Friday, January 29, 2016

Five Things The DTC Numbers Tell Us

If you're a data junky, you're going to love this.  And if you want a glimpse into the future of retail wine shopping, you'll enjoy it, too.  Because numbers tell a story - and this is some story.

A $20 wine bought at retail was probably sold by the winery to a wholesaler for less than $10.  So, if the winery can bypass the three tier supply chain and keep that extra $10, well, hell yeah - they want as much of that action as possible.  In industry parlance, that's known as the direct to consumer (D2C) channel.

The annual Direct To Consumer report was just published and, as in years past, it makes for interesting reading.  Produced by Wines and Vines and ShipCompliant, the report is a comprehensive breakdown of wine that gets shipped from wineries' warehouses to consumers' doorsteps.  This can be intriguing stuff if you look at trends (again, data heads rejoice), but what's most relevant is what implications can be inferred from the data.

Some of the highlights from the report:
  • A total of 4.29 million cases of wine worth $1.97 billion was shipped in 2015
  • Since 2010 sales have grown by 66%
  • The average price per bottle was over $38
  • 74% of these sales come from wineries producing more than 5,000 cases per year 
Wow.  Those are some stats.  And if you scratch beneath the surface and dig into the data a bit, some inferences can be made.  Here are just five:
  1. First, these stats are for the D2C market only.  My brother-in-law's yearly order from Vincent Arroyo in Calistoga is included in these numbers.  But D2C does not include sales of wine via online retailers (, Garagiste, B-21, Empire Wine, etc.) speculated to be significantly greater.  
  2. Much of the growth in the market is coming from the lower price segment   This could be a function of low oil prices making shipping a lower portion of total cost, or it could be that there are new, less spendy shoppers coming into the channel.  This second possibility poses real downstream impact.  Younger people buying more inexpensive wine online.
  3. I'm not sure how big or popular a winery has to be before being widely distributed, but some (probably large) proportion of the wineries accounting for the D2C numbers are shipping to both consumers and wholesalers in the same states.  Put differently, wineries are competing with their distribution partners.  Hmmm.  Things could get awkward in the supply chain if the wholesalers figure out who, how much, and where.
  4. All this growth has coincided with a period when household income in the US has been stagnant.  What would/will the growth look like when wages are growing? 
  5. Finally, virtually all of these sales are coming at the expense of local retailers.  Is that a bad thing?  It sure is if you're a retailer.  But as a consumer, should you care?  Well, project this growth a little further and we edge ever closer to the extinction of the independent retail shop.
What can we expect to see in 2016 and beyond?  More growth as barriers to D2C shipping continue to fall, as consumers grow increasingly frustrated with the antiquated retail shopping experience, and as wineries invest more into direct to consumer marketing. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Predictions For Wine in 2016 And A Look Back

In preparing to list predictions for the year ahead, this lazy man's approach is to recycle last year's predictions.  Anything that didn't come to pass gets tagged as a prediction ahead of it's time, and anything that did, well, that's a win.

