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Thoughts on the State of Wine Social Media Events

6 Jun

#Chardonnay Day was on Thursday, May 26.  Although I had not planned to officially participate (I was just going to pop open a bottle at home), my buddy Keith contacted me Tuesday evening asking if I was doing anything, noting that he was thinking of organizing a local gathering.

Only a few of our local group could attend, so Keith and I settled in and compared the array of bottles that we had selected for the evening’s festivities, set the order of appearance, and started to taste and post to Twitter while we waited for our friend Russell to arrive.

The first thing that Keith and I noted were the sea of tweeters who had no other goal than to tell everyone that they wanted nothing to do with the event or the varietal.  While this most recent event dealt with Chardonnay, we also saw this backlash with the social events for Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Grenache, etc.

No matter what the post or tasting note that was shared, several tweeters consistently brought up other varietals or stated that they could not wait for the event to be over so that they could drink something else.  I saw several that really wanted to discuss Riesling, several who wanted to highlight Malbec, and the like.

The other beast that reared its ugly head was the “chronic retweeter.”  These people seem to live for nothing else than to repeat the thoughts of others.  No original thought, no addition to the fabric of the conversation.  Their goal would appear to be to rank near the top of the statistics of those who sponsor or organize these events.  Ultimately, for those of us to follow these events on sites like Twitterfall, it ends up looking like double vision, with each post appearing at least twice.

I don’t know if there are any real solutions to these issues, as Twitter and the most of the “social media” are nothing if they are not about free and open discussion of thoughts and ideas.   Perhaps these folks will tire of dissent and the contrarian approach, and choose to either abstain from the event or join the discuss with insight and thoughtful posts.

Wine and Birthdays

23 May
Originally appeared  on Wine – The View from Orlando – where I was a regular contributor.


Birthdays often make wine drinkers out of folks who don’t normally drink wine, and can make normal wine drinkers consume bottles they were saving for special occasions. Bring together a group of wine hoarders (nee collectors) and the results (and bottle count) can be spectacular.

I attended such an occasion for the birthday of my friend Marshall. Marshall has been a collector and connoisseur in the Orlando area for many years, and has hosted many tastings, several that have raised money for local charities.

Marshall called me on a Wednesday and told me that he was having his birthday gathering at the Wine Room, a posh local wine bar. I asked if I could bring anything, and he noted that he would be opening some bottles, but we all would gladly sip through whatever anyone brought. I selected a bottle of red and a bottle of white as Friday evening approached.

When I arrived, Marshall had already opened his warm-up wine – a 1996 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet. The wine was stunning, and, tasted blind, could have easily been mistaken for a wine 10 years younger. There was no hint of color change or oxidative aromas, just pure fruit and mineral aromas and flavors.

The next salvo was a 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Hudson Vineyard in Carneros. We had high hopes for the wine, but it appeared that the Kistler may have been “the portrait of Dorian Gray” for the Bouchard, as the wine was deeply colored and oxidized and well past it’s prime.

As I had a brought a white from that era, I gamely produced my 1997 Stony Hill Chardonnay. What a relief… The wine was well-preserved and showing years younger than its chronological age, although nowhere near the class of the Bouchard. It showed just a hint of color, and is beginning to develop some of the butterscotch type aromas and flavors to complement the green apple and stone fruit.

Having three whites open, it was time for reds. Marshall went to his cellar and reappeared with a “starter” red, a 1997 Harlan ‘The Maiden.’ I have always wanted to like the wines from Harlan but, having tasted them dozens of times, have only been WOWed once or twice, so the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) does not thrill me. The Maiden was drinking well and starting to show some mature edges, but still did not really knock my socks off.

My socks were knocked of by the next wine to appear, a 1976 Camus Mazoyeres Chambertin. The aromatics on this Burg were just stunning, with flavors to match. Typically earth, leather, tobacco aromas, but also red fruit and white flowers. Amazingly youthful fruit flavors and a fair amount of tannin and acid as well. I am constantly amazed that so much nuance is packed into a wine you can read the New York Times through.

