Hugh Johnson: ‘I do not score wines’

October 16, 2016 Leave a comment

In the rare down time available during the grape harvest, I find my attention called toward the more-learned voices in the wine business. I’m not a wine maker, but still I try to pick up a clue here and there to improve my ability to communicate about the world of wine.


Hugh Johnson

Some (much) of my time is reading but the Internet allows listening to the voices of people pondering their life choices in this world which in the few busy months of pick, press and ferment seems more vocation and less avocation.

I listen often to Levi Dalton’s “I’ll Drink to That” podcast, which I first found through Alder Yarrow’s “Vinography” blog. Most recently, it’s been fascinating to hear British author Hugh Johnson discuss his wine-writing career and the genesis of  the extraordinary “World Atlas of Wine.”

In his conversation with Dalton, Johnson takes a shot at wine scoring, which he calls “a shortcut” and of use mostly for wine investors. Here is a brief excerpt (some of which ended up in my Twitter feed) and you can hear the rest here.

“I do not score wines, I don’t see the point of scoring wines. OK, it’s instant opinion and its a shortcut but its particularly useful to wine investors. and I’m not a fan of wine investors. … I deplore it. Because I don’t buy wine to sell, I buy it to drink, if I can afford it.”

He quotes a friend who once told him,”Hugh, fine wine used to be for the worthy and now it’s for the wealthy.”




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Avoiding ‘confusion’, Piemonte DOC drops Nebbiolo

September 13, 2016 Leave a comment


Jeremy Parzens @ DoBianchi continues to keep us informed on what has been called “The Nebbiolo Wars.”

Nebbiolo war: “inclusion of Nebbiolo in the Piemonte DOC has been definitively shelved” says Barolo-Barbaresco-Alba consortium president

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Questing after tradition, one vintage at a time

September 3, 2016 Leave a comment
Maria Teresa Mascarello

Maria Teresa Mascarello, daughter of the late Bartolo Mascarello of Barolo and today the exacting and traditional winemaker at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello.

“I am trying to make an honest wine, one that reflects all of the qualities of our territory, both its strengths as well as its flaws. – Maria Teresa Mascarello. Photo by Tim Atkins on Flick’r.


There is something missing in the world of modern-day winemaking. Or maybe several somethings.

That’s the feeling I had, and still have, after listening to winemaker Maria Teresa Mascarello of Barolo on a recent podcast of Levi Dalton’s excellent “I’ll Drink to That.”

This daughter of legendary winemaker Bartolo Mascarello is not one to mince words or opinions, whether it’s about her refusal to visit New York City or her thoughtful belief that to know a wine, you first must know its vineyard.

Everything she does is in the traditional method, down to the unheated and uncooled cellar where her wines age for years before being released.

And while critics, writers and the rest of the world casually tosses about the word “terroir” without perhaps understanding what it is they are talking about, Moscarello sees a vineyard’s terroir as just the starting point for enjoying her wines.

And, as Dalton points out, she believes that one of the measures of a wine’s success is that people will stick around and work the vineyards that produce it.

But perhaps her most telling statement, at least for me, was her saying that she enjoys the different vintages, and even more when they prove difficult.

“Every year is different,” Mascarello said. “I don’t find the same elegance (in 2013, her latest to be bottled) as I find in the 2010 and the 2012 but I like the difference.”

She said that when she tastes a wine, first she tastes and recognizes the grape variety.

“And second, I recognize the weather,” she said.

“Every year is different, that’s important to me because I like different,” she goes on. “I have more affection for the difficult (vintages).”




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Mini-reviews of some tasty summer wines

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Among the samples we receive here at WO International occasionally are wines that are worth mentioning but don’t warrant an entire blog entry. This summer has been particularly good for new whites and rosés and I better catch up while I have time. All prices may vary.

13 Celsius 2015 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (sample) – The name refers to the recommended serving temperature (56 F) and the high-tech label changes to blue when that temperature is reached. Glitzy label aside, this is New Zealand sauvignon blanc at its best: good acidity and structure and flavors of citrus, nectarine and slight vegetal. $12-15 SRP.

Seghesio 2012 Sonoma County Arneis (purchased) –This ia traditional northern Italian white but instead of the 2015 vintage I was looking for, I found this 2012. I was happy I did. A bit of age added some flavors of dried apricots and little nuttiness. $15 SRP.

Puligny Montrachet “Les Enseigneres” 2012 (purchased) – I normally wouldn’t purchase a wine normally priced at $55 but there is lot of this on sale. A knockout white Burgundy with power, balance and the white flowers, pear, apples and minerality (there’s that word) for which the area is known. $45.

Guigal Cote du Rhone 2015 Rosé (sample) $14 SRP. – Is rosé season over already? Not hardly if you are a lover of rosé and looking at the markdowns in the stores, it may be time to stock the pantry. This is a fine food wine to serve year-round, a blend of mostly Grenache with Cinsault and Syrah, with cherry and floral notes. $14 SRP.




