Friday, September 25, 2020

Unique Opportunities for Wine Buyers Are Here

Catastrophe And Opportunity Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

The topic of the pandemic's impact on the wine industry hasn't garnered much attention on these pages, but back in March and April I prognosticated to family, friends and neighbors that the end of summer would begin to provide some unique opportunities for wine buyers.  

This morning an email hit my inbox offering a single vineyard Russian River Valley pinot noir for $20. The wine, from a respected producer in what is perhaps California's most revered region for pinot, normally retails for $50+.  How is this possible? Covid. That email is but one piece of evidence that my prediction is now coming true.  In a post about buying wine online back in April, the following paragraph touched on the underlying reasons:

Grocery store wine sales are up more than 30%, which means that large producers (who are able to get placement at large grocers) and the distributors which represent them are enjoying sales increases.  But this comes at the expense of non-grocery retailers, producers, and the distributors which represent them - adding insult to the trade war tariffs that were already debilitating imports.  Though the big guys will fare just fine, there will be many casualties in the wine industry, most of them small-medium sized.  

Equally important: restaurants. They are nowhere close to being back to where they were pre-pandemic when they had accounted for approximately 30% of wine sales.  The other thing about restaurant wine (or what the industry refers to as "on premise"): to prevent comparison shopping and cultivate a more unique experience, restaurants generally prefer to stack their lists with wines you won't find at the grocery store - or even your local wine shop. This means a strong tilt towards smaller producers, many of which are suffering the consequences.

When distributors don't have a market to move new product to, they order less (or not at all), leaving the producers with excess inventory and a need for fast cash. Some of these folks turn to flash sale operations (like WTSO or Last Bottle,) while others prefer to preserve brand equity and sell their wine in bulk to someone who will slap a different label on it like Cameron Hughes and his new venture, which I wrote about last month.

The proliferation of these offers does not mean we are awash in nothing but stupid-good deals. Some of what I've seen hit my radar is overpriced or just deeply-discounted cat pee, so buyers still need to be aware.  But there's a reason why there are four cases of wine on their way to my doorstep right now. There are some screaming deals to be had if you are patient, know where to look, and can separate the signal from the noise.

Unique Opportunities for Wine Buyers Are Here

Catastrophe And Opportunity Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

The topic of the pandemic's impact on the wine industry hasn't garnered much attention on these pages, but back in March and April I prognosticated to family, friends and neighbors that the end of summer would begin to provide some unique opportunities for wine buyers.  

This morning an email hit my inbox offering a single vineyard Russian River Valley pinot noir for $20. The wine, from a respected producer in what is perhaps California's most revered region for pinot, normally retails for $50+.  How is this possible? Covid. That email is but one piece of evidence that my prediction is now coming true.  In a post about buying wine online back in April, the following paragraph touched on the underlying reasons:

Grocery store wine sales are up more than 30%, which means that large producers (who are able to get placement at large grocers) and the distributors which represent them are enjoying sales increases.  But this comes at the expense of non-grocery retailers, producers, and the distributors which represent them - adding insult to the trade war tariffs that were already debilitating imports.  Though the big guys will fare just fine, there will be many casualties in the wine industry, most of them small-medium sized.  

Equally important: restaurants. They are nowhere close to being back to where they were pre-pandemic when they had accounted for approximately 30% of wine sales.  The other thing about restaurant wine (or what the industry refers to as "on premise"): to prevent comparison shopping and cultivate a more unique experience, restaurants generally prefer to stack their lists with wines you won't find at the grocery store - or even your local wine shop. This means a strong tilt towards smaller producers, many of which are suffering the consequences.

When distributors don't have a market to move new product to, they order less (or not at all), leaving the producers with excess inventory and a need for fast cash. Some of these folks turn to flash sale operations (like WTSO or Last Bottle,) while others prefer to preserve brand equity and sell their wine in bulk to someone who will slap a different label on it like Cameron Hughes and his new venture, which I wrote about last month.

