Swirls: Jefferson’s wine and “liquid” assets

Two items in the news caught my attention today, both involving wine values. No, we’re not talking about inexpensive wines, but wines purchased for investment. First comes the results of a fascinating study on the relative value of an investment wine portfolio versus the performance of a well-known stock index. Let’s just say I hope you didn’t dip too deeply into the Bordeaux collection to relieve the stress when times were at their toughest. The story is covered by The Globe and Mail and Reuters, among others.

And, speaking of Bordeaux, there is the matter of the wines once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Or were they? That is the essential 25b question in a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York this week by the billionaire William Koch, who claims to have evidence that four bottles he bought for hundreds of thousands of dollars through Christie’s International, the auction house, were fakes. Were the initials “Th. J” carved into the bottles in Jefferson’s time or were they made by a modern engraving machine? It’s the latest chapter in a continuing good yarn and the coverage reflected that, ranging from Wine Spectator to New York’s Daily News.


Smells and tastes like … Twitter

You might not have known it, but the virtual wine world is getting set for another big Twitter tasting event this Thursday in the form of a “Tweetup.” That’s a  a meet-up, or social gathering, of people on Twitter. I received word of it in an email from the folks at Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars, two brands of the Mendocino Wine Company in California, which, among others, is building its own event within the event. Users are invited to coBig twitterme to the Parducci tasting room in Ukiah. “You don’t have to tweet to come taste,” says the invitation, “but we do encourage forwarding this invite to all your friends, fans and followers!” You bet they do. Welcome to the brave new world of wine marketing, where it’s all about emails, Tweetups, friends, followers and Facebook fans.

The theme of this latest Twitter tasting is wine blends. Whether at a winery or in the privacy of your own home, alone or in a group, the idea is that while tasting a blend of your choice (a cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend, let’s say) you  Tweet about it, thus providing your take on the wine or wines, all in 140 characters or less. Voila! You’ve become an instant critic. All you need is a bottle of wine and a handheld device.

Think about it. If you’re a producer, you’ve now got dozens if not hundreds or thousands of opinions on your wines for all to see, even if most of them represent the views of wine amateurs. A certain percentage of those Tweets are going to result in wine sales, and you will have sold those bottles while bypassing traditional marketing, advertising and public relations and the costs they incur. How far we’ve come from the days when Orson Welles made that famous commercial for the Paul Masson wine company three decades ago and declared, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

Such wine pronouncements from on high are ancient history. These days,  much of the marketing is generated by wine enthusiasts themselves, who are encouraged by wineries to participate and spread the word. And they do. The idea of the wine Tweetups was embraced early on by St. Supéry Vineyards & Winery in the Napa Valley, which has hosted several of the events. I was talking about all this the other day with Tina Cao, St. Supéry’s PR and marketing manager, who said that social networking was a great way for the winery to interact with consumers and to provide a high-level of customer service.

I asked her whether bloggers and Tweeters were taking the place of traditional wine critics. “They have a different audience,” she said, “and I think there’s room for both.” Cao noted that those who are using social media seem to have a younger audience, one more likely to take into account what their friends say. Those Twitter followers and Facebook friends can also provide almost instant feedback to the company. “If it’s a great review it’s great for us,” she said. “If it’s not a positive one we want to know why.”

“For instance,” Cao added in an e-mail follow-up to our convesation, “there was a blogger who didn’t like one of our wines and we sent her another bottle on the chance that she purchased an ‘off’ bottle. She did a 180 and became a fan of the brand.” So much so that she held her wedding at the winery.

Beyond their own blogs and Twitter posts, some of these citizen-reviewers are sharing their notes and scores on wine commerce and community sites like Snooth. At a recent wine event here in New York I met one of them, Matt Aronowitz, who revealed that he was one of Snooth’s biggest contributors. When I looked on  Snooth, where he is known as “aronowm2,” he had, in fact, reviewed 561 wines, including a California syrah he summed up this way: “killer. nice and lush. opened up nicely after 1 hour....also went well with a Cigar.” In the brave new world of wine marketing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the winery put that up on its Web site.

Robert Parker, watch out.


