Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rosés Galore...For Thanksgiving and Beyond

This article reviews lots of rosés and makes a note about some that will be particularly friendly with the wide array of foods provided at most Thanksgiving dinners. Pink wine shouldn't have a season. 
A special salute and thank you to Beth at Swirl who held a tasting of 15(!) rosés on November 22nd! It was brilliant and gutsy and, I hope, successful.
When I lived in Portland, Oregon rosés went on sale in September. Demand dropped with the temperature. I stocked up knowing I would want a little reminder of summer during the wet, rainy winter. In NOLA, on the other hand, rosé remains a wise choice pretty much year round. Even if the pool isn’t quite as appealing, a porch or picnic might still call your name. 
Pink wines pair beautifully with all sorts of food and are all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face. With that in mind, here are most of the rosés that have crossed my palate over the summer and into the fall. All of them were purchased in New Orleans at the following places: Kiefe & Co., Martin Wine Cellar, Swirl, Bin 428, Pearl and Rouse’s (specifically at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas). Many are certainly available elsewhere. Importers are noted where appropriate to make it easier for your favorite retailer to track some bottles down.
Some of these may have sold out but you'll be able to find others. My thoughts on food are shared as well, sometimes a wine takes me to a very specific thoughts, but remember rosés are incredibly versatile and I find very few foods that don’t pair with well with pink. My top Thanksgiving choices are marked accordingly. 
Where I have experienced year in and year out happiness from a bottling, I have marked noted that so you can buy with confidence when the new vintage is released. (I thought about putting a Pharrell mountie hat on them to signify ‘Happy’ but I’m pretty sure the heavy rotation of that song has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths and that shouldn't be held against the wine.) Where available there is information about their environmental practices, because the earth is important.

This is a long post, it was originally supposed to be a two part series for a local website. They never ran it and I reclaimed my rights so I could share some gems with my readers in time for Thanksgiving! I considered breaking it into two posts but decided to let it rip. There are plenty of pictures...and I know you can handle it!

In no particular order but grouped together by country:

France: 
Plouzeau Chateau de la Bonneliére Chinon Rosé, Rive Gauche 2013

Imported by Weygandt Metzler - This is made from cabernet franc in the Loire Valley, the appellation is Chinon. The grapes are farmed biodynamically (super -organic) and the specific site, Rive Gauche, is located on the river. 
Orange-salmon color, delicate but not wimpy. Lovely balance, dry but mouthwatering. Tasty. Some orange fruit notes, great texture, mouthwatering (again, it was dancing on my tongue) and LONG! Nothing wrong with sipping but this would love some shellfish and hard, mild cheese. $15
Good Thanksgiving choice.

Charles Joguet Chinon Rosé 2013 

Imported by Kermit Lynch - For years this was my favorite pink wine. The Joguets made wines that defied easy categorization - wild and untamed but not sloppy. While I believe the man in charge now, Kevin Fontaine, and his team do a good job, the wines are different. 
He employs lutte raisonnée, which essentially means chemicals are okay to use if you must but should be avoided.
The color for the last few years has been much more pink but this version found a nice middle ground, showing salmon and orange more than vibrant pink. The first pour displayed some spritz, was long and creamy but remained fresh. Delicious. Great weight, rich, tactile, long, persistent. Real wine...serious but also enjoyable if you’re not paying attention. Grilled fish and meats seem about right for this wine.  $18 
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice. 

Dom de la Noblaie Chinon Goutte de Rosé 2013

Imported by European Cellars - Situated on a fairly high point in Chinon, all grapes are hand harvested. The winery is certified organic and the grape in this wine is 100% cabernet franc.
This was darker than the other two Chinons. It looked almost brown in the bottle until held up to a white sheet of paper where it was clearly more pink. In the glass it was a little of both. The wine was a little dirty on the nose, tasty enough but simple. It was outclassed by the other Chinons but tasted okay on its own. Overall, a good representation but not worth searching for.  $18

Domaine de la Sanglière Juliette, Provence 2013

Imported by Turquoise Life - This is a new winery to me and I am thrilled to have found it. They talk of an organic approach but are not certified. They do not employ weed killers or insecticide. 
The wine is 70% grenache and 30% syrah, a classic blend. The color is also classic Provencal rosé, pink with a pronounced orange hue. You will not find exotic berry fruit but you will find a silky feel and plenty of pleasure. The palate shows some orange peel and subtle strawberry while the wonderful acidity makes my mouth water so much the impression the wine leaves behind is, ironically, one of sweetness. The wine is actually so dry it makes your mouth water. It is also rich enough to feel full-bodied without getting heavy. This is classic and delicious and I bought some (not enough) at Swirl's tasting. $13-$14
Good Thanksgiving choice (and, I hope, consistent because I love it and the price!).

