Following is a guest post from Andrew Barrow, the brains behind the venerable (and excellent) wine & food site Spittoon.biz in the U.K. While we North American wine bloggers were toiling (aka drinking) away and working hard this week at the first NA Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, I asked Andrew to provide a different perspective on the California wine scene than what we typically experience (good or bad) here in NA. Check out Andrew’s thoughts bellow – it’s a much different, and enlightening, scene than you might be used to here in NA – and check out his excellent writing (and superb photography) at Spittoon.biz. Cheers!
As I write I’m sipping a glass of Californian red – a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 to be precise…
It’s fairly typical of the type of Californian wine readily available in the UK. Following the 1WineDude’s request for some foreign thoughts on Californian wine, the Woodbrige is ‘research’. A day or so ago, more research, with a bottle of Zinfandel – the only interesting Californian red available in the UK’s largest high street chain of off-licences.
Both wines display a certain richness, demonstrate varietal characters and are both very drinkable on their own.
“I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.”
I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines but they will certainly be eclipsed by the likes of Gallo White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc etc. There is no escaping these critic-derided wines. They sell at basic prices by the case load. The vast majority of Gallo drinkers wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care where they come from. How ever much we deride them, they are the bedrock of California wine in the UK – both in terms of style and in sales. Drinkers of these are highly unlikely to trade up to the Mondavi or the Zinfandel.
I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.
We are blessed with a multitude of specialist wine merchants in the UK – many are holding their own against the supermarkets and the high street chains. Only a couple though offer a decent range from California. And don’t even begin to look for Arizona or Long Island, although a smattering of wines from Oregon and Washington have found their way to these little islands. But those specialists are offering the wines at eye-wateringly high prices. You have to ask why would anyone bother – the range of wines readily available from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa often provide much better value for money [in the U.K.].
“[The CA wines available in the U.K. lack] texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.”
With my evening meal I switched to the Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006. This retails at about £7.50 [roughly $12 USD]; the average price of a bottle of wine is half this. The wine is lightly oaked, again highly drinkable but lacks texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.
And that about sums it up really – you CAN get various Californian wines in the UK but they come at a price that doesn’t often stack up well against similar wines from elsewhere. And those Gallo wines, at the cheap end of the scale, must be enjoyed by someone. You can’t really be saying they are brought solely on price can you?
(images: allposters.com, ladv.org, vroma.org)
The following is a guest post from Jason Whiteside. Jason was previously a Sommelier & Wine Consultant on the Dutch/French Island of St. Martin, and was the original Wine Director of Cosimo Wine Bar in Malvern, PA. He is part of the Wine Educator staff at ChaddsFord Winery, and holds the Level 3 Advanced Certificate in Wine & Spirits (with Distinction) from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators, holding their Certified Specialist of Wine qualification. Most importantly, he is my partner in crime over at 2WineDudes!
Lloyd Flatt’s Last Party
On February 22nd, a memorial party was held to celebrate the life of Lloyd Flatt. He was a very successful aerospace designer/consultant, and at one time had one of the largest wine collections in the world. His cellar and his wine buying strategies were the subject of an article in Wine Spectator. The wine parties he hosted were legendary, like the tasting of 115 different years of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, starting with the 1784 vintage. The wine world lost a major player and a great man when he passed away on January 29th.
I am by no means trying to write his obituary. One was published in Wine Spectator Online, and you can read it here if you would like. I never had the pleasure of knowing the man, never attended any of his lavish parties, except for the very last one that was held in his honor.
A friend of his family asked if I would help pour wine at his memorial party, held at the Belle Haven Country club in Alexandria, VA I was honored to be asked and I quickly agreed. My role was simple enough; I would be pouring wine for 200 guests, from special Imperial bottles (6 liters, or equivalent to 8 standard bottles) from Mr. Flatt’s extraordinary and world famous collection…
Serving wine from bottles of that size and with considerable age presents its own set of challenges. The bottles are heavy and cumbersome, they have oversized, aged corks (which are every bit as finicky as regular-sized, old corks), and these wines were full of sediment. Days before the party I felt anxiety creep over me; I had been entrusted with some extraordinarily valuable wine and I wanted the service to go perfectly. I called on a friend, Melissa Monosoff, DWS, the newly appointed Sommelier for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who supported me with guidance and reassurance. Then the big evening arrived.
The first wine of the night was the famed second growth, Chateau Gruaud-Larose, from 1979. The wine was delicate, and had an elegant perfume, though I couldn’t help but think it was slightly on the decline. The second wine was a Pomerol, a 1994 L’Eglise Clinet. Wine in large format bottles age more slowly than wine in standard bottles, and this wine was still had the tannic tightness of youth. Over time, it softened a bit, revealing a concentrated nose of red fruits, but I couldn’t help thinking that this wine was opened slightly ahead of it’s time.
“Early on, this was the best Bordeaux I have ever tasted.”
The really famous wines were served next. 1981 Lafite-Rothschild was pure Burgundy-like finesse; red currants, sour cherries, and powdered minerals exploded out of the glass, the acidity was refreshing and pure and the finish seemed to go on for moments. Next was the 1981 Mouton-Rothschild. This was the first cork to give me serious trouble. The worm of my corkscrew pulled straight through the crumbly middle, without the cork moving at all. I saved myself with an ‘Ah-so’ opener, and all was well. In my opinion, this was the wine of the night. This wine was fully developed, yet it still had a powerful concentration of fruit, spiced up by secondary aromas of cedar, leather, and sandalwood. If there was a downside to this wine, it was only that it seemed to fade a little faster than the others. But early on, this was the best Bordeaux I have ever tasted.