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Eat An Amatriciana Per Amatrice

August 26, 2016 Leave a comment

Some ideas from Avvinare for those who feel incerto di cosa fare by the earthquake in Italy…



Like most Italophiles and people the world over, I am thinking of what to do to participate in helping the area devastated by the recent earthquake in Italy. While there is no way to repair the loss of life, one can lend economic support. Watching the Rai last night ithey mentioned that that is what is crucial right now.

So in that vein, here is the information for the Red Cross:

The IBAN number is:
Beneficiary: Associazione italiana della Croce Rossa
Subject: Terremoto Centro Italia

Additionally, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, has suggested that everyone encourage restaurants to put l’Amatriciana on their menus and then each restaurateur will devolve part of the proceeds from the sale of that dish to those in need. In Rome this is already happening. I think that’s a great idea and one I actually had thought of as well the night…

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It was ‘Dante’s Inferno,’ says survivor of central Italy earthquake.

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment
earthquake map

Map courtesy USGS.

The world, at last that part which still hadn’t been shaken awake, awoke Wednesday morning to find parts of central Italy devastated (I can’t think of a better word) by a series of earthquakes.

Tremors of up to 6.2 magnitude still were being reported Thursday across parts of three regions – Umbria, Lazio and Marche – with the greatest damage and most casualties said to be centered in the small mountain town (population about 2,000) of Amatrice, which a report in the New York Times said resembled a “war zone.”

Other jolts were being reported as far away as Rome and Bologna.

“It was Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ it was apocalyptic, I don’t know,” said one survivor in the Times.

Today’s edition of La Repubblica reports at least 250 people have been killed, many of them caught in their beds when the earthquake struck at 3:36 a.m. It’s feared the death toll will reach that of the 2009 earthquake in and around the town of Aquila which claimed an estimated 309 loves.

I’ve been watching and reading with the help of other Italophone bloggers, notably Jeremy Parzens and Susannah Gold, both of who speak fluent Italian and both of who have strong ties with the people and culture of Italy.

An interactive map of the earthquake zone from the U.S. Geological Survey is available here. A link to the Italian Red Cross and a site for donations is here.

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State wine contests remain nothing to take for granted

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment
Gov.'s cup red wines

Judges at the 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup competition praised many of the red wines and said they showed well-developed completeness. Photos/story by Dave Buchanan

Having the opportunity to sit in judgment of Colorado wines, or wines from any region or country, for that matter, is a privilege no one takes lightly.

At least, no one with whom I’ve sat on any judging panel.

My most-recent judging experience came a few weeks ago for the 2016 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup competition.

I’ve watched and reported on the Colorado wine industry since 1990, when it was a small (like four or five) handful of wineries.

Since then it’s grown to more than 140 wineries across the state and over the years the quality of winemaking continues to improve.

True, a few wines of the 250 or so wines we tasted this year should not have been bottled, but that can be said of any wine competition, and each year the unremarkable wines are fewer and fewer.Guvs cup lineup

More importantly, the judges had opportunities to taste some amazing, beautiful and fascinating wines, sometimes all at once, in the same bottle.

Many of the red wines made from Grand Valley AVA grapes, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons, were lauded as “Gorgeous, with completeness at all levels, beginning, middle and end,” by the esteemed Warren Winiarski, winner of the 1976 Judgment of Paris and a winemaker who knows a thing or a million about red wines.

Not as many white wines won double-gold medals as in years past but much of that had to do with some of the whites we might have tasted would have had to come from 2014, the second of two consecutive very poor harvests due to extraordinary winters.

And just when most of us totally were confused by the intense and multi-layered flavors of mead, it took Glenn Exline, director of the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition, to tell us that these “were (some of) the best examples I’ve ever tasted.”

But what struck me is that so many Colorado winemakers again sat out the only wine competition dedicated solely to Colorado wines.

Of the state’s 140-plus wineries, only 35 sent entries to the Governor’s Cup.

That’s about the same number as last year, and the year before, so while each year the number of Colorado wineries continues to increase, the number of wineries entering the Gov’s Cup stays about the same.

The reasons vary: some wineries didn’t have their wine bottled at the time entries were requested, others forget to sent their entries on time, and some winemakers simply don’t like contests.

And at least one winemaker has passed on the Colorado contest in favor of larger competitions with a national or international focus.

“Why would I want a gold medal from Colorado when I can get one from San Francisco?” she said. “It has more marketing value.”

As more than one winemaker has said, customers like to see bling, and it’s arguable if the casual customer differentiates between the Governors Cup, the Eastern International or the San Francisco International.

Participating in the state’s namesake wine competition allows you to see where you and your winemaking skills are in relation to other Colorado winemakers.

And if you’re already an established and well-respected winemaker but feel the Colorado competition isn’t up to your level of winemaking, it may be that your participation and the wines you bring would be enough to raise the level of accomplishment in everyone’s wines.

A “rising tide” pertains to an ocean of wine, as well.








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