Tom's blog

Even Romans thirsted for wine

Who says times have changed? Scientists have discovered some ancient pottery dating 600 BC that when deciphered showed a solder's grocery list: oil, flour and wine.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University said the inscripted stone most likely was from soldiers stationed at a fortress near the current Israeli city of Arad. It confirms that wine consumption was common in the region 2,500 years ago.

According to an article in Decanter magazine:

‘The text bears more than 50 characters, creating 17 new words,’ said researchers in a paper published on Public Library of Science (PLOS) One.

‘It begins with a request for wine – “If there is any wine, send [quantity]” – as well as a guarantee for assistance if the addressee has any requests of his own,’ researchers said.

 

And there's Beaujolais....

I recently launched a small business doing wine tastings for various groups, most notably gated communities in Naples, FL.  So far I have encountered eager tasters who are receptive to trying new wines. Many still prefer white or red, sweet or dry, cheap or expensive -- but they are willing to be tempted by alternatives. I get them out of their comfort zones with wines they haven't tried -- gruner veltliner, godello, picpoul de pinet, for instance.

One wine I pour is beaujolais because its simple, inexpensive and a good fit for Naples' balmy weather. One woman said it reminded her of the Thanksgiving dinners she enjoyed as a child. Although she wasn't yet allowed to drink then, she remembers the beaujolais nouveau that the adults would enjoy with their turkey.

The gamay  grape that is used for beaujolais is indeed a perfect match for the traditional Thanksgiving fare, but, alas, the nouveau craze popular at that time of the year has hurt the region's image. It's hard to take seriously a wine that is dropped from planes and delivered by clowns within 24 hours after it is bottled. Once you get past this annual but fading marketing gimmick, you will find a serious wine that is a treat to drink in the summer.

The 2015 vintage on the market now is being hailed as one of the best since 1947.  Grapes were so good, they were harvested early. What I've tasted so far is plump and brawny.  Although they show promise of ageability, the wines are drinking beautifully now. 

Even the beaujolais villages I drank from Louis Jadot was big in style. The crus that elevate the wine are showing even better. Those crus from Maison Joseph Drouhin and Georges Duboeuf are also excellent. 

This is the year to return to one of the most misunderstood wines on the market.

Waiter, there's ice in my wine

I was dining with an old friend the other night at her community association's club house. As soon as she walked up to the bar, the waiter had a glass of her house chardonnay waiting for her -- as she liked it, with ice.

She's not the first person I have encountered who puts ice in their wine. It makes me cringe on behalf of the winemaker who spent time and money balancing his wine. The addition of water disrupts that balance and more accurately dilutes it.

Then, I read an article in Vogue that says many wine professionals have come around to the idea that ice is appearing more often in wine glasses. Some wine producers, such as Moet & Chandon, are even marketing wines that invite the use of ice.  If you can't lick them, join them?

The practice is quite common in southern France where vacationers can be seen in outdoor bistros enjoying a glass of rose on the rocks. Rose is a simple drink and I guess is like sangria where ice cubes are common.  But I can't imagine anyone adding ice to, say, a white burgundy, whose nuances would be destroyed by cold water.

There have been rare occasions when I have slipped an ice cube into a glass of wine -- one cube to cool a chardonnay that is simply too warm to enjoy.  I theorized that I'll finish it before the cube melts, but that's probably me rationalizing a bad decision.  If you want to quickly cool a white wine, you can slip the bottle into the freezer for 10 minutes, or use one of those handy freezer jackets -- I keep three of them in my freezer.

Maybe ice doesn't matter to cheap plonk that has become your house wine. I mean, it's not as if you re-analyze that same old wine during the daily happy hour. But if you just spent $50 on a great chardonnay, or if you are swilling a host's expensive wine, don't embarrass yourself.

Please, kids, not another tie

This Sunday many children will pay their respects to their fathers. Some of us no longer have a living father; others don't want any part of him and still others sadly don't know who their father is.

But, if you are fortunate to have a father, you are probably in the market for a Father's Day gift. Maybe a another tie? Really? First, a tie reminds him of the office. Second, he is probably finicky about what he likes. 

The last time I bought a good tie, it cost me $85.  I'd rather have a bottle of nice wine for that price -- and maybe your dad does too. Let him throw a steak on the grill and enjoy an expensive red wine.

There are some very special wines for $50 and more. Your dad may not want to spend that kind of money on wine - but he'd love it if someone else would. 

