When it comes to wine, I am highly influenced by my own enjoyment, and you should be too. With regards to the wines I write about, they are primarily (like 99%) wines that I have personally purchased. In only a few instances have wines been sent to me by a winery, but honestly, those I can count on one hand. The truth is, there are hundreds of winemakers and wineries who follow me on Instagram, but they are not lining up to send me wines to review, at least not just yet. But who knows? Maybe one day they will.
Given that this passion of mine is a tad expensive, being offered “FREE WINE” wouldn’t be a bad thing and would certainly be appreciated. Not to mention, my wife wouldn’t mind seeing a reduction of our monthly wine budget. I’ll keep you posted.
Now, when it comes to choosing a wine I want to write about or a new wine I want to drink, I can tell you, it’s not random. In fact, it’s a process that begins long before I actually make the decision. First comes the research. I probably do far more than I need to, but that’s how I work, and the research has a profound effect on my overall experience. I love learning about the winery, who they are, why they do what they do, how they fell in love with wine in the first place, do they come from generations of winemakers or is this their first turn and loving the grape. And the winemakers themselves. Diving in and going deep into their story’s, into their passion and why in the world, did they choose this path? Like most things worthwhile, it’s not for the faint of heart, so there must be something compelling. Was it love? Was it a money grab? Was it strictly circumstantial? So, way beyond whether or not I like a wine, I want to know about where it comes from, who made it and why!
You might be wondering why this matters or why it’s important to me? You might be saying to yourself, “It’s only wine.” and you’d be right. It is only wine, to most people. But for me, if it’s not completely obvious, it’s my passion. But let me go a bit deeper and give you a couple of reasons. One is easy to explain by referencing the old adage… “People do business with people they know, like and trust”. I prefer it that way, but it’s not always possible. The truth is I don’t know, like or trust every person or business I’m a patron of, but I choose and choose carefully when and where I can and buying wine is absolutely one of the areas. And staying on theme of where my buying dollars go, I’d like to quote the brilliant singer/songwriter Donna Summers (sort of) by saying, “I work hard for my money!” so when it’s possible (and it’s completely possible where wine is concerned) I want to buy wine and drink wine from wineries and winemakers that I really like and to do that, it’s not just about, do I like their wine or not? I need to know a thing or two about them. I want to support those who I think have earned it, so I dig in and get to know them.
First, I look at all of the critic’s reviews and the ratings of past years. There are a few wine critics whose opinions I really trust. See, trust does matter! I’d like to give a shout out to my favorite wine critic, James Laube over at Wine Spectator magazine. He never disappoints and I always really enjoy reading what he has to say. His knowledge is legendary, and his reviews are informative, honest, and many are done as blind tastings. A ‘blind tasting’ is when the wine being critiqued is unknown. The label is hidden during the tasting for the sole purpose of the wine is graded entirely on its quality. Period.
I do a few blind tastings each year, which helps me to refine my palate and pick up on the nuances of the grape. Since I purchase all of my own wine for tastings and possible reviews, I am, for the most part, prepared for what I’m getting into, meaning… this could go either way. There have certainly been times I was disappointed by what I read in a review and then what I tasted.
Here are some good notes to follow:
When deciding on a wine – Don’t judge a wine exclusively by the review, as they don’t always align 100% with your experience and at the end of the day, regardless of what any review says (including mine) your experience is what matters most. So, consider taking in the history and the description from the winery, when you are exploring a new wine.
When tasting a wine, ask yourself – What flavors are present? How dense are the tannins? Is this particular varietal pleasing to me? Is the vintage too young? Having read the rating notes of the critic, do I agree or disagree?
