19 Dec Wine 101: It’s Not That Complicated!
Written by Lifebook Member Brian Johnson
Quality of Life is probably my favorite of all the Lifebook categories. And for me, fine wine is an important part my quality of life!
I love everything about fine wine; the hunt to find those special gems, sharing a great bottle with friends, discussing wine for hours on end…
But I’ve discovered that when I talk to most people about wines, the reaction is usually the same…
“UHGGG! I just don’t know where to start! It’s just all too confusing! I don’t know enough! I‘m afraid I will waste my money!”
(Then, the other one that really gets me is, “Oh… I just stick with my box of red wine from the local grocery store!” OMG, right?)
Seriously, the world of wine does not have to be complicated…
Yes, there are a plethora of choices, and they are always changing. For instance, a big winner one year for a Napa Valley cabernet could be a total flop the next – or one year, a mediocre Spanish wine could win the “wine of the year” the next. How does that happen?
Well, there are many reasons, but unless you are immersed in this world and you take it as serious as I do, it simply does not matter!
What DOES matter is what YOU like, not what anyone else likes!
Having one of the top wine review sites in the world, I am frequently asked a few of the same questions over and over and I wanted to share them with you. For this issue, I am going to just keep it to the top few questions and we can get into more of them later.
Big Question Number One: “What is the best wine I can buy?”
OK, I love this one and I usually have fun with it. I start with something like Screaming Eagle for about $4,000.00 per bottle and run up to a Chateau Petrus for $17,000.00 per bottle.
Then, after they look at me like I have two heads, I say, “I am just making a point, because there is no BEST WINE!” What kind of ice cream do you like? What kind of car do you drive? Where would you like to live?
It is really all about YOU! That’s all that matters when it comes to the best wine. It could be a local bottle from the grocery store, or a $200.00 bottle of Napa Cabernet.
If you are a collector the story might be a little different, but most people are not collectors (and we can get into collecting wine down the road, which is where things get really fun).
Question Number Two (and a better question to ask): “What wines do YOU like?”
I usually get this question after my answer to the first one.
Why is this a better question to ask? Because, if you are just starting out with wines or if you are looking to step-up your experience with wines, then this is one of the best ways to do it…
Talk with other wine lovers and share your experiences.
Not only is this really fun, but it’s a very good way to enhance those great relationships with the people you want to be around.
Most people love to tell you about their favorite wine or some great experience in a nice restaurant with a wine they’ve never heard of. Or how they remember the specific wine they were drinking when they got engaged, or attended a birthday party, or a graduation.
You can also find some wine blogs or review sites out there that DO NOT review wines to make money. I say that because most of the magazines and blogs will give their sponsors and advertisers better reviews then they deserve. And, most likely, you won’t find the “hidden jewels” in any of the mainstream wine resources.
Here is an example; I roam the Napa Valley and go to small wineries that produce less than 1000 cases of wine. Places like Staglin Family, Chateau Boswell, Palmaz, Bryant, etc. Most likely you won’t hear about these in any mainstream magazines, but I feel they are better wines for less than 100 dollars than most 1000 dollar bottles out there.
There is a very key point to this process. Once you find the right blogs or people who drink wines frequently, try the wines they suggest. If you like what they’ve suggested, then you have found a good person to follow and they will likely steer you in the right direction.
Just because some ad says, “this is the top wine of the year” does not mean you will like it. I am not saying don’t try it, because trying new wines is the only way to expand your palate. What I am saying is don’t just rely on what you read.
Experience the wine world for yourself. Just try different wines more often and PAY ATTENTION to what you like!
After a while you will narrow your palate into the areas you love and then you can expand it from there.
Question Three: “What do you like best about wine?”
This may shock you but what I like about wines MOST, is not the wine itself. It’s not the taste, it’s not the pairings, and it’s not that great feeling of gratification from a great wine… No, it’s much bigger and more profound than that…
To me, it’s all about the experiences, the relationships wine can build, the love that it expands.
Those single moments in life that you look back on and will remember forever. Like sipping an 86 Mouton while overlooking a sunset with my wife while in Key West on our anniversary, or the 2000 Gaja overlooking the fountains at Pacasso with family, or the 2004 Staglin we enjoyed with Jon and Missy, or the many, many times we’ve gotten together with our good friends to share timeless stories while sharing each other’s wines.
