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For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

For Wine Lovers Down Under, The “Options” Are Endless

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 14th, 2013

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The end of the options lunch. Note the small wooden barrel for coins

The Sydney Royal Wine Show is one of Australia’s most prestigious wine competitions. Ranking up there with shows based in Adelaide and Melbourne, the organizers have selected an international wine figure to serve as a guest judge since 1986 and this year, I was honored to be selected to fulfill this role. Judging duties kicked-off with one of the show’s most important traditions, the Peter Doyle Options Game.

Leave it to the Australians to take something like blind wine tasting and turn it into a game. Called Wine Options or just plain Options, it was developed by Len Evans, one of Australia’s pioneering wine educators and personalities. Legend has it that he dipped into his cellar after a long lunch and served a bottle blind, asking his mates a series of questions that became ever more specific until the wine was identified. (more…)

Finding Silver Linings in Napa’s 2011 Playbook

Finding Silver Linings in Napa’s 2011 Playbook

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 5th, 2013

Tim Mondovi gets interviewed about the 2011 vintage

Tim Mondavi gets interviewed about the 2011 vintage

Each February, The Napa Valley Vintners Association hosts the Premiere Napa Valley Auction, which has quickly turned into a “must attend” event for the wine industry. Intended as a fund raiser for the marketing and educational efforts of the Vintners Association, the week’s activities provide an array of events, connecting the entire wine trade with the wineries of Napa Valley. The highlight for most of us in the trade is the opportunity to taste barrel samples of the wines up for auction.

The lead-up to the weekend auction is complemented with educational seminars on Napa’s soils and subregions for wine industry professionals from across the globe. Even more important is the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers held at Meadowood during the same week. The conclave brings aspiring and professional wine writers together to talk about the nuances of writing about the grape. You’ll often find yourself rubbing elbows with guest lecturers at the barrel tastings following the symposium. This year saw Decanter’s Guy Woodward and Steven Spurrier walking through the barrel room of the old Christian Brothers Winery. (more…)

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Ted Lemon: “The Concept of Noble Place in New World Winegrowing”

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 20th, 2013

Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines

Ted Lemon of Littorai & Burn Cottage

A few weeks ago, I joined a large portion of the wine world that descended on Wellington, New Zealand for Pinot Noir NZ 2013. Held every three years, the four day symposium featured lectures, tastings and seminars, attracting leading winemakers, critics and consumers from around the world.

Wine Spectator critic Matt Kramer delivered an excellent and thought provoking keynote speech that has generated considerable attention. He attempted to answer the question, “Can Atheists Make Great Pinot Noir?” and in his usual eloquent and captivating manner, Matt laid out his ideas regarding how to make superlative pinot. Whether you agree with him or not, Matt made a convincing argument in support of his theories. And, as might be expected, Matt’s arguments provoked some rather spirited discussions and blog posts. To any pinot (or wine) enthusiast, I highly recommend Alder Yarrow’s transcript of Matt’s lecture.

A week after the New Zealand conference concluded, I found myself with a smaller group in Australia to attend the sixth biannual Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration. As I did, many of those in the audience had also come from the New Zealand conclave, including Ted Lemon, winemaker for Littorai as well as Central Otago’s Burn Cottage Vineyard. (more…)

2010 Bordeaux: Return To Terroir

2010 Bordeaux: Return to Terroir

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 4th, 2013

Blog 1

UGC 2013 in San Francisco’s stunning Palace Hotel

Each year in January, the Union des Grand Crus, an association of 134 estates in Bordeaux, conducts a series of tastings across the United States designed to introduce the latest vintage to consumers and the trade alike. For us at JJ Buckley, the tastings provide a perfect opportunity to reassess these wines after assessing them as barrel samples one year earlier.

The latest tastings turned towards the 2010 vintage, an excellent year that was considered a return to classically-styled Bordeaux. Critics and merchants alike agree that the hallmark traits of the vintage – precise flavors, focused structure and a strong tannic backbone – will provide long-lived wines that will act as a perfect foil to the more forward and opulent qualities of the 2009s. (more…)

Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Notes From Wellington

Pinot Noir NZ 2013 – Notes From Wellington

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 29th, 2013

Jim Robertson of Brancott Estate with Alder Yarrow of vinography.com discuss the vintage

Jim Robertson of Brancott Estate with Alder Yarrow of vinography.com discuss the vintage

Every three years, a large portion of the wine world descends on Wellington, the small capital city of New Zealand. Four days of informative seminars and lectures follow, combined with tastings of current and older vintages of Kiwi pinots. This year sees a large contingent of British wine critics in attendance, including Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin, alongside local representatives such as Matt Kramer and Alder Yarrow, putting forth their observations on New Zealand pinot. Aussies and locals make up most of the rest but there are many other countries represented among the 500 people in attendance.

For many in the trade, Pinot Noir NZ represents a unique opportunity to advance their knowledge about the category and, perhaps, take the steps necessary to place New Zealand’s pinots in a global perspective. I’m here to offer my comments as someone who has worked in the category for twenty years while seeking out exceptional wines for our customers. (more…)

A Pitch-Perfect Passion For Pinot

A Pitch-Perfect Passion For Pinot

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 8th, 2013

PinotFest Founder, Peter Palmer

PinotFest Founder, Peter Palmer

While tasting rooms and wine bars have traditionally been the best way to experience new wines, today’s oenophiles have a variety of tasting opportunities. Massive tastings have become commonplace, and are often presented in large spaces, hosted by organizations designed to promote a variety or region. While fun and often educational, the central purpose of these events is to encourage greater consumer interest in the labels being poured.

