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Very much enjoying this chat. Thanks! Now to get to Spain one of these days...

I also have a question. I have a good friend who fell in love with the Riojas of the mid-90s. She says that nothing since then has been the same and some wine store clerk once told her that there were unusual conditions that caused those wines to be different. We rarely agree on wines, though Mark Slater has been known to find us something we can agree on, and her tastes tend to run minerally. (Is that even a word???)

Was there something magical about those Riojas?

Is there anything out there that is comparable today?

Thanks!

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Very much enjoying this chat. Thanks! Now to get to Spain one of these days...I also have a question. I have a good friend who fell in love with the Riojas of the mid-90s. She says that nothing since then has been the same and some wine store clerk once told her that there were unusual conditions that caused those wines to be different. We rarely agree on wines, though Mark Slater has been known to find us something we can agree on, and her tastes tend to run minerally. (Is that even a word???) Was there something magical about those Riojas?Is there anything out there that is comparable today?Thanks!

There were some very good to excellent vintages in the 1990s, especially the 1994, 1995 and 1996, vintages and about the same time, they began to go over to the dark side, getting the grapes fully phenologically (Is that even a word?) ripe, which is to say overripe and ratcheted up to 14% - 15% alcohol to impress the critics. Two things, the critics, both American and Spanish, who praised that type of wine from La Rioja, IMO, didn't know their ass from a whistle and neither did the store clerk who told your friend about "unusual conditions."

High praise for this atypical, alcoholic, new oak-lashed version of Rioja caused more and more producers to go for that style. You say that you rarely agree on wines and her taste tends to run towards wines with minerality. IMHO, you should pay more attention to her palate. :rolleyes: However, she was not getting minerality out of most Riojas. While some Riojas can be great, minerality is not Rioja's strong suit, because, though they have the minerals, Rioja wine have always been a cellar rats wet dream and the wines have mostly been made in the bodega more than in the vineyard.

Try a good vintage of Contino, though it gets up there a bit in alcohol because of its unique estate micro-climate, in years when it is spot on, it can be a majestic wine, like the 2001 Contino El Olivo, which is the greatest "modern" Rioja I remember tasting.

I wrote this in 2001 in an article entitled Alta Expresión Vino - Black gold or fool's gold? (Check back tomorrow or Sunday for the whole article, the link disappeared.)"During the past decade, scores of powerful, highly concentrated, new-wave wines have cropped up all over Spain like the saffron crocuses that proliferate in La Mancha every October. These intensely extracted, international style wines encompass a bewildering array of newly minted brands that vary widely in quality and seriousness. Lumped together under the controversial term vinos de alta expresión ("high expression," or "high concept" wines--read high extract and some say "alta extorsión," for the outrageous prices some command), these potent wines depart sharply from the traditional, mellow, age-worthy style for which La Rioja, the country's premier wine region, is famous. Winning high praise in some circles and vociferous criticism in others, alta expresión wines have pushed Spain smack into the center of the brewing international debate between winemaking traditionalists and advocates of the high-octane New World approach."

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More on the question of bookluvingbabe on the wines of La Rioja:

Rioja: The Mountain Cat Springs to Life

(An article originally published in 2002 about what was going on with Rioja wines at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the new century.)

". . . La Rioja is arguably the greatest red wine region in Spain. And its prowess is still based primarily on the ability of the top centenarian bodegas to produce millions of bottles of high-quality wines at reasonable prices. This core group includes CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), La Rioja Alta, Muga, López de Heredia, Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Murrieta and Bodegas Riojanas. This distinguished group of bodegas makes more bottles of 90-plus-rated wines than the rest of Spain put together.I will have another piece up on Contino and Roda from La Rioja shortly.

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More on the wines of La Rioja, giving some background on two important wines, Contino and Roda, with notes on wines from the 1990s.

"For at least a decade or more, I had had a love-hate relationship with the wines of Rioja - a region responsible for some of my life's most memorable tasting experiences. I prized the best of the old guard wines (R. López de Heredia, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Riscal and others) -- yet recognized the mediocrity of many -- and I grated against the brashness of a gush of new wave Riojas that left palate-scalding new oak and high alcohol in their wake. Not surprisingly, the passage of time has seen most of the stalwarts evolving toward a more modern style and many of the newcomers toning down their brash styles to a degree that moves them closer to the classic wines that made Rioja famous in the first place.

Among the most captivating of these maverick makers, Viñedos del Contino has emerged as Spain's most important "château" and Bodegas Roda as one of its most significant and innovative wineries founded in the past 25 years. Both are now at or near the top of almost everyone's list of the greatest wines of the modern Spanish era, including mine. And because each has accrued substantial a track record -- Contino with more than 30 vintages, Roda with more than 15 -- the time was ripe to reassess their evolutions."

For the rest of the story, click on the link below.

Roda & Contino: Mano a Mano (A 2006 Article Revisited)

IMG_0789%20Contino%20J%20Madrazo%20tasting%20with%20Spanish%20wine%20writers%20sm.jpg

Historic Tasting at Contino.

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Spanish Wine & Food Pairing: Possibilities Are Limitless

An article of mine on the Culinary Institute of America's Worlds of Flavor website

pairing-600.jpg

"In recent years, Spain has become increasingly popular with American wine drinkers. Once perceived as a source of inexpensive wines with an envious price-quality ratio, Spain has become increasingly sought out for the quality of its wines and many are fetching high prices. The American boom in Spanish tapas bars and restaurants (more than 70 establishments in New York City alone), with by-the-glass sales and adventurous Spanish wine lists, has helped introduce a multitude of new consumers to the jewels of the Spanish wine world. Likewise, savvy sommeliers around the country, once attracted by price, now by the quality levels of Spanish wines, are giving them prominence on wine lists at a broad range of restaurants, including the mostly highly regarded restaurants in the country. This has also been spurred by intense publicity about Spanish cocina de vanguardia, which has attracted many American chefs and food lovers to Spain where, in the process of discovering Spanish food, they have also discovered the wide gamut of Spanish wines.

