Category Archives: industry

Wine-DUR-com

Well, someone at wine.com should be fired by now.  Alder at Vinography broke the story (which was originally published in the Wine Market Report – 8k download here) to the blogosphere a couple of days ago.  Get this:  wine.com organized a sting operation in Washington state, in which wine.com – or stooges thereof – ordered wines from 29 different online wine retailers that could not legally ship to Washington, and then they turned the names of the law-breaking retailers in to state authorities.

Ironically enough, Washington prosecutors have no jurisdiction over out-of-state retailers who ship to Washington despite stupid protectionist wine laws that prohibit such activity.  The only people who could be in legal trouble from Washington state authorities would be people who actually ordered the wine, breaking the law while actually in Washington state!  Wut?

No company with this much of a rat-like approach to business, coupled with a severe lack of cognitive processing ability, should be allowed to have a link on this site.  Wine Scamp is no place for snitches, nor for tattle-tales.  So I’ve taken their ad off the site, and I hope you’ll join me in a boycott of wine.com for here on out.  Mostly for being morons, and then also for being wine law vigilantes.  Oops, I repeated myself.

I must join Tom Wark in directing your attention to the supreme response to wine.com’s perfidy, that of Emily and Stephan at Winemonger.com — it’s both brilliant and hilarious — located near the end of the comments to the post on Vinography.

The New Phone Books are Here! The New Phone Books are Here!

Hey, remember a long, long time ago when I was shopping for wine magazines? I never got back to you on which I chose, but I did order some. I confess that I’ve gone really non-mainstream, so far… But the first one arrived! My first International Wine Cellar came in the mail today!

Tanzer TableauIt’s so thick and weighty, with such impenetrable columns of small type and no pictures! Ful-O-Pep, certainly, but in a very serious, Oliver Wendell Holmes kind of way.

And it discusses the wines coming in my first shipment from my Xmas present this year: a Tablas Creek Wine Club membership! (Thank you Dr. Debs for the recommendation.) And the wines arrive on Friday! And Tanzer gave most of them 90+ point ratings! And the wines arrive on Friday!

I leave on a trip to Oregon on Sunday and I’ve been wondering what to read on the plane, or rather how many books and what types I should bring. Now I can bring a magazine, too! And I can make little notes in the margins like my mom used to do in her theological texts while in grad school! I’m in wine grad school!

Yay.

Why Tanzer, you ask, and not Parker? Well, two reasons. First, I’ve received Parker’s zine before and I wanted to try something new. Second, I must confess that the stinkiness from the eBob board brouhahas wafting around the wine blogosphere lately has put a bit of a bad taste in my mouth about the Advocate. On top of that distastefulness surrounding the eBob board (and thus, name), I don’t get that “champion of the consumer” vibe from Mr. P any more; I’m feeling him much more as an institution and less as an industry outsider with some wine tips for little old me.

Also, I feel that Tanzer’s 90 point ratings are a little harder to come by, and he’s not AS seduced by the old fruit-bomb, high alcohol, high extraction style of wine that Mr. P prefers and lauds. Not that I’m adversely inclined toward a fruity-tuity-big-booty-patootie myself, but lately the booziness of a 16% bottle will get to me, and I’m really enjoying more balanced, structured juice these days. Really interesting interview with Stephen Tanzer over at Grape Radio, by the way. Check it out; I very much enjoyed it.

I’ve never regularly read Tanzer (he wasn’t very influential in my market when I was in the business), so I’m really looking forward to getting to know his work. The other magazine I’ve subscribed to is Restaurant Wine, which is another industry-focused publication. I’m thinking I’ll also pick up Wine Enthusiast or the Spectator, just to keep an eye on the more consumer-oriented print mags.

But away with these sober reflections and plans! I’m going to pour myself a glass of something and dig in to my new tome.

Tasting Goes With: Beef

Goes with beefGot my first sample for review the other day, from Fred Schwartz in sunny California. Fred’s company Riddling Bros. has this unreleased wine, really a wine brand concept, called Goes With Cellars, which is one of those food pairing-focused wines like the Wine That Loves brand that came out earlier this year. I thought it was rather funny of Fred to send me this wine to sample, as I had already kinda-sorta gone on record as thinking the Wine That Loves concept was weird in a comment at Good Wine Under $20, when Dr. Debs posted on it.

