Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Recycle Bin

It's been a loooong time since we've had a Recycle Bin write up, so following is a hodge-podge of wines that have arrived as samples at various points over the last several months.  Enjoy.

2017 Terlato Pinot Grigio Friuli $24 
Here comes porch season! Though on the pricey side, this textbook PG will do the trick.

2010 Vinas del Vero Secastilla Garnacha Somontano $32
Eight years old and the age has benefited this surprisingly refined Spanish red. Crackling tannic energy threads floral elegance and a seamless texture together into a bright, quenching fabric. Importantly, the oak regimen acts as a compliment rather than a cudgel - a welcome change from many contemporary/modern red wines from this area.

2015 Left Coast Pinot Truffle Hill Willamette Valley $42
Holy smokes! This is a BRIGHT, exuberant red with a lot to say. Acidity dominates the attack with brilliant and elegant fruit following closely behind. Slight green elements in the aftertaste hint at whole cluster fermentation, use, or both. This is one of the few Pinot noir‘s I’ve had that I’m sorry to have opened so young. It promises to evolve into

2017 Bowers Harbor Unwooded Chardonnay Michigan $16
In a slightly off dry style is something new to me, but if approached with an open mind, there’s a lot to like here. Clean, precise, and bountiful in its bright fruit, this is a versatile and friendly white that can stand up to everything from polite conversation to Chinese food.

2016 2 Lads Cab Franc Old Mission Peninsula $35
What a terrific surprise! Medium bodied and with a well built structure, this versatile red is well-made and easy to like. Bright, focused fruit comes alive thanks to sprightly, enthralling acids. Very, very good indeed.

2016 Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling Old Mission Peninsula $19
The world needs more wines like this. Exceedingly pleasing and gentle, this versatile (aperitif or dessert) wine strikes a deft balance. Requires no analysis to enjoy. Perfect to have in hand as we head into the winter months. Brilliant.
2017 Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc CNW Clarksburg $15
Hell yes! Super bright, steely, maybe even flinty and with a tart squirt of passion fruit on the finish. Very likable and versatile. Pair with neighbors on your front porch this summer.

2016 Vinum Petite Sirah PETS Clarksburg $15
Rich and opaque in the glass, gorgeous nose with inviting bright floral aspects that lead into a balanced palate where toasty oak, tannins, and a respectable backbone await. Not an ounce of flab on this petite that drinks more like a quality North Coast cab.  Happy to see this back! 

2015 Aridus Syrah Wilcox (Arizona) $37
Close your eyes and you’ll swear this is a Northern California syrah. Powerful and focused, this supple-textured medium density red packs intense fruit character framed by toasty oak and wildflower accents into an alluring package that finishes strong. But no amount of elegance can mask the octane (almost 16%) that fuels this flavor juggernaut. Enjoy with a marbled steak, but don’t turn your back on it - this wine might eat your meat while you’re not looking! 

2017 Gratvs White Blend Napa Valley $29
Flinty looking in the glass with pale hits of green. Inviting, lively nose with a round shape and alluring weight. Full palate continues the shapely theme immediately beguiling with its luxurious texture. The finish shimmers with layers of heavily scented dimension and a solid bracket of acidity. There’s more than a little something for everyone here in this serious, but versatile wine. Grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, and viognier.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Speed Dating: Notes From A Trade Tasting

Industry tastings are a lot like speed dating. Dozens of wines are presented in either a warehouse or a banquet room setting tended to by representatives from distributors, importers, and wineries. It’s not uncommon for 100-200 wines to be available for tasting at one of these events, so it’s virtually impossible to get to even half of them. Those that you do get to taste are poured in tiny quantities, and time constraints limit your evaluation to short moments in an often bustling atmosphere.

It is no more appropriate an environment to make a comprehensive evaluation than speed dating is in deciding a long-term companion. Perhaps the analogy works better if you think of it for what it is: you’re not getting married, you're just trying to find out if you want to have a first date. With that as a disclaimer, following are a dozen wines from a recent trade tasting that I will look forward to seeking out and spending more time with. I encourage you to do the same. 

In no particular order...

2016 Otto's Constant Dream Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand $17: Surprisingly enjoyable, especially considering the price point. Stylistically midway between Willamette Valley and burgundy.

