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Wednesday wraparound: vintage 2011 and Jordan

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There was a classic temperature spectrum yesterday in Napa Valley. At Pride winery, 2,200 feet up on Spring Mountain, it was 88 degrees on my dashboard thermometer when I left, around 1 p.m. At the Rutherford-Oakville line, about 20 minutes later, it was 100. This showed dramatically how true it is that the mountains are cooler than the valley floor on a hot summer day–although it’s true also that they’re warmer at night.

But wait, there’s more! That 100-degree reading lasted only for a few minutes. By the time I’d reached southern Oakville, it was 99, and it stayed in the high 90s all the way through Yountville and southward toward Napa city. This is just anecdotal, but in all the years I’ve driven Highway 29 I’ve been struck by how little the temperature cools down from Oakville to Yountville to Napa on a day such as yesterday. The conventional wisdom is, of course, that it does, but it never seems to on my dashboard thermometer. Sometimes it’s hotter.

Anyway, by Vallejo (which I guess you could call Carneros) it was 92. Those Bay breezes were kicking in. By the time I got to Emeryville, it was 77, around 2 p.m. But the temperature hit 93 yesterday at Oakland Airport, so, in the end, it was hot everywhere.

Just what the grapes needed! After all the talk about how cool the 2011 vintage has been, this multi-day heat event has vintners’ hearts fluttering. It’s been just warm enough to speed up the ripening process, but we haven’t got the kind of devastating heat wave we got, for instance, last year, when the last week of August blasted grapes. So the theory now is that the vintage, while light in crop, could be very high in quality. That is, if it doesn’t rain. A lot of the late-ripening grapes aren’t likely to be picked until October and some could go into November. As a matter of fact, at Pride yesterday, they were telling us how, on occasion, they’re still picking into December! But I don’t see that happening this year.

It’s not over until the fat winemaker crushes the last of the grapes, but 2011 could be a good one.

* * *

Nice to see Jordan getting a little love over at Forbes.com.

I like Jordan, both as a concept and as wine. By “concept” I mean the idea that they want to make wine that’s a little lighter in style than a lot of the competition. I seldom give Jordan Cabernet the high scores that, say, I give to Stonestreet or Rodney Strong (to pick two other Alexander Valley Cabs), nor do I give the kind of high scores to Jordan’s Chardonnay I give to other Russian River Valley Chards, such as Lynmar or Marimar Torres.

But I would happily order a Jordan wine from a wine list in a great restaurant (and Jordan is on many great wine lists), because I’d know that the wine would be balanced and complex and not try to compete with the food. Now, before the anti-score crowd jumps on me, let me explain that a high-scoring wine is based on intensity, or hedonistic fascination, or organoleptic richness (there are different ways of expressing it). They are wines, tasted without food, that impress for sheer power. That means, by definition, that they may not be the best accompaniment with actual food. By way of analogy, it’s like seeing a fabulous designer dress at a runway show. You might appreciate how well it’s made, how gorgeous it is to look at, how rich the fabric and stitching, etc. At the same time, you’d never wear it (if you’re a woman), and, if you’re a man, you don’t know anybody who ever would or could wear it; which makes it impractical for realistic purposes. Still, you can appreciate that it’s a better dress than almost anything you actually see on the street.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t happily drink Marimar Chardonnay or Stonestreet Cabernet whenever I can at the table. But I would also be happy with Jordan.

  1. There’s an interesting back story about how the estate went through some changes when the founder’s son, John Jordan, took over in 2005 (interesting because he had no winery experience, he was a lawyer specializing in mortgage fraud). As the Forbes piece mentions, the wines have gotten lighter and fruitier over the past couple of years, without saying why. I wrote about some of these changes last month for Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-18/reagan-gorbachev-winery-improves-taste-with-longer-aging-no-price-hike.html

  2. “let me explain that a high-scoring wine is based on intensity, or hedonistic fascination” I guess this is sort of were wine reviews loose me. I get what you are saying and I have certainly had the same experiences. It just sounds a little like saying, “I scored this wine very well because it is so bold, but it is horribly impractical.

    Sometimes a t-shirt and jeans are the sexiest thing on the runway, or in a glass for that matter.

    Impressed with your honesty in these things.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the commentary these past few days. I’m glad to hear you like Jordan both as a concept and as a wine. We work very hard to uphold my parent’s original vision and stay true to our house style of elegant, balanced wines.

    John Jordan

  4. I’m surprised by the lack of comments concerning the admission that high points are associated with “sheer power.” This is refreshing honesty from a critic, though at the same time startling to see in print that what I will call “showboat” wines intrinsically deserve more points than one assembled with grace and balance. But then, I really wouldn’t want to be seen with one of those runway models suited up in some bizarre costume. Showboating seems to be rewarded throughout the culture: talk radio, broadcast news, pop music, professional sports. Maybe it even defines the era.

    But on to the more fun topic: maybe the lack of temperature differential between Oakville and Napa on Wednesday had to do with it being a day when the off-shore wind pattern was in effect rather than the more common on-shore flow. When the on-shore pattern is happening there will be wind coming up from the Bay (or maybe sweeping around Carneros from the Petaluma Gap), and coming down from the northwest from the direction of Knights Valley–watch the windmills as well as the car thermometer). Often these prevailing winds will cancel each other out, resulting in still air somewhere between St. Helena and Oakville. During this on-shore pattern the car thermometer might show a 10 degree difference from Napa to Yountville, maybe peaking from Oakville to St. Helena, sometimes falling a little north of Calistoga if the northwesterly wind is strong.

  5. Bill, good observation about wind patterns. On “power,” I don’t think there’s any controversy about that. High scores have always been correlated with power, at least on the 100 point scale. This is why many of us have written that a high score does NOT correlate with food friendliness or food pairing.

  6. Steve, I echo the comments that it’s refreshing to see in print that the flashier wines get the higher scores. My concern is that for most consumers score is the only indicator of quality, and don’t take the time to see the nuances in scoring that you described above. The 100 point score is supposed to be an overall impression of a wines quality, not just the hedonisitc impression of it.

  7. Doug, sorry to duck this, but I can’t be responsible for how consumers take things.

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