Tales of Taste #1: Dalla Terra {and the Golden Age of Wine}

Fresh off the rockin’ “Wines@Summer” Walkaround at ICE this past Friday, I am kicking off a week of Tasting posts. Five tastings I’ve been to or led over the past few weeks that help solidify my contention that we are, right here and now, living in the Golden Age of Wine.

In May, at the organically chic Rouge Tomate in Manhattan, I waded into a trade tasting of the Dalla Terra portfolio, an import stable that has been grown impressively by founder Brian Larky over the course of 20 years.

As tastings go, it was, bottle for bottle among the highest-quality Italian events I’ve attended. In short, Larky’s vision–fully manifested that afternoon–was to assemble an Alps-to-toe group of leading family-owned Italian wineries. The best of Italy, all in one suitcase, so to speak, from Alto Adige to Sicily. Personal favorites which I’ve poured in the past include: Inama Soave Classico; La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Aia Vecchia Lagone (Super Tuscan); Riff Pinot Grigio; Badia a Colitbuono Chiantis; Saracco Moscato d’Asti; and Vietti (just about everything they make from Piedmont). I’ve also long admired the wines of Alois Lageder and Avignonesi, two other Dalla Terra stars.

Credit for all the wines goes to the respective producers, of course. However, it’s worth highlighting Brian Larky’s role as the benevolent entrepreneurial ringleader. He does not make the wine, but it does make it happen for us. Besides enlisting the trust of these leading family-owned Italian wineries, he developed a business model by which American distributors are offered “direct import” pricing, which trickles down to consumers in the form of better value at every price point. 

This tasting was one heaping lovefest of great Italian wine. No surprise given the specific context: 15 vintners (out of the 19 estates) were finishing a seven-city 20th-aniversary swing; and the New York finale also represented their debut with a new NY metro distributor,  Martin Scott Wines. It was crowded, it was loud, it was joyous. It was a room chock full of tastemakers, from the Dalla Terra winery principals and Martin Scott sales reps on through to the sommeliers and retailers (even a coupla press/bloggers). This was the high end of the modern American wine business at work–celebrating a veritable rebirth of a well-chosen and managed portfolio.

Did I walk away with any must-buy wines to rave about? Not really; nor did I expect to. For me the tasting was more about confirmation than discovery. And the point worth passing along here is a simple one, inspired by but not exclusive to Dalla Terra. Today’s universe of available wine is both vast and getting bigger; one of the best ways to shrink that oeno-cosmos down–to make it both more manageable and enjoyable–is to find importers whose portfolios you can uncork with confidence. Dalla Terra is one of those portfolios that works for me in terms of delivering authentic, well-made Italian wines at fair pricing.

Are there other great Italian portfolios? Of course. Winebow, Frederick Wildman, Skurnik and Neil Empson jump to mind. Dalla Terra is hardly the only great, focused import folio within our grasp; there are dozens, but going in that direction would be to digress. The real revelation I want to share now is that part of the evolution of every wine lover, I believe, involves becoming aware of these simpatico portfolios, these pockets of trust.

And the fact that importers like Dalla Terra are thriving in today’s blossoming American wine scene is proof positive that we are living in the Golden Age of Wine. Just think: I was able to witness how the entirety (give or take a DOC here or there) of Italian wine in one room, in one glorioso afternoon. Granted, I am luckier than most, being able to attend trade events like this. Which is all the more reason I feel a responsibility to share these treasure-laden portfolios with wine lovers of all levels of experience.

Alcohol: the Devil is in the Details {So why won’t major American wine media run %s in reviews?}

When I teach wine classes, I make sure to announce the alcohol percentage stated on every bottle we sample. Why? Because it matters.

Let’s start with a simple reality. Alcohol is as much a part of a wine’s identity as the vintage and grape composition. It is the lovechild of fermentation. The whoopee in your grape juice. Alcohol is a pillar of a wine’s structure; it is a driving force in a wine’s body; it is a factor with food. It is also a regulated piece of data with is included in the packaging of every bottle, box and magnum we can buy.

So why do many established wine media deliberately omit alcohol percentages in their official reviews? It’s a question I believe deserves to be pressed. With alcohol levels in wine today reaching levels higher than in previous generations, this omission amounts a veritable abandonment of duty by wine critics who position themselves as consumer advocates.

