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Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review

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Posts posted by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review

  1. On a somewhat related note, do you think the hot, dry weather in Burgundy this year will produce wines in Volnay that are similar to those from the 1990 vintage?



    It ain't over 'til its over, but however 2003 turns out in Burgundy, I seriously doubt that it will be like 1990. Among other things, 1990 was a large vintage, 2003 is looking like it will be a smallish one. 1990 was low-moderate acidity, 2003 is looking like it will be very low (probably requiring acid adjustment).

    To tell the truth, I'm not at all optimistic about 2003 in Burgundy based on what we know at this point, but even if it does turn out for the best, it would more likely be like 1997 (a vintage favored by some, but not by me) than 1990. It also appears that there will be great variability depending upon soil type, vineyard location, and age of vines -- three factors that determine whether the vines have had access to water during this drought period. But rain and somehwat cooler weather are predicted for this weekend, so we'll see how things progress.

  2. I have my doubts about the 1990 de Vogue Musigny that SF Joe mentions (I never shared the unbridled enthusiasm for it that some had at the beginning), but I feel confident that the de Montilles will reward the wait.

  3. To Echezeaux:

    One of the reasons many winemakers DON'T strive to make those sorts of wines (and neither do those wineries today, whomever owns them) is that the business of wine is far more competitive than it was way back when. And winemakers are often driven by point-scoring publications to make bigger and more powerful wines so their products "stand out" in tastings. I believe Mr. Kolm's publication participates in this numerical "scoring" of wines.

    I use a combination of numerical and letter grades in a way that no other journalist that I know of does. Certainly you do not mean to suggest that people are making wine in a way to please me at large tastings so that they get high numerical scores. Assuming you concede that, what is the point of mentioning that I use points in my publication? If you know my publication, you know that my tastes do not go for bigger and more powerful wines.

    My only issue with Mr. Kolm's assertions is his mistaken notion that it was "easier" to buy exceptional California wine 30 or 40 years ago than today along with the idea that great California was more plentiful way back when.

    Safeway stores did not sell "fine wine" back in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of its wine sales were in the form of jug wines such as those from Italian Swiss Colony, 11 Cellars, Cribari and Gallo. "Fine" wines such as BV, Inglenook, Louis Martini and Wente Brothers were NOT sold in such a venue. Nor were the wines of Heitz, Ridge, Hanzell or Stony Hill.

    As for whether it was easier to buy exceptional California wine 30 or 40 years ago than today along with the idea that great California wine was more plentiful way back when, it all depends on how much exceptional wine you think is being made in California today. To my tastes, very little.

    So Echezeaux, you are an expert on what Safeway was selling in the 1960s. List your credentials. Mine are that I worked at Safeway in 1965 and 1966. I stand by my assertion that one could by good wines from the likes of BV, Louis Martini (MOUNTAIN Cabernet, BTW), and if you want to add Wente to the list, so be it. Without a doubt, one could buy plonk there, too, and nothing I have written above is contrary to that.

    As for your pointing to the grand jury tasting, I agree completely Craig’s assertion. Moreover, what is the point of comparing Chablis with Montrachet, two entirely different wines, in a blind tasting? Just because they’re from the same grape? My views on blind tasting can be seen here

    As for the members of the grand jury, those whose tastes I know have substantially different tastes from mine. For example, Ms. Robinson, in listing her favorite white Burgundy producers couldn’t find room for Carillon, Roulot, Niellon, François Jobard, or Drouhin, all of whom are among the producers I prize most highly.

    Echezeaux, I participate on this and other bulletin boards for fun and because I find them interesting. It is no fun and not interesting to to interact with someone such as you who seems to believe that he has a monopoly on the truth, especially in such a subjective area as taste in wine. If you don't agree with me fine, but you are no more correct than I am. With that, I am out of here. Life's too short to spend interacting with imperious characters such as you.

