Monday, February 11, 2013

Game Shows, Loring Wine Company and 17 Wines--And Still Getting Paid Nothing by the Word

Loring Wine Company Website

Loring Wines I Loved as an Excuse to Talk About Me
Loring Wine Company 2011 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands $50
Loring Wine Company 2011 Chardonnay Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast $50
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills $54
Loring Wine Company 2011 Mourvedre Russell Family Vineyard Paso Robles $48
Loring Wine Company 2010 Convergence Paso Robles $79/btl in 3-pack

A few months ago, I received an email from Brian Loring, of Loring Wine Company. Brian offered to send me some wine, and he offered to send the wines without tech sheets and winery propaganda, which I tend to immediately put into the recycling bin right next to my empty Boner in a Can®. I took Brian up on his offer because I’d been a fan of his wines in my sommelier days and I hadn’t tasted many of them recently.

Brian sent me seventeen different bottles. It’s like going to the dealer for a test drive and he gives you the damned car. Or being “The Bachelor” and getting to sleep with all the girls, even the one with one eyebrow and a suspicious bulge. Man, now you’re livin’! Give her a rose, but be careful of the prick.

I was never on “The Bachelor” for one good reason. My wife wouldn’t let me. Well, that, and I’m ugly. But I was on “The Dating Game” in 1971, and several game shows after that. You probably remember me, I was Bachelor #2. I didn’t get picked for the date, which was, I kid you not, a trip to St. Louis. Nothing an 18-year-old boy wishes for more than a trip to Missouri. Though I certainly would have been looking forward to my date’s impression of the Gateway Arch.

I was also a contestant on “The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour” in 1984. (OK, I know, what’s this got to do with Loring Wine Company? I’m getting there.) My four day total winnings were $34,100. In today’s dollars, that’s damn near $35,000. It was a great experience. It’s interesting to watch the videotape now (no, it’s not on YouTube, though it’s easily worthless enough to be) just to see the “stars.” The only genuine star was Steve Allen, who was one of my comedy heroes, and who reminded me on the air “not to be funnier than the talent.” The rest of the panel is a “Where Are They Now” column. Bruce Baum (a standup who used to wear a baby diaper on stage as part of his act—at least, I think it was part of his act), Roxie Roker (the neighbor on “The Jeffersons,” who was just incredibly dumb—she put the blank in Fill in the Blank), Jayne Meadows (Steve Allen’s wife), and, here it comes, Gloria Loring (a talented singer, but best known as one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, “Days of Our Lives”—“Like the sand during your beach sex, so go the Days of our Lives…”). Ms. Loring was gorgeous, blonde hair and green eyes, and I assumed she had no taste in men because she was married to Alan Thicke, who was to Johnny Carson what Korbel is to Champagne, or what HoseMaster is to wit. I was smitten, so the Loring name conjured up beauty and lust in my fevered and confused brain.

I first met Brian Loring many years ago when he first began following his winemaking passion. He lived in Glendale, I think, which is about twenty minutes from where I worked as a sommelier, and was making wines from purchased fruit under his Loring Wine Company label. A friend of his brought him in to the restaurant and I tasted through his wines. I’d try anyone’s wines once. This isn’t usually the case with sommeliers at successful restaurants. You are inundated with calls from aspiring new winemakers, new distributors, new brokers... Most of the time, the wines they bring are awful. It’s like speed dating at a leper colony, only you’re the one who leaves a little piece of yourself behind. However, Brian’s wines were good, he was a nice guy, and he got me over that beauty and lust over Loring thing. I don’t remember if I bought his wines that first time, but I often did in the years that followed.

Four of the seventeen wines Brian sent me were Chardonnay, all from 2011 and all vineyard designates—Rosella’s and Sierra Mar from Santa Lucia Highlands, and Durell and Parmalee-Hill from Sonoma Coast (and all priced at $50). Brian had mentioned to me in an email that he was thinking about the glory days of Kistler Chardonnays when he produced these wines, and drinking them over the course of a week, I certainly noticed the stylistic resemblance.

Kistler was the California Chardonnay success story of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. I don’t know how many of you have tasted a lot of Kistler, but, to me, their Chardonnays represented the classic Before and After photos you see in weight loss ads for women. In the Before photo, Chardonnay is dumpy and non-descript, with more bulges than a shoplifting Ninja. I mean, really, do you want to see her naked? That’s how I feel about so-called “naked” Chardonnays, Chardonnays with no oak. I don’t want to go there, I don’t want them to be naked, that’s why they’re the Before picture. And, unlike a “naked” Chardonnay Stelvin, you can’t just go and un-screw them. In the After photo, Chardonnay is transformed! She hasn’t just lost weight, but the lighting is better, the clothes fit, her makeup is perfect, her hair is done, she’s smiling, and her boobs are a cup-size bigger. It takes a lot to make that Before an After. In Chardonnay’s case, a lot of new oak, a lot of lees contact, a lot of malolactic fermentation, and a lot of damned slick marketing. Kistler had the biggest boobs of any Chardonnay available and was never afraid of flashing them. The word “mouth-filling” jumps to mind.

It’s one thing to try to emulate a style, yet another to succeed. Kistler presaged lots of other wines—you can draw a straight line from them to Peter Michael, Marcassin, and even Ramey. But those are the successful ones, many others made deplorable Chardonnays in that style. But Loring does a great job of channeling Kistler in these wines, though with his own thumbprint on each wine as well. I don’t think that’s as easy as it might sound. First of all, with all of that new oak, and all of the other cosmetics, you’d better have fruit that can stand up to it. And the more you mess with wine, the greater your chances you’ll screw it up.

