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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Archived Articles

AJNorth Wine Column for 10/21/04

Some Thoughts On Two Buck Chuck

Over the last two years, I've repeatedly been asked by people who know of my interest
in wine "What do you think of Two Buck Chuck?" With the recent opening of Trader Joe's in
Santa Fe, that query to me has ballooned. My standard response is "Like people...it is what
it is". So, exactly, what IS 2$Chuck??
Back in 1974, a man named Charles Shaw had a passion for producing Gamay Beaujolais
wine in California. To this end, he largely succeeded...it was probably the best California
Gamay produced until recently. Alas, the marketplace didn't share his passion for the genre.
Following his divorce in 1991, Shaw sold the label and his winery in the Napa Valley to
Fred Franzia, where it lay dormant for ten years.
Fast forward to 2002. Because of overplanting of grapes, especially in the
interior San Joaquin Valley, home of California's bulk, box and jug wines; the state is
awash in cheap wine. Especially Bronco Wine Company, the 5'th largest wine company in the US,
whose annual wine sales total nearly 20 million cases. What was a wine manufacturer
to do?? Franzia, one of the more astute businessmen around, had an idea.
He made the Trader Joe's Market chain in California an offer they couldn't refuse. He'd
bottle the wine under a classy name, reviving the Charles Shaw label, and sell it to them for
a song. TJ's priced it at $1.99/btl, the cheapest a US wine has ever sold, and the stuff
started flying out the door by the caseload.
The 2$Chuck phenomenon was born. Both TJ's and Franzia were taken by surprise at the public
response. And they both have been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.
So...what IS 2$Chuck. It is inexpensive wine, primarily or exclusively (no one but Franzia
knows) from San Joaquin vineyards, cropped at huge tonnage levels. It comes in five different
varietial flavors. It comes from Bronco's huge wine manufacturing plants in Ceres and Escalon,
California. It is blended from hundreds of different lots to give a consistent character from
batch to batch; not an easy task.
The Charles Shaw label indicates a Napa address; to give it a certain cachet. The closest
the wine has been to the Napa Valley is when the tanker truck pulls up in the dead of night to
offload its cargo at the huge Bronco bottling facility in the industrial park near the airport
on the south edge of town. By the next day, it's bottled, being loaded onto transport trucks
and out the door. Not unlike locating a flea market next to a world-class opera; the guile
of Franzia's scheme makes the Napa Valley-ites absolutely livid.
When the 2$Chuck phenomenon burst upon the scene two years ago, it received a lot of popular
press. Everybody was hot to try this new wine. Most serious wine connoisseurs made an effort
to try them. Most, like me, sorta shrugged their shoulders and thought "what's all the
buzz about?". Yet, the continued strong sales for 2$Chuck clearly indicate there is a
segment of the market receiving pleasure from that wine.
I've found it rather amusing the strong negative reaction the wine elicits from wine
connoisseurs. They universally diss the wine. Yet most have made the effort to try it.
Snobbism and elitism?? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Sort of like people who read the New York
Times or the Wall Street Journal... they would never acknowledge to reading the National Inquirer.
Yet who amongst us cannot resist stealing a glance at the rag standing at the grocery
checkout line??
So... what do I think of 2$Chuck? It's a perfectly well-made wine. It has no flaws that I would
say. It's balanced and has some grapey fruit. It displays a bit of varietal character.
It even displays some "terroir"; a bit of that earthiness you get from hot-climate grapes.
Of the five varietals, the Shiraz is probably the best.
So... would I drink 2$Chuck? Probably not; not on a regular basis. My problem with the line
is that I find the wines incredibly boring and simple. I tried to take notes on the wines once
and failed. I couldn't come up with anything in the way of descriptors other than "grapey".
The wines offer me little in the way of interest or intellectual appeal. I would much rather
spend three or four times as much and get a wine that speaks to me of something more than just
"grapey". And the small amount of residual sugar makes them a bit tiring on the palate.
That being said, there IS a place for 2$Chuck. I can envision myself tucking into a
hamburger or a burrito and finding a glass of 2$Chuck Shiraz just the ticket to wash it down.
Wine doesn't always have to be serious and contemplative. A simple salad lunch with a friend,
where the company and the conversation are the focus; a glass of 2$Chuck Chardonnay could fill
the bill quite nicely, thank you.
The 2$Chuck phenomena has an up-side. It has restrained the prices on the lower end of the
wine market. It has spawned a few copycats; like the Pacific Peak and Summerfield line from
Golden State Vintners, the 15'th largest wine company in the US. It has undoubtedly drawn some
people to drinking wine on a regular basis; people who would otherwise have soft-drinks or beer.
The economics behind 2$Chuck are interesting.... and that's what 2$Chuck is all about. To put
out a wine that sells for $2, and make a small profit; it is estimated that you must pay about
$200/ton for the grapes. Last year, San Joaquin wine grapes were averaging about $60/ton. So,
even though the vineyard acreage there is contracting, it would appear that 2$Chuck will
continue for the foreseeable future... assuming sales remain strong.
So...what do I REALLY think about 2$Chuck?? I think the wine world and American consumers
are much better off for it and owe Fred Franzia and Trader Joe's a big "thank you". It may not be
a wine that'll appear on my table; but there are a lot of people out there who ARE getting a
great deal of enjoyment from the wine. How bad could that be??


November 15 is the traditional day for the release of the Beaujolais Noveau, amid much hoopla
in the bistros of Paris, where they will argue the merits of this year's wine into the wee hours
of the morning...fueled by tumbler after tumbler of the stuff. The wine is never anything to get
excited about, winewise. It's all about the celebration and knocking back glassfuls of it with
friends and good bistro fare.
One of the things many of us miss about the passing of Cafe Escalera was their annual
Beaujolais dinner. The wine was always plentiful and...OK. The food and the festivities...
nonpareil. Brian Knox is behind the stove again at Aqua Santa and serving some of the best
bistro-style food in New Mexico. He plans to resume the Beaujolais Noveau dinner this year at
his new digs on Alameda Street. It should be a great party, so keep your eyes peeled for its


Wine of the Month: Maryhill Columbia Valley Syrah 2001: Syrah, the red grape of France's
Northern Rhone, has made enormous strides in California over the last 10-15 years. It has started
to really take off in the Pacific Northwest over the last few years, displaying some of the same
terroir-driven roasted/espresso character you get in France's finest.
This example, from a small winery in the western end of the Columbia Valley, is everything you'd
want in a Syrah. It has loads of ripe/juicy boysenberry/framboise Syrah fruit with some of that
pungent/roasted mineral character that makes Washington Syrahs so intriguing. Reasonably
priced at $20 and the equal of many Syrahs twice that price.

TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.
AJNorth Wine Column for 11/18/04

Screwcaps and Corks: A Continuing Saga

The bane of any wine lover is to pull the cork on a special bottle, usually with a group
of friends waiting in eager anticipation, taking that first whiff of the nose, and finding
the wet cardboard/damp basement aroma of a "corked" wine. It happens far too often in my book.
The source of a "corked" wine is well known. Wines are usually sealed by a plug of wood
from the bark of the cork tree, typically Portuguese or Spanish in origin. Near the base of
tree, various kinds of fungi grow in this bark. When these fungi interact with the chlorine
compounds used to sterilize and bleach these corks, a (harmless) chemical known as 2,4,6-
trichloroanisole, usually termed TCA, is formed.
The effect of this TCA in wine is twofold. It imparts a characteristic stench to the wine
and it robs the wine of its fruitiness, suppressing the wine's natural aroma. The nose is
incredibly sensitive to the smell of TCA; oftentimes to levels of only a few parts per trillion.
It is estimated that roughly 5%-8% of all commercial, cork-finished, wines are TCA-tainted.
If Toyota automobiles or Maytag washers had that failure rate, they'd soon be driven
from the marketplace.
What to do to solve this problem?? The Portuguese cork industry has been investing heavily
in methods to eradicate the problem. Thus far, a solution has eluded them.
There have been a number of plastic cork substitutes developed. One brand, the SupremeCorq,
is so lacking in resiliency that it can actually damage your corkscrew in removing them. Worse,
they often come in really garish colors. Another brand, the NeoCork, is far superior. It has a
soft, spongy interior with a firm, slickish outer layer that makes its removal far easier.
Although the performance of plastic corks for long-term storage has not been substantiated,
they resemble cork closures enough that most traditionalist wine lovers have been accepting of
their usage in fine wines.
Fortunately (and unfortunately), the ultimate solution for TCA-tainted wines is well in hand...
the screwcap closure. This market is dominated by the Stelvin closure; a French product that
was first developed back in the late 1950's. The Stelvin is a thin aluminum sleeve that fits
over the neck of the bottle, with a thin resilient foam-plastic disk, coated with an impervious,
silvery Mylar-like coating fitting inside where it contacts the wine. When the top is unscrewed,
the sleeve separates from the screwtop with a characteristic snapping sound.
One of the long-held wine myths is that the development of the bouquet in a wine as
it ages in the bottle is the result of a slow, gentle oxidation as the wine "breathes"
in air through the pores of the cork. This is utter nonsense; a sound cork
will permit virtually zero ingress of air from the outside. Technically speaking, bottle bouquet
is the result of "reductive" (absence of oxygen) conditions inside the bottle, rather than
oxidative conditions. The more hermetic the seal, the better.
This airtight seal is, in fact, the strength of the Stelvin closure. Corks sometimes leak
around the edges; allowing wine out and air in. This is seldom the case with a properly-formed
Stelvin. Repeated studies have shown that, in the case of aromatic white wines, the Stelvin
far outperforms the cork in preserving the freshness in the wine over the course of years....
many years.
So, it is becoming much more common in the marketplace to see wines, increasingly fine wines,
sold with a screwtop. Much of this impetus has come from the New Zealand and Australian wine
industry; who have been embracing screwcaps with a vengeance. The California and
European industries have been far slower to make the switch.
So...if the screwcap has been demonstrated to be a far superior technical solution to the
corked wine problem (and it has), why has it taken over 40 years to become more commonplace
but, even yet, the chosen closure for only a small segment of the market?? Why are
corks still the preferred closure, even with an appalling failure rate??
The answer, in a nutshell, is tradition and image. Wine lovers are some of the most hidebound,
stodgy, resistant-to-change, folks in the world. To their minds, the "pop" of a cork coming out
of a bottle conveys the image of "quality". To them, the "crackle/snap" of rending aluminum on
opening a Stelvin-sealed wine shouts of "cheap". For many of them, the 5%-8% failure rate of
corks is simply an overhead cost of their wine passion. A cost that more and more winemakers
are deciding to no longer accept.
Over the last few years, many winemakers have been taking a hard look at alternativeclosures.
Even as far back as the '70's, the venerable Bordeaux Chateau Haut-Brion experimented
with the Stelvin; but abandoned the work because of image issues. Recently, the irrepressible
Randall Grahm went to Stelvins for his entire line of Bonny Doon wines. David Cofarro Winery in
Healdsburg now offers his futures buyers their choice of NeoCork or Stelvin. Clearly, screwcaps
are making inroads into the higher-end of the wine market.
There are some real problems with a wholesale adoption of screwcaps. Vintners must
modify their winemaking techniques to allow for the no-oxygen environment under a
Stelvin. The sharp edges of the Stelvin cap can cut fingers if one is careless. Most
amusing to me: Some waiters in snooty restaurants appear a bit flummoxed when required
to open a screwcapped wine, no matter what its pedigree. They view it as akin to being requested
to crack a bottle of Thunderbird so the customer can swig directly from the bottle; below their
professional image. Do they present the screwcap to the diner for sniffing for corkiness, or
quietly slip it into their pocket??
Despite these problems, both practical and image, it seems clear that screwcaps are going to
become a larger fixture on the wine scene as more vintners and, more
importantly, consumers refuse to tolerate the failure rate of cork-closed wines. The
"crackle-snap" of a Stelvin being opened may become the same music to a wine-lover's
ear as the "pop" of the cork.

