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Checking In on Location-focused Social Media Apps

To say that social media applications are hot right now would be a gross understatement. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and (still) MySpace have hundreds of millions of devotees. In February alone, Facebook drew almost 119 million unique visitors who each spent, on average, nearly 6.5 hours on the site. This made them the #3 web brand for the month, behind Google and Yahoo. And compare those numbers to the #4 web brand, MSN/Windows Live/Bing. This Microsoft group had just 3% fewer unique visitors but their time on site was only one hour and forty minutes. So, with almost the same number of eyeballs, Facebook had roughly 9.4 billion more hours of use. That's billion with a "B." [For more Nielsen data on web usage, see this article at]

Using social media applets on smart phones has also taken off. The combination of a phone's mobility and its ability to determine location has spawned a new range of social media applications that make it easy for you to tell all of your friends not only what you're doing but where you are. The first of these apps I remember seeing was Loopt, but Gowalla and especially FourSquare seem to be the market leaders now. FourSquare alone claimed to have more than 500,000 users a week ago and it appears that they've added an additional 100,000 users in the past 10 days, in part due to SXSW check-in mania. Personally, I've found that it is an easy way to interact with my friends and that FourSquare check-ins generate comments.

Read more: Checking In on Location-focused Social Media Apps

Where Do Points Come From?

Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude, asked a question today in his friendly “Hey, what about this guys?” kind of way. The result has been, as intended, a storm of alternately amusing and enraged comments. Excellent!

I looked at chiming in myself, but found I wouldn’t be able to answer in few enough words for my response to be considered “comment” rather than “blog in response.” So, I’ve decided to blog in response here instead.

red_wine_liquid_cross-sectionThe question Joe asked was, “Are wine critics wasting points on a wine’s color?” He pointed out that James Suckling has said that he (James not Joe) allocates 15 points out of 100 total points to color. And he (Joe not James) thought, gee that’s an awful lot. I wonder if other people think that’s an awful lot? I (Fred not Joe) don’t think that it is too much.

First, feel free to debate the validity of the 100-points system in comments below. Really, go ahead. I won’t do that in this article though. The system exists and is popular with many people. Instead, let’s look at how points are allocated within the 100-point system and what, if anything, that means.

Points-based Rating Systems
There are different rating systems, even within the points world. Here are three:

  • Robert Parker: Every wine starts at 50 points. Color/appearance can be up to five additional points, aroma up to 15, flavor/finish 20 more and another 10 can go to “overall quality or potential for future evolution and improvement.” Given that Parker starts at 50, let’s double his appearance points to reflect the 100-points total and call them ten.
  •  Australian Wine Shows: They use a 20-point system with three for color, seven for nose and ten for palate. Oh, look! 100 points divided by 20 is five. And five times three points for color is 15! Aussie guys, don’t make everybody multiply. If you’re going to use points, go with 100. James Halliday does and Jeremy Oliver has made the switch too. [Speaking of Halliday, he doesn’t give out less than 75 points. Which just goes to show that Australian wine is better! Or it needs a boost.] 
  • InterVin (an international wine competition focused on wines available in Canada): Their breakdown of points is complex. It’s described by Andrew Sharp in his book, Winetaster’s Secrets. 16 points overall are given to appearance with 4 each going to surface, clarity/limpidity, depth/luminance and tint/hue. Nose gets 24 points, divided unequally into four categories. Tactile gets 12, eight for body and four for astringency. Taste gets 28, divided unequally among five categories. Finish gets 12 points, four for “aftertaste” and eight for “persistence.” A final eight points goes to “overall quality.”

So, in three prominent point scoring systems, color/appearance are given between 10 and 16 points. That’s reasonably consistent. Suckling isn’t alone.

But is that too much? Not really. First, as we’ve already established, the first 50 points or so in a 100-point score don’t count. They are given to every wine in order to make the 100-point scale work. Because nobody likes 50-point scales. So, for color, we’re really talking about seven or eight points, not 15.

Evaluating Appearance
Next, those seven or eight points are divided into at least three or four separate categories, whether the critics spell that out or not. Those categories are intended to indicate how well a wine was made, how it has been stored, what kind of wine it is and how old it is.

  • Surface - is the surface of the wine glassy or is it dull, filmy or iridescent. The latter three usually indicate problems in the wine.

  • Clarity - Is the wine crystal clear, pretty darn clear, hazy or cloudy? Again, for most styles of wine, hazy or cloudy usually mean the wine has issues. It could be an old wine with with a lot of sediment that’s been stirred up, but that’s not a consideration for brand new wines being reviewed by Suckling or Parker.

