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A visit to Domaine Gioulis

2 Jul

I was recently part of a group that visited Domaine Gioulis Winery & vineyards in Klimenti (or Kliméndi) Greece.

greek wine jug

Wine jug in Corinth museum. This was designed to be poured from 3 different directions for ease of service.

Here are the wine related things that I can remember of the experience.  There would be more, but there was so much wine, beer, liquor & food that some details have inevitably or fortuitously been lost.

After studying at the University of Bordeaux, agronomist and oenologist George Gioulis founded Domaine Gioulis in 1993. He was joined by his brother Konstantinos.  The vineyard he planted was one of the first to be certified organic in the country and is the only one to hold National Organic Program (NOP) certification in the U.S.  Their vineyards are some of the highest in Greece as well.

Gioulis family

The Gioulis family in Corinth

While George is still the owner, much of the day to day operation is in the capable hands of his children.  Dimitris Gioulis is the wine maker & his sister Ermioni Gioulis is the marketing manager.

The village of Klimenti is in the province of Corinth (generally known in America as the recipient of 2 fairly cranky epistles from the Apostle Paul). It is on the slopes of Mount Ziria in northern Peloponnese. The town dates to 1,400 AD. In Klimenti, winters are harsh & summers are relatively cool (generally staying below 90 F).

Because the climate is sunny with adequate, but not high rainfall, it is a good area to pursue organic practices.  The winds coming from the Mediterranean and the mountain breeze from the Ziria Mountains also help to reduce the need for chemicals to battle the various molds, mildews, and nematodes that can be the bane of a grape grower’s existence.

We visited two of the Domaine Gioulis vineyards and drove past a third that is laying fallow due to frost issues.  They have around 60 acres under vine.

The first vineyard we visited sits at close to 1,000 meters elevation (3,280 feet).  It is one of the highest, coolest vineyards in Greece.

vineyard1

Vineyard at 960 meter elevation

The vineyard is surrounded by hills and trees.  The soil is calcareous with clay and limestone.  Calcareous soils are found in some of the most famous growing regions in the world (Chablis, Champagne, Saint-Émilion).  The soils drain well and do not retain heat.  The drainage (and relatively porous soil) forces the vines to dig deep for water and establish healthy root systems.  The fact that they don’t retain heat means that the grapes ripen more slowly.  This allows them to retain acidity while hitting, or in this case just barely hitting, phenolic ripeness.  It also allows the red grapes to build solid tannins.  That’s a recipe for flavorful grapes, which leads to flavorful wines.

 

There is distinct variation of the mesoclimate in the vineyard. At one point, there is a gap in the surrounding hills & you can feel cool wind coming in from the Mediterranean.  The vines closest to this area may be harvested weeks after others in the vineyard.  There is a huge tree on a hill near the gap.  It has a beautiful view that on some days allows you to see through to the Mediterranean.  Thanks to the ample shade and the breeze, it is a perfect spot for a break or a picnic.  At this vineyard, there are some fairly steep plantings of vines.  This is a vineyard that requires a maximum amount of manual labor.  To make matters more interesting, Dimitris claims that they occasionally run across vipers in the vineyard.

The second vineyard that we visited was at around 800 meters elevation (2,624 feet).

D and E in the vineyard

Ermioni and Dimitris in the vineyard

It is still a cooler/higher altitude vineyard, but it is a bit flatter.  It is still harvested by hand as well.

The vineyards are planted with both native and international grape varietals.  Greek grapes planted include Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero. International varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay.

During an amazing lunch at the winery, we tried through the wines.

lunch by the barrels

Set up for lunch by the barrels at Domaine Gioulis

The wine kept coming and the courses never seemed to stop.  Here are some of the wines we tried with a few notes.

Sofos is the brand of wine that Domaine Gioulis sells in the United States.  The name means “Wise One” in Greek.  You would be wise to check out these wines.

Sofos White Blend 2016 (50%Chardonnay/50% Moschofilero)sofos white

This is a lovely wine.  Moschofilero is a grape from the Muscat family and as with so many of those grapes, it has a beautiful perfumed, flowery smell.  It is pronounced something like Mos ko fee’ le ro. It can be tough to grow because it ripens late and doesn’t handle heat well.  That certainly isn’t a problem at their vineyard!  This wine shows the fragrant rose and perfume notes that you expect from the grape.  The Chardonnay is here probably more for weight and texture than scent, but it does contribute some citrus and melon notes.  On the palate, the wine is medium weight (unoaked), with medium plus acidity.  It is bursting with pear, apricot, white peach, and melon flavors.  There is also a hint of lemon and spice.  It has a medium plus finish.  This is a wine that is delicious on its own.  It also will pair well with seafood, chicken, pasta, and many other meals.

Domaine Gioulis Rose’ 2016 (100% Cabernet)

This is a solid Cabernet rose’.  It has red fruit and intense strawberry notes.  It has nice acidity, which makes it a good food wine.  I must admit that I didn’t take detailed notes on this wine.

Domaine Gioulis Agiorgitiko 2016 (100% Agiorgitiko)agiorgitiko

I really feel like this is a grape variety that could be a big hit in the U.S. if it weren’t such a tongue twister for most of us.  It is actually the most planted grape in Greece.  It is sensitive to fungal infections, but since the Domaine Gioulis vineyards dry quickly, this is not a real problem for them.  The wine made from this grape is sometimes referred to as the blood of Hercules because Hercules supposedly drank this wine around the time he killed the Nemean lion.   The grape is pronounced Ah yor yee’ ti ko according to http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/varieties.htm, although my phonetic version is ah yur  E tico.  Either way, it doesn’t roll off the tongue for most people & it isn’t pronounced the way it is written.  That’s a shame, because the spicy, aromatic, fruity wine it produces is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to a broad swath of wine drinkers.

We tried some of the 2016 Agiorgitiko from a tank sample. It was fantastic! My notes say “the wine is damn near purple.”  That’s not a technical term, but it works here.  On the nose, it has floral notes of roses.  On the palate, it has nice acid, spice and spicy cherry.  The tannins are medium to medium minus. The finish is medium. We had it with goat & beef & it was great.  This may be hard to pronounce, but is almost too easy to drink.

Sofos Red Blend 2016 (50% Agiorgitiko/50% Cabernet Sauvignon)Sofos red

Cabernet Sauvignon is often added to Agiorgitiko.  The Cabernet provides acidity and power, while the Agiorgitiko provides spice and aroma. This ruby colored wine is an excellent food wine.  It has sweet spice and chocolate on the nose along with blackberry, raspberry, and a hint of tobacco.  That’s also a pretty good description of the palate.  I also noticed some plum on the palate that I didn’t notice on the nose.  The acidity is medium plus (higher than the 100% Agiorgitiko), the tannins are medium and are soft. The wine spends 6 months on oak and you definitely pick up some oak notes and structure, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The finish is medium.  This is a wine that will pair well with a wide variety of foods including stews and grilled meats.