Brian’s Chardonnays are very surehanded, but it’s a style you have to like. They’re more Ethel Merman than Peggy Lee. Subtlety is not their forte, but power and substance are. (And that’s not a knock—after all, Forte Knocks is in Kentucky.) It’s really been a long time since I drank Chardonnays like Loring’s, and I liked them a lot. But it can be hard to appreciate wines like this if you have minerality and crispness as your only frame of reference. I love Chablis as much as the next person. This ain’t Chablis.

I did my best to pair them with appropriate meals. The 2011 Rosella’s was just brilliant with some grilled swordfish, though I worried the swordfish might not be rich enough, it paired reasonably well. You also have to be patient with huge and ostentatious Chardonnays like these. At first, they are all oak and cream and roasted grain. But with time, at least an hour, the fruit shows what it’s made of. I often recommended decanting Kistler Chardonnays to restaurant customers. It helped, though I got a lot of odd looks from folks. Which could have been about the way I wore my tastevin like a yarmulke, but I don’t think so.

My other favorite was the 2011 Durell (a vineyard also designated by Kistler). Very rich  and decadent, like something out of a Fitzgerald novel, it goes all out in its pursuit of ripe and sumptuous Chardonnay. With scallops, very simply sautéed, it was just the thing. And left overnight in the fridge, it lost nothing of its core of luscious fruit. Less tropical fruit than the 2011 Rosella’s, but equally riveting.

The 2011 Sierra Mar was a bit less exotic than the Rosella’s, and bit less substantial, but very good wine. I wasn’t as fond of the 2011 Parmalee-Hill, it was my least favorite. Why? Hell, I don’t know. I felt that it didn’t quite have the stuffing to stand up to the dramatic style. Don Knotts playing King Lear jumps to mind for some reason. "Hey, Opie, When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools--like Gomer and Floyd."

If you love this style of Chardonnay, oaky, flamboyant and ripe, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy any of Loring’s wines. There is some risk-taking in wines made like this, it’s certainly not a style in vogue with sommeliers at the moment, and it can go horribly wrong, but these wines are immensely successful.

Brian also sent me eight different Pinot Noir vineyard-designates, all from 2011. I once proposed that it be illegal for any winery to have more than four different vineyard-designates of any variety. Really, isn’t four enough? After that, it’s just showing off. Furthermore, does every damn vineyard deserve single vineyard status? If they all do, then none does. Hey, Brian only has eight (though I think he makes a bunch more). Williams Selyem is up to 176, and Siduri makes more than 700 vineyard designates, adding up to 2500 total cases. I cannot tell you how many times a winery presented me with six or seven different Pinot Noirs and I could hardly tell the difference between them. I’d occasionally try to get the winemaker to let me taste him on just one of his own Pinot Noirs blind to see if he could identify it from its distinctive, designated terroir. Most wouldn’t try. 

I’ve always believed that if women bought the majority of high end wines sold, vineyard-designate wines would go away. Men like the hunt, the collecting of trophies. We have to have ALL of the Rochioli Reserves, and ALL of the Williams Selyem Pinot Noirs. Women don’t care. They just want to drink and not listen to the bullshit. “It’s wine, let’s open it. I don’t care what damned Turley it is, open the damned thing.” Men have to start pontificating about how little was produced, how hard it is to get, how amazing it is—we’re basically talking about our sperm. Women just want to get it over with.

Loring’s eight different vineyards were: Keefer, Russell Family, Clos Pepe, Gary’s, Rosella’s, Cargasacchi, Aubaine, and Durell…

Of those eight, I’d heard of six. Keefer is one of the great vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Gary’s and Rosella’s are well-known Santa Lucia Highlands properties, Clos Pepe and Cargasacchi are two of the stalwarts of the Santa Rita Hills, and Durell is a large and famous vineyard in the Sonoma Coast appellation. Aubaine was that dead guy from Nirvana, and Russell Family was some sort of cult, right? More like graveyard-designates.

Loring’s style is not really about restraint. Not in the Chardonnays, and not in the Pinot Noirs either. He just goes for it. A few of the Pinot Noirs tasted very extracted to me, as though perhaps they’d had enzymes added during fermentation. Nothing wrong with that, but at times it goes over the top of what I like in Pinot Noir. Every single one of Loring’s Pinot Noirs was well-made, but I had very different reactions to each of them.

The three that I loved were the 2011 Keefer, the 2011 Gary’s and the 2011 Cargasacchi. Notice the first two both rhyme with “reefer.” I’d gladly add these three wines to my cellar. Very different, but all wonderful. The Keefer is so beautiful and expressive of the red fruit with a bit of cola one can get from the Russian River Valley, with a silky texture and haunting finish. The Gary’s is much spicier and plusher, completely seamless and lingering, with an extra layer or two of depth. The Cargasacchi had a beautiful austerity about it, that cool climate restraint that promises to one day blossom into something extraordinary, and I loved its sour cherry/herbal edge that almost defied its luscious mouthfeel. I’d encourage you to seek out these distinctive Pinot Noirs from Loring Wine Company. They’re all priced at $54, and, given the Pinot Noir market, that’s a fair price for any of them.

