Swirls: no wine sales in NY supermarkets? Then let’s raise the wine bar for liquor stores

And so, the latest attempt to put wine in New York’s grocery stores appears to be doomed, a victim of budget politics and a  Legislature that sides more with the powerful liquor store lobby than with the will of most New Yorkers who would like more  choice when it comes to where they buy thliquor storeeir wine (consumers can buy wine in supermarkets in 35 states).

There’s a good discussion of the arguments from the perspectives of a Finger Lakes winery owner and a liquor store owner/ industry official on WHEC.com in Rochester. Scott Osborne of Fox Run Vineyards complains that it’s hard to get his wine into stores beyond his area, while Don Bombace, representing the State Liquor Store Association, says the decision will preserve jobs and keep alcohol “out of the hands of minors,” among other things.

As I wrote on the subject earlier this year, I don’t need the industry, by virtue of having wine sales only in liquor stores, to police my kids for me. That argument just doesn’t fly. As for losing jobs, no one, of course, wants that, and Dan Collins makes a strong argument in the Huffington Post on why that should be the overriding consideration in this economy.

But there is yet another issue that hasn’t been discussed: while there are superb wine stores in New York, there are also a fair number that are downright embarrassing when it comes to wine selection and knowledge. We’ve all been in them: inventory dominated by standard brands pushed heavily by wholesalers; limited or no insight into wine in general or what’s on their shelves; comments like “people seem to like it” or “it’s been selling very well.” Competition from grocers, I believe, would force liquor store owners to raise the bar and offer added value to their customers.

People are hungry for wine insight and expertise and are attracted to it. The industry should redouble its efforts to help its members gain a basic level of wine knowledge. If not, when New York’s grocery stores finally do win the right to sell wine, only the best of the wine and liquor stores will survive. And that, perhaps, is the way it should be.


Sips: more great rosés for summer

As promised, I am following up with a couple of more rosés that have impressed me in recent days. From California’s Dryquivira Creek Valley in Sonoma, the 2009 vintage of Quivira’s Grenache Rosé “Wine Creek Ranch” continues the footsteps of the  impressive ‘08. This is one of the more interesting rosés I’ve tasted this season, notable for its complexity and its welcome $15 price. Copper in color, it has tastes of ripe raspberry, pomegranate and tea with a good deal of spice, herbs and flowers in the mix. I enjoyed it with a quickly made salad of cold leftover leg of lamb, feta cheese, lettuce and arugula tossed with some olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. The blend is 90 percent grenache and 10 percent mourvèdre. Alcohol is listed at 13.8 percent. (Received as a press sample.)

On the other side of the rosé spectrum, from Italy’s Veneto region, is Riondo’s Pink Prosecco Raboso, an $11 bargain that’s lighter than air but a surprisingly good partner to guacamole and salsa, which I discovered when friends served it before dinner the other night. Lively and effortless to drink, it’s lightly sparkling with raspberry  notes and some herbs on the dry finish. And, with 10.5 percent alcohol, you’ll want to pack at least a couple of bottles for your summer picnic. It really is pink, by the way, and I also wouldn’t rule it out with a piece of chocolate cake. Imported by Riondo USA.


Swirls: for Starbucks, a grande coffee and a glass of wine

Here’s something that makes a lot of sense to me, at least on first reading.  Starbucks plans tStarbucks-logo1-295x300o sell wine and beer at one of its stores in Seattle after testing the idea in  two “concept” stores without the Starbucks name. The company says the wine and beer offerings will be part of “an enhanced coffee experience.” Here’s why it intrigues me: despite the wine bar craze  of recent years, there still aren’t that many really good ones, at least not in New York and I’m sure in many other places. I often find myself having to travel some distance within the city to get to a wine bar with an interesting selection.

Although Reuters points out that there are no plans to expand the concept to other stores at this point, the mind wanders. What a chain like Starbucks has going for it is convenience. That said, if the idea gains traction and expands, the key will be to offer an eclectic, frequently updated selection of wines (and beers) that goes beyond the standard brands. That will mean putting a wine pro with a sophisticated palate in charge of the operation (I’m available), including and promoting regional wines (a New York state wine or two, for example, in New York stores) and training store staff to know what they’re talking about. You can read more details in Seattle Times.


