JJ Buckley Meets

Finigan’s Wake: What Robert Finigan Meant to the Wine World

Finigan’s Wake: What Robert Finigan Meant to the Wine World

Post by Chuck Hayward | October 7th, 2011

While I never imagined using this blog to write an obituary, Robert Finigan was one of those people who made a powerful impact on me as my passion for wine grew and my career took off. Therefore, it seems appropriate to remember him here.

Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wines

Finigan’s success began on a trip to Bordeaux where he declared the 1969 vintage to be subpar, an opinion that proved spot on. At a time when wine appreciation in America was starting to gain momentum, wine writing was limited to books and a few columnists in the Los Angeles Times. In 1972, he was the first to publish a wine journal—his influential newsletter, Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Winesyears before Parker began the Wine Advocate in 1978 and well before the rise of the internet. Finigan set the standard for periodicals that came afterwards, including Charlie Olken’s Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wines (1974) and Nick Ponomareff’s California Grapevine (1973).

In tasting the 1982 Bordeaux from barrel, Finigan found the wines to be too rich and lacking the classic style of the region. Robert Parker, however, lavished praise on the wines, which later became immensely successful. Thus, the Wine Advocate began its ascendency, some would say at the expense of Finnegan’s newsletter, which ceased publication in 1990. (more…)

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 25th, 2011

Back when New Zealand pinot noir first entered the US market, our collective knowledge of these wines was infinitesimal. The country’s first serious attempts at producing pinot noir production had begun only a decade earlier, so the 1995/96 vintages that made the initial splash had few reference points. At that time, no one could say how Marlborough differed from Martinborough. Rather, the question was how the pinots of New Zealand compared to those from Burgundy, California and Oregon.

As the pinot noir industry matured, it became easier to understand the unique attributes and qualities among New Zealand’s growing regions, which was important so that customers could purchase the style of wine they prefer. Almost right away, however, it became apparent that not all wines from Central Otago were the same and that Marlborough pinots from the valley floor were markedly different compared to those from the southern hills. The quest to learn about a New Zealand wine appellation’s subregionality became important rather quickly.

In Central Otago, where subregional differences first became apparent to me, there are 6-7 loosely defined districts whose pinot noirs offer their own unique interpretations of the grape. Martinborough, Marlborough and Waipara also see differing pinot styles depending on their site, while Hawkes Bay Bordeaux-style red blends show incredible diversity that can be attributed to subregional differences.

Mt. Difficulty Single Site Pinots from 2009

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Food & Wine Reign Supreme in the Rhone

Food & Wine Reign Supreme in the Rhone

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 16th, 2011

JJBers Taking Orders, Blogging, or Bragging. You Decide.

Visiting wineries is hard work. You might be rolling your eyes, as my non-industry friends tend to do when I say that, but trust me. Now, that’s not to say a little fun can’t be mixed in, too! Our recent trip to the Rhone Valley for Decouvertes provided the perfect opportunity to dabble in both. After marathon tasting sessions during the day, at night we were beneficiaries of some pretty spectacular meals.

When looking for restaurant recommendations, folks in the wine business are usually spot on.  Winemakers and sales reps spend a considerable amount of time wining and dining to promote their products, so they are usually a great source of information for anything from a good cup of coffee to a three star dining experience.  Keep that in mind the next time you visit a wine region and need a suggestion for dinner.

Les Mangevins Restaurant in Tain L'Ermitage

Consequently, the first night on our stop in the Northern Rhone we were steered towards a small restaurant in spitting distance from our hotel, thanks to the export manager at one of the wineries on our schedule. The sleepy village of Tain L’Ermitage provided the setting for what would prove to be the best meal on our whole trip.  Called Le Mangevins, this small, intimate bistro was just what we wanted. With only one evening seating (8pm, with lunch service at 12), diners quickly filled the tables in the small, warm room, and the menu was comprised of a chalkboard with a handful of dishes posted daily. The owner Vincent Dollat guided us to choose intensely flavored dishes, prepared simply by his wife Keiko to highlight fresh, local ingredients. A small loin of pork with just a kiss of seasoning rested atop mushrooms cooked to perfection and made me swoon, as did a soup of scallops. We left the restaurant full and happy. (Le Mangevins, 6 Avenue Dr. Paul Durand, 26600 Tain-l’Hermitage, 04 75 07 73 85)