If your looking for recommendations, see my wine column on another page.

Great burgundy for $15?

I was perusing the wine aisles recently when  my eye caught an intriguing label: Domaine des Valanges Macon-Prisse Le Clos for $15. Although the Maconnais region of Burgundy is known for its inexpensive versions of French chardonnay, $15 was unheard of. I couldn't walk away from my curiosity.

What is so remarkable about this wine is that it surpasses much of what I've been recently tasting from California. That the Burgundians can beat the Americans in price is noteworthy.

The vines are 25 years old and the juice spends 7 months on its lees in stainless steel. That gives the wine texture and reasonable complexity -- but sans the oakiness that shrouds many American chardonnays. It is still crisp and fresh with delicate nectarine and citrus aromas, tropical fruit and apple flavors. 

This is just how a chardonnay should be made.

 

 

 

 

The unspoken danger of drinking

A freak accident involving drinking and driving points to the dangers hidden, literally, in a glass of wine.

A California woman recently died when she and her husband were tooling around an olive orchard with a glass of wine aboard their golf cart. Richard Clarke and Debra Bedard were staying at a vacation home on the Sacramento property when the incident occurred.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Clarke lost control of the cart and Bedard fell off. The two wine glasses she was holding shattered and she fell on the shards. She died of injuries at the scene, presumably from bleeding. Although police didn't blame Clarke for the death, he was charged with suspicion of misdemeanor DUI.

What a tragedy. I can see myself doing something like this on a vacation. The incident is not dissimilar to the death of a woman who cut herself badly after a wine glass broke while she was in a sauna tub.

I have a pool in my house and give guests plastic tumblers for their wine. Broken glass on pavers is a big risk. No matter how you try, you never sweep up all the shards and barefeet will surely find what you missed.

Yes, you like those wine descriptions

I was recently intrigued by a report from the University of Adelaide that shows consumers are motivated to buy a wine based on their emotions after reading a critic's description.  The consumer study showed that a buyer's decision on what to buy and how much to pay is greatly influenced by how they feel after reading a label or a critic's review.  

I guess it's no different than any other kind of marketing. You likely would buy a wine that is said to be "like walking through a field of lilacs" over a wine that compared the experience to walking through a field of cow shit, right?

I often struggle to come up with apt descriptions and resort to standbys that name the fruit flavor or an herb that is integral to the aromas. But I've read some marketing crap that goes on and on about "liquid Viagra" or "wine that makes you want to cozy up to a fire." Worse, there are common descriptions that a consumer in his right mind would want to avoid: cat pee (sauvignon blanc), diesel fuel (riesling), barnyard (burgundy).

it's impressive that even some tasters can distinguish between white and black pepper or fresh sage versus dried sage, anise versus licorice, milk chocolate versus dark chocolate. Does it really matter? Apparently, it does. The 126 tasters surveyed after a blind tasting showed a willingness to buy a wine that had effusive praise on its back label. 

I've often condemned labels for lacking basic information, such as grape varieties used in a blend. Instead, you get a vapid and contrived marketing description that is more ad than information. But, stupid me. It's the ad that sells the wine.

 

Don't abandon merlot

It seems like I rarely drink merlot. It's not that I don't respect the grape variety, although many critics do. It's just that I reach for cabernet sauvignon when I want a full-bodied red wine to accompany beef or lamb (now becoming a rarity in our health-conscious house).

But a recent tasting of merlots from Duckhorn gave me renewed interest. 

Dan Duckhorn fell in love with merlot after traveling to St. Emillion, the village in Bordeaux where merlot is predominantly grown. Although many Napa Valley growers were using it in blends in the 1970s, Duckhorn made a commitment to bottling it separately. I'm sure that decision didn't come without some financial loss, but today anyone looking for merlot has to look to Duckhorn.

I tasted five of its merlots from the 2013 and 2014 vintage. Quality like this doesn't come cheap -- prices range from $54 for its entry-level merlot to $98 for its single-vineyards.  In particular, the Three Palms Vineyard merlot remains one of the best in Napa Valley. The fruit from this Napa Valley vineyard is magnificent.

New to me this year was the Stout Vineyard, which is 1,700 feet up Howell Mountain. This is so dense you could paddle it onto toast. Heady, complex and sporting serious tannin, this merlot is huge. 