Today, November 18, is the release date for the 2004 Beaujolais Noveau. The wine is nothing
to get excited about. The celebration is. Brain Knox will be doing a Beaujolais Celebration
this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at his Aqua Santa restaurant; featuring cassoulet, white
truffles, and traditional French bistro-type fare.... a bit of Paris right here in Santa Fe...
without the attitude.

Although Canyon Road's Geronimo restaurant moves more wine than any other restaurant in
New Mexico; they have never officially done a winemaker's dinner. That is about to change
when they host their first on Thursday, Dec.2 Featured will be Merry Edwards, a lady
whose skillful touch with Pinot Noir in California is legendary. Chef Eric DeStefano has
fashioned a five course meal to accompany her wines.

The brochure for next year's Taos Winter Wine Festival (January 19-30) has just appeared
and the program posted on the WebSite (www.SkiTaos.Org).

Wine Of The Month: LaVielleFerme VF "Lasira" 2002: From the Costieres de Nimes region of
Southern France; the wine is produced by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel fame.
Per the back label; the wine is 75% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 0% Cork... it is closed with
a Stelvin.
Nearly black in color, the nose shouts of blackberry/Syrah and strawberry/Grenache with that
slight minerally/gamey character of the Southern Rhone. On the palate, the fruit is subsumed
by a hard/tannic/minerally bite that lends a rough/rustic character to the wine. It's a wine
that cries out for a hearty dish like cassoulet or pisaladiere. It's a steal at $8. I wouldn't
be surprised if it ages into something really interesting over 2-6 year's time. And you won't have
to worry about it being "corked".

TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.
Older Equals Better?? : Don't Count On It

Well... maybe older IS better when it comes to Christmas fruitcake; but when it
comes to wine, it happens less often then many of us would care to admit. The offer
from a longtime friend to stop by for a taste Thanksgiving afternoon of a '61 Latour,
a legendary wine in its time, caused me to ponder the subject of aged wines for this
month's column.
When many start to get interested in wine, and begin reading voraciously on the
subject; one reads great, florid prose penned by iconic wine writers, usually British,
praising the glories of old or ancient wines they have drunk, usually French Claret
(red Bordeaux) from Grand Cru Classe growths.
We start to collect potential agers, laying them away, with dreams of years from
now having a similar orgasmic experience. Alas, all too often, our best laid plans
"oft gang aglee".
So...what does one look for in a well-aged wines and how does one predict, exactly,
what wines to lay down for aging? Unfortunately, there are no pat, formulaic answers
to either question. But I'll blunder ahead and offer up some thoughts on the subject.

Most people, in trying aged wines (here we're talking about wines 10...20...40 years
old), worship at the alter of "complexity". Alas, complexity in wine,
like beauty in people, is danged difficult to define, though easily recognized. Roughly
speaking, it is layer upon layer of different smells and flavors that you CAN get in
an aged wine. A young wine may be more like Def Leopard, an old wine like Mozart.
Oftentimes, these complexities can be frustratingly transient. You can open and pour
an old wine and it just smells tired and musty in the glass. Return to it an hour later
and you may find amazing aromas have blossomed out of nowhere. Oftentimes, it can be
the opposite. The wine will have a beautiful complex nose out the chute, and 15-20
minutes later, it'll be totally shot.. a tired hollow shell of its old self.
One of the great myths of old wines: "this wine has turned to vinegar and is only
suitable for salad dressing". The anaerobic conditions found in a well-sealed bottle, and
the absence of acetobacter bacteria that is necessary to form acetic acid, preclude an
old/sound wine from turning to vinegar in the bottle. Using old wine for dressing is
a sure formula for ruining some perfectly good greens.
The appreciation of old/mature wines is very much a learned experience. If you are
used to drinking young, fruit dominated, perhaps tannic, Zinfandels; and then are
poured an old Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel 1973; it's not likely to be an eye-opening
exposure to old wines. However, if you learned wines in the old-boy's clubs of London,
drinking 20 year old classic Clarets, and listening to these old British curmudgeons,
waxing rhapsodically, in their funny accents, about the glories of this '82 Chateau Gloria;
you'll probably find a young MonteBello Cabernet a crude and brutish rendition of that
In my experience with older wines; what I'll often find is a nose with beautiful/
complex aromatics. But on the palate, it can often be devoid of fruit, lacking in lushness,
and somewhat harsh and astringent...dried out is the term I often use. Such wines can be
called a great intellectual experience, but often not a pleasurable sensual experience.
Sometimes, having food with such a wine is a waste. Other times, the food actually
knocks back the astringent tannins and makes it great to drink.
However..... there are those rare wines where, as the fruit starts to fade, the
tannins start to subside, and the complexity comes to the forefront; when the stars and
planets are in perfect alignment; you achieve this cosmic convergence of a fully mature
wine at its peak of sublime perfection. The experience can only be described as
"otherworldly". THEN you know what all the whoop-de-doo is about.

So....how to identify a young wine worth putting down for aging?? If I
had a pat answer to that question, I wouldn't be doing physics for my day job (that's not
really so)!! Certainly, in red wines, the existence of ample tannins, dark color, and
plenty of lush fruit are necessary..though NOT a guarantee. I've laid down any number of
Italian Dolcettos that meet the criteria. And, ten years down the road, they have all
the spunk of a 40 year old NBA star with creaky knees. Two other necessary
qualities in ageable red wines are "balance" and "structure"; again, pretty elusive to
define but, sometimes, easily recognizable.
The folklore is that white wines are always drunk in their youth. Surprisingly, there
are a LOT of white wines that DO take to aging quite well. One of the prime criteria for
ageable whites is high acidity. A teeth-jarring, bone-chattering acidity in a white
will often yield a beautiful complex wine 10-20 years down the road. Truth be known,
I find it far easier to select ageable whites than I do reds.
The action of acids on various alcohols, under anaerobic conditions found in bottled
wine, produce chemicals known as esthers. These aromatic organics are a prime contributor
to the complexity one finds in older whites.
Another character of ageable whites is residual sugar...sweetness. Anecdotally, by some
chemical processes not fully understood, residual sugar acts as a preservative in these
whites and gives them an unexpected longevity.
What are some of these ageable whites?? Certainly some Grand Cru Burgundies... French
Chablis is another genre. French Alsatian Gewurztraiminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris all
seem to do well at 10-20 year's of age. German Riesling-based wines, from both great years
like 2001 and 2002, and even some lesser years, do quite well. Austrian Rieslings and
Gruner Veltliners are another. Many Australian Rieslings and Semillons, with their steely
acidity, can age forever. Some of the French Rhone whites, based on the Roussanne and
Marsanne varieties, do quite well. The Rhone Viogniers from Condrieu..they're a huge gamble
and often go nowhere fast.
The amazing fact is that many of these ageable whites don't cost an arm and a leg.
You can buy some Australian Rieslings for $15-$25, put them away in cool conditions, and
trot them out 15-20 years from now, and wow your wine friends on your perscapacity in
selecting whites. They'll think you're a genius... at least my friends do....(insert big
guffaw here!!).

So... how was that '61 Latour?? I had only a brief snapshot of the wine upon its opening.
It was much better than I expected for 43 year's of age. Terrific aromatics of cedar and
pencil shavings bursting from the glass, the hallmark of great/mature Red Bordeaux.
On the palate, a bit dried out and astringent, but still complex and whispering of the
greatness it once had.
It reminded me a lot of my old Aunt Tott... not a lot of get up and go left in her..but
a certain aura of class and elegance and a bit of a sparkle in her eye; you just
knew she must have been quite the chick in her day.


Next month's topic: Does Size Really Matter?? : The Stemware Dilemma


As part of the Taos Winter Wine Festival, a Great Chefs of Taos wine dinner is being
held at El Monte Sagrado, featuring a meal prepared by five of Taos' top chefs, on
Sunday, January 23. The wines will be selected by Ken Collura, their
sommelier and one of the Nation's best... a real pro who New Mexico is very
fortunate to have as a local.


Wine of the Month: Domaine Barmes Buecher Rosenberg de Wettolsheim Gewurztraminer 2000:
Made from biodynamically-farmed grapes (a later column topic), this wine has the intense/
powerful classic spicy smells of lychee and hair oil one finds in Alsatian Gewurz, and
seldom elsewhere. Soft/rich/lush on the palate, maybe a bit off-dry, slightly smoky; with
a finish that keeps on going with that same lychee/perfumed character. I wouldn't be
at all surprised if this wine is still going strong at 10-15 year's of age. A North
Berkeley Imports selection and a steal at $17.00


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Size DOES Matter: The Stemware Dilemma

It's often stated that "size DOES matter". Some would also add that shape matters, too.
This, especially, applies to wine stemware. In this month's column, a hodgepodge of solid
facts, pseudo-science, and WAGs (a scientific term denoting highly speculative claims); we'll
look at the options in choosing wine stemware and what's "best".
When I first started teaching wine appreciation classes some years ago, in keeping with
my own casual approach towards wine; I would state, only half facetiously, that you could
taste wines perfectly well out of Skippy Peanut Butter jars.
Over the last few years, with an astonishing proliferation of wine glasses
in all shapes, sizes, and costs; seeds of doubt were planted in my mind about the above
assertion. As I would occasional sniff other taster's wines, compared to my tried and true
INAO tasting glass that was my standard tasting stem; these seeds took root.
This was particularly hammered home in a vertical tasting (a range of different vintages)
several months ago I attended of the fabled Jaboulet LaChapelle Hermitages, dating back 20
years. These wines have very distinctive noses of espresso/roasted/smoky/meaty character.
I was getting very little from the wines; everyone else was raving about them. Finally
I smelled my neighbor's glass, a huge burgundy balloon. There it was, in all its glory; that
classic roasted Northern Rhone Syrah nose. My diminutive INAO tasting glass was NOT up to the
task of tasting these great wines.
Thirty years ago, when I started tasting wines; one's choice of stemware was pretty
limited. There was the basic Libby set, available for a song. If you were really high end,
you used your finest Waterford cut-glass crystal; pretty to look at, but not well suited
for fine wine.
Shapes were equally limited; just the basic Bordeaux and Burgundy shapes, of several
differing sizes.

Starting some 15 years ago, the stemware of Riedel burst upon the wine scene. This
is a family owned Bohemian glassware firm that traces its lineage back to 1678.
This glassware explosion was primarily triggered by 8'th generation Claus Riedel, who
started to promote a wide variety of differing shapes and sizes, each "designed" for a
particular type of wine. His handsome and personable son, Georg Riedel, began to travel the
world; holding demonstrative tastings to "prove" to consumers the validity of their designs.
For the last few years, Georg has been a fixture at the SantaFe Wine & Chile Fiesta with
his tastings, making more than a few converts. It's a seminar I would highly recommend.
There is a mind-boggling wealth of information on the Riedel web site (www.riedel.com).
It quotes multiple scientific studies to support their designs. It takes a pretty strong
leap of faith, in some cases, to get from point A to point B. As a scientist, I question
some of the Riedel claims.
For example, several of the Riedels have extravagantly flared lips. The claim is that the
design of the lips is to deliver the wine to a certain part of the tongue to emphasize
certain positive aspects of the wine for which the glass was designed. I find this assertion
a bit specious.
But, that being said, there is NO arguing the bottom line... the various Riedel glasses
DO make a difference; sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic; in the way one's senses perceive
a wine.
When developing a new glass design for a particular wine, they DO do their research. They
will fabricate a set of certain shapes that they intuit will work well for that particular
wine. They then do extensive tasting trials, using experts in that particular wine, to come
to a consensus on the "ideal" shape for that wine. Whether that shape would match MY
preference for that wine is a whole 'nother question.
There is a bewildering choice of shapes and sizes, all tailored to compliment each type
of wine. And there is a considerable range in pricing as well; from less expensive (note I
did not state inexpensive!) machine-formed glasses, to the very expensive hand-blown and very
delicate Sommelier models; and everything in between.

