Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year! 2010 is going to be great, I can feel it!

Good morning, it's New Years Eve! How cool is that? I personally feel like 2009 has flown by, but luckily I'm not getting the feeling of being caught up in it, more that I've been a willing participant in the ups and downs of the past 365 days. I can only hope 2009 was a great year for everyone, and that 2010 will be that much better.

To avoid a cliche like "this has been one of the most interesting years of my life", I'll try to summarize my experiences in 2009 as those of knowledge-building. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I tried to learn from as many situations, people, things, and other resources as possible. Was it rewarding? Definitively, unequivocally yes!

So, where does that leave me and my relationship with wine? Looking back, I tried a lot of wine and finally started this blog, something I'd talked and dreamed about for a while. Also, I started to grasp the importance of using social media to connect with other people in the wine world. Perhaps more importantly, I started being proactive in seeking out wine-related content. The amount out there is amazing, and it's a lot of fun to read what other people are thinking and drinking. Looking back (hey look, a cliche!), I can honestly say that the content available is usually of good to great quality. Perhaps we can liken it to a winery like Mondavi. There are many levels of Mondavi wines, from the Woodbridge cheap stuff to the high end Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. Then again, maybe the comparison won't work so well because content publishers don't really have a price. Oh well, I really tried to fit wine into that somehow! My point is that the amount of content available is huge, the quality varies, but there's something for everyone. Maybe that can be a summary of wine in general? We all drink what we like, and I hope we all get to continue that in 2010.

To continue with the question in the above paragraph, I looked back on 2009 as a learning experience, a way to get my feet a bit wet in the massive world of wine. And seriously, it's massive. Don't underestimate what the possibilities are or what you can do within that world. I leave 2009 happy with the wines I love, eager to learn more about wine, eager to keep networking, and very eager to keep producing content...Even if only five people read it!

For 2010, I did make some wine resolutions. First and foremost, I'm going to do a better job of remembering the wines I've tasted over the year, I didn't do that this year and it's left me with a feeling of sadness. Originally this entry was going to highlight some of the best stuff I'd tasted in 2009, instead it's a somewhat rambling piece about what wine meant to me last year. Next, I need to work on this blog a lot more, adding fresh, original content that'll keep you coming back for more. Call it finding my niche, call it building my brand, but it's got to be done. Third, expanding my knowledge, taking some cooking classes and wine-pairing classes would benefit me immensely. You not only add experience and vocabulary, you add skills and perspective, two things I believe are critical in establishing your content and relevant to wine lovers. Finally, I need to visit more wineries and just do more wine related traveling this year. I've got plans for a couple of trips to the East Coast in April and June, hopefully attending the big Wine Bloggers Conference in June as well, and going to more wine tastings wherever I can. Guess the new car I want is going to have to wait till 2011!

I hope to write my first blog of 2010 tomorrow or Saturday, after tasting some more wine. Please have a wonderful, safe and happy New Year. Thank you again for reading, see you next year!

Beau Carufel

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's the holiday why not go camping? Oh and drink wine too!

I just looked and it's been a ridiculous amount of time since I updated, over two weeks. What's going on here! Apparently one of my (many) 2010 resolutions will be to update my blog at least once a week.
However, it's not like I was idle, just sitting there not updating. I worked a ton, drank some wines, got some great editorial feedback on my burgeoning blog, and had a fun holiday season with my family and friends.
The editorial feedback was pretty valuable, as were the things I was able to learn from people like Gary Vaynerchuk. I watched some of his videos that didn't so much deal with wine as with what you have to do to reach out to people, create connections and build your brand. For us in the blogging world, it's critical to build that brand. Gary's approach seems to advocate building those connections, keeping your content fresh and original, and working your ass off. So what I have been trying to do is integrate that message with some other things I've learned, like creating that niche to get your voice out, the value of an original approach, and just plain writing well.
Before I go into what I drank for the Christmas Day stuff, I do want to post up something and maybe make my readers aware of it. There's a conference in June, in Washington that's called the Wine Bloggers Conference. Basically it's open to anyone who writes (blogs) about wine and features some great ways for both beginners and advanced bloggers to network, learn, taste, eat, and just get really deep into the wine world and more specifically, the ever changing wine blogging world. The reason I'm writing this out is because there are some scholarships available to people who might not be able to afford the airfare or hotels or the registration fee to this event. I know times are tough for most of us but they could really use some donations to increase the amount of scholarships and truly open the event up to as many people as possible. The link is here, and that's really about the extent of my solicitation to you. They'd appreciate any amount and you'd definitely get some press.