I know these are budget-breakers for many of you merlot fans, but honestly you need to see what quality means. Those vegetal, weedy merlots that sell for $12 do not reflect the capability of this grape variety.

Look to Chinon for something unique

I've been tasting a lot of unique wines in recent days. Part is research for an upcoming column and for the public tastings I do, but part is simply because I'm tired of the same old thing. You drink a lot of chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon and you crave a surprise.  

I've enjoyed godello, arneis, picpoul, insolia, albarino and other white wine varieties. But today I reached into my cellar to open a red wine from Chinon, a village in the Loire Valley. When you think of the Loire, you think of white wine, but lost in the shuffle are the red cabernet francs.  The one I opened was from one of the most well-respected producers: Domaine Bernard Baudry and it was 8 years old.  What a treat.

Although medium in body, cabernet franc -- a grape that serves only a support role in Bordeaux -- shows off blueberry and blackberry flavors with effusive lavender and dried flower aromas. There was an earthiness about the wine too. The finish on this was intense and the texture reminded me of an aged burgundy. 

When I tasted this wine three years ago, my notes show that I doubted the fruit would outlast the tannin. But it did. The tannins were long gone, leaving some terrific fruit.

If you are looking for something unique, buy a cabernet franc from Chinon. But expect to find some big tannins and acidity at first.

A chardonnay that hits the middle

I've been toiling over chardonnays a lot, trying to separately the lush and oaky from the understated and crisp. As I've commented before, chardonnays are all over the board and tough to pigeon-hole. Blame fickle consumers for much of this erratic course.

But I just enjoyed the 2015 Patz & Hall Alder Springs Vineyard chardonnay ($60) which seems to strike a perfect balance -- well, at least for me. It's not lush and creamy, but it does have oak flavors. Credit the middle ground to the Medocino wine's strong acidity that keeps it crisp, preserves the pure fruit character and makes it a better complement to food. 

The unoaked chardonnays I've recently tasted, including the Stoller chardonnay, may lack the oak flavors that so many consumers like. You shouldn't apologize for liking those vanilla, caramel and coconut flavors that come from oak barrels. If that's to your liking, look for oak aging, then find a wine like Patz & Hall that elevates the acidity.

It takes only a village in the Rhone Valley

The hilltop village of Rasteau.

The hilltop village of Rasteau.

After my cellar disappointed me with a corked, 17-year-old Bordeaux, I was due for a nice surprise. I found it with a 2009 Domaine Chamfort Rasteau, a Cotes du Rhone Villages that I had hoped would stand the test of time. It did, bursting with lavender and herb aromas followed by silky strawberry and blackberry flavors and hints of rosemary and pepper. Delicious, comes to mind.

I remember socking away a few bottles of this after first tasting its heavy tannins and dense fruit shortly after it was released. The hilltop village of Rasteau, an AOC,  is known for producing long-lived wines even though many Cotes du Rhones are intended for consumption within a couple of years.  This wine cost less than $20 a bottle, which makes it a good target for those hoping to start a cellar on a budget.  Trust me, you will be immensely rewarded.

The primary grapes in this region, located just north of Orange, are grenache noir, syrah and mourvedre -- three grapes that give the wine so much dimension, vibrant red fruit flavors and floral aromas. It's a fun wine, but the Cotes du Rhones from Rasteau take fun to a more serious level.

 

 

Waiting 17 years to drink a corked wine

I know that corked wines are just a sad, albeit occasional, reality of wine. Cork is after all a natural product that like milk can spoil. Sure, winemakers go to extraordinary means to make sure their wine doesn't contain any unsightly sediment and  they preserve it for years to come. But they have little control over the damn Portuguese bark that for centuries has kept wine from falling out.

These thoughts ran through my mind when I opened a 2000 Chateau Laroque, a grand cru classe from St. Emilion.  You don't hold a wine for 17 years without some degree of excitement when you pop that cork. Excitement was hardly the reaction when I got a whiff of cork taint, technically known as trichoroanisole.  The wine was like a booby trap in my cellar just waiting to be detonated.

Cork taint is becoming less and less common -- some estimate it occurs in 5 percent of the wine produced. TCA happens when airborne microrganisms attach themselves to the bark. When this comes in contact with chlorides (bleach) at the winery, cork taint occurs. Since this cause was discovered in the 1990s, chlorides are rarely used. However, cork taint still happens and some winemakers resolved this problem by using screw caps or other artificial stoppers.

