Four of us did a private tasting at J Lohr a few days ago. Had a great time with our host who was more than happy to do everything blind. My tasting notes follow:
- 2012 J Lohr Chardonnay Arroyo Seco Dijon Clone 809 (14.9%). Deep yellow, star bright, medium viscosity. Weak nose, yellow apple, not much. Medium body, medium-minus acidity, medium finish, medium-plus alcohol. Flavors of vanilla, pear. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 14. Score 87. My conclusion: 2012 Chardonnay, oaked, warm climate.
- 2011 J Lohr Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco ($35). Clear dark ruby, pale white rim, low viscosity. Medium nose, black currants, mild bell pepper, a bit earth, floral, mild vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, soft tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of vanilla, licorice, black currants, thyme, bell pepper, cocoa powder. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 16. Score 91. My conclusion: 2010 Merlot, moderate climate. Oops! How could I totally miss a Pinot?
- 2011 J Lohr Pinot Noir Highlands Bench ($35). Dark clear ruby. Black cherries, floral, lavender, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, soft silky tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of coffee, cherries, floral, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 17. Score 93. That one was not tasted blind.
- 2011 J Lohr Syrah Southridge Paso Robles ($15). Dark ruby-purple, medium viscosity, inky, purple rim. Savory nose, olives, spicy, vanilla, prunes. Light body, medium acidity, medium finish, soft silky tannins. Flavors of olives, blueberries, vanilla, coffee on the finish. Structure 12, flavors 13, score 16. Score 91. My conclusion: Syrah.
- 2011 J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop Paso Robles ($40). Totally inky ruby-purple, pale white purple rim. Medium nose of bell pepper, black currants, vanilla. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, a bit hot, velvety tannins. Flavors of black currants, vanilla, chocolate, mild herbal, eucalyptus. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 16. Score 92. Conclusion: Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 2009 J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon St. E ($50). Dark, inky, pale purple rim. Medium sexy nose, chocolate, vanilla, black currants. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus grippy tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of chocolate, blueberries, bell pepper, vanilla. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 16. Score 93. Conclusion: another Cab, must be very expensive since it’s so awesome.
Did a blind tasting of four wines with some friends. Tasting notes:
- 2012 Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc. Star bright, clear, pale straw, medium viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, youthful, medium fruit (stone fruit), medium nonfruit (floral). Aromas of floral, jasmine, peach, nectarine. Medium body, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus finish, high fruit (citrus), no other flavors. Flavors of lemon. Guess 1-3 years, cold climate Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma, California, 2012, medium quality, alcohol 14%. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 14, score 88. Real region is Rutherford, Napa, real alcohol is 12.9%.
- 2011 Four Vines Petite Sirah Skeptic. Bright, clear, dark purple, medium rim variation, pale purple rim, medium viscosity. Clean nose, medium intensity, medium fruit, vegetal, spice and oak, medium youth. Aromas of blackberry, almonds, black cherry, clove. Medium body, dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus round tannins, medium finish. Medium fruit, medium herbal / vegetal, high oak. Flavors of cloves, pepper, blackberries, plums, licorice. Guess: 5-10 years, around 2008, warm climate, California, perhaps Paso Robles, medium quality, around 14.5% alcohol, Zinfandel or Petite Sirah. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 15. Score 88. Real alcohol is 14.3%, real region Paso Robles.
- 2007 Chumeia Barbera Partridge-Leigh Vineyard. Bright, clear, deep garnet, medium viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, medium fruit, fresh and dried, high nonfruit (vegetal, spice), medium oak, medium youthfulness. Aromas of prunes, raisins, black currants, olives, black pepper, cinnamon, some earth. Medium body, dry, medium-minus acidity, light soft tannins, medium-plus alcohol. Medium earth, medium fruit, high non-fruit (vegetal, spicy), medium oak. Flavors of olives, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, black pepper, vanilla, allspice, earthy finish. Guess 5-10 years, 14.5% alcohol, around 2007, California, moderate climate, Syrah, medium-plus quality. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 17. Score 91. Real alcohol is 14%, region is Paso Robles.
