tank to floor to expansive rafters back to tank then floor…our reflections stare back from either of these…then back to the wine in our glasses and then our eyes meet.  I’m thinking that I should have made the bed this morning and maybe I could have pressed a shirt for Sauce.  My mind starts making it’s way down a to-do list of things I have done only half-way or half-heartedly – it’s one part accomplishment and two parts failure with a dash of try again.  Just before I get to the part where I hyperventilate and start rethinking my career path I’m snapped back into the moment where Sauce is saying something to me about the wine…

Mending Wall Tryptic

Ah yes, we’re here for the wine – not for a regressive therapy session of self reflection.  Going deeper into this realm of wine greatness, we arrive in a barrel room that is stacked with the wines we’ve always wished for.  It’s here that the calm that lies beneath the powerful perfectionism is revealed.  A great sense of “anything is possible” fills the space that comes into focus as a blank canvas ready to become a masterpiece.  Self-consciousness subsides and I’m able to take part in a wine experience that flirts with the idea that creativity, genius, and methodical precision can come together for a common cause.  So this is Thomas Rivers Brown.

If our count is correct, Robert Parker has awarded 100 points to a Thomas Rivers Brown wines 8 times in the past 10 years.  Wine Spectator has given him the 100 point high-five 2 times.  With recognition like this, most people would have an ego to match, but it seems that Thomas maintains a certain sense of modesty about his wines.  He expresses a genuine appreciation for the mystery of the vine and a deference to what nature provides.  Seeing wine as a product of place, he cultivates his relationships with the vineyard sites he works with and matches the wine to the site.  He has seen much success from his patient and persistent practice in both Napa and Sonoma on sites such as Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay from B.Theriot and Pinot Noir from Summa and Boars’ View both on the extreme Sonoma Coast.  We can only assume that there is a certain sense of satisfaction with the wines that have resulted from his work here, yet there is a continuing desire that drives Thomas to continue his search for another challenge.

What could challenge an incredible talent like Thomas Rivers Brown?  Perhaps it will be to seek out new vineyards – cooler climates – unexplored territory.  To continue his relationship with the land by matching grape to location to style.  To discover a deeper intuition with his craft.  And possibly to turn focus to his own label, Rivers-Marie, where he seeks to fine tune the tension between size and surreptitiousness.  Wherever and whatever his discoveries may be, we are confident that the final result will end up swirling in our glasses, showcasing in our gallery, and stealing our hearts.


Pull up a chair and read more….Mending Wall Seats

For a better BLOG on Thomas Rivers Brown: The Terroirist

Winemaker of the Year 2012: Food and Wine

Just more of us… www.tiffandsauce.com

 


Find the Wine

fbLogo125pt  www.fallingbrightwinemerchants.com

 

 

 

What the Teeter-Totter Taught Her about Balance

There are no teeter-totters on the playgrounds of today.  Teaching children the usefulness of a practical grasp on physics is no longer considered appropriate or necessary (or safe).  But since I spent my last blog pretending to know anything about Economics, why not shill out a few thoughts on physics here.  Kidding!  Rather, let’s get even more ridiculous and talk about balance.  Balance in the context of wine;  Absurdity.

Teeter Totter

I’m going to make a general assumption that a wine drinking audience will know that a reference to balance in the context of wine is a reference to the structural makeup of the wine.  The sweetness/dryness, tannin, alcohol, and acidity should all come together to form one cohesive swallow-able unit.  So if the concept of balance is so simple, what’s all the fuss about?  For more than a few years now the topic of balanced wine, with a focus on the Pinot Noir varietal in particular, has been hotly debated and there seems to be a line drawn in the playground sand at around 14% alcohol by volume.  Somehow, alcohol comes to the forefront of the debate and other elements of “structure” have been somewhat left in the dust as if they aren’t a part of the one cohesive swallow-able unit we call wine.  I will venture to guess that this piece of information (%ABV) is one of the most accessible to the general consumer as it is required to be included on the label by the government whereas other technical information is not so readily available so it would take deeper research to form a critique on the particular wine you may be tasting.