In the case of my precious Chateau Laroque, the defect was as obvious as rain. The telltale wet cardboard, damp basement smell knocked me over. It is not always as obvious. Sometimes, TCA just strips the wine of flavor with no residue of odor. Those corked wines are harder to identify, but if you are familiar with the wine, you just know something is wrong. I was enjoying lunch with a Bordeaux producer several years ago and he immediately dismissed one of his own wines because it lacked its usual fruit flavors. I just thought it was a boring wine.

Consumers go through life not knowing they are drinking an occasional corked wine. They just think the wine is not to their liking and never buy it again -- and that's a winemaker's worst fear. Or, worse, consumers will refuse a wine because they think it's corked -- but it isn't. It could be a wine they simply don't like.

Many years my wife and I were dining with a friend who turned away an Opus One because he said it was corked -- I didn't have a chance to smell it before it was whisked away. He turned away the second bottle for the same reason and that summoned the maitre d' who suggested he order a different wine. Could two bottles of Opus One be tainted? Unlikely.

As for my Chateau Laroque, I fortunately had one more bottle left in the case. It was glorious and I breathed a sigh of relief. I used the two as a lesson for my guests who were able to get a whiff of a tainted wine and compare it to an untainted wine. Although you can taste TCA, it is more obvious in the nose. Aged Bordeaux can get funky and barnyard-like, but TCA at this degree is impossible to miss.

Detecting a corked wine is impossible to explain in words. But once you experience it, your brain is conditioned to identify it again.

Zinfandel's ups and downs

I was talking to Gary Sitton the other day. He's the lucky guy in transition to fill the shoes of Joel Peterson, founder and retiring winemaker of Ravenswood. The subject was on zinfandel's rise and fall from power, a point Sitton agreed is part of zinfandel's history.

There was once a time not that long ago when the all-American grape variety had a cult following for producers like Ridge, Raffenelli, Edmeades, and Ravenswood. But the confusion created by white zinfandel and the increase in competition from other grapes took the luster off red zinfandel. People began to shift to pinot noir and meritage blends.  In fact, zinfandel became the foundation for many cheap blends. The grape can be high-yielding in places like Lodi, so a producer can make a pretty cheap, generic red wine by using zinfandel as his base.

Director of Winemaking Gary Sitton with outgoing winemaker and founder Joel Peterson.

Director of Winemaking Gary Sitton with outgoing winemaker and founder Joel Peterson.

Sitton doesn't think that these blends will undermine the efforts of craft zinfandel users, but clearly the zin industry needs to retrieve its giddy-up. The answer may lay in the single-vineyard zins that show more character.

I'm among those who have had a falling out with zinfandel. I once enjoyed its heady, boisterous character but over time found too many of them overripe and raisiny.  However, I recently tried some of Ravenswood's single-vineyard zins and those from Quivira, Ridge and Raffenelli.  Good stuff.

Ravenswood's iconic Vintner's Blend was once a great wine, but now in the hands of new owner, Constellation Brands, it has become cheap plonk. Sitton says production was once 500,000 cases! No cult following there.

"We are at the crossroads as Ravenswood started out as a high-end, cult status brand," Sitton says. "We've grown the appellation tier of our zinfandel and out of necessity we started growing the Vintner's Blend. When you start that, you are wildly successful. But at the same time you try to remain relevant." 

With the grilling season upon us, zinfandel has relevance. Besides being the patriotic grape for Memorial Day and July 4th, its jammy, fruit-forward character is a great match to hamburgers, ribs, pulled pork and other grilled or smoked meats.

 

Back to those "good" wines...

It seems like every wine writer is weighing in on what makes a good wine. In an earlier post, I commented on Bianca Bosker's distinction between a good wine and a wine a person thinks is good. Largely, I agree with her: a wine that exceeds accepted criteria (balance, finish, and complexity) can be universally accepted as "good," but we may not think it is good for us.

In her book "Cork Dorks," Bosker also accepts the generic and cheap plonk that is becoming more popular among consumers. She says these "processed wines" are manipulated at the winery with chemicals, powders, short cuts and other laboratory wizardry to cut costs and create a monster wine that hits a consumer's sweet spot.

However, New York Times columnist Eric Asimov vehemently disagrees. He says wine critics should call a "bad" wine for what it is: bad. While he doesn't fault anyone for liking these wines, he feels it is the critics' responsibility to separate it from a field of wines made with painsaking detail by quality-minded producers.