All kidding aside, looking back before looking forward is a helpful exercise in seeing a broader continuum of trend. So, as 2016 gets underway, last year's predictions get the dust off.  Below are updates on those, as well as some new ideas for what lies ahead.  Because this blog attempts to provide actionable advice on buying, you'll notice that many of the commentary herein centers around pricing and values.  Enjoy.
  1. Purchasing 2012s from California is about 50% less risky than buying 2011s was.  I think we saw ample evidence of this.  Further, I predict that, at $20 and below, purchasing 2013s and 14s is about 50% riskier than last 2012s.  Not only are we in the midst of a lamentable tectonic vintage/stylistic shift, but $20 won't buy you what it did last year.  For the remainder of this decade, 2012 will be seen as the last good year for wine in California,
  2. Good things from the Rhone Valley.  This was definitely true.  I just wish I had taken more advantage of it because recent vintages haven't been as good as 2010-12 and pricing on Cotes du Rhones have bravely tested the $20 threshold.  Fail. 
  3. Ditto for Bordeaux.  2009-10 were vintages that offered fantastic quality and value almost regardless of price.  2011-12 looks a lot less exciting and 2013 positively mediocre.  The strength of the dollar will continue to wreak havoc on French exports, which are already suffering from a tremendous slump in the last ten years.  I suspect these will translate to some humility in pricing, but, like California, we'll be looking back longingly on 2010 for a longtime.
  4. Italy emerged as a gem for reasonably priced wines from lesser celebrated corners of the country.  Hell yes it did.  I'll double down on this for the year ahead.
  5. Rioja suffers from oak bludgeoning, making them largely undrinkable.  Despite keeping an open mind, Spanish samples received in 2015 echo this.  Such a shame.  Almost without exception, I have abandoned Spain as a source for red wine.
  6. Napa continues to live in la-la land.  No change there, but some of the most memorable (and, yes, expensive) reds consumed in 2015 were from Napa. That exception, however, is not enough to coax me off the sidelines into the upper echelons of pricing.  I continue to look at the Napa Valley wine industry as a house of cards.
  7. Pricing from regions gaining on Napa's notoriety are also getting braver.  Last year I expected this to continue to as some regions improved quality while maintaining more modest pricing.  This year my expectations are low.  Pricing in California is up almost across the board as quality is on the decline.  What is happening with all the higher quality grapes, I do not know.
  8. Portugal.  Most famous for Port, the sales of which are in decline, Portugal produces what could be the planet's best QPR wines.  This is most exemplified by its brilliant whites.  While I had hoped 2015 would be a breakthrough year for Portuguese wines in the US, the majority of the stuff arriving on shelves in the US is red and rough.  What's up Portugal?
  9. DTC (direct to consumer, or purchasing direct from wineries) double digit growth will continue to climb as buying behavior (and product availability) changes.  This was definitely true: 2015 saw 15.5% growth, and 2016 numbers are projected to hit $2 billion.  Wineries are investing in this highly profitable channel while the three tier system sits idle, either in denial or ignorance.  It's going to take some time, but in an era where you can have a refill of your laundry detergent delivered by tapping a button on the carton, the foundation of consumer buying behavior is likely to up-end the entire model.  But we're still some years away from that.
  10. 2015 will continue to see explosive growth in the craft beer market at the expense of the premium wine market.  I don't have solid numbers for this, but know it to be true. What'll be interesting to see is whether we've reached a saturation point in craft beer - not that it matters.  Even at its current presence, craft beer represents an ongoing threat to premium wine.  This piece from a year ago explains why.  See also #11.
  11. Marijuana.  Like craft beer, it'll be very interesting to see if/how this impacts the wine market.  Interestingly, an industry contact recently told me that beer sales are up and wine sales are flat in Colorado since legalization.  Let me know if you figure that out.  Having traveled to the Rocky Mountain state in 2015, my prediction for 2016 is that legalized marijuana will expand its footprint and (beyond 2016) represent a competitive alternative to alcohol in general.  More on this in an upcoming piece.
  12. Big retail.  If you want to make any money in the business of selling wine, you either have to have a carefully procured product lineup stocked with winners (which is akin to owning a crystal ball) or a move a ton of volume through a large (and expensive) inventory.  We will continue to see rolling up of retail segments by large players, making it more difficult for the small independent shops to compete.  So far, however, consistently delivering service of any quality remains elusive to larger players.  Will consumers care?  Probably not.  Expect very few independents to open, some to close, and mid-sized players to get acquired. 
So, to summarize:
  • 2016 will be a year absent of reliable guidance for buying wine.  It will also be a year for oddball exceptions - different grapes and unheralded regions will be better values and drinking experiences than the old guard.
  • France, Spain, and California bad. Italy good. 
  • If you see any of the following, snap it up: Rhone and Bordeaux from 2010, Northern California and Washington from 2012, mid-pried Portuguese whites.
  • Online wine shopping will continue to grow as the traditional retail model watches the world change around it.
Do you have any other predictions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Recycle Bin, Week Of Feb 1

Boom! Values represent! This week we have a handful of reds that overdeliver and undercharge. Enjoy people!

2013 Columbia Crest Merlot Columbia Valley $9
Chocolate never tasted so good in wine. Full-bodied, easy drinking friend ready to accompany any bold fare. Simple, but beoadly appealing, well-made, and a sizzling bargain. Bravo to this company that continues to turn out value after value. 

2014 Castle Rock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley $13
It's highly unusual to see a Pinot Noir priced at this low anymore. Even more unusual that it's drinkable, which this is- and then some. Blissfully lacking what has become the typical syrupy nonsense of most entry-level Pinot Noir today, this actually has a bit of structure, restraint, and layered nuance including some smoke and dried citrus rind. Why would I spend more than $20 on a gloppy California alternative when this is so pleasant and inexpensive?

