The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

Check out this collaboration between me and Ben Simons of Vinotology on his blog. We present the cases for Virginia vs. Texas wine as taking the next step towards becoming major North American wine regions. Part 2 will be up tomorrow morning right here on Wine(Explored)!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

A Toast to the Future Spirit of Wine Blogging

I had been planning this post for awhile, but the past couple of days have been eye opening to this newbie wine blogger, and I figure now’s as good a time as any to write. I had finally settled into my role in the blogosphere after meeting and learning from several milestones a wine blogger could face:

  • Posting your first review and waiting to be sniped at by more knowledgeable writers
  • Posting your first review of a bad wine and enduring the fallout
  • Starting a weekly feature, then failing to continue it (though I’ll hopefully be reviving the Irreverent Weekend Reader)
  • Realizing how traffic arrives to your blog and strengthening those avenues
  • Botching a review and all the shame and guilt that accompanies it

Though I know I have a lot more to learn, which is like saying there’s a lot more of the ocean I have left to swim in, I was fairly certain I had at least found a groove. A couple sites have, in fact, reaffirmed a decision I made last week to change the direction of my blog. In an article at Palate Press, Tom Johnson says, quite plainly, that wine blogs are too personal, too uncontroversial to warrant a consistent audience. In a rather minute controversy, wine critic Stephen Tanzer took a swipe at wine bloggers in his new website, Winophilia, essentially calling us amateurs in the lowest sense of the word, then tempering it with a self-contradicting nod to “extremely well-done” but “sporadic… hobbyist” wine blogs. Ouch, especially if he doesn’t consider your blog of the “well-done” variety. Consider the riposte from Steve Paulo at Notes from the Cellar: “Stephen Tanzer is a Jackass.”

The feces can fly both ways, Mr. Tanzer. As of this morning, Stephen Tanzer has removed the offending words from his website, opting instead to leave the wine-blogging community completely out of his pitch. Very quick response to a PR issue, and a welcome nod towards our position.

I realized early on that my wit, enthusiasm and formal training in writing will not make up for a lack of knowledge and experience. I simply don’t have the time, resources, or palate training to consistently crank out reviews of wines five times a week. Even if I did, how would that distinguish me from every other wine blogger jousting for an admittedly tiny online segment of wine drinkers? It wouldn’t, obviously. What I need to find, and what I plan on searching for, is my niche. What have I got going for me that no one else does, or that very few others would? I think I have a few ideas…

But the change of direction doesn’t stop there. I’ve been sequestered on my site since the beginning, as have most bloggers. We write our reviews, and we read each other’s reviews, we occasionally comment, and that’s basically it. Some bloggers reach out to others, but largely the posts are simply output. We chastise people on Twitter who shout shout shout and never engage. Why don’t we try to interact more in blogs? How many times have your posts induced honest discussion in the comments? How difficult is it to link to another blog post that might be related, or to respond to another blog post with a post of your own? It’s a little bit of effort that has benefits beyond simple traffic increases. It builds relationships.

Just as a side note, Google loves those interlinked sites in its search engine. They make crawling and indexing real easy, and that impacts search ranking.

I’ve been working with Ben Simons at Vinotology on a Virginia-Texas Wine Summit, and it’s been incredibly fun and productive. It’s made me learn a lot about Virginia wine, and Ben’s side will teach me quite a bit on Texas wine. Best of all, the fruits of our labor will go to you, our readers, once it goes live. It doesn’t end there, either. What’s to stop, say, Michigan By the Bottle and Suburban Wino from holding a Michigan-Georgia Wine Summit? Maybe a California wine enthusiast wants to go in a different direction and make a case for the “Big Four” actually being the “Big One.” I read a blog comment yesterday that referred to Cali wine as “fruit syrup.” That’s gotta ignite a fire in someone, right? Anyone want to make some dialogue out of that?

As an example of an experiment that got recognition and views, Josh at Drink Nectar and Randy at The Wine Whore organized a video review and finished it with a 2500-mile-apart guitar and drum jam. Why not intersperse the daily reviews with a partnering with another blogger? What’s a crazy idea you’ve had to spice up your reviews? I talked once jokingly about a hip-hop wine review. I’ve got years of creative writing experience just going to waste right now, so why not, right?

