All posts by Wilfred Wong

The Wayward Zin has come home…

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What did Zinfandel really want to be? Before the late 1960’s, California was all about cheap dessert wines- White Port, Tokay, Sauternes (skid road sweet wines). Only a handful of producers made varietal wines and they were largely limited to Chardonnay (then called Pinot Chardonnay) and Cabernet Sauvignon. When the first varietal revolution began in the late 1960’s, Zinfandel was in the mix. Ridge Vineyards produced their first Geyserville in 1966. Then Zinfandel took a strange turn and White Zinfandel, a semi-sweet blush wine took center stage. In the next varietal revolution (circa 1973), Zinfandel regained its position as an ultra-premium varietal and high quality producers introduced some of America’s greatest Zinfandels ever. The class of 1973 was remarkable and clearly put the varietal on the map. But its place in the world marketplace was met with mixed results. Old World fans and many in the restaurant trade decried the high alcohol of the wines (pushing 16%) and the world returned to the tried and true: Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. These were classic red wine varietals that would never become high octane monsters. Zinfandel was pushing its power and ripeness and bringing in a little heat along with it.

At the most recent ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) week, this past January, the organization put on the Zinfandel Experience to show the world Zinfandel as it is today and where it is going in the future. I participated in a trade/media and consumer event at ZAP, tasted over 120 wines (many more than once), spoke with vintners and consumers. The playing field has changed. The wines, though high in alcohol, were balanced and delicious. Vintners were passionate about producing wines that tasted great and were true to their AVA’s (American Viticultural Area). Upscale consumers were excited and enjoying the wines. On the trade/media panel I commented that alcohol should not influence you either way on how you will or not like a wine, it is all about balance and how it tastes. As I talked with the public, they were passionate, coherent and thrilled at the state of Zinfandel today.

I enjoyed so many wines at the tastings. Here are three in my top group that are available at Wine.com. The easy and super-rich ’12 Cline Ancient Vines is a perfect match with grilled pork ribs – but make sure the sauce is not too spicy. The sophisticated and red-fruited ’12 Ravenswood Dickerson calls for oven baked roast pork, with a savory red wine reduction sauce. The classic and brambly ’12 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine will pair well with a rosemary-accented leg of lamb. It is time to recognize that Zinfandel has come home and is waiting to pair with a fine meal with family and friends.

What is it with these wine competitions anyway?

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In the wine business, we all talk about O-N-D (October-November-December). Success or failure, the fourth quarter is a deciding factor, as we move wine fast. Yet like grape growing, business begins at the start of the New Year. Last week I participated in one of the largest wine competitions in the world- the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. With over 6,300 wines entered and more than 50 judges, divided into 19 panels, this event officially rang the bell for the beginning of the wine judging season. In the United States there are around 30 significant competitions and internationally there are at least half as much. Yet there is much confusion about wine competitions and if they really have an effect on the fortunes of wineries.

Over the last two decades, publications like Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, the Wine Advocate and Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (now Vinous), have become the gold standard. Consumers have become confident and accustomed to these publications, and rightly so; those magazines have done an excellent job in representing their genre. But what about wine competitions, do they offering anything to the consumer? Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals – what do those all mean?

Since the mid-1980’s I have judged in as many as 15 competitions in a year. I even ran one (Executive Director of the San Francisco Fair National Wine Competition 1987-1989). As a judge, we often taste as many as 200 wines in a given day and at the conclusion of all competitions, we anoint winners (typically with medals). In the marketplace, this sometimes plays very big and the winning wines see more sales.

This year, when I sat in my chair on panel #4 on the first work day of 2015, I was thinking, wow, we are already here judging wines. Welcome to 2015. I was joined by long time professionals Dr. Richard Peterson and John Schumacher. We had a blast judging together as we agreed to disagree. Our panel was nicely balanced with a wide variety of wine experiences between the three of us.

