Tag Archives: regional wine

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8 things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure

Colorado wine

That’s Warren Winiarski of Judgment of Paris fame on the far left, Doug Caskey of the Colorado wine board, Colorado wine writer Dave Buchanan, California wine writer Mike Dunne, and the WC. I don’t know why Doug and I are the only ones with hats.

The eight things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure.

1. The wine quality at the Colorado Governor’s Cup was the best I’ve seen since I judged the first one seven years ago. In fact, the improvement in Colorado wine was hard to believe – there were almost no wines that were so awful that drinking them made you fear for the future of regional wine. The best wines, mostly red blends, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, were elegant, structured, and well made. The improvement in quality is something my friends in Texas should pay close attention to.

2. Warren Winiarski, who made the winning cabernet sauvignon at the Judgment of Paris, spent two days after the competition visiting Colorado vineyards. Watching him with the winemakers and growers taught me that canopy management isn’t as boring as I thought it was, and I learned a lot to bring back to my students. Also, not everyone is happy when someone with more experience and more knowledge and more skill tells you things you don’t want to hear about how you’re growing grapes and making wine.

3. Colorado’s new grocery store wine law – if it survives the upcoming legal challenges – may be the model used to bring grocery store wine law to the rest of the country. It tries to strike a balance between small retailers, the state’s biggest and powerful independents, and the grocery store chains that will eventually dominate the market.

4. Spotting the wine writers in the hotel lobby is easy. We’re the old white guys reading the newspaper while we eat breakfast.

5. Flying on the state plane (that’s the aircraft in the background in the picture above) made me wish I never had to fly commercially again. Ever.

6. So the less said about American Airlines the better.

7. The acceptance of regional wine by those who don’t taste it regularly is wonderful to see. Mike Dunne of Sacramento, one of the most respected wine writers in the country, and Alder Yarrow of Vinography judged the competition and approached the wines with an openness that too many of my colleagues still don’t have.

8. There’s something about being in a vineyard at 6,500 feet that makes you forget about all the aggravation associated with doing this. Or with life, for that matter.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Schlachter.

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Is this the end of For Sale in Texas Only?

For sale in Texas onlyA proposed change to federal wine label laws could mean the end for wine that says For Sale in Texas Only – a term that implies that a wine is local when it might be made with grapes from anywhere in the world.

The Treasury department’s tax and trade bureau announced this week that it wants to revise the regulations that allow a wine to carry For Sale in Only designation. In Texas, we call it FSTO – which stands for For Sale in Texas Only – but you’ll see FSO labels in every state: For Sale in Colorado Only, For Sale in Pennsylvania Only, and so forth.

Under the new rules, wines labeled FSO won’t be allowed to list the vintage or the grape it is made with, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay. Currently, FSO wines can list both and look local in almost every respect, save that they don’t have a state name or other appellation on the front label. The only clue that they aren’t local is a line in small type on the back label that says FSO, and that only wine writers, wine geeks, and winemakers understand.

FSO is sometimes used to circumvent appellation laws when the wine isn’t made with enough local fruit for it to have a state name. This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so, as the number of wineries has almost doubled and grape acreage hasn’t kept up.

That’s because appellation laws require that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that state for it to labeled Texas (or whatever). If a wine is made with less than 75 percent local grapes, it must use the word American on the front label, something producers don’t like to do because it’s obvious that the wine isn’t local. And what’s the point of local wine that isn’t local?

Hence the FSO label.

It’s important to note that FSO isn’t illegal and that many producers use it legitimately. The problem comes when it’s used to disguise non-local wine as local. That, apparently, was the impetus for the rules change – a Georgia winery selling an FSO wine made with Napa Valley grapes in North Carolina, and which caught the attention of a key Napa trade group and the Napa Valley’s U.S. congressman.

In fact, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif)., who chairs the Congressional wine caucus, emailed me to say that FSO in the Georgia case was “a TTB labeling loophole” and “works against strict and rigorous labeling rules to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

The actual rules proposal is almost indecipherable unless you practice liquor law. My thanks to Austin attorney Kimberly Frost, who did her usual brilliant job in explaining it to me. The new rules will limit FSO wines to terms like red wine or white wine on the front label, in the hope that producers will use the more accurate American appellation so they can list the grapes and the vintage..

One irony to all this? The new FSO rules may give regional producers incentive to buy California bulk wine and put their label on it. That means  we could see more California wine sold by wineries in the other 47 — Texas-bottled Russian River pinot noir, anyone? That’s because the revisions will allow producers to use grape names and vintage on California bulk wine, which they couldn’t do if they bought California grapes or grape juice and combined them with local grapes to make FSO wine.

The tax and trade bureau is taking comments until Aug. 22, but there’s no time frame on when the rules will take effect. My guess, given how slowly the agency works, is that we won’t see anything until the middle of next year, and it could be even later than that.

 

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Winebits 438: Regional wine, wine bottles, Total Wine

regional wine• Even in Nova Scotia: The government in the Canadian province will spend C$3.5 (about US$2.7) to help vineyards and wineries, an almost unprecedented investment in a part of the world where one doesn’t think of wine. But the provincial government sees wine as a way to create create jobs and boost economic development, which is something progressive and far-sighted governments do (right, Texas?). In fact, there are 11 wineries in the province, and the modern Nova Scotia wine industry is 25 years old.