FINE PRINT

The alcohol in a given wine is represented as a numerical percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). It is often tucked inconspicuously in a corner, maybe running up a border, or in the tiniest print possible. But it’s there, it’s legal, and it represents important information about the wine itself. Indeed, he differences between wines that are 8% alcohol, and 10%, and 12.5%, and 14.5% are profound.

Here are three common arguments against the usefulness of alcohol % when assessing a wine:
1. People’s thresholds of perception for alcohol—as well as their reactions to it—vary widely
2. Wines can have higher alcohol and still taste delicious and balanced
3. The percentages stated on labels are inaccurate

Each of statement is true. Even considered together, however, these arguments don’t form a compelling rationale for excluding alcohol percentages from editorial reviews.

  • Yes, alcohol is experienced differently by everyone. Very well. However, for any given person, a 14.5% wine is going to deliver more alcohol than a 12.5% one. Knowing that in advance can be quite useful. 
  • The idea that wines can be big and beautiful is perfectly fine. Yay for full-throttle, balanced wines! In cases such as these, however, there is all the more reason to include the alcohol percentage in a review; alcohol is a prime factor in a wine’s body, or weight, so the % would tangibly support the full-bodied description.
  • As for the inaccuracy line of reasoning, the legal tolerance for imprecision on a label is plus/minus 1.5% for wines under 14% ABV, and plus/minus 1% over 14%. Granted, that’s real wiggle room. Keep in mind, however: 1) 14% is a firm dividing line for taxation purposes, meaning the precision above 12.5% is much more certain and tax penalties provide ample motivation not to underestimate; and 2) OK, so the alcohol percentage can vary… so can price—in fact, even more so—but you would never see a major wine magazine excluding retail prices from reviews. So why exclude the moderately slippery legal data for alcohol while including famously hard-to-pin-down pricing data?

It is my contention that wine media standing behind any or all of the above arguments as a reason not to list ABV % in reviews are simply being disingenuous. Aren’t wine reviews meant to helpful to readers? Statements of alcohol—while flawed—represent very useful information. Here are some examples of how knowing the alcohol level is key to certain wine situations:

Riesling. Alcohol is a clue to relative body and dryness, and this becomes more obvious and critical with Riesling because it covers a wide span. An 8% Riesling (like Loosen “Dr. L”) is at the sweeter, lighter end of the spectrum; an 11% Finger Lakes Riesling is likely off-dry; a 12.5% is apt to hit some palates as sweetish and some as dry, but either way it should be fuller-bodied. When I lead tastings and people absolutely adore a Riesling, I make sure they take note of the alcohol; it’s one key to finding other Rieslings they will like.

New World Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel. In my experience, I enjoy New World Syrahs and Zins less as alcohol and price go up. Think about it: more expensive (say over $20) bottlings tend to be more concentrated, inky, dense. Alas, my Mollydooker days are over. And I no longer reflexively believe that “old vine” means better. Sure, this is my palate; but I am not alone. And this is a simple example of how if you know your own preferences in alcohol, knowing the labeled percentages when reading about the wines is really useful.

With Food. Many wine pros believe that smaller-framed wines better display food-friendly acidity while bigger ones run the risk both of overpowering the dish and the diner. I do not consider high-alcohol wines by definition to be clunky at the dinner table. But considering alcohol can be critical in certain situations. For a picnic, you may plump for a mild Pinot Grigio over a fuller Pinot Gris. Picking a rosé for salmon, you’d probably want to go with a higher-alc one. For Osso Buco, if you go Super Tuscan, you probably want a heavyweight. And maybe even a Chardo-plainer might be swayed to sip on some barrel-buttressed 14.5% Chardonnay with some grilled corn and shrimp. Situationally, alcohol impacts a wine’s utility with food; knowing the % helps.

Dining Out. When you’re at a restaurant with a group, people are eating different foods, and some people may be driving. This is an ideal time to go for lower-alcohol wines. I’ll never forget what importer Bart Broadbent told me in 2008 when I was researching an article about rising alcohol levels in wine: “When I’m out for dinner I’ll ask the sommelier for three recommendations,” he said. “Then I’ll ask him to bring the one with the lowest alcohol.” If the alcohol is important enough to be a consideration when deciding on a wine in a restaurant, certainly it is important enough to be included in the reviews that people use to make decisions. We are not always going to be in situations with sommeliers; being able to ascertain alcohol along the way when reading about wines would enhance any wine lover’s ability to deal with wine inreal-world situations, such as at a restaurant.

