Joel Vincent

Technology. Wine. Family. (maybe not in that order)

Archive for October, 2004

Everything You Wanted to Know About Wine Ratings But Were Afraid to Ask – Wine Spectator

Wine Ratings- what do they mean? How are they generated? Why are they inconsistent across ratings. Every wine rating has something behind the scenes determining who gets what rating. Effectively they all have their own system. The interesting thing about the ratings is that they can serve different purposes and they can also mislead if you don’t know where they’re coming from. In a series of a articles Vivi’s will explain the rating system for different publications and try to provide some guidance on when it is and isn’t good to use that particular system.

There is some controversy behind the scenes saying that some of the more commercial publications use their circulation and readership to help wines that pay for advertising. We tend to find consistency in the ratings so its very hard for us to be on the side of “pay for placement” arguments. Anyway, we hope this series of articles helps to shed some light on the confusing and occasionally frustrating business of wine ratings.

Lets start the first with the big cahuna – Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator is the most well known wine publication certainly in this country. Its one of the magazines that has rumors around it that advertising with the magazine helps the score a wine receives. We can be certain if this is true or not but a consultancy called WineAngels.com did extensive research on the wines reviewed by Wine Spectator for the last 10 years and basically did find correlation between score and price (naturally because a high score in WS means people will seek it out – supply and demand here) but not as much correlation between advertsing and score. You can see a summary of the report on their site. The report is designed for wineries hoping to get an edge in marketing so it costs money for the full report.

Anyway, Wine Spectator says their tastings are conducted at their offices around the country. According to their website:

* Each editor generally covers the same wine regions from year to year. These “beats” remain constant, allowing each lead taster to develop expertise in the region’s wines.

* Other tasters may sit in on blind tastings in order to help confirm impressions. However, the lead taster always has the final say on the wine’s rating and description.

* A taster’s initials at the end of the tasting note indicate that the rating and review were created by that taster in one of our blind tastings.

* Wines that do not include initials at the end of the tasting note are wines that were reviewed by two or more tasters. These tastings are conducted in the same blind setting and are monitored and guided by the lead taster for that region.

So what does this mean for us average wine enthusiasts? Basically, since they’re tasters are focused on a single category you will get ratings that are relative to that category. For example, a California Zinfandel from the Central Coast (say Rosenblum) recently received a 92 rating. That means the taster from the California region tasted it and compared it to his expertise and experience – other wines from California.

Now, you walk into a wine store and see that another taster from France gives a Red Bordeaux a rating of 94. Does this mean that this Bordeaux is better than the Rosenblum Zin? Not necessarily. Because they were not tasted competitively you have to decide what style you like better – California or French. Relatively to other French wine that Bordeaux is going to be great. But if you like California wine and buy that Bordeaux because it was rated 94 you could be in for a disappointment – two completely different styles of wine.

So, with the style of having “beat” tasters in certain regions, in order to use the Wine Spectator ratings effectively to make purchases you will want to get an idea of the type of wine you like best. Once you know you’re a big fan of California “big and bold” Cabernets then find a Wine Spectator rating on Cali-Cabs that is high and you’ll probably be finding yourself what equates to “what a CA Cabernet SHOULD taste like”.

If you do get into a specific wine type then Wine Spectator is great. Then you can splurge on a very high rated bottle, taste it, and get the idea of what a great wine of that type really is. This makes it a pretty great tool to learn about wine.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

Up Next: Robert Parket’s The Wine Advocate

French Winers say France in crisis

Just-Drinks.com is reporting that a survey conducted by BVA and published by French press claims that up to 90% of French wine growers are pssimistic about the future of the wine industry in France. Half of the respondents believes the sector is already in real crisis.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to dealing with it. We here at Vivi’s have present our opinion as to the problem with the French wine industry. We just surprised it too this long to catch up to them.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

Source: Just-Drinks.com

FRANCE: Half of winemakers say France in crisis
29 Oct 2004
Source: just-drinks.com editorial team

A survey published in the French press claims that up to 90% of French wine growers are pessimistic about the French industry’s future.

The opinion poll, conducted by BVA, said that nine of every 10 wine growers believes the national wine growing sector is in a crisis or in difficulties.

The results, published in French magazine Gastronomie, showed that nearly half the respondents believed the sector in real crisis. The main threats were seen as foreign competition, the fall in the domestic market and over zealous legislation.

In Bordeaux 69% of the wine growers said the sector was in crisis. Meanwhile, 60% in Languedoc and 56% of the respondents in the south-western part of France shared this opinion.

The survey was carried out in the eight wine growing and producing regions in France and 405 wine growers were interviewed.

