Monday, April 25, 2016

Recycle Bin, Weel of April 25

Happy spring time everybody!  It's an all-white Recycle Bin here this week as we head into the heart of porch-drinking season. (Apologies to everyone shoveling snow in the Rockies!) Cheers!

2014 Sterling Chardonnay Central Coast $9
Though reviewed before, a shout out to the little chardonnay that could in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due. This nine dollar (or less) wonder is available pretty much everywhere inexpensive wine is sold. Clean, robust, and universally likeable, it may not exude fitness, but it sure does pack a lot of enjoyment for the dollar. Broadly-appealing, so this is one to stock up on for when the neighbors stop by.


2014 Inama Soave Classico $15
This Soave is not at all dissimilar to others I've had recently: soft, round, and with a delicate creaminess that does not overshadow the middle weight fruit. Flavors prance like a ballerina through the palate in a refreshing ballet. Unlike many other Italian whites, the acidity in this white is so soft and subtle as to be completely unobtrusive.  Close to irresistible.

2014 Shannon Ridge Chardonnay Lake County $10
Textbook California chard with medium-generous fruit with a hint of tropicalia, and corresponding proportions of butter and oak.  If you're into this profile, it's a good value.  Give it up for Lake County!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recycle Bin, Week of April 4

Hello everybody! Freshly returned from spring break in Italy where, rest assured, much research was conducted. Some unexpected observations follow about wine on that trip, as well as a few incredible value wines that belong on your dinner table, only one of which is Italian.

Before we get to those specific wine recommendations, a few random thoughts about the state of wine in Tuscany and Tuscan wine in the United States:

Whether you have traveled to wine destinations or not, pretty much every wine lover has been subjected to fantastic tales told by people having recently returned from their own wine-centric trips. These tales frequently tell stories of incredibly inexpensive and unique wines they had while abroad and which, lamentably, are not available on these shores. I've been that guy plenty of times before.

But not this time. A lot of the reason why has to do with the fact that I was in Florence, the heart of Chianti and super Tuscan country. There I found local neighborhood wine shops full of very familiar labels. Unscientifically measured, I'd say over 80% of what was available on shelves at retail there is available readily at finer retailers here. Moreover, I'd also guess that the retail prices of these wines were within 20% (possibly less) of what you would expect to pay here.

We could speculate about the causality of availability and pricing, but my overriding conclusion is that we've got it pretty good here. Certainly, the state of affairs in terms of selection, availability, and pricing could always be better, but it's worth pausing for a second and acknowledging that we are pretty darn lucky to live in such a golden age of consumerism.

The other observation I'll share has more to do with wine itself: for many years I have regarded Italian white wine as thin, insipid, and/or aggressively acidic. On this trip, however, I discovered two types of wine which merit further investigation:Soave Classico and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore.  An example of the latter is in this week's round up of recommended wines. These are full, expressive, beautiful wines that can reflect mind-boggling dimensions.  Uncomplicated by manipulation and oak regimens, they speak the truth and remain relatively quite affordable.  Particularly as we head into porch-drinking season, these are worth seeking out.

Enjoy.


2013 Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore $7
That's right, $6.99.  Bright and zippy, this happy wine has enough structure to hold up against the weight of an antipasti platter or a mid-weight lunch.  But drink it once you open it as it doesn't hold up too well after the first couple of days.

2012 Domaine Tour Boisse Minervois $13
 What a treat this Minervois is. Plenty of Langedoc character (sun-baked black fruit, savory herbs, and bright acidity) with a lip-smacking bonus finish. Clean and well made. Stellar value for the irresistible experience. Case buy.

2013 NXNW Red Blend Columbia Valley $10
If you are at all a fan of Columbia Crest red wine offerings from the Columbia Valley, this is worth your time and money. Solid.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Craft Beer Growth: At Whose Expense?

It's no secret that craft beer is hot, but just when you thought we were sitting on a micro brew bubble, the momentum seems to be picking up pace.  Substantiating this, the Brewers Association released from fresh stats this week that are, frankly, brow-raising.

You don't need to be a market scientist to know that the craft beer segment has enjoyed meteoric expansion in recent years.  Most grocery stores I've walked into have undergone at least some remodeling to accommodate expanded beer selections.  Higher-end beers are now commonplace offerings at restaurants, bars, and even sporting concessions.  Anyone old enough to remember what it was like to be a beer drinker 15 years ago knows that we live in a gilded age.  Selections are expansive to the point of overwhelming saturation.

And why wouldn't they be?  I wrote about how much more compelling a value proposition high-end beer represents than wine a while back, and believe that this remains true.  It's also a leading causal factor in consumers' increasingly beer-centric choices.  So, are these numbers surprising?  Well, yes.  Why?  I'll give you 22 billion reasons why.

