Wine review: 2001 Boundary, Te Awa Farms

7.5 winehiker points*

Every once in a while, we wine lovers find that promise does not deliver what expectation anticipates. You can read all the words that are written to describe a wine; most of us want to believe them enough to reach into our wallets if we are at all tantalized by the copywriter’s scribblings. But then you taste the wine, and you wonder if maybe you’ve had a head cold for a week.

Such was my experience with the 2001 Boundary, a Bordeaux blend from Te Awa Farms in the town of Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

The 2001 Te Awa Boundary from Hawkes Bay New Zealand. The copywriters quite obviously did not taste *this* wine.

The 2001 Te Awa Boundary from Hawkes Bay New Zealand. The copywriters quite obviously did not taste this wine.

A case in point on the copywriting, from The New Zealand House of Wine:

“A delicious wine with melting tannin and complex layers of flavour. Intertwined aromas of fresh leather, dark cherry, bramble and plum on the nose. A supple, round attack opens to show layers of flavour on the palate, which reflect those of the nose. The tannins are now well integrated giving the wine depth and length.”

From Bottlenotes, from whom I purchased the wine:

“A high quality, high value New World Bordeaux blend. Smooth and lush with aromas of cedar, sweet tobacco, blackberry and a bit of spice. On the palate, the wine is quite smooth with moderate tannin, a bit of leather and dark berry fruit flavors.”

My own tasting notes:

“Medium garnet-colored Bordeaux blend, strong earthiness on nose, but with mild elusive fruit aromas and slight fragrance of wood and spice. Moderate balance aspects, with slight tartness, agreeable bitterness. Medium body, good mouthfeel, but heavily lacking in fruit flavor; very short finish.”

Hmmm…. I was not attacked by supple round plums, especially on my nose. Which New World are we talking about here? Were my defenses too solidified? I thought I should clear my throat, blow my nose, and try again. So I did, three more times over the course of the evening. Up until I tried this particular wine from Bottlenotes, I had been pretty pleased with their selections. Fortunately with Bottlenotes you can share your tasting notes with them so they can further tailor their selections to your palate. In fact they actually ask you to do so.

And I’ve been doing that. Perhaps not enough, truth be told. I guess we still have some tailoring to do.

At any rate, I tried this wine again after 45 minutes in the decanter, then again after 2 hours of opening. Still, after four hours, the 2001 Boundary tasted way way way too [insert your own invective here] earthy. You know, being a winehiker and all, I’m a big fan of earth. I like it beneath my feet. A lot, in fact.

I just don’t like it in my mouth. At least not that [invective] much of it. I think I’ll stay on this side of the Boundary for a while.

Often I find that the earthiness aspects of some wines dissipate within a short time of opening or decanting. Perhaps my problem is that I didn’t try this wine with roast lamb, roast beef, game, or grilled duck, as suggested by the well-meaning folks at Bottlenotes. Heck, Te Awa Farms even has its own restaurant, which is considered to be one of New Zealand’s top six dining establishments. Says something about the NZ palate, perchance. They must quite naturally be pairing their foods with (or is that to?) their wines.

So, I suppose I’m remiss for not suckling on a duckling for this one. Nevertheless, good food does not make bad wine better.

So sayeth I.

OK, so that’s my first stellar review of a not-so-stellar wine. There are bound to be more.

$30.00 at; priced at $22 elsewhere online. That is, if you really want to buy it after reading this post.

Disclosure: I am a member of’s Limited Addictions club; this wine arrived in their summer shipment and was purchased by me.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale using my Wine Scoring Sheet.



Are “Five Star” Wine Rating Systems Too Simple?

Before Robert Parker Jr. introduced the 100-point wine-rating system to the world back in 1978, wine tasters, if they used any scoring method at all, would generally use a simple “five star” scale to rate their wines.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

This five star (or five point) system is best understood as:

1  Poor
3  Good
4  Excellent
5  Outstanding

Naturally, it is simplicity that differentiates a five-star system from Parker’s system. After all, what budding connoisseur intrigued by wine would not choose to begin their lifetime of passion de vin with something elemental, readily grasped? And who among us can really tell the difference between an 83-point wine and an 84-point wine?