The 2011 Rosella’s was but a notch behind those three. The first whiff of it was distinctly gingerbread to me, but it gained complexity and richness with air. I thought it a bit clunky, but that’s probably just its youth showing. The 2011 Clos Pepe perplexed me, and I remarked to my wife that if I had tasted it blind I might not have known it was even Pinot Noir. “Judging by your shirt,” she said, “I thought you had tasted it blind.” I very much liked the 2011 Durell. It tasted to me like classic Pommard clone Pinot Noir, though I have no idea if that’s so. Dark fruit, with a bit of earthiness, very pretty, it was really classic Pinot Noir to me—though I thought it just a wee bit thin, probably a vintage thing. The 2011 Russell Family was straightforward, but I didn’t find much interesting about it. I tried to forget that it’s Pinot Noir from Paso Robles--drinking Pinot Noir from Paso Robles is sort of like going to an Italian restaurant and ordering tacos--and just judge it objectively, but I found the wine just never inspired me in the least. Others may find it more appealing. The 2011 Aubaine hit me the same way—pleasant wine, but not in the same league as the vineyard-designates from Keefer, Gary’s, and Cargasacchi. Does it deserve it’s own designation? Not my call, but where does a winemaker draw the line? Obviously, it’s drawn at the bottom line.

Oh, I’ve gone on too long here. Somebody help me! I’m turning into that NothingsBiggerThanMyHead guy. But we’re almost through. There were five other wines in the Loring shipment, including the 2010 Divergence, a 2/3 Cab and 1/3 Mourvedre blend that is the biggest goddam wine I’ve had in years. Brian writes that he’s currently infatuated with the Spanish wine, El Nido, and its sister wine El Peachykeeno, and this is his California (Paso Robles, to be precise) version of that famous wine. I just couldn’t get past its hugeness. At least not the first day. I drank half a glass and suddenly felt like tarpapering my roof. Granted, El Nido has the same sort of effect on me, only I’d head to Home Depot and hire some Spanish-speaking guys to tarpaper my roof. So I put the bottle on the kitchen counter and waited. The second day all the fruit started to arrive, sort of like a bad Mardi Gras party. And it’s loads of very ripe fruit, particularly the Cabernet in the blend. I quite enjoyed it the second and third days, though it was relentlessly huge. In evaluating a wine, I’m not necessarily concerned with my own reaction to the style, I’m more interested in if the wine is successful for the style. I would argue the 2010 Divergence is very successful for its bold, gigantic, all or nothing style. If  you’re a fan of gigantic, high alcohol Zinfandel, for example, you’d love this wine. If that sort of wine makes you gag like smelling week-old dog breakfast, avoid it.

Brian also sent the 2010 Convergence, a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. I loved this wine. But I’m a Grenache freak and always have been. But this is Paso Robles Grenache, not Gigondas. It’s very intense, and very ripe, but it doesn’t stray into the sort of cherry hard candy territory very ripe Grenache can often find. Grenache can get away from you in the vineyard, leap to a high ripeness suddenly, and that gives it a sweet, cloying character in the glass. None of that here. Instead it’s just very intense and bold, with the Mourvedre tempering it, lending some acidity and savoriness. It was much like an expensive Priorat to my taste, and that’s a compliment. This is gorgeous, voluptuous, seductive, and wonderfully made Grenache that tastes like it came from a mineral-rich soil. I guess I mean it has striking acidity for the degree of ripeness, and that’s what gives me that impression. The price is $79/bottle in a three-pack, otherwise $99. The wine and the price are not for the shy of heart, but it's damned fine wine.

Brian also sent me a terrific 2011 Mourvedre from Russell Family Vineyard that was all you want from Mourvedre—meaty, mushroomy, earthy, and a bit like a mocha coffee. Also, a 2011 Grenache from that vineyard that I liked quite a bit—it shows that same nice acidity, considering the ripeness, as the Convergence, and leans into a cherry cordial sort of character, sweet and with loads of plush texture. A 2010 Cabernet from Russell Family Vineyard I didn’t find any affection for. It was all over the place—if a wine can be a sloppy drunk, this one was. And it may explain why I wasn’t overly fond of the Divergence, where it’s the main component.

Loring’s style is not for everyone, but one can say that for every great winery. But he has a consistent style, and if you fall in love with one of his wines, you’ll find you like the rest as well. So take a flyer, taste one. His is a bombastic, flamboyant, extroverted style of wine, and, in that style, his wines are memorable. The best, listed at the top of this marathon post, are landmarks of the style, and wines I highly recommend.

But, man, that’s a lot of wine to review. Comedy is easier.

Go, Buy, Enjoy!  Loring Wine Company


Charlie Olken said...

"Comedy is easier"--and funnier. But I digress.

For a comedian, you make a pretty good wine reviewer. Fair dinkum that you have warned the IPOB crowd to go look somewhere else. True enough--"hard to appreciate wines like this if you have minerality and crispness as your only frame of reference".

I did wonder, at least briefly, whether you were shooting that the IPOB crowd with that comment or you had a target somewhere further south in Wine Country. Inquiring minds want to know.

I like the fact that Brian Loring is a "no apologies" winemaker who simply goes for the gusto and gets there without going over the top. And I also like that he makes wine from all over California and thus is not wed to one district. That makes his wines more distinct from one another than some other wineries.

Not to name Williams Selyem, by the way, because its many wines from the Westside Road area are all distinctively different and wonderful. True enough, of course, that they are very much of a piece, and whether one drinks Allen or Rochioli or Estate, they are all damn good wines--and by the time dinner is over, you have probably forgotten which one you were drinking anyhow.

So, kudos for helping to celebrate the Loring stylistic success. And kudos to Brian for trusting you in the first place. It is a good thing he did not ask me if he should have.