According to the Brewers Association, volume was up 13% in 2015, but value was up 16% to $22.3 billion.  Whoa.  I'd like to own stock that delivers those kinds of returns!  What's more is that, as a portion of overall beer sales, craft's market share reached 21%, so for every $4 spent on Budweiser and the like, there's $1 being spent on craft beer.  While that might not sound like a lot, consider the relative infancy of the craft beer movement in contrast to the century-plus history of beer in the US.  It's no wonder there's so much consolidation in this space.

The questions is, as the craft segment grows, whose lunch are the micro breweries eating?  Mass-produced beer?  Wine? Spirits?  Or are there really that many millenial hipsters coming of age all at once? Probably a little bit of all those. What'll be most interesting is to see how/if the wine market wakes up to these impressive trends and what it does about it.  Is it within the realm of possibility that producers will refocus on delivering competitive quality and value in the hopes of retaining customer base?

We'll just have to hope, wait, and see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Best Wines TYD

As we approach the end of the first quarter of 2016 (time flies!), it's time to take inventory of how the drinking year is shaping up.  If the volume (or lack thereof) of posts here is any indication, not so good.

As lamented in the foreboding 2016: State of Affairs in Wine piece, wine isn't getting any better, it's getting worse.  Especially domestically-produced red in the $12-25 price range. While prices have continued to rise, quality - at least as measured by their overextraction, high alcohol, residual sugar, simplicity, viscosity, overmanipulation, clumsy acidity, gloppy fruit, and an overall dumbing down of character and complexity - has dropped like the price of oil.

But is there any evidence to the contrary three months into the year?  No.  Is there any good news?  Yes.

Also as included in that same piece, there is plenty to celebrate coming from Italy and France.  They just keep cranking out food-friendly wines of substantial character and value as they have for centuries.  The dollar continues to remain strong so US consumers are at least somewhat protected from price increases on European wine

Even better is that many smaller producers' wine from older vintages are still available - many on close outs.  There are also pockets of domestic gems from larger producers who continue to do what they do best.  Below are faves of the year thus far.

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. 


2012 Tavaglini Nebbiolo Costa Della Sesia $14
Normally $20, this baby Barolo epitomizes the marvel of quality old world red. Light in density, but not at all shy in delivering a full spectrum of heady flavors, lip-smacking acidity, and accessible complexity. All of this for under $14! Worthy of a case buy. 
2012 Il Castelucio Sangiovese Toscana $9
This is a straightforward sangiovese made without fanfare, but with a slight nod towards international palates. Lots of bright bing cherry provides the stuffing and classic Tuscan grip frames it all in. Good out of the gate, it improved markedly on day two.   A sizzling bargain at $8.99.
2008 Rocca di Frasinello Maremma Rosso 'Poggio Alla Guardia' $10
Nearing its eighth birthday, I really hesitated to pick this one up as so few wines have the staying power to last this long. But at a sawbuck, it was an easy flyer to take. Sure am glad, too. Simple on opening, it unwinds nicely with a couple of hours in a decanter. Though perhaps slightly past its prime, this red offers lovely layers of flavor delivered in a supple, graceful manner. Big bang for the buck!




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. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bulletproof Values: MdA, R

Looking for a class of red wines that outperform its price segment and allows for virtually risk-free experimentation?  Who isn't?

The endless variety of wines available is proof that we live in a Golden Age of consumerism, but every product can't be a winner.  Many are overpriced, mediocre, or just plain bad.  Ironically, the risk of getting a disappointing wine often rises with cost and, therefore, expectation.  Consider how likely it is to get an enjoyable Napa cabernet for $30 - it's a crap shoot.  The same can be said for Brunello, Barolo, Burgundy, and many more of the higher-priced categories.  But head to the store with that same $30 to the shelves of Australia, Southern France, Washington, and other pockets of value, and you're almost guaranteed a superlative experience.

Of course, $30 is an arbitrary amount to illustrate the point.  In reality, it's a highly personalized sliding scale.  Personally, I prefer a target at about half that.  Still, finding those pockets takes work; exploration, experimentation (grueling stuff, indeed.)  So, when you happen on one, it's noteworthy enough to call attention to.

To that end, let me introduce you to Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo Riserva (or MdA, R), the more serious older brother to montepulciano. 
Quick note of not-so-trivial trivia: Montepulciano is both a grape and a city.  Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo is made from the monetpulciano grape from the region of Abruzzo, whereas Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made from sangiovese grown around the Tuscan town of the same name.
In case you didn't also swig this stuff from $6 magnums in your younger years, Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo is the oft maligned Italian grape most commonly seen in jugs, magnums of cheap Zonin, or haphazardly made sub-$9 bottles.  In fairness, montepulciano has come a long way since those chugalug days. A few have been reviewed here, here, and here.  What's worth sharing, however, involves recent exploration of the Riserva versions of these wines, which must be aged for a minimum of two years before release (six months or more of which need to be in barrel).  There aren't many out there, but so far they're batting a thousand.

These are big wines that carry quite a bit of heft, but exhibit soft, inviting fruit.  Framed with noticeable, but unobtrusive oak and complementary acids that help outline the weight, these bottlings also tend to much more affordable ($15-20) than the aforementioned regions without sacrificing drinking pleasure.  Below are two I happened across recently and which I'll gladly reach for again.  But, much as I advise you to, I'll be grabbing almost any MdA, R I come across.



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wines From Turkey

The evaluation of so many things in life is not only intensely subjective, but inevitably comparative. Subconscious or not, it's a certainty that our present opinions are informed by past experiences. And so it goes with wine. That cabernet you had last weekend? Whether it was any good or not probably depends on the cabernets you've had, and how those inform your own personal benchmark. To a certain degree all evaluation involves this level of judgment, a fundamental component of this wine writing thing I have long been uncomfortable with. 

But when a wine comes across your radar that you've never had before, there is no benchmark. There is no experience on which to compare. On paper that may seem rather difficult, but in practice it is, in fact, quite liberating.  Instead of reverting to your catalog of past experiences, you're left to enjoy (or not) the wine for what it is. At its most basic essence, this is discovery. And the older you get, the fewer opportunities you get to discover. Even if it is something as small as a glass of wine, it's a treat. If for no other reason, tasting these wines for exactly that. A treat.

Both of these 100% varietal wines hail from the same Turkish vineyard in north central area of Anatolia in the Black Sea region.  Imported by Winebow.

2012 Vinkara Winery Kalecik Karasi Reserve (Turkey) $27
Expressively floral and clean on the nose with bright, ripe red fruit notes. The same carries through to the palate where gentle smoke and long-lingering soft spices sway across the mid-weight body and through the expansive finish. With just a bit of air, the picture comes into laser focus thanks to firm, but lacy acidity.  Well made and very enjoyable by any standard.  I'd be glad to drink this again.

2013 Vinkara Winery Narince (Turkey) $15
Though not as outwardly appealing as the red (this white is a wine geek's wine), there's character aplenty here. Slate and minerals feature prominently over a loosely-framed mid-weight fruit that sits somewhere towards the end of the mid palate while subtle honeysuckle drifts in and out on the long finish. More cerebral than hedonistic, but that's not stopping me from refilling my glass. 



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Recycle Bin, Week of Feb 22

There are some interesting things going on at the retail level in the local marketplace here. Particularly if one looks at the end cap displays at finer independent retailers, there appears to be a flourish of closeout deals. It must be the pre-spring cleaning in anticipation of the new vintages arising. Regardless, there are some pretty terrific deals to be had if you know where to look - and what to look for. Conversely, there are also some real dogs on fire sale that, even while substantially discounted, are not worth your hard-earned money. Read on for a few notes on each.  (Note the focus on Italy for great QPR, as predicted at the beginning of this year.)

2012 Tavaglini Nebbiolo Costa Della Sesia $14
Normally $20, this baby Barolo epitomizes the marvel of quality old world red. Light in density, but not at all shy in delivering a full spectrum of heady flavors, lipsmacking acidity, and accessible complexity. All of this for under $14! Worthy of a case buy. 

2012 Il Castelucio Sangiovese Toscana $9
This is a straightforward sangiovese made without fanfare, but with a slight nod towards international palates. Lots of bright bing cherry provides the stuffing and classic Tuscan grip frames it all in. Good out of the gate, it improved markedly on day two.   A sizzling bargain at $8.99.

2008 Rocca di Frasinello Maremma Rosso 'Poggio Alla Guardia' $10
Nearing its eighth birthday, I really hesitated to pick this one up as so few wines have the staying power to last this long. But at a sawbuck, it was an easy flyer to take. Sure am glad, too. Simple on opening, it unwinds nicely with a couple of hours in a decanter. Though perhaps slightly past its prime, this red offers lovely layers of flavor delivered in a supple, graceful manner. Big bang for the buck!


2010 Novelty Hill Royal Slope Red Columbia Valley $10
Having had some wonderful experiences with this winery's merlot, there was no hesitation reaching for this blend marked down from $25 to $10. Alas, there's a reason for that. Suffering under its own weight and a bludgeoning dose of raw oak, the years have not been kind to this wine (though it's hard to imagine that it was ever anything close to balanced.) If you like picking sawdust out from between your teeth while wincing at overextraction, this might be for you.

2013 Twenty Bench Chardonnay Napa Valley $10
Another big discount on a wine with a premium name. Regrettably, it's also another wine that was never worth it's discounted price let alone its original sticker. Just jointed, simple, and exhibiting low-quality fruit, this tastes as though something was fumbled in the cellar. 

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 (Wine.com, 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. 
  13.  
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.