Heather and I relate special times in our lives with certain wines. Wines are so much more to me than just a beverage. Good wines are special, and the more you look at the history of a wine and how it was first created, the more you can appreciate it and the more you cherish the experience when you open a great wine.
I collect really great wines and I’m always looking for the right time and place to open a special bottle. Or, I’ll buy a wine when a baby is born to open at their graduation or wedding. Wine can help to bring people together, create outstanding experiences, create new friends, and just so much more.
Do you remember the last time you had a great wine? When was it? What was the time like? Is it something you will remember forever?
Now THAT to me is worth every penny I have spent on wine. Whether it was over priced or under priced, deep red or purple, 2009 or 1940, good or bad…
Think about that the next time you open a great bottle of wine and turn your wine drinking into a wonderful experience.
For a quick glance, here are some of Brian’s top-rated wines in each dollar bracket. For a deeper dive and more extensive list, visit his blog at TheWineBloggers.com.
Brian’s Top 3 $0-30 Wines
2003 Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso
(Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri)
Deep dark fruit, plumbs and leather on the nose with strong ceder. Lots of character in this wine. Deep purple color hinting toward brownish. The palate is powerful at the start with chocolate, blackberries, cloves and dark leather. It’s a dark feeling wine with earthy dirt tastes and black tobacco. Lots of spices and tannins. The finish has burnt caramel and strong tannins on the sides of the tong and the lingering aftertaste is a touch bitter with cigar tobacco. This is a deep dark super Tuscan and if yo like that this wine is really good for 25 bucks. This is a 2003 and this wine is going to age beautifully. This is a definite try if you like the bold Italian reds.
2006 Orin Swift The Prisoner
(USA, California, Napa Valley)
Loads of personality in this wine. Very big and jammy. The nose was not as surprising and the palate. Had black olives, caramel and an overall soft earthy smell. The color was a deep dark purple and had some nice body to it. The palate was a BANG! This wine has loads of body and a very big initial taste with burnt caramel, sour cherries, black olives and a hint of pepper. A little hot and needs to be open for a while. Not as earthy as the nose but more jammy. Definitely worth 30 bones because this is an experience.
The 2006 blends the lush berry flavors of Zinfandel(51%), the power and concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), the dark black fruit of Syrah (12%), the intensity and structure of Petit Sirah (6%), the flesh of Charbono (6%) and a hint of Grenache (2%) – all combined for a decadent wine with great complexity.
2005 Tintara Shiraz
(Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale)
In Redondo Beach LA for meetings and ate at Baleen in the Portofino hotel. Great meal and had the Tinara Shiraz in a flight of 4. This one was clearly the best with the Kobe steak. Love the chocolate nose with loads of espresso and burnt log. Great nose on this wine and very intriguing. The palate starts with lots of chocolate and spices, very nice. I like this wine a lot because it has some nice characteristics. Very soft wine for a shiraz and the tannins are on the softer side as well as allowing the flavors to come through. I highly suggest this wine. Great for the money at about 20 bucks a bottle. Give it a try.
Brian’s Top 3 $30-60 Wines
Do you like Screaming Eagle? Then you will love this wine at the price. Wine maker Heidi Barrett brings this wine to you as one of the better Napa cult wines. I call this the little brother of Screaming Eagle. The color was very dark and inky. The nose had the old world feel to it that I like with chocolate, cherries and an earthy edge to it. Lots of fruit and some layers of toased oak. This wine was silky on to a velvety finish. Very mouth coating BANG to the palate. This wine will cellar for many years. After about 45 minutes in the decanter it really rounded out nice and got softer.
At around 60 bucks a bottle it is a definite try.
2005 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera
(Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico)
Nice wine. Balanced and quality. The nose has vanilla and dark cherry. The palate has plum, dark red cherries with nice oak and black licorice. Good solid transition and a finish of tar and tobacco with some raspberry. I like this wine because it is solid and has good quality all the way through and worth the money. About 40 bucks a bottle.
From their site: http://www.masi.it/agricola/COSTASERA_PAGE.pag
2004 The Colonial Estate Emigre
(Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley)
Different than what I expected from Australia. In a good way. Overall and explosion, loads of spice, molasses and sugar and cinnamon toast. Interesting wine and good quality. The nose was earthy with green pepper and dirt. This wine had lots of sediment in it. The color was a dark inky look. Lots of black fruit on the palate with molasses and some vanilla. Good solid mid palate and a long finish that was smooth. This wine will be stellar in a few years and it is worth a try.