While there is much that is ludicrous about the Parker scale (e.g., a 76-point wine can be just as undrinkable as a 38-point wine), it’s much easier to understand the five-point system because we can readily identify with it – it corresponds with the letter-grade system many of us grew up with in grammar school. A simple system, yes. But very, very dull! Fortunately, other ardent wine rating personae have tackled the notion of dressing up this simple little system with rating thresholds of their own.

Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor for (and Amuse-Bouche wine blogger) expands the aforementioned scale to the following:

1.0, Undrinkable: Major flaws that make the wine too bad to drink.
2.0, Marginally drinkable: You’d drink it if stranded on a desert island, but not otherwise.
3.0, Acceptable: Wine free of any major flaws, but not otherwise worth mentioning.
3.5, Good: Decent and drinkable wine, competently made and enjoyable to the average drinker.
4.0, Very good: Highly pleasurable wine with excellent qualities, the product of top-notch winemaking.
4.5: Excellent: Wine that excels in every aspect, true to its terroir and origin and of exceptional quality.
5.0, Extraordinary: Classic wine of rare and unparalleled quality.

Bonné suggests that:

“Wines below 3.0 aren’t worthy of consideration at all, and 3.5 is a decent starting point for wine worth buying. Beyond that? It’s really a matter of personal taste and preference.”

Deceptively simple. Yet notice how the five-point scale is already stretching out to something beyond five points. In his defense, Bonné only bases his ratings on a five-point system. But whoa – he’s willing to rate incrementally by half-points. Perceptively tedious!

Erin over at Grape Juice quips that she has her parents to thank for her growing alcoholism. Her wine rating methodology goes beyond the five-star rating system, too, though I’d have to say it’s more of a five-bar raving system. Or raging system – take your pick:

Not Even On Pain of Death: I’d pretty much run screaming from this wine if I ever saw it again.
I Wouldn’t Make Faces: Not my choice, but if someone were to serve it to me at a gathering of some sort, I wouldn’t turn up my nose.
I’d Hit It: A good wine, but not necessarily mindblowing. I’d consider buying it again.
Repeat Offender: I’ll be buying this one again. A wine with a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: A sure-fire hit. Even your mother-in-law would like this one.

Hmmm, I wonder how Erin can taste wine with her tongue in her cheek like that. Come to think of it, if I had a mother-in-law, she’d probably only drink white zinfandel. At the other end of the wine-scoring spectrum, Rod Phillips at Worlds of Wine suggests a 1,000-point wine-scoring scale.

Methinks Rod jesteth overtly. But yikes!! Talk about tedious. Well then, could there be a wine tasting methodology that isn’t boorishly elemental, deceptively simple, flagrantly tedious, or mincingly ambiguous? Something that goes beyond “trite” yet doesn’t have you mired in point-shaving schemes?

You bet. It’s a moderately sane 20-point system, and it’s freely available to all. If you like wine but want to know why you like it, or if you would choose to educate yourself further about wine, then here’s a little guidance, some developmental history, and a place to download the winehiker’s scoring sheet for nearly everyone.


Wine Review: 2005 Twisted Oak Viognier

18 winehiker points*

I’ve had a bit of a commitment lately. What a pain in the neck it has been. Shoot, if it hadn’t been for a nearly two-week-long bout of pinched nerves in the cervical spine – the recurring detritus of an old diving board injury – I would have helped myself to this lovely and complex Viognier from Twisted Oak a little sooner. After all, it’s been chilling in my fridge all this time just waiting for me to pop its Twisted cork.

But I wanted to wait until I could actually tilt my head back far enough to gargle it.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California. Note the handy rubber chicken.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California.
Note the handy rubber chicken.

You may recall a recent post in which I reviewed the 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo. Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery, had sent me the Tempranillo as well as this Viognier.** I admit that I am more a fan of reds (which good native Californian isn’t?), so I had tried the Tempranillo first, and liked it. But my coexisting notion at the time was that the Viognier would be even better.