The great reds of France’s Loire Valley

When two fellow  journalists asked me the other day what wines I was thinking about for Easter, I told them, almost without missing a beat, that I was leaning toward Loire Valley reds. One of them seemed genuinely surprised while the other seemed more perplexed and was clearly unfamiliar with the wines. Lamb, I explained, was a tradition in our family at Easter, and these reds, with their fresh acidity and minerality, match superbly with it, as I was reminded the other day at a dinner featuring the wines. I’m fairly certain that my choice would ultimately be forgotten or ignored by my colleagues; Loire Valley reds, after all, require a little work:  it helps to be able to recognize some of the appellations, such as Chinon or Bourgueil, for example, or to know that the primary red grape is the cabernet franc, which expresses itself with elegance and complexity in the varied terroirs of the Loire (there is also some pinot noir and gamey grown in parts of  the region). It also helps if you can can get past the notion that big fruit and high alcohol are requisites for very good wines.

The other night, we tasted more than a dozen reds from various parts of the Loire in a pre-dinner sampling and with various courses. For me, five of them really stood out. Yannick Amirault’s 2007 Bourgueil “La Coudraye,” $21, was grapey and delightful with refreshing acids, minerals and a touch of pepper. René Mosse’s 2008 Anjou, $23, was a bit closed at first but opened up nicely, showing notes of sour cherries and a bit of the green herb character tVarious starting in France '08 083hat you’ll often find in cab franc.  Bernard Baudry’s 2008 Chinon “Les Granges” is showing beautifully with wonderfully expressive and fresh aromas that transported me back to Bernard’s cellar (he’s on the left in the photo) , where we tasted Les Granges right from the tank, along with his other wines, a couple of summers ago. The ‘08 Les Granges is full of earth and minerals with vibrant red fruits that suggest cherry and raspberry. This is also a great value at $18.

As the lamb course was served (it was prepared exquisitely at New York’s Gramercy Tavern with salsify, hazelnuts and Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms), two reds from 2005 were served and demonstrated how these wines begin to evolve and mature with some bottle age. For one thing, the red fruits give way to darker berry flavors. The ‘05 vintage was also a warm and dry one and the two wines we tasted reflected this in their concentration and weight.  Domaine des Roches Neuves’ 2005 Saumur-Champigny “La Marginale,” $40, was at once earthy and elegant and provided a seamless match with the mushrooms and the lamb, its ample blackberry notes supported by lively acidity.   Another standout was Chateau de la Grille’s 2005 Chinon, a big and perfumed wine showing notes of leather, blackberry and some pepper. It’s not yet available at retail.

The hallmark of these wines is their dimension and subtlety. You’ll find yourself swirling them again and again, taking another sip, thinking about them some more and discovering something new. With moderate levels of alcohol, they are also made for food, especially earthy, slightly rustic, fare. They have Easter lamb written all over them.



Swirls: Wine loss from Chile quake put at $250 million

It’s been three and a half weeks since the earthquake in Chile, and I received an update on the situation yesterday from Wines of Chile USA, the trade group representing Chilean wineries here in this country. An assessment by the group found that damage to wineries affected 13 percent of the 2009 harvest, resulting in a loss of about $250 million. It noted, however, that the ‘09 harvest in Chile was unusually large. “We are confident to report,” said Lori Tieszen, the group’s executive director, “that supply to countries around the world will not be affected and that the 2010 harvest, which has begun in the northern wine regions, is proceeding as planned.” The organization is asking for donations to a fund set up specifically to support vineyard and winery workers affected by the quake.

Separately, American importers of Chilean wine have also made substantial contributions, including $150,000 from Banfi Vintners and $50,000 from TGIC Importers, which also released a video appeal for further support from its president, Alex Guarachi.


Sips: an excellent $8 chardonnay

When it comes to chardonnay, the choice is largely about stylistic preference. Big, rich and buttery? Austere and mineral-driven?  Or perhaps something in between. I myself prefer a leaner style with subtle use of oak, or, in the case of Chablis, perhaps no oak at all. Within the various styles, the possibilities are almost endless, especially if you have a few bucks to spend. But findiChardonnay2008V.WEBng interesting chardonnay on the cheap is a different story. The under-$10 category is filled with generic, commercial-grade chardonnays that are usually forgettable.  For me, a better choice is sauvignon blanc or even pinot grigio.