ROBERT PARKER “Outstanding 94+” Rating: “The 2004 Emigre, a Rhone-based blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre as well as Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, exhibits a sweet perfume of graphite, black fruits, sweet cherries, licorice, smoke, and background vanilla. Full-bodied, rich, textured, and impressively long, it should drink well for 10-15 years … minimum. 94+ points”
Brian’s Top 3 $60-100 Wines
The new release 2007 Chateau Boswell Napa Cabernet. This Cabernet has been rated “Classic 96″ points. I visited and did a tasting at this producers and I can say I totally agree with that rating. This wine is on my favorites list. Check out my video. We were tasting from the barrels this wine came from and I swore I was drinking Harlan Estate. Not a surprise because its on the same hill. The winemaker is from Peter Michael (Les Pavot Cabernet $209/bottle) and the vineyard source is next to the ‘Cultish’ Hundred Acre “Ark” Cabernet ($299/bottle) which has also been rated “…a candidate for Perfection; 96 – 100″ by Robert Parker. Chateau Boswell is a surprisingly good bargain at $95/bottle or a whopping $200/bottle savings compared to their world famous neighboring Cabernet. The owners are not only great people but their facility was just as good. They were very inviting and accommodating. Chateau Boswell is a hidden jewel and their wine will not be this price for long as people catch on. I have been stocking up on them and you can see my other reviews from their other wines. Check them out here
2004 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard
(USA, California, Sonoma County)
Home run. Very nice wine with character, complexity and boldness. Deep violet color. Huge fruit on the nose with black currant and licorice. Nice blackberry, bark and vanilla on the palate with violet and other hints of floral. Had a little old world to this wine. The transition was a little quick but the finish lingered nice with some chocolate, oak, and a nice balance of tannins. This wine is velvety and soft but still having some strong characteristics. Definite try at 65 bucks.
2004 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain
(USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain)
Soft and velvety with an explosion on the palate. Solid wine and is worth a try at 60 bucks a bottle. Solid deep purple inky color. A few more years on this 04 and it will be a superstar. The wine is jammy and reminds me of a good bottle of the Prisoner. Solid fruits, solid oak, solid tannins. The wine is balanced and well rounded. Lush dark berries and dark cherry. The mid palate stayed strong and the finish was medium with a smokey and earthy feel. The palate was much better than the nose. The nose was good but not eventful with some cedar. This does not mean the overall wine is not good because this is a definite try in my opinion. Give it a little time in the decanter.
Our 2004 Lone Canyon Cabernet’s were cold soaked for upwards of 5 days before the commencement of fermentation. A combination of multiple strains of commercial and native wine yeasts were used. The average fermentations lasted 12 days. The free run wine was then separated from the skins which were pressed at several intervals of pressure; determined by taste and tannin intensity. The wine was then barrel aged for 22 months in French oak barrels (73% new). The wine was bottled August 23, 2006.
The 2004 Lone Canyon Cabernet is a perfect example of how rich and lush the wines from this property can be. This wine is exuberant in color and the aromas are alive with spicy and herbal fruit. The nose provides earthy, brambly undertones with brilliant dark fruit. A full bodied entry hits the palate with flavors of dark cherry and licorice. The wine is layered with textures that are bold and masculine yet maintain tannins of a velvety character. The dark fruit flavors blend with the complex tannins to produce on extremely long fruit finish.
Brian’s Top 3 $100-150 Wines
2005 Feudi di San Gregorio Pàtrimo Campania IGT
(Italy, Campania, Campania IGT)
Great surprise. Beautiful full bodied old world wine. This wine was a treat with a nose of blackberries, spices and nice balance of oak. The palate was balanced and the tannins were just right. The best part of this wine for me was the real old world feel to the wine. Nice oak with vanilla, chocolate, and a little pipe tobacco and leather. Spices and minerals come through. This wine is mostly Merlot and has a soft but powerful jammy palate. I can tell this wine will age great and a few more years will do this wine good. Definite try.
