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Winebits 322: Availability, lawsuits, wine writing

Winebits 322: Availability, lawsuits, wine writing ? Invisible wines: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist weighs in on availability and the three-tier system, writing off the recent Eric Asimov column. “Asimov uses the article to respond to readers who are frustrated that the fabulous wines he often praises turn out to be nearly impossible for them to actually experience. … Asimov is sympathetic to his readers ? frustration and explains how the almost hopelessly fragmented US wine market (a lasting legacy of Prohibition) makes it nearly impossible to talk about important wines if you limit your list to only those that can be found in all the nation ?s many marketplaces.” In this, he puts Asimov in perspective, noting that there are tens of thousands of wines that are made around the world, most of which we’ll never get a chance to buy. I’m not so sure Veseth is defending the three-tier system as much he is reminding us that there is more to wine than what we find in the grocery store, and that there is a certain joy in that.

? Bring out the attorneys: Because, frankly, the Wine Curmudgeon takes an almost unhealthy glee in reporting that wine companies are suing each other. This time, Veuve Cliquot, the French Champagne giant, is suing Ciro Picariello, a tiny Italian producer that makes spumante. The former says the latter’s label is the same color as Veuve’s, and that’s illegal. That the wines have nothing else in common save bubbles is apparently irrelevant. And, as Diana Goodman notes in the linked article, the colors don’t look that similar, either. Isn’t it reassuring to see Big Wine spending its money to make a better product?

? “Depths that need to be stirred:” The Italian Wine Guy is one of the best writers in wine in the world today, and I almost always want to leave a comment on one of his posts. And I’d say that even if he wasn’t a friend of mine. So, the next time the wine world leaves you frazzled and worn out, and you’re tired of the foolishness that too often passes for wine writing and criticism, read this post. It will make you feel better. It did me.

My lunch with Randall Grahm, part II

Randall Grahm, part IIThis is the second of two parts detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon ?s Randall Grahm. Today, reviews of the wine we tasted. Part I — Grahm on wine, winemaking, and the post-modern wine world.

My Boony Doon moment came during the 2011 Le Cigare Blanc. I said I liked it a lot, and Grahm smiled and offered that it would be even better when he added picpoul to the blend, which is currently grenache blanc and roussanne. Which demonstrates his creativity and passion, but also what Grahm admits may be a less than consumer-centric approach to winemaking. It’s not as if wine drinkers are clamoring for a $25 white blend made with three grapes they’ve never heard of.

But how dull the world would be if all we drank were chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Which, of course, is part of Grahm’s reason for being, and why so many of us appreciate what he does. After the jump, the eight wines and cider we tasted (all were samples):

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My lunch with Randall Grahm, part I

randall grahm

Randall Grahm: “Wine has to be pleasurable. You shouldn’t have to ask yourself if you like it.”

This is the first of two parts detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm. Today, Grahm on wine, winemaking, and the post-modern wine world. On Feb. 24, reviews of the wines we tasted.

No one holds court like Randall Grahm, the winemaker and president for life at California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard. Last week in Dallas, in front of a dozen or so retailers, sommeliers, and media types, Grahm discussed the Swiss anthropologist Henri Junod; the role of magnets in winemaking; his efforts to develop grape hybrids and rootstocks that are best suited to the 21st century’s climate and soil; the backlash against screwcaps; and, though I’m not quite sure how, electrons.

Along the way, he punned whenever possible — “The doonside of winemaking,” for example — and even managed to talk about his new wines, including a very subversive fruit cider, a delicious riesling so new it’s not on the winery website yet, and perhaps the best vintage ever of the Le Cigare Blanc.

Disclaimer first: I like Grahm, and he makes some of the most interesting and enjoyable wine in the world. So it’s always a treat when he comes to Dallas, and this year was no exception. The man makes me smile, and how often does that happen?

Do Grahm’s wines taste like anyone else’s? Nope, so be warned — if you need scores or 15 1/2 percent cabernet sauvignon or baseball bat chardonnay, what follows will almost certainly annoy you. It annoys many of my colleagues, and Grahm has been at war with the Winestream Media for more than a decade, despite what he claims are his best intentions. But he can’t stop telling the James Laube joke, and he told it again last week. That’s hardly detente, though it is damned funny.

Would that the Winestream Media could see past Grahm as prankster and realize that he wants the same thing it does — for Americans to enjoy wine. He just takes a different road. “Wine has to be pleasurable,” he told us. “You shouldn’t have to ask yourself if you like it.” But, having said that, he also acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges for wine drinkers, including himself, was to “learn how to push out of my safety zone,” to try wine we don’t think we’re going to like.

Among the other topics:

? The backlash against screwcaps, which Grahm has championed for years. “The cork people are like girls in junior high school who each have their own cliques, and they don’t want to let anyone in their clique,” he said. And anyone who says wine with screwcaps suffers in quality or doesn’t age? “It’s a myth,” says Grahm. “The wine just ages differently.”

? Oak in winemaking: “It’s a condiment and anyone who thinks it’s more than that also thinks ketchup is a vegetable.”

