I am optimistic cautiously so about this New Year ahead. Last year this time I was full of hope and perhaps the expectation was overly optimistic. But I hope for this era of the Pandemic to end or at least a back to terms of not living in worry.
I hope that I can travel more and to explore the world once again. I do think based on my experience here in San Francisco the town is no longer what it once was and I do think 2019 was a peak year. Walking through the city over the holiday was a city where many vacant store fronts. I saw a few restaurants welcoming patrons back and yet there were few patrons. Vico Cavone a Neapolitan restaurant opened two weeks ago and subsequently closed down only open for a couple of week and based on their social media that they would reopen. I am concerned about a lack of vibrancy and energy that the city will never be quite the same. Many would argue change was due but I do think I would rather see a positive change and some energy and life to the city.
I do think that public and trade wine tastings will be done in Q1 potentially Q2 of this year. But I do hope it is time to have a wider net to cast from for people to enjoy tasting a wide array of wines.
On my year must taste experience is to taste a mix of domestic and import wines. High on my list is Australia–an illusive wine country for the US. Once there were many wines from Australia widely available and today, at least, in wine markets I shop there is a very small selection. My neighbourhood grocer which has a very nice selection of domestic and imports had zero Australian wine SKUs. Australia wine producers have not been focused on exporting to the US. A generation ago there were regular Australian trade/consumer tastings.
But I do also want to continue my focus on US, French and Italian producers. I do want to taste more Spanish wines which last year (’21) was a rare experience. I never imagined that tasting wines from Rioja would be an infrequent experience or elsewhere in Spain. While neighbouring Portugal I taste from regularly Year-over-Year. I do hope to be tasting more wines from Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Montenegro, Turkey and Greece.
I do publish each year my #winetasingwishlist
Carneros AVA British Columbia – Okanagan Valley
Santa Maria Valley AVA
Santa Barbara County AVA
Sierra Foot Hills AVA
El Dorado AVA
Grand Valley AVA
Virginia Wine Countries
Australia – all regions
New Zealand – all regions
Bosnia & Hercegovina
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
France – regions that I rarely taste from Côtes du Jura, Gascogne, Loire Valley,
And more wine countries
I do hope to taste more wines than I did in 2021 and I hope that there are more wine events as these are important for me to experience. Wine events are important not just for me (but I do get an even greater tasting experience) but it is important to the specific wine regions to get a greater exposure.
I wish you a wonderful tasting year ahead–what is on your #winetasingwishlist ?
This is my 11th annual edition of the Top 100 wines. And this is my most anticipated and most highly viewed article that I write each and every years hands down. I am surprised as I have many more thoughtful and compelling articles each and every year. But it is a compliment that so many want to see what is in my ranking of wines of the year.
My list is always different from other wine reviews and publications. My list is sorted alphabetically and not by a specific meaning of what number one means–it is simply a list where the ranking is in the point scores not necessarily a hierarchy.
It is impossible, especially, one and only one wine being ranked above all others is absurd—why would one style be it sparkling, still or sweet or even varietally specific be superior to all other wines?! That makes no sense. My list is more democratic and realistic–after all I don’t give out 100 or 99 point scores (unlike some wine reviewers who give it out “perfects” liberally and rarely do I ever a 98 or 97 point). I do think and I’ve said before my scoring is very much a bell curve statistically speaking.
It is a struggle–in a good way–to select the top 100 wines, I have never had just one hundred wines but in some years many thousands that I rank to get to my top 100. But unlike wine publication or personalities I don’t get every wine that say Wine Spectator gets–I get a fraction. Attending wine events is important and in nearly two years I can barely count on two hands how many wine events I have attended. I do think wine events both consumer and trade events are important. I do get that not everyone is like me at a wine event is taking notes but I do think it expands horizons for everyone–it is essential to have access to many wines not just for the individual but for expanding the wide world of wine.
This year the top 100 come from the following countries:
My wine list is also unique in that I do taste some aged wines and they are essential to rank in any given year. Wine rankings and reviews is not just about the “latest releases” but it is about the best wines possible tasted in any given year. I hope you get to taste some of these wines as well. There are some listed with a link which is to view the video review.
A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley Zinfandle 2013 – 95 Points
Wine consumption in the US was stable in 2020 but the remainder of the world wine consumption was down (Source: OIV). While the US is the largest wine market, per capita wine consumption is not the highest not even in the top 10 (imagine if it was!)
The UK is the biggest importer of Champagne in the world and when compared to the US that is a 5x difference in any given year (in 2020 the UK imported – 21.2 mm bottles and the US imported 20.8 mm bottles). The reason is simple: Champagne and sparkling wine, in general, is not a celebratory beverage but a normalized wine in the United Kingdom. I don’t have statistics on the British import of Cava or Prosecco but I am sure the magnitude is most certainly and perhaps more bottles for both nations but my guess is that the ratio is mostly the same.