2012 Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvée $9
Even more impressive is the bargain of the year California cuvée. Medium bodied with similar extraction, this wine is simply a joy to drink thanks in no small part two its diminutive price tag. Warm, round cherry fruit is framed by some pleasant acidity and finishes long and creamy. Think California character without the gloppy syrup that is so typical today. When thinking of this in the context of most pinot noir out there )at more than $20), it is mind blowing.  Case buy. At least. 

2013 Ventisquero Grey Carmenere Trinidad Vineyard Maipo Valley Chile $20
Pretty and poised, thanks to its cleanliness. Everything is in its place with this one; no frayed edges or loose ends. And it has enough gentle acidity and tannic energy to complement a meal. It stops try of being green or vegetal, and you have to like it for that.

2013 Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Trinidad Vineyard Maipo Valley Chile $20
A lot of elegance for the money. Expressively perfumed with strong notes of dark tar laid over fresh Mediterranean herbs and dried brush. Terrifically friendly and appealing on the pallet with well-defined and tasty midweight fruit. The clean body rounds out with some pretty vegetal secondary notes and delicate acidity. A well integrated wine that's easy to like.  Even better with savory foods. 

Wine Of The Week: 2010 Monte Antico Rosso

Because the beginning of the year coincides with a string of commentary articles rather than reviews, and knowing some readers get antsy and crave solid recommendations for what to drink while soothing the post-holiday blues, I offer this:

2010 Monte Antico Rosso Toscana IGT $11
This sangiovese-dominated blend has for years been a Tuscan workhorse.  At five years old, the 2010 continues to pack a punch far beyond what its price would indicate. Somehow there is still plenty of this out in the market, which I would encourage you to seek out and stockpile. This pleasing red is attractive primarily for three qualities: First, and most importantly, it retains an Italian character replete with firm acidity (owing to the sangiovese) that is both charming and food-friendly. Second, despite being a wine to enjoy with the good meal, it is also versatile enough to enjoy simply with conversation thanks to cabernet and merlot to round out its edges. Finally, its price and availability make it accessible to just about everyone.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016: State Of Affairs In Wine

Happy New Year!

As it is every January, replacing last year's calendar anew is a time of both reflection and contemplation of what lies ahead.  This year, articulating vision and arriving at conclusions have been more elusive than ever.  Perhaps it's mid-life, or maybe it's the volatility of the world around us - micro and macro.

Relating to wine writing, I'm overdue on a number of items: Best Wines of the Year, Year in Review, Predictions For 2016, and, of course, the (now too late to even bother with) Gift Giving Ideas.  Some of these will come easily, but those requiring a sense of calm in perspective, well, those will demand some laboring.  You see, there's been a bit of a cloud hanging over my wine musings for some months now - and it's like quicksand.  The more I wrestle, the more I wrestle. And while I hesitate to greet the new year with anything other than optimism, there are some actionable takeaways for the thoughtful wine consumer.  Here it is:

Wine isn't getting any better.  It's getting worse.

Can I be more specific?  Sure.  Domestically produced wines (both red and white), but particularly red in the $12-25 price range, have continued a stylistic about-face (or death spiral) that began with the 2013 vintage and continue to reveal up the price line as more expensive wines are released.  This not-so-subtle shift can be broadly characterized by overextraction, high alcohol and residual sugar, simplicity, viscosity, overmanipulation, strong caramel and vanilla influences, muted and clumsy acidity, gloppy fruit, and an overall dumbing down of character and complexity.  While prices have continued to rise, quality - at least as measured by the aforementioned characteristics - has dropped like a fart in church.

Winemakers will tell you that they are simply channeling what Mother Nature is delivering.  By that they mean that the planet is warming, which makes for grapes that have very high sugars before they reach full phenolic ripeness.  That makes sense and there's ample proof of it.  But the majority of wines available to the average consumer appears to be designed by focus groups more than winemakers, so the average winemaker is shouting into the storm. In contrast, trend trackers will tell you the reason for this change in flavor profiles is merely an industry catering to consumers' evolving tastes.  In other words, our collective craving is tilting strongly towards candy syrup.  By my casual observations, both of these are likely contributing factors, not that understanding the pathology of it makes it any easier to digest.  Bottom line is that, thanks to the diverging trajectories of quality and cost, buying wine made in the USA is riskier than it has been since the modernization of the domestic industry.

