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Thursday Thorns
Not So Random Thoughts From A Random Mind

By Charles Olken

Did you ever have a day like this? Everyone you run into wants to know something.

I was asked today, by a complete stranger, where I would go in the wine country if I had only one winery to visit. I stammered my usual response—I have fifty or one hundred favorites but not one. That may sound like a copout worth of a Republican presidential candidate ducking questions about Rush Limbaugh, but it is not.

I truly like visiting wineries and it does not matter whether it is fancy new places like the Williams Selyem or the barn-like facility in which that winery used to be situated. It does not matter whether it is some remote location like Adelaida high in the hills west of Paso Robles or the urban warehouse in downtown Oakland that houses JC Cellars and the Dashe winery.

But being the polite fella that I like to try to be, I then went on to mention a few places that have drawn me back time and time again because there is a special quality to them. Not to belabor the topic, for I have other topics to belabor as well, but among the places I have visited on multiple occasions are Hess, Robert Mondavi (the best tours for first-timer--and somehow all my relatives and college friends have, at one time or another, “allowed” me to lead them on a tour of the Napa Valley), Sterling, Clos Pegase, Gary Farrell, J, Hop Kiln, Paradise Ridge, Bella, Roederer and about thirty others.


I was asked today by a good friend if my attention to blogs (the reading of other people’s blogs) had waned lately because this blog does not mention as many of them as it used to. And I had to admit that it was true. There are only so many useful topics in the wine world and with so many competent bloggers writing from three to five blogs a week, there is far less to say than there used to be. I mean, how many times can we beat up the dreaded 100-point system, the dreaded three-tier distribution system, the dreaded “natural wines vs. industrial wines” debate or any of the other dreaded topics over which we writers like to wring our hands in public.

Still, there are variations on the theme from time to time. Whether it is gaffes or guff, pontification or ponderous prose, we bloggers muddle through. Besides, no matter what happens, it seems that someone or something manages to set our teeth on edge on a regular basis and, lo and behold, another blog is born. Witness this week’s flap when Robert Parker awarded nineteen separate 100-point scores to 2009 vintage wines from Bordeaux. I don’t know who counts these things, but it did amuse me that Mr. Parker also awarded a passel of 99+, 99, 98+ and 98-point scores. I forget who said it, but I am beginning to agree with the notion that Mr. Parker is intentionally destroying the validity of the 100-point rating system so that no one will use it after he has gone.

Okay, maybe that is too cynical. But the thought did amuse me when I read it.


I was asked today by a good friend if I was interested in reviewing Sangiovese. The question was asked because Connoisseurs’ Guide has ignored the local production of that grape for several years now since we have found so few of them to be satisfying and recommendable. The question was asked, of course, because the asker has a new Sangiovese and would like to see an assessment of it in print. Since the question was asked in email, I have taken a few days to respond. I like good Sangiovese. California has produced a few of them but “few” is the operative word here. It would be easy to say “thanks but no thanks”. After all, our editorial calendar (we call it a tasting schedule) is already overloaded, but just as we went back to Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah and found them greatly improved, so too might we find the same causes for optimism among a batch of Sangioveses.

Happily, the day ended with an easier question. Shall we have the grandkids over for dinner after soccer practice? That answer took no equivocation.


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For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.

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