Spanish wines are naturally great with the broad spectrum of Spanish traditional cuisines and many of them work well with ultra-modern dishes and cooking techniques inspired by Spanish chefs. But the real revelation is the ability of these wines to match well with a range of cuisines just as the wines of France, California, Italy, and Australia do. In this article, I will make some broad sketches of different Spanish wine types and equally broad recommendations about some foods they might pair with. With some tasting and experimentation, American chefs, restaurateurs, and wine-lovers will find a whole new world of exciting possibilities within the range of Spanish wines now available in many markets." (Click on the link above to see the rest of the article.)

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Gerry - We met several years ago at a wine dinner at the late, lamented (by me, at least) Café Atlantico. I've enjoyed this thread and am eager to taste your wines when they become available in the DC area. If you pass through, please let me know.

Your discussion above on Rioja and the earlier quotes from Josh Raynolds bring to mind Paul Lukacs's new book, "Inventing Wine." The last few chapters sum up the evolution of wine's modern "invention," as he fancies it, into an international style characterized by flamboyance, fruitiness over earthiness, and potent alcohol. I'm simplifying here, of course, but the main factors driving this evolution are modern technology and viticultural practices, which have had several effects:

  • Good, as in technically sound, wine can now be made anywhere.
  • Dramatic improvements in wines from around the world (South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand). And perhaps a similar expansion of quality wine within classical winemaking countries (Languedoc, Priorato, and some of those tiny "new" regions on Don's bull head?
  • Celebrity status for winemakers - the technology gives them tools and makes their choices in the winery as important, if not more, as choices in the vineyard.
  • Because there is so much technically sound wine, wine is democratized - more people can afford it, so it becomes a more popular drink. Therefore ...
  • Celebrity status for wine writers and critics, as consumers need someone to tell them which wines to choose from among the multitudes.

The result of all this is that modern wines tend to taste alike. Lukacs calls this a triumph of style over terroir. "Wine's newfound ability to come in styles that can transcend both region and grape variety is the most important aspet of the current era of globalization," he writes. "For many consumers, a wine's ability to be true to a style even more than either a region or a grape has become a defining mark of quality."

That's a thought-provoking discussion of why it can be hard to distinguish a modern Rioja from a Napa cabernet. I hadn't thought to blame Francois Freres, though! :rolleyes:

(A shameless plug: I reviewed Lukacs's book, along with another about wine in biblical times, for today's Washington Post. It's my first appearance in Book World, and I'm pretty darn excited about it.)

Cheers,

Dave McIntyre

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Yes. I'm enjoying the heck outta this thread.

Many, many thanks, SeanMike. B) B)

Dave McIntyre, Many thanks for your post. I will answer you shortly.

This is from my post to bookluvingbabe (above):

(Sorry the link to the story does not work right now. I will fix it by this evening. The original article was published in the now defunct Wine News, but their website is not longer operative, so I have to post the text from my original manuscript and format it for blogger and add some photos.)

I wrote this in 2001 in an article entitled Alta Expresión Vino - Black gold or fool's gold? (Check back tomorrow or Sunday for the whole article, the link disappeared.) "During the past decade, scores of powerful, highly concentrated, new-wave wines have cropped up all over Spain like the saffron crocuses that proliferate in La Mancha every October. These intensely extracted, international style wines encompass a bewildering array of newly minted brands that vary widely in quality and seriousness. Lumped together under the controversial term vinos de alta expresión ("high expression," or "high concept" wines--read high extract and some say "alta extorsión," for the outrageous prices some command), these potent wines depart sharply from the traditional, mellow, age-worthy style for which La Rioja, the country's premier wine region, is famous. Winning high praise in some circles and vociferous criticism in others, alta expresión wines have pushed Spain smack into the center of the brewing international debate between winemaking traditionalists and advocates of the high-octane New World approach."

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Gerry - We met several years ago at a wine dinner at the late, lamented (by me, at least) Café Atlantico. I've enjoyed this thread and am eager to taste your wines when they become available in the DC area. If you pass through, please let me know.

Your discussion above on Rioja and the earlier quotes from Josh Raynolds bring to mind Paul Lukacs's new book, "Inventing Wine." The last few chapters sum up the evolution of wine's modern "invention," as he fancies it, into an international style characterized by flamboyance, fruitiness over earthiness, and potent alcohol. I'm simplifying here, of course, but the main factors driving this evolution are modern technology and viticultural practices, which have had several effects:

  • Good, as in technically sound, wine can now be made anywhere.
  • Dramatic improvements in wines from around the world (South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand). And perhaps a similar expansion of quality wine within classical winemaking countries (Languedoc, Priorato, and some of those tiny "new" regions on Don's bull head?
  • Celebrity status for winemakers - the technology gives them tools and makes their choices in the winery as important, if not more, as choices in the vineyard.
  • Because there is so much technically sound wine, wine is democratized - more people can afford it, so it becomes a more popular drink. Therefore ...
  • Celebrity status for wine writers and critics, as consumers need someone to tell them which wines to choose from among the multitudes.

The result of all this is that modern wines tend to taste alike. Lukacs calls this a triumph of style over terroir. "Wine's newfound ability to come in styles that can transcend both region and grape variety is the most important aspet of the current era of globalization," he writes. "For many consumers, a wine's ability to be true to a style even more than either a region or a grape has become a defining mark of quality."

That's a thought-provoking discussion of why it can be hard to distinguish a modern Rioja from a Napa cabernet. I hadn't thought to blame Francois Freres, though! :rolleyes:

(A shameless plug: I reviewed Lukacs's book, along with another about wine in biblical times, for today's Washington Post. It's my first appearance in Book World, and I'm pretty darn excited about it.)