Dean Tudor said...

Good looking reviews, Ron: thorough, comprehensive, loved the back story...where did Gloria end up...

We've got plenty of Kistler chards in Ontario, about $80, but only this Loring --
LORING GARY'S VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2008 VINTAGES 226787 | 750 mL bottle $59.95 (taxes and bottle deposit included)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Charlie,
Nope, nothing aimed at Samantha, simply fair warning to folks who haven't tasted the Loring wines. Not that anyone would do so on my recommendation.

A few months ago I nearly walked away, AGAIN, from HoseMaster because I get tired of the satire. But that's why everyone seems to come here. But I'm not much of a people-pleaser, so I decided, screw 'em, I'll do what I want. And talking about wine, now and then, is what I want. It's ironic that when I insult and lampoon the wine business, I don't get that much grief. When I talk about wines like every other idiot with a blog, I catch way more flak. I can take it.

I don't solicit wines, but, now and then, someone decides they want the HoseMaster to riff on their stuff. Brian was one of those guys. If I'm moved to, I do. But the UPS guy doesn't visit here as often as he visits the Olken household, or 1WineDoody, or Alderpated the Turtle. And I doubt that will change. Though I sell as much wine as they do, to the tune of NONE.

Gloria is still around, still sings, and has stopped stalking me...

I try to write my reviews in the way I think about wines--not just how they taste and smell, but how they recall memories and inspire strange thoughts. Most people react to wine with their own back story, whether they are aware of it or not.

Mainly, I just like to hear myself talk.

Daniel said...

Somehow you managed to make a case both for and against vineyard designates. Just because someone owns a farm doesn't mean each piece of dirt is special. But then again, the greatest wines come from places that are unique (albeit usually much smaller than most new world 'single vineyards').
Maybe it's because I sell imports that these wines don't grab me, though it sounds like if you are indecisive, they might reach up out of the glass and grab you themselves...
happy monday

Charlie Olken said...

By the way, I notice that at the end of my comment, I can see a trash can so I can delete that comment.

OK, I get it. But, why not give me a trash can to delete someone else's comments. I would like to think that I would be an equal-opportunity deleter.

Samantha Dugan said...

Just a word from the "Further South" there is a huge difference in having minerality and crispness being your only points of reference and having them be your preferred. Not sure you meant to do that, "It's because you don't understand it" thing but it does come off that way. I get it, I can appreciate the style and the fact that the wines are well made, do I want a glass to enjoy? Hell no. Not because I don't get it but because I don't like it. So Ron My Love, if you read a book about tomatoes, taste through hundreds of varieties, learn how they differ from one another you going to all of a sudden like them? Doubt it and part of the reason is because you find them texturally off putting, just as I find this hulking style wine texturally off putting. Very familiar but not at all what I like or would choose to put in my mouth.

That being said I am with you and Sir Charles here in I think we should be celebrating a specific style, if I happen to like it or not. I love it when you talk Ron & Wine but more than that, I love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

As I said, when every vineyard gets a designate, the idea loses meaning, at least to the every day wine person. And, as for Loring, it depends on what sorts of imports you sell. There are plenty of Spanish, Italian, Australian and even French wines, that fit his profile. I had many at the recent Gambero Rosso tasting that were just as jet-fueled. It's not, by any means, a California phenomenon.

You can always delete your own comments, a service real life should provide. As to others, hey, get your own blog. Oh.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Stop being so defensive about your wine preferences. You're responding to Charlie, not me. Isn't the point of reviewing wines to give the reader an idea of whether she'll like the wines or not? If you prefer minerality and crispness, you probably won't like Loring's wines. I didn't say anything so condescending as "You won't understand it." And I'd NEVER say that to you, you're a great wine talent.

Tomatoes and wine are hardly comparable in this situation. I'm talking to people who love wine, not dislike it. I dislike tomatoes, I don't buy any. Way different. I'm not looking for tomato recommendations. The point of a wine review is to help you decide whether you want to put it in your mouth. A number doesn't do that, you'll agree, but some kinds of reference points will. Kistler has no trouble selling Chardonnay. Those who love Kistler, might think about trying Loring.

This is why it's easier to assign a number, provide a sensory description, a price, and be done with it.

And, of course, I love you with all my heart.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron MY Love,
Not being defensive in the least, or not intending to anyway, partly because I don't feel I need to be. Not with you, Charlie or anyone else that might be reading. I was just pointing out that saying "only" implies a limitation, as in you don't have the scope, and when it comes to wine, as you well know Love, some of us have the scope and information and simply prefer another style. Kind of what I've always dug about wine. And you are right, when I first wrote my comment I wrote it to Charlie, that was until I noticed the quotations, thus remembering it was your line and not I addressed the comment correctly.

I think if you look at the tomato comment in the context of food writing it might make more sense, or that was how I meant it to read anyway. Probably a fail on my part. I just meant that people can read about, taste, retaste and completely understand something and still not like it. I mean for me, I could study Zinfandel, read, taste, talk to those that love it until I felt totally competent to teach a class but that wouldn't make me want to put any more in my mouth than I had to....and I love and buy wine all the time. Whew...this is getting long and convoluted but I wanted to assure you I wasn't being defensive (and I know I've earned the right not to be) and it was just the use of the word "only" that gave my crunders a minor tweak. Now if you were doing it in person it might be a whole other story. I love you!

Thomas said...


You dislike tomatoes???

Now I can't believe anything that you say about wine. You ought to just come up with a number for your reviews.