  4. Until the mid 60s California wine in general was heavy, oversweet, made in a variety of pseudo-European styles such as "Chablis", "Burgundy", "Rhine" etc, regardless of the grape varieties and growing conditions. That was fair enough because it met the needs of the buying public, like the low end Gallo output of today, and Americans then did not drink wine regularly - even today the per capita consumption is lower than most other wine growing countries in spite of the massive output.

    So if you think the quality was higher in the 1960s and before then I suspect a little more research may be in order.

    Britcook -- I've done my research. Excellent wine was available in any Safeway in California prior to the 1970s from large producers such as Louis Martini and Beaulieu, and for not much money.

    And what makes you think that people are so sophisticated and drinking so well today? Just because they buy Chardonnay instead of Chablis and Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Burgundy? They still get wines with substantial residual sugar in them (reds as well as whites), albeit with a lot more oaking, higher alcohol, and a lot more manipulation -- and generally at much, much higher prices.

  5. Yes, well I stand by my long-stated position that Rolland is the kiss of qualitative death (but of economic security as long as Parker rules the roost).

  6. For one thing, he showed others that IT WAS possible to set up a NEW winery and start from scratch AND be successful in making good wines.  He showed you could have a family enterprise, too.

    Well, I thought all the wineries that I cited that pre-dated Mondavi were started from scratch at one time, were successful in making good wines, and were family enterprises at the time. The last changed sooner for some (BV, Inglenook) and later for others (Martini) and not at all for still others (Stony Hill). Mondavi, of course, is a publicly-traded company today.

    Mondavi worked hard to raise the bar in Napa Valley winemaking and they took apart all kinds of French (and Italian) wines to see what made them tick.  And he wasn't afraid to compare his wines to the benchmark wines from France.

    And in the process of this deconstuction, totally missed the point of what made those wines tick. The co-owner of one of the most presitgious estates in the world told me a few years ago that Mondavi's people are no longer welcome as visitors because they asked so many silly questions indicating that they thought of making fine wine as a formula (i.e., industrial) and not as an expression of a particular place.

    He was a brilliant marketing fellow

    And still is. But what does that have to do with high quality wine?

    Mondavi also has been, as you know, a wonderful training ground for winemakers.  And they've been open to exchanging ideas with enologists and viticulturists around the globe.

    Again, I guess, it depends on your perception of quality.

    The quantity of "great" wine being made before 1966 by those wineries on your list is rather small.

    The quantity of "great" wine being made today is far larger, wouldn't you agree?

    Absolutely not.

    I agree with your assessment regarding "industrial" wine...but the quality of that is far superior, today, to what California made 40 years ago, isn't it?

    To be honest, I wasn't old enough to drink wine 40 years ago, but going back to the 1970s, when I was drinking wine, I think the quality was higher back then, and that leads me to suspect it was higher in the 1960s and before, too. The old wines that I've had from those days would support my position.

    But I would argue that Mondavi helped plant a number of seeds over the past few decades and IS to be credited with some (not all) of the bright stars in California's wine galaxy.

    I suspect the stars that we'd pick would be quite different, so my answer is again, no. The stars for me are outside of the CA wine establishment that Mondavi represents. E.g., Ridge/Paul Draper, Littorai/Ted Lemon, Dominus/Christian Moueix, Edmunds-St-John/Steve Edmunds, Rubissow-Sargent/Tony Sargent.

  7. That's exactly why I don't sell any Mondavi wines.  :laugh:

    Read your history, you owe him more than you probably think.

    What history? Before Mondavi set up shop in 1966, there were great wines being produced in California by the likes of Stony Hill, Ridge, Hanzell, Inglenook, BV, Louis Martini, etc. Today, what do we have? A relatively small number of good small and medium-sized wineries, and lots of industrial wine, whether from big or small producers. Mondavi is not responsible for the few good wineries.