Cheers,

Dave McIntyre

I don't think posting this link about Paul Lukac's "Inventing Wine" is a shamless plug at all. I am glad to have the link and I am going to order the book today. It will be a relief to read it as a break from my current wade through Vladimir Nabokov's "Lectures on Don Quixote."

I am glad Paul wrote this book. I obviously haven't read it yet, but from your review I have no doubt that I am going to like it. It is ironic that I have been vilified over the years, in Spain and here, for saying a decade or more ago what Paul is documenting in his book. One approach is a wine "manufactured" in the cellars, the other approach is a wine with a distinct sense of place. One is an attempt to create a homogenous product "that the market is asking for" (How many times have I heard that phrase in Spanish wineries?); the other is original, unique, authentic and not easy to duplicate. One is a wine made in the cellars, sometimes with "better living through chemistry" plus the use industrial yeasts, battonage, new oak and all kinds of stunts to shoehorn wines into shoes that don't fit. The "sense of place" approach is original and most of the wines are distinct from one another, even from plots in close proximity. Not all of the wines are perfect, but most, even with their imperfections are much more enjoyable to drink than a duotone (oak and powerful overripe flavors) Ribera del Duero trying to imitate a California Cab.

Gerald Asher once wrote something like: "It is not the similarities, but the differences in wines that make the wine world so unique and fascinating."

Drawing on that inspiration from Asher, my take is: “What makes the world of wine so interesting, compelling and even romantic is the diversity of vineyards, grapes, producers and wines, not homogeneity or sameness.”

Followers of this thread can read more (shameless plug) of my Spanish Artisan Wine Group philosophy about wine in my Mission Statement, part of which goes like this:

"We do not represent wines that conform to the conventional canon, i.e., wines so dark that you can't see the bottom of the glass; wines with jammy, overripe fruit; wines low in acid; "dry" red or white wines with pronounced residual sugar; wines that taste more of oak than wine; or wines with levels of alcohol higher that 13.5%. We prefer 13% and lower, but will consider wines of 14% on rare occasions, but only if they seem particularly well balanced, which is a sleight-of-hand performed by very few maestros.

We see no virtue in wines so extracted and concentrated in color that you can't see the bottom of the glass. Depth of color is no indicator of a great wine in the glass, it merely a very dark wine, which often means it has very high alcohol and is a very extracted wine made from overripe grapes. Such wines are usually made to please reviewers during the two minutes they may have to evaluate one wine among the 30-100 wines they will taste that day. We don't believe that is the criteria by which really good wines should be judged.

We don't mind if the wines are lightly filtered, since we don't put much stock in the unfined, unfiltered wisdom, nor do we believe in exaggerated concentration of flavors as a virtue.

We do not seek wines that rely on harvesting overripe grapes and submitting them to long macerations to achieve dark color, high alcohol and so-called "flavor." We discourage the abuse of battonage, the popular stirring of dead lees back into the wine, a practice that effectively breaks and often obliterates the seamless marriage of great minerality with the taste from great grapes, putting an artificial volume-appearance enhancing element in wines that misses the point of what a great wine should be about. And we discourage barrel fermentation in new oak and aging wines in improperly prepared new oak, either French or American, all of which tend to obscure both the taste of the grape variety and any terruño (terroir), or unique sense of place, that a wine may possess. . ."

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I don't think posting this link about Paul Lukac's "Inventing Wine" is a shamless plug at all. I am glad to have the link and I am going to order the book today. It will be a relief to read it as a break from my current wade through Vladimir Nabokov's "Lectures on Don Quixote."

I am glad Paul wrote this book. I obviously haven't read it yet, but from your review I have no doubt that I am going to like it. It is ironic that I have been vilified over the years, in Spain and here, for saying a decade or more ago what Paul is documenting in his book. One approach is a wine "manufactured" in the cellars, the other approach is a wine with a distinct sense of place. One is an attempt to create a homogenous product "that the market is asking for" (How many times have I heard that phrase in Spanish wineries?); the other is original, unique, authentic and not easy to duplicate. One is a wine made in the cellars, sometimes with "better living through chemistry" plus the use industrial yeasts, battonage, new oak and all kinds of stunts to shoehorn wines into shoes that don't fit. The "sense of place" approach is original and most of the wines are distinct from one another, even from plots in close proximity. Not all of the wines are perfect, but most, even with their imperfections are much more enjoyable to drink than a duotone (oak and powerful overripe flavors) Ribera del Duero trying to imitate a California Cab.

Gerald Asher once wrote something like: "It is not the similarities, but the differences in wines that make the wine world so unique and fascinating."

Drawing on that inspiration from Asher, my take is: “What makes the world of wine so interesting, compelling and even romantic is the diversity of vineyards, grapes, producers and wines, not homogeneity or sameness.”

Followers of this thread can read more (shameless plug) of my Spanish Artisan Wine Group philosophy about wine in my Mission Statement, part of which goes like this:

"We do not represent wines that conform to the conventional canon, i.e., wines so dark that you can't see the bottom of the glass; wines with jammy, overripe fruit; wines low in acid; "dry" red or white wines with pronounced residual sugar; wines that taste more of oak than wine; or wines with levels of alcohol higher that 13.5%. We prefer 13% and lower, but will consider wines of 14% on rare occasions, but only if they seem particularly well balanced, which is a sleight-of-hand performed by very few maestros.

We see no virtue in wines so extracted and concentrated in color that you can't see the bottom of the glass. Depth of color is no indicator of a great wine in the glass, it merely a very dark wine, which often means it has very high alcohol and is a very extracted wine made from overripe grapes. Such wines are usually made to please reviewers during the two minutes they may have to evaluate one wine among the 30-100 wines they will taste that day. We don't believe that is the criteria by which really good wines should be judged.

We don't mind if the wines are lightly filtered, since we don't put much stock in the unfined, unfiltered wisdom, nor do we believe in exaggerated concentration of flavors as a virtue.

