Tag Archives: regional wine

winerant

The 2015 Curmudgies

2015 curmudgiesWelcome to the 2015 Curmudgies, the fourth time we’ve given the awards to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This year ?s winners:

? Worst news release: Another banner year for releases that insulted my intelligence, committed any number of grammatical errors, and did nothing to promote the product. The winner is 24-Group PR & Marketing for a release for Three Hunters Vodka, which included this foolishness (and a hat tip to my pal Tim McNally, who sent it my way): “We live in a time when some of the most important choices we make come prepackaged and predetermined by companies who know nothing about us. The decisions we make about the things we put in our bodies are constantly manipulated by clever and misleading advertising, and misconceptions about nutrition and health.” Why would anyone write that about vodka? Also, it is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

? The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To every restaurant in Dallas, and there are too many to list here, that doesn’t carry Texas wine. This is a disgrace given the improved quality and availability of Texas wine in the second decade of the 21st century, and speaks to the restaurant wine mentality that makes wine drinkers crazy. If Lucia can find a Texas wine to include on its otherwise all Italian list, so can the rest of you.

? The three-tier system is our friend award: To the 200 Minnesota cities that, thanks to one of the oddest state liquor laws in the country, operate their own liquor stores. As the Star-Tribune newspaper reports in a solid piece of journalism, “In 2014, 34 Minnesota cities, all outstate, lost a total of $480,000 on their liquor outlets ? money they had to backfill from their own coffers. Another 60 outstate cities saw sales drop from the previous year.” Given how much trouble so many cities, big and small, have doing basics like police and fire protection and garbage pickup, that some want to run liquor stores is mind boggling.

? The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For James Laube’s February 2015 blog post, which included this: “If you want to save more and waste less [on wine], consider how much money you spend on wine that you don’t drink, and how many bottles of wine you opened last year that should have been opened sooner.” Wine that we don’t drink, huh? Wine that we let sit in the cellar too long? Wish I had those problems. That one of the Spectator’s top columnists wrote about it speaks to how little the magazine has to do with how almost all of us drink wine.

? Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is Forbes’ Cathy Huyghe, who spent the month of November writing about the wine that most of us drink, and not what Forbes’ one percenters drink. “…[I]t has turned out to be one of the most eye-opening projects I ?ve ever done. … The longer I ?m a wine writer, the further away it ?s possible to get from the wines that most people drink.”

For more Curmudgies
? The 2014 Curmudgies
? The 2013 Curmudgies
? The 2012 Curmudgies

wine news

Winebits 413: Local wine, craft beer, Lidl

local wine ? Drink local: Our old pal Andrew Stover, one of the world’s leading proponents of local wine, has a message for Thanksgiving: Think less California and more Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and Virginia. Best yet, Stover puts his money where his mouth is, importing local wines as a distributor to the Washington, D.C., area. I’ve known Stover since our first Drink Local Wine conference, and he has never wavered from the cause. He has done such a good job, in fact, that some of my favorite Texas wines sell out in D.C.

? Billions and billions of dollars: It’s actually one bullion, but who’s counting? Constellation Brands, one of the biggest wine companies in the word, paid $1 billion — almost 10 times earnings, a startling number — for the trendy craft beer producer Ballast Point last week. This is incredible on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start, but does speak to how craft beer has become part of the mainstream and makes me wonder: How much longer will it remain crafty?

? Waiting until 2018: Lidl, the other German discount grocer famous for cheap wine, will open its first stores in the U.S. in 2018, with 50 locations in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Said the company’s CEO: “The United States are a strategic market for us.” Should I start a countdown clock?

2015_AWS_Conference_Logo_16M

Four highlights from the 2015 American Wine Society conference

American Wine Society conferenceLast weekend’s American Wine Society conference reminded me that U.S. wine drinkers aren’t the stereotypes the wine business wants us to be. What a pleasure to be around curious, intelligent, and passionate wine drinkers for two days, people who want to learn more about wine and who are open to something that isn’t what they’re told they should drink.

Yes, it’s a small sample size, and yes, anyone who attends something like this isn’t going to be exactly typical. But when I mentioned the grocery store Great Wall of Wine in my first presentation, there was more than one nodding acknowledgment from the audience. Which means every wine drinker, no matter how experienced, faces many of the same problems.

Among the highlights:

? I took a lot of kidding when I offered to do a Texas wine seminar at an East Coast event, but it sold out almost immediately. The McPherson rose, the Llano Estacado Harvest tempranillo, and the Haak dry blanc du bois were the biggest hits, each speaking to Texas’ terroir and what happens when Texas winemakers make Texas wines. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That Texas wine will only grow and get better if the focus is on making Texas wine, and not California (or wherever) wine that comes from Texas.

