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Wine Camp: Publishing online since 2003 - as always, a points-free zone
Photography by Craig Camp on Smug Mug
Nominated as “Best Wine Blog” by Saveur Magazine

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    Thursday
    May202010

    The Pleasures of Youth

    The 2008 Vietti Tre Vigne is here! The Vietti Dolcetto Tre Vigne Dolcetto d’Alba is always on my every day favorite list. Explosively fruity, brisk, zesty and bright. It’s all about immediate pleasure - no waiting required. That’s why I’m always excited when the new vintage arrives as it’s never more fun to drink as when it’s a charming adolescent and, anyway, it’s a boring adult so waiting is not recommended. Maturity is for nebbiolo not dolcetto. In fact I’m already anxiously waiting for the 2009.

    It’s always frustrating that we can’t seem to make wines like this in California. That’s something I have to work on.


    Thursday
    May202010

    Number 1! Number 1! Number1!

    Latour is top wine of Bordeaux 2009, says survey May 6, 2010 By Richard Woodard Chateau Latour has beaten Margaux and Lafite to be the wine of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage, according to a survey of the international wine trade.

    link: Latour is top wine of Bordeaux 2009, says survey - decanter.com - the route to all good wine

    Absurd isn’t it? The whole concept of something like wine, based on taste and individual experience, having a number one. It is a concept that is perhaps worse than absurd. You can have a “best” sports team as they are able to win a clear victory over their competition. The team with the most points wins. Yet, perhaps even in such seemingly clear head-to-head competition often the best team doesn’t win. Serendipity can trump skill.

    The pitiful absurdity of such a statement from a publication of the stature of Decanter is particularly embarrassing as they know better. It is always important for us to remember that wine publications like Decanter are not in the wine business, they just live off of it. They don’t make or sell wine: they sell magazines. All of their editorial choices are focused first on selling magazine subscriptions and once in a while a some real wine journalism fills in around the edges.

    Naming a number one may be a good business decision, but it is not honest.

     


    Sunday
    May092010

    Campton Place Restaurant

    Chef Srijith’s cuisine concept masterfully blends California Cuisine with Mediterranean inspirations and gentle spice route overtones. In keeping with the culinary superlatives, our cellar is also highly acclaimed as a destination among winemakers and wine connoisseurs. With over fifteen hundred carefully selected labels from across the globe our Master Sommelier, Richard Dean, can select wines that will seamlessly harmonize with the distinct flavors articulated in the menu.

    link: Campton Place - San Francisco - Luxury Hotel, Restaurant and Bar

    Some meals move you and the last several meals I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying at Campton Place were not only moving, but breathtaking. More often than not it seems the restaurants that really deliver are somewhat off the radar. Campton Place may have faded in the past years from prior glories, but this restaurant is back delivering perfect service and elegant, creative cuisine. Don’t miss this wonderful pleasure on your next visit to San Francisco.


    Thursday
    May062010

    Italian - vera Cucina

    Simple is beautiful when to comes to food and wine. Simple does not imply a lack of character when it comes to cooking or winemaking, but to a willingness to let the flavors of wonderful ingredients show through. Here are some excellent cookbooks built on that concept.


    I have been using Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells’ book of simple French recipes, for several decades now.

    So what stopped me from buying her book of Italian trattoria cooking?

    Two words: Marcella Hazan.

    I am addicted to Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It’s clear. It produces restaurant-quality meals that take only modest effort. And “fancy” is the last thing it is.

    I thought I just didn’t need another Italian cookbook.

    But now, fourteen years after it was first published, Trattoria: Simple and Robust Fare Inspired by the Small Family Restaurants of Italy — a bargain at $13.59 — is finally in the house. And, more to the point, in the kitchen. And I am chastened.

    You want simple? This is it. Easy? Forget about it. Organized? Buying the book could be the last time you’ll ever need to think about an Italian menu.

    Why? Because the fact is, you really don’t want rich and fancy. You want a meal fit for a trattoria — an uncomplicated, modestly decorated, family-run establishment featuring traditional regional fare. You drink the house wine. You tend to order whatever special is being pushed. And you are likely to leave satisfied though not sated.

    Wells begins with a large selection of antipasti, moves on to grilled vegetables and hearty soups. Then she reaches pasta. There are 17 pasta recipes — and that’s just the dried pasta. (I’m under the impression that Italians have no affection for fresh pasta; in any event, there are 15 recipes for fresh.).

    There are lovely recipes for entrees. But I’m feeling in the mood for a bargain dinner that rips the torpor from my taste buds. That means spices — garlic and red-pepper flakes. And what Wells calls “a young Italian red table wine.”