So, onwards to the review!
2005 Parson's Flat Padthaway Shiraz/Cabernet
(image credit to

There you have it, that's what I drank on Christmas Day, out in the Anza Borrego State Park with my Dad and younger Brother. We used to camp all the time, going back to our days in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. This year we'd planned to camp in the winter, when it was cooler, and the trip ended up falling on the 25th and 26th of December. It wasn't a huge thing, just load up the truck with supplies and a bbq and head out for the night. Our menu wasn't even that fancy, we brought burgers, stuff for sandwiches, chips, beer and wine (duh!), along with various other smaller things. This would be a big departure from the somewhat fancier Christmas dinners I was used to but it seemed fun and different, which always appeals to me.
Now I won't take a lot of time to describe the trip, because after all, this is a wine blog! I would like to share a couple of things though. First off, I was amazed at the fact that out there, the world is in basically five colors, and three of them are shades of brown/gray. The landscape is so austere, rugged, but also lonely and almost primeval. You could easily think that it's looked the same for 1000 years, maybe 10,000. We hiked through rough country, across terrain that varied from semi-truck sized boulders to soft ravines of broken granite sand. Cacti were everywhere, you really felt surrounded by desolation, that feeling pressed down on us like a giant hand. I was moved and reflective of a few things, but this also isn't a philosophy blog.

So after we retired back to camp, it was time to relax, enjoy beer, listen to the Chargers game and prep dinner. The bottle of wine, 2005 Parsons's Flat from Padthaway was opened about two hours before dinner was ready, to give it some time to breathe. As soon as I pulled that cork, I was struck by big fruity aromas, like a mixed-berry pie! Pie that maybe had a bit of blackberry and boysenberry in it, less on the strawberry. There was some raspberry too, and a dollop of vanilla, the oaky kind though. Vanilla notes always make me think, can we describe it better? I want to say it's something like a fresh cut board quickly dipped in a jar of vanilla, then held about six feet away from you. Does that make sense? You get the stronger vanilla note but also a subtle undertone of oaky-woodsey kind of smells.

Okay so enough with trying to wow you with my super-cool wine geek references. We finally got the burgers done (thanks Dad!!) and poured cups (yes I said it, cups) of the stuff. Another sniff left me with the same expression except maybe a small bit of that cocoa powder smell from really high end hot chocolate. Cool! This was going to be interesting. Right as soon as I tasted, that ripe fruit was back, but it was well balanced. What struck me as interesting was the firmness of the tannins on the palate. I suggested it was the mid-palate but my dad didn't think so, and well he's got 30+ years in the business so yea I was off the mark. What I felt though was this firm tannic streak right in the middle of the tasting procession, that is to say it broke up the lush, soft fruit notes and gave the wine a backbone. That was good because the burgers were juicy, cheesy and cooked to perfection. The finish was clean, with some lingering tannin and maybe blackberry and almost this tarry quality, which I felt was rather interesting.

What did I think of it? Well here's the thing, it usually retails for around $40 U.S. I paid $14.99 for it. Would I buy it again for $15? Yes! Definitely, at that price it gets an A- from me, a really tasty wine that pairs well with great food. Now, would I be happy if I'd spent $40 on it? No way, it was too simplistic at that price, overwrought with the juicy fruit notes, the tannins weren't as silky as they should be, and there was too much oak all through the wine. If the wine was $40, I'd give it a C+/B-. What a difference $25 can make right? There you have it, a fun Christmas experience that hopefully interweaves some nature and some wine. My dad said it was the perfect wine to have outdoors while grilling burgers, and I think he hit the nail on the head.
I hope everyone had a stellar Holiday Season and will have a great New Years, I for one am really excited about 2010 for a bunch of reasons. I'll cover that in a future blog entry. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it to no end.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Experimenting in Tasting Wines..2008 Sauvignon Republic Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc

After my last column where I mentioned The Good Grape as one of my preferred wine blogs, Jeff Lefevere (anyone else think that's a lot of e's in his name?) was cool enough to actually post a comment on my page. As a total novice, I was honestly floored. If you read my response to it, you'll see that I really have nothing to say in reply. What he said though was really interesting: "Second, I would encourage you to completely re-imagine the tasting note / sensory evaluation process. Blogs are great for experimentation and doing something new, unique and novel will an asset to both you and your readers."
Ok, that's REAL advice from a pro, thanks again Jeff! Luckily, today my brain was engaged and I began to think about this, and to ask the question "What can I do to re-imagine the tasting note/sensory evaluation process?"
At the risk of sounding cavalier about wine blogging, my first inclination was to screw around with the methodology of tasting, the whole "swirl, sniff, sip, spit" thing. What if I blindfolded myself? How about not sniffing the wine (kind of hard, I tried)? What if I didn't spit! (Yes, that would be actually pretty awesome)? Expanding on those concepts certainly is fun, but does it provide value to the reader, who might actually want to hear about a wine and might actually want to see if I liked it or not?
None of them appear to. So let's go back to square one, re-imagining the tasting note/sensory evaluation process. Tasting notes are just a grouping of words to describe what you taste right? Hmmm, I could use different words or references, like the always awesome Gary Vaynerchuck. But see, I'd just be copying him, not to mention doing an invariably poor job. He's crushed it (to use his words) in that department. What else is possible? Something that's out there, but not too far out there so as to be stupifyingly obscure.

Anyways I tasted a wine tonight too, the 2008 Sauvignon Republic Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc...

It's quite good, and ridiculously cheap at $6.99. Great acid here, it's balanced and not overwhelming (hello N.Z. I'm talking to you). Beyond that lies a happy place of ruby red grapefruit, wet grass, wet rocks (seriously!), and some passion fruit or guava, can never really tell the two apart unfortunately. It's a quick finisher (that's what she said!..wait..damn it...) but because of that balance I alluded to earlier, things just seem to work. The wine also smells pretty good because you get all sorts of floral aromas, fresh cut grapefruit, meyer lemon, almost a hint of like whipped cream too or lemon meringue cream where it's not super sweet but still is sweet enough. Upon sipping it again, I detect a bit of that fleshy, almost creamy character on the mid palate too. Oh and I changed my description, it's more of a key lime pie thing going on, but one where the person who was making it got drunk off mint juleps and added 50% more limes than necessary. I even want to say there's something oddly persimmon-like, I tasted dried persimmon slices the other day and this vaguely reminds me of them.

So yea, very very solid A- for this wine. I really like it! In fact I'm probably going to buy some more. Now if you're read the other blogs I've written you know at the beginning I usually give background and detail about the wine. This time I didn't, I rambled on about something. Your background is this, Check it out, they are doing some really awesome stuff with a varietal that's near and dear to my heart. We're done for now, I'll post some more stuff this weekend and keep thinking about the advice Jeff gave me. As always, please post comments, questions, whatever. Let me know what you like and don't like, I deeply appreciate feedback. I also deeply appreciate free wine samples. If you want to follow me on twitter, I'm @UCBeau and will of course reciprocate.

Beau Carufel

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I read something interesting this afternoon, and it got me thinking...

After I logged into my google reader account to see what some of my favorite wine bloggers were talking about, I read this blog post by Jeff Lefevere, the guy over at Good Grape. After reading the blog he linked to, right here, I got to thinking about this potentially complex question. Now I tend to agree with what Jeff Lefevere posted about the 10 Truths about Wine Blogging. Just posting reviews of what you tasted (like I've been doing) is indeed a recipe for "zzzz" (like what you've been doing). So what I started wondering was how someone starting out can both blog about what they drank last night AND provide something relevent, i.e. something worth reading in a sea of blogs. A lot of what I see from wine bloggers is basically filed under two topics: "industry news" and "wine tasting/reviewing". There is indeed some commentary, and some of it is quite good, but from what I've read, there really isn't a huge amount of original content, especially if the commentary is about the aforementioned industry news. What then is the best way to differentiate yourself from this seemingly standard format?
Sadly, I don't know if I have an answer yet, since I'm so new to both reading blogs and blogging myself. Most of what I post is purely stream-of-conciousness, versus writing an essay, editing it, then putting it online for everyone to look at. I can however share what I did think of when the question I asked first reared it's Burgundy colored head. Call me naive and I am, but I still think that a blog with original reviews has a place in the crowded field (Lefevere estimates over 1000 wine blogs out there). Writing about wine should be based on your passion for it, therefore I really think wine reviews should be fun for the reader. Using esoteric and/or overly technical terms confuses people, makes them not want to: A. come back to your blog and B. seek out what you blogged about. Also important is posting actual reviews instead of short, one paragraph blurbs about a wine. There are some people who do that, or worse, just copy/paste from the winery's site! That's utterly ridiculous, especially when you're reviewing cheap wines like Yellowtail, Penfolds or Barefoot type stuff. On the other side of the coin, original commentary on what's going on in the wine industry (like the current controversy about Champagne reducing output to keep pricing in place -- pas bien!) will serve to both educate and stimulate your readers, right? In any case, that's what I came up with, and I'll try to add more commentary about what's actually going on in the biz. I'm lucky to have some pretty deep connections and data sources so hopefully I can provide some unique insights to my readers. All four of you..Wow this might have been my shortest blog yet, and as usual I welcome all comment and constructive criticisms. I'll be back later in the week with some more snore-inducing reviews ;-)

Beau Carufel

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sur Lie sounds so sexy! Muscadet is a sexy wine! Here's why.

