Sunday, August 7, 2016

Confessions of a Noseless Wine Reviewer

"Noseless Wine Reviewer":  Probably not the most promising title for a resume, right?  Well, I do feel I owe an explanation for my significantly reduced output of reviews at Spirit of Wine (from reviewer "jorray"); and so I will tell you a brief tale of my odd and improbable path through the land of noseless wine reviewing...

It began innocently enough nine months ago, in November, 2015, with a two mile morning walk to my office.  While crossing one intersection as a pedestrian that morning, a car that was stopped at a light made a right turn on red, running into me as I crossed the intersection and tapping me to the pavement.  The hit was at a slow speed, but the fall caused my head to hit the road.  The resulting damage to my head had ominous descriptions, like: "multiple skull fractures", "concussion", "subdural hematoma", "right occipital, temporal bone and facial fractures", etc, etc.  As I personally experienced it, it was a situation that created vast pools of blood, gave me huge headaches and generated a subsequent loss of memory for most of the time surrounding the accident - plus it left me for a bunch of days in our local hospital's intensive care unit.

Weeks later, many of my most obvious injuries were healing, and I was back home, looking a little less like Dr. Frankenstein's failed first edition of a monster.  At home one day, I applied cologne to my face following a shave, and noticed that it felt like I simply had applied water.  I sought an opinion from a second fully-functional nose nearby, and was assured that, yes, it was, indeed, cologne  on my face - and a quite potent cologne at that.  That gave me pause.  And it also caused me to generate a scary hypothesis- one that had not yet been offered up by my medical practitioners at the hospital.  And, sure enough, further experimentation on my part and some simple online research confirmed my fears - I had entirely lost my sense of smell!  (Medically, this condition has a name - anosmia - and has been reported in as many as 30% of cases of traumatic brain injury.)  The causes can be varied, as are potential paths to recovery, but I won't detail them here.  In the majority of cases, full recovery, if it is ever to occur, generally is said occur within a few months of the accident.

So, at nine months since the accident, without full recovery, I have not been among the luckiest of traumatic brain injury victims, olfactory-wise. (I have been fortunate in my recovery in some other respects, including, in particular, awesome support from family, friends and co-workers.)  As a burgeoning wine-reviewer, home wine-maker and (very modest) wine collector, you can imagine how troubling a prospect it was for me to think of spending the balance of my life without being able to enjoy all those aspects of a wine that come through the sense of smell... the swirl of aromas, the emotions those scents evoke, the anticipation of the flavors to come.  Would these be lost forever to me?  Have they been?

There are two pieces of good news:  First, with a couple of potent doses of pharmaceutical therapies (none of which were any fun), a small portion of my sense of smell has returned.  I'd say I'm at perhaps 20-25% of my previous capacity now.  When I apply cologne to my face, I can at least now tell that it is cologne and not water -  but I can't tell which of my colognes it is!  But, sadly, things like the scent of fresh lavender or of gardenia in blossom are still completely vanished and are perhaps lost forever.  And while, by scent alone, I can today tell you with reasonable probability which of two blinded wines is the sauvignon blanc and which is the cabernet sauvignon (I've tested this),  gone are my days of being able to sniff a shiraz and tell you from which Australian vineyard it came and what oak treatments it may have enjoyed.

So, I offer a lesson to you from this first piece of news:  Please don't take your sense of smell for granted... Scent of a woman...  Scent of a wine...  Life certainly can remain rich without a sense of smell.   But the depths and colors and shadings that this sense brings to your days cannot be overstated.  My own loss of smell has affirmed this fact.  I implore you to appreciate this valuable sense in every respect.  From personal experience, I can assure you that life is not quite the same when a Sea Smoke Pinot Noir carries the same promise in its nose as a Two Buck Chuck!

OK, on to my second piece of good news:  It was interesting for me to discover over weeks and months that I had not lost nearly as much of my sense of taste as I had my sense of smell.  And this is despite the acknowledged wisdom that much of our discrimination in taste is due to smell.  Indeed, by experimentation I found that some aromas that were not simply not available to me through my nose could enter through my palate!  Now, I cannot speak to you about the biology of this - just to my own experience.