Domaine de Reuilly, Reuilly Rosé 2013

Imported by Kermit Lynch - [Note: this is not the rosé label, I missed taking pictures of a few, but it looks just like this except with pink print]
This estate is nearly single-handedly making more people aware of this appellation. In the past this pinot noir rosé has been hard to appreciate unless you aged it for a year (or more) or opened the wine the day before to let it open up. 
Farming is done organically and biodynamically. 
Immediately, it was obvious there was much more color than I remember but still much more orange than pink. The wine remains RACY but is now enjoyable right out of the bottle. The juicy feel and subtle strawberry provide just enough balance. It got even better with time. For fans of crisp wines with plenty of acid. Seems like some bread, mild cheese and maybe some olive tapenade might be ideal. Salads too.  $26

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Rosé des Glacières 2013

Imported by Neal Rosenthal - From southern France, Corbieres to be specific - although this bottle carries the generic Vin de France designation. The rocky, windswept region naturally keeps yields down and concentrates flavors. The vineyard is farmed organically and this wine is 100% syrah. It used to have a small amount of residual sugar but not for the last few years. 
The color is deep and the nose screams of strawberry extract. It is intense and wild, just like the area where the grapes grow. This wine had been open a few days before I tried it and had clearly lost some verve but still showed well, which is an amazing thing to say about any wine, especially a pink one. Tasty. Serve this one to a devoted red wine drinker who swears he/she does not enjoy rosés. Real pink wine fans will love it too. This would play well with grilled meat, pastas and rich cheeses.  $17
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice if you're serving meat instead of poultry.

Domaine La Manarine Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2013

Imported by Neal Rosenthal - A classic southern Rhone producer with plenty of rocks in the vineyards and lots of limestone, which leads to a minerally style. The blend is approximately, 60% grenache, 20% mourvedre and 20% syrah.
The color is very evocative of southern France, orange and salmon. The aromas have some notes of orange also with grapefruit, lemon and some red but racy, acid-driven fruit. The acidity is wonderful and tingly. Watermelon shows up again here and it is intense. This is a big mouthful of wine! I wanted pasta with pancetta, herbs de Provence and lots of garlic. Or a plate of cured meats, some goat cheese and a view. Or door number three...all of the above!  $16 I know this is sold out at Kiefe & Co. where I bought it but it’s possible you’ll find some around town. If not, snag some next year.
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Chateau Famaey, Malbec Rosé 2013

Imported by Scott Levy Selections - From southwest France, essentially Cahors - the home of malbec. The winery says they’re “semi-organic” and then explains they avoid chemicals unless absolutely necessary (lutte raissonée). 100% malbec. 
Another one with that Kool-aid color. The wine is soft, simple and easy. The palate is juicier than many others. There is not much happening in the glass but there is nothing wrong either. This is porch wine, pure and simple. It might pair with a lot of food but nothing jumped at me.  $10

L’Argentier Aramon Rosé 2013

Imported by Fruit of the Vines - The Jourdan family have run the estate for nearly 80 years. The wine is 100% aramon, (it’s okay, I had to look it up). It used to be a very widely planted variety but is described by Jancis Robinson as “coarse, high-yielding” and referred to as a “workhorse grape.” Hardly a ringing endorsement, but certainly explains why I’d never heard of it.
This was pretty big with a dark color, easily observed through the clear glass. It also has some meat on its bones and wants to be at the table...or wherever you choose to eat food. A nuance of orange, both sweet and tart, appeared and my impression of the wine on my tongue was softness and luxury, like my mouth was relaxing in a velvet hammock near a lake (I was near a lake, maybe wishing for a hammock). Watermelon shone through also, like so many others I have tasted lately. This is really delicious and has good weight for the red wine drinker. The finish is long and somewhere between the edginess of minerality and the lushness described earlier. There is also an oily, earthy note that I can only try to pin down for you, reminding me of fresh sardines and their intense salinity. Grilled sardines sounds perfect but grilled meat (lamb!) and grilled shrimp sound easier to acquire. Olives and pesto pasta also spring to mind.  $15
Consistent (two years) and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Jaboulet Parallèle 45, Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2013