By the way, it's been my belief for a few years that overuse of vineyard designations in America has already cheapened the concept. It's like most things in the culture--a little isn't enough and so we have to keep piling it on.

Rogue Wino said...

Speed dating at a leper colony?? God do I know that feeling. I usually manage to duck out of oddball tastings but I'll occasionally get trapped; where the wine maker will pull varietal after varietal out of their bag, of things that have no business being made in California. No sir, I don't want to try your barbera, your tempranillo, but I half smile and say yes anyways.
Fake boobs are hugely popular at my restaurant's bar, both literally and in terms of what everyone is drinking (Romb-o and Frank Fam)
I tried a huge, juicy loring pinot once that I was going to add to my list, but when I went to order, it was sold out. The next vintage wasn't quite as outrageously delicious, but I should revisit these wines

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
In that flamboyant style, Brian makes exemplary wines. I liked some better than others, but only a couple were wines I didn't like much at all. I never said, or even implied, that someone with a different palate preference couldn't understand them. I simply said these wines wouldn't be for someone like that and they probably wouldn't like them. I'm pretty damned sure you wouldn't like them. And you'd have valid reasons not to like them. My point, as an idiot wine reviewer, is to tell those folks they shouldn't spend their fifty bucks on these wines.

Ah, it's just semantics. I'm glad you weren't feeling defensive. I just write this stuff to help understand my own feelings and thoughts about wine. Brian was kind/crazy enough to ask my opinions. So it's all his fault.

I love you!

I dislike raw tomatoes and always have. It's a textural thing, and I realize that lots of people think tomatoes are wondrous and the perfect fruit. I don't. I also don't like avocados or coffee. And since when did you ever believe anything I said about wine?

The vineyard designate thing has indeed gone the way of reality shows. Too many, too stupid, and completely fake most of the time.

Rogue Wino,
Well, at least with fake boobs at the bar you don't need to polish it as often.

Brian's wines are more Kistler-ish than Rombauered--no r.s. in Loring. But they are certainly Double-D most of the time. Give 'em a try. Email Brian and I'm sure he'll send you a rep. Hopefully, with fake tits.

Quizicat said...

Hey you two, get a room!

Now I have something to relate to, tomatoes, ackkk!!

I met Brian some many years ago at a wine tasting (MOCOOL) up in Michigan. He set up an interesting tasting, he had five Pinots all from the same year, all with grapes from Pisoni yineyard. I think it was Patz and Hall, Testarosa, Siduri, Capiauexyznr, and of course Loring. I think they all had some input on vineyard management too. But it was quite interesting to see what different people could turn out with virtually the same grapes. Learning something at a wine tasting? Who'd a thunk it?
I suspect that a number of Francophiles might call Loring wines something horrible like, Parkerized, all I can say to them is, I fart in your general direction.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yeah, a room. I wish.

Brian is one of those winemakers who has tasted widely in the world of wine (and that's a minority of winemakers in my experience) and is passionate about it. He knows what he likes, can talk about it, and enjoys contrary opinions. Like his wines or not, I know they weren't made to garner Parker points, but were made to please his own tastes in wine. Though he can appreciate, like Samantha can, other styles.

I often think that what "natural" wine promoters think is the opposite of "natural" wine is "Parkerized" wine. We humans do love to label shit.

Thomas said...


No tomatoes, no coffee, and no avocados. Well, one out of three makes you salvageable...

I didn't like coffee until I had that first cup in Italy. But being Italian-American, I couldn't dream of not liking tomatoes, especially the many that kinds that I grow and that make me go into flights with each bite into their texture--but glad that you know they are fruit, even after a famous head of state called ketchup a vegetable.

Since we are talking wine, and a particular style of wine, I'll pipe up in support of Sam's palate--mine agrees with hers, nit that I'm trying to curry favor or anything like that, seeing how I know you two have this thing going, and I'm merely an East Coaster of no consequence who likes lean, acidic wine and tomatoes.

Geez. Forgive me; it's the coffee.

Unknown said...

As a fan of restraint and natural winemaking, I can say that you did an admirable job of making these wines sound appealing. One of the the most complete and interesting wine reviews I've ever read. No self-respecting Oregonian would drink a plumped-up California pinot noir, but I am a sucker for flamboyant chardonnay. Unfortunately, $50 is pretty steep, and I'm saving my money for a long-curvy-dick-shaped decanter.

Marcia Macomber said...

Gads! I always feel like I'm the last one to arrive at the Algonquin and missed all the fun repartee at the table! (Even the spats!)

I'll agree with Gabe, that's some of the most thorough writing about specific wines I've ever read. The wonders of the blog: no column inch restrictions. (And I read everyone else's wine reviews here too. You *all* have such different styles of writing...)

I think I can honestly say I'll never see this in another wine review: "Don Knotts playing King Lear jumps to mind for some reason." -- unless it's a reference in a Poodle Award. And yet, I know exactly what you mean.

As for all the previous lobs batted back and forth today in teh comments, what came to mind, Charlie, Thomas, Samantha, Hosé, was growing up in the land of Siskel and Ebert reviews. (And we know how much they fought on camera!)

But what makes your review so engrossing to read is its specificity to your tastes. When Siskel hated a picture that was otherwise beloved by Ebert, you knew from Siskel's long history his pet peeves about specific story lines and manipulations. He'd dismiss otherwise fine films because of one little thing he didn't like--usually the perceived manipulation of a kid in the story.

So as long as you knew their specific tastes in films, you knew if YOU would like it or not--even when you disagreed with them. So it works with wine reviews when the reviewer makes his/her personal preferences known.