He wrote, "....additives and manipulation didn't improve the general level of wine. Science did."

And, "Few things have been as damaging to the American wine industry as its homogenization. Knockoff wines sell, but the American wine industry also craves critical approval."

We do need wines for those who don't care or know the difference -- but many of us also need wines that are unique and fit the universal definition of "good." The thought that anyone can clone a wine irrespective of region or style demotes the great wines that draw consumers into this market. Instead, it makes wine just another beverage with as much distinction as Coke and Pepsi. Such is the direction I fear Dave Phinney is taking when he blends grapes from an entire country and labels it "I" for Italy or "F" for France.

So what really is a good wine?

I am constantly asked for a good wine suggestion. It never fails to puzzle me: good wine, according to whom? A good wine to me -- a Languedoc syrah, an aged Alsace pinot gris from old vines, an expensive barbaresco -- may not be good to you. And what in the hell is "good" anyway?

Bianca Bosker in her delightfully scandalous book, "Cork Dork," has come up with what I think is the best answer, albeit qualified. She writes, "There is, however, a subtle but important distinction between a wine that's good to me and a wine that's good."

OK, the proverbial light bulb finally went off. You and I can analyze a wine for its balance, complexity and finish and agree that it is a good wine technically -- but disagree on whether we like it. I've tasted a number of wines that meet these three important criterion and still not liked them. A number of German rieslings and California zinfandels come to mind. They aren't "good" to me.

Bosker argues that to truly determine if a wine is of good quality, you need an out-of-body experience. Ignore your biases and your sensory reaction to a wine and judge its quality on its technical analysis. Not everyone can do that, of course, so we are left with people who will continue ask us for a good wine and then become discouraged when our suggestion  is unappealing.

For me, the distinction between what is a good wine and what is good to me leads my answers in new directions. In the future I'll answer what I like with enough caveats to make a head spin.

You'll be seeing more thought-provoking blogs that relate to what I am reading in "Cork Dork." I can't remember a book that has gotten me to re-think what goes into tasting a wine. 

And now those chardonnays....

Having finally left my concentration on roses, I've been focused on American chardonnays in recent days. Heavens, there are so many -- and so many styles.  I'll be summarizing my findings in a future column, but for now let's just say it has been an adventure.

Historically, chardonnays have gone through a number of trends. There were those oaky chardonnays that gave you splinters, then those creamy chardonnays that reminded you of pudding.  While producers have moderated their use of new oak and some have even made oak-free chardonnays, many of today's versions still cling to the buttery texture. 

No matter how much chardonnays are abused and dismissed, they remain the number one selling varietal in the U.S. Sales represent more than 13 percent of the market -- a percent higher than cabernet sauvignon. Female drinkers drive the market.

I'm unapologetic about liking chardonnay. The grape accounts for greatness in Burgundy. In Chablis, the minerally and cerebral chardonnays of producers such as Dauvissat are extraordinary. I'll pass on Australia for most chardonnay, but in California producers focused on this grape variety are doing incredible work. Ramey, for instance, makes a number of chardonnays that range from restrained to concentrated. 

Unoaked chardonnays complement food better because the palate doesn't have to deal with aggressive oak flavors and a buttery texture that conflicts with a delicate sauce or a simple fish dish. 

Don't give up on chardonnay because your friends think it's feminine or too common. It has a role at the table just as much as any other wine.

Who isn't making a rose nowadays?

In the past several weeks, I must have tasted 30-plus roses for an upcoming column. It didn't seem like a few years ago when I tasted only a handful.  Are there more roses on the market -- or am I just more engaged this year?

Several producers -- including Kendall-Jackson -- announced the debut of their roses this year. When K-J gets involved, you know there is money to be made. And, that's now the case with a wine that was once left to the French. 

Unfortunately, much of the rose I tasted this year was more like Kool-Aid. Yes, it had the right color and the right vibrancy, but some were slightly sweet and many were more expensive than they were worth. Clearly, producers saw the market trend and decided to get into the game. But that signals to me their roses are afterthoughts.

Not so in southern France where quality producers make nothing but rose. It's in France where you can oddly find bargains and quality in the same bottle. "Odd" because I would expect them to be more expensive than California roses. Some California roses were priced at $20 and more.

