Tuesday, July 26, 2005

26 July 2005 - A Tale of Two Labels

Label #1: "Big Yellow Cab" Cabernet Sauvignon '03, Mendocino -- negociant label Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino Wine Group's Paul Dolan.

Label #2: Bishop's Peak "Rock Solid Red" '03, Paso Robles -- Blend of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Franc from Talley Vineyards (San Luis Obispo).

I tasted these two yesterday, almost back to back, although brought by two different distributors. Label #1, the Big Yellow Cab, is cute -- I mean, I love New York and I remember riding in big yellow cabs and all. The wine is actually ok, but nothing special for the price, and not especially identifiable as Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon. I was left thinking "this'll look great in a great big floor stack in a discount liquor store." For Mendocino Wine Group, mission accomplished. For me, no thanks. I want fun labels that lead to even more fun once they're opened.

A few moments later I tasted label #2, an unusual blend from incredibly hot (temperature-wise) Paso Robles. "Rock Solid Red" is a bold looking label with a screwtop and a name that fits the wine perfectly. The blend of Cabernets (Sauvignon and Franc), Syrah and Petite Sirah is indeed rock solid, loaded with flavor and character and perfectly balanced -- a real, pleasant, surprise. Bishop's Peak is the old volcano on the eastern edge of San Luis Obispo, one of the "seven sisters" chain of mountains that serve to define the whole region. More truth in labeling. Price? Same as label #1. Fun label, terrific wine inside -- now that's what I'm talking about.

Friday, July 22, 2005

22 July 2005 - The First 2005 in a Global Market

Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Our first wine from the 2005 vintage arrived today. Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, Stellenbosch, South Africa. It made me think of lots of questions. Do they make a big deal of the first wine of the vintage in South Africa like they do in Beaujolais, France? Since we can now easily get fresh new wine from the southern hemisphere in Baltimore, will Beaujolais Nouveau (when it arrives in mid-November) continue to be a big deal here? Do the French (and Italians for that matter) understand the simple concept that in (wine or any other) business it's impossible to be #1 forever? That it's inevitable they lose market share (and shelf space) to other countries in the USA as we become more and more global in our reach and thirst?

One of my part-time staff recently returned from three weeks in her native Australia. She was amazed that Australian wine shops had virtually no wine from anywhere else in the world but Australia. I noted that the situation was similar throughout Europe -- each country has almost exclusively its own wine for sale, and that she was particularly spoiled by working in a shop stocked with wines made from over a hundred different grape varieties, from at least 16 different countries. Where else in the world is this sort of selection possible? Well, the UK and Canada come to mind, but neither of those are big wine producers. Is it just that we're such gigantic consumers here in the USA? Or is it inevitable in a free-trade, ever-more-consumer-driven world that such variety and diversity of product be available everywhere?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

12 July 2005 - Fact Check on "Independence Day"

In my Friday, 8 July blog I wrote a few production/consumption facts about the USA and France. I checked my "facts" against statistics compiled by the Wine Institute in California -- while I was close, I wasn't exactly correct, so here are the corrections.

Wine Production
I wrote that the USA was now 5th -- actually we're 4th. I wrote that France was 2nd -- they're actually 1st, ahead of Italy, then Spain, then the USA.

Wine Consumption
I wrote that the USA had moved up to 50th in the world, creeping up to about 10 liters /year per capita -- actually the USA has zoomed all the way to 36th as a wine consuming country, but at less than 9 liters/year per capita. France is actually 2nd to Luxembourg in consumption at about 60 liters/year per capita, down from 91L/year in 1980. It is also worth adding that France is not alone in declining wine consumption -- Italy, Portugal, Spain, the U.K., Chile and Argentina have also seen similarly precipitous drops in per-capita wine consumption. So, is the USA all alone as far as countries consuming more wine? Nope, Denmark has more than doubled its per-capita consumption since 1980, while Switzerland, the Netherlands, Uruguay and Australia have experienced more modest increases.