What is it with wine competitions anyway?
The industry recognizes the value of wine competitions on many fronts, the most important being that hundreds of thousands of wines get tasted blind by qualified wine professionals and that those awards get entered a the large pool called: Wine Marketing. For me, blind tastings keep my palate fresh and honest. Additionally, tasting with other professionals and networking with even more allows me to keep up to speed in the world of wine. Yes, wine competitions are important to all of us who love wine.  I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds through our facebook and twitter pages, so stay tuned!

My top five holiday wines

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What are the perfect wines to buy for holiday gifts? As all of you know, wine comes in different colors, flavors and price ranges.  So how hard can it be? If I were out there in consumer land, I’d be so confused. Marketing departments are putting their best foot forward and every wine sounds good. But some wines have a little more traction than others and some wines are more perfect for both the giver and the receiver. Below are my Top five holiday gift wines.

1. Acrobat by King Estate Oregon Pinot Gris, 2013: This is one of America’s best dry white wines in the $10-$15 range. Fresh and zippy, this wine has been well received by the marketplace. If you can’t spend a lot of $$$’s on a wine gift, this one is the ticket.

2. Chasseur Chardonnay Green Acres Hill, Sonoma Coast, 2011: I know some of you guys have some of those “wine geeks” on your list. They may be hoping for one of those $200.00+ low production trophy red wines, but get them this wine; it is a really cool winery, tiny production and would easily satisfy their curiosity. Retail about $60.

3. Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva, 2011. Every wine lover in America enjoys a good Argentine Malbec and this is one of the best. The winery is well known and has a great track record. Retail: Under $20.00

4. Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma County, 2012. From one of the most famous zinfandel families in Sonoma County, this wine explodes with all kinds of berries on the palate. Drinks well now. Perfect for that rascal on your list who like a big, bodacious red wine. Retail: around $20.00

5. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2010. Everyone who drinks California wines knows this winery. The 2010 is one of their best vintages in years. For a name this well-known, this wine is actually an affordable luxury. You will win with everyone on your list. Retail around $50.00

These are my Top five holiday gift wines. Hmm, I wonder what my wines I may get this year. I would be thrilled to get any or all of these five. Happy Shopping and keep following us, you can also fine us on Twitter @wine_com.

Wake up and taste the Tempranillo

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For decades, Spanish wines were second class citizens among top wine growing regions in the world. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhône Valley were the gold standard. All French appellations and all revered. The Spaniards, were not new to the party, they just never got the respect that they deserved. But some of it was their doing. Rioja and Ribera del Duero, two long-standing regions, simply never really addressed the international community. Rioja, used an incredible amount of American oak, one would have thought that coconut and dill were primary wine flavors.

Then came the 1990’s and top US importers like Jorge Ordonez and Eric Solomon sought out top producers and potential stars on the Iberian Peninsula and transformed this under-appreciated viticultural area and world began to notice. Today, one of Spain’s most notable varietals, Tempranillo, has become très chic amongst the wine cognoscenti. On Thursday, November 13, 2014, our team celebrated International #TempranilloDay and tasted a few of our favorites.

Tempranillo produces a red wine of elegance and style. While much of it is centered on Rioja and Ribera del Duero, the varietal has shown success in California and Argentina. Over the next two decades, Tempranillo will enjoy worldwide fame; the grape is so adaptable, and it is just a matter of time that we will see top offerings from more than just Spain. Seldom too tannic or extracted, this varietal has found great love amongst those who enjoy Pinot Noir and Merlot, an dis perfect for foodies who would like to taste their dishes along with the wine.

Three of my favorites are the fresh and fruity ’12 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Rioja (50% Garnacha Pais and 50% Tempranillo), the rich, yet fruit-forward ’09 Siglo Crianza Rioja (made from Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano) and the long and delicious ripe fruit, slightly oaked ’10 Vina Hermina Crianza Rioja (85% Tempranillo and 15% Granacha). Celebrate International Tempranillo Day! The varietal has grown by leaps and bounds.