We still need to review. We still get traffic from them, and they still prompt discussion, purchases, and occasionally controversy. I’m a fan of print wine publications, but why should they get all the fun and the final say? And what’s the harm in posting a review that *gulp* agrees with Stephen Tanzer? Why not quote another review within your own? I’m positive someone out there reading this has disagreed with one of my reviews. Why not call me out on it and discuss it? Lord knows wine makers have.

I linked to 8 blogs in this post, and I barely broke a sweat. I plan on doing this (and much more) in the future, and I hope you, my fellow wine bloggers, will join me in giving it a shot.

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Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings

The cool thing about wine is that the experience pairs well with not only food, but with any number of activities. You can sip a fine, complex wine while listening to an orchestral serenade, a light, fruit-forward dessert wine during a comedy, or a jug of Two-Buck Chuck during a tailgate (though I hope you at least use a glass). One guy I know likes to pair Chardonnay with his hunting trips. Whatever you’re into, I’m positive there’s a wine out there that’s perfectly suited to it. Because one of my passions is music, specifically independent music, I put a lot of thought into pairing different wines with music. I figured today I would share a couple of my musings on the subject with the randomizer on my music player as an inspiration.

Hercules & Love Affair – Blind

Hercules & Love Affair is a remarkable band that has taken musical anachronism in a different direction. While most independent bands that look to the past for their inspiration usually settle on emulating the new wave style of music pioneered by Devo, Duran Duran, The Cure, and all the other awesome bands that get mocked in pop culture nowadays, Hercules & Love Affair look to ignite a disco revival. Their music wraps European-style modern electronica and male/female vocals around the four-on-the-floor funk beats of classic disco, making them one of the few bands left that can call themselves “unique” and not sound like they’re in denial.

To match this unusual band, I’m looking for an unusual wine that might not be characteristic of its varietal. To match the flamboyance of an electronic disco artist without going with a traditionally sweet or exotic varietal, I think I’d have to go with a Vouvray. Made from Chenin Blanc, which usually produces drier, very aggressive and fruity white wines in its traditional environments, produces incredibly complex and harmonious wines when allowed to fully ripen in warm seasons in cooler climates. When Vouvray has a good growing season (which is happening more and more often due to global warming), the wines develop additional notes, a floral, honeyed character and a crisp sweetness that, well, is a reason why these wines are becoming a quick favorite of mine. The wine ages very well, too, which reflects the classic music influences of Hercules & Love Affair. Let’s face it, Vouvray is a very active wine, both in its high acidity and complex flavors, and like disco, it just makes you wanna dance, whether you want to admit it or not!

Bishop Allen – Calendar

A carefree band that revels in its minimal instrumentation, Bishop Allen has long been one of my favorite bands. I discovered them while I lived in Lynchburg, VA, not knowing that they were at the same time stationed in Lynchburg as a temporary reprieve from life in New York City. They have an honest affection for folk music, surprising complexity in their instrumentation, and a positive outlook that tempers even the most somber of subject matter. Justin Rice, the lead singer and guitarist, is a perpetually awkward 20-something, and in fact plays the lead as a perpetually awkward 20-something in Mutual Appreciation, one of my favorite movies. He chronicles this attitude, though, with maturity and a good sense of humor.

What to pair with Bishop Allen? I want a young wine that’s fresh and fruity, fairly light-bodied, but with a mature enough structure to be taken seriously. I’m leaning towards a New World Sangiovese. These tend to be brighter, less bitter, and more floral than the traditional Italian style, yet still retaining the red wine’s inherent acidity and tannic character. After the initial burst of playful red fruits, there’s potential for darker fruits, spices, even tobacco, the hallmarks of richer red wines. Once you get past the youthful enthusiasm of Bishop Allen, you’ll realize that, in their upbeat way, they like to tackle some pretty heavy topics.

Any music enthusiasts out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. This was a lot of fun, and I definitely plan on doing this again. I might even make it a weekly feature.

