charlie olken

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…)

Will the real Burgundy please stand up?

Will the real Burgundy please stand up?

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 29, 2011

Before team JJB descends on Bordeaux for En Primeurs 2010, a few of us are laying-over in Burgundy to have a look at the acclaimed 2009 vintage. Coincidentally, recent articles by Eric Asimov (New York Times) and Charlie Olken (Connoisseurs’ Guide), as well as a seminar at the World of Pinot conference have placed a unique frame around the pinots we’ll be tasting during our stay.

Street signs, Burgundy

Which way, which way?!

At issue? High alcohols, particularly in domestic pinot. Without rehashing the content of these articles (and without taking sides), it is safe to say that the debate remains as active and contentious as ever. Certainly the matter is certainly far from settled.

In another article, and one particularly germane to our trip, The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin examines the differences between the 2008 and the 2009 Burgundy vintages. While he doesn’t seem to have a dog in the aforementioned fight, his preference is clearly for the 08’s, and he alludes to the debate between the more classical, restrained styles of that year vs the riper, more forward examples produced in 09.

He is not alone in his assessment. Many industry insiders have proposed that the riper 2009’s are not “typical” of Burgundy, ergo not as good as the more subtle and, as Martin calls them, “transparent” 08’s. It’s no great mystery that the cooler climate of many European wine regions results in vintage variation and some years are going to produce riper Burgundies than others. What is fascinating here is that what Mother Nature has given us has somehow become a topic of concern, where the “authenticity” of an entire vintage is put on trial.  (more…)