Friday, September 30, 2011

Winemakers: Too Much Bad Syrah Hurt Sales

There is a joke in the wine world that goes something like this: ‘What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia?’

‘You can get rid of a case of pneumonia!’

Syrah sales have stagnated or dropped in the U.S. in recent years depending on how the research numbers are crunched. But everyone agrees Syrah never lived up to its ‘next-best thing’ potential.

Steve Cass
“Supermarket sales are down and you look and see Syrah sales are down,” said Steve Cass, Cass Winery, Paso Robles, CA. “But also take a look and you see Australian sales are down. There is a massive amount of Syrah or Shiraz (same grape) in this country going out at a fairly low price point. It’s not going out as premium wine.
“Our Syrah is our number-one selling red wine. I don’t think people are turned off by Syrah, maybe they’re turned off to cheap Syrah.”

Gary Eberle
California’s Syrah pioneer Gary Eberle agreed. “I think everybody is always looking for the new hot wine. When Merlot died I think everybody started looking for the next hot red wine and everybody jumped on Syrah. I just don’t think the consumer was ready for that much Syrah.”

Jason Hass of Tablas Creek Winery put numbers to the perception. “If you look at the planted acreage of Syrah over the course of the 1990s, 1992-2002, Syrah acreage went from just under 900 to more than 15,000 acres in California. Even though sales were growing really fast throughout that period there was just no way the market was going to absorb that much new Syrah.

“I don’t think you should confuse the fact there is extra Syrah on the market with the fact Syrah is not a varietal gaining popularity. It’s just a case of supply growing so fast it was going to overwhelm whatever demand was there any way.”

J.C. Diesenderfer
J.C. Diesenderfer, Hope Vineyards, said Syrah never found its market niche’. “We’re all really passionate about Syrah. We always felt Syrah was the next king of California. But it never found its spot. Syrah can be bright, mineral, soft and elegant. It can be a big bruiser. It can be anything in between.”
If you are a regular wine drinker you might recall grocery and liquor store shelves with plenty of Syrah. In recent months, you see far less Syrah or Shiraz. These prominent winemakers hit the nail right on the head during a seminar I attended last fall. The market was just flooded with cheap Shiraz, largely from Australia.

“I think Syrah does beautifully in Paso Robles,” Eberle said. “But I think Syrah does beautifully in a whole lot of different areas as well. In our tasting rooms we sell 1,000 cases of Syrah a year. There are people in this area making spectacular Syrah.

Terry Hoage
Then there is former NFL safety turned winemaker Terry Hoage who said Syrah sells when consumers are educated and they taste good Syrah. “I think it is a matter of education because it’s difficult for people to know what they’re getting. The largest hurdle we have to overcome in our industry is not dumbing down for the audience but making the audience feel comfortable that’s its ok to try new things. Push the envelope; just don’t go for a safe Cabernet. That is probably our biggest challenge.”

Howard’s Picks:
Central Coast Syrah is some of the best I’ve consumed. The winemakers quoted above all make incredible Syrah but at a higher price point ($20 and up) than I normally include in this column. There is plenty of Central Coast Syrah below $20 from makers like Qupe’. Washington State Syrah is often found at very reasonable prices with soft and balanced fruit.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Connorsville Becomes 18th Paper Carrying Column

Great news in this morning's email. The Connorsville New-Examiner becomes the 18th newspaper carrying Grape Sense, my newspaper column.

The News-Examiner's nearly 8,000 subscribers push the combined homes to 233,000 in Indiana and Illinois receiving the column in their hometown paper.

Editor Bob Hansen was swayed by friend Andrea Smithson, editor at the Shelbyville News. It's interesting that these small and mid-size community editors find out interest in wine and wine education exists where some might not expect to find it.

It's great to hit 18 newspapers as I approach my three-year anniversary writing the column. Now, I need to add two more and get it to 20!

Welcome aboard Connorsville and thanks Editor Hansen!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rose Not Just for the Porch Any More

I've been extolling the virtues of Dry Rose' since writing this blog. I keep finding new wines that excite me that scare people away. If' it's called Rose, folks, or if it is pink --- it is NOT a bad thing.

White Zinfandel, that of the pinkish hue, is enough to frighten anyone. But great dry Rose' is as far away from White Zinfandel as one can get.

Dry Rose' is enjoyed in the summer months. Many red wine drinkers find it more satisfying than white but still not quite the powerhouse of many reds.

Tuesday night I opened a Chateau de Pena - or Cuvee de Pena 2010 Rose. The wine is 60 percent Grenache and 40 percent Syrah. It's full flavored with a light touch. You'll get a little hint of strawberry, and maybe melon. What you will remember is how easy it is to drink and enjoy.
Don't be afraid to try Rose' with food. It will hold up to many lighter meals. Tonight I had some wonderfully simple Shrimp salad I picked up at an upper-scale market in Indianapolis. There was a very light dressing on fresh shrimp with herbs. I added a hunk of crusty bread and couldn't have been happier.

Oh, by the way did I mention this wine can be found around the $10 price point?

For those that find it important, the Cuve de Pena Rose comes from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It's just delightful. I'd give this wine a Highly Recommended!

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Something Different? Try a Cab Franc from Loire Valley

A little exploring with Cabernet Franc has provided satisfying results in recent weeks. I have read in national publications and blogs about the merits of Cab Franc from France's Loire Valley.
I've bought a couple and so far like most of them. My best experience to date was Cab Franc - from all places - upper state Michigan. My previous tastes of Cab Franc were mostly disappointing to down right awful.

So I've been buying some French Cab Franc and enjoying it. The Loire Valley is known mostly for it's white wines - Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. But it's also known for its bottlings of 100 percent Cabernet Franc.

Chinon is the Loire region for Cab Franc and about the only part of the region known for red wine grapes. The wines are known for acidity and spiced fruit flavors. I agree with the spiced fruit flavors but haven't found most of the Cab Francs I've consumed to be over-the-topic acidic.

Tonight I opened a bottle of Domaine du Grand Bouqueteau 2006 Chinon. It had the classic stinky nose of French Burgundy or Beaujolais - which I love. It was quite acidic and out-of-whack on opening but softened considerably with just a little bit of time.

It has pronounced fruit and an herbal quality I found pleasing. After decanting, or simply being open a while, it would be a fine sipper without food. I had the wine with a salt-n-peppered Ribeye and some veggies. It was quite nice. It was even better with the couple pieces of dark chocolate afterwards.

You can find many of these wines around the $15 price point in better wine shops. Cabernet Franc should not be thought of as just a blending grape. Pick up a bottle and you might be surprised how easy a good Cab Franc drinks with food or alone.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Some Recent Great Bottles of Wine

I'm trying hard to get back into the swing of things after a busy start to our College school year and return to my reviews and the blog.

Tonight I have four wines I've recently enjoyed and that are really easy to find. Two Cotes du Rhone - a white and a red. I also enjoyed one of the best Italian whites I've ever had along with with a real value Zin from Mendocino Co. in California.

Michel Gassier Cercius White 2009 - I love this French white wine with 70 percent Grenache Blanc and 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc. It is so refreshing on the palate where you'll find some hints of melon and citrus. I get floral notes and just love the smooth rich feel on the palate. It has an enjoyably long finish for a white wine. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this wine 90s points. (Highly Recommended, $13-$15. I bought this at Cork + Cracker, Indianapolis)

E. Guigal 2007 Cotes du Rhone - This traditional blend of 50 percent Syrah, 40 percent Grenache, and 10 percent Mourvedre delivers everything you'd expect in a solid Cotes du Rhone red wine. I didn't find this to be as earthy or as comples a wine as many - but it's quite enjoyable. It would be a great red for introduction to newbies or introduction to French wines. (Recommended, $14.99, Grapevine Cottage, Zionsville)

Bonterra 2008 Mendocino County Zinfandel - I visited Mendocino early this year and found some of the most approachable, full-flavored Zinfandels I've ever tasted. This value bottle had nice pepper and hints of blueberry. I have to note that I've read "blueberry" as a flavor characteristic in other wine reviews and never really got it until I drank this wine. If you prefer "dark fruit" - well, that works too! It's big enough to please most Zin fans but not overpowering. Wine Enthusiast gave this organically grown Zin 90 points. (Recommended, $11, Cork + Cracker, Indianapolis)

Litorale 2009 Vermentino -Vermentino is a grape I've tried a handful of times and was just always left unimpressed. That changed in a big way with the 2009 Litorale version. I loved this white wine that definitely has a pleasant but different flavor profile than most wine drinkers might be familiar. Vermentino is farmed along Italy's coast near Tuscany. It is a crisp white wine with an enjoyable floral richness. It's not nearly as acidic as some I've tasted previously. (Highly recommended, $14.99, Cork + Cracker, Indy)

These wines should all be widely available wherever fine wines are sold in Indiana. I note where I bought them for readers' convenience.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mixed Ancestry Charbono Making a Comeback

Is it Italian or French?

Is the wine a unique ancient varietal?

Or, is it the same grape as Argentina’s Bonarda or maybe a genetic cousin?

Charbono, a grape most have never heard of, is making a small comeback. It wasn’t long ago that U.S. plantings had dwindled to about 10 acres. The latest available statistics show Charbono’s plantings have grown to 80 acres, all in California.

As written here before, one of the great experiences in wine enjoyment is trying new wines. It won’t be easy to find a Charbono but it is worth the effort. The wine is a very inky, dark purple with a rich red-fruit flavor. Cherry and raspberry dominate the palate with a bit of spice on the finish. The tannins, or finish, tend to be quite smooth.

The grape is interesting because of its confusing heritage. The grape was once thought to be related to Italy’s little Dolcetto grape from Piedmont. But it actually comes from the Savoie region in France. That explains how the grape migrated to Argentina along with Malbec.

The ancestral trail was tracked down by Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California, Davis. Researchers there, the most prestigious U.S. research college for wine grapes, determined Charbono was the same grape as Bonarda and mostly likely the same grape under the names of Corbeau, Douce Noire, or Charbonneau.

Sally Ottoson, Pacific Star Winery
There is quite a bit of Charbono grown around Calistoga in Napa Valley and some in Mendocino County. Names you might look for include: August Briggs, Turley, Chameleon, Shypoke, Joseph Laurence Shypoke, Robert Foley, Saddleback, Dunnewood, Tofanelli, Fortino, and Consentino Heitz. The wine tends to retail in the high teens to the low $30 range.

“All the winemakers in California who are bottling it have to fight over the grapes,” Sally Ottoson, Pacific Star Winery told “But back in the ‘70’s Inglenook was doing a Charbono, and so was Parducci.

“John Parducci was really a mentor for me. I think Charbono is a very universal wine. It’s not too tannic and not too acidic — a real food friendly wine. People always ask me to describe the grape’s characteristics, but that’s a difficult thing to do because it doesn’t have a distinct flavor profile like other grapes. So I like to say, it’s like an old woman who puts perfume in the same spot every day and it kind of sinks into her skin and you get this essence that evokes memories.”

I met Sally during a press wine trip to Mendocino in January. Her stunning location on the rocky Pacific shore about 12 miles north of Fort Bragg is worth the trip alone. She makes a wide variety of wines and has worked in California wine since 1972.

Her winemaking style is blend-o-holic. “I like to add a little bit of this to a little bit of that,” she said during that visit. “We make a huge effort to make wine fun. Don’t agonize over it. I make wine the old-fashioned way. I make wine in barrels.”

During the same trip I met Maria Martinson of Testa House winery. Her family settled in California in the very early 1900s as Italian immigrants. She had a beautiful Charbono that was not yet released. We tasted the fifth generation winemaker’s juice straight from the barrel.

Finding Charbono might be a challenge in the Midwest. But you can usually find a good Argentinian Bonarda at better wine shops.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Rocky's Pub a Mansfield, OH., Fine-dining Fixture

Rocky's Pub on Mansfield's town square.
MANSFIELD, OH. – For many people, me included, one of the fun parts of traveling is discovering the local flavor. While many of us think of that as wine, it certainly is restaurants, arts, and much more.

I travel for work in the fall and love to explore restaurants. Two years ago during a trip to Northwest Ohio my traveling companion and I discovered Rocky’s Pub in Mansfield, Ohio.
We dined there again Friday night and it really was delightful. Passing judgment on a restaurant should mirror reviewing wine. You have to judge the wine, or restaurant, for what it is. There are great $12 bottles of wine and great $250 bottles of wine. But they are different animals – the same goes for restaurants.

Rocky’s Pub is certainly not a pub at all. While the name Rocky conjures up the image of pub food and toughness, this 37-year Mansfield fixture is fine dining on the town square in this community of 47,000 - best known for its nearby Mid-Ohio racetrack.

It’s the kind of place you might walk by, and without a recommendation, never walk in. It’s rather roughhewn on the exterior as the photo shows. Inside it’s dark with strings of lights, stained glass and candles.

The quirky bar was full at 7 p.m. but had emptied by 9.
But it’s about the food and wine, isn’t it? Executive Chef Sally Nesta serves up a consistent menu of Norwegian Salmon, Italian standards, Lake Erie Walleye, Scrod, and nightly specials. The Friday night specials included a spicy stuffed pepper, Kobe Ribeye, and rack of lamb.

The wine list was varied with the usual markups. It was weighted to the bottom of the price scale with Woodbridge and Kendall Jackson prevalent. But it also included a Barolo, Chateau St. Jean Cabernet, a meritage from Washington state, and Wente Chardonnay.