The proliferation of these offers does not mean we are awash in nothing but stupid-good deals. Some of what I've seen hit my radar is overpriced or just deeply-discounted cat pee, so buyers still need to be aware.  But there's a reason why there are four cases of wine on their way to my doorstep right now. There are some screaming deals to be had if you are patient, know where to look, and can separate the signal from the noise.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Taking Chilean Carmenere To The Next Level

Founded in 1993, TerraNoble was established as a boutique winery specializing in carmenere. So, it should come as no surprise that the focus of a recent virtual tasting was on their camenere bottlings. Presided over by winemaker Marcelo Garcia and US/EU regional director Tomas Uribe Martinez, the Zoom tasting started with a polished video featuring breathtaking drone shots of the vineyards and surrounding areas. If that brief piece of videography was intended to put Chile's wine country on everyone's travel wish list, it succeeded with me.

Side note: these virtual tastings tend to follow a fairly preordained formula that gets boring after a while, but the slide show explaining the evolution of carmenere vinification over the past 25 years revealed something interesting: They clearly recognized that pyrazines can impart undesirable green vegetal notes, just as attempting to mask them with heavy-handed oak can yield its own undesirable consequences.  In other words, the folks at TerraNoble are iterating through successive vintages in pursuit of finding their version of carmenere's perfect identity, one characterized by fresh fruit, tipicity, and acidity.

Each of these bottles was decanted two hours prior to the tasting, offering a riotous explosion of perfumed aromatics that wafted over the table. In the process decanting, the 2017 vintage of the CA1 and CA2 bottlings were notably more dense and inky going into the glass.  A couple of general thoughts on these wines:

  • These wines are evidence that Chile is upping its winemaking game
  • Differences between vineyard sites was on full display - lots of diversity there


2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Maule Valley Chile 'Gran Reserva' $19 (Sample)

Nearly a decade ago I reviewed the 2008 vintage of this wine. Those notes read, "Dark, tight, tannic, and serious. Seamless texture and expensive feel. Terrific balance. Interesting savory, leathery aromatics. Needs time to relax and deliver its dimensions of flavor. All the good and none of the South American green pepper, vegetal sting." Fast forward to 2017 and the feel is more accessible, with a welcoming, round nose and a subtle tar.  The profile is dominated by black fruit and framed by elegant acidity and a sharpened pencil-graphite edge. Still has the lovely savory elements and expensive feel. Think grilled steak or lamb. More than fairly priced. Best overall of tasting.

2016 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA1 Andes' $25 (Sample)
Thrill ride of a nose with exciting spices and pretty floral fragrance that gives way to a sprightly, somewhat hot palate. Oak toast is front and center ahead of the bright red fruit.  But, wait; that barrel prominence relaxes over several hours, giving way to a refined opulence surrounded by a spaciousness that will have you wondering what else might lay ahead for this complicated, evolving wine. Most ethereal of tasting.

2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA1 Andes' $25 (Sample)
The inky color belies what awaits. The oak regimen was dialed down from last year and to great effect, allowing freshness and terrior to take center stage.  Pyrazines are evident, but in a complementary way and in balance with fruit that is prettier and more expressive than the prior vintage allowed. Texture is so supple and winemaking precision is on full display here. A lovely wine I wouldn't have expected to enjoy so much.  Most sophisticated of tasting.

2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA2 Costa' $25 (Sample)
As the name implies, this wine is from a vineyard 60km towards the coast from where the CA1 is grown. Once again the color and density would suggest a wine of heft and intensity, while the green vegetable and herbed aromatics offer a contrasting clue as to what will follow.  Turns out neither of these clues is misleading. On the palate, the pyrazine volume level is cranked up, but also matched by the size of the firm fruit. Big, but poised and in possession of a full spectrum of complex crushed flowers and herbs, and even a subtle mountainside smoke. Would love to meet this wine again in five years.

Taking Chilean Carmenere To The Next Level

Founded in 1993, TerraNoble was established as a boutique winery specializing in carmenere. So, it should come as no surprise that the focus of a recent virtual tasting was on their camenere bottlings. Presided over by winemaker Marcelo Garcia and US/EU regional director Tomas Uribe Martinez, the Zoom tasting started with a polished video featuring breathtaking drone shots of the vineyards and surrounding areas. If that brief piece of videography was intended to put Chile's wine country on everyone's travel wish list, it succeeded with me.

Side note: these virtual tastings tend to follow a fairly preordained formula that gets boring after a while, but the slide show explaining the evolution of carmenere vinification over the past 25 years revealed something interesting: They clearly recognized that pyrazines can impart undesirable green vegetal notes, just as attempting to mask them with heavy-handed oak can yield its own undesirable consequences.  In other words, the folks at TerraNoble are iterating through successive vintages in pursuit of finding their version of carmenere's perfect identity, one characterized by fresh fruit, tipicity, and acidity.

