SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.


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.


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La Paulée Off the Grid Nov. 6

Harvest is wrapping here in Northern California, and its time to raise a glass to celebrate.  Just in time, Daniel Johnnes and a merry band of local wine professionals — including Josiah Baldivino (Michael Mina), Ian Burrows (Atelier Crenn), Chris Gaither (Gary Danko), John Vuong (Ame), Casey Doolin (Park Tavern), Josh Thomas (Prospect), and Stevie Stacionis — are pulling together a couple of events on November 6.

First, La Paulée Off the Grid – a $75 tasting of some 70-odd wines from some different parts of Burgundy, including Mâcon, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Côte d’Or, and Chablis.  And yes, there will be Beaujolais Gam-Gam in the house, too.  4-7pm at Bluxome Street Winery in SoMa.


And if you’ve got deeper pockets, La Paulée en Magnum a special Burgundy centric dinner — is going off that same night, starting a 7:30pm at Saison.  Not. Too. Shabby.

Tickets on sale now!


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Rudy Kurniawan Has a New Attorney

It has been widely reported that accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan would be seeking new counsel to represent him in the criminal case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.  It appears that Jerome Mooney of the Los Angeles law firm Weston, Garrou & Mooney will now be representing Mr. Kurniawan.

In a July 29, 2013 letter to U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, Mr. Mooney requested that he be allowed to appear telephonically on Mr. Kurniawan’s behalf at a hearing scheduled for July 31, 2013.  Judge Berman denied the request, stating, “Application respectfully denied.  (Enough is enough).”  You can view a copy of the letter and Judge Berman’s response through this link:  Letter from New Counsel for Kurniawan.

In other developments, federal prosecutors sent a letter to Judge Berman on July 22 arguing that the court should deny any request from Mr. Kurniawan for a continuance of the September 9, 2013 trial date.  In that letter, the government argued, “The Court should not adjourn the trial date because Kurniawan has failed to retain new counsel in a timely manner.”  The prosecutors also disclosed that during a July 18 conference, prospective substitute counsel for Kurniawan (including Mr. Mooney) “informed the Court that [they] will seek to substitute as counsel for Kurniawan, provided that Kurniawan’s family is able to fund his defense.”  That letter is available here:  Letter from AUSA to Judge Berman

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Kurniawan Prosecutors will not depose Ponsot, de Villaine, or Roumier

In May, prosecutors in the Rudy Kurniawan case submitted a letter to the court requesting the  opportunity to depose a star-studded lineup of witnesses from Burgundy’s top estates:  Laurent Ponsot (Domaine Ponsot), Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti),  and Christophe Roumier (Domaine Georges Roumier).  The Government stated that these witnesses would not be available to testify at the trial (scheduled to begin September 9) because of harvest, and that they wished to depose them to preserve their testimony for trial.  According to the letter, “all three witnesses will present highly relevant and necessary testimony that no other witness can offer about allegedly counterfeit bottles of wine discussed in the Superseding Indictment.”  On May 6, the Court granted the Government’s request.

Apparently, the prosecutors changed their mind.  According to the case docket, a June 4 letter sent by prosecutors to the court stated that “the Government will not be deposing the French winemakers that the Court authorized the parties to depose.”  It’s unclear whether this means that the Government now expects these witnesses to be available to testify at trial, or whether they plan on presenting their case without these witnesses’ testimony.  A copy of the letter was not available on ECF at the time I wrote this post.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for next Monday, July 8.

A copy of the May letter is available here:  SDNY Letter re Kurniawan Wine Fraud

UPDATE: JULY 6, 2013

On WineBerserkers, Don Cornwell writes that its his understanding that the three winemakers will not be deposed, but instead will testify at the trial itself now that the Burgundy harvest is expected to be late this year.  (Can someone please organize a mini La Paulée in NYC this September?).   As some of you know, Don has a lot of cred on all things related to this case.