Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
July 7, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

How Robert Parker became Robert Parker

After our short entry yesterday about wine reviews, it made me realize that not all of our readers would be completely familiar with the most influential reviewers and perhaps more importantly, how they were able to obtain that level of influence.

Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate Magazine:

Parker’s personal story is an interesting one and I’m surely not the first person to ask how someone from Baltimore (hardly the wine center of the world) who is a practicing lawyer ends up as the most influential wine critic in the world, especially when it comes to California and Bordeaux vintages.

Part of Parker’s rise to fame was his insistence, correctly stated at the time, that most reviewers in the 1970’s had some vested interest in the wine industry. That’s hardly seen today outside of a few examples (Wine Enthusiast both rates wine as well as sells it) in large part because of Parker and some of the changes he helped to create. Parker is also largely credited with inventing (or popularizing) the 100 point scale which has helped consumers make some independent assessment about the value of a wine (we all love 90 point wine, but not if it’s priced at $200), without having ever purchased a bottle themselves. Parker’s 100 point system is often misunderstood, but the idea is to score wines based on the amount of pleasure one derives from them.  For the average consumer, this is a powerful statement.  While so many within the industry preach that you should know what a classic Right Bank Bordeaux is suppose to taste like, that's not important.  The only real question is how much did you enjoy the wine?

So why is Parker the foremost wine critic of our time? Personally, I think his combination of unbiased reviews, easy to understand language, standardized evaluation criteria and attempting to keep industry influences at bay as much as possible. He was the first wine critic able to successfully build a career as a consumer centric critic, instead of an industry mouthpiece.

There are, of course, plenty of criticisms of Robert Parker and his affect on the wine industry-we’ll follow up with some of those tomorrow. Some of these are valid, or somewhat valid and others are more fantasy than reality. At the end of the day, at Uncorked Ventures we recognize Parker’s work for what it is: some of the most valuable wine reviews available anywhere.
 

Mark Aselstine
 
July 6, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

The Best Wine Reviews

Where to go for wine reviews?

It’s one of the most common questions people ask when they are first beginning to drink wine, where should they go to find quality wine reviews. There are, of course, quite a few significant wine critics whose opinions come formed in vastly different formats.

Robert Parker: Despite having recently retired from current California vintages, has the highest profile of any individual wine taster and unlike many others, his name is more recognizable than his magazine which is called Wine Advocate. For the first time wine drinker, Wine Advocate might not be the best choice because it is basically written in black and white (yes, there is some red) and only offers scores and commentary. When I first started drinking wine, I needed more education about the wine industry and winemaking process.

Wine Spectator Magazine: In my opinion a good starting place for a new wine drinker. Yes, there are plenty of scores but the magazine also does full lgenth features on wine regions, wineries and winemakers. As an educational tool Wine Spectator is top notch and can have the effect of getting your non wine drinking friends and family to pick up the magazine because it is beautifully presented. My only real complaint is that the wines which are often scored as “Best Values” are often impossible to find.

Cellartracker: Without a doubt the king in online, consumer generated reviews. Cellartracker allows you to review wines as well as keep track of your own personal cellar. I think it’s useful as a tool because you can find other consumers with similar palate’s to your own and use their positive reviews to help you find other wines to try.  It also relieves the problem of keeping small pieces of paper or a book with your reviews (since those are generally not accessible when ordering at a restaurant)

While many people seem to get caught up with finding the best reviews, we can’t neglect to mention that no one is going to ever know your own tastes and palate better than yourself. Drink what you want!  At Uncorked Ventures we firmly believe that over time your palate is going to evolve and change and more than anything else, wine is meant to be enjoyed.
 

Mark Aselstine
 
July 5, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Shrinking Demand in Sonoma?

Every once in a while we come across a bit on the business side of wine which we think our average reader, or wine club customer might be interested in. While I think most people know the theory of supply and demand well enough from Economics class in high school, it makes sense to mention that as supplies dwindle prices tend to go up. Many of us have experienced this within the wine industry already, take any Cult Cab in California as an example.

I bring this up because of an article I saw on Wine Business the other day which showed that Sonoma County has been actively (or so it appears) shrinking production. For an industry trying to stabilize prices in the face of daily deal sites and a generally still sluggish economy, it probably makes a lot of sense. What I do think is missed, is that there would be more to be concerned about if the percentage of non-bearing acres were higher. It could simply be, that yields were down in 2010 due to some adverse growing conditions in Sonoma (2010 is generally considered a less than ideal growing year).
 

Mark Aselstine
 
July 4, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Happy 4th of July

On behalf of the entire Uncorked Ventures team, I wanted to wish everyone a happy 4th of July.  I hope you enjoy the day with friends and family!

Mark Aselstine
 
June 27, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Grape Clones

Within the fine wine industry there has been some talk of late about clones (specifically when it comes to Pinot Noir) and how they affect growing conditions and the wine which ends up in our glass.

While we understand that for the average member of our wine clubs, clones don’t matter, we thought it would be worth a brief mention in this space.

To start-what is a clone? Unlike Dolly the sheep, a grape clone is simply a grape vine with at least one preferably trait to other vines in the vineyard. That is usually something very simple such as having bud break slightly earlier (or later) or having berries which are somewhat larger. Really it could be any trait which the vineyard owner or winemaker finds helpful.

According to the University of California Davis viticulture department, clones are so incredibly close genetically to the other vines in the vineyard that they are virtually indistinguishable. When UC Davis researchers performed genetic tests on some of the most famous clones in Napa Valley (which they now keep disease free plantings of in their own vineyards, just in case) and found only a few small differences when patterning the genome out to fifty million places.

What does it all mean? From producer to producer, we think there are a wide selection of traits which affect the finalized wine much more than the specific clone which has been selected for the vineyard. Winemaking style, facility and yeasts in our estimation all have more affect on the wine than does a slight genetic difference.

For the average wine drinker, simply put I don’t think clones matter.