Swirls: wine in restaurants – some help in navigating the shoals

For the average restaurant patron, ordering wine can be a daunting affair; wine lists are full of extremes, on one enred wined offering exhaustive lists with no clues on where to begin, at least not for the novice; on the other hand there are those cookie-cutter wine lists that offer few choices but with exhaustive descriptions and tasting notes that make every wine seem wonderful and experienced wine drinkers wince.

The more I think about this, I like the idea, embraced by a few  restaurants, of suggesting an appropriate wine or two with their dishes, giving customers at least a point of departure. As an alternative to specific wines, restaurants might propose specific varieties and regions with their dishes. Then, in consultation with a knowledgeable waiter or a sommelier, the choices could be narrowed down. All of this is just the beginning of the restaurant wine challenge.

Alan Richman of GQ has a useful and entertaining list of 15 tips on ordering wine in restaurants. Among those I like: letting you have a taste before ordering a wine by the glass (restaurants, he points out, aim to recoup their cost of a bottle with the first glass they pour, so a quarter-inch of wine, for those who ask for it, will hardly put a dent in profits, at least in my view);  other tips include making sure your wine arrives before your food, having your server pours you enough for your taste so you can actually get a sense of the wine, and frowning on the widely used practice of filling your glass almost to the brim in hopes that you’ll drink up and order another bottle.


Sips: Portugal’s Enoforum creates wines for export with some exciting releases

In wine, as in other areas of journalism, we sometimes get our ideas – or germs of ideas -- from savvy PR and marketing folks who know when they have an interesting story to tell on behalf of their clients and have a good sense when writers might be interested.  One of the more diligent and delightful of them is Jo Diaz, who runs her own communications company in Windsor, California in Sonoma County.

When Jo asked recently if I cared to meet a new client, a principle in a relatively new Portuguese wine company, I quickly took her up on heregistos marcas eua2 alterador offer even though I don’t usually meet individually with winemakers or executives because I tend to shy away from being a captive audience of one. What happens if I don’t like the  wines? In any event, I had a hunch that Jo was on to something unusual. And so we sat down for dinner last week at The Modern, one of my favorite New York restaurants, with her  client (who picked up the bill, I will disclose right off the bat). But enough on the preliminaries.

The company is called Enoforum, and it is a partnership formed  at the end of 2004 involving half a dozen wineries in Portugal’s Alentejo region in the hot  south of the country. The general manager, Delfim Costa, explained that the company was created solely to produce wines, under a number of new labels, for export to the United States and, secondarily, to other markets around the world, including Poland, Holland, Russia and Canada as well as Brazil and Angola with their strong Portuguese connections.

Some 80,000 cases or so were exported last year and Enoforum draws on production from each of the six wineries to create its wines, all of them blends, under the direction of José Fonseca, the winemaker.


Swirls: Wine forgeries in China; aging wine; New Zealand’s wine industry hurting

SWIRL: This was probably inevitable, given the growing thirst in China for western wines. Some Australian winemakers apenfoldsl grangere complaining about Chinese counterfeits of their brands, including but certainly not limited to the famed Penfolds’ Grange. One  Australian wine industry executive in China says he’s even seen the “P” in Penfolds changed to a “B,” as in Benfolds. Read more about it in the Sydney Morning Herald.

SIWRL: When is a wine ready to drink, or, for that matter, past its prime? It’s one of the great questions in the wine world, and Paul Gregutt has some interesting thoughts on the matter in the Seattle Times. His emphasis is on wines of the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington, and he finds the cabernets, merlots and even the sangioveses quite worthy of aging. Alas, reading the piece and a long list of Washington wineries, I am reminded of how few Washington labels one sees on the East Coast. Hopefully that will change.

SWIRL: New Zealand’s wine industry is being hurt by oversupply and other factors. While exports are up, prices are down, which, while bad news for New Zealand’s wineries, might be good for American wine drinkers who enjoy the country’s sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs, among other wines. Dozens of small to medium-sized wineries could soon fall into receivership. Read more details here.