I’m glad I waited. After a number of missed days at the office, the hot showers, the ice packs, the constant stretching, and the multiple chiropractic visits, finally, a relatively relaxing day at work and a night with no commitments — other than making a date to contemplate the sound of one cork popping.

So I opened, and I poured.

I am no longer tense. I live, now, in the present. Cool, clear, and golden it is. Even chilled, the scent of this Viognier bears promise, with a characteristic floral note. As it warms over the course of a few minutes’ hand-swirling, I detect layers of apples, pears, apricots, nutmeg.

I am pretty sure I have a winner on my hands. But at this point, I haven’t yet engaged my tongue.

I sip. And I savor. My eyeballs rush involuntarily, sanguinely, up into my head.

A lingering moment on the palate yields a near-perfect blend of sweetness and acidity that I find most refreshing. With a balanced astringency and a super-silky, almost chewy mouthfeel, plus a taste of allspice and white raisins, this wine breathes, tastes, and feels like a wine that my friends (and yours) will find memorable, whether on a Summer day or a Fall evening. As for the finish, I say “hello” to only an acquaintance of acidity and tannin.

I like Viognier this way – tapered layers of sweetness, structure, and finish. And I’m not typically a white wine drinker.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown to love Viognier, and nearly all of them from the Sierra Foothills of California, in my experience, have been top-notch concoctions. It’s no less so for this fruit of the proud and merry folk at Twisted Oak up in Calaveras County. Just ask El Jefe and Fermento – they know what they’re doing.

$22.00 at Twisted Oak Winery.
Disclosure: This wine was sent to me for review courtesy of Twisted Oak Winery.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale with this wine scoring sheet.
**Jeff also sent me a rubber chicken.


When liking a wine is not enough

There’s a lot of debate out there in the Great Blogosphere about wine scores and wine-scoring systems. Some suggest that wine tasting is too subjective a practice to quantify with objective numerals. Seasoned wine tasters would have you distrust someone else’s (e.g., Robert Parker’s) seasoned palate. Yet I’ve learned that knowing that I like a wine is not enough – I want to know why I prefer one wine over another. Because other people do, too, I believe that’s where a wine scoring system can help.

I had a lot of help from my wine-tasting friends developing a 20-point scoring sheet that I use quite frequently. We’ve found that a 20-point system is definitely more manageable than a 100-point system such as Parker’s and others – I think they’re too difficult to attempt by most people who would taste wine. A 5-star system, I’ve found, is just too simple, because it doesn’t offer any real educational value.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet for individuals and groups.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet
works well for both individuals and groups.

This wine scoring sheet is broken into seven criteria with numeric values assigned to each; sample descriptive adjectives are offered within each tasting criterion (aroma, body, finish, etc.). It also is two-sided, allowing input for individual wine scores for seven wines, as well as space for tasting notes and group scoring on the second page to aggregate a group’s individual ratings. A third page includes instructions for how to use it.

Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery remarks:

“While it can argued as to whether “taste/flavor” should be 4 points and “finish” only 2, the winehiker’s system can be a big help for people who want to learn to taste more thoughtfully by breaking a rating down into more manageable chunks.”

Most of my guests are new tasters who want to learn why they like a wine (or why they don’t); many return for follow-up tastings. That’s a vote of confidence, indicating that they derive value from this scoring system.  Perhaps you will too!

————————— ♦ —————————

Have you scored any wines using this or any other 20-point wine scoring sheet?
If you have, please let me know what you think.

If you haven’t used it, this scoring sheet can be
a valuable learning tool to help you train your palate.
Try it at your next tasting!

————————— ♦ —————————


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Merlot

At last Thursday evening’s Merlot event, we tasted six bottles – five from Napa Valley, all from California. While I can’t speak for the other folks present, it was apparent to me that all six could have breathed an hour before tasting them, as all seemed quite tart 10-15 minutes out of the bottle. Nevertheless, we took our time tasting.

