Jul 172013
 

An interesting infographic titled, “A Toast to Wine” is circulating the interwebs. It graphically presents who consumes wine in the U.S., how much they consume, and what wines they prefer. It’s really an reiteration of information available through other means. In addition, it was created not by a wine company or research firm, but by a storage company. So, it’s obviously linkbait, but it’s still interesting. We republish it here for your review.

A Toast to Wine

Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.
May 032013
 

Next Chapter

After a notable absence, the folks from Wine Australia have returned to promote the wines from Down Under.  Members of New York’s wine media and trade were invited for an “in-depth look at the ‘Next Chapter,’” which included a walk-around tasting and a seminar titled “Australia: Classic, Contemporary & Curious.” Moderated by Wine Australia’s Education Director, Mark Davidson, the seminar panel also included Suzanne Barros, East Coast Market Development Manager for Wine Australia; Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier for Elen Madison Park; and Tyler Colman, Founder/Author of Dr. Vino. Unfortunately, although scheduled to be on hand, Matt Fowles, Owner of Fowles Wine, was unable to attend due to problems with New Jersey Transit.

So, if the first chapter of Australian wine was all about critters and value, what is this next chapter all about?

Davidson opened up the session with the admission that the image of Australian wine has suffered a bit and further added that people had become bored with Australian wine. He then discussed the emergence of Australian wine from its earliest beginnings referencing a Monty Python skit in which such wines were described thusly: “This is not a wine for drinking; this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.” Davidson suggested that, from there, Australian wines entered a Parker-style era and that now, it was time to revisit Australian wines as they had re-emerged in a new era.

Picking up on this thread, Suzanne explained that many Australian producers were now planting southern European varieties due to their own personal experiences in working in these regions. More specifically, she discussed the similarities in climate such as that between McLaren Vale and Sardinia. Consequently, we are now seeing grapes such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Assyrtiko being grown in Australia. She also explained that, with climate change, producers are looking at varieties that hold their acidity.

As evidence of both the newer side of Australian wine and the more usual suspects, the first flight included Vermentino, Riesling, Semillon and Viognier, with Tyler commenting on the stylistic variations being seen among Riesling. He discussed that on his trip to Australia in 2009, he hadn’t seen much off-dry Riesling, but that it was nice to see one today (Grosset Alea Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, $20.00). Mark suggested that reaction to the high, searing acidity found in young Australian Riesling made such styles welcome, joking that, “Drinking Polish Hill Riesling young is akin to being electrocuted.” However, he indicated that off-dry styles wouldn’t be the dominant style found in the country.

The conversation then shifted to that of Hunter Valley Semillon, given its very unique style in the world. The Semillon in the seminar line-up was actually from the Barossa Valley (Peter Lehmman Margaret Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, $23.00). While many of these are produced with some oak influence, some Barossa producers are moving away from the oaky approach and focusing on wines that show some development with age. When audience member, Mary Gorman, MW, wondered why Australians were looking to new varieties rather than on exploiting their existing strengths – namely Hunter Valley Semillon, Mark offered that Hunter Valley Semillon was difficult to sell to the average consumer.

The next flight was led by the Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2010, Margaret River, $75.00, which was indicative of the changing style of Australian Chardonnay. While power and richness still resonate, there is evidence of more elegance and less oak influence today than in the past. This was followed by the Mac Forbes Worri Yallock Pinot Noir 2010, Yarra Valley, $42.00, which suggested that Pinot Noir is being produced in a leaner style than previously.

The next two wines – a varietally-labeled Grenache (Ochota Barrels Fugazi Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, $44.00) and Mourvèdre (Turkey Flat Mourvèdre 2010, Barossa Valley, $32.00), respectively – displayed not only beautiful complexity and restraint, but also a shift away from blends and toward single-variety wines.

The third and final flight was meant to showcase the diversity of Syrah/Shiraz, with wines from both cool climate (Victoria) and warm climate (McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley) represented.  Mark advised that the producers were intentionally making a statement by their choice of name on the label (Shiraz vs. Syrah).

Interestingly, while Mark spoke of the need to emphasize regionality as part of Wine Australia’s rebranding, this seemed to be less of a theme of the seminar. Additionally, the price of the wines shown in the seminar provided another clue about this new chapter of Australian wine – only two of the wines were under $15.00 and more than half were over $30.00.