Each of these bottles was decanted two hours prior to the tasting, offering a riotous explosion of perfumed aromatics that wafted over the table. In the process decanting, the 2017 vintage of the CA1 and CA2 bottlings were notably more dense and inky going into the glass.  A couple of general thoughts on these wines:

  • These wines are evidence that Chile is upping its winemaking game
  • Differences between vineyard sites was on full display - lots of diversity there


2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Maule Valley Chile 'Gran Reserva' $19 (Sample)

Nearly a decade ago I reviewed the 2008 vintage of this wine. Those notes read, "Dark, tight, tannic, and serious. Seamless texture and expensive feel. Terrific balance. Interesting savory, leathery aromatics. Needs time to relax and deliver its dimensions of flavor. All the good and none of the South American green pepper, vegetal sting." Fast forward to 2017 and the feel is more accessible, with a welcoming, round nose and a subtle tar.  The profile is dominated by black fruit and framed by elegant acidity and a sharpened pencil-graphite edge. Still has the lovely savory elements and expensive feel. Think grilled steak or lamb. More than fairly priced. Best overall of tasting.

2016 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA1 Andes' $25 (Sample)
Thrill ride of a nose with exciting spices and pretty floral fragrance that gives way to a sprightly, somewhat hot palate. Oak toast is front and center ahead of the bright red fruit.  But, wait; that barrel prominence relaxes over several hours, giving way to a refined opulence surrounded by a spaciousness that will have you wondering what else might lay ahead for this complicated, evolving wine. Most ethereal of tasting.

2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA1 Andes' $25 (Sample)
The inky color belies what awaits. The oak regimen was dialed down from last year and to great effect, allowing freshness and terrior to take center stage.  Pyrazines are evident, but in a complementary way and in balance with fruit that is prettier and more expressive than the prior vintage allowed. Texture is so supple and winemaking precision is on full display here. A lovely wine I wouldn't have expected to enjoy so much.  Most sophisticated of tasting.

2017 TerraNoble Carmenere Colchagua Valley Chile 'CA2 Costa' $25 (Sample)
As the name implies, this wine is from a vineyard 60km towards the coast from where the CA1 is grown. Once again the color and density would suggest a wine of heft and intensity, while the green vegetable and herbed aromatics offer a contrasting clue as to what will follow.  Turns out neither of these clues is misleading. On the palate, the pyrazine volume level is cranked up, but also matched by the size of the firm fruit. Big, but poised and in possession of a full spectrum of complex crushed flowers and herbs, and even a subtle mountainside smoke. Would love to meet this wine again in five years.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Fall Is Coming: Time For Malbec?

With the weather (finally) cooling in parts of the country, our meals and wines will begin to change. Whereas summer heat demands refreshing whites and light-footed reds, fall fare will want for a little more heft and a little more depth. Perfect timing for a transition to wines like malbec. Case in point is the Trapiche Medalla.

2017 Trapiche Medalla Malbec Mendoza $19 (Sample)
Made of 100% malbec grown at an altitude of close to 4000 feet in Tupungato. Predictably inky in the glass, but surprisingly expressive with floral aromatics and high-toned spices on the nose that reflect its new French oak regimen. Coy in the mouth; it needs time to blossom. Precise delivery of still tightly-wound red and blue fruit, and green vegetables framed by tightly-integrated tannins indicate longevity and greater accessibility in the coming years. As it benefits from air, the nose offers a preview of the complexity that awaits the patient consumer willing to cellar this well-made red that is clearly still in its infancy.



Fall Is Coming: Time For Malbec?

With the weather (finally) cooling in parts of the country, our meals and wines will begin to change. Whereas summer heat demands refreshing whites and light-footed reds, fall fare will want for a little more heft and a little more depth. Perfect timing for a transition to wines like malbec. Case in point is the Trapiche Medalla.