Vintage. In some years and in some places, alcohol becomes a signpost of a particular harvest. In 2003, for example, heat waves rolled across Europe over the summer. With their extra sugar at harvest, most French wines that year yielded higher than normal alcohol levels as well as a riper style. Let’s say you like a riper style, and you discovered you like the wines of a certain region from that 2003 vintage; moving forward, you might be inclined to seek out the higher-alcohol French wines from other vintages. Or, let’s say you are an old-school Old-Worlder; when it comes to hot years like 2003, you might still enjoy wines from that year which clocked in at the 13% or under level. Again, knowledge is power for wine consumers.

REALITY CHECK

Having laid out my case for why alcohol percentage is useful to wine lovers, I do want to turn back to the questions of why major wine media have been so resistant to listing this data in their reviews. On our way there, though, let’s step back and realize that there is indeed an alcohol “issue” at play in wine today.

In short, yesteryear’s rocket fuel passes as today’s norm. The average alcohol by volume in Napa Valley wines back in 1971 was 12.5%; thirty years later it hit 14.8%. Similarly, the Australian Wine Institute tracked 15,000 wines between 1984 and 2004 and saw alcohol levels in reds overall bulge from 12.4% to 14%, and Grenache and Shiraz reach 15% on average. Go into any wine shop… you have to search for red wines under 13% alcohol. It was not all that long ago that 12.5% was the golden standard of dry table wine (or at least dry European table wine); in today’s globalized wine market, 13.5% is commonplace.

There are multiple factors involved in the rising tide of alcohol… brix, hang time, improved yeasts that optimize fermentation… heck, we can even start into global warming. Not to be overlooked is the fact that critics—perhaps not consciously but quite instrumentally—have helped create this situation. How? By favoring riper, fuller-bodied wines and rewarding them with higher ratings. This trend accelerated into what is quite a vicious little cycle thanks to the 100-point scale as marketers and winery principals since the 1990s, eager to clear the magical 90-point bar, have pressured winemakers to work with riper fruit that naturally yields more potent dry wines.

No, I do not have any regression analysis quantifying the degree to which American wine raters favor full-figured wines. But anecdotally we are swimming in the evidence. Since the mid-1990s, when the 100-point scale started to ramp up, higher high alcohol has become one of the pre-requisites of American critics’ top-rated wines, period. Look at any Wine Spectator Top Ten—it’s perennially dominated by powerful reds. Look at the wines that get 94s, 95s and up: they get called “fruit bombs,” “hedonistic,” “full-throttle,” “bold,” “massive,” “opulent” and so on. I am totally fine with the idea that these upper-echelon wines are as balanced as an circus bear on a unicycle. The point is that “monsters” are being held up as the benchmarks of greatness by the points-wielding critics of our time. Meanwhile, consider why some iconic wines that are incapable of mustering big alcohol levels (Chenin Blanc, rosé, Muscadet, Beaujolais…) are also incapable of achieving high ratings from America’s “Flavor Elites.”

Does alcohol alone give wines an edge in blind tastings? Does 15% add two points to a wine’s score? No, I am not prepared to get that clinical. But, returning to the original question of this piece, I am contending that one motivation for magazines like Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate to NOT run alcohol levels with their reviews is to keep a cloak over the correlation between their highest critical acclaim and big, high-alcohol wines. In turn, the American wine-drinking populace has been led by these critics to embrace their standards of wine quality without the benefit of being made aware that, to a very real extent, those standards are built on a foundation of power over elegance.

CULPRITS OF THE CULT (& SOME ONLINE HEROES)

And let’s not think for a Bordeaux minute that the wine-raters are unaware of their propensity to give high scores to high-alcohol wines, reds in particular. I give Robert Parker credit for never denying his fondness for vinous fireworks; his “hedonistic” is one of the signature positive tags he applies to 14%+ reds. Others are not so eager to admit their complicity. Back in 2006, for instance, Wine Enthusiast {which I edited from 1988-’98} ran a cover story decrying “wine on steroids” without naming a single perpetrator of the supposedly dangerous trend; the WE buying guide, mere pages away, featured loads of high-proof 90+ pointers.

