Tag Archives: Wine Spectator

Senel Wine’s Top 10 Wines of 2011: #2

Even controversy cannot stop #2

2008 Schild Estate, Shiraz, Barossa (Australia) $25

Ranking point total 7.25 (2/1.25/4.5)

I’m not one to piggyback on Wine Spectator; however I couldn’t agree more with one of their selections from last year that is still readily available this year. There is a little controversy regarding the inventory of this tremendous wine. With that in mind, I still recommend it highly as it’s sensational.

The only way to describe the ’08 Schild in one word or less is…wow! I’ve sought this wine out on three separate occasions over the past 8 months and my initial score of 94 was trumped the last two times I’ve enjoyed it.

Super ripe, perfumed black cherry, candied orange zest, grape Big League Chew and spice leap from the glass and you give you an indication that this wine is out to impress. Flavors of black cherry and spice (Allspice) carry over and are joined by blackberry, white pepper and a subtle sweetness from the oak introduce a wonderfully long and bold finish.

The fact that this came from a $25 bottle blows me away. The complexity and length of this wine is impressive to say the least. It’s no wonder Wine Spectator ranked it #7 in their Top 100 of 2010. The most enjoyable sipper I can remember and will age wonderfully for quite some time, especially since it’s protected by a screw cap. One recommendation, pour a glass and then decant for an hour or so, it will greatly reward you!

Senel Wine – 95 pts

For more on how the Top 10 was selected, read Senel Wine’s Top 10 of 2011. Cheers!

To purchase a bottle of this wine, click on the image of the bottle above, or visit the winery website for more details.

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Senel Wine’s Top 10 of 2011: #4

#4 What a Cab!

2008 Januik, Cabernet Sauvignon, ColumbiaValley (Washington) $30

Ranking point total 6.75 (1.5/2.25/3)

Prior to reading about Januik in Wine Spectator, all I knew was that Michael Januik was at one point the winemaker at Stimson Lane, which is now Ste. Michelle. Now, I’m aware of what this man is capable of. Granted, 2008 was a sensational year for Washington reds, but a $30 wine that may go down as one of the greatest value ever?!  That speaks to the winemaker, not just the vintage.

Januik’s gem is bright and vibrant from the onset and sets the stage for wonderful complexity. Bright red fruit is joined by deeper blue fruit and plum skin, as well as an accent of green pepper. Slight secondary notes of sage are present and then you begin to notice the mouthfeel. This is a big wine without feeling laborious. The tannins are firm but sweet and will lend themselves nicely to aging. If you give this wine a few more years it will open up the secondary notes further and make it even more complex; however as it stands now, it’s fabulous!  This just goes to show you that a truly great Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.

I’d like to make a call here, as I feel this wine will end up in the Top 10 of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2011 as well!

Senel Wine – 95 pts

For more on how the Top 10 was selected, read Senel Wine’s Top 10 of 2011. Cheers!

To purchase a bottle of this wine, click on the image of the bottle above, or visit the winery website for more details.

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Biggest Turn-Offs: The Wine List Blame Game

Wine lists are difficult enough for most people to navigate, must we make it harder?!

Restaurant wine lists can single-handedly dictate the type of experience wine drinkers will have while dining out.  I recently read a blog entry by Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman that I thought provided some very useful talking-points.  My takeaways from it led me to think what is worse: a wine list that filled with esoteric wines that no one has heard of, or a lazy wine list that relies on the recognizable names of a bygone era?

The major talking point of the article surrounded the emergence of the “esoteric”, or more aptly put “wine geek” mentality amongst restaurant owners and some sommeliers.  There are very few things more frustrating than walking into a restaurant and scoping out the list and recognizing none, or only a handful, of the wines available.  Like Harvey, this does not happen often, yet I have been noticing it more and more.  Recently, there have been two examples that have jumped out at me. 

While in Portsmouth (NH), my wife and I were killing time before meeting another couple for dinner.  While walking around Downtown, we decided to stop into a restaurant and grab a glass of wine.  The unnamed wine bistro has a broad enough selection, however there were only two names on the list that I recognized, both of which were overpriced and in all honesty, I doubt anyone else would recognize them.  I am all for trying new things, however that was a bit overdone and with only bartenders available for recommendations I could see this going very wrong quite often; however I personally didn’t mind that evening. 

