Last week, I was quoted in a very interesting article by Eric Asimov in the New York Times, based on a conversation that Eric and I had about restaurant sommeliers taking a small sip of their customers’ wines to ensure that they are sound prior to being served.
Many of you out there (at least, the ones who sent me all of the e-mail) were surprised that I hadn’t encountered the practice before. Based on those e-mails (the ones in which I wasn’t called an idiot, anyway), the practice seems much more common for patrons in Europe than for those of us here Stateside.
Also, for those readers I should note that I’m a born-and-bred Mid-Atlantic U.S. boy, which means I’m naturally suspicious and pissed off until you do something nice for me, after which I’m convinced that it’s a ruse plotted to rip me off somehow and I’m really pissed-off at you.
Anyway, my quotes were (of course) part of a longer conversation that Eric understandably didn’t include in full in the article; so I thought the topic worth revisiting so I could expand a bit on the view I represented in that conversation…
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Has the case for excellent Walla Walla Syrah been definitively demonstrated? Q.E.D.?
I’m not going to go quite that far. But I will say that they might be pretty damn close, especially in those cases where the balance beats out the brawn in their Syrah bottlings.
Two wine producers that I encountered recently in Walla Walla (while there for the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference) in particular made good cases (ha-ha!) for Walla Walla Syrah being the wave of the future; one which officially took part in the WBC activities, and one that didn’t (in fact, their winemaker skipped town during the event).
The first of these was Rasa Vineyards, led by the Naravane brothers who have engineering backgrounds, and are fascinating folks to talk to, provided you can follow their scientific leanings. They were part of a panel about WA wine at Three Rivers Winery (part of the WBC events), and certainly talked up the potential of Walla Walla Syrah when I asked the panel what they thought the future held given that Walla Walla is still a relatively young wine producing region.
The proof, fortunately, was in the juice, and their appropriately-titled 2007 QED wine, sourced from Walla Walla and Yakima fruit, is powerful, expressive, but balanced; it’s also expensive at $50 – but overall a decent value when compared to more expensive but not-quite-as-solid Syrah-based wines being made elsewhere on the Left Coast.
The second was pretty much the entire portfolio of wines from Rotie Cellars, who were kind enough to host a handful of us bloggers in their downtown Walla Walla tasting room while lunch activities took place during day one of the WBC. Winemaker Sean Boyd is certainly playing with fire with their wine names (“VdP” for example), which I am sure the French would be none-too-happy about, but he has some Syrah-based wines with significant promise; they might have been some of the most deftly balanced WA reds that I’ve ever tasted.
But with all of this focus on the future going on, the WA wine scene, I quickly learned, would do well not to forget its past…
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By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be on the Greek island of Santorini (press junket via Wines of Santorini and the Brand Action Team) to get a first-hand view of Greek wines, Greek wine history and winemaking, and seeing if I can vigorously outrun anyone offering me a glass of Retsina.
The Greeks have, of course, been making wine since ancient times, not that you’d know it from any recent marketing pushes (or lack thereof) made by Greek winemakers and/or the region in general. In fact, at first blush I’d say that Greek wine generally (and wines from Santorini in particular) has a very rough and very long marketing road ahead of it if it wants to wine over the American market. Look at it this way:
- There has been little-to-no effort to exploit the amazing history, breathtaking winegrowing landscapes, and food-friendliness of Greek wines.
- Most wine stores in the U.S. treat Greek wine as an afterthought, giving it little shelf-space likely due to the fact that it doesn’t sell like hotcakes because…
- …consumers are scared to death when they see grape names like Assyrtiko, Mavrotragano and Nykteri that a) they can’t pronounce, b) most wine pros can’t pronounce, either, and c) they have no idea how they taste because so few restaurants offer them.
- Adding insult to injury, regions like Santorini sell the majority of production and therefore have little incentive overall to compete on price, which is usually $5-$10 more than comparable wines on the shelf made from grapes that consumers in the U.S. can pronounce and are familiar with.
Yeah – not quite as rosy a picture as those photos of the Santorini sunsets, is it?
We’ll see soon enough, I suppose – more reporting to come! In the meantime, we’ve got Walla Walla coverage and an amazing interview coming up this week here on 1WineDude.com. Enjoy!