Not all tastings, however, are based on naked commerce. A number of wine events really are born from the sheer gusto of an individual – someone in the business who wants to share their passion with a wider audience. Just like tastings hosted by larger entities, the efforts of an individual wine enthusiast to convey his message can be showcased anywhere – from a big conference room to a small parlor. But such individualized tastings create a unique platform where one can experience an array of personally selected wines, each of which provides an insight into the mind of the host. A good example can be found in New York, where Paul Grieco saw his Summer of Riesling tastings (at his intimate Terroir Wine Bar) transform into an international phenomenon. Fortunately for us west-coasters at JJ Buckley, the Bay Area has its own similarly ardent oenophile. (more…)

Winery Profile: Iron Horse Vineyards

Winery Profile: Iron Horse Vineyards

Post by Chuck Hayward | December 27th, 2012

Iron Horse

Entrance to Iron Horse Vineyards

In preparing JJ Buckley’s Champagne Report, we wrestled with the decision to keep the focus on wines from that famous region, or open it up and include other sparklers, especially those from California. In the end, we decided to restrain ourselves, but not without some measure of protest from long-time friend Joy Sterling, proprietor of one of California’s iconic producers of sparkling wines, Iron Horse Vineyards. So as I wrapped up work on our latest report, I took the opportunity to dig deeper into our local fizz market in order to gain some perspective.

Sparkling wine has a long tradition in California, with Korbel having the distinction of being the first winery to produce bubbly back in the 1880s. And like the wineries that produced still wine in the pre-Prohibition heyday, the state was also blessed with many sparkling wine producers. But the arrival and aftermath of Prohibition along with a federal tax scheme that appraises sparkling wine at three times the rate of still wine left few domestic producers making bubbly between 1930 and 1970.    (more…)

No 3-Trick Pony: Champagne’s Indigenous Varieties

No 3-Trick Pony: Champagne’s Indigenous Varieties

Post by Chuck Hayward | December 20th, 2012

GrapesJJ Buckley’s latest Champagne Report has just been released with new articles along with new winery profiles and updated reviews. Click here to download a copy. To give you a taste of this edition, today’s post is based on an article that looks at Champagne’s lost varieties which are currently undergoing a renaissance.

If there is anything that wine enthusiasts have committed to their memories, it’s that chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, in varying proportions, are the three grapes used to make Champagne. Like many other details about the wine and the region, that’s just a bit of the actual truth. Because as wine geeks and aspiring MS and MW students know, seven grapes are legally allowed to be used in the production of Champagne. All of a sudden, Champagne drinkers are hearing about grapes such as arbane and pinot blanc vrai, fromenteau and petit meslier in their bubblies. What’s going on and how did this happen? (more…)

Champagne’s Glass Warfare

Champagne’s Glass Warfare

Post by Chuck Hayward | December 14th, 2012

From which glass would you rather drink your bubbly?

Which glass would you prefer for your bubbly?

JJ Buckley’s latest Champagne Report is about to be released, with new articles on the region’s indigenous varieties and the movement towards drier Champagnes along with new winery profiles and updated reviews. To get you in the mood, today’s post looks at the recent debate surrounding the optimal glasses and decanters for bubbly.

Champagne has long been on the receiving end of rules—regarding how it is made, how it is labeled, and how it should be enjoyed. Over the years, we have come to accept these unwritten codes and perhaps even find them comforting, as they didn’t often fluctuate. But today, Champagne is witnessing revisions to concepts that were once considered sacrosanct, and they have nothing to do with grapes or labels. The changes have to do with glass in which our bubbly is served.

If there is one rule that has been generally accepted across the board, it is that sparkling wine is best served in a flute. For maximum ‘correctness’, the flute was preferably scored at the base to promote bubbles, then rinsed with water and dried with a towel once the night is done. The coupe (also known as the Marie Antoinette glass) was long ago decried as an inferior vessel because its broader surface allowed the wine to promptly lose its effervescence. Now, there are some in the industry who promote an alternative to both the coupe and the flute. (more…)

From Cubicle to Crush Pad

From Cubicle to Crush Pad

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 19th, 2012

If you read enough catalogs from wine retailers and journalists, it’s likely you’ve seen articles about their visits to wineries as they explore wine regions across the globe. And while certainly an industry perk, these visits really are to the advantage of both the participant and the consumer. It’s important for the trade to get a better understanding of the wines they sell and it’s always good for the reader to enjoy a visit, even if it is only vicariously.

But it’s one thing to visit and taste. It’s altogether a different thing to take time off to actually make wine. And that’s what a few members of JJ Buckley’s wine staff are planning to do in the upcoming weeks. Not for the faint of heart, this means long days of physical labor, dragging hoses and picking at grapes. Early mornings, groggy and tired from hard work, combined with the after-effects of long nights spent tasting wine and unwinding with co-workers. Any romance about making wine disappears as bees and snakes lurk in picking bins in a cellar that reeks of smelly yeast and fermenting grapes.

But trust me – I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. (more…)