Category:Regional wine

Eight years of Texas wine and the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

Texas wine

Yes, that’s the Wine Curmudgeon in the hat on the left.

Talking about Texas wine to Texas wine consumers for almost a decade at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

In 2008, about nine months after I started the blog, I made my first appearance at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival to talk about Texas wine. I didn’t do it this year; the event was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

But in those eight years (I missed 2016 because of a conflict), I’ve seen two things: the growth and maturity of Texas wine, and the increasing enthusiasm for it from the audiences at the wine seminars.

I’ve been hard on Texas wine over the past couple of years, and deservedly so. But that shouldn’t obscure the improvements over the past decade, which have been on display at the wine seminar every Labor Day weekend. The wines are more professional and are made for wine drinkers, and there are fewer of the home-schooled wines made because the winemakers liked them that dominated the industry at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. That’s why there are so many Texas wines on store shelves, another change from 2008. Better quality means more retail outlets.

All of which has been terrific. But the audiences have been even more fun – smart, curious, and eager to embrace Texas wine. All they wanted was quality wine at an affordable price. This always reminded me that there was an audience for local wine, and that it was up to the winemakers to reach that audience. If you don’t make something people want, they don’t have to buy it, no matter what the Winestream Media implies.

We didn’t sell out every year, but we had large crowds most of the time. This included our regulars, people who came to the seminar every year. We had our hecklers, too, including one man who gave the panel moderator, John Bratcher, such a hard time you’d have thought we were discussing something important, like the survival of the republic.

And the best part came when the audience booed the one person every year – and there was always one person – who said Texas wine and local wine didn’t matter.

The other three things I’ll never forget about the festival? The legendary Rod Kennedy, who made the entire thing possible. The music, of course – Cook a chicken! And the traffic police, because you’re not supposed to drive faster than 5 mph, no matter how difficult that is to do.

Image courtesy of the Kerrville Folk Festival, using a Creative Commons license

Mini-reviews 100: Cerrosol, Hess, Parducci, Ecco Domani

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Cerrosol Esperanza Verdejo-Viura 2015 ($9, purchased, 12.5%): Spanish white blend that is showing its age, without the sparkle and tartness that a wine made with the verdejo and viura grapes should have. This is an example of retailers foisting older vintages off on unsuspecting wine drinkers, who have been taught that older means better. Be wary of white wines that are two or more years old unless you know the producer. Imported by Axial Vinos.

Hess Select Chardonnay 2015 ($10, sample, 13.5%) Quality $10 grocery store California white for those who want a little toasty oak (and a lesson in how to use “oak adjuncts” correctly). Nice green apple and pear fruit, plus some tropical something or other in the middle, and just crisp enough to balance the oak.

Parducci True Grit Reserve Red 2013 ($30, sample, 14.5%): If this California red blend is $30 worth of wine, I’m Robert Parker. And since I’m not, it has been found for as little as $18. At that price, it’s closer to the qualify it offers.

Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio 2016 ($10, sample, 13.5%): This Italian white has a little more lemon fruit this vintage, but it remains thin and mostly resembles tonic water — wine for people who don’t like wine. Of which, based on its sales, there are millions. Imported by E&J Gallo.

Regional wine update: Virginia, Texas, Lake Erie

regional wineFour regional wines that show just how far Drink Local has come in the past decade

Regional wine has come a long way in the decade-plus of the blog’s history, from an afterthought in most of the country to an important part of the wine business in a dozen or so states. How far has it come? Consider these four regional wines:

Breaux Vineyards Cabernet Franc Lafayette 2015 ($26, sample, 13.5%): Virginia wine quality is so much better than the first time I tasted it, more than 20 years ago, that it’s almost hard to believe. The Breaux is a case in point: A well-made, bright, and approachable East Coast cabernet franc in a fruit forward (cherry?) style without flaws, oddities, or regional wine goofiness. Plus, structured tannins to offset the fruit and lots of balance. And, even at this price, a fair value.