  8. I've had GVs older than twenty years and they were showing no hint of tiring.

    Terry Theise also advocates their aging. In his latest catalog of Austrian wines he writes:

    Aging Gruener Veltliner: you gotta be patient! I know of no variety other than Chenin Blanc (in the Loire, of course) which takes longer to taste old. All things being equal, Veltliner lasts longer than Riesling, and it never goes petrolly. What it can do is to take on a dried-mushroom character that becomes meaty. Mature GrueVe has been a revelation to every taster I've seen. It's a perfect choice for a rich fatty meat course when you prefer to use white wine. Don't think you have to drink them young - though if you catch one at any age short of ten years you are drinking it young. Thinkj of young GrueVe like fresh oyseter mushrooms, and grownup GrueVe like dried shitakes.

  9. lissome -- With a $20 limit, you're not going to find anything exactly like Dujac, but you still should be able to get some very good wines. I'm assuming that you are looking for wines that are supple and elegant with a lot of finesse, but not necessarily emphasisizing power.

    I don't know New York pricing, but my impression is that the list prices may be similar to those here in San Francisco, but you don't have some of the big discounters that we do.

    I'd start with wines from two good friends of Duajc's Jacques Seysses, Aubert de Villaine and Francois Faiveley. De Villaine is best known for his role heading up the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, but he also has his own estate on the Cote Chalonnaise (just south of the Cote d'Or where the famous vineyards are, and he produces magnificent red (and white) wines with the same purity as the wines of DRC -- in red he has an excellent Bourgogne and a Mercurey.

    Faiveley is a negociant firm but has large vineyard holdings, and takes great care in its wines. I'd look for some of his Cote Chalonnaise wines from Mercurey, Rully, and Givry. He also has some attractive wines from lesser Cote d'Or appellations such as Ladoix. The Bourgogne here is not bad either.

    Joseph Drouhin is another negociant with significant holdings of its own and makes lovely wines, again with great purity. You should be able to find somd nice red wines from lesser appellations such as Chorey-les-Beaune, Santenay, and Chassagne-Montrachet from Drouhin, and the Bourgogne is usually at least a good value, sometimes even better than that.

    The wines that will be the closest to Dujac in style come from Domaine de l'Arlot, where Jean-Paul de Smet is the manager. De Smet spent his vacations for many years working at Dujac before he left accounting to go into wine. He has a Cote de Nuits-Villages "Le Chapeau" that may be in the $20 range.

    On Dujac's home terrrain, Morey-St-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny, I'd look for the Bourgognes of Ghislaine Barthod and Robert Groffier, and if you can spend a little more Barthod has a wonderful Chambolle-Musigny. Up the road a little, in Gevrey-Chambertin, Jean-Marie Fourrier's wines are very stylish, but I'm not sure what the price for the least expensive is.

    On the Cote de Beaune, you can get some wonderful Bourgognes from Michel Lafarge and Hubert de Montille, both somewhere around $20. The Savigny-les-Beaunes and Pernand-Vergelesses from Domaine Chandon-de-Briailles should also come in around that price and they are amazing values. Also in Savigny-les-Beaune, look for the wines of Pierre Guillemot which are just over your $20 limit. Finally, Jacques Germain/Chateau Chorey-les-Beaune makes attractive Bourgognes and Chorey-les-Beaune, although I think the prices may be getting a little high on those wines, now.

    For vintages, I'd look for 1999 and 1998, first (but be sure that they have been well-stored, i.e., a store that has air conditioning and uses it). 2001 on the Cote de Nuits (Nuits-St-Georges, Vosne-Romanee, Chambolle-Muisigny, Morey-St-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin are the main towns), but very mixed on the Cote de Beaune. The Cote Chalonnaise 2001s should be good. 2000 is mixed vintage throughout Burgundy -- you can get some good wines, but it would be my last choice of the four vintages I mentioned.

    Finally, be sure to serve your Burgundy cool -- about 58-60 degrees max -- if it's too hot the acididity and alcohol go out of balance and the wines seem coarse.