But there's good news amid this bleakness.
Euro v Dollar 2006-16

Outside the US, wine styles seem to be maintaining long-held traditions, despite the fact that global warming does not discriminate.  Though there are some exceptions - new wines made in the "international style" - wines that have been produced for decades continue to hold true to their heritage.  More specifically, Italy and France keep cranking out food-friendly wines of substantial character and value - as they have for centuries.  And the impact of the strong dollar is a sweet bonus.  Thanks to long-term import financing, currency fluctuations take a long time to work their way through the system, but the euro's current decline began in April of 2014.  At a minimum, this means that US consumers are at least somewhat protected from price increases on European wines - as compared to 20%+ increases on domestic products.  Chianti, anyone?

So, if you're smart and you like good quality wines at a reasonable price, I expect to find you in the Old World aisles in 2016.  Cheers and happy drinking.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Recycle Bin, Week of Dec 14

It's been a while since we've taken the recycling out, so there's a decent batch of goodies this week (as well as one or two to steer clear of.)  If you're stocking up for holiday gatherings (or just looking to sooth those holiday shopping blues), the Sterling and Alamos chardonnays will treat you right.  And if you're looking for stocking stuffers, the pinot from Emeritus is a showstopper. There's also a handful of wines from the Sudtirol region in northern Italy (bordering Austria and Switzerland.) You'll be hard-pressed to find a region that offers such a diverse and eclectic collection of wines.
If you're in search of good QPR, you almost can't go wrong here - the schiava (aka vernatsch) is an amazing wine for not a lot of money.  Finally, some Portugues wines and a couple of reds from Bonny Doon round things out.  Enjoy and happy holidays!  (All bottle photos are at the bottom, after the jump.)

2014 Sterling Chardonnay Central Coast $10
I'll be honest: my expectations for this wine were low considering the marked decline in the quality of entry level West Coast chardonnays since the 2012 vintage. (My tasting notes for the 2013 vitnage of this wine read, "Dull, flabby, and with a rough edge on the flat finish.  Boo.") Thankfully, my expectations were wrong. This is text book tropicalia California chardonnay with round, plump body and enough structure to hold it together. A pleasant surprise and a wine that I will reach for to get us through weeknights this winter.

2012 Alamos Chardonnay Mendoza $8 
Not too many think of Argentina when they're reaching for a value priced Chardonnay, but this wine is reason enough to change that. Stylistically competing head to head with stereotypical California Chardonnay, this bargain of an example gives the West Coast a run for it's money. Creamy with a caramel edge and plenty of full-bodied fruit, what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in accessibility.

2013 Emeritus Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast "Pinot Hill" $55
An outstanding experience from what has quickly become a perennial favorite.  Supremely elegant in a Burgundian manner. Contrary to the borderline viscous mouthfeel many Sonoma Coast pinots have, this refined ruby-colored is in full command of poise and balance while also managing to straddle the fence between its lighter weight and full-throttle delivery of kaleidoscope flavors. But what is perhaps the most entrancing component of this wine is its exciting, feminine acidity; draped across the fruit like expensive lingerie on flawless skin.  Expect to shell out north of $85 for an equivalent experience from France. Santa, can you hear me?
2014 Schreckbichl - Colterenzio Pinot Grigio Alto Adige $14
Pinot Gris from Alto Adige is such a different beast from the other 99% of wine made from the same grape. Supple texture frames the platform for a flavorful and subtly creamy palate. Citrus high notes sit in the background so the acidity can shine without being aggressive. A lovely, uncomplicated wine. 

2014 Cantina Terlan Pinot Grigio Alto Adige $24
Bracing acidity accompanies the fleet-footed flavors of this easy lunchtime quaf from its attack through the finish. Simple in the most endearing of ways.

2013 St Michael-Eppan Lagrein Alto Adige $15
Fans of high-caliber Cotes du Rhone Villages will love this wine. Its medium weight, savory fruit sits atop an earthy soul, and its flavors are delivered in such a relaxed, casual manner as to put you into the same frame of mind. As we enter the winter months and the season of cuisine that accompanies them, this is an easy one to reach for.