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 0

The Back Story:

I kicked off the beginning of The Search for the Best Boxed Wine (that’s right, I’m officially designating this experiment with capital letters) with one of the bigger names in boxed wine fare: Black Box.  I had a choice between the Chardonnay and Merlot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find their Riesling, which I hear is the most consistent and palatable. I decided, with whatever reasoning I managed to cobble together at that point, that it would be more difficult to mess up a white wine than a red wine, so I opted for the Chardonnay Monterey 2008. Was it a worthy kick-off to this experiment? The answer is a resounding… maybe.

(from the Black Box website)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a pale straw color with a tinge of gold. The wine has good legs, and the swirl suggested a somewhat thick texture.

The nose of the wine was rather weak and floral with hints of banana, apple, and honey. The good news is the alcohol, at 13.5%, doesn’t really come through, suggesting it will be at least drinkable.

The mouth feel of the wine was surprisingly thin, with a briny acidity. It felt weak in the mouth, but it caused a thick feeling in the back of the throat and caused a rather immediate sensation of heartburn. This suggests a lack of balance as the acidity is just over 7 g/l.

The flavor of the wine was also fairly weak, slightly sour with unripe apple and citrus, rather dry with sugar exactly at 4 g/l. There was just a hint of alcohol flavor in the palate, but it was fairly cool and didn’t disturb the flavor too much. Despite the balance in the alcohol, I would still describe the wine as backward; it was hard to focus on the subtle flavors through the acidity. The wine also benefited minimally from aeration, meaning it’s about as good as it gets right out of the box. Frankly, I think the grapes were just harvested too early, a problem I imagine is pretty common for mass-produced wines.

For the Casual Drinker:

Despite the high acidity and lack of balance, it was still fairly drinkable. It was just sweet enough to keep the acidity from simply overwhelming the wine, and there was just enough flavor to keep the wine from being a complete disappointment. That said, to be blunt, I wouldn’t lead off a night or a party with this wine. This would be best to break out after the senses have been slightly dulled by a first, more balanced bottle of wine. It’s very drinkable, just rather unimpressive. The acidity is also good for a dose of heartburn if you’re not expecting it.

The Conclusion:

A rather inauspicious beginning to my experiment. Actually, that’s a little harsh. It retails at $25 for 3 liters, averaging just over $6 dollars per 750ml “bottle,” which makes it a win as long as it’s drinkable. I’ve seen it as low as $16 before, meaning it can be a fantastic bargain table or party wine if you luck out. It could have gone a lot worse, I know, and as far as expectations for boxed wine goes, this one surpassed it, but the point here is to find something even experienced wine drinkers can get into. 4/10

Current Line-up:

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008:

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose

Retired Line-up:

None so far!

Official Rules for the Search for the Best Boxed Wine

After much deliberation, I’ve settled on the format for my boxed wine experiment. In my search for the best boxed wine, I need to be as empirical and objective as possible, as there are several variables at play that I am trying to record.

I want to have an organized method for tasting the wines in a timely manner while figuring out the shelf life of each one. Therefore, I’ve devised this testing method:

1) I will open a new boxed wine each Saturday, giving it an official tasting as I would any other wine (appearance, nose, texture, flavor, the whole range).

2) I will taste every other boxed wine from youngest to oldest, testing for any declines due to oxidation or age. Once a wine is declared undrinkable, it will be removed from consideration.  I figure by going from younger to older, I’ll be more likely to detect the subtle changes in wine due to aging if the fresher wines are tasted first.

3) After 5 weeks, the wine will be removed from consideration. If it makes it more than a month and is still drinkable, I will consider it to be a successful boxed wine.

4) Wines removed from consideration will receive an adjusted score based on their initial rating, longevity, and sustained quality.

5) A write-up detailing all current and former wines will reach the light of day each Monday, after a Saturday of testing and a Sunday of scribbling.

The excitement begins this weekend! Who’s stoked? I know you are… If you have any tips for boxed wines to try, by all means, leave me a comment. I’ve gotten some good feedback about artisanal wines that are going the bag-in-box route, so I know there’s got to be more out there.

