Tuesday, October 11, 2005

11 October 2005 - Monday Tasting Notes

Too Much! Despite increasing consumption in the USA, the world is glutted with wine. The day after reading that wine has replaced beer as the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States, I read an article in the NYTimes about an AOC producer in southern France who was selling off half his 2003 vintage wine to an ethanol distiller for adding to gasoline. Yesterday we tasted several wines from a terrific producer in France's south whose wines are sitting unsold in the distributor's warehouse with little hope of moving without prices being slashed to below cost. Why? Because the market can only handle so many of the wines from different producers of any given region in the world, known or unkown, before the market is saturated. It's not even a matter of reducing prices, it's a matter of space, time, focus and energy.

Montepulciano. The grape, not the place. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, or Montepulciano from the Abruzzo region east of the Apennines and Tuscany, is underrated, underappreciated and ready to emerge from Sangiovese's shadow. We tasted a few extraordinary Montepulcianos yesterday:
1. Masciarelli "Marina Cvetic" '01 - The '00 was a revelation, but this one, wow. Dark, deep, concentrated, dense and perfectly balanced -- exceptional.
2. Three wines from Dante Marramiero, all made in a distinctly modern style, but still distinctly Abruzzi Montepulciano (Think Alejandro Fernandez and Pesquera from Ribera del Duero in Spain). "Dama" '03 is the "baby" -- so pretty and polished and pure; "Inferi" '00, almost too juicy and ripe at the expense of some grip, the sort of Montepulciano that would convert California Cabernet drinkers to Abruzzi wines; and finally "Dante Marramiero" '98 - as often happens to me when I taste the "top of the line red" entry of a winery, the new oak gets to me and I end up preferring the #2 wine (in this case, the "Inferi") - still, impressive.
All in all, a great day for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Sancerre in New Zealand? The big, high quality Loire firm of Henri Bourgoise purchased property in Marlborough, New Zealand, and released its first wine, Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc '04. Tasting it (sort of herb-spiked grapefruit juice with alcohol) yesterday, I thought: "For the same price, I could be drinking Henri Bourgoise Sancerre Cuvee MD, and enjoying it a whole lot more." I've tasted better New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Seresin comes to mind) and much better Loire Sauvignon Blanc. In short, nope, no Sancerre in New Zealand.

Consistent Goodness. Three wines, one from Woodward Canyon's Nelms Road label and two from the Perrin brothers Tablas Creek, reminded me to start a short list of great wine producers (and a different short list of great wine importers) who consistently make terrific, often eye-opening wine. My short list would have to include Woodward Canyon in Washington state's Columbia Valley and Perrin et Fils of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape and other points in southern France as well as of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, California.

The Wines of the Day:
Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo '01 "Marina Cvetic"
Nelms Road (Woodward Canyon) Cabernet Sauvignon '03, Columbia Valley, Washington
Tablas Creek Syrah '03, Paso Robles, California
Firriato "Ribeca" '02 (60% Nero d'Avola/40% Perricone), Sicily

Saturday, October 01, 2005

1 October 2005 - Random Thoughts

Two issues popped up this week that made me stop and jot down a note to remind myself to write about them.

#1. The first issue was raised with this question: Why doesn't our store have a Chilean Wine Section? The diplomatic answer is that for "international" or widely known varietals we group the wines by the name of the grape, then by place. The less diplomatic answer is a question: why should we have a Chilean section? Think about it for a second. What are the primary wine grapes of Chile? Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere (previously thought to be Merlot), Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They've recently been planting some Syrah, rather Shiraz -- big surprise. Any indigenous grapes? Nope. Any unusual grapes from other countries? Well, you could argue that Carmenere is pretty unusual, except for the fact that the people planting it probably thought they were planting the much less unusual Merlot. Is there a Chilean wine style? That question prompts another: are we talking about Chilean wine made for Chilean consumption, or for international consumption? What I'm getting at is the fact that Chile has based its wine export business on supplying this market with low-cost alternatives to familiar varietals. I can't argue with success, since they've largely succeeded with this approach. But it's so boring! How many of these wines do I need to carry? And what, in a place with such limited space, do I kick out to make room for these wines? Sorry, but you'll have to drive out to your local big-box discount wine/beer/liquorama to find a Chilean wine section -- it'll be right next to the cheap 1.75L vodka department... By the way, I would love to be proven wrong about this. Hear that wine sales reps? If you've got really good, interesting Chilean wine, bring it on, let me taste 'em!

#2. A customer was buying a bunch of different Chardonnays the other day. In the course of our conversation he mentioned waiting interminably for a case of special California Chardonnay to be delivered to Maryland from a store he contacted in California. They charged his credit card for the $500+ bucks a few months ago, then claimed it was too hot to ship during the summer. I asked him what the special wine was that he was waiting for. Turns out that special Chardonnay is available for sale right here in Maryland, and that I could order it for him and have it delivered the next day. The moral of this story is: Check with a local shop about local availability before shelling out extra cash for that "special" bottle. If it's not available locally, hey, have a ball. If it is available, hey, save yourself some heartache!