And BTW, I love that you don't stick to satire. Write what grabs you at the moment, not what you feel obligated to deliver. The tomatoes thing is a hoot! I've learned to enjoy SOME of them...

And you know I'm now dying to try the Loring Grenaches among others. Job done!

Thomas said...

OK, so let's have a serious discussion for a second or two.

From my perch, having dealt with the variety, I find Chardonnay to be an over-rated grape to begin with. Unlike so many other white grapes, Chardonnay isn't much exciting in its raw form. Paradoxically, that's why I like its wines untouched, so you get a shot at the grape's inherent characteristics rather than the characteristics imparted to it by oak, ML, and whatever else is done to create complexity.

Unknown said...

Interesting points. I hate to use such a loaded buzzword, but for me Chardonnay is all about balance. You can use neutral oak and a less "buttery" strain of ML to give it a lighter touch. In other instances, the fruit is intense enough to hold up to a good dollop of new oak and lactic acid.
And while I understand what you mean when you use the phrase "untouched", bottling a white wine before it goes through ML requires a lot of fining and filtering that is not necessary for a wine that has been barrel aged and gone through ML; so to a certain extent, the most untouched chardonnays are the buttery oaky chardonnays.

Thomas said...


My cool climate Chardonnay was mostly low pH juice: around 3.2

Charlie Olken said...


I guess I have a very different understanding of Chardonnay--and all grapes and foods for that matter.

I accept that a plain poached chicken breast can be appealing to some--no salt, no pepper, no nothing. But I am far less interested in it than when it is cooked with seasonings, comes loaded with flavors such as in cacciatore or au vin.

Plain pasta is okay for some. Please serve me mine with a good Bolognese, thanks.

Same with Chardonnay. Nothing wrong with a good, unadorned Chardonnay. But, most Chardonnay takes well to the judicious use of oak, ML, etc. The Loring wines are an interesting case in point because some will find them over the top just as some in my family fine Penne Arabiata to be stronger than they want.

So, I very much beg to differ with you. Rather than being overrated, Chardonnay is a grape that wants the talented hand of the winemaker to allow it show at its best most of the time.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

The luxury of a wine blog is that there are no space limitations. Also, there are no IQ tests. I find all the wine blogs that review wines to be dreadfully boring, and I mean horrifically, major stroke-inducing, monumentally boring. With a blog, there are no excuses for that.

A few months ago I talked about this in a post (The Golden Age of Wine Writing?). So I set out to write about wines in a way that might be more engaging than a foolish list of adjectives followed by a number--which sounds like my college sex diary (both pages). I've written three, and I still haven't figured it out quite yet. But thanks for saying nice things about it. I sort of plan, as much as I plan anything, to do it monthly, depending on the wines, and if I have anything to say about them.

And saving up for a dick decanter is certainly a worthy cause. I decant mine as often as possible.

I'm flabbergasted by all of your kind words. Thank you.

This piece took a long time to write because it took a long time to taste the 17 wines and actually think about them. It's a luxury I can afford. Wine does trigger odd associations in our heads when we taste and drink it, and I try to listen to those associations in my head and then include them. I learned a LOT of that from My Gorgeous Samantha and her brilliant posts that relate her life to wines. I just have a far more twisted mind and a wacko's sensibility.

That you liked it, Marcia, is very important to me. Thank you.

My personal preference for Chardonnay certainly falls in the camp you share with Samantha and others here. But I can appreciate the big, oaky, tarted-up Chardonnays too. There's something fun about their overabundance of everything. I usually drank about a glass and a half of each of Brian's Chardonnays and that was enough. I'd finish the bottle the next night.

Chardonnay unadorned is on the simple side, I think we all agree, but like I said in the piece, that's why I don't much like it naked. Yes, it gives me an impression of the grape and some insight, but I like it better all dressed up and slutty most of the time. I want battery acid, I can always drink Verdicchio in a fish bottle.

I read your reviews of Loring's Chardonnays in CGCW (because I always read your reviews) and I think we are pretty much on the same page. The wines are intentionally over the top, but, in that style, they're damned good. Hey, George Clinton and Parliament are way over the top, and I love them. When it works, it works.

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

Ron - Thank you so much for taking the time to taste and review all the wines I sent. I really didn't expect you to do that. I thought you might have some friends over, get sloppy drunk, post embarrassing photos on Facebook, and write a few notes on the wines (and friends) who stood out.

And then to write such an amazing set of reviews? Wow! You really are good at reviewing wine. Like you pal Charlie at CGCW, what you wrote was cogent and helpful to the consumer - both to those who've tasted our wines and those who haven't. You steered the right people to the right wines, and helped other avoid spending their hard earned dollars on wines that might not work so well for them. To me, that's the mark of a completely suceesful review. One that neithers panders to nor potificates against a particular style - but rather recongnizes well made wine for what it is. So a huge THANK YOU for doing such a great job :)

a few comments on our "style". While I agree we definitely have a house style that comes from processing all the fruit within each variety the same way in the winery, we feel what we do actually provides the best represenation of terroir since the differences in the wines are due to the site. Furthermore, we also feel what we do attempts to present the true terroir of each site. I know many consumers and winemakers would disagree. But that's our goal - terroir based wines - based on true California terroir, and not the terroir of somewhere a continent and ocean away.