French rose producers use mostly grenache and syrah grapes -- ideal for the spirited fruit flavors, vibrant acidity and young, fresh fruit that make roses so delightful on warm days. Spain also uses grenache and even some California producers have followed the French model. But I've also seem more cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, tempranillo, and merlot. I have to wonder if those aren't the grapes the producers have left over.

The most notable ones so far? Whispering Angel, Chapoutier Bila-Haut, Guigal Cotes du Rhone, Les Dauphins and Stoller. More to come on this subject.

 

Phinney's introspective moment

Dave Phinney, a richer man

Dave Phinney, a richer man

In a recent video conference call, wine genius Dave Phinney answered a barrage of questions from wine journalists about his new line of wines, Locations, that blended vintages and grape varieties across appellations (see my column on another page). Late in the conversation, an inane question was thrown at him: "What was your proudest moment?" 

Phinney, a relatively shy winemaker but one who is honest and straightforward, paused. He reached back into his early winemaking career and said he refused to put "winemaker" on his business card until he was making his own wine. The unflappable Phinney became emotional and had to stop for a moment. 

"It was when I put 'winemaker' on my business cards," he finally answered, wiping away a tear.

Who couldn't appreciate his moment? He slaved away as a cellar rat for other California producers before hitting it big. He said he decided that if he was going to work that hard, he sure as hell was going to make better money. And so he did. First there was The Prisoner -- sold to Quintessa -- and then Orin Swift wines -- sold to E&J Gallo.

By the way, he joked about his only regret -- selling the The Prisoner brand to Agustin Huneeus. He reportedly sold the brand for $40 million. But in six years Huneeus sold it to Constellation for $285 million. It is unknown how much Phinney got from Gallo for Orin Swift, but I bet he didn't regret the deal this time.

 

Rhone Valley's great whites

When thinking of white wines for spring, I usually turn to sauvignon blanc. Their crisp acidity awakens the slumbering palate from a winter of heavy reds. However, I recently tried a couple of white blends from the Rhone Valley that reminded me that spring is about more than just sauvignon blanc.

You can't even find sauvignon blanc among the handful of white grape varieties allowed in the Rhone. Instead, the indigenous grapes are viognier, marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc and others no more well known.  They provide similar acidity but often with more character, especially when blended. But how many people think of white wine when they think of the Rhone Valley?

Two wines you should consider are the E.  Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc -- grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc and viognier -- and the E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage Blanc -- marsanne and roussanne. Both are aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve their freshness.

These wines are for everyone. A few unsuspecting friends I tried them on were unimpressed, because of their bracing acidity.

Phinney strikes again

In the next several months -- if you haven't already -- you'll be reading a lot about David Phinney's relatively new wine project. Typical of the genius-without-walls wine producer who launched Orin Swift in 1998, his new project doesn't come without controversy.

Called "Locations," the series of 12 world wines blends grapes from different regions and vintages with the goal of creating wines that over-delivers in flavor and enjoyment. Phinney was inspired in part while waiting for a taxi by the bumper stickers denoting a country -- "F" for France in an oval white sticker. That image now graces these labels: "F" for wines from French vineyards, "E" for wines from Espana, or Spain, and "I" for wine made from Italian grapes -- three wines I tasted during a video conference call with Phinney and other wine journalists.

His portfolio includes three blends from the U.S. -- Oregon, California, Arizona, Washington and Texas (of all places).

Phinney spent years traveling around Europe looking for the right grapes, some of which were destined to be sold as bulk wine in regions where grape production outstrips demand. "E", for instance, blends grapes from Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

These wines are unquestionably tasty with ripe, extracted fruit. And, most consumers won't care that they break conventions. However, I'm struggling with accepting them beyond what they are: delicious wines that could come from anywhere.

I like tasting mint in my Rutherford cabernet and a special nuttiness in the chardonnay from Meursault. These wines mask the unique flavors that come from the terroir. You have a generic blend that defies the unique character that an appellation has taken years to define. Are these wines disrespectful of terroir?

"Yes, we are completely disrespecting terroir," Phinney admitted in a video conferencing call with wine journalists.

He said he never understood the significance of terroir until he spent time in Maury, a unique region in France's Roussillon area. After seeing the soil and tasting the wine, he saw the connection of terroir to a wine's character. But to him terroir was not an inviolable convention.

The broad blending practice certainly isn't new -- Champagne producers have been blending grapes from many appellations and vintages for centuries.