Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Wine Critics, Wine Ratings... Should we care?

So let’s talk about Wine Ratings and Critics, and most importantly should you care about them or not? 

Because there’s a sea of wine out there, we definitely need wine ratings, it’s the only way for any Wino to avoid drinking way too much plonk that it is sold. 
I don’t want to be rude to any producer in particular, but let’s face it, as Monsieur Émile Peynaud said “We drink the wine we deserve”, meaning that if we keep buying plonk, we are keeping those producers in business, and we as consumers should give our hard earned money to those that make the wines we like to drink. 

Now, even for wine writers/critics is hard to keep up, that is why they specialize in regions/appellations, some do only Italian wines, others Spanish, some like to try them all, but I don’t think there will be enough time to try all.... So yes, it’s good to follow the experts’ opinions, especially if when we taste the wines they recommend, we end up liking them. Remember tasting is subjective, and things I like, you may not like. 

A few years back when I was working in Public Relations, one of my jobs was to send wines to the Press. I used to send them the new vintages with their information and once every month I also sent sample mailings. My former boss and me used to select wines to promote and chose a topic, like wines for the holidays, wines for the summer, wines for mother’s day, and so I wrote a “pitch letter” to motivate the press to write about the brands we had had selected earlier. The other part of job was to follow the press on twitter, read blogs, articles, magazines,newspapers etc  and gather all the good news, to pass it to the sales force, and hopefully sell more wine. Wine ratings were also uploaded to my former employer's website.

Of course not all the press was important, but there were a few that no producer can live without, since they can make or break a brand. So here the most important, I'm sure you will see them in the store or in your favorite store's website:

Robert Parker, he is the first one I will talk about because he is by far the most influential wine critic in the world, yes his influence goes beyond the US. These days he doesn’t taste as much for his newsletter but teaches very fancy wine classes around the world, especially in China and Japan.  He has people tasting for him, still a Parker review is super important.  His newsletter “The Wine Advocate” that is also available online, comes out every two months, it will cost you around $99 for full access. 

Wine Spectator, one of my favorites, I must confess I subscribe to the magazine and the online version, that will cost you about $60 each, the magazine is also available in digital format via Zinio, Itunes and Google Play. It’s a great source not only of ratings but also winery and winemaker profiles, and a lot of travel information, if you like me, enjoy visiting wineries during your vacation. I also like to play the what am I tasting game? You read a tasting note and need to guess the grape, region and vintage of the wine (it’s easy, because they give you the options in a multiple choice format).

Vinous.com, this is the website of Antonio Galloni (he previously used to work with Robert Parker) but also features Stephen Tanzer who is also a very serious wine critic previously owner of the International Wine Cellar.  By the way, Antonio also rehired other colleagues that used to be with Robert Parker before but are no longer. Subscription’s here start at $7.99 per month, the full subscription $140.

Eric Asimov’s weekly column in the New York Times, it comes every Wednesday and is free the day of. He is an excellent source of new gems… meaning wines that are far from traditional and is always looking for new things.

The Wine Enthusiast Magazine, this magazine comes out monthly and it will cost you about $30 per year, it's also available in digital format. Here, you will find scores, and also information about wineries, travel and food. Some of this info is available for free at their website.

There are few blogs out there that have become important in the last few years or so, one of them is the blog of James Suckling, he used to be with the Wine Spectator. Access to his reviews will cost you about $145 per year. He tastes everything. I don’t subscribe to this one, but have found his scores listed in many wine stores websites.

Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, I love Jancis Robinson, she is based in the UK, I have several of her books including the Oxford Wine Companion (in my phone… I know I’m officially a wine nerd!). in order to see her reviews, she uses the 1-20pt system, you will need to pay £85, though some of her articles are free. 

Decanter Magazine, it’s also an English publication, I read the online version and follow them on twitter. Subscription starts at $12 per month.  I started doing this when I was studying for my WSET diploma, I really like their reviews. If you are looking for balance in wines, follow my advise and follow the English! Unfortunately some of the American critics are “parkerized”... meaning some of them follow Parker’s system of giving good scores only to Powerbomb wines (those that have big alcohol, fruit, tannins and body) if you like that great! but if you like balance like me... you need to explore other channels.

Andrea Immer Robinson, Master Sommelier. I love Andrea! and have most of her books. Besides giving online classes some of which are free, she provides tons of information about matching food and wine. She was one of my favorite teachers, plus I have attended several of her seminars. $29.95 for 1 year subscription.

1 Wine Dude Blog, easy peasy blog, I really like his style of ratings from A to F, like the grades you used to get in grammar school. This one is free for all.

Vivino, some of my students use this, it’s also free, but here the reviewers are the consumers not the press. It can really show trends and brand popularity. Best wines will feature scores up to 5 points. 
Before I go, it’s important that I say a few things, always check points and suggested retail price, meaning if a wine costs you $25 + look for at least 89 + points. But if you plan to buy wines that are $10 it’s ok to go below like between 86-89 pts. Never, ever go below 85 pts. This applies to Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, etc. 
For Jancis Robinson and Decanter, minimum 16.5 pts ideally 18-20pts for the best wines, in the case of 1 Wine Dude, A or B. For Vivino, at least 3.5 points and up. 

Also know that some reviewers are tougher than others, for example Robert Parker reviewers, Wine Spectator and Vinous are tough critics. One wine could receive 88 pts by any of them but will receive 90 or 91 pts by other critics such as Wine Enthusiast and James Suckling (a bit too generous for my taste). 