? Terroir is all. “We can’t replicate European wines” in California, Grahm said, because California isn’t Europe. On the other hand, de-emphasizing terroir with California-style winemaking, which he says happens even with some of the most expensive and highest-rated wines, isn’t the answer, either. “It’s about real wine. Does the wine have life or not?”

For more on Randall Grahm:
? My lunch with Randall, part I
? My lunch with Randall, part II
? My dinner with Randall, part I

Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition 2014

Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition 2014The best piece of advice I ever got about wine came shortly after I started doing this, and from two different people (both well known for their irascibility). “The minute you think you know everything about wine,” each told me, “go do something else. Because as soon as you think that, you’re not capable of being any good at wine.”

In other words, shut up and listen to people who know more than you do, something I’ve tried to do as often as possible for the past 20 years. I had an excellent opportunity to do it again on Monday and Tuesday when I judged the 30th annual Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition. Regular visitors here know how I feel about high-alcohol, over-ripe, and over-oaked wines. So what did I get to judge? Lots of high alcohol, over-ripe, and overoaked wines — 41 zinfandels from Lodi, Dry Creek, and Napa in California among 185 wines over the two days . And you know what? I liked some of them, and even gave two gold medals.

More, after the jump:

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Wine of the week: Pacific Rim Dry Riesling 2012

Wine of the week: Pacific Rim Dry Riesling 2012Long before the sweet wine craze and even before grocery-store rieslings like Chateau Ste. Michelle, there was Pacific Rim. It was part of the Randall Grahm empire, and offered affordable, mostly well-made riesling for those of us who were feeling adventurous. Because, of course, no was supposed to drink riesling in those long ago days.

Much has changed since then. Graham sold Pacific Rim to the Banfi family, and riesling and sweet wine have become au courant — so much so that the wine companies that looked askance at the varietal five years ago are making as much riesling as they can, sweetness be damned.

Through all of this, Washington state’s Pacific Rim ($10, purchased, 13.5%) has been a touchstone for what’s going on with riesling that most of us can find and afford to buy. Sometimes, to be honest, it isn’t all that interesting, more sweet than it should be, and without much more than sweetness going for it. In other words, professionally made, but not all that different from Chateau Ste. Michelle. Sometimes, like this vintage and the 2011, it showed what can be done with riesling in the Pacific Northwest — zingy lime fruit, tell-tale riesling oiliness, a finish that has some minerality, and the correct amount of sweetness for a dry riesling.

The wine made the $10 Hall of Fame this year, a trend that I hope continues for the forseeable future. When it’s right, the Pacific Rim is a wonderful introduction to riesling, a grape that not enough of us know about but should. Because, when it’s sweltering in July and August, a riesling, dry or off-dry, is an alternative worth drinking.

Winebits 321: NeoDry edition

Winebits 321: NeoDry edition

No, no, no — drinking isn’t good for you.

Because there are a lot of people who don’t drink or think those of us who do drink too much:

? One out of two: One of the most telling statistics in the wine world? That 40 percent of Americans don’t drink, a figure that shows up in almost survey of U.S. liquor habits. It showed up again in the recent Wine Market Council study of wine drinking in 2013, where 35 percent of respondents said they didn’t drink and 21 percent were identified as “non-adapters,” those who drink rarely. In other words, more than one-half of adults in the U.S. aren’t interested in drinking wine, one of the few pieces of bad news in a report that otherwise demonstrated wine’s growing popularity. Regular visitors here know who the Wine Curmudgeon blames for this, and it’s not religion. It’s the wine business, for doing everything it can to make wine too difficult for all but the most dedicated among us.

? Ending cancer by abstinence: That’s the goal of the World Health Organization, which said in its 2014 report that alcohol is one of the seven leading causes of cancer, and that cancer is growing at unprecedented rates. Hence the only way to halt the growth was to eliminate the causes, like drinking. Said one of the report’s editors: “”The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol — those things should be on the agenda.” Ironically, it also cited delayed parenthood and having fewer children as a major cause of cancer, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon wonder: If we eliminate drinking, how are we going to solve the fewer children problem?

? Not at the World Cup: Want to get a belt while watching soccer’s World Cup on TV later this year? It will be more difficult in Britain, where the government has banned cutting booze prices to attract customers. The Drinks Business trade magazine reports that the crime prevention minister said: ?The coalition Government is determined to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime, which costs England and Wales around 11 billion (about US$18.5 billion) a year.” Ironically, the minimum pricing scheme has been criticised by alcohol charities, including Alcohol Concern, which said the measures were ?laughable ? and that enforcing it would be impossible. Even the government said it woudn’t cut drinking by much, and that ?limited impact on responsible consumers who drink moderate amounts of alcohol.” Almost makes three-tier sound like a good idea, no?

 

 

What drives wine drinkers? Price, of course

wine drinkers priceNot that the Wine Curmudgeon had any doubt. But listen to enough people in the business, and especially to the Winestream Media, and it’s scores and romance and tasting notes and about as much foolishness as you can imagine. But we have better evidence than ever that wine drinkers buy wine based on price, in the form of the 2013 Wine Market Council Study.

And what kind of wine do most of us buy, even those of us with deep pockets and subscriptions to the wine magazines? Cheap wine, of course.

More, after the jump:

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