Yes, of course, sparkling wine is wine (but some people feel sparkling wine is so out-of-the-ordinary that it cannot be called wine)–that unto itself is telling. The UK consumer has normalized sparkling wine—and that is a good thing. I have a glass of bubbly, at least, once a week—it is a normal and routine part of my wine enjoyment. I look forward to it and I doesn’t make sparkling wine any less special or exciting.
Sparkling wine no matter where it comes from Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Franciacorta and the New World is sequestered for only celebratory moments. I know that I have long advocated a position of enjoying it more often. When I was a wine marketing manager at a large off-premise wine retailer I wanted to campaign ‘Enjoying Sparkling Wine Once Weekly.’ Simply the predictability for sparkling wine was New Years, Valentines day and a few other blips on the holiday calendar. This would mean that the average wine drinker might enjoy a glass 4-5 times a year. And I think, in particular, in the US the average wine consumer needs some kind of “permission” to enjoy sparkling wine more often.
I am aware that not everyone likes or even loves sparkling wine but it is a wine that I find compelling and love all regions and expressions and even style. I do see the full capability of sparkling wines being paired from first dish to dessert as completely relevant. The only time I have done this is in Champagne and each meal was memorable and I remember everything I ate and all the wine I tasted. The ‘check engine’ light did not go off instead–it was my quest to do this in a meal that I prepare in the future. I am planning on preparing two meals in ‘22 where I will prepare one meal with sparkling wine from one region and another with a mix of sparkling wines from several regions. I think it is important to highlight how sparkling wine is not just for celebratory wine but a compelling wine for the entire dining experience.
Sparkling wine I do think, at least, in the US is not enjoyed more often is that it harkens back to a much more conservative view of wine and alcohol in general. Also, perhaps a couple who opens a bottle sometimes feel the need to drink it in one setting and what if one of the partners doesn’t like sparkling wine? There are, of course, amazing sparkling wine closures (my favourite right now is Le Creuset that helps to preserve the wine for the next day and beyond.
Perhaps there is the thought that sparkling wines are expensive–the packaging on many producers’ bottles are special and I do think there is guilt in opening a beautiful bottle. But like any other wine category “there is more where it came from.” There is a wide range and so many sparkling wines are so reasonably priced
It is lovely start with a sparkling wine on any given Friday after work and enjoy with a triple cream or other cheeses and charcuterie and other nice things on your cheese board – dried fruit, almonds and so much more and feel n guilt. Do yourself a favour and try a sparkling wine on a non-celebratory occasion and take it out for a spin to see if you enjoy sparkling wine in a non-celebratory setting! And the enjoyment is to taste a variety of sparkling wines and find what is most pleasing to you!
Another year has flown by and like last year there have been some wine events but most of them like last year did not happen. I know some people are not fans of wine tasting experiences for trade and media. But I did get to taste more this year than last year.
I had a nice comment from a viewer on YouTube who said he liked my style and that I should be getting more hits and have a larger subscriber base. His comment was spot on and I greatly appreciate it as I have felt validated without having to ask someone. All of the sudden – the past two years – there has been an explosion of wine videos when once there were few. So I do have that competition. But what I find needed is more support from producers from which I review wines. A lot of producers do support what I do and add to their websites, favorite and retweet and more. And by producers showing supports does show that it does help to increase video click rate but also helps the producers; a classic two way street. But there is a producer base where there is no comment, like or posting of videos that support their products on their site. And some producer prefer only written pieces?!?
What??? This isn’t 1999. But a person very close to me asked me if I enjoy making videos and I said yes and he said then keep doing and I have added incremental improvements. And there is more to come. I do find value in written pieces as well.
We do live in a world where people are seeking written, spoken and video content. It is a win-win strategy if content is support from producers. I will be doing a separate article for sparkling wine recommendations for end of year celebrations for the season and new year ahead.
Here are my last quarter of 2021 reviews:
OneHope Monterey County Pinot Noir 2020
Nose: strawberry, mineral, pepper, spices, and wood pile
Palate: tart cherry, spice, violets, and dried herbs
Chasing Rain Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Nose: red blackberry, cinnamon suede, cedar, and rose petal. Palate: red cherry and blackberry, clove, pepper, and rose petal. ABV: 14.5% – 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. $25 Price Point.
Be Human Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Nose: Uplift of black fruit, cassis, spice, leaves on forest floor and red floral. Palate: cassis confit, clove, pepper, and dried herbs. 14.5% ABV – $17 Price Point.
Mas Llunes Emporion Empordà2018
This wine is 56% Garnatxa and 44% Cabernet. The nose presents violets red cherry, cedar, spices. Palate: bright red fruit notes, cherry pomegranate, pepper and cinnamon. 14.5% ABV
It is rare to see the USDA Organic label on but say less than .1% of wine labels. The USDA Organic certification requires no added sulfites. But there is perhaps on the consumer side that wines with Organic grapes doesn’t consistite an organic wine as those wines have added sulfites. I am surprised that I have seen “Organic Grapes” on front and does that confuse the matter one what organic is? Does a wine consumer think an Organic wine begins and stops only with Organic grapes? Probably many consumers think they are getting an organic wine but by the USDA they get an organic wine when there have no added sulfites. I do give a caution on this wine in terms of sensory experience. This wine because there are no sulfites has a definitive nose and palate–some might term it savory or mushroomy. This will not taste like a Malbec or Red Blend with sulfites.
