Tuesday, August 23, 2005

23 August 2005 - Hyde + de Villaine = Special

Part of my job is writing tasting notes that give my customers some idea of what they should expect when they open a particular bottle of wine. It's never an exact science, but sometimes I taste a wine that defies description. When it happens, it's most often because the experience is too good to put into words. Enter HdV.

Larry Hyde is one of the best growers in Carneros, California. Aubert de Villaine is one of the directors of Burgundy's Domaine de la Romanee Conti, and has his own terrific domaine in Rully (Chalonnaise, just south of the Cote d'Or). Aubert's wife is Larry's cousin, so the families have known each other for years. After years of conversation, they decided to put their talents together under a joint label -- HdV. The grapes are 100% Hyde Vineyards, the winemaking is 100% de Villaine. The first releases came from the 2000 vintage.

It's not surprising that one of the three wines they make is Chardonnay. That one of the reds is 90% Merlot is also not much of a surprise. Even Syrah, which makes the third wine, has a good track record in Hyde's vineyard. What is surprising is the absence of Pinot Noir. I haven't contacted them to ask, but I like to think it's because de Villaine considers Merlot and Syrah to be much better suited to Carneros than Pinot Noir.

I tasted two of the current releases, both 2002 vintage. Both defy description, but I'll try. The Chardonnay is lean, intensely lemony, sizzling, minerally, but so concentrated and persistent -- it just wouldn't quit, and the end was more impressive than the beginning. The red, 90% Merlot/10% Cabernet Sauvignon, had a slightly murky appearance, but amazing intensity and purity. The only fruit I could think of was black cherry, but the overall impression was: put the pen down and enjoy. I look forward to tasting the Syrah -- other Hyde Syrahs I've tasted have been too much for me, but I can't wait to taste what de Villaine does with it.

Friday, August 12, 2005

12 August 2005 - How did Robert M. Parker, Jr. get to be "Emperor?"

Elin McCoy, a noted wine writer, has written a book about another wine writer, Robert M. Parker, Jr., called "The Emperor of Wine." That a wine writer would spend a whole book writing about another wine writer makes me wonder. It reminds me of listening to reporters talk about the press -- themselves -- instead of talking about stories they wrote and /or events they might be covering. And if I don't get to the point of this blog soon I'll be guilty of the same narcissism.

What interests me about the subject of Robert M. Parker, Jr., is how he got to be so influential. My theory is that he stepped into a void created by lousy retailers. Merchants were, actually still are for the most part, unable and unwilling to help consumers find good wine to drink. I am often asked by customers if I've tasted a particular wine in my shop. They look at me like I'm crazy -- or drunk -- when I explain that if it's on my shelves, I've tasted it, that it has to get past my tasting test before I would subject a customer to it. What the vast majority of wine "merchants" do is purchase by the numbers -- the highest score for the lowest price. Which numbers? Pick any or all of them: The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, International Wine Cellar, Wine Enthusiast, blah, blah, blah. Many retailers will buy crappy wine just to get their hands on the coveted stuff hawked by the same marketing conglomerate. Another favorite of merchants trying to make a buck in a world of "discount" liquor stores is to buy "close-outs" -- wine that hasn't sold, either because it sucks, or because it was too obscure, or because it didn't get a high enough number. Sometimes the close-outs are really good, often not. How often do you think the merchant actually tastes them before buying them?

I am considered radical for having never posted a tasting note in my store that wasn't my own. Never. Scores? Scores are for merchants who are afraid to communicate with their customers. I purchase wines that I like, and that I hope my customers will like as well. In the old days I used to try to taste every wine that I could -- thousands every year. These days, I still taste lots of wine, but I'm not so worried about missing the next great wine -- there are so many great ones to choose from I couldn't possibly keep up. I have one reason for purchasing a particular wine -- I think it tastes good. My success or failure in the retail wine business is based on my ability to pick well -- the right wines for my customers. It's worked just fine for the past 25 years, thank you.

I'm so tempted to rattle on about wine writers -- but it's so not worth the time. I've got wine to taste.