    Happy hunting!

  10. funny thing is, every writer i've talked to who has to assign some kind of numerical value, be it stars or points, thinks it's pretty much worthless, except the readers demand it.

    Russ - There are various of reasons for this:

    First, and most importantly, when you taste lots of wines, you run into situations where the wines you like are not "objectively" better than certain others. Accordingly, you would put those wines in your cellars, and not necessarily some of the others that get the "objective" higher rating. But the public wants to have an insight greater than your personal experience (which, it must be admitted, the public cannot duplicate).

    Secondly, there is only so much expression even the most gifted writer can put into words. Numbers put a rank to the verbosity.

    Third, somewhat related to the point, for various reasons, one may be tempted to shade either too positively or too negatively with choice of language (consciously or not). The use of a numerical ranking forces the reviewer to be more honest, objective or whatever you want to call it, about his or her overall view.

  11. We went through this fairly carefully in one of the subjectivity threads before the Purge.

    Oh my god all the people who agree with me are gone!

    Given a set of criteria though, you can make stable(ish) value judgments.

    That, my friend, be objectivity.

    Yes but it's a long way from objectivity to a points system.

    The problem with a points system is that (if I can get slightly technical) is that it is a total order. This means that for any two wines A and B either

    A is better than B or B is better than A or they are of equal score. Now clearly this is rubbish -- there are often pairs of wines which are not comparable in any meaningful sense. Parker gives Petrus 96 the score of 92 points, and he gives Yquem 1991 91 points. And Lafon Meursault Charmes 96 gets 93 points. So what? so ... the Lafon is better than the Petrus is better than the Yquem? Well we already used the word for this a few posts back. Any system that allows that sort of inference is deeply flawed and objectionable.

    But I have no problem at all with partial orders -- saying Petrus is better than a jug wine., but not committing to comparing Yquem to Petrus.

    The rankings are only good within a particular type of wine. It is absurd to say taht a 96-point Meursault is better than a 92-point Languedoc. That's why I also assing letter grades, with the letter grades varying for the type of wine. An 86 might earn a Muscadet an A, but a Montrachet a C or a D.

  12. Yeah but what kind of spread are we talking about? +/- 5 points out of 100 on a given wine? Is there any wine that Parker gives a 99 to that some other established expert says should get 85? And even if there is, is that normal or the exception?

    No -- I score some of Parker's most treasured wines in the 70's or lower. I find many of them undrinkable.

  13. To answer Mr. Kolm's question about "performing"....

    I find that sometimes a wine will show particular characteristics more readily when preceeding samples lack those features.

    For example, a wine of a certain level of oak may strike one as extremely woody when the wines you've sniffed/tasted previous to it are non-wooded bottlings.  The same wine will appear less oaky if tasted amongst a group of similarly oaked samples.

    A 15% alcohol Chardonnay may seem way out of balance if you've just tasted a 12% alcohol, non-oaked Sancerre or 10% alcohol German Riesling.  But put that wine in a line-up of similarly-styled Chardonnays and it likely fits into the set of wines without showing up as hugely imbalanced.

    And that same Chardonnay will taste positively light and lively if you have it after a set of young, 2000 vintage Porto wines!

    As someone posted about the "measuring devices" we're using being "imprecise," I can't imagine that a wine changes so radically from one taste to the next...it's the context that helps determine or change one's sensory impressions.

    That's why I don't put a lot of trust in numerical scores...I'd rather read what a critic says in describing the wine than in simply the mindless score. 

    By the way, do you prefer blind tasting to critique wines or do you taste them un-masked?

    Perhaps for the casual taster, but as a professional, my task is to evaluate each wine on its own. Perhaps I've always been different in this sense. People talk about big oaky wines winning tastings but not being what you would want to drink -- I've never been one to fall for those wines at tastings, either. (Although I must admit that I've never tasted a Chardonnay after a set of Ports.)