The other locale, this time in Nashua (NH), has a similar situation with their wine list; however they have decided to dedicate some space to wines with strong name recognition.  The only problem, these are largely wines that have huge names, yet dwindling reputations, or mass-market wines that rely on familiarity alone.  Notable wines from a bygone era are a huge pet-peeve of mine as they still demand astronomical prices on a wine list, yet deliver very little in return.  To me, this is either stealing or ignorance, both of which are unacceptable.  Now, the owner of the restaurant is there all the time and claims that he will talk people out of buying those wines, but I doubt it.  Those names do the work and bring in an unfair reward, so why would an owner put in that extra work?

To this point, I agree with Harvey’s article whole-heartedly, yet I do deviate in one area: accountability.  He makes a statement that in many ways is unfair, “why should a sommelier [their selections] force us to be adventurous?”  My answer, they aren’t!  The selections of a sommelier or owner are in many ways like a chef’s menu selection, they are picked for a purpose (or at least they should be).  If you don’t like the menu, then don’t go to that restaurant, or if you happen to stroll in for a glass and don’t like the list, stroll out.  When people make plans, they usually have enough time to jump onto the restaurant’s website to check out the list, thus doing their due diligence.  If they don’t, then they get what they get and should accept their fate.  It would be like going to Del Posto and complaining that they don’t have a burger on the menu; it’s your fault for not knowing that.

Thus, wine lists are a very precarious topic as it isn’t the list that’s the issue, but rather the owner/sommelier and the consumer.  The owner/sommelier should know their guests (demographic: age, discretionary income/spending and knowledge-base) and their food (and what wines truly enhance the menu).  Consumers should know what they like and what they are comfortable with.* If they know this, they can avoid potentially uncomfortable experiences by doing a very small amount of pre-planning.  If both parties don’t do their due diligence it can lead to an ugly experience, at which point, neither should complain.  Considering the beauty and light-hearted intent of wine, all parties should aim to avoid these situations.

* Guys, try to know beforehand what wines you will likely select, as you look silly while frantically looking up wines on your BlackBerry at the table.  Besides looking like a nerd, your date will hate you, so do the pre-planning!

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When a cellar is more than a cellar

As featured in Wine Spectator, attorney Patrick Mincey has had the opportunity to not only realize his dream, but also impart his own creativity into the cellar he designed and built himself.

For years I have been fawning over the amazing wine cellars of the world.  I still have sketch pads filled with designs of cellars I have contemplated right out of college.  My inspiration has come from many places, from Wine Spectator’s monthly showcased cellar, to the different restaurants that I’ve visited with outrageously lavish displays; the allure of having a cellar of distinction intoxicates wine lovers everywhere.

From subterranean caves to converted farm silos, a wine cellar is a way to truly express yourself and enhance the status of your abode.  Obviously these projects are not cheap to finance and are even more expensive to stock, however it is not necessarily about the status or contents of the cellar that make this endeavor worthwhile.  Most often, the reward is the realization of a life’s dream. 

The reality is that the recent economic situation has put a hold on many people’s dreams; however I encourage you to continue to dream big.  No external element can take that away as long as you want it bad enough, so don’t compromise.  Imagine what it will be like to finally have your cellar, or your house with a big yard, or to go on that African Safari, or whatever you may hold as your dream.  Think about that dream, break it down and focus on whatever needs to be done to get you to the point that you can realize it.  Once you figure that out, then do it!  

I hope that one day we have a chance to speak about the time you realized your dreams, hopefully over a glass of wine from mine.  Cheers!

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The new wine elite?

Wine snobs are never fun, although they are sometimes amusing. Alan Rickman played a perfect British wine snob (Steven Spurrier) in the movie "Bottle Shock".

Yesterday afternoon I read an article that really annoyed me.  It highlighted two people, the author and another character in it that have come to epitomize the snobbish image of wine.  It is also part of something larger and more recent.  Over the course of the last couple years, I have noticed a disturbing trend, however before I tell you what it is, let me first put things it into context. 

The mass appeal of obtaining wine knowledge is a rather new concept.  In fact, it was only four decades ago that popular publications such as Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator burst onto the scene.  This was a seminal moment in the history of the wine world.  It marked the introduction of wine knowledge to the masses.  Prior to this, wine knowledge was in many ways privy to a select few.  Thanks to the likes of Robert Parker, James Suckling, Matt Kramer and James Laube that hidden knowledge was brought to the forefront.  Subsequently, these names also began to become commonplace in wine circles, as people were beginning to broaden their horizons beyond French wines, largely on their recommendations.  However, as is the case with any newfound knowledge, the newly educated like to show off and quickly revolt against the teacher.