That said, it’s nice to be surprised, as I was recently by an $8 offering from France. The wine was the 2008 Chardonnay from Fortant de France, a vin de pays produced in the Languedoc by the Skalli family. The Languedoc is France’s biggest area in terms of wine production and, for $8, I was not expecting Burgundy. But I liked what I tasted in this budget chard – its pear and apple, lime and herbal notes; its judicious use of oak, and the fact that it was refreshing rather than sweet or cloying, as chardonnays at this price tend to be.

This one, in fact, drinks like a somewhat more expensive wine and speaks well of the quality that’s coming out of the Languedoc these days at very affordable prices. The Skalli family, by the way, also owns the St. Supéry label in the Napa Valley. (Wine received as a press sample.)


Randall Grahm, Hall of Famer

I’m just catching up with the fact that Randall Grahm, the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and one of California’s original “Rhone Rangers,” was among those inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame last weekend by the CIA. No, not that CIA -- the Culinary Institute of America.

For more than a quarter century, though, Grahm has been an agent, so to speak, of change and innovation in California Thumb_Randall%20Grahm%20busting%20a%20gut_%20Photographer%20Alex%20Krause%20September%202005 winemaking, pushing the boundaries of traditional thinking about wine and wine marketing, often in highly entertaining, if not hilarious, fashion. I don’t think anyone else, for example, could have come up with the “Death of the Cork” event I attended one evening a few years or so ago. Grahm, I recall, came dressed as the Grim Reaper at this wake-like dinner and announced that, henceforth, the cork would be replaced by the screw cap closure on all of Bonny Doon’s wines. It was great fun.

Grahm says he feels fortunate that “my ‘work’ has never really struck me as real work. It has largely been about play, uncontrolled vinous id.” He continues: “I’ve explored an ungodly number of grape varieties, and worked in a wide range of wine styles, but everything I have done to date has fallen squarely into the realm of ‘wines of effort.’ It is now time for me to buckle down and really apply myself to discovering/creating an authentic wine of terroir. For me, this is what has true value.” His real work, he says, has yet to be done.


Sips: drinking “green” on St. Patrick’s Day

Wine names. Is there a more un-sexy one than “Sustainable White?” I mean, come on. Doesn’t it sound more like a paint color than a wine? And yet, I really did enjoy this $11 California blend, and I’ll tell you about it in a minute. But first, a little background is in order.  

As I’ve observed before, many wineries are jumping on the green bandwagon these days; no doubt it’s one of thParducci 005e hottest trends in winemaking and wine marketing, at least in this country. I point to the American example because in France, as I learned on my visit to the Loire Valley last month, they seem less inclined to wave the green flag to sell their wines, even though organic and biodynamic winemaking has taken off there as well (in fact, in the Loire there is a long history of it). The difference seems to be that the French prefer to let their wines speak for themselves and then to tell you about them if you care to ask. In any event, the 2008 Sustainable White from Mendocino County succeeds because it’s very good wine and, at $11, is a rare California bargain. That said, it’s laudable that the winery is trying mightily to be environmentally correct -- and succeeding .

The winery is Parducci Wine Cellars, owned since 2004 by the  Mendocino Wine Company, whose partners, Paul Dolan and several members of the Thornhill family, have made sustainability the centerpiece of their business. There’s a nice explanation of how they are doing this on the sustainability page of their Web site. I’m assuming that because the wine doesn’t explicitly say so, the grapes are not certified organic, which I wouldn’t expect at this price point.

Parducci’s “Sustainable” line (there is also a red) was created at the request of Whole Foods Market and was sold exclusively at the chain for the first year. The wines are now being sold nationally, with 9,000 cases of each produced. For me, the winner is the white, a blend of mainly chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc with smaller amounts of viognier, muscat caneli and friulano. The most striking thing about it is an unusual layer of smokiness that accents its notes of pear, tropical fruit and citrus. It’s unusually complex for the price and will pair well with a range of foods, including chicken and pork, seafood and risotto with asparagus and shrimp. As for being produced by a sustainable winery? That’s icing on the cake. And the name “Sustainable White?” It’s growing on me. Perhaps I’ll suggest it to the folks at Benjamin Moore, and do let me know what you think of the name. (Wine received as a press sample.)