McPherson Cellars Reserve Roussanne 2015 ($18, purchased, 13.5): This may be McPherson’s best reserve roussanne, which is saying something since it has traditionally been among the finest wines in Texas. Impeccably made, with lime fruit and just enough oak to balance the acidity. This is not a one-note wine, but is still very young and tight. It will age for at least three or four years, if not longer, and will open up and become more expressive with fruit and aroma. Highly recommended.

Fall Creek Sauvingon Blanc Vintners Selection 2016 ($21, sample, 13%): It’s too hot in Texas to make quality sauvignon blanc, but Fall Creek’s Sergio Cuadra has found a way to do it. This wine is more Chilean in style, not surprising since Cuadra is Chilean — tropical and lime fruit, as well as herbal (mint and lemongrass?), but still crisp and fresh. In this, as befitting its price, it’s more elegant than most one-note sauvignon blancs.

Presque Isle Eskimo Kisses 2016 ($30/375- ml bottle, sample, 12%): This ice-style wine from the Lake Erie appellation (parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York) is a tremendous value, about half the price of traditional ice wine. Yet it still hits most of the ice wine highlights – rich, luscious, honeyed, with a just a tiny bit of lemon. This vintage is still quite young, and probably needs another year in the bottle. The bad news? Very limited availability, still a problem for the regional wine business.

Six things to ponder after judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017: Top-flight wines and top-flight judges

1. Why the quality of the judges at this competition is always so good – especially since it’s a regional event and not very big. This year, the judges included Doug Frost, the Godfather of regional wine; Wayne Belding, a fixture at most of the country’s major competitions; Dave Buchanan, who has been writing about Colorado wine almost before there was any; and Andrew Stover, who runs the country’s premier regional wine wholesale company.

2. Why the Rocky Mountain Dart Association was holding an event at the same hotel at the same time. I saw more darts in two days than I’ve seen in my entire life.

3. Why the first day of judging, when we did about 80 wines, was so lackluster given that quality had improved in the past couple of years. Though, oddly, we did give a gold medal to a chardonnay, traditionally the worst regional wine varietal. But the second day, when we picked the 12 best wines in the competition, was completely different. Two wines – a cabernet franc and an albarino sparkling – were stunning. The cab franc was so complex and so terroir driven that I wondered for a minute if it was made with Colorado grapes.

4. How a 17-year old wine from Colorado, the 2000 Terror Creek pinot noir, could have lasted this long. Belding brought a bottle from his cellar for us to taste, and it still smelled like pinot noir, earthy and mushroomy, and still tasted like pinot, with herbs and cherry fruit.

5. How long I’ll be on the screen – or if I will be at all – for the Colorado wine video that was being shot during the competition. I did an interview for it, but given the way these things works, the 10 or 12 minutes that I taped could turn into one head shot and a quote lasting a couple of seconds.

6. If anyone knows how to get the lights in a Springhill Suites room to go on and off with some sort of coordination. I always end up having to hit three or four light switches to get the light in the part of the room where I need it.

Mini-reviews 96: Poema, Natura, Sicalia, St. James

st jamesReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Poema Red 2015 ($10, sample, 14%): This red blend, made with tempranillo and, believe it or not, cabernet sauvignon, is Spanish wine for people who think Spanish wine should taste like it comes from California. Thick, ashy, and not very interesting.

Emiliana Natura Unoaked Chardonnay 2016 ($11, sample, 13%): The Natura, like other Big Wine products made with organic grapes, is surprisingly inconsistent from vintage to vintage given that the point of Big Wine is consistency. There’s more tropical fruit than there should be, less apple and pear, no crispness, and a bitter finish.

Sicalia Red Blend 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, like the Poema, uses an international grape, merlot, so the wine won’t taste like it came from the country on the label. The merlot’s sweet black fruit overwhelms the nero d’avola in the blend, and the result is more ashiness and more unpleasant thickness.

