Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Affordable Wine: It Shouldn't Be This Hard


This past weekend I set out to pick up a mixed case of inexpensive wine. My target price range was $10-13, and my objective was to have some bottles around to enjoy with weeknight meals.  Nothing extravagant, just a handful each of summer-friendly reds and whites. But I failed. Miserably. Five bottles with an average price of $14 made it home with me - after going to three (!) reputable, independent wine shops.

It shouldn't be this hard. So, why is it? And will it get better?


Wine Is Expensive
Has wine become so expensive now that drinkable $10-12 wines are the unicorns of the industry? One funny, if cynical, reference to this phenom is the phrase, "$16 is the new $10."  Certainly wine pricing continues to outpace all reasonable indices, but there is ample evidence that the world (the Old World in particular) continues to churn out delightful, affordable wines. In other words, tasty, value-priced wines still exist, but there are fewer of them. Finding them requires more effort.

Grocery Stores
It's hard to beat the convenience of picking up a bottle while you're shopping for dinner. And with margins on alcohol way, way higher than regular groceries, it's no surprise that large grocers are devoting ever-increasing square footage to their beer and wine selections. But while this expansion results in more bottles on the shelf, it doesn't exactly result in a greater diversity of choices. The bean counters at grocery chains have mandates to reduce the number of suppliers each store buys from and centralized decision-making on what stores will offer is also common. These factors net out to thousands of bottles that fall into maybe a total of eight or nine flavor profiles. Heck, I bet that more than 50% of all domestic reds - regardless of variety - at most grocery stores would be indistinguishable in blind tasting.

Independents
Independent retailers, on the other hand, differentiate themselves by selling more unique offerings.  But if you're not moving a ton of volume, you'd better be moving a ton of margin. That's just what's required to survive in the retail game anymore. And independent retailers are subject to a variety of practical vagaries that inhibit moving any serious level of volume, such as location, parking, space, loading docks, cost of inventory, labor, etc. So, it's no surprise that the bargain bins have been shrinking.

Sure enough, that "$16 is the new $10" joke was on full display at one shop where $16 was the ground floor on their selection of rosés. Rosés! Ha! I suppose the theory is that, if the selection of $16 and under wines is slim, customers will just upgrade. Double ha!

Anyway, this explains why I could only come up with five bottles from three different stores, and I still wasn't able to stick to my price range. I'm not blaming independents for this, but it does offer a sign post to where things are heading.

Online
Independent retailers just can't make ends meet by selling affordable wines, no matter how delicious they are. And grocery chains wouldn't know a delightful wine if it bit them in the ass. Online retailers, on the other hand (at least collectively), offer a seemingly endless range of wines at a variety of price points with the convenience of online shopping. In the wake of the Supreme Court's Tennessee ruling, retailers are also getting more bold in shipping into other states, making access even easier for consumers.

Beer, Cocktails, Cannabis & Other Factors
Particularly as the focal point of wine consumer demographics shifts from boomers towards millennials, the idea that wine is a precious and irreplaceable product is as laughable as the theory that drinkers will just pay more to access decent quality wine. Think about how ridiculous that sounds, yet premiumization in the wine market presumes just that.

Back in the real world, though, consumers are increasingly looking at beer, spirits, and, yes, cannabis (market sectors which are all enjoying good/explosive growth) as alternatives to wine (sales of which are basically flat.)

So, where does that leave us? With market factors that favor online retailers and increasing competition from alternative products. Yet wine prices continue to climb and deliver lower and lower value. These conditions do not suggest that the wine industry is poised to attract more consumers or begin to grow sales again.

I'm probably wrong more often than I'm right, so who knows? Then again, just in the last 12 months drinks giant Constellation sold off 30 of its wine brands to Gallo and invested $4 billion in a Canadian cannabis behemoth. What does that tell you?

Bringing It All Home
The bottom line is that it's becoming harder to be enjoy authentic wines at affordable prices - and even more difficult to do so while supporting local independently-owned businesses. Bringing the good stuff home is likely going to require sourcing more affordable wines from online sources, something that would have seemed oxymoronic just a few years ago. As for your local independent wine shop? Keep on supporting them if you can. They are quickly becoming an endangered species.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of July 29

The Recycle Bin this week is a hodge podge of random wines, some of which have been backlogged in the samples pile, and others that I've sought out in search of discovery.  But in most cases, these are all wines I'd safely place in the summer-friendly category.  Enjoy.


