Chapoutier 2010 Occultum Lapidem

It’s been too long since I’ve posted any wine reviews. Between the self-imposed financial austerity of my grad school years, and a liquor control regime in Alberta that I am only just learning to navigate, there simply has not been much to report. Perhaps that is finally changing?

Today, I picked up some M. Chapoutier 2010 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages Latour de France. I am planning to decant a bottle tonight. Robert Parker gives it a hard-to-fathom 95-97 points! We shall see. If it comes close to that score, then this wine rates as probably the best bargain I have found in a decade.


According to the Chapoutier website, the Occultum Lapidem is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The grapes are all hand harvested and then de-stemmed. Extraction is carried out by punching the cap during maceration (lasting at least four weeks). 14% alcohol. Retails for 13,50 €. I paid CAD $25.99.

Wine Consumption Circa 1934

Fortune has re-published an article on “The Wines of the U.S.” originally written in 1934, shortly after the December 1933 repeal of prohibition.


The article reported that:

In 1918 U.S. wine consumption was 51,000,000 gallons. During prohibition it trebled. Mr. Garrett was one of the few people who realized that amazing fact — that by 1928 the annual consumption of wine had become about 160,000,000 gallons a year. During those years liquor consumption increased only 50 percent — by gallons, 60,000,000. Yet the liquor business was organized and aggressive, and the wine industry had been disrupted.

The statistics told Mr. Garrett more. In 1918 some 3,000,000 gallons of wine were imported to fill the slippers of chorus girls and the gullets of the rich. Most of the 51,000,000 gallons produced domestically was sold in bulk and drunk by the foreign-born people of the cities. Of the 159,000,000 gallons consumed in 1928 only a few thousand were imported and only 5,000,000 produced legally and domestically for refreshment while communing with the Lord.

That left 154,000,000 gallons which were made illegally in cellars and legally in homes. Since the foreign-born population has not increased since 1918, it seems logical to conclude that much of the 100,000,000-gallon increase in those years was due to new habits contracted by the rank and file of the population. In other words, prohibition has done something very startling to the taste of this nation.

What a potentially fascinating setting for exploring organizational processes. In particular, the distributed, interactive and sociomaterial organization of (il)legal practices, and the role of such practices in (re)shaping the regulatory landscape.

One potentially sympathetic jumping off point that comes to mind: Lauren B. Edelman, Christopher Uggen and Howard S. Erlanger, 1999, The Endogeneity of Legal Regulation: Grievance Procedures as Rational MythAmerican Journal of Sociology, Vol. 105, No. 2, pp. 406-454.

Buehler 2008 Napa Cab

Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonThe first time I had the Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2001 vintage, an excellent year for Napa Cabs. Wine Spectator gave the 2001 Buehler 91 points, and said it would drink until 2012. Our case is long gone, so I can neither confirm nor deny this prediction. I remember it as a solid wine — not on par with some of my favorite reasonably priced cabs like Chappellet and Whitehall Lane, but very enjoyable just the same.

Buehler is a relatively small producer — typical production is only a couple thousand cases. And so, for whatever reasons, I just haven’t come across it since. Then about a week ago I received an email that the 2008, another great California Cab vintage, was on special at WineShopper for $15.99. In August 2011, Robert Parker gave it 90 points:

A real steal and one of the greatest sleepers I have tasted from Napa (the Mecca for expensive Cabernet Sauvignons) is Buehler’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from their vineyards in Napa Valley. There are only 1,800 cases of this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, so this offering is likely to disappear quickly from the marketplace. It offers a dark ruby/purple-tinged color, abundant black currant, licorice and smoky tobacco leaf characteristics, medium to full body, a supple, velvety style and impressive purity, texture and length. Consume it over the next 10+ years.

As I recall I paid more than $16 ten years ago! So I figured I’d pick up half a case and re-acquaint myself. All I can say is wow! This is a terrific wine for the money. I should have bought a case. If you can find some, give it a try.

Shipping Wine Is Not A Crime

In 2010, America became the world’s largest consumer of wine, surpassing France for the first time. We consumed nearly 330 million cases — 200 million cases from California, 105 million cases from other countries, and the remaining 25 million from other US states.