We do not seek wines that rely on harvesting overripe grapes and submitting them to long macerations to achieve dark color, high alcohol and so-called "flavor." We discourage the abuse of battonage, the popular stirring of dead lees back into the wine, a practice that effectively breaks and often obliterates the seamless marriage of great minerality with the taste from great grapes, putting an artificial volume-appearance enhancing element in wines that misses the point of what a great wine should be about. And we discourage barrel fermentation in new oak and aging wines in improperly prepared new oak, either French or American, all of which tend to obscure both the taste of the grape variety and any terruño (terroir), or unique sense of place, that a wine may possess. . ."

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(A shameless plug: I reviewed Lukacs's book, along with another about wine in biblical times, for today's Washington Post. It's my first appearance in Book World, and I'm pretty darn excited about it.)

Cheers,

Dave McIntyre

Nice review!

The few, the proud, the Washingtonian Wine Columnists - Lukacs, Rockwell, McIntyre.

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Gerry, I am so sorry to hear about your daughters' mom - my condolences to you & your daughters, I know that you will all miss her. I'm sure you have wonderful memories of years past. I'll be lifting a glass of wine to her, although I did not know her.

What do you think about American wines? Although obviously you have a great knowledge of Spanish wines, is there any chance that local winemakers can catch up to years of tradition, & produce wines that can stand up to the wines you have tasted? Or is that something you even think about?

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Gerry - We met several years ago at a wine dinner at the late, lamented (by me, at least) Café Atlantico. I've enjoyed this thread and am eager to taste your wines when they become available in the DC area. If you pass through, please let me know.

Your discussion above on Rioja and the earlier quotes from Josh Raynolds bring to mind Paul Lukacs's new book, "Inventing Wine." The last few chapters sum up the evolution of wine's modern "invention," as he fancies it, into an international style characterized by flamboyance, fruitiness over earthiness, and potent alcohol. I'm simplifying here, of course, but the main factors driving this evolution are modern technology and viticultural practices, which have had several effects:

  • Good, as in technically sound, wine can now be made anywhere.
  • Dramatic improvements in wines from around the world (South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand). And perhaps a similar expansion of quality wine within classical winemaking countries (Languedoc, Priorato, and some of those tiny "new" regions on Don's bull head?
  • Celebrity status for winemakers - the technology gives them tools and makes their choices in the winery as important, if not more, as choices in the vineyard.
  • Because there is so much technically sound wine, wine is democratized - more people can afford it, so it becomes a more popular drink. Therefore ...
  • Celebrity status for wine writers and critics, as consumers need someone to tell them which wines to choose from among the multitudes.

The result of all this is that modern wines tend to taste alike. Lukacs calls this a triumph of style over terroir. "Wine's newfound ability to come in styles that can transcend both region and grape variety is the most important aspet of the current era of globalization," he writes. "For many consumers, a wine's ability to be true to a style even more than either a region or a grape has become a defining mark of quality."

That's a thought-provoking discussion of why it can be hard to distinguish a modern Rioja from a Napa cabernet. I hadn't thought to blame Francois Freres, though! :rolleyes:

(A shameless plug: I reviewed Lukacs's book, along with another about wine in biblical times, for today's Washington Post. It's my first appearance in Book World, and I'm pretty darn excited about it.)

Cheers,

Dave McIntyre

Hi, Dave, Here is the full Monty on my 2001 article--Alta Expresión Vino: Black gold or fool's gold?--on this subject. It is amazing to look back more than a decade ago and see the things that people such as Josh Raynolds, Jancis Robinson, Stephen Tanzer, John Mariani, Fernando Chivite, Victor de la Serna and many others were saying about vinos de alta expresión. It is also amazing looking back and remembering how much I was being vilified by some of the Spanish wine establishment over articles like this one. I was actually called a "wine Taliban" on some Spanish wine boards and some tried to paint me as an ignorant American, though I have been in some 600 hundred wineries in Spain, some as many as 15-20 times.

To me, it is truly incredible that these top wine people were saying all this more than a decade and the wine industry still went headlong down this path, despite the warnings, and many who sought fool's gold by making what they thought was inky black gold are suffering the consequences of not listening to reasonable people with experience and taste. IMO, the "fruit bomb" and "brash new oak" approach to wine may well turn out in the long run to be as disastrous as phylloxera and TCA combined

I have extracted a few of the more choice graphs in this piece:

Jésus Madrazo is the 36-year old winemaker at Contino and a descendant of the founder of the great classic bodega, CUNE (Compañía Vinícola de Norte de España). Madrazo, whose family are major shareholders in Contino, told me, “Most of the best producers hate the term alta expresión, but it has come to define the new wave of Spanish wines and is even showing up on restaurant lists as a separate heading.” Wine shops such as Bilbao’s D’Vinno “La Tienda,” owned by an enthusiastic young woman named Esperanza Ares, specialize in high-end, new wave and alta expresión wines.

The fruit-driven, power-packed style that alta expresión represents does have some important defenders. Robert M. Parker, Jr., publisher of The Wine Advocate and the world’s most powerful wine critic, is the most visible. In fact, many wine experts say his palate is responsible for launching the whole genre.

Stephen Tanzer, the publisher and main wine reviewer for the Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, one of Parker’s main rivals, has one of the most respected palates in America. He too, has become an admirer of many of cult wines, garagistes wines, and Spain’s alta expresión wines. Tanzer often rates such wines, including many new wave Spanish wines, in the high nineties. In telephone interviews, defending such wines as Valandraud (an ultra-expensive, high-powered, new wave wine made by Jean-Luc Thuvenin that has set Bordeaux on its ear) and Domino de Pingus (Ribera del Duero), Tanzer told me that he believes that they generally have had a positive impact, especially in Spain and in such places as Bordeaux, where he, like Robert Parker, has been effusive in his praise of many garagistes wines.