Next to appear was a Germano Barolo Riserva from Marshall’s birth year of 1958. The wine still had scents of rose petals, cinnamon, and cloves, with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry.

After this point, several people showed up to celebrate with Marshall, and the tasting fragmented as some folks moved to more comfortable accommodations in a seating area, leaving my friend Russell and me at the original table with the open bottles. Marshall would appear from time to time to make sure that Russell and I were getting to try each of the new wines as they were opened.

In order to make sure Russell and I had something tasty on hand, I popped the red that I had brought – a 1998 Pichon Lalande. The wine was stunningly rich relative to the other wines opened to that time. Deep dark red and black fruits, earth, leather, and cedar on the nose and palate.

In quick succession two classic Bordeaux appeared for us to sample – a 1982 Chateau Montrose and a 1995 Chateau Haut Brion. Both of these wines showed the power and longevity that wine lovers hope for – deep rich flavors, firm tannins, and a good level of acidity. It was a good thing that Russell and I were between the cellar and the main group, as Marshall poured us some from each bottle in succession as he came by. By the time I had sampled and assessed the wine and went to find another pour, each of the bottles were empty.

The evening ended with a Porto – a 1963 from Cockburn’s. The wine showed a lot of alcohol on the nose, as well as caramel and some cooked red fruits. The palate was rich and full of red cherry, berries, caramel, and almost a hint of milk chocolate. All in all, a fabulous evening celebrating life, wine, and friendship. I look forward to many more years of helping Marshall enjoy his wine!

Wines of Luc Morlet and Carte Blanche

21 May
Originally appeared  on Wine – The View from Orlando – where I was a regular contributor.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a tasting of the wines of Morlet Family Vineyards (Luc Morlet) and Carte Blanche.Luc Morlet comes from a Champagne producing family (Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Avenay-Val-d’Or) that spans five generations in the business. Luc earned his Viticulture degree from Ecole Viticole de Champagne, a Masters degree in Enology from Reims University, France, and an MBA in Wine Business from Dijon Business School, Burgundy. He interned throughout Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne, with stops at Champagne house Duval-Leroy during graduate school, and then Val d’Or Champagne Cellars and Chateau Dauzac in Bordeaux. He replaced an assistant winemaker in St. Helena, California for a year in 1993; while there, he met a woman (Jodie) who he would subsequently marry.As the eldest son in a French family, he would have been expected to assume control of the family business. But instead, he followed his heart to California. He started at Newton Vineyards where he replaced John Kongsgaard as Driector of Enology. He was responsible for the fabulous “Unfiltered Chardonnay” in the late ’90s, and collaborated with Michel Rolland on Bordeaux blends .

In spring 2001, Luc joined the staff of the Peter Michael Winery as winemaker, and then in early 2005, joined the staff at Staglin Family Winery. A year later, Luc and Jodie began producing wines under the Morlet Family Vineyards (MFV) label.

 We tasted through six (6) selections:2008 MFV ‘La Proportion Doree’
2009 MFV ‘Ma Princesse’ Chardonnay
2009 MFV ‘Ma Douce’ Chardonnay
2008 MFV ‘Coteaux Nobles’ Pinot Noir
2008 MFV ‘Mon Chevalier’ Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 MFV ‘Passionnement’ Cabernet SauvignonThe ‘La Proportion Doree’ is inspired by the Bordeaux Blanc wines of Pessac-Leognan (more on this later), and is composed of a “golden blend” of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. The wine is actually golden in color, with a profusely floral and lemony nose. The wine is full-bodied on the palate with flavors that tend towards ripe apricot, white peach, and quince.The two Chardonnays we sampled come from the cooler areas of Sonoma – the ‘Ma Douce’ coming from Sonoma Coast vineyards and the ‘Ma Princesse’ from the Russian River Valley. Both are Burgundian in style, with the ‘Ma Douce’ showing aromas of candied lemon, panna cotta, and orange peel, with wet stone and fresh hazelnut. The wine is full, rich and creamy on the palate, with a long, mineral-driven finish. The ‘Ma Princesse’, from cuttings of the Old Wente clone, shows more green apple to accompany the lemon candy aromas, and this wine is equal to its sister in richness, body, and minerality.The Coteaux Nobles comes from the Noble family vineyard along the Sonoma Coast. This wine, although also made in a Burgundian (and feminine) style, shows the exuberance of California fruit in big raspberry and cherry flavors and aromas, almost tending to the point of liqueurs. There was also a pencil-lead-like minerality that I typically sense from Cabernet-based Bordeaux.