I was impressed with the winery.  Their commitment to growing native grapes, their commitment to organic growing practices, their high-quality standards, and their amazing hospitality all stood out.

I also was able to spend time talking to Dimitris and Ermioni and found them to be funny and intelligent, and thankfully, great English speakers.  Dimitris studied oenology at the University of Athens.  He has a deep knowledge of Greek history and is fiercely proud of his country.  Ermioni studied the business side of wine at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Dijon. She is finishing up her WSET Diploma, which I just finished last year, so we talked about the WSET and their way of testing and grading.

The only words I know in Greek are Ya mas, which translates to “to our health.”  That’s a common toast & an appropriate one for this winery.

I have many wonderful memories of our trip to Greece.  Listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine

by Guns N’ Roses with top of their lungs accompaniment by Melissa Dotson and Ruta Bliukyte while Dimitris drove us through the mountains was a standout.  Hanging out and drinking with three locals in Klimenti at 2 AM was pretty cool.  We wandered over & joined two men sitting outside a local store that was having the interior painted.  When they found out we were from America, they called a friend who had lived in America for a few years to come down and join us.  He was a Philadelphia Eagles fan, so we talked football.  I never expected to be in a tiny town in Greece discussing Donovan McNabb, but sometimes that’s how things go. We also visited the Acropolis, which was incredible

Temple of Athena

The Temple of Athena at the Acropolis

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

and had a tour of the museum of ancient Corinth.

Temple of Apollo in Corinth

The Temple of Apollo in Corinth

If you have an opportunity to visit Greece, I highly recommend it.  Until then, I recommend that you look for Sofos wine at your local wine shop.  If you can’t find it, check with their importer, Natural Merchants.  I’m sure that they will point you in the right direction.

Ya mas!

 

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Domaine des Cèdres

27 Aug

Domaine des Cedres

The Rhône is a wine region in the Rhone Valley in Southern France.  It is divided into a northern & southern region with different rules for the two regions.  The only red grape allowed in the north is Syrah.  There are 10 different red grapes allowed in the south.

The southern Rhône has a Mediterranean climate (mild winters & hot summers).  Drought issues are bad enough in the Rhône that limited irrigation is allowed (irrigation is regulated by EU & appellation rules).  There is a large diurnal shift, so large pebbles are often grouped around the base of the vines to absorb heat during the day & then release it at night to keep the vines from getting too cool.

Cotes Du Rhônes are the most produced AOC wines in the area.  They are generally designed to be lighter weight easy drinking wines which are not intended for aging.

Cotes du Rhône Villages wines are a step up (or a ring in if you think about the appellation as a dart board).  Grenache is the primary grape & the wines are required to have at least 50% Grenache.  They can have 20% Syrah &/or Mourvèdre combined.  That leaves a maximum of 20% that can come from the other 6 grapes.  The minimum alcohol is 12%, which isn’t much of an issue given the heat & Grenache’s propensity for ripeness.  There is another Villages level that involves named villages, but that isn’t the case with Domaine de Cèdres.

Domaine des Cèdres was founded in 1906 & is owned by Dominique Pons & his wife Genevieve.  Dominique is the

Dominique and Genevieve Pons

primary winemaker.  They have 30 acres of vineyards planted on south facing slopes.  The soil is clay & limestone with the traditional Rhône stones.  They are a single vineyard producer rather than a négociant, like most Rhône producers.

The vineyards have been certified organic since 1973.  They currently farm bio-dynamically, but have not been certified. The Pons were named Pioneers of Organics in 2011.

These two wines are a nice example of the difference between Cotes Du Rhônes & Cotes du Rhône Villages.  You have the same producer & similar grapes, but very different wines.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône 2014

60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan This was fermented & stored in cement & enamel tanks.

This has fresh fruit flavors, especially after sitting for a while.  It has medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, & medium flavor intensity.  On the palate it has sour cherry, cranberry, raspberry as the primary fruits.  The fruits seem slightly under ripe, not in a bad way, but very tart.  There is some black pepper & more white pepper. There is also a little bell pepper & some green herbaceous quality.  As it opens, there are some nice violet notes that are indicative of Syrah. The tannin is medium plus.  The finish is medium plus.  This is a juicy fresh red fruit wine that would be great with a burger or grilled meat.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône Villages 2014

Older vines from higher up the slopes are picked for this wine.  The blend is Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, but I don’t have the percentages handy.  The wine ages for a year in new oak.

This has medium plus acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium flavor intensity, & a medium finish. The tannins are medium plus.  There is a clear blueberry note that almost seems like a northern Rhone Syrah. There is also a slight hint of bacon fat, although is fades after it has opened up. There is still some of that dry red fruit, particularly cranberry & sour cherry that the regular Cote du Rhone has. It has a meatier taste than the CDR.  This would work well with grilled or braised meat.  It would be great with grilled lamb. It even us a slight mint note that would be good with lamb.

Here are a few bullet points to remember about these wines

 

  • They are one of the earliest organic wineries in the region (certified since 1973)
  • They have used bio-dynamic practices since 2003, but are not certified
  • The wines are vegan friendly
  • They are estate wines
  • They are good picnic or grilling wines

 

Andrew Luck wasn’t ranked too low at #92 on the NFL top 100

27 Aug

There isn’t a ton of news during the off-season after free agency & the draft finish.  The NFL network has done a decent job of creating news out of nothing.  One very successful program has been their NFL Top 100 series.  Each year they manage to get 11 shows (with another 11 reaction shows & endless bits of commentary) out of a simple concept.  They poll the players & based on that poll, they show the top 100 players, 10 per episode except for the final two, where only 5 players are shown.  It is a fun program & it always gets a big reaction from players and fans about why they or their favorite player weren’t ranked or weren’t ranked high enough.

I usually just enjoy it & don’t think too much about it.  This year the indignation in the press & fan blogs for one perceived snub made me want to dive into it a bit more.

In 2015 Andrew Luck was named the 7th best player in the NFL.  In 2016, he fell all the way to number 92.

The media, sensing an opportunity for some eyeballs, went nuts.  The USA Today said “And this is exactly why NFL players do not, and should not, vote on major awards or All-pro teams.”  Chris Wesseling of Around the NFL referred to Luck’s “preposterously low ranking.” That was one of the calmer reactions.  Luck has been considered the next great NFL quarterback since the Colts seemingly tanked their entire season to draft him as the #1 pick in the 2012 draft.  It seemed crazy that he wouldn’t be highly ranked by the players despite missing most of the year with injury.

I actually think that he was lucky to make the list at all.  Part of that is based on his play in 2015 & part of it is based on how the list is compiled.  Let’s look at both aspects.