SF Restuarant Round-up

A Full Belly.com, a site we enjoy reading from time to time, provides this good round up of recent reviews of restaurants in San Francisco. Certainly we’ve been anticipating our chance to hit Tartare and if you’re up for a really grand feast (by “up” we mean “have a wad of money you’re itching to blow on a spectacular dinner”) the Ritz Carlton Dining Room is the place to be.

Vivi’s is a big advocate of cutting through the hype of wine to find true gems among reasonably priced wines. When it comes to restaurants, sometimes a splurge is worth it. One tip to keeping your bill down, check to see if the restaurant has a corkage fee. Then you can bring your own bottle. But, you should know, as a courtesy, you may want to ask the Sommelier if he/she would like to share a glass with you. Its just a polite gesture.

Anyway, on to the review round-up.

Browse A Full Belly.com if you get a chance. Its worth the visit.

SF: Review Roundup
Today’s review roundup includes: Tartare, Ritz-Carlton Dining Room, Olema Inn.

SF Weekly Meredith Brody reviews Tartare (550 Washington; 415-434-3100):

. . . We were led to a table for two along the banquette and began perusing the deceptively short menu. I say “deceptively” because, although there were only 18 dishes with brief descriptions, the imaginary tastings they set off in my brain — the part that decides what I’ll be eating — were complex. The menu has four categories: “raw and rare,” comprising five tartares; “naked and natural,” including two carpaccios, oysters, and a salad; “simply soup,” with four offerings; and “old and new,” five entrees. Classic hand-cut beef tartare — well, the mind thinks it knows what that will be, but even if you’ve had numerous tartares, and I have, I’ve never had one with habanero-infused sesame oil, plums, and mint before. King salmon tartare with house-ground banana curry? Carpaccio of opakapaka with orange oil and toasted cumin? And the “simply soups” weren’t simple at all: How about a garlic parsley bisque with black mussel flan?
Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.
. . . The soup was an ethereal yet deep-flavored cream of corn, with a dusting of smoky paprika and a knot of boned pork sparerib meat, infused with ginger, in its center. The cream of corn was genius on its own, and didn’t quite seem to need the chewy meat, even as an interesting textural contrast.
The tuna tartare was a fresh take on a dish that has become a cliché — heated with peppers, cooled with mint, and sweetened with diced plums. Chester adored it, as he did the ostrich tartare, wittily served in what I thought was an exceptionally thick-walled oval soup bowl, which turned out to be an actual ostrich egg shell. The beefy meat was well served by its chunky Roquefort vinaigrette and cracked pink peppercorns: a crunchy and creamy dish.

SF Examiner Patricia Unterman reviews Ritz-Carlton Dining Room (600 Stockton St.; 415-296-7465):

Traditionally, hotel dining rooms have suffered a bad rap for overpriced, fancy but soulless institutional cooking. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, however, is one of the best high-end restaurants in The City. Run almost like an independent — except that it’s subsidized by the hotel — the Dining Room offers a $68 three-course menu with lots of choices, augmented by little surprises sent out by the kitchen.
Recently, after seven successful years, Sylvain Portay left the Dining Room and Ron Siegel moved over from Masa’s to succeed him. Siegel became an international celebrity a few years ago by defeating the “Iron Chef” on Japanese, and then American, television. Now he offers Japanese-inspired dishes on the Dining Room menu and weaves Japanese ingredients into non-Asian dishes as well. Though you’ll find plenty of western luxury items like caviar and foie gras, Siegel does some fairly austere presentations featuring Japanese luxury ingredients like coveted matsutake mushrooms and toro, the rich foie gras-like belly meat of the highest-grade yellowfin tuna.

SF Chronicle Michael Bauer revisits the Olema Inn (10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Olema; 415-663-9559):

Vigil’s food is the star. The chef takes one of West Marin’s most important products — oysters — and spotlights them with eight different toppings ($14 for eight), four raw and four cooked. They’re simply some of the best around, whether you choose the Flying Fish Roe version, with a Sauvignon Blanc mignonette, fresh scallions and tobiko; a la Russe, with caviar and a cool lemon cream fraiche; Royale, with lemon bearnaise and crisp shallots; or Dizzy, with warm bacon, garlic, fennel and the crunch of warm bread crumbs.
His seasonal menu consists of four salads, five appetizers and seven large plates, including a nightly fish special such as Kajiki ($23), a line- caught marlin from Hawaii. The rich meaty medallion sits atop a blend of fresh runner beans and strings of onions, thickened with flakes of crab and surrounded by a ring of pepper sauce with the smoky nuances of a well-made romesco.
. . . Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.

