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My Top Recommendations among White Wines from the Rutherford Dust Tasting

Yesterday was the Rutherford Dust Society’s “A Day in the Dust 2012” grand tasting. Nearly 40 Rutherford wineries gathered at Raymond Winery to give people from the media, restaurants and wine sellers an opportunity to taste new and upcoming releases. There were also a few treats from past vintages.

Though I managed to squeeze nearly three hours of tasting into a two-and-a-half hour event, I didn’t get to taste every wine. (Apologies to the host winery, I missed the opportunity to taste the Raymond wines.) I did record notes on 49 other wines though. The following were among the best whites wines I tasted and many offer excellent value too. I’ll cover reds in a subsequent article.

Rutherford Chardonnay

The 2010 Staglin Estate Chardonnay was by far my favorite Chardonnay of the event. It was also the only Chardonnay at the tasting, but was so good it may well have gotten top vote even in a crowded field. Yellow apple, cinnamon and other spices on the nose were matched on the palate which also brought crisp green apple. It’s a full-bodied yet fresh and pretty Chardonnay with a long finish. Very Highly Recommended.

Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc

There was more stylistic variation among the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc than the Cabernet Sauvignon. Some included Semillon and saw some barrel fermentation and/or aging. Others were 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Several were 100% stainless steel in order to maximize acidity and fresh fruit flavors. Yet some of the all-stainless wines were aged on lees. Flavor profiles range from very green flavors to riper fruit and gentle spice. The ripeness didn't reach peach or tropical levels though. Nor did I find any Sauvignon Blanc strongly influenced by new oak.

Sauvignon-Blanc-label_72The 2011 Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford is a refreshing wine with grapefruit and gooseberry on the nose and palate. The tart, juicy fruit is balanced by a lightly drying sensation on the tongue. At just $20 and 12.6% alcohol, Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal summer sipper. Highly Recommended

The 2011 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford is of a very different style. I found honey, yellow apple and white flowers in its soft and pretty nose. The palate has medium+ body with roundness, juiciness and texture striking a balance. The flavors include green apple, citrus pith and gooseberry. $17 and 13.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended

Yet another good value is the 2011 Rutherford Grove Sauvignon Blanc Pestoni Ranch Estate Rutherford. It showcases 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Rutherford Bench. It saw only stainless steel. However, more than half of the juice was aged sur lie in stainless steel barrels. Gentle gooseberry, lime pith and white flower aromatics are followed by green apple, grapefruit and mineral on the palate. There are mouthwatering acidity and lightly drying texture on the tongue. The finish is long. $18 and 13.3% alcohol. Recommended+

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Updated: Vertical Tasting: 2008 - 2011 Don and Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Update: In the original version of this article, I mentioned that I suspect the bottle of 2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir that I had reviewed was not a sound bottle. It was much more restrained than I expected and than some other tasters with their own bottles had noted. Don & Sons sent me a new bottle last week and it's much more in line with my expectations. I can happily recommend the wine now and have adjusted the review below.

Don and Sons recently held a vertical tasting, live via Twitter, of their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The interplay on Twitter was interesting and, no doubt, helped get the brand “out there.” However, the wines are good in their own right and deserve a look in article form.

All made by Greg Kitchens, the four wines are nevertheless very distinct from each other. As regional blends, there’s no specific vineyard character. (And since the Sonoma Coast AVA is approximately the size of Brazil1, there’s enough flexibility in vineyard sourcing to make even a specific regional signature difficult to read.) That said, the wines clearly show the influence of vintage. This particular four-year snapshot is especially interesting in that regard since it goes from one extreme to another with respect to growing-season weather.

don-and-sons

2008 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2008 was a dry year with heat that persisted well into September. That forced some wineries to pick early, sometimes resulting in unripe flavors or tannins. In cool places like the Petaluma Gap2, which provided most of this wine’s grapes, the temperatures were moderate though. That allowed for longer hang times and phenolic ripeness in step with the sugars. This is evident in the silky mouthfeel and ripe flavors of the Don & Sons Pinot Noir.