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons - The 45th parallel is a mere two kilometers from their cellars. Jaboulet produces a wide range of wines from the Rhone Valley. They do an excellent job from top to bottom. This is a blend of 50% grenache, 40% cinsault and 10% syrah.
Pale pink, atlantic salmon color with plenty of mineral and not much else very distinct. It was tasty enough but didn’t wow me. When I poured a second taste, it made sense, the wine was corked. It was unnoticeable at first, only showing that telltale wet cardboard taste (and a hint on the nose) with time and some air. This is a decent wine for a good price but a reminder why all bottles in this style - fresh, meant to be consumed young - should be sealed with a screwcap. A fine choice for the money when it isn’t tainted.  $11
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice - assuming you get a bottle the way it is supposed to be.

Italy: 
Tintero, Grangia Moscato Rosato 2013

Imported by Kermit Lynch - The winery is in Piedmont, a sweet spot for moscato grapes (sorry, couldn’t resist. You may not see that noted on the bottle since they source from around the appellation. The winery farms sustainably. 
This is a bit of a kitchen sink blend: barbera, moscato, favorita and some arneis, at least. Some almond notes shine through - that comes from the arneis. Great watermelon color. Lovely texture, good depth, subtle on finish. Nice balance, a bit short but not un-rewarding. Mouthwatering - (underlined in my notes). Perfect for whetting the appetite or as a light dessert wine with perhaps some nuts or biscotti. Also fantastic as a refreshment for the grill master or gardener. 11.5% alcohol means you can enjoy the flavor without getting tipsy too quickly. $14

La Spinetta Il Rosato di Casanova, Tuscany 2013

Imported by Indigenous Selections - locally Lirette Selections - The winery is well known and respected for their full-flavored wines that speak of the Italian roots but exhibit more polish and immediate pleasure than many other neighbors. They are 75% biodynamic (no idea of the vineyards not included) and use no chemical products, fertilizers or pesticides. They produce in Piedmont and Tuscany. This wine is 50% sangiovese (the base for Chianti) and 50% prugnolo gentile (don’t worry about it).
The color is a very light rosé color, it reminds me of copper. The palate is tangy with some earth on the finish - much more presence than the color would imply. The finish is nearly a lemon curd but less round than that sounds and with more pronounced acidity. Some fine tannin appears on the huge, long, mouthwatering finish. Despite all of my salmon color references, this was the fist wine that made we wish for the fish.  $17-$18.
This could be a good Thanksgiving choice though I worry about it being overwhelmed.

Maiano Refrain Vino Spumante Extra Dry, Non-Vintage, Tuscany

I fell down on the job of drinking sparkling rosé, mea culpa. I will NOT let it happen again. This was another wonderful Swirl find. Bizarrely, this wine label is all in Italian and lists no importer, but a web search found Bon Vivant Imports. 
The winery pursues a natural approach, avoiding herbicide and pesticide treatments. 
The wine is 100% malvasia nera. I am amazed they use the charmat method to introduce bubbles. Usually, I find this process very obvious and sometimes even a little heavy-handed and clumsy. Instead of developing the bubbles in the bottle (as they do in Champagne and most high-end sparklers) CO2 is pumped into a tank and the bubbles develop there, the wine is bottled later. 
The bubbles are fine and focused, and the wine is as well. While the website claims the wine is "a little bit sweet," I found it pretty dry and thoroughly enjoyable. Lovely red berry notes predominate and the focused mouthfeel made me want some food immediately. $15-$17
A good Thanksgiving choice

Portugal:
Vinho Verde is produced in the northwest of Spain and literally translates as ‘green wine.’ The rosés are the right color. rink them young, they do not age. 
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde Rosé 

Imported by Alveda, Inc - This bottle seems not to display a vintage, always a warning sign to me, especially with simple rosé, and even more so with Vinho Verde. Approach with caution and buy from outlets that feature it prominently to ensure turnover. Made from Vinhao, Azal Tinto and Borracal (I know, me either).
The hallmark spritziness is present and delightful on the tongue. The color is bright, almost grenadine - and you can actually see the bubbles. The finish is short but the mid-palate is full. The sweet cherry middle avoids being cloying but is far from bone dry. Another quaffer at a mere 10.5% alcohol.  $8
Consistent wine, just try to make sure you’re buying a current release.

