Will Success Spoil The Napa Valley?

  By Charles Olken There are those who would title an essay on the status of the Napa Valley as “Success Has Spoiled The Napa Valley”. I am not among them, but I get the point. For years now, I have preferred to take my out of town guests to Sonoma (Town or Valley or further up county) simply because one can see a more relaxed, semi-normal way of life. The Napa Valley is not normal....

In Defense of Connoisseurship: Is Populist Wine Writing Dumbing Things Down?

  By Stephen Eliot I have spent the larger part of my professional life writing and teaching about wine. Neither pursuit has been about simplifying or dumbing down what is a rich and wonderfully fascinating field of interest, but rather they have been about education and understanding both for myself and, I hope, for those who came to me with questions. I have been called a wine geek but never,...

Terroir Versus Variety—The Final Answer

  By Charles Olken A couple of learned friends, namely Randy Caparoso of the Sommelier Journal and Steve Heimoff of his eponymously named blog, have recently opined on the subject of context in wine tasting. Randy, it seems, claims to have realized that Pinot Noirs from certain areas are structured differently from his ideal model but can be perfectly good nonetheless. Friend Heimoff weighs...

The Wall Street Journal Disses Zinfandel

  By Charles Olken The other day, New York winecritic, Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal, wrote a column in which she smacked Zinfandel up one side of its head and down the other. Now this might be news except for two things. Ms. Teague does not drink Zinfandel, and that she got much of her information about Zin from a friend who lives in the Dry Creek Valley but who does not like Zinfandel....

There’s No Place Like Home For Value In Good Quality Bubbly

  By Stephen Eliot Our love of good bubbles is a year-round affair, but the holiday season is rife with excuses for popping a few more corks than is normal. We very much like those from Epernay and Reims, but we are equally fond of the fine sparkling wines from climes closer to home, and in these days of heated and often silly debates about the virtues and vices of California wines, there...

Are California Wines Worse Than Ever Before—Or Better

  By Charles Olken For years now, there has been a rising chorus that has been telling us that California wines have lost their ways, and that only a few “johnny come lately” winemakers know the truth and are going to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. California wines, we are told, are a drag on the market. California wines are backing up in the warehouses because no one except...

Horatio Alger Lives In California Vineyards

  By Stephen Eliot We hear it in almost every discussion of fine wine; that wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. It is an observation that has become a mind-numbing cliché and is carelessly tossed about in the meandering prose of many who have never set foot in a vineyard but who bow deeply before the altar of holy terroir. It is one of those endlessly invoked homilies that...

Explosive Claims of De-Alcholization of California Wines Debunked

  By Stephen Eliot and Charles Olken Those who would have us believe that California wines are on an increasingly slippery slope were recently given new fuel for their fires with the wholly inaccurate claims by ConeTech of Santa Rosa that 25% of all Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced in California is treated with an industrial process to lower the alcohol levels of those wines. It did not...

Why Technical Data Leads Us Down The Wrong Street

  By Charles Olken I have a friend in the winewriting business who is known, behind his back, as Dr. pH because he has concluded that only wines of a certain pH (defined as the decimal logarithm of the reciprocal of the hydrogen ion activity in an acqueous solution) are worthy of his intentions. Okay, now repeat after me. I don’t care. Now that I have that out of my system, I can tell...

The Death of The Wine Critic Is Greatly Exaggerated

  By Charles Olken I have been reading about my death (professional, not personal) for a half dozen years now, and maybe more, depending on when the jabbering classes stopped dissing the Wine Spectator and turned their collective ire on Robert Parker. Now, to be sure, Mr. Parker is getting old and he has amassed both a great deal of power and respect on the one hand, and a growing but hardly...

Buying Into The Millennial Wine Buyer

A couple of weeks ago I sat on a panel in Saint Helena that explored the Millennial wine buyer. The primary question was how do you reach this growing demographic? My response to the primarily Napa Valley and Sonoma County winery representatives in the room was this: Beware: Millennials are not buying expensive wines. And if you are selling $ 50+ bottles of wine and selling out every year and if your...

California Pinot Put to the Ageworthy Test

  By Stephen Eliot California wines do not age; or so we have been hearing for years. It has become a hoary and hackneyed cliché that raises the dander of those of us who know better, yet despite being discredited time and again, it is a resilient claim that just never seems to go away. I will not disagree with those who argue that most wine made today, regardless of where it is from,...

Public Principles and Wine in Indiana

I’ve always thought that if one’s biblical perspective informed them that homosexuality was immoral, the best course of action would be to not engage in homosexual acts. Likewise, if one feels reliably sure that the Bible instructs that God is opposed to sex out-of-wedlock, then the best course of action is to refrain from sex until married. But I’m old-fashioned. It appears that...

Urban Winemakers on the Rise

  By Stephen Eliot We are lucky enough to live next door to some of the best and most beautiful wine country in the world. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys and the Santa Cruz Mountains are but an hour or so from our doors, and Mendocino, Monterey and the Sierra Foothills are close enough make for an easy visit in one day. There are, however, good wines being made much closer to home these days,...

Looking for Answers in the “New” Wine Culture

  By Stephen Eliot It is said that the new era of wine appreciation is one of freedom, of being able to make your own choices finally freed of the critics and so-called gatekeepers who have for years capitalized on so-called consumer insecurity. Wine is at last being demystified, we are told, yet ironically there has never been a time when the conversation about fine wine is subject to so...

I Taste. I Praise. I Lambaste. Je Suis Charlie.

  By Charlie Connoisseurs’ Guide, by its nature, rarely engages in political talk. It is not that we are not “political” in the normal “I have an opinion” manner, but, rather, that Earl Singer and I started this publication with the explicit promise to ourselves and to our readers that CGCW would be about wine. We don’t do politics and we don’t do...

Don’t Smoke! Don’t Drink! Eat Your Broccoli!

  By Charles Olken I am actually rather fond of my doctor despite the fact that he does not smoke, rides his bike to work, always asks me if I had the fois gras when I return from France and insists that I eat my broccoli. It could be worse, of course. He could also tell me not to drink, but he does not. In fact, a very large secret to our friendship these last two decades is that he is a...

Killing the Wine & Arsenic Story — Before It’s Too Late

“Boy, who knew about the arsenic in wine. I’m a beer drinker.” “Great, now there’s another way I can die…Just drink wine” These are two comments that were directed at me this weekend. Both were unsolicited and both in response to me being asked what I do for a living and responding that I work in the wine business. IF YOU DON’T THINK THE ARSENIC STORY...

Killing the Last Vestige of the 3 Tier System in California

“Wholesale industry officials did not comment for this story prior to deadline, despite repeated attempts,” wrote Santa Rosa Press Democrat business reporter Bill Swindell. And it was a simple question he had for them too: Do you support California Assembly Bill 1233 that would allow distilleries in the state to sell direct to the consumer from their distillery premises? This shouldn’t...

Robert Parker is Wrong—He’s Not Part of the Problem

Robert Parker, Jr. is wrong. He’s not “part of the problem” In an interview with Drinks Business, Mr. Parker lamented the fact that the world’s most coveted wines are so expensive: “The influential wine critic said that the rising prices of top labels from leading fine wine regions was a ‘problem and a concern’, particularly for the ‘younger generation’,...

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