    When I am tasting analytically, I look through the superficial elements to get to the core of the wine and its potetntial. Experience aids me in filtering out extra-contextual factors. I have found over many years that when I taste wines that I have forgotten I had previously tasted, or that I knew I had tasted but had no recollection of my score, the difference is 2 points or less (on a 100 point scale) about 95% of the time. Perceiving a wine differently doesn't mean that you rate it differently.

    I should also add that for me, a point score is just a convenient marker for ranking, as Craig points out. It has no scalar value.

  14. That is to say, if you take two wines that come from the same region, are sold in the same currency, are made from the same grape varieties, etc., they will rank order price and quality, lock-step, most every time. Look at any producer's reserve and non-reserve wine from the same vineyard. And really, once people get over the hump of understanding that dry wines are good and Manischewitz sucks, you can grab any 100 wine drinkers, give them the regular and the reserve, and reliably expect that the overwhelming majority will choose the reserve (assuming it's appreciably better.)

    I want to stay out of the subjective/objective thing as much as possible because it is very complex and there are a lot of factors, such as the way people fall into three taste categories, that are very important and that have not been considered in the discussions above.

    Let me make a few comments about the portion I quote above. It is not necessarily true that two wines from the same region will reflect the price in their quality. Frequently in France, the area I know best, there will be a going rate for particular types of wine from particular villages or vineyards that does not reflect the quality. For example, Christophe Roumier's sells his Chambolle-Musignys for not that much more (or perhaps not any more at all) than those of many of his less talented neighbors, and he almost certainly sells it for less than, for example, Dom. Laurent sells it for, the latter's wines usually falling into the "why would anyone want to drink this?" category in my estimation and that of many others.

    Another example. Although a lot of crap is still being made in Languedoc-Roussillon, if you know what you are doing, you can get some really wonderful wines, and almost always for less than $20/bottle. In fact, as soon as a wine from the region is labelled reserve and is more than $25/bottle, you can almost count on its being boring, undrinkable crap IMO -- it is made in an oaky, overextracted style that usually the producer doesn't even like, but is clever enough to know that it will satisfy the demands of a few palates that drive the market, and therefore generate a high price. You want an example -- one among many, many? Go out and get a bottle of Domaine d'Aupilhac's Le Plos de Baumes, which will set you back about $36. Comapre it with his vin de pays de Mont Baudile, which will cost you about $13-14. One is a great wine and one is crap, and the those who go for the higher-priced wine are fools.

  15. John -- My official sources say that the following can legally be sold as Pinot Blanc: Pinot Blanc (including Klevner), Tokay-Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (vinified as a white wine) and Auxerrois. It appears, though, that you, as I, have been told of Chardonnays masquerading as Pinot Blanc in Alsace.

  16. I'm unable to confirm my recollection that at one time Chardonnay could be labelled Pinot Blanc in Alsace. However, the still Chardonnays, of which there are various, are, or until relatively recently were, technically illegal.

  17. Chardonnay is planted in Alsace. It can be included in Cremant d'Alsace (which is an AOC), the sparkling wine made there, as Sparticus points out. I believe that Chardonnay formerly could be labelled Pinot Blanc, but I will have to wait until I have access to my library to verify that.

  18. I can tell you that it is a negociant wine and that it is village-grade Morey-St-Denis.  I have not had the wine.


    I thought that Fredric Magnien had vineyard holdings in Morey St. Denis. I know that they buy wine but I thought they had some holdings there.

    I came across a bottle of the wine in question in a store on Saturday. It is indeed a negociant wine.

    Further research confirmed my recollection: Frederick Magnien is the negociant label, Michel Magnien is the estate label.

  19. dlc - North Berkeley is the west coast importer.

    Many people in Burgundy and elsewhere are experimenting with or outright following biodynamic practices but not publicizing it because they want the wines to be judged on an impartial basis.

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