Monday, March 29, 2010

Thank you to all who came to the Kelseyville Olive Fest - it was a great event beyond all expectations. Pictures are up at http://www.kelseyvilleolivefestival.com/photo-gallery.php . Here on the ranch the the cover crop just went under, the vines and now olives are all pruned and the Spring calender is quickly filling up with important dates. Bottling whites is on the horizon in a month, and several pouring events will be taking place in a few weeks - we will post those soon.

In an attempt to seem timely, here a couple of thoughts on the wine scoring system conundrum that is still circulating. The 100-point system has taken a lot of flak as it probably should. A lot of that hinges on the hair-splitting difference between a 92 and a 93 score for example - not particularly problematic here, but some people get all weird over wielding such power over numbers. To play devils' advocate, most wine people could probably come up with a reasonable scenario in which they could convincingly state that a wine is one percent better than another. Quantifiable? No, but subjectively defensible at that moment, sure. Maybe the finish is a little longer, a little more mineral, the VA a little lower. These are plausable. Incidentally, feel free to ask your teacher exactly why your Honor's paper received a 92 instead of a 93. Sometimes, experts just know, and we have to trust them because all opinions are not equal. Not everythinhg is a democracy, nor should it be. Sorry.

The 20-point system's virtue is its inherent lack of precision in the context of the 100 point's inflated importance. By using looser standards the wider range is less definitive and more general - positive in some ways. But then does not the difference between a 16-point and 17-point score become even more contentious by beingh magnified? Again, usable, but far from perfect. A nice guide though for general use. The five-star system is a more reductionist version, often appropriately used in newspapers.

But, hopefully without copyright infringement, here is THE BEST system when you have a panel of reviewers. This is from Sommelier Journal. Every issue they feature a panel tasting and discussion. The scoring is statistically based with outlying marks noted but not included in the statistical range. This provides the range of the 20 point score with a more precise grouping range. You can see how tight or how broad the concensus really was on a particular wine, in some ways focusing on that magical precision between a 92 or 93. Again, not definitive, but a great option, though panel tastings are often impossible for a magazine with 500 reviews. And, it raises the whole problem with competition scoring: should you discuss scores openly and often change them slightly in the end due to consensus decision making or should they be definitively scored and then tallied later? That one is for another entry.

Postscript: Always a little behind. To read a very interesting paper and excellent blog post on this subject please visit http://www.redwinebuzz.com/winesooth/2010/03/29/ratings-serendipity-and-selling-wine/. Highly recommended. Arthur also wisely distinguishes between the subjective descriptive language in evaluation and objective criteria. The structuring of criteria is paramount. Are you judging clarity and VA level? Those can be measured. Or are you basing it on personal preference? Often it is both, one before the other. Discuss.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Alto Adige - When are Austrians really Italian?

It became part of Italy in 1919, its official languages are both German and Italian, and it had Gewurztraminer growing there 1,000 years ago. Give up? Ok, it really is Alto Adige. The Export Organization of Alto Adige made an extremely nice presentation March 2nd in San Francisco, featuring a brief seminar followed by a tasting. Though the suits were not as nice as those worn at the Tre Bicchieri tasting, the Germanic organization skills were far superior. Also of note: three of five panelists were named "Wolfgang". Surely a good omen.

Wine wise, Alto Adige has several things going for it. Its grape-growing areas have good altitude, a surprising amount of sunlight with moderate rain and weather, and a good mix of soil types amenable to quality vines. Most likely it is Lagrein, the surprisingly dark red varietal possibly indigenous to the area that most wine aficionados are familiar. It is rumored to be possibly related to Syrah, and there is something to the fuzzy, robust and violet purple tannin that seems a kindred spirit. But, if you appreciate whites, and you know you should, here is a little secret: the best Pinot Blanc/Biancos in possibly the whole world are found here. In fact, as a closet Pinot Blanc whore, these are some of the best. The Gewurztraminer sings, as well as much Sauvignon Blanc.

Alto Adige whites have a strong similarity with Alsatian whites. But, the Alsatians tend toward greater richness, and maybe a bit more residual sugar, while the Adigians have an added mineral dimension much of the time and a little less on the body front. Aging regimens are similar with fermentations in stainless, then aging in large oak on the less for added body. One Pinot Bianco tasted could have been mistaken for a turbo-charged Viognier with a full tropical honey glycerol booyah palate. The majority though maintain an appealing lean-ness with a medium-plus mid palate that somehow works and is well integrated. The acid levels are perhaps a touch light at times, but usually the balance is such that acid is never questioned; neither too low or too high, but integrated. The Sauvignon Blancs sit on a surprisingly ripe aromatic spectrum, with some of the nose of our own Lake County whites. Of particular notes was Tramin's Gewurztraminer Nussbaumer 2008; the most incredible nose ever.

The reds focused on Pinot Nero and Lagrein, and Schiava's conspicuous absence indicated that this varietal, though occasionally enjoyable, is on its way out. The Pinot tends toward the austere side with a strong mineral finish. Lagrein is a bit of an enigma as a noble variety. It holds its acid and is tannic, ripeness is important and moderate oak use is involved in working with the potential astringency, though it seems a more lax grape that some Sangiovese. The curiosity of Lagrein is that for all of its rich skin and dark purple phenolics, the lacking flesh produces a hollowness in the wines, as if the juice has been too heavily saigneed off, resulting in too much skin to flesh, sometimes leaving a big hole right down the middle - something that oak can help to close. It has nice fruit and spice, but it can lack backbone in a very interesting way. It can be off kilter in a very interesting way though, and interesting trumps most other qualities any day.

As for winery updates, pruning is largely finished, and if you have read this far, maybe you can help with another question: would you like to see Fiano or Vermentino from us? Either is possible.
Some wines will get first rackings and we need to start prepping for the Negro Amaro that is soon to arrive. The year old vines are ready for their first pruning, meaning that the roots have a year on them and we hope that a dominant cane will push up and become the trunk for to-be trained vines