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine

Judging from the traffic that’s been coming to my blog lately, there is a growing segment of the population that is interested in finding drinkable boxed wine. Now, I’ve already reviewed a wine that I’ve called “The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy,” but I cheated in the definition: Yellow + Blue Torrontes is a carton, not a bag-in-a-box. I’ve decided, then, to pursue an on-going search for the best boxed wine that money can buy.

Some of you more hardcore winos out there might be laughing at this search, that it’s most likely frivolous, a waste of my time. We shall see, but I’m willing to bet there are a few respectable wine makers out there that were willing to eschew the traditions of old-world wine for a more environmentally-friendly and economical packaging. In fact, my company is currently looking into boxed wine accessories to add to our product collection soon after our launch. We want to cater to consumers of all wines, not just those dedicated to the bottle.

A benefit of boxed wine, aside from the environmental considerations and cost,  is the fact that it just lasts longer in the bag… weeks longer. The nature of the bag keeps the wine from being exposed to air until it’s poured. The oxidation process is drastically slowed, and you don’t run the risk of the wine being corked or tainted; the only issues affecting the wine would be introduced during the wine making process itself.

There are two specific benefits to the search that make it worth my while: boxed wine usually runs much cheaper than bottled wine, meaning I’ll actually be saving money compared to my usual reviews, and I have plenty of family and friends nearby who have absolutely no qualms about quaffing wine that has never touched a glass bottle before, in the offhand chance that I’m just not up to finishing off multiple liters of the stuff.

This search will be interspersed with my normal wine-drinking. I’ve got a long queue of wines to open, and I don’t want this blog to become too monotone. Check back periodically to see how the search is going. I’m creating a category link on the sidebar to make my experiences easier to reach.

Until then, stalwart drinkers.

Are You Sure This Was Pressed from Grapes?

The Back Story:

When I go shopping for wine, I usually have one of two goals; I either want to luck out with a bargain wine, or I’m actively searching for the next big thing. On this particular trip, I had bargains on the brain. This particular wine was purchased in a thirteen-bottle glut, meaning it sort of got lost in the shuffle. Honestly, I think the only reason I picked it up was I had been talking about Tempranillo on Twitter the day before.

The wine maker has no online presence, making the search for verifiable knowledge of this wine rather futile. Here’s what I can tell you about the 2008 Campos Reales La Mancha Tempranillo: it’s a 2008 vintage, it’s from Spain, and I’m not entirely sure it was pressed from grapes.

Campos Reales Tempranillo

Campos Reales Tempranillo label (from

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a deep ruby, almost entirely opaque, with an average viscosity. The swirl suggested a thin texture.

The nose of the wine was initially fruity, with an almost sickeningly sweet combination of black cherry and red delicious apple. After the first initial sniff, though, tobacco came forward and dominated my senses. I could hardly smell anything else once I detected that.

The mouth feel of the wine was nothing special. The texture was a little thin and had very little character.

The flavor of the wine was tobacco. What else? Tobacco, tobacco, TOBACCO. Drinking this wine was like smoking a pipe; it was sweet and smoky. There was a hint of blackberry flavor, and it was rather tannic, but nothing else came forward. The acidity also seemed to me to be a little low. The finish, as with the initial taste and the mid-palate, was tobacco.

For the Casual Drinker:

I would not call this an easy-drinking wine. The overwhelming tobacco taste is certainly an acquired one and not one that you would expect to dominate a wine. After a half a glass it started to sit rather heavily on my stomach, and I had to calm it down with a bitter ale. It’s cheap enough that, if you’re in the mood for something different, you could give it a shot, but I definitely would say it’s not for everyone.

The Conclusion:

As impressed as I was with the unique flavor and low price point, drinking it felt like a dessert wine. It was strong and sweet, good for a half a glass, but anything more than that just didn’t sit well. I’ve read several reviews online that only attributed a minor tobacco finish to the wine, giving it an otherwise red-fruit characterization, so you might not be attuned to the tobacco the same way I was. As I tasted it, though, I’d be hard-pressed to entirely recommend this wine. At just under $8 for a bottle, it’s merely an experiment worth attempting. 5/10


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