    PENNE ALL’ARRABBIATA

    Serves 6

    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    6 plump fresh garlic cloves, skinned and minced
    1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    sea salt
    28-ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes or a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
    1 pound tubular pasta
    1 cup flat leaf parsley, snipped with scissors

    In a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat with oil. Cook over moderate heat. Remove from heat when garlic turns gold, but not brown.

    If you’re using whole canned tomatoes, chop them before adding to skillet. If using pureed tomatoes, just pour into skillet. Stir, then simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

    In a large pot, boil 6 quarts of water. Add three tablespoons of salt and the pasta, cook until tender but firm. Drain.

    Add the drained pasta to the skillet. Toss, cover, cook over low heat for 1-2 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Add the snipped parsley, serve in soup bowls.

    “Traditionally, cheese is not served with this dish,” Wells notes. Gotcha.

    Start the water and the sauce at the same time, dinner is on the table in 30 minutes, Wells advises. A very well-spent 30 minutes, say I.

    Cross-posted from HeadButler.com

    via Food on HuffingtonPost.com


    Tuesday
    Apr202010

    Photo Camp: Frost Protection

     

    Irrigation systems double as frost protection during bud break in April 2010 in the Napa Valley.

    Posted via email from Wine Camp Blog/Posterous Edition

    Thursday
    Apr012010

    Photo Camp: Rainy Mayacamas Morning

    Wednesday
    Mar312010

    Snooth Visits Wine Camp

    Welcome to The Grapevine! In this new weekly feature, we’ll be asking our favorite experts the questions that really matter: how they fell in love with wine, what wine trend they’d love to see end, and what they’ll be drinking on their deathbed.

    10 Questions For: Craig Camp

    You’ll find no 100-point scale at Craig Camp’s award-winning Wine Camp Blog, just thoughtful commentary on underrated finds, overrated bottles, and tons of gorgeous vineyard photography. A wine pro for nearly three decades, Camp now works as general manager of Cornerstone Cellars in Napa.

    1.) Which wine first won your heart?

    In 1973, I had just finished a semester on a university exchange program in Salzburg, Austria and then spent some time bumming around Europe. My first stop in France was Strasbourg and, thinking it a very French thing to do, I ordered a pitcher of Edelzwicker at a weinstube. That was it for me. I drank (that was before I found out you were supposed to call it tasting) every wine I could afford and when I got home I bought the Signet Book of Wine by Alexis Bespaloff. Then I started tasting everything I could find. I remember doing blind tastings between jugs of Almaden Claret and Burgundy. That’s funny, because they were probably the same wine.

    My first wine “investment” was a case of 1971 Chateau Carbonnieux, Graves Rouge in 1975. I think it cost about $10 a bottle, which seemed very expensive to me at the time. I’ve always kept an emotional attachment to that Chateau and still buy the wines.

    2.) If you could have an endless supply of just one bottle, what would it be?

    That sounds more like a nightmare than a dream to me. It’s the diversity of wine and food combinations I find exciting. To go along with the premise I’ll pick 2004 Poderi Colla Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose. It’s an incredible wine that will outlive me, always be delicious and with every year of aging will become a new wine as it evolves.

    3.) What would you pour for someone who swears they don’t like wine?

    Iron Horse Wedding Cuveé, Sonoma-Green Valley Sparkling Wine

    4.) If you could settle in any major wine region, which would it be (and why)?

    I’m living in the Napa Valley now and before that in the Willamette Valley and the Piedmont region of Italy. I love them all, but I’d have to pick Barolo/Barbaresco for the incredible combination of wine, food, natural beauty, and lifestyle. After all, if you live in Barolo you can drive to Burgundy, Rhone, Tuscany or Trentino/Alto Adige in one day and Champagne, Chablis, Alsace, Rioja or the Rheingau in two. Not a bad place to be.

    5.) What wine trend do you think (or hope) is almost over?

    Points and high-alcohol, over-oaked wines that don’t match well with food.

    6.) What trends do you see on the horizon?

    New media and Social Media is changing the way everything is sold. The potential for empowering small producers at the cost of mass produced industrial wines is very exciting. Hopefully it will start to break down the three tier system supported only by the new-prohibitionists and giant wholesalers.

    7.) What are the biggest values on the market today?

    For some reason that’s hard to explain they’re all from Europe. That’s pretty embarrassing for Americans as they have to put that wine in boats and ship it over here - not a cheap thing to do. My daily wines tend to be Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Loire whites and reds, Cava, German whites; Soave, Barbera and Dolcetto from Italy.