  • Luminance (aka saturation or intensity) - How dark is the wine. Can you read a newspaper through it? Or is it so dark that putting your glass in front of the sun causes an eclipse? Intensity of color has different meanings in white wines vs. red and from one varietal to the next. For example, an opaque Pinot Noir causes one to wonder what, possibly unnatural, measures were taken to get that darkness. Pale Cabernet Sauvignon suggests the wine mightn’t have spent much time on the skins and that it may therefore lack depth of flavor and tannins.

  • Color - In red wines, a purple hue indicates youth. A green tinge does the same in white wines. Garnet (or brick) coloring in a red indicates age or oxidation, as does browning in white wines.

To my mind, these are all perfectly reasonable criteria and each worth at least two points. The object is not to judge whether or not a wine is pretty, but rather to determine if it has been properly made. Appearance is a valid indicator for that.

Does the average wine consumer really care about how points are allocated within the total 100 available though? I think we all know the answer to that. Most people don’t care. They don’t even think about it. The 100-points system has been successful most consumers precisely because don’t want to (have to) know that. it provides a guide to quality with one number and hides all complexity. Of course that same simplicity is what drives many passionate wine people crazy.

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 Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Congratulations, Calistoga Vintners!

Congratulations, Calistoga Vintners! Today, January 7, 2010, the TTB ruling making Calistoga an officially-recognized AVA goes into effect. The ruling comes after years of hard work by the wineries of Calistoga, the Napa Valley Vintners Association and other Napa Valley officials, along with considerable political wrangling and lobbying.

Read more: Congratulations, Calistoga Vintners!

Large, Upcoming Wine Tasting Events

Here’s a quick overview of some of the big, upcoming wine tasting events. Aside from Pinot Days which is tomorrow, now is a good time to make your plans, get early bird tickets.

One of last year's Sonoma Wine Country Weekend was this winemaker dinner in a barrel room.

Pinot Days 2012

Pinot Days 2012 takes place June 16 (tomorrow) at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It is open to consumers from 2pm to 5pm. Trade, media and those with VIP tickets get in an hour early. This is a great chance to taste from among a very wide range of California and Oregon Pinot Noir. More than 200 producers are expected to pour.
Tickets and Information for Pinot Days

Romancing the Rhones — July 14 in San Francisco

This tasting is a showcase of the best-scoring wines from Affairs of the Vines’ multi-stage Rhone shootout. There will be all sorts of Rhone variety wines, both red and white, from around the United States. In this event, you’ll also be able to blind taste wines yourself and vote for your favorites. And you can buy the wines you like onsite.
Tickets and Information for Romancing the Rhones

West of the West Festival — August 3 - 5, 2012 in Occidental

West of the West highlights wines from the genuinely coastal portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA. The three-day event begins with winemaker dinners then moves on to seminars and flight tastings and extensive Grand Tastings, one of which involves pork!
Tickets and more information for the West of the West Festival

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend — August 31 - September 2, 2012 in Sonoma County

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is a multi-event, mult-venue celebration of wine and food from Sonoma County. There'll be dinners, lunches, tastings and the annual Harvest Wine Auction. Just one of it's events, Taste of Sonoma, is a full-day extravaganza itself. See the standalone description for that below. Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is a VISA Signature event, so special discounts for VISA Signature card holders are available.
Tickets and Information for Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Taste of Sonoma — September 1, 2012 at MacMurray Ranch, Healdsburg

MacMurray Ranch, one of northern Sonoma County’s most charming venues, is hosting the 33rd annual Taste of Sonoma. There are a number of individual events taking place there throughout the day. Many of them are ticketed separately and some are already sold out. Make your plans soon.

170 Sonoma wine producers will participate. There’s a Grand Tasting, but also wine talks, sommelier tasting “tours,” cooking competitions and more. And don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about MacMurray Ranch itself.
Tickets and information for Taste of Sonoma



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 Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of VISA Outreach. All rights reserved.

The Paso Robles AVA - Too Big to File

Tightly defined AVAs help both consumers and experts understand what to expect when opening a bottle of wine. You can categorize Carneros as moderately-cool climate and file the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi under rich, ripe Zinfandel. But the Paso Robles AVA is too big to file. It’s the largest appellation in California that doesn’t itself contain any smaller AVAs. At roughly 614,000 square acres, it’s more than half the size of Rhode Island.