In 2015, Andrew Luck played in only 7 games.  There is a pretty good argument that he was injured & hurting during at least a few of those games, but the NFL chose not to look into the Colts potentially gaming the injury reports (can you imagine what they would have done if it had been Tom Brady?).  In those 7 games, the team won 2 & lost 5 games.

If you look at the NFL statistics page where they rate quarterbacks by 16 metrics & then rank them, you will see that Andrew Luck rated 32nd for 2015 among quarterbacks.  He managed to rank one spot higher than his backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, despite Hasselbeck having an 84 QB rating compared to Lucks 74.9.  At least 3 quarterbacks who ranked above Luck have lost their starting job this year (Brian Hoyer, Nick Foles, & Josh McCown).  There are a couple others who may not end up starting the majority of their games this year.  Hasselbeck has retired, but is worth noting that he led the Colts to 5 of their 8 wins in 2015.

In 7 games, Luck threw 12 interceptions.  At that rate, he would have thrown more than 27 interceptions in a 16 game season.  For comparisons sake, 27 interceptions are more than Tom Brady has thrown in the last 3 years combined (25).

One other statistic is worth noticing.  In the today’s NFL with the rules geared towards the passing game, starting quarterbacks are expected to complete at least 60% of their passes.  In 2015 Luck completed 55.3% of his.  That completion percentage places him #63 out of the 72 quarterbacks ranked.  That is terrible.

The other aspect of his ranking that we should look at is how the votes are tallied.  There isn’t actually a vote of the top 100 NFL players.  There is a ballot where players list their top 20 players.  Points are assigned for votes from 1-20 & the players with the top 100 point totals are chosen.  There is actually a huge difference between the two systems.  For one thing, one or two players ranking a player on their team in the top 5 can shoot them up in the polls.  For another it can leave out or lower the number for a player who isn’t a star, but is legitimately a player that everyone would agree was a top 80 player but not a top 20 player.

Looking at the Andrew Luck situation through that prism, it is kind of amazing that enough people chose him as one of the 20 best players for him to make the list.  If I were to make a list of the top 40 players in the NFL it would be hard to include him.  Off the top of my head, do you think Luck is really playing better than these guys…

Geno Atkins Jamie Collins Tyran Mathieu Ben Roethlisberger
Odell Beckham Jr. Fletcher Cox Gerald McCoy Richard Sherman
Le’Veon Bell Larry Fitzgerald LeSean McCoy Ndamukong Suh
Eric Berry A.J. Green Von Miller Earl Thomas
Tom Brady Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Joe Thomas
Drew Brees Todd Gurley Greg Olsen J.J. Watt
Antonio Brown DeAndre Hopkins Adrian Peterson Muhammed Wilkerson
Dez Bryant Julio Jones Patrick Peterson Russell Wilson
Kam Chancellor Luke Kuechly Darrelle Revis Jason Witten
Jamaal Charles Zack Martin Aaron Rodgers Marshal Yanda

That certainly isn’t a definitive list.  If I made a new one tomorrow, I’m sure I would change out 4-5 players.  The point is that Luck wasn’t better than 21 of these guys.

Every year is a new year & a new chance for players to rise above their past performance.  Every year time catches up with a great player & their level of play drops.  Next year at this time, Luck may have established himself as a top 20 player, but he hasn’t so far. Chris Wesseling & some other pundits should take a chill pill.

Wine at the Super Bowl and other thoughts on the game

28 Feb

In the lead up to Super Bowl 50 there were a number of articles about all of the great wines that you would find at Super Bowl 50 http://tinyurl.com/jququku  http://tinyurl.com/gvbk6cl .  As part of my dedication to making this the best blog that covers both wine & football.  I figured that I had better check it out.  A friend of mine who works for the NFL was able to hook me up with a ticket to the game & to the tailgate party.  He also arranged for me to ride to Santa Clara from the Hilton Union Square on the NFL friends & family bus.  Here are my random thoughts on the game & the game day experience.

Ready to start the big day, I got up at 5 AM to head to San Francisco.  I was really worried that traffic would be crazy on the Bay Bridge.  It turns out that even on Super Bowl Sunday, Sunday morning traffic is pretty light.  I was able to park at the parking garage with plenty of time to spare.

I met my friend at the Hilton Union Square just before he went to work at the game.  Then an hour or so later, his wife & her uncle & I hopped on the NFL friends & family bus to the stadium.  That is definitely the waIMG_3212y to get to the game.  It beat the heck out of driving to Santa Clara & paying $250 to park at the stadium. rings

At the stadium we milled around for a bit & looked at the stadium & the huge images of all of the Super Bowl championship rings.  Then they opened up the Tailgate party.

 

tailgateThe great wine that they were talking about was not at the NFL’s Official Tailgate party.  The tailgate was a huge event in a large building at the site that was divided into 3 rooms.  There were 50 different food sections serving mostly cold or lukewarm food.  There were also a number of bars that had beer & wine & a few that had spirits or one specific mixed drink.  There were only 2 wines available.  The first was a generic California Chardonnay.  I looked at my pictures from the event & can’t identify the label.  It was everything negative about California Chardonnay.  It had plenty of buttery diacetyl, layered with oak and tropical fruit.  I made it through about half the glass & then ditched it.  The red wine was a Freemark Abbey Super Bowl 50 red blend.  It was a decent red, but nothing special.  I noticed that it is available now for $99.  There are probably worse Super Bowl souvenirs that you could spend your money on, but I wouldn’t buy it thinking it was $100 worth of Napa juice.  I switched over to Jameson’s, which didn’t have a special Super Bowl package, but still tasted great.

sam hunt 2 sam huntThere was music in all three rooms.  In the center room for the tailgate party there was a large stage.  Two different acts played on that stage.  The stages at the end of each of the other rooms had cover bands (although at one point they had a dance group of young cheerleaders up there).  The center stage was for bigger acts.  The first person up was Sam Hunt.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he is a country singer who played football in college.  He signed with MCA Nashville when pro-football didn’t work out for him.  Since then he has been nominated for CMA awards & Grammys, so I guess it worked out well for him.  Despite my love of country music, I’m not a fan of his work.  I did kind of like his cover of Love the Way You Lie by Rhianna & Eminem.  There wasn’t much of a crowd for his performance.  It was relatively early in the day, so that probably explained it.  The good news for fans was that you could pretty much walk up to the stage.

The second act to perform on the large stage was Seal.  Seaseall has been around quite a while & has sold over 30 million albums.  He had a larger crowd.  Part of that was because he is probably a bigger star & part of it was because the place was filling up by that point.  Seal did some covers & did some of his own songs & the reaction seemed to be pretty good.