2018 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $24
Neither as intense or bombastic as in previous vintages, but still with plenty of lively zip, this sauvignon blanc tones down the Northern California characteristics of fresh cut grass and Grannysmith apple in favor of tart, flinty, citrus-driven energy. Refreshing and exuberant.

2017 Artezin Zinfandel Old Vine Mendocino County $16
Super bright, red floral bouquet framing a core of warmer, deeper fruit scents and tickles of toasted oak. Awfully supple texture and a labyrinth of high frequency spice flavors that dance around a charged, mid-weight body. Varietally correct with loads of black pepper and a bit of heat on the finish..

2017 Marshall Davis Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton $39
Palest straw hue in the glass, but any thought that its color is an indication of timidity is corrected as soon as the aromatics hit you. Full, round, plump fruit notes float out of the glass and the sensations carry through verbatim in the mouth. Full throttle, Athena-class, tropical Chardonnay unfolds its largesse unapologetically and winds it’s tentacles around your attention. Big, but well appointed and well made. Very limited production.






2016 Bibi Graetz Bianco Toscana 'Casamatta' $15
Brilliant and clean. Minerals lined with salinity and acids frame crisp vermentino fruit to result in an exceedingly refreshing and joyful drink.  Yum.

2017 Pra Valoplicella 'Morandina' $22
I could drink this stuff all day, and at a modest 12.5%, you sort of could. A few shades darker than a rose and not much more dense, this light-bodied red is bountiful with gorgeous fresh flowers and herbs.  It's a step up in cost from the typical Valpolicella, but you absolutely get what you pay for. Hard not to gulp it down like a crazy person.

2016 Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir $15 
A new vintage from an old favorite continues its streak of over delivering pinot noir joy at a great price. Grown more than 400km from Burgundy (that's why it doesn't cost four times as much), this domain is in the mountains between Marseille and Nice way in the south of France, lending this a bit more heft without being clumsy. Though not terribly sophisticated, it's got a fantastic one-two punch: classy lines and a friendly price tag.

2016 Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais Villages $14
Oh, gamay, you silky, so-easy-to-drink temptress! Bing cherry shining from within completes this joyous wine. Time to revisit Beaujolais Village soon.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Valuables from Valdeorras

Would I be interested in receiving samples from Spain?

This is how an email exchange started a couple of months back.  Such an inquiry is very common, though you can substitute almost any region, producer, or variety for Spain and you've got the formula.  But Spain, oh, Spain...we were once compatriotas, but then, then Spain became simultaneously infatuated with Parker's penchant for massiveness and, perhaps not coincidentally, American oak. It's been a turbulent relationship since.

Whereas my normal response to the above inquiry would be, "Sure!", I groaned inwardly and reluctantly accepted.  Alas, keeping an open mind is essential to making discoveries - and here is an example of why that approach yields results.

The Valdeorras subregion of Galicia is way out there.  Geographically, it's north of northeastern Portugal, and west of northwestern Spain. In many respects, it’s the middle of nowhere - maybe so remote that it remained outside Parker's sphere of influence.  But in terms of winemaking credibility, this could be Main St. The two samples that arrived were 100% varietal bottlings, one godello and the other mencia.  Neither of these wines present with swagger, nor do they have any need for it, because when you’re this attractive naturally, there aren't any insecurities to require heavy-handedness.

I'll readily admit to falling hard for the godello, and recommend you surrender yourself to do the same.  It's a white that offers as much or more sophistication as any red, yet won't clobber you, either.


2017 Pagos de Galir Godello Valdeorras $17
Platinum blonde. Clean nose offering gentle white flower blossoms giving way to a poised, elegant main attraction. The fruit, while somewhat reserved, reveals itself through a brilliant texture and in ever-intriguing chapters. Sophisticated and lovely, yet without anything to prove. A haunting wine thanks to its quiet beauty and soft-spoken confidence.  More. Soon. Please.

2016 Pagos de Galir Mencia Valdeorras $17
Rustic, but clean and honest. And like it’s sister (above), the suppleness if its mouthfeel strips away any obstacles to accessing this wine’s authenticity. Lovely balance of dusty fruit and cellar spice, followed by a food-loving acidity that nearly crackles. Very good without being showy.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Never Been On A Podcast Before

Jeff Siegel, aka the Wine Curmudegon, has, for longer than I can remember, written a nearly-daily blog on a breadth of wine matters. If you're looking for unvarnished takes on everything from wine reviews to the regulatory state of affairs to the impact of cannabis legalization, you'll be hard pressed to find a more pro-consumer writer than Jeff.  