After tasting through the wines in the seminar, it was clear that Australian wines have much more than fruit-forward characteristics; these are wines with depth and diversity. However, it is not clear whether these wines will be widely accepted in the market given their heftier price tags. While the seminar participants could recognize the quality of the wines, even they balked at some of the price points when compared to more widely recognized performers such as Burgundy or Hermitage. Only time will tell how this next chapter will end.

Mar 262013
 
UGC Tasting San Francisco

Photo Credit: Richard Jennings – Huffington Post

The Garden Court at the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco began life nearly 140 years ago as an open-air courtyard where well-to-do guests could alight from their horse-drawn carriages. Modeled on the architecture of the Paris Opera House, the Palace enclosed the courtyard in 1904 and covered it with a glorious expanse of Belle Epoque stained glass. Today the Garden Court is a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch to hotel guests. But on January 18, 2013 the Garden Court is closed for a private event.

Twenty-four hours earlier, more than one hundred and ten owners and winemakers of the top chateaux in Bordeaux left their homes to drive to the airport, where they would catch a plane for London Heathrow. In all, between flights, connection times, and airport shuttles, they would be eighteen hours in transit before reaching the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, just in time for dinner on January 17th.

By eight o’clock the next morning the Garden Court is a flurry of activity. Fifty-five tables are draped with white linen and arranged throughout the room, each to be shared by two of the chateaux. The sequence must be matched exactly to the catalog, with each sub-region of Bordeaux in alphabetical order. The regions themselves follow a pattern: from Graves and Pessac-Leognan to St. Emilion and Pomerol, through the Médoc, and finally Sauternes. It’s a grand tour of France’s greatest wine region.

A team of sommeliers and wine students works its way around the room, carefully setting each place with a table sign for the chateau, a burgundy napkin, two wine glasses, a bottle of water, the name tag for the chateau owner, and a list of the trade and media who are planning to attend. Another team is breaking down three pallets of Bordeaux from the now-famous 2010 vintage, delivering the cases to the appropriate tables, and placing three bottles of red wine next to each winery sign. For those chateaux with white wine, only one bottle of it is put on the table; the rest are placed in ice in the bus tubs behind. Corks are pulled on two of the red bottles at each chateau, to allow the wine to breathe. Each table setting is exactly the same.

The tasting will begin at 1:00 p.m., and by 12:30 the room is perfect. A few chateau owners stop in briefly on their way to get a quick bite of lunch before the crowds arrive. A frantic text message arrives from Bordeaux:  one chateau owner’s flight was delayed, and she won’t arrive until after the tasting has started. She promises a couple of bottles of her Margaux to the sommelier who volunteers to pour for her until she arrives. There is no shortage of volunteers.

At 12:50 the chateau owners begin to arrive at the Garden Court. Outside, a crowd of more than 200 importers, distributors, restaurateurs, retailers and media have already registered and are anxiously waiting to get in. The last few chateau owners push their way through the crowd and take their positions at their tables.

At one o’clock, the members of the crowd walk briskly into the Garden Court, glasses in hand, and work their way around the tables. It’s a constant stream of traffic that won’t slow down for the four hours of the tasting. In all, more than 600 wine trade members attend the tasting, and there is rarely more than a minute or two when a chateau owner is not pouring a wine or talking to someone. Larger crowds gather at some of the more famous wines, but every chateau has its fans. During the last hour of the tasting, the crowd slowly lays siege to the Sauternes producers. At five o’clock, when the tasting ends, they are standing five or six deep at each of the five tables there.

By five-fifteen, the room is empty of both chateau owners and tasters. The hotel staff hurries in, clearing the tables of empty bottles, and replacing any stained linens. The chateau owners race to the bar, where they hope to get a quick bite to eat. A new set of wines arrives and is delivered to the tables.

At six o’clock, the consumer portion of the tasting begins, with another 300 people—top customers of a local retailer. Each chateau owner is back at his or her station for another two hours. Many follow that with a winemaker dinner at a local restaurant, and don’t fall into bed until midnight.

The next day they leave early for Los Angeles, where they pour at a consumer tasting for more than 2,000 people that afternoon. January 20th is a travel day to New York, followed by a trade tasting in the ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square on Monday, with more than 900 top trade in attendance. One hour later, the consumer tasting brings another 300 wine lovers into the hotel. Winemaker dinners fill more than twenty restaurants in Manhattan that night.