All of this aside, what I am meaning to get to is that you don’t need any tools or tech sheets beyond your own palate to decide if you are pleased or displeased by any wine in particular.  Could this information be helpful in making purchasing decisions?  Yes.  Would a tech sheet be more helpful to a consumer than a tasting note?  Maybe, that depends on the consumer.  Is the advice/opinion of a professional helpful in comparison to the information on a tech sheet or a tasting note?  Possibly, that depends on the integrity of the professional.  All at once, everybody whip out your trusty hand-held device (I’m talking smartphones here guys…) and begin a mad search for an answer to the previous three questions.  Google:  best way to choose a wine.  Fail.  That just turned up a bunch of editorial trash ranging from Men’s Fitness magazine to Marie Claire and they’re discussing the pictures on the labels.  Google:  how to choose wine at a restaurant.  No, now we have GQ talking about prices on restaurant lists and that’s a WHOLE different argument.  Google:  best wines 2015.  You’ve got big box retailers and major publications selling wine to you now.

Ok, smartphones down (unless you’re reading moi on that tiny screen).  Stop making wine into a boring, empty, white space devoid of passion.  I’m bad at physics.  I failed calculus.  Don’t take me into this torturous world of numbers and graphs when I just want recess to come so I can play on the teeter-totter with my glass of Pinot.

Teeter Totter Pinot

I will tell you that as a professional wine buyer I am one of the guiltiest parties in analyzing and breaking down wine while I taste it – especially if I’m tasting for trade purposes vs. tasting for pleasure.  (Every taste should be for pleasure you say here…right?)  There are two sides to me as a taster.  Side A:  In a split second, before you even know that your taste was poured, I have determined if the wine is “sound”.  By sound I mean passable as a quality wine.  If this is not the case, I have no place for this wine on my list (or in my mouth).  Side B:  This is where it gets more complicated and I make an assessment for varietal typicity, regional typicity, price-value relationship, and then a whole slew of passion evoking qualities…is there a sense of place?  is the wine unique?  does anything stand out?  how is the palate weight?  how is the finish?  does the palate echo the nose or does it surprise me?  was the surprise pleasant?  would I drink more of this?  is it cumbersome or relentless or ethereal or special or is it just Wine?  Basically you could say that my Side A could fit on a tech sheet, my  Side B could write a tasting note, and a combination of both would give you the more complete experience of “ask a professional”.

Here is the breakdown, and possibly some answers to the above questions.  Wine is not about a pursuit of balance.  Wine is not about tech.  Wine is not about correctness (being ME and saying THAT is really difficult if you know me on a personal level).  Wine is about People.  People are about Relationships.  Relationships are about Trust.  Who will you ride the teeter-totter with?  The playground bully that jumps off to leave you helplessly crashing to the ground on the other side…a fun-loving friend who might just tease that they will drop you…a partner in play who really wants to have a good time on the ups and downs?  Throughout life you are sure to experience each of those rides many times over, even if safer playgrounds try to protect you from that, and you will be better for it.

If you ever find yourself talking with a wine pro that chooses wines only with their Side A, you might find yourself being bullied into making wine choices based on charts, graphs, and %ABV.  You might also find yourself crashing from time to time when the numbers fail you.  If you want to elevate yourself beyond the sandbox full of passable “Good” wines that have correctness on their tech sheets, you need to drink wine on another level.  I will leave you with the Marcassin bon vivant John Wetlaufer’s thoughts on this topic:

I’ll only note that balance (of what is rarely stated) seems more like a necessary condition of useful or O.K. wines than it does a sufficient condition for what the great French enologist and teacher Emile Peynaud calls a “grand vin”, a great wine:  “…a work of art, complex with personality, rich in sapid and aromatic substances, defying description and therefore the more fascinating to taste.”