Whereas the “Wine That Loves” brand focuses on pairing wine with more everyday fare (pasta with tomato sauce, pizza, grilled steak, etc), the “Goes With” line includes a shopping list and an upscale recipe that one presumes will be a perfect pairing with the wine in the bottle. My husband’s take on the concept was, “Oh yeah. Back when I was single, I would totally have bought that to make dinner for a date. That’s a Get Laid Wine.” Aha! Market positioning insight!

Jeff at Good Grape was also a part of Fred’s little marketing campaign, which included sending us little graphics of well paired icons, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, along with a tag that said “Matched Perfectly.” The Wine Broad got a sample, too: she thought the whole “Wine That Loves” brand was a crock, so you can imagine her opinion of this seeming re-brand attempt. Continue reading

Whence value?

I really enjoy American wines, but when I’m looking for an interesting wine for very little money, I never go American. I look at Spain, Portugal, Southern France, New Zealand and Australia, maybe even a small southern Italian producer. In my experience, $10 spent on a Spanish wine goes a lot farther than $10 spent on a wine from California, when you know where to look.

OK, but now the dollar is weak. European and South American wines are going to get more expensive. Plus, Australia is weathering a miserable drought, and predictions are that yields in 2008 will be half that of previous years. HALF?!? Yikes, people! According to Decanter, I needn’t worry because importers are swallowing the expense right now. But logically, it’s only a matter of time: all of my bastions of value are going to be getting more expensive. What’s a cheapo wine lover to do?

Dr. Vino addressed this issue last week, asking if California would drop the ball in reclaiming the one third of the wine sales in the US which are of imported wine. It seems like a perfect time for Americans to come back to US wines for their interesting value purchases. Will the consumer be offered great deals in these weak dollar times?

I do not have a good feeling about this, gentle readers. Two Buck Chuck aside (sakes alive, when will Trader Joe’s come to Austin?!?), my national brethren are not well known for bringing the value and the quality in the same bottle. But perhaps I’m in a rut. Perchance I have been turning a blind eye to the grand values America has to offer me. Let’s find out together, shall we, in a poll?

If I have not listed your favorite value region, please let me know by a comment and I’ll add it.

[poll=5]

Your Beaujolais Bandwagon, let me jump on it

Dr. Vino is so right. Beaujolais Nouveau is an ecological nightmare: this marketing ploy invented by Georges DuBoeuf in which all points of the planet receive “new,” raw wine from Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, the globalizing of a tradition that dates back to the seventies, just POURS carbon into the atmosphere through shipping millions of bottles of wine by plane rather than by boat.

There is no redeeming aspect to the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau, except that of sentimentality and the gateway aspect of the wine. It’s simple and accessible wine, and yearly the “nouveau” hubble-bubble causes many new people to try wine that wouldn’t normally. I will always be a fan of any wine or wine event that helps wine-shy folk able to try a wine they’ll like. But at what cost to the Earth? Continue reading

Tasting Mitolo “GAM” McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005

GAM Shiraz, from Mitolo’s websiteI’m sure there’s a car that epitomizes power and finesse. I don’t know what it is, because I’m not a car-brand-knowing-type-person. But whatever car that is, this wine is the bottled version of it. Tasted as part of a “Robert Parker’s High Raters” at Lake Travis Wine Trader’s Saturday Premium Tasting. Parker gave this wine a 95, if you’re interested.

Opaque purpley red in color. Enormous, multi-faceted nose of menthol, fir sap, aged cheese, peppered salami and blackberry jam. The palate, well. When I sipped this wine, it felt like someone had let loose the Fists of Fury on my teeth. Full-bodied, with great balanced acidity and a firm tannic grip. Well-integrated, firecracker explosions of red currant, black pepper and blueberry skin. Finish goes for miles. Sells for about $48.