“Many of these small production wines are essentially experimental "winemaker’s" wines,” Tanzer says, “but, if yields are kept low and the winemaker uses modern wine making techniques, they show how much potential a wine region can have, especially in places like Bordeaux and Spain, where wines are often made on a large scale.”

“The negative,” Tanzer says, “They are usually very international in style, so it is often not clear where they come from.”

* * * * *

Alejandro Fernández, the producer of Pesquera (Ribera del Duero), one of the great wines to emerge from Spain in the 1980s, and several other high-quality wines from emerging estates, is another top Spanish wine star who is not comfortable with his wines being classifed alta expresión and, like many, questions the age-worthiness of such wines. Over lunch at Marichu Restaurant in New York, he told me, “I may spend a month harvesting my grapes. The key is to get wines that are in balance and harmony, not wines that are over-ripe, over-alcoholic, and over-oaked. I have been making wines since 1975. Many of wines have aged well for 20 years. I don’t believe most of the so-called alta expresión wines will.”

* * * * *

After attending a tasting of such American wines in London, Jancis Robinson, author of The Oxford Companion to Wine, wrote in Financial Times (Dec. 2, 2000), “Make no mistake about it, wine in North America is a rich man’s drink.” Then, trying to put a positive spin on the theme, she added, “The world of wine is richer for the emergence of these overpriced, precocious beauties (Araujo Eisele, Dalla Valle Maya, Harlan Estate, and Screaming Eagle) - - even if their crazy purchasers are not.”

John Mariani, Esquire Magazine’s restaurant columnist and author of the Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink and the Italian Dictionary of Food and Drink (Broadway Books), has his own succinct formula to describe the new wave of expensive, prestige category wines: “S ) D + MH5 - F + $$ (Supply divided by Demand plus Media Hype squared separates a fool from his money).”

Many long-time wine lovers and seasoned professionals are baffled by the new wine public’s taste for the expensive, concentrated, high alcohol and new-oak laden wines riding the crest of the market wave. Established wine experts such as author Mary Ewing Mulligan, Master of Wine, who is President of New York’s International Wine Center, complain “I feel like a dinosaur when I taste many of these so-called international style, highly concentrated wines coming into the market today. Frankly, I don’t understand or like most of them.”

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, William Rice quoted Christian Moueix, owner of Chateau Petrus and Napa Valley’s Dominus Estate as saying, "The character of these wines, we call them 'global,' is based on extraction. I do not care for them, but newcomers to wine seeking to launch a new label on both sides of the ocean hire fashionable winemakers who make wines that are noticed because they are dark, overripe and overly extracted, obvious with a slightly burned taste."

* * * * *

Fernando Chivite, at the time, was one of the true stars of modern Spanish wine (but since displaced in the winery in an internecine inheritance struggle). The Chivite family had been making wine in Navarra since the 1600s, but in the 1990s, they completely modernized all their winery operations and Fernando himself had become a consummate winemaker producing thousands of cases of exceptionally good wines at a range of prices. He made excellent, affordable, entry level whites, a superb rosado, solid red wines that one never tires of drinking; one of the great modern Chardonnay-based wines of Europe - - age-worthy in the bargain; and a dessert Moscatel that has the best restaurants in Spain begging for an allocation. . .

. . . In a phone conversation, Fernando Chivite said that he was at odds with the many modern Spanish wines and international winemaking techniques. “Great wines are made from vineyards that have been properly cultivated,” Chivite emphasized, “and fine wines from such vineyards have finesse and complexity. Chivite says most of the highly rated alta expresión wines currently in vogue Alack complexity, which is something you can’t add to the wine, and they stress power over subtlety.”

Fernando Chivite was contemptuous of this style of wine, which he and others called vinos de concurso, wines made especially for tasting panels and reviewers - - those he says English wine expert Hugh Johnson calls “one-taste wines,” which never get better after the first taste. “Many of them are made with artificial, not natural techniques, including the use of added tannins; you can tell some of the aromas are not natural.”

"Some of today’s techniques are perversions of the winemaking process that negate all classic standards of quality," Chivite said, "Like much of the modern art world, many of the works of modern wine making are not about esthetics and good taste, they are created for their shock value."

Unfortunately too many producers in Spain are embracing this approach to wine making. Many Spanish wineries have entered the mad race to turn out the wine world equivalent of monster trucks, when what the wine drinking public at large really wants is a well-balanced, affordable wine they can drink often. Jésus Madrazo, who makes El Olivo, a new generation, single parcel wine at the Contino, a wine that could be classifed alta expresión, but has too much balance and restraint to be a real contender in the category, told me, “It is not that difficult to make 5,000 to say 20,000 bottles of a concentrated expensive wine, if you have good grapes, a wine background, technical skills, and a little imagination.”

* * * * *

Josh Raynolds, then National Sales Representative for the highly respected Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants (New York), echoed similar thoughts, “It's not even about the grape anymore, much less the terroir. I consider myself a pretty good blind taster - 13 years full time in the business, drinking and attending tastings for 20 years, a year in Europe devoted to visiting estates, and going to Europe once or twice a year to taste for the last 11 years.”

“I am often at a loss to even hazard a guess as to even what *&$#@*# variety has been poured,” Josh Raynolds said, “I can, however, often guess what type of oak was used and even who the winemaker or consultant was. My experience is that there is a sameness to the wines that makes a taster think more about who made it, who consulted on it, what the alcohol level must be and where the wood came from (not to mention what it must have cost).”

* * * * *

A frustrated-sounding Pablo Alvarez, an owner and Managing Director of Vega Sicilia, told a Viandar (a new Basque Country-based wine and food magazine; Feb. 2001 issue) interviewer, “Recently I read a review in which Robert Parker gave a high score to a wine with a 200 bottle-production!” Alvarez said. At this rate, we are going to be bringing out a single bottle: ‘Here is my wine!’ I believe a winery is something more than a place to make just a few bottles.”

