CORKZILLA Co-founder Ben Heskett is at it again, using the rarified pages of the 'Zilla to promote a gig. Heskett uses a portion of his copious free time to play percussion and sing a bit in a blues-infused band called Science Project. The band is playing tomorrow, Oct. 28, at 8 PM as part of a benefit for HandsOn Bay Area at Thee Parkside in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco. Hope you can make it - It should be a fun night. There's even a raffle item that's wine-related!
By Ben Heskett
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- It is a rare treat when one of Argentina’s venerable Malbec producers chooses to share its wines in your city. Such was the case on a beautiful late summer day at a recent "Achaval-Ferrer Estates tasting at the Piperade restaurant here. The winery has done much to expand the view of Malbec in the world at large, and it was a unique opportunity to hear from the co-founder, Santiago Achaval.
As the seminal book on Argentinian wine Vino Argentino by Laura Catena says: “Achaval-Ferrer has done much to promote the distinctive terroirs of Argentine Malbec.” This was never more evident than in the interesting vineyard designate Malbecs at the tasting – the Finca Bella Vista 2012 and a flight of Finca Altamira vintages from 2012, 2009, 2006 and 2000.
The wines express the focus of the winery – low yields, single vineyards, and old vines, working in concert to deliver a unique approach to Argentinian Malbec. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the older vintages that provided the most character, depth and silky Malbec experience – the 2006 and 2000 vintages of the Finca Altamira shined with dark fruit notes and a long, luxurious finish.
Santiago Achaval gave a compelling narrative of his winery, its history and where he thinks the Mendoza region of Argentina may go in the future. This last topic was interesting – Achaval hopes to see more Malbec from interesting places, driven by a single-vineyard approach, and he also believes white Rhone varietals will work in the region.
Achaval (pictured at left) and fellow winemaker Roberto Cipresso are committed to developing his wines without a lot of intervention, letting the particular vineyards – Finca Altamira, Finca Bella Vista, and Finca Mirador – speak for themselves. This needs to be underscored - This is a fairly unique approach in Argentina, and a philosophy that is certain to develop further in the region.
Achaval Ferrer also produces a Malbec-driven blend called Quimera as well as a Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon using the general appellation designation Mendoza.
Separately, for those podcast enthusiasts, Grape Radio recently posted a good primer and discussion about Argentinian wines and Malbec specifically. You can listen the episode here.
Editor's note: CORKZILLA welcomes back occasional columnist and dear friend Jim Louderback for another in his series on wine-related gadgets. He submitted two columns for us in 2011 (which can be found here and here), took some time off from noodling with the latest in wine gizmos, and now he's back for an update. Enjoy!
By Jim Louderback
A few years ago I wrote a story for CORKZILLA about my experiences with devices, gasses and other gewgaws that purported to preserve an open bottle of wine so you could drink it the next day, or even the next week.
I ended up deciding that a two pronged system – using both a barrier and an inert gas – was ideal. Mysystem of choice used both the Wine Shield and a canister of nitrogen and other inert gases from Private Preserve. But times change, devices change, and my preferred method of preserving wine has changed as well.
I have not yet laid out the $300 plus for the Coravin, an innovative device that uses a needle to penetrate the cork of a valued bottle – sucking up the wine and replacing it with argon gas. The device reportedly worked great – until a few customers reported that the device caused their wine bottles to explode.
According to one winebar owner, the explosions were caused by users continuing to pump argon into their bottles far beyond what’s necessary. The additional gas ultimately stressed the bottles out, causing them to burst. That same owner still uses and loves his Coravin, but he’s ensured that his bartenders are well versed in how the system works. The company has come up with a fix – essentially a neoprene sleeve for the wine being pumped, which seems to work fine.
Still, $300 for a wine preservation system that still requires you to buy canisters of argon gas seems like a lot to spend. But I was intrigued by the concept of argon – a truly inert gas that sinks, rather than rises.
So a few months ago I was excited to discover VineyardFresh – a new consumer-grade canister of gas, packaged much like Private Preserve, which claimed to be better because it used 100% argon. So I bought two canisters and gave it a whirl.