Mitolo is a joint venture between two very powerful men: Frank Mitolo and winemaker Ben Glaetzer. Well, strictly speaking, Mitolo started the winery in 1999 and Glaetzer became a partner in 2001. The name of the wine, GAM, refers to Frank’s children Gemma, Alexander and Marco. Frank Mitolo is the general manager of his family’s agricultural business, Comit Farm. His family’s business is one of the largest potato and onion packing companies in Australia. Mitolo’s winery was founded in 1999, with grapes sourced from the Lopresti family. Here’s an interview of Frank from Jancis Robinson’s site, and a concise review of Mitolo’s recent releases at Vinosense. Continue reading

Zines, zines, zines…

Wine AdvocateI’m shopping.  When I started this experiment of writing about wine, having been out of the business for what seems like forever but is actually only 2 years, I promised myself that if I stuck with it I would budget in a few wine magazine subscriptions.  I hadn’t maintained my trade subscriptions because it was a little too painful reading about expensive, interesting wines when I didn’t have the money to buy them and no one to discuss them with; but I’m feeling frisky, baby, so watch out!

Back when I was a wine rep, I exhaustively read consumer-oriented publications, because that’s what affected my customers’ shelves and lists.  It was important for me to know what trends were affecting their sales (and therefore my own).Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Decanter, and Food and Wine.  Talking to a wine bar owner lately, I’ve learned that Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar affects sales here in Texas (or at least here in Austin), though it didn’t seem so big an influence back in the USVI.
Wine Spectator

My inestimable former boss BG, would also get more trade-oriented subscriptions; we shared, of course, and I always enjoyed reading Wine & Spirits, Quarterly Review of Wine, and Restaurant Wine.  He particularly swore by the little-known gems he would find in the latter, and I must say that he was right on the money when he ordered something for our territory based on a review from RW. BG was a traditionalist and liked to get the printed magazines; I needed information fast, even from back-issues, and needed to be able to search wine ratings, so I liked the online subscriptions.  At WA and WS, you can search their databases for wine rating scores, which is super-useful for wine reps whose customers respond to ratings. (Is that redundant?  Does anyone sell wine to people who are not affected by ratings?) 

Restaurant Wine

 

So, I’m working on a budget, and I am no longer driven by the need to find the next new 92 pt wine that retails for less than $10 (though I’m not opposed to it).  I’m interested in reading articles on industry trends and winery profiles, but I’d also like to hear about cool new bottles of deliciousity.  I like the immediacy of online subscriptions, but then there’s something satisfying about getting something in the mail every month, too.  Plus, I’m not always near a computer.

What would you recommend I buy, if we were to keep at a budget of about $200?  What wine publications are most useful and rewarding for you?  Which ones feel like the best bang for your buck?  Where do you find your precious nuggets of wisdom?

Quit staring at my legs

One of the things I will encourage you NOT to comment on when it comes to wine is legs.  “Nice legs” is a phrase best used in private, only with your beloved partner whom you think has attractive lower limbs and wants to hear your opinion of them. 

Unfortunately, wine legs are easy to spot, and commenting on them is one of the early defaults that a wine drinker learns.  Please, please, please resist.  Legs mean one thing: alcohol content.   If the wine legs you are seeing in your glass are so outstandingly pronounced that you simply must say something about them, then just say something about the alcoholic content in the wine, like “What percent alcohol is this?” or “What is this stuff, Port?”

Tears of WineHere’s how legs work:  wine is made of water and alcohol.  Alcohol evaporates faster than water but has lower surface tension, and so the wine in your glass of wine starts climbing the sides through capillary action.  This exacerbates the quicker evaporation of the alcohol, and the resulting change in the surface tension pushes even more wine up the side.  When gravity kicks in, the wine drops back into the glass.  The tracks of the wine running up and falling down the sides of your glass are the legs, which the French call the “tears of wine.”

Alcohol is one of the things that makes a wine full-bodied, creating that sensation of expansion in your mouth, and sometimes contributing to the mouth-coating texture of a wine.  There has been a lively discussion since late June in the wine world regarding how much alcohol is in modern, high-scoring wines, and whether that’s a good thing.  Wines from Germany usually have about 8-10% alcohol.  French & Italian wines tend to be about 12%.  California wines can range as high as 16%, which winemaker extraordinaire Randy Dunn says is too much.  Tom Wark at Fermentation agrees with him, as I tend to.  Wines & Vines pleads for an appreciation of alcohol.

No matter what side of the high-alcohol fence you’re on, or if you’re dazed by the whole hullaballoo, please take this home in your pocket.  It’s uncool to talk about legs.  Not uncool in a cool way, like Napoleon Dynamite, but simply and utterly inept, like the way our president ad libs.  Don’t say it!  You’ll thank me when you’re older.