Against all better judgement, he had me on for a quick spin of topics last week, including premiumization, rose, Ohio alcohol regulations, and other things we pretend to know something about.  It's around 10 minutes long and his link/intro (and photo from back when I had a full head of hair) can be found here.

Cheers

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Most Compelling Wine From A Region You've Never Heard Of

And the red's not bad, either...

Tucked way (waaaay) up in the northeast corner of Italy is a little-known winegrowing region called Collio. I'd never heard of the region, let alone Marco Fellunga's estate of Russiz Superiore, which is so far east and north, the Slovenian border is less than a mile away.  So, when samples from this family-run winery showed up, I was intrigued to sit down, investigate, and learn. And this is my kind of education...

Neither of these wines exactly exudes Italian character, nor do they suffer as a result. Instead, they express a lovely purity that feels like an honest reflection of place rather than style.  And as terrific as these wines are, you have to wonder what rewards await those who explore this area's wines, as well as those from just down the road in Slovenia's Brda region.  These wines are imported by Dalla Terra.




2018 Russiz Superiore Collio Sauvignon $29
Beautiful. Crystalline and electric, with beguiling aromatics and mineral-infused energy. Nose and palate show off a graphite edge that adds to the character and complexity in an alluring manner. This is a very fine wine. Wine nerds will go bonkers for how it channels the earth, and all drinkers will appreciate its quality. Among the most compelling and exciting whites I’ve had in a year or more.

2016 Russiz Superiore Collio Cabernet Franc $29
Dark and serious looking in the glass with long legs and an inky ruby color. The nose is bright and expressive and fresh, with subtle smoke, suggesting something more casual than what lies ahead. That thin thread of smoke complexity carries through to the palate where sophisticated elegance reigns supreme. This wine, though I was not sure what to expect, is a surprise. It does not carry with it the telltale Italian acidity, but the lean character that often accompanies mountain fruit. It’s joy is delivered in a quieter voice rather than a blaring trumpet. Seductive if you want it to be, but approachable regardless.  Would love to meet this wine again after five years of aging.



Monday, July 1, 2019

Boring But Important, The End Of The Beginning

Patience Should Be Practiced Alongside Celebration

A few months ago I penned a couple of pieces (here and here) about Tennessee v Blair, more formally known as Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Russell F. Thomas (formerly v. Zackary Blair.) This was a case that was then being heard before the Supreme Court and which I predicted would uphold the status quo. I was wrong, and that could be good news for consumers who like to shop for wine at stores in other states.

Late June is when most rulings come from the bench and last week was no different. While
gerrymandering and census questions dominated the airwaves, the Court also handed down a decisive 7-2 ruling in the case, striking down  Tennessee’s arcane (and brazenly protectionist) requirement that applicants for alcohol retail licenses be residents of the state for a minimum of 2 years. In other words, out-of-towners are not welcome to set up shop here - locals only.

This is a relevant ruling because, at its core is the rub between the Constitution’s commerce clause and a state law that discriminates against out of state businesses which, by the way, is far from unique in the US.  Though this ruling is great news for Total Wine, who will almost certainly rush to expand into Tennessee, its implications for other states are just that: implications.

What wine-loving proponents of this decision hope is that this ruling will help bust through the many state laws (including here in Ohio) that prohibit out-of-state retailers from shipping to consumers in-state. There are two ways for these decades-old laws to be dismantled: through the passage of new legislation and/or through attacking the laws in court. However, patience should be practiced along side celebration. 

It is highly unlikely that state legislators will take the initiative, particularly considering that these laws have benefited the constituents of what is often the most generous campaign contribution and lobbying force in each state: the Wine & Beer Wholesalers Association. And though there are likely to be plenty of parties with standing to challenge local laws on Constitutional grounds, such fights require deep pockets and tremendous upside to whomever is picking up the tab.

Moreover, and as recalled in the Spectator article linked to below, we have a contemporary example of the high court issuing a wine-centric ruling that didn’t have a watershed impact: Granholm v Heald, “...which prohibits state wine-shipping laws from discriminating between in-state and out-of-state wineries.”

