SWIRLS: Vino 2011 -- “totally insane” Italian appellations, retro wine, Robert Parker

Here in New York, this week’s Vino 2011 Italian Wine Week opened today with some perspectives on Italian wine and other aspects of the wine business from a panel of industry leaders. Here are some of the more interesting observations and comments.

From Leonardo Lo Cascio, Chairman and Founder, Winebow, Inc.

-- “In the sweet retail spot of $25 and under there is not another country that comes close to Italy” for American wine drinkers.

-- On Italian sparkling wines: “I don’t think we have an Italian sparkling wine story, we have a Prosecco story.” Beyond the great success of Prosecco, Italian sparklers “don’t do very well because they are priced like Champagne” and on a special occasion “people want to go safe” with Champagne.

-- On Italy’s wine laws: “Most Italian wine laws are totally irrelevant to the American consumer. People can’t make their way around DOCs or DOCGs. The  whole thing needs to be simplified and made easier. We have some appellations that are totally insane.” Example he cited: Colli Morenici e Mantovani del Garda. “There are 280 of those appellations.”

From Cristina Mariani May, Co-CEO, Banfi Vintners:

-- There is increasing interest among consumers in regional wines from Italy,  and there is a fallback to “retro wines” such as dry Lambruscos, Soaves, Amarones and Frascatis. “What is old is really new again but new in a better style, a purer style.”

-- More and more Italian producers are using natural  growing methods, even if they are not going through the cumbersome process of becoming certified organic.

From Tyler Colman, editor of Dr. Vino.com:

-- On wine journalism and criticism: The traditional model of “handing down points from Manna in Heaven is running out of gas.” Young people, thirsty for wine knowledge, are largely getting it from their friends and passionate retailers. As for wine information on the Web: “It’s a bull market for free content. If you’re giving it away for free on the Internet, people will come and read your content.” He noted that there are four million “core wine consumers” on Twitter alone.

-- Robert Parker won’t be replaced and there will be “a lot more voices” in terms of influential wine writers.

-- On barriers to increasing Italian wine sales even further:  1)more education will be needed because of the great diversity of Italian wines;  2) “The retail channel, I think it’s fair to say, is blocked” because of this country’s still-restrictive wine shipping laws.

SIPS: A tale of two malbecs (and you thought malbec only came from Argentina)

After a long conversation about business with a friend, I  reminded her that, among other things, I write about wine. She responded by noting how she had recently been enjoying malbec. She quickly confirmed my hunch that she was  referring to malbec from Argentina, which has become an “it” red wine of late. I wasn’t surprised that she had no idea that malbec originated in France, as a blending variety in Bordeaux, where it has all but disappeared, and, more importantly, in Cahors in the southwest, where it remains the centerpiece of that appellation. More on Cahors in a moment.

But first, Argentine malbec can be stunning. One has only to  spend an evening luca malbecwith a wine like the 2008 Malbec from Luca Vineyard and Winery in the Uco Valley of Mendoza to get a sense of the variety’s depth and range in the sun-drenched region. This limited-production wine, which is priced at retailers on wine-searcher.com at anywhere from $25 to $37, has a refined, Bordeaux-like elegance with sweet and concentrated blackberry and plum tastes joined by earth and coffee notes, all supported by a fine tannic structure. Alcohol is 14 percent. Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, California.

Based on a sampling of several Cahors releases, the French wines deserve more attention than they are getting. Compared with malbecs from Argentina, their style is a bit less fruit forward and more lean, although I found good concentration and lots of complexity.  I also found the popular notion that they be somewhat coarse and unrefined to be overstated, at least in ‘06 and ‘07 vintages.

My favorite was the 2007 Cahors from Chateau de Gaudou, a ready-to-drink blend of 80 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot and five percent tannat. It has relatively soft tannins, blackberry and blueberry fruit and notes of mlk chocolate, herbs and black pepper. I was shocked at its $10 price. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported by USA Wine Imports, New York.

Also worth trying is the 2006 Cahors from Chateau de Haute-Serre, which is well balanced with beautiful fruit, mainly blackberry, along with earth and tobacco notes. It’s listed on wine-searcher.com at at between $17 and $22. The blend is 80 percent malbec, 10 percent merlot and 10 percent tannat. Alcohol is 13 percent. Imported by Baron Francois, New York.

Notably, and with good reason, the varieties are listed on the labels of these wines.  This represents a welcome loosening of the strict French appellation and labeling laws that will allow the wines compete  more effectively with their New World counterparts. The average wine drinker will know that France, as well as Argentina, produces first-rate malbecs. Wines received as press samples.


SIPS: An unusual California offering -- white wines from Dierberg and Star Lane released with a little bottle age

Something quite different arrived at my door the other day. As part of a sampling of new releases from a California producer, the two white wines in the shipment caught my eye because of their vintages. One was a chardonnay and the other was a sauvignon blanc. While most chardonnays being released right now are from 2009 or perhaps 2008, this one was from 2007. While almost all the sauvignons I receive are from the ‘09 vintage (some 2010s from the Southern Hemisphere are also now being released) this  one was from 2008. Most chardonnays, of course, will benefit from some bottle age and some of the great ones from Burgundy and California can develop for years. While Dierbergsauvignon blancs are typically enjoyed young, they, too, can develop in the bottle.