Luc and Jodie make three Cabernet-based wines, two of which are terroir driven. The Coeur de Vallee (which we did not get to try) is made wholly from Beckstoffer To-Kalon fruit – 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc.

The ‘Mon Chevalier’ is from the Knights Valley AVA in Sonoma, and is a blend of the five typical red Bordeaux grapes. The wine is intensely aromatic, yielding scents of dark red and black fruit, a hint of barrel spice, flowers, tobacco, and earth. The wine is full, rich, and intense with a very long finish.

The ‘Passionnement’ is a barrel select wine made from only the best barrels produced from each vintage, regardless of the vineyard. This wine reminded me of the early Garagiste wines from Bordeaux. It was dark purple to the point of opacity, with intense aromas of blackberry, blueberry, black currant, cigar box, and a hint of earth. This wine, for all of its intensity, is much more approachable right now than its sister. Luc dedicates this wine to his wife, and considers it the ne plus ultra of his wine portfolio.

The other winery at the tasting was Carte Blanche, for whom Luc Morlet is also the winemaker. Carte Blanche is an apropos moniker for this enterprise once you learn its background. The proprieter is an unassuming-looking young gentleman named Nick Allen who, in passing, will tell you that his family has been in the wine industry for 75 years or so. He also casually mentions while you are trying his Proprietary White Wine (a blend of 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillon) that the blend his family produces in France from these grapes utilizes a slightly different proportion. It isn’t until you delve deeper that you discover that Nick is the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, and the white wine his family produces in France is Chateau Haut Brion Blanc from the Pessac Leognan commune in Bordeaux (I told you we would come back to it). The family also owns La Mission Haut Brion.The stars of the Carte Blanche portfolio are the red wines. We started with the 2008 Carte Blanche Proprietary Red Wine. Luc explained that it is called this because it is “too French to be Meritage,” the term developed in California for Bordeaux-style blends. The grapes come from a variety of elite vinyards in Napa – 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper vineyard in Oakville, 20% Cabernet Franc from the Beckstoffer To-Kalon vineyard in Oakville, and 40% Merlot from the Newton vineyard on Spring Mountain. The wine is deep purple in color, with aromas of baked cherries, cassis, tobacco, dark chocolate, and a hint of tar. The palate follows through with currant, plum, cedar, espresso, and mocha. The tannins are very fine, and contribute to a very long finish.The 2008 Carte Blanche Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper vineyard in Oakville, the McBride vineyard in Calistoga, and the Link vineyard in Knights Valley, with 4% Petite Verdot (also from the McBride vineyard) and 1% Malbec from the Knights Valley. This wine is is more fruit-driven than the Proprietary Red, with blackberry and currant aromas and flavors, accompanied by hints of mocha, black pepper, and black cherry. The tannins are also fine-grained in this wine, and the wine appears to have the structure for some cellar aging.All of these wines come from people whose families have a long and storied tradition in the wine industry, but who are making their own marks and doing things their own way. Production levels are small – from 125 to 300 cases for Carte Blanche, and from 150 to 500 cases for Morlet Family – but worth seeking out.