Riesling: getting past the ‘sweet’ thing

No doubt, riesling is still the most misunderstood white wine. It’s also probably the most versatile, as I was reminded the other night at a dinner featuring the wines of Pacific Rim in Washington state.  The event, at the restaurant 11 Madison Park in New York,  started off with something different. “We going to play a little game,” said Nicolals Quillé, winemaker and general manager of Pacific Rim, which produces only riesling and is owned by Randall Grahm, the iconic founder of California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard. “Riesling is a confusing category for a lot of folks,” Quillé went on. “They don’t know if it’s sweet or dry.”

Which brings us back to our game. We were asked to place the five Pacific rim 001 still rieslings Pacific Rim makes on a scale that went from dry to medium dry to medium sweet to sweet. Each glass had a  little color-coded sticker on its base.  After 5 or 10 minutes of sipping we were ready to discuss the results. No one had any problem identifying the wines on either end of the scale – the 2007 Dry Riesling on one side and, on the other, the 2009 Sweet Riesling and, most notably, the even sweeter 2007 Vin de Glacière, a concentrated and gorgeous “ice wine.”  A few people had more trouble deciding which was the sweeter of the two wines in the “medium” range, the 2009 Riesling or the 2008 Organic Riesling. Technically, the organic wine, with a bit more residual sugar, was sweeter by a hair.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that there is no single riesling style, despite its reputation among many wine drinkers as a “sweet” wine. The beauty of riesling is that it is made and can be enjoyed in a broad range of styles, depending on preference and food pairing, whether from Washington, Germany, Austria, Alsace, Australia or New York state, to cite some of the better-known regions where the grape is grown.

And our dinner proved the point. There is, for example, no better pairing for a little terrine of foie gras, our starter, than a sweet “dessert” wine such as Pacific Rim’s Vin de Glacièr. With notes of stone fruit, citrus, honey and brown sugar, the wine was actually refreshing with its high level of balancing acidity. While the sweetness enabled it to withstand the richness of the foie gras, the acids made the dish seem less rich than it was. I don’t think there was a morsel left on anyone’s plate.

The Dry Riesling, with its notes of apple, apricot and nut, matched well with poached lobster, but so did the somewhat sweeter wines, demonstrating again that riesling is largely about preference. For me, the most interesting wine was the riesling made from organic grapes, which I enjoyed with both the lobster and a slab of roasted pork tenderloin. Bright and complex with green apple and mint notes, it was the most “textured” of the wines, showing a the most minerality. I found found myself going back to it time and again during the course of the evening.

Toward the end of the dinner, I asked Nicolas Quillé how his business was doing, anticipating a recessionary note in his answer. He revealed that Pacific Rim’s sales were up 40 percent last year. I asked to what he attributed the gain. “A fast-growing varietal, the right price point ($10 to $15 or so) and a focused story.” Which is what? I asked. His answer: “Riesling.”

Swirls: tough times for some in Napa, Chile

I came across an interesting take from Australia on the impact of the recent earthquake in Chile, not only on that country’s wine industry, but on how damage from the quake might affect the fortunes of Australia’s wine business, which is dealing with “chronic oversupply problems.”

Meanwhile, I was struck by a report on the continuing fallout from the recession in the Napa Valley, with land values down and the threat of foreclosures up.


Chile quake update – first pictures

One can only imagine what it’s been like in Chile for the the last two weeks as it works to recover from the massive earthquake that struck the central-south part of the country, the heart of Chile’s wine industry. Ten more aftershocks jolted Chileans on Thursday, including those attending the inauguration of the new president, Sebastian Pinera. The biggest was a powerful  6.9-magnitude quake, almost as big as the one in Haiti in January. It’s always hard to generalize, but as  more wineries report in, the bottom line seems to be that while most  were affected by the quake on February 27, the damage could have been much worse.

The well-known Casa Lapostolle reported a significantlapos bottle loss of the 2008 vintage at its winery in Cunaco in the Colchagua Valley (a zone within the Rapel Valley), amounting to 20 percent of that year’s production. Beyond that, it said that loss of wine in barrels was less than five percent for the reds and almost nothing for chardonnay. Casa Lapostolle released the photo on the right, saying the narrow spacing of the barrels prevented many of them from crashing down and breaking.

