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Columns – Robert Whitley

A Case for Thanksgiving
Robert Whitley
Nov 11, 2014

The Thanksgiving feast is the one meal every year certain to challenge preconceived notions about wine and food pairings. The combination of sweet and savory aromas that are presented at the Thanksgiving feast need not be daunting, however. My simple solution is to throw everything I have at the task, or so it seems. It need not strain your budget, for there are many fabulous Thanksgiving-table-friendly wines at modest prices, but it may well put a strain on your supply of stemware. No worries. When it becomes a necessity, I often use the same wine glass for white wines as well as reds, and even bubblies.

Things I Think I Would Like to Drink
Robert Whitley
Oct 14, 2014

Truth be told, there are but a handful of spots in the world where sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise tradition, with the second fermentation in the bottle, are the rule rather than the exception. Most bubbly is made using the bulk Charmat process, which produces perfectly fine sparkling wine but generally without the structure and complexity of bubbly made using the traditional Champagne method. America is one of those places you can count on for excellent sparkling wine made using the Champagne technique, but even here that process is restricted to a few regions and a handful of dedicated producers. Domestic sparkling wine will never quite replicate Champagne in taste or mouthfeel, owing I believe to the unique combination of climate and chalky soils found in France's Champagne region.

Drinking Pink
Robert Whitley
Aug 19, 2014

It was a warm summer day in the south of France. The entire village of Grasse, it seemed, had turned out for lunch this Monday afternoon on the terrace at La Bastide Saint Antoine, where the Michelin-starred chef Jacques Chibois oversees the kitchen. Everything about the day was impeccable. The sunlight, the fresh air, the glint of the Mediterranean in the distance all served as the perfect backdrop to Chibois' legendary cuisine.

Wine Bar Blues
Robert Whitley
Jul 8, 2014

It can be said with a degree of certainty that the evolution of the modern wine bar has been a net positive for anyone who enjoys a good glass of wine and is even remotely discriminating. The days of sitting down in a bar or restaurant and ordering a generic glass of 'Chablis' are pretty much over. Those were the days, some may remember, when just about any white wine, regardless of the grape or origin, could be labeled 'chablis' on a list of wines by the glass without raising an eyebrow.

15 Summer Sippers for $15, or Less
Robert Whitley
Jun 10, 2014

One aspect of summertime wine sipping is cost. Much of the action occurs in convivial settings around picnic tables, where the wine and conversation flow in equal parts. Throwing a party or inviting friends over for a casual barbecue needn't mean you have to compromise wine quality to control the cost. While we are often impressed by price when we are served an expensive bottle of wine, the discovery of outstanding wine at a low price can be equally exciting. As the summer barbecue season heats up, I've assembled a summer cellar of 15 superb reds, whites and bubblies that retail for $15 or less. Just add a few friends, throw a few brats on the grill and enjoy the rest of the summer.

The 100-Point Solution
Robert Whitley
May 27, 2014

A word or two about the 100-point scale so controversial these days among those who engage in the critical evaluation of wine. Those opposed argue that it is impossible to assign a wine a numerical rating with such specificity. They mock the scores that accompany reviews in popular wine publications such as The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker's famous wine newsletter) and Wine Spectator. They ignore the reality of the critic's task, regardless of the topic under review. Arriving at a wine recommendation involves, among other things, a deliberate weaning of options until the field has been narrowed and clear preferences established.

First Love
Robert Whitley
May 13, 2014

VILA NOVA DE GAIA, Portugal - The walk to the Croft Port lodge from The Yeatman, easily the finest hotel in the Porto area and perhaps one of the finest in the world, is all of ten minutes, but it is steep and somewhat treacherous on the slippery cobblestone street that winds its way down to the Douro river. Not far from the bottom the path to Croft demands a hard left toward the neighboring Sandeman lodge. As I walked up the rugged stone steps to the Croft entrance, remarkably for the first time, it brought back a memory that still lingers of the 1963 Croft Vintage Port, a legendary wine from a legendary vintage.

When In Beaune
Robert Whitley
Apr 15, 2014

BEAUNE, France - Inside the largely intact ramparts of this relatively sleepy village of 20,000, there are four restaurants with at least one Michelin star. Outside the city walls there are several more. The center of the village, around Place Carnot, is lined with shops pedaling gourmet food products, as well as the latest fashions from Paris, a couple of hours to the north. From early spring through the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction in late November, the cobblestone streets are clogged with tourists, particularly on Saturday, which is market day. On most weekends in the high season, hotel and restaurant reservations are a must.

A Bitter Pill for Bordeaux
Robert Whitley
Apr 8, 2014

BORDEAUX, France - Making wine in Bordeaux has always been a dicey proposition. Situated close to the Atlantic coast in the southwest corner of France, Bordeaux is too cool in most years to fully ripen cabernet sauvignon, the dominant grape variety planted on the left bank of the Gironde estuary. On the right bank, with its cool clay soils, cabernet sauvignon is a hopeless case; there, merlot and cabernet franc, earlier ripening varieties, hold sway.

The Mystery of Chablis
Robert Whitley
Mar 18, 2014

CHABLIS, France - The mystery of Chablis is hardly a case for Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that this famous wine from the Burgundy region tastes like no other white wine in the world, including its kissing cousins from the nearby Cote de Beaune. The village of Chablis, from whence the wine takes its name, is the northernmost wine-growing region in Burgundy. The only French wine-growing regions to the north of Chablis are Champagne and Alsace. This is an important aspect of the taste profile found in Chablis, though hardly the only factor, and perhaps not the most important.

The Wonder of Wine Competitions
Robert Whitley
Feb 18, 2014

I made a point on my next trip to France to schedule visits with producers in the region, which sits on a spit of land that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Montpelier in the broader region of Languedoc-Roussillon. I learned that the primary grape of La Clape was Syrah, that producers were firmly committed to quality, and that the wines were consistently brilliant over many vintages. That was many years ago, and since my first visit it has been gratifying to watch La Clape rise to Grand Cru status and finally earn the recognition it so richly deserved. But for me, the discovery of these great wines and my enduring appreciation began many, many years ago - at a wine competition.

The Old Guard
Robert Whitley
Jan 21, 2014

It was 1978 or thereabouts, and I was sampling an array of wines with two friends at Froggy's, a downtown restaurant just a couple of blocks from my offices at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This was a regular gathering of three wine enthusiasts on a mission of enlightenment. In those days we drank mostly French; the usual suspects from Bordeaux and Burgundy, with an occasional foray into Italian wine. California wine wasn't even on the radar. In the eastern United States, at least, California meant Gallo or Almaden from a jug. Robert Mondavi was making some noise at the time, but there was rampant skepticism that California wine would ever rival the better wines from the Old World. I doubt I could have found the Napa Valley on a map.

A Passion for California Bubbly
Robert Whitley
Dec 27, 2013

CALISTOGA, California - To walk the grounds of the heavily forested Schramsberg winery is to step back in time. While most of this historic facility is state-of-the-art, much of it is as it was when German immigrant Jacob Schram pioneered winemaking on Diamond Mountain more than 150 years ago. The location, at the northern tip of the Napa Valley, was so warm that Schram was left little choice but to dig caves to protect his young wines from the heat as the wines aged. The caves, the first in the Napa Valley, were completed in 1870.