Though things have certainly improved in the intervening 14 years since Granholm was decided, you’d be hard-pressed to describe the current patchwork quilt of state regulations as fluid or open.  In other words, there’s case law, and there’s state law, and there’s how things work in the real world. Aligning those three can’t happen overnight, and won’t happen without some kicking and screaming and dragging of feet. Only a fool would underestimate the influence of the Wine & Beer Wholesalers Associations. This brief Wine Spectator article does a pretty good job of summarizing the salient points, including the opinions of the Justices who voted in favor of striking it down, and those dissenting.

In the meantime, pop some popcorn with your champagne and watch the slowly unfolding march towards liberated wine commerce.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Consistency Counts: Wente Chardonnay

I have been reviewing - and drinking - Wente's chardonnays for well over a decade now.  For a good stretch there, their Morning Fog bottling was our house white, and for years this family-run brand has been a reliable nameplate for what much of the country has come to know as California chardonnay.  Though my aging palate has me leaning towards whites that speak in more hushed tones these days, I cannot help but be impressed by the ridiculous consistency of Wente's wines.

Few consumers know that 80% of all chardonnay planted in California is the 'Wente Clone'.  Ernest Wente began growing chardonnay from grapevine cuttings imported from France back in the 1880's.  Five generations later, Karl Wente continues the family tradition in making quintessential California chardonnay. Whether the Cali chard style is your bag or not, you know exactly what you’re getting when you reach for one of their bottles.  Also of note are the oak-free Eric's and the mind-bending Nth Degree bottlings, which are both expensive and worth it.

Prices below are SRP, so don't be surprised if you find these in your local market for (possibly a lot) less.

2017 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Morning Fog' $17
A clean nose leading into big, toasty, vanilla-coated butter blanket around gregarious tropical fruit. Nothing more, nothing less, just dependable. This one has been our house Chardonnay on and off for years and will appeal to consumers with a hankering for Texas-sized chards.

2017 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Riva Ranch' $22
Same DNA as the Morning Fog bottling, but with a surprisingly restrained core (in a good way, lest it would have become a caricature of exaggeration) surrounded by more of everything. Fuller, rounder, butterier, bigger, more elegant...just more all around.

2018 Wente Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Eric's' $30
Somewhere between platinum blonde and straw colored, this wine is very clean and energetic on the nose. But the first sip will have your attention, asking if this really is from California. Clean as a whistle, focused, and with a decidedly European acidity, this is a striking departure from what we have all become conditioned to expect from California chardonnay. Tart green apple runs into brilliant citrus before purity lingers beyond the finish. Wow. What a surprise.

2017 Nth Degree Chardonnay Livermore Valley $70
Borderline magical. Concentrated yellow luminescence in the glass offers a glimpse into what awaits. The palate is expansive with a kaleidoscope of high notes, including fine-grained oak over chardonnay fruit that is at once voluptuous and quiet. An exercise in juxtapositions that will appeal to connoisseurs’ love of complexity while being just a damn pleasure to drink. Bravo!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Summertime PSA

This is your summertime public service announcement. 

Sparkling wine - in all its forms - is terrifically overlooked and under-applied in the US.  Our knowledge of wine and, more importantly, collective mood would be greatly enhanced if we experimented just a little more with the bubbly stuff.

Actually, this public service isn't limited to summertime at all.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of May 17

It's been a while since we've had a Recycle Bin posting.  This will be short and sweet - 3 reds, all good bang for the buck, and tasty as all get out, particularly with grilled food.  Enjoy!


2017 Domaine Brunet Pinot Noir France $10
Simple, but in an honest, appealing way.  Actually tastes like pinot noir - bright dried cherries, low alcohol, and versatile acidity.  Yum. Oh, and ten bucks!

2016 Chateau Maris La Touge Syrah $13.50
Big, fresh, juicy, and with a lip-smacking backbone of acids that make you come back for more - in a hurry.  Delicious and irresistible.

2016 Altesino Rosso Toscana $14.50
From the venerable Brunello house comes this affordable blend of true Tuscan flavors with some extraction and depth without getting too bogged down in weight.  Anything from pasta to steak will benefit from this as an accompaniment.