? The other key from the Texas seminar? That people elsewhere seem eager to buy the wines, and that it’s time — if the grape harvests cooperate — to start exporting Texas wine to the rest of the U.S. The days when 95 percent of Texas wine was sold in Texas, and everyone was content with that, appear to be over.

? We aren’t scared of weird grapes, even though the wine business does its best to terrify us. That the hybrid blanc du bois impressed so many, with its clean citrus flavors, was one thing, but that the Augusta chambourcin was one of the hits of the regional wine seminar says even more. Chambourcin, a red hybrd, is notorious for its off, foxy aroma, but winemaker Tony Kooyumjian has solved that problem. This is probably the best chambourcin in the U.S., with spiciness, dark Rhone-style fruit, and a wonderful Missouri elan.

? The best wine that almost no one has ever tasted is the Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly gamay from California’s Sierra Foothills. It seems so simple, but there is so much going on that it’s difficult to believe. Most winemaker tasting notes don’t say much, but Steve Edmunds is exactly right: “Juicy and precise on the palate, mouth-watering, showing lot of depth. The finish is long, and clean. This is already really versatile at the table, as always.” How much do I like it? It’s worth every penny of the $21 it costs.

winetrends

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Arizona wine adventure

arizona wineFive things I learned during a weekend of Arizona wine, where I visited six wineries and spoke at regional meeting of the American Wine Society:

? The technical quality of the wine was impressive, especially given how young the Arizona wine industry is. Allowing for the small sample size, the wines were clean, without flaws, and varietally correct. This is not often the case with regional wine, and that producers in Arizona are already able to do this speaks to how far they have come in a short time.

? The best grapes seem to be planted for the state’s terroir and climate, which is warm and mostly dry. This means Mediterranean varietals and not chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, something it took us more than 20 years to figure out in Texas. In this, many of the wines reflected the terroir, which surprised me based on what I’ve tasted in the past. Those had been hot, heavy, and not all that interesting. Especially impressive: the Caduceus Shinola ($25, sample, 13.4%), a red blend with tart cherry fruit and dusty tannins; the Stronghold chenin blanc ($20, sample, 13.5%), a little oily and with pear fruit; and the Fire Mountain Sky ($24, sample, 13.7%), a white blend that was fresh, simple, and enjoyable.

? The catch? The prices, of course, since the state doesn’t make enough wine to enjoy economies of scale. I love chenin blanc, but $20 is a lot of money for chenin. This is something everyone there knows, and say they’re working on.

? Having said all of that, Arizona faces tremendous challenges. First, it grows grapes at altitude, often more than 3,000 feet. There are only a handful of places in the world where this is done, and so there is little information or historical data about how to do it well. The growers are truly pioneers. Second, the state suffers from every problem imaginable, whether the dreaded Pierce’s Disease or late and early freezes. Deer eating grapes (also a serious problem in California) is common, too.

? Consumers want to know more about wine, and are happy when someone talks to them in language they understand. The 40 or so people who heard my speech were appreciative when I pointed out the emperor’s new clothes as it relates to wine, and the idea that we can buy quality for much less than $25 was a big hit. We bought five cheap wines and served them after dinner, and that there was tasty $10 Provencal rose was a revelation much appreciated.

winetrends

Texas wine developments: 2015

texas wineSome thoughts after driving some 900 miles through the Texas High Plains in search of Texas wine:

• It’s not so much that this year’s harvest was plentiful, or that quality looks to be good. Rather, it’s that growers who normally had a couple of tons of grapes to sell have six or eight. Or 10. That means wineries may have more grapes than they know what to do with — something that could only happen in Texas, where short harvests have been the norm for a decade. Hence, there may not be anywhere to store the extra crushed grapes, and I don’t even want to think about what it will do to grape prices over the next couple of years. The good news? That there will be almost no excuse to sell Texas wine that doesn’t carry a Texas appellation, a practice long common here and which has generated huge controversy.

• Even I get tired of ragging on Dallas restaurants that don’t carry Texas wine, but after eating in three Lubbock restaurants that do Texas wine justice — the Pecan Grill at the Overton Hotel, La Diosa, and West Table — Dallas restaurants have no excuse for not carrying Texas wine. If they can do it in Lubbock, why can’t we do it here? We are supposed to be more cosmopolitan than Lubbock, aren’t we?

• Neal Newsom, a west Texas cotton farmer who planted his first grapes 30 years ago and today grows only grapes, says his fellow cotton farmers used to heckle him — literally — over that decision. Because what kind of self-respecting cotton farmer would grow something as silly as grapes in a part of the country where cotton is king? Today, though, says Newsom, they’re practically jealous, given his success. “I got more people asking me about growing grapes last year than I did in the previous 29 years put together,” he says.

• The less said about my experiences in Post, about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock, the better. Who knew driving through a small town, no bigger than five minutes from north to south, could cause so much aggravation, and both times I went through it?

