Category Archives: Industry News

ZAP 2011

Went to the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) grand tasting two weekends ago. This is the huge Zinfandel tasting that takes up 2 whole buildings in San Francisco's Fort Mason every year. Now this is an event which draws thousands of people and it can be a bit of a madhouse. There are so many producers showing that it can be hard to get a handle on which to taste. My strategy was to hit some of the ones I have liked in the past, yet try to taste some new ones as well. I tend to like the Russian River Valley and Mendocino and Napa Zins, along with the more restrained Dry Creek Valley producers. The reason is I like wines that have some acidity and balance to the fruit.

So I spent 4 hours there and here are some highlights, I won't bother describing the low points. From the wineries whom I am already familiar, I loved the whole Ridge lineup, in this case all 2009 Barrel samples. They were all good, but what really popped to me  was the Paganni Ranch, really fantastic. The fruit for that wine had a super zingy and blast of red fruits, but balanced.  Moving on to Ravenswood, I loved the barrel samples of the Old Hill and Teldeschi (year after year my favorites), these are cellar zins, which need a few years to combine the rather firm structure and loveley elegant and powerful fruit. On to Hartford where the Jolene's and Highwire were literally jumping out of the glass with their textbook Russian River character. Here we have high acidity and very vibrant brambly red fruits and spices. Over at Deloach the OFS was sprightly and again full of the RRV fruit I love so much, sadly they were not showing many of their smaller lot zins. Novy was  showing some gorgeous easy to drink wine. A producer whom I have never tasted before, Gamba really excited me with big yet balanced and wonderful wines. Seghesio as usual had some big boned yet wonderful wines. For me the Cortina and Home Ranch really rocked.  From Napa I loved the almost Claret like Chateau Montelena. Easton another producer whom I like showed a wonderful Shenandoah wine, and Claudia Springs rocked my world with all their lineup.  Another new to me producer was Bedrock, who had a wonderful wine and Gundlach Bundschu was showing some fine form as well.

Anyhow, there were actually many more who I enjoyed, and it seemed to me that many producers were pulling back from some of the port-like monsters.. although there were still many of these producers and they have many fans, just not me. I really feel that people who don't look that deeply into the world of zin are missing something, because they can be such joyful and exhuberant wines. Zap was great.

Why lighter bottles matter

It’s happened to most of us – we grab the bottle, sure there is some wine left to pour into our glass, only to find out that it is empty. Yet it weighs as much as some full bottles. Why? Why is it necessary to put wine in such a heavy bottle? bottleMost wine bottles weigh about a pound. In the past decade, certain wineries and winemakers bottled their wines in much heavier bottles, some up to four pounds. The move may have been to indicate higher quality wines – heavier bottles, deeper punts, and you know our wine is top-notch. Yet nothing about thicker, heavier glass is better for the wine (unless you’re drinking Champagne). Some of the most age-worthy Bordeaux are packaged in much lighter bottles than some California Cabernet. But the trend is changing due to some heavy bottle backlash.

In 2008, both Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke, two highly regarded wine writers and experts, blasted the heavy bottle trend, noting its environmental irresponsibility. Heavy bottles have a much higher carbon footprint, adding to shipping weight and glass waste in the world. Luckily, in an effort to be more green, wineries are taking note and making the move to lighter bottles.

There is also a move by some producers into alternative packaging. You’ll see more tetra packs, bag-in-box wines and PET bottles coming into the market.

So take notice of which producers are packaging your wines in ultra-heavy bottles. If you don’t like it – let them know. Which wineries do you know of that are using lighter bottles for their wines?

Cork vs. Screw Cap debate goes environmental

This week’s wine news delivered news related to the $22 million marketing campaign by the cork industry.  The first, a press release from 100%Cork.org, boasted the sharp rise of fans on their Facebook page – over 15,000 – confirming their preference for natural
cork.

Second story I read, from the Telegraph in the UK, touted the end of cork forests and the destruction of the Iberian Lynx due to consumers’ use of screw cap (and plastic closures) over natural cork. They also claimed that the consumer’s desire for convenience has led to the rise of screw caps and plastic closures rather than the fact that cork can be a faulty closure (more on that later). 