John goes on to say that he intends to make wines that push the limits, reset the bar, and induce wonderment rather than wines that are just boring (balanced).

People like John (and Helen) and an army of other fine wine growers and fine wine makers out there are pursuing their craft out of curiosity and drive and passion and a love of the adventure that wine is.  If they were in need of safety or surety they would not choose this path.  People who make wine in pursuit of a number are not considering the purpose of art itself – to strike up a conversation, start a debate, inspire controversy.  I won’t say damning things about people who make wine that way, but always consider your source and consider the use they intend for their product.  To be consumed?  Or to be treasured?

 

More Reads for your Wine Journey:

Loving Wine Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry  -Mitch Frank on the Wine Spectator Blog

Subjective Theory of ValueWine  -more from Moi at the tiffandsauce Blog

The Wrath of Grapes – Bruce Schoenfeld for NY Times Magazine

IPOB Manifesto – Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch on their pursuit of Balance

Palate Talent -Yours Truly at the tiffandsauce Blog

 

 

Subjective Theory of ValueWine

Back when I was a youthful twenty-something I took it in the ribs a few times from friends and family that would say I had returned to college to get my M.R.S. degree.  Somewhat true <grinning sheepishly>.  However, I did not meet my husband until after leaving Oregon State University and all her splendid Northwestern beauty for the great State of California.  Truthfully, I forced myself into completing my Bachelors Degree – by hook or by crook – just to finish.  I had become notorious for starting things and not reaching completion and I wanted to end that nonsense.  At the same time, I wanted to be able to some day offer a somewhat educated parent to my future child(ren).

I forged my way through a liberal arts degree knowing full well that there was no end “Career Goal” in sight and I will admit that along the way there were some failures.  As in, F for Failure.  Math 119b Survey of Calculus II;  F the first time around and a passing grade on the second try after my instructor was probably so tired of my ignorant questions that he just pushed me through.  Chem 320a Organic Chemistry; no passing grade in sight and the realization that I don’t actually enjoy Math, Chemistry, or Physics and that pre-Med would be a bad idea.  Econ 101?  Only suffered through that course to fulfill a requirement and the whole thing was a bad dream – BUT – I did take away one concept that has stuck with me since that class:  The Subjective Theory of Value.

Before continuing, I will strap on my Helmet to deflect the stones that are certain to be thrown in my direction for the following reasons:

  1. I am not proficient enough in Economics to properly explain the theories associated with this field (so of course, publish my feeble attempts to understand, right?) and…
  2. The way this Subjective Theory of Value ties into a discussion on Wine will make some people cry foul; or just cry.
Class is in session, let us begin.
Value is thus nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, nor an independent thing existing by itself.  It is a judgment economizing men make about the importance of the goods at their disposal for the maintenance of their lives and well-being.  Carl Menger, Principles of Economics
If value exists as Menger defines it, why then do we continue to question the high prices of Cult Wines, First-Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy and then continue into a diatribe/sales pitch about “value wine”? This topic is beaten to a pulp in popular wine media, social media, the Blog-o-Sphere, etc..  and the entire debate has no leg to stand on.  Price is not Value.  Before we get all heated up about wine, let’s consider some other consumer commodities:
Chocolate.  Nestle Semisweet Morsels 20.7 cents/ounce.  Sharffen Berger 62% Cocoa 61.8 cents/ounce.
Coffee.  Yuban Traditional Medium Roast “Premium” Coffee 25.8 cents/ounce.  Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend “Deep Roast” 74.9 cents/ounce.
Diamonds.  Where 1 ounce = 141.747616 carats and an average diamond is about $1500 per carat give or take…we’re looking at about  $212,641.42 per ounce.
Water.  A liter bottle of Evian comes in at about $1.79 making it 5.3 cents/ounce…penny for your thoughts and a nickel for a sip.
The question of price is answered objectively as the above examples convey.  The question of value is subjective…and as explained by Menger, gets a little confusing.  Why pay more for coffee or chocolate?  What was the cost of producing these goods?  Which goods required more labor?  How much is water worth to you?  What value does a diamond represent for you?  Are we lost in the desert and dying of thirst?  Or are we wandering in a proverbial love desert of loneliness hoping to get engaged?  Questions like these will begin to guide you toward your own subjective interpretation of value.
Carl Menger on Screaming Eagle
The last time I put my finger on the pulse of the consumer base in the wine industry, the heartrate was strong and nobody was dying of thirst. But there were plenty of connoisseurs hoping for love at first sip from their next bottle.  My point here is that wine is a luxury product.  And that’s it.  Wine is not a resource that we need for survival (though I treat it as if it were the air I breathe).  It is the Diamond and not The Water in the Paradox.  There’s no “fair and equal distribution of Wine” Act.  There’s no “Price point to make wines affordable for Everybody” Act.  However, there IS fierce competition, a free market, ingenuity, creativity, sustainability, talent, marketing, vineyard designation, oak programs, “Rock-Star” Winemakers, art labels, wax caps, screw caps, original wood cases, Parker Scores, Spectator Reviews, corporate conglomerates, mom and pop shops, and everything in between.  And then there’s you – and your discriminating palate (by the way, it’s not PC to “discriminate”) and hopefully your discriminating consciousness.
YOU will be the one to make the final decision about what a wine is worth to you and what you can afford to pay.  Coming to the realization that a wine you might want is out of your price range is not a reason to tear it down.  That is a promotion of mediocrity and when provisions are made for mediocrity you get people like me who are granted a Passing Grade in Econ 101.  The world does not need more of that – go back and read paragraph 2 to decide for yourself the value of this article, the value of your time, and the value you now place on not promoting mediocrity.
If a wine you want is out of your price range, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, understand that wine is one of life’s Beautiful Luxurious Pleasures, and go find a bottle that gives you enough pleasure per dollar for you to consider it a value.  Then step back from the article/blog post/commentary that is deriding Screaming Eagle and Lafite, compose yourself for one second, and understand that the prices for wines like these are ridiculous because enough people paid them.  <I will enter a plea here that we not digress into a dialogue on “supply and demand” as that is such a sophomoric approach to this discussion.>  We are all well aware that scarcity drives up the price of a rare bottle.  In truth, the price paid for a status bottle of wine was a simple expression of the consumer’s perception of value – and they were entitled to it.  No sooner could we make everybody drive a Honda Civic and not a Mercedes or everybody have bare walls in their mud hut rather than Monet in their Mansion, then we could make every wine drinker swirl <insert your favorite value wine here> in their glass.  And thank God for that!
If the intention is to share ideas about which inexpensive wines drink better than their price point, and a popular opinion grows on that shared idea, then go with it.  But if the aim is to convince an ultra premium category buyer that they won’t find value in the rare or exclusive bottlings they are purchasing then you might as well be talking to an empty room. This category of wine consumer does find value in obtaining nearly unobtainable wines and they quite possibly spend a fair share on less expensive wines that they enjoy for another purpose as well.  So why is there a bully push to get the biggest supporters of wine out of the game?Inexpensive wines that cost conscious consumers enjoy are not mutually exclusive to astronomically expensive Wish Wines that are collected and curated and occasionally chugged down with wild abandon.  Both price categories can exist in the same economy and really one has little effect on the other.
The bottom line is that all wine should not be equal.  All wine should not be the same.  All wine should not be priced under a cap that a cohort of wine writers deems to be appropriate.  Sitting around speculating about what that saturation point in the market will be is simply a waste of good wine drinking time.  One man’s affordable luxury is another man’s swill and vice versa.  And that, my friends, is my Subjective Theory of Value as it pertains to wine and I encourage you to continue the debate and commentary.  Should name calling (Elitist!) and Stone-throwing commence, I’ve still got my helmet on.
If you haven’t had enough, please enjoy the following
Elite Wine Bashing Posts for your Reading Pleasure:
-Richard Hemming for Wine Searcher gives us “Hemmings Rule” where if you love expensive Bordeaux you will find more “value” in spending less on a Bordeaux varietal wine from another region where the most expensive wine costs less than 10 times the price of its cheapest equivalent. Sounds simple, right?
-Mike Steinberger rails away on how he agrees with Keith Levenberg of Noble Rot Magazine that Sine Qua Non wines are vile and disgusting and more expletives than you can say in front of a sailor.  Steinberger then continues to say that critics who give high ratings to both wines like Sine Qua Non and wines like La Tache and other DRC are a huge farce and are misleading consumers.  Don’t miss the comments section where somebody actually asks, “Do we really need all these different wines from everywhere?” <— is your Screen Name “The Wine Nazi”?
-W. Blake Gray ponders the mysteries of Screaming Eagle and passive aggressively calls for transparency from a Cult Cabernet producer.  There is hope…by #10 We don’t know if Screaming Eagle wines are worth the money… Gray is beginning to understand the Subjective Theory of Value.
-Chris Mercer for Decanter.com reports on an incredible wine sale and at least sticks to facts and information.  A breath of fresh air.