Over the last few months, I've been taking a closer look at the wine glasses I use for
tastings. This look was prompted when I was gifted by a friend of the Sommelier set that
Georg used in this Fall's Riedel seminar. These hand-blown stems retail for $60... apiece!!
I would much rather spend that kind of money on wine rather than stemware.
The threesome; the Montrachet, Grand Cru Burgundy, and Grand Cru Bordeaux; are truly
beautiful works of art...and very fragile. It gives me the heebie-jeebies to use them.
I'm convinced they'll shatter into a bazillion pieces if I just look crosswise at them.
When you swirl the wine, you can actually feel the stem flexing in your fingertips.
Beads of cold sweat break out upon my forehead when I wash them. I'm literally
frightened by those suckers.
Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and put them to the test on several dozen different
wines; mostly reds, but some whites. The results of this less-than-scientific study?? Mixed!!
In nearly all cases, there were noticeable differences in the noses of the wines...
sometimes quite dramatic, sometimes very subtle. On the palate, I found the differences in
the glasses not nearly as striking.
In some cases, the wine for which one of the glasses was optimally designed came through.
In other cases, such was not so. In only one case, did my beloved, diminutive INAO tasting
glass shine.
The only conclusion I reached was that, on average, the Burgundy-balloon shaped Montrachet
glass, the smallest of the threesome (though certainly not small) frequently performed best.
In no case did the large Red Bordeaux glass prove best, even with a Red Bordeaux wine.

So.... what's the bottom line?? Well.....like many questions in the realm of wine...there
seems to be no solid, definitive answer; it all depends.... on the wine, the circumstances,
and, most importantly, one's own palate.
And that seems to be the consensus opinion of many of my wine friends. They mostly have
a certain stem that they prefer to use, in general. Tasting Santa Rita Hills Pinots??? Maybe
the Red Burgundy will perform best, maybe the California Pinot glass... it's a bit of a
crap shoot.
In my own case; I'm not running out to buy a dozen Sommelier Montrachet glasses... certainly
not at $60 a pop. I HAVE pretty much abandoned use of my INAO tasting glass, even though it
WAS designed by a group of French tasting experts as ideal for tasting wines.
For dinner parties, where a five ounce pour is much more reasonable than a one ounce tasting
pour; I've gone to larger glasses to emphasize the aromatics.
And for my beloved Skippy Peanut Butter jars??? Off to recycle for them...never to grace my
table again!!


The Taos Winter Wine Festival kicked off Wednesday with a pair of seminars. Grand tastings
are scheduled for both Fridays. Information and reservations can be found at www.SkiTaos.org.


I have a particular passion for Rhone-style wines from around the world. Every year I
usually go to two events in California that feature these wines. The Rhone Ranger's tasting
(www.RhoneRangers.org) is on March 19 in San Francisco. The three day Hospices du Rhone
Festival (www.hospicedurhone.com) will be May 12-14 in Paso Robles, CA. Both events are highly
recommended for serious Rhoners.


Wine of the Month: Covey Run Washington State Syrah 2002: Very dark/opaque color; classic
licorice/blackberry Washington State/terroir-driven Syrah nose with a touch of oak; soft
bit lean licorice/blackberry slight peppery/earthy flavor; short licorice/blackberry/
peppery finish with light tannins. It's rare to find a distinctive Washington Syrah with
this much varietal character and terroir at an $8 price.


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Biodynamic Wines: The New Religion??
Over the last thirty years, the steady growth of organic farming in this country has
been inescapably obvious; when even the large grocery chains have embraced organic
products with a fervor that belies their focus on the bottom line. America's love for
farmer's markets, the Slow Food movement, heritage turkey and pig varieties, and such;
all suggest that we are becoming more aware of where our produce originates and how
it is grown and tastes.
In this article, we will examine this topic as it applies to grape growing, winemaking,
and, perhaps, the next big thing: application of biodynamic techniques to wine.

Organic Grapes and Wines
It is important to make the distinction between wines made from (certified)
organically-grown grapes and organically-made wines. The difference is huge.
There are a fair number of organically-grown wines; led by the Bonterra portfolio from
Mendocino County, a specialty line of the huge Brown-Forman and Fetzer operation.
Lolonis Vineyards, also in Mendocino, touts their use of ladybugs for pest control as
an important feature of their organically-grown grapes.
The list of organically-MADE wines is, however, rather limited. Easily the most well-
known and widely distributed are those of Frey Vineyards. Sonoma's Coturri Winery wines
are much more difficult find.
The unique feature of organically-made wine is that they have no added sulfites, although
tiny amounts of sulfites (several ppb) are naturally occurring in any wine, a byproduct
of the fermentation process. Most winemakers are judicious in their use of sulfites, but
very few would totally eschew its use.
In fact, there are a number of highly-regarded winemakers who buy some of their grapes
or make wines from organically-farmed vineyards. The Araujo Napa Valley Cabernet from
the famed Eisele vineyard is, without doubt, one of California's greatest Cabernets; a
world-class wine.
However, most of these producers see little compelling reason to trumpet their use
of organically-grown grapes. Moreover, many view the "organic" on a label as the kiss
of death; a marketing stigmata that would hinder, not help, sales.

So what about these organic wines?? In many fine wine shops, there is a small section
devoted to organic wines. The wines generally sit forlornly off to one side, older vintages
covered with dust. And, quite frankly, deservedly so.
I've had some good and decent organically-grown wines over the years. But nothing has
been profound. No wine, thus far, has made a compelling case for the
superiority of organically-grown grapes over non-organic when it comes to making a wine.
As for organically-made wine.... I'm out the door and up the street. Some of the most
wretched wines I've ever tasted have been organically-made; wines teeming with biological
activity because of their lack of added sulfur. Biological activity in cheese is good
(think Epoisses); in wine, it is asking for trouble.

Biodynamic Farming
Over the last few years, biodynamic farming of grape vines, a practice that is the next
step beyond organic farming, has become a buzzword that is heard with increasing frequency.
From my experience with organic wines, I was prepared to dismiss biodynamics out of hand.
Publication of two new books (Biodynamic Wines by Monty Waldin and Wine: From Sky to
Earth by Nicolas Joly) recently has piqued my interest on the subject. The first is a rather
objective, dispassionate description of biodynamic grape growing by a British wine author who
has worked with the Fetzers in Mendocino, strong adherents of biodynamics. The latter is by
probably the greatest producer of Savennieres in the Loire Valley, Coulee de Serrant, who's
one of the world's most passionate advocates of biodynamic grape growing.
Having read these two books... what is now my view of biodynamics?? Alas... even more
confused than ever!! As I read through these tomes, the scientist in me snorts in consternation
at some of the WooWoo/VooDoo procedures puts forth as dogma. And...yet... the scientist
in me also cautions to keep an open mind on the subject; maybe there is more to biodynamics
than meets the eye. The jury is still out.
Biodynamics dates back to the teachings and preachings (note I did NOT say science) of the
German Rudolf Steiner, circa 1920. Much of the impetus for its usage in California has
come from Michael Maltus and Alan York, planners for many of Mendocino's biodynamic grape
vineyards, including the Fetzer's McNab Ranch.
Many of the practices embraced by biodynamic farming are no different than sensible techniques
practiced by organic farmers; the rejection of chemical, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides,
and herbicides; practices that are known to be harmful to the soil and the grapevines, and,
ultimately, humans.
But, then, some things get to be a little out of hand and a bit suspect to me as a scientist.
I can easily accept the concept of the moon affecting living plants. The gravitational
force of the moon produces tides. Does the moon's gravity cause the sap to rise in the
grapevine?? I don't know...perhaps??
But when it comes to the importance of alignment of the planets and the stars in the
application of fertilization solutions... that I have a bit more trouble in accepting.
The value of compost heaps for fertilizing grapevines in lieu of ammonium nitrate??
No problem to me. But the necessity of poking holes in the compost heap with a broomstick
(a plastic tube is verboten...won't work), at prescribed angles, to insert mixtures of "stuff"
from inside the horn of a cow, that has been buried in the vineyard for months (and whose
orientation...point up towards the stars or point down towards the earth.. is crucial), during
a prescribed phase of the lunar cycle??? That causes me to shake my head in puzzlement.

Yet...YET....the proponents of biodynamic grape growing; people like Jim and John Fetzer,
Michel Chapoutier, Craig Williams (of Joseph Phelps)... these are really bright people who
cannot be dismissed with the wave of the hand as nut cases on the lunatic fringe . There's
got to be more to biodynamics than meets the eyes.
On the other hand, the near-religious zeal with which some biodynamicists espouse their views,
including Nicolas Joly, makes my BS antenna quiver.

Where The Future Lies
There is no doubt that smart grape growers everywhere are moving in the direction of more
organic farming practices; minimizing or halting their use of harmful chemicals on their land.
It may, perhaps, be more expensive in the short term; but the benefits in the long term
seem clear.
However, the commitment to go the biodynamic route, with all its preparations and cow's
horns and stag's bladders stuffed with valerian and what not, is not so clear cut. Much of
biodynamics is based on folklore and anecdotal evidence, with very little science to back it up.
And we know darned well that Monsanto is not going to be funding any studies into the efficacy
of biodynamics.
My guess is, as more and more growers approach biodynamics with an open mind and
implement some of its practices, that the essence of biodynamics will be embraced, and much
of the WooWoo/VooDoo will fall by the wayside.
Will organic or biodynamic grapes ever produce superior wines to those made now?? THAT
remains the $64 question. The payoff may NOT, necessarily, be in greater wines. It may be in
the intangibles; healthier vineyards, better soils, less chemicals in our environment, and
less harmful impact on our planet in producing our wines. Now how bad could that be??

Ken Collura, sommelier at De la Tierra restaurant at El Monte Sagrado resort in Taos, will
be leading two wine seminars. This Thursday (2/24/05) will be focused on the Zinfandel
grape variety. Next Thursday (3/3/05) will feature Rhone Varietals from California. Ken
is probably the most knowledgeable wine person in all New Mexico. I've found his seminars
to be extremely educational, not to mention entertaining.
A Sideways Glance At Santa Barbara County

Some have read the book, most have seen the movie. Now it's time to drink the wines.
In today's column, I'll take more than a Sideways glance at the wines coming from Santa
Barbara County.
I have followed the wines of Santa Barbara from the very start, which goes back to
the late 1970's when many new plantings of vineyards were taking place the length of
California's Central Coast. Although those early wines, like Chardonnays from Zaca Mesa
and Tepesquet Vineyards, were hardly remarkably; they DID have a certain perfume and
minerality to them that suggested, once the farming was improved, the wines may become
something truly special.

Santa Barbara, the town, is located in the Southern part of the County; much too cold
and ocean-influenced to grow grapes. The vineyards are all located in the Northern part
of the County. In fact, there has been much political tension between the liberal town
and the much more conservative agricultural area. There is a movement afoot
for the agrarian North to form their own county.
The two primary growing areas are the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley. The
former, is located just east of the bucolic town of Santa Maria; a town now more noted for
trials than the expansive strawberry farms on its outskirts. The vineyards are located
primarily on alluvial flood plains along the Santa Maria river and bench lands sloping upwards
towards the San Rafael mountains. This is where much of the early Santa Barbara plantings
About 30 miles south, running in an east/west direction between the towns of Los Olivos
to Lompoc, lies the Santa Ynez Valley, centered about the town of Buellton on Highway 101.
The kitschy Danish town of Solvang is the big tourist draw, pre-Sideways, of the area.
To the west of Buellton lies a new sub-appellation called the Santa Rita Hills. After
a brief squabble with Chile's huge Santa Rita winery, the region has won the right to use
the name of the hills that border this end of the Santa Ynez Valley. In the last few years,
this area has become one of the hottest (in the popularity sense) new growing regions in
Starting north of Los Olivos is Foxen Canyon Road. This narrow valley connects the inland
side of the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Maria Valley. Many wineries and smaller vineyards
are located along this road.
Paralleling it about 10 miles to the west is Highway 101. Most of the vineyards here are
located in the rolling hills about the tiny town of Los Alamos, the older but less famous
Finally, along several roads connecting the 101 and Foxen Canyon, are a number of vineyards
tucked up into the hills and canyons of the ridge that bisects the two north/south

The climate in Santa Barbara County varies from cool to very cool, primarily
influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean. The Santa Maria Valley tends to be a bit cooler than
most of the Santa Ynez Valley. Much like the Napa Valley, the Santa Ynez Valley has a
considerable range in temperatures, with the western Santa Rita Hills the coldest of all in
the County. A gradation of 15 degrees, east to west, is not uncommon.