The Winter Wine
Robert Whitley
Oct 29, 2013

It was a chilly autumn night as I sat in front of a crackling fire sipping a glass of Champagne while savoring the comforting aromas of braised veal shanks, aka osso buco, wafting from the kitchen. My reverie was abruptly interrupted when the call came from the dining room to fetch a 'winter' wine for dinner.

King of Cornas
Robert Whitley
Oct 1, 2013

Unlike many of the winemaking elites of the French wine industry, Jean-Luc Colombo was not born into the business. While growing up in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, France, Colombo was surrounded by chefs, particularly his mother and grandmother. He envisioned a career in a professional kitchen.

Consider the Source
Robert Whitley
Sep 3, 2013

In wine, location does matter. The French have a word, terroir, that succinctly expresses the theory that grapes farmed for wine are what they are, for better or worse, because of the soil, climate, elevation and exposure to the sun at the vineyard site. Thus, grapes from a grand cru vineyard in Burgundy will produce a better wine than grapes from a premier cru vineyard planted lower on the same hillside, all else (the winemaker's hand) being equal.

A Case of 'Value' Wine
Robert Whitley
Aug 6, 2013

As a longtime collector of relatively expensive Bordeaux, I must confess I am always most proud of the bargain Bordeaux I've cellared from so-called 'off' vintages. Even though I am willing to pay a hefty price for wines that have earned my highest tasting marks, I never want to pay more than I have to for a good bottle of wine. Neither should you. The global wine market is a sea of options, including outstanding wines that are available at somewhat humble prices. This week's Wine Talk is a case in point. I've identified a dozen 'value' wines that have impressed me in recent months. The term 'value' means different things to different wine consumers, but for the purposes of this column I've set a price limit of $20 for each wine selected.

Medals with Meaning
Robert Whitley
Jul 9, 2013

The meaning of a wine competition medal to the winery that earns it is self-evident. The winery that wins a medal can then claim to be an award winner and presumably trumpet that claim to sell more wine. But that's only one side of the coin. The other side is the meaning of a medal to the wine consumer, which was the original intent when wine competitions took hold in the United States about three decades ago.

The New Frascati
Robert Whitley
Jun 11, 2013

Wine enthusiasts of a certain age will remember the Chianti bottle encased in a fiasco, otherwise known as a straw flask. It was as ubiquitous as the red-checked tablecloth in Italian restaurants of the 1960s. A typical wine list in a neighborhood Italian restaurant of that era would feature several Chianti in fiasco, a token Bardolino, a token Valpolicella, a token soave and a token pinot grigio. Better Italian restaurants would class up their wine lists with a Frascati, the delicious white wine produced from various clones of malvasia, trebbiano and greco grown in the hilly vineyards outside of Rome. Frascati in its heyday was the most popular of the Italian white wines sold in the United States.

Wine on the Danube
Robert Whitley
May 14, 2013

BUDAPEST, Hungary - Upon my arrival in the beautiful capital of Hungary, often described as the Paris of eastern Europe, I planted my travel weary bones on a bar stool at the swank Le Meridien hotel in Pest and told the bartender I would like a glass of dry white Hungarian wine of his choosing. For one thing, I couldn't even begin to pronounce most of the names of the wine producers I saw on the hotel's list of wines. There was that and the fact that my previous exposure to Hungarian wine had been limited to the occasional sample of this country's revered dessert wine, Tokay, and the dry white Furmint from the same region within Hungary.

How to Enjoy Wine
Robert Whitley
Apr 16, 2013

Tapping into the pleasure of wine would seem to be a simple matter of popping a cork and pouring the wine into a decent glass, and for the most part it is. Yet there are easy things anyone can do that might enhance the experience. Half the battle for most people is finding out what they like. Do you prefer your white wines crisp and dry, rich and full-bodied, or perhaps slightly sweet? Do you enjoy light, fruity reds or deeper reds that possess power and heft?

Winning Wines
Robert Whitley
Mar 26, 2013

Wine competitions are now a fact of life throughout the United States. There are more than 60 that I am aware of, and probably a few dozen more that are flying under the radar. Wineries have a singular purpose when they enter a wine into a commercial wine competition: They want to win a significant award to boost sales. 'Any winery owner who has a tasting room and doesn't enter wine competitions is an idiot,' Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles said bluntly the weekend of the 30th annual San Diego International, where he was among the team of 35 wine professionals judging more than 1700 wines earlier this month. 'If I win a gold medal and post the result in my tasting room, that wine will sell out just like that.'

Beaulieu Is Back
Robert Whitley
Mar 19, 2013

Beaulieu Vineyard traces its roots to the turn of the 20th century, when Georges de Latour purchased a vineyard in the Napa Valley near the village of Rutherford. No one knows for sure, but it's a good bet the BV wines of that era weren't much of a threat to the great chateaux and domaines of France. It wasn't until 1938, following the end of Prohibition, that de Latour journeyed to France and hired a brilliant young Russian-born winemaker named Andre Tchelistcheff to run the winery. For the next several decades Tchelistcheff was America's most influential winemaker.

Wine Judge on a Mission
Robert Whitley
Feb 19, 2013

I am often met with a raised eyebrow when I mention that I am off to judge at a wine competition. It seems many do not connect the concept of a so-called "award-winning" wine with the fact that the wine must have been subjected to critical evaluation in a competitive environment to make the "award" claim.

A Chardonnay Triumph
Robert Whitley
Jan 22, 2013

Chardonnay is America's favorite white wine. Nothing else is even close. Yet this popular wine has notoriously underperformed on the wine competition circuit in recent years despite its far-reaching appeal. As Director of four important international wine competitions, and a judge at numerous wine competitions around the globe, I've seen judges go through their sauvignon blanc stage, their riesling stage, their viognier stage, and the occasional flirtation with steely white wines such as albarino and gruner veltliner.

Three Modest Proposals
Robert Whitley
Dec 25, 2012

Unlike many of my colleagues, I don't have a crystal ball that allows me a glimpse into the future. I usually can't spot a wine trend until it lands in my glass. I merely have a wish list. So for 2013 I have a few modest proposals for the wine industry.

Holiday Wine Steals
Robert Whitley
Nov 28, 2012

As I visit my favorite wine merchant this holiday season, there are but two kinds of wine that interest me: gifting wines, which by their nature tend to be expensive, and value wines, which are a matter of financial survival. Between the parties, the dinners, convivial impromptu gatherings and the like, my tab for wine eventually takes a toll on my wallet. So for those holiday occasions that really do require a step up from the mundane everyday wine, I try to shop smart.