Producers site: http://www.feudi.it/en/wines/patrimo-2/
From their site
“The 2006 Patrimo (Merlot) is a compelling wine. Super-ripe blackberries, blueberry jam, spices, minerals, graphite and French oak emerge from this opulent, full-throttle red. Despite the richness, there is a surprising level of clarity and detail in the glass. The tannins are impeccably soft and round all the way through to the finish. Today the oak is quite prominent, but another few years in bottle should help the wine come together nicely. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2026.”
2005 Château Boswell Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon & Dr. Crane
(USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena)
Nice old world feel. Rich with mouth coating flavor and the tannins were perfect. Complex with black berry and coffee espresso and a bit earthy. AWESOME nose that is inviting with balanced oak and herbal. Great character in the palate with a finish lasting. This wine reminds me of Harland estate for much less money. Right about 90 bucks and if you like wines for an experience try this out. Not an everyday wine and a really nice old world tasting and feeling. Quality all the way.
Solid “old world” red wine. Tons of Berries and very aged smelling oak. Very together nose that is plentifully and balanced. The palate had nice balanced oak, blackberry’s, and black current and still have a nice “old world” taste to it. Nice long finish and the mid palate was still screaming. Overall a very good experience. Higher priced wine but if you like old world you will like this.
Brian’s Top 3 $100+ Wines
1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella
(Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella)
Flawless outstanding producer. I opened this wine up by accident and then went to my list to find it was about 450 bucks a bottle. Well… the good thing is before I knew the cost I was absolutely savoring every minute of this amarone. Lush and velvety. We decanted for about 30 minutes and this wine flourished throughout an hour. The color was on the brownish side. Typical old world feel. The nose was HUGE and towering of anisette, raisin and plums with a good dose of roses and cedar. The palate was an explosion on the start. This is a heavy wine and coats the mouth with chocolate, plumb,floral, black licorice and soft tobacco. The mid palate stayed consistent and the tannins were just right. After an hour the tannins really rounded out and this wine got very soft while maintaining the flavors. The finish was long and balanced. Floral and cedar still lingered. I can’t say enough about this wine. If you ever get a chance this is a definite try because you will always remember the experience.
“Valpolicella’s magician.” “The master of the Veneto.” “The patriarch of Amarone.” “The traditionalist.” Not bad for a winemaker who simply follows the winemaking customs of his forefathers. Giuseppe Quintarelli’s hand-written labels are easy to recognize and his wines fit the idiosyncratic style. Since 1924, his family has made wine from grapes grown on steep slopes on the outskirts of Negrar. For his highly-regarded Amarone, he still dries the grapes in an attic room, ages the wine for years in large Slavenian casks, and holds the wines from release until he is sure of their readiness. His magic has worked, as he has turned some of Veneto’s most traditional wines into luxury icons.
2004 Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
(USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford)
At the Ritz Carlton in Las Vegas with my friend Spike. We are sipping this Staglin overlooking the beautiful Lake Las Vegas which adds to the great experience. This 2004 Staglin is out of sight good. Much better than the 1998 we had last month. Deep purple color. Nose is ripe rich dark berry with sweet tobacco and bark. Old world feel all the way. The palate is blackberries, dark chocolate, sour cherries, and cacise. Extremely complex yet so together It is massively structured showing more liqueur-like blackberry,soft minerals, burnt wood and rich concentrated roasted oak and cedar. Nice and balanced, the finish is long and well layered with deliciously sweet tannins,the acidity is just right. This wine will age effortless for a decade or more. The mouth feels simply HUGE and velvety and glides over every inch of your tongue and mouth. I love this wine and it is one of my favorites. I am never disappointed and it is one of those wines that you just always look forward to opening.
2009 Mollydooker Shiraz Velvet Glove
(Australia, South Australia, Fleurieu, McLaren Vale)
I scored this wine 94 points because it was young but I can see this wine hitting 96ish easy. After tasting the 2009 it told me I definitely want to cellar much more of this wine. Very dark purple and inky in color. Almost like an aged port. Very Jammy wine wine with Bing cherries, deep vanilla and strong blackberry. The transition was smooth and balanced with a long hang time that stayed fruity. This wine is a fruit bomb and of good quality. i cant say enough about this wine. In a few years it will be stellar. It’s a little pricey at 160 bucks but it can hold its own. give this one a try but cellar it for a while.
From their site: http://www.mollydookerwines.com/mollydooker_wine_store?maxrows=200