Friday, October 14, 2011

Here is an excellent blog about wine clubs by the Wine Curmudgeon:

Wine clubs and what their success says about the wine business

I have plenty of opinions about this and could drone on about it for quite awhile, but my main thoughts are below...

Third party wine sales are coming under attack and the space is evolving rapidly.  Zagats, NYTimes and others are having their business models analyzed by State Liquor Authorities as they do not hold Retail licenses, yet they take money in.  California has or is ruling on what they call third-party marketing, New York is trying to update their liquor codes as I write this, and Groupon has had to move away from offering wine discounts (they are deemed too close to the transaction).

There are many serious complexities and inconsistencies in wine sales and distribution laws and codes and plenty of 'scofflaws' out there ignoring those laws.  I find it interesting that NJ is one of the states that doesn't allow direct to consumer sales from wineries, yet some of the internets largest wine sales come from that state!?!?

Interesting times right now, there will continue to be many fits and starts in this battle but eventually the consumer and producer will get their share of power in this equation...Right now the battle is being waged in back rooms with lawyers and executives of giant corps (Diageo, Southern, Heineken...) and State Authorities.

Monday, March 21, 2011

European Wine Consumption vs. other Countries

For several years I have heard murmurings about the decline in wine consumption by Europeans, especially in France and Spain. Here are some recent numbers which illustrate the pain European wine industries are going through:

Wine consumption in Italy, as in other traditional European producer countries such as France and Spain, has fallen from 37 million hectolitres of at the end of the 1980s to less than 25 millions today (-30% in 20 years). On the contrary, new consumption is growing in other areas: United Kingdom (+94% compared to 20 years ago), USA (+47%), Russia (+63%) and China (+160%).

This puts increased pressure on all wine producing countries as Spain, France and Italy produce huge amounts of wine that are pushed through the economy.

VinItaly & Noble Wines

VinItaly starts in a couple of weeks and I am starting to get some press releases from them on occasion. The most recent one speaks to what I have been preaching for a long time, promoting the culture and noble qualities of wine and the benefits of small producers and their connection to those two important concepts. A small excerpt is below from the release.

How can the Italians be encouraged to drink wine again?” Boscaini asks the question but also
provides the answer: "We need a communication policy that explains the naturalness and benefits of
wine as a noble product of our most ancient traditions."

Giuliano Dell’Orto suggests a few, highly effective rules that are especially valid for the
small companies representing the backbone of Italian production that cannot implement major
investments despite playing an important role in promoting the excellence and wealth of the
extraordinary, broad and high-quality offering that is the fullest expression of that genius loci which

is the exclusive heritage of Italy:
• focus on the distinctive features of the company;
• define a set of appropriate and effective tools for correct communication;
• create a unifying and easily recognised brand language;
• rationalise the offering portfolio in harmony with the culture of the company and well-
organised in relation to the needs of consumers;
• make sure that products are communicated in an effective manner through packaging that
highlights their specific character.

"Communication," Chiara Lungarotti, President of the Wine Tourism Movement, explains "is
particularly a problem for the many small producers entering the market over the last ten-
fifteen years that today need recognisability, visibility and positioning on the market." For all of
them, "wine tourism may well be of great help in terms of promotion and communication because it
improves awareness of product quality for Italian and foreign tourists alike."

Friday, February 11, 2011

2009 Maison Champy Burgundy

The 2009 vintage in both Burgundy and Bordeaux have gotten some great press lately and the Burgundies are in the process of being bottled and then shown to buyers throughout the world. I spent the better part of an afternoon in January tasting through the wines of Maison Champy at a very cool new(ish) restaurant in Soho called Lure. At the tasting was Pierre Meurgey the President of the Maison. He indicated to me that some of his wines are now Domaine...meaning his company owns the vineyards and that beginning next year it will indicate that on the label. For now I will indicate which wines are Domaine in my little notes below.

As with all the 2009 Burgundy, the whites are soft and ready, in general this is a Red Wine Vintage in Burgundy.
Prices are approximate
The Whites:
  • Bourgogne Chardonnay - a touch chubby, ripe red apple notes, some waxy feel in the palate and a very vague sense of minerals - ~16
  • Vire Clesse - fairly simple, the Bourgogne is as good, shows a touch of heat - ~17
  • Saint Romain - decent minerals and citrus, rich palate very long finish, very pretty with some decent tannins - ~28
  • Meursault - not typical of Meursault, soft and pretty but lacking in fruit and character, citrus tannins in finish and coating the teeth - ~52.50
  • Meursault les Grands Charrons - this is a big for only $2.50 a bottle more than the above Meursault! Green and red apple notes and a hint of flint...long and mouthwatering, makes you want more - ~55
  • Meursault Blagny 1er Cru - minerals first, then fruit aromas, sour patch citrus in the finish, showing more character right now than the les Cras - ~80
  • Meursault les Cras 1er Cru - pretty closed right now but powerful in the palate with nice apple core and lemon/lime in the palate and finish - ~80
  • Chassagne-Montrachet - decent power & fruits with a small touch of minerals/soil notes - ~50
  • Puligny-Montrachet - a bit too gentle and elegant, lacking in character - ~50
  • Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru - wow! rich but with a nice sensitivity and elegance, stone fruits, a touch of red apple and pear - ~128.75
Now for the Reds:
*note... some of the reds are barrel samples and will be bottled in late March or later and the cepage (blend) might change a touch.
I also tasted a few 2008 wines and was able to compare the 2008 Pommard vs the 2009 and took this picture to illustrated the difference:

  • Bourgogne Rouge - ripe, good clean pinot fruit with a hint of spice, quite charming - ~19
  • Domaine Chorey-les-Beaune - earthy dark berry notes with some forest floor, raspberry seed aromas with very good balance and length - ~27 (this is one of the stars of the tasting, & a very good value)
  • Domaine Savigny-les-Beaune - similar to the chorey with brighter berry/cherry notes and a touch more earth, needs food and age to excel - ~28
  • Domaine Savigny-les-Beaune aux Fourches - elegant and classy, cherry stone notes, big sticky tannins in palate and finish - a bit clunky - ~32.50
  • Domaine Beaune Vieilles Vignes - closed at first very soft and gentle palate, velvet richness, complex and excellent combination of fruit and soil - ~28 (another star of the tasting and another great value)
  • Domaine Pommard - fair, nice long spicy with deep berry finish, lacks character though, big palate, intense finish - needs more elegance - ~45
  • Pernand-Vergelesses les Fichots 1er Cru - almost rhone in style, deep and spicy aromas, good grip and acidity helps tame this - ~?
  • Domaine Volnay - I found this a bit clumsy for Volnay, lacks the typical finesse of Volnay, long and complex finish, might just need some time to evolve (also the blend might change a bit when bottled) - ~45
  • Savigny-les-Beaune les Clous 1er Cru - good character fo the price better value than the Volnay or Pommard - ~45
  • Beaune les Champs Pimont 1er Cru - far more interesting and elegant than the les Clous, clean, bright cherry notes, long with plenty of soil/terroir notes in finish - ~45
  • Beaune aux Cras - cran/orange in a nice way, some pepper spice, airy palate, clean but kinda quick finish - ~47.50
  • Pommard les Grands Epenots 1er Cru - bit boring, nice but...too tannic? - ~82.5
  • Domaine Volnay les Taillepieds 1er Cru - pretty closed right now but showing lots of potential, very pretty palate, structured and finessed with big, long tannins - ~65
  • Corton Grand Cru - kinda clumsy for Corton, but the price is pretty reasonable - ~76
  • Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes - actually pretty good, rich but balanced with pepper spice, dark cherry and a bit of berry - big wine - ~50
  • Chambolle-Musigny - boring - ~52.50
  • Vosne-Romanee - so what - ~52.50
  • Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux Saint Jacques 1er Cru - big and full, fairly clumsy, dark and brooding...a touch too much oak - ~87.50
  • Gevrey-Chambertin les Cazetiers 1er Cru - spice, dark cherry, some wet leaf and mineral notes, quite good pinot, very long...does very well in this line-up - ~87.50
  • Vosne-Romanee les Suchots 1er Cru - good fruit with a touch of oak, decent but... - ~100
  • Echezaux Grand Cru - pretty boring aromas, but lush velvety palate, the nose must be closed right now, should be interesting to see how this evolves and if the winemaker blends in wines that add a bit of brighter aromas - ~162.50
  • Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru - kinda thin, not much in nose either, great example of an appellation being overpriced and over hyped - ~170
  • Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru - better than above by still a touch short, rich and dark berry/cherry with spice - ~162.50
  • Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru - this was a touch maderized, showed a bit of oxygen abuse, great palate though (found out from Pierre that the wine was shipped here from barrel that needed to be topped off, but they didn't as that would have made the wine taste too sulfured) - ~170

Monday, February 7, 2011

Côtes du Rhône blind in VT Feb 2011

One of the great problems with wine is a lack of information to base one's purchases on. The Côtes du Rhône stands as a classic example of that. The appellation of Côtes du Rhône includes many different climates and soils and therefore plenty of variety in grapes grown and styles of wines. Add to that the Côtes du Rhône Villages, of which there are currently 17 villages allowed to append their name to the CdR (Côte du Rhône) name and usually charge a bit more for the wines.

The reason I am writing this now is two-fold, to help me flesh-out a new wine article, and because of a recent blind tasting I was subjected to. As an Advanced Sommelier and Master Sommelier Candidate (means I'm allowed to attempt the exam every few years), I am often used as a sort of party entertainer. People will bring foiled wines and test my abilities. So while in Southern Vermont for a ski this past weekend I was subjected to a foil covered wine courtesy of a few Mount Snow Patrolmen. My first attempt was the right one, but naturally I waffled and offered some other possibilities. I thought the wine in question was a Grenache based Côtes du Rhône. It turned out to be a 2007 Coudoulet du Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône from the famed Château du Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Coudoulet vineyard is across the road (A7) from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, hence the Côtes du Rhône designation. But the wine is produced from the same grapes (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault) as found in many CdP's (short for Châteauneuf-du-Pape as I am tired of typing it). As a good wine professional, I was also prepared for the evenings dinner with some wines I brought along, one of which was also a Côtes du Rhône. But the 2008 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône was produced in a much different style, Saint Cosme is known for the wines it produces in the northern Rhône as well as the Southern Rhône (where Châteauneuf-du-Pape hails), and while their CdR is from vineyards near CdP, the wine is 100% Syrah (only red grape allowed in Northern Rhône).

In summary, two very different wines and at that, two very different prices. It turns out that while the Coudoulet was very good (maybe a bit young still), the Saint Cosme was easily as good and for my palate and some other guests, the better wine that particular evening. Price for the Saint Cosme; about $14, price for the Coudoulet du Beaucastel; about $30. I personally thought both wines were well worth upwards of $24. So the name of the Beaucastel and the vintage being the exceptional 2007 makes one pay a bit of a premium, nothing wrong with that as long as the buyer understands such as well as the difference between the styles of each wine. Both showed notes of spice and dark berries but the Saint Cosme had a bit more balance and black pepper notes that Syrah shows when the grapes don't get too ripe. Given that the Coudoulet has a good amount of Mourvédre, it too was nicely balance but with more weight and alcohol notes surrounding the spice and fruits.