2018 Jacques Florent Blanc (3 liters) $37: White wine in a 3L box? Yes. Apparently it’s all the rage in France these days.

2015 Gallil Mountain Yiron Red Upper Galilee $40: Perhaps...scratch that...without a doubt the best of show. Magnificent. Perfume, complex, and dreamy, this red blend stood out among many wines double and triple the price. Oh, and it’s from Israel. Cab, merlot, and syrah.

2017 Mount Hermon Red Golan Heights $15: Also from Israel is the entry-level red counterpart. Grill companion extraordinaire, fresh Bordeaux blind. Enjoyable any night of the week. 

2014 Calla Lily Ultimate Red Pinot Noir Napa Valley $49: Lovely, statuesque, and well-made. A Napa valley body wrapped in Burgundian structure. 

2014 Calla Lily Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $80: A little brother of sorts to the Audax bottlings reviewed here a few months back. Close your eyes and think dark, luxe cabernet made expertly in a classic Napa style. That's this.

2016 Brandborg Bench Lands Pinot Noir Umpqua Valley $22: from an unheard of region of Oregon comes this interesting, character filled, and slightly smoky Pinot Noir that I look forward to having again.

2015 Chateau Larose Trintaudon Haut-Mdeoc Bordeaux $30: There’s nothing terribly remarkable about this Bordeaux other than it’s a reassuring textbook example without breaking the bank.

2015 Domaine de L'Oiselet Vacqueras Bio $27: Gritty and tannic, this intense red will put hair on your chest. Well made and sophisticated, despite its brawn.

2016 L'Hallali Gigondas Grande Reserve $30: As jubilant as its colorful label. big, powerful, ageworthy heavyweight bruiser Delivering a kaleidoscope of iridescent flavors. Pow! And still just a baby.

2015 Le Lecciaia Toscana $22: Made by a producer of terrific Brunello is this robust and flush, internationally styled cabernet that still delivers Italian acidity. Good bang for the buck here.

2017 Vecchio Marone Veneto $18 Italian Bordeaux blend ready for Tuesday night pizza. An honest wine.

Finally, one of this distributor's cornerstone producers is Albert Bichot, so it was no surprise that the very first table in the room was devoted entirely to this Burgundian mainstay. Pouring 16 different bottlings (which, believe it or not, represents just 20% of their total offerings), the rep patiently repeated his talking points on each of them again and again and again.  With so many wines at this table, I had to prioritize and here I will just summarize. Bichot is a microcosm of Burgundy: mostly pedestrian until you start spending north of $45, and then it’s a game changer. For those with the heady means, the spendy territory is fertile ground for exploration, starting with the Pommard. For the rest of us, France is a big country full of gems.

Monday, April 1, 2019

A Peek Behind The Curtain

Getting Free Wine Is Awesome.  Or is it?

Writing this blog has provided an embarrassment of riches. Over the last 10 years, free wine has showed up on my doorstep periodically. Invitations to tastings and other exclusive events also arrive in my inbox with regularity.  As a result, my eyes have been opened to varieties, regions, and people I otherwise wouldn't have a reason or the opportunity to discover. And merely mentioning that I am a wine blogger has opened doors that I wouldn't have even known existed.

All of these are a extraordinary privileges, none of which I take for granted, and it’s worth pausing for a moment to note that this stuff doesn’t materialize out of thin air.  Someone is putting money, effort, or usually both to make these things happen. Because free wine (aka samples) seems to get the most attention from people outside the industry, I wanted to offer a peek behind the curtain to explain how all this really works. 

It's not all rainbows and unicorns.  Sure, there are those bottles that arrive and speak for themselves; honest wines that tell a story.  Inspirational vintages make the writing process easy; the words just spill out of the bottles as easy as red wine onto a white shirt. Unfortunately, those are few and far between. You see, great wines need little promotion, which means they are less likely to show up on my doorstep. On the other hand, products with less notoriety and/or track record do need some marketing. There is also a lot of overlap of wineries that need a publicity shove and those which are still developing talent in the cellar and/or vineyard, which is just a polite way of saying that the wines aren’t that good. I’m not complaining- it’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

If that were the end of the story, it'd be fine; not every bottle can be a home run.  But beyond having to hold my nose at a lot of the stuff FedEx drops off, there is an implicit expectation of reciprocity. To understand what that means, you first need to appreciate that there's a producer who has worked hard to bring their product to market, a multi-year, capital-intensive process not for the faint of heart.  (As the joke goes, if you want to be a millionaire vintner, best to start with ten million.)  Wineries also often retain public relations representation.  These are the good folks I interact with the most, as it falls to them to get the wines in front of those likely to write about it.  Finally, there's the not-so-insignificant component of shipping, which itself can have regulatory implications.  All of this costs time and money, neither of which is plentiful. So, it's natural that those on the risk-taking side of the seesaw have hopes - and even expectations - that there will be some return on their investment.

