Friday, March 23, 2007

Promotional Madness

Look every wine blogger secretly would be thrilled to become the next big time wine critic, making a living drinking wine every day, regularly tasting some of the finest wines ever made, traveling to a number of the coolest places in the world, never paying for wines to be tried, fame (at times infamy) amongst a multitude of peers; the life and lifestyle are very appealing, at least in a vacuum. Given the importance of blogs to wineries these days, especially those in California, various established bloggistas get on the promotional bandwagon and review wines sent to them for free, as part of a winery's marketing scheme. While numerous wine critics in print swear off of freebies, most notably His Majesty RP, and the Spectator only tastes promotional wines double blind, the blog world, being more democratic (desperate?), accepts wines on promotion for non-blind review. From my casual survey of blogs well established enough to attract regular samples from wineries, especially new ones that are trying to garner a name and marketable good press, adequate disclosure is made that the wine was received for the express purpose of a review following the tasting. Nothing sinister here, journalistic integrity is not at risk.

For me, this puny, modestly read blog hasn’t stirred up too much interest except amongst family and friends. I have accepted the fact that writing for the WS is not in my future, unless it’s in the Letters to the Editor section. To date, all of the wines I’ve reviewed here have come from my personal cellar and have been paid for with my own hard earned greenbacks. That is until now . . . full disclosure everyone.


Honestly it’s more complicated than that—from another blog I read that Twisted Oak Winery had a contest to write the “tasting notes” for the back label of its current white Rhone blend. When I perused the website I saw that eager bloggers could send an email about their site and if found worthy a promotional bottle could be sent. I pinged the winery, one thing lead to another and I received a bottle of the Twisted Oak 2005 Calaveras County *%#&@!, a red Rhone-style blend, in a two bottle box, including mostly geek notes about the wine, grape selection, harvest info, sites, data, etc. along with a rubber chicken, which did not have any tasting notes. My son named the chicken "Clucky" and he and my daughter regularly play with it, so I doubt that it will ever see the inside of a pot.

Now the Twisted Oak website is hilarious, very offbeat, bordering on profane (though I don't find it "twisted" in any fashion), and generally nutty. The folks at TO do not take themselves seriously so I kind of wondered how they would treat their wines. As you can see from the note below, it turns out that TO really focuses its efforts on wine making, and they seem to have gotten that part down. Just where is Calaveras County? Didn't Mark Twain chase frogs there or some such thing? Locationally, if you were driving from Santa Cruz to Lake Tahoe as the crow flies you would jog through Calaveras. The TO winery is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 2000 feet above sea level, in the heart of California gold country.

Another relevant point--as you know, I'm profligate when it comes to buying wines that catch my fancy. Thus, I would never over rate a wine that I received for free to curry favor with a winery, unless it was DRC. At the same time, one part of me wanted to be really rigorous in my review of the 2005 *%#&@! to show that I was a serious critic and not some sap searching the web for free shit. Then of course I tried the wine and, well, even the most hard headed taster will find it appealing. This is good juice and, if I ever get any room in my now overflowing cellar, I plan on actually buying some for the summer season.

Notes on the Wine: Given the informative "geek sheet" that came with the wine, let me pass on some details--Mourvedre from two distinct vineyards makes up 51% of the wine, followed by 33% Syrah and 16% Grenache, again from two separate vineyards; the majority of the grapes were sourced from Calaveras County. The wine checks in at 14.1% alcohol and costs $28 on the website, though with various discounts and such, you're looking at $23 or so a bottle. The wine spent 11 months in a mixture of new and 1 year old French oak and older American and neutral oak.

Tasting Notes: Garnet in the glass. Perfumed nose of chocolate, blackberry and jasmine, black plum and graphite mid-palate, well textured and meaty, with notes of game and brioche. Good finish with sweet dark fruit, smoke and cardamon. This is a complex, multi-faceted wine that is very satisfying to drink alone and will match very well with meats from the grill and rustic, spicy offerings. Appealing to a variety of palates, this offering will hold its own against some of the better 2004 CdP's on the market today. Bravo.

Rating: Excellent.

Cheers, Barrld


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