So, wines that were relatively inert to me when I swirled them in the glass took on fragrance, depth and character as I sipped them!  Tannins, acids, fruits, smoke, oak were all quite clear to me once the wine passed my lips.  Impressions were formed.  I could assess quality.  I could assess character. I could begin to discriminate wines!  Like a child learning a new skill, I learned to experience wines in a new way. This new experience is based on impressions and sensations delivered through my palate, without pre-judging the wines through any impressions on my nose.  Slowly, slowly, slowly, some of my prior abilities to characterize and judge wines have come back into focus using my palate, with a range of taste and aromatic sensations which that single sense can still bring to the assessment.

And, interestingly, my abilities to form visual and experiential impressions of wine (e.g., what kind of experiences in the world the wine reminds me of)  have remained more strongly intact than my abilities to describe specific characteristics - e.g., the nature of the fruit aromatics in a wine.

So, gingerly, I have resumed preparing limited wine reviews.  Though I can deliver impressions more confidently than I can describe aromatic elements, I am growing increasing comfortable in judging characteristics associated with the palate, like tannins, finish, mouthfeel, acidity and complexity.

When it comes to describing aromatics in my reviews, I can only think of Lennon and McCartney's lyrics, "I'll get by with a little help from my friends."  So, whenever you see a section in my reviews titled:

"On the nose (as agreed by colleagues):"

...you can better understand the kind of help a noseless wine reviewer needs to make it through a day!

Thank you for listening to my confessions - and please lend a nose if someday I must ask you for a sniff!

(c) Copyright 2016 Spirit of Wine, all rights reserved.  If you are a winery, distributor or marketing agent and you would like to see your (or your client's) wine featured at Spirit of Wine, here are two options: 1) Wait, pray and hope - we may find you someday; 2) Submit a wine for review.  No charge.  Particulars are here.   If you are reading this full posting on any site other than Spirit of Wine, chances are it is a copyright violation.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tasting the Caymus wines line of red and white wines

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for Caymus wines.

I enjoyed a tasting at TotalWine & More of the Caymus line of wines, with a webcast hosted by Charles Wagner, representing the Wagner Family of Wine selections.  His son Charlie Wagner and daughter Jenny Wagner participated in the session.  



Here's what we sampled:

 Conundrum White 25th Anniversary - clear with light greent hints.  Inspired by this wine: In shorts, enjoying a picnic with the family on a crisp spring day.   Flush, lightly sweet with just the right amount of brightness to keep it fresh and crisp.  Finishes clean.  4 stars.  

Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc Napa - 2014 - Clear with a hint of olive.  This was grown with the clusters brushed at bloom to reduce number of grapes.  Inspired by this wine:  A dining room conversation with good friends while a light  breeze passes through.   Fruty with a hint of alate and minerality.  Clean finish.   3+ stars

 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay - 2014 - Deep golden in the glass.  Inspired by this wine:  Poking some sticks in the fire pit, ready to cook s'mores.   Bright entry with a full palate - sweetness comes in with the finish.  3+ stars

Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve - 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands - Light golden in the glass.   Inspired by this wine:  Settling back on the couch, enjoying the conversation but not feeling the need to guide it along.  Fresh peach fruits on the palate, but fully ripe, with clean acids surrounding.  Balanced finish.  4 stars.



 Conundrum Red 25th Anniversary - Clear with light green hints.  Inspired by this wine:  In shorts, enjoying a picnic with family on a crisp spring day.  Flush, lightly sweet on the palate with just the right amount of brightness to keep it fresh and crisp.  Finishes crisp.  4 stars.  

Emmolo Merlot Napa - 2013 -  Black magenta, opaque almost to the edge of the glass.  Inspired by this wine:  Smoky barbeque in the yard, the beef is almost cooked!  Deep, concentrated black cherry with ash and supportive tannins.  Long, flush, fruity finish.  Awesome 4+ stars.  

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon - 2014, Napa Valley - Black magenta, opaque almost almost to the edge.  Inspired by this wine:  Enjoying a U.S. Memorial Day parader from under a broad oak tree.   Full black cherry and chocolate on the palate, solid tannins and acids, plenty of fruity with clean finish.  4 stars.  

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for Caymus wines.

(c) Copyright 2015 Spirit of Wine, all rights reserved.  If you are a winery, distributor or marketing agent and you would like to see your (or your client's) wine featured at Spirit of Wine, here are two options: 1) Wait, pray and hope - we may find you someday; 2) Submit a wine for review.  No charge.  Particulars are here.   If you are reading this full posting on any site other than Spirit of Wine, chances are it is a copyright violation.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Caymus Vineyards exclusive webcast and tasting coming soon

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for Caymus wines.