I was a bit surprised to read these as I figured when the cork industry decided to fight back, they would herald new industry practices to reduce the occurance of cork taint. Yet neither talked about that as a reason to prefer cork… instead they told consumers to demand natural cork in order to save the Iberian lynx… wait, what? 

The first article, from the UK’s Telegraph, is titled: “Screw cap wine blamed for loss of forest in new campaign to revive traditional cork,” with a sub-heading claiming “The fashion for screw cap wines among the middle classes is destroying forests and could lead the to the extinction of one of the world’s rarest wildcats, ecologists claim.” Um, can you say scare tactic? I am all in favor of preserving the environment, and I would be happy to continue to purchase wines with corks (which I do when I have to), but I’m certainly not going to demand the closure until something is done to fix the problem of cork taint.

I know that corks are take less energy to produce, are much easier to recycle, are biodegradable and are much more earth friendly. I am also aware that cork forests are integral to natural wildlife and I have no wish contribute to their destruction. But being told that buying a bottle of wine in a screw cap is in fact doing just that… well, it’s just plain dumb. Dr. Vino’s blog yesterday pointed out this fact in a much more amusing way…

The emergence of screw caps on quality wine was a result of poor quality corks and the prevalence of TCA, or cork taint. Some say that the movement to screw caps started in Australia and New Zealand because, as the newer wine regions, they were getting the bottom-of-the-barrel corks and had more issues with TCA. Whatever the reason, the screw cap was widely adopted by winemakers wishing to preserve their wine, and has increasingly been embraced by the consumer. And I seriously doubt, as the UK article claims, that they embraced it only for convenience sake. 

If you look at the numbers, the cork industry claims TCA is in 1-2 percent of all corks, while other estimates range from 1 to 15 percent. Percentages are hard to garner, too, since individual thresholds for TCA vary. My husband and I are very sensitive to cork taint and sadly find that about one out of every 12 bottles we open is corked. That’s one bottle per case. Not all consumers find this, often because they are unable to detect a corked wine – cork taint is a continuum, and at its lowest, the wine can just be muted rather than smelly, and customers may just think they are drinking a mediocre bottle of wine. Winemakers and wineries fed up with the consumer not receiving the product they had put in the bottle turned to alternative closures.

Now, I am NOT a fan of synthetic corks. And I know screw caps have their own issues, but what other industry do you know that allows an average 5% (and I’m figuring low here in my experience) failure in its products? When you purchase your wine, you should be assured that what you are getting is what the winemaker or winery intends for you to have. I realize that wine is a living thing and it evolves and changes in the bottle. But changes that come from a cork do not always improve the wine. Sometimes they destroy it.

I am a supporter of being green and doing our part to protect the environment and wildlife, but am disappointed at the cork industry’s method of promoting their product. Instead of warning consumers that they are destroying an ecosystem when choosing wines not finished in natural cork, how about telling us what strides they’ve made in fixing the TCA problem. Work on that first. Then we can move on to save the earth.

6th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries Event

09100 wineries plus one 110-pound woman equals one enormous challenge.  Wednesday night oenophiles packed the Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center for the 6th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries event.  I wish I could say I tried everything, but with so many wines, I am ashamed to say that I only scratched the surface.  But, if anyone has ever had crème brûlée, the surface can be pretty sweet.
The event was in full swing by the time I arrived and grabbed my Riedel glass. I swiped a map of the layout and planned my attack.  Knowing that time and body weight, rather than gusto, were going to be my limitations, I decided to try two of every category.  I was able to stick with that plan, more or less, and leave the place sober and content.  Luckily, t he wineries were arranged by category and each category arranged in a logical tasting order.  

One unexpected highlight was disgorging my own bottle of sparkling wine. Movia’s winemaker Alec Kristancic was on hand to show me how.  Movia’s Puro sparkler comes with the lees still in the bottle, so upside down storage is necessary.  I was a bit nervous for my fellow attendees and not sure they knew what I was doing, I sure didn’t.  But all projectiles landed safely in a water bucket and I spilled only a little bit (ok, ok, I did spill some on the table).  I am not sure how I would do this at home because he uses a special tool to rest the cork in while you turn the upside-down bottle slowly.  Once it pops you quickly turn the bottle upright and there you have it!  