2014 Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Alto Adige $18
It was through the promotion of Sudtirolean wines that I first made the acquaintance of this grape. I was quickly smitten.  Gentle and low in alcohol, this refreshing red is oozing with honesty first exhibited by its pretty, enticing nose. While light in density, it's packed with beautiful floral and cheery cherry flavors. The fastest (and least expensive) way to teleport yourself to lunch at a causal trattoria in northern Italy. Still very smitten. Terrific bargain.

2014 Monte Velho White Alentejo $10
Three grapes you've never heard of singing a three part honeysuckles harmony you'll want to hear again. Easy to reach for, especially at the price.  Too bad it's too cold to enjoy on the porch!

2014 Esporao Quatro Castas Alentejo 17
Quintessentially Portuguese: strong, earthy, and with clearly defined minerals framing the brooding blackstrap fruit. This beast needs a fire grilled steak to bite into. 

2013 Posseur Syrah  $26
Borrowing heavily from (or is it merely charting its own course?) the Rhône Valley and evoking strong sentiments of Crozes Hermitages and Cornas, this is a wine of clean, well-defined lines, consonant voice, and simple purity. Though medium red in the glass, it is pure black in the mouth; the cool, black olive fruit sits in reserve in balance with savory overtones wrapped around the lean body in a loose coil. This is an honest wine, an enjoyable wine, and though not one meant for mixed company, will certainly crank the dial all the way to 11 for the right audience.

2011 Le Cigare Volante Reserve Red $60
Bonny Doon's closures.
Closed and lean on the nose, persisting through the palate. Pretty high-toned floral notes accompany the pronounced acidity all the way along the mile-long finish. Still a baby in need of further evolution.  Several hours decanted certainly benefit the texture and bass level flavor frequencies. But with food, well, it just shines. Brightly. Very well made, if still awaiting its peak.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hourglass: Santa Claus, Please?

2013 is the third vintage I've sampled from this Napa Valley winery. This year is a particular pleasure because it marks a departure both stylistically and substantively from the previous two vintages - decidedly for the better. - and not just a little.

There has been a trend of late in Napa Valley to reign wines in in an effort to tone down the alcohol, density, and power - of cabernet in particular. As with any trend, taken too far, this can result in too much, too far, too quickly. Whereas the norm in Napa a decade ago was powerhouse sledgehammers, too many wines treated with this approach have been thin, insipid, and overpriced. 

But in 2013, Hourglass seems to have tuned the knobs to just the right levels of calibration. Details on each of these three wines follows, but as a general statement, I am surprised and very pleased at the accessibility and elegance of each of them.  It has been a long time since I've been so seduced by a wine from Napa as I have by each of these.

In case Santa Claus is reading, I've been a very good boy this year and any/all of these would make terrific stocking stuffers!

Bravo to winemaker Tony Biagi and the team. 

2013 HG III Red Blend Napa Valley $50
Boy, there's just a lot of comfort and refinement in this glass. At once both finely tailored and as familiar as a favorite old sweater, this blend stops (barely) short of opulence while hinting at its potential to evolve with a few years in the cellar. Tuxedo or jeans, diamonds or rhinestones, this versatile red is the bomb. Boom!

2013 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Napa Valley $165
This is what put Napa on the world map. Confident grace and a purposeful strut carry the almost black, inky weight easily. Tannins are vigorous, but powder-fine. Magnificent.

2013 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Napa Valley $125
Take the estate cab (above), wrap it in Versace, sprinkle Harry Winston on it, deliver it by Gulfstream, and you've got this wine. With less to prove, subtleties have the space to emerge in mesmerizing layers: delicate green herbs, dried black fruit, and gentle hints of dusty winter spice. Outstanding. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tempting Tempranillo...From Where?

Grapes are grown to make wine all over the world. Some grapes are grown pretty much everywhere: cabernet franc, syrah, grenache... the list goes on. Other varieties are synonymous with the place in which they are grown: sangiovese in Tuscany, tourriga in Portugal, etc.  But this latter category are also grown (in much less volume) in other pockets scattered about the globe. These sprinklings of grapes in adoptive vineyards far from their motherlands often represent passion projects for the winemakers and, occasionally, success stories.