Later in the Viandar interview, Alvarez said, “The problem is not whether Parker can make a wine fashionable or cause it to skyrocket in the United States, what is worrisome is that wineries base their wine making styles on whether they think Parker will like it or not.”

* * * * *

Dan Berger, former wine columnist for The Los Angeles Times and contributor to several major wine publications, wrote me in a e-mail response, “When I think about the high-alcohol, over-oaked, lower-acid style of the so-called international 'bigger-is-better’ red wine, I remember what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland: ‘There is no there there.’

* * * * *

When contemplating the purchase of these highly extracted, new wave or alta expresión wines, perhaps consumers should consider Stephen Tanzer’s Freudian statement from my conversation with him. It goes to heart of the matter with many of these new wave wines. “Drinkability with meals is only about 20% of the equation,” Tanzer said.

“People who pay these prices are not thinking about drinking the wines with meals. The wines are expensive because they are usually made in small quantities.," Tanzer continued. "They are highly collectible, high visibility trophy wines. People who buy CUNE and the other top classical wines of Spain, for instance, are thinking about how well the wines drink with food.”

“How well the wines drink with food.” Now there’s a true alta expresión that should be high on anyone’s list of reasons to buy a wine, Spanish or otherwise.

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Gerry, I am so sorry to hear about your daughters' mom - my condolences to you & your daughters, I know that you will all miss her. I'm sure you have wonderful memories of years past. I'll be lifting a glass of wine to her, although I did not know her.

Thank you so very much. You are very kind and I appreciate your sentiments. We had been divorced for 15 years, but she was the mother of my three daughters, was still a great friend and she helped me weather all those lean years as we tried to stay in the Spain we loved and she helped us immeasurably in establishing a beachhead in New York City, a place we came to directly from a storybook village in Andalucia. The change between being awakened by roosters crowing and donkeys braying, geraniums in the patio and a rooftop from which we could see Africa on clear mornings to early 1970s to Washington Heights with broken glass and dog shit on the sidewalks, dangerous people lurking about and rides on the A train was a shock not to be weathered alone. She handled it one Hell of lot better than I did and she was six months' pregnant with our first daughter. I was an ex-pat wreck whose nail marks were still on the runway in Madrid, from when I was dragged away from Spain.

What do you think about American wines? Although obviously you have a great knowledge of Spanish wines, is there any chance that local winemakers can catch up to years of tradition, & produce wines that can stand up to the wines you have tasted? Or is that something you even think about?

I will tell you exactly what I think, at the risk of pissing off a lot of old friends, whose very fine, below 14%, often below 13% California wines I sold in the 1980s and early 1990s, but right now I have to go cook dinner for my lady love. You may be able to guess what I think by reading what I wrote above in Alta Expresión Vino: Black gold or fool's gold?

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You may be able to guess what I think by reading what I wrote above in Alta Expresión Vino: Black gold or fool's gold?

I urge people to read this, or at least to try.

Ever feel like you're a one-armed man clapping in a dark room, Geraldo?

---

"Josh Raynolds, then National Sales Representative for the highly respected Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchants (New York), echoed similar thoughts, "It's not even about the grape anymore, much less the terroir. I consider myself a pretty good blind taster - 13 years full time in the business, drinking and attending tastings for 20 years, a year in Europe devoted to visiting estates, and going to Europe once or twice a year to taste for the last 11 years."

"I am often at a loss to even hazard a guess as to even what *&$#@*# variety has been poured," Josh Raynolds said, "I can, however, often guess what type of oak was used and even who the winemaker or consultant was. My experience is that there is a sameness to the wines that makes a taster think more about who made it, who consulted on it, what the alcohol level must be and where the wood comes from (not to mention what it must have cost)."

A-Fucking-Men.

Just to put this in restaurant terms - imagine if all meats, from all types of restaurants - Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, American - tasted like chicken. Not just chicken, but chicken that could have come from anywhere.

That's the "International Style" of wine in a nutshell. They (the scientists) did it - they figured out that lots of people like the taste of generic chicken, so they manipulated all their meats into tasting like it.

This is the problem that people like Gerry and me have been fighting for many years, and nobody has been listening to us because everyone has been listening to Robert Parker. There, I said it.

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Precisely what I thought when I was reading the stuff that I wrote a dozen years ago. :o

Who is winning, is it over, and have "we" lost?

Has Robert Parker helped the world of wine more than he has hurt it?

Is he still as relevant as he was? What will be his lasting effects?

Why do you use point scores, and do you really believe in them?

Why do you think you're not more famous? Do you think you will be one day?

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Hi Don and Gerry,

I can see that three weeks in Burgundy had its down side, as I missed a very interesting and wide ranging discussion of Spain's culinary and vinous treasures. It has been a great discussion and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it through from start to finish. Sorry to have been on the road and missed most of the action here- and very sorry to hear of Diana's passing Gerry.

I wanted to toss out one question to Gerry, if it is not too late in the conversation. Do you think that the stylistic pendulum is beginning to swing back for Spanish wines in the last year or two and that we might one day again see more old school Rioja and the like being produced by bodegas? My perspective is not very good in this regard, as virtually no one sends me samples of "modern" Spanish wines these days, so I taste a lot more Ribera Sacra than I do Ribera del Duero or Rioja, and I have really lost a feel for what is going on in the regions that had most heavily endorsed the "modern" recipe of extraction, overripeness and French new wood. Do you think there is light on the horizon, or are the dark days likely to continue in these regions?

All the Best,

John

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Who is winning, is it over, and have "we" lost?

Has Robert Parker helped the world of wine more than he has hurt it?

Is he still as relevant as he was? What will be his lasting effects?

Why do you use point scores, and do you really believe in them?

Why do you think you're not more famous? Do you think you will be one day?