Now, nearly five years from harvest, the wine is also starting to show tertiary flavors from aging. The combination of fresh-faced fruit with the voice of experience are appealing. Still fully ruby in the glass, there’s a heady mix of aromas that includes cranberry, earthy red cherry, brown spice, dry cedar, fresh herb and caramel. It’s medium-bodied in the mouth with fine, powdery tannins and flavors of spice, baked red cherry, toasted oak, brown sugar and tangerine pith. The 2008 Don & Sons Pinot Noir is an easy-to-drink wine—with or without food— and has enough complexity to merit some focused sips. 100% Pinot Noir, 14.6% alcohol. At or near peak, drink now through 2015. Recommended

2009 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2009 challenged growers in a different way. Heavy rains came earlier than “usual,” right in the middle of harvest for some. Fortunately, Pinot Noir is early-ripening and—despite a very cool year in the Petaluma Gap—much of it was in tank before the skies opened. The result here is a fresher wine than the 2008 with brighter fruit and lower alcohol.

Aromas of pomegranate, fresh red cherries, fresh herb and spice dance gracefully, rather than rush, out of the glass. Acidity frames the flavors of red cherry, caramel, brown spice and oak. This 2009 Don & Sons Pinot Noir is feminine and nuanced with its greatest complexity a couple of years ahead, whereas the 2008 is masculine, easier to know and fully ready. 100% Pinot Noir, 13.9% alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Recommended+

2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
The weather doubled-down on trickiness in 2010. A super-cool spring meant a late start to the growing season. Unusually cool weather continued for much of the summer, leading many growers to pluck leaves from vines to give bunches more direct sun exposure. This backfired toward the end of August when an unexpected week of blistering heat burned unshielded grapes. Sorting is always important to making good wine and that was truer than ever in 2010. Unlike the two proceeding wines, this one consists mostly of fruit from Carneros where ripeness was easier to achieve without leaf-pulling.

The Don & Sons’ 2010 Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color with a medium+ intensity nose of earthy cherry, brown spice, sandalwood, black raspberry and sweet herb. In the mouth it's medium to medium+ bodied with moderate acidity and tannins. Flavors include dark cherries, raspberry, brown spice, dried tangerine peel, sandalwood and dry herb. 100% Pinot Noir, 13.9% alcohol. Recommended+.

2011 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Growers who hoped to catch a break after somewhat tough vintages in 2009 and 2010 were sorely disappointed. 2011 was very cool again but also damp. Grape varieties that rarely rot did. Those that often do were devastated. Yields were generally somewhat low as well. But, once again, the relatively easy to ripen Pinot Noir made out okay in many instances.

The 2011 Don & Sons, again a blend of Petaluma Gap and Carneros Pinot Noir, wears cool-climate on its sleeve. It’s blend of flavors and aromas remind me of wines from the Suacci Vineyard in a somewhat cool year (it’s one of the chilliest growing sites in the Sonoma Coast). That’s good to my personal taste and yielded alcohol of just 13.5%. It also means there may be less effusive, ripe fruit than many drinkers of California Pinot Noir are accustomed to. The nose shows a melange of fresh herb, including dill, plus tart red berries. The palate is especially fresh and juicy with flavors of earthy red berries and brown spice. A fun and lovely wine if you like the style. Try a glass before you buy a bottle. Alcohol 13.5%. Drink now through 2018. Recommended

It’s hard to find good California Pinot Noir for less than $30 these days. At $25 full retail, these Don & Sons Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir offer good value. And I’ve just noticed that the 2011 is currently on sale in the winery’s online store for $18.75. That makes it even easier to see what uber-cool climate Sonoma Coast Pinot is like.

About Don and Sons
Don and Sons is one of several labels owned by Don Sebastiani and his sons, Donny and August. The brands included Smoking Loon, The Crusher and Pepperwood Grove. The Sebastianis are one of the oldest wine-producing families in Sonoma. Their eponymous winery was the only one in Sonoma County to produce wine continually throughout Prohibition. The business grew massively and spawned various sub-brands and side projects. Ultimately the family sold the main Sebastiani Cellars brand to Bill Foley. Don’s father, August Sebastiani, was inducted into the Vintners’ Hall of Fame in 2011.

