Sunday, January 28, 2007
First, choose a restaurant that not only has a very good reputation for tasty food, but also one that has a great reputation for very good wine - at fair prices. Ask around. Word of mouth is often helpful in picking a terrific restaurant. The next step is to go online and print off their wine list. If their wine list is not online, you have two choices. Skip the restaurant and move on to one that makes an effort to make their wine list available on line, or call the restaurant and have them fax or e-mail you their wine list. Either way works. I just prefer the former because it is less work for me and I appreciate their efforts upfront.
Once you have the wine list, you can get to work choosing some wines. Look for familiar wines you like. Highlight them. Note if their pricing is fair and within your spending range. I then recommend going to www.KensWineGuide.com to look up the average score of the wine based on reviews from 8 of the leading wine periodicals and the KensWineGuide.com wine reviewers. This helps to narrow the field to a few reds and a few whites. I like to go to the restaurant with usually 4 white choices and about 6 red choices in hand. I usually choose a mixture of different varietals, unless I know one of the attendees has a bias towards a particular grape or a regional preference. The reason to have a number of selections lined up is because you never know what kind of food your guests are going to order. The more pre-planned selections you line up the more flexible you can be, without having to scramble.
Speaking of scrambling. To avoid it, consider calling the restaurant after you have made your selections to make sure they have the “specific” wines you would like. Ask them to check the vintages. If you can, have the restaurant set aside a bottle of each in advance. Finally, if you know you are going to purchase a specific bottle of a “Big” wine, have the wine director open the bottle in advance and decant it for you. You will probably need to pay for it in advance with a credit card.
If you follow the above steps for selecting wine from a wine list, you should be able to reduce most anxiety and intimidation from the process. As a result, you can enjoy a wonderful wine experience to complement your delicious dinner with your guests. I hope you find these tips helpful.
Enjoy and cheers,
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Here is the good news. Somewhere between 80 to 95% of all wine is intended to be consumed in the first 5 years of its life. The predictability of these wines is easier for the wine reviewer to foresee as it has a relatively short shelf life. However, as you will certainly see below, even the best of us can be fooled.
Let’s start with a positive scenario. In the fall of 2005, I reviewed a 2003 Sebastiani Alexander Valley Cabernet as "Very Good." I was a little disappointed since its predecessor had been deemed by me to be much better than that. In September 2006, the KensWineGuide.com tasting panel had our Cabernet tasting where we review wines "blindly" (i.e. the bottles and labels are covered). A sample failed to show up so I was scrambling to find a replacement. I added the Sebastiani for fun as it was popular at many of my past tastings. In the end, when the bottles were unveiled this wine came in second place. When all the scores were tallied, this wine’s average score was "Excellent." This bottle came from the same case as the one from the previous fall which was only "Very Good.". What changed? The wine changed and it changed for the better. My initial review of the wine was accurate for the fall of 2005, but incorrect for the fall of 2006. My guess is you would have all written similar reviews.
Things can also go the other way. At last year’s Boston Wine Expo, I got fooled by a particular Pinot Noir. I loved this wine on that day and I highly touted it. However, on 2 future occasions including our Pinot Noir tasting in July 2006, I had the opportunity to try the wine again and it proved to be very disappointing. What happened? The wine changed. This time the wine changed for the worse and I had to de-list it.
My final note is on storing wine for an extended period of time. Be careful and plan accordingly. Last year I was disappointed when one of my cellar wines that I had great expectations for came out very flat. The wine was the 1997 Ridge Lytton Springs. This wine had scores of 93 from Wine Enthusiast, 89 from Wine Spectator, and 92 from Robert Parker. I had had this wine before. It was everything you would want from a very good Zin. It had great fruit up front; it was smooth, well balanced, and finished quite well. However, in 2006 the wine was smooth, but had turned flat. It was good, but disappointing. It was not the same wine that was apparently peaking and at its best in 2000 or 2001 when the reviews were probably written. Why was it not the same wine? Wine changes over time. In my opinion, I have since observed that Zins do not generally improve with time. They are best in the first couple of years after release. I feel a little time helps take the edge off, but still allows the fruit to remain a prominent part of the wine. Some wines do improve with time, but most do not. So plan accordingly.