Wine Spectator toyed with the issue back in 2007 after Napa Valley Cabernet specialist Randy Dunn called them (and others) out in an open letter. Dunn, who had made but one wine over 14% alcohol in 28 vintages, wrote: “Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 – 16+ percent alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to enjoy with a meal.” He added: “These new wines are made to taste and spit—not to drink.” His letter implored consumers to ask for wines under 14% alcohol when they dine out, and directly challenged wine writers to include the labeled alcohol percentage when reviewing wines. Dunn was dismissed like a wayward child by Spectator critic James Laube in a blog post on the magazine’s website, however. Ignoring Dunn’s contention that wine critics have led “score chasing winemakers/owners up the alcohol curve,” Laube deflected the point with the errant reasoning {debunked above} that alcohol labeling is imprecise.

Longish story shorter, being a Spectator online subscriber at the time, I asked Laube, in comments to his blog post, why WS would not run alcohol percentages in their reviews. I also hypothesized—quite civilly, mind you—that the reason was to conceal the fact that his highest ratings were being applied to wines at the high end of the alcohol spectrum. I apparently never got the memo about WS blogs being habitable only for members of the choir to whom the Great Infallible Critics preach; the Spectator brass revealed some Gamay-thin skin and promptly evicted me from the comments sections entirely {a moment I now see as a true emancipation}.

Bottom line: I am not the first to raise the heady issue of heady alcohol in wine. {Quick shout-out here to Darrell Corti, the prominent wine merchant and grocer in Sacramento, who decided in 2007 to stop carrying any table wine with alcohol over 14.5%.} But I think the time has come to raise it again, specifically with respect to its glaring omission in wine reviews by the major American wine magazines. So Messrs. Parker, Laube, et al, I suggest that you follow the example set by your English peer, Jancis Robinson, MW, who includes ABV % in reviews at her Purple Pages site. Ditto some respected American bloggers: Enobytes, Drink NectarWannabe Wino; and Wino sapien. And there may {I hope} be more.

Personally, I am not much of a wine reviewer, per se, but I am planning to be even more conscious of the stated alcohol for wines I write about, making sure to include the stated percentage when it exceeds 14.5%. And in classes I teach, I will continue to to announce the alcohol percentage of wines I pour, even if that means having to enlist the aid of someone under 35 who can find and read the fine-print % faster than I can.

When Wine Really Goes Outside the Box {presenting Octavin, the new eight-point star of wine packaging}

OK, when I first read the press release for the debut of the Octavin Home Wine Bar, I just had to laugh. Out loud. Since when, I asked myself, righteously and rhetorically, does a bag-in-box wine qualify as a wine bar? But my curiosity was sparked. As I have long been a fan of the 3L bladder-based wine delivery concept, and with my interest was additionally piqued by the promise of “artisanal” wine, I requested a sample.

Before dipping into what the wine tastes like (which I do understand is important), let’s step back for a look at the bigger picture here: this wine is about the package. It is a box, but not a box (the b-word never appears in any of the press materials, nor on packaging itself). Taller than most 3Ls, and figuratively sharp with its ocho-sided design, the Octavin stands above shorter, squarer examples of the genre. Other box wines look like boxes; Octavin does not. It’s statuesque. Sexy even.

But there is still more going on here. The “Home Wine Bar” is not just jargon. Notice I didn’t even say what kind of wine was inside the Octavin. That’s because there are ten different offerings in the line. Yes, ten. This is a whole international portfolio—launched by California-based Underdog Wine Merchants, a division of The Wine Group—a stylistic crescendo from clean and simple white to robust and structured red. The line contains crowdpleaser wines {Big House is in da house}, iconic wines {Pinot Grigio, NZ SB, Old Vine Zin}, even edgy wines {Hungarian Pinot Noir(!), Osborne’s seven-grape red “Seven”}. Toss in a couple Cali staples (Merlot, Chard, Cabernet) and you basically have a wine bar waiting to happen. {Just add duct tape?}

Yes, yes, I am still planning to get to the wine proper, but not before taking one more sidestep here to re-establish where bag-in-box technology fits, vis à vis bottles. In short, this bulk vessel has three significant advantages:

  1. < $ {less dough} 3L b-in-b’s deliver four bottles worth of wine for way less than it would cost in 750mls (Octavins retail from $20 and $24)
  2. + eco-friendly {more green} Bulk packaging and lighter materials mean a lower carbon footprint
  3. !!! {freshness!} The interior bag gradually collapses without letting air in, thus preventing spoilage; wine stays fresh for six weeks after opening.