    8.) What’s the biggest myth about wine you’d like to dispel?

    That the greatest wines are the most expensive. It’s the big lie of the wine world.

    9.) What’s the best food and wine pairing you’ve ever had?

    Tie:

    1. Foie Gras Ravioli with 1989 Huet Vouvray Moelleux at Alain Ducasse in Paris.

    2. That generic Edelzwicker with choucroute in 1973 it was a revelation that I was not expecting and it blew me away. The memory still does.

    10.) You’re on your deathbed, and you can get one final glass: What’ll it be?

    A great old Armagnac. It’s my favorite ending to a great meal and I can’t think of a better finish.

    Posted via email from Wine Camp Blog/Posterous Edition

    Tuesday
    Mar302010

    Still Time to Vote!

    The deadline is winding down for voting in Saveur’s Best Food Blog Awards. Visit their site and vote for Wine Camp today! 

    Saveur Best Food Blog Awards

    Sunday
    Mar282010

    The Circle Remains Unbroken

    Yesterday the vineyards were cold and empty. Having been just pruned they were only skeletons of what they were at harvest. Then today it happened. The green starts to explode from vines that looked more dead than alive and another vintage is upon us.  There is nothing that fills my soul with optimism has much as when the buds break in the vineyard each spring.  I can't help but think of the potential we have each year to craft wines better than we ever have before. My optimism will soon be challenged when I'm awakened by the howl of the wind machines raging through the Napa Valley as the still cold spring nights threaten frost. However, the weather report shows no danger, this week anyway, so today I'll just enjoy the beginning of another vintage, each of which is a unique experience.

    Posted via email from Wine Camp Blog/Posterous Edition

    Friday
    Mar192010

    Photo Camp: Foggy Napa Dawn

     

    Thursday
    Mar182010

    Photo Camp: Vineyard Dawn Yountville 3/18/2010

     

     

    Thursday
    Mar112010

    Photo Camp: Blue Yountville Dawn March 2010

     

     

    Tuesday
    Mar092010

    Living Impressionism - Monet 95 points/Renoir 93 but a "Best Buy"

    The white blurs intertwined and wove themselves in and then out of the lights. They could move from absolute stillness to a dazzling, dizzying swirl of energy and grace. The second act of Swan Lake in this winter’s performance by the San Francisco Ballet was like watching a Renoir or Monet come to life.

    As the beautiful vision of the dancers floated from the stage the first row leapt to their feet and, like the Olympics, rated the performers with points. Holding up their placards they reduced art to sport. Absurd, right? While such a nightmare is offensive to anyone who cares about beauty this is exactly what we now do with both food and wine. Today wine is about points and food is about Iron Chef TV slap-downs.

    Could there be anything more anti-fine dining than turning wine and food into a sport? Yet this is precisely what we have done. As when you watch a ballet or contemplate a painting, fine food and wine should transport you away from the intensity of day-to-day life and inspire your mind to find peace and pleasure. Dinner should be a time to slow down, not a best of three falls.

    There are two big lies in the wine world. The first is that price is related to quality and, second, is that point ratings for wines are worth anything. Beside the fact that rating wines with points is an affront to what they were created for (to be part of a meal), they are a lie on on their own turf - statistics. To be meaningful a critic that rates wines on a numerical scale, be that 10, 20 or 100 points, must be able to repeat those results over-and-over in all tasting conditions. Anyone who knows anything about taste and the human condition knows that is a joke. Critics that use points are not only fooling their readers, they’re fooling themselves.

    I defy anyone to take this test. We’ll take twenty-five top quality wines of one place and variety and blind taste them over a five day period without the expert tasters knowing the variety or place of origin having them rank the wine using their preferred scale . Each day we’ll open a fresh bottle, then taste the wines in four flights, in each flight changing the order of the wines being tasted. Needless to say, that if these results were analyzed the worthlessness of reviews based on points would be clearly established. If statistical results cannot be repeated they are worthless, which is exactly the value of the point ratings used by the major wine critics.

    Not that anyone would listen because while consumers like points as a simple way to make buying choices, wine producers like them even more as a simple way to market their wines. The point is that points are an easy way out for everyone, but most of all it is an easy way out for the big wine publications. After all we should remember their business is not selling wine or helping people to buy better wine. Their business is selling magazines, which is something rating wines on a point scale does better than reliable information ever would. Their readers want it simple and fast so that’s what they give them.