Ela Vinho Verde Rosé 2013

Imported by Touchstone-Wines - There is precious little story about this winery but the price might mitigate a need for one. 60% vinhao, 30% borracal and 10% espadiero (again, me either). 
There’s that vibrant Kool-aid color again. This was the sweetest of the pink wines we tried. Not bad though with some subtle spritz. This is beach wine. Uncomplicated but a bargain. Low alcohol also, 10%.  $7-$8

United States:
Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley 2013 

I adore this winery but have been disappointed in their rosé ever since I first tasted it. Too much fruit and not enough depth for my palate. Their vineyard practices are very much in keeping with an Oregon sensibility about sustainability, read more here. 
The wine has a different color than in years past though the winemaking notes do not reflect a new approach. It looks pale to me, peach almost, quite a change. Rose petals on the nose with hints of citrus: lemon when the wine was cold and orange as it warmed. Watermelon on the finish! The texture is soft but has some weight. The wine is subtle, elegant and shows none of the sweetness like it has in the past. Yay! I wanted guacamole and chips, something salty. $15
Finally(!) a good Thanksgiving choice.

Argentina:
Crios Malbec Rosé, Mendoza 2012

Imported by Vine Connections - Susana Balbo (winemaker) is a genius. She’s not afraid of making big wines but they never become ponderous or unbalanced. The wine is 100% malbec. Although they do not share their viticultural practices, Mendoza requires very little chemical use because they do not have many pests and rarely experience mildew or rot issues.
The lone 2012 in the series. This was in the middle of color, not quite Faillenc but darker than Elk Cove. The wine was thick, tactile, rich and fairly heavy but not cloying at all. It shows lushness without being creamy. It wasn’t very complex but sometimes solid and big is enough. This is for cabernet drinkers. Cherry is the dominant flavor and it is dark, but not quite black. I wanted a steak salad or maybe some seared tuna with plenty of pepper. $14
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Spain: 
The regions that produce the wines featured here rarely need much chemical attention in the vineyards. They do not have mold, mildew or pest issues allowing the wineries to operate in a sustainable way. That said, I do not have a clue about any of these wineries’ specifics.
Bodegas Muga Rosado, Rioja 2013 

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - Muga is a very traditional producer that makes classic wines. The rosé has always excelled. 60% garnacha (grenache), 30% viura (white wine similar to sauvignon blanc) and 10% tempranillo (the classic grape of Rioja). 
Great pink color, with citrus on the nose and some watermelon. The fruit is intense, not quite strawberry, and some oak shows through on the nose and palate. Great texture. A hint of earth emerges on the finish and the wine is clean and dry but not tannic. After it opened, it got a little soapy but the high acid remained. Overall, not as impressed as I have been but still a good value. I just wanted to drink this one, relaxing or cooking. Snacks are fine but not needed. $11
Consistent recommendation in the past but this year was a different style of wine.

Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Rosé 2013

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - From La Mancha, the official appellation is Vino de la Tierra de Castilla but what you need to know is that it is made from 70% bobal and 30% tempranillo. 
There is very little to say about this wine. It’s pink, it was cold and it was simple. There is not much going on but for the price, how much do you expect? At this price, try it with everything. I give it 4 Ps...perfect pool/porch/party wine.  $6
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice for a crowd.