The biggest strike against bag-in-box wines has been image. Like screwtops before them, these Large Marges of the wine world are a turnoff for drinkers who like the comfort (for some the cachet) of classic 750ml cork-finished bottles. Until now. Octavin transcends the box category. This convergence of form and function takes a product people already like—wine—and delivers it with greater cost savings, enhanced convenience and extended use. It’s good taste meets common sense… a proverbial potable “better mousetrap.”

The Test Drive

I took the Monthaven 2008 Central Coast Chardonnay (one of the ten Octavin wines) to the “Trendiest Wines” class I taught at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) on April 17th. After we had finished tasting through Prosecco, Torrontes, Finger Lakes Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Provence rosé, I pulled out the Octavin, explained it was a Chardonnay, and invited anyone to try the wine during our mid-class break. As expected, the people who already liked California Chardonnay were very pleased. The Monthaven is solid, well-made, balanced—metaphorically, it’s a line-drive single up the middle: medium-bodied (13.5% alcohol), plenty fruity (apple, peach), just tangy enough to be juicy, and modestly oaked. In short, this is true Chardonnay—easily on par with bottles priced in the teens. People found the package itself pretty attractive as well; the price, even more so.

The ICE experience reminded me that most consumers have simply not paid much mind at all to the bag-in-box category. Despite booming (up 24% in 2009, according to Nielsen, vs. 2% for all table wine), box wines have been low-profile in terms of shelf visibility. This is perfectly understandable given how much other, flashier things are happening in the fast-evolving wine scene. And it amounts to a bit of an advantage for the 3L bulk-convenience category.

Which brings me to perhaps the most critical factor that promises to separate Octavin from its bulk-ish peers. Brand power. No, not the brand “Octavin” (which still sounds enough like a cartoon character to make the corners of my mouth curl upward). The line is anchored by none other than Big House Red and Big House White, a venerable Impact “Hot Brand” that started life in the 1990s as the brainchild of Randall Grahm (a pioneering anti-cork guy) and has been expanded dramatically (from 30,000 cases in 2006 to 150,000 now) by The Wine Group. This wine has sold (and still sells) iabout n bottle like hotcakes at the $10-$12 price point. Why has it been a winner? Simply put: the wine is tasty juice with a neat image and a good price. The Red is a full-flavored but smooth-textured fruity beauty, with a spicy Mediterranean spirit and fruity New World heart. Big House White is a crowd-pleasing, aromatic no-brainer of a blanc.

And now Big House comes in a hot new package that makes it both cheaper and longer-lasting? Wow, might as well stick a “HUG ME” sign on it. With $22 Big House as the lead dog, priced, I see the whole Octavin line becoming a huge hit.

Behind the Brand

I had the good fortune to meet Georgetta Dane, the winemaker of the Big House wines, in New York on a trade/press visit. After a short commiseration over the discontinuation of Big House Pink, here are some things I learned about Octavin and Big House….

While there is a group identity in the packaging, the wines represent distinct projects, each carefully planned from vineyard on up (as opposed to purchased bulk wine), and each designed to be representative of a focused wine type. Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc is from Marlborough, aka HQ for NZ SB; it is remarkably un-aggressive by NZ grapefruit-squeezed standards (which I find very refreshing). The Monthaven Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay represent straightforward Central Coast quality. The Boho Vineyards Old Vine Zin hails appropriately from Lodi, delivering intense, brambly flavor (with merciful 13.7% alcohol). Seven, by Bodegas Osborne, was spawned in a high-tech vineyard in Spain’s heartland, with native grapes given a chance to party with Cab, Merlot and Shiraz, resulting in wine that walks an earthy-yet-fruity line. (I can’t vouch for the two Hungarian entries in the Octavin line—Pinot Evil Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio; interestingly, these are produced at the source, then transported in HUGE bladders to get packaged in the States.)