I will close with a phrase that I read in Karen MacNeil’s Wine Calendar a few years ago. I use this one all the time when people ask me about aging wine. Remember this "myth" about cellaring wine. "Laying a bottle of wine down for 10 years does not always make it a better wine. Just like if you put a Hyundai in the garage for 10 years, it does not turn into a Mercedes." Very few wines have good aging potential. Generally you have to start with a Mercedes to finish with a vintage Mercedes 10 years later. The reason is that wine changes over time, which makes handicapping wine a very tricky business.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
When one attends a Christmas party at a very prominent hotel in Boston, one would think that the wine they would be serving might be Good. One might hope it would even be Very Good. So when the wine that I was served was a house level (to remain nameless to protect the guilty) Cabernet and Chardonnay, I knew that I would be disappointed. These wines retail for about $13 per bottle. Assuming the hotel buys this wine in bulk, it costs the very prominent hotel about $8 per bottle. They are charging the event’s host about $45 per bottle. Since they are clearly making a huge profit off of this party, they could at least make a small effort to satisfy the guests of the host by providing a wine that would deliver at least a Good or Very Good glass of wine. They could still provide a satisfactory return to the owners of the very prominent hotel. Below are a couple of examples of wine that the bar managers could have chosen to satisfy both their internal and external customers.
The very prominent hotel could have served the Very Good 2004 Marquis Phillips Shiraz, and it would have cost them about $10 per bottle. That same hotel could have also served the 2004 Greg Norman Chardonnay which would have cost them about $9 per bottle and is also Very Good.
Both wines are much better than what the very prominent hotel had served and would have generated a similar profit, if not more of a profit. I could have found several other examples with a little more work. As you can see with a little more effort, the very prominent hotel could have served much better wine and made a considerable profit! They could have also sold more wine, had very satisfied customers, and made more money on volume alone. The very prominent hotel would have benefited greatly from a profit standpoint and the guests would have been delighted. Because of the poor wine choices available to me that evening, I chose to drink Very Good bottled water instead of bad wine. The main point here is that there is Very Good inexpensive wine on the market and the bar managers of America should take note and serve it!
Sunday, January 7, 2007
Most wine critics will tell you that only your opinion counts. We can only guide you to discover what you like. Our job is to help you discover what satisfies your palate. Frequently I tell people that if you like cauliflower and I like broccoli, we may not like the same wine. The same goes for red sauce and alfredo sauce. Given that, every wine I like you may not like just because our tastes are different. So our job as wine reviewers is to identify wines that are well made. Wines that have superior bouquets, wonderful balance, very good flavors, pleasant and lengthy finishes should appeal to the majority of wine drinkers. This is what I strive to bring you at KensWineGuide.com
Even the critics frequently disagree. I throw out hundreds of wines before I select the ones I choose to list in Ken’s Wine Guide. I read more on wine than the average person. You would not believe how different the reviews vary from one professional to another. Even at our monthly blind tastings, we have several differing opinions on the same wine. That is why we average the scores at KensWineGuide.com. When we do finally get several professionals to agree, we feel that we have found a wine that we can strongly recommend. It still may vary in overall appeal, but the wine will be either Very Good or Excellent and the difference will vary mostly based upon taste.
The bottom line is that consumers appreciate advice that leads to consistent satisfaction. This is what every reviewer should strive for. Our average scoring system yields superior results. Fringe wines don’t usually make the list. Your satisfaction is what really counts.
Enjoy and Cheers,
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
Over the 2006 Columbus Day weekend we traveled to Long Island’s wine region. We found it to be full of surprises. I went there looking for new Merlots to replace the promising 2001’s that I have enjoyed in the past. Surprisingly, I found the wines that I enjoyed the most were Chardonnays. I consider myself a very tough critic of Chardonnay. I was quite impressed with the quality of the Chardonnays that I tasted during this visit.
My favorite wine was the 2005 "Reserve" Chardonnay from Corey Creek. Wow! I really liked this wine and purchased some to bring to friend’s house we were visiting for lunch. You need to be a club member to get this wine. If you are interested in buying some of this wine, I suggest you join the club soon. It was the big winner. The people at Corey Creek were very friendly and hospitable.