The Pinnacle of Italian Bubbly
Robert Whitley
Oct 31, 2012

To the extent that you think about Italian sparkling wine, if you think about it at all, you are probably most familiar with the refreshing aperitif bubbly, prosecco. Attractive pricing and improved quality have strengthened demand for and the availability of prosecco in recent years. You also might have a passing acquaintance with Asti spumante, the exotically perfumed dessert bubbly, particularly if you've attended an Italian wedding recently. Few wines go better with wedding cake or traditional Italian cookies. And if you have a curious and daring palate, you may have taken a trip on the wild side and indulged in a bit of brachetto d'Aqui, the bright red bubbly from Piedmont that goes both ways, either as an aperitif or with, especially with, fruit-based desserts.

Just Close Your Eyes
Robert Whitley
Oct 2, 2012

Over the next couple of months there will be much attention focused on sparkling wine. Industry sources estimate that as much as half, perhaps more, of all sparkling wine consumed in the United States is sold in the run-up to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Lesson in a Bottle
Robert Whitley
Sep 4, 2012

Rummaging through the cellar early one summer evening, I happened across a long-forgotten bottle of California cabernet sauvignon from the 1993 vintage. It was from Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County, a reserve wine that still had the $30 price tag on the bottle. I remembered enjoying it at one time, but I had my doubts that it had survived to the ripe old age of 19 in good condition. Knowing I would be grilling a flat-iron steak later that evening, I decided it was now or never for the '93 RS Reserve Cab.

Performance Trumps Place
Robert Whitley
Sep 4, 2012

In the event you missed it, there was big news out of Bordeaux last week. Two estates in Saint-Emilion, one of the most important wine districts in the Bordeaux region, were elevated to the lofty status of Premier Grand Cru Classe A within the district's official classification. Chateau Pavie and Chateau Angelus joined Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone at the pinnacle of the hierarchy in Saint-Emilion. Thus Pavie and Angelus became the first chateaux to overcome the stranglehold on the top classification that Cheval Blanc and Ausone have enjoyed since the ranking was established in 1955.

The Mystery of California Chardonnay
Robert Whitley
Aug 7, 2012

California Chardonnay, according to the Wine Institute, is far and away the most popular wine sold in America. At the end of 2011, there were nearly 100,000 acres of Chardonnay under vine in California. And Chardonnay accounts for nearly 30 percent of all the table wine shipped from California to the U.S. market. So how is it that hardly anyone I know drinks the stuff? This is the mystery of California Chardonnay. Few will admit they love it, yet wine merchants can't keep it in stock.

Value Wine Defined
Robert Whitley
Jul 10, 2012

The lesson here is that the words value and cheap are not interchangeable. Value simply means the wine was worth more than the asking price. Value simply means the wine delivered quality beyond its price tag. So make no mistake, when I tag a wine for "value," I am looking well beyond the price. I've bought my share of expensive wines and have no regrets. Yet many of my most satisfying purchases have involved wines that some would consider cheap by today's standards.

Summer Sipping
Robert Whitley
Jun 13, 2012

As summer approaches and temperatures soar, the weekly wine-buying binge becomes more focused. Now is the time to reach for wines that are light and easy, because that's what's refreshing under the glare of the summer sun. My collection of heavy reds is safe for another season.

Five Grapes
Robert Whitley
May 15, 2012

Over a recent weekend, I conducted my annual wine-tasting fundraiser for the La Jolla Symphony. Each year, this year being the 11th, I choose a theme that might provide an educational component as well as have entertainment value. This year's topic: "The Grapes of Bordeaux." The subject is near and dear to me because of a fascination with Bordeaux that goes back more than 30 years, to a time when I was a novice collector assembling my first wine cellar.

Discovery in the Cote de Nuits
Robert Whitley
Apr 24, 2012

BEAUNE, France - Once upon a time, a hefty selection of Burgundy was a staple of virtually every fine wine shop in America. Burgundy was the benchmark for any wine made from pinot noir or chardonnay, so much so that winemakers from the New World hardly ever missed an opportunity to characterize their style of chardonnay or pinot as "Burgundian." Of course, few of them were, for Burgundy's aromas and flavors, the structure and textures of its wines, are driven as much by the unique soils and climate of the region as they are by the hand of the winemaker.

Bordeaux 2011: The Verdict
Robert Whitley
Apr 17, 2012

BORDEAUX, France - Prospects for another good vintage in Bordeaux appeared grim as the harvest approached in September 2011. "It was a complicated vintage," explained Florence Cathiard of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a top-notch property in the Graves district of Bordeaux. "We had summer in spring, then spring in summer and summer again in fall."

Colliding Cliches
Robert Whitley
Mar 20, 2012

The 29th edition of the San Diego International Wine Competition, staged earlier this month, was clearly a case of colliding cliches. The "dog bites man" narrative was entirely predictable, as the Napa Valley captured a major share of the important awards. America's most renowned wine region is expected to do well whenever wines are put under the microscope in a competitive environment. It should, and it did.

Collectibles Even I Can Afford
Robert Whitley
Feb 22, 2012

It isn't enough for me to merely understand how I got to this place where my home is stuffed with bottles of wine in every available empty space. In recent years, I've had to come to grips with the reality that I can no longer afford to buy the wines I once loved, the wines that by and large set me on the path to collecting fine wine as a hobby.

Affordable Gold
Robert Whitley
Jan 24, 2012

One of the more enjoyable aspects of a major wine competition, for me at least, is the discovery of affordable wines that were impressive in the challenging environment of a professional wine judging. Whether I am a judge, as I often am, or an official, as I was at the third annual Winemaker Challenge, where I am the director, I am keen to know which of the wines priced at $20 or less stood out. Although I occasionally splurge on an expensive bottle of wine, my everyday wines must fit within my budget.

The Champagne Houses of Charles and Piper
Robert Whitley
Dec 27, 2011

REIMS, France - Regis Camus was already something of a legend when he arrived at the state-of-the-art Heidsieck compound in 1994, where he joined another legend, the late Daniel Thibault, to form something of a dream team in the world of Champenois winemakers. The two men had a mission: to restore the great name and reputation of the historic Champagne houses of Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck, which had been purchased in the 1980s by the prestigious drinks firm Remy-Cointreau.

Wine's Age Old Argument
Robert Whitley
Nov 29, 2011

This Christmas season I intend to give the gift that keeps on giving. That would be wine with cellar potential. That would be wine that improves with age, as urban legend would have it. And that would be despite the recent controversy, sparked by one famous wine critic who argued that aged wines aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be.

The Magnificent Seven
Robert Whitley
Nov 1, 2011

Champagne's strongest competition in the world of luxury bubbly (with apologies to Spain, which has seen cava quality improve dramatically) comes from Italy and the United States. The Franciacorta district in northern Italy, between Milan and Venice, produces Italy's finest sparkling wines, many of which rival Champagne in both quality and price. In the United States, the epicenter of luxury sparkling is California, specifically Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.