In other words, shipping is fundamental to the enjoyment of wine. And yet, nearly 80 years after the repeal of prohibition, access to wine remains severly restricted. Under the current regulated system, consumers pay 18% to 25% more for their wine than they would otherwise.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that states lacked the authority to discriminate against out-of-state goods, including wine shipments, as doing so violated Commerce Clause. And yet, 37 states continue to restrict residents from ordering wine from online retailers and auction houses, or joining wine-of-the-month clubs.

Now, H. R. 1161 — aka the “Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2011” — “seeks to reaffirm state-based alcohol regulation.” In essence, this bill would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling, and reward the current wine oligopoly for its political contributions.

In the past decade the National Beer Wholesalers Association spent $5.6 million on lobbying and the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America spent another $9.3 million — all in an effort to keep wine from being shipped.

It is time for wine lovers to say enough is enough.

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La Posta Cocina Blend Mendoza 2008

La Posta Cocina Blend Mendoza 2008Just snagged a case of the La Posta Vineyards Cocina Blend Mendoza Argentina 2008 from the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits online store.

“‘The 2008 Cocina Blend composed of 60% Malbec, 20% Bonarda, and 20% Syrah aged for 12 months in 20% new French and American oak before bottling without fining and filtration (as are all of these red wines). Purple-colored, it has an enticing bouquet of cinnamon, Dentyne gum, cigar box, violets, black cherry, and blueberry. Medium-bodied, round and sweetly-fruited on the palate, it has plenty of savory spice notes, enough structure to evolve for 1-2 years, and a lengthy, pure finish. Drink it from 2010 to 2016.”

Price $14.99

90 points, Wine Advocate, August 2009

Latest Wine Finds

Sometime in March, the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits stores sent an email advertising “March Gladness” specials. All the specials were available for order on the internet only, but then delivered to your local retail store at no charge. Among the discounted items were two absolute bargains.

Whitehall Lane Cabernet SauvignonThe first bargain was the Whitehall Lane 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (California). Whitehall Lane is a perennially good cabernet. Normally it retails for between $35 and $45 a bottle, and so, for obvious budgetary reasons has not made too many appearance in my wine cellar since becoming a Ph.D. student. However, discounted to $19.99 a bottle, it is an absolute steal. Although 2004 was not a crowning achievement for Whitehall Lane, there is nothing disappointing about this wine. Expecting it would be worth every penny, I splurged and picked up a case — we have not been disappointed.

In some ways, my second bargain was both a bigger leap into the unknown, and yet, an even safer bet. The Rolf Binder 2004 “Hales” Shiraz Barossa Valley (Australia) normally retails in the $25 to $30 range, though you can find it discounted for $18 to $22. However, the state store was offering it for $7.99 a bottle. Robert Parker rated the wine 90 points, and described it as:

An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. It was aged for 12 months in French and American oak; 10% of the latter was new. It offers an enticing bouquet of wood-smoke, earth, bacon, and blueberry. Supple-textured, plush, and friendly, it has gobs of flavor, excellent grip and length, and enough structure to evolve for 2-3 years. Drink it through 2016. (Source: Wine Advocate, August 2008 as cited on

Rolf Binder "Hales" ShirazA Robert Parker 90 point wine for $8!?!? Despite never having tasted other vintages of Rolf Binder, I settled on 2-1/2 cases — enough in case it was good, not too much in case it wasn’t all that. Suffice to say I should have bought more like 5 cases. This is an amazingly complex and well integrated wine. It has a very lush mouth feel, a long finish, and lots of fine tannins. For $8!?!? Amazing. Also, as I know some people who are not huge fans of shiraz, it is worth mentioning that this wine feels more like a cabernet than a shiraz.


