Feb 222012
 
Lodi Wine Trail

Photo Credit: BRIAN FEULNER/NEWS-SENTINEL

Last night we tasted a selection of wine that the nice people from Lodi had sent for my class at Napa Valley College, and it was a pretty impressive showing.  There were eight wines in all, and every one of them was well-made, balanced, and delicious.

Even better, the wines were widely varied in style, character and varietal.  Where else in the world can you drink Albarinho and Vermentino, Syrah and Souzao, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cinsault?

My two favorite were the Albarinho (lovely white peach finish) and the Souzao (lively acidity and freshness.). But every wine had its fans, and all of them sold for under $25 a botttle.

There’s good stuff going on in Lodi–and its the kind of thing we’d like to see in some other regions of this country…

  • Uvaggio  Vermentino, 2010
  • Bokisch Winery “Terra Alta Vineyard” Albarino Clement Hills, 2010
  • Phoenix Ranch  “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault 2009
  • Michael David Winery “6th Sense”  Syrah  2009
  • Klinker Brick Winery Old Vine Zinfandel  2009
  • St. Amant “Marian’s Vineyard”  Old Vine Zinfandel  2009
  • Jeff Runquist Wines  “R Souzao”, “Silvaspoons Vineyard” Souzao, Alta Mesa, 2009
  • McCay Cellars Petite Sirah  2008
Feb 212012
 
James Suckling

Photo Credit: JamesSuckling.com

The question has been posed time and again…Do consumers need points to decide which wine to buy? Two recent events brought this question to mind for which the answer seems to be: it depends.

A new wine guide has just been published that banishes the typical scoring system in favor of a new approach.  Launched by Slow Food Italy, Slow Wine takes a more holistic evaluation of wines as that used for cheese and other food items and evaluates wineries with regard to the principles that guide the Slow Food movement. In place of numerical scores, Slow Wine uses icons throughout the book to indicate various attributes of a given winery, including that of a snail (good to the earth), bottle (good quality) and coin (good value).

The guide’s Chief Editors, Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni, suggest that points are outdated, feeling that scores were too simple to arrive at and offered too superficial of an evaluation. They further note that consumers are likely to miss a lot of wines when solely looking at scores in making their purchase decisions, citing the fact that not all wineries submit their wines to scoring publications.

This new approach certainly has merit, especially as it pushes consumers to more fully understand a winery and determine what is important to them when selecting wine. With greater emphasis on a winery’s history and less focus on tasting notes, the information provided in the guide permits consumers more freedom to make their own decisions.

Have they missed the mark? Data from the Wine Market Council’s recent report suggests not. Their study asked consumers how important wine reviews were to them in making a purchase of wine to drink at home. Interestingly, reviews were of most importance for the subset of high end drinkers (defined as those consumers who purchase $20+ wines monthly or more often and which cuts across generations), 59% of whom answered that such reviews were extremely or very important to them.  In contrast, only 41% of the Younger Millennials, 36% of Generation X and a mere 21% for Baby Boomers placed the same level of importance on reviews. It appears that wisdom and confidence do come with age.

Accordingly, for some wine consumers, scores remain an integral part of their shopping routine (are you listening, retailers?), while others, especially more mature consumers, appear to take no notice (are you still listening?).

But, I wonder whether scores themselves are what is important, or is it rather that these wines have been vetted by those in know? Research conducted by Professor Greg Carpenter of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management indicates that the wine-buying experience can be a little like Russian roulette for many consumers, who not only lack the confidence in their own abilities to choose, but also equate a person’s wine choice with one’s image and reputation. Consequently, Carpenter notes that these consumers have significant respect for people with knowledge and experience.

Clearly, there is no definitive answer, nor is there one right way to buy wine. However, what does seem clear is that consumers want and need more knowledge and information about wine, but whether that knowledge is encapsulated in a two-digit number or not may not really matter.

Feb 172012
 

Franciacorta in a glassWhether you believe there are 49 million bubbles per bottle of sparkling wine or 250 million (per two separate scientific studies), certain facts remain:

  1. You likely wouldn’t have much fun sitting next to either scientist at a dinner party
  2. Those scientists probably can’t stand the sight of a bottle of bubbly any more
  3. That is a LOT of bubbles.

So how many bubbles does that make it for the 10,377,195 bottles of Franciacorta sold in 2010? Who cares! It’s bubbles and it’s fun.

But it is also serious business. Those sales of Italy’s premium sparkling wine, Franciacorta, are an increase of 10% over the previous year.  And the beginning of 2011 showed even better numbers: a growth of 17% over 2010. Looks like we are all looking for a wee bit more sparkle in our lives these days.

DOCG Franciacorta lies in Italy’s Lombardy region to the east of Milan.  The region has made still wines for centuries until they realized that their goosebumps, caused by the cooler climate, was an indicator of a grand sparkling wine region.

Even before their DOCG status (Italy’s highest), sparkling wine producers from Franciacorta put rigorous self-imposed regulations on themselves in order to produce quality wines from the region. This is one tough group. Until you meet them, that is. Then you will be warmed by the smiles, the Italian hospitality and that flute filled with some of the world’s best sparkling wine.

Feb 162012
 

Tre BicchieriWhile most of us American wine consumers are familiar the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines, one of the most important wine publications in Italy is Gambero Rosso. Interestingly, it is published in English.

Each year, the magazine publishes a Vini d’Italia guide which lists Special Award winners for the year. These are the wineries, producers and wines that represent the best of the Italian wine world. The highest rating is Tre Bicchieri (three glasses), and each year Gambero Rosso conducts a USA Tour where they pour the Tre Bicchieri wines for trade and consumers. This is where I was yesterday afternoon in San Francisco.

Now, if you’ve ever been to a large walk-around tasting, especially one as big as this one, you will know that it is practically impossible to try every wine. The best strategy is to get there early, choose a few wines you really want to try and leave before the crowd gets too bad. At least, that is what I, as an insider do at any rate.

But, these were truly the best wines Italy has to offer. From Chianti Classico to Barolo to Lambrusco to Bolgheri, the best examples are found at this tasting. And, for some reason, I was really drawn to Amarone della Valpolicella this day. Amarone is a typically rich dry red wine made from partially dried grapes. It has a unique character that sets it apart from most red wines. They typically tend to be on the pricier side, but if you’ve never tried one, I highly recommend that you do.

Below is a selection of some of the better Amarone wines I tried this day.

[portfolio_slideshow]

 

Feb 142012
 
Valentine's Day wine

Source: SheKnows.com

It has become common practice for wine writers and marketers to profile certain wines for Valentine’s Day. Many would have you believe that Valentine’s Day was an invention of a certain greeting card company, but they would be incorrect. We’ve been celebrating the day since the 5th century. Of course, it hasn’t always been about love. That started happening in the chivalrous times of the 15th century. We’ve been giving candy and flowers to our sweethearts since.

Regardless of whether you believe it to be a silly holiday, there is no denying that a lot of us will be popping open a special bottle to share with a loved one this day. So, what will your choice be?

Here are few of the more common suggestions:

  • Rosé or blush wine – nothing says Valentine’s like a pink wine
  • Sparkling wine or Champagne – the ultimate in pampered luxury
  • That special bottle – been hanging on to something for a special occasion? No time like the present.

However you celebrate, we at Through the Bunghole would like to wish you a very happy Saint Valentine’s Day 2012.

Bottoms up! (um, wait, that sounds a little risque on this occasion. How about… Cheers?)