The Enth Degree July 2005

Port Producers declare 2003 a vintage year

Vintage 2003 Port has been declared by all the major Port shippers, making this vintage the first general declaration since 2000. Famous names such as Dow, Taylor Fladgate, Graham, Warre, Quinta do Noval, Fonseca and Churchill’s have all announced that the hottest European summer on record produced Ports worthy to be bottled as vintage wines.

This follows the usual practice of Port shippers: Waiting two years after a harvest before deciding whether there is wine of sufficient quality to release as vintage. The word "declaration" is used to describe the announcement by the Port shippers. A general vintage, such as 2000 and now 2003, is different from single-quinta vintage wines, which are produced in other years.

Producers warn that 2003 will be a small offering. "We will be producing 20 percent less of 2003 than we made of vintage 2000," said John Graham of Churchill’s Port. "And that was already a small year. We are conscious of the fact that pricing needs to be quite tight." American collectors will be delighted to hear that prices will be at, or even below, prices for 2000 vintage in order to compensate for the weak dollar.

Apart from a heat spike at the end of July and in early August, 2003 was a normal year. A wet winter allowed the vines to survive the dry summer in good shape, and rain before harvest set the scene for good vintaging conditions. The heat in the Douro was not such a shock to the vines, which are more accustomed to hot, dry summer conditions. The wines that came out are rich and fruity, but also have good acidity, which bodes well for their longevity. They are generally aromatic and exuberant wines.

Inevitably, comparisons are being made with previous vintage years. "2003 seems to be between the fruit of 1985 and the broad-shouldered, structured of 1994," Graham said.

Vintage 2003 Ports are being bottled this summer, and will be available for shipping in the fall.
— Roger Voss

Full tasting notes will appear in the September issue, and can also be accessed on our Buying Guide Web site (


Q&A with Animal Planet host (and wine enthusiast) JEFF CORWIN

When Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin isn’t chasing hyenas around the bush, he’s been known to uncork a bottle or two of wine for his film crew. Recently in New York to promote his new show, Corwin’s Quest, the irrepressible Corwin capped off a day that began at 5 a.m. with a Today Show appearance by sharing some tapas, Albariño and wine talk.

Wine Enthusiast: How did you become interested in wine?
Jeff Corwin: My dad fell in love with wine when he was in the service; I learned to love wine through him. It was never taboo around our house, and I started to get curious about it when I was 17 or 18. I started collecting wine in my early 20s.
WE: That’s it?
JC: Well, I worked in restaurants from the time I was 12 through college. That helped. Fine dining is a wonderful intro to food and wine.
WE: What kinds of wine do you drink or collect?
JC: The largest portion of what I have in my cellar is South African—three or four hundred bottles. One of my greatest joys is when I’m working there, or in Australia. My days off are spent in Stellenbosch or Barossa. I love the challenge of finding great wines, and bargains. I don’t need a cellar of grand cru Bordeaux; I don’t see wine as an investment, although the idea of wine is addictive and I do have to fight the urge to covet.
WE: Where’s the most exotic locale you’ve enjoyed a good bottle? Do you bring wine when you travel?
JC: I like to pick up wines along the way, but if I know I’m going somewhere really off the beaten track, I’ll bring my own. I’ve had wine in Central America, Asia, Brazil, Uganda. I love when we’re in the field in a remote place and pull out a nice bottle of wine and see the crew’s faces. Half of the joy of what you drink is in the people and places associated with it.
WE: So what’s the weirdest wine you’ve ever had?
JC: Well, they’re not wines, really, but two fermented beverages come to mind. In South America, I’ve had chicha—a drink made from manioc root that had been chewed and spit into an open vessel, then left to ferment. It’s also made from corn. And in Borneo, we met a tribe that makes a drink from rice and water left to ferment in a hollowed-out log. Then you drink it through straws—it’s something like a saké booger from hell (laughs).
— Joe Czerwinski


Cocktail Of The Month

This red, white and bleu trio is a tribute to Bastille Day, but would be just as colorfully appropriate for a Fourth of July bash, non? These libations can either be served individually, or as one layered cocktail.

Le Bikini (White)
1 ounce Ketel One vodka
1 ounce banana schnapps
1 ounce crème de cacao (white)
1 ounce cream of coconut
Splash of lychee purée

The Corsican (Blue)
1 ounce Island Blue Pucker
1 ounce blue Curaçao
1 ounce strawberry-flavored vodka
1 ounce sour mix

La Bourgeoisie (Red)
1 ounce raspberry-infused vodka
1 ounce watermelon-infused vodka
2 ounces watermelon schnapps
Splash of Chambord

Le Bikini (White)
1 ounce Ketel One vodka
1 ounce banana schnapps
1 ounce crème de cacao (white)
1 ounce cream of coconut
Splash of lychee purée

The Corsican (Blue)
1 ounce Island Blue Pucker
1 ounce blue Curaçao
1 ounce strawberry-flavored vodka
1 ounce sour mix


Health Watch: Wine and Diabetes

Good news for the more than 17 million Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes: A recent Harvard Medical School study of 109,690 women aged 25 to 42 who consumed a glass or two of wine a day for 10 years reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes a whopping 40 percent, compared to those who drank no wine. Beer drinkers’ risk fell only 30 percent, and spirits drinkers’ risk, 20 percent. Studies that have been conducted on men have shown similar results. The reason? It’s likely that the antioxidant properties in wine protect against the free-radical damage and inflammation that researchers now believe contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. — Debra Gordon


For more Enth Degree, check out this month’s issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Is good winemaking, or good land, at the heart of good wine?