I expect a velvety silkiness of body when I taste Merlots, but we didn’t find it in our combined selections. Most of these Merlots were fairly young, alcoholic, from the 2003 vintage, with minimal finish. Many of us had been advised on our purchases by our respective wine merchants, but I’ll have to say that for the $14-$26 price range we spanned, none fit the price. The least expensive wine was the group favorite.

It was kind of disappointing. Would I serve any of the following wines to my friends? Sadly, no.

Paired with our Merlot were a sweet baguette, a soft camembert cheese, and a delectable buttery gouda, which fortunately enhanced the taste of the wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to rank each wine individually.

Group ranking

+3 2003 Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley, California 14.5% $16
+1 2003 Burgess Cellars, Napa Valley, California 14.1% $20
0 2001 St. Clement, Napa Valley, California 15.2% $26
-1 2003 Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley, California 14.2% $22
-1 2003 Clos La Chance Violet Crowned, San Martin, Central Coast, California 14.5% $14
-2 2002 Atalon, Napa Valley, California 13.7% $24

Winehiker’s ranking

13.5 pts 2001 St. Clement, Napa Valley, California 15.2% $26
12.5 pts 2003 Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley, California 14.5% $16
12.5 pts 2003 Clos La Chance Violet Crowned, San Martin, Central Coast, California 14.5% $14
12.5 pts 2003 Whitehall Lane, Napa Valley, California 14.2% $22
11.5 pts 2002 Atalon, Napa Valley, California 13.7% $24
11 pts 2003 Burgess Cellars, Napa Valley, California 14.1% $20

The St. Clement had garnered a Wine & Spirits ranking of 92 points. However, with its musty “bathroom sink” odors, it was off-putting for the group right away. While this wine grew on me, it took all evening, yet still did not significantly stand out from the rest to warrant purchase. The winner, based on consistency, was the Mondavi with its floral, vanilla, and tobacco notes; it did not score very high when scored individually, but it did not score any negatives in the group ranking. The Atalon was closest to offering the rich silkiness of better Merlots and would go best with chocolate; I detected leather and moderate heat in my purchase, the Whitehall Lane.


Tasting Wine Made Easy

Who's ready for easy?

Who’s ready for easy?

If you love wine but are not sure why you prefer one wine over another, you can learn to identify what your palate is telling you. The best part about learning to separate wine into its aroma, flavor, body, and other attributes is that it is very fun to do! Plus, when practiced in the intimate atmosphere of a small group, all participants can interact with each other in a manner that promotes discovery, friendship, learning, and above all, joy!

At a typical tasting event, a host may choose to announce one grape variety, such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, or Chardonnay; he or she may also decide to choose a geographic region, such as Australia’s Hunter Valley or France’s Bordeaux region. A simple objective would be to pour and taste six wines of this varietal or from that region. As you taste your wines, follow a “blind comparison” format to prevent label bias, and use a wine scoring sheet that includes space for notes; be sure to keep it for reviewing later when you plan to purchase wine.

Though there are a number of ways to approach a blind comparison tasting, I believe the best way is to involve each participant in the purchase of the wine they bring to the tasting. As such, shopping for wine can comprise online research, prior tasting knowledge, consulting with a wine merchant, or just plain old eeny-meeny-miney-moe.

The main thing is: a blind (comparison) wine tasting is for everybody who wants to learn about wine. You don’t have to know anything about wine other than the notion that you want to learn more. Before long, you’ll come to understand that the world of wine is not nearly so intimidating as it is fun!



Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Côtes Du Rhône

Six of us wine-loving folk got together last Thursday evening to taste wines from France’s fabled Côtes du Rhône region.

I’ve always enjoyed a bottle of Côtes du Rhône when I’ve had one around, but I had not explored them very deeply. In my experience, they are light and refreshing – often too light for cool evenings, but perfect for warm summer nights.

A bottle of Côtes du Rhône red is most often produced from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and even Cinsault grapes, with Grenache typically being the greatest component at 60-70% of the blend. I’m happiest when this blend is about 70/30 Grenache to Syrah, without too much Mourvédre-induced tannin. The result is typically fruity with a slight to moderate finish, possibly with a little spice on the palate; it is best when chilled lightly for warm weather tasting, and often meant to be drunk young.