The positioning of the Octavin wines as artisanal is not hyperbole; forget the packaging–this wine is the result of thoroughly modern and extensive network of grape sources in California’s best regions. Working in what they call California’s “largest small-lot winery” allows Monthaven’s Jeff Yamamato and Georgetta Dane keep dozens of lots separate. In Georgetta’s case, the diversity of lots is almost mind-boggling. Working with vineyards that represent dozens of red and white varieties, she calls herself “a kid in a candy store.” She says that she is given no limits or directives on how much of anything to use, but her aim undoubtedly is to maintain the style that has made Big House a perennial favorite.

Twenty varieties in all make it into Big House Red. Georgetta likens her approach to building the Red to how a perfume is structured. Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot form the base; Italian varieties (which she calls “insanely fruity”) and a little Zin take up the middle; judicious use of generous Grenache, Viognier and Malvasia provide top notes. Big House White is her idea of a “fun summer wine.” It’s comprised of almost half Malvasia (“like a bowl of flowers”), plus Muscat (for orange blossom and spice) and Viognier; Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Grigio are added “to temper the florals.” The result is juicy yet refreshing, hardly overpowering and gently aromatic. Both Big Houses check in at 13.5% alcohol.

Big House is not the first brand to be dually packaged in both “bag” and bottle, but it is without doubt the most high-profile. If nothing else, the popular brand’s vault into 3L terroir-tory is proof that the barrier between bag and glass is one step closer to moot. Meeting Georgetta (who speaks in a velvety Romanian accent) reminded me of an under-repeated truism about winemaking: it’s easy to make a couple hundred cases of great wine from one vineyard; but making 100,000 cases of really good wine from a lot of vineyards and for not much money… now that’s hard. No wonder she is giving a talk about large-scale artisanal winemaking at the Society of Wine Educators conference this summer.

Second Thoughts?

It’s been more than a week now since I got my first taste of the Octavin series. There’s still plenty of Chard in my Octavin tank, and I remain convinced that the entire line is going to score big with wine lovers. In particular, I see the Octavin appealing to:

  • restaurants {duh, premium wine by the glass at <$1 per serving, with no spoilage}
  • caterers {no messing with corkscrews plus repeat use = priceless!}
  • performing arts venues {what better wine to pour into plastic cups?}
  • party hosts {whether it’s a picnic, a reception, tailgating, office party…}
  • smart folk {for frugal people who view wine as a part of everyday life, this thoroughly modern way of delivering joy by the glass will be a welcome addition to countertop and/or fridge}

Remember: as with all wines—boxed, bottled and beyond—the wine doesn’t know what package it’s in. But in the case of the Octavin, if it did, I think the wine would be downright psyched to know it’s hanging out inside the coolest package around. For more about the wine and the line, visit Octavin Home Wine Bar.

NOTE: In in the interest of keeping both readers and the FTC fully informed, wines sampled for this post were provided free of charge. Additionally, I was treated to a very tasty lamb burger over lunch with the winemaker and a PR representative at The Breslin. We did not have wine at lunch, but I’d bet my corkscrew that it would have gone swimmingly with the Big House Red, the Boho Zin or the Osborne Seven.

Where’s Hardy? Wallace AWOL? Not Goode! Plus: Whine Radio? Say Wha!

Remember the Where’s Waldo books? A modern classic series back in the Age of Print. Big hardcovers that opened to panoramic cartoons of countless people in quirky settings engaged in practically every possible human behavior except fornication. And somewhere on every spread stood Waldo, hiding in plain sight: round-frame glasses, goofy-cool striped hat, smile. The idea of the book was simple and sweet: find Waldo. Ah, good times.

And now, an updated, wined-up version: Where’s Hardy? Read More »

Fall Forward? Palate Present?

Labor Day has come and gone. It’s now dark by 8:00. Time to stop wearing (if not drinking) white. I’m all for pushing ahead to Fall. But first, must clean the cobwebs off the blog by sharing some summer leftovers and good news about things ahead… Read More »

Friday Frappe: Riesling as the People’s Wine {& More}

Riesling rocks. Life is not a blind tasting. Nor should it be. I was delightfully reminded of this slice of vino-veritas this week when running a wine bar at a cocktail party for a group of about 100 NY metro alumni of a prominent business school. It was a completely unscientific and yet utterly real-world setting to compare how wine lovers respoinded to an array of options. Let’s cut to the chase: the hands-down winner in this smackdown was a Finger Lakes Riesling; Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling, to be precise. Read More »

Great News! Cash for Clunkers Program Extended to Wine

Listen up, wine lovers: Fermented grape juice and hulking SUVs have something in common besides ethyl alcohol as an ingredient. The federal Cash for Clunkers program has been extended to wine.