Thankfully, very few of the professionals I have dealt with over the years have explicitly demanded such a return, but the message is always there: We've just sent you some free wine, and not for the first time, either. Surely you can find something nice to say about it.

That message is delivered most clearly in the silent absence of future shipments after I've published an unflattering review. This site contains many honest, if critical, reviews, which make for a comprehensive list of wineries and publicists who no longer do business with me.  Writing those reviews used to be entertaining, but the fatigue of judgement has caught up with me.  Besides, drawing readers' attention to the weaknesses of a fledgling winery they otherwise would not come across is merciless sport of questionable value.  Today I aspire to draw into focus undiscovered gems worth celebrating. This explains why, out of the last 24 samples I've received, fewer than 6 have made it onto this blog.

It's the process of separating the song from the noise, but every one of those shitty bottles gives me a pang of heartache.  I want to find something redeeming in each of them, but you just can't conjure what isn't there, and I know that's a let down for everyone up the supply chain.  There's also the question of purpose: who am I serving with the endeavor of my writing?  Myself?  Readers?  Producers?  An increasingly uncomfortable question as the writing gets harder.

So, if you're one of my friends and neighbors who give me a wistful look that tells me you think getting free wine is the con of the century, please forgive my sigh in response.

Is getting free wine awesome? It sure is. Just maybe not for the reasons you might have thought.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

8 Wines (way) Under $20 To Get You To Spring

Winter blues got you down? Get yourself to your local wines shop (or online retailer) and chase the cold weather doldrums away with some uplifting vino!  The selections below, mostly reds with a couple of whites thrown in for balance, reflect an ongoing evolution of taste.  Neither white is a chardonnay, as I can't seem to choke down the domestic versions of it these days. Most of the reds have bright acidity in common, and half are what I'd consider on the lighter end of the density (bit not flavor) spectrum.  All of these wines, however, I'd consider slam dunk recommendations.  If your local retailer can't put their hands on these, check http://marketviewliquor.com and/or http://b-21.com, two of my go-to online retailers.  And if you can't find these specific wines, fret not, just ask for a reasonable facsimile (same wine/region.)

Palladium Soave $11
Soave has become one of my favorite areas to explore for value and drinking pleasure. These whites shine with life and are consistently balanced. Look for subtle floral aromatics, medium-weight fruit, and food-friendly acids.

Muralhas De Moncao Vinho Verde $8  
Vinho Verde gets a bad rap from a lot of wine lovers because it's become synonymous with what I call "breakfast wine" - wine wines low in alcohol, light on substance, and in tall, skinny bottles. This stereotype has done wonders keeping the price ceiling on these wines low.  But what few drinkers know is that Vinho Verde is not a type of grape, but a region in northern Portugal.  And some of the whites made there are excellent. Case in point is this brilliant wine made of 70% albarino. Don't let the bottle shape (or price) fool you - this is good stuff.

Le Paradou Grenache $9

This insanely drinkable $8.99 red bursts with energy and flavor. It found its way into my shopping cart on impulse a year or so ago.  Since then I've re-ordered it multiple times, so it must be good.

Julia James Pinot Noir California $11
A terrific little wine perhaps best described by what it isn't: cloying, overheated, cola-infused fruit syrup. Which leaves pinot noir just as God intended. Yum. Poured by the glass at a local wine bar, the distributor told the wine shop down the street that they were out of stock. Which is industry speak for "we're only selling it to bars/restaurants who don't want their customers to know the glass they're paying for is buying us 1.5 bottles.  Fine.  (I ordered it online.)

Ruffino Chianti Superiore $9
I recently wrote about this wine and have enjoyed it twice more since.  It's nothing fancy, but available just about all over the place and a darn honest Chianti.