Swirls: wine and brain function, a guide to ‘bad wine,’ Jack Nicklaus wine

SWIRL: I’m always careful when it comes the subject of wine (or other alcAX1JHBECAW54P0MCA6MF61LCA1OTP9GCAEW7TJVCABBYECGCA02O8WKCAOUUCGYCANOC5OECA6R12UBCA3K4AZ5CA60Z4FJCACEPDLDCACIX33NCATFXXN7CAF64T8GCABAMOUDCA9JWEAMCAEOO2LZCA6LMKSZohol) and health benefits; almost all studies that find a link emphasize that the purported benefits or associations with good health are based on light to moderate wine consumption. And that includes a newly released report that finds a link between moderate wine drinking and a reduced risk of decline in thinking skills. The Norwegian study was large, involving more  than5,000 people over a seven-year period. You can read more about it at WebMD.

SWIRL: There’s an excellent guide to what can go wrong with wine, from cork taint to oxidation and other problems, by Will  Lyons of the Wall Street Journal. He reminds us that “more often than not there is no fault with the wine at all” and the wine “just doesn’t taste how the drinker expected it to.” Read the full article by clicking here.

SWInickhalusRL: There’s a fairly long list of sports figures who have parlayed their celebrity into wine ventures. They range from race  car drivers, including Mario Andretti, football players, including Drew Bledsoe, at least one basketball legend (Larry Bird), and plenty of golfers, including Greg Norman. Now, Jack Nicklaus has joined the group, launching a limited collection of Napa Valley wines called Jack Nicklaus Wines in partnership with Terlato Wines. Read more at  BunkerShot.com.


Sips: an exciting new twist for California’s Bien Nacido Vineyard

Until now, the name "Bien Nacido Vineyard" was found only on other people's wine labels. The famed vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley of California's Santa Barbara County is the source of grapes for many well-known wineries that turn to Bien Nacido for its exceptional fruit. Much of tBien Nacidohat fruit, as I saw for myself on a visit to Bien Nacido a few years ago, is grown on fairly steep mountain vineyards in the cool-climate region, a combination that gives the wines both opulence and finesse. Wineries that draw on Bien Nacido read like a who's who of notable properties in the region: Ojai, Qupé, Au Bon Climat, Byron, Fess Parker, Villa Mt. Eden, Longoria, to name just some of them. Typically on the labels of these wineries you’ll see the Bien Nacido Vineyard designation. It’s a kind of badge of honor.

Now, for the first time, Bien Nacido is bottling wines, three of them, under its own labels – I say labels because two of the wines, a pinot noir and a syrah, are from the Bien Nacido Vineyard itself while a third, a chardonnay, is from the nearby Solomon Hills Vineyard, which Bien Nacido owns.


Swirls: Warming trends may change global wine map

In case you missed my video in this space a month or so ago on climate change and its effects on wine, I’ve expanded on it for my monthly column on Reuters, which you can read by clicking here. Dr. Greg Jones, a climatologist at Southern Oregon University sancerre rocks who studies climate and wine, raises the prospect that the wine world as we know it, at least from from a geographical standpoint, may be forced to shift in coming decades as wine producers confront warmer temperatures and are forced into cooler growing areas. Alternatively, some existing wine regions  may turn to varieties that are more suited to warmer weather. All of this has far-reaching implications, which the column explores.


Swirls: wine news – wine-searcher.com, Lafite-Rothschild in Asia, Pa.’s wine vending machines,

SWIRL: Patrick Comiskey has a must-read article  in today’s Los Angeles Times  on wine-searcher.com, the price comparison and availability search engine that has transformed wine commerce. 

ws-bottle-logo wine-searcher 

If you haven’t used it, you should. I’ve relied on wine-searcher  for years to find out what retailers charge for wines I review. It also give you a good sense of the availability of any particular wine. It’s simply the best reality check out there. The basic version is free and is more limited than the “Pro Version,” which costs about $30 and is money well spent. As of yesterday, by the way, wine-searcher had 18,072 wine stores listed worldwide with 3,952,617 wines offered.  In 2009 it had 56.5 million pageviews. You  begin to get an idea of the site’s scope and lafiteinfluence.