1 The Sonoma Coast AVA comprises 750 square miles and is the largest AVA in Sonoma County. It stretches from the northernmost extent of the county's coastline to the top of San Pablo Bay.

2 The Petaluma Gap is an area affected by notch in the coastal mountains that allows cold breezes to rush in off the ocean beginning in late afternoon. It also promotes cooling fog.

Interpreting my wine ratings

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

 

Tasted—5 Rhone Variety Wines from Clos Solene

I was in Paso Robles last weekend for the Cabs of Distinction events (more on that soon). There I met up with Guillaume Fabre, production manager at L’Aventure winery where he’s worked since arriving from France in 2004. As of 2007 he’s also been producing Rhone-varietal wines under his own label, Clos Solene. I stopped by for a tasting of his current releases on my way out of town.

I first tasted Clos Solene at a Rhone Rangers Paso Robles Chapter event several years ago. Guillaume poured just one wine then, a Roussanne, but it was gorgeous and easily one of the best wines that day. Subsequently I’ve tasted with him twice, both times in the barrel room at L’Aventure where he makes his wine. Recently, Clos Solene took a big step forward, opening a downtown Paso Robles tasting room with three other producers.

Paso Underground features the wines of Aaron (excellent Petite Sirah), Clos Solene, Edmond August (Rhone varieties from Paso’s west side) and Turtle Rock Vineyards (not to be confused with Turtle Rock Ridge of Ramona Valley). The room has just opened, so tastings are by appointment. The address is 1140 Pine Street but its dedicated entrance is actually through a gate on the back side of the block next to the party patio at Villa Creek restaurant.

Clos Solene uses only hand-picked westside Paso fruit, principally from the Russell Family Vineyard right next to the L'Aventure Vineyard in the Templeton Gap, a funnel for cool Pacific breezes. Clos Solene white wines include Saxum, Booker and James Berry grapes. The de-stemmed berries undergo a cold soak for most of the wines, red and white. Barrel fermentation is also a common thread and Fabre gets hands-on with that, vigorously rolling barrels several times a day to mix fruit and juice.

My tasting notes follow this photo of Guillaume Fabre pulling samples from his barrels in 2011.

guillaume-fabre-on-barrels
Photo: Fred Swan

2011 Clos Solene Essence de Roussanne, Paso Robles - $60
This winsome wine of 100% Roussanne from the Saxum and Booker Vineyards opens with pretty aromas of pear, stone fruit, white flowers and a squeeze of sweet citrus. The palate is nearly full-bodied but supple with flavors of nectarine, white flowers, sweet citrus and spice that glide effortlessly across the dance floor. The best Roussanne I've had in some time. 7 months in French oak, 20% new. 100 cases made. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended+

2012 Clos Solene La Rose, Paso Robles - $35
La Rose was made saignée-style from Russell Family Vineyard Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The fermentation was cool and the wine saw no oak. A pretty, light coral pink color and scents of strawberry and raspberry lead to the lithe palate of medium body with light, talc-like tannins and red berry flavors. Good length. 50 cases made. Drink now through 2014. Recommended+

2011 Clos Solene La Petite Solene, Paso Robles - $55
The 2011 La Petite Solene and 2011 Harmonie, poured sequentially, stand in marked contrast. La Petite Solene is 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache and spent 15 months in once- and twice-used French oak. The ruby red wine has a gorgeous, ebullient nose of blackberry, black cherry and that thick raspberry syrup you find inside some chocolates. Fine-grained tannins and acidity, both just north of medium, preside over delectably ripe black cherry and spice on a palate of medium-plus body. Satisfyingly long. 50 cases made. Drink now through 2018. If you decant, do it immediately before consumption.Highly Recommended+

