Thursday, April 9, 2015

Somms and reps part 2

This continues an earlier post about the sometimes tense relationships between sommeliers and their distributor sales reps - find the first here.

Sommeliers were strongly in support of representatives knowing the basics of wine. This seems so obvious it's hardly worth mentioning except that you would be amazed how many clueless individuals there are in the business. "Distributors hire super sexy women or 'stud' male reps who have no knowledge about the wine they're trying to sell." For every sommelier that wrinkles their nose at these hires, there are dozens of other accounts tripping over themselves to do business. I can't even count the number of times I have heard, 'She doesn't know anything about wine and she brings me questionable product but I always try to order something to make sure she comes back next week.'
This tied into a few questions. There was also wide agreement about reps understanding "sensory concepts (tannin, residual sugar...)." This falls under basics of wine, to my mind. If you can't discuss and evaluate the wine on a similar level, building a business relationship will be that much harder.
Sommeliers also freely admitted they were more likely to buy from reps with a good wine education. "It shows dedication and professionalism."
One somm also mentioned knowing the products and pricing. While this also seems obvious, there were a few wholesalers (the biggest ones) in New Orleans that could not get a price right on an invoice. Time after time, the same wine arrived at different prices. When I worked retail, we had weekly meetings with our reps and managers to get the pricing correct. It goes beyond knowing the price, you have to get it right on the invoice too.

"There is nothing more irritating that a distributor rep reciting all the statistics on sugars and acids." Agreed. If you want the stats, there are usually available online. Reps that insist on regurgitating those numbers usually do so in a vain attempt to make themselves appear knowledgable.

When asked how much time they give a rep to present the answers ranged from "two minutes per wine" to 30 minutes (the most common). There is a nice shot at those reps who bring almost a case out with them hoping some will find success. The shotgun approach is universally reviled by professional buyers and adored by those hoping to get a nice buzz while "doing their job." "Forget the 'let's pick from the bag' routine. If you want to sell me something, sell me something."
I applaud this! I dreaded seeing a rep in front of me with a huge array of bottles, it could really put me behind if the buyer didn't limit the tasting. One technique (that I have witnessed) employed by large wholesalers with multiple reps working some accounts, was to try to monopolize the buyer. One rep shows up, calls the others and they try to piggy-back presentations. This can tie up a buyer for a long time and discourages competing reps from waiting to present their wines.

When asked if there were any 'rules' for sales reps, one somm responded, "Bring a great product - not the wines you are being told by higher-ups to upsell." This is perhaps the biggest hindrance to accessing great wine. Not only are reps pressed to sell certain brands within their portfolio but sometimes there are monetary incentives tied to pushing particular wines. Large production wines drive sales for wholesalers and mean lots of profits year after year. These producers want constant growth and pressure the distributors to make sure it happens. These are supposed to be the lead recommendations and take priority over other wines. Occasionally, especially during OND (October, November, December - the big sales months), the wineries will put their money where their mouth is. Cash awards are available for new placements and for overall sales of certain products.
I used to represent a couple of wineries that offered $10-$20 for new placements (meaning an account that hadn't ordered the wine in the last six months, or a year, placed an order and took delivery). The rep needed the customer to sell through a few cases in order to qualify for further bonuses on the placement. This showed the new account was actually selling the product. Sometimes sommeliers need these wines but that is a rarer and rarer occurrence. What usually happens is a months long game of reps trying to present what they need while somms wade through the dreck to get to what they need. Eventually, a mutual understanding would develop and a change of rep or somm could start the game all over again.

On a side note, reps sometimes created "new placements" by sending bottles that were never ordered and then made it such a pain in the neck to pick up the bottles for credit that the account finally just put the wine on the shelf or the wine list and sold it. Sometimes, this would result in re-orders if the wine sold through. Orders should not have been placed with the offending rep until the bottles were returned but the reps I saw employing this sleazy tactic sold brand name liquor and wine and most accounts could not easily go without the other products, so the practice continued.

Steve Heimoff wrote a piece in response to the article that prompted my posts, called "Kumbaya" wondering why we all can't just get along in the wine business. The comments are telling. Lots of reps responded but the best one was from an ex-somm who pointed out the biggest problem was the sheer number of reps. A buyer could easily fill most of a week with nothing but appointments to taste wine with different reps. That's just the reps, consider the ever-growing portfolio of wines available and there is always something new to present. The dance card fills quickly and so does the wish list.
Wines do not always get ordered even if the somm approves. Room may need to be made in the cellar and/or the list itself. Sometimes it takes weeks to make room for a wine, even one that excites the buyer. 

Good and bad examples exist in each group, it would be great to find a way to shuffle all the incompetent sales reps to the buyers who purport to be sommeliers while they look for favors and drink for free. Meanwhile the worthy, considerate, professionals could work together. Another pipe dream...or maybe pipette?