The tailgate wrapped up about an hour before the game was set to start.  I headed off to find my seat.  That also gave me time to check out some of the things at the stadium.  They had some interactive games to play.  They also had tons of concession stands with food & souvenirs.  Since this was California, they even had vegan hot dogs.vegan dogs  The lines were long.  If you wanted something to drink though, you could just order it from your phone & have it delivered to your seat.  That was pretty cool, although $7 for a coke & $13 for a Bud Light was kind of crazy.  I passed on all of it though since I had enough at the tailgate party.

I watched the introduction of the former Super Bowl MVPs.  It was actually pretty hard to see them since I was pretty high up & they didn’t have them really in a featured location.  It was cool though.  I know that there were people who booed Tom Brady, but the section I was in had mostly Panther fans & a few Patriot fans, so we all cheered wildly for Brady.  I know that the boos were a story for a couple of days, but I think it was just some of the Broncos fans.

I was really impressed by the Broncos first drive.  Even though it ended with just a field goal, it looked like their offense was on track.  It turned out that was completely wrong.  Denver put up some of the worst numbers for an offense in Super Bowl history…especially for a winning team.first drive

The defenses for both teams were impressive, although poor quarterback play & some unimaginative play calling for the Panthers made them look even better than they actually were.

I should talk more about the game, but anyone who cares about it already knows what happened.  The Panthers had special teams issues & gave up weird fluke plays & Denver made enough out of them to win by 10.  I did have a few more thoughts on the first half.

Wow!  That punt return was weird.  I thought that Carolina might get a penalty for not allowing the returner room to make the catch.  Instead, Jordan Norwood ran the ball back 61 yards.  It looked like Carolina pulled up & didn’t go for the tackle at the point he caught it.  If they had tried, perhaps they would have gotten a penalty, but a 15 yarder would have been worth it.  Instead, it took a bit for them to really pursue.  They caught him, but it was still a record punt return.  That was the second worst example of the game of freezing in the moment instead of playing instinctively.

I was actually surprised that 61 yards was the record.  You would have thought that in 50 years someone would have taken one to the house from the end zone.

Owen Daniels had a solid game considering the quality of the quarterback play.  I always liked him with the Texans & following Gary Kubiak from job to job has turned ohalftimeut well for him.  I think that both the Texans & Ravens could have used him last year.  Instead, he gets a championship ring.

The end of the half was indicative of the way the game went in general.  The Panthers squandered multiple opportunities to put points on the board.  The Broncos made great plays on defense & special teams & put points on the board despite their pathetic offense.

Thoughts on half-time.

It was kind of funny watching the groups of women (& a few men) released to run out to be the crowd for halftime.  They did 4 groups.  Each group sprinted for their corner to get the best view.

Those of us at the stadium watched part of the half time show through a slit in the cards we held up.  I think we did an excellent job of holding up our cards.  They talked to us at every commercial break about being in our seats for the half time performance & coached us on how to hold up a card with one color on one side & another color on the other.  I guess they figured that we were really stupid or really drunk.  There was probably some truth to that for some of the crowd.

I think Coldplay really blew their opportunity.  Instead of taking the opportunity of the half time show & running with it, they turned over most of the performance to Beyonce & Bruno Mars, so they ended up as a supporting act in what should have been their big performance.  Usually after the game there are people talking about the half time performance for better or worse.  This time, people talked about Beyonce & Bruno Mars, but Coldplay vanished into the background.  They probably should have talked to Katy Perry or Prince in advance.

Second half thoughts

Ron Rivera & his coaching staff didn’t seem to make many adjustments to the offense at half time.  I was really expecting them to bring in another back to chip the pass rush & be available for screens.  At least I thought that they would stop the dive up the middle on 1st down.  I was wrong there.  A guy in the row behind me said something along the lines of “If they run into the middle for 1 yard again on first down I’m god damn leaving!”  They did & he didn’t.  I felt his pain though.

Up until Newton’s fumble in the 4th quarter, I felt like the Panthers were a play away from winning the game.  I kept expecting a broken play with Newton getting away & running for a score.  Once he fumbled, it was over.  Even the Broncos offense was going to be able to get 4 yards & make it a 2 score game with not much time left.fumble

There has been a lot said & written about whether or not Newton should have dived on the fumble.   Watching the replay, you can sort of see why he didn’t go for it.  At the time though, it really looked like he stepped back from it instead of trying to save their chance at winning.  In real time, it took so long that all of the Panthers fans were yelling at him to fall on it.  It just seemed to take forever.

I headed for the bus after that.  I have rooted against Manning for too long to watch him hoist the Lombardi trophy as if he had done much to win it.  Trent Dilfer has always been held up as the example of a quarterback who got a ring despite playing badly in the Super Bowl.  In Super Bowl XXXV, Dilfer only completed 12 of 25 for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions.  Manning was 14 of 23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, 2 fumbles, & an interceptions.  He was lucky that he only threw 1 interception.

Post game

The staff was awesome throughout the event.  They were helpful in getting back to the bus.  Everyone I passed thanked me for coming to the game & wished me a good evening.  It was really impressive.

I passed the set up outside the stadium where Steve Mariucci & Kurt Warner were doing the post-game show.  I was surprised it was as far outside as it was, but I guess they had to get it up & running right away.postgame

The bus back to the hotel was great.  It saved a bunch of time & I was happy someone else was driving through the traffic.

I picked up my car from the parking garage.  Their posted sign said $28 for all day parking, but in the spirit of the Super Bowl, they charged me $45 anyway.

The drive home was easy.  I don’t think I have ever had such an easy time getting out of San Francisco.  Apparently the best time to get to the Bay Bridge is right after a Super Bowl is held in Santa Clara.  It isn’t a situation that comes up too frequently, but now I know.

There was a lot of talk before & after the game about whether race played a role in the perception of Cam Newton.  I thought his widely quoted comment “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”  was full of crap.  Newton may have some abilities that make him different from other quarterbacks, but to pretend that people are racist because they have never seen an African-American quarterback in the Super Bowl, or haven’t seen an athletic quarterback is ludicrous.  The previous 2 Super Bowls featured Russell Wilson, who is an athletic African -American quarterback.  The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams back in 1988.  There is plenty of racism out there.  There is no need to make it up.  In fact, if you are looking for racism, it is probably easier to find it in the post game coverage of the Broncos.  Von Miller was named the MVP, which made sense.  He was a dominant player on the field. He & Malik Jackson essentially won the game for the Broncos.  Unfortunately most of the post-game coverage  seemed to go to Peyton Manning.  I know it was mostly because he will probably retire & he is going out a winner, but in the immediate aftermath of the game, it seemed like way too much of the coverage was about the guy who did the least to help the team win. Miller got some TV appearances later & he & Jackson will both get huge paychecks, so that probably makes up for it.

Overall, I had a good time going to the Super Bowl.  It is definitely something that I wish every football fan could do at some point.