2011 Clos Solene Harmonie, Paso Robles - $80
Like La Petite, the 2011 Clos Solene Harmonie fruit comes from the Russell Family Vineyard. This time, however, the blend is 41% Grenache, 27% Syrah and 22% Mourvedre with 15% of the barrels new. The result is a much more masculine wine. The nose, earth and blackberry, shows confidence but not the big smile of La Petite. The palate is again medium-plus in body and has just slightly less acidity but tannins that are a step heavier and create a lightly chalky texture. The tall, dark and handsome flavors include black cherry, blackberry, and tangy dark spice and will open up further if you serve them a plate of duck. 100 cases made. Drink now through 2020. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Clos Solene Sweet Clementine, Paso Robles - $60/375ml
I suspect Sweet Clementine could be habit-forming. It's a sweet, fortified wine made in the style of Banyuls (at least 50% late-harvest Grenache Noir, no Muscat, fortifying alcohol added during maceration). In this case, the wine is almost all Grenache with just 3% Syrah. It was barrel-fermented and aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. The nose and palate are full of lively, fresh red berries, cherry and brown spice. The considerable sweetness is checked by mouthwatering acidity and moderate, talc-like tannins. The wine is limber in the mouth, not at all syrupy or cloying. The classic pairing for this type of wine is a chocolate dessert and I can't argue with that. But it would be just as good with a savory-sweet dish like duck with cherry glaze or molé sauce. Or all by itself... 50 cases made. Drink now through 2016. Very Highly Recommended

Interpreting my wine ratings

 

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid adds off as personal recommendations or who getting samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews directly from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook 

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Tasting Current and Upcoming Releases of Petite Sirah

The cold barrel room at Concannon Vineyard was a welcome thing. Outside, where we lunched, it was 100°. The arbor, draped with leafy grapevines screened us from direct sunlight, but our cool wine still warmed quickly. Bald-headed gentlemen eyed my Panama hat with envy. Our vitamin D production spiked. And when it came time for the indoor tasting, we moved quickly, glasses in hand.

Inside, a happy horseshoe of tables greeted us. Full bottles of Petite Sirah sat open and waiting on black tablecloths. Spit cups arrived. Winemakers and proprietors stood by to pour and answer questions.

As usual, I didn’t get to all of the wines before the tasting closed. I particularly regret not having had a chance to try the wines of Mounts Family Winery of Dry Creek Valley. David Mounts gave a very interesting and detailed presentation that morning, covering both viticulture and winemaking for Petite Sirah.

Top Picks

I started with Aver Family Vineyards, avoiding a brief bottleneck at Aaron. They have a 8.25 acre estate vineyard in the Uvas Valley in southern Santa Clara Valley (southwest of Morgan Hill). Their focus is Rhone variety reds plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Kian Tavakoli, previously of Opus One and Clos du Val, makes their wine.

The 2008 Aver Family Blessings is an estate blend of 96% Petite Sirah and 4% Syrah aged in French oak. It’s dark ruby in color and offers aromas of blackberry, blueberry, violets and black pepper. The palate is nearly full-bodied and opens with briary blackberry and black pepper. A door of light-grained tannins closes to briefly dominate at mid-palate. Juicy fruit pushes its way back in for a tasty finish though. Highly Recommended
 

Two side-steps left took me back to Aaron of Paso Robles. Proprietor/winemaker Aaron Jackson makes just one thing: Petite Sirah. His motto for the winery is “Go Big or go home.” My taste of his wine suggests he may as well sell his house, because he’s not going home any time soon.

Opaque and ruby-black, the 2009 Aaron Petite Sirah Paso Robles captures the animal in Petite Sirah. The nose suggests dense black fruit doused briefly in tar, dredged through earth and warm exotic spice then wrapped in leather. The palate is full and the medium+ tannins ripe and light-grained. I tasted tart, briary blackberry, dark chocolate, and charred meat with a spice and black pepper coating. Highly Recommended
 

The Biale family has grown Zinfandel in Napa Valley for 75 years and Robert Biale Vineyards is one of the valley’s top producers of Zinfandel wine. They also make several Petite Sirah. That fruit comes principally from three vineyards, C.C. Ranch (Rutherford AVA), Thomann Station (St. Helena AVA) and Palisades (Calistoga AVA). Biale poured four Petite Sirah at this tasting, some not yet released. All of the wines impressed.

