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Tag Archives: winemaking

Warren Winiarski returns to Colorado

Warren Winarski
Warren Winiarski

Yes, Warren Winiarski made wine in Colorado, and here is the label to prove it.

How incredible would it have been to talk writing with Ernest Hemingway? Or, for a painter, discuss technique with Michelangelo? Or, for a baseball player, pitching with Sandy Koufax?

I had a similar experience in Colorado this spring, when I spent a couple of days talking and judging wine with Warren Winiarski, one of the handful of people who helped transform the California wine business from its regional roots. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, California was not all that much different from what Virginia or Texas is today. Along the way, he produced the winning red at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California wine bested the French in a blind tasting that changed the way the world saw California wine.

That visit is the subject of a story I wrote for the on-line wine magazine Palate Press. Among the highlights:

• Winiarski made wine in Colorado for Ivancie Cellars in the late 1960s, shortly before starting Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Ivancie, founded to bring the idea of wine to the middle of the country, was 40 years ahead of its time. Says Winiarski — and echoing how many regional winemakers over the years?: “We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be. The wine was good, but the idea just never caught fire.”

• The winemakers who attended a seminar with Winiarski (and where I was lucky enough to sit on the panel with him) were almost wide-eyed listening to him dissect their wines. Most importantly, he was polite, enthusiastic, and constructive in his comments, something that doesn’t happen enough often in a business that can get very snarky (and especially when the subject is regional wine).

• How can you argue with this winemaking philosophy? “Are you making a dancing slipper or a boot? What’s in your head? How do you follow through on what’s in your head? What do you want the grapes to become?”

Seminar photo courtesy of Michelle Cleveland, using a Creative Commons license; Ivancie label courtesy of Colorado Wine Press, using a Creative Commons license.

The International Style of Winemaking, and why it drives so many people crazy

 

The International Style of Winemaking, and why it drives so many people crazy

“Keep moving. We have dozens more to unload after this.”

“So tell me where this wine is from.”

My friend swished, took a sip, moved the wine around in her mouth. “Malbec from Argentina,” she said.

“That’s really good,” I said. “I couldn’t place it, but that’s exactly what it tastes like.”

The catch? That the wine was neither malbec nor from Argentina, but a $10 red blend, mostly syrah, from Château La Tour De Beraud in the southern Rhone in France. That it tasted like it was made with a different grape from the other side of the world speaks to the increasing use of winemaking tools that make wine taste the same no matter where it’s from – the insidious International Style of Winemaking.

In one respect, this has been an extraordinary advance in winemaking, because it has tremendously improved wine quality over the past decade. It’s almost impossible to find a poorly made wine these days, no matter where it comes from. I don’t miss those green, unbalanced wines that tasted like battery acid.

The cost, though, has been high – wine without terroir or personality or individuality, something that was common even for cheap wine in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this. After the jump, what this means to consumers and how to identify these wines.

Winebits 290: Barrels, wine parties, yeast

Fewer wineries using oak: Yes, believe it or not – the amount of wine aged in oak has declined by one-third, reports The Drinks Business trade magazine. The story quotes a French barrel maker lamenting the change, though my guess is that there are as many consumers who are as happy about it as he isn’t. The short story doesn’t go into two other possible reasons for the drop: the incredible cost of barrels, which run $300 to $900 each and can cost as much as $4,000, and the improvement in oak alternatives, like chips, staves, and dominoes. They give an oak-like result to the wine at a fraction of the cost and time involved.

Just like cosmetics: Can wine be sold through home parties, like Mary Kay or Avon? Or Tupperware, for those of us of a certain age? A variety of companies have tried this over the years, but the concept never really took off. Blame the three-tier system and its restrictions as well as financially insecure operators. The concept is making a comeback, though, reports the Wines & Vines trade magazine, under the auspices of winemaker Boisset Family Estates. The producer is selling selected wines through a new shop at home program, where “ambassadors” conduct the tasting, talk about the wines, and help guests order through a Boisset website. This helps them circumvent retail licensing laws, which hampered previous efforts.

Bring on the high alcohol: Because, if a group of researchers have their way, winemakers will be able to use more efficient, artificial yeast to make wine in the next couple of years. Said one scientist: “Now we have the opportunity to adapt yeasts further, turning them into predictable and robust hosts for manufacturing the complex products we need for modern living.” This is a terrifying thought, given what winemakers can do with technologically-improved natural yeasts. The researchers, apparently, have never had a 15 percent chardonnay.

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