Monday, July 11, 2005

11 July 2005 - Tasting Notes

Faillenc Saint-Marie Syrah Rose 2004, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
I tasted a pink wine today that prompted this thought: Now that it's cool to drink dry pink wine, is it possible that someday we'll be able to handle a slightly sweet pink wine? I know, it sounds too much like white zinfandel, but if we can accept Riesling with a touch of sweetness, why not a delicious, refreshing, compelling, and yes, slightly sweet, pink wine? The wine was a 2004 Pays d'Oc Rose made from Syrah, at Domaine Faillenc Saint-Marie. Brilliant deep pink color, intense berry/floral smells, and sappy, lively, slightly but distinctly sweet flavors. Was it the best wine I tasted today? No, it was actually a pretty good day for tasting, but this little wine was the most fun. Interestingly, the 2003 edition of Faillenc Saint-Marie was dry -- delightful, refreshing, and dry. And it sold quite well. So why did the winery change direction in '04? I would like to believe that they tasted the wine from tank, noticed the sweetness, but thought "hey, you know, this is flat-out delicious, let's bottle it -- now!"

Monarchia Pinot Grigio 2004, Hungary
Hungarian Pinot Grigio. Have you noticed that cheap Italian Pinot Grigio isn't cheap anymore? It's just as ordinary, just not as cheap. So, today I taste a Pinot Grigio from Hungary -- not hunger, Hungary. Beats, no, blows away, any $10 Italian Pinot Grigio -- geez, it even has some flavor! Chalk it up to the cost of land and labor.

Amancaya 2003, Mendoza, Argentina
A fifty/fifty blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from a collaboration of Nicolas Catena and the Edmund Rothschild group. Good wine, lively, intense, balanced -- and reasonably priced. That's the notable part -- a glamorous partnership in South America producing a delightful everyday-priced wine, instead of a collector's item.

La Spinetta Barbera d'Asti '03 Ca di Pian
Giorgio Rivetti is one of Italy's great winegrower/makers. So, when I tasted the '02 Ca di Pian earlier this year, I fully expected a successful wine despite a terribly difficult vintage. Nope, the wine sucked, and was doubly disappointing because it was made by Rivetti, and it was more expensive than the terrific '01. He redeems himself with this one -- deep, dark, delicious and compelling as usual, and the same price as the '01.

Friday, July 08, 2005

8 July 2005 - Independence Day

The USA's Independence Day has just passed and France's Independence Day (aka Bastille Day) is less than a week away. What does this have to do with wine? More than any other wine-producing/consuming country, we are linked to France. France provides so many of the benchmarks upon which we have modeled our wines -- especially Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and Champagne.

As wine producers and consumers, we Americans are catching up. Fifth to France's second in production. Fiftieth to France's third in consumption. That's right -- 50th to 3rd. Not even close, you say. And you would be correct, just looking at the bare numbers. USA per-capita consumption of wine has crept up to nearly 10 liters annually. I don't recall what our per-capita soda and beer consumption is, but I know it's at least ten times our wine consumption. France, on the other hand, consumes about 50 liters of wine per person annually. Impressive. Except when you consider that less than a generation ago, per-capita wine consumption in France was more than 100 liters annually.

French wineries are bemoaning a drastic reduction in exports. The weak dollar certainly has a lot to do with it, but France, the country that taught most every other western nation how to eat and drink, is deeply concerned that it is falling behind the upstarts from the southern hemisphere, especially Australia and Chile, when it comes to world wine domination. Meanwhile, USA wine exports, while still pretty small, grow every year. Just like the number of McDonald's, Subway, Pizza Hut and Burger Kings worldwide.

What are French youth drinking if it's not wine? Soda, beer, American cocktails. What are they eating? Big Macs. It's ironic -- we're obsessed with the "French Paradox," and French youth are getting fat on Big Macs. Not that we're trimming down, mind you. Nope, we're just as obese as ever -- it's just that the French are catching up. Fast.

What is it? Are the French saying to themselves, "Those Americans are starting to drink more wine and eat better food, so we should do the opposite just to be our usual contrary selves.?" I think not. I hope not. Is it a side effect of globalization that we gradually blend together so that all of our distinctively wonderful differences disappear? I'll think about it, as I finish off this bottle of Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone '03 "Les Deux Albion."