Uncorked Ventures Blog
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.
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).
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.
It’s small producers, with engaging stories that we believe create the most interest in the wine industry, especially when their wines are at least as good, if not better than the highly marketed names we’re all familiar with. Kenneth Crawford certainly falls into that category.
Started by friends Kenneth J Gummere and Mark Crawford who worked at Babcock Vineyards (a great California Central Coast producer in its own right) the friends wanted to work together to produce the best, small batch production wines they could while utilizing some of the best vineyards in the state of California. As it turns out, despite having worked at Babcock Vineyards for years, it was a few years after the friends began Kenneth Crawford that they were able to buy fruit from the Babcock Vineyard, which is known as one of the top Pinot Noir vineyards in the area.
In many ways, this is the epitome of a classic Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. The vines in the vineyard have matured from their beginnings and are now 20 years old, giving the wines a nice combination of structure and the classic Pinot Noir vulnerability. We liked the overall set of flavors in this Pinot Noir, including its cherry notes and slight hints of spice and earth which are signatures of the Babcock Vineyard during our tastings. Overall we felt our Special Selections club members would enjoy this Pinot Noir and find that despite the incredibly small production of Kenneth Crawford (under 1,500 cases per year in total) that this was a world class Pinot Noir, produced at a fair price.
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