Spencer Roloson Palaterra Napa Valley California 2005

Spencer Roloson Palaterra Napa Valley California 2005

Spencer Roloson Palaterra


Recently I have really come to love the Spencer Roloson Palaterra 2005. According to the winemaker’s website, the Palaterra is a blend of of 59% Syrah, 24% Valdigue, 12% Petite Sirah, 4% Carignane modeled on wines from the Southern Rhone, Provence and the Languedoc.  The 115 year old Carignane vines and the 50 year old Valdigue vines give the wine gnarly old vine character, while the Syrah gives it plenty of fruit, texture and weight. A very original and enjoyable wine.

Altaïr Sideral Rapel Valley Chile 2003

Altaïr Sideral Rapel Valley Chile 2003
$16.99 — 88 ST | 91 WA



The Altaïr Sideral Rapel Valley Chile 2003 is a gorgeous blend comprised of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 6% Shiraz.  This wine is big all around.  The color is an intense and opaque dark red.  On the nose there are aromas of charcoal, spice and cigar tobacco.  On the palate the wine has a lush and full feeling with nice tannins and a hint of oak.  The finish is long and complex.  Overall this is a well-integrated wine that is drinking very well right now — and one that I suspect would be quite amazing if you could manage to keep it around long enough to find out.

However, that could be difficult!  Indeed, after picking up a case of this wine at the local Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits store about a month ago, we’ve already gone through the first half a case!  And we have not been disappointed.  At $16.99 this wine is on the high end of what I like to spend for everyday drinking, but given the increasing difficulty of finding wines with a Robert Parker / Wine Advocate rating of 91 points under $20 I decided it was worth the splurge.  By comparison the best price I could find on Wine Access was $23.99 at Gary’s in Madison, NJ, a well-known discount wine merchant. 

Bodegas El Nido Clio 2003

Bodegas El Nido Clio 2003
$78.99 — 92 ST | 96 WA | 90 WS

Bodegas El Nido Clio 2003

Bodegas El Nido Clio 2003

The bad news is that the wine cellar is in desperate need of a multi-case infusion of wine. The good news is that lurking in the nooks and crannies are some forgotten gems.  Specifically, last night in my quest for something interesting, I rediscovered a stash of Bodegas El Nido Clio Jumilla Spain 2003.  As best I can recall, it has been at least 2 years since I last had a bottle of this fabulous wine.

As some of you may know, the Clio is the lower priced sibling of the Nido. Although the Nido has a release price of more than $130 a bottle, at its release the Clio usually runs between $35 and $40, and is typically rated only one or two points lower. In other words you get nearly all the bang for way less buck. And this is a wine that perenially wins high marks from Robert Parker and others.  For example, Robert Parker / Wine Advocate ratings for the 2002, 2004 and 2005 vintages have been 93, 97 and 95 points respectively.

No exception to this trend, the 2003 was rated a whopping 96 points. According to my records I paid about $35 a bottle several years ago (that was before life on a Ph.D. budget). Today, I found it in stock at for $79 a bottle, and elsewhere for $99 to $119 a bottle.  It appears that “wine” may be the single best asset class I own in terms of five-year return on investment 🙂

Anyway, the wine is 70% Monastrell (61 year old vines) and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon (26 year old vines) and a huge 15.5% alcohol.  According to Robert Parker, the Clio spent 26 months in a combination of French and American oak.  The Clio 2003 has a deep, thick and intense purple color.  Aromas are of creme de cassis and licorice, along with some toasty/leathery notes. On the palate the wine was lush and opulent, very complex, and still full of fruit. This wine is a real mouthful. And the finish was easily over 30 seconds. The wine is drinking very, very well right now, and shows no signs of running out of life.

I plan on having another bottle tonight in celebration of Valentine’s Day.  Cheers!

Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2006

Kaiken Ultra Malbec Mendoza Argentina 2006
$12.99 — 91 WA | 90 WS

Kaiken Ultra Malbec


This is my third post about the Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2003.  My other posts are here and here.

For better or for worse, we drank the last bottle from our case many weeks ago.  However, over the holiday one of my relatives — and blog readers 🙂 — had several bottles on hand and was happy to share the wealth.  I can now say with great confidence, this may be the finest bottle of wine produced in the 21st century for under $13.  Truly a wonderful wine for the money.