The early plantings in Santa Barbara, during the late 1970's, were understandably driven
by the varieties then in vogue: Chardonnay, Cabernet, and some Sauvignon Blanc... Myles
beloved Pinot Noir?? ... hardly any existed.
The growers soon figured out that the climate was not amenable to good Cabernet... the
wines tended towards the herbal/vegetal/weedy part of the spectrum. This also, to a lesser
extent, bedevils the Sauvignon Blanc.
Some of the first Pinot Noir came from the large Bien Nacido vineyard up in the Santa
Maria Valley. Early producers, like Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climate), Adam Tolmach
(Ojai Vineyards), Ric Sanford (Sanford and Benedict), and Ken Brown (Byron Vineyards) made
strong cases for the future success of the Pinot grape. Now, the Santa Rita Hills has become
the hotbed for Pinot in the County.
Primarily driven by Qupe's Bob Lindquist, the Rhone varietals, like Viognier and Syrah,
experienced a torpid growth through the 1980's. Since the late 1990's, though, their growth
has been explosive. Now the County is recoqnized for producing some of the greatest Syrah in
Small pockets of other varieties exist. Germany's Dornfelder??... yup...Norm Huber has
some planted in the Santa Rita Hills. California's native (more or less) grape, Zinfandel,
hasn't really seemed to catch on, although some terrific examples can be found, like from
the Lafond vineyard.
Some Italian varietals, like Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Sangiovese, can be found here and there.
At the hands of Palmina's Steve Clifton; these are starting to show real potential.
There is even an ancient pre-1900 planting of the venerable Mission grape. Deborah Hall
(Gypsy Canyon Winery) uses the tiny production for her Angelica dessert wine.

The Movie
So.... what did I think of the movie Sideways?? I thought it was an entertaining piece of fluff,
but just that. I enjoyed seeing some friends in the background of several scenes. I was jazzed
by seeing a number of scenes with which I'm very familiar, like the Hitching Post restaurant.
It gave me a lot of good chuckles. The wine-related parts were particularly well-done and
What I did not like were many of the reviews of the movie and their attempts to draw
profundities about the flick and the tedious psychoanalysis of the characters ("Was Myles
an alcoholic?"...probably not. "Was Jack a cad and a jerk?".. absolutely!!)
But it is, I think, good entertainment...nothing more. If you've not seen it yet, it's
worth renting when it's released on DVD.... and enjoying it with a glass of Santa Barbara
Pinot Noir in hand.


Wine of the Month: Jaffurs Santa Barbara Syrah 2002: A great example of how Santa Barbara
excels with Rhone varietals. Very dark in color. A nose redolent of blackberries with a spicy/
peppery undertone. A touch of toasty oak gives it a bit of Northern Rhone character. The
palate reveals loads of Syrah/blackberry fruit and a roasted/oak character. The tannins in the
long finish suggest it will go for another 3-6 years of age. A real value at about $22 a

Ken Collura, wine director at El Monte Sagrado resort in Taos, continues to offer his
excellent wine seminars (schedule at www.ElMonteSagrado.com). On Friday (April 22) he will
lead a seminar on Bordeaux wines with a representative from Stacole Imports. The following
night will be a special dinner pairing other Bordeauxs with Chef Kevin Graham's cuisine.


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Bugs and Vines: A Never-Ending Battle

In today's column, we'll take a look at some of the warfare going on in the vineyards
that farmers, then and now, must wage to provide us grapes for our wines.
The inspiration came from a new book, The Botanist and the Vintner, by Christy Campbell,
that describes the phylloxera epidemic that devastated vineyards throughout the world
in the late 1800's. The story of a root louse usually makes for pretty boring reading.
However, as Campbell weaves his tale, it becomes an absolutely riveting read.

Back in the late 1700's and most of the 1800's, grape growing was much simpler
and the vineyards looked vastly different than they do today; where the rows of vines are
marching up hill and down dale in orderly lines. The vines (species Vitis Vinifera) in
Europe had evolved naturally and had few natural predators in that environment. The
vineyards were worked entirely by hand and horse; the vines planted hither and yon,
helter-skelter, in what is known as "viticultura promiscua". When a vine died, the long
branch of the adjacent vine was buried, where it took root, the shoot severed from the
original vine, and...voila...the new vine was born. It was a simple, neat, tidy little
world in the vineyard. A world that would not last.
Vines are propagated by cuttings, not from seeds. Certain varieties are acknowledged to
produce superior wines. Consequently, the vineyards across Europe
are populated by vast clones of genetically uniform plant material; a lack of biogenetic
diversity. And, as it was with the potato blight in the 1840's, these vineyards are sitting
ducks for the first mutant bug that Darwinian theory tells us will eventually appear.
Such a catastrophe struck in the 1830's in the eastern vineyards of America. A grayish
fungal mold began to attack the underside of grape leaves, causing them to wither and
stopping the photosynthesis process. The vines would eventually die. Since there was a
continual flow of American native vines across the Atlantic to Europe, it eventually appeared
in England and then spread to France. This mold, called powdery mildew or oidium, devastated
the European vineyards by the early 1850's. Botanists and viticulturists eventually figured
out, through much research, that sulfur was the magic bullet. Eventually, spraying the vines
in well-timed attacks with a copper sulfate solution (Bordeaux mixture) was introduced and
the oidium was brought under control by the late 1850's.
When the colonists first came to America, native grape vines were abundant (species Vitis
Labrusca mostly). Alas, the wines they made were much inferior to the European wines they
enjoyed. The aristocracy, like Thomas Jefferson, whose appreciation of fine Ho-Brion wine was
legendary, imported cuttings of European vines to plant. They would grow well for a few years,
and then mysteriously wither and die.
Native American vines, vigorous growers, were imported into England and France, mostly for
ornamental purposes. The French soon found that though the vines thrived, the wines from them
were dreadful. But the seeds of the next devastation to befall the European vineyards, now
fully recovered and enjoying their heyday, were planted by 1860.
In Spring of 1862, a Monsieur Borty, a wine merchant in the town of Roquemaure in France's
Gard region, received a box of American cuttings from a New York friend, which he proceeded to
plant in his tiny vineyard. The vines were happy in their new home and prospered. Little did
M. Borty know the millions of dollars loss to the French economy that would eventually ensue
from his innocent act over the next 30 years.
The very next year, a few kilometers to the south, vines in one vineyard began to shrivel
and die by August from a mysterious malady with no obvious cause. The following year, 1864,
M. Borty's own Alicante and Grenache vines succumbed to the same calumny, and died. The
flames flickered that would eventually engulf all the vineyards of Europe and California.
As the disease spread through the Southern Rhone, its cause was still unknown. Dead vines
were uprooted by the scientists, but nothing was found. In the Spring of 1868, botanist
J.E. Planchon inadvertently dug up a healthy vine adjacent to a diseased one and found the
roots teeming with tiny aphids. They were eventually named Phylloxera Vastatrix (dry-leaf
devastator), a tiny aphid that had been identified in America in 1856. The cause of the malady
had been found. However, how to combat the infestation was not forthcoming for more than ten
years and, even then, the solution was slow to be accepted.
The Phylloxera, whose sex and life cycle in America is considerably different than in
Europe, pokes its proboscis into the roots of a healthy vine and inserts, as it feeds,
slobber that cankers the roots and halts the flow of nutrients up the vine. It than crawls on
to the next healthy vine and repeats its lousy destruction.
Fast forward to 1879. By now, it has been found that the Vinifera vines can be grafted onto
rootstock of native American vines (species Vitis Riparia, Labrusca, and others), which,
having evolved in the presence of the louse, had developed a resistance to the Phylloxera's
bite. Thank you, Dr. Darwin.
Even knowing the solution to conquering the root louse, acceptance of it throughout Europe
was not a given. The chauvinistic French were convinced that these American roots would have
a bad influence on the taste of their wines. That debate raged for many years, with many
comparative tastings unable to settle the issue. Even as late as 1890, when phylloxera finally
reached its last outpost in France, the Champagne, the issue was unsettled.
Even, to this day, the issue, though moot, is debated. There are some old-fogey British
connoisseurs that still grouse that the modern Bordeaux just isn't as good as their beloved
pre-phylloxera Claret. They may well be right, but for reasons other than native American
rootstocks; and the evidence is dwindling down to nothing.
All the French politics during the Phylloxera epidemic, many of the bizarre means of
combating the root louse, the science of the investigations, the role of famous Americans like
Thomas V. Munson, are all detailed in Campbell's fascinating book. It's a read that many,
wine lover or not, will find engrossing.


Next month: Modern Pests in California and GMO Grapevines


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Vineyard Warfare in California

In last month's column, we looked at the phylloxera root louse that devastated the
European vineyards in the late 1800's. In today's column, we look at some of the pests
that have wreaked havoc in the California vineyards.
As the phylloxera was spreading throughout Europe in the 1860's, the source of the
malady as yet then unknown; it, not surprisingly, reared it's ugly head in California
in the late 1860's. The phylloxera was a native to this country and the American species,
as they evolved over the eons, developed an immunity to its lousy bite.
All the vines planted in California were of the species Vitis Vinifera, mostly the
Mission variety brought by the Spanish padres through Mexico, and the more popular
European varieties like Cabernet and Carignane, allegedly brought by Agoston Haraszthy,
primarily, from that continent.
Vinifera, easy prey to the phylloxera, were not attacked because the louse was not
found in the Golden State, only the Eastern and Southern US. The Western mountains acted
as an effective barrier to its migration towards the Pacific.
However, with all the passing back and forth across the Atlantic of grapevine cuttings,
it seemed inevitable that phylloxera would show up in California. And indeed it did,
surfacing first in Sonoma. It eventually spread to most of California's
grape growing regions, then primarily Sonoma, Napa, the Santa Clara Valley, Contra Costa,
and the San Joaquin Valley.
But the spread was slow, the solution of grafting to native American rootstocks known
by then and eagerly embraced. So phylloxera didn't have the ruinous impact in California
that it did in Europe.
Fast forward to the 1930's, post-Prohibition, and the establishment of the Davis School
of Viticulture and Enology. Much scientific research was being conducted to get the
California wine industry back on its feet. The focus was economic, how to best maximize
production. One of the studies concluded that Vinifera grafted to a rootstock known as
AxR (Aramon crossed with Vitis Rupestris) was the most productive match.
With the huge expansion of vineyard plantings in California in the '60's-'70's, most
of the vines, with Davis' blessing, went into the ground on AxR. Although this was
undoubtedly known to the Davis researchers, the French had found back in the 1870's
that AxR rootstock was only weakly resistant to phylloxera and recommended against it
usage in French vineyards. A disaster waiting to happen.
And happen it did. Once again, Darwin did its nasty work. In the late 1980's, an
outbreak of phylloxera was identified in the heart of the Napa Valley, munching its way
through AxR-rooted vineyards common to new plantings. The researchers sprung into action
and soon found a new mutant of commonly-found phylloxera, labeled Biotype B, that thrived
on attacking the AxR rootstock.
The solution was simple. Plant to something other than AxR rootstock. And this they did
throughout California in the 1990's. The replanting costs soared into the millions of dollars,
but the devastation to the California vineyards was minimized. And some good came out of
the Biotype B infestation. Much thought was put into the replantings, especially to vine
spacing and choice of appropriate varieties.