2017 Trapiche Medalla Malbec Mendoza $19 (Sample)
Made of 100% malbec grown at an altitude of close to 4000 feet in Tupungato. Predictably inky in the glass, but surprisingly expressive with floral aromatics and high-toned spices on the nose that reflect its new French oak regimen. Coy in the mouth; it needs time to blossom. Precise delivery of still tightly-wound red and blue fruit, and green vegetables framed by tightly-integrated tannins indicate longevity and greater accessibility in the coming years. As it benefits from air, the nose offers a preview of the complexity that awaits the patient consumer willing to cellar this well-made red that is clearly still in its infancy.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Traverse City Whiskey Co

Any longtime Ohioan will tell you that it goes against our grain to admit any flattery to our rival state to the north. But when the whiskey of the north proves to be of more than respectable quality, you've just got give credit where credit is due. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co has been making bourbons and other whiskeys since its opening in 2014, though the recipe and techniques underlying their distilling process can be traced back to co-founder Chris Fredrickson's great-grandfather who patented them during prohibition. TCWC bottles five different whiskeys, three of which I had a chance to review and enjoy. In addition to these, they bottle a rye and a port barrel-finished bourbon, both of which sound very yummy. These samples also arrived with a jar of the region's famous cherries, prepped for cocktail making.

Quick confession: that jar of cherries was too much to resist. In fact, it was half empty before I cracked the first of the whiskeys. Deep, dark (almost black) violet in color and soaked in a viscous bourbon-based syrup, having one is easy, but having just one is impossible. You've been warned. 


Traverse City Whiskey Co Straight Bourbon $33/43% abv (Sample)
Relaxation in a bottle. Super clean nose showcasing the 25% rye in the mashbill and a round, vanilla-laced shape no doubt thanks to being in the barrel for three or more years. All those same qualities carry through the the palate, which is illuminated by bright acidity and a languid finish. Think sitting in an Adirondack on the dock watching the sunset while on vacation. This bourbon is unstitched and laid back. Sip and chill.  

Traverse City Whiskey Co Barrel Proof Bourbon $79/58.3% abv (Sample)
This is next level. With a depth and sophistication that builds on its younger sibling, this slightly more corn-forward bourbon is a few shades darker and much more seductive on the nose thanks to its four-plus years in barrel. Hiding its strength well, it hits its deep notes with rich baritone and its high notes with aching clarity. Oh, so good. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co American Cherry $30/35% abv (Sample)
Cherry? Yes, cherry. Stick your nose into a tumbler of this stuff and you’ll think you just opened a jar of maraschinos, but the similarities end there. Instead, the flavors are dominated by textbook quality bourbon framed delicately with a dark sour cherry fusion. If it were the other way around (as I had sort of dreaded) the result would not be nearly as drinkable. Using the same mashbill as the straight bourbon, plus a boat load of Montmorency cherries, this is surprisingly clean, light, and dry. And sip after sip, all I could think was what a kick-ass Manhattan this would make.


 

Traverse City Whiskey Co

Any longtime Ohioan will tell you that it goes against our grain to admit any flattery to our rival state to the north. But when the whiskey of the north proves to be of more than respectable quality, you've just got give credit where credit is due. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co has been making bourbons and other whiskeys since its opening in 2014, though the recipe and techniques underlying their distilling process can be traced back to co-founder Chris Fredrickson's great-grandfather who patented them during prohibition. TCWC bottles five different whiskeys, three of which I had a chance to review and enjoy. In addition to these, they bottle a rye and a port barrel-finished bourbon, both of which sound very yummy. These samples also arrived with a jar of the region's famous cherries, prepped for cocktail making.

Quick confession: that jar of cherries was too much to resist. In fact, it was half empty before I cracked the first of the whiskeys. Deep, dark (almost black) violet in color and soaked in a viscous bourbon-based syrup, having one is easy, but having just one is impossible. You've been warned. 


Traverse City Whiskey Co Straight Bourbon $33/43% abv (Sample)
Relaxation in a bottle. Super clean nose showcasing the 25% rye in the mashbill and a round, vanilla-laced shape no doubt thanks to being in the barrel for three or more years. All those same qualities carry through the the palate, which is illuminated by bright acidity and a languid finish. Think sitting in an Adirondack on the dock watching the sunset while on vacation. This bourbon is unstitched and laid back. Sip and chill.  

Traverse City Whiskey Co Barrel Proof Bourbon $79/58.3% abv (Sample)
This is next level. With a depth and sophistication that builds on its younger sibling, this slightly more corn-forward bourbon is a few shades darker and much more seductive on the nose thanks to its four-plus years in barrel. Hiding its strength well, it hits its deep notes with rich baritone and its high notes with aching clarity. Oh, so good. 