- 2008 Picchetti Cabernet Sauvignon Leslie’s Estate. Bright, clear, dark ruby, medium rim variation with pale purple rim, high viscosity. Nose is clean, medium intensity, medium youthfulness, medium fruit (fresh), medium non-fruit (herbal), high oak. Aromas of vanilla, blackberries, black currants, fresh herbs, wet forest floor. Medium body, dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus alcohol, medium finish, medium-plus dry tannins. Medium earth, medium fruit, medium non-fruit (herbs), medium oak. Flavors of blackberries, vanilla, fresh herbs, mild earth. Guess moderate climate, California, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend, 3-5 years, around 2009, medium-plus quality. Structure 11, flavors 13, other 16, score 90. Real alcohol 14.3%, real region Santa Cruz Mountains.
What a great evening of blind tasting in good company!
Had the pleasure of attending a tasting of Spanish wines focused on Ribera del Duero and Priorat, but also including one Rioja and one California Tempranillo (from Lodi). The wines were not tasted blind but I tried to be as uninformed as possible (not know prices, not pay attention to what they are, unless people were telling me in my face).
- 2006 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva. Clear dark garnet. On the nose, dried cherries, cedar, vanilla, some barnyard. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, long finish, silky tannins. Flavors of woody oak, barnyard, cedar, plums, tobacco, leather, cherries, prunes. Structure 13, flavors 12, other 15. Score 90.
- 2009 Clos de Tafall Priorat. Dark clear ruby-garnet, pale rim. On the nose, blackberry jam, vanilla, prunes. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, velvety tannins. Flavors of blueberries, blackberry jam, prunes, spicy, black pepper, some sweet spice like licorice or cinnamon. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 14. Score 90.
- 2009 Bodegas Alejandro Fernández Ribera del Duero Tinto Pesquera. Very dark purple with brighter rim. On the nose, black currants, blackberries, licorice, vanilla. Medium body, medium acidity, medium-plus finish, medium integrated tannins. Flavors of blueberries, blackberries, olives, allspice. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 16. Score 92.
- 2008 Ripken Tempranillo El Matador Lodi. Clear dark ruby-garnet. Intense nose of ethanol, blackberries, plums, olives. Medium to full body, hot, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus finish, medium-plus integrated tannins. Big, alcoholic, sweet, fruity, plums, blueberries, some vanilla, mocha finish. Very new world in style. Structure 12, flavors 13, other 14. Score 89. Delicious but hot and super fruity.
- 2005 Bodegas Protos Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva. Totally inky ruby, opaque. Complex nose, plums, black cherries, olives, leather, allspice. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, long finish. Flavors of blackberries, allspice, olives, blueberries, chocolate, tobacco. Great balance of fruit, spice, oak, structure. Big, delicious and wonderful with food. Structure 14, flavors 13, other 17. Score 94.
- 2001 Bodegas Balbas Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva. Dark clear ruby with orange rim. On the nose, cedar, leather, barnyard, swamp, black cherries, black pepper. Medium body, medium acidity, big tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of swamp, leather, prunes, black cherries, tobacco, black pepper. Complex. Structure 13, flavors 13, other 17. Score 93.
- 2001 Arzuaga Crianza. Very dark garnet, almost inky. Lovely mature nose, cedar, musky, leather, dried cherries, prunes, tobacco, beautiful. Light to medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium-plus to long finish. Flavors of cedar, prunes, leather, tobacco, dried cherries, figs, lovely and mature. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 17. Score 94.
- 2011 Camins del Priorat. Dark, inky, no rim variation. Strong young fruity nose, big blueberries, plums, almost jammy blackberry, ethanol. Full body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium finish, hot. Flavors of plums, pepper, olives, a bit like a big Zin. Too young. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 14. Score 87.
- 2006 Lambuena Reserva Ribera del Duero. Very dark, inky, purple rim. Medium nose of olives, allspice, black cherries, pepper. Medium to full body, medium-plus acidity, juicy, strong but well integrated tannins, medium-plus to long finish. Flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, leather. Lovely, rich, complex. Structure 14, flavors 13, other 17. Score 94.