Thymiopoulos Naoussa Xinomavro 'Young Vines' $19
Head and shoulders the most expensive wine in this cataloging, and worth it. Saline and sublimely complex, this unusual red is like a Barolo that's been rolled down a steep hill planted to herbs and wildflowers and into deep blue seawater.

Domaine Cabirau Cotes du Roussillon $13
Bordering on intense, this meaty, structured red drinks like a Cotes du Rhone that grew up with chiseled muscles and a pair of hairy balls. Higher octane than I'd prefer, but it pulls it off just fine and that only adds to its swagger.  One of those wines you'll be squeezing the last drop out of the bottle.

Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir $15
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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sangiovese's Siren Call

As we try to wrangle from winter's grip, much of our diet remains squarely in the category of comfort food.  So, it stands to reason that hearty reds find their way onto our dinner tables to match the warming, robust flavors of the day. Whether looking ahead to sunnier days or just looking for a change of pace, sangiovese has been making more regular appearances in our home lately.  And why not?

Sangiovese's versatility and variety is incredible. Chianti, Brunello, rossos from Montalcino and across Italy all reflect their origins in radically different - and beautiful - ways. What all iterations share, however, is an indelible structure of acidity that cuts through fat like a hot knife, making these wines very food friendly - especially with winter fare. Osso bucco, I'm looking at you!

One recently enjoyed case in point is this sub-$10 pleasure to drink, 2016 Ruffino Chianti Superiore. Clean and bright, this medium-weight refresher is irresistible, especially with a little chill on it. And at this price, you can have it with pizza on a Tuesday night or a weekend grilled steak with green olives. Pro tip: open and decant one hour before eating, putting it in the fridge for the last 20 minutes.

A note for the wine nerds: Superiore is the designation given to Chianti wines of a higher quality (as defined by yield, alcohol, and ageing) from outside the Classico region. These wines must be aged at least 9 months, 3 of which have to be in bottle.  Though we tend to be enamored with Chianti Classico's, there's a whole lot of great (and affordable) drinking to be had in the broader Chianti region. Salut!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A(nother) Word On Suckling Points

Had James Suckling had been my high school teacher, I would've gone to Harvard.

In my 2018 year end wrap up, I wondered if critics playing fast and loose with points would devalue the 100 point scale. I also pointed the finger at Mr. Suckling who, for the record, knows his way around the wine world far better than I ever will. Despite swearing that I would no longer be tempted by affordable wines adorned with heaps of points, I fell sucker once again this week. This time the siren was Cline's 2017 Sonoma pinot noir, on sale for $15 and wearing a 93 point shelf talker.

To be clear, any producer bringing a drinkable California pinot to market for under $20 is okay in my book. Hat's off to Cline because that's what they've accomplished here. But 93 points is attention-getting and, as much respect as I have for Cline Family Cellars, a laughably high award. It's a serviceable wine. Nothing less, nothing more.

With yet another example of a wine bearing an overly generous rating from Mr. Suckling, I decided to look a little closer at his grading. First, I went to his website for an explanation:

"We rate wines using the 100-point scale...A wine rated 90 points or more is outstanding (A). A a wine rated 95 points or more (A+) is a must buy. A wine rated less than 88 points might still be worth buying but proceed with caution...We don’t recommend spending your money on anything rated lower than that."

There are some typos in this section, so some meaning may have fallen through the cracks.  As it reads, that's not a 100 point scale, but more like a 12 point scale - and one on which everything is wonderful. What a wonderful world that must be.

Next, I went looking for comparative data. Many online retailers allow you to filter by scores (further evidence at the power of points), so I ran some searches and filtered down to a couple of hundred wines rated 93 points or more by Mr. Suckling. How do his scores compare to those of other major reviewers? Nine out of ten time his ratings were equal to or higher than ratings from other outlets (including Wine Spectator, Decanter, Wine Advocate, Vinous, and Wine Enthusiast.) Translated to his 100 point scale, that's an "outstanding" feat.

If it were 30% or even 50% percent of the time, you might think he's an eternal optimist, but 90%? You could reasonably wonder if there isn't a game of one upmanship at play. Or perhaps its just an attempt to differentiate in an increasingly crowded marketplace. As already mentioned, high points are attention-getting and clearly they work to move product. Regardless, even if only by this simple observation, 90% is far from occasional. In fact, it's very much the opposite.