Bodegas Borsao, Borsao Rosé, Campo de Borja 2013 

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - Yes, the wine is named identically to the winery. No, they are not crazy, just confusing (confused?). The region of Campo de Borja is located immediately south and east of the more famous Rioja. The appellation’s signature grape is garnacha (grenache) and this wine is 100% that grape.
Although I am a huge fan of the winery, I have been iffy on this bottling in the past and this year didn’t change my impression. It lacks complexity and there’s too much sweetness for my palate. This wine is a throwaway for me and I would rather save $2 and drink the Protocolo. I had no interest in pairing this with anything except maybe some tonic and vodka. $8

Austria:
Weingut Familie Juak Schilcher Klassic, Blauer Wildbacher 2013

Imported by Haus Alpenz - There is precious little out there about this wine but here’s what I know. It comes from Styria in the southeast of Austria. Schilcher is a style of rosé wine, including sparkling. Christian Jauk makes a few Schilcher wines, this is their ‘classic.’ The grape, Blauer Wildbacher, is dark-skinned, obvious when you see the vibrant hue of the wine. Blauer means ‘blue’ in German and is used to describe grapes with deeper color.
Looks like Kool-Aid. Wow, insane acid! The long, layered attack is mesmerizing and the wine is rich and untamed. It makes my mouth water for a long time...a really long time. I wanted cured meats and washed rind cheese. Nothing civilized for this wine, maybe ribs...this wants food with a bone or venison. Maybe just a similarly wild guest. $17
Good Thanksgiving choice with wild fowl or meats.

South Africa:
Mulderbosch Rosé, Coastal Region 2013

Imported by Mulderbosch - The winery participates in the BWI (Biodiversity and Wine Initiative) addressing the vineyards and their surrounding flora and fauna. I have been a huge fan of this winery but it was bought out and the long time winemaker, Mike Dobrovic, left. The new owner, Charles Banks, has been acquiring wineries left and right and this approach rarely bodes well. I wrote a short piece about this specifically referencing Mulderbosch about a year ago (read it here). Production was slated to grow, quickly. If this is the result of the new ownership I do not need to pay attention to this winery anymore.

No longer big and brawny like it used to be. It is now soft and lush (new) but still full with deep color and lot of texture. Some cranberry, cherry and hints at cassis with some watermelon too. It’s a decent drink but not like it used to be and it is sweeter. A new audience will enjoy it but the old one is going to be disappointed. Tasted twice with consistent notes. I’ll try again next year. More of a cocktail wine now than a food wine.$12

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Truth in Labeling? Part 2

Wine labels do not always tell the truth. Do you know how?
Full disclosure labeling, as covered in my last post, would be great. I want to know what is being added to my alcoholic beverages. Fireball has served as an unlucky lightning rod for a conversation that was long overdue. However, listing all ingredients for wine, beer and spirits on the label will take time, if it ever happens at all.
Here are some loopholes you may not be aware of for wine labeling. (I use domestic rules because they are relevant to more readers and because the rules are in English)

The Grape:
That pinot noir you drank last night from California might have had 25% of another grape (or grapes) in it and the winery does not have to tell you this. As long as the grape listed on the label is 75% of the wine, the rest is up to the winery. Syrah is a classic addition to inexpensive pinot, it adds color and body for a low price. The same percentages hold true for any variety of wine, white or red.
Oregon is stricter. In Oregon a pinot noir would have to be at least 90% pinot to be labeled as such. The other 10%? Legally, any other grape is okay. Some other grape varieties (18 of them) are allowed to be 75%. This was mostly allowed due to Bordeaux varieties, red and white, and the tradition of blending them. Rhone varieties are the remaining majority in the list.
To be labeled as coming from Oregon, 100% of the fruit must come from the state. However, if a specific appellation is listed, 5% of the wine can come from outside that appellation as long as it's still from Oregon. For a single vineyard bottling, 100% of the wine must be from that vineyard if Estate bottling is claimed. If not, 5% can come from other sources - within the state. Good luck keeping all this straight.

The Vintage:
The wine can be from different year(s) and still carry a single vintage date. 5% other vintage(s) are allowed if the wine lists a specific American Viticultural Area (AVA). If the winery lists only by county or state then the required percentage for wine of the vintage on the label drops to 85%.

You can read more from the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau here.

There is more. The division that approves labels often displays inconsistencies. There are plenty of tales of labels being submitted and rejected only to have a re-submission of the same label get approved. The original denier might have been on vacation or at lunch or just having a better day.
Bonny Doon once got a label approved for their zinfandel and they described it as "Beastly Old Vines." Some of these got into the supply chain when the TTB said they could not use the term beastly. Labels had already been printed so Randall Grahm and his merry band took a hole punch and "erased" the word beastly from the label.
The term old vines has no regulations whatsoever. A winery can call their wine old vines whenever they want. Believe the ones that actually tell you how old the vines are on the back label. A winery with a nod to scrupulousness could designate their ten year-old vines as old if they planted some new ones.
Another labeling quirk the TTB allowed was the designation, by Sea Smoke, of a "Grand Cru" vineyard (see Dr. Vino's post). France has a dedicated Cru system but the U.S. does not. Still, it is not forbidden by the French nor regulated by the TTB. Approved...but confusing.

Alcohol is another place wineries can deceive you. Below an alcohol level of 14%, a producer has 1.5% leeway to change the declared level on the label. That's a lot. Taxes increase once the level is over 14% so wineries have an incentive to tell you the percentage is lower than it really is. Once the 14% threshold is surpassed, the adjustment allowance drops to 1%. If the wine is 15% alcohol, an unacceptable level for some drinkers (rightly or wrongly), a winery can label it 14% and skate by. For more on this and to learn about a yeast strain that might reduce alcohol, see an earlier post here.

In the end, truth in labeling is a great concept but if/when it gets fully argued, negotiated and regulated the new labels may still not tell you what you need to know.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Truth in Labeling?

We all know what goes into wine, right? Grapes, yeast, oak (well, the wine goes into the last one). All the videos of winemaking show grapes being crushed and wine being magically created in a vat or barrel. What they don't show you is the "adjustments" that take place.
France sometimes allows chaptalization - adding sugar to bring the alcohol level up to a more normal level. You can add powdered tannin, you can acidify and you can use oak barrels, staves, chips, sawdust or even liquid smoke without having to tell anyone. Ever see anyone dump a bag of something into a vat in one of those romantic montages? Me either.
Today, word is out that Fireball has been recalled in some of Europe because it contains too much propylene glycol - an ingredient in anti-freeze. Apparently there was a shipping error. Sazerac, who produces Fireball, knows the Euro Zone countries have a lower threshold for levels of that substance. The U.S. allows more and the domestic version mistakenly was exported to Europe. You can read more about that here (Daily Meal) and here (Daily Beast). Pretty sure Fireball's label doesn't divulge the presence of propylene glycol, much less the specific amount. This is a known toxin that can kill you - although you would die of alcohol poisoning way before the anti-freeze ingredient would be an issue.
Lots of attention (too much?) has been paid to sulfites which occur naturally in grapes (and oranges, for example) and help stabilize the wine from oxidation. Some people get worked up about these, claiming allergic reactions. If sulfites have been added (almost every wine on a retail shelf) there will be a small statement to that effect on the label.
For a more in depth presentation of additions, check out this Washington State University link.
Many wineries tell you what they remove from the wines - fining and filtering - but very few disclose what goes in. We demand truth in labeling for food and medicines, why not wine? Ridge Vineyards has come to the rescue and voluntarily decided to show what they are putting in the bottle. This short video from Ridge explains the process and shows an example label. They have been doing this for a while so this is not breaking news but I thought it worth acknowledging.

While I don't view the additions to wine as health risks I would like be able to see if a wine has been adjusted. Generally, more expensive wines are coddled from grape to bottle. Because they are well-tended they do not need to be "fixed" as often. You should assume most cheap bottles of wine are more of a chemistry experiment. It is the bottles in between that need the disclosures. If there are two similarly priced wines on a shelf and one reads like Ridge's label and the other looks more like the back of a Cheetos bag, I am going to choose the more natural one, every time. And my palate will thank me. I can sometimes taste acidified wines. I can sometimes tastes wines that have powdered tannin added. If I can't taste the manipulation then I don't care. But the only way to know, for now, is to buy the bottle and open it. Sure would be nice to take a quick glance at a label and know one more thing about the wine you're considering.

Next post: A continuation of this them addressing grape percentages, alcohol level and organic declaration.





