One of the first things I did when I released my Segue Cellars’05 last November was to send a bottle to Charles Olken , whose Connoisseurs' Guide To California Wine is, as billed, the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. Olken and Associate Editor Stephen Eliot have been reviewing and rating California wines since 1974 in their monthly guide, and they are famous for taking no prisoners.
“No one does a better job of covering the California wine scene,” says Robert Parker, Jr.
Every wine is wrapped in tin foil and blind-tasted in varietal flights of eight, analyzed for aroma, taste, mouthfeel and so forth, then ranked in order of preference by the editors and selected guests. Olken and Eliot collect their notes and write concise, thoughtful descriptions for their subscribers . They never ask for free winery samples. They pride themselves, as they should, on remaining intractably objective over three decades.
Only the highest-ranked wines get scores in the 90’s, and are awared puffs. Yes, puffs. These puffs are cuddly stars, soft at the points where stars are sharp. They look like little tufted pillows—and if a wine gets two or three, it’s being especially singled out for praise. Most get none at all.
(The puffs were originally meant to be stars, by the way, but when Olken began his guide, faxing and Xeroxing equipment lacked precision, and as Olken sent out his first Connoisseur copies they migrated by distortion into puffs.)
Now, about that missing bottle of Segue. About three months after sending it along to Charles simply for his opinion—knowing I wasn’t making enough for it to be officially reviewed in print— I realized I’d never heard back from him. That was odd. Charles is gracious as well as communicative. When I phoned to ask how come, he was surprised; he told me he’d never received my bottle. By now , three months later, I’d sold out of my scant 50 cases, but I still would have valued his opinion.
It was not to be—or so I thought until we met again last week at a San Francisco tasting of West Australian wines. ( Tip: remarkably crisp Rieslings that improve with age.) Olken greeted me with a big smile.
“It’s coming out in June,” he said. “Our review of your Segue in the Pinot Noir issue.”
It took me a few moments to understand that he’d somehow discovered and dug out my missing Segue’05 bottle from his stash of several thousand wines. The bottle hadn’t been lost in transit after all. It had been recently tin-foiled, blind-tasted, rated and written up, without my knowledge, even though it wasn’t generally available.
“I was delighted to see what label was on the bottle once we peeled off the foils,” he told me. And nothing else. Charlie is a man of mystery.
“One to remember.” That’s how I’ll recall my elation at Segue’s first write-up in the Connoisseur’s Guide:
** 91 SEGUE Russian River Valley 2005
You won’t find this limited production bottling at the local wine store, but it does show up on a few wine lists and its impressive showing here makes it one to remember. It starts with distinctive red cherry fruit smells and picks up plenty of rich crème brûlée and sweet smoke notes as it airs. Its balanced, supple feel on the palate and its pleasingly round, lengthy, slightly firm finish assures a bit of improvement with cellaring. OBI$42.00