Monday, June 17, 2019

GSM: Old School Blend Made Modern

Grenache, syrah, and mourvedre were long ago discovered to be fantastic bedfellows, and for centuries the Rhône Valley has been the stronghold for where this triumvirate shines. But that doesn’t mean southern France has a corner on the market. Other regions around the world have made their own versions, with notable successes coming out of southern Australia and Santa Barbara county.  

Each grape in this blend brings a something to the table, but the magic of it is that the resulting combination is greater than the sum of its parts. This blending also allows for a great deal of flexibility from vintage vintage so that, for example, if one year yields a grenache that is just too lean or too flabby, an increase in either or both of the other grapes can compensate for that shortcoming, as seen in the vintages below.  


So, when two gorgeously-packaged samples arrived from a Bay Area winery known mostly for its chardonnays, my interest was piqued. Bay Area GSM? Hey, if you want to discover something under-appreciated, you need to keep an open mind. That these wines were from successive vintages was even more exciting, as this offers the chance to identify the commonalities of the wines, the variations from year to year, as well as winemaker's thumbprint. As new world examples from a vintner with a strong track record of consistency, these riffs also provide a modern take on GSM.


2016 & 2017 Wente GSM Small Lot Artist Series Livermore Valley $55
Not surprisingly, these two wines have a tremendous amount in common: expressive, round, warming, youthful, seductive, and with dusty, textured tannins. They also differ enough to tell that they are siblings, not twins. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two is that, while the 2016 offers a more poised, elegant structure and is a bit on the coy side (great things to come down the road here), the 2017 is confident in its largesse, delivering all in a casual swagger. The variation in the blend percentages (as seen on the rear labels below) show the flexibility of blending in action, with syrah swinging 9% from one year to the next.

Deciding on a favorite between the two proved challenging, with the '17 oozing just a little bit more sex appeal, at least right now. I sure would like to take a mulligan on that decision and revisit these wines in another 5 to 10 years, but if you can lay your hands on either in the short term, do it - these are in extremely limited supply.
 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

6 Discoveries From The Veneto

While I am still jet-lagged and the memories are also somewhat fresh in my mind, I’d like to offer a few takeaways from my recent trip to northern Italy that found me mostly in and around Verona. This trip was all about discovery and my wandering eyes (and palate) were swiveling in search of overlooked diamonds in the rough to bring home and share. And it did not disappoint.  

First, a baseline. The Veneto region’s most notable wines are Soave and Amarone, and for good reason. Soave’s star has been rising for some years now, and I have noted in prior posts that my experimentation with this white almost has a 1000 batting average in terms of over delivering on QPR. Amarone, by contrast, is an exceedingly distinctive wine made from grapes that are dried for an extended period of time prior to pressing. This results in unmistakable potency and complexity. Neither of these two wines are much of a mystery to seasoned wine drinkers, but drinking my way through the enchanting city of Verona provided the opportunity to make some terrific finds, and I also learned a thing or two about wines I thought I already knew plenty about.  