Which brings us to a question that could be uncomfortable: which master does a wine critic serve, the producer, the consumer, or themselves? This points-like-candy-on-Halloween trend also makes me wonder if other publications will follow suit and adjust their scale to a similar curve.  We shall see.  In the meantime, no more getting lured in by points. For real this time.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Australia: Easily Overlooked

A rising darling of the wine industry just a decade ago, Australia’s fine wine star has faded into near obscurity in recent years. After a long string of spotty quality and overheated monsters, I pretty much abandoned the Oz section of wine shelves completely.  Until last night, anyway.  Mistakenly stocked among some domestic reds, the 2015 Barossa Valley Estate Shiraz ($11) caught my eye in a 'what the heck' kind of way. And at $10.99, what the heck, right?  Besides, I needed something with enough backbone to stand up to marinated roast split chicken breasts.  Surely any Barossa red would have enough cojones to do the trick.

Well, I was right.  It certainly has the stuffing to complement even the heartiest of fare, but it was much more than that - and way over-delivered on QPR.  Full of bright and exuberant fruit mounted on a solid frame of brawn and acidity, it offers a hint of mouth-quenching savory that had me squeezing the bottle for every last drop. Tagged at 14% (which seems reasonable these days), it was on the right side of bigness.

Hopefully I can be forgiven for forgetting what a pleasure a simple shiraz can offer. Maybe it's time to revisit this region.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Audax: Serious Cabernet

What do oligarchs drink on the weekend? Probably this.  If they're lucky, that is.

 2013 and 2014 Calla Lily Estate Napa Valley Cabernet 'Audax' ($120)

Sample shipments are often composed of wines promoting the breadth of a producer's portfolio. For example: a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc, a merlot, and a cab. For producers specializing in a single variety, on a rare occasion the shipment will be smattering of single vineyard bottlings. But the rarest is a shipment including the same bottle from different vintages. Being able to taste sibling wines from different vintages allows for identification of commonalities and the winery's thumbprint. So, when the package containing one cab from 2013 and another from 2014 arrived from Calla Lily Estate, I was intrigued.

Calla Lily Estate is a relatively young, small production winery founded in 2010 in the Pope Valley, a quiet valley in the northeast corner of Napa county.  And Audax is their top tier cabernet label.  I had never heard of the winery, but that's not surprising as Napa is home to hundreds of small producers.  based on these releases, however, this estate won't remain under wraps for too long.

Packaged in polished, dark, bunker-buster bottles (more than twice the weight of typical 750ml bottles) finished with raised gold lettering and and ancient looking coin emblem, these bottles just look expensive. With that as an introduction, you might expect a viscous, syrupy juice to ease into the glass. Instead, both vintages offered gleaming ruby splashing with confidence.  Could the color indicate what was to come in the palate?

Both vintages are in possession of unmistakable classic Napa Valley characteristics: prominent nose showcasing the brooding side of cabernet, prodigious fruit, broad shouldered framing from a French oak regimen, and elegant mouth-puckering tannins. Cassis, date, and plum dominate, while suggestions of eucalyptus, vanillin, cedar, and dust round out the complex flavor experience. These wines are so clearly siblings, but the 2014 is everything the 2013 is, plus-plus. All the desirable attributes of the 2013 are amplified in the 2014. It’s a more intense version of its slightly older sibling and  bangs a strong tannic drum. A fatty steak would help tame its youthful vigor. These sublime wines will go some distance in the bottle stored under the right conditions.

Not that I am one to score wine on points, but these are solid 95+ pointers just in case you are looking for a relative gauge of quality.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Boring But Important Update

The Supreme Court heard arguments today on Tennessee v Blair, explained in Eric Asimov's article from last week.  To get a handle on what happened, I turned to SCOTUS blog.

The well-written (if on the geeky side) analysis of today's arguments suggests that today's arguments and commentary give little indication of which way the justices will lean on this, and that - as is the norm - we won't learn of the Court's decision until sometime this summer.

My money is on the status quo.  But wouldn't it be wonderful if I were wrong!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Boring But Important

The intersection of wine, commerce, and legal technicalities might seem quite dry (pardon the pun) at first glance, but as Eric Asimov summarizes in his recent New York Times piece, there's a lot at stake in this week's Supreme Court hearing of a case called Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair.