But please don't get me wrong - it's just our opinion of what terroir and perfect ripeness means. I respect all winemakers who seek their vision and stay true to their beliefs. I'm a huge fan of Calera (I've been buying Josh's wines since he made Zinfandel), Au Bon Climat, and all the other wineries who paved the way for the rest of us in California. Totally differnt approach to defining California terroir. Which leads to a great diversity of wines, which makes Brian the Consumer very happy :)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Brian,
Thank you for sending me all that wine. The luxury of tasting them one at a time, spending time with them, having a meal with them, is a luxury a sommelier or a wine buyer isn't afforded. It does make a difference.

I think your wines are expressive of the regions and vineyards (though the topic of vineyard designates, and why a vineyard "deserves" one is interesting to me), and in your style. I could certainly tell the Gary's Pinot Noir from the Keefer easily, and felt they were clearly from those esteemed plots of land. As Quizicat suggested, tasting lots of Gary's alongside each other shows how the character of the vineyard can shine in many different interpretations and styles.

Wow, Calera Zin! That's a long time ago. Hell, I remember drinking Kistler Cabernets too.

Thanks for chiming in, Brian. Givin' the HoseMaster some cred!

Thomas said...


Fermented wine is already quite a complex food, before the winemaker gets his or her hands on it. Therefore, I don't accept your food/wine analogy.

Beyond the fact that all grapes are unique, can someone explain why most white wines are not handled as extensively as Chardonnay?

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

When it comes to "all those single vineyard desginated (SVD) Pinots in California", I think we sometimes forget how big California is.

The entire Côte de Nuits could pretty much fit within many of Cali's Pinot AVAs... like Santa Lucia Highlands or Sta Rita Hills. And the number of designates in the Côte de Nuits far out number those in SLH or SRH. Us Cali guys really need to create more SVD wines just to keep up with those French dudes and dudettes ;)

IMHO, what makes it seem like there are sooooo many California SVD Pinots is that the list is constantly growing. It's hard to keep up with all the new sites and wineries producing wines from them. While an area like Burgundy has a much greater density of designated vineyards than we do in California, their list is static. Not much has changed in any of our lifetimes, so it's easier to get your head around it. There had to be a point way back when where people complained about all the new sites in Burgundy. We're just going thru that same phase - in multiple instances of our own Côte de Nuitses (is that the plural?).

As to whether or not a vineyard deserves to be designated, I feel that as long as it has something ineteresting to offer, that's good enough. It doesn't necessarily have to be the best, as if that's even possible to determine objectively. Our French pals have created grading systems to try to do that, but even those lowly Fifth Growths in Bordeaux still get to be designated :) And it's not as if every vineyard in California is designated - there are lots of vineyards that supply fruit that goes solely into AVA or county blends.

Samantha Dugan said...

Fuck, I am so far behind now! There was something about French wine lovers, farting and getting a room or some junk...gonna skip that. Thomas was agreeing with me, well now there's a switch, it's usually me agreeing with you kid. Oh and Thomas, I adore you, always have but even more so after you brought all those lovely, crisp white wines to share with me in Sonoma when it was like 100+. But I have to say that I agree with Sir Charles here too, I prefer Chardonnay with some oak on it, even when very, very neutral. I think the wines not only taste better, I think they need it....unless of course we are talking about Chablis which we aren't. Nice to see Gabe standing his own around these parts, unashamed of his penile fetish and stuff. Good for you Gabe! Oh and Brian, I think the plural of Nuits is Nuits. Oh and Ron, I agree with everyone here, I think you write beautiful tasting notes. Kinda wish I were a wine and I could have you write about me. I love you! Wanna get a room? Hold the farts though.

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...

Thomas - I think Gabe got it right. While people may think that Chardonnay (and I assume you mean the more oaky, buttery versions) are handled more, it's not really true. Sure, the amount of new oak used is a choice, but there's no more handling than putting all the wine in neutral oak. And allowing the natural process of ML to occur is as "hands off" as it gets. Intervening to stop the ML process is handling - as is the resulting requirement to filter.

When it comes to our Chards, we press the juice to barrel, ferment it, allow it to go thru ML, and bottle it unfined and unfiltered. We don't heat or cold stabilize them either. That's about as unhandled as wine gets :)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Don't think I've ever heard a Fifth Growth Bordeaux called a vineyard designate before. But I get your points. I think my question is more about devaluing the whole notion of vineyard designation by designating so many Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays (and Zins) on labels. I was at a recent tasting (IPOB) and one winery had four v-d Pinot Noirs, three of which I thought were the same damned wine. And that's not an uncommon experience. So do you choose vineyards to buy from with the intent to designate them, or pass on vineyards you think aren't distinctive, or do you get the fruit cheaper if you put the guy's name on the label, or?...I don't know. I'm sure every winery differs on how single vineyards are determined. Yet I sometimes think many of them need to spend more time listening to respected alternate opinions about whether a vineyard deserves designation or not.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Oh, Baby, I'd happily get a room, though I'm often told my farts are my best feature.

As to writing tasting notes, I'm flattered by everyone's remarks, but wholly unconvinced.

I think Brian summed up the argument for oak on Chardonnay pretty well. It's not necessarily overmanipulating. It seems Thomas' troubles are more with ripeness, not winemaking procedures.

Thomas said...

Brian and Ron,

What I mean by "handle" is heavy use of oak and ML on a white wine. Try that on aromatic white varieties and you will ruin them, at least to my taste.

My point is that Chardonnay needs the help, mainly because it doesn't offer much to begin with (again, to my palate and also to my nose I suppose).

