Robert Parker, live

robert parker wine

“When I retire, I don’t want to see the wine writing profession wither away.”

That was one of the many provocative things that Robert Parker said before–get this–a room of wine writers (which prompted some chortles on twitter about new career paths). Granted, wine writing and journalism more generally have changed since Parker was at his peak. But the après-Parker era will not be one of silence; indeed, diversity of opinion is now the norm.

At any rate, Richard Jennings attended the talk and he posted key passages from Parker’s talk as well as the above picture. Here are some of the winning quotes: Read more…

Dry wine: How does the California drought affect the wine industry?

jason haas The rain in California falls mostly in the winter. I think that’s how it went in Pygmalion. At any rate, the rain has decidedly NOT been falling this off-season for the vines. While that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for California’s wine industry–some older vines have deep roots–it does mean less water to go around and and a descent into the politics of water scarcity. New vines and a lot of older vines in the Golden State rely on drip irrigation–it will be interesting if “dry farming,” which some claim produces wines that are more expressive of their terroirs then irrigated vines, catches on this season out of necessity. Also affected are increasingly popular “cover crops,” the nitrogen-rich plants that some vineyard managers sow between the vines to plow under and provide natural fertilization for the soil.

Jason Haas (right), of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, one of the hardest hit areas in the state, told Bloomberg News that competition from overseas will limit how much California producers can pass drought costs on to consumers. Aquifers and wells may cover some of the shortfall, but, again, welcome to water politics, perhaps a dominant theme for this century in much of the country.

California produces 89% of American wine. The San Joaquin Valley alone cranks out 60%. The Central Valley also produces many of the country’s fruit, nuts and vegetables–America’s salad bowl, if you will, rather than its breadbasket. Mather Jones has a terrific infographic on how the California drought could affect you no matter where you live. (Btw, since it takes about 600 to 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine, they therefore claim it takes 180 – 240 gallons of water to make a bottle of wine. Vintners, winemakers: does that strike you as an exaggeration?)

On a somewhat optimistic note, rain is on the way. Randall Grahm, who makes his Bonny Doon wines on and around California’s central coast, tweeted today: “The fact that rain (and lots of it) is forecast for later this week is the best thing I’ve read in forever. #betterthan95ptsfromparker” Read more…

French senate declares obvious: wine part of national heritage

boy wine france A committee in the French Senate declared the obvious this week in adding an amendment that would make wine an official part of French heritage.

Cries of “um, duh!” could be heard in the land that makes some of the best wines in the world today and up until fifty years ago had a per capita consumption of 100 liters per person.

That it has come to this underscores the threats the wine industry faces abroad but particularly at home. Overseas, French wine has lost market share in the US to new world producers (although, at the high end, the mindshare remains huge). But at home, wine has come under threat from advertising restrictions, tougher laws against drunken driving, an ascendent force that sees wine/alcohol as a public health problem, a proposal to raise the tax on wine 1,000%, and truly nutty proposals to bar media discussion of health benefits of wine and a ban on talking about wine on the internet! So, in light of these domestic developments, such a declaration by the senate becomes more understandable as it gives the wine industry to something they can use to bolster their position.

We wish them bonne chance. But perhaps the best thing we could do for them is take a sip of the heritage and say santé! (Or, wait, is it not healthy…?)

Obscure grapes, wine finder, Walla Walla – sipped & spit

obama hollande toast
SIPPED: Jancis Robinson argues in favor of the “classics” over wines from obscure grapes just for the sense of obscurity. Twitter fight ensues.

SPIT: Eric Asimov tells how to find obscure wines (hint: wine-searcher).

SPIT: me. After I shrugged at the White House wine selections, commenters from Walla Walla descended on this blog (and Facebook) hurling epithets. Currently 108 comments long.

SPIT: the legislative efforts to mandate warehousing wine in NY for 24 hours prior to end delivery have regained some momentum, unfortunately. The NY Post argues it would add $2 to a bottle of wine. Some distributors and producers have bonded together so create a web site where NY consumers can send their legislators a note of protest. #stopthecorktax

State wine cellars compared

Game time: see if you can correctly identify the photo of an official state wine cellar with the correct country, US, UK, and France.

UK wine cellar

elysee wine cellar

wine fridge

Okay, okay, it’s photographic hyperbole — but the White House really doesn’t have a wine cellar to speak of. Downing Street (top) buys the wines on release and stores them for official occasions. Buckingham Palace has some terrific wines too as you may recall that when Obama went there on a state visit, the Queen uncorked some DRC and ’63 port. The Elysée Palace (middle) has an impressive cellar, as you might expect. The White House, by contrast, procures wines for state functions on-demand so rarely serves wines with much age on them.

The relative paucity of the White House wine cellar has its roots in our country’s love/hate relationship with alcohol: loved it so much that it became a political issue leading to Prohibition. While the shadow of Prohibition looms over the industry in the form of restrictions interstate shipments (among other things), the fact is that Americans are into wine now, as witnessed by instagram feeds or the fact that per capita consumption has increased for 20 consecutive years. So a big chunk of America would probably take pride in having some decent American wines slumbering in the White House basement.

How likely is that to happen? When pigs fly. The UK and France have both reduced their wine collections recently in the name of austerity. China introduced a ban on expensive alcohol at state banquets in the last quarter of 2011. And with an economy that’s not exactly firing on all cylinders here, there’s no way the White House would engender criticism for that kind of expenditure. Still, an American wine lover can but dream. Maybe, as a matter of national pride, Bill Koch could endow the White House with a starter collection of well-vetted wines from his cellar? Read more…

Wines for tonight’s state dinner: wine world shrugs

white house state dinner salad

Breaking from tradition, the White House announced the wines to be served at tonight’s state dinner honoring President Francois Hollande and Madame–oh nevermind. So instead of engaging in subterfuge or speculation, we have the list. Here they are: Read more…

Paying up for Provenance

jayer cros parantoux When fear of wine counterfeits remains high in the wine wine auction market, bidders will pay a premium for wines with superlative provenance. Such was the case with the Burgundies from the H. B. Harris collection, which fetched $7.5 million over the weekend in Chicago at Hart Davis Hart.

Harris, a real estate developer known to his friends and family as “Bubba,” got into wine in his twenties. He amassed a trove of fine wine that he kept initially in an apartment that he had customized into a wine cellar but then switched to professional storage in 1994. He died last year at the age of 78.

The 986 lots at the Hart Davis Hart auction all sold and the total of the auction exceeded the $4 – $6 million estimate. HDH printed some of the original receipts in the catalogue. I liked the fact that Mr. Harris bought the ’85 Jayer Cros Parantoux for $68.99 a bottle or $828/case back in the day. Six of those bottles ended up selling for $101,575 on Saturday.

Pedro Parra digs dirt

pedro parra Wine enthusiasts know that where grape vines grow can contribute to the flavors of the resulting wine. But Pedro Parra has decided to dig a little deeper: the “terroir consultant” has excavated over 20,000 holes to study vineyard soils.

Based in Chile but trained in Paris, the Chilean has more views about soil than your average wine consumer. For one, he tries to drink only wines from a certain soil type, rather than amorphous blends. And even there, not even all soils pass the sniff test: clay soils produce wines that are too fruity and sweet for him, with sensations in the front of the mouth that he admits have broad appeal, though just not for him. He’s more of a schist, granite or limestone man.

To illustrate the flavor profiles of each type of soil, Read more…


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