Monday, October 20, 2014

Offer Samples Instead of Saying No

A post with links to multiple wine articles appeared in my RSS feed and two of them piqued my interest. Clicking each brought up web pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal respectively. Each one offered the headline, a sentence or two and then told me to log-in or sign-up.
It is entirely possible that signing up would be quick, easy and require only that I agree to receive emails. Perhaps there would be a need to conjure up yet another password to something I may never use again. Even less appealing would be needing to pay to access the article.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Despite wanting to read both articles the obstacle placed in front of me outweighed my desire for access. The Wall Street Journal has good articles but my lack of familiarity with the author caused me to close the window and skip the read. I know little about the San Francisco Chronicle and, although I did know the author, I do not always love what she writes.
How easy is it to let me visit as a guest and then bar me from access on a subsequent visit unless I then decide to share my contact information? I’m happy to invite you in once you demonstrate value to me but there is too much good information and great writing available for free to make demands before I make a commitment, even one as small as sharing an email address while creating an account. 

If you meet someone are you expected to provide them your contact information in order to talk to them? Of course not. (If you said yes to that, please tell me where and when you interact with new people so I can come observe this process and the hilarious reactions that will inevitably follow). You talk, you learn, you decide if you’re interested.
Wineries would be smart to remember this. Wines sell because people taste them and like them. In many cases, the first experience is free, whether by the generosity of someone who bought a bottle or through marketing efforts.
Free samples are everywhere. Taste, experience, buy-in...or don’t. The offer of food or wine to taste costs someone money every time and some moochers will never support your business. Sharing an article that has already been written and is currently available on the internet costs no one anything to share it with more people. When walls discourage potential new customers it can cost you everything.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More counterfeiting news

The attention being paid to counterfeiting continues. Bill Koch and Rudy Kurniawan are the primary cause of the press covering fake wine and methods being used to defeat would-be shysters. See my earlier posts, herehere and here.
All of this time and effort spent discussing wine fraud probably makes people nervous. It shouldn't. This will almost assuredly never matter to almost every wine drinker. No one is bothering to counterfeit a $20 bottle of wine. This goes well beyond #FirstWorldProblems to #RichPeopleProblems. The money some people spend to acquire old, rare wine is insane. Even if you can guarantee the wine inside the bottle is actually what the label claims, you can not guarantee it will be any good. This is partly why counterfeiters get away with it. Most people have no idea how these wines taste.
I don't support the fraud in any way shape or form but it certainly has reminded big spenders that an old Latin phrase still has relevance in the digital age. Many would have done well to recall caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) earlier. Some of the fake wine sold for huge sums were from vintages before the producer ever made wine. A minimal amount of investigation would have revealed the scam.
Mark Ellwood, on Bloomberg, writes an in-depth post about even more ways to prevent criminals from ripping off rich people. Read his entire article here. Bill Koch now spends upwards of $500, in some cases, to authenticate a single bottle of wine. I've never spent that king of money on a bottle, much less to verify its provenance. Particle accelerators, laser and microchips are some of the techniques Mr. Ellwood explains in his piece.
The whole concept fascinates me and the amazing, and expensive, efforts to thwart counterfeiters are impressive but you can't stop it entirely. I will continue to read and share articles but none of this causes me to lose any sleep, my wine purchases are safe.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Let's Raise the Price Again, They're Still Buying!