• More than just a bottle: Will wine drinkers ever accept anything other than wine in a 750-ml bottle? Can the wine industry meet that demand? This is a chicken and egg question, and particularly since experts and consultants insist wine drinkers want something else and consumers keep buying wine in the traditional bottle. The Wine Intelligence consultancy parses the issue, and realizes that “part of the issue remains one of cost. One [750-ml] bottle incurs less dry goods cost than four mini [187.5-ml] bottles, and price sensitive consumers have historically been reluctant to pay more (relatively) for less.” In other words, wine drinkers don’t want to pay more for convenience, and this doesn’t take into account that smaller sized bottles (as well as cans, boxes, and what have you) have usually been used for inferior wine.

• Total Wine changes: The man who runs the country’s biggest liquor chain is stepping down to go into politics. David Trone, who started Total Wine with his brother Robert and led it to almost $2 billion in sales and some 120 stores, is leaving to go into politics. He was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in Maryland this spring, and says he wants pursue a career in public service, which may include another congressional run or a presidential appointment. This is intriguing news, and not just because of politics. Trone, whom I have interviewed, is one of the smartest retailers I have met, and Total’s success owes much to he and his brother’s vision. If he isn’t there, can Total continue to grow?

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Local wine matters — another hipster says so

local wine

“Local wine is super rad — and I have the booze-soaked road trip to prove it.”

It’s time to declare victory in local wine’s battle over whether local matters. Of course, it does. Yet another hipster wine type has said local is worth drinking.

This time, it’s author Dan Dunn, whose credits include Playboy. He has a book out this spring about local wine, and he told Bloomberg Business “At least right now, they’re not making wine anywhere in the United States better than California. Forty years from now? Things are going to look a whole lot different.”

Which made the Wine Curmudgeon smile. Who can argue with someone whose research for the book, “American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites and One Man’s Blues,” was described as a “booze-soaked road trip?” You don’t get much more hipster than that.

Several of Dunn’s choices are impressive — a Texas producer, Bending Branch and its infamous tannat, as well as Vermont’s Shelburne and Miletta Vista in Nebraska, which uses one of my favorite obscure grapes, brianna. His Virginia wineries are far from the best in that state, but they do allow him to write about politics. And Dunn is honest about quality in a way that too many of us who support local are afraid to be.

Know that my point here is not to be too flip, though a little flip and some irony is intended. Besides, anything that pushes drink local is most welcome, especially if it’s better than what we usually get for mainstream regional wine writing. And, of course, I’m jealous. When we did Drink Local Wine, no one wanted to give us a book deal and there wasn’t one booze-soaked road trip involved.

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Texsom International Wine Awards 2016

Texsom International Wine AwardsHow much fun is it when one gets to judge regional wine at an important U.S. wine competition, and to do it with people who know just as much about regional wine as the Wine Curmudgeon does?

Lots and lots of fun, which is why I always enjoy judging the Texsom International Wine Awards (formerly The Dallas Morning News Wine Competition). The judges are matched with their specialties, so that I usually get to judge wine from the other 47 states, which I did again this year — Michigan, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, and Nevada among them.

And, as noted, the other judges are my panel were top-notch — Quebec’s Remy Charest, who knows as much about obscure Canadian grapes as anyone has a right to know; Madeline Triffon, an MS from Michigan; and Colorado’s Wayne Belding, another master sommelier and one of the best friends regional wine has.

More importantly, the quality of the wine continued its improvement. Some of the whites had their problems, but the reds were among the best I’ve judged in years, and we gave gold and silver medals to match. Particularly impressive were a Rhone-style blend from Arizona and a Bordeaux-style blend from Maryland, both golds. We judged the wines blind, so I don’t know what they were, but I’ll update when the results are announced.

The second day of judging wasn’t quite as much fun, when Remy and I did lots and lots of wine from the Lodi region in California. We held up, though, and much thanks to Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications and Ben Roberts, an MS in Houston who works for the distributor RNDC. They kept me on track when I wanted to run screaming from the room in the middle of judging 23 Lodi zinfandels that mostly tasted the same — lots of sweet fruit, little tannins or acidity to balance the fruit, and a mouth feel closer to dessert wine than table wine.

We also judged two rounds of Italian varietals from Amador County, an under-appreciated region in California, and the wines were mainly spot on. A barbera won gold, and I’ll update this as well.

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2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.

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Winebits 421: Champagne, wine reviews, local wine

Champagne ? Get the lawyers: The indomitable Alice Feiring has no patience with wine that is not the way it should be, even if it’s Champagne: “I could not sip without tasting the scorched earth viticulture that still exists in Champagne. This was all sulfur and sugar and bubble. It was cynical. It was false. It was a traitor.” The bottle in question is from Trader Joe’s, Charles de Marques, and while I applaud and appreciate the honesty of her review, I would advise Feiring to get a good attorney. Because we know what the Champagne people do when someone does something that they don’t like. Right, Champagne Jayne?

? How legitimate is that review? Cornell researchers have developed a system that spots phony Internet hotel reviews called Review Skeptic, so the Wine Curmudgeon immediately tried it on a variety of Winestream Media wine reviews. Most were identified as real, which speaks to the quality of the algorithm, since it’s not meant to do wine reviews (and, unfortunately, doesn’t judge the quality of the writing). Given the possibility we could get computer-generated wine reviews sooner rather than later, Review Skeptic — even in its current form — could come in quite handy.

? Make it local: The annual National Restaurant Association’s chef’s survey has again identified local as the hottest trend for 2016 behind the restaurant bar. This marks at least the eighth year in a row that chefs see local wine as important, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon quite happy. Now, if we could only get Dallas chefs to understand why their colleagues feel that way, I would have one less thing to bellyache about.