SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

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Parker, Bloggers, and Fair Use

Lawyers for The Wine Advocate, the publication made famous by Robert Parker, recently fired off a letter to wine writer Tyler Coleman, demanding that he “immediately remove content on [his blog] http://www.drvino.com that was copied from eRobertParker.com,” claiming that Coleman’s use of this material “blatantly infringes upon [The Wine Advocate’s] copyright protected content.” Under federal copyright law, Coleman’s use of that material may be protected by the “fair use” doctrine.  

Click here for the full article on LexVini.com



You’re Only “New” Once

2013 was a good year for small-scale, domestic producers like Arnot-Roberts, Massican, Matthiasson, and many of the other winemakers featured in Jon Bonné‘s book, The New California Wine.  Despite making a rather modest amount of wine, these winemakers have garnered a significant amount of attention from traditional media (including the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and Decanter magazine) and online content providers.

Moreover, these wines have developed a solid fan base in important markets beyond San Francisco.  Patrick Capiello, Jordan Salcito, and Mike Madrigale (noted NYC wine professionals) have all proclaimed California as a wine region to watch over the next year.  In short, “New California” is having its moment in the spotlight.

But there is a challenge looming.  You can only be “new” once.  The wine world can be ridiculously fadish. Witness Grüner Veltliner. “Favored by seemingly every sommelier in America in the late 1990s, Grüner Veltliner (nicknamed Groovy) was subsequently discarded by those very same professionals when they began looking for something new to put on their lists.” Lesson learned: you can’t rest on your cool kid creds for too long.

So how do you avoid being a fad? How do you transform a moment in the sun into something more permanent?

It’s not enough to be new or different — the long play is to make quality wines that are an indispensable part of any wine list or cellar.   Many of the producers lumped into the “New California” category are doing just that.  They are making wines of distinction that deserve a spot on the dinner table.  They are making wines that make you want to keep reaching for your glass and leave you hankering for a second bottle.  At the same time, they are  pushing California to explore its great diversity of soil and climate and embrace the fact that it is still a (relatively) young wine growing region.

My concern is that if these wines are simply marketed as “new,” it’s too easy for them to be cast aside when The Next Big Thing comes along (“new Australia” anyone?).  I’m also worried that these wines are done a disservice by being pegged as “new” when in reality many of them are classic examples of well balanced wines.

This is not meant as a criticism of Jon’s book. If anything, I think his praise of producers like Ted Lemon and Paul Draper makes me think he might agree with these points.  Instead, this post is meant as reminder for those of us out there pouring these wines for friends or championing these wines out in the market that, at some point, we need to get beyond the “new” label if we want these producers to have long term success.


Arlequin Beaujolais Bash – This Thursday


A wine retail friend of mine recently told me about a customer who was a bit wary about accepting her recommendation that he should add a bottle of Jean Foillard’s Morgon Cote du Py to his shopping cart. The conversation went something like this:

“Do you think I’ll like it?”

“Do you kick puppies?”


“OK. You’ll like it.”

Because seriously people: how can you not love Cru Beaujolais / Bro-jo / Bo-jo / Gam-gam or whatever pet nickname you’ve adopted for one of the happiest wines on the planet. It is pure pleasure.

And there really is no better way to enjoy Beaujolais then being surrounded by friends, which is why for the past few years, I’ve done my darndest to get down to Arlequin Wine Merchants for their annual Beaujolais Bash. It takes place on Thursday, from 6-8pm ($35). Don’t miss it!

Here’s what is on tap for the tasting:

Guy Breton Regnie

Marcel Lapierre Morgon

Jean Foillard Morgon, Fleurie & Nouveau

Cheateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly

Chanrion Cote de Brouilly

Diochon Moulin-a-Vent

Julien Sunier Fleurie, Morgon & Regnie

PUR Regnie, Village & Nouveau

Dupueble Nouveau

Bruno de Bize 3 separate Beaujolais cuvees

Terres Dorees/Jean-Paul Brun Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie &Morgon

George Descombes Brouilly & Morgon

Champier Brouilly & Villages

Clos de la Roilette Fleurie


Less tasting, more drinking. Less descriptors, more emotion.

There are few things I dislike more in the wine world than the infatuation with tasting notes. It seems like every aspiring wine fan wants to sniff, swirl, taste their way to identifying “hints of cassis,” “leather,” or “barnyard” in their glass. Take for example this article in the New York Times, where the writer (a self-described wine novice) notes that by the end of his time in Napa, he was “sensing cherry, and a note of cinnamon” in his wine and described that as “progress.”

My dislike of tasting notes isn’t just limited to the obscure references to “stewed figs,” which my friend David White excoriated in a recent post. It’s the overall fascination new wine drinkers have with the parlor game of spewing out descriptors every time they pick up a glass of wine.

My advice to folks interested in learning more about wine: stop glorifying the need to identify what part of the produce section you can identify in a wine, and focus on identifying and seeking out wines that excite you.

Now, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. I can see why wine aficionados use tasting notes to differentiate between wines so they can remember what they had or to be able to exchange ideas about different wines, different regions, etc. I even understand why avid cooks might find these types of tasting notes helpful so they can be thoughtful about food and wine pairings. So yes –there’s a time and a place for the traditional tasting note.

But even the most experienced drinker, even the wine professional, when drinking wine, has an emotional reaction to it, and that is more relevant in some ways than a lengthy list of descriptors.

Before I delve into that theory, I want to point out why I emphasized “drinking” in the last paragraph. My fourth grade teacher was fond of saying, “There’s a time for work, and there’s a time for play.” Tasting is work. It involves sipping and analyzing. Drinking is different. Drinking is play. It’s pleasure. It’s sitting back, pulling the cork, and maybe pulling a few more just ‘cause. And, while I have absolutely no data to back up this claim, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of wines consumed (whether it be your supermarket wine or the trophy bottles) are drunk, not tasted.

So let’s get back to the emotional reaction to wine. Even the most studied wine professional enjoys wine at a very base, emotional level. You can see it in their facial expression when they take a sip. You might even notice some certain head movements, a slight lifting of the chin or raising of an eyebrow, to signal that the wine surprised them in some way.

The more animated drinkers might have a more obvious physical reaction to wine. During a trip through France in 2012, Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts from Arnot-Roberts picked up the “side fist pump” as a signal for wines they enjoyed. This sign language caught on in certain circles.


Hardy Wallace, who tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve, has a certain little chicken wing thing he does when he has an exciting wine, which sometimes evolves into a full-out running man/cabbage patch hybrid.


(photo from DirtySouth Wine Flickr Page).

Peoples’ reaction to great wine can sometimes be surprising. Earlier this year, I had a group of friends over for dinner, all folks involved in the production or sale of wine. There were at least two bottles per person open on the table by the time we moved on to the main course. Let’s just say we were all “happy,” conversation was flowing, and the decibel level rising. My friend Max breaks out a bottle of 1990 Peter Lauer Riesling Sekt, and we each pour ourselves out a glass, raise a toast, take a sip, and fall silent. The wine was that spectacular. There were no words.

We all have our little thing we do that’s just a pure, emotional reaction to something we enjoy. Embrace that. Make that your tasting note. Focus on identifying and seeking out what wines bring that out in you. That (more than the number or creativity of the descriptors you can spit out) shows you truly can appreciate wine.