Remember – All ratings are just someone’s else’s opinion of what ‘they’ have experienced, of whether or not they feel the winery or winemaker got it right. It’s their judgment and their unique palate. Although unlikely, for all you know, they could have had an onion sandwich for lunch, which would have altered the way everything tastes. They could be spent entirely, and their palate completely wiped, having consumed the first half of the day at a tasting where they already sampled 25 wines. We just don’t know and because they don’t give us a rundown in their review of what else they’ve had in their mouth prior to doing “this” particular tasting (i.e.: “I brushed my teeth w/ Crest Bright White 1-hour before trying this wine”), my advice to you is this. Drink, experience, repeat… the very best your budget can afford you and I implore you, PLEASE, take some time to learn about where the wine came from and who made it and why. If you expand your knowledge, you will expand your experience, and you will find a deeper, more meaningful reason to love wine, just like I did.
My latest find is a total gem. I found this one by way of the article I wrote a few months ago, featuring Scott Schultz over at Jolie Laide and paying tribute to the excellent wines he’s producing. While doing my notorious in-depth research on Scott, I found myself, like Alice, traveling once again down the rabbit hole and while there, I discovered a whole world of California winemakers that I’d not heard of. These young, impassioned wine artisans are ‘in it!’ They aren’t living on lavish Napa estates, hanging out in their Chateaus, casually looking out their third story windows, admiring the beauty of their acres and acres of grapes. Not even close. This group is getting their hands dirty! Many of them have 9-to-5’s, are working regular jobs at wineries and doing the side-hustle shuffle, in pursuit of the dream of their passion project. And passion it is!
This person in just a few short years has started making a name for herself; Jaimee Motley. She grew up in Maryland within the walls of her family’s restaurant, as noted by her. After graduating from the University of Maryland, Jaimee headed to San Francisco to begin grad school as a painter. With the family business in her blood, she found herself back in the food world, back in the restaurant biz. Working at Locanda and RN76, where the level of food and wine knowledge, someone needs to stay relevant, competitive, and employed, is unimaginably high, but Jaimee was up for it. Learning about the California wine culture and with the famous Napa region being just a quick car ride away, her passion for wine quickly grew.
She grabbed hold with both hands and very quickly dove into self-education. This was where she wanted to be. This was personal. She was not about to leave it to chance. Jaimee went to Europe and visited wineries. She walked the vineyards, talked to winemakers, asked them about their process, their story, their history, their passion for wine, and they told her their love stories. She met people who were as passionate about wine as she was becoming. She asked, and she listened, and she learned. She tasted, and she tasted some more, she fell in love, and she discovered exactly what it was she wanted to do with wine. She wanted to make it! In 2015, she began a job at Wind Gap/Pax Wine Cellars where she worked alongside her good friend Scott Schultz, as an assistant winemaker. The owners of Wind Gap/Pax were generous and visionary, and they created a space for small brands to flourish. In 2016, Jaimee Motley Wines was officially born and their first two vintages, Mondeuse Noire and a Chenin Blanc, were released out into the world.
Now she has a small waiting list for Motley’s wine. Her wines are wonderfully priced, and they sell out quickly, so if you’re into unique varietals and want to experience what the future of California winemakers are doing, this is a winemaker and winery you are going to want to visit. Sincerely, I hope you’ll take the time to get to know Jaimee Motley Wines. Get on the list. Take a bottle or two for a spin. I also suggest you follow her on Instagram. Jaimee is doing something really special. Don’t miss it.
2017 Norgard Vineyard
The Nose: Minerals, chamomile, and tangerine
The First Bite: Great acid for a Chenin Blanc, lemon and floral
The Finish: The acid mellows, and orange appears
Serving Temperature: 52°
Final Rating: 92
2018 Rorick Heritage Vineyard
The Nose: Floral with citrus and desert air
The First Bite: Nice acid with tart pear and orange
The Finish: This one stays with you and lemon arrives
Serving Temperature: 50°
Final Rating: 92
2017 Santa Maria
The Nose: Berry fruit all over and slight spices
The First Bite: Nice tannin punch with mineral and berry
The Finish: That tannin stays, and the berry notes last
Serving Temperature: 64°
Final Rating: 94