Beyond that, the winery said losses in tanks were mainly in wines intended to be sold in bulk. The 2009 vintagelapost2, it said, is “completely intact” and will be released this May “to compensate for any losses  in the 2008 bottles.” Bottling and labeling lines will be back in operation Friday and shipping will resume on Monday. At right, picking up the pieces in Lapostolle’s warehouse.

Another winery, Viu Manent, also in Colchagua, said its vineyards were “very much intact” and reported only minor damage to its cellar. As for its wine, it said an initial assessment showed that losses “do not exceed 15 percent and mostly resulted from the collapse of some of our largest tanks, some barrels, and some bottled wine.” It said winemaking equipment is intact and ready for the 2010 vintage, which has started in Chile. Beyond its wine operations, Viu Manent said the greatest damage was to its tourist area, including the collapse of an old adobe building, which will preclude visits to the winery for a few months.


Boomers love their wine

A new study by Nielsen on consumer shopping habits has some interesting insights into wine buying across the generations. The survey found that Boomers (those 45 to 63 years old) led all age groups, spending on average $125 per household on wine last year. Boomer households spent more per year only on pet food ($211) and carbonated beverages ($140) among ttnhe categories in the  survey.  They were followed closely in wine spending by the “Greatest Generation” (64+) at $124. There was dramatically lower spending on wine by Gen X (33-44) at $78 per year and Millenials (15-32) at $61.

Beyond wine, Nielsen notes that Boomers comprise more than one-third of the Internet population and “are big online shoppers, comfortable using email and messaging to stay in touch.” And Twitter, it notes, is a huge untapped outlet for reaching Boomers, who increased utilization 469% during 2009.”

Some observations on spending in general: “The Greatest Generation members, shaped by the Great Depression and World War II frugality, are the most frequent shoppers and more deal prone than other age segments. High-earning Boomers have the largest annual dollar spend per household of any group, followed by GenX. Millennials don’t like to waste time in-store, shopping less often than other age cohorts but buying more per trip as a result.”


Sips: wines we like

I’ve been tasting a variety of excellent inexpensive whites in recent weeks and wanted to share one of my favorites. At Gabriel’s restaurant here in New York last evening, I wanted a refreshing, easy-to-drink but interesting young white ovevigna_palazzir which to have a business conversation with a friend. On a hunch (and because I didn’t know the wine), I ordered a bottle of Saladini Pilastri’s 2008 Falerio “Vigna Palazzi” from Italy’s Marche region. My hunch was right. This crisp and focused wine has delicious fresh fruit and I suspected there was some chardonnay in it; in fact it’s a blend of  blend of the trebbiano, passerina and  chardonnay that combine to offer notes of pear, lemon-lime, subtle herbs and minerals with a nice little overlay of cream on the finish. It matched well with a little steak tartare and some  bruschetta. We paid $24 for it at the restaurant but I saw it listed at $8 or $9 at retail on the Web. Imported by Michelangelo Imports, New York. I’ll have some more exciting white wines in coming days.

The latest from Chile

Christophe Salin, the president of Domaines Barons de Rothschild, which produces the Los Vascos brand in Chile, reported no damage to the company’s vineyards, buildings and technical equipment in the Feb. 28 earthquake but said in an e-mail that “some tanks, barrels and bottles have unfortunately collapsed and we anticipate a loss amounting up to 20 percent of our wine inventory.” As the harvest approaches, he said, the winery should be back to “business as usual” next week when it expects electricity, water and phone lines to be restored. He said shipments might be delayed, however.

Meanwhile, Banfi Vintners, the largest U.S. importer of wines from Chile, said shipments of its wines will resume this Thursday from the port of San Antonio. Banfi imports the wines of  Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest producer, including its Trivento and Emiliana brands. Banfi said the wineries had resumed production after suspending it for a week or so. James Mariani, Banifi’s co-chief executive, noted that wine exports “constitute a key component of the Chilean economy; thus, we are all firmly committed to seeing business resume as swiftly as possible.”


Chile quake update

Over the weekend, I heard from Georgio Flessati of Viña Falernia, whose excellent wine I wrote about in my column last year. In an email yesterday, he reported that while neither Falernia’s winery nor vineyards were affected by the earthquake nine days ago (it is one of Chile’s northernmost estates some 300 miles north of Santiago), it did lose wine that was in transit close toFalernia%20PX_widec the ports of Valparaiso and San Antonio. 