Sips: from Spain and beyond, albariño is a top white wine for summer

Albariño is the signature white of the Galicia region in the northwest corner of Spain. One of the attractive qualitviontaies of albariño is its fresh vitality; the grape tends to be high in acidity and the wines are made without oak, which allows for a pure expression of the fruit. They are great for these warm summer days and will match with a variety of white-wine dishes, from fish and shellfish to chicken and salads. Some of the best wines come from the Rías Baixas sub-region within Galicia, including  Vionta’s exceptional 2008 Albariño. I loved this $18 wine from the first  sip with its tastes of green apple, a bit of pineapple, subtle floral notes and lemon-lime and minerals on a lengthy finish. It’s the kind of wine that easily invites you back for another glass. Another thing it has going for it is alcohol at just 12 percent or so (the bottle says 12 percent while notes from the winery say 12.35 percent). Imported by Freixenet USA, Sonoma, California.

Spain is not the only place where albariño is grown. It is widely planted just across the border in the Minho region of Portugal where it is known as alvarinho and is sometimes part of the blend in vinho verde, or “green wine,” which is named for its freshness. Beyond Spain and Portugal, some producers are halangoria albarinoving success with it in California’s Santa Barbara County, chief among them Richard  Longoria, whose 2009 Albariño Clover Cree Vineyard from the Santa Ynez Valley follows in the footsteps of the excellent ‘08 vintage. It has a lean elegance with delicious melon, citrus and floral notes. Light, interesting and easy to drink.  Alcohol is a welcome 12.5 percent and the suggested price is $23. Production was just 134 cases so you might want to check availability at Longoria’s Web site. (Wines received as press samples.)


Swirls: New York Jets wine; direct wine sales; storing wine

AT THE NEW MEADOWLANDS STADIUM over in New Jersey yesterday, the New York Jets unveiled a commemorative wine, tied to the opening of the new venue, called Jets Uncorked. The wine is a red, of course, a cabernet sauvignon, naturally.jets (Can you imagine the flak they’d get if it were a  merlot?) It’s the creation of a California winemaker (Marco DiGiulio) and a  California lifestyle marketing company (Wine By Design), and on that note I am not the only one wondering  whether a New York wine, say from  Long Island, which makes very good wines and where the Jets are all but worshipped, might have been more appropriate and original. In any event, the wine is a 2008 Napa Valley cab described in a Jets press release as a “premium-quality yet affordable blend that captures the essence and spirit of the team and its fans.” It will sell for $27.99 and 8,000 cases were made.

THERE’S A GOOD DISCUSSION in the Washington Post on the value to wineries of direct-t0-consumer sales. One context is the current debate in Congress on a controversial bill to strengthen the three-tier distribution system and weaken direct sales (H.R. 5034) that’s backed  by the wine wholesale industry. Oregon’s Adelsheim Vineyard has found a successful blend, so to speak, with a dual strategy that incorporates both traditional distribution and direct sales and has seen sales grow, even in this tough economy. Read the full article.

THE ISSUE OF WINE STORAGE is explored in a useful article by California wine writer Dan Berger, who reviews the best methods for storing wine at home and in stores and finds conditions at some retailers highly questionable.


Swirls: wine & Islam, natural winemaking and “cup-a-wine”

For the first time, as far as I can tell, wine is being used as part of a growing backlash in France against what some refer to as the  “Islamisation” of the country, which has the biggest Muslim population in western Europe. Read what happened when one group announced a pork-and-wine party in a largely Muslim neighborhood of Paris. Read how AFP reported the story.

Eric Asimov in The New York Times examines the good, the bad and ugly in natural winemaking, including attitudes about the practice. “Most people who make or like the wines,” he says, “feel  as they do simply because they enjoy the way the wines taste, not because they follow a particular dogma. When successful, natural wines can be superb, seeming bold, vibrant and fresh, graceful and unforced.” I, for one, agree. Read the full article.

And it was probably only a matter of time, but we have entered the era of “cup-a-wine” with the introduction of a product called Le Froglet in the UK.  That’s the not-particularly-endearing name of a plastic glass of French wine filled with a your choice of shiraz ,  chardonnay or rosé and kept in the glass with a “tear-off lid,” as in a cup of yogurt or fruit juice. One business news website says they are “flying off the shelves” at the Marks & Spencer chain. That may be the case, but it’s also worth reading one British wine blogger’s assessment. The product is also profiled in The Daily Mail, which has a picture. Sounds, uh, klassy.


