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.
A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refreshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.
Riesling is a perfect hot weather drink as it is extremely refreshing, while still very fruit driven. The acidity and lower alcohol are a perfect match for quenching your wine thirst. Even when served ultra cold, Riesling’s layers of fruit and minerality can show through.
One to try is the Schmitt Sohne Thomas Schmitt Riesling QBA 2007. At $15, this wine is perfect for summer. Great acidity with ripe peach fruit backed by some good mineral notes. Fruity but crisp & a good, strong finish. Great for hot nights and/or spicy fare.
Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is, 'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing! In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz. The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.
Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France. Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal. Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular. Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines. Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.
French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône. Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines. Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.
The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre. In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother. Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.
Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region. Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon). These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity. The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines. The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?
You may have seen huge bottles in restaurants and wine stores and thought ‘There’s got to be a name for those bottles, other than Really Big Bottles.’ And there are. Pretty cool names, too.
A few numbers: A standard bottle holds 750mL and is the most common bottle size you will see.
A magnum holds 1.5 liters or 2 bottles
After the magnum, the names of bottle sizes come from the names of kings noted in the Old Testament.
Jeroboam Bottle – 3 liters/4 bottles in Champagne & Burgundy (as well as most New World). In Bordeaux this size is called a Double Magnum. King – After the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led a revolt against Rehoboam and became King of a newly independent kingdom of Israel.
Rehoboam Bottle – 4.5 liters/6 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called a Jeroboam, just to confuse you). King – King of Judea after the death of his father, Solomon.
Methuselah Bottle – 6 liters/8 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called Imperiale). King – Here is an exception, as Methuselah is not a king, but rather the oldest man cited in the Bible at 969 years old.
Salmanazar Bottle – 9 liters/12 bottles King – King of Assyria, also known as Shalmaneser. Mentioned in 2 Kings, Chapter 17.
Balthazar Bottle – 12 liters/16 bottles King – In the Book of Daniel, King Belshazzar (or Balthazar) was the last king of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar Bottle – 15 liters/20 bottles King – King of Babylon (before Balthazar) who conquered and exiled many Jews. Also built the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon). Seen here in painting by William Blake.
There are larger bottles said to be out there – Melchior for 24 bottles and Sovereign for 34 bottles. These are very rare.
The largest wine bottle made so far was commissioned by Morton’s Steakhouse in 2004. At 4.5 feet tall, the bottle held 130 liters (173 bottles, 1200 glasses) of wine. The wine itself was Beringer Vineyards 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Does reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway? Thankfully, there is a method to the madness. The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like. Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like.