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All The News That Fit To Spit

By Charles Olken

It’s a new year, and things are achangin’. No, I am not speaking of the Presidency. I can’t do anything about it one way or the other, and I much prefer talking about wine anyhow. I got my first “How was 2016 question the other day”. I pretty much duck questions like that because, as the old saying goes, “every year is a vintage year in California”. It’s not true, of course, but California’s blessing of good weather and typically long and moderate to warm late summers and early fall, mostly with no or little rain, does mean that even in less than optimal years, plenty of good wine can be made. Even in the “bad years”, which seem to come around about one in ten harvests, there are usually some pretty good wines and almost never complete busts. Oh yes, each vintage is different, but “bad” is rarely applied here.

Still, the weather is always a story of some kind, and I begin today with the California drought and the California floods.

The Drought/The Floods
I read an interesting article on Friday past which informed us that the drought was not over. It was filled with statistics all of which we meant to prove that we should not stop worrying. Well, by Saturday, the monsoon arrived, and while I am no hydrologist, I can tell you that our cup runneth over at least for the moment. The worrywarts will insist that we have to wait until the end of March before we know how much water we have in storage. OK, I get it, but folks, I have stopped worrying. There will be grapes next year, and that insures that Connoisseurs’ Guide will continue to have something to write about.

If Grade Inflation Continues Apace, Is The Death of The 100-point Scale Far Behind?
I guess I ought to be embarrassed at bringing up this old chestnut, but I am not. Recent comments on wine ratings now find that many professional reviewers give more than half their wines scores of 90 points or better and that 92 is the median score (meaning that half the wines score 92 or more and half score 92 or less), and for many critics, 92 is also the score most often given.

The 100-point scale has come in for pillorying from a loud minority of wine voices, and the unrest that is caused by grade inflation continues to grow as wine ratings escalate. What does a 92 mean in half the wines get that score or better? Sure, wine quality continues to improve but no matter how far the science improves, winemaking is still part science and part art form. And as with any art form, there is grandeur and there is dreck.

The problem is not limited to the 100-point scale. Any system of comparative ratings is subject to grade inflation whether it is our three-star method (they are not puffs although you can call them anything you want as long as you spell Connoisseurs’ Guide correctly) or the old, previously favored 20-point scale or the ten chopstick system (as once proposed by one of our readers).

Ratings systems will never go away even if one dominates and others fade into the background. But, grade inflation has made the numbers less meaningful and that is a concern.

And, Finally, Our Best Wines of 2016
At the end of each year, Steve Eliot and I post our choices for the best wines we have tasting in the past year. We choose ten at our three-star level and ten more at two stars because that group of wines also is very high on the quality scale. Incidentally, in CGCW scoring, two-star wines rate between 91 and 94. That would seem like average if one compares to other critics. But, you can take it from me, we still use the same scale that we always have, and any wine that earns even a one-star ratings is a thing of beauty.

Here then are mine. Steve will post his here when he gets around to it.

My Top Three Star Wines
BEEKEEPER Zinfandel Madrone 2013
DAOU White Rhône Chemin de Fleurs 2014
DIAMOND CREEK Cabernet Sauvignon Gravelly Meadows 2013
GRGICH HILLS Late Harvest White Violetta 2013
JEFF COHN Syrah Domaine des Chirats 2013
KRUPP BROTHERS Syrah Black Bart 2013
MOONE-TSAI Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard 2014
PAUL HOBBS Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard 2013
SCHRAMSBERG J. SCHRAM Sparkling Wine Brut Rosé 2008
TREFETHEN Halo Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll District 2012

My Top Two Star Wines
BELLA Zinfandel Florence Vineyard 2012
BLACKBIRD Merlot Arise 2014
DEHLINGER Pinot Noir Champ de Mars 2013
DRAGONETTE Sauvignon Blanc Grassini Family Vineyard 2013
DuMOL Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard 2014
FLORA SPRINGS Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard 2013
LANG & REED Cabernet Franc Two-Fourteen 2013
NOCETO Sangiovese Marmellata 2013
STOLPMAN Syrah Angeli 2014
THREE STICKS Chardonnay One Sky 2014

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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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