In the interests of time and space here are my favorites in several categories:

Sparkling: Schloss Gobelsberg NV Brut Reserve (Austria)

Not only do they make phenomenal Gruner Veltliner still wines, but they also make this sparkling wine made by the traditional méthode champenoise, complete with hand riddling.  The wine is made from 70% Gruner Veltliner and accompanied by Pinot Noir and Riesling.  Subtle aromas of crushed stones and slight citrus notes preceded a disarmingly smooth mouth-feel.

Crisp Whites
: Boutari Santorini 2008 (Greece)

Made with 100% Assyrtiko, Boutari’s Santorini is a steal at around $20.  I really enjoyed the unique aroma.  The rep hit the nail on the head and pinned down the aroma as that of oxidized fruit.  Think of the aroma of an apple or pear that’s been sliced and left out in the air.  I didn’t find it particularly acidic or crisp, but then again, I think it was served a bit warm.  At a cooler temperature I think the acidity would have jumped out a bit more.

Rich Whites
: E. Guigal Condrieu 2007 (France)

This wine does not need any alcohol to be intoxicating. Honeysuckle, orange blossoms and a hint of spiced bread predominated. Weighty without being heavy handed, it’s a luxurious wine.

Pinot Noir
: Louis Jadot Corton-Grèves Grand Cru 2007 (France)

One winemaker for 150 labels?  Yes, Jacques Lardière has the privilege of this Herculean task.  His rep at the event said he exudes energy and passion.  She described how at harvest he is a man possessed and even over the telephone she can hear his anxiousness to get off the phone and get back to work.  And what a marvelous fruit his labor bore. Possessing a gorgeous ruby red color, aromas of tart red fruit and the subtle scent of smoke and cloves hovering in the background. Good thing for Jacques, at the end of his work, he created something worthy of quite contemplation.

Rhone Family
: Delas-Frères Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette 2005 (France)

Hermitage truly is a beast and I mean that as a compliment.   Spicy, tannic and just plain immense, this wine should really come in a bigger bottle.  Black fruit and pepper lead the way to long and sumptuous finish.

Cabernet Family
Henschke Eden Valley Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Australia)

This was a bit of a preview, as the wine is not yet available.  A phenomenal year for Australian wines, Eden Valley is more known for Riesling than Cabernet.  This particular hillside is planted with old vine Cabernet and small strips of Cabernet Franc and Merlot for blending.  Cassis and pitted black fruit aromas prevailed. Most impressive was the mouth-feel, walking the razor thin edge between elegance and tannic, cellar worthy structure, I loved every second of it.  
Runner-up: Ridge Monte Bello 2005:  Straight-forward and precise.

Port
: Niepoort 1991 Porto Colheita (Portugal)

Simply delightful.  This wine was the life of the party and conveniently located next to the Brix Chocolate table.  Bright red fruit flavors melted away into a rich consistency.  

Sherry: Lustau Jerez-Xérès-Palo Cortado VOS 20 (Spain)

This dry sherry made me wonder why it’s so hard to find them.  Complex and refined, with incredible depth of color and flavor.  It reminded me of the smell of the ocean and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts. 

How has the economy affected your drinking habits?

 2 glasses
Wine Spectator recently released results from an online poll that asked: “What are you drinking now?” The responses reflected what the numbers have told us this past year as well: Consumers are abandoning the higher-priced or hard-to-get bottles and going for value. This typically means under $20, often under $15, occasionally under $10, but all with the same goal – To find that sweet spot where quality meets value.

We recently noted that this trend of consumers buying at lower price points has in fact brought prices down on some more spendy wines. We even added an option on our site to search by savings since some of the deals are so crazy good.

Now we want to hear what changes you’ve made – give us some stories and specifics. Have you sacrificed a $20 bottle for a $10 one? Switched grapes? Regions? Producers? Trying lots of new things?

This is what we want to know – What are you drinking and why? We’ll include some of your responses in our Wine Club Newsletter.