The Wine Skewer has learned that thanks to secret negotiations hammered out this weekend over copious quantities of nondescript Merlot at an undisclosed wine bar in San Francisco, aides to Governor Schwarzenegger and President Obama are expected to announce that relief is at hand for millions of American enthusiasts whose wine cellars once seemed cool and wonderful but are now hallmarks of inefficiency and/or bad taste.

According to a reliable inside source (the bartender), the plan—dubbed “Greeno for Vino” until someone comes up with something catchier—will cover the following categories. Read More »

Now Pouring: Have Ethics Become the Difference between Wine Bloggers and Wine Writers?

One of the pleasant side effects of being a wine professional is the opportunities that pop up involving our favorite beverage. Take, for example, one that arrived over the weekend.

A fairly large, fine-wine-oriented distributor was looking for volunteers to pour at their portfolio tasting on a Monday, in Manhattan, in September. Said the email:

“The work is pretty straightforward: They’ll need you from noon to 6:00 to pour wines; you’ll receive a fact sheet beforehand that will cover information about the region whose wines you’ll be working with. For your efforts, you will be compensated with a mixed case of their wines.”

Note that this email came to me under the auspices of a dues-driven association of New York wine media professionals, so my response needed to account for the fact that I am a member wine writer/blogger/communicator. That said, what do you think my reaction was? Here’s what ran through my head, roughly in order… Read More »

Is it Finally Sexy Time for Wine? New Import Portfolio Goes Straight for the Crotch

It was bound to happen. Ever since porn star Savanna Samson started her own wine label—Sogno Uno, in Italy with the 2005 vintage—it was only a matter of time before a full-frontal line of sexually charged wines was unleashed. Thanks to the folks at Porneauxxx Imports, a brand new firm based in Hoboken, New Jersey, wine lovers will soon be drinking vins and vinos with some real va-va-va-voom.

The Wine Skewer was treated to a sneak peek at the complete Porneauxxx line, at a 25-cent movie theater just off Times Square in Manhattan.

200177388-001Chateau Porneauxxx 2006 “Triple X Cuvée” Bordeaux. The flagship blend of the line, this classic French beauty makes you want to uncork it with your favorite mate on a shaggy rug in front of a fire. Like a vintage, cepia-tone burlesque photo, Porneauxxx teases, offering layers of titillating pleasure—cedary earthiness with a touch of plum on the nose, currants popping on the palate, palpable tannins stroking the tongue before slinking away in a way that just makes you want more. But Chateau Porneauxxx is not just a tease: behind every label is passport-size photo of, well, real porn, for your eyes only. We don’t want to tell you what the picture is…think of it as a sort of blind date with Bordeaux.

 

Righteous Shugga 08. Straight from the streets, this tricked-out blend of mm-mmm-mystery grapes is blingin’ inside and out. Sure, baby, there’s some Shiraz. Some sin Zin too. Maybe Malbec, and a touch-o’-sugar tickling your tongue like nobody’s bizness. And mos definitely it’s been around the block, in a goooood way. It’s got the beat, that’s all you got to know. Just open wide and say ahhhhh. Wine out. Read More »

Mergers & Mayhem in the Wine Biz as Economy Continues to Swoon

It’s July, and America is still sweltering amid the extreme high pressure front of the Great Economic Downturn. Wine is not immune. In fact, the econo-doldrums have prompted some surprising, even outright bizarre, measures on the part of wine makers and marketers. To wit, consider the following wine ventures that the Wine Skewer—exclusively, mais oui—has learned are in the works….

[tignanello tail]. This mash-up of high-end and low-end wine was bound to happen. On one hand we have the 16 {or is it 60… who’s counting?} generations of winemaking Antinoris, whose Super Tuscan pre-eminence has been reduced to worthless press clippings as their $100 blends draw more dust than glances on U.S. retail shelves. On the other hand, we have Yellow Tail, the Jammy Juggernaut of Oz, King of Critters, the wine that every 30-years-and-under American can remember, pronounce and afford. Look for bottlings of this new joint venture to appear for $19.99 {hey, it’s the new $99.99}. Read More »