You’re invited to participate in a unique event celebrating the release of the Caymus Vineyards 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

On Saturday, July 16, 2016,  at 1:00pm PT (4:00pm ET), Chuck Wagner, Owner and Winemaker of Caymus Vineyards will hold an exclusive live-via-webcast guided tasting of his newest release. This exclusive webcast will happen simultaneously at 53 Total Wine & More stores around the United States.

In 1972, Chuck Wagner and his parents created Caymus Vineyards, world-renowned for highly rated Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Chuck and his family produce wines from premier wine-growing regions across California. Join an exclusive live-stream conversation with winemakers Chuck, Charlie and Jenny Wagner. You will experience seven offerings from the Wagner Family of Wine, including the newest vintage of Caymus Cabernet. Attendees will receive a gift from the winery.

 The webcast will be followed by a tasting of other Wagner Family of Wine selections, including the following wines noted below:
·         Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
·         Conundrum Red 25th Anniv
·         Conundrum White 25th Anniv
·         Emmolo Merlot Napa
·         Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc Napa
·         Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve
·         Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay

If you are interested in participating, please link on the following URL to sign up:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

11th Annual LAWineFest coming to Los Angeles this weekend!

LOS ANGELES -- LAWineFest returns to Los Angeles for

two epic days of fine wine, artisan beer, gourmet foods and fabulous fun!

LAWineFest will be held June 25 and 26, 2016 at 5901Sunset Blvd., in the

shadow of the historic KTLA white broadcast tower in Hollywood.

LA’s “Signature Celebration of all Things Wine” attracts more than 5,000

enthusiasts who come to taste world-renown wines and artisan beers from

across the globe. Participants will also be able to get close and personal with a

wide variety of reasonably-priced artisan boutiques, gourmet foods, wine-related

accessories and local lifestyle “must have” products.


Wine lovers will also have the rare opportunity to taste exclusive small-batch

pours from roughly a dozen hard-to-find boutique wineries at a small, additional

fee. Tickets are limited to a maximum of 400 people per day for this one-of-a-kind

tasting.


With a portion of the event’s proceeds, LAWineFest  supports Sunshine

Kids. A range of LA’s popular gourmet food trucks will be present, for attendees to

score some of the most delicious, affordable food in Los Angeles. The

LAWineFest Music Stage will feature entertaining live music. The King Barrel

courtyard gives a place for attendees to relax while enjoying the day.


Tickets are available at LAWineFest. Festival hours on Saturday are from 3p-7p,

and hours on Sunday are from 2p-6p. Hours have shifted slightly from last year

to beat the heat.


Tickets are $90 per day (single, general admission), $135 per day (single,

universal admission and includes boutique winery tasting), and $20 (designated

drivers – no drinking.).


General admission covers tastings, commemorative glass, event program, main

stage shows, bottled water and vendor samples. Boutique Winery Courtyard

admission includes additional tasting stemware. Exhibitor products will be

available for sale, as well as cuisine from some of the best food trucks in LA. 


The LAWineFest, in its 11th successful year, was founded in 2005 by Dr. Joel M. Fisher. . Now a local institution, LAWINEFEST is known to deliver an event that balances

fun, exploration and education. 2016 sponsors thus far include Los Angeles

Magazine, Beverly Hills BMW, Stella Artois, La Brea Bakery, Icelandic

Glacial, Peerless Coffee and King Barrel.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reviews: DiGiorgio Family Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines, Lucindale and Coonawarra, Australia

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for DiGiorgio Family wines.

By way of background:   The DiGiorgio family has been working the land in Australia for over 60 years and established their initial Lucindale vineyard in 1989.  Today, generations later, DiGiorgio Family Wines produces not only in Lucindale, but in Coonawarra and within the broader Limestone Coast.  Review wines were provided by the winery's representative.

Original tasting and review : This is DiGiorgio Family Lucindale Cabernet Sauvignon, Limestone Coast, South Australia, 2013, finished at 14% alcohol and first sampled three years from vintage date, in April, 2016.

Inspired by this wine:  A long talk sitting outside with grandpa - a memory in the making. 

In the glass: Deep, muddy magenta, opaque from about a half inch in from the edge.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, colleagues agree this shows a soft, lightly peaty blackberry and blueberry nose with mild minty hues.