Hope you enjoyed some insight into a relationship that brings wine to you in restaurants. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Somms and Reps

Two groups of people need one another to survive. That does not mean they naturally get along. In fact, quite the opposite can be true because they are so integral to each other's world.
Karen MacNeil (The Wine Bible, among others), interviewed a handful of sommeliers around the country about their relationships with their sales representatives. While my career in wine has not included a stint running a wine program, working for more than a decade as an outside sales rep more than qualifies me to discuss the complaints lodged in the article. (You can read the entire article here. Just click to zoom in and click again to zoom out, if needed.)
Note: I will use the term buyer and sommelier (or somm) interchangeably here so you don't tire of one word or the other

There is nothing outrageous or unreasonable in their complaints. Reps often act unprofessionally and discourteously but sommeliers are far from infallible.
The top two pet peeves:
"Showing up unannounced and often in the middle of service...Tardiness to a scheduled appointment." I wholeheartedly agree with the complaint about showing up in the middle of service. I appeared often at the end of my day (into their dinner service) but only to drop off a few opened sample bottles. I never expected anyone to stop what they were doing to deal with me once service was underway. The rest of the top complaints are a bit more nebulous.
Sometimes showing up unannounced was the only way to get in front of a buyer. Some sommeliers would tell you straight to your face they had no interest in wine X or even in doing business with your company. In those instances, professionalism dictated you stay in touch from time to time, (dropping off a new price list was a great way to do this). However, some buyers would just duck phone calls from reps they didn't want to see. I have witnessed this countless times. If a rep shows up unannounced under these conditions, it is the somm's fault.
Tardiness is a big deal and a great frustration on both sides of the relationship. Reps try to fill a day with appointments, especially with sample bottles in tow. Some meetings can take a few minutes and some can last for an hour or more. I have had numerous buyers tell me, upon arrival, that they want to discuss re-doing portions of the list. I could put some off by getting as much information as I could and then putting together a formal presentation that night so they could look at it before the end of their workday. That kept me on schedule. If the discussion needed to be done then and there, my day could be a total loss if the rest of my visits had no flexibility. While it is certainly not the fault of the sommelier in the 11am time slot if the 10:30am keeps me for an hour, another somm still created the problem.
Also mentioned here was "aggressive follow-up." See the example above of somms not responding. It is a simple matter: you taste a wine and listen to the presentation, you decide if the wine is for you/your restaurant, you decline the wine or order it or have a basic timeframe where it will get ordered. Simple. Again, a professional rep will follow-up to get the results of the meeting, especially if they had a supplier with them (ride-along) because that person needs to know as well. Too many buyers try to be nice, saying pleasant things and giving the impression that business will follow, when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As a rep, I could often tell the difference, but I am not clairvoyant and need an answer to pass along. Even if the answer is a dismissive "No," the rep has an answer and aggressive follow-up is no longer needed. I sympathize and empathize with not having enough time but if you are being asked about a meeting you agreed to have then you owe the participants a response. If there is no response, then repeated, multi-channel, "aggressive" follow-up is likely to happen.
In defense of sommeliers, direct responses of "No" and "Not interested" are all too often ignored by sales reps. They continue to return and pester the buyer after receiving an answer the rep, and the rep's bosses, didn't like. My patience would wear thin, quickly. Reps are within their rights to ascertain the reason(s) behind the refusal of a proposed wine and somms should be ready to explain themselves. This can benefit both parties if there is a meaningful exchange of information here and the rep actually pays attention and gears future tastings accordingly.
It's a fine line between accepting a rejection quietly and being an advocate for the wine, i.e. being a salesperson. There are occasions when buyers reject wines simply because they don't like them. However, making a case for the wine and where it might fit on the list is a sales rep's job. Be prepared, make your case and if there is still no interest from the sommelier, let it go. You can always revisit the wine at a later date. Reps that push hard often succeed in the short term with the desired placement but hurt their long-term prospects with the account because the buyer may offer them less opportunities in the future, wanting to avoid the "hard-sell."
I believe the model sales rep should be familiar with the wine list (and menu) and able to discuss it (them), in depth, with the sommelier. There was, however, little consensus from the somms interviewed about whether reps should know the food/menu of the restaurant with one specific quote from a sommelier, "Knowing the menu is my job." I certainly applaud this approach, the sommelier should be the ultimate connection between the menu and the wine list. However, any rep that doesn't understand the menu of a restaurant can not possibly understand their needs and will never be valuable to the business. Reps should strive to tailor their presentations to the customer and not just load up a bag full of wine hoping some will be hits. This is the difference between a run of the mill rep who does business and a partner who can grow business.

 I will continue breaking down this article and sharing my perspective in the next post, stay tuned.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Can We Make Wine Descriptions Useful?