I had the rack of lamb with rosemary that was perfectly cooked to medium rare. It was moist and delicious. My only complaint was it needed a little salt and pepper. My dinner companion had the wild mushroom pasta that he described as flavorful with wonderful mushrooms.

I scoured the wine list and we ordered a $29 bottle of Cantina Pedres Cerasio Cannonau. Or you can call it Grenache from Sardinia, Italy. It was light in body but pleasant with nice fruit and a soft finish. It worked well with my lamb and the pasta. Judging from the markup on the other labels, the wine was marked up 100 percent from retail.

The sides, salad, and a wonderful crusty bread were as good as you’ll find in most fine dining restaurants.
My only squibble with Rocky’s was the staffing. Our waitress was wonderful but overworked. By my count, she had 8-9 tables on a busy Friday night. There are about 25 tables in the restaurant excluding the bar. On top of serving, the waitresses had to bus tables as well. One bus boy/girl could make a big difference in the customer service.

If you have reason to drive into Northeastern Ohio along I-71, Rocky’s Pub in Mansfield is worth the trip off the interstate, five miles perhaps. It’s an old-fashioned fine dining restaurant that seldom exists in most cities. The food is quite good and atmosphere a tad eclectic. Most diners are going to love it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sorry I've Been Gone! Back Soon!

It feels like I've abandoned my wine writing at times recently. It's not that, it's really just way too much going on in life.

For Example:

A. Moving my elderly mother.
B. Moving myself across town.
C. Start of a new school year.
D. Launching a new college website.

So I'm busy. In about another week things should return to normal and I'll be back posting at least a couple times a week. I just added my latest newspaper column. I have some reviews to get onto the site.

And coming soon I'll have a host of video interviews from my July trip to Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Thanks for your patience.

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Synthetics & Screw Caps: Cork Fights Back

Cork, synthetics, screw caps, and now glass closures can bring wine geeks to a furious debate.

For nearly 300 years cork was the wine closure of choice for the wine industry. But synthetic corks and screw caps have made major inroads in the wine market. Cork’s downfall started in the early 80s when a Swiss researcher discovered TCA – or cork taint. Even cork industry promoters will admit cork taint does exist. But the big debate is whether it’s in a mere fraction of all bottled wine or up to 10 percent of all wines using cork closures.

There is also the phenomenon of cork taint. Too often the cork is blamed for a bad bottle of wine when a host of other factors can cause the wine to taste bad. Another way to look at the argument is how much you care if your $10 bottle of Cabernet is corked? Sure, you are aggravated it has to be poured down the drain but it’s just $10. On the other hand, higher end wines use cork almost exclusively. Last winter I had to pour out a $75 bottle of Pinot Noir I was saving for a special occasion. I was not a happy wino!
“Taint is the most misunderstood and misreported issue in the wine world “contends a cork advocacy group, “The taint typically associated with wine corks is TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). It’s a harmless but ubiquitous environmental compound that gives wine a must flavor at very low concentrations.”

The advocacy group acknowledges cork taint but points out the contamination can also come from bottling equipment, airborne molds or chlorine-based compounds in wineries and cellars. 100PercentCork has made use of research conducted by Purdue University ‘s Christian Butzke. His research was published in the May/June 2008 Vineyard & Winery Management.

“TCA is no longer a major problem for the U.S. wine industry,” Butzke said. The Purdue Associate professor notes many bagged vegetables can be affected by the same compound but consumers write off any smell to “earthiness.”

But for many wineries and consumers the cork is out of the bottle. Plastic closures were the rage not too many years ago but seem to have fallen out of favor recently. You’ll still find many wines with synthetic corks. I often found them too soft and easily pulled out of the bottle or so hard I had to go to the gym before prying a synthetic opener out. Screw caps offer a great alternative. A screw cap eliminates oxidation but the jury remains out on how well wines will age with a screw cap. Conversely, most wines in a screw cap are at the lower end of the price scale and unlikely to be put down for aging.

I purchased a wonderful and relatively expensive bottle of Pinot during a recent Oregon trip and it had a glass closure. Glass stoppers don’t require an opener and provide a tight seal with a plastic liner. Oxidation is still under testing but appears to hold up over time. It also provides a nice look of sophistication.

Cork has lost market share to these new closure products. But it’s hard to imagine the great wines of the world ever using anything but cork. There is plenty of scientific evidence, not to mention the romance, of popping a cork from a fine bottle of wine with little worry.

For consumers and Grape Sense readers, you are sooner or later going to buy a bad bottle of wine. But your concerns and efforts are better used on selecting a good value bottle than worrying about cork taint.

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