In Chicago, the legendary Drake Hotel has their staff set up the Gold Room the night before to make sure that everything goes smoothly. A malfunction in the fire sprinkler system soaks one end of the room in the middle of the night. The staff works through the night, and by 11:00 a.m., when a few Bordelais arrive to inspect, the room is flawless. The trade tasting packs the room to its limits for four hours, and an hour later the largest retailer in Chicago has 350 more customers march through the doors. There are winemaker dinners in Chicago as well.

The group leaves early the next morning to fly to Washington, DC, for a consumer and trade tasting in the nation’s capital, followed by Toronto and Montreal in the next two days. The following day they fly home, via Heathrow, into the winter weather of France.

The trip lasts ten days and visits seven cities, with two of the days dedicated to transatlantic flights. More than 2,500 people attend the trade tastings, as well as another 3,000 at the consumer events, not including the more than fifty winemaker dinners.

Sixteen days later, one hundred and five chateau owners fly to China.

Mar 182013
 

FacepalmIf you’re going to stage a blind tasting (or any other type of event, for that matter), you should do it right or not at all. Veuve Ambal’s Battle of the Bubbles left a bad taste in my mouth and it had nothing to do with the wine.

Members of the press were invited to “an exceptional and unique blind tasting of sparkling wines from Bugundy…” It turned out to be quite exceptional – exceptionally poorly run. Unfortunately, an event that held such promise became a lesson in too much and too few at all the wrong times.

After explaining that the wine was produced in the same manner as that of Champagne (Méthode Traditionnelle), the invitation posed the question, “Are you ready to challenge your expectations about Champagne and be amazed by a sparkling wine from Burgundy?” I was suitably intrigued and looked forward to the challenge. Would I be able to spot the Burgundian sparkler among its Champagne colleagues? I wasn’t sure, but I was curious to find out.

When I arrived I found only a few colleagues assembled, but, over the next 20 minutes it became extremely crowded. Relegated to the bar area in the front of the restaurant (the remainder of the restaurant was off-limits as the staff prepared for that night’s dinner service), there was insufficient room to move.  And, quite a few folks were obliged to stand. [Maybe they thought it was a Battle of the Bands?] So, we kicked off the event with too little space and too many people. Not an auspicious start, but I continued to keep an open mind.

After sitting around waiting for the masses, we were eventually formally welcomed and the event’s format was clarified. Each participant would receive a single flute, go up to the bar and have the first sample poured for them, at which point, they would taste the wine, before asking for the second blind sample. Everyone had been given a card on which to rank their preferences from 1 to 5 (with 1 being one’s favorite and 5 the least favorite).

Attendees were further advised that their rankings would be tabulated, with the results and all of the wines’ identities to be revealed via e-mail a few days later. [Another pet peeve was the misspelling of Nicolas Feuillatte in that e-mail, but I digress.]

The format itself posed its own problems; chief among them was too few glasses. Allocating each person with a single glass meant that we didn’t have the opportunity to truly comparison taste. Even when taking careful tasting notes, it is always preferable to be able to taste all of the wines together to be able to fully evaluate the nuances among them. [A point which is presumably important if the event is intended for people to rank the wines against one another!]

Even more egregious was the choice of stemware. The flutes were not at all conducive to evaluative tasting. Their hollow stems potentially caused people to warm the wine unintentionally simply by holding the glass. Moreover, the pours were quite small, which while not a complaint on its own, meant that most of the wine sat in the narrow stem instead of the glass’ bowl, making it extremely challenging to adequately assess the wines’ aromas. [Again, an important point unless I am I missing something here?]

Additionally, getting out from my table was simply impossible and even my colleague, who graciously schlepped from the bar to the table and back again, had difficulty getting past people without bumping into them or spilling wine. On occasion, we did luck out when the proprietor of the winery walked around with the next sample and poured at the tables, saving us from having to negotiate the crowds, but this was haphazard at best.

