Wine Talk

Snooth User: JenniferT

Long Shadows wine makers dinner!!

Original post by JenniferT, Jan 23, 2014.

Good news! I've been invited to my first wine makers dinner! Needless to say, I'm excited about the opportunity. The dinner is going to be with Gilles Nicault from Long Shadows next week.

Naturally I'll be doing my homework in advance to learn what I can and think about good questions I'd like to ask. I know that Long Shadows has been discussed here at Smooth several times before.....I'd like any related insight/info you guys might have. I'm planning on asking him as much as possible without crossing the line into harassment, lol! 

Also, I'd be happy to ask him any of your questions too, on our collective behalf. I can post the answers and/or report about the dinner back here. 

Replies

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 6, 2014.

Sounds like fun Jen, thanks for the report...fwiw I generally agree with Greg on the tasting notes. Nice to have, but there's no substitute for the experience and memory, as that's what stays with us.

Too bad you didn't get a look at Randy Dunn's Feather, that's the only one I have...based on your report, I'm not sure if I should add any more, though the Chester Kidder sounds interesting, 14.9% ABV is around my limit for Cabernet blends.

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 6, 2014.

I'd be surprised if there's any enforcement of trademark infringement regarding the use of "meritage".

Many BC blends use the term.  I know it originated in California because it was problematic to call blends "Bordeaux" or "Bordeaux Style", so they decided on something for the New World.

Oh boy Jen...you're in for a treat.  I will introduce you to some beautiful BC meritage blends.

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Reply by outthere, Feb 6, 2014.

Hell of a report for having your notes heisted. Well done! Sounds like it was a great event. I chuckled at your "my first Abalone" comment. They grow on rocks down here!

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 6, 2014.

Abalone are prohibited for harvesting here.  I'm not sure if they are still not plentiful, but at one time they were almost harvested to extinction around here (shipped to Japan).

Ah..in California, it's possible (with a special permit) to harvest a small number of red abalone, but black, white and others are protected by law.

So, yes, they're still a delicacy and not easy to buy.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 7, 2014.

They grow on rocks but they aren't falling off trees! I remember when I was a kid and you'd decorate your yard with the shells that amateur divers brought back.  As a kid, I didn't like it, even though our neighbor gave it to us free.  Now I can't afford it except rarely in Monterey restaurants, where it's often not prepared so well that you can justify the price.

Now, as for that Pedestal, some people will tell you it needs more time, blah blah.  But here's the thing:  Michel Rolland makes a type of wine--big, plush, round, and, to my mind, boring, generic, ubiquitous. I don't think it gets better with time, because the style is already bit and soft. There's nothing to integrate or get more complex, at least in everything he works  with from Pape Clement on down.  He travels all over the world consulting, which pretty much amounts to telling merlot growers to let their grapes get really ripe.  If you like it, fine, but I've not had one of his wines that I thought was worth the money.  Not saying there's anything wrong with liking the style--just saying that if you don't, don't let yourself be shouted down.  His consultancy carries a premium that I am just not interested in paying.

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Reply by Lucha Vino, Feb 7, 2014.

Nice report.  It sounds like a great time.

Filling in some more details - the Nine Hats is the second label for Long Shadows.  The wine that does not make the cut for the LS wines goes into the Nine Hats.  These are great wines in the $20 price range if you can find them.  The Syrah seems to be most common.  I picked up a Nine Hats Sangiovese last summer and it was dang good for about 18 bucks!

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Reply by JenniferT, Feb 7, 2014.

Huh. I recently came across the nine hats Syrah for sale in a small store in Victoria. I'm fairly sure it was about $45. 

I only realized that the Pedestal was done by Michael Rolland when I arrived at the event. I was trying to place the name...and then I remembered - Mondovino! I really tried to look at this wine objectively though. And while I did really enjoy the wine, I personally preferred the other reds that were poured. 

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 7, 2014.

Yes Lucha, we know how good it is to buy wine in Washington!  (or can be).  I saw the one Jen's talking about a couple weeks ago and knew it was much less in Seattle.  It's like Geyserville...there it's $35-37 and here it's $60.  Those I will nab when I'm down there.  There are some that are basically the same price there as here.  Hey Lucha...are you attending the Taste Washington event in late March?

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Reply by GregT, Feb 7, 2014.

dvogler - there is indeed a trademark issue if you use the term "meritage" without approval.