On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact showing husky, furry old school oak surrounding a deep blackberry fruit palate.  Langorous length mid-palate reminding one of flannel shirts and campfires.

In summary: Overall, rates three stars with a big plus for its power and depth on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale.  Good value in a robust, bold cabernet!
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Original tasting and review : This is DiGiorgio Family Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon,  Australia, 2013, finished at 14% alcohol and first sampled three years from vintage date, in April, 2016.

Inspired by this wine:  Like a child, enjoying the fun of scribbling with and smelling a table full of Crayola crayons. 

In the glass: Deep mahogany, opaque from about a half inch of the edge.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, colleagues agree this shows lightly oaked, fully ripened black plums.

On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact a panoply of black and dark purple berries and fruits, integrated with soft oak, furry tannins and a sweet underlying tone.  Mid-palate stays deep, but the finish moves up in tone, touching a slight brightness.

In summary: Overall, rates a strong four stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, recognizing its depth, layers pleasurable aspects.   Best value by our reckoning!
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Original tasting and review : This is DiGiorgio Family Coonawarra Shiraz,  Australia, 2013, finished at 14.5% alcohol and first sampled three years from vintage date, in April, 2016.

Inspired by this wine:  Diving into the pond, you're bracing for a big, cold splash.

In the glass: Medium deep red, almost opaque in the center.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, colleagues agree this shows bright, lifted crushed pomegranates and blackberries.

On the palate: The primary elements on the palate bring fresh, sweet, blended berries and ripe red fruits together with a slight wash of pleasing acidity that pulls it all together.  The middle of the sip grows big and even slightly sweet, then pulls back in for a clean finish that is even a little mouth-puckering.

In summary: Overall, rates three stars with a big plus for an exciting diversity of elements on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale,  making this a good value on our scale.


Check out today's pricing and retail availability for DiGiorgio Family wines.


(c) Copyright 2016 Spirit of Wine, all rights reserved.  If you are a winery, distributor or marketing agent and you would like to see your (or your client's) wine featured at Spirit of Wine, here are two options: 1) Wait, pray and hope - we may find you someday; 2) Submit a wine for review.  No charge.  Particulars are here.   If you are reading this full posting on any site other than Spirit of Wine, chances are it is a copyright violation.

Reviews: DiGiorio Family Chardonnay wines, Lucindale and Coonawarra, Australia

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for DiGiorgio Family wines.

By way of background:   The DiGiorgio family has been working the land in Australia for over 60 years and established their initial Lucindale vineyard in 1989.  Today, generations later, DiGiorgio Family Wines produces not only in Lucindale, but in Coonawarra and within the broader Limestone Coast.  Review wines were provided by the winery's representative.



Original tasting and review : This is DiGiorgio Family Lucindale Chardonnay, Limestone Coast, South Australia, 2013, finished at 13.5% alcohol and first sampled three years from vintage date, in April, 2016.

Inspired by this wine:  Sparkling fireworks being viewed on a breezy, dry summer's night.

In the glass: Gleaming light yellow with hints of bright gold.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, colleagues agree this shows a light, distinctly mineral and slightly slate lemon with white stone fruit and white flower petals.

On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact showing lively grapefruit and white nectarine.  Quite a bright tone and cleansing finish.

In summary: Overall, rates three stars with a plus for its appealing aromatics on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, making this a good value based on the Spirit of Wine criteria
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Original tasting and review : This is DiGiorgio Family Coonawarra Chardonnay,  Australia, 2014, finished at 13% alcohol and first sampled two years from vintage date, in April, 2016.

Inspired by this wine:  Playing jacks on a plaid blanket near the lakeside.

In the glass: Light yellow straw with faintest hints of olive.

On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, colleagues agree this shows medium weight, lightly metallic peach elements.

On the palate: The primary element on the palate is in fact sparkling young peach with a light lemon dressing.

In summary: Overall, rates three stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale,  with its bright - yet pleasing - acidity suggesting plenty of options for aging.

Check out today's pricing and retail availability for DiGiorgio Family wines.


(c) Copyright 2016 Spirit of Wine, all rights reserved.  If you are a winery, distributor or marketing agent and you would like to see your (or your client's) wine featured at Spirit of Wine, here are two options: 1) Wait, pray and hope - we may find you someday; 2) Submit a wine for review.  No charge.  Particulars are here.   If you are reading this full posting on any site other than Spirit of Wine, chances are it is a copyright violation.