Such is the case for tempranillo in the United States. A band of growers 100 strong loosely coalesced under the banner Tapas (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers, and Amigos Society) is gaining recognition for bottling this grape far, far from the Iberian Peninsula.  And deservedly so.  Just as is the case in Spain, the following bottles vary in style and form quite a bit.  From the brilliant focus of the Bokisch from Lodi to the gushing generosity of the Six Sigma in Lake county, these are wines worth taking an adventure with.

2012 Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo Lake County $48
Though this has little in common with any tempranillo I've had before, it does present an enjoyable drinking experience. Rich, lush, and overflowing with gravelly tannins, it's a broadly appealing red that goes deep and comes up cheering. 

2010 Fenestra Tempranillo Lodi $22
OK. Here we have much more similarities to the Tempranillo we know and love from northern Spain. Lively and spicy aromatics come out of the class and give way to an energetic mouthful of somewhat disjointed flavor components. Medium bodied and with full throttle high toned spices, it has all the right ingredients to make for a thrilling drink.   Perhaps this just needs a little time to settle down and pull it's disparate parts together. On day two it all comes together in a still high-strung (suffering a bit under the weight of oak), but cohesive package of falsetto elegance. 

2012 Bokisch Tempranillo Lodi $23
From the winemaker that brought an astonishing albariño to life a couple of years ago comes another Iberian wonder. Refined (thanks in no small part to being unencumbered by overmanipulation), this reserved and elegant tempranillo is a real pleasure. Medium bodied and with plenty of mouth-coating acidity, the balance and brilliance of this wine is confounding for one reason only: that it is from Lodi. Bravo y salud!

2012 Irwin Family Piedra Roja Sierra Foothills $36
A terrific reminder of how undervalued wine from Gold Rush country are. Reminiscent of Munari's fantastic reds, this tempranillo's formidable weight is solidly framed by prominent (but in-check) oak, lithe tannins, and gentle suggestions of eucalyptus and vanilla. Expensive tasting and poised.  

2012 Spicewood Vineyards Texas Hill Country Estate $24
Plenty of clean, sharp edges in this bright, bright red. Overflowing with spicy aromatics on the nose followed by fast moving, if a little jumpy, midweight body. Still quite closed and with a modest green outline, I'd look forward to meeting this morning again in another few years. Bravo to the winemakers as this one does not require an asterisk to denote that it is from the state other than California.

2012 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi $25
Dark and deep, with brambly tannins over jumpy, Zin-like fruit. Heat carries into the finish from the mid palate. Cedar dust dominates throughout. Day two brings much-needed relief as the heat blows off and a more textured fruit emerges. Still very much a Zinfandel like beverage.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Walk Down Memory Lane: Mount Veeder Cabernet Retrospective

When someone writes about wine that is either very old or very expensive - or both - as a reader it feels like the writer is just engaging in oneupmanship. What's the point of flaunting it if readers have no chance of ever experiencing it?

At the risk of doing essentially the same here now, there is a broader take away: though there are certainly risks, there are also incredible rewards for those patient enough to cellar wines for the long term. The two pictured here, eight and eighteen years of age, exemplify the rewards. Having sat in the cellar for many, many years, the corkscrew went in with no small amount of apprehension. Altogether too often the prospect of opening an older wine ends in disappointment. The bitter truth is that very few wines are built for the long-haul, not to mention that storage conditions have a compounding effect the longer the term. But this time I got lucky.

Why should this matter to you? Because it proves that these rewards still exist. And if you've got the patience and a little luck, you would be well served to find a handful or two of bottles to stash for consumption a decade or two from now. 

So, how good were these wines?  Spectacular. Opened unceremoniously to enjoy over dinner on a ho-hum Saturday a few weeks ago, the bottles quickly made an otherwise ordinary evening a memorable occasion. The crowd favorite was the 2007, which still appears to have had plenty of life left in it. But the 1997 was my jam jar: supple, layered, and harmonious. Hard to believe it was 18 years old.  There are enough similarities between these wines to identify them as
siblings from the same family, as well as contrasts that raise fun questions about the impact of age and the differences in weather, winemaking, and viticulture.  All fun explorations for the wine geek in each of us.

Drinking wines of this age is like listening to a good story. It's hard not to look at the vintage imprinted on the label and think of all of the life that has been lived in the intervening years, the things that have changed, and the things that remain the same. While nostalgic and romantic, the experience also induces gratitude and excitement for the possibility the future holds. There aren't too many acts as simple as drinking a beverage that conjure such a wellspring of emotion and deep thinking.