Pierce's Disease
Currently, the vineyards throughout California are once again under attack. Pierce's
disease (PD), as it is known, unfortunately has no known solution and little prospect
is on the horizon.
This disease was first discovered in the vineyards of Anaheim in the 1880's,
hastening (along with urban expansion) the demise of grape growing in Orange County. It
slowly spread up the coast into Northern California vineyards, where it exists to this day.
PD is caused by a bacterium known as Xylella fastidiosa. It infects the xylem of the
grapevine and halts the flow of water from the roots, eventually killing the vine through
lack of water. It is spread, primarily, by a sap-sucking insect known as the blue-green
Control of PD can only be accomplished, at this time, by control of this
sharpshooter, which is primarily found in heavy forests, underbrush, and moist riparian
habitats in the vicinity of the vineyards. Until recently, PD was thus controlled by
destroying this sharpshooter and its nearby habitats, reducing the infestation to the
"nuisance" level.
However, in the early 1990's, another vector for PD was identified, the glassy-
wing sharpshooter. Originating in citrus and avocado groves, this sharpshooter laid waste
to the vineyards in the Temecula area, which have since been mostly replanted.
Because it travels much longer distances than the blue-green, the glassy-wing sharpshooter
represents a much bigger threat to California vineyards. It has since spread into the southern
part of the Central Valley and as far north as Ventura County. Egg deposits have been found
on ornamental plants brought in from Southern California to Napa and Sonoma counties, but
the insect itself has not been found there. Some glassy-wings have been found in small
outbreaks in other North Coast counties, but appear to have been contained by an aggressive
spraying program.
However, it seem likely that the quarantine programs will fail and the glassy-wing will
eventually spread throughout Northern California. The economic impact could potentially be
devastating and dwarf that of phylloxera's infestation.
Although many dollars are being poured into a search for a cure, an acceptable solution
seems far off. One successful approach is to inject tiny amounts of antibacterial
agents like Streptomycin, into the vine. But having such agents in one's wines, even at
minute levels, will not be politically acceptable.
Another potential solution is splicing genes from PD-resistant plants like citrus trees
into the grapevine gene system. However, such GMO (genetically modified organisms) vines
raise the specter of "frankenvines" taking over the world in some sectors of the population
and, thus, seems politically untenable.
So, for now, controlling the glassy-wing populations through insecticides and minimizing
its nearby habitats, is the only viable solution; one loaded with political ramifications.

Wine recommendation of the Month: Garretson Wine Company in Paso Robles has just introduced
two Enchantment Cuvee Rhone-blend wines into New Mexico. The white is a Viognier/Roussanne
blend. The red is 70% Syrah, plus Mourvedre, Grenache, and Viognier. Finished in a screwcap
bottle and priced just below $20, they are good values and typify some of the exceptional
Rhone-style wines emerging from the Central Coast.


On June 18, the SantaFe Convivium of Slow Food will hold a special showing of the
controversial wine film Mondovino. Afterwards, a panel, moderated by Greg O'Byrne, will
discuss their views on the movie, accompanied by appropriate wines intended to demonstrate
some of the contentious points of the film.


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Mondovino, Wine Critics, and the Curse of Points

The Jonathan Nossiter film Mondovino finally opened in Santa Fe a few weeks ago in
a fundraising debut for the local Slow Food convivium. This month's column will segue
from a critique of the movie into the subject of wine critics and their abominable
point scores.
Mondovino is definitely a wine geek's movie. The more general populace is likely to
find it tedious and incredibly boring. Worse, the movie and its cinematography is extremely
amateurish. I've seen more professional productions from the Los Alamos High School Film 101
Nossiter clears has a not-so-subtle agenda to his film; that the globalization of wine
styles, driven by large corporations, is evil and that only small, poor, artisan winemakers
are worth drinking. Such a premise is, I feel, laughable and hardly worth a 2+ hour movie.
Making a movie with an agenda is hardly objectionable, even if you don't agree with that
agenda. Michael Moore has done it most successfully. Nossiter has not.
Probably the biggest objection I have to his flick is the blatant weaving of politics
throughout to make his point. By clever questioning and camera shots, the wealthy, corporate,
evil, large winemakers are seen to be Regan-loving, Nazi-collaborating, Mussolini-worshiping
behemoths. The poor, small artisan wine growers in France and Italy survive only because
of Communist support; a generalization that's patently ludicrous.
The movie makes much of the Mondavi family's expansion throughout the global wine market
and, successfully and accurately, depicts them as all about image and marketing. In point of
fact, the Mondavi operation is small potatoes on the global scale and the Mondavis themselves
have not made an original contribution to the wine making industry since the late-'60's.
The avuncular peasant Aime Guibert of Mas Du Daumas Gasac in the Languedoc of France is
sympathetically portrayed as one of the last holdout traditionalists in the wine world.
More nonsense. His winery (which is never shown) is as modern and up-to-date as any in the
world. Guibert eschewed use of the traditional Languedoc varieties like Cinsault and Carignan
and, instead, planted heavily the ubiquitous, international varieties of Chardonnay and
Cabernet Sauvignon. Traditionalist?? Hardly!!
One of the amusing facets of the movie was Nossiter's frequent filming of the dogs of his
various interviewees, and they were plentiful. But, again, to further his agenda. The bad-guys
all had viscious, ugly pit-bull kinds of dogs. The humble peasant winegrowers all had loveable,
face-licking canines. The dogs of some of the good/bad guys were not portrayed, probably
because they didn't fit the agenda.
Which brings us to George and the wine critics. George is the famed Robert Parker's late
bulldog; as ugly a mutt as you'd ever see. The scenes interviewing Parker focused much on
George's flatulance problem. Whether this was to further Nossiter's agenda as Parker leading
the charge for wine globalization and homogenizing of wine tastes or not is unclear to me.
The several close-up shots of George's nether regions was rather uncalled for I thought.
That Parker, publisher of The Wine Advocate, is the world's most influential wine critic
is unarguable. The movie attempts to portray him as the prime shaper of a wine style that
is homogenizing wines world-wide, primarily by emphasizing his friendship with globe-
trotting winemaker Michel Rolland. That portrayal is weak, I feel.
As a wine critic, Parker is a man I unabashedly admire. He writes with a passion for his
subject that is rare in the wine world; a passion that is sometimes overdone. He has an
incredible palate and his work ethic is as strong as is found in any profession.


Wine recommendation of the Month: Garretson Wine Company in Paso Robles has just introduced
two Enchantment Cuvee Rhone-blend wines to New Mexico. The white is a Viognier/Roussanne
blend. The red is 70% Syrah, plus Mourvedre, Grenache, and Viognier. Finished in a screwcap
bottle and priced just below $20, they are good values and typify some of the exceptional
Rhone-style wines emerging from the Central Coast.


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

California Burgundy and Chablis Are OK

Wine labeling in the USofA falls under three different categories: generic,
proprietary, and varietal. Varietal labels identify the wine by the grape variety (or varieties)
from which it is primarily (> 75%) made.
Proprietary labels identify the wine by some made-up (usually) name that the winery hopes
will convey something positive to the consumer. Joseph Phelps Insignia, a Cabernet blend, is one
such example.
Finally, generic labeling identifies the wine after a certain wine style (like Port or Sherry)
or from some geographic region in Europe (like Burgundy or Chablis). Today's column will focus
on this third category.
It seems as if, with tiresome regularity, there is a great hue and cry to prohibit use of generic
labeling in this country. These diatribes are usually put forth under the guise of protecting
the consumer from misleading, confusing, and outright fraudulent labeling practices. Baloney!!
Back in the pre-prohibition days, nearly all US wines were generically labeled. It was only
post-prohibition that varietal labels became the norm in this country. Interestingly, because of the
success of US varietals on the world market, the Europeans are now moving more and more towards
varietal labeling, with the geographic identity being secondary.
The latest salvo in this battle was fired by a curious group of wine industry bedfellows
who gathered in Napa last month to sign a declaration decrying generic labeling, to save us dumb
consumers from being defrauded by the likes of Ernest & Julio Gallo and Fred Franzia. They were
arguing for the sanctity of wine place names like Burgundy and Champagne.
Just how deceptive is generic labeling?? In all cases, the geographic origin MUST be identified
on the label. It is ALWAYS labeled as California Champagne or California Chablis. In no way could
the consumer be misled into believing those are French wines.
Furthermore, the people buying these generic wines are a totally separate segment of the
market. Someone drinking a $5 jug of Almaden Chablis is highly unlikely to suddenly spring for
a $60 bottle of the real Chablis. Were they given an opportunity to try a pungent/flinty/stony
Chablis Grand Cru, I can guarantee they would not like it at all compared to their standard fare.
Periodically, the French Appellation Control (INAO) people will file a court case in the US to
ban the use of French place names on generic labels. And just as frequently, the US judges quash
the case. The rulings in international courts are always in the French favor; but they are simply
ignored by the US government authorities who regulate wine labeling.
The case of Champagne is particularly interesting. In the US, most of the populace identify
"champagne" as a white sparkling wine; NOT as a wine from the French Champagne region, made by the
"methode champenois". In fact, many of the US champagnes are every bit as good as their French
counterparts, at a fraction of the price. Interestingly, the very fine New Mexico sparkler produced
by Gruet is labeled simply "sparkling wine", in deference to their French family background.
And it gets more curiouser. There is a small town in Switzerland named Champagne, which has been
producing dry/still table wines for centuries. The Champagne authorities have recently won a ruling
from the EU to prohibit these small Swiss peasants from using their own village name on their wine;
a wine that would never be confused with French Champagne. Sanctity of geographic place name??
Hardly... it's just that the French Champagne producers got to the EU bureaucrat's ticket booth first.
To me, their claims of geographic sanctity reek of hypocrisy.
The case of Portugal producers is another case. In nearly everyone's mind, Port identifies a sweet/
fortified red dessert wine; not necessarily from the Duoro Valley. The Portuguese finessed the issue
by labeling their wine as Oporto, a term that is forbidden on US generic labels. Yet they still argue
that Port should be a protected name, applying only to their wines.
And then what should a California-equivalent wine be termed to identify it?? They have no suggestion
and could care less. One of California's finest Port producers, Andrew Quady, sidestepped the issue by
labeling (and trademarking) his version of Port as Starboard!! And still the Portuguese were not happy,
claiming that consumers might be deceived.
Another indicator of the hypocrisy surrounding the recently-issued document is that one of the
signatories was Joel Aiken of Beaulieu Vineyards. It was not so long ago that BV produced a
wine they labeled as "Special Burgundy". And a mighty fine California wine it was...bearing absolutely
no resemblance to French Red Burgundy. In fact, it was far superior to many French counterparts selling
at ten times the price.
My observation is that much of this ceaseless prattle against generic labeling comes not from the
European authorities, but by high-end wine connoisseurs in this country. They seem to have a special
need for other wine consumers to like the same wines they do, to validate their tastes I suppose.
They seem to feel threatened that somebody might actually be enjoying cheap Franzia Burgundy; for
they have seen the light and know that great Red Burgundy is far superior.
So....bottom line... my recommendation is that if you like Gallo Hearty Burgundy (I don't), you should
be free to go out and buy that wine. But you also owe it to yourself to spring, at least once, for the
high-end French version at ten times the price. It's unlikely you will like it; but at least you'll
know what the real McCoy is like. As it always should be, my advice is to drink what YOU like. It's as
simple as that.

Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta 2005

For the last 15 years, I've always looked forward to late September in Santa Fe. In addition
to falling temperatures and vivid Autumn colors, it also signals the arrival of the Santa Fe
Wine & Chile Fiesta, New Mexico's premier wine event. Inaugurated fifteen years ago by Gordon
Heiss and Mark Miller, it was a small collection of tasting booths tucked in the back parking
lot of San Busco (pre-Borders days); mostly distributors pouring wines with which I was
already familiar.
Little, then, did I imagine it would morph into the present mega-Fiesta, attracting people
from throughout the world for five intense days of seminars, winemaker dinners, auctions, cooking
demonstrations, and a golf tournament. Its popularity has grown to the point that some events
at SFW&CF are sold out within weeks of their registration opening.
The linchpin of SFW&CF is, of course, Saturday's Grand Tasting; an event that sold out over
a month ago. But do not despair, there is a waiting list and tickets for this grand event have
a way of materializing at the last minute. After all, we're not talking Super Bowl here!!
The Grand event CAN be a bit overwhelming for people not used to such venues. With the often
crowded conditions at some booths, the smell of food and smoke wafting through the air; it is
not the greatest milieu for serious contemplation of a wine. Consequently, I use it primarily
to reconnoiter for wines that I wish to try at a later date in a more controlled tasting
One of the frustrating aspects of the Grand tasting is the inability to obtain a sample at
some of the more popular wine booths. At these events, it is regarded as common courtesy to
harvest your wine sample and step back from the table to take it for a test drive, allowing
others to obtain their pour. If you wish to question the winemaker or marketing rep, they will
usually be happy to step to the side to answer your query.
To many people, the restaurant food booths, not the wine, are the primo feature at the
Grand Tasting. Most restaurants are intent on putting their best foot forward and make
a great effort to showcase their skills with innovative and spectacular food samples.
Unless you're wearing an 8-armed octopus atop your head (an outfit that would attract
nary a second glance there) to juggle food and wine samples; you can probably forget trying to
match a particular wine with a restaurant's food; it's simply hopeless.
SFW&CF major domo, Greg O'Byrne, aided and abetted by the behind-the-scenes Lisa
Sanderson, do a terrific job, year in and year out, attracting major food and wine figures to
Santa Fe.
For winemakers (unless they're from the Southern hemisphere), it requires a major
commitment to do SFW&CF; it occurs right in the midst of crush. So, if the winemaker seems to
have a cell phone glued to his ear, it's because he's keeping atop his duties on the home front.
The seminars are probably the most informative aspect of SFW&CF. It can often present a
chance to taste a vertical collection (wines from multiple years) of a particular wine.
Dick Ponzi, one of the pioneers of Pinot Noir in Oregon, will be presenting a selection of
his Pinots, dating back to his early days in the 1970's.
The seminars often present a once-in-a-life time opportunity. One such this year is the
Champagne Henriot. In addition to tasting their full portfolio of Champagnes, the attendees
will be able to sample the still wine components that go into their blends; an unprecedented
event for New Mexico.
One of the most striking revolutions, food-wise, in this country over the last ten years
has been the resurgence of interest in cheesemaking. Artisinal cheeses are being made that are
every bit as good and unique as any in the world.
Much impetus to this movement has been provided by the books on artisinal American cheeses
by author Laura Werlin of San Francisco. Her seminar will focus on the black art (at least to me)
of ideal matches between cheese and wine, assisted by Santa Fe's Maitre d'Fromage Kim Muller.
When I teach my cheese appreciation class in Los Alamos, I am continually amazed at the
dramatic impact a seemingly innocuous cheese can have on the taste of a wine, sometimes positive,
sometimes negative. Werlin attributes much of this to the enzymatic content of the cheese.
Finally, another seminar that particularly attracted my attention was the Santa Barbara Pinot
Noirs. My tasting group has a pool on how many minutes (seconds?) into the seminar it will be
before the movie "Sideways" is mentioned.
Even without the movie's focus on Pinots, enthusiasts have long recognized that Santa Barbara
Pinots are as good as any produced anywhere in the world. Bruno D'Alfonso, winemaker at
Sanford Winery and a member of the seminar panel, has been doing it for years. In the last few
years, the Pinots from the very cool Santa Rita Hills have garnered much attention for their
intensity and perfume. With three Santa Rita Hills wineries being represented, this seminar will
provide a unique opportunity to try those wines.
So.... if you're walking through downtown Santa Fe next week and hear lots of yammering
about "terroir", "brett", "clones", and "saignee"; not to mention purple teeth and lips and
a slightly glazed countenance.... that would be the folks indulging in the SFW&CF.

The SFW&CF starts on Wednesday, Sept.21 and runs through Sunday. Detailed information
and ticket orders can be found at www.SantaFeWineandChile.org or 438-8060.


TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.
Wine, Its Distribution, The Law and Other Absurdities

With the repeal of the "Noble Experiment" (which had some not-so-noble consequences) known
as Prohibition in the 21st Amendment, power for regulating alcoholic beverages within their
boundaries was ceded to each state. This has resulted in a mind-boggling patchwork of laws
and directives that vary widely from state to state. In this column, we will examine some
of these laws, absurd or sensible, particularly as they apply to New Mexico.
After Repeal, most states established an agency to regulate alcohol, with a three-tier
system for its distribution. The three-tier system has wine (and beer and liquor) distributors
who buy from the source (wineries or importers or distillers), who sell to the retail businesses
(wine stores and restaurants), who then sell to the consumer.
In some states, particularly back East, it was the bootleggers, whose distribution system
was already in place, who segued into the distributor role. Such was not the case, to my
knowledge, in New Mexico.
The three-tier system works very well, in most states, at efficiently collecting taxes for the
state, and getting a case of Sutter Home White Zin to Mom & Popp's Fine Wine Shoppe
in Dexter.
Many wine aficionados decry the inefficiencies of the three-tier system and regard
the distributors as evil middle men. I am not one of those. What they do (collect taxes and
distribute wine), they do very well. In point of fact, in New Mexico, you can usually buy wines
directly at retail cheaper than you can buy them at full retail from the wineries. Buying wines
locally is always my preferred mode.
The problem with the wine distributors in nearly all states is that they enjoy a state-mandated
monopoly, free of competition. You can buy Mondavi Fume Blanc from only one distributor, at
whatever price they may dictate. If you're interested in buying the very obscure Chateau Arpy
le Cent Pointe out in the boondocks; you are, in most states, out of luck.
When I first moved to New Mexico in the '70's, the wine selection here was pitiful. I would make
frequent trips up to Denver/Boulder to buy wines I desired. The (then) state law allowed one to
bring in a "reasonable amount" for one's own consumption. I'm not telling what I considered a
"reasonable" amount, but my poor Dodge Dart ("the Little Engine That Could") often struggled to
cross LaVeta Pass.
In some states, such "bootlegging" is regarded as a felony and subjects the person to heavy
fines and confiscation of their car and wine.
Fortunately, in New Mexico, life is good. Almost 20 years ago, the New Mexico state
legislature, following the lead of California, passed its own reciprocity law. "Reciprocity"
means that if one state passes a law allowing their citizens to import wine directly from
California, then California citizens may import wine directly from that state.
New Mexico's wine reciprocity law was passed at the behest of the (then) tiny NM wine industry.
The powerful NM wholesaler's lobby was caught napping and voiced no opposition. Several times
over the years, the wholesalers have attempted to repeal reciprocity in New Mexico. Fortunately,
the NM wineries and consumer opposition have successfully deflected such attempts.
The benefits of reciprocity to NM wineries are immeasurable. Nearly all winemakers with whom
I've talked cite visiting out-of-state tourists shipping wine back to their residences as an
essential component of their business.
The benefits to NM consumers are also significant. It gives us access to many California (and
other state's) wineries that we would not otherwise see. No distributor is interested in bringing
in a few bottles of Chateau Arpy for an individual. Plus the obscene licensing fee any winery must
pay to have their wine represented in New Mexico makes such small potatoes ludicrous.
And benefits to the wine distributors?? Most of the wine distributors with whom I've discussed
the issue do not feel self-importing of California wines represents a threat to their business.
Furthermore, when I see labels like Jaffurs or Consilience on retail shelves here, I feel that
consumer buying of those wines direct, over the years, has helped to create a market for them.
Alas, most states do not enjoy the enlightened benefits of wine reciprocity. In some states,
it is a felony crime for a winery to ship directly to citizens of that state. The enormous power
of the wholesaler/distributor political organizations with state legislators has insured their
continued monopoly.
That is, in many states, you can buy a 30-06 rifle over the Internet, delivered to your door.
But you can't legally buy a bottle of Garretson Mourvedre to accompany your Wagyu steak, also
bought over the Internet.
In May, the Supreme Court, in an important ruling to many wine consumers, overturned anti-
wine shipping laws of Michigan and New York. Those (and other) states allowed direct buying/
shipping of within-state wines to their citizens, but prohibited the self-importation of
out-of-state wines; clearly an Interstate Commerce Clause violation.
How this ruling plays out in other states remains to be seen. The liquor lobby has bought many
a state legislator over the years and enjoys immense power. New York, in response to that
decision, has relaxed their laws to now allow direct importation. On the other hand, the liquor
lobby in Michigan, in alliance with the state's attorney-general, has banned the in-state
shipping of wines. This could very well signal the death knell for that state's struggling
wine industry.
Wine consumers here in New Mexico are very fortunate. We have a number of distributors who
are extremely knowledgeable and make great efforts to get unrecognized and quality wines into
our hands at a fair price. Reciprocity affords us access to a huge Nation-wide wine market out
there, one that is opening up more and more. And the distributors can deliver the goods to
Mom & Popp's Shoppe down in Dexter. The citizens of Florida or Michigan should be so lucky.

TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.
That Little Ol' Winemaker...Not

The image many wine connoisseurs have of artisinal winemakers is some guy quietly
going about his job amidst his barrels, using old traditional methods that have been around
for hundreds of years, in cob-webbed cellars. A visit to any modern winery in the USofA
quickly dispels that quaint image. In this month's column, we'll look at one of the
recent technological innovations that has created some controversy, reverse osmosis (RO).
Easily the most influential wine critic in the world is Robert Parker, publisher of
the Wine Advocate out of Monkton, MD. His imprimatur on a wine or winemaker can translate
into hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased sales. When Parker sneezes, much of the
entire wine world comes down with pneumonia.
It has long been recognized that his preferences run to wines that display high fruit
("gobs of hedonistic fruit") made from very ripe grapes, low in acid, and tending, naturally,
towards high alcohols, often above 15%. In search of high scores from Parker, some
winemakers have eagerly embraced winemaking practices that yield such wines.
The key trick to this style is to leave the grapes on the vine ("long hang time") until
high sugar levels are achieved. This presumes that early Fall rains (uncommon in California)
do not come along to destroy the harvest. It used to be common, in California, to harvest
grapes around 21%-23% sugar. Now, the norm is more like 24%-26% sugars.
Oftentimes, the winemakers chant the mantra "physiological maturity" as the rationale
for seeking such high sugars, preferring the flavors in the grapes (and wines) than those
harvested at lower sugar levels.
Such high sugars translate directly (by roughly the factor 0.55-0.60) to correspondingly
high alcohol levels. This results in an unbalanced ("balance" in a wine is a term that's
easy to recognize but difficult to define) wine that has a fumey/hot character on the
palate and is tiring to drink more than a glass or two at table. But, now, technology is
at hand to remedy this problem.
In the mid-1970's, several technologies were developed to produce alcohol-free "wine"
by large producers (like Paul Masson and Almaden) in hopes of capturing at least a small
fraction of the teetotaler market. The "wines" have been pretty much a failure and the
market has never developed.
One of these technologies is the spinning cone (SC), in which the wine trickles down over
a cascade of spinning cones to first remove the volatiles, which are condensed for later
return to the wine. The second pass, at a higher temperature, then removes some of the
alcohol. The volatiles are then returned to the now de-alcoholized wine.
The other technology is the reverse osmosis process. Wine is circulated across a porous
membrane which allows the low-molecular weight components, namely water and ethanol, to pass
to the other side. This solution is then distilled to remove the alcohol and the water may
then be returned to the thick "wine" sludge that didn't pass through the membrane.
In both techniques, typically a small amount of the high-alcohol wine will be subjected
to RO/SC to take it down to a very low alcohol level, and then this will be back-blended to
the remaining wine to effect an overall dilution of the alcohol content.
In Europe, where grapes are more difficult to ripen and high alcohols are seldom a problem,
RO has found a different application to achieve high Parker scores. The juice, after pressing,
is subjected to RO to remove much of the water, effectively concentrating the "must". This
emulates the result that another month of hang time achieves in California.
So.....the question is...does use of RO/SC technologies produce a better wine, or, at least,
is not harmful to the wine? Since most wineries wish to project an image of honest (as if use
of technology is cheating) and traditional winemaking techniques, most are loathe to
acknowledge its usage in their wines.
The foremost proponent of RO is Clark Smith. His company, based in Sebastapol, is
Vinovation (www.Vinovation.com) and has hundreds of wineries as his clients. Nearly all would
be mortified if knowledge of their use of RO became public.
After visiting Smith at his facility and tasting RO'd wines, I'm convinced the technology
is relatively benign and produces a better wine than the high-octane original. Unlike
millipore filtering, nothing is removed from the wine except the alcohol and water.
Several years ago, Fresno State University released a five bottle set of Syrah made
from San Joaquin Valley (a very hot area) grapes. The original 18.0% alcohol wine was knocked
back by RO, down to 13.35%, and three other gradations between. We tried them together in
my Los Alamos tasting group.
At that time, I was convinced that RO would inflict great harm to a wine and smugly
assumed that I'd easily identify the damage the process would create. Nothing could have
been further from the truth. Search as I may, I simply could not identify anything in the
wines that would suggest the "brutal" treatment it had received at the hands of RO.
Another data point on RO: Ridge Vineyards is renowned for their adherence to "traditional"
winemaking practices. Yet they are not at all adverse to using technology when winemaker
Paul Draper feels it will result in a better wine.
They produce a York Creek Vineyard Zinfandel that tends to come from overripe grapes and
frequently weighs in at 16% alcohol or higher. In 2002, Ridge subjected a small amount of
this Zin to RO and released a Spring Mountain District (available here in NM) wine. I found
it far superior to their regular 2002 version.
Amazingly, they 'fessed up to use of RO on the back label. To quote Draper..."a fine
example of winemaking, as differentiated from winegrowing". I fully agree with that.
So....anymore when I see a California wine labeled at 13.5% alcohol, or less, from one
of the larger producers, I strongly suspect that this is a wine that has been RO'd. And I
also suspect that it is a much better wine than what it started out in life. And how bad
can that be??? Technology isn't always evi.


