Necessary and sufficient WINE conditions

THE J Wilkes.jpgLets’ get something straight. The idea that the quality of a wine increases in lock step with its price is specious. It should be obvious to readers of this blog that there are plenty of good to very good to downright ridiculously good wines that cost less than $20. We cover a few (of course) on this post. However, the suggestion that the cost of a bottle of wine is a necessary and sufficient condition denoting quality is…..what is the word…..S-T-O-O-P-I-D.
Better criteria include region, i.e., where the grapes are grown; grower, who is the farmer and what are his preferences in wine growing practices; winemaker, what is his portfolio; and finally price, are we being asked to pay for advertising, vanity and a private jet. And if you can’t dig the detail then you can take the shortcut and simply buy the importer.
[ed moment: Slate magazine’s wine editor Michael Steinberger posted a recent article on this very same idea of “wine shopping shorthand” first proposed in tBoW in Oct 07 and Jan 08.]
Robert Mondavi was the greatest wine salesman ever. He created the “wine lifestyle” market which prompted a steady rise in prices without regard to quality or the other criteria listed above. Enter the new frugality. And new criteria for gearing down without losing quality and pleasure, courtesy of tBoW.
vinsobresB.jpg2006 Vinsobres Domaine Jaume “Altitude 420” $13: Purchased at K&L wines in Hollywood. Classic Rhone blend that tBoW loves; 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 30 year old vines. Gunflint nose (some would say pencil lead), blueberry flavors. Lots of spine (or grip if you are manual). The point is it has backbone, strength, goes past front palate. Typical pepper. Terrific wine. Outstanding value. 13.5%
donapaula malbec 2007B.jpg2007 Do√±a Paula Estate Malbec $18: tBoW took the wine guy’s word at the local Whole Foods and bought this bottle. The kid was on a roll after touting tBoW on the successful Nanni family of wines. Of course, those U10 wines make this look like high end juice. If I was buying wedding wine I would go with the Nanni Tannat for the red and the Nanni Torrontes for the white. But, if I was going to a summer BBQ (plenty of those coming up) with folks I did not know I would bring the Do√±a Paula. If it was in arm’s reach. Here is what you get. Caramelo (not quite Carmelo Anthony), cherry flavors, classic Mendoza Malbec. A winner among the lumpen proletariat. 14%
jwilkes2002QPN.jpg2002 J Wilkes Pinot Noir Block Q Santa Barbara County $34 (we got a holiday deal): The expanded tBoW tasting team visited Santa Rita Hills in 2004 over Turkey Day. Jeff Wilkes offered to meet us at a Los Olivos tasting room where he poured and chatted for an hour. He told us his story how he went from marketer (18 years!!) for the 800 acre Bien Nacido vineyard to becoming a winemaker. It happens. Makes you wonder if he figured this ain’t so tough and I know where are the best plots in the vineyard anyway so why not just buy the juice and put out my own label. We tasted his Pinot Gris and several of his Pinot Noir “block” wines. Intensity on the nose with citric scents. Not quite Pinot. Flavors are equally intense. Focused. Brambleberry and blackberry up front and parsley on the finish. The wine is exotic, delightful, intriguing and delicious. After 7 years it is showing beautifully. Bag it we are taking it home. Nice job J. Wilkes. Note the production was tiny at 215 cases. Worth searching out. Pricier now. 14%
bertsimon1998K.jpg1998 Bert Simon Weingut Herrenberg Serrig W√ºrtzberg Riesling Kabinett $18: Picked this up at Palate after sommelier Steve Goldun poured it with our crab salad. Impressive. How many wines can work with any salad? tBoW has a weakness for the Mosel region. Even though this particular wine is from the Saar tributary, it is still a Mosel. German Rieslings from the Mosel are arguably the greatest wines in the world. The statement seems more than a bissel silly since how can anything be the best in the world? I realize the argument is fun to have…the best car, the best beach, the best Cabernet wine. If you said Mosel produces the best Rieslings in the world tBoW would enthusiastically explore the point. This wine is a perfect reason why. A ten year old Kabinett from a lower profile producer (pronounced See-moan as in Nina) that shows spectacularly. While German Rieslings are recognized as wines that can age beautifully – improving with every decade especially in the case of Auslese from the best vintages – Kabinett wines are for earliest consumption. They go 5 not 10 years. But this one has and it is special. The nose is dried flowers. There is a ferric quality that recalls rust. The color is somewhat rusty and perhaps the flavors are so suggestive they conjure unexpected memories. The slight petrol nose one associates with Saar wines (see Zilliken) is there although muted. The wine is perfectly balanced. At its peak right now. Somewhere between Washington and carb apples. Outstanding. 8.25%
Here are a couple of sites to brush on German Riesling wines. This quick and dirty overview is on the Wine Doctor’s blog. Rudi Weist, the importer of this bottle, has many features on his website including this recondite slideshow. And finally, a blog that discusses Bert Simon and this wine (among others). If you read one make it this one.
WEEKEND UPDATE ON UPCOMING TOPANGA CANYON ART STUDIOS TOUR: tBoW travels through Topanga Canyon often. Once a year the Topanga cooperative art gallery hosts a tour of local artists who live in the canyon. This is hands-down the best one day summer activity for people who want to know more about the venerable, charming and mysterious canyon. If you want to see how and where Topanga artists live then you must buy a ticket at the gallery and spend Saturday and/or Sunday June 13 & 14 driving around Topanga. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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