Merlot's Sweet Spot
Robert Whitley
Oct 4, 2011

Foraging through the wine cellar, as I often do before dinner, I've discovered recently that over the years I've tucked away a fair amount of Merlot. You heard that right, Merlot, the wine that was so famously bashed in the Academy Award-nominated movie, Sideways. You may wonder what I was thinking, given that interest in Merlot waned and sales tanked after it became cool to diss Merlot. Call me an opportunist. I've always thought Merlot grown in the right location is capable of producing world class red wine

Tricks of the Trade
Robert Whitley
Sep 7, 2011

The email came from a friend who was about to throw a dinner party. One of her guests, she had been told, was bringing a very old bottle of Madeira to serve with the dessert course. Though the news was cause for celebration, it posed a challenge as well. She had read that old Madeira should be decanted 24 hours in advance, and wondered if that was truly the case or simply one of the many pretensions of the wine culture.

Great Wines for Hard Times
Robert Whitley
Aug 9, 2011

With so much troubling economic news on every front these days, it seems now would be a good time for wine enthusiasts to once again take stock of their options in the value wine market. My definition of a value wine is a wine that over-delivers on its quality-price ratio. Simply being cheap does not qualify a wine for the value distinction. It's got to be very, very yummy, too. Today, I've set the value bar at $20. There are a remarkable number of truly outstanding wines that will cost you less. Here are but a few:

What Price Value?
Robert Whitley
Jul 12, 2011

If you love wine with dinner and put a $10-$15 wine on the table with every evening meal, your wine budget for the year would likely exceed $4,000. For some, that's a staggering sum to spend on wine, and it doesn't even take into account the occasional splurge on a luxury wine that might cost $50 or more. I am, like many wine enthusiasts, caught in the struggle between my desire to taste extraordinary wines and my ability to afford them on anything like a regular basis.

What Were the Judges Thinking?
Robert Whitley
Jun 14, 2011

Excerpts from the judges' tasting notes are posted on the competition website for all to see. You no longer have to wonder what the judges were thinking when they handed a wine a silver or gold medal. To be sure, some of the comments are more detailed than others, but generally the excerpts convey a sense of the judges' enthusiasm for the wine being medaled.

It's Only a Number
Robert Whitley
May 17, 2011

The glorious 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, which Parker lavished with praise, helped make his point. The Bordeaux of '82 were ripe, lush and delicious from the start, and with Parker's megaphone the world knew it. That was the beginning of the great run-up in Bordeaux prices that continues to this day. At the same time, a market was created for ripe, supple Bordeaux that could be drunk young, and the rest of the wine world took notice. Ripeness and alcohol levels have been climbing ever since.

The Wines of Spring
Robert Whitley
Apr 19, 2011

To every wine, there is a season. If it is now the middle of April, it must be time for a glass of lightly chilled Beaujolais, or perhaps a slightly tart Picpoul de Pinet. Maybe even a fruity rosado from Navarra, Spain. What these wines share in common is freshness; that and the fact that they are typically at their best when served young. They are the wines of spring.

Long Lasting Napa Valley Cabernets
Robert Whitley
Mar 23, 2011

Of course, I expect nothing less from the Smith brothers, Charlie and Stuart, who've been making great Cab up on Spring Mountain for the past quarter-century. They are farmers, for one thing, and don't have their finger to the wind to determine which way the critics - yes, people like me - are leaning. They just do what they do best: get their grapes ripe, don't overdo it, and sell their wine at a fair price.

Southern California's Finest Winery
Robert Whitley
Feb 22, 2011

Several of the winners at the recent Winemaker Challenge competition hit me where I live, literally. That would be San Diego, at the southernmost tip of Southern California. We are known for our beautiful beaches, spicy Mexican cuisine, Sea World and an amazing zoo. Hardly anyone comes to San Diego for the wine. Maybe they should, for at least one San Diego winery, Fallbrook, left quite an impression on the judges at Winemaker Challenge II.

Ten Wineries to Watch in 2011
Robert Whitley
Dec 28, 2010

These are delicious wines produced from the Sonoma Valley side of Mount Veeder. Owned by Mitchell Ming, the winery is named after two of his children, Korbin and Kameron. The site is special, but so is the winemaker. That would be Bob Pepi of Napa Valley fame. Pepi is no longer involved with the Pepi winery, which was sold several years ago, but he makes wines under his own label, Eponymous, and works as a consultant for a number of clients. Korbin Kameron entered three wines - 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley ($40), 2005 Merlot Estate, Sonoma Mountain ($35), and 2006 Cuvee Kristin, Sonoma Valley ($50) - in both the Critics and Sommelier Challenges. The winery won a combined six medals: two platinum medals, three gold medals and a silver medal. Move that winery a few hundred yards to the east, so that it sits on the Napa Valley side of Mount Veeder, and you could just about double those prices.

Best Bubblies This Side of Champagne
Robert Whitley
Nov 30, 2010

Still, efforts to replicate Champagne go on, and not without some success. A handful of producers in California make sparkling wines that compare favorably to the real thing. Located in the North Coast region that encompasses Sonoma and Mendocino counties and the Napa Valley, there exists a group of wineries that consistently craft the world's finest sparkling wines outside of Champagne.

The Big Chill
Robert Whitley
Nov 3, 2010

As the California wine grape harvest draws to a close, three to four weeks later than normal, one thing is perfectly clear: Vintage 2010 has been the most unusual in memory, more Bordeaux than Napa. It is a crop that will challenge winemakers conditioned to dealing with the certainty of perfectly ripe grapes each and every year.

The Dirt on Terroir
Robert Whitley
Oct 5, 2010

This was precisely what Blake encountered at the Mondavi soiree, where the soils of the To-Kalon vineyard were on display. They were there to be sniffed and tasted, along with the wines that had been spawned from To-Kalon grapes. A reasonable person would taste the connection between soil and wine, no?

Alternative Collectibles
Robert Whitley
Sep 7, 2010

Much as I love Bordeaux and recognize that it is the foundation of many a spectacular wine cellar, including my own, I also know it is not the only wine worthy of such devotion. There are other wines, many others, that mature to greatness when cellared properly, and cost a fraction of the asking price for top-tier 2009 Bordeaux.

Battle for Brunello
Robert Whitley
Aug 10, 2010

It has been centuries since residents of the walled Tuscan city of Montalcino have had to worry about barbarians at the gates. That does not mean life in Italy's most famous hill town has been without drama. It was only a couple of months ago that a man from Asti, in Piemonte, was elected president of the consorzio that rules the production of Montalcino's beloved Brunello, one of Italy's most important red wines. Ezio Rivella, the acclaimed winemaker, might as well have been from another country, or another planet.

Why Wine Competition Medals Do Matter
Robert Whitley
Jul 13, 2010

First, a wine competition medal is a neutral third-party endorsement. This can be a powerful tool for a winery attempting to distinguish its product from an ocean of competitors. Used properly this can be a powerful marketing tool, for competition judges taste each wine blind and are not influenced by the name on the label. It's reassuring to consumers to know that someone other than your mother-in-law has vouched for the quality in the bottle.