Hi again! Ya, my bad, it's been almost a week since I updated this. Totally on me and I will get better. Hell, I'm even thinking of branching out and posting more than just wine reviews, like stuff on travel and sports, even the cooking I try to do! But in any case here's a shoutout to Gray over at Wing and a Prayer Blog, he goes places I only dream about. Great writer, you should read it if you love travel as much as I do.
Anyways enough with the brief aside! You're here for one reason..well maybe more than one cause you may have accidentally stumbled upon this little blog while looking for real blogs about wine. But in any case how about we review a wine I just tasted? By "just tasted" I of course mean a glass is sitting right in front of me. What I'm tasting tonight is a Muscadet Sevre et Maine. It's French, from Muscadet which lies close to the coast along the Loire River. The grape is commonly called "Melon" but it's fancy name is "Melon de Bourgogne". Wikipedia has a surprisingly accurate and well written piece on Muscadet so I recommend going here to check it out. It costs 7$ at Trader Joe's. Some other pertinent info would be it's from Chateau Des Cleons and is imported by Plume Ridge out in the city of Industry here in California.

Onwards to the review!
2008 Chateau Des Cleons Muscadet Sevre Et Maine
So, why did I buy this wine? Well for a few reasons. One, I've had Muscadet wines before and loved the bracing acidity and light body, but with the wonderful bouquet and complexity good ones have. Second, the region is very close to my favorite part of France, the Brittany coast. Third, it was priced right and hey, I buy (so far) all the wines I blog about so price does come into play.
This little gem was pulled out of the refrigerator about an hour before I poured it, to give it time since I hate serving white wines at bone-chillingly cold temperatures. In the glass it's got a really neat pale color, somewhere between that clear/almost grayish tint of a pinot grigio to the light light straw colors of a Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc. At around 11.5% alcohol, it's definitely light and perfect for a hot day..which today is decidedly not (for San Diego at least).
First impressions from the sniff would be a light perfume-y aroma, lime/citrus, florals, hints of pear, and some yeasty notes that are really wonderful. They give it substance, it doesn't just vanish after a half second in the nose. I'm impressed! Obviously the next logical step would be to taste it, which I did. When it first hits your palate, there's splendid acidity, like a fine brush across your mouth. It really cleanses things but in a really refreshing way. I tasted grassy notes, some minerality, definite lemon peel, again that fleshy/yeasty sensation, maybe a hint of pear/green apple too. The finish is absolutely razor sharp, it's gone in a few seconds. Before you go thinking that's a negative though, consider this. It's a dry white, it should in fact have a very quick, clean finish! That's the point, to cleanse your palate and get it ready for the next bite of food. This Muscadet does that quite well, yet also leaves me wishing for another sip right away. That's also big in my book, because the savory taste sensation is one of my absolute favorites. Maybe that's why I really love Japanese food so much. Suffice it to say I'm thoroughly impressed with the wine. It hits all the required points really well in my opinion.

Now I get to give it a cheesy rating. After a few reviews I'm still pondering my system, and would absolutely love some feedback from my (small amount of) viewers. Does this setup work for you? Is it easy to understand and more importantly, does it help you trust what you've read from me? Anyways if you care to answer those questions, I'd love to hear about it. This wine gets a solid A- from me. It's not perfect by any means, it's not "amazing" or "enthralling" or whatever. It's really really good though. If I were working for a wine rag, I'd say between 88 and 90 points. That's just my limited experience with Muscadet wines though, and I really need to taste a bunch more. (Free samples anyone?) If you can get this particular one, I say do it. Try it out, see what it tastes like to you, I sure enjoyed it. Even though it apparently isn't the season, according to the experts, for these kinds of wine, I still believe they have a place at your table. Fall and Winter aren't all about mutton stew and rib roasts, you gotta have other things in your diet and this would pair well with a lot of things. Some suggestions I have are: grilled fish with lighter sauces, salads with creamy dressings, mushroom turnovers, clam chowder, any other shellfish. There, I bet the real chefs out there are rolling their eyes and dismissing me but who cares. Wine and food are all about what YOU like to cook and eat, no one else. That's it for now, I'll be tasting some wines this weekend and will do my best to write them up.

Beau Carufel