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October 18, 2023

Welcoming Columnist Andrew Holod to Wine Review Online

Editor's Note:  Although I posted this blog in mid-September when Andrew Holod's first reviews appeared on this site, it might have been missed by those who will see his first column, published today.  This will let you know more about Andrew, just as his column will whet your appetite for future articles from him.  ~Michael Franz

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Along with my colleagues at Wine Review Online, I’m delighted to welcome Andrew Holod to our ranks.  He’s starting up this week with a set of reviews, and you’ll find his recommendations virtually every Wednesday going forward on the WRO “Reviews” page.  Andrew will also begin contributing columns toward the end of next month.

Andrew is an American-born child of immigrants from Ukraine.  He was raised in the exceptionally diverse suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was exposed to a broad range of cultures and many different foods, many of which were grown in his family’s garden.

While living in Munich, Germany for more than two years while in primary school, Andrew did a lot of foraging for pine and beech nuts and developed a prodigious appetite for local specialties based on roasted pork. Upon returning to the USA, his pediatrician found his resulting blood cholesterol levels somewhat disturbing, but no lasting damage was done and his culinary career was off to a flying start.

University studies at Virginia Tech resulted in a BS degree in Industrial Design after extensive work with wood and plastics while also machining metal, photographing, welding, printing, and engaging in computer-aided design.  Studies also included literature, the philosophy of art and “most importantly”—as Andrew told me—wine.

The wine course was conducted by Bruce Zoecklein, Ph.D., who I’ve known for many years and who is very highly respected all over the world of wine (his formal position prior to shifting into Emeritus status was, “Professor and Head, Enology-Grape Chemistry Group” at Virginia Tech). The course was based on the famous U.C. Davis University Wine Course, and for Andrew, as he explained to me, it “ignited a desire to understand why a wine tastes as it does…because of vine training, terroir, winemaking techniques, or some combination of these factors?”

After graduation, Andrew pursued these interests while working for eight years in wine retailing in McLean, Virginia and Gaithersburg, Maryland, sometimes tasting as many as 100 wines per week in his role as Assistant Manager.  He also ran tasting classes at the Gaithersburg location, during which time he was accepted into the WSET program (at age 24) with a view to sitting for the Master of Wine exam as WSET was just taking root in the USA.  

After three years of study, Andrew stepped away from that course of study but not from striving to understand wine, and incorporating a more hands-on dimension to his striving.  He worked a harvest for two weeks with Sashi Moorman at Stolpman Vineyards in Santa Barbara and then another week at Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and was also invited to participate in Oregon Pinot Camp and Master Napa Valley.

Andrew also worked a harvest for 10 days in Valencia, Spain, but his engagement with Spanish wines ran much deeper than that.  He worked for nearly 15 years with Aurelio Cabestrero and his company, Grapes of Spain, in multiple capacities including Marketing Manager and then Sales Manager.  As regular readers of Wine Review Online are already aware from years of reviews I’ve published on this site, I respect Cabestrero at the highest level of USA-based importers, and Grapes of Spain is among the most carefully curated portfolios of wines imported to our shores from any country in the world.  It was when Andrew was working in this capacity that he and I first met, and also when he immersed himself directly in Spanish regions including Ourense, Rías Baixas, Bierzo, Toro, Ribera del Duero, Rioja, they Pays Basque, Valencia, Alicante, Valdepeñas, La Mancha, Navarra and Jerez.

His travels and work experience are remarkably extensive.  On the travel front, and citing France just for example, he’s conducted site visits in Alsace, Burgundy, Minervois, Corbieres, Saumur and Vouvray.  Currently he works as Assistant Wine Manager in Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in D.C. and at cellar.com, its online portal.  Schneider’s was established in 1949 and is an institution in D.C.—which is saying something in a city famed for its institutions.

Please take a few minutes to look over his column and his recommendations, which appear most weeks on WRO's “Reviews” page.  They'll provide a sense of Andrew’s wine aesthetic and his means of conveying his critical appreciation to readers.  We are confident that you’ll like what you read and enjoy what you taste on his recommendations.  We are delighted to welcome him aboard, and you’ll be thankful for his guidance along your own voyage in wine.
Posted by Michael Franz at 6:42 PM

October 11, 2023

Object Lesson in Excellence: E. Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie “Château d’Ampuis” 2019

The Guigal family, the elder Marcel and his wife Bernadette, and their son Philippe and his wife Eve, have always focused on site specificity in the great Northern Rhône appellation of Côte-Rôtie. It started in 1966 when they bottled wine separately from La Mouline, a 2.5-acre vineyard planted with both Syrah and Viognier, in an amphitheater on the Côte Blonde slope of the appellation.  A few years later, in 1978, they began bottling wine from La Landonne, a single 5.7-acre vineyard on the Côte Brune also planted to both Syrah and Viognier. Finally, in 1985, they began bottling La Turque, from another 2.5-acre vineyard, planted entirely to Syrah, on the Côte Brune.  

In 1990, Guigal felt the wine from another single Côte Brune vineyard, Pommière, was distinctive enough to be bottled separately. This time, however, Guigal bottled it in magnum only and, curiously, without the vineyard name on the label.  Then in 1995, they decided there were six sites (a seventh was added in 2005), both on the Côte Blonde (La Clos, La Garde, and La Grande Plantée) Côte Brune (La Pommière, Le Pavillon Rouge, Le Moulin, and La Viria, the one added in 2005) that were sufficiently distinctive to produce a high-end representation of Côte Rôtie.  And thus, Château d’Ampuis was born.