Vintage 2009 a Bordeaux Classic
Robert Whitley
Jun 15, 2010

Legend most likely will perpetuate the myth that the harvest of 2009 smiled on Bordeaux with sunny skies and ideal conditions, which would support the narrative of greatness that has accompanied this vintage from the moment the first grapes were crushed. In fact, it was a very good year, with even ripening throughout the summer and a healthy crop of gorgeous fruit as the end of summer arrived. This stood in stark contrast to the three previous vintages, which had been difficult. Yet '09 did suffer a blip, which isn't much talked about, and the Right Bank communes of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion were hit with rains that certainly caused vignerons to scramble, if not outright panic.

Tapping Wine Info Through Social Media
Robert Whitley
May 18, 2010

I am @wineguru. That's on Twitter. Over at Facebook, I appear as myself. And over at Creators.com, writing for the national syndicate, I am the "Wine Talk" columnist. The face of wine journalism and criticism has changed, and I would argue for the better. The days of one or two loud voices (such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator) dominating the debate are long past.

Price, Not Quality, the Back Story at Bordeaux Primeurs
Robert Whitley
Mar 23, 2010

I've learned from experience that the best way to assess the vintage while attending Primeurs is to pay attention to the lesser chateaux. Latour, Mouton and Cheval Blanc never fire blanks. Regardless of the circumstances, they will make extraordinary wine. The top estates not only have the finest terroir, but the wherewithal to produce second labels that can absorb whatever fruit fails to make the final cut. Combined with the technical expertise of modern viticulture and winemaking, the top classified growths of Bordeaux have become nearly fool proof. But only in the great years do the less professional, more rustic operations produce superb wine.

Nebraska Wine Shines in Monterey
Robert Whitley
Mar 9, 2010

After 17 years as director of the venerable Monterey Wine Competition, I've come to expect the unexpected. So, surprised I wasn't when the hands went up en masse as we polled the judges on the one Vignoles in the showdown for Best of Show white wine this year.

Doing the Right Thing
Robert Whitley
Feb 23, 2010

To my way of thinking it is very telling that even a handful of high-end luxury Napa Valley wineries are playing around with the Right Bank model. It goes against the conventional wisdom that the valley's highest and best vineyard use is Cabernet Sauvignon. And that speaks to the wisdom of a few men with vision and courage to step outside the Napa Valley's safe zone and plant the grapes that actually work in their vineyards.

Platinum and Gold Nuggets
Robert Whitley
Jan 27, 2010

Take Prairie Berry, for example. It's a winery in South Dakota. Uh huh, South Dakota. On the wine map, it might as well be Siberia. So imagine my surprise when we rolled out the wines nominated for best of show in their class and Prairie Berry is among them. Out of 796 wines entered, 39 were nominated for best of show. That's a platinum honor at the Winemaker Challenge. That's Prairie Berry. The wine was a 2008 Frontenac from the Lewis & Clark Vineyard, of all places. It will set you back $21.50 at full retail. And it was delicious; a clean, well balanced dessert wine deserving of its seat at the table. Didn't win (a 2008 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine from the Niagara Peninsula, $80 per 375ml took the category) but it was certainly in the game.

Ten Wishes for 2010
Robert Whitley
Dec 30, 2009

My number one hope for the new year is that Bordeaux, my first love, comes back to earth. I once bought all of the first growths from nearly every vintage, and many of the seconds. But the 1989 vintage broke the bank, and I've been a fringe player in the Bordeaux arena ever since. I long for the days when the great chateaux were attainable. I still buy the occasional Chateau Margaux or Cheval Blanc, but at current prices those purchases are few and far between. I wonder what will happen to Bordeaux when an entire generation of wine enthusiasts has missed out on the experience of a beautifully cellared classified growth from a glorious vintage. Will anyone care if no one outside the auction salons of Sotheby's has partaken? Bordeaux, it's time to come home.

So Many Reasons to Be Upbeat
Robert Whitley
Dec 1, 2009

Consider: That wine is made in virtually every state, and it's getting better all the time. New York, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Missouri and even Michigan have sent impressive wines and won scads of medals at the major wine competitions with which I'm involved. Yes, I'm the one rummaging through the leftover wines after each competition in search of a spare bottle of Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling from the Finger Lakes. I can actually encourage you to drink local wine and mean it!

Consumer Demand Blunts Crisis
Robert Whitley
Nov 4, 2009

Seems hardly a day goes by that I don't encounter another tale of misery and financial pain in the wine industry. The pain is real, and I suspect it will get worse before it gets better. Vineyard values, winery values, grape prices, even the price of an ordinary bottle of Cabernet rode the dotcom bubble and housing bubble to unsustainable levels. There is a reluctance to accept the new reality: Few wine-related assets are worth now what they were a year ago. The pain I observe most is the anguish of falling prices set against the hopeless struggle to maintain unrealistic price points.

Sommelier Challenge Winery of the Year: Beringer Vineyards
Robert Whitley
Oct 6, 2009

So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Beringer entry for the debut Sommelier Challenge, a new wine competition that exclusively uses professional sommeliers as judges. The iconic Napa Valley winery entered but two wines, the 2005 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($115) and the 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay ($35). Those are the big guns, Beringer's flagship red and flagship white, both of which have been Wine Spectator Wine of the Year in previous vintages. Anything can happen in a blind tasting, so Beringer's decision to only enter its best wines took great courage. On the other hand, if you've got it, why not flaunt it?

An Argument That Doesn't Hold Water
Robert Whitley
Sep 8, 2009

There isn't a winemaker alive who hasn't bottled a wine and then tasted it a couple of months later only to wonder what the hell went wrong. Most of the time that's a temporary condition and the wine - if it is well made and from quality grapes - will come around with time. Sometimes that's a matter of years, sometimes a matter of months and often only a matter of weeks. And that's my point. At the early stages of a wine's life, it is the wines more often than the judges that are inconsistent.

Mainstreaming Franc and Blanc
Robert Whitley
Aug 11, 2009

Over the years I've come to admire a number of grape varieties that I will charitably describe as out of the mainstream. I'm not talking about obscure grapes that sometimes find their way into an eclectic blend. Even I wouldn't try to fob a Lladonner or Bourboulenc on you. The object of my affection is fabulous wine made primarily from grapes that exist despite lack of strong consumer demand. Two of the greatest examples of this are Cabernet Franc and Pinot Blanc.

Critics Challenge Judges Dig Out Value Wines
Robert Whitley
Jul 2, 2009

One of the enduring myths of wine appreciation is the idea that price is the greatest measure of quality. I can say with utter confidence that you don't always get what you pay for - sometimes you get more! I take this lesson time and again from the three international wine competitions I direct. Professional wine judges tasting blind, meaning the identity of the wine being evaluated is concealed, have plenty of love for inexpensive wines, as the recent Critics Challenge International Wine Competition demonstrates.

Thinking Outside the Barrel
Robert Whitley
Jun 23, 2009

Over the years there have been other "oak-free" Chardonnays, though mostly a concession to the cost of an oak barrel. So the evolution of un-oaked Chardonnay in the New World revolved around price. Un-oaked Chardonnay tended to be cheaper wine. I discovered this to my chagrin while judging the un-oaked category at the Chardonnay Challenge in New Zealand a number of years ago. The un-oaked Chardonnays were a huge disappointment, for they were generally lifeless and lacking in character. As a Chablis enthusiast, I was puzzled.

