You may not guess it from the sky-high prices of the top Bordeaux chateaus (some fetching in excess of $1000 USD per bottle – and presumably on allocation to those who can afford their own islands), but the European wine market has been in trouble for a few years.
With labels that many international consumers find confusing, and laws that restrict varietals, winemaking conditions, grape production, and dictate what techniques can be used by winemakers, EU (aka “Old World”) producers have been searching for the magic formula that will allow them to better compete with their “New World” counterparts…
While many producers in the EU have strong ‘brands’ (mostly linked to the most famous of their chateaus), countries like the United States, Australia, Chile, and Canada have stronger marketing, cheaper land, and encourage more innovative vineyard and winemaking practices by having far fewer restrictions on their production. Which is why, in the cheaper wine department, these countries are taking the traditional EU wine countries to the cleaners in the marketplace – and cheaper, everyday wine is, by far, the largest volume of wine produced and sold in the world today. And now EU producers are getting handed their lunch as wine sales of producers in their own countries are falling as the onslaught of New World wine marketing hits their shores.
The stakes are not insignificant – wine has accounted for over 5% of the EU’s agricultural output, employing about 1.5 million people.
So, what can the EU do about it? Presumably, they can argue. EU farm ministers have proposed some progressive steps, but some countries still don’t want to play ball, and are stymieing the process. Which is a shame – those countries may wine the battle, but without some sort of compromise, can the EU hope to wine the wine War?
Updated Dec. 19 – Looks like the answer may be ‘Yes’ – see more details in the news here.
This post is the second in a multi-part series where Dude will give you a ‘wine insider’s’ take on how to seriously up your ‘wine geek’ knowledge (and hone your overall wine-tasting skills along with your “impress your party goers” wine profile).
Some of you may recall my recent post on the first step to wine geekdom – reading about wine. If you’re new to this blog, it might be a good idea to review that post first. This post will explore the second (and most important) thing you need to do in order to up your wine IQ – Taste.
To know wine, you need to taste wine. There are no shortcuts, and it’s pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of building up your tasting vocabulary and knowledge via the simple act of tasting a glass of wine. Don’t just take my word for it – to underscore the importance of this, I asked Eric Miller, owner and winemaker of one of the largest and most successful PA wineries (Chaddsford), for his views on how wannabe wine geeks can best increase their wine knowledge. His response: “The important thing is to taste like a banshee.“…
Eric also added – “Go to the myriad of shops that do tastings and begin to get vocabulary in tune with taste. If that is not available, throw a series of parties and have a hell of a range of wines for friends and you to taste.” Throwing a wine tasting party is probably the most fun way to gain wine knowledge and is easier than you’d think – it’s actually tough to find people who *aren’t* interested in learning more about wine. There are great free resources on the web that can guide you through this (Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste offers some primers on hosting tastings, but you gotta pay for it). If you don’t taste, you won’t know what you like, and you won’t know how to describe it if you do like it!
Be consciously in the moment. Dude is not trying to get too Zen on you here – just make sure you taste and not gulp. If you want to get to know wine, you need to spend a little time with it. You do NOT need to become a snob, put on airs, or hold a wine glass up to a special light bulb for 15 minutes pretending to examine its contents. You only need to give it a sniff and really concentrate on tasting what’s in front of you. How to Taste also offers amazingly good, practical advice on this.
Experience before judging. Keep an open mind – you won’t learn much about wine if you enter into a tasting with preconceived notions of what you will and won’t like. Wine will surprise you and it will open up new worlds of delight to you – you just have to let it! Wine reviews are great for starters, but your own experience should always be the final determinant in setting your wine views. Eric Miller offered this advice urging wine newbies to taste and gain their own experience: “Avoid tight-assed views stuck on old world rules and regs. I teach a twice annual class on what wines taste like, the words to describe them with an international selection under the primary headings of: light fresh fruity dry (white and red), light fresh fruity sweet (I only show a white), med to full body dry white, med to full body red usually a Cabernet, Pinot, Syrah or Shiraz, and a fortified sweet red like LBV Porto. My suggestion would be to get the terms down in an environment like that.“
Record what you taste. Admittedly this is usually a pain in the ass (try not looking like a geek when sipping a glass at a nice downtown bar and then whipping out your journal and scribbling notes furiously), but it’s essential for upping your Wine IQ. Find a nice journal and record your tasting experiences. Don’t worry if only you can understand them – the important thing is to build a vocabulary that helps you identify what you’re tasting in a way that works for you. Over time, you will go back to these notes, if only to dig up information on a bottle you had a few weeks back that you really enjoyed and can’t remember the name of (this is how wine geekdom begins!).