In any case, here I reside in the Finger Lakes region. I would be tarred and feathered if I didn't say I prefer clean, crisp, acidic whites over the bigger stuff...and I really do. Maybe it's a case of cellar blindness or maybe I came here because I prefer it (actually, I couldn't afford Ca. How do you do that Brian?).


You kill me with kindness, but while you adored those crisp whites, you also liked that Cabernet Franc, didn't you?

Samantha Dugan said...

I loved that Cabernet Franc, reminded me of Chinon and we now stock that wine at our store because of you. That being said, fuck was I grateful you lugged those whites around.

Charlie Olken said...


You have hit upon the ultimate contradiction with Chardonnay.

It has character in its unadorned style, but it is simple and rather monosyllabic.

Unlike the aromatic whites, save for Viognier (which qualifies as an aromatic white for me), Chardonnay becomes much more interesting, complex, complete when seasoned.

Trying to argue that wine is complex and thus should have no seasoning may suit your palate, and it may suit most lighter whites, but it does not, in my humble opinion, suit Chardonnay.

And while we can agree on the concept of each to its own, you have already agreed with the rest of us here that Chardonnay grows up when it uses a little makeup.

And it does not have to be Dolly Parton by analogy to be complex, deep, interesting.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm with Charlie, and Samantha, when it comes to Chardonnay. Having just tasted at In Pursuit of Balance (a stupid premise, but a great tasting) and having the likes of Littorai and Varner and Mount Eden Chardonnays, I don't care what they're doing to the grape, they should just keep doing it. We can overanalyze the crap out of those wines, but they're beautiful, aromatic, crisp, and splendid wines, and would undoubtedly be less than that without a talented winemaker's use of wood.

Charlie Olken said...

Amen to that, brother.

Thomas said...

Well, it seems that you are trying to tell me what to like...

To my palate, the malleability of Chardonnay invites the taste of everything that is added to or done to it.

"...would undoubtedly be less than that without a talented winemaker's use of wood."

Not my preference.

Eric V. Orange said...

Ron's going poodle!!!


Charlie Olken said...

My dear Mr. P--

F'''in A, right. You are not supposed to like things we don't like.

Is that not the premise of all winetasting?

Whoever said that there can be no disagreements in matters of taste has never tasted unadorned Chardonnay.

Oh, and let me be serious for a moment. Whether one likes unadorned Chard or not; whether one prefers Riesling to Chard; are truly up to the beholder.

But, there is really no point in arguing that Chardonnay does not become a deeper, more complete, more complex wine when handled judiciously. One can like that style or not. This is your choice.

Suggesting that complexity, balance, depth, completeness are of little or no value is an entirely different thing altogether.

I think you have already agreed to that point. It is a very different point from what you may prefer.

Thomas said...


Yes to that, and by the way, Chardonnay sucks!!!

Thomas said...

Tell you the truth, without realizing it, I have not bought a Chardonnay wine in ages. At least I am consistent.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Once again, you're wrong. Gruner Veltliner sucks. And I haven't in my entire life purchased one. So there. I'm more consistent. Can one be more consistent? Or is it consistent-er. Words are so hard.

Maybe if they used some new oak...

Thomas said...

I have a Gruner Veltliner in my cellar. We are looking for someone to come get it out of there, but as usual, we call the contractors and they consistentlier don't show up.

Cris Whetstone said...


...but I will say having known Brian personally and having watched him purvey his wines he is true to his style. He doesn't try to play both sides with people. He tells people straight up what his wines are like and how they are meant to be drunk. He doesn't mince words about aging and elegance. I'm glad we have a voice like that making wines and being successful at it. It's not a style I reach for often but sometimes it's perfect. Thanks for giving them a fair shake Ron. While I might agree about a particular wine more often than not with the whole anti-flavor-wine-elite crowd I disagree with the message that is often broadcast. Something like this: "I often think that what "natural" wine promoters think is the opposite of "natural" wine is "Parkerized" wine. We humans do love to label shit."

On Chard and oak. Ya'll are nuts. Give me your Chablis before your Cote D'Or 90% of the time. As long as Chablis and Champagne exist the argument for oak on Chardonnay is dead to me. I will say that the argument aboutoak is far more interesting in red wines. How many people raving about their aged classic Euro wines are marking oak flavors versus fruit? How many characteristics identified as 'classic' in certain wine's terroir are actually those of wood? Question we may never know an answer to if we are honest with ourselves.

There have been far more vineyards in California that have been called designates than actually deserve it. That's just growing pains though. As long as we hold Burgundy up as the wines of aspiration then we will see this phenomena. But I would also argue that we simply have no clue which places are best and which are pretenders. 90% of what is here is just too damn young to tell

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Plenty of Chablis see some neutral oak. And many Champagnes as well. Samantha?

Many, many years ago a winemaker (wish I could recall who) said to me, "Oak is catnip for humans." Some truth in that, red or white wine.

With hundreds and hundreds of winemakers throwing around vineyard designates, it will take many lifetimes for anything to make sense in California. So it goes.

Cris Whetstone said...

Some Chablis does see wood as does some Champagne. I would argue the best Chablis sees no wood and many Blanc de Blancs are surperior without any sniffs of oak either. I often taste white wines of the Cote D'Or and wonder why people want them to have the characters they say they revile in California Chardonnay so much. This is not to throw a blanket over any of these areas merely talkinga bout the larger pictures and what people seem to prefer about each.

Unknown said...

a lot things we don't associate with oak - like mouthfeel, density, and intesity - are also a direct result oak barrel aging.

and, contrary to popular belief, gruner veltliner rocks.