Asimov's piece is worth reading and I won't be attempt to regurgitate it, but if you've ever even thought of buying wine online, you should care about the outcome of this case.

As consumer purchasing behavior has moved decidedly in the direction of less friction/deliver to my doorstep, the beverage alcohol establishment (aka the three tier system) has opted to resist rather than evolve.  In a nut shell, it is unlawful for a retailer to ship wine to consumers across many state lines. Resulting largely from arm-twisting by state branches of the Wine & Beer Wholesalers Association, several states have started cracking down on interstate wine shipments, issuing cease-and-desists to major wine e-commerce retailers, and roping FedEx and UPS into the mix. 

I've written about this a couple of times and have not-so-privately speculated that the establishment's entrenchment could invite a fight in a ring they don't own.  Is this case the one?  We won't know until a decision is made and the details become clear, which is likely months away.  But the fact that the Supreme Court is revisiting the subject matter could be good news for consumers.

The case will go in front of the court on Wednesday, January 16, 2019.  I, for one, will be pouring myself a glass of something tasty to enjoy while reading the recap of the court's questions.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

5 Wine Thoughts For 2019

Hello everyone and happy new year! Here’s hoping your holidays were safe, relaxing, and full of delicious goodies. As we head into the new year, I offer the following as food for thought and a peek into some topics I am pondering as 2019 gets underway. 

Under-The-Radar Winegrowing Regions 
Michigan? Really?
First, let’s start with some good news. Perhaps related to/resulting from one of the topics covered below, 2018 provided some terrific drinking enjoyment in the form of wines from under the radar winegrowing regions. Towards the top of my list is my rediscovery of the Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan. Having received a diverse set of samples from them this fall, I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the caliber and value these wines present. A few examples include Ch√Ęteau Grand Traverse’s Dry Riesling, Black Star Farm’s exciting sauvignon blanc (both reviewed here), Peninsula Cellar’s Late Harvest Riesling (the world needs more wines like this!), and 2 Lads' very, very good Cab Franc. Though not nearly as obscure as northern Michigan, the alpine region of Italy also known as Alto Adige continues to outperform its price points. In the US this region has become synonymous with pinot grigio, but adventuresome drinkers who explore the region’s reds will be rewarded. This summer will be my first time visiting that part of the world and I am really looking forward to it. 

Aging Wine 
One of the most commonly-repeated misconceptions about wine is that it gets better with age. The truth is that very, very little wine has the capacity to improve with age. If 2018 had a wine drinking stain for me, it was having held on to too many bottles past their prime. Sadly, there were a cluster of these right around the holidays, including a relatively young 2012 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas ($65) that should still have been in its youth, but was likely not stored properly.  Therefore, one New Year’s resolution is to drink up when a wine tastes good. That’s right: less stock piling, more living in the moment. 

Natural Wine
Thanks to millennials becoming more prominent players in the wine consumer market, natural wine seems to be gaining in popularity, at least the idea of it anyway. Very few people (yours truly included) don’t even understand what the term really means, if there even is a consensus.  Is it organic? Biodynamic? Additive-free?  Harvested by moonlight by virgins? I suspect it mostly means the absence of any preservatives.  Sulfites are routinely added to wine as a stabilizing preservative to maintain consistency, quality and resilience through the shipping/distribution process. This has been done for centuries, if not millennia, and for good reason. Though I will gladly admit that one of the best wines I had this year was a biodynamically-farmed California pinot noir (Story of Soil), my overarching experience with natural wines is that they are volatile and inconsistent, particularly if drunk anywhere but within close proximity to where they were grown and bottled. The grinch in me thanks this will be a passing fad, but the trend could spur innovation into organic alternatives that accomplish the same end as sulfites. 

Climate Change 
The current administration’s head in the sand rhetoric notwithstanding, climate change is real. Farmers know this, including those growing grapes. The impact is visible in alcohol levels, sugar saturation, and other distorted characteristics in modern wines. This may be creating space in the marketplace for restraint. Some brave wine makers are attempting to counteract this by harvesting earlier, while others (braver still) are moving vineyard sites to higher altitudes and cooler climates. See my comments above regarding under the radar growing regions. I expect more of these places will continue to emerge and become more widely available as their quality increases. 