• The best wines I tasted? A tempranillo from Llano Estacado (which I’ll use in my American Wine Society seminar about Texas wine in November) and the McPherson rose. The former had varietal character — some earthiness, a bit of orange peel — but tasted of Texas, with more red fruit than a Rioja and more balanced acidity. It’s about $15 for people lucky enough to have an HEB in their town. The rose, about $10, is sold out in much of the state, but a couple of restaurants in Lubbock still had it. That it sold out so quickly speaks to how well it’s made — juicy strawberry fruit and a crispness that makes me smile when I write about it — as well as how much Texas wine drinkers have changed. Just a couple of years ago, to paraphrase my pal John Bratcher, you couldn’t sell rose here if you left it outside the liquor store with a sign that said free for the taking.

kerrville

Kerrville 2015: We don’t need no stinkin’ brose

Kerrville 2015What happens when you taste two Texas roses — two terrific Texas roses — at Kerrville 2015, the annual Texas wine panel at the event’s fall music festival? You understand cool in a way that the hipsters who run around Brooklyn drinking pink wine and inventing words like brose never will. Or, as I noted on Saturday: “Cool is not Brooklyn. Cool is drinking rose listening to live music at Kerrville.” Because the Wine Curmudgeon knows hip when he sees it.

The other highlights from Saturday’s seminar included:

? The roses — from McPherson and Brennan — demonstrate just how far Texas wine has come since I started writing about it when one of the panelists was in junior high school. First, these are dry roses, a concept unthinkable to Texas producers 20 years ago. Second, they’re made with the Rhone grapes that Texas winemakers have embraced over the past decade, and not leftover merlot that someone wanted to get rid of. Third, there is an audience for it, something else missing 20 years ago when Texas wine drinkers thought pink was for old ladies with cats.

? Texas farmers in the High Plains, who have been at best ambivalent about growing grapes, seem to have changed their minds. Lost Draw Cellars’ Andrew Sides, whose uncle Andy Timmons is one of the state’s top growers, said the difference between then and now is amazing. When Timmons planted his first five acres of merlot (when Sides was in junior high school), the cotton farmers thought they were crazy. Now, says Sides, they’re asking he and his uncle how they can take out cotton to plant grapes.

? Tim Drake, the winemaker at Flat Creek Estates in the Hill Country, came to Texas from Washington state, hardly the obvious career choice. But, he told the audience, Texas offers him the opportunity to make more interesting wine with different grapes, something not always possible in the cabernet sauvingon- and chardonnay-driven industry in Washington.

? Why is so much Texas wine still comparatively expensive? Once again, the Kerrville audience asked a good question, and we had a fine discussion about economies of scale; that is, how a million case winery might pay $1 for the same glass bottle that costs a Texas winery $7 or $8. In addition, since grapes are in short supply in Texas, they’re relatively more expensive than they would be in California, further raising the price of the wine.

For more on Kerrville and Texas wine:
? Kerrville 2014: They really like Texas wine
? Once more on the wine trail in Texas
? Kerrville 2012

 

wine news

Winebits 399: Wine packaging, craft wine, vinho verde

wine packaging

? Stack those bottles: The Wine Curmudgeon rarely gets to offer advice to big-time financial reporters, but Charles Passy at the MarketWatch website should check out this post about wine packaging. Or this one. Consumers aren’t much interested in wine that comes in containers that aren’t 750-milliliter bottles. That should temper his enthusiasm for something called XO G wines, four 187-milliliter bottles that come stacked on top of each other. He waxes poetic about the packaging, even though there has traditionally been little interest in this kind of bottle. Interestingly, Passy says it doesn’t matter that XO G can best be described as “not horribly offensive,” since wine drinkers will buy the product because the packaging is clever. I wonder: Would he have written that sentence about any other consumer packaged good, advising us to buy not horribly offensive ketchup because the bottle was cute?

? Do grapes matter? A Tennessee craft spirits producer whose motto is “booze for badasses” will expand into wine, so perhaps they should read Friday’s post about craft wine. It’s one thing to buy grain to make whiskey; it’s something completely different to buy grapes from California to make wine in Tennessee (to say nothing of the difference in production techniques). As the line gets blurred between craft products, expect to see more of this happen. How successful these endeavors will be will depend on whether the companies are serious about it, or whether they see it as as nothing more than marketing. In which case they’ll be stuck with a lot of unsold Tennessee chardonnay made with California grapes.

? Lots of green wine: Vinho verde, the cheap and simple and often satisfying Portuguese wine, sold more than one-half million cases in the U.S. last year, an amazing total for a product with no marketing, little brand recognition, and limited distribution. The story doesn’t seem to know why this is happening, though it does make an effort to include premiumization in the explanation even though most vinho verde costs less than $10. That people are buying vinho verde because it isn’t expensive, tastes slightly different from white wine at that price, and is fun to drink has apparently escaped them.