Unfortunately one of the two canisters I purchased was nearly empty. But the company’s customer support was great – and they quickly mailed me a new one free of charge.
Much to my surprise – as I’ve seen so many "snake oil" contraptions sold as wine preservers – VineyardFresh worked great. It quickly added 3-4 days of life to most bottles I tried it on, when used in conjunction with the Wine Shield. I even started using it on its own – and the results were similar.
From my tests, Wine Shield and Private Preserve together can give you 1-3 days of life for an open bottle, particularly if you close it up pretty quickly after opening. But VineyardFresh does even better. A VineyardFresh / Wine Shield combination gave me routinely 2-3 days of fresh, just opened wine taste, and extended my own drinkability range to five and sometimes six days. It seems to offer 3-4 days of additional freshness even without the Wine Shield.
My recommendations: if you’re looking to preserve a bottle for a day or two, pick up some VineyardFresh and use it without reservations. For a more expensive bottle, or to add another few days, combine it with a Wine Shield. But if you’ve been using Private Preserve – which does work – you’re better off replacing it with VineyardFresh. It is simply delivers better results.
Sooner or later I’ll get my hands on a Coravin and will do some blind testing. Until then, VineyardFresh is the best solution I've found to date.
Jim Louderback's bio
Jim Louderback is a veteran technologist and media executive, lover of great wines, and follower of great bands and music. You may bump into him at various music venues in the Bay Area and beyond. He's a big fan of everything from Pinot Noir to Cabernets and Syrah, but unaccountably can't stomach Zinfandel. On the white side he's happiest with Viognier or a Caymus Vineyards Conundrum, can't stand acidic Sauvignon Blancs, but has been known to wax poetic on Rose. Go figure. Jim lives in Pacifica, CA, with his wife and son. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The New Paso Robles AVA Jigsaw Puzzle: The Paso Robles wine region in California has gotten its wish – the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) regulation that divides much of the area into 11 distinct districts, effective in November of this year. The TTB ruling is seven years in the making and is intended to better represent the diversity of different grape-growing districts in the Paso Robles region, according to this report.
California Winery Volunteer Buzz Kill: News of fines for the Castro Valley, Calif.-based Westover Winery due to use of volunteers during the grape harvest have shook the wine industry and produced a lot of visceral reaction as a result. The Westover Winery will close as a result of the fines, according to this report. Alder Yarrow tackles this ridiculous situation in a well-said piece on his Vinography blog.
Declines in Global Grape Production This Year: Wine grape production will decline in 2014 across the board, with the likely exception of France, according to a new report on global production by Rabobank, as reported in Harpers Wine and Spirit. Total decline is expected to be 4 percent, according to the report.
Napa and Sonoma Harvest Update: Napa Valley grapes are 95 percent picked, according to this Napa Valley Register report, and reports indicate Northern California has largely dodged drought worries this year, according to another report. Growers in Napa and Sonoma counties in California weighed in on the harvest here earlier this month.
Costco Weighs In: An influential executive at the box store giant Costco discussed the state of the wine industry at the retail level with the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. There are some pretty interesting insights here. Interestingly for this Rose lover, those wines “performed well” this year, according to the article.
Napa Valley residents may still be shaken by the Aug. 24th earthquake that seriously damaged parts of the California city of Napa, but - as evidenced by a four-day Napa Valley Rocks! festival of food, wine and music this past weekend - they remain unbowed. The Napa Valley Register has a great write-up on the benefit concert that took place this past weekend, featuring Michael Franti and Spearhead as well as Afrolicious. The benefit concert raised more than $60,000 for earthquake relief for local residents impacted by the incident, according to the report. For those unable to make the weekend's festivities but are wanting to get involved, you can donate directly to the Napa Valley Community Foundation here.
Editor's note: CORKZILLA is honored to announce the addition of 2014 Wine Blog Awards nominee Christopher Watkins to the site as an occasional columnist. We're excited to have him on board, since he shares our enthusiasm for the intersection of music and wine and is a terrific writing talent to boot. We hope you enjoy his contributions!