 

 

My favorite wines of 2015

28 Dec

These are my favorite wines of 2015.  I probably tasted some other wines that should have made the list, but if I didn’t write a note about it, I don’t remember it.  I did a number of handwritten notes for the Diploma class that I was taking & those generally were tossed.  I listed the wines by vintage with the non-vintage wines first.  These aren’t in order of preference.  I have prices by the wines, but of course prices vary. If I were to go through all of the wines I tasted in 2015 & taste them again, I’m sure that I would have come to different conclusions about a few.

My list this year is dominated by Bordeaux, Napa, & Champagne.  That isn’t because I prefer those regions to others.  It is a reflection of what I had the opportunity to try in 2015.  I don’t have any Burgundy on the list, although I had some very nice Burgundies this year.  I just didn’t have any that blew me away (that I managed to save tasting notes for at least).  I attended a couple of huge Bordeaux tastings & was able to pull from notes for over 200 Bordeaux wines that I tasted in 2015, so that region may be over represented.  That being said, they were great wines that couldn’t be left off the list.

There are four sweet wines on the list.  I know that some of my friends who like wine wouldn’t ever consider drinking a sweet wine.  These are all examples of why a great sweet wine can hold its own with any other wine in the world.  Anyone who opts not to try them because they don’t like sweet wines is just missing out.  I’m happy to drink their share.

With all of those disclaimers, I will say that there are some tremendous wines here.   If you have a chance, you should give them a try.

Please feel free to leave comments below & let me know what wines you liked best in 2015.

NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne Chapuy $46chapuy

This is liquid French toast.  I could add things like flavors of poached pear
& peach & spice.  I could mention the creamy nature of the wine or the nice minerality, but really liquid French toast says it all. 1,850 cases made.

NV Brut Rose’ Andre Clouet Champagne $42clouet

I tasted this on an evening when I tasted 85 Champagnes.  One of my notes for this wine is this is why so many others just got a “meh.”  This is a great rose’ Champagne, especially for the price.  It has rich red fruit, floral notes, & the classic toast brioche that you want.

 

 

1998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux  $601998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux

I drank this over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the third day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  There are honey, jam, & marmalade flavors. They never become cloying due to the crisp acidity.  Other intense flavors of this wine include beeswax, luscious apple & pear notes. La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”

2000 Cuvee 2000 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut $100henriot cuvee

This spends 12 years on the lees & it shows.  It has an intense nose of marmalade, orange peel, liqueur, acacia, peach, apricot, & toast, with other floral notes blending in.  The flavors follow the nose, with a nutty flavor thrown in as well.  The fruit is incredibly fresh given the age.  This tastes like a wine that could be spread on toast!  It is just an excellent creamy, rich wine.  It could pair with a wide variety of food, but I would prefer just to sip it.

 

 

2004 Brut Rose’ Dom Pérignon Champagne 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Chardonnay. $324Dom Perignon rose 2004

This had a high intensity nose with floral notes, red fruit & tart cherry.  On the palate, it had the red fruit & tart cherry, but it also showed some citrus…particularly grapefruit.  This wine has light pinot noir notes similar to a light Burgundy.  There are toast notes at the long finish.  This is just a delicious, complex wine.  It is great by itself, but would be wonderful with fish, chicken, or cheese.

2005 Clos des Goisses Champagne Philipponnat Brut $161

philponnatWhile I think this is excellent Champagne, I know that it won’t be for everyone.  It is a single vineyard wine, which is somewhat unusual in a region known for blending.  It does not go through malolactic fermentation to soften the acid, which is also not the way the majority of champagne is produced.  It s barrel fermented & then spends 9 years on the lees.  It is finished with a 4 grams per liter dosage of sugar, which is on the dry side.  It is 67% pinot noir & 33% chardonnay.  The finished product is creamy with a nice all-spice character & a lingering finish.

2009 Domaine de Baumards Clos du Papillon Savennières $36papillon

This has the minerality & smokiness that I look for in a
Savennières. I also tasted beeswax & honey, although somehow even with the honey flavor it is still dead dry.  This is a terrific food wine.  It would be easier to list the things that it wouldn’t pair with than to list all of the ones where it would.  Asian food would be a go to though.

2010 Chateau Rauzan Gassies  Bordeaux 2nd Growth Rauzan Gassies 2010(Margaux) $63

Dark ruby. There is an interesting nose to this wine.  It has dark fruit with leather & dust.  I would peg this as Bordeaux from a distance.  It has much more vibrant fruit than I expected, with blackberry & raspberry & some boysenberry.  There is some minerality, but not the leather that I expected.  It is really a delicious fruit forward wine.  This is either a great example of new wine making techniques in Bordeaux or a terrible one depending on how you feel about Parkerization.

2010 Chateau Calon Segur Saint-Estephe  $110 3rd Growth 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdotcalon segur

Deep ruby colored wine.  It has a beautiful nose, with red fruit black fruit spice & perfume.  If they can get this into cologne I would buy it.  There is a heavy toasted oak flavor that I am getting as coffee.  I’m also getting a lot of dark fruit on the palate.  The tannins & acid seem to be only medium.  This will age, but maybe not as much as some of the others from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage.  If I had a case of this I don’t think that aging would be an issue though since I would drink it all before a year was out.  There is always a good reason to drink a wine like this, fireplace weather, nice steak, it’s Tuesday, whatever.  It has a long finish with some blueberry.

2010 Chateau Angelus St. Émilion Grand Cru $400

saint_emilion_chateau_l'angelus_2010This is almost black. It has blackberry on the nose with some liquorice.  The palate has intense anise with plum & raspberry.  It has medium plus tannin & acid.  This is a powerful wine.  It almost overpowers right now, but it is delicious & this won’t get anything but better for the next 10 years.

 

2010 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde de Guigal $60Cote-Rotie
This has a garnet color.  It has a perfumed nose with blueberry, savory spices, rose, smoked meat, & acacia. There are nicely integrated, almost silky tannins.  Flavors of smoked meat with baking spices, savory spices, pepper, dark red fruit & some blueberry (almost smoked).  It’s a good quality wine that will improve with age

 

2010 Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Émilion Grand Cru $1,500
cheval blanc 2010a52% Cabernet Franc 48% Merlot.

This smells like St. Émilion. I get dust & cherry & raspberry.  On the palate I get darker raspberry medium acid & tannins.  It is a juicy & delicious wine.  I really don’t see how someone who doesn’t like merlot wouldn’t like this!  Rib roast would be great with this, but you can’t really go wrong.  It is hard to justify the price of this wine & I can’t see myself buying a bottle anytime soon, but it is an excellent wine.