Drink Me!

Dusty Bottles in the Cellar

So many wine knowledge seekers have come to me with their confessions of one wine sin or another – added ice cubes to their Merlot – created their own “blend” – had a sticky affair with a Beerenauslese after vowing to love honor and sip only complete dryness – made leftover dessert wine into a spritzer (ok, you caught me I actually did that) – DrinkMe1But one admission that stands out is a crime of time.  There are two sides to this no-no:

I drank it too early.

OR

I waited too long.

All is forgiven.  The truth is that I really think you can drink your wine whenever you want – I try consuming some on a daily basis actually.

DebusyRules

But I’m feeling the sense of a lot of harrumphing coming my way so I will qualify this statement.  The best time for a wine is anytime, as long as you know how you like it.

If you’re one of those S&M pain-for-pleasure punch me in the face with the tannins but caress my sore cheek with your soft fruit type of wine drinkers… then party with the Young Cabs!  Pop open some freshly released Petite Sirah and have your way with it.  Go Barrel Tasting for that matter.  And if you wax poetic about every nuance of tertiary development that whispers in your nostril – oh the cheese rind, the horse dung, the damp fungal floor of the forest – then lay that bottle down and play some Debussy while you wait for the perfect moment to arrive.

Love, with very young people, is a heartless business.  We drink at that age from thirst, or to get drunk; it is only later in life that we occupy ourselves with the individuality of our wine.  -Isak Dinesen

And how do you know when the wine will be drinking just the way you like it?  I knew there would be more harrumphing here… If you’re in the S&M camp your question is already answered – you’re probably drinking it right now while you read this.  If you are typing in a search for Debussy on your tune-turner of choice then you might need to seek professional wine assistance or reference a vintage chart because really, we want you to start by knowing your wine collection in the first place.  If you digitally organize with a wine cellar software such as eSommelier or WineBanq, advice on drinking windows might be an integrated feature for you.

StorageSlide

If you are a hands on cellar tracker that likes to keep technology in the office but not necessarily in the cellar then it might help to employ a few simple organization techniques.  Consider the following when taking stock in your wine collection:

  • drink now – drink soon – reassess in 2-5 years
  • just myself (and someone special) – friends & family – party time!
  • category:  sparkling – whites – reds – sweets & fortified

With the Holiday season glistening in the near future, giving your cellar some attention now will pay yourself forward into the coming months.  The time is right to decide what wines to offer while you’re entertaining and which ones will make nice fireside sippers.  It’s also a good opportunity to plan ahead if there are areas of your cellar that are lacking and get stocked up.  Don’t clear out all those cobwebs just yet – they add authenticity to your Halloween festivities – but DO get started on a Fall wine audit and pop a few corks from your “Drink Now” section while you’re at it.