Long Island Wines: America's Bordeaux??
(for Thurs, Feb 16)

As I travel about the country, I make a concerted effort to try many of the local wines.
Any traveler to Europe always chants the mantra: "Drink the local wines with the local
food". A trip over the Christmas holidays afforded me the opportunity to explore the wines
of Long Island (or....LonGiland as the locals prefer to pronounce it).
My experience over the years with LI wines had been spotty, at best. Mostly these were
occasional bottles brought for my group to try by visitors to LI. I had read much of the
promotional literature of the industry, touting their similarity to France's Bordeaux area.
So I arranged a two day whirlwind tour of the North and South Fork of LI to obtain a better
feel for the wines. I was both underwhelmed and impressed by the experience.
Most of the world's wine regions can trace their winemaking roots back hundred's
of years. The New York wine industry dates back to the 1700's, when settlers started
fermenting the local grapes that were abundant in the Northeast. Those with a European taste
did not like the results, citing their coarse and "foxy" flavors.
For LI, the industry dates back only to 1974 when Alex and Louisa Hargrave put the
first vinifera into the ground on an old potato farm far out on the North Fork. She has
recently authored a book (The Vineyard : The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American
Family Winery), describing the 30 year trials and tribulations of that venture.
Their pioneering effort gave root to an industry that has since grown to over 30 wineries.
The Hamptons, even under gloomy and overcast skies, is a beautiful area. Better known as
a playground for the rich and famous, it has a contracting though thriving agricultural
scene. The potatoes, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and ducks are held in high regard by the
local chefs. Alas, as the price of land continues to skyrocket, the viability of agriculture
in the area seems a bit problematic.
The Hargrave's vineyard was not an easy row to hoe, in every sense of the word. Despite a
moderate maritime climate not too unlike Bordeaux; the area is plagued by a plethora of
molds, rots, fungi, bugs, and the ubiquitous birds on their flyway South at harvest who
view the ripe grapes as ideal sustenance for their migration. Compounding this is the high
likelihood of rainy and foul weather around harvest time. Perseverance is the only word you
can apply to those wishing to make wine here.
And so what did my tasting adventure reveal?? As I mentioned....mixed results. Cabernet
Sauvignon was regarded as the flagship variety of LI. Of the several dozen I tasted, none
really rang my bell. Admittedly, Cabernet is not one of my favorite varieties. But I found
many of them lean/thin/dusty/earthy and lacking in fruit. Bordeaux they were not.
The luster of the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon seems to have faded on LI in favor of
the earlier-ripening Merlot and Cabernet France. Liking Merlot even less than Cabernet, I found
many had that same earthy/dusty character of the Cabernets. The best, though, showed pretty/
cherry-like fruit notes that I found...well....pretty.
But, by far, the Cab Francs were much more to my taste. Many had a rich/textured character
with an earthiness that resembled many of the good versions from France's Loire Valley. The
Waters Crest Cab Franc 2003 was probably the best red I tried the entire trip.
So.... for the reds, I think LI would best position itself in the world market by hanging
its hat on the Loire-style Cab Francs, rather than the Bordeaux model. I also tasted a few
other red varietals, with only Syrah showing much potential.
So...what did I like??? It was the LI whites that were the most impressive. World class??
Some of them, absolutely!!
Chardonnay is, of course, the common white denominator of the American wine palate. I was
struck by the restraint most LI vintners showed in their use of new French oak. Moreover,
many of the Chards showed a minerality (that terroir thing, again) that is rare in California
editions and most frequently found in those from Chablis or Italy's Alto Adige. This minerality
seemed to be a common thread in most of the LI whites, an asset that particularly impressed me.
There were several other whites that I loved. Tasting with Charles Massoud at Paumanok
Winery, he showed me a Chenin Blanc 2005 that was as good as any I've had from the Loire,
despite the utterly frigid temperatures in his cold-stabilization room. And his 2005
Sauvignon Blanc and dry Johannisberg Riesling were nearly as stunning.
There was one LI winery that impressed me more than any other...Channing Daughters on the
South Fork. Winemaker Christopher Tracey has wiped the LI slate clean, starting from scratch,
and experimenting with lesser known varieties like Tocai Friuliano, Dornfelder, Pinot Grigio,
and Blau Frankish. His early examples are most promising.
Finally, there was one genre that I found to be a real eye-opener....the late harvest
dessert wines. I found some of the freezer/ice box wines (wines made by freezing the juice to
concentrate the must) quite pleasant. But some of the botrytis-afflicted whites (like the
Paumanok Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc '03 and the Martha Clara Himmel '04) were the equal of
any dessert wine in the world.

So..... when Martha Stewart next invites you to stay at her humble hovel in the Hamptons;
I would suggest you drag her along and visit some of the wineries in the area. I dare say you
can find some world-class wines that even Martha would deign to serve on her table.
TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.
The Cheese and Wine Pairing Dilemma
(for Journal North March 16 column)

I have a decent understanding of wines. I've tried nearly every cheese that's appeared
here in New Mexico. The folklore is that cheese has a natural affinity for wine. So you'd
think that matching a wine with a particular cheese would be as easy as rolling off a log.
Oy....I wish it were all that easy. In this column, we'll look at some of the issues
involved in that seemingly simple task.
My ignorance on this perplexing subject was highlighted by my attendance at Laura
Werlin's seminar at last Fall's SantaFe Wine & Chile Fiesta. Laura is recognized as the
country's foremost expert on artisinal American cheeses. She recognized some years ago
that the quality of cheeses being produced in this country had made enormous strides
over the last 10-15 years; that it's no longer about Velveeta and Parmesan in a green
sprinkler can. The quality of US cheeses is every bit the equal, sometimes surpassing,
their more ancient and famed brethren from Europe.
So she set about bringing this fact to the attention of cheese connoisseurs (known as
turophiles). Her first "The New American Cheese: Profiles of America's Great Cheesemakers"
remains the definitive tome on the subject. Her more recent "The All American Cheese and
Wine Book" focuses on the wine/cheese pairings problem. Both beautifully illustrated books
highlight some of this country's great cheese producers and contain many mouthwatering
recipes. Both are highly recommended and frustratingly great reads; frustrating because
you'd love to try some of the great artisinal cheeses she describes.
The folklore is that you can take a given cheese, match it with that special wine, and...
voila... there is a synergy that yields that sublime food/wine experience. Well....maybe
on rare occasions I've found that to be the case. Seldom do I find that the wine does
anything for the flavor of the cheese. But the opposite effect can oftentimes be dramatic.
Sometimes the cheese can totally destroy the wine, sometimes it can do wondrous things
for the wine. More often, I've observed, it merely changes the character of the wine into
something different from that on an unsullied palate, often in unexpected ways.
This was brought home to me twice in Laura's seminar. The cheeses were an outstanding
tableau provided by Cheesecraft's Kim Muller. Kim (www.CheeseCraft.Net) is Santa Fe's best
sources of both imported and American artisanal cheeses. In most of the cases, Laura's
pairing of a particular wine and cheese were spot-on, the disasters she predicted were
starkly evident.
In one case, the match was most interesting. There were two superb firm cheeses that
paired with the Cabernet-based Franciscan Magnificat red wine. One was the English
Montgomery Cheddar, one of the world's foremost Cheddars. The other was the Uplands Cheese
Company (Wisconsin) Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The flavor profiles of the two cheeses are not
too dissimilar; the Montgomery a bit more acidic and austere, the Uplands a bit softer and
more buttery. However....surprise...the two cheese's impact on the Magnificat were strikingly
different. I didn't really prefer one matching over the other; I was just surprised at the
differing impact the two cheeses had. It was like tasting two totally different wines.
I had noticed this phenomenon before and had queried Laura at the previous year's seminar.
She suggested then that the cheese's enzymatic composition might be the source of this
puzzling effect. Alas, it's not a simple task to characterize a cheese's enzymatic content;
unlike the butterfat or moisture content.
In the second case, you did get that magical synergy betwixt cheese and wine that
sometimes happens. The wine was an Inniskillin Seyval Blanc Late Harvest; an ice wine made
from frozen (on the vine) grapes. I was getting a distinct peachy/apricotty/botrytis
character in the wine, but Master Sommelier co-panelist, Joe Spellman, opined that botrytis
played no role. On its own, the Iniskillen was rather soft, overly sweet and cloying; not
a good example of Ontario ice wine; a dessert wine that galumped across the palate in
combat boots.
However, when paired with the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, the difference was amazing. The
wine now had a zesty/bright/tart character; it pirouetted across the palate like a youthful
Maya Plisetskaya executing a graceful series of saut de chats. This is the kind of "ah-ha"
moment when you realize cheese and wine ARE meant for each other.
The cheese/wine pairing dilemma was recently revived in a New Scientist synopsis
of a paper by two UC Davis food scientists. The synopsis claimed that nearly every
character of a wine was suppressed by cheese and that you may as well serve cheap,
rather than fine, wine with any cheese. One of the Davis authors claimed the journal
did not accurately reflect the conclusions of their paper

In her book, Laura lists Ten Basic Guidelines for matching wines and cheeses, with
a detailed rationale for all of them. The guidelines, on their own, are rather generalized
to be of much specific help. But the accompanying text fleshes out the rules into coherent
guidelines. It is one of the best discourses I've yet read on the subject.
She also presents a very comprehensive cross-reference table matching specific
cheeses with specific wines. If she has tried all the myriad combinations contained therein,
then she's not enjoyed a moment of sobriety in the last five years!!

I would suggest that Laura's guidelines are a good starting point for forming your own
wine and cheese matches. It will NOT guarantee perfect synergistic matches nor always
avoid a disastrous pairing, but it certainly increase the odds of such.
And, as Laura so very accurately pointed out in her seminar last month; only your own
palate can tell you what pairings work....for you. What one person considers the perfect
match can be another's disaster... or, at least, letdown.