Boxed in

Such an interesting article from our local Austin Chronicle this week on boxed wines! Wes Marshall writes about wine and food for the Chronicle, and organized a blind tasting of wines packaged in boxes, inviting various distinguished Austin wine geeks, including the three Austin men that won the Texas Best Sommelier Competition: Devon Broglie, Craig Collins and Scott Cameron. There were 12 tasters in all, and they tasted a total of 50 wines, giving out a prize for Best Red, Best White, and Best in Show. The winners were:

1.) Seeburger Riesling from Germany

2.) Powers 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State

3.) Hardy’s Stamp Merlot from Australia

Now, you may be surprised to hear about very serious wine people enthusiastically tasting box wine. The box stuff is cheap and nasty, right? Well, here’s the thing: not necessarily. Wine is finally having a much-needed packaging revolution. Wines that would sell for $10-15 a bottle are now frequently being packaged in the “bag in box” format and purchased enthusiastically in such wine-savvy locales as Europe and Australia. According to Wes Marshall, 54% of all wine purchased in Australia is in a box. These are people who care much more about substance over form, yeh?

Why give up the good old bottle and cork? Simple: air. When wine is exposed to oxygen, it starts to go south. Specifically, it oxidizes, robbing the wine of its fruit and causing the wine to brown. Wine that’s been packaged in that vacuum bag in the box is guaranteed oxygen-free for life, and therefore can be drunk in any quantity desired, over any timespan desired, without you haveing to worry about the wine going off. Do you drink a glass of red wine a night, like it’s medicine? Then bag-in-box is your Holy Grail.

Another good reason to buy wine in a box rather than in a glass bottle is portability. Continue reading

Tasting HdV Napa Valley Red Wine 2003

hdvnapavalleyredwine-label.jpgUhhh, Scamp? You forgot the name of the wine.

Actually, no. This is HdV’s meritage bottling, which they did not name until 2004. The word meritage is a cross between the words “merit” and “heritage,” and it’s the official California name for a wine that is a blend of at least two grape varietals (hard to blend just one). It rhymes with “heritage,” so please don’t go all fake French on it and say meritaaahhhhggge. Give it a good, American hard G; it’ll probably push back, as most meritage blends are Cabernet Sauvignon-based.

California winemakers started making meritage blends in honor (or imitation) of the great wines of Bordeaux, which are all blended wines. Red Bordeaux wines are blended from any or all of 5 grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. White Bordeaux wines are blended from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

In the US, we usually market a wine by its varietal, and blending makes the consumer suspicious: a “Robert Mondavi 51% Cab, 42% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc” doesn’t exactly fly off the shelves. In France, they figure all you need to know is that it’s Chateau Haut-Batailley, because the winemaker tries to make the wine taste the same from year to year, blending it differently every vintage to create the same aromas and flavors that makes that wine distinctively Chateau Haut-Batailley. This is what American winemakers are going for with their meritages: a distinctive, winery-evoking character that makes you think, “Ahhhh…. HdV.”

When enjoying this HdV premium tasting at the Lake Travis Wine Trader, I was intrigued to learn that this winery with such close ties to internationally renowned Burgundy was not making a Pinot Noir, but instead a meritage blend, a la Bordeaux. Michael Apstein, in an article about HdV, says that de Villaine declined to bottle a California Pinot Noir because of the “inevitable comparisons.”

In the glass, the wine was a rich red, not jewelled with clarity, but muscley-looking. It was quite toasty on the nose, with some green pepper aromas and a very subtle black currant scent. Overall, pretty spicy/peppery on the nose. The tannins were quite astringent on the palate, with some cranberry and maybe loganberry fruit. The finish lasted about 5 seconds. I expected it to be more fruit-driven when it warmed up a little, and it evened out a little bit, but largely stayed the same. I felt there was too much oakiness present, and the wine was not really ready to drink yet. A pretty austere red blend, for Napa Valley meritage.

To be fair, some reviewers were extremely pleased with this wine, citing rich cherry fruit from the Merlot and earthy, mushroom character, but I didn’t get any of that in my tasting. This wine is probably improved by food: a nice steak or duck dish would cast the tannins in a much more flattering light. Bottle price: $67