Enter the new wine “elite”.  Starting in the 1990s and gaining a heck of a lot of momentum in the 2000s, this new group, emboldened by the anonymity of the web, lashed out in droves against anything seen as established.  In some cases this was justified and the arguments made are well thought out and necessary.  They also stand up against the small portion of the established elite that need a swift kick, because they are the ones who continue to portray wine as something unobtainable.  Nothing is perfect, so why not attempt to improve upon it?!

Wine by nature is an uplifting drink, not something to fight over. So cut the nonsense and enjoy it already!

However, other sects are overly critical and typically act as nothing more than mere bullies.  Whether overt or covert, it does not matter, if someone doesn’t like what you or anyone else had to say, they are the first to jump on their blogs or Twitter, try to intimidate at the dinner table, or trash you on a message board.  Ironically, this rebellious lot has become the one thing that they despise, elitist.  They have the secret knowledge and you don’t, so you must be wrong.

The issue I have with a lot of their positioning is that they largely do not try to be constructive in their criticisms, but rather dismissive and disrespectful.  Their mantra?  Established wine critics are bad, the 100-point rating system is worse, Robert Parker is Satan and sommeliers are dirt (or some variation of this).  This part of the revolution I have never understood.  What is so wrong with tradition, recognizing and appreciating outstanding wines, education, offering ratings as a consumer tool, social graces and appreciating who got us to this point?  In their eyes, a lot!

To me, wine is about fun, friends, dreaming, appreciation, experiences and history.  Drinking wine is an everyday act that consciously can bring us back hundreds of years or turn a dinner into a feast.  In general, it amplifies life.  Thus, in many ways I do have an issue with those who buck tradition and establishment just for the sake it.  You are more than welcomed to have your opinions, but don’t ruin things for others.  It is nonsense and self-serving, nothing more. 

However this mindset goes a lot deeper, with some of the most popular figures in the modern wine world feeding off of this dissention.  What this leads to, in my opinion, is a diluted pool of knowledge that does little to educate and uplift, two of the key elements of wine.  I hope that this trend dissipates, as life is too short to think that you are better than others.  Instead of tearing down be constructive, let’s educate and show what the gracious life that Robert Mondavi expounded is all about.  The more we do this, the more people will join our ranks as wine lovers and the more people we will have to share tremendous experiences with moving forward.

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Cork’d: The End of an Era at Wine Spectator

This afternoon I saw a report that was almost as saddening as Lebron James announcing he was leaving Cleveland. Well, maybe not quite that extreme; however, from an unassuming mentor/pupil standpoint, pretty darn saddening.

Ever since the early ‘80s, James Suckling has been the driving force behind Wine Spectator’s ability to effectively cover the major Old World wine regions. Since 2002, he has had a very large (yet unknowingly) impact on my development as a wine geek. His coverage of Bordeaux, Italy and Port has always been insightful, well-written and concise.

So what to make of the super cold retirement announcement that Wine Spectator made?   Read The End of an Era at Wine Spectator to find out.

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Cork’d: The $1,200 Wine Question

Last week I came across a thought that really got me motivated.  The concept stemmed from a blog post by James Suckling on WineSpectator.com.

What Suckling did in his blog was break down what he would purchase with the $3,200 he had allotted himself for wine for the remainder of the year.  He discussed going all out on a single bottle of the $3,200 Chateau Le Pin, from Bordeaux’s Right Bank region of Pomerol, or going about things more practically.

When faced with a similar decision, I thought I would shoot a little lower and base mine off of a $1,200 bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion ($1,200 is its current price, offered by widely known and trust retailer, Zachys).

What would I do if I had $1,200 allotted for wine for the remainder of the year?

 To see what I would do, check out The $1,200 Wine Question written for Cork’d.

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Why is Vintage Variation is Important?

I came across Vintage Variation video from Wine Spectator Online that explains perfectly why it is imporant to be aware of the vintage of a wine, especially for aging or collecting. 

Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator’s Burgundy Guru, uses the ’06 & ’07 vintages of Louis Latour, Chambertin Cuvée Héritiers Latour to prove his point and eloquantly articulate his point.

A very quick yet informative 6 minute video.

