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WRO Wine Blog

April 28, 2009

The Best $400 Wine in the World?

As I sipped the 1993 Dom Perignon Oenotheque with winemaker Vincent Chaperon, I not only marveled at its youthful freshness, but I wondered who would buy it.

At $400 or so a pop, this is a luxury wine being released into a world market that's been staggered by the global economic downturn. I trust, however, that not every wine enthusiast has tapped out. It would be a pity if the glories of aged Dom Perignon were to go unappreciated.

I say that with all sincerity, for DP is at its best with a bit of mileage. The '93 is all the more impressive because the vintage delivered delicate Champagnes that didn't seem at the time as though they would have the depth or power to improve with extended cellaring.

Of course, wines selected for Dom Perignon's Oenotheque program have been cellared in pristine conditions in the caves at Moet & Chandon. The '93 Oenotheque was only recently disgorged and offers a complex bouquet of toasted aromas, yellow citrus, minerality and hints of red fruit, supported by lively acidity.

In the scheme of things, the price tag is modest compared to collectible wines of similar quality and age. It may well be the best $400 wine in the world, a value I suppose to those with deep pockets. Still, I wonder who will buy it. I'd be happy to help them with the task of popping the cork!

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:43 PM


April 23, 2009

Critics Challenge Judges Have Their Say

Blogging has been light recently because I'm coming down the stretch on my third major wine competition of the year, the annual Critics Challenge.

This is the most unique and compelling of the three competitions under my direction because the judges not only take personal responsibility (in the form of attribution) for handing out awards to the wines they like, they get to have their say as well.

The added value for consumers is the useful information we excerpt from the Challenge judges' tasting notes and post on the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition website (and also here at WRO) alongside the results.

The excerpted quotes are delicious nuggets that allow you to peek inside the heads of the judges and discover what they were thinking when they decided to medal a wine.

All of the Challenge judges are accomplished wine journalists, and many are WRO contributors, too. You can be sure that their excerpted comments will be as entertaining as they are enlightening.

The Critics Challenge will be staged over the Memorial Day weekend in San Diego and the results and comments published as quickly as we're able to edit and post them.

Stay tuned. There's nothing else like it in the world of wine competitions!

PHOTO: Chief Judge Mary Ewing-Mulligan consults with Challenge judge Leslie Sbrocco at a previous Critics Challenge.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:02 PM


April 21, 2009

Rioja for the Ages

One of the most impressive stops during my recent tour of Rioja was a brief visit and tasting at Lopez Heredia in Haro. At 132 years, Lopez Heredia is one of the oldest wineries in the region.

It has been operated continuously by the same family since its inception, and the current winemaker, Mercedes Lopez Heredia, is the grandaughter of the founder.

Lopez Heredia, for obvious reasons, is all about longevity. That storyline extends to the wines of Lopez Heredia, which age remarkably well.

During the tour Mercedes plucked a couple of mold-encrusted bottles from the cellar and opened them in the tasting room in a display of Lopez Heredia at its finest. One bottle was from the 1970 vintage. The other from 1976. One was red, the other white. Both were in superb condition and utterly delicious.

Astonishing though it might seem, the older wine was the white. Who knew a white Rioja 39 years young would still taste like wine, let alone taste like very, very good wine?

I write about Lopez Heredia and other traditional Rioja producers who've stood the test of time in this week's Wine Talk column over at the Creators Syndicate. Click here to read the whole thing.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 8:20 AM


April 20, 2009

Taking a Pass on The '06 Beckmen Syrahs

I am loathe to dump on any winery in these troubling economic times, but I would be remiss if I failed to share my disappointment with a recent vintage of wines from a winery I've enthusiastically endorsed in the past.

I take no pleasure in reporting that I recently tasted a number of offerings of the 2006 vintage from Beckmen Vineyards and found them well below the standard I've come to expect from this Santa Ynez Valley winery that specializes in Rhone varietals.

The wines were uniformly overripe and the alcohols were high -- above 15 percent -- but more than that they lacked the cohesion and elegance of previous vintages, and in some cases were flawed by bitter green tannins despite an abundance of ripe fruit characteristics.

I was so surprised and disappointed that I placed a call to the winery's media representative to ask, in a nutshell, "what happened?"

The answer was reasonable. Something to the effect that the vintage was challenging and winemaker Steve Beckmen was forced to decide between green fruit and overripe fruit. I realize this is a tricky decision and those who nail it usually have decades of experience with the same vineyard.

The Beckmen family has been working its exceptional Purisima Mountain estate since 1994, so in the scheme of things the hostorical record does not extend over several decades. In my opinion, they timed their picking decision badly in '06.

OK, that happens. What I don't understand is why the Beckmens moved forward anyway and produced all of their special designation wines (mostly Syrahs from various blocks of the vast Purisima Mountain vineyard) at the usual high prices when the wines clearly represent less than the best that Beckmen can do.

On the bright side, Steve Beckmen is quite pleased with his 2007 vintage. Good. I'll stay away from the '06 Beckmens and wait for the '07s to come around.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:51 AM


April 16, 2009

Rioja Without the Rules

Although Rioja is arguably Spain's most prominent wine region, it was just about the last to catch the wave of modern winemaking that has made Spain the darling of the young, hip crowd of wine enthusiasts populating wine bars across America.

Make no mistake, traditional Rioja can be fabulous wine, but it often leaves generation next wanting more -- more fruit, more alcohol, more obvious new oak. A growing number of producers in the Rioja district are stepping up to meet this demand with what are being described as "high expression" Rioja wines that sometimes eschew the traditional crianza, reserva and gran reserva classifications.

I tackle the subject in my nationally syndicated wine column for the Creators Syndicate. Click here to read the whole thing. I've penned brief thumbnails and wine ratings for four of the more impressive modern Rioja producers, but I must admit I was most impressed by Artadi and Roda.

Unfortunately, Artadi's flagship wine is the limited production Vina El Pison, a 100 percent Tempranillo from the 60-year-old El Pison vineyard. It not only costs $300 per bottle, but only 600 bottles (100 six-packs) are exported to the U.S.

On the other hand, the other Artadi wines are remarkable as well and splendidly priced at around $20 per bottle for the least expensive (but still yummy!).

Photo: Artadi's prize vineyard, El Pison.

Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:23 PM