SWIRL: “No other wine has captured the imagination of the  Chinese wine connoisseur like Château Lafite-Rothschild,” begins   an item in artdaily.org. With that in mind, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong will hold an auction of almost 2,000 bottles of Lafite on October 29. The famed winery will supply vintages from 1869 to 2008 from its cellar. Estimates of the sale range from $1.5-$2.5 million.

SWIRL: On the other side of the sales spectrum, sales at Pennsylvania’s two pilot wine vending machines in supermarkets have gone better than expected, pa liquorsays the head of the state’s Liquor Control Board. Plans are moving ahead to  install almost 100 more of the machines, whose sales require a breathalizer test and are monitored by Control Board employees via a video hookup. Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek and my recent commentary on the machines.


Sips: a lucky find on the wine list – a gewürztraminer with a little age

Gewurztraminer, the highly aromatic variety found in Alsace, Germany, northern Italy and beyond, deserves far more attention that it gets. When you hit the right example, almost nothing beats it in terms of interest and complexity. It canschlumberger 2 also be a problem solver – for example, when four people order very different appetizers, as we did not long ago at The Chanticleer, the venerable restaurant on Nantucket. That’s because gewürztraminer is one of the ultimate food wines, able to match well with any number of dishes, especially highly seasoned and spicy foods. And so, when the four of us ordered everything from tuna tartare to various salads, I was pleased to see a gewürztraminer or two on the list and chose Domaines Schlumberger’s 2004 “Fleur” Gewurztraminer from France’s Alsace.

Now this is one of Schlumberger’s basic offerings, a wine that retails for about $22 or so (I think we paid about double that in the restaurant), and I knew from the start that it would not be the profound wine that I might expect with a grand cru offering. But I appreciated the fact that the wine had a few years or so of bottle age, and I tip my hat to the restaurant both for including the variety and offering a wine that has benefited from some time. That benefit was clear in the lovely fruit, which included ripe pear, peach and dried apricot. But that was only half the story. The fruit was accompanied by the floral and herbal notes that are gewürztraminer's signature and, at this point in the wine’s life, they were in just the right proportion, accenting instead of dominating, which can be the case with very young gewürztraminer. The match was splendid with my tuna tartare and its piquant chili mayo sauce. One cautionary note: we should have stuck with gewürz for our main courses; after the powerful tastes of the Schlumberger, a white Burgundy (a Montlouis) was just too delicate.


Swirls: drinking like ‘Mad Men?’ Don’t even think about it – not even wine

If you've watched "Mad Men," then you known that just about every other office or business scene in the hit cable series includes a drink. Not wine, of course. This is the early 1960s, when Tom Collins, the Old Fashioned and the Martini reigned. And the hour of the day hardly seems to matter. Fast forward to 2010.  mad menThese days, when was the last time a colleague suggested a drink in his office, or even a glass of wine at lunch? With that in mind, I read with interest about a study of current views on alcohol among managers in the business world. Their attitudes have, indeed, changed since the days when their fathers were doing business over cocktails back in the ‘60s.

Two researchers, Scott Rick of the University of Michigan and Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, looked specifically at how the managers viewed job applicants who ordered a glass of wine (it happened to be the “house merlot”) during a dinner meeting. In their study, presented to the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, they asked more than 600 middle managers to watch a video depicting a series of mock interviews involving a  manager and a prospective hire. Depending on the scenario, the manager ordered either the merlot or a Coke. Even if the manager went for the merlot, the applicant was seen as less “intelligent, scholarly and intellectual” and less worthy of being hired if he, too, ordered a glass of wine. So, enjoy the cocktail culture on “Mad Men,” but stick with Coke when it comes to jobs and work in 2010. (More on the study from Reuters.)