A newcomer for me was the Jamesport Vineyards. This was my first visit to Jamesport Vineyards but it won’t be my last. They had the most wines that made my list of notable Long Island wines. My favorite was their 2004 "Cox Lane" Chardonnay.
The Paumanok Vineyard and Comtesse Thérèse both had some very interesting wines. Paumanok had a 2004 "Assemblage" that I feel will get some positive critical acclaim. Comtesse Thérèse had two 2004 wines that I think will be winners as well. I really liked the 2004 Comtesse Thérèse "Russian Oak" Chardonnay and I got a sneak peak at the 2004 Comtesse Thérèse "Hungarian Oak" Merlot. I would get in line for these wines. They will go fast.
Another new winery for me was Peconic Bay. I stopped there because they had a sign out front saying their Merlot had just won a “Best in New York State” award. I really liked their 2004 "La Barrique" Chardonnay. It was delightful. I liked the Chardonnay much more than the Merlot which surprised me.
We concluded the trip at Macari Vineyards which is one of our favorite Long Island wineries. We first visited Macari in the fall of 2003. At that time, we really enjoyed their 2001 Merlot. This time we were more impressed by their 2004 white wines. We were particularly fond of their 2004 "Estate" Chardonnay and their 2003 "E Block" dessert wine.
Overall, I can clearly see an improvement in Long Island wines from our last visit in the fall 2003. On this visit, the white wines we tried surpassed the red wines in terms of quality. I am sure this has a lot to do with the growing seasons for 2002 and 2003 which were tough, particularly for red grapes. It is also worth noting that the 2004 red wine vintage looks promising and I look forward to trying it as it becomes available. I strongly encourage you to visit the North Fork of Long Island and enjoy their wines. The people at the wineries are very friendly. The scenery is beautiful and if you live in the Northeast, it is a great getaway weekend. If you live far away, and you are coming to the New York City area, and you want to extend your stay, visiting the Long Island wineries is a very fun and enjoyable time.
To see all of my Long Island wine reviews, see KensWineGuide.com.
Cheers – Ken and Theresa
Long Island Long Island Wineries Long Island Wines Long Island Chardonnay Chardonnay
Monday, January 1, 2007
New England’s best wine events in the 2007 winter season include three notables. My favorite is the Boston Wine Expo. The 16th annual Boston Wine Expo takes place on February 10th, and 11th, 2007 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. I have attended this event for many of the past 16 years. As a matter of fact, the genesis of my website, KensWineGuide.com, started with a wine list that I created after I attended this event. My annual list of Ken's Expo Picks has become one of my readers' favorite lists on my site. My favorite part of this event is the number of different wines you can try in one place. The Boston Wine Expo is thought to be the largest trade and consumer wine event in the United States. There are over 450 wineries from around the globe that pour over 1,800 different wines for you to sample. It does get a bit crowded. I would suggest getting there early. The consumer portion of the event is open from 1pm to 5pm. I would also suggest that you attend both days. It is difficult to see and taste everything in one day. Finally, the other 2 major New England based wine events of interest over the next few months are the Boston Wine Festival and the Winter Wine Festival. Both events pair wine with food in a dinner setting. The settings of both events are elegant. Their schedules are on their websites. How can you resist a night out in Boston at the Boston Wine Festival event? or perhaps a weekend away at Wentworth by the Sea in New Hampshire that includes a Winter Wine Festival event? These sound like great wine events to me. Perhaps we will see you there.
Listed below are a few additional Boston Wine Expo tips from my years of attending.
Finally, the other 2 major New England based wine events of interest over the next few months are the Boston Wine Festival and the Winter Wine Festival. Both events pair wine with food in a dinner setting. The settings of both events are elegant. Their schedules are on their websites. How can you resist a night out in Boston at the Boston Wine Festival event? or perhaps a weekend away at Wentworth by the Sea in New Hampshire that includes a Winter Wine Festival event? These sound like great wine events to me. Perhaps we will see you there.Cheers,
Boston Wine Expo Boston Wine Festival Winter+Wine+Festival Wine Expo KensWineGuide.com