The best news of all is that, thanks to the democratization of peer-to-peer auctions/trade, aged bottles are available to those willing to pay the (often quite reasonable) price and take the risk.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. Here's to a safe, relaxing, and peaceful day. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Broadside - Current Releases

Broadside Wines has been making a bit of a splash in the wine media of late.  Harvesting at lower sugars with native yeasts and minimal oak, their wines aim for finesse and balance, aspiring to do justice to a good meal.

How classically French.

But here's the thing: they're in California.  In fact, they're based in Paso Robles - a region that has lamentably become synonymous with bombshell reds, lofty sugar levels, and boom-boom alcohol.

With this buck-the-establishment approach, proprietors Stephy and Brian Terrizzi have found a foothold in the growing West Coast movement towards restraint and purity.  Though their Paso Robles cabernet has been enjoying critical attention of late, the lineup of samples reviewed here showcase two other wines worthy of your search: the Wild Ferment chardonnay from Edna and the merlot sourced from the Margarita Vineyard.  Best look for them soon.  Because the applause is only likely to get louder.

Before we get into the particulars about each of the wines, a brief, but noteworthy comment about the pricing of these wines.  It has been a long, long time since a batch of samples has come into the Winethropology HQ with a ceiling of $25.  Reflecting on the overall quality of this batch, it's reassuring that wines of this caliber are still available below the stratosphere of pricing (especially from California).  Napa, you should be ashamed.

2014 Chardonnay Central Coast $20
Sourced from the Edna Valley close to San Luis Obispo, the seamless texture of this chard supports creamy, freshman-weight fruit. A gulper if there ever was one, but not without a worthy tangent or two down the long, easy finish.  Very enjoyable at room temp - a strong indicator of benchmark quality, particularly at this price.

2013 Merlot Paso Robles Margarita Vineyard $22
Endearing for its freshness and bright honesty. Luminous fruit and lilting herbal aromatics framed by direct, but delicate acidity. Strongly evokes Provence. Deftly hiding its 14.4% ABV. Succulent and fantabulous.   

2013 Cabernet Paso Robles $18
Extracted and monolithic, with candied bing cherry syrup. On day two it unwinds and reveals secondary nuance of pretty floral spice.

2013 Cabernet Paso Robles Margarita Vineyard $25
A bright, lean, athletic structure dominates the attack, with secondary service to the poised cabernet elegance. Clearly in repose awaiting its comeuppance in a few years. In the meantime, expect superfine tannins wrapped over the lithe body.  Lip-smacking.  Would love to revisit in another decade.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cepa 21/Emilio Moro

From the venerable Bodegas Emilio Moro in Ribera del Duero comes a new(ish) brand, Cepa 21.  Focusing on delivering younger, more accessible, and modern wines, this project is head up by the new generation of Moro brothers, José and Javier.  Thrown into the sample pack was Malleolus, a 100% tinto fino bottling from older vines - a monster of a wine.

If Cepa 21's goal is to win over more adventuresome drinkers at a value price point, they've got a good chance with their entry level Hito bottling, which I recommend.

2014 Cepa 21 'Hito' Ribera del Duero $15
Deep, dark, and round, this extracted Tempranillo manages to pack solid density while maintaining balance. Rewarding for its black fruit character mounted on a dignified structure, and framed by pretty anise, it's acidity helps keep its heft in check. A very, very good showing at this price point.

2011 Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero $24
Two things jump out of the glass at the first pour: boisterous fruit aromatics and strong oak presence. An hour decanted helps the latter dissipate, replaced by chewy, dusty tannins that complement the black fruit well. There's a lot happening in this busy wine, most of it good, but it needs a little time to sort itself out. Still very young indeed. No doubt this one has a long life ahead. 

2011 Emilio Moro 'Malleolus' Ribera del Duero $44
Massive. Inky in the glass, leaping with potent, high-frequency aromatics. Despite its density, the texture is supple - this wine's only modest quality. Black fruit tempered by graphite and slate flavors are delivered in multi-dimensional layers across the palate and along the kilometer-long finish. Prominent powdery tannins coat the mouth in the lingering aftermath. Closed on opening and yielding only slightly after two days (!) with no moderation of intensity.  A beast.