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 Château 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!

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