And so it was that I tasted these two wines from Dierberg Estate Vineyards in Santa Barbara County on different evenings. The first was Dierberg Estate’s 2007 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay. Made in a bright, fruit-forward style, this wine is a model of balance at this point with subtle, well-integrated oak treatment (just 40 percent of the blend was aged in new oak). There’s lots of complexity here with notes of lime and orange, tropical fruit, ginger, vanilla and a nice underlying minerality. Quite Burgundian in character with superb acidity and alcohol of 14.1 percent. The wine would be superb with all kinds of white meats and elegant fish dishes. It was one of my favorite chardonnays of the past year and is well worth the $32 price.

Dierberg’s sister property, Star Lane Vineyard, focuses on Bordeaux varieties in the relatively warm eastern endSTAR LANE of the Santa Ynez Valley, and its 2008 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc is  also notable for its balanced approach to a variety that often presents itself in extremes – exceedingly racy, as in many New Zealand sauvignons, or as sauvignon hiding in chardonnay clothing, which is sometimes the case with California sauvignons. Star Lane offers a delicious middle ground in this $20 wine with muted notes of pink grapefruit, lemon curd and lime and lots of minerals on the long finish. Acidity is very ample, in this one as well, and alcohol is listed at 13.4 percent.

Beyond modest levels of alcohol and releasing their white wines with a little age, the Dierberg wines are made with an emphasis on native yeasts, all of which combine to make them distinct and memorable.


‘True Grit’: more on the wine and movie connection

After my piece yesterday on “True Grit” the movie and the wine, I heard from Jan Mettler, a partner at Boss Dog Marketing, which represents Parducci Wine Cellars, the producer of True Grit Petite Sirah. In an email, Jan related how she and her agency came up with a tie-in for the 2007 vintage of the wine with the launch of the movie. She wrote:

“… when the partners at Parducci Wine Cellars requested that we look into a connection, we joined IMDB (the Internet Movie true_grit_jeff_bridges Database) and pulled the phone number for Joel Coen's agent.  One conversation led to another and we followed up with wine samples to all, from Mike Zoss Productions (the Coens’ production company) to Coen's PR handlers, to top executives at Paramount.  Doors opened and True Grit became the exclusive wine pour for the screening at Academy Theater.”

She continued: “The folks at Paramount Marketing liked the True Grit so much that they bought 160 bottles to send to their media and another 175 bottles as gifts for their employees. “ Jeff Bridges, she added, sent Parducci an email saying he was enjoying the wine.

It was, as they say, the kind of exposure money can’t buy.


SIPS: Reflecting on ‘True Grit,’ the movie and the wine

I usually ignore wine and pop culture tie-ins, such as the one I received not long ago for “True Grit” featuring the re-make of the movie classic and the wine of the same name. In this case, howevetrue grit posterr, not only did I thoroughly enjoy both but was fascinated to come acros s the back story of just how True Grit wound up on the a wine label.

True Grit the wine is a $30 Petite Sirah produced by Parducci Wine Cellars, part of the Mendocino Wine Company in California’s Mendocino County. It turns out that the idea for the name came in 2005 when a publicist suggested to Tim Thornhill, Parducci’s proprietor, that petite sirah was a “John Wayne among reds,” Thornhill related to Wine Spectator. The publicist was Jo Diaz, who has promoted petite sirah for years through her “PS I Love You” campaign (but who does not represent Parducci itself). I’ve always thought the slogan was a bit hokey and  haven’t referred to it until now, but it seems to have worked well for the variety, and Jo, I’ve discovered, has a very good ear for this sort of thing.

She recalls the Parducci experience on her own wine blog  and reprints a release on petite sirah she wrote at the time in true grit label which she called it the “all-American variety” and a “burly, manly wine.” The description may have fit well with the petite sirah campaign and the True Grit narrative, but I doubt Jo will mind if I say that it doesn’t quite do justice to the 2007 True Grit, which is a wine of elegance and complexity (along with a little brawn). It is marked by herb-infused black cherry and blackberry notes, an earthy core and unsweetened cocoa on the long and considerably tannic finish. Although alcohol is 14.5 percent, this is not a big or heavy wine, with the overall impression bright rather than ponderous. As I breathed in the  aromas again a few days after opening the bottle, Bordeaux even came to mind.

No, True Grit the wine may have a pair of cowboy boots with spurs on its label, but I can’t imagine Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges or John Wayne) trading his bottle of hooch for a glass of this sophisticated and just slightly gutsy red. (Received as a press sample.)


SWIRLS: wine as top investment, iPad wine lists, iPhone bottle opener, Long Island wine in China, Joe Bastianich

SWIRL: As an investment, fine wine, as in top  Bordeaux, has  outperformed all other asset classes for a second straight ylafiteear, beating out gold, oil and stocks. Decanter.com has the full story.

SWIRL: A Chicago steakhouse is among the latest restaurants to offer iPad wine lists – 40 of them at a cost of $700 each, according to an AP article. Let’s see: that comes to $28,000 in technology. How do you feel about this emerging trend? Will it be good or bad for ambience to see people all over a restaurant stroking their iPads in search of that perfect bottle of wine?

SWIRL: We saw this first with certain brands of iphone-4-bottle-openersneakers – a bottle opener built into the soles that would do the trick in a  pinch. Well now, you can buy a protective case for your iPhone 4 with its very own bottle and can opener. There’s a picture of it on NewsFactor.com.

SWIRL:  Newsday reports that wine-crazed China has started to  import small quantities of wines from a number of Long Island wineries, including Peconic Bay Winery. It didn’t hurt that the importer spent weekends in the Hamptons while living in New York for the last four years before moving back to China. Read the full story here.

SWIRL: Joe Bastianich, the wine and restaurant impresario,  discusses his life in food and wine (plus weight loss and marathon running) in an interesting Q & A with Bloomberg’s John Mariani.