Review of the Wine Media: California Grapevine

This is the second in a series of reviews of wine publications


I’ve been reading California Grapevine for more than fifteen years. The bi-monthly newsletter rarely strays from its charge: Give California wines a good, detailed, technical review along with commentary by the best writers in the business.

California Grapevine is no nonsense and no frills. In each issue, printed in black and white on its beige pages, you will find nothing but reviews of California wines, each described in searing sensory detail. Though I’ve been a devoted reader of the Grapevine, I’ve always wished they’d put a bit more context in their reviews. Here is a representative review from the August/September 2003 issue:

“2002 J Pinot Gris
Russian River Valley, ($18)-Medium-light yellow color; attractive, floral, spicy, green apple, white peach and honeysuckle aromas that continued to develop with airing in the glass; medium to medium-full body; tight, crisp, lemony, peach and green apple flavors with an appealing, crisp, clean mouth feel; well balanced; somewhat tight and austere on the finish; lingering aftertaste. Very highly recommended. 13.7% alcohol; 5,800 cases; 100% Pinot Gris; 25% Malolactic fermentation; released March 2003 (Group Score: 16 of 20 Points, 4 of 8 first place votes/3 second/0 thirds; My Score: 17 [90 of 100 points], first place)”

No question about it. I know what this wine looks, smells and tastes like. But the review does leave me someone cold without more context. Still a great deal of information is given for each wine reviewed. Toward the end of each review you will find a variety of contextual ratings. In the above review of the J Pinot Gris you learn that the tasting group gave it 16 out of 20 points. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 20 point scale, this is a pretty good score. You also learn how many first, second and third place votes it was given. Finally, “My Score” refers to the palate of Nick Ponomareff, California Grapevine’s Editor and one of the most experienced palates in California. But as I said before, the write up leaves me a bit cold. I want to know where on the Pinot Gris style scale this wine sits. I want to know a brief history of J’s Pinot Gris production (is this there first, third, 10th vintage of Pinot Gris?).

Reviews are categorized in flights of varietals. So under this Pinot Gris you will find reviews of 9 other Pinot Gris that were tasted in this flight and their position in the final ranking.

One of the best reasons to read California Grapevine is what’s in the back of each issue. For some time Dan Berger has been writing insightful essays for the newsletter; essays in which he deconstructs myths, offers explanations of industry practices, critiques trends, and comments on emerging regions in California. The newsletter is worth the price just for Mr. Berger’s essays. Yet in addition, California Grapevine often delivers two or three book reviews written by Bob Foster.

California Grapevine is a venerable publication that deserves more exposure. I’m unaware of any website they maintain. And I rarely see the publication given out at the various wine events throughout the year.

In the end, California Grapevine is for a more experienced wine drinker; someone who understands detailed and even obscure descriptors of wines.

California Grapevine
$40 Per year for six issues
(858) 457-4818

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