Comparing reviews from the early 2000s to today
You know those “Where are they now?” articles that appear this time of year? I thought it would be fun to write a version of that for wine, so I went into Wine Enthusiast’s database and did a search of the top wines I reviewed in the early 2000s, to see how many of them are still around and, if they are, are they still performing well or have they stumbled.
The biggest change between then and now is that my reviewing portfolio has changed. Back then, I did quite a few Australian wines: Penfolds, Jim Barry, St. Hallett and Benjamin among others. Nowadays I no longer review the wines of Australia. Back then I also showed some high scores for some Mendocino wines, including a fabulous 1999 Fife “Old Yokayo Ranch” Syrah (95 points). I don’t do Mendocino anymore (I miss Anderson Valley!)–that’s my lovely colleague, Virginie Boone–nor do I do Temecula, which was the source of another 95 point wine then, Stuart’s 1998 Zinfandel. Virginie reviews that part of California, too, as she does the Sierra Foothills. I particularly miss doing the wines of Domaine de la Terre Rouge, for which I always had a fondness. But California is just too big for me to do alone, and Virginie is such a fine reviewer and reporter.
I also miss reviewing Champagne [the real French bubbly], but I’m happy to leave that pleasant task to Roger Voss, who does Champagne for the magazine.
In my coastal regions of California, most of the wineries I gave high scores to back then are still getting them: Robert Young, Shafer, Stag’s Leap, Robert Mondavi, Gainey, Lail, Silverado, Beringer, Pride Mountain, Vine Cliff, Mount Eden, Clos Pegase, Frank Family, Venge, Merry Edwards, Rochioli, Testarossa, Hanzell, PlumpJack, Sequoia Grove, Freemark Abbey, Dutton Goldfield, Deerfield Ranch, Novy, Corison, Hendry, Peju, Clos du Val, Ridge, De Loach and Acacia. All these wines, among others, scored 93 points or more; their names have become the Classified Growths of California, and isn’t that good.
Notable on my list of high-scoring wines from the early 2000s are a few wineries I’ve lost track of, for one reason or another. I gave a very high score, 96 points, to the Carlisle 2000 “Two Acres,” which if I recall correctly I tasted at the old Hospice du Rhône, poured for me by none other than Mike Officer himself; that wine blew my mind. I also wrote about Mike at some length in my book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River.
But for some reason, Mike stopped reaching out to me years ago, and I regret it. I also used to give good scores to IO, which made Rhône-style wines from Santa Barbara County. The brand was part of the Robert Mondavi portfolio, but I haven’t seen any bottles of it for a long time, and I’m unsure of its status.
It’s awfully hard keeping track of all the wineries in California, especially over a multi-year period. One can only do so much. Beyond what I can accomplish myself in keeping open the lines of communication, I depend on the wineries to keep me in the loop. There are reasons why they don’t. Some wineries are addicted to only 1 or 2 publications, which is their right, of course; they may feel that as long as those magazines are giving them high scores, why throw the dice and risk a low score from someone else. This is however a dangerous gamble: That publication may destroy you if the critic bends that way. In other cases, changes in employees result in sample mailings falling into the cracks, as databases are not kept up. In general, I don’t like asking wineries to send me wine, because it seems importunate, which is not my style, nor do I need the bottles as I’m already maxed out most of the time. But that’s my job, reviewing coastal California, so I sometimes have to to remind people that I haven’t heard from them in a while. In 100% of the cases, they understand, and apologize. I, too, apologize, if I have to ask you to send me stuff.