2009 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah Thomann Station is a well-balanced wine with medium+ body and chalky tannins. Aromas include white pepper and blackberry. The palate is full of creamy fruit. Highly Recommended

2009 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah Palisades Vineyard smells of creamy blackberry and black cherry. Its nearly full-bodied in the mouth with medium+ tannins, both powdery and chalky. Creamy blackberry and black cherry flavors are complemented by dark chocolate and toasty oak. Highly Recommended

2010 Robert Biale Vineyards "Royal Punishers" Napa Valley Petite Sirah is a “best lot blend” from several Petite Sirah sites. The name “Royal Punishers” is an anagram of Syrah and Peloursin, those varieties now thought to be the proud parents of Petite Sirah. The wine is dark ruby-purple in color with aromas of black pepper, carob and blackberry. The body and tannins are medium+ with a lightly chalky mouthfeel. Flavors are consistent with the nose though fruit is subordinate to spice at the moment. Highly Recommended
 

Having overseen the heyday of several Napa Valley wineries and earned a 100-points score for the 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Nils Venge is well-known for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. But, back in the early 1960’s before he headed to Napa, Nils spent time in the winery and Petite Sirah vineyards of Concannon in Livermore. He still has a passion for Petite and it shows in his wines, including that from Envy in which he is a partner.

The 2009 Envy Petite Sirah is rich and silky with a nose of creamy black fruit, Chinese five-spice and oak. Those flavors are joined on the palate by delicious blackberry syrup. Highly Recommended

Other Recommended Petite Sirah

2010 Artezin Petite Sirah Mendocino County Garzini Ranch
Dark ruby-purple with warm blackberry pie on the nose. Medium+ body and matching tannins with lightly chalky texture. Flavors of coffee and dark chocolate precede blackberry. 14.2% alcohol. Recommended+

2010 Artezin Petite Sirah Mendocino County
Soft blackberry with vanilla and spice on the nose. Medium+ body with heavier light-grained tannins and flavors of coffee, blackberry, spice and black pepper. Recommended

2009 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father, Like Son”
A blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah. It’s a full-bodied wine with creamy dark fruit balanced by chalky tannins. Earth and chocolate round out the flavors. Recommended+

2009 Bogle Petite Sirah California
An $11 wine that delivers varietal typicity in a “drink me now” style with just 13.5% alcohol. Flavors include dark chocolate, earthy spice, vanilla, oak. coffee and, of course, briary black fruit. Recommended

2009 Clayhouse Estate Old Vine Petite Sirah 
From the own-rooted Block 43 in Paso Robles’ Red Cedar Vineyard. You’ll find flavors of blackberry, black pepper and spice with medium+ body and firm, chalky tannins. Recommended

2008 Concannon Vineyard "Captain Joe's" Petite Sirah
Opaque ruby in color with toasty oak and caramel on the nose. The palate has medium+ body and tannins with flavors of black cherry, oak, dark chocolate and tobacco. Recommended 

2008 Concannon Vineyard "Nina's Cuvee" Petite Sirah Livermore Valley 
Inky ruby-black in the glass with aromas of buttered toast and dark fruit. Full-bodied with chalky tannins, chocolate and blackberry. Recommended 

Don and Sons 2011 The Crusher Petite Sirah
Another excellent value and don’t let the 2011 vintage scare you. The fruit is ripe and winemaker Greg Kitchens blended in several other varieties to compensate for the lack of extended oak aging. There is Merlot (13%) and splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tinta Cao, Souzao and Touriga Nacional. The result is a very attractive early drinker with fresh aromas of blackberry pie and black pepper. The palate holds five-spice, blackberry, mincemeat and a chiffonade of mint. Recommended

2010 David Coffaro Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah wines rarely offer noteworthy acidity but this wine is a tasty and especially food-friendly exception. It’s nose is a dusty chocolate bar spiked with dark fruit and white pepper. The palate is medium+ in body with zesty purple fruit, dark spice and a core of Nehi Grape. Recommended

2011 David Coffaro Petite Sirah
A more traditional representation of the variety with flavors of blackberry, charred wood, oak and spice. Recommended

