On Location

Region Profile: Howell Mountain

Regional Spotlight: Howell Mountain

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 28th, 2013

Howell Mountain Vines

Howell Mountain Vines

Just east of downtown Napa, the small area of Coombsville was recently designated as Napa Valley’s 16th subregional AVA. Each of Napa’s subregions is distinct, showcasing a unique climate and combination of soils, perfectly reflected in the wines. At the same time, Napa’s patchwork of AVAs provides a window into the valley’s diversity, belying the misconception that the region is homogenous.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Napa Valley’s first subregional AVAs. The first to be designated entirely within Napa Valley was Howell Mountain. With its unique attributes, it it’s no surprise that the mountain was the first to be distinguished from other appellations. Altitude is what makes Howell Mountain so distinctive – grapes must be grown above 1400 feet in elevation to be eligible for its AVA status. This altitude lies above the morning fog layer that covers the valley floor, allowing for more sunshine during the day. This also allows for cooler average temperatures, often up to ten degrees lower than down the slopes, which preserves vital acidity. (more…)

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…)

Where to Wine & Dine: Paris

Where to Wine & Dine: Paris

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 25th, 2013

Restaurant

Au Passage Restaurant Exterior

Here at JJ Buckley, January brings with it thoughts of Bordeaux, as the Union des Grand Crus travels the country pouring the latest releases while we make plans for attending the en primeur tastings in France. And with Bordeaux on the brain, it’s not too hard to start dreaming of Paris, the city where we land before traveling south, and where I always make sure to get in an extra day to check out the latest and greatest culinary pit-stops.

Like almost every major city these days, Paris is undergoing another seismic shift in their dining scene. With strong influences from American cuisine (including the arrival of many expat chefs), the plates arriving on today’s Parisian tables highlight bold colors, fresh ingredients and light-handed cooking techniques. In short, they are quite different from the requirements of haute cuisine, which dominated French cooking for decades. Traditional French dining once meant maintaining a large staff and paying rent in pricey neighborhoods. All of the required overhead kept prices too high at a time when diners started tightening their wallets and eating out less. At the same time, the strong traditions surrounding French cuisine and service left little room for younger chefs to innovate in the kitchen and promote a relaxed environment in the dining room. Paris was ready for change and (thankfully) that change has arrived. (more…)