Flessati described the wine picture after the quake as “quite complicated,” noting that the most affected area is the central-south part of the country, which accounts for 75 percent of the wine production. He said the losses there were “around 33 million gallons of wine from collapsed tanks.”

He noted that wineries in the region suffered a good deal of damage in infrastructure and production capacity, particularly in their grape reception areas. With harvest getting under way, he said everyone was working hard to be able to start the new vintage in decent condition. “Other problems,” he told me, “are the roads and water and energy, but I think in a few days the situation will be under control.” He added that “all the wineries in a few days will be able to start production and shipments and I think all of them will respect the agreements with the customers.” So, at this point, it sounds as though supplies and shipments from Chile won’t be too affected.


Ah, the aromas of an online wine tasting-VIDEO

From the comfort of my home, I attended an online wine tasting this evening held by a new San Francisco-based Web site called Brixr.com. Its model is to sell wines on the Web by offering you the chance to taste them first, along with sommeliers brought in for the occasion, in a live streaming video feed. How does it work? You sign up for the tasting at Brixr and then buy samples of the wines that are shippedIMG_5759 to you in little 1.7-ounce bottles by Brixr’s parent, Crushpad, a Napa-based custom wine company that repackages the wines into the mini-bottles with their screw caps.  Then, at the appointed hour, you log in and participate in the tasting along with the hosts, posting your comments or questions on the site as you taste and watch. I’m including a short video clip of my experience below.

The theme of this preview tasting for the wine media was France’s Rhône Valley and Rhône-style wines from California. We  tasted six of them in all as the hosts, Raj Parr and Christie Dufault of the restaurant RN74 in San Francisco, described the wines and offered their impressions.

I was prepared for a bit more of a hard sell by the hosts but was pleasantly surprised by the relatively straightforward nature of the commentary. If that’s the tone for what’s to c0me, there should be considerable interest in the idea, although at $25 for the “tiny bottle” sample collection required for the tasting, the entry price is not inconsequential. Novices could conceivably skip the “tasting” part of it and learn a good deal just by watching the videos (maybe I’m not supposed to suggest that).

As for the wines, three of the six stood out for me. The first was   Château Rayas’s 2006 “La Pialade” Côtes-du-Rhône, a stunningly beautiful $34 grenache-based wine  that had the light color of Burgundy and classic southern Rhône white pepper and grenache’s cherry notes. From the northern Rhône, Gilles Robin’s 2006 Crozes Hermitage “Cuvee Albéric Bouvet,” a $30 syrah,  had a funky yet pleasing earthiness with notes of spicy blackberry and tobacco. Perhaps the most intriguing and unexpected wine was a genuine California oddity – an 11.5 percent alcohol red wine, Arnot-Roberts’ 2008 “Clary Ranch” Syrah, $38, from the Sonoma Coast. It was a real treat, showing a beautifully balanced combination of fig, mushroom, earth and eucalyptus notes.

I’ll certainly follow up on the Arnot-Roberts wine, which, by the way, was the only one of my three favorites not listed as “out of stock” on Brixr’s Web site. You might want to order a  bottle before it goes the way of the others.


Spring and sauvignon in the air

Good morning. Raise you’re hand, or your wine glass, if you’re ready for this seemingly endless winter to give way to spring. I’ve got just the wine that will help get you there. As I’ve pointed out  in my column in recent years, California sauvignon blancs are among the most exciting white wines (and best values) coming out of the state, and the new release of one of my  favorites shows why.

It’s the 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc from St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery. This is a rich yet refrimageeshing sauvignon with citrus and subtle cut grass aromas. In the mouth it’s nicely balanced with dominant notes of lime and grapefruit and supporting touches of melon and vanilla. It’s also notable for its lively acids and reasonable alcohol level of 13.7 percent. For clams and oysters on the half shell, broiled flounder and lemon-herbed chicken. The suggested price is $20. You may also want to read my MSNBC.com review from a few years ago. (Received as a press sample.)


