Last week I had them right in my sights. In the crosshairs was The Wine Enthusiast and the painful, slutty commercialism of their “Wine Star” awards. I put up a blistering post, but later took it down. Why?” Because it doesn’t matter and I’m tired of railing against an obsolescent machine that is not worth the energy. When I woke in the morning my snit looked a little pitiful in the light of reality, which is The Wine Enthusiast does not matter one bit. As the Big Dog, The Wine Spectator, slowly slides into oblivion, its bad copy, The Wine Enthusiast, is worthy of no energy - good or bad. It just doesn’t matter. So few used the The Wine Enthusiast as their wine guide at its peak that they were irrelevant anyway. The reviews in The Wine Enthusiast were nothing more than POS fodder - producers would use their points for neckers and shelf talkers - things you hung on bottles in stores to help sell wines to consumers that did not know any better. Nobody ever had a brand take off because of The Wine Enthusiast.
The king pins, The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate, are becoming ghosts of their former selves - powerful still, but spiraling into meaningless oblivion. Bad copies like The Wine Enthusiast are not worthy of my time, nor yours.The fact is that nobody sells wine of quality because they got a review in The Wine Enthusiast.
I do not need to rail against The Wine Enthusiast as they are their own worst enemy and define themselves in their choices for their “Wine Star” awards, which were clearly won based on the recipients capacity to deliver advertising dollars to The Wine Enthusiast combined with their ability to extract maximum profit from consumers. So we have mass brand producers dominate the awards with bland wines that pack in the bucks, while real winemakers are ignored - Wine Stars? I think not.
And the winners are…
Smooth. Is there a smoother red wine made than Valpolicella? Add a touch of ripasso richness and you get a great wine bargain. Ripasso, the process of adding the pressed grapes from Amarone to Valpolicella causing it to referment, elevates Valpolicella from a lovely everyday wine to one worthy of special occations.
The 2006 Capitel della Valpolicella Ripasso from Montrasor is such a wine. Ripe, round and velvety without a touch of heaviness, it delivers an excellent wine at a very fair price - under $20.
Girard Winery has taken full advantage of one of these vineyards producing their 2006 Girard Mixed Blacks from a century old vineyard with a mixed planting of syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre, carignane and a few other varieties whose identity remain a mystery. All the varieties are co-fermented (always an interesting idea) and aged in a blend of French (85%) and American oak for eighteen months. What a wine this is! Loaded with explosive black fruit and layered with earthy touches of porcini and smoked meats, it fills the mouth without being heavy. Girard has avoided the ponderous, one dimensional character of so many “old vine” wines from these varieties. A crisp acid bite keeps this wine alive and it will remind Rhone lovers of a good Cornas or Crozes Hermitage, of course with an added dose of ripe California fruit.
2006 Domaine La Milliere Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rhone
The recent decision by the Federal Government to accept state medical marijuana laws seems to have caused things to go out of control in California.
It’s a waiting game. We’re waiting for “just so”. Simple ripeness is not enough. Everything has to be just right - sugars, acids and phenolics all have to be “just so”. It’s a tough balance to achieve and in many vintages, like Godot, it never arrives. Because nature rarely offers perfection harvest is usually a battle of nerves - ours vs. Mother Nature’s and Mother Nature always wins. For small production wines like Cornerstone it’s all about precision harvesting. We focus all of our attention on small blocks of vineyards and strive to harvest at the moment of perfection when everything is “just so”. This year it seems that Godot himself has actually arrived as each of our vineyards has been coming in at the perfect point. Picking at perfection is only attained by being in the vineyards and knowing your vines. Pictured above, Cornerstone’s winemaker Jeff Keene (left) and consulting winemaker Peter Franus walk our Hardman Road Block in southern Napa near Silverado Country Club. We’ve picked half of our Cabernet Sauvignon now, but this block, a cooler site, is perhaps a week or more away. Indeed things are looking very, very good in Napa.