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WS.COM: Christie’s Is Counterfeit Crusader’s Biggest Target

One of Bill Koch's Jefferson Bordeauxs (WS.com)

“Some would say Broadbent was duped by Hardy, I say that’s bullshit.” – Bill Koch in Wine Spectator.  

Seemingly, it is time for the chickens to come home to roost for Broadbent and Rodenstock.  Bill Koch truly seems to be a “take-no-prisoners” kind of guy when it comes to protecting the integrity of the wine auction market.  Love him or hate him, Koch is doing wine collectors everywhere a massive favor, in some respects. The following is a fantastic summation of everything that has been going on regarding the mass fraudulent wine activity of Hardy Rodenstock and possibly Christie’s legendary auctioneer, Michael Broadbent. 

 Twenty-five years ago, Michael Broadbent, then wine department director at the venerable London auction house Christie’s, pounded down his gavel and sold the most expensive bottle of wine ever auctioned after less than two minutes of bidding. It was a small hand-blown bottle with “Lafitte 1787″ and “Th.J.” engraved on the glass and it brought in more than $155,000. This was the first of the so-called Jefferson Bordeauxs, a collection of wines that German dealer Hardy Rodenstock claimed were found in a walled-up cellar in Paris. Both Rodenstock and the Christie’s catalog suggested that the evidence was overwhelming that this wine had been ordered for Thomas Jefferson. 

Now that expensive bottle is exhibit A in a new lawsuit by William Koch, the Florida energy executive who has pursued a five-year crusade against counterfeit wine sales in the auction world. On Tuesday, Koch filed suit in a Manhattan federal court, accusing Christie’s International of conspiracy to fraud, racketeering and aiding and abetting fraud. Not only was the Jefferson bottle fake, Koch claims, but 32 wines he bought from Christie’s for more than $33,700 over several years are also “counterfeit or highly questionable.” Koch’s complaint alleges that “Christie’s has engaged in a pattern and practice of selling counterfeit wines for many years.” He wants punitive damages and an injunction ordering Christie’s to seek outside authentication before selling any wine from before 1962.

Christie’s is Koch’s biggest target to date, a culmination of an investigation that Koch claims has cost $7 million. The house, which started operations in 1766, is the oldest name in wine auctions. What’s more, Koch’s suit is a direct shot at the credibility of Broadbent, who auctioned the Jefferson Lafite and tasted many of Rodenstock’s rare old wines. Koch claims to have found several confidential witnesses that can back up his allegations. Two are German engravers who say Rodenstock hired them to carve the initials into the Jefferson bottles with modern tools. Others are former Christie’s employees who, the suit alleges, say that Broadbent and the auction house were lax about counterfeits. “Some would say Broadbent was duped by Hardy,” Koch told Wine Spectator. “I say that’s bullshit.”

Click for full article from WineSpectator.com  

Be sure to read The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Ben Wallace.  It offers an in-depth look into the history and mystery behind these controversial Jefferson bottles.  A great read!


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The Rodenstock/Christie’s saga takes another turn!

Mega-Collector Bill Koch in his cellar holding a notorious "Jefferson Bottle"

 The “Dark Side of Wine” is back in the headlines Bill Koch, who is quickly becoming my hero, is back at it again. He has filed suit two days ago against the famed Christie’s auction house, accusing them of “conspiracy to defraud and aiding and abetting fraud”.  

The accusation stems from the “alleged” relationship between famed auctioneer, Michael Broadbent, and seamy wine collector Hardy Rodenstock. Koch’s accusation claims that  

the former Christie’s wine director Michael Broadbent knew of questions regarding the provenance of the Jefferson wines before the first one was sold in 1985 for $156,000. The complaint says that two German engravers, who are not identified by name, told investigators that Rodenstock hired them to engrave several bottles, including the bottles engraved ‘Th.J.’   

This is Hollywood material!Obviously, Broadbent and Rodenstock’s people were not available for comment as it seems that the mess that they have started is slowly catching up to them.  

Broadbent, a genius of wine, could not have been so ignorant of blind to the fact that there are tell-tale signs of questionable provenance!  Rodenstock even said in interviews that he would not name his source.  Alarm bells are ringing Mike!  Goodness, take some responsibility.   

Please read the brief article on WineSpectator.com for a better understanding of these new developments as well as my interview with Ben Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar, from the Nashua Telegraph, Wallace: In Search of his Red Violin and from Cork’d A Crusade We Can All Embrace to truly understand this significant issue and moment!

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