All posts by Wilfred Wong

New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Center Stage

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For 50 years, the wine industry has been bringing Sauvignon Blanc to the world as one of the best food wines one can serve. A very distinctive varietal, with historical roots that go deep into the Bordeaux and Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc was always meant to go with food. Oysters, mussels, crab and other joys for the sea are just so much better when this match is brought out to the dining room. What makes this wine so enjoyable?

While other varietals are often served due to their easy-drinking style, Sauvignon Blanc demands food service. Why? One word: acidity. Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic variety. It is also high in acid. What does acid do? Makes our mouth water of course. Therefore, matching that acidity with food is the most ideal way to bring out the undertones and other nuances of Sauvignon Blanc. The meal does not have be fancy, it just as to be good. Classic matches such as linguine with clams, raw oysters on the half-shell and grilled mussels are always a hit with most anyone who enjoys food and wine together. Over the past 2 decades, Sauvignon Blanc has taken center stage, and no where has claimed the grape so uniquely as New Zealand. Grapefruit and grass, gooseberry and green pepper, an array of aromatics jump out of your glass.

Over the last decade, I have found a treasure trove of pleasure that the Kiwis have happily sent into the marketplace and now drink these wines on a daily basis. While I still long for Sauvignon Blanc from France, Chile and the USA, I am incredibly grateful that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are so available to wine lovers everywhere. One of my current favorites is the 2014 Cloudy Bay; it is a super standout!

So pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc today, on #SauvignonBlancDay and enjoy!

Malbec: Did I find God in the vineyards?

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Did I find God in the vineyards? That must have happened because I can’t even explain it normal terms. On January 16, 2012, in a little town called La Consulta, my colleagues (Thane, Neil, Peter, Brett) and I tasted something magical. We flew in from the US on a Tour de Argentina and Chile to meet with some of those countries’ superstar winemakers. But no moment of this trip was greater than the time with we spent with Karim Mussi Saffie, Proprietor and Winemaker of Altocedro in La Consulta, Mendoza. The plan was to check out the winery, the vineyards, taste wines, eat food and drink, but what transpired was more than we had expected.

It began innocently enough, I had already spent many quality moments with Karim in previous (both in the United States and in Argentina) we even rode horses together once in the Andes. Now we were here. At one moment, Karim was looking at me with his intricate and sometimes devilish grin. I had no idea what he was up to but knew he was super excited to pour this wine for me. I was just taking notes and photographing everything in sight. Then he served it: The 2009 Altocedro Gran Reserva Malbec. My brain spun into another space and time. I found myself in a corridor of Bordeaux varieties. Where was I? In the Médoc, the Napa Valley, Walla Walla Washington? The wine’s intense dark fruits and sweet earth took Malbec to another level. When I came back, I just saw Karim grinning from ear to ear. This is only an example of where a good Malbec can take you.

Where is Malbec going? For decades it was known mostly as the grape from Cahors. More learned wine folks also knew the grape from the Southwest of France, where it is called, Côt. But as the world spins, most consumers saw Malbec as that “value” red wine from Argentina. If one just needed a Cabernet-like wine in the $10 to $20 range, Argentina Malbec was the answer. But somewhere in the night the grape was screaming, “There is more to my existence than being the wine at cocktail parties and barbecues.” Yes, in addition to being a great value red wine, Malbec has scaled the mountain to become one of the world’s great varietals.  It takes the Bordeaux blends from the region to a new level, producing wine that is complex and balanced. Age-worthy? Definitely – just check out an older vintage from Catena.  Malbec has spoken. Enjoy it’s possibilities and most definitely taste the 2013 Altocedro Año Cero Malbec and get a glimpse of the Mussi magic!

Silver Oak Cellars and its Mastery of the Wine Universe

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Yeah, yeah, I know a few Bordeaux and Burgundy producers as well as somms and bloggers who will take issue with what I am about to say, but this is so true. I have tasted nearly every vintage of Silver Oak since the winery was founded in 1972 to be honest, I have not loved everything that they have done. I had to work through their formative decade in the ‘70’s as they, along with the rest of the wine world, attempted to grow beyond their respective neighborhoods. Now as we have reached the 10th vintage of the current decade, there is no question that Silver Oak Cellars has taken center stage on the prestigious platform of most important wines in the world.

Tomorrow, Saturday, February 7th, the winery is celebrating “Silver Oak 2010 Napa Valley Release Day.” Wine lovers worldwide have been looking forward and will not even be deterred by the rainfall that has been predicted. It will be a day of incredible fun that rivals Super Bowl Sunday for football fans. Incredible ambiance, some of the country’s best chefs and the main event- the 2010 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – will all be on stage for the wine world to experience.

You may be wondering, how did this happen? From the beginning, Silver Oak Cellar focused on perfecting Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the wine world’s most magnificent wine grapes. From that focus, they have turned into an industry icon. This was a process, like any business project. Target, focus and execution are the key elements that brought them to this pinnacle. The family knew the formula of producing the perfect depiction of an Alexander Valley and a Napa Valley Cabernet and they understood what the vineyards could produce and the flavors that would best represent those respected AVA’s. This is not to say that they have arrived for no one survives in the long term by resting on their laurels. When I meet with the Silver Oak team, I never get the feeling that they are satisfied. There is a reason why the winery’s annual Napa Valley Release Day is always sold out. Silver Oak Cellars may have mastery within the wine universe, but they continue to get better.

The 2010 Silver Oak Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet is rock solid. Shows elements of red and black fruit, with an accent of dried herbs and dust, at this youthful stage the oak is in the forefront. In time, this wine will settle down and be a really fine and classic drinking Cabernet. The wine world is full of opinions, but I defy anyone to say that they don’t enjoy a Silver Oak Cabernet. Silver Oak Cellars by any measurement is one of the world’s greatest Cabernet producers!

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!