So, in no particular order, following are six discoveries I made this time around:
  1. Sparkling wine. In Italy, sparkling wine almost invariably means Prosecco, at least from the outside looking in. But there’s much more to it than pedestrian bubbly. Fraciacorta, Italy’s high end response to Champagne, sits at the elite end of the spectrum, but in a part of the country where aperitivos are a daily ritual, affordable and refreshing quaffers are in demand. In the many piazzas and street corner cafés where orange-hued Aperol spritzes are the norm, older clientele (with no gender bias, either) tend to favor energetic, low alcohol sparkling wines. One in particular that was a real surprise and has haunted me since first tasting it is Buglioni’s Lo Spudorato (the shameless one).  It's a blend of garganega (the dominant grape in Soave) and durello. Light and fleet-footed, this gorgeous wine has microscopic bubbles and an intensity that refreshes and engages simultaneously. It was being poured, amazingly, for €2.50 a glass.  Another local white grape to look for: custoza.
  2. Grape drying.  This part of the winemaking world is fairly unique in its exhaustive use of both drying and byproduct. While most of the world races its harvest from picking to crush, drying red grapes is very common here. Amarone, for example, is made from the pressings of grapes that have been laid to dry for months after picking. The pomace, or leftover skins, seeds, and whatnot, are then used to make ripasso, which is regularly-vinified Valpolicella filtered through the richly-concentrated Amarone byproduct. Lastly, pomace is also used as the raw material in the distillation of grappa, a potent spirit enjoyed as a digestivo. What I had not realized until sitting down to a meal at the excellent Roberto Mazzi winery, is that winemakers variably use drying of grapes in non-Amarone Valpolicella wines to add a little extra density and oomph to the wines. Mazzi’s Poiega bottling, for example, uses 20% dried grapes in the mix. Having dried grapes at their disposal in the cellar only increases the versatility of winemakers’ tool boxes. Only in Italy, man.   
  3. Grappa. Prior to this trip, my long-held impression of this post prandial spirit was that it had more in common with formaldehyde than brandy. Our accommodations at the winery, however, included a communal bottle of the grappa della casa in the kitchen. Though it was far from spectacular, it was good enough to plant a seed for further experimentation in Verona’s watering holes where an education (and a couple of rough mornings) awaited. Like other liquors, grappa comes in many varieties and quality levels, including beautifully honeyed grappa di Amarone and, more specifically, Bonaventura’s 903 Barrique grappa. A very fine way to cap off an evening, indeed.   
  4. Internationalization. The term “international”, when used to describe stylistic inclination, is polite shorthand for wines made to appeal to American consumers (or big-assed wines.) This is as alive in the Veneto as elsewhere in Europe, which means that consumers need to really pay attention to what they are ordering/buying. Valpolicellas used to be lighter-bodied and more fragrant than corpulous, but that is no longer a dependable rule of thumb. I learned this the hard way at a fancy dinner one night when I asked the sommelier to recommend a wine that was not too overpowering or heavy. The bottle he brought was a Valpolicella Superiore clocking in at 14.5% and, while very well made, was both strong and intense. When I pointed out the alcohol level to him, he shrugged and told me that all his better wines were that high. (Sigh.)  Thankfully, there is still plenty of drinking delight to be had with Valpolicellas in the 12-13% range.
  5. Accessibility. I have praised modern supply chain sophistication time and time again, and here is yet another example of why we live in a gilded age of wine drinking. I brought back zero bottles of wine from this trip, having had faith that most of the good stuff I had while in Italy I could also procure stateside. There was one small tavern in Verona, however, it served wines from its own vineyard and I thought, "no way will I have a chance to enjoy this stuff again." This led to a bit of overindulgence at that particular tavern - when in Rome and all that - but wouldn’t you know that I found two bottles of their wine at an Italian grocery less than 10 miles from my house shortly after returning. I have brought back countless cases of wine from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France, and I am happy to help travelers navigate the regulatory waters to do the same, but knowing what I know now about global accessibility of products, I have skipped the hassle of lugging heavy boxes through customs the last four times I’ve been to Europe.   
  6. The Peeps. Finally, and though this hardly qualifies as a new discovery, one cannot have even a fleeting conversation about Italy without talking about it’s number one asset: the people. Engaging, hospitable, and incredibly forgiving of our bull-in-a-China-shop presence on the world stage, Italians are irrepressibly eager to share in everything that makes their culture so wonderful. The smallest enthusiasm or curiosity for their food and wine opens many doors and conversations, invariably leading to memorable experiences. Grazie a tutti per tutto!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Chardonnay Season Is Coming, People

With Memorial Day almost upon us, many of you will be stocking up on porch quaffers. Is it any coincidence that the Winethropology sample queue is almost entirely made up of chardonnays? Well, consider that fair warning of what you'll be reading a lot about on these pages in the coming weeks.  And, as a kick off, we have an appearance by an oldie-but-goodie brand, Cameron Hughes.

My coverage of Cameron Hughes's wines and business model is well-documented, going back more than nine years. Re-reading some of those pieces traces the arc of the business' rise, stumble, and retooling. Today, CH Wine is owned by industry juggernaut Vintage Wine Estates and available only by direct order.  It was fun to revisit the brand after such a long hiatus and hope to explore more of what they've been getting into recently. 

2017 Cameron Hughes Chardonnay Rogue Valley (Oregon) Lot 672 $14
To deliver a solid QPR, you've got to start with good grapes that don't cost an arm and a leg. For this lot, CH turned to the still-emerging region of Rogue Valley in Oregon's southwest, from which I've had some terrific pinot noirs recently. This chard sports a clean nose, tropical fore-palate, acidity on the mid that persists, and cream along the finish. Butter and oak spice emerge as the wine warms towards room temp. It tastes like good old American Chardonnay, which is apropos for this holiday weekend.