Equally haphazard was the passing of hors d’oeuvres. The event was held at Petrossian, a high-end New York restaurant known for caviar. While I know there is significant debate in some circles about whether Champagne (or similar sparkling wines) and caviar really are a match made in heaven, I was more than prepared to do some field research. But while servers were seen with trays of smoked salmon, caviar blinis and caviar mousse, after visiting our table once or twice, were never heard from again. Consequently, we each had a single taste of the three different canapés and I think we were the lucky ones. As veteran journalists, we didn’t expect a full meal (and certainly not one of caviar), but thought it was really strange to host the event at this particular venue if too little food would be served. [Perhaps we could at least have had some neutral crackers or bread on the table to cleanse our palates in between tasting?]

A few days later the e-mail arrived and I was quite surprised by the results, which placed Veuve Cliquot first, followed by the Veuve Ambal. While my table may not have been a representation of the total group, none of us had spoken favorably about the (then unknown) sample of Veuve Ambal. In fact, I had it dead last in my line-up. But, frankly, the results weren’t really a concern.

At the end of it all, I did discover that I have a preference for Moet & Chandon’s Imperial Brut, but would be nearly as pleased with Taittinger Brut. And, I’m still waiting to conduct that caviar-Champagne tasting research should anyone need a volunteer! I might even be willing to re-taste the Veuve Ambal under more conducive circumstances, but I will definitely think twice about attending any future battles.

Nov 122012
 
Ochoa sisters

Adriana Ochoa (left) and Beatriz Ochoa (right)
Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

As head of marketing for her family’s winery, my friend Beatriz of Bodegas Ochoa in Navarra, Spain was visiting the New York area this week. We had arranged to meet up for dinner on Friday and, when I asked her what type of restaurant she would prefer, she merely stipulated that it be trendy and fun. I admit that I am a bit out of the loop when it comes to trendy, so I reached out to a friend who is more knowledgeable about the hot new restaurants and received a list of places to consider. The only problem is that, because they are hot and trendy, these restaurants were already booked, so the list was abandoned. As an alternative, I reserved a table at a slightly faded star, but in a trendy neighborhood.

Friday arrived wet and windy, with the requisite weekend traffic, further compounded by the President’s visit to town, all of which meant that it took Beatriz a full hour to travel the 10 blocks from the train station to her hotel. The reservation came and went, so we switched to Plan B.

The wonderful thing about New York City is that we have a ton of restaurants of every conceivable type (and even some inconceivable ones). Although she indicated that she was up for anything, Beatriz mentioned an interest in Mexican food, so we walked down Ninth Avenue in search of whatever caught our fancy. We paused to peruse the menu at a French bistro, but the fact that one of the items was called “Tuscan lemon chicken” made it difficult for us to take it seriously and we continued on our journey. Less than a block away, we found a lively Mexican restaurant and were seated immediately.

So, what else had Beatriz been eating since her arrival in the U.S.? Spanish food. Or, probably more appropriately erzatz Spanish food. And lots of it. It seems that no matter where a winemaker or other ambassador of a winery travels to, the conventional wisdom is to pair their wines with hometown cuisine – in this case, Spain.

As Beatriz and I continued to talk, it was clear she would have preferred that her distributors had been more creative when scheduling some of her dinner events. I’m all for the adage, “What grows together, goes together,” but this is a very limited view for the industry to take. Is this truly the message that we should be sending – that wines from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever) taste best when paired with food from Spain (or Italy or France or wherever)? Shouldn’t we, instead, send the message that wine can be paired with a wide range of cuisines? Especially in a place like New York, where we have such diversity.

And, the more I thought about it, it was a missed opportunity. Perhaps, it could be argued by some that some Spanish wines may seem a little out of place on certain wine lists, but wines from Navarra are primarily varietally-labeled wines – Chardonnay, Merlot and Tempranillo among others. These are wines that can easily transition to nearly any restaurant’s wine list, regardless of the cuisine’s origin. Moreover, as good quality wines at reasonable price points, Navarran wines seem to be a natural fit in this regard.

Yes, if I go to a Spanish restaurant, I would be more than surprised not to find the list heavily weighted with Spanish wines, but I’d love to see other options available to me as well. I might be in the mood for an Italian Vermentino to pair with my Gambas al Ajillo. Similarly, why not include Spanish wines on the list at a French restaurant (Rioja with escargots) or a Japanese sushi place (Rias Baixas with a tuna roll)? We have been trying to expand consumer’s palates and their pairings – getting them to explore such matches as red wines with fish. Let’s take this permissive attitude to the next level and think outside the cuisine box when hosting lunches and dinners with winery personnel.