The Price Is Right?
Robert Whitley
May 19, 2009

That got me to thinking about the high price of collectible wines, particularly from Bordeaux, but also Burgundy and the Napa Valley. I remembered foraging through the wine shops of Saint-Emilion last fall only to leave disappointed and empty handed because the wines I fancied were all beyond my financial means.

Keeping Your Wine Glass Half Full
Robert Whitley
Apr 27, 2009

In the news recently was a report that suggests the grim economy is not slowing the consumption of wine. Americans are still swirling and sipping with bull-market enthusiasm. The only concession to recession seems to be selection. Americans are trading down and purchasing less expensive wines. I've lived long enough to have experienced a number of economic dips (including some that were self-induced) so I have a few thoughts along those lines.

Recession Busting Dining Out Tips
Robert Whitley
Feb 25, 2009

I probably spend three nights a week dining out, and I'm sad to report I see signs of the economic downturn everywhere I go. Staff cuts are the order of the day. Wine lists aren't being updated - meaning new inventory isn't being purchased. And empty seats abound. I have yet to meet the restaurateur clever enough to make money without customers. The problem? People aren't going out, at least not as much. The drop in business threatens everyone, but especially those restaurants with steep overhead, such as rent or debt.

Leon Santoro, RIP
Robert Whitley
Jan 27, 2009

This week I mourn the passing of my good friend Leone Santoro, the Don Quixote of winemakers. Leon, as everyone called him, died Jan. 22, 2009, at the age of 58 as he awaited a lung transplant. Leon was born in the Abruzzi region of central Italy and came to the United States as a young man. He was being groomed by uncles who owned restaurants in New York to be an Italian chef, but Leon had other ideas. He made his way to the Napa Valley and summoned the courage to bang on Robert Mondavi's door and ask the great man for a job.

Great Eight of 2008
Robert Whitley
Dec 30, 2008

My choice of Producer of the Year -- Nickel & Nickel of the Napa Valley -- would seem to have been a fairly decisive pick. Evaluating the 2005 vintage of Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon was certainly a memorable tasting experience, one I will not soon forget. When I saw that I had rated each and every Nickel & Nickel Cab 95 points or higher, I knew I was on to something. Yet, dazzling as the Nickel & Nickel wines were, they were hardly the only impressive performers over what I would have to describe as a very good year.

The Wine Bubble
Robert Whitley
Dec 2, 2008

Of course the economy is affecting the wine business. It would be naïve to think otherwise. I see it every day, from the worried faces of wine reps I bump into from time to time to the anecdotal whispers of severely 'allocated' wines that are now, suddenly, available. Lost in the panic since the collapse of Lehman and talk of a bailout for the Big Three is the now obvious fact that a wine 'bubble' existed long before the credit markets unraveled.

'Shock' Treatment
Robert Whitley
Sep 10, 2008

I have just come from the movie "Bottle Shock," which is loosely based on the now infamous Paris tastings of 1976. While the movie had its moments, what I took away was a reminder that acceptance of California wine was not always a slam-dunk. The pioneers of the modern Napa Valley struggled mightily for recognition. For one thing, we were not a wine-consuming nation. Certainly not along the same lines as the countries of Western Europe, considered the center of the cultural universe at the time.

Breaking the Game Time Stereotypes
Robert Whitley
Aug 12, 2008

The average football fan, if you buy the Madison Avenue hype, dips his mass-produced corn chips into salsa from a jar, guzzles light beer and wears a baseball cap backwards as he roots for the home team in front of a humongous plasma TV on the typical autumn weekend. Doesn't sound like anyone I know, though I'm sure that snapshot does play out somewhere. Perhaps at a college frat house. In my neighborhood, folks are serious about the game and what they serve friends and neighbors who come over to watch.

The Brunello Mess and the Gaja Solution
Robert Whitley
Jul 15, 2008

Rules is rules. Just ask an Italian winemaker. Most wine producing regions of Italy have their own peculiar grape varieties, and guidelines that control how the grapes must be used to obtain the coveted DOC stickers that are applied to the neck of the bottle and immediately flag a wine as Italian, even to novices. The rules are administered by the usual suspects: the authorities. The authorities monitor the vineyards and taste the wines and issue the stickers that theoretically guarantee the authenticity and, it is presumed, the quality of the wine in the bottle.

A Message from the Publisher
Robert Whitley
Jun 17, 2008

Today begins what we hope will be a new era in the life and times of Wine Review Online, which will celebrate its third birthday in little more than a month. We have moved our wine reviews behind a subscription wall. Only subscribers will be allowed access to new reviews, posted each Wednesday, and the thousands of reviews residing in our archives. I realize some of you may think we're just being greedy bastards, but as Publisher it is my duty to ensure the financial well being of Wine Review Online.

Avoid the Bargain Bin, Drink Great Wine and Save Money, too!
Robert Whitley
May 20, 2008

As luck would have it, and while we are on the topic of the high price of wine, I have recently taken stock, making note of wines that are not only ready to drink now, but affordable in the sense that I can serve them on an everyday basis without fear that I am depleting a precious commodity or paving my way to the poor house.

Summer Grilling Essentials
Robert Whitley
May 6, 2008

I'm prepping for the grill season and looking at my checklist. Two heavy cooking mitts for that awkward moment when I've foolishly bitten on the proposition that a person can roast a turkey on the Weber, but now I've got to get this fully cooked bird to the table without dripping grease over the hot coals. Grill tools the size of pitchforks for those really thick steaks. And enough wood chips for the smoker to guarantee I show up at the office every Monday morning with my hair still smelling of chicken and ribs.

How Wine Competitions Shaped California Wine
Robert Whitley
Apr 23, 2008

Over the 15 years that I've been running major U.S. wine competitions, I've often wondered why they do it. Enter wine competitions, that is. It's a rhetorical question. They do it because competition is good. How? Let me count the ways. Robert Mondavi, the only real marketing genius in the history of U.S. wine, probably started the first domestic wine competition. The competition was Robert Mondavi Winery versus the world, waged shortly after the then-youthful Mondavi had opened his new winery in Oakville, California, in the 1960s.

Find That Wine
Robert Whitley
Mar 25, 2008

Many of my recent columns and comments touting various gold-medal winning wines have unleashed a familiar response. Where, oh where, does a person find those wines? I share your pain. Here's the problem. Wine is not Coca-Cola. The winery can't just make another batch of a popular item when it runs out. There is a finite supply, and when it's gone, it's really gone. The next vintage could be months away, and even then it wouldn't necessarily be the same wine. Similar perhaps, but not the same.

Monterey Wine Competition Winners A-J
Robert Whitley
Mar 4, 2008

Here's the A-J list of medal-winning wines from the 15th annual Monterey Wine Competition, staged March 1-2 at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City, Ca. A team of 24 wine professionals -- overseen by Chief Judge Linda Murphy -- evaluated more than 1200 wines over two days. Best of Show Sparkling went to the 2000 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee; Best of Show White was the 2006 Ventana Vineyards Riesling; Best of Show Red the 2005 V. Sattui Vittorio's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignonl; and Best of Show Dessert was bestwoed upon the 2006 Navarro Vineyards gewurztraminer Late Harvest.