European economists’ study attacks idea of true terroir

The French belief that terroir, that unique combination of soil topography and climate, is responsible for great wines has come under attack from two economists, Olivier Gergaud of the Université de Reims, and Victor Ginsburgh of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In a paper presented to the annual conference of The Royal Economic Society in Nottingham, England recently, the two have this to say on French claims that there is no substitute for terroir: "At best [terroir] looks highly exaggerated. At worst, terroir has no influence, and the right combination of weather, vines, technology and chemistry are sufficient."

In a paper entitled "Endowments, production technologies and the quality of wines. Is it possible to produce wine on paved roads?", Gergaud and Ginsburgh argue that recent advances in viticulture and winemaking completely overshadow any effects terroir may have on a wine.

The authors looked at data from 100 vineyards in the Haut-Médoc, including the top chateaus of Mouton-Rothschild, Latour and Lafite-Rothschild. They examined their terroir characteristics and winemaking techniques to see how these affected quality. They based their results on a mathematical equation that factored in quality (based on scores from selected reviewers), prices fetched for certain vintages, endowments (or terroir) and technological variables.

"It may be tempting," the economists say, "to conclude that winemaking technology has become so sophisticated that it can completely shade the effect of terroir or of weather conditions, and that vines can be grown in almost any place, as long as the weather permits, and the right combination of vines is made. The French terroir legend does not hold, at least not in the Haut-Médoc region, which is probably one of the most famous in the world."

The two conclude by saying that French AOC laws are too strict, and exclude some top-quality wines such as Daumas-Gassac in the Languedoc. Nor, they argue, is the system a guarantee of quality. They cite leading Pouilly-Fumé producer Didier Dageneau, who obtained AOC status for his worst wine, which he named "Quintessence of My Balls," made using inferior grapes, but in conformity with the AOC regulations.
— John Wilson

Do you agree? Disagree? Drop us a line at


Winemaking for the rest of us

Do-it-yourself facilities cropping up nationwide Mark Verbeck has been busy making wine since last fall’s harvest, sorting the grapes for his ’04 Zinfandel, cold-soaking the fruit, selecting the right yeast, punching the cap down in the fermenter and tasting the dark, young wine periodically from barrel.

Verbeck, 40, is no professional winemaker. He works in equity research at Citigroup, in San Francisco. His hobbyist winemaking occurs at Crushpad, a do-it-yourself facility that opened last year in the city’s Potrero Hill district, where some 130 customers each pay between $3,900 and $8,200 a year to produce their own barrel of wine (about 25 cases; price variation is due to variety and grape source).

"I didn’t even know this place existed until I read about it in the newspaper," says Verbeck. Another Crushpad customer, Jim Calhoun, had the same reaction. "A friend of mine told me about Crushpad, and I thought, ‘That’s weird. I live 3 blocks away, and walked past it many times, but never knew what it was.’"

Crushpad is a complete winery located in a refurbished old warehouse, just a mile from the Financial District’s office towers. The company’s CEO, Michael Brill, had been a marketing manager for a software company. He decided to start Crushpad after making some homemade Pinot Noir. "All my neighbors wanted to help pump down, clean out barrels and bins, and they’d leave with these big grins on their faces. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it on a bigger scale.’"

Crushpad employs two full-time winemakers: Scott Shapley, ex-assistant winemaker at Siduri, and Jeff Roy, who held the same position at PlumpJack. Its consulting winemakers are Kian Tavakoli, who was at Clos du Val; Brian Loring, of Loring Wine Co., and Don Surh and Gary Luchtel, from Napa Valley’s Surh Luchtel Cellars.

Clients can be as involved in the process as they’d like. "Some people don’t have the time, or the interest, to get involved, so we’ll make all the decisions," Brill says. "With others, especially those who live in the city, we’ve got them coming in almost every day." In addition to folks like Verbeck and Calhoun, Crushpad’s customers include restaurateurs and wine retailers, whom Brill expects will create their own house wines. He says making premium wine at Crushpad costs about half the price of buying an equivalent wine from a wholesaler, meaning the profit at retail is doubled.

Customers have their choice of grape varieties, sourced from a range of vineyards, some of them well known—such as Bien Nacido, Beatty Ranch, Beckstoffer Tokalon and Stagecoach. With the winemakers’ assistance, consumers are also able to plan most every step in the winemaking process, from what kind of barrels to use, whether to fine and filter, whether to put the wine through malolactic fermentation, and more. And because Crushpad has a commercial license, amateur winemakers can even opt to sell their wines commercially.

Business has been so successful that Brill is thinking of opening a second Crushpad in Los Angeles.

Shapley says he worried at first about having to cater to a wide variety of clients, but has learned to love the job. "Every single customer is excited. People tell me, ‘This is the greatest thing ever, you changed my life!’"

"It’s been an incredible experience to see how wine progresses from raw juice to finished product, " says Verbeck, adding, "and it’s a lot cheaper than plonking down a few million bucks to buy a vineyard."

— S.H.

For more information on Crushpad, visit
For more news and notes from the world of wine, check out the July issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Published on August 3, 2005
About the Author
Dylan Garret

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