Wineries also love to host parties during wine tasting festivals, and as great wine and great food go hand-in-hand, these can be ground zero for some pretty stunning cuisine. The next night found us at just such a fête, and it must be said there are few people who can throw a party like Michel Chapoutier. Clearing out warehouse space next to his offices and just down the street from Le Mangevins, some 400 customers, importers, and press members settled into a food-and-wine coma. The dégustation dînatoire (culinary voyeurs will want to check out the menu below) featured no less than thirteen bite-sized dishes elegantly presented in a continuous wave of decadence, many of which employed Chapoutier’s wines in their preparation. Following that procession, plates of meat and game were heaped onto tables, along with a mountain of local cheeses. We were speechless at the bounty, but it didn’t really matter because our mouths were full anyway. (more…)

And To Your Left, The Rhône Valley

And To Your Left, The Rhône Valley

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 3rd, 2011


Tasting the Wines of the Rhone... Begins Here

This week saw plans put into action at JJ Buckley. Co-owner Shaun Bishop, fine wine specialist John Sweeney, and I recently arrived in Lyon to explore the wines of the Rhône Valley. And what brought us out to this striking region of France other than the scenery? First, it is clear that the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape hold significant sway among JJ Buckley customers, especially if sales of the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage are any indication. Second, early word from several wine critics indicates Rhône enthusiasts should be particularly excited about the 2009 syrah dominant releases from the north. Therefore, when we found out about the bi- annual Decouvertes en Vallee du Rhône event, plane tickets were booked, appointments were scheduled, and we were off!

The Decourvertes tastings bring the global wine trade to the Rhône Valley to taste current and upcoming releases along with a smattering of older vintages.  Instead of a “big box” event held in one location, these tastings are arranged by region, beginning in the small, northern hamlet of Ampuis—home to Côte Rôtie—and ending with the grande finale a week later with a sampling of Chateauneuf du Pape in the southern Rhône district.  It was a fantastic opportunity, since despite the popularity of Rhône wines in the American market, members of the wine trade do not often find themselves traipsing the steep slopes north of Tain or gazing upon the stones that serve as the foundation for the great wines of CdP. (more…)

Raising a Glass (or Three) to Italian Wine

Raising a Glass (or Three) to Italian Wine

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 25th, 2011

Founded in 1986, the Gambero Rosso (which translates to“red prawn”) has done a great deal to advance the Italian wine industry both domestically and, more recently, internationally. It quickly progressed from a newspaper insert to a monthly magazine focusing on Italian wine, food and travel and its Vini d’Italia wine annual is one of the industry’s most comprehensive wine publications today. The legacy of the Gambero Rosso will forever be tied to its association with the Slow Food movement, which also began in 1986, as their efforts to promote traditional, local cuisine married nicely to the Gambero Rosso’s concentration on regional wine education. (more…)

Breaking the Brunello Code

Breaking the Brunello Code

Post by Chuck Hayward | February 11th, 2011

Kicking it into high gear, the JJ Buckley wine staff just booked tickets to Europe for a slew of spring tastings. The plan is to delve into the 2009 vintage in Burgundy, followed by our annual visit to Bordeaux for en primeurs where we will get our first look at the 2010 vintage. Directly after, a few of the staff will jet over to Verona to attend VinItaly and take an extensive look at the newly released 2006 Brunelli.

Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Important tastings are also being scheduled here in the States. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino recently arranged for about 40 wineries to showcase their ’06s at an event in New York. In addition to the introduction of the new wines, there were an assortment of other new releases— Rossos and a smattering of riservas. The first opportunity for many Italian wine buyers to immerse themselves in the new vintage before the official release event in Italy, my co-worker Jeff Loo and I seized the opportunity and hopped a plane to the Big Apple.