Do you read flowery descriptions of wine anymore? Did you ever? Did you feel any closer to understanding the wine being described? Do descriptions like these help or hinder?
"...with honeyed overtones to the flavors of quince paste, tarte Tatin and juicy grapefruit...lots of anise, bergamot, floral, spiced almond and smoke notes."
"Shows the sweet and smoky character of burning vine clippings...Kirsch, grilled plum, sanguine and espresso notes mix with hints of lavender, marjoram and sage..."
The above are both from Wine Spectator but they are hardly the worst offenders of wine writers. [For more of these, and my take on them, check out my series. Simply search Preposterous Pundit Pontifications. If that sounds like work, some samples can be found here and here.]

It is not a new problem in the wine world. Or the music world. Can you know what an album sounds like without actually listening? No, but there are ways to communicate more effectively. 
I have long believed that describing wine in complicated, overly specific detail not only confuses many readers (including yours truly) but is actually a disservice. Implied snobbery with esoteric, even bizarre, terms can discourage would-be enthusiasts from learning about wine. 
My take was always to use general terms like: red or black fruit, tart citrus or juicier fruit, for example. If Bing cherry leaps to mind, great, feel free to share, but broader strokes will resonate with more people. Of course, that kind of reading can get repetitive, so publications with hundreds of reviews encourage different language to communicate a similar message.
Over the years I have employed myriad other ways to convey a wine's style. Comparing them to books, Hemingway vs. Faulkner, or music, Bob Dylan vs. Steve Winwood, or food or weather or get the idea.
Universal concepts like this might still confuse some people when presented in a three of four sentence description. However, with a little more space these descriptors can really make a wine come alive for a reader even without a glass in front of them. Dylan's voice is rough, and not for everyone, but can be very rewarding to those who like it. Steve Winwood's vocal take is smooth and pretty and much more universally appealing, but some say his music is a bit simple. 
Of course, if you write too much then you run the risk of no one reading it because it's more long this. 
Oh well, the wine world rarely presents us with perfect's all part of the fun.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Difference Between Wine and Cars

If a Hyundai representative appears on TV and claims their car is the same as Porsche because it has multiple gears and anti-lock brakes everyone would know this was public relations braggadocio (otherwise known as BS). When someone from a budget sparkling wine producer says something similar, people tend not to be able to see through the smoke. Let's clear the air.

Paul Ahvenainen, director of winemaking for Korbel Cellars, appeared on a San Francisco station in December and talked about the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. Here is a link to the Gray Report's post on this topic.

"For us at Korbel, it's really about the process. Champagne is a product that is fermented twice: first you do it in the tank and then you ferment it the second time in the exact same bottle that the consumers can get." Viola, Champagne. Technically, he's correct, like the Hyundai rep above, but he omits that true Champagne only comes from France, a specific area of France.
But his offense is not omission, he goes on to bash sparkling wine in general. "Sparkling wine, on the other hand, can either be done in huge tanks and filtered into bottles or even artificially carbonated." This is true but completely misleading.

Cheap sparkling wine can be made in tank and the bubbles can be huge and inelegant and poorly integrated. Quality sparkling wine can be made in the méthode champenoise (méthode traditionelle) and can even taste better than some of the production based in the small geographic region of Champagne.

How hard is it to be transparent and informative instead of petty and underhanded? Nearly impossible for this Korbel cheerleader apparently. For those who might not have listened closely enough, he gave himself away, as most people do who have something to hide. He began his answer with, "Honestly..." He is correct, there are "a lot of different levels to that conversation" but to ignore the most obvious seems disingenuous, at best.

Wine confuses people, the question was asked, "for our viewers who may not know," and his answer will only confuse them further. This is why winery PR and spin can be so dangerous.

Happy New Year, may you encounter better information and more honest, passionate advocates for wine the rest of the year. I will continue to debunk, expose and discuss poor examples right here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Craft Wine: The Phrase is New, the Concept is Not

This is a buzz phrase being thrown around in wine articles a lot lately. Perhaps this tells us more about lazy journalism than a new trend. The craze surrounding craft beer made, and continues to make, sense because it changed a paradigm. Expanding selection beyond industrial options deservedly drew attention. The same tectonic shift is not available in the wine world.
Shelves, even in chain grocery stores, have held small production, hand-crafted wines for decades. Mass produced, corporate juice is the newer arrival. Giant marketing budgets and formulaic wines create backlash and I guess that's what's happening here but mostly this seems to be about millenials finding wines made by other millenials. Maybe there's a new trend there and maybe that needs a name. Perhaps Swillenial Wine?
The bottom line is that I wholeheartedly support the attention being paid to small producers, of any age, but if anyone thinks "craft wine" is a new thing they're not paying attention.

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:

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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


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.