- 2011 Flores de Callejo Ribera del Duero. Very inky ruby-purple, no rim variation. Vegetal nose, unripe, pepper and some plums. Medium body, strong grippy tannins, medium acidity, medium-plus finish. Flavors of synthetic vanilla, peppers, plums, cherries. Structure 12, flavors 11, other 14. Score 87.
- 2008 Font de la Figuera Priorat. Dark, inky, purple rim, sweet and mature. Vanilla, black currants, sweet cedar, earth, mushrooms. Awesome nose. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus to long finish, medium-plus tannins, perfectly integrated. Flavors of mushrooms, black cherries, cassis, chocolate, licorice, cigar box. Lovely, rich, long, big, complex, awesome. Structure 13, flavors 14, other 17. Score 94.
- 2011 Grifoll Declara Priorat Predicat. Very dark ruby, medium rim variation. Funky nose, sweaty socks, corked? Medium body, strong tannins, medium finish. Flavors of mud, sweaty socks, some dark fruit, perhaps corked although not extremely. Score 84.
- 2011 Barco de Piedra Ribera del Duero. Clear dark ruby-purple. Medium nose, strong vanilla, pepper, unripe, plums. Medium to full body, medium-minus acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium to medium-plus finish. Flavors of vanilla, plums, pepper, kind of synthetic. Structure 11, flavors 11, other 14. Score 86.
January 18th, 2014 in
Vinavanti is a small urban winery in San Diego, making modern natural wine, meaning that modern technology and understanding of the chemistry are used in totally natural winemaking, with minimal intervention, unfiltered, unoaked and unsulfited (if that’s even a word).
I had the pleasure of doing a tasting with Eric, the winemaker, whose physics background shows in his analytical problem solving skills, and I highly recommend visiting if only to chat with him and hear some fun winemaking adventure stories.
In addition to a great conversation, Eric also led me through a fun blind tasting of some Vinavanti wine. Tasting notes below.
- 2013 Vinavanti Sparkling Viognier L’Héritier ($22). Hazy grapefruit-like off white. Medium nose of pears. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, medium-minus finish, lightly fizzy. Flavors of pears, lime, yeast. 2013 sparkling viognier. L’heritier. Structure 9, flavors 10, other 13. Score 82.
- 2011 Vinavanti Grenache Temecula Valley ($23). Pale clear garnet. Medium nose of rose petals, sour cherries, cranberries. Medium to full body, medium acidity, velvety tannins, medium finish. Flavors of rose petals, raspberries, mild smoke. Structure 10, flavors 12, other 14. Score 86.
- 2011 Vinavanti Mourvedre Temecula Valley ($27). Clear ruby. Medium nose of cherries, plums, mild grapefruit. Medium body, medium acidity, medium tannins, medium finish. Flavors of raspberries, cherries, mild strawberries. Very fruit forward. Structure 11, flavors 12, other 13. Score 86.
- 2011 Vinavanti Syrah Temecula Valley ($25). Dark clear ruby-purple. Medium nose of wet forest floor, mushrooms, black cherries. Full body, medium acidity, ripe tannins, medium finish. Flavors of earth, mushrooms, black cherries, smoke. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15. Score 89.
- 2011 Vinavanti GSM Temecula Valley ($25). Hazy ruby, pale rim. Medium nose, wet forest floor, cherries, mushrooms, smoke. Medium to full body, medium acidity, young strong tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of earth, smoke, cherries. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 15. Score 89.
- 2012 Vinavanti Mourvedre DS9 Temecula Valley ($29). Hazy dark ruby. Medium nose of chocolate, orange. Medium body, medium-plus acidity, young tannins, medium-plus finish. Flavors of minerals (graphite?), orange, cocoa powder, mild hops, sage. Structure 12, flavors 12, other 16. Score 90.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting for a chance to taste some very well made natural wine and to meet Eric.