2010 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Premier Cru Superieur 2010 $650yquem

This is cold liquid honey, only better. The acid is great, so the sugar isn’t cloying.  There is some lemon & citrus, peach, white flowers and lanolin, but the honey is overpowering in a good way.  This is a short review, but there isn’t much to add.  This isn’t just one of the great sweet wines of the world; it is one of the great wines of the world period.

climens2010 Chateau Climens 2010 Barsac Premiere Cru $125

Wow!  If you like Yquem, you should try this.  It isn’t as smooth, but it is honeyed & interesting & hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It tastes of honeyed, lanolin.  There are also tropical fruit notes including mango & pineapple.  I also noticed some apricot & vanilla.  It has really high acid. This is very nice.

 

2012 Spreitzer Rosengarten Grosses Gewachs VDP Riesling Trocken  Rheingau 13% $37.99

This medium gold wine has thick clear legs, which in this case are indicative of the sugar content.  The nose has a pronounced intensity with baked fruit flavors, peach, nectarine, apricot, nuttiness, & caramel. There is a botrytis note here as well. This wine is still developing. On the palate, the wine is sweet with medium plus acid which keeps the sweetness from being cloying.  The palate has a long finish that reveals that it is Riesling rather than Sauternes. There are mineral notes on the palate.  There is almost a mushroom taste, which indicates botrytis.  The big botrytis marker of orange marmalade is there as well.  This is an outstanding wine that can be drunk now, but should age well for years.

black bottleThe Black Bottle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $1,000

I know this wine is stupidly expensive, but every time I try it I really like it.  It has beautiful blackberry, raspberry, plum, chocolate & mint. There are nice medium plus tannins that have a green tea quality.  It has a long finish.  It is 15.2% alcohol, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high. This is an odd wine to review because I have tried two different vintages & really liked both of them.  At the same time, I think it is more expensive than Napa Cabernet should really be at this point.  I believe that it sells out each year though, so I guess it is worth it. Either way, it is a delicious wine.

2013 Antonutti Poppone (Not available yet in the U.S. about $20)poppone

Merlot & Pignola grapes are dried like an Amarone.  After fermentation, it goes into barrel for 12 months.  It tastes like roasted raspberry chipotle.  There is also some tart cherry.  This is a ridiculously interesting wine.  I want to drink a bottle of it while I’m grilling & then have it with grilled meat.

2013 Hofgut Falkenstein Riesling Sekt. Brut 11.5% Germany sektSaar BA $26.99

60-80 year old vines all grown on slate
This is a lemon green sparkling wine with persistent small bubbles. The nose shows  petrol, citrus, lemon, honey, honeysuckle, mineral, slate, & lime. It is dry, with high acid, medium alcohol, & medium  plus intensity.  I tasted citrus including lemon& tart & sour lime.  There was also white flower, honeysuckle, & honey.  This is a very good quality sparkling wine.  The intensity of complex flavors is enhanced by the high acid. This would be great with seafood. It is a mouthwatering wine. Drink now or over  3-5 years This might be cheating a bit since I don’t know that it is as good as the other wines on the list.  On the other hand, if you compare its price to some of the others on the list, it is just amazing quality for the price.

2014 Azienda Agricole Franco Roero Chardonnay  (No price here because it isn’t available yet in the United States)Franco roero chardonnay

This surprised me.  It is in a Bordeaux bottle & I expected something light.  Instead this is a heavy, textured Chardonnay with lots of toasted nuts. There is no oak so I have no idea how they do this. Citrus with lemon peel is a major component.  This is the best non burgundy Chardonnay I have had in some time.

tullio2014 Ca’ Tullio Traminer  Not available in the U.S. About $10 Euro

This is a dead dry Gewürztraminer.  It has lots of floral notes & fresh fruit on the nose that make you think that it is going to be sweet, but it finishes dry. It has floral flavors with plenty of lychees. This is really a fantastic wine for the price.  I will lay in a supply when this becomes available in the U.S.

 

Why Chenin Blanc should be the answer to your ABC problem

18 Jun

No football article this time.  I need to work on my article on why Roger Goodell must go.  Maybe next week…  In the meantime, here is why Chenin Blanc could be your new favorite wine

 

Many people are members of the ABC club.  That is, they are looking for anything but Chardonnay to drink.  I actually love a great Chardonnay, but I understand how people can tire of it.  It is one of the most planted white grapes in the world & much of it ranges from boring to awful.  Chardonnay has some versatility though.  It can be rich & oaky, or it can be light & fruity.  It would be nice to find another grape that could fill that niche.  I’m here to tell you that Chenin Blanc fits the bill.

Chenin Blanc, frequently just called Chenin, can make slightly sweet or dry crisp wines that have guava, peach, & pear flavors.  At better quality, it can make dry smoky wines that age for decades.  When oak barrel fermented, it can rival the best vanilla & butter textured Chardonnays.  When picked as a late harvest grape or a noble rot infected grape, it makes a sweet wine that can age 50 years or more.   It is also a great grape for sparkling wines.  That is a versatile grape!

Like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is grown in many places across the globe; unfortunately it is treated like a red headed stepchild in many of those growing regions.  While solid Chenin Blanc is made in Australia, California (Chalone in particular), & Texas, it really only gets the respect it deserves in The Loire Valley in France & in South Africa.

Chenin Blanc is a grape that has naturally high acid.  In particular, it is able to ripen well in a hot climate without losing too much acid.  It also has a tendency towards high yields.  It is susceptible to botrytis. It has good resistance to disease & wind. It buds early & ripens late. All of these factors affect the wines that are produced in the middle Loire & South Africa.  I’ll write about the regions to give you more details, but you don’t really need to know all of this to pick out a good bottle.  It doesn’t hurt though.

The Loire wine regions

The Loire wine regions

The Loire is a wine region in France that basically follows the Loire River.  It runs from the Atlantic near Nantes east towards Burgundy.  It is north of the wine region of Bordeaux, but South of Paris & the wines of Champagne.  It has 4 distinct growing regions & really would be divided into 4 different appellations if not for the Loire & tradition.  The middle 2 sections of the Loire are the great Chenin growing areas. The middle Loire has a basically continental climate.  That means that it has short cold winters & long dry summers.  Spring frost can be a problem, & sometimes it rains around harvest time.  The Loire itself has the biggest effect on the local mesoclimates.  The river reflects light & that helps grapes ripen even when it might normally be a bit too cool for full ripeness due to the latitude.  It also provides cooling breezes that help the grapes retain acidity when it is hot.  Finally, the river helps provide the moisture necessary for noble rot/botrytis.

The Loire produces several different styles of Chenin, from dry, to off dry, to luxurious sweet wines.  The grape is so ubiquitous there that it was once called Franc Blanc.  Today it is often called Pineau or Pineau de la Loire.

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

In the Loire, the grape is usually unblended, although in Anjou or Saumur it is possible to add 20% Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & in wines labeled Touraine there can be a broader mixture.  The best Chenin in the Loire will be unblended.

