Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"a good excuse for the cast to enjoy a couple of months in Provence"

Oh, dear. That's not the sort of comment you want to hear about your movie, is it? But this is exactly what Variety reviewer Todd McCarthy has said about A Good Year, the romantic comedy based on Peter Mayle's novel of the same name. The film has just been released at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the reviews do not appear to be bubbling with excitement. Seems that Russell Crowe's attempt at humor is a little strained. Well at least its not corked! And we (the audience) will get to spend a few hours in Provence. Perhaps some wine and cheese might help to pass the time?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Penfold's Yattarna, Good as an $11 California Chardonnay?

On Saturday, August 12, I made what has become a less than frequent visit to Vintage Wines on San Diego to partake of their weekly $5 tasting. The theme on this Saturday? Chardonnay.

I tasted the wines double blind. That is I did not know what wines were in the tasting or their order. I’ve listed the wines in the order they were tasted along with their identities.

2004 Chateau Souverain, Sonoma $10.99USD
Straw yellow. Buttery, oaky aromas over fruity aromatics, spices, ripe apple, and a little anise. Medium weight with soft, mouth filling entry backed up by clean acidity, good presence of flavor on the palate and nice length to the finish. Misses on the mid palate. 2, 2, 4.0, 9.8 = 17.8/20, 89/100. (5)

2004 Devil’s Lair, Margaret River, Australia $15.99USD
Light straw yellow. A little toasty oak struggles up from a sweet musky note mingled with citrus. Medium weight, well structured with crisp acidity and excellent carry of flavors onto the palate. 2, 2, 3.5, 10.0 = 17.5/20, 87/100. (6)

2004 Arnoux,Hautes cotes du Beaune Les Picotins $14.99USD
Straw yellow. Hmm, honey, peanut butter and treacle. Very atypical for New World. Crisp acidity covers the palate. Great structure, excellent presence of flavors and a persistent finish. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.2 = 18.3/20, 91/100. (2)

2003 White Rock, Napa Valley $21.99USD
Darker straw yellow. Toasted oak, a little ethyl acetate and citrus, almost marmalade. Soft and round with supple entry. Nice carry of flavor onto palate and good length. 2, 2 3.9, 10.0 = 17.9/20, 89/100. (4)

2004 Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand $23.99USD
Straw yellow. Beautiful aromatics that include melon, citrus and integrated oak. Wow, mouth watering acidity closes off a stunning complexity that caresses the palate and leaves a lingering memory. Very impressive wine. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.5 = 18.8/20, 94/100. (1)

2003 Penfold’s Yattarna, Australia $53.99USD
Light straw yellow. Subdued, slight petrichor (minerality), over faint anise, oak and citrus. Medium weight with soft and supple entry, nice complexity with excellent carry of flavors onto the palate, pleasing apple-crisp acidity and a lengthy finish. Nice wine. 2, 2, 3.6, 10.3, 17.9/20, 89/100. (3)

Learning the identities of these wines was more than a little surprising. It was not too difficult to identify the Ch. Souverain and the White Rock as California Chardonnay, or the Arnoux as the only serious Old World member. I was not sure where the second wine (Devil’s Lair) was from; New World certainly. And I was willing to guess that the second last wine was probably Australian, simply because it was not a typical California Chardonnay. But it was the last wine that completely fooled me. I was leaning toward Burgundy but it just did not seem to be a complete fit. However its not uncommon in these tastings for at least one wine to be a standout, at least in price, and in previous Chardonnay tastings quite expensive Burgundys have been included. But I was not expecting to see Yattarna, and having never tasted the wine before I would never have picked the style, assuming that what I tasted was typical.

This is the wine Robert Parker Jr. can’t give 80 points? I tasted through the wines again, from lowest rated to highest. I still agreed with the order I had rated the wines. Yattarna scores the same as an $11 California Chardonnay? No, not exactly. It’s the second highest scoring wine on the palate, but it falls down because nosing the wine reveals so little of its character. I guess I could rewrite the tasting note to make more of that point, but that would make this blind tasting a wasted exercise. For me the combination of a tasting note and scoring individual facets of the wine serves that purpose well enough. Yattarna is not just an 89 point wine, but then neither is the Chateau Souverain. And neither of them are drinking as well as the Cloudy Bay!

Just how good is the Cloudy Bay? I bought a few bottles so I could sit down with one.

2004 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay $23.99USD (Screwcap)
Straw yellow. Very open and forward with layers of tropical fruits over buttery oak. Very appealing. Developed nutty, citrus notes with time. Full bodied, soft and supple entry with excellent carry of flavors and attention getting acidity that cuts across the palate ending in a lingering finish. Beautiful wine. 2, 2, 4.2, 10.3 = 18.5/20, 93/100. 14% alcohol. Tasted September 2, 2006.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Doctor Jay Miller to Assume Role as Reviewer of Australian Wine for The Wine Advocate

Robert Parker Jr., used the Mark Squires Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com to announce major additions in the staff of The Wine Advocate. Included among those additions is Dr. Jay Miller, currently Store Manager, Wine Director, & Proprietor of Bin 604, a wine shop in Baltimore, Maryland. According to Parker, Dr Miller will be "providing extensive, detailed coverage of areas he loves, and already knows exceptionally well, the Pacific Northwest, Spain, Australia, and South America, another region that has not been covered in as much detail as required by the remarkable number of high quality wines emerging from Argentina and Chile. Dr. J. will also be responsible for the fortified wines from Portugal. Given his Rabelaisian appetite, he will also be furnishing enormous contributions to our Hedonist Gazettes."

Dr. Miller has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has worked as a child psychologist. Miller and Robert Parker have a past history. According to his bio on the Bin 604 website Miller met Parker while working part time as a wine consultant for Wells Liquors. While working at Wells, he met Robert Parker, a regular customer. Bob, impressed with Jay’s knowledge and keen tasting skills, invited Jay to work as his assistant on the Wine Advocate, Bob’s monthly wine tasting newsletter. From 1985 until 1998, in addition to practicing psychology, Jay assisted Bob with wine tasting, visits to vineyards, and editing the Wine Advocate. During his 13-year tenure with Bob Parker, Jay tasted over 65,000 wines.

Miller left The Wine Advocate and the mental health field in 1988 to work full time in the wine wholesale business. He started Bin 604 in late 2001. Just how much experience Dr. Miller has with Australian wine is hard to gauge. His wine store obviously sells Australian wine, and there are tasting notes that provide some insight into preferences.

But perhaps the most interesting news is that Dr. Miller will also review fortified wines from Portugal. Hopefully this means that he will also give more exposure to the fortified wines of Australia. In addition Parker noted that The Wine Advocate "will expand coverage by at least 30-50 percent as many areas that have been short-changed because of a lack of person-power will now receive full coverage." One hopes that this means a greater coverage of Australian wines, instead of the limited focus of the past that tended to concentrate too much on South Australia.