Traverse City Whiskey Co American Cherry $30/35% abv (Sample)
Cherry? Yes, cherry. Stick your nose into a tumbler of this stuff and you’ll think you just opened a jar of maraschinos, but the similarities end there. Instead, the flavors are dominated by textbook quality bourbon framed delicately with a dark sour cherry fusion. If it were the other way around (as I had sort of dreaded) the result would not be nearly as drinkable. Using the same mashbill as the straight bourbon, plus a boat load of Montmorency cherries, this is surprisingly clean, light, and dry. And sip after sip, all I could think was what a kick-ass Manhattan this would make.


 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Baby Chablis (Or Chablis, Baby!)

Burgundy is where chardonnay first found fame. And while Chablis, at the north end of Burgundy, is home to the most famous vineyards, chardonnay is the main white grape grown throughout the region. Some of it is insane - both in brilliance and cost (some grand cru Chablis can set you back upwards of $300,) but it's a risky bet, too. So, anytime I come across an affordably-priced white Burgundy, I like to give it a try.  Occasionally you find a winner, as was the case with this little find.

2018 Vignerons de Bel Air Chardonnay 'Grande QV' $13 (Purchased)

Nothing at all like chardonnay grown in the New World, this entry level Burgundy is a textbook example of why experimentation with these wines is worth the effort.  Little in the way of flab and with balanced acidity, this falls short of complex, but doesn't need to be at this price. Unexpectedly delightful and poised, it shows shades of brilliance and energy with no shouting or no show-boating. Just plain tasty.  BONUS: They make a 100% gamay red that's equally worth your efforts to find.



Baby Chablis (Or Chablis, Baby!)

Burgundy is where chardonnay first found fame. And while Chablis, at the north end of Burgundy, is home to the most famous vineyards, chardonnay is the main white grape grown throughout the region. Some of it is insane - both in brilliance and cost (some grand cru Chablis can set you back upwards of $300,) but it's a risky bet, too. So, anytime I come across an affordably-priced white Burgundy, I like to give it a try.  Occasionally you find a winner, as was the case with this little find.

2018 Vignerons de Bel Air Chardonnay 'Grande QV' $13 (Purchased)

Nothing at all like chardonnay grown in the New World, this entry level Burgundy is a textbook example of why experimentation with these wines is worth the effort.  Little in the way of flab and with balanced acidity, this falls short of complex, but doesn't need to be at this price. Unexpectedly delightful and poised, it shows shades of brilliance and energy with no shouting or no show-boating. Just plain tasty.  BONUS: They make a 100% gamay red that's equally worth your efforts to find.



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

My New Favorite Bourbon

Still Austin Straight Bourbon 'The Musician' $45 (Sample)

The deep amber hue of this straight bourbon offers an enticing preview of what awaits in the glass where the inviting, warm, caramel-laced aromas beckon. Given 20 minutes to absorb an ice cube, the scents unfold further into a relaxed, seductive on-ramp for the palate. The first taste’s initial heat is muted, allowing the precise, yet mellow flavors to settle in for the duration. Here the barrel's vanillin and spices complement rather than compete with a core spirit that is mercifully clean and absent any hint of cloying. The added rye (25%) and barley (5%) have an out-sized influence, amping up the sophistication factor. While a single slurp’s finish easily lasts minutes, only the most patient will be able to resist a rapid cycle of enjoy-drain-refill. Guessed it to be a $75 bottle, so delighted by how reasonably priced it is. Beautifully packaged, and very, very good indeed.

 


 

My New Favorite Bourbon

Still Austin Straight Bourbon 'The Musician' $45 (Sample)

The deep amber hue of this straight bourbon offers an enticing preview of what awaits in the glass where the inviting, warm, caramel-laced aromas beckon. Given 20 minutes to absorb an ice cube, the scents unfold further into a relaxed, seductive on-ramp for the palate. The first taste’s initial heat is muted, allowing the precise, yet mellow flavors to settle in for the duration. Here the barrel's vanillin and spices complement rather than compete with a core spirit that is mercifully clean and absent any hint of cloying. The added rye (25%) and barley (5%) have an out-sized influence, amping up the sophistication factor. While a single slurp’s finish easily lasts minutes, only the most patient will be able to resist a rapid cycle of enjoy-drain-refill. Guessed it to be a $75 bottle, so delighted by how reasonably priced it is. Beautifully packaged, and very, very good indeed.