By Christopher Watkins
It is my considered opinion that with the onset of "hot" being deployed as a wine descriptor (in reference to higher-alcohol wines), we lost one of our better metaphors for understanding the rather more intangibly emotional and aesthetic aspects of what wine is, does, and means.
It is probably not much of an exaggeration to say that with the emerging dominance of Robert Parker Jr.'s Glossary of Wine Terms in his books, “winespeak” as we knew it was fairly changed forever, and quite possibly much of the rest of contemporarily colloquial language as well. Green would never mean green again, the world became all too familiar with Jammy, Flabby, and Unctuous, and suddenly Barnyard no longer meant …well, Barnyard.
For better or worse, winespeak was here to stay, and with it the changed usages it beget.
Now, I don't mind a bit of language codification, and semantic standardization can both eliminate a great deal of confusion, and enhance shared understanding. What I do mind, however, is linguistic theft that diminishes rather than increases our ability to render the intangible tangible.
Hot as style, feeling, vibe, character, quality, is a magically open-ended term that is somehow still eminently and intimately understandable. When something is hot, it can mean so much, and yet we all know what it means. Thus, it is an entity of expansion; an expansive term that both broadens and clarifies understanding. By doing so, it does what language does best, it builds bridges, makes connections, universalizes the singular, and brings the disparate to a shared table.
Hot as reference to a certain alcohol level, by comparison, is a closed term; it is small, specific, and limited. It tells us one thing, and one thing only. It is at best a pedestrian use of two-dimensional language; it is, at worst, a waste of poetry.
In my vernacular cosmology, Hot and Cold are styles, feelings, moods, best encapsulated and enacted by the alpha and omega of jazz trumpet: Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis (images courtesy of Wikipedia).
And all the world between.
You taste wine. You do. And when you taste it, you know something. You do. You know it intuitively, you know it viscerally, you know it sensually. You know whether the wine is hot or cool, because those words and terms mean something to you. You may not know they mean something to you, but they do. And you know this. You do.
Louis Armstrong's Hot 5s and Hot 7s recordings are rightfully considered canonical contributions to world culture, and they are indeed "hot." Hot is up, hot is lively, hot is exuberant. Hot is provocative and playful, devil-may-care and impassioned. Hot is free, loose, ribald, alive. Hot is the sound of New Orleans. Hot is the rhythm of pleasure. Hot is spirit made flesh.
There are wines that are just this kind of hot. And that's a good thing. Not a bad thing. It's a good thing. You've had them. In restaurants and cafes, on porches and on beaches, you've had them. With Steak au Poivre. With Rosemary Almonds. With grilled mushrooms. Off someone else's tongue in broad daylight. You've had them. With friends and lovers, you've had them. You've had them at dinner, and at midnight. The wine was hot, you were hot, the night was hot. You and the night and the heat. You've had a hot wine. And it was hot. You danced like a motherf*&%er. And it was fantastic.
So stand up and say it! Say, I know hot when I hear it, I know hot when I taste it. I have soul, I have The Jazz, and tonight, I want it hot. Say, I want Jazz Lips. And mean it.
The Birth of the Cool was exactly that. Cool.
And you know a cool wine, and you know what to do when one enters the room. You get all feline around it. You look away when it looks at you, you stare at its hips as it walks away. Your coy intertwines with its coy, and coiled, you begin to move. This is nocturnal wine. This is quiet wine. This is hush, baby. This is, I want to hear the sounds of your eyelashes on my cheek. These are indeed Moon Dreams by which to Move.
The Birth of the Cool sessions took all the sophisticated bombast of the big band, and streamlined it into a lithe mammalian stealth. All the contrapuntal harmonic dexterity and muscular roar of a complex and behemoth machine --the orchestra-- woven into a taut and sophisticated tapestry that spoke swingingly, and carried a mute.
The Birth of the Cool sessions were harmony of more than a musical kind; they were Black and White, European and American, Eastern and Western; a subtle zen-swing soul in smoke and glasses.