Mechanical harvesting is used in much of the Loire. It cannot be used for the production of the classic sweet Chenin Blancs.  The best of these wines will be made from grapes infected by botrytis.  This necessitates more than one harvesting session.  These are called tries & 2 are required & sometimes 3 or 4 are used to make sure that only the grapes that have shriveled with botrytis are picked.  It is a long process which risks a fall rain & the loss of crops.  It results in higher priced wines, but they are still inexpensive compared to other botrytis wines such as Sauternes.

There are few hard & fast rules for the fermentation process & the treatment of the wine in the Loire.  There are some common themes.  There is generally no Malolactic fermentation for the wines.  There is generally no new oak used or very little.  Some lees contact is not uncommon.  Because the climate is cool, it is normal to chaptalize the wine.  Adding sugar up to a 2.5% alcohol increase is allowed & is common except for in warmer years. Most modern wineries have stainless steel tanks with temperature control.  In the Loire it is sometimes necessary to warm the must before & during fermentation to get the wine to finish fermentation. There are some people experimenting with new oak & malolactic fermentation in the hopes of capturing some of the market for oaked Chardonnay.  This is a tiny minority of the market.

Basic Chenin Blanc from the Loire has flavors of apple & pear, nuts, & mineral. They can be tight & acidic with a chalky minerality when first bottled. Time in the bottle is necessary for the full range of flavors to appear.  The best wines can age for 50 years or more.  During that time they develop secondary characteristics of honey & beeswax.  As the wines become sweeter, they show sweeter jellied fruits with the same notes.  The botrytis infected wines show the honey & beeswax much more quickly & have more luscious apple & pear marmalade notes. Great Loire Chenin Blanc can be one of the best & most long lived wines in the world.

In Savennières, Chenin is almost always dry.  They wait later than average to harvest the grapes, allowing them to achieve greater ripeness.  Then they ferment them completely dry.  That results in a wine with richness & a bit higher alcohol.  These wines can be somewhat austere in the first few years after bottling.  The best examples will last as long as 50 years & develop complex flavors.  The first thing I notice about a good Savennières is the combination of minerality & smokiness.  This is one of those wines that can fool you.  You might swear it had oak in it, but it doesn’t.  papillonThat smoky flavor is from the fruit.  Good examples also tend to show beeswax & honey.  If you are looking for a fruity & easy drinking wine, this isn’t for you.  If you want a great wine to pair with food & one that offers unexpected delights, give it a try.  I think Savennières pairs well with a wide variety of food.  Probably only Riesling is more versatile.  It isn’t the easiest wine to find.  It doesn’t look like Total Wine or Bev Mo ever stock it.  I picked up a bottle of Domaine des Baumard at Specs in Houston & at a little shop in Santa Fe.  I found Domaine de Baumard’s Clos du Papillon at a Whole Foods.  Check with your local store.

The wines of Anjou, Coteaux de l’Aubance, Jasnières, Montlouis, Saumur, and Vouvray have a wide range of sweetness levels.  In Vouvray the wine generally has some sweetness.  The labels will sometimes guide you, but not always. Tim Atkin MW says that the Loire producers favor a BBC management approach to labeling, “tell the public nothing.”  Generally you can expect the wine to be off dry.  Sometimes they will say something like “Vouvray Sec” & you will know it is dry.  Experimentation is probably your best bet here.  These wines can be great with spicy food.  The drier versions make great poolside wines on a hot day.

The high acidity of Chenin Blanc makes it a great candidate for sparkling wine.  In the Loire, it is used to make Crémant de Loire & sparkling Vouvray.  Crémant is just a French word for Champagne style sparkling wine that is not from Champagne.  Outside of the Loire it is also used in Crémant de Limoux in Southern France.  These wines may not be as refined as Champagne, but they can be vibrant wines showing peach & honey notes.  As with the wines, these can be dry or slightly sweet.  Most of the time, a dry sparkling wine will be labeled as “Brut” or “Sec”, while a slightly sweet sparkler will be labeled as “off-dry” or “demi-sec.”

The wines of the Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume are best known for their sweet Chenin Blanc.  Where the wine is labeled according to sweetness it will be sec (dry), demi-sec (medium dry), or moelleux (sweet).  Top producers include Claude Papin, Domaine Richou, & Huet.  The best of these wines are produced with grapes that have been infected by botrytis cinerea.  Botrytis is also called noble rot (marketing!).  Essentially it is a fungus that in just the right conditions (damp in the morning, dry in the afternoon) grows on the grapes & sucks the water from them.  That concentrates the sugar in the wine, making the grapes sweeter.  It also gives the fruit interesting honey & marmalade flavors.  It sounds, & truthfully looks a bit disgusting, but it makes great wine.  Anyone who eats mushrooms or yogurt should be able to handle a little fungus being involved in the production of their wine.  As I mentioned, these grapes all have to be hand-picked.  Pickers go through the vineyard & hand select the infected grapes, leaving the rest.  They will sometimes make 2 or 3 tries through the vineyard to get enough to make the wine.  That costs money, but it is worth it.  These are luscious wines with honey & jam & marmalade notes.  The cool thing about them is that they still have a backbone of acidity.  These wines last for decades & improve as they go.  Many people think of them as strictly dessert wines, but I prefer them with pâté or blue cheese.  I think that is one of the great wine pairings of all time.

I drank a bottle of Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux 1998 over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the 3rd day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  It was everything that I mentioned above & more.  La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”  I paid $38 for my bottle & I have seen it at around $60 online.  That’s pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things for a world class wine.

South Africa has been growing Chenin Blanc for centuries, but only relatively recently have they tried to make high quality wine with it.  Initially the grape was planted to produce brandy due to its ability to get a large crop with good sugar & still retain acid.  It also has good resistance to disease & wind.  Wind can be a real issue in South Africa & can cause transpiration issues.  In fact it wasn’t even known as Chenin Blanc until the 1960’s.  It was called Steen. Chenin is still the most planted grape in South Africa, but at around 18% of the total crop, it has fallen off quite a bit.

There is still plenty of over cropped bland Chenin Blanc produced in South Africa.  It is sometimes sold under a varietal name or blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & sold with a fanciful name.  These wines tend to have green fruit flavors with melon & mango.  They aren’t necessarily bad wines.  They just aren’t memorable.

Since the 1990’s there has been a revolution in quality at the top end of the spectrum for South African wines.  Growers have been encouraged to reduce yields.  Top producers like De Trafford, Morgenhof, & Anura (my favorite) are using old vines to make big bold Chenin Blancs that can last as much as 10 years.

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Most top quality producers have air conditioned production facilities.  Some Chenin is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  Some producers ferment at least a portion of their Chenin in French or American oak barrels.  These barrels are in cold rooms due to the heat in South Africa combined with the heat of fermentation. Some Chenin is fermented in stainless steel & then aged in barrel for up to 24 months.