Remember that a critic's review should be your starting point, you need to follow up by tasting the wine and making your own opinion. Yes! taste as much as you can, and compare what you like (that includes my recommendations) and then follow that wine critic/taster of your choice. 

Until next time! Cheers. Silvina. For more wine recommendations, you can follow me on Instagram: Silvinalawina.

#thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #Wineratings

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Basic Grapes: Pinot Noir

We continue today learning about the basic red grapes, and today it’s the turn of my favorite:Pinot Noir.

Seductive? yes, Elegant? yes, Irresistible? yes...Pinot Noir is all of these and so much more, mostly because it’s so silky and supple and a great start for those starting drinking red wines.

Originally, from Burgundy, Pinot Noir is the parent of many varieties including Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté, Muscadet, etc. It is very prone to mutate so it will adapt easily to any location and climate. Have you heard about Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier?… yep all of them are different mutations of Pinot Noir. 

Yet, Pinot Noir likes cool climates, but does best in warm vintages or in locations with good day/night temperature differences. It’s early ripening, and sensitive to rot, due onto its thin skins and does best with a slow and long ripening season. The best soils for Pinot Noir are limestone, marl and clay (clay usually gives wines with bigger bodies and structure).

Best samples of Pinot Noir come from Burgundy, but also Oregon (especially in the Willamette Valley), New Zealand (Martinborough, Marlborough, Central Otago), Australia’s Tasmania and Yarra Valley. However the best spots after Burgundy are in cool climate California locations, places like Russian River, Carneros, Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria, Santa Ynez Valleys, etc. Chile produces fantastic, inexpensive Pinot Noir in its cool spots of Leyda and Casablanca. 
It likes low yields that will guarantee enough extract and concentration, though yields are higher in the new world, in Europe the rule is 35 hl/ha or less.

Stylistically it produces the lightest of all reds, its light color is a give away clue when tasting it blind next to other varieties. 
Bodywise, Pinot Noir will produce wines with light to medium bodied, with good acidity (sometimes medium + to high) and low to balanced tannins. It does not like too much oak, since oak will overpower its delicate aromas. When it is used, it is always second hand and for a very brief time, only the top and most expensive wines will see new oak. 

Fermentation temperatures are higher in Burgundy than in the New World, this will yield less fruity wines, more expressive of their terroirs. Sometimes producers choose to ferment whole clusters and or with their stems, macerations can last up to three weeks, followed by malolactic fermentation and aging in oak if any.

Pinot Noir most famous aromas are from red fruits such as strawberries, red cherries and raspberries. In warm climates it will also show a bit of black cherry. With age it will show aromas of forest floor, game, mushrooms, spice and  white truffles. Old world styles will show more vegetal, herbal and mineral aromas, while New world samples will be more fruit forward and with higher alcohol. 

If you plan to cellar these wines, you must know that Burgundy reds can last up to 15 years,  California samples up to 10 years, New Zealand samples will be best to be consumed young and up to 5 years. It’s important to find out about the vintages, if critics recommend to consume wines early, follow their advice. Though with global warming  Burgundy has seen some of its vintages in the last few years. 

By the way, Pinot Noir is also a key element in non vintage champagne, together with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  Blanc de Noirs is a champagne style made only from Pinot Noir grapes. 

Recommended Producers:
Pinot Noir from Burgundy are some of the most expensive wines in the world, this is due in part to a very limited supply, inexpensive Pinot Noir comes from Chile, California and New Zealand with Oregon in between.

Burgundy: Domaine Armand Rousseau, Domaine Romaneé Conti, Domaine Leroy, Jacques Prieur, Domaine Faiveley, Olivier Bernstein, Meo Camuzet, Louis Jadot, Alex Gambal, Albert Bichot, Francois & Denis Clair.
California: Aubert, Paul Hobbs, Arista, Donum. Ken Brown, De Loach, Lucienne, Pali Wine Co,Belle Glos, Ghost Pines, Domaine Della, Ken Brown, La Crema, Cakebread.
Oregon: Alexana, Argyle, Ayoub, Beaux Freres, Bergstrom, Chapter 24, Chehalem, Domaine Serene, Aldelsheim, Lingua Franca,Resonance, Purple Hands, Siduri,Willamette Valley Vineyards. 

Here are some of the Pinot Noirs under $50, that I tasted lately:

Argyle Winery Nuthouse Pinot Noir Eola Amity Hills 2015, Oregon $50
Astrolabe Pinot Noir 2016, New Zealand $28
Cakebread Two Creeks Pinot Noir 2017, California, $45
Louis Jadot Bourgogne Rouge 2017, France $19 
Resonance Pinot Noir 2017, Oregon $35

Cheers! Silvina
For more wine recommendations, you can follow me on Instagram: Silvinalawina.

#WineWednesday #PinotNoir #lifeisbetterwithlawina

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Do you enjoy European wines? 

Well maybe it’s time for us to stock up, since our dear government is planning to impose 100% tariffs on wines imported by France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany.

And I thought wine was already too expensive to begin with! This is going to affect the entire wine industry but mostly, we the wine consumers, who will end up paying the higher cost in our dear bottles, estimated to be up to 150%. 

So, the time to act is now my dear winos, let your voice be heard, the USTR is accepting public comments until January 13, 2020, here.

You can also write an email to your US House Representative and or US Senator to complain about this.

Cheers! Silvina
For more wine recommendations, you can follow me on Instagram: Silvinalawina.