Sips: “Sancerre and Friends” – some top Loire Valley whites

Sancerre is arguably the most well-known white wine of France’s Loire Valley, the benchmark sauvignon blanc appellation by which other examples of the variety in the Loire – and throughout the world – are  judged. And so it was with a good deal of anticipation that I attended a superb dinner last night that was dubbed “Sancerre and Friends,” the friends being the nearby appellations of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly in the so-called Centre Loire, as well as the larger  Touraine appellation to the west. The wines are known for their distinctive minerality, which is achieved by the soils in which the grapes grow (primarily chalk and flint for Sancerre, limestone, flint and clay for Pouilly-Fumé, for example), and this gives them a signature, an originality, that is achieved nowhere else. You can see a good example of the rocky soils of Sancerre in the photo, which I took on my visit to the region in February. sancerre rocks

We tasted a dozen wines at The Modern, which is attached to the Museum of Modern Art and which, in just a few years or so, has become a landmark on the New York restaurant scene. The dinner was built around fish because the wines are in their element with seafood. The pairings were, for the most part, right on target, especially the two centerpieces, a Maine lobster salad with roasted beets, black truffles and goat cheese followed by  a gorgeous “dorade royale” with a nasturtium flower broth and Swiss chard. The latter was one of the more exciting fish dishes I’ve had in recent months, the subtle broth, golden in color, providing a perfect accompaniment to the mild and beautifully textured fillet, which should boost the status of the local porgy, a dorade relative.

As for the wines, we’ll stipulate that the last two in the tasting were the top wines, as well they should be at $65 and $120 respectively. The first was Domaine Vacheron’s 2007 Sancerre “Les Romains,” a wine of beautiful balance and great length with citrus, apple and vanilla notes; the second was Didier Dagueneau’s 2007 “Silex” Pouilly-Fumé, which showed extraordinary fruit, notably apple and apricot with a rich, round mouthfeel.

Other notable wines were:  Domaine de Chatenôy’s 2008 Menetou-Salon, $20, which won the prize as the evening’s most unusual offering – an elegant and zesty wine with orange, grapefruit and green apple tastes and a flinty backdrop; Gerard Boulay’s Sancerre ‘Les Monts Damnés,” $41, a generous, rounded wine with layers of spicy pear and vanilla; Domaine des Caves du Prieuré’s 2008 Sancerre, $23, a classic Sancerre with lots of minerals and notes of green apple and a touch of brown sugar on its long finish; Claude Lafond’s 2008 Reuilly “Clos Fussay,” $19, which is on the simpler side with lemon and lime notes that almost demanded a dozen oysters or clams; and the bargain of the evening, Domaine Duret’s 2009 Quincy, $13, elegant and reserved with minerals, tropical fruit and lime.

These wines reminded me that when it comes to sauvignon blanc, there is the Loire Valley and then all the rest; the wines, with their distinctive terroirs and varied styles, are unique and compelling. (Dinner and wines presented by Loire Valley Wines.)


Swirls: following up on the bubble wars

Since writing an initial piece on the continuing battle over the use of “Champagne” as a generic name for sparkling wsparkling wineine, I looked more deeply into the issue for my monthly Reuters column that came out today. Among other things, I explore whether a U.S. government restriction on misusing Champagne and other place names on labels also applies to advertising, and I interview a sparkling wine producer on his rationale for using “Champagne” on his outdoor signs. Read the full story.  And let me know what your thoughts are on the issue.


Swirls: China, Walgreens, New Zealand

The gold rush that is the Asian wine market, especially China, was captured well by  Wine Spectator’s Suzanne Mustacich, who attended the 2010 Vinexpo Asia-Pacific conference in Hong Kong last week and reports on what she found. Some 12,0lafite00 attended the conference, 40 percent more than two years ago. Among the interesting observations: a big void exists for middle-range wine in the Chinese market; still, they can’t seem to get enough Chateau Lafite. Read the full article. 