The name of the wine comes from the 12th century château, a national historic monument that Guigal purchased in 1995, then painstakingly restored, and ultimately made the headquarters of this great House.  Château d’Ampuis is meant as a wine to lie—in stature, production and price—between Guigal’s classic Côte-Rôtie, dubbed Brune et Blonde de Guigal (200,000 bottles annually at about $90 a bottle), and the three single vineyard bottlings, collectively known as the LaLa’s (about 5,000 bottles each annually of La Mouline and La Turque and double that for La Landonne. Each cost about $500 a bottle upon release).

The youthful 2019 Château d’Ampuis is simply stunning. The influence of long aging in new oak (38 months) is still apparent at this stage, yet not overwhelming.  Based on my experience with older vintages of Château d’Ampuis as well as Guigal’s single vineyard bottlings, all of which receive similarly long oak-aging, the oak eventually marries seamlessly with the plethora of fruit, pepper, smoke, and other savory nuances found in these wines.  Elegance is lent to the wine by a touch (seven percent) of Viognier in the blend, with these grapes from the Côte Blonde being co-fermented with the meaty and powerful Syrah fruit.

Unevolved at this stage, the wonderful 2019 Château d’Ampuis needs at least a decade to fully unfurl and show its splendor. (95 pts., $135, imported by Vintus).
Posted by Michael Apstein at 9:09 PM

October 4, 2023

Natalie MacLean Tells All in New Memoir

By her own admission, wine writer Natalie MacLean has a habit of drawing attention to herself, and not all of it is good.

That’s not a harsh judgment on the Canadian commentator and journalist.  In the case of her new memoir, you can tell a book by its cover, the title and text reading, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking too Much.  On the back cover, she credits herself with winning four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, a very notable accomplishment, but that comes after the boast that she was “named the World’s Best Drinks Journalist.”

It’s that balance, or perhaps imbalance, of attainment and attitude that draws her peers to attack or defend her, sometimes the same writers doing both.  And MacLean is not tone deaf to the fact she does this.

Lots of people are told their mates want out of the marriage, and there probably isn’t a wine and spirits writer who has not drunk too much on occasion(s).  What makes Wine Witch especially interesting within the wine-writing world is its third and central event – an attack on her journalistic honesty on Dec. 15, 2012, by the staff of the online publication, Palate Press.

Essentially, the focus of the signed editorial states:

"The core of Ms. MacLean’s work is the publication of wine reviews and food and wine pairings.  In addition to her own reviews, which are often a sentence or less, Ms. MacLean includes professional wine reviews by writers from other publications.  The reviews sometimes include the writer’s name, but never the publication or a link.  Rather,     they are all accredited to “Vintages Wine Catalogue,” a Liquor Control Board of Ontario publication which runs fully accredited reviews, including author, date, and publication, to drive wine sales, much like any retailer on line or on shelf-talkers.  There is a simple phrase for this practice in which Ms. MacLean has engaged – copyright infringement."

The publication was religious in tracking down many non-credited reviewers, including an outraged Jancis Robinson, and there was little doubt that MacLain had done what they charged she had done, although her defense was she didn’t realize – for a variety of reasons – that doing so was a breach of journalism ethics and most likely legal ethics.

But there are three things that lead the reader, including this one, to be sympathetic with MacLain, however attention-grabbing her reputation has been:

One, is Palate Press apparently never reached out to MacLain to get her side of the story before publication, a grievous error if you are attacking someone’s ethical standards and livelihood.  Most newspapers would fire or severely reprimand a reporter for so doing.

Second, MacLain went beyond explaining her ignorance by apologizing quickly and changing her practices, although, admittedly not to the complete satisfaction of her accusers.

Third, in the months that followed, the online attacks on MacLain became intolerably vicious.  Having made their point, they wouldn’t let it rest.  To some, blood is a more powerful aphrodisiac than wine.

Personally, I so hate online commentary that a few years ago I took a vow of celibacy never to screw around again with social media, a vow that I’ve kept.  Totally unaware of this controversy, I began writing for Palate Press a year and a half later in late summer 2013.  I assume the continuing arguments/attacks were taking place in other forums by that time.

But should you read the book?

It is an interesting memoir, although MacLean is too dramatic for my tastes.  For example, using her “Wine Witch” persona, she idly fantasizes herself as historic witches who were burned at the stake, which I found a bit over the top.

And she strongly plays on the misogyny theme, even though several of her critics were women.  There is no doubt that perhaps all men have a misogynist gene, even those of us who try hard not to be one.  But every time a woman’s ethics are attacked, misogyny isn’t always to blame.

It is interesting that most of her Canadian colleagues didn’t rush to her side, but it seems that many of them (some quoted in her book) never liked her as a person or as a competitor to begin with.

So yes, read the book.  I did…but then I was sent a review copy.  Two, in fact.  Overall, I’m somewhat sympathetic to MacLean.  True, she has had all the perks of being a wine celebrity.  But also true, a divorce, a serious drinking problem and an attack on professional credibility, even if it is somewhat justified, isn’t the best way to settle into midlife.
Posted by Roger Morris at 1:25 PM