DrinkMe2DrinkMe3


More Tricks and Treats for your Fall Cellar Audit:

Five Signs You Should Invest in a Wine Management System – eSommelier

What form does your “cellar” take? -Join in on the Conversation at the CellarTracker Forum

Aging Wine Revisited – “Only about 1% of the world’s wines are meant to be aged…”and WHY would anyone ever keep over 2,500 bottle of wine in their cellar? -Wine For Normal People with Elizabeth Schneider, Certified Sommelier & Certified Specialist of Wine

Liv-ex – an answer to Elizabeth’s question about holding on to wine.  Invest – Collect – Drink – All of the Above.  You decide.

Wines to Stock Your Cellar – Visit The Gallery at Falling Bright

Wine For the Ages: Tasting in Emoji

Emoji of Sine Qua Non Rose

Are tasting notes simply a matter of taste?

It seems that the more I read and write tasting notes for wines the deeper I go into experiencing wine on another level.  Captivating prose flows from the bottle to the lips to the page as I fall in love with every nuance of whatever happens to be in the glass.  Of course I make every effort not to sound repetitive, not to be too technical, not to be over the top fantastic in describing fermented grape juice.  After all, we are all short on time and very busy indeed.  So much of our stimulus is visual, quick and simpler to process on the go.  If we want to keep up in today’s market, we have to stay fresh and lively.  So in an Ode to Jimmy Kimmel’s interpretation of current events through Emoji, I give you …

TASTING NOTES IN EMOJI

2012 Walter Hansel Chardonnay, Cahill Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA

Antonio Galloni calls Walter Hansel “some of the most consumer friendly wines readers will come across ANYWHERE in California”, and we can’t agree more. When tasting this wine blind, I almost always place a higher value on it and then get a pleasant surprise at the true price. But numbers aside, the Cahill Lane shows all of the richness of Russian River Valley Chardonnay through a pure and simple use of the Wente Clone exclusively on this site. Brioche, buttered and topped with a dollop of apricot preserves, comes to mind. – Falling Bright notes

OR

Emoji of Walter Hansel Chardonnay
Chardonnay, Simplified.

2011 Behrens Family Winery “Spare Me” Cabernet, Napa Valley CA

Succulent raspberry and black cherry give way to hints of tobacco, cedar, and violets. The beautiful perfume that Petite Verdot brings to the aromatics is not lost in the mix. -FallingBright Notes

OR

Emoji of Behrens Family Spare Me Cabernet
Cabernet but less Complicated

2012 Booker Sweet

Perfectly ripe tropics – pineapple, mango, passion fruit – an unctuous core finishing on a high note. There is no reason not to enjoy a sip of Sweet with a nibble of cheese – something semi-hard to hard like Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Vella Dry Jack. -Falling Bright Notes

OR

Emoji of Booker Sweet Dessert Wine
Just Desserts

2010 Sine Qua Non “That Type of Rosay”

Ridiculous strawberry, sage and underbrush.  A full-bodied meaty expression of Grenache and Syrah with complexity, depth, and a crisp dry finish. -Falling Bright Notes

OR

Emoji of Sine Qua Non Rose
Delicious in Tiny Pictures

Next time you feel like your tasting notes are getting over the top and under your skin, just check back in with us for the short notes on what we’ve been tasting.  We will be sure and give you the small picture(s) so you can make wise use of your time to focus on the Big Picture.

Enjoy what’s in the glass and send us a note on what you’re tasting – Emoji Style of course!

Related Articles / Blogs

Jimmy Kimmel & Brie Larson Emoji Movie

The Underground Wine Letter – Laughable Wine Descriptions

The Black Label – 10 Most Ridiculous Wine Descriptors

Visit The Shop:  Falling Bright