Tasted blind. Dark, opaque purple. Medium nose of alcohol, black cherries, blackberry jam, smoke, mild allspice. Medium body, high acidity, medium hot finish, strong integrated tannins. Flavors of black cherries, smoke, tobacco. After an hour, much brighter cherry flavors, with some floral notes. Structure 9: hot, short finish, unbalanced. Flavors: 11. Other: 11. Score: 81.
Revealing the wine, I was surprised that it’s a Chianti. And even more surprised that it is only 13% alcohol. A wine with alcohol levels so low which still smells of alcohol and a finish so short that you are only left with alcohol is certainly not well balanced. At $16 I dare say it’s a pretty bad value.
My philosophy is that all wine deserves to be tasted blind and rated. Even cheap wine. A friend of mine works at BevMo, so I like coming in for their tastings when he’s pouring, chatting a bit and enjoying a blind tasting of whatever choices the BevMo powers that be made that week. Not all of the wines BevMo feature in their tastings are bad, by the way. Many of them are decent.
To warm up the new system of grid-based and score-based reviews, here is a full review of the most recent BevMo tasting. All wine were tasted blind. Their identities and prices were revealed afterwards.
- 2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($25). Appearance: clear white. Nose: intense, fresh, grapefruit with mild herbal notes. Body: medium-plus. Acidity: medium-plus. Finish: medium-plus. Flavors: grapefruit, limestone. Strong minerality, a bit chalky. Structure: 12. Flavors: 12. Other: 15. Score: 89.
- 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($22). Appearance: clear yellow. Nose: apples, pears, vanilla. Body: medium. Acidity: medium. Finish: medium-plus. Flavors: caramelized apples and pears, butter, vanilla. Structure: 12. Flavors: 13. Other: 13. Score: 88.
- NV Locations F-1 ($17). This is from Orin Swift. Appearance: clear dark ruby. Nose: intense plums, cherries, smoke and earth. Body: medium. Acidity: medium-plus. Tannins: integrated. Finish: medium-plus. Flavors: plums, cherries, smoke, mild vanilla, cedar and tobacco. Structure: 12. Flavors: 13. Other: 15. Score: 90.
- 2010 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford ($22). Appearance: clear dark ruby. Nose: medium, eucalyptus, black cherries, earth, mild anise. Palate: confirming nose. Body: medium. Acidity: medium-plus. Finish: medium-plus. Tannins: ripe. Structure: 12. Flavors: 13. Other: 14. Score: 89.
- 2011 Crooked Path Cellars Zinfandel ($19). Appearance: clear dark ruby. Nose: alcohol, mild pepper, blueberries, blackberry jam, chocolate. Palate: confirming nose. Body: full. Acidity: medium-plus. Finish: medium-plus. Tannins: ripe. Structure: 10, too hot. Flavors: 13. Other: 13. Score: 86.
December 16th, 2013 in
For the last six months or so I have changed my tasting style to a systematic tasting using the grid from the Guild of Master Sommeliers.
Using the grid took my blind tasting to a whole new level, judging by my ability to correctly identify wines and evaluate them in a blind tasting.
Therefore, from now on, when I review wines on this site I will most likely use a grid-like description. Although this encourages less artistic expression, this is a scientific site, and the result is a much more meaningful review.
I am also using a four-dimensional rating system which includes structure, flavors, complexity and overall. Structure only takes into account properties such as body, acidity, tannins, finish and the balance between them. Flavors only takes into account the pleasantness, cleanness and intensity of the flavors. Complexity is obvious: does the wine evolve in an interesting way? Is it multilayered? Finally, overall takes into account all three plus other elements such as interactions between structure, flavors and complexity, and anything else which affects my appreciation of the wine beyond structure, flavors and complexity. I originally used 5-point and 7-point systems due to their cognitive simplicity, but to be compatible with traditional wine ratings, I will use a 100-point system here, which is meant to be reasonably compatible with Parker’s ratings. That means: 50 base points automatically awarded by virtue of being wine. 15 points for structure, 15 points for flavors, 20 points for complexity and overall quality.
That means that typically, a review will include descriptions of the appearance, nose, palate, structure followed by a score, either fully broken down to its components or not.