Don’t Be Shy. Good things come to those who ask. If you really want to get to know wine, it doesn’t hurt to be bold. Most of what I learned about enjoying wine, I learned while talking informally to winemakers – and none of them have been unapproachable. “Go as close to the source as you can,” offers Eric, “Wine lovers like me will talk eagerly to someone truly interested. (You get a dozen newbies together and i will speak).“
Thanks, Eric! Anyone out there in the Philly region willing to take him up on that?
Calling All Wine Bloggers!
As some of you may know, I’m currently in the midst of a multi-part blog post detailing my experiences and recommendations of how wine consumers can ‘up their Wine IQ’. The first of these posts focused on Reading About Wine, and listed books and references that I have found the most helpful through the years in increasing my own knowledge about wine. Subsequent posts will tackle experience-building through Tasting, and finally I will interview a local winemaker about How the Boldest of wine lovers can work their way into the wine industry.
I’d like to extend this series to include input from YOU, the wine blogging community, on your own experiences and advice for others wishing to increase their wine knowledge.…
I am pretty sure that the wine blogging world, and wine blog readers everywhere, would appreciate having the thoughts of experienced tasters, distributors, buyers, sellers, winemakers, critics, and passionate wine lovers on the joys and trials of life-long devotion to our favorite beverage.
So – if you’re interested in contributing, please send me a link to a post of your thoughts and experiences on building wine knowledge.
This could be a link to a similarly-themed article that you’ve posted in the past, or a brand new post on your Blog. Either way, send me the link – either via comment to this post, or via email to twowinedudes (at) yahoo (dot) com – and I will summarize in a post, linking to all of your indvidual posts from here. (If you don’t have a Blog but would like to contribute, I will publish your input in the post).
I’m a firm believer that nothing ever really gets done without having some kind of target date. So please send your input to me by December 31st, and I will post the results during the first week of the new year.
Thanks for your time, attention, and (in advance) thanks for helping the wine consumers of the world!
-Joe (the 1WineDude)
I don’t normally review wines on this blog (at least, not so far), but I recently became intrigued by the excellent Wine Blogging Wednesday Community, who post themed monthly reviews of wines.
This month’s theme is being hosted at the Wannabe Wino Blog, and features an ‘underdog’ of a wine – Petite Sirah, also known as Durif.
I live and operate near Philadelphia, which is the ultimate underdog / bum rap city. It was once described as “the city for people too scared to live in New York, and too dumb to live in Boston.”
So I (understandably) have a soft spot for underdogs who get a bum rap. And Petite Sirah often gets a bum rap. As an example, Jancis Robinson described it in her reference book Vines Grapes & Wines as “Rigorous though unsubtle.” Not exactly high praise…
Often blended with Zinfandel to provide structure to its more blowsy tendencies, PS has arguably achieved its apex in California, where it has been planted since the late 1800s. You’d imagine that some of the PS vines in CA are pretty old – and you’d be right. These older vines offer lower yields of more concentrated grapes – and therefore more concentrated wines.
So for WBW #40, it’s to CA we go – I opted for Stags Leap Winery’s 2003 Napa Valley Petite Sirah. Technically this one is a blend, 85% PS with 10% Syrah (of the non-petite variety), and even a little bit of Viognier thrown in for good measure.
So… is this wine unsubtle? At 14.2% alcohol, it’s certainly not subtle. And it could stand a bit of decanting – preferably 6 years’ worth performed in a dark basement in the original unopened bottle. There’s no lack of inky darkness to this wine either (it’s a good pick if you ever find yourself on a haute cuisine dinner date with the Creature from the Black Lagoon), and if you don’t like your blackberry and cherry fruit done ‘in-yo-face’ style, then this is probably NOT the wine for you.
Having said all of that, the power of this wine is balanced with quite a bit of elegance – there is a nice surprise of orange and exotic spice (mostly cinnamon) on the nose. In your mouth, the tannins are abundant but not too astringent (think ‘pleasantly chewy’), and the sting of all that alcohol is kept mostly in check by a mix of vanilla and chocolate flavors. I enjoyed mine with roast beef, but matching this sucker with grilled bison would really be the bomb.
My verdict: take the Leap.
PS – I love you… Sort of…