    The title of this article jokes about rating Monet 95 points, but giving only 93 to Renoir although he is given a “Best Buy” nod. The real joke of this is that during their own time Monet and Renoir where given very low “points” by the critics. This should remind us all that the creative pleasures of life: dance, music, painting, food and wine among so may others are not so easily reduced into numerical simplicity. The very complexity of these pleasures combined with the intense differences our individual personalities interact to create something that is not possible to quantify or rank on a precise scale.

    When you’re experiencing the best, points are pointless.


    Wednesday
    Mar032010

    Grappa, Grappa, Grappa, Gaja

    I picked him up at the airport straight from Italy. He was a young, energetic Italian wine producer. We went from store to restaurant sampling his wines trying to convince buyers to buy. After all it would have cost them just over ten dollars a bottle. Although his English was not good (in those days) his passion won over a more than a few cynical buyers. The young winemaker’s name was Angelo Gaja and the year was 1983. Needless to say, in the last three decades Angelo has gone a long way. As it’s impossible to distill all of Angelo’s creativity into one short post, we’ll let Angelo do the distilling. Actually in this case the Distilleria del Barbaresco did the distilling for Gaja in producing three excellent grappe (plural of grappa) that each represent a distinct style of this most misunderstood of spirits.

    Often considered nothing less than an explosive, better suited for a Molotov Cocktail than as the final touch to an fine meal, things have changed for grappa due to the efforts of a few extraordinary distillers. Today elegant bottles of grappa are now on the back bars of the best American restaurants - Italian or not. It’s true that mass produced grappa has more burn than anything else and homemade grappa may cause blindness (figuratively and literally), but when this spirit is crafted by dedicated artisans it is among the most delicate and elegant of digestivi. As with all spirits, the vast majority of labels are rough, industrial products. Only a few producers of whisky, brandy, rum and so on actually try to achieve greatness in their products and the same is true of grappa. In the hands of extraordinary producers like Nonino, Poli, Maschio, Pilzer, Marolo and the Castello di Barbaresco Grappe featured here grappa rivals the worlds greatest spirits - and costs as much too.

    While all grappa is produced from what is left after the grapes are pressed for wine (grappa in Italian, or as the French call it marc) all grappa is not one thing as there are three distinct styles. Grappa made from white grapes is quite different from those made from red grapes. While the grappa from the red grapes has already fermented, that from the white grapes has not making the production process and the resulting spirit quite different. Grappa produced from white grapes tends to be more delicate and floral, while that from red grapes is more forceful and herbal. Then there is grappa gialla (yellow), which is aged in wood barrels that add sweet vanilla notes just as they do for Cognac or whisky. These aged grappe are easy to spot due to the golden color imparted by the wood as compared to the grappa bianca or the clear grappa that accounts for most of the grappa produced.

    These three Gaja Grappe are offered as a tasting flight by Mustard’s Grill in the Napa Valley. While the tastes are small, they can easily be shared by two or three people looking to learn about grappa. This tasting flight is a great idea and hopefully more restaurants will follow this example.

    Castello di Barbaresco Gaja Grappa
    Gaia & Rey - Produced from the chardonnay vineyard of the same name, this spirit is elegant and refined with a spicy floral nose and clean, refreshing character. Just a touch of herbal warmth reminds where this spirit came from.
    Sperss - From Gaja’s Barolo estate, this golden spirit is produced exclusively from their nebbiolo and then is aged in oak barrels. The oak adds roundness, depth and aromatics to this complex grappa that bridges the gap between clear grappa and aged brandy.
    Darmagi - A classic grappa bianca from red grapes, the cabernet sauvignon from the famed Darmagi Vineyards. Meaning “a pity” in Piemontese dialect, this is what Angelo’s father called the vineyard after Angelo planted cabernet sauvignon rather than nebbiolo is this Barbaresco zone vineyard. Spicy, herbal and warming this is old style grappa refined by the art of the master distiller. Clearly my favorite of the three.

    The warm glow fine grappa brings to your stomach after eating a bit more than you probably should have is a great pleasure. It truly is a digestive. As a starting place grappa from the moscato grape is the most elegant, fragrant and easy to like of all, but eventually, with experience I think you’ll go over to the red side.


    Wednesday
    Mar032010

    SAVEUR.com's First Annual Best Food Blog Awards

    I’m very flattered to have been nominated for “Best Wine Blog” by Saveur Magazine. Check out the other nominees and vote for Wine Camp at the link below:

    Best Food Blog Awards
    Start Voting!
    The web hosts so many brilliant food bloggers—home cooks, chefs, and food lovers who daily serve up delicious recipes, great culinary finds, and their passions for cooking and eating. At SAVEUR.com, we’re fans of these folks, so we’re spotlighting our favorites with our 1st Annual Food Blog Awards. We’ve narrowed the field down to 9 categories, and we’d like you to pick the winners in each of them.