2008 Diamond Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah Lake County
Spicy blackberry, canned plum and black chocolate are featured in this full-bodied wine with very firm, drying tannins with lightly chalky texture. Give it a couple of years in bottle or drink it now with seared ribeye cap. Recommended+

2009 Michael David Winery “Earthquake” Petite Sirah
A lush, creamy mouthful of jammy blackberry, chocolate and spice. Big, bold and ready to drink. 15.5% alcohol. Recommended+

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Free Samples, Blah, Blah, Blog

There seems to be another brouhaha brewing about whether or not wine writers should accept free wine samples and what effect said samples have on the subsequent reviews. Some argue that receiving free samples biases the reviewer. In an article entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Trust Wine Writers,” Winethropology states “that anyone reviewing something they did not shell out their hard-earned shekels for is going to be less demanding and more generous.” Tom Johnson of Louisville Juice, the site that brought this topic to my eyes today, does not accept free wines for review. Still, he is less concerned about bottles of wine here and there than the whole wine country lifestyle issue where one does lunches, visits wineries, gets to know proprietors, etc. That is prudent and a more valid concern. He also contributed a lot of interesting points about the world of political reportage about which he knows a great deal.

Clearly, a reviewer of any product who is in some way biased may not write an even-handed review. Whether this bias is due to a free sample or because the winemaker’s wife is the reviewers’ childrens’ math teacher, writing a review which is not genuine is a bad thing. That is why I, and most responsible reviewers of wine, do their evaluations based on blind tastings. You cannot be biased if you don’t know which wine you’re tasting.

Those reviewers who think they are unbiased because they paid for their samples are kidding themselves. They are biased by knowing the price point of the wine, seeing the label on the bottle, having experienced the wine in the past or having read someone else’s review. And, except for a small handful of people, reviewing wines is not a well-paying gig. Very few reviewers could afford to buy the number of bottles necessary to put together blind flights of six wines on a regular basis so as to provide a usefully large compendium of reviews for their readers.

Frankly, I don’t understand why this issue keeps coming up for wine. Aside from Consumer Reports, very few reviewers of products pay for all of the items they review. Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael didn’t pay for all the movies they saw. Computer magazines typically receive their samples from manufacturers for free. Video games and CDs are sent to reviewers by the pallet. Why are wine writers more corruptible than anyone else?

I would argue that the careful wine writers’ reviews might be less biased. You can’t review a CD without figuring out who the artist is. You can’t review a car without seeing the car. But I can have someone pour five wines in a glass while I’m out of the room and then come in, taste them, write notes and score them without knowing whose wines they are.

Part of this new uprising seems to have been spurred by Winethropology having asked some questions of wine writers at a trade event. The first question was “Which of these wines do you like?” The second was “Which of these wines would you spend your own money on?” Winethropology reports that the second question got some dirty looks and uncomfortable silences. The article implies this is because writers say good things about wines just because they got them for free – or because they want to continue getting them for free.

On the contrary, I believe that the questions caused discomfort because they were personal questions and did not call on the reviewers to act as reviewers. A reviewer puts aside “what they like.” Their job is to provide an unbiased evaluation of the quality of a wine. Is it well made? What are it’s aromas, flavors and texture? Is it representative of it’s region and constituent grapes?

You don’t ask the sommelier to find you a wine he likes. You want him to characterize wines and guide you in finding something you will like. The same is true for reviewers. Furthermore, if a reviewer answers the question, he is then inviting future suggestions of bias. “Of course he gave that wine a high score, he likes wines that such and such.”

The question of what the reviewer would pay for is also inappropriate. Had the question been, “which wines here present especially good values?,” then there might have been some quick and useful answers. On the other hand, asking what they would buy is essentially asking “how much money do you make?”

The whole discussion at Winethropology may have been an exercise in getting people exercised since the writer admitted early in the article that they themselves receive about 60% of their wine samples for free. I do agree with their assertion that “casual bloggers are undervalued.” However, I don’t think that value lies in them being less biased because they paid for their wine. I think it’s because of the unique and refreshing perspectives they may offer, the energy of their blogs,  and the personal experiences they share.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.