Laura Werlin's Ten Basic Guidelines for Wine/Cheese Pairing
(taken from The All American Cheese and Wine Book)
1. Pair textures of cheese and wine
2. Pair light cheeses with light wines
3. Pair white wines with cheese
4. Pair fruiter-style wines with cheese
5. Pair sparkling wines with blue, creamy, and salty cheeses
6. Pair red wines with (almost) anything
7. Pair cheeses and wines with comparable flavors
8. Pair cheeses and wines with opposite flavors
9. Pair dessert wines with cheeses
10. Pair aged/mild cheeses with older/milder wines

Reconnecting To Your Wine Roots
(for Journal North April 20 column)

Many of us who have been around the block a few times, with a serious interest in wine
(and food), can trace our food and wine roots back to Gourmet magazine. Those columns
"On Wine" by Gerald Asher in the early '70's inspired me to search out some of his recommended
wines to try... back when even a college student could afford a Grand Cru or First Growth. My
early wine education owes a huge debt to Asher.
Ruth Reichl, current editor of Gourmet, has collected a set of wine essays in her new book
"History In A Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing From Gourmet". It offers a fascinating perspective
on the evolution of the wine world over the years, in addition to some highly entertaining
and educational reading. In this month's column, I'll share a few of my highlights from her book.
I first started reading Gourmet regularly about 1970, as my interest in wine was starting
to flower. Asher's writing style made for compelling reading; you could not digest an article
of his on great Red Burgundy without a serious hankering to crack open a Clos de Vougeot...
not an easy task out in the middle of the Kansas plains. Fortunately, hometown Kansas City was
not so far away, so that vinous curiosity was not difficult to satisfy....if you crossed into
the Missouri side and (illegally) schlepped back a bottle. My tee-totaller parents were
aghast..."You spent $10 for a bottle of wine??!!"
Oftimes, my first exposure to the great wine writers were their musings in Gourmet; icons
like James Beard, Andre Simon, Roy Brady, Frederick Wildman, and Hugh Johnson. Even science
fiction author Ray Bradbury waxed poetic in 1953 on his Grandma's dandelion wine, describing it
as the essence of summertime. Hummph.... the few examples of dandelion wine I've tried have been
pretty wretched brews.
Almost everyone who develops an interest in wine will, eventually, yield to the siren song of
Pinot Noir; be it from Burgundy, California's Sonoma Coast or Santa Rita Hills, Oregon's
Willamette Valley, or the mountains of Italy's Alto Adige. But, alas, Pinot, the most feminine of
wines, is a frustratingly cruel seductress. She will one time fire your passions with her whips
and chains, another time slyly beckon you into her boudoir with a knowing wink, and, often
as not, stampede you in the opposite direction with her dowdy, frumpy demeanor.
A year ago, James Rodewald described this all very well in his essay "Pinot Noir: A Love Story"
in the pages of Gourmet. He recounts his first, eye-opening experience with great Pinot Noir
in a bar he worked. He tracks down its (mistaken) winemaker, Merry Edwards, and falls
head over heels for her Pinots. Eventually, he discovers the actual winemaker of that memorable
Domaine Laurier, Terry Leighton, and goes gaga over his Pinots. It's a great read, an endearing
love story, to which I'm sure we'll one day read the sequel as it plays out in Rodewald's life.
That's what Pinot Noir does to you... it shatters your heart, but its allure is irresistible and
you keep going back.
Reichl also includes Rodewald's article on New Mexico's own Gruet Winery. Gruet has been making
some of the best, most well-priced, sparkling wines in the USofA and this provided considerable
national exposure for their efforts.
Rodewald is Gourmet's "Drinks" section editor and frequently appears there with various
beverage recommendations. In the "For What It's Worth" category, Rodewald grew up here in Northern
New Mexico and graduated from SantaFe Prep, was the bartender at Santa Cafe when it opened,
visits frequently, and his mother still resides here. Furthermore, fellow Santa Fean, Kate Winslow,
is an editor for the Gourmet Books section and has her office right next to Rodewald's. Small world!!
To me, the most fascinating reading in Reichl's book were the early essays of Frank Schoonmaker,
written during Gourmet's seminal years and continuing through the 1940's.... well before I
could even read, let alone, read Gourmet. Schoonmaker, deceased, is a legendary name in the wine
world. His Encyclopedia of Wine was one of the first written. It is frequently updated by noted
New York wine writer, Alexis Bespaloff, now a Las Cruces resident.
My first encounter with his name was a little greenish stick-on neck label "Frank Schoonmaker
Selections", an importing business he started back in the 30's. I started to notice a correlation
between the presence of his neck-label and the quality of the wine in the bottle.
Schoonmaker was one of the early wine writers in the 1930's, writing for the New Yorker magazine
before becoming Gourmet's regular columnist in the '40's. With the end of Prohibition in 1933,
he recognized a woeful American ignorance about wine and set about to correct that problem with
his prolific writing.
Although his specialty was European wine, particularly Burgundy and Germany, he was an ardent
proponent for American wines, then dismissingly called "domestic". Reichl features Schoonmaker's
essay "American Names for American Wines", appearing in March 1941. Therein he sternly castigates
the California vintners for their use of European place names (and even actual Chateau names) and
forcefully argues for specific place-name growing areas and labeling by grape variety. It is an
amazingly prescient essay. Varietal labeling and specific appellation identification are, of course,
now the norm for American wine labels.
During the war years, Schoonmaker's wine writings dropped to a trickle. After Pearl Harbor,
he was heavily involved with Colonel "Wild Bill" Donovan in establishing the Office of Strategic
Services, predecessor to the CIA (the "intelligence" one, not the "culinary" one) and actively
collecting intelligence through his European connections.
Reichl includes a handful of Schoonmaker's writings through the 1940's that offer fascinating
insight to the evolution of America's wine industry from its post-Prohibition depths up to the
threshold of its breakout in the late '50's to producing truly world-class wines.

Over the years, as my wine horizons expanded and Great Growths became unaffordable, I grew
apart from Gourmet. I would occasionally browse a copy on the newsstand, mostly to catch Asher's
latest essay. They always brought back fond memories. But the magazine seemed a bit dated,
stodgy if you will, and I no longer read it avidly. That's changed over the last year. Under
Reichl's editorship, the graphics have been seriously livened. The quality of the articles seems
much higher. It is, for me, once again, a necessary part of my food and wine education. It's nice
to reconnect with an old friend.... even if she's beyond 60 and just had a facelift.
Reichl's "History In A Glass" is a compelling read, both from its historic perspective, and for
plain old entertaining wine reading; highly recommended. And if you haven't visited Gourmet in
awhile, it's time to do so now.
TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

Some Northern Italian Esoterica
(for Journal North May 18 column)

Italian wines are some of my most favorite of wines. I love and cook Italian food.
Italian wines seem the natural accompaniment for that food. But from there, my
tastes are widely divergent from most lovers of Italian wine. I should explain.
Most Italian wine connoisseurs seem to focus on the classics. Nebbiolo from the
Piedmont, namely Barbaresco and Barolo, are regarded by many as one of the world's greatest
wines. Chiantis from the Tuscany region, made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, also has
its adherents for that title. But, for me, I'm coming to the realization that these are
two wines I... just...don't...get; they just don't give me the satisfaction I get from many
other wines.
Despite its lovely scents, Piedmont Nebbiolo fails me badly on my admittedly California
palate. I find the acids and tannins can often be ferocious. I liken drinking Nebbiolo to
stuffing violet petals up one nostril, lilac petals up the other, sealing both with a plug
of fresh road tar, then sticking your tongue out betwixt the jaws of a vise and torquing it down.
Tuscan Sangiovese is not much better. I like the lovely cherry/rose petal aromas of the
wine; but I find it, too, not that attractive on the palate; often showing a harsh astringency
and a bitey acidity.
Though I've not given up trying these Italian classics, I find myself focusing more and more
on some of the lesser known regions and grape varieties. In today's column, I'll take you
to a few of my favorite vinous backwaters of Northern Italy.
Italy is rife with grape varieties that are seldom found elsewhere in the world. To me,
these obscure grapes offer some of the most interesting drinking coming out of Italy.
Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a serious effort by many Italian winemakers to
bring back some of these indigenous varieties from near extinction.
One of the best resources for these grapes is "Wines of Italy" by Patricia Guy. Burton
Anderson's "Pocket Guide To Italian Wines" is another.
One of my favorite regions is Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, in the far Northeast, bordering
Slovenia (a rising star in the wine firmament). The area, for some reason, produces a river
of undistinguished Merlot, Cabernet, and Pinot Grigio. But, among the whites, varieties like
Tocai Friulano, Verduzzo, and Ribolla Gialla can all be quite tasty. The rare Picolit can make
lovely, if overpriced, dessert wines.
Of the reds, the Refosco (dal Peduncolo Rosso) is easily my fave; with its aromatic black
cherry/plummy scents and a tart, slightly bitter, bite on the palate. Much rarer, the Forgiarin,
Pignolo, and Schioppettino have occasional piqued my interest with their sometimes wild
fragrances and slightly rustic taste.
High in the Italian Tyrol lies the Alto Adige and Trentino regions. This is, in fact, the
origin of Alsace's Gewurztraminer, near the village of Tramin. Called here the Traminer
Aromatico, they can often rival the best from France with their leaner profile on the palate.
This is also home to two of my favorite reds. Lagrein shows powerful floral/earthy scents
with a rich black cherry rusticity in the mouth. More exotic and rare is the native Marzemino.
It has a perfumey fragrance much like wild alpine strawberries, but a light lively character on
the palate that blows away any Beaujolais I've ever had.
Continuing to the west takes one into the mountainous district of Lombardy. Although the
whites can be quite pleasant, the reds here excite me the most. To my taste, this is where
some of the best Nebbiolo in all Italy can be found. Called Chiavennasca here in the Valtellina,
these wines have a lushness seldom found in the Piedmont versions, especially the late harvest
Sfursat (gesundheit!!) wine.
At lower elevations, the Oltropo Pavese wines from varieties like Barbera, Bonarda, Croatina,
and Uva Rara can all be quite good and match well the hearty cuisine of the region.
Finally, we reach the famed Piedmont; home of the (so-called) great Barolo and Barbaresco,
made from the Nebbiolo grape. I must admit that I've had some magnificent examples of these
wines. But you also have to pay some pretty magnificent $$'s to buy them, alas. Yet, for me,
the other, more modestly priced, reds are what I enjoy most.
Though the Barbera can have a searing acidity on the palate, modern winemaking techniques
have resulted in much more attractive wines, at very reasonable prices. The sweet grapiness
on the nose of wines from the Dolcetto grape often belie the screechy acidity and spiky
tannins on the palate. Nonetheless, with food, I find this wine can be quite pleasurable. The
Dolcettos from the Dogliani district are particularly appealing.
Much rarer and exotic are the Piedmontse wines made from the Brachetto, Freisa, Ruche
(or Rouchet), and Grignolino. They all have lovely floral aromas and a bright lively character
on the palate that is uncommon for Piedmont.
This region also is the source of one of the world's most bizarre wines, the Barolo Chinato.
Made from Barolo wine that is sweetened and then steeped in quinine, the bark of the chinchona
tree; it has a medicinal character that is....very much an acquired taste. For those who relish
the potent Buckley's Cough Syrup, this is just your drink.
This trip across the Northern tier of Italy covers some of my most favorite and exciting
drinking. Yet, it barely scratches the surface of some of the interesting wines coming from
that country. Inproved winemaking has allowed the Southern regions to produce wines
that compare favorably with those of the North. There has also been a renewed focus on many of
the indigenous varieties, like Sicily's Nero d'Avola. I've got much drinking work ahead of me,
I fear.
Alas, some of these interesting wines can require a bit of a search. But if you're willing to
forego the standard Chardonnay/Cabernet paradigm; they are well worth the search.

TomHill, a White Rock resident, transports neutrons and wields an epee in real life.

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