Poetry is dead; long live science!
December 16th, 2013 in
A visiting friend challenged the notion that wine price truly reflects quality, and we set out to test it scientifically, in a blind tasting of Napa Cabs. More precisely, since there are no really cheap Napa Cabs, for the really cheap wines we used other California Cabs. We tasted 12 wines, all blind, with prices between $2.5 and $60, and rated them individually. The tasters included an experienced wine taster with an impressive collection of fine wine (Taster 1), a casual drinker with very little wine tasting experience (Taster 2), and a wine blogger with a strange passion for blind tasting (Taster 3). For simplicity we used a scale from 1 to 6 to rate the wines such that 1 refers to the least favorite of this tasting and 6 refers to the most favorite, so all tasters used the full range of 1 to 6.
Ratings vs price
The individual ratings and the group mean are shown in the figure. Taster 1 had a strong aversion to two high-end wines, possibly due to high acidity, but otherwise all ratings are almost linear with prices. Tasters 2 and 3 had correlation coefficients of 0.897 and 0.88 between ratings and prices, a very high correlation. Tasters 2 and 3 also had high agreement with each other (correlation coefficient of 0.907).
I don’t think the overall trend is surprising – it is pretty clear to any experienced taster that price and quality are related in wine. I was somewhat surprised by the strong aversion that one of the experienced tasters had to two of the higher-end wines, which he found “nearly undrinkable”, presumably due to high acidity. It seems that in this case, the individual variation was sensory rather than in the evaluation of what quality means. Of course, this is just a theory, and needs to be tested separately.
If one had to imaging a single wine region and corresponding varietal which
are globally recognized and respected, California Cabernet Sauvignon
would probably be among the first three, perhaps sharing the leadboard
with Bordeaux and Burgundy, but as I previously pointed out, after the
Judgment of Paris and in recent years, I would not be surprised to see
California Cabernets at the very top.
Nevertheless, even globally accepted excellent wine can use some extra
publicity, so here I am, reporting on Passport to Cabernet 2013, a
wonderful wine event organized by the California Cabernet Society.
It is not a secret that I love California Cabs. But honestly, who
doens’t? This event provided an excellent opportunity to taste the
latest vintage of California Cabs, and it was as good as it
sounds. There were so many excellent wines that it is hard to choose
which ones to report. There wasn’t much point in blind tasting, but
even without blind tasting, this was definitely one of the best wine
tasting events of the last year.
A few favorites:
- Everything from Cornerstone: 2010 Stepping Stone
(great value), 2009 Napa Valley and 2009 Howell Mountain, both
spectacular and fairly priced relative to Napa standards (don’t expect “cheap” – but very good value at the Napa price range)
- Linked Vineyards 2008 (great name: people came over and asked, “Are you linked?”)
- Louis M. Martini with great value for Napa, especially
the 2010 Alexander Valley which is practically a steal (again, in Napa price standards), and the Monte
Rosso which was so good it has to be my favorite wine of the day, and apparently I was not
alone in this preference, based on the number of people who came back
for a second and third tasting, highly unusual in an event with so
many excellent wines
- Peju, as always making quality wine, with the
2009 Reserve and the 2010
- Steven Kent, pricey but excellent wine from
the under-appreciated Livermore Valley – at least, once you taste Steven Kent’s wines, you realize it’s underappreciated.
Excellent food pairings (especially cheese worthy of California Cabs) were provided by Winery Chefs.
I can hardly remember the last time I tasted so much great wine in a
single event – as always, respect to California Cabs and many thanks
to the California Cabernet Society for organizing this great
The California Cabernet Society is “an alliance of wineries committed to expanding worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet Sauvignon”. I was not really aware that worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet Sauvignon was lacking anywhere, especially after The Judgment of Paris (twice!) and Bottle Shock, but there is no harm in making a good thing even more globally appreciated, of course. I therefore add my own voice and recommend attending the 2013 Passport to Cabernet and evaluating barrel samples from the most recent vintage. Don’t miss it!