Points Relativity 
Finally, 2018 was a year when the 100 point scale went from disputed to indisputably bastardized.  Chief among the culprits is James Suckling.  His generosity with points reminds me of Venezuela’s monetary policy. I’ve uncorked too many “meh” mid-90 point wines to be swayed by those emails touting a “95 point gem for just $14.99.” Will the industry’s infatuation with such low-hanging marketing fruit ultimately doom the credibility of the scale?  I doubt it, but it’s becoming a in increasingly ignored metric for more and more consumers. 

As a parting thought, I hope the new year sees me (and you) drinking more of the following: Greek wine, white wine from Italy, inexpensive Chardonnay from Burgundy, Port, more port, and wine made to be drunk young and fresh. Here’s wishing you many happy glasses!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Inexpensive Gift Ideas For The Winos In Your Life

It's the last day of Hanukkah and we're deep into procrastinator season for Christmas shopping. Still
stumped on what to get that wine lover on your list?  Here is a handful of ideas that are sure to bring a smile to your favorite wino's lips:

Double-Hinged Corkscrew/Wine Key
There are hundreds of these on the market and you can spend a lot if you want to, but the important  thing to look for is a teflon-coated worm.  The worm is the squiggly piece that you work into the cork, and teflon coating makes it slide into the meat of the cork more easily - much more easily - and more quickly.  That translates into less force/trauma going into the cork, decreasing the likelihood of damaging the cork - a real risk when the wine is older.  At a reasonable $16, this handsome one in rosewood won't break the bank, either.

Wide-bodied Decanter
Functional and beautiful, a wide-bodied decanter is a staple in our home.  Features to look for: a wide, flat bottom for stability and a clean (sharp, not rounded) lip for less dripping.  Don't spend more than $25 as these tend to chip and stain easily over time.  I usually find them for around $10 at Marshall's or TJ Maxx.

Expensive Soave
Don't let that header fool you - the most expensive Soave bottle you'll find will likely be under $20.  What you get for that, however, is bottled Italian magic.  The quality of Soave bottlings just keeps getting better and better, offering subtle perfumed aromatics, brilliant minerality and acid, and a friendly texture that wraps the wine in a companionable embrace.  Two names to look for: Pieropan Soave Classico and Tenuta Santa Maria's Lepia bottling.

Tawny Port
If good wine holds the possibility of discovering something wonderful in a glass, good port holds the promise of the comforting experience of contentment. There's a huge range of the stuff out there, but you need not - in fact, you shouldn't - spend a ton on young vintage port.  Instead, give the gift of a tawny, which you'll find for around $20 and is enjoyable right now.  Feel the need to splurge?  Upgrade to a 10 year tawny, which will be in the neighborhood of $35 and is worth every penny.  bonus: it'll keep for a couple of weeks after opening, so can be enjoyed in moderation over several evenings.

Chardonnay was first made famous in Burgundy and for good reason. Though finer Chablis often runs north of $80, there is a universe of more modestly priced options that will give even the most experienced drinker happy pause. One such example is the 2016 Domaine Bernard Defaix, which was the best $20 I spent on wine all year.

Real Pinot
Real pinot noir is translucent in the glass, and channels its energy through intricate acidty into multi-dimensional layers of complexity, sometimes in mind-bending fashion.  It neither drums its message nor leaves the drinker beleaguered from potency.  Sounds like a unicorn, eh?  A couple of examples include a smashing $14 value from the widely available French producer Louis Latour, the 2015 Pinot Noir Domaine de Valmoissine. A higher end option is the J Wilkes Santa Rita Hills ($30.)

Never heard of this Greek grape? I hadn't either until recently. But whoa. Though light on density, it's bright with saline acidity and bountiful flavors.  Unlike any other wine your wine lover has ever had, this will light up a dinner table with adventure and discovery.  One to look for: Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro from the Naousa region.

Big Red
Finally, no gift giving list would be complete without a hefty red. For exquisite drinking pleasure that overdelivers on price, consider a Lirac. Sitting across the river from Chateauneuf du Pape, it shares many characteristics with its neighbor, but does not enjoy the same notoriety (or premium.)  These reds can be supple, lighter expressions, or serious, deep, profound wines.  For something in the middle, Domaine Lafond's Roc-Epine Lirac will set you back around $20.