Financial reading is dull and usually has little to do with wine, the only regular link is that they both involve my wallet. Last night, however, two articles by the same author reminded me of pricing insanity that has long been part of the wine world. 
A fund I have a small investment with apparently bought some of the stock mentioned but their decision better not have been based on either article. The analysis began by admitting the company was having trouble attracting customers but then said everything is fine because they are making more money off of fewer people. In fact, his delirium over this so infected the author he continued to say the sky was the limit. Sure, as long as people are willing to pay $1,000 a ticket and $50 for a hamburger, the sky might be the limit. 
Steve Martin did a routine about this decades ago where he calculated how much money he was making and how much he could make. Eventually he reached a high enough ticket price, assumed a five digit audience count, figured he could retire and announced, "One show and goodbye!"  
Bordeaux, Burgundy and California, among many others, are all guilty of the same backward logic. We can make more money if we just charge more! That's great until one day you realize you've pushed it too far and revenue begins a slow (if you're lucky), steady decline. At first customers might keep coming/buying but less frequently. Then lots of them will find something else to do/drink. Suddenly your loyal cash cows are grazing in someone else's field and they're not coming back.
During the wild price escalations of the late 1990s I asked a winemaker from California how some people priced their wines. He told me the in vogue method was to gather a handful of similar wines from the area and taste them blind with a wine made in house. While the tasting was technically blind, winery people tend to recognize their own product and rate it more highly then the others, almost without fail. Then they would price the "winner" higher than the other bottles on the table. This led to prices spiraling out of control with, seemingly, no end in sight. It was a nightmarish Escher print of high end grape juice.
It happens on the spirits side too. Allow me to quote Stoli Group USA's president from this article in Shanken News Daily
“We’ve successfully moved our price up to premium, which was one of our goals this year,” says Esposito, adding that Stoli’s retail price now sits at around $25-$29 a 1.75-liter and $19 a 750-ml. “Previously, we were $3-$5 a bottle below Absolut. So right now we’re moving toward that, and we’ll continue to move it up. It’s where the brand belongs, and now that the advertising is there, we have a great opportunity to justify our pricing.”
Wow, wow, wow. No mention of changing quality, just a higher price - followed by advertising to justify that increase. If I drank Stoli and read this, I would be looking for another vodka, quickly. They are far from the only ones employing this style of pricing but this is just so blatant it was impossible to ignore.
But I never thought this upside down logic would reach the financial sector. In addition to the specious argument that declining attendees and higher costs result in a sound investment the author admits there is a lot of debt and that operating expenses are rising every year. Sounds great, how do I invest? Oh wait, I am invested...bye, I've got a call to make.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Huber Heritage - an Indiana Gem

I "discovered" this winery at Vintage Indiana in 2013. Miss Wright and I tried a lot of wine that day. She had visited this farm in the past but hadn't fully explored the wines. We had a stellar tasting experience with that day, including tasting with the winemaker - always a nice treat.
Huber's is a family run operation, since 1843, with wine production coming in the late 1970s. All of the wines are estate based. The winemaker admitted that sometimes they run short on fruit due to you-pick-'em sales but those issues are limited to non-grape-based wines like their blueberry port. If extra fruit is needed for these wines it is purchased from other Indiana farms.
The Heritage wine I purchased that day clearly wanted some time to develop in the bottle and I tried to offer that. Eventually, the temptation overtook my desire to let it age and I opened my bottle for some friends.
The bottle claims the blend in 65% cabernet sauvignon and 35% cabernet franc.
The website says 45% cabernet sauvignon, 40% cabernet franc and 15% petite verdot. I am going with the website since that specifically references the 2008 vintage. The back label does not. Plus, I'm pretty sure I tasted petite verdot...see below.

Heritage 2008 - A round dollop of oak greets the nose along with deep red and black fruits and even a little hint of mint. No green, herbal flavors, but mint, like I sometimes find in Aussie shiraz. This wasn't so pronounced that it reminded of a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie but it was much closer to that than a mint julep or mojito. The wine fills the mouth nicely, from the roof to the tongue and is clearly rich without feeling heavy. The color is impeccable - no browning despite the age and the bright violet rim leads to an opaque purple core. Petite verdot provides great color and contributes to the fleshy texture of wines and I would be hard pressed to believe there is none in this blend. The flavors come in layers and the wine evolved while we drank it.
I continue to be amazed that they can achieve the ripeness with a grape I do not associate with the middle of the country. Cabernet franc loves the sun but thrives in cooler climates. Cabernet sauvignon, to my palate, demands sun and warmth or else it can taste of bell pepper and feel sharp, almost punishing.
While $40 (the current price, I think I paid $30) is more than I usually pay for a bottle of wine from anywhere, much less Indiana, this wine should be the calling card of Indiana wines. If you're a wine fan from Indiana, or visiting Indiana or want a distinct gift for a wine lover in your life, this would be an excellent choice.
If I was helping to develop the Indiana Wine Trail, I would be sure to include this in any tasting for high profile wine writers. This is the kind of bottle that can reshape perceptions and all of Indiana's wineries would benefit.
I look forward to visiting Huber in person and can't wait to try more of their wines.