Chile’s wineries report significant quake losses

The impact of the massive earthquake on Chile’s wine industry became more clear today, and it is significant, as are the ripple effects extending well beyond Chile.

Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest producer and exporter with vineyards throughout the wine region, said it had suspended its production for at least a week while it assesses the full extent of the damage. In a statement, it said “our company, as well as the rest of the industry, have been heavily impacted by this catastrophe.” It described serious damage to some of its main wineries and “important loss in wine and production capacity.” It noted that the area in central Chile that felt the biggest impact from the quake “is the heartland of wine production.”

map_Chile Another big wine operation, Miguel Torers Chile, said “material losses are significant” at its winery in the Curico Valley. About 300 oak casks were smashed, thousands of bottles were destroyed and a stainless steel vat with a capacity of 100,000 liters cracked, losing all the wine.  The winery’s president, Miguel Torres Maczassek, was on a business trip to the United States when the quake hit. Melanie McEvoy Quirke, a spokesperson for the winery in New York, told me that some of Torres’s vineyards were even closer to the epicenter than the winery itself and that “as we speak they are getting ready for the harvest.” She had no information yet on vineyard damage.

Worries about the harvest were echoed in a comment to my post below by Tim Britton, an importer of South American wines in Berkeley, California, who said he had two concerns: “One, that not only have some of the vineyards lost stock, not all but many have some significant losses of bottle and vat stock; and two, the harvest is not far off and both equipment and workers will now be in very short supply. The impact of this quake on Chile's wine exports may be felt for many years. The good news from our contacts is that with one exception no wineries incurred loss of life due to the fortunate timing of a Saturday early morning.”

Juliet Rizek, a spokesperson for TGIC Wine Importers in Woodland Hills, California, said two of the wineries it represents, Viña Montes in Colchagua and Viña Santa Ema in the Maipo Valley, suffered some wine loss and structural damage to older buildings. She said the wineries had generators and were keeping the temperatures of the wines under control. In a statement on the company’s Web site, the president and founder, Alex Guarachi, who is Chilean himself, offers a list of relief organizations to which donations can be texted on cell phones.

(Map above used with permission and courtesy of WineWeb.com)


After the quake, Chile’s wineries assess damage

Along with just about everyone else in Chile , those involved with the country’s wine industry were getting a sense of the damage from Saturday’s massive earthquake, and at this point it seems to considerable, just as Chile is about to begin the 2010 harvest.

James Molesworth of Wine Spectator reports that wineries in the  Maule and Curico valleys near the epicenter were hard hit, with damage as well further north in the Maipo and Rapel valleys. To put in perspective what’s at stake here, Chile’s wine exports exceeded $1 billion last year, The New York Times noted in its coverage of the quake.

Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest producer and exporter, has vineyards in Maule, Curico, Maipo and throughout the country’s large wine-growing region. Ed Barden, the New World portfolio director for Banfi Vintners, Concha y Toro’s U.S. importer, told me the company is assessing the damage to its facilities, a process that will take two or three days.

A trio of California chardonnays

I’ve been sampling California chardonnays in recent days with an eye, as always, toward well-balanced wines that are not infuschard08ed too heavily with oak and that are not overbearing in style. Three are worth considering.

Freemark Abbey’s well-focused 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay is an excellent value at $22. It opens with a bit of citrus, which leads to notes of ripe melon, vanilla and butterscotch, with all the elements nicely integrated in a bright, refreshing style. With relatively modest alcohol of 14.1 percent,  the wine   was a perfect match with grey sole fillets roasted with Dijon mustard and a splash of vermouth.

Sbragia Family Vineyards’ 2007 Home Ranch Chardonnay from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is nuanced and balanced, quite Burgundian in character with pear and pink grapefruit tastes and judicious use of oak that leaves a subtle vanilla note on the finish. An elegant and sophisticated chardonnay. Another excellent buy at $26.

For a slightly richer style, consider another Sonoma wine, Rochioli Vineyards’ 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This highly enjoyable wine, with a suggested price of $50, shows pear, a considerable note of vanilla extract, some herbs and minerals and a touch of orange on the finish. All three of these wines were effortless to drink and matched well with foods, from fish to pan-seared pork chops to roast chicken. And remember, to enjoy their subtleties, don’t drink them too cold. (Wines received as press samples.)