There is no "we" and "they," but since you ask the "they" side of the ledger has had their day and real fine wine lovers in general have been moving away from the inky monster school of wine for years. And, lately, because of the generally outrageous cost and bad vibes for these types of wines--brought on by the high alcohol, low acid, grating new oak and those high prices--the general public is rebelling against this style. What didn't restaurateurs (and retailers and reviewers for that matter) understand about second glass and second bottle sales for these types of wine? Wines under 14% and especially those under 13% don't tire people out and lower alcohol wines get consumers to come back to the glass more often, so the wine disappears and they call for a refill. I mean, really, if you drink wine for the alcohol, it kind of misses the point. I have a dynamite margarita recipe if you want alcohol; it is quicker and cheaper.

You know full well that I am no fan of the Parker approach to wine and I have been vociferous about it, but he has had plenty of copycat reviewers who bought the line.

As I wrote in my reply (above) to Dave McIntyre:

"To me, it is truly incredible that these top wine people were saying all this more than a decade and the wine industry still went headlong down this path, despite the warnings, and many who sought fool's gold by making what they thought was inky black gold are suffering the consequences of not listening to reasonable people with experience and taste. IMO, the "fruit bomb" and "brash new oak" (I should add high alcohol and low acid) approach to wine may well turn out in the long run to be as disastrous as phylloxera and TCA combined. In the short term, it made a lot of opportunists a lot of money, but now I am getting reports that many who were suckled on that tit are beginning to suffer from a profound lactose (read vinous) intolerance."

I could be wrong, but in my opinion (and not just mine), Parker's influence has waned considerably and is headed south. In the opinion of many, including me, he has made some serious mistakes in judgement, one of the most serious being getting involved and letting his Spanish reviewer Jay Miller get involved up to his ears with the notorious Pancho Campo, who ended up resigning his Master of Wine status over the Pancho Campo-Jay Miller-Robert Parker affair which went on for three years. Ironically, like Napoleon, whose mistakes in invading Spain weakened his armies leading to his eventual defeat at Waterloo, there are parellells in the Campo affair.

Point scores: I use point scores simply because I got used to using them over the years and it makes the most sense to me in being able to judge wines on a relative scale. Of course, the old Bob Finigan approach without scores was the best for hard core wine lovers, but it had no commercial appeal once Robert Parker started The Wine Advocate and began to use the 100-point scale, which was used in schools and which everyone could relate to. English writers always used a 20-point scale, which I found way too imprecise. Also, when I score wines I never taste them blind. As you know, I do not believe in blind tasting. Most have actually tasted at the wineries or in restaurants and private lunches or dinners.

When I am doing reviews for articles, I usually open half a dozen wines at a time, usually in the evening, and I taste them just before dinner, then I keep tasting and making notes on the wines as I dine, pushing aside those that do not get better with food and continuing to make notes on those that do get better.

I do not score x number of points for appearance, x points for nose, x points for palate. I judge the wine as a whole, taking all that I see smell and taste into consideration. Color usually has little to do with quality; appearance that clearly shows some kind of defect like oxidation, exceptional cloudiness or an excess of sediment does. I note nuances in the nose, but do not assign any score, though a wine will go down in rating if I detect more oak in the nose than vino. I just taste the wines and try to calculate where I think a wine falls on the 100-point scale based on everything I have ever tasted. When I taste a wine for a second time from another bottle, often months after I first tasted it, I never go back to my first note to check until after I have tasted the wine again. Generally, the point scores for both bottles will be within a point of one another.

Why am I not more famous? Well, underground, among foodies, I am somewhat well known for my expertise on Spanish gastronomy, and I am known by real Spanish wine aficionados, but I have pissed off too many people over the years with my outspoken opinions--many of which have proved right because they were not opinions at all, they had their basis in reality-- and I have not published a book.

Ironically, I am beginning to achieve more notice for my wine selections than for my expertise on Spain and my writing on Spanish wines, but we just hit a major distribution hitch with The Spanish Artisan Wine Group, which I think we will have sorted out by early 2013. (We have a business plan and are accumulating investors right now for what will be the very successful business of offering Spanish wines that are the antidote to what we have seen [and have complained about] for the past twenty years.) [begin shameless plug: Serious investors looking for a good return on their money and wanting to be part of a seriously good wine experience--drinking these wines goes with the package--should contact me at gerrydawes@aol.com; end shameless plug.]

And, Don Rockwell, because of you and your followers on this website, I began digging into what I have written on Spanish wines and have almost completed putting the articles into a file for my A Traveller in Wines Book. So far, and I am not done, I have enough for a 400-page book. Now the editing and re-writing and organizing the whole book still needs to be done, but this weekend was a big start.

Do I think I will be famous one day? How famous can one get being a Spanish wine expert?

What could make me well-known is my Homage to Iberia book, for which James Michener, before he died, gave me the foreword and permission to call it the sequel to Iberia. That and Gula and The Garden of Earthly Delights, a novel set in New York with a food world backdrop, in Spain, in France and in California. Gula has a lot of behind-the-scenes encounters in the American gastronomic world and plenty of good travel-food-and-wine stuff from Spain, France, California and elsewhere. And the sex scenes, beginning with the one in Amboise that involves a Kir Royale made with Mountlouis sparkling wine and Chambord liqueur, make 50 Shades of Grey read like high school fare, but that is a story for another day.

I hope I have answered your questions satisfactorily, Don. :rolleyes:

Gerry Dawes,

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections

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Do I think I will be famous one day? How famous can one get being a Spanish wine expert?

I've thought highly enough of this chat to leave it up for a month and a half. Does that help answer your question?

But I've never been driven by short-term gains. I know what's important, and I know what people need to hear - whether they think they need to, or not. :)

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Hi Don and Gerry,

I can see that three weeks in Burgundy had its down side, as I missed a very interesting and wide ranging discussion of Spain's culinary and vinous treasures. It has been a great discussion and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it through from start to finish. Sorry to have been on the road and missed most of the action here- and very sorry to hear of Diana's passing Gerry.