These wines show more tropical fruit than the wines of the Loire due to the warmer climate. Melon, mango, pineapple, & grapefruit are common flavors.  The wines that are fermented or aged in barrel will show the toast or nut notes from the oak.  American oak seems to be a current favorite.  It adds coconut flavors that work well with the other tropical flavors in the wines.

South African Chenin Blanc does not yet show the aging potential of Loire Chenin.  Unoaked Chenin in South Africa, which ranges from sweet to dry generally, is drinkable for 1-3 years.  The oaked Chenin usually is good for 3-5 years, but there are some examples that work for 10 years.

Chenin Blanc in South Africa generally does not show botrytis notes.  The heavy winds and arid climate make it unlikely for the fungus to survive in most of the wine region.

Though the wines are very different, both South Africa & the Loire produce high quality Chenin Blanc.  The next time you feel the need to satisfy your ABC desires, try a Chenin Blanc.  It could be your new favorite.

 

 

 

Australian wine lacks regional identity

27 Apr

Recently I was asked to answer the question “How important is regional identity in the Australian wine industry?.”  The quick answer is “not very darn important.”  A somewhat longer answer is below.

Irvine's Gold Medal Australian Burgundy.  Not from Burgundy.

Irvine’s Gold Medal Australian Burgundy. Not from Burgundy.

While sommeliers & WSET students may debate the difference between Clare Valley & Eden Valley Rieslings, in general regional identity has not been particularly important to the Australian wine industry.  I believe that there is currently an effort to change that, although it is uncertain yet whether it will succeed.

The history of Australia up until recently does not show an interest in regional identity as a marketing tool, & little evidence of it as a wine making tool.  Instead Australian wineries have focused on varietal expression & clever marketing.

Australia is known more as an exporter of wine than a drinker of wine.  Australia ranks around #6 in wine production, but around #19 in per capita consumption (40% of what is produced).  While personal consumption has been a factor all along, export of wine to England was a driver in the growth of the Australian wine industry.  Due to the length of the journey from Australia to England, it became common to fortify the wines.  This meant that quantity rather than varietal characteristic or base wine quality became the most important factor for growers & producers. Despite the 1870’s devastation of the local industry by Phylloxera, by the 1920’s-1930’s Australia actually sold more wine to England than France did (due in part to favorable import duties).  At its height, fortified wine was about 70% of total wine production in Australia.  It has now fallen to around 2%.

If region was a marketing factor in most of Australia’s wine history, it was someone else’s region.  Many of the fortified wines were sold as “Australian Port.”  Many wineries, including Penfolds sold wine under an Australian Burgundy label despite the wines not being from Burgundy & not including one grape of Pinot Noir.  Penfolds actually included Hunter Valley on the label while still calling the wine Burgundy, which is a step towards actual regional identification I guess, but a very small one.

Penfold's Australian "Burgundy"

Penfold’s Australian “Burgundy”

My favorite of those labels is probably Emu Brand, which features an emu on it; not something you would expect to see on real Burgundy. Great Western wine, also called Irvine’s Great Western Wine started in the 1880’s as primarily a “Champagne” house & produced “Champagne” & “Burgundy” for years in Australia.

Emu Brand Burgundy

Emu Brand Burgundy

 

As market conditions changed, it became impossible to use another region’s name if you wanted to sell your wine in Europe.  That meant that marketing for Australian wines had to change.  Varietal labeling has become the most popular way to label wines in the New World including Australia.  That has fit well with Australia’s winemaking focus on technique & varietal expression over terroir.  Another marketing response to the European Union requirements has been to designate most of the wine growing regions in Australia as one large region called the South Eastern Australia Zone, which covers much of the states of Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Nearly 95% of all Australian vineyards fall in the South Eastern Australia Zone and can be blended together even if the vineyards are hundreds of miles apart.   The EU requires that varietally labeled wine be labeled with an officially recognized region.

While wine production began in Australia almost as soon as the first settlers arrived from England, the history of great wine in Australia probably begins with Max Schubert & Penfolds Grange (originally Penfolds Grange Hermitage in yet another misappropriation of a region’s name).  When Schubert set out to create a wine that could go toe to toe with the best Bordeaux he chose Shiraz as his grape.  Specifically he chose the best Shiraz he could find from 2 or 3 vineyards.  Penfolds has followed this strategy over the years by picking the best fruit from the vineyards that they feel will produce the best wine for that year.  They seldom use the exact same mix of vineyards two years in a row.  The eventual success of Grange demonstrated two things to the Australians, first that they could make world class wine, & second that they could produce quality wine to a formula rather than waiting for Cistercian monks to demarcate the best spots for grapes over generations.

The big wine companies took this idea & ran with it.  Big brands like Hardy’s, Lindeman’s , & later [Yellowtail] took advantage of their technological prowess, mechanization, & low production costs compared to many regions, to produce technically solid varietal wines at lower prices than much of the competition.  The Australian industry worked well together as the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia to promote Australian wines.  In 1996 they produced an ambitious plan dubbed Strategy 2025.  Its goal was to see Australian wine be the leading wine imported into the United States by 2025.  They actually achieved that milestone in 2005!

Strategy 2025 was almost too successful.  It led to overproduction of cheap wine & caused the Australian industry to go through a huge boom & bust period that involved the sale or bankruptcy of major wineries & the pulling up of vines.  That said, it was still an amazing success & it was predicated on Australian wine as a whole.  It established in the consumer’s mind that Australia produced delicious oaked Chardonnay’s, & powerful Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignons (or blends of those two).  Some additional varietals like Grenache/Syrah/Mouvedre blends, Merlot, or Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc managed to come along for the ride, but those were the forefront.  They were not tied to region.  Barossa Valley became known for Shiraz, but only to those who paid attention.  To the vast majority of buyers, Australian wine was (& is) good, cheap, & often had a cute animal on the label.

The truth is that there was always a plan to differentiate by region.  The original plan called for “Brand Champions” to be wines of broad appeal to the market base, they were followed by Generation Next” wines designed to appeal to new drinkers with marketing & packaging to attract the newest generation of wine drinkers.  These were to be followed by “Regional Heroes” & “Landmark Australia” which would focus on regional diversity & aspirational drinkers respectively.  Unfortunately these last two categories got somewhat lost in the crush of critter wines.  Now the marketing group is trying to reintroduce Australia to the wine world, but it is hard to change the image of Australia that the cheap wines have set.  The saying is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression & Australia is discovering that to be true.

Wine growers in Australia are learning more & more about the terroir of different regions.  They are producing some exquisite single vineyard wines that are an expression of regional identity.  Unfortunately right now, they are in the minority & the identity on Australian wine is still defined by Lindeman’s Bin 65 & [Yellowtail] blends across a broad region rather than any regional identity.