The Walgreens drug store chain is offering wine and beer again after a 15-year absence, according to the Wall Street Journal. The beverages are currently stocked in 3,100 of Walgreens 7,500 stores. The program was actually started last year, I discovered in a press release on Walgreens’ Web site. The company said beer and wine would be stocked in most stores as “another step toward making Walgreens a destination retailer.” No evidence of this on Walgreens home page, however. It remains devoted to prescription drugs.

And if you like New Zealand sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and other wines, get ready for more choices and a bigger push to get Americans interested in the wines under a new campaign announced by the New Zealand government. Interesting to note how the country’s economic development minister describes the United States as a “lucrative but  relatively undeveloped market.” Read the full article in New Zealand’s National Business Review.


Sips: rosé season officially starts

Not only was Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of the summer season, but the official start of rosé season.  As I sampled a number of rosés at various parties, lunches and dinners, I was reminded of the versatility of the wines, which can complement everything from burgers and hot dogs to spicy grilled chicken to roasted whole fish, in this case freshly caught black sea bass from our favorite fish market.

With their almost infinite shades of pink and salmon anbrun rosed copper, rosés have become a red-hot category in recent years, and with good reason. Not only are they great aperitif wines, but they can effectively bridge the gap between whites and reds (they are made from the juice of red grapes with just minimal contact with the color-producing skins). I have often enjoyed rosés with simply grilled meats like lamb and steak, which are typical red-wine foods.

I’ll be pointing out rosés frequently this summer, starting with two that stood out for me this past weekend. From France, Jean-Paul Brun’s 2009 Rosé d’Folie Beaujolais is an unusual example of rosé from that region and from the gamay grape. It’s quite dry with tastes of spicy cherry, some herbs, a touch or orange rind and a distinct minerality that gives it a real sense of originality and place. It’s also made with wild or indigenous yeasts, which the exception rather than the rule in Beaujolais. $15. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York.

From Australia, I also enjoyed Robert Oatley’s 2009 Rosé of Sangiovese from the Mudgee region of New South Wales. Fruit-forward in style with notes of peach and watermelon, this one practically screams out “summer.” It’s  effortless to drink and is a natural for the picnic table and patio. $15. Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards, Petaluma, California. (Wines received as press samples.)


Sips: Will torrontés be the hot new white wine?

For white wine lovers used to chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, torrontés is going to be an acquired taste, but one that I think will grow on them. This aromatic variety, which is native to Argentina and is perhaps the country’s most important white grape, is gaining popularity here and deserves considerationacordeon as a relatively inexpensive and interesting alternative to more familiar whites. Typically enjoyed young and fresh, the 2009s are out now and a couple of them are worthy of attention for pairing with a variety of foods, especially spicy fish, shrimp, sushi and chicken dishes.

If there is one quality that distinguishes torrontés, it is the grape’s floral undertones that might remind some of gewürztraminer.   This backdrop, when combined with vivid fruit notes, produces wines of considerable complexity and charm. Alas, they can also be one-dimensional and dull.

Trapiche’s 2009 Torrontés from the winery’s “Varietals” series is simple but delicious. Light straw in color, this wine from the Mendoza appellation is subtly herbal and floral with notes of green apple joined by minerals on a surprisingly long finish. It’s a real bargain at $7. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.

Finca Ferrer’s 2009 Acordeón Torrontés from the the Cafayate Valley is in a somewhat fuller style and is priced at $9 or so.  Straw colored, it’s more aggressively floral with notes of lime and honey and has a pleasing roundness. Alochol is 13.9 percent. Imported by Freixenet USA, Sonoma, California.

Bodega Tamari’s 2009 Torrontés Reserva from Argentina’s Rioja  region is fresh yet elegant with  notes of pear, grapefruit, lemon and a bit of cream with a subtle backdrop of flowers. I enjoyed it with a lunch of sliced asparagus, onions and pancetta sautéed with bit of Balsamic vinegar and tossed with pasta. Alcohol is 13.3 percent. $15. Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois.

One thing I noticed about all these wines: they were better on the second or even third day after I opened them; clearly aeration brings out the flavors and helps them “settle down” a bit. You might even considering decanting them.  I doubt that torrontés will overtake the chardonnays or sauvignon blancs of the world any time soon in terms of popularity, but I think it can become a nice addition to your white portfolio, especially for warm-weather drinking.  Have you tasted a torrontés? Let me know what you think.  (Wines received as press samples.)