Flavor is Always First with Karen MacNeil (Part One)

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed none other than Karen MacNeil, perhaps the preeminent wine writer in the U.S. It has taken me this long to publish anything about that encounter since, well, it was Karen MacNeil! What should/could/would I say that a). had not already been said and b). would do this incredible person justice?

Yeah. No pressure.

Before the interview, I spent weeks researching her and the two projects we were going to discuss: her new line of stemware (Karen MacNeil’s Flavor First™) and the third edition of her widely popular book, The Wine Bible. I felt prepared, but, of course I wasn’t prepared enough as is evident by some of the clips below. Karen, of course, was as gracious as one could be and never let on that she thought I was a blathering idiot (disclaimer: I do not know if she actually thought/thinks that, but she has every right to after our roughly 75 minutes together).

In this first clip, I nervously try to introduce Karen, which could have taken the entire hour, and then she explains her thought process behind introducing new wine glasses to an industry that is already awash with stems:

We then sat down to taste a few different wines in her new stemware, Flavor First™. We did not have the same wines, however, but they were indeed similar. Here is what we tasted:

Karen MacNeil’s Flavor First™ Wine Glasses from Oneida.

While I do not have tasting notes for the wines that Karen tried, here are the notes for those wines that I poured during our chat:

NV Mailly Champagne Grand Cru Brut Réserve, France: Retail $42. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. It is easily our “house” champagne, a favorite of both mine and my wife’s. So much so that we named our dog “Mailly” (to be precise, since she has a decided amber/liver color, we named her “Mailly Grand Cru Rosé”). Mailly Grand Cru is one of the few cooperatives left in France, let alone Champagne, which produces roughly a million bottles a year. Always rock-solid in quality, this is simply fantastic: slight golden color with citrus, pear, and freshly baked croissant. Really close to a Whoa. The palate is fruity—perhaps as rich in fruit as any NV Brut I can remember with near perfect acidity, the yeasty goodness that separates champagne from most other sparklers, and a delicate yet vibrant bubble. Excellent. 92 Points.

2018 Locanda Wines Chardonnay Beckstoffer Carneros Lake Vineyard, Carneros, CA: Retail $60. B.A.B. Honestly, I do not buy a lot of $60 Chard anymore. There was a time while I was leading bike tours in France, that I would buy some white Burgundies for quite a bit less than that, but those days are done as the prices for even “average” bottles from the region have skyrocketed. And my desire to buy white Burgundy for over fifty bucks is as dead as Mozart. Most of the Chardonnay I purchase these days are from California and they usually fall in $30-$40 range. Well, I might have to up that just a bit after tasting this wine. On first sniff? Whoa. Lemon curd, white flower, a bit of hazelnut. Lovely, and a whoa. The palate is rich, big even, with ripe fruit, salinity, oak, and minerality. Yes, the cost of this is on par with many white Burgundies but no, this is not one of those. This is a rich, ebullient Chard that deserves attention on its own merits. Wonderful. Outstanding. 93 Points.

2016 Blackbird Vineyards Paramour, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $135. 82% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. B.A.B. I do not get a ton of samples with retail prices north of a hundred bucks, but giddy-up! Fairly dark in the glass with blackberry, black pepper, and just a hint of green pepper (which I love). The palate is, surprisingly, even more inviting: rich red berry fruit, more than tantalizing acidity, and several layers that evolve well beyond the first sip. Peppery, fruity, but also reserved. Yowza. Decidedly angular instead of muscular, this gets a Whoa. Delicious but worth the tariff? That’s a tough one for me since, well, I am a fairly cheap son of a biscuit maker. Outstanding. 94 Points.

While we chatted about a number of subjects, we touched on quite a few having to deal with the decisions she made while designing these glasses. One such thought was about champagne flutes. While there are many (including my in-laws) who still enjoy drinking sparkling wines from a tall thin flute, I have been consuming the vast majority of my bubbles from a standard wine glass since I think it enhances the aromas and flavors. Karen did not include a flute in her new Flavor First™ collection and I asked her about it.

After pouring and tasting our respective champagnes, Karen shared a bit of her philosophy when it comes to the world’s most famous sparkling wine region. Clearly, she would be welcome in our home anytime:

I will be back next week with much more from my conversation with Karen MacNeil.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Champagne, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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