Swirls: the top imported wines for quality and value – consumers and the wine trade weigh in

In terms of wine quality, which countries stand out the most to consumers? The question was put to more than 600 winwineopinionse consumers in a survey by Wine Opinions, an Internet-based research firm. Wines were divided into four categories: whites/rosés under $20, reds under $20 and reds in the $20 to $50 range. The results:

  • When it comes to under-$20 whites and rosés, more consumers rated the wines of Germany, New Zealand, France and Italy “outstanding” than those of other countries.
  • For reds under $20, the wines of Italy, France, Spain and Argentina came out on top.
  • For reds in the $20 to $50 range, France and Italy got the highest marks, with each rated outstanding by fully two-thirds of consumers, while roughly half gave the reds of Spain, Australia   and Argentina top marks.

What countries do best when it comes to value? Wine Opinions put that question to more than 200 members of the wine trade.

  • For whites and roses under $20, the leaders were Argentina, Spain, Chile and Portugal. Despite a lot of lower-priced Australian whites on the market, Australia was at the bottom of the value chart in this category.
  • When it comes to reds under $20, Argentina led the way, followed closely by Spain and Chile. Italy and France were somewhat lower.
  • As for more expensive red wines, those priced at $20 to $50, Spain, Argentina, Italy and Chile were the value leaders. All were  considered “good” or “outstanding” in this regard by about three quarters or more of the respondents. France’s rating was relatively low, at 59 percent, “an indication of the difficulty France is having in this price category,” according to Wine Opinions’ analysis of the results.


Swirls: Free case of wine? Which region would you choose?

I know I’m going a bit heavy on the surveys this week, but I was stuck by some of the results in a newly released study red wineon attitudes toward imported wines. It was conducted by Wine  Opinions, an Internet-based research company that focuses on attitudes and preferences of frequent U.S. wine purchasers and consumers  and members of the wine trade. Among the findings:

  • Argentina and Chile have seen major gains among consumers buying their red wines over the last couple of years, leading all other countries  in growth.
  • Italy, New Zealand and Australia, saw significant increases in white wine and rosé purchases and, along with France and Germany, are the leading countries consumers turn to for these imports.
  • Respondents from the wine trade say they’ve been selling a lot more wine under $20 from Argentina, Chile and Spain since the start of the recession in 2008, which is not surprising given the emphasis on value wines from those countries. Also not surprising: roughly a third or more say they are selling less wine in the over-$20 category from just about every country.

So, a lot of growth, it appears, in New World wines over the last couple of years. However, on the intriguing question -- from what country would consumers want to receive a free mixed-case of wine? – the Old World wins hands down. France was the first choice among 30 percent, Italy second at 26 percent, followed by Australia at 13 percent and Spain at 10 percent.

The results were based on responses from 642 consumers and 214 members of the wine trade. I’ll have more from this survey in coming days. For more information about the survey you can contact Wine Opinions at info@WineOpinions.com.


Swirls: women like their wine – a lot more than men; Gallup surveys U.S. alcohol consumption

Think about it: when you go to a bar with friends, who is ordering what? Don’t the men overwhelming ask for a beer while the women are more likely to order wine? In fact, women call wine   their preferred drink by a wide margin over men in a new Gallup survey. Of those who drink alcohol, 48 percent of women say wine is their drink of choice, compared with just 17 percent of men. When it comes to beer, the tables are turned, with 54 percent of men saying they prefer beer, compared with 27 percent of women. Those who cite liquor are almost evenly divided, with 22 percent of men and 21 percent of women calling the hard stuff their preferred drink.