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ZAPping the Zinfandel Debate

ZAPping the Zinfandel Debate

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 26th, 2011

In the wine industry, controversies come and controversies go, but one that seems to have stuck around a while revolves around zinfandel. And there’s no better place to dredge up the old debate than at the annual ZAP Grand Tasting held each January in San Francisco. This year marked the event’s 20th anniversary, and the question of what zinfandel is and what it should be gained even more traction than in years past.

The debate on zinfandel was probably best encapsulated by the SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonné’s Thirst column. Rather than go over it in detail, there are a few observations I think bear relevance. For one, it is very easy to project your ideas and philosophies onto a grape like zinfandel. It has a populist appeal which speaks to a broader segment of the market and grates the grits of those who take wine more seriously. Yet when one starts to dig deeper and learn about the old zin vineyards that populate California’s North Coast region, complaints arise that the prices are too high and that it drives away everyday drinkers.

ZAP: Is this the line for Turley?

There can be no doubt that the “zin-fanatics” are a unique bunch of wine enthusiasts and they can certainly rile those who take their wine more seriously, including many who are in the industry. Thing is, those are often the same people who complain that we need more consumers at wine events. Apparently, the 8-10,000 zin fans lining up at Fort Mason don’t count because they are “that type” of consumer. (more…)

Gauging the Future for Germany’s 2009s

Gauging the Future for Germany’s 2009s

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 26th, 2011

2010 proved to be a milestone year for German wines at JJ Buckley. Sales were very strong—our best year ever—as consumers took advantage of our many incredible offerings. We plan to pay more attention to this segment of the market in 2011 in an effort to expand our selection while keeping an eye out for great pricing, of course.

A Tub Full of Pfalz

With that resolution in mind, a small contingent of the JJ Buckley staff took advantage of the opportunity to sample some of the 2009s coming out of Germany.  A tasting of this acclaimed vintage was presented by Terry Theise, one of the America’s most vigorous advocates of German wines. Not only do his tastings offer the trade a great chance to assess the vintage but also the opportunity to get some firsthand information from winemakers in attendance.  (more…)

Did Reignac Reign Superior?

Did Reignac Reign Superior?

Post by Chuck Hayward | November 19th, 2010

With the 2010 harvest just completed in Bordeaux, chateau and estate owners are back on the road introducing themselves to new clients/ markets and revisiting those who have supported their wines in the past. Yet the nature of how Bordeaux is sold means the Bordelais do not visit here as often as winemakers from other countries. Some six to nine months after the harvest, many chateaux sell their wines to negociants, who then sell it to US importers. At that point, the chateau no longer owns the wine, so the responsibilities for promotion and education have been left to the importers or the Bordeaux trade association by default.

Yves Vatelot (c) talks with JJ Buckley employees Jeff Loo (l) & Farley Walker (r)

Today, however, most of the traditional Bordeaux importers are no longer participating in the market.  Now that retailers are going directly to the negociants in France, some chateau owners realize that it will be up to them to reacquaint loyal followers of past vintages while introducing their wines to new customers. Following JJ Buckley’s visit to the en primeur tastings last spring, the staff wanted to ensure our customers had the opportunity to meet important winemakers and owners in Bordeaux. And we could think of no better way to start than with Yves Vatelot of Chateau Reignac, one of the most charismatic owners we encountered during our visit. (more…)

Aussie Afternoons

Aussie Afternoons

Post by Chuck Hayward |November 30th , 2010

James Lindner of Langmeil

A while back, I  caught up with my friend James Lindner, who was in town for the Wine & Spirits event in San Francisco. An energetic and passionate chap, he travels the globe representing Barossa Valley’s Langmeil Winery, an estate with a rich history dating back to the 1840s. The Lindner family purchased this historic property in 1996 and set about renovating the buildings and vineyards, including a small plot of shiraz that turned out to be a national treasure. (more…)