St. James Winery Semi-Dry Vignoles 2014 ($15, sample, 11%): This Missouri wine, sort of sweet and made with a hybrid grape, is something that wine snobs would sneer at on principle. But it’s embarrassingly more honest and better made than the three other wines in this post. Look for lemon and pineapple fruit, a certain softness that makes it perfect for spicy food, and marvel at how this can be done.

Costco wine: Let’s drink local

costco wineCostco, perhaps the most influential wine retailer in the world, wants to sell regional wine

How does Costco – perhaps the most influential wine retailer in the world – decide what to carry? It wants to drink local.

Annette Alvarez-Peters, who oversees the chain’s wine buying, said half of the its wine labels change regularly and that its 12 regional buyers look for local wine to help fill in those blanks. Or, as she told a California trade seminar: “It really has to be, ‘Why is your item so compelling, and why does your item fit in our section?’ ”

This is one of the few times that Costco and Alvarez-Peters have defined publicly what the chain is looking for; Costco has traditionally been reluctant to discuss its wine buying practices. This matters because it sells so much wine, almost $2 billion worth in 2015, equal to about four percent of the U.S. total – and in just 412 stores.

And that Costco wants to drink local is another reason to declare victory in the battle for regional wine recognition. The retailer can carry any wine it wants, and even the biggest producers make tremendous price concessions to get on its shelves. Which means that Costco is saving space for bottles not from Big Wine, but from small, local producers.

I learned about this recently when the Costco buyer for Texas approached one of the state’s wineries. The winery, its sales person told me, was flabbergasted. Why would Costco want to sell its wine? If nothing else, it didn’t make enough to fill one of Costco’s huge displays. But quantity doesn’t matter as much as quality, part of what the chain’s founder/guru Jim Sinegal told me years ago when I was lucky enough to interview him for an airline in-flight magazine. The retailer wants shopping to be like a treasure hunt, where its customers run across something they didn’t expect to find. In this case, quality local wine.

So pay attention, all those retailers and restaurants that don’t want to drink local. If Costco can do it, why can’t you?

More on Costco wine:
Costco wine and its retail domination
Costco and its role in the wine business

2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup

2017 Virginia Governor’s CupThe 2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup: Lots of quality and very few lousy wines

Seven things to ponder after judging the 2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition last week:

1. The quality of the wine was the best it has been since I started judging here almost 10 years ago. As I said to several panel members: “This was mostly like judging a California competition – no stupidly made wines, no obvious flaws, just competent and professional wine.” This is not often the case when judging regional wine, and shows again how far Virginia has come. Equally important: We did 100 wines over the two days, about 20 percent of the entries, so this wasn’t necessarily a small sample size. Are you paying attention, Texas?

2. The viogniers were amazing, as Virginia viognier usually is. I gave two gold medals in a flight of six, and all six were worth buying.

3. I was also impressed with the six roses – one gold, and the rest also worth drinking. This is quite a change from just a couple of years ago, when most regional pink wine was sweet and nothing else.

4. Virginia, like other regional states, is still grappling with the price/value dilemma. How can it make and sell wine and be competitive, given that it doesn’t have the economies of scale that California and Europe does? We didn’t know the prices when we judged the wines, but given that red blends and red varietals are usually the most expensive, most of the ones I tasted probably cost more than they were worth. This is not to say they weren’t well made, but that a similar wine made in a more established part of the world would be a better value.

5. There was a noticeable absence of oak, even in the wines that needed it. Was this because winemakers were – hopefully – embracing the idea of less oak and more balanced wine, or was it because oak is so expensive (as much as $1,000 a barrel) and they were forced to use less of it?

6. I’ve made my peace with giving scores. I still think it’s stupid, but if the competition requires it, I’ll do it. Having said that, I was generous with the best wines, and penalized the wines that weren’t very good. What’s the point of giving an 80-point bronze medal to a wine that I didn’t like?

7. Why do hotels ask you to save water by using the towels more than once, but then replace the towels after you have hung them up so you can re-use them?