As I've posted here before, back in the 1970s, people like Mondavi taught Americans to buy wine by grape variety. So people would go to the store and buy a Chardonnay, a Cab, etc. At the time, Gallo was making stuff like "Pink Chablis", which never stated what the composition was.

Of course, people wanted to know which grapes were the "best" so a sort of hierarchy was established, with Cab at the top, Merlot somewhere down below, etc. Years earlier, a French writer had stated that there were a few "noble" grapes and the rest were secondary. I want to say it was Peynaud but I'm not certain about that and it seems too arbitrary for him - he was too interested in viticulture to limit himself like that. In any event, the idea was that the more famous French grapes were "noble" and the rest were peasants. So Chardonnay and Cab and Merlot and Syrah made the list but Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Fiano, etc., did not. More recently, people have suggested adding Tempranillo and a few others.

I think it's an idiotic conversation to be having. The idea of "noble" grapes has to do only with prejudice and limited experience.

In the 1980s California winemakers were feeling increasingly confident and they realized they'd been stuck in a straightjacket of sorts because their Cab Sauvignon might be improved with a bit of Petite Verdot and Malbec or Merlot or Cab Franc. That of course, was something the people in Bordeaux always knew, which is why they don't sell Bordeaux by grape variety, but by the region, called "Bordeaux".

They couldn't really call a wine a "Bordeaux Blend" without irritating the French, so a group of producers in CA got together and sponsored a competition to come up with a name. The winner was a combination of "merit" and "heritage", which in retrospect seems to be very silly for several reasons. First, there wasn't all that much heritage of those Bordeaux grapes in CA - there was more Barbera and Carignan planted than Cab back in the day. Second, the idea of "merit" again relied on the idea of a few noble grapes and all the rest of the peasant grapes. The argument of course, was that the grapes in the blend would be the producer's best, or most meritorious grapes.

In any event, "Meritage" is most assuredly a trademarked term (and it is also capitalized).

A Meritage wine can only have the Bordeaux grapes, none of which can constitute more than 90% of the blend. To use the term on your wine, you must have written permission from the Meritage Alliance.

The term didn't really catch on though, and isn't used as much as people thought it would be. It's not a bad idea in some respects, because it gets people away from the idea that they have to drink a Cab or a Merlot or a Zin, rather than a wine.

BTW - Chester Kidder would definitely NOT be a Meritage wine because it contains 20-30 percent Syrah, which is no longer allowed in Bordeaux.

 

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Reply by GregT, Feb 7, 2014.

BTW again - Jen - don't give too much credibility to the hack job film "Mondovino". Whatever his merits or shortcomings, Rolland is not the buffoon he was made out to be. The film maker had an agenda and he pursued it. The resulting film makes no effort at objectivity and is not a "documentary" in that it documents anything so much as it is a long, tedious, opinion piece.

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Reply by JenniferT, Feb 7, 2014.

I figured as much. The film didn't exactly come off as balanced, as I recall.

I've heard the phrase "noble grapes" thrown around quite a bit in a wine course. I really only took it in the context of being a small group of grapes that  more people here are more familiar with....grapes that we should start to learn about first. Surely these grapes aren't any more heroic or dignified than the other varieties.  :)

Thanks for the background on Meritage! 

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Reply by EMark, Feb 7, 2014.

Greg I'm going by memory here, but I might want to discuss some of the history that you mentioned above.  

back in the 1970s, people like Mondavi taught Americans to buy wine by grape variety.  

That statement has a lot of validity to it if you concentrate on the word "taught."  However, I would not want people to think that varietal bottlings of U.S. wines did not occur until the 1970s.  I know that I bought bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Chardonnay and probably others in the 1960s.  (I also admit to buying Gallo Hearty Burgundy, which, of course, was not great, but it fit a student's budget and it was reliable, and it wasn't Thunderbird or Mogen David.)  I've read about tastings in the last few years of Cabernet Sauvignons bottled in the 1940s by makers such as Inglenook and Charles Krug.

Now, again I'm going from memory, but I'm pretty sure that in the 1960s a U.S. wine had to only contain 51% of a grape variety in order for it to be given the varietal designation on the label.  In the 70s or 80s, and I really don't remember exactly when that happened, the bar was raised to 75%.

I'm wondering if the raising of this bar might have been another influence on the creation of the "Meritage" nomenclature by U.S. makers.  This is purely speculative on my part, but if a maker was bottling something that was 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Something Else, it could no longer be called Cabernet Sauvignon.  So, if I'm trying to compete for a market segment higher than the Hearty Burgundy crowd, I don't want to call it something like "Red Wine."  I want to have a name that carries some cachet.  So, let's invent one.