We tasted our wines slightly chilled on a comfortable August evening lightly fanned by cooling and welcome breezes from the San Francisco Bay. We also enjoyed sourdough bread and slices of Emmenthaler and Morbier Au Lait Cru cheeses, as well as a divine fig chutney prepared by one of my guests, Chef Tanya, who also brought a fine truffle paté.

Of the six wines we compared, five were true Côtes Du Rhône reds, having been grown and produced in the great Rhône Valley. While none of us could boast a palate able to parcel out the proportions of Grenache, Syrah, etc., that existed in these wines, I detected tannic notes in some that suggested more than a hint of Mourvédre – something I didn’t expect to overpower the Grenache as much as it did. The result influenced the group toward two clear favorites.

A sixth wine immediately turned out to be a rosé from the Rhône Valley. Sure, one early clue was the clear bottle it was presented in – despite bottle coverings – as opposed to the green tapered shoulders of the other five bottles. While it may have been an oversight on the part of the particular attendee who brought this wine, we all thought it was exceptional, having provided good contrast to the five Côtes du Rhône reds, and a great one to savor after scoring the other five. We did our best to score this one, too; however it didn’t make sense to compare it in the group ranking. While I have never been much of a rosé fan, I found myself exclaiming over the full-bodied strawberry/cherry flavors and consummate finish in this slightly-sweet 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé from Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles (13.5%).

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. My personal ranking of each wine follows.

Group Ranking
+4 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas; 14.5%
+3 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin; 14.5%
-2 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13.5%
-2 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13%
-3 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange; 13.5%

Winehiker’s Ranking
17 pts. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin
15 pts. 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas
12.5 pts. 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange
12 pts. 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape
11 pts. 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape
17 pts. 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé, Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles

My picks were nominally consistent with the group’s. I like my Côtes du Rhônes fruity, non-tannic, and simple. Considering that my favorite, the Clos du Caillou, is rated elsewhere at 88 points on a 100-point scale – typical of the Wine Spectator scale and others, and translating to 17.5 on the Davis scale – well heck, I guess my interpretation ain’t so far off. I tried each of these wines the following day, too, right out of the icebox without benefit of warming to room temperature, and I still ranked them the same.


Free wine scoring sheet

In my wine tasting rounds, I’ve often used wine-scoring sheets that were supplied by the proprietor of a tasting room or something a friend found on the Internet. I had often scoured the Internet searching for a tasting sheet that delivered a fairly comprehensive approach to scoring wine – something that displayed more than just six circles and a dozen straight lines. I often came up empty-handed.

So back in 2005, I decided to develop my own wine scoring sheet. And then I tested and tweaked it with the help of a group of friends that I regularly taste wine with. Since I loaded it onto this blog*, hardly a day goes by that someone else isn’t searching for a wine scoring sheet and finds mine.

Based on the Davis 20-point scale, this Wine Scoring Sheet is meant to be used primarily for comparative blind tastings. It will serve both individuals and groups with its two-page approach. The first page is designed so that each individual in a group can score up to 7 wines. The second page allows a 12-person group to rank all wines based on the results that are tallied on the first page. There’s even room for adding your own notes.

Using the Wine Scoring Sheet, a typical blind tasting follows these 7 tasting criteria:

  • Appearance
  • Aroma
  • Balance
  • Body/Texture
  • Taste/Flavor
  • Finish
  • Overall Quality

The Wine Scoring Sheet also includes a third page that lists a simple set of instructions for its use.

So if searching around the ’net for a simple-to-use wine scoring sheet has left a bad taste in your mouth, consider trying the winehiker’s free Wine Scoring Sheet. If you like using it, please add your comments to this post – I’d love to read them.


Related Posts:
When liking a wine is not enough
Tasting Wine Made Easy

*As of February 2009, you can also find my wine scoring sheet on DocStoc.