     

     

    Posted via email from Wine Camp Blog/Posterous Edition

    Thursday
    Feb252010

    Warning Label

    I like to experiment with wines so I’m always trying new things. That’s always a risk and sometimes I get burned. Burned was what I got when I ordered the Herman’s Story, On the Road, Santa Barbara Grenache 2007. I was not burned by the wine, after all a winemaker has the right to make the wine they see fit. The wine itself was well made and interesting, but it clocked in at 16.1% alcohol on the label. A little warning of such an extreme would have been nice.

    In Italy Amarone has for generations been a revered wine and it routinely sports alcohol levels of 16% and more. The problem with this Grenache was not the alcohol level, but that there was no way to know what was coming to your table unless you read the label before the cork was pulled. When you see Amarone on a wine list you know what to expect. With New World wines you have no clue. It seems to me the restaurants should make an effort to guide us a bit considering the markup they take. As with Amarone, wines like the Herman’s Story Grenache are not really table wines to compliment dinner, but “meditation wines” to be sipped with cheeses and nuts to finish a meal or while you read a book before the fireplace. When a restaurant tosses such wines into the wine list without comment they do their customers a disservice. It’s like putting a bottle of Graham’s Oporto into the wine list with the rest of the red wines - except that everyone knows Port is sweet.

    A wine at 16.1% alcohol is an extreme wine for special circumstances and the wine list should note this fact.

    The Herman’s Story, On the Road, Santa Barbara Grenache 2007 itself is an outstanding wine for the finest full flavored cheese you can find. Washed rind and blue cheeses will find a perfect counter point in this powerful, warm and richly fruity wine. The intense fruit and the high alcohol give an impression of sweetness on the palate that marries well with the the pungent saltiness of such cheeses. As there was no chance we could finish this wine with a meal, we brought the bottle home and tomorrow night a cheese course will be waiting for it. I think 24 hours of air won’t hurt a bit either.


    Sunday
    Feb212010

    Photo Camp: Cabernet Leaf

    Monday
    Feb152010

    Photo Camp: Yountville Dawn

     

    February dawn over the vineyards of Yountville and the Vaca Mountains

    Posted via email from Wine Camp Blog/Posterous Edition

    Friday
    Feb122010

    Help Lamborn Fight Childhood Cancer

    Support Lamborn Family Vineyards in their ongoing fight against childhood cancer on Facebook:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lamborn-Family-Vineyards-Winery-for-a-Day-Auction/365613615536?v=wall

    Beginning on Monday, March 1 and ending on Friday, March 5, we will have a silent auction in the “Photos” section. Click on the “Photos” tab above, click the Auction album, and enter your bid in the “Comment” section. Treat as a normal silent auction with bidding beginning at $1,000 and $100 increments.

    Thursday
    Feb042010

    Underrated/Overrated

    Jimmy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra made the phrase famous in the beautiful song, I’m Glad There is You by Paul Maderia, “In this world of over-rated pleasures, of under-rated treasures.” This phrase from a moving love song well defines the world of wine today. Big pointy overrated wines give little pleasure while underrated and often underpriced wines may lack points, but are packed with pleasure.

    A couple of such underrated treasures are:

    The 2004 Lignères, Aric, Montagne d’Alaric, a blend of carignan, mourvèdre and syrah that is sure to be on the underrated charts. This is a big and delicious wine, concentrated, exotic and satisfying. You wonder why you have to pay so much more for wines that deliver concentration - then fall over the edge into dull flabbiness. Concentrated flavors on their own are boring, but wines like this lead with power then expand, while so many of today’s wines lead with power - then collapse - just holding on long enough to get their points from critics more concerned with the front of a wine than the back.

    Then there’s wines with catchy names like the 2007 Bastide Saint Vincent, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, a blend of grenache, caladoc, carignan and syrah from Domaine Guy Daniel. Warm, earthy and completely satisfying, this is a wine you can tell inspired passion on the part of the winegrower far beyond any hope of getting big points or big bucks for his efforts. Living as I do among so many producers focused on glitter rather than substance, wines like this are an inspiration. More-and-more I find myself drinking less-and-less famous wines.

    Sadly price has become a less than reliable indicator of quality. Most expensive wines having become caricatures of good wine. Like the exaggerated portraits drawn by street artists they focus on a few characteristics and blow them out of proportion. As the caricature artist exaggerates noses, chins and ears, too many winemakers exaggerate oak, extraction and alcohol to make a wine that is a comic image of what it should and could be - something to have with dinner.