Wine is most popular with women over 50, with 58 percent of them saying it is their go-to drink, while men pretty much stay with beer as they get older, with just 21 percent of men over 50 saying they prefer wine. Among under-50 men, Gallup says, a strong preference for beer (59 percent)  “does not come as a surprise to those who observe the preponderance of beer ads embedded in sports and other programming aimed at young men.” Quite true in that it is rare to see wine advertised at sports events in this country.gallup 2

Overall, the survey found that 76 percent of American adults drink alcohol, the highest number since 1985. And those with  higher education and income levels tend to drink more. (If there is one slight peeve I have with this survey, it is the fact that the sample starts at age 18, whereas the drinking age, for better or worse, is 21, but I suspect that the reason for this is that the survey began when the drinking age was still 18.) Read more about the survey here.


Swirls: buying wine from Pennsylvania’s vending machines – did we mention the breathalyzer?

I don’t know about you, but I cringed when I recently read about Pennsylvania’s experimental sale of wine in vending machines in supermarkets. Yes, the machines do expand the sale of wine beyond Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores. You present your driver’s license or other state-issued ID card and pay by credit or debit card, including a $1 fee to the company that prpa liquorovides the machines, but then there is this: you also have to  pass a  breathalyzer test, which will be analyzed by a state employee  who will ultimately approve your sale if everything checks out – or not. The whole thing is monitored by a video link. This is all about control, control, and more control. I think about the ease of buying wine in supermarkets in California, Washington, Vermont, Virginia or any number of states, and I wonder what it is about Pennsylvania and its citizens, in the view of the state, that makes such drastic control measures necessary.

Forgive the rant here, but it’s hard for me to imagine most people suffering through the humility of blowing into a breathalyzer in view of others in such a communal setting as a grocery store. We’ll see how far the experiment goes, but I, for one, am not optimistic about this latest twist on Big Brother in the wine business. Aside from the control aspect, the idea does nothing to educate consumers about wine. There is no day-to-day substitute, I have found over many years of learning about and enjoying wine, for a knowledgeable and trustworthy sales person to guide you through the process of buying just the right bottle.  On that score, a vending machine just doesn’t cut it. For more details, you can read USA Today’s account of Pennsylvania’s vending machine venture.



Swirls: Virginia wine served at Clinton wedding

I don’t know why I find this so fascinating, but I’ve been just a bit, shall we say, obsessed in recent days in my desire to find out what wineskluge were served at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding over the weekend (I promise to stop after this). The Hook, a website in Charlottesville, Virginia, is reporting that two sparkling wines  from the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard were offered, one an all-chardonnay blanc de blancs and the other a rosé (The Hook also has the interesting back story here). A check of the winery’s website reveals that the 2007 Kluge Estate SP Blanc de Blancs sells for $28, as does the 2007 SP Rosé, a blend of 95 percent chardonnay and five percent pinot noir. So, at this point, we know that a local New York white (Clinton Vineyards’ Tribute seyval blanc) and Virginia wines had roles at the wedding.  Anyone know of any others? Clearly there must have been a red or two.

Sips: Francis Coppola’s lovely ‘Sofia’ rosé

The shape of a wine bottle is not something I usually care about, and a friend echoed the feeling the other day as we opened a bottle of rosé before dinner. She said of the wine, “You’d think with a pretty bottle like that it wouldn’t be good.” Unusual bottle ssofia 3hapes, cute labels, clever names – all can be indications that a winery is trying hard to overcome or mask a mediocre bottle of wine. Fortunately, this is not the case with  Francis  Coppola’s  2009  Sofia Rosé, a delightful summer wine that deserves a  place among the season’s standouts.

The grapes are grenache and syrah from Monterey County, and the wine shows pretty fruit notes of cherry, pomegranate and raspberry with an herbal touch on the finish. It’s also lightly tannic, which provides a nice structure for the fruit. The overall impression is fresh and bright. This is a lovely wine to enjoy on its own before dinner or with light appetizers and will also match well with grilled chicken and fish, even burgers and steak. Alcohol is 12.5 percent and a quick search of the Web reveals a price range of $16 to $19. As for the bottle, its elegant design will deservedly help “Sofia” stand out from the rest of the rosé pack.