Monterey Wine Competition Winners K-S
Robert Whitley
Mar 4, 2008

Here's the K-S list of medal-winning wines from the 15th annual Monterey Wine Competition, staged March 1-2 at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City, Ca.

Monterey Wine Competition Winners T-Z
Robert Whitley
Mar 4, 2008

Here's the T-Z list of medal-winning wines from the 15th annual Monterey Wine Competition, staged March 1-2 at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City, Ca.

Spring Fever, or an Epiphany?
Robert Whitley
Feb 26, 2008

I must have Spring fever. Or was that an epiphany? We are a Chardonnay nation no more. At least not the way we once were. The voluptuous tropical fruit notes and honeyed, buttery texture of Chardonnay continue to be in great demand -- in fact, Chardonnay is still No. 1 in white wine sales -- but there has been a discernible shift in consumer taste. Move over Chardonnay and make room for those crisp, lip-smacking white wines that are now soaring in popularity!

Narrowing the Valentine's Options
Robert Whitley
Jan 29, 2008

I can sympathize with the folks who are put off by many of the rituals of wine. I, too, know a ritual or two I could do without. Take the Valentine's Day ritual. Please! Lest you fear, however, that the curmudgeon in me has finally gone too far, be advised I am not talking about Valentine's Day itself. Nor do I wish to uncouple the strong tradition of the gift of wine for the person who may be the object of your affection. I'm talking about the gratuitous linkage of any old wine that just happens to be red with the traditions of Valentine's Day.

Wine Gifting for Dummies
Robert Whitley
Dec 18, 2007

No one should be surprised that my most frequently asked question in this season of gifting is what to give someone who is wild about wine. Choosing the right gift is not as easy as it would seem. Of course, it would help to know a bit about the wine lover in your life. Does this person already own an extensive array of good wines? If so, what is the focus? If not, what do they like when you order from a wine list at a restaurant with a well-stocked cellar? What's the budget?

Consumers Fired Up About Wine's Alcohol Percentages
Robert Whitley
Dec 11, 2007

I decided to put the question to the readers of my syndicated Copley News Service column. Would they find the alcohol percentage helpful in making their wine-buying decisions? Never in my 17 years as a wine journalist have I seen such an outpouring from readers on a single topic. I have been inundated with dozens upon dozens of emails passionately making the case for listing the percentages. Readers, my readers anyway, are fed up with these high-octane wines and, by an overwhelming margin, they want to know what the numbers are before they set out to find my recommended wines. Frankly, I was stunned.

When a Creature of Habit Breaks with Tradition
Robert Whitley
Nov 15, 2007

I confess I'm a creature of habit on Thanksgiving Day. Others may choose to bake a ham, roast a duck or cook a goose, but I talk turkey. Gotta be a fresh bird, although my mother and grandmothers all made do with frozen. But I've been brainwashed by the Whole Foods phenomenon; what can I say?

The California Dream
Robert Whitley
Oct 11, 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one. Successful businessman buys a piece of land in the California wine country. After a few years he decides to plant grapes. By and by a winery is born. The daughter, with a business degree from a prestigious Ivy League school, is charged with running the enterprise. She hires a top-gun winemaker and, after a few prosaic accolades from admiring critics, the smiling family dances into the sunset in gentrified bliss.

Winemaking at the Heights
Robert Whitley
Sep 17, 2007

KATZRIN, Israel - You may wonder how a nice California boy with a degree in winemaking from UC-Davis ended up producing exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and sparkling wine in the Golan Heights, a stone's throw from the Sea of Galilee. Victor Schoenfeld, born and raised in Rancho Palos Verdes, Ca., more or less always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. His lifelong interest in gastronomy took him to Davis, but before that Schoenfeld made a pilgrimage to Israel where he met the owners of the Golan Heights Winery, a contact that would prove fortuitous as he launched his winemaking career.

Single Quintas the Best Values in Port
Robert Whitley
Aug 17, 2007

VILA NOVA DE GAIA, Portugal -- One of the most hedonistic pleasures a wine enthusiast can experience is the glass of properly aged Vintage Port with a savory cheese at the end of a meal. Yet I would be willing to wager that for most of us, including serious collectors, the occasions for such indulgence are few and far between. It's simple economics.

California Wine's Best-Kept Secrets
Robert Whitley
Jul 26, 2007

From San Francisco, you simply hop in the rental car, steer toward the Golden Gate Bridge and drive north on U.S. Highway 101 for 90 minutes. You're only halfway there, but Healdsburg is as good a place as any to take a driving break. Refuel the coffee mug at the Flying Goat, just off the town square, and proceed north on the 101 another 30 minutes. You're in Cloverdale now, where you will make a hard left toward the Pacific Ocean, along twisting California Route 128. As the crow flies, you're almost there.

When Starting a Collection, Begin with Everyday Wines
Robert Whitley
Jun 19, 2007

I'm frequently asked for advice on starting a wine collection. This is not rocket science, I explain. Every collection should begin with a small mass of affordable everyday wines that the ambitious wine collector can stock and consume without feeling the guilt of pouring a wine well before its time.

It's Summertime, and the Sippin's Easy
Robert Whitley
May 29, 2007

It was an ordinary visit to the local market for a few essentials. When I arrived at the checkout counter, however, I realized that during my shop I had been under the influence of a powerful force. Instead of milk and bread, my basket was crammed with shiny new grilling tools. Time now, I thought, to begin stocking up on summer wines.

Wine Bars Without the 'Fuss'
Robert Whitley
May 15, 2007

I often wonder what makes a good wine bar. Could it merely be the wine - some combination of outstanding selection and price? I think not. I base that conclusion on my experience with Bottega del Vino, the Holy Grail of wine bars, located in Verona, Italy. There is no other place quite like Bottega, though owner Severino Barzan tries mightily to replicate his success elsewhere.

My Answer to the High Price of Collectible Bordeaux
Robert Whitley
Mar 27, 2007

It has become something of a luxury item, akin to a specialty bottling of aged Scotch. Some folks could make a mortgage payment with what you'd pay for a bottle of Chateau Latour. These days I look elsewhere for fabulous red wines to stuff into my modest wine cellar, especially to Italy, a country steeped in the tradition of red wine but only recently at the same level of quality as France and much of the New World.

Terroir Snobs Could Poison the Well
Robert Whitley
Jan 30, 2007

You've no doubt heard some of the buzz about terroir. It is particularly strong on the West Coast, where wineries large and small have embraced the idea of terroir-based wines. In almost every respect this is a positive development. But I fear there is a dark side to the current terroir craze. I will explain.

Reflections on a Very Good Year
Robert Whitley
Jan 9, 2007

If you've ever tasted an old-fashioned Sagrantino you know what I mean. It only proves that Caprai is a visionary as well as a skilled enologist. There was little charm in the robust, tannic Sagrantinos of yore, wines that would have certainly put hair on your chest. Caprai saw the potential and crafted the first Sagrantinos that were actually drinkable.