Being a huge AVA doesn’t necessarily have an impact on wine quality, nor does it make individual wines less distinctive. But the size makes it harder for consumers to know what they are going to get when they buy a bottle from that AVA. This is especially true with Paso Robles because there are substantial differences in climate, soil, terrain, farming practices and vineyard size between its various districts.

Vineyard altitudes go from from 700 feet to 2,000. Average annual rainfall ranges from eight inches to 45. (25 inches is the lower limit for viable “dry farming.”) Proximity to the Pacific Ocean and it’s cooling influences runs from less than 10 miles to almost 40. There are 45 different soils series in the AVA. There deep soils and thin, flat vineyards with mechanized viticulture and steep slopes hand-tended by the owners themselves.


Yesterday I wrote about the Mount Veeder AVA of Napa Valley. Its wide array of red varietal wines are united and identifiable by a similar tannic structure. The present Paso Robles AVA works for differentiating its wines from those of many others, such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lodi, etc. However, in my view, it is too big for there to be a clear common thread between its wines, even for a single variety. That means that, unless the consumer knows the particular winery well, she won’t really know what to expect when opening a bottle of Paso Robles AVA wine.

The gamut of Paso Robles wines was brought home to me once again by yesterday’s Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting Tour in San Francisco. 29 producers were on hand, each pouring at least four wines. There were high-volume wineries and low, critics' darlings and mass consumer favorites. Most every part of the AVA was represented in some fashion.

The wines were all well-made and, when made as a varietal, representative of their grape given the style and vineyard locations. But there was no umbrella under which you could put most of the red wines or most of the white, nothing that would describe their joint character in a way that is both consistent and uniquely identifiable. Ripe fruit and soft tannins would apply to the majority of reds but would also describe red wines from much of California.

Looking deeper though, diving into sub-regions, it was easy to associate differences consistent with geography. The Syrah-based wines of L’Aventure, Alta Colina and Eberle come from very different areas, three points on a large triangle. The wines are all quite good and also distinct from each other. But there were clear similarities in Cabernet-based wines from Justin and Halter Ranch, which are located near each other.

There’s also an epic difference between very high-volume productions, largely made possible by warm, irrigated and expansive vineyards on the east side, and the low-production wines of small, dry-farmed vineyards in the Templeton Gap. The differences aren’t based on geography alone. Intended price point and audience influence viticultural and winemaking decisions. However, the sub-region does limit the range of viable price points. Some areas can’t profitably produce an $8 red. Others are incapable of producing a Syrah that can fetch $85.

The TTB has been reviewing a petition for subdivision of the Paso Robles AVA since 2007. It would create 11 distinct and logical sub-AVAs. Three years older than the next-oldest petition still pending, adoption may finally be near. Steve Lohr of J. Lohr winery has been one of the leaders in the fight for this proposal. Yesterday he said he expects approval will come late this year.

Will so many AVAs be confusing? I don’t think so. A conjunctive labeling rule will require the overall Paso Robles AVA be listed on all wine labels along with whichever sub-AVA that may apply. Napa Valley has such a rule. It means casual consumers will be no worse off than before. For enthusiasts, it will be much easier to “know” 11 AVAs than the defining characteristics of wines from 185+ different Paso wineries, not to mention producers based elsewhere that buy Paso fruit.

My focus yesterday was on examining differences and similarities between the various wines and on talking to producers, not on scoring or detailed notes. Nor did I taste every wine. Therefore, I’m not offering any tasting notes here. However, the following wines were highlights and I highly recommend them.

2011 Adelaida Cellars Chardonnay HMR Estate Vineyard Paso Robles AVA, $40

2010 Alta Colina GSM Paso Robles AVA, $38

2010 Alta Colina Syrah Toasted Slope Paso Robles AVA, $38

2011 Eberle Winery Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard Paso Robles AVA, $23

2009 Eberle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Paso Robles AVA, $34

2010 J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Hilltop Vineyard Paso Robles AVA, $35

2009 J. Lohr Cuvée POM Paso Robles AVA (Merlot-centric blend), $50

2010 Justin Justification Paso Robles AVA, $45

2010 Justin Isoceles Paso Robles AVA, $62

2010 L’Aventure Optimus Paso Robles AVA (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot), $45

2010 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc Paso Robles AVA, $40

2010 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Paso Robles AVA, $55

2008 Vina Robles Syrée Paso Robles AVA (Syrah, Petite Sirah), $39


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 Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.