Virgen Organic Mendoza Malbec 2020 – $13 SRP
14.5% ABV; Vegan Friendly USDA Organic. Nose of Cherry, savory-mushroom, and graphite. Palate of Bing cherry, mushroom, pepper and spice.
Virgen Organic Mendoza Red Blend 2020 – $13 SRP
14.3% ABV; Vegan Friendly USDA Organic. Nose of Strawberry, mushroom, and mineral. Palate of red cherry, graphite and pepper.
Raeburn Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2020
14% ABV; nose of crushed red candy, cherry, clove and stacked wood; palate of Crushed red candy, bing cherry, and ground spices.
Qupé Santa Barbara County Grenache 2018
14.8% ABV – Nose presents with notes of red floral, mountain strawberry, spice an, leather, leaves on a forest floor. Palate: red plum, pomegranate, mix of spices.
Anarchist Piquette 2020
This Piquette is superbly dry and nicely effervescent. A Piquette is made from a secondary fermentation and pressing of grape pomace which normally thrown away. This styles is a wine made in France typically for farm and vineyard workers. This is an US made Piquette. Nose; raspberry, moistened mineral and hint of herbs; Palate of rapsberry, mountain strawberry and citrus peel. The RS is .23% and low ABV of 7 %. The SRP is $19.00
Samuel Lindsay The Gandy Dancer Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
This wine is 97.75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2.25% Merlot; Aged for 15 months in 100% French oak. Barrel fermentation 30%, Flash on skins 40% and traditional fermentation 30%. 14.82 ABV – fruit is mainly Lodi with additional fruit from Napa 12.75% and Mendocino 2.25%
Nose: rich nose of blackberry raspberry (think boysenberry) moist red clay earth, suede, lavender and spice Palate: blackberry, clove, pepper, and Bay leaf
Monsaraz Reserva Alentejo DOC 2018 93 Points
This wine is Alicante Bouschet 60%; Trincadeira 20% and Touriga Nacional 20%. 15% ABV. SRP of $16.
Nose: black and red fruit, spice, herbs and violets. Palate: Rich black fruit notes, freshly ground spice, white pepper, and red floral. A lovely and inexpensive wine.
Russian River Brewing Robert Saison
Nose: bright citrus tones, pepper and spice
Palate: citrus peel, hint of autumnal-winter fruit (pears, apples) additional notes of cardamom and white tea.
Today – 17-November-2021 is National Zinfandel Day
I have been fortunate to spend a good amount of time in Dry Creek Valley. I have been in mid-winter to fantastically triple digit summers. I have picked grapes and I have been on a sorting table sorting Zinfandel. I love Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel and the many producers in this American Viticultural Area (AVA). Every producer will give you a different Zinfandel experience. I can certainly be tasting the same vintage but, of course, each producer will have a remarkably different Zinfandel: it can attribute to terroir and vintage but also each producer has their own philosophy and how they vinify their wines.
Dry Creek Valley like other wine regions in California weathered the storm of prohibition. But in this storm things were lost and some things were retained. What I mean by this are mixed black sites of wine grapes in a single vineyard site with Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, French Columbard, Carignan and Petite Sirah. While wine grapes were still cultivated in that period for religious purposes and in some cases medicinal or even wine grapes where individual families who could create wines for their own consumption. While mixed black vineyard sites are not as common as they once were the wines from these sites are not just novel but compelling wines.
Zinfandel today does finds itself in a comfortable and most appreciated time in its existence–most assured today than ever. The many styles I do find intriguing and compelling and I love 100% Zinfandel wines with a vitreous quality. I too love Zinfandel with a smidge of either Alicante Bouschet or Carignan to be wines to be sought after. One producer, Quivira uses the Primitivo clone of Zinfandel; and if blind tasted this wine I would not recognize it as a Primitivo wine necessarily. But the diversity and willingness of producers in Dry Creek Valley to adopt this clone I think are telling of a devotion and love for Zinfandel.
Dry Creek Valley is just west of the charming town of Healdsburg and a great place to stay and find very nice food I might add. Setting base here is a great way to explore Dry Creek Valley over a weekend–don’t come one day but spend the night and, at minimum spend, two days.
Dry Creek is 9,000 acres of vines planted with a diversity of wines from Syrah, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Sangiovese to Chasselas and Chardonnay and more is telling of this AVA’s ability to foster wine grape diversity. King of wine grapes is Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. But I do think Zinfandel is the signature wine of Dry Creek Valley red wines.
Alberto Rafanelli founded this winery in 1900 is a wonderful place to visit (an appointment is needed). I don’t have a tech sheet but based on previous vintages I do suspect a very small percentage of Petite Sirah but the absolute majority is Zinfandel. A. Rafanelli is dry farmed which is always a great feature and done with a great commitment. A wonderful thing and a good practice.
This wine is eight years old and is not tasting like an aged or very aged wine–it has a lