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Posted by Robert Whitley on April 19, 2016 at 1:04 PM

Canary in the Coal Mine

 Michel Rolland is perhaps the world's most famous winemaker. From his home base in Bordeaux, the winemaking guru's influence reaches across the globe, from France to Argentina to California.

His style of wine is robust and full-bodied, much like the man himself. Rolland has strong opinions on everything wine-related and is never at a loss for words. So it was hardly a surprise that on the eve of the annual Bordeaux En Primeurs tastings hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, he would have his own thoughts on the 2015 vintage that was about to be evaluated by both the wine trade and wine press.

During an interview with a French magazine, Rolland declared the 2015 a great vintage and, in advance of the evaluations, criticized any journalists who didn't see it his way, suggesting they lacked whatever the French word is for that part of the anatomy that is associated with being male. He also observed — correctly — that wine journalism no longer possesses a single voice so influential, a la Robert Parker Jr. in his heyday, that it can create a stampede to purchase the latest vintage of Bordeaux with just a few words of praise.

The outburst was the talk of the tastings throughout the week. The big question among journalists was what to make of it, and whether or not to take offense.

First, let me say I personally took no offense. Robert Parker Jr.'s decades-long sway over the Bordeaux wine trade was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. But even if another wine critic were to emerge with Parkeresque clout, I'm afraid he or she wouldn't be able to save Bordeaux from itself.

The world's most expensive wine is closing fast on its day of reckoning: when demand weakens and prices inevitably must fall. I believe Rolland knows this and senses that the forces of economic reality are closing in. For example, strong demand in the Asian market has previously propped up the insane prices of Bordeaux wines from the top chateaux, which often exceed $1,000 per bottle. The momentum from these price spikes had the effect of pushing up the prices of less attractive wines across the Bordeaux region. But now, the Asian market seems to have lost its appetite for expensive Bordeaux.

In my humble opinion, Rolland's outburst prior to the En Primeurs was a cry of anguish over a changing price dynamic. The customers just aren't there, at least not enough of them, for over-priced Bordeaux. Rolland is the canary in the coal mine. Bordeaux's date with reality has arrived.

Villa Cerna, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2013 ($25)
Cecchi, though one of Tuscany’s great producers, flies under the radar.  A family firm run currently by brothers Andrea and Cesare Cecchi, they produce a range of wines from estates in Tuscany and Umbria.  This one, a traditionally framed Chianti Classico made from a blend of Sangiovese and Colorino, exhibits the near magical combination of bright red cherry-like fruit and savory herbal qualities.  Unencumbered by oakiness, it has good density without being heavy.  Zippy Tuscan acidity makes it a joy to drink with rich pasta dishes.  No wonder Chianti Classico is so popular.
92 Michael Apstein

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This Issue's Reviews
 
Heitz Cellar's Martha's Vineyard Cabernet: A California Icon
Ed McCarthy

The term 'Icon' is badly over-used nowadays--in the wine world and elsewhere. But the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that Heitz Wine Cellars makes from 'Martha's Vineyard' truly is iconic because it was recognized from the beginning, in 1966, and continues, 50 years later, to be one of the very few outstanding California red wines every year. Other wines come into fashion for a while, but their reputation slowly fades with time. Yet, who can deny that Heitz Cellar Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon still stands out as one of the superb wines produced in California? I certainly can't, after tasting six vintages of the wine going back to 1978, and remembering how I was struck by its greatness from its earliest vintages in the late1960s and 1970s.
When Continents Collide: How Wines are Affected by Plate Tectonics
Wayne Belding

One visit to the vineyards of Santorini and you will know that there is no other winegrowing region in the world quite like this. Santorini is very new land in a geologic sense. Its vines grow on the slopes of a volcano that erupted with cataclysmic force some 3500 years ago. The violent eruption not only destroyed civilization on the island, but also wrought destruction far beyond the shores of Santorini. The massive ash falls, pyroclastic debris flows, concurrent tsunamis and atmospheric shock waves likely caused tremendous damage throughout the Mediterranean, and the clouds of fine particles and sulfur that reached the stratosphere and probably caused the yellow fogs, reduced sunlight and cold temperatures observed in China at that time. Santorini today is a caldera, a remnant of the collapsed volcano that spewed billions of cubic feet of ash outward when it exploded.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Meat Ball Soup (Albondigas)


Meatballs are so trendy these days that in our town (Baltimore) a completely meatball-centric restaurant named '8 Ball Meat Ball' has just opened. Although we hear good things about it we haven't yet had a chance to sample 8 Ball's fare, but we certainly have jumped on our own meatball express in our kitchen at home. The possibilities for meatballs are endless--way beyond the American version in tomato sauce (with or without spaghetti) that many of us grew up with. Think of Italian polpette, or Greek keftedes (lamb meatballs served with Tzatziki), as well as middle-eastern kofta, Swedish meatballs (served with sour cream and lingonberry jam), and königbeger klops (Germany's veal-based meatballs usually served in a buttery white wine sauce). At the moment we are particularly partial to albondigas, little meatballs usually poached in a light broth or heartier soup, that are beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
On My Table
Clonal Blending for Complexity
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Long before Pinot Noir's current popularity craze, Davis Bynum earned a solid reputation for the quality of his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Forty-three years ago, to be precise, Bynum moved his fledgling winery to Russian River Valley and produced the valley's first single-vineyard Pinot Noir with grapes purchased from neighbor Joe Rochioli, a renowned Pinot Noir grower. Ten years later, Russian River Valley would become recognized as an AVA. In 2007, Davis Bynum sold his winery to the Klein family, led by Tom Klein who also owns Rodney Strong Vineyards, another pioneering Russian River winery. Winemaking is now in the hands of winemaker Greg Morthole and consultant David Ramey.