Going back to the comment that Mondavi, et al "taught" Americans to buy by the grape, that seems to me to be a very pragmatic marketing solution for the U.S. wine industry as it was emerging.  In Europe tradition is very strong, and it is backed up by law.  Wines are "defined" by geographic regions.  So, if the consumer buys a bottle of Burgundy, he has a pretty good idea of what he's getting.  In the U.S. what is he getting if he buys a bottle of Napa Valley, or Cucamonga Valley, or Sonoma?  So, if you can't steal European nomenclatures (e.g., Chablis, Chianti), you have to educate your consumers to discriminate another way.  Now, I agree with you that many Americans who are starting their wine adventures get wrapped around the axle regarding grape varieties.  On the flip side of that, is the Frenchman who seeks Bordeaux perplexed by a U.S. or Italian or Australian Cabernet Sauvignon?  As I think of it, that might not be a good example, because the Frenchman has probalby been drinking wine since he was 6 years old. 

 

Yup, I messed up on trying to hang the "Meritage" tag on the Chester Kidder.  I skipped right by Syrah.

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Reply by EMark, Feb 7, 2014.

I just came back from a Costco run.  I saw Nine Hats "Red Wine" for $19.99.  Jennifer/Darren get hit with the g-factor when the international border is crossed.

Oh, since I am on my SIRWBM since Tuesday  (it looks like I will be off on Feb. 13), I passed.  I did stock up on some whites that are needed for a couple up-coming events.  

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Reply by GregT, Feb 7, 2014.

Emark - you are right about the first part for sure - I deliberately simplified things. 

It makes it easier to grasp sometimes and I don't mean to blame Mondavi, but he was the guru of the day, so I use him as an example.

But of course there were varietal bottlings. I've even had a few.

Maybe I oversimplified.

One thing that did happen though, is that today people tend to believe that there is something more pure or somehow better with a single variety than with a blend. I have friends today who say the same thing. One guy drinks almost exclusively California Cab and says he want's it 100%, likening it to a purebred dog and likening a blend to a mutt.

That's dead-ass wrong of course, as first, there's no such thing as a "pure" bred dog and secondly, the vigor obtained by hybrids is again apparent in blends.

I agree with your take on the marketing. It wasnt' a bad idea really. Thankfully, we don't have laws that dictate what can be grown in certain regions and I think the idea of Meritage was brilliant actually - trademark a term and let the people who have an interest in it defend it. So much better than having the government say you can only plant this grape and not that grape! I wish they'd do the same in Europe and get rid of those ridiculous laws.

The rule about Syrah in Bordeaux is only since the 1970s anyway. Prior to that, you could buy bottles that actually said Bordeaux Hermitage. Hermitage was often used to mean Syrah. Since the best Syrah came from Hermitage, it was blended into the Bordeaux grapes. The idea that there are today "Rhone" grapes and "Bordeaux" grapes is just arbitrary silliness. No reason not to cheerfully blend them. Same with Pinot Noir from Burgundy, which was often blended with Syrah (and in some cases, still might be).

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Reply by Lucha Vino, Feb 7, 2014.

Nice one EMark - That is a pretty selective moratorium :-)

Sorry to hear there is such a high tariff on US wines crossing into Canada.  Is that the Canadian government "protecting" their wine industry?  If Nine Hats is 40 bucks, how much are the Long Shadows wines?!

On the Meritage note.  I was just talking with a friend during the Superbowl and speculating on why a winery would still pay to put "Meritage" on their wine.  Less costly than doing their own marketing?

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Reply by JenniferT, Feb 8, 2014.

I've whined about wine prices here before...but it bears repeating that it's pretty bad - especially for American wines. It is really worth going down over the border to buy wines there. Even when I return with more than the allocated amount (which I do all the time) and pay the extra $ in duties/customs....you're still not behind in terms of the total price. And that doesn't even account for the difference in selection. 

Then again, I once went to a dedicated liquor/rations store in a small town farther north in the Northwest Territories. Wow, the cost of a 6 pack of beer was astronomical. Supply and demand in that case, I guess. Never mind that I think the town is only connected to the rest of the real world (read: Yellowknife) in winter when ice roads are open. Point is, I guess it could always be worse.

I don't know why a winery would pay to use the term "Meritage"....it must mean that enough of their consumers recognize the term and attribute value to it, otherwise it wouldn't be worth doing. I do see "Meritage" on a number of Canadian labels.

Speaking of which, a quick consult with our largest wine retailer puts the LS Poets Leap Riesling at $40, the Pedestal Merlot at $65, and the Chester Kidder red blend at $79. 

To be fair, I have more of a problem with the relatively limited selection here than the price. (I want to get stuff to play along at home during virtual tastings, etc ) See how quickly people lose interest in you in some tasting rooms when it comes out that you're Canadian!! Of course the wine buying/wine touring trips down into the states are worth it (in my opinion, anyway). 

 

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 8, 2014.

Great information and opinions coming out here!  Thanks Greg and Emark.  I didn't mean to suggest that the term "Meritage" isn't protected, but it would be strange to think that several BC producers would pay to use it.  Mostly, they come up with a unique name and then simply describe it on the back with the percentages of blending.  Lucha, I don't think it's so much a BC protectionist thing, because US wine isn't much cheaper in other provinces (some, but not enough to prove protectionism by BC).  All alcohol is heavily taxed in Canada.   The Longshadow biggies are $80.  I saw a Pirouette for $100, but it was a 2004.  Jen's right though.    We just don't have huge aisles of US wine.  There are a few nice private stores that will bring in some unique stuff.  One I saw yesterday was Beringer Quantum ($80) and my mouth watered! 

 

 

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Reply by GregT, Feb 8, 2014.

I feel for you guys and gals in Canada! I knew a few people who imported wine up there - they had to make nice to the authorities to get their wine into the gov't stores. The prices are crazy though. That Chester Kidder is usually around $40-45, I bought it at auction for $25, which is why I bought a case for my wife. $100 is ridiculous.

But I do have a Canadian Pinot Meunier from Niagara that I plan to drink soon, and I've had some decent wines from BC, so those people who lose interest when you talk about Canadian wine are just wine snobs who are not worthy of further attention.

As to why someone would still pay to use the name Meritage, good question. Members of the Alliance already? I do wish it would have caught on because it would make things a little easier. In the same way there  is a group of people calling themselves the "Rhone Rangers" and there's a nascent move to grow and produce more Tempranillo, and they each should come up with some kind of name so they're not always compared to European counterparts. Oh well.

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 8, 2014.

It's a conundrum here.  The government in BC basically IS the distributor for all alcohol sold in BC.  Even the private stores buy from the Government.  They have what they call "Signature" stores in a few locations (a couple in Victoria, and several in Vancouver) where they have more selection and higher end stuff, as well as one or two staff that are very knowledgeable.  I find the general selection fairly good (some nice product from all countries), but pretty much only the bigger producers from US.  They had four bottles of the 2008 Grange for $599, which is actually a relative bargain (I save up scrap copper from jobs and I told my boss we'll buy one..to which he said he'd rather buy four or five killer California cabs).  Because of the government's purchasing ability, they get some French stuff that is hard to find and for (again, relatively) good prices.  I've heard of people from Seattle coming up to get some Bordeaux in Vancouver because they either can't find it there or it's actually cheaper. 

I don't know a thing about Ontario wine.  I know they produce more than BC and that they have some decent pinot's.  I should ask a few wineries here about the Meritage thing. 

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Reply by JenniferT, Feb 8, 2014.

No, for sure there is some good wine coming out of Ontario, as well as in BC. Local wine keeps surprising me, actually. Earlier this year we visited Saturna Island Winery, and I was super impressed by their wild ferment riesling (they had two rieslings as I recall). Those guys are off Vancouver Island, well away from the Okanagan and Naramarta Bench areas. 

I do a bit of driving between Alberta and BC - I really owe it to myself to stop in some of these winery tasting rooms to learn about and purchase wine. I'll ask about the Meritage thing if I get the opportunity; I'm curious. 

It's a bit of a risky proposition to ever think all the wine produced from a large area is crap. How could people make generalizations like that? I've noticed such an attitude from people in the past, but not just for Canadian wine. I always find it bizarre that such people are so short-sighted. 

I will say that I think it's tougher to find good value in BC wine (sold here in BC) than it is to score value in wines from some other countries. Same goes for Californian wine in my mind, truth be told. It makes sense that  prices go up as a local industry develops and gains more recognition....but I guess there's a sweet spot that offers good values for more "under the radar" wine. 

Alberta works slightly differently - I'm guessing that Alberta and Quebec have the most relaxed applicable laws. There's a much greater variety of private stores in Alberta, and my general experience is that I've been able to find a wider variety of wine there. 



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