When you find this wine, and you feel this way, you call it Cool. And you are Cool. And it's Cool.
And here is Robert Parker Jr.'s definition of "Hot" in his Glossary of Wine Terms:
"... hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed."
Listen. When it comes right down to it, Satchmo said this:
"Hot can be cool & cool can be hot & each can be both. But hot or cool man, Jazz is Jazz."
Now, sub in "Wine" for "Jazz," and that is really the point. Wine is Wine, and no dictionary is ever going to define it.
And that's cool with me.
Christopher Watkins Bio
Christopher Watkins has been writing professionally for over two decades. He is a recognized veteran blogging and social media voice courtesy of his award-winning work in the wine industry and a published author of poetry, with a debut volume released and additional poems appearing in multiple literary journals. Watkins is also a Gold Record recipient for his lyrics and music.
He is also a social media manager for a marketing firm, contributing social copy, blog posts, thought leadership, and more, as well as a contributing writer and freelancer for numerous blogs, journals, and other publications.
Watkins’ writing has afforded him and his wife (a visual artist) the opportunity to travel widely, and they have lived and worked in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Denver, as well as a tiny fishing village in the rural west of Ireland. They currently live in Santa Cruz, California with their daughter.
The 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara is kicking off this evening with registration and a reception - A great time to catch up with a few folks and make some new friends. Asa a result of the rapid-fire nature of the conference, the best way to follow the action is our @corkzillasf handle on Twitter and our Instagram account of the same name. If we get a chance, we'll tap out a few words as the conference unfolds, but it is a lot to take in at one time. Keep it tuned to the 'Zilla for all the updates and a wrap up of the highlights.
Renowned wine publication Wine Spectator will make a $3 million gift to Sonoma State University in California to help build a new home for the institution’s Wine Business Institute. The donation will be made through the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
“The potential benefits to the wine industry are enormous,” said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator magazine, in a press release announcing the gift. “We are pleased to be able to help the university and their students achieve their goals.”
As CORKZILLA readers know, the roots of this endeavor dates to the campus of Sonoma State and we couldn’t be happier for the university as well as Ray Johnson, the director of the institute. A mockup of the proposed new building, to be built on the Sonoma State campus can be found above (photo courtesy of Sonoma State University).
By Ben Heskett
I sat down with a dear friend recently to check out a new Pinot Noir entrant from the Willamette Valley in
Oregon. It’s the Elizabeth Chambers Cellar 2011 Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir, a well-balanced, slightly restrained blend that delivers if you’re looking for a good weekday wine to pair with a meal.
Elizabeth Chambers is a new entrant among Willamette Valley Pinot Noir producers, but the winemakers have a long history in the area. The company says it will initially produce 3,500 cases of wine, comprised in part of the aforementioned Winemaker’s Cuvee, and two announced single vineyard offerings from Shea vineyard and Freedom Hill vineyard.
Grapes for the blend are sourced predominantly from the Freedom Hill and Lazy River vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
My friend Nate Belden, a Sonoma County grape-grower, and myself initially were on the fence about this wine, but as it opened up it delivered a delicious mix of flavors, from plum and cherry to a hint of sweetness. The wine was aged 10 months in what the winery calls “predominantly used oak.”
This wine sample was provided by Gregory White, a marketing and public relations company, but our opinions on the juice remain our very own.
But don’t take our word for it, others have also weighed in on this new Willamette Valley Pinot Noir producer:
- The Pull That Cork wine blog offers some good background on the winemakers at Elizabeth Chambers and some good suggestions on how and when to drink it.
- The wine gets four stars from an Examiner.com critic, who claims he’s “wanting more” after drinking it.
- The Amateur Gastronomer blog is also a fan, checking in from Georgia.
- Jeff Solomon of the Stay Rad wine blog also weighs in with this video tasting posted below:
If you were like CORKZILLA and waited too long to register for the ever-too-popular In Pursuit of Balance wine tasting event in San Francisco earlier this month, you won't be able to relive the ambiance but you can relive the seminars. They were posted online earlier this week. Enjoy!