I wanted to toss out one question to Gerry, if it is not too late in the conversation. Do you think that the stylistic pendulum is beginning to swing back for Spanish wines in the last year or two and that we might one day again see more old school Rioja and the like being produced by bodegas? My perspective is not very good in this regard, as virtually no one sends me samples of "modern" Spanish wines these days, so I taste a lot more Ribera Sacra than I do Ribera del Duero or Rioja, and I have really lost a feel for what is going on in the regions that had most heavily endorsed the "modern" recipe of extraction, overripeness and French new wood. Do you think there is light on the horizon, or are the dark days likely to continue in these regions?

All the Best,

John

First off, for the sake of full disclosure, John Gilman has twice tasted all the wines from my Spanish Artisan Group selections and gave many of them great reviews in his View From The Cellar (July-August, 2012). I was not surprised that Gilman's reviews were so good, because we have similar palate preferences that run to non-spoofulated wines.

In answer to your question about old school Riojas. I see the wineries that still make the so-called "old school" Rioja wines--Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Riojanas are among the best; Marques de Murrieta, somewhat; CVNE and Marques de Riscal have been making modernized traditional wines for a long time--beginning to promote them up front more aggressively, as they should have been doing all along (Lopez de Heredia never wavered), if they had believed in themselves all along.

Ironically, Neal Martin, the new reviewer for Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate just gave several of the "old school" wines glowing reviews (one Rioja Alta wine I saw rated by Martin at 97 points). I say ironically because just a year before Jay Miller went to La Rioja and basically dismissed some spectacular wines from the archives of these "old school" wineries. With Martin's reviews, The Wine Advocate took a total about face and the Spanish wine press had orgasms, but orgasms for the Spanish wine chroniclers are often based on what outside writers have said about the wines and not on the strength of their own convictions. In other words, some writers in Spain are often like La Giralda, the famous statue which tops the belltower (which tops the superb minaret of the former mosque) of the Cathedral of Sevilla. The La Giralda statue has a shield-like protusion at her side that catches the wind and causes the statue to turn, making it weathervane. There is even a bullfight pass called La Giraldilla that imitates the statue and involves the torero turning in imitation of La Giralda as the bull is passed with the muleta (the smaller red cloth). These writers go whichever way the wind blows or, pardon the pun, the bull goes.

IMHO, many of these old school wines will continue to get attention, because they are so relatively rare in today's wine world. And because they are so damned good to drink with food. I also find it ironic that in an age when reviewers put an inordinately high value on new oak (I fervently wish that years ago Bob Parker had written "clean, re-conditioned, properly cared for oak," instead of "new oak"), that many American writers were damning traditional Riojas that were aged in neutral, tartaric crystal (in hard layers) coated barrels as "woody," when those wines were showing the mellow tones that come with several years of aging. These wines are also the antidote to the inky monster, new oak-lashed, high alcohol school of wine appreciation :o that so many consumers who just want a good glass of wine with a reasonable level of alcohol are fleeing.

Gerry Dawes,

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

The Spanish Artisan Wine Group - Gerry Dawes Selections

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Ironically, Neal Martin, the new reviewer for Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate just gave several of the "old school" wines glowing reviews (one Rioja Alta wine I saw rated by Martin at 97 points). I say ironically because just a year before Jay Miller went to La Rioja and basically dismissed some spectacular wines from the archives of these "old school" wineries. With Martin's reviews, The Wine Advocate took a total about face and the Spanish wine press had orgasms, but orgasms for the Spanish wine chroniclers are often based on what outside writers have said about the wines and not on the strength of their own convictions. In other words, some writers in Spain are often like La Giralda, the famous statue which tops the belltower (which tops the superb minaret of the former mosque) of the Cathedral of Sevilla. The La Giralda statue has a shield-like protusion at her side that catches the wind and causes the statue to turn, making it weathervane. There is even a bullfight pass called La Giraldilla that imitates the statue and involves the torero turning in imitation of La Giralda as the bull is passed with the muleta (the smaller red cloth). These writers go whichever way the wind blows or, pardon the pun, the bull goes.

Gerry, in fairness to Neal Martin, it seems like this paragraph is condemning him based on the standards set forth by Jay Miller. I understand that The Wine Advocate, as a publication, may have done an about-face, but has Martin himself?

(This is example #63,485 of why I value the individual over the institution.)

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Gerry, in fairness to Neal Martin, it seems like this paragraph is condemning him based on the standards set forth by Jay Miller. I understand that The Wine Advocate, as a publication, may have done an about-face, but has Martin himself?

(This is example #63,485 of why I value the individual over the institution.)

I mean no unfairness at all to Neal Martin, who came to review Spanish wines after having been quoted in interviews about how he didn't like Spanish wines and had no interest in them. But, from all I can hear from reports from Spain such as from Galicia, where I just spent a week in Oct.-Nov., Martin is taking Spanish wines seriously and, although he is letting the consejos reguladores (whose power is wielded by the most important commercial producers in each region) set up his visits, the reports I have been getting have been generally positive concerning Martin, not so with his predecessor.

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I don't have a great question to proffer today but wanted to post to again thank Gerry for doing this chat with us. The depth and range of expertise being shared here is simply awesome. It has made me--someone who speaks the language a bit and spent a few months in the country--realize how much I don't know and just reinvigorates my already high interest in Spain. Love also that, along with the crazy deep expertise on wine, there has been so much to learn about other Spanish foods, the country and cheese! Loved the old Asturian cheese article you shared with us. The content and writing are wonderful and I also caught the small note about the photographer (yep, Gerry also). Gorgeous photos of a region I never visited and now have at the top of my list for next trip to Espana. Thanks again to Don and, especially, Gerry. This is really special, valuable and unique stuff in a world awash with words online teeming with vacuousness and mediocrity.

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