This week’s wine news: Regional wine hits the mainstream again, plus the nutria may invade wine country, and wine’s role in the beginning of civilization
• Wine regions: One of the most important changes in wine has been the acceptance of local, which showed up again recently on a mainstream website called Culture CheatSheet. It lists 15 of what it calls “underrated” wine regions, and none of them are in California. But they are in New Mexico, Utah, and Iowa. “Many emerging wine countries have fewer crowds than Napa and more character than your average vacation spot,” it notes, and who am I to argue? If someone had told me, all those years ago, that our work with Drink Local would lead to this, I would have scoffed.
• Watch out for the nutria: Years ago, when I was a young newspaperman in south Louisiana, someone wanted to make a science fiction movie, “The attack of the nutria.” Turns out the guy’s idea could turn into a horror story for some in California’s wine country. The nutria, which is a rodent the size of a beaver, has taken up residence in the state’s San Joaquin Valley. And, as you probably have guessed by now, it tears up everything in its path. “Within five years, the state estimates there could be nearly a quarter million nutria chewing up California’s endangered wetlands,” reports the story. The good news is that the valley is nowhere near the state’s leading wine regions. The bad news is the nutria likes to travel. Young nutria are edible, and I have a couple of recopies from my Louisiana days if anyone in California interested.
• Wine and history: The author of a new book says wine was the “catalyst of the birth of Western civilization.” John Mahoney, in “Wine: The Source of Civilization,” suggests that at the end of the final Ice Age, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that they gave up their nomadic lifestyle for farming. Recent analyses of Neolithic pottery dating to 6000 BC found residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.
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. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not
• Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.
• Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%): Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.
• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America
• Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.
Texas wine is making inroads in the least likely places
• The shock of seeing a Hampton Inn – yes, a Hampton Inn – with a Texas wine on its Happy Hour list is almost indescribable. I’ve been in chain hotels in some of the biggest cities in the world that didn’t have any local wine. But a Hampton Inn in Amarillo? It’s hardly the garden spot of wine country. But the Bar Z winery is in the area, and someone, somewhere in the chain bureaucracy let the hotel do the right thing. This is just one more example of drink local’s move into the mainstream.
• I grew up in Chicago where you can buy any kind of booze at the drugstore; a fifth of Scotch at midnight, anyone? And I’ve spent lots of time in California, where you can buy a bottle of gin in the grocery store at 7 on a Sunday morning. But I will never understand the drive-thru liquor stores so common in so many small towns in rural Texas. I passed a couple of them between Dallas and Amarillo, and there were cars in line in each.
• One is never out of Texas wine country. It’s 350 miles or so between Dallas and Amarillo, and almost all of it is in the middle of nowhere. So what did I pass, about 40 minutes northwest of Denton? Brushy Creek Vineyard. Again, if someone had told me there would be a winery in this part of the state when I started writing about Texas wine, I would have laughed.
This edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.
Hey Wine Curmudgeon: What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that? Dining out
Dear Dining out: Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.
WC: You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing? Drink Local
Dear Drink Local: The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.
Dear Pink: The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.
5 things I learned judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018 last weekend in Denver
1. The quality of Colorado wine keeps getting better. It’s not so much that the best wines are the equal of wines elsewhere in the country, or even that there are more of the best wines (and both were true). Instead, it’s that there are more professionally made, competent wines – all those in the middle that don’t win big awards but are necessary if you’re going to have a local wine industry.
2. Particularly impressive were red wines made with Italian varietals, something I haven’t seen much of in the decade I’ve been judging in Colorado. We tasted a nebbilio and a teroldego; the latter did better in the competition, but both were terrific wines.
3. Drink Local. I’ve been writing about regional wine for so long – I wrote my first piece in the early 1990s – that it never dawned on me that the second and third generations of drink local didn’t know how the movement started. So I got to tell several of the old war stories to a new audience. And yes, I’m enough a ham that I got a kick out of it.
4. Quality of judges. It keeps getting better, too. Four of the 18 judges were MS or MW, an impressive percentage for a regional competition. That’s a testament to Doug Caskey, who runs the Governor’s Cup. He’s one of the most respected people in regional wine, and I hope his bosses and the Colorado wineries appreciate that.
5. The state of 21st century air travel. The less said about flying in and out of Denver the better. Just know that the two men sitting next to me on the way up, who were in their late 20s or early 30s, were complaining. This means the airline business has alienated customers who aren’t old enough to know about a time when we didn’t have pay to check bags, when seats hadn’t been made smaller to cram more people on the plane, and all of the rest. Which, in a perverse way, is an impressive achievement for the airlines.
This week’s wine news: Captain Obvious strikes again – a study says customer service matters in selling wine. Plus, the end of a Texas wine era and a victory for direct shipping
• Believe it or not: A new study has discovered that customer service is more important than anything else in selling wine from winery tasting rooms. Or, as Paul Mabray, who probably knows more about winery tasting room sales than anyone put it, “File under nothing could be more obvious.” In other words, we have one more wine-related study that does nothing to help the wine business adapt to the 21st century. My grandfather, who sold blue jeans to farmers in central Ohio, knew about customer service 80 years ago. Then again, he didn’t have to publish or perish.
• The end of an era: The WC didn’t talk about Texas wine over the weekend; the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival and its annual Texas wine panel is no more. I will miss the event, and not just because I got to promote Drink Local. Kerrville was an adventure in and of itself. There is irony, too, since local wine has become a Winestream Media darling, and one of the events that helped it achieve that status is gone. Yes, a Texas wine panel was added to the Memorial Day festival, but it’s not the same thing.
• Hooray for Mississippi: A judge threw out an attempt by Mississippi’s liquor cops to stop residents from receiving wine from out-of-state retailers and wine clubs. It’s a ruling that could be significant in the continuing fight over three-tier reform. The Associated Press reports that a Rankin County judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit, though his written ruling offered few details. It’s another blow to state attempts, says the story, in restricting direct to consumer wine sales.
This week’s wine news: A regional wine roundup, featuring more deserved good news and one intriguing conundrum
• Bring on the regional wine: Jessica Dupuy, perhaps the top regional wine writer in the country, tells Sommelier’s Guild readers that “While California, Washington, and Oregon continue leading in both sales and overall familiarity, an exponential increase in wine production and vineyard plantings in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and beyond has started to paint a more definitive picture of the future of American wine.” Her best bests for top regional wine? Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.
• Bring on Michigan wine: Paul Vigna, another top regional wine journalist, agrees about Michigan: “Now I’m a believer, having tried samples of everything from still wines to sparkling, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewurztraminer.” This is no surprise to those of who have followed the state’s success, despite weather that doesn’t always cooperate and the state’s up and down economic climate.
• But not at Cooper’s Hawk: I met Tim McEnery about the same time we started Drink Local Wine; Tim had a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Cooper’s Hawk that made wine. But it wasn’t Illinois wine – it was made in Illinois using grapes from California. Tim’s business model was based on the assumption consumers didn’t especially care where the wine was from. Needless to say, we had a discussion or two about the idea. Today, as Mike Veseth notes in the Wine Economist, Cooper’s Hawk is the 34th biggest winery in the country (bigger than Hall of Fame regular McManis) with 30 locations in 30 states. Cooper’s Hawk has always been a conundrum for those of us who support regional wine, since there’s nothing particularly local about the product. What does its success say about the drink local movement, which has also had its share of successes?