Rosenblum 2002 Richard Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel

Its becoming very predictable which is all the more reason we have to point out the newest release from the Rosenblum Richard Sauret vineyard in Paso Robles. It is really a prime example of a good Zinfandel, which Rosenblum tends to do. More importantly, its a really good example of a California style wine. The aroma is great. You can catch a wiff of the chocolate and cherry smells. The first sip hits you Cali-style with bold plum and black cherry tastes which lingers with a chocolate finish.

A great wine if you want to know what a Zin should taste like. We did notice it is a little over tannic but if you open it and give it a little time to breath the exposure to oxygen chills that out very nicely. Not to mention that this also means it will age well. Wine Spectator rates it 92 and San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition awarded it a silver metal. At about $17 a bottle, we have to recommend it as a great value and an excellent way to introduce you to how Zinfandel should taste without breaking the bank.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

I’ll take the Red Wine Inhalor…

Certainly sounds odd but researchers at Imperial College London, England, have confirmed broad anti-inflammatory action of resveratrol, the polyphenolic compound found in red wine. They found that potentially resveratrol could be used to fight chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and possible even arthritis. The research paper published by lead researcher Louise Donnelly et al. in the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, notes: “Our study is novel as it examines the anti-inflammatory mechanism(s) of resveratrol in cells relevant to human disease and explores all of the proposed mechanisms in a single study.”

Donnelly warned that the study looked at over-the-counter resveratrol and found that “its not very pure and probably not worth taking” for the asthma or COPD. It dissolves only in certain liquids, including alcohol, and is “cleared very rapidly in the liver”, which would make the store bought resveratrol ineffective as a treatment for asthma or COPD. Developing an aerosol version “probably would be a better option,” added Donnelly.

Inhaling Red Wine anyone? A whole new take on Enjoying the Wine Life perhaps?

Mixed Results on Wine and Lung Cancer

News Brief

Spanish researchers at University of Santiago de Compostela have found that drinking red wine could protect against lung cancer, but drinking white wine may increase the risk. What they found was that the tannins and resveratrol in red wine have anti-cancer properties. White wine increases risk because while lacking the tannins and resvertrol it does contain alcohol.

This does jive with what we previously reported about resveratrol and its anti-cancer affects. The interesting thing is what we’re learning about micronutrient dense foods (including grapes) and how they can affect the body chemistry. Alcohol is a poison no matter how you slice it but the fact that wine does use a more natural, less processed method to create helps to increase the health benefits and mitigate the damage. The crossing point between when Alcohol in red wine does more damage than micronutrients doing good is very low (usually defined by your specific metabolic traits) so drinking to excess never helps anyone.

Here is a release from Thorax detailing the study.

Two Buck Bob? The Final Nail in the Coffin of a Wine Tradition

There you have it. An all-cash offer to buy Robert Mondavi Corporation. The offer was confirmed today by a company press from Constellation Brands, Inc. The total value of the deal is approximately $1.3 billion, including approximately $970 million of equity on a fully-diluted basis plus the assumption of approximately $333 million of Mondavi net debt.

The final nail, should this offer be accepted (and from a business standpoint, an all-cash offer for more than your current stock price is tough to pass up). Why the final nail? Well, as we reported earlier, Robert Mondavi Corporation was moving away from what Robert Mondavi the man spent the better part of the last 40 years building – world class wine from California. In the downturn of the market it was interesting to observe that the Mondavi story demonstrated that fine wine is so specialized and intricate that it may be impossible to make it a huge, publicly traded business. The demand of Wall Street to have constant increases in earning made it impossible to make “world class wine” a business cash cow – its simply too affected by uncontrollable events (weather, bugs, etc.). So Mondavi had to make the decision to move toward “2 Buck Chuck” competitors and away from its premium brands a la Opus One.

This is the final nail because Constellation Brands, while a good acquiring company from the standpoint of Wall Street and shareholders, will be able to squeeze more from the Mondavi brands but it is not known for creating ultra-premium brands. In fact, it mostly markets beer with brands like Corona, St Pauli Girl, etc… Operational efficiency and earnings will become the mission for Mondavi.

A stark contrast to creating World Class Wine from California.

Its a happy day for investors, and we know plenty of them. But its really a sad day for those who appreciate the CA wine industry that Robert Mondavi, the man, had such a large part in creating.

Thanks, Mr. Mondavi, for creating the Wine Life. We’re sorry the dream had to end this way.

Constellation Brands Confirms Offer to Acquire The Robert Mondavi Corporation