Next was a famous Third Growth from Margaux, Chateaux Palmer 1981. At this point in the evening there was a large crowd around me, and the Palmer cork refused to cooperate. It was a planked cork, which meant it was actually three separate pieces of cork bonded together to make one large piece, and it didn’t hold up. Countless guests watched as this ‘wine expert’ they brought in especially for the party pulverized the brittle cork. Ultimately, I did extract the largest remaining piece with my trusted ‘Ah-so,’ to a small applause. Many people called this as the wine of the night (although I think these people just waited too long to try the Mouton). It possessed the elegance of the Lafite, along with a sweet spice and cherry fruitiness, like red licorice. It was certainly my second favorite wine of the evening.
Lastly, we returned from where we had started: back to Chateau Gruaud-Larose, although this time the vintage was 1989. Much more youthful than the ’79 we started with, I found this wine to be still developing. It was in a strange phase, at once enjoyable to drink but somehow slightly disjointed. If you own an Imperial of ’89 Cht. Gruaud-Larose, I’d suggest giving it another 5 years or so before you open it.
The official party ended around 8PM. There were more wines from the collection that were going to be tasted at an after-party in a suite at a nearby hotel. I was invited to go, and part of me wanted to (they were opening a Methuselah of Montrachet, among others), but I chose not to. This man’s family and friends were as much grieving as they were celebrating, and even though his son had invited me to the after-party, I still felt like too much of an outsider to attend.
“If somehow I represent a new generation of oenophile (with point scores, the internet, and countless books at our disposal), then I feel very privileged to have participated in celebrating the life of a man who was in a class of his own in a different generation.”
I felt the need to write this down, as it will probably always stand out in my life’s lists of awe-inspiring wine events. Both the wines I got to try and the stories I heard bridged me to a different time; a time in which people threw top-hat parties and danced to bands and sipped on the finest wines in the world. If somehow I represent a new generation of oenophile (with point scores, the internet, and countless books at our disposal), then I feel very privileged to have participated in celebrating the life of a man who was in a class of his own in a different generation. He collected wine the hard way, using his own palate and judgment, and by all accounts he shared his collection graciously. I feel privileged to have brushed up against his life, even though he was already gone.
(images: eyesonafrica.ne, shebeenpub.com, news.aunz.yimg.com, experienceholidays.co.uk)
Following is guest post from Henré Rossouw. Henré is the social media strategist and blog author of WineCountry.co.za, an umbrella wine, food and lifestyle portal dedicated to the Paarl Wine Region. Paarl’s rich history, quality wines and breathtaking scenery makes it one of the wine landmarks of South Africa.
The Masters of the Universe
From sunny South Africa, the country that brought you Pinotage, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Oscar winning performances by the monstrous Charlize Theron and talented Gavin Hood, sporting icons such as Gary Player and Ernie Els and now, the US Masters Champion of 2008, Trevor Immelman, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of Joe’s readers.
While Joe and his wife care for the most precious little thing on earth, he has granted me the opportunity to grace you with some wine flavoured news from my country.
Of course, very few articles about South Africa these days make it past the first couple of paragraphs without mentioning the unfortunate stain that Apartheid left on our page and the impact it had on our people, our economy and also our wine industry…
Since that fateful day in 1994 when the barriers of Aparthied had been torn down, our country went from strength to strength. I also can’t help but contribute our country’s rise to stature to our Rugby World Cup winning team that beat the New Zealand All Blacks on the 14th of June, 1995 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Due to an unfortunate incident prior to the final, it was almost seen as a touch from God that Chester Williams (born in my hometown Paarl) became only the second “player of colour” to don the Springbok jersey. Chester today is still seen as an icon to just about every rugby fan in South Africa.
Since 1994, the wine industry in South Africa boomed once again. For a country with a 350 year old wine history, the end of apartheid signified the beginning of New World penetration. Despite global recession, our international exports in 2001 have increased a massive 17.1% from the previous year.
While South Africa’s industry is very small, ranking in at only 16th with about 1.5% of global plantings it is our production and quality that sees us at 7th position, accounting for 3% of the world’s wine.
“Since 1994, the wine industry in South Africa boomed once again. For a country with a 350 year old wine history, the end of apartheid signified the beginning of New World penetration.”
Of course, it is our signature red grape, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (grown under the name of Hermitage in South Africa) that distinguishes us from other wine producing countries.
Pinotage, a portmanteau of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, was first created by a South African Viticulture professor, Abraham Izak Perold in 1925 and received its first recognition in 1959 when it became champion at the Cape Wine Show.
Fast forward a couple of years, the birth of the Internet as it is known today, and a new trend in Internet usage – loosely termed as social media – and it was a winery from my neighbouring town, Wellington, that revolutionised the South African wine industry.
By employing blogging (this thing you’re reading here) as sole marketing tactic, Stormhoek Wines received international acclaim for groundbreaking marketing innovation!
They offered a free bottle of Stormhoek wine for each person commenting on their blog and also published a renowned UK liquor store’s discount voucher on their blog.
The rest, as they say, is history. A little closer to my home, it is the Paarl Wine Region which we thought could do with some much needed exposure. Nestled between the historic wine landmarks of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, it is widely known in local circles that Paarl, with its 105 wineries, produces some of the finest quality wines in South Africa.
The WineCountry website and blog pays tribute to this place I call home and we’re looking forward to playing host to more international visitors exploring the beauty of the Cape Winelands.
Till next time!
- The Plonk signing off.