I don’t normally write unfavorable reviews, as there are so many good wines out there to bring to your attention. But this one intrigues me, and right now at least, I’d hate for you to spend nearly $20 on it. The aromatics are OK: some earthy berry fruit and American oak. But the wine is unique to my palate in that it is 14.8% alcohol and yet tastesunderripe. The palate gives taut, green bean flavors, reedy and quite frankly unpleasant. However, I keep wanting to taste it again, as there seems to be potential here, should they be able to tame the alcohol while bringing out the fruit.
Easy for me to say.
Some new developments on the direct shipping front: Connecticut and New York have now enacted legislation allowing out-of-state wineries to ship directly to their residents. Louisiana went the other way, enacting a law prohibiting “native” wineries from acting as wholesalers, effectively robbing them of any ability to sell their wines without going through a distributor. Louisiana’s governor said she signed the bill to protect the state’s three-tier distribution system. All of these new laws were in reaction to the US Supreme Court’s recent decision.
California’s Assembly is considering legislation allowing its wineries to ship out of state, according to a July 14 article in the Napa Valley Register. This perplexes me, as I thought they always could ship, at least to “reciprocal” states. The buzz here is that retailers are complaining because they are not included in the bill. They sense that the pro-direct shipping legislation sponsored by the lawmaker who represents Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties is actually a plot by wholesalers to limit direct shipping by excluding retailers. Got that?
The battle is joined, my friends. Wineries and wholesalers are fighting over the “level playing field” mandated by the Supremes. This is now a zero-sum game, with one side winning and the other losing. Or 50 zero-sum games. Or 50 separate mixed metaphors, whatever. With the retailers getting involved, all three tiers may come tumbling down in a big alcohol-fueled rugby scrum. Sorry, that's redundant.
This would seem like a battle for survival, the way they’re fighting it. Maybe it is. But I wonder how the consumer will fare? (Louisiana consumers do not have an advocate in the governor’s mansion, that’s obvious.) I’ve always wanted the ability to purchase wine directly from whatever source gives me the best deal, whether that’s a winery or a retailer. Even if I, humble Maryland resident that I am, someday get the right to purchase wine over the Web or phone and have it delivered to my door, I will still buy most of my wine from retailers. (Of course, given Maryland’s laws and distribution, I buy mostly in DC and Virginia, and so am technically violating limits on bringing alcohol across the state line every time I return home with a case or more.) Retailers – at least the ones I patronize – do a lot of the hard work for me: They research the wines, taste the wines, and evaluate their quality before they decide whether to take the business risk of stocking them. Most of the time, of course, they buy them from wholesalers, who do similar research, tasting and evaluation. These people are on our side – they want to sell us good wine. The three-tier system works, in that I can try a wine at the store or at home and evaluate it myself before deciding whether to buy. With direct shipping, I have to buy a case. That rules out experimentation, and wine lovers live to experiment.
There will be times, however, when I can’t find a particular wine that I want to stock in my cellar. Or Joe’s Liquor Barn in Podunk has it cheaper than anywhere near me (and of course it would have to be considerably cheaper to justify the $36 per case shipping charge). Or maybe I want to call my friends at Bottles & Corks in Corning and have them put together a sampler case of Finger Lakes Rieslings for me. (Now there's experimentation!) At these times, I want the right to get on the phone and place my order. Who knows? I might even pour a sample for my favorite local retailers.
That’s my two cents.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in two tastings of wines from either end of the Mediterranean. The first featured Spain’s Ribera del Duero, an area familiar to any U.S. wine enthusiast for its deep, massive Tempranillo wines. Ribera’s wines are extensively imported into the United States and highly sought after. The second tasting offered wines from Israel’s Beit Shemesh, a little-known wine area whose winemakers were in the States trolling for importers.
What struck me most about the second tasting was how much the Israeli wines (which were predominantly Bordeaux varietals) resembled the Duero. There was the same inky color, ripe to overripe fruit (think prunes), high alcohol and high price tags. There was also considerable style and finesse.
But I digress. The Ribera del Duero tasting featured Gerry Dawes, a wine writer who lives most of the time in Spain and is a noted expert on its wines. He spent much of his breath railing against “Parkerized” wines, which Dawes called “D.O. Monkton, Maryland,” for the home town of über-critc Robert Parker. Dawes complained of wine writers who follow Parker’s example and give “automatic” high scores to wines that are so dark you cannot see the bottom of the glass, high in alcohol, low in acidity and sappy-jammy-fruity-tootie. I found myself nodding in agreement until I looked in my glass and could not see the bottom, then nearly singed my nostrils on the alcohol fumes wafting from the wine.
In fact, many of the 11 wines tasted that day displayed the exact characteristics that Dawes complained of, and most of them succeeded quite nicely, mind you. That’s because they had the fruit to back it up. Most wines made by that model don’t.
Some of the Israeli winemakers at the second tasting were virtually shouting, “Try my wine! It’s not kosher!” This was puzzling to me, but I’m in the wrong demographic anyway. The wines ranged from interesting to delicious (all were expensive) and made me wonder what they could do with those vines if they can ever live in peace over there.
Some of my favorites from these two tastings:
From the Ribera del Duero:
Valsardo 2001, $14. 100% Tempranillo. That wine party bore, Brett Barnyard, makes an appearance here, so this might not be for everyone. I liked its earthy nose with hints of leather and licorice, plus its bright cherry and plum fruit. Long finish. Brett was noisier as the party wore on.
Hacienda el Monasterio 2001, $30, 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Deep color, meaty nose, deep dard fruit and some spice. Big oaky and intense (14.5% alcohol), but quite huge and lovely. Young – it needs 3-5 years.
Viña Valdeuro 1998, $24, 100% Tempranillo. Meaty, berry some earthy flavors on an intriguing brandy nose. Sweet and lovely, long finish.
Pago de los Capellanes ‘El Picón’ 1999, $Youdontwanttoknow, 100% Tempranillo. I’ll never be able to afford this wine, so I was glad to experience its aromas of pencil and dried orange peel, and the caress of its soft, voluptuous fruit on its loooooong finish …. Sigh.
From Beit Shemesh:
Flam Syrah 2003, $30. Spiked with 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, this offers classic Syrah olive-smoke flavors with Cabernet backbone. Winemaker Golan Flam also makes a nice Merlot Reserve 2003 ($45) that could pass for Bordeaux. Flam wines available at Wine for All in New York City.
Ben Hanna, Shelem Cabernet-Merlot 2003, $n/a. A 50-50 blend with nice aromatics and currant flavors, though a tad pruny and overripe.
Domaine du Castel “C” Blanc du Castel 2003, $32. A Chablis-style Chardonnay, quite good and rich. The Petit Castel 2003, $30, is 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a jammy nose and delicious spicy, brambly fruit. I did not care for the top-of-the-line Grand Vin 2002, which was port-like and hot.