Vintage Variations Rarely Spell Doom for Napa Cabernets
Robert Whitley
Dec 5, 2006

I had only been in the Napa Valley for a few days when I detected a low level of anger bubbling barely beneath the surface. Seems there's been a knock on the 2003 vintage. I had my first inkling of this a few weeks ago when Tom Shelton of Joseph Phelps shot me a quick note about my comments on the 2003 Insignia. He opined somewhat cryptically that he was happy to see at least someone was supporting the '03 vintage.

Wine Steals for the Budget Conscious
Robert Whitley
Nov 22, 2006

Everybody loves a deal. Even me. Especially me. I learned about wine drinking Bordeaux, but I was young and hardly flush so the Bordeaux I went after were the steals. Good wines from poor vintages. Unknown Chateaux. Close-outs. Almost nothing gave me greater pleasure as a wine enthusiast than bragging about how little I paid for a seriously good wine.

The Changing Faces of Burgundy
Robert Whitley
Nov 7, 2006

NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES, France -- The feet skipping quickly down the stairs of the dimly lit cellar were those of a man in a hurry. The harvest was about to begin in the Cote d'Or and Nicolas Potel was apologetic that he only had a few minutes to chat. He is a young man, still on the good side of 40, and something of a boy wonder in the rapidly changing landscape of Burgundy, with its respect for tradition and yet a yearning to join the modern world of wine.

The Globalization of Wine
Robert Whitley
Oct 10, 2006

I understand the angst. I share those reservations, and certainly appreciate the magnificence of the wines of previous generations. Yet I have my feet firmly planted in the other camp, believing that the internationalization of wines and wine styles has been a good thing. We are living in the golden age of wine, but only because winemakers from every corner of the globe have embraced a common goal: Wines that will be appealing and competitive on the world stage.

Wines to Love
Robert Whitley
Sep 12, 2006

A demi of Bonneau du Martray's 1993 Corton Charlemagne catches my eye. This is a 13-year-old grand cru white Burgundy, a rare wine to begin with, but even more of a rarity considering it's by the half bottle in a modest restaurant where I'm sitting on a folding chair at a sidewalk café, and using paper napkins.

What a Difference a Year Makes
Robert Whitley
Aug 15, 2006

Before our launch in August of 2005, we wondered whether there was room for another website devoted exclusively to wine, particularly in light of the growing number of blogs, or weblogs, crowding onto the internet. We were confident that our format - built around a core group of nationally and internationally recognized wine journalists - was solid, but when we flipped the switch I, for one, held my breath.

Baja California a Land of Sun, Surf, Sand and ...Wine?
Robert Whitley
Jul 25, 2006

Every weekend thousands of gringos pour across the Mexico-U.S. border into Baja California. Most are going for the sun, the sand and the big surf, or the local lobster with either a cold cerveza or a hand-made margarita. An increasing number, however, are making the trip for the wine.

Not All Taste Buds Were Created Equal
Robert Whitley
Jul 18, 2006

I wrote back explaining that the taste sensations - flavors and aromas - that are found in wine are very real and come from a number of sources. Grapes, unlike most other fruits, harbor a vast array of aromas in the pulp and the skins. The aroma profile depends upon the grape variety, but there are other factors that influence aroma.

Chianti for the Ages: '57 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro
Robert Whitley
Jul 11, 2006

The evening typically unfolds with friends ordering up great vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and even Bordeaux. As the wine list is passed to me, I feign exasperation that I will be able to match or top any of the wines that have come to the table amid much fanfare. But I quickly turn to a familiar page and point to a red wine that has served me so well in the past.

Despite High Price, Cult Wines Score Points
Robert Whitley
Jun 20, 2006

The wineries I typically visit during the week of the auction hold what I consider to be historical significance in the evolution of fine wine in the United States. Over the years I've dropped in on Chateau Montelena, Mayacamas, Diamond Creek, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Beringer and the like. But this year I thought I'd change tack. I requested events at the so-called "cult" wineries, deciding at long last that they've been around long enough at this point to fit into my historical scope.

Tips for Summer Sips
Robert Whitley
May 23, 2006

There I was on a warm summer evening situated comfortably at an outdoor café near the main square in the center of Beaune. As the waiter dropped off the wine list it occurred to me that life doesn't get much better for a confirmed enophile. Yet as I perused the list it dawned on me that every white wine selection was a Burgundy, and thus a Chardonnay. All great stuff, but not what I had in mind as I sought to refresh my palate and cool my heels at the end of a long, steamy day of touring the region.

Bodegas Montecillo's Secret to Success
Robert Whitley
Apr 26, 2006

I've long admired the beautiful red wines of Bodegas Montecillo, which is among the most consistently brilliant producers in Spain's renowned Rioja district. Until recently, however, I didn't know the secret to Montecillo's remarkable record of consistency.

Origin Aside, Zinfandel Has Deep American Roots
Robert Whitley
Mar 28, 2006

The year was 1958, and Miljenko "Mike" Grgich had just arrived in the Napa Valley, where he went to work for Lee Stewart at Souverain Winery. "I remember the first time I saw the vineyards at Souverain, which is now Burgess," said Grgich. "I said, 'This looks like my home in Croatia.'"

Southern California Wines Up to the Challenge
Robert Whitley
Feb 28, 2006

Once upon a time there were firmly established notions about which parts of the world were suited for the production of exceptional wine. Central and northern Italy were taken seriously, the southern part of the country was not. France was once famous for the regions of Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley and every other region, including the Rhone, was considered second class.

Wine by the Numbers
Robert Whitley
Jan 31, 2006

Though purists would have it otherwise, the business of rating wines is a numbers game. The first number that comes to mind is zero. That's approximately how much chance there is that the glory days of florid prose and ambiguous pronouncements will ever again be the standard for serious wine analysis.

A Year to Savor
Robert Whitley
Jan 2, 2006

It was a very good year, 2005. Pardon me if I savor it. This was the year most California wineries released their reds from the 2002 vintage, and many were scintillating.

Meursault Migration: Lafon to Macon
Robert Whitley
Dec 6, 2005

MEURSAULT, France -- It wouldn't be much of a stretch to call this small village toward the southern end of Burgundy's Cote d'Or the center of the white wine universe. Though Meursault can claim no grand cru vineyards, its Chardonnays are prized the world over for their intense minerality, remarkable complexity and the ability to age for decades in a proper cellar.

Richard Sanford: Pinot Prophet
Robert Whitley
Nov 8, 2005

Friends and colleagues gathered recently at Santa Barbara County's La Purisima Mission to honor Richard Sanford, and I couldn't help but wonder what took them so long. Sanford, if not a winemaking legend, is at least the next best thing.

California's Changing Landscape
Robert Whitley
Oct 11, 2005

The California wine landscape is constantly changing, and it takes an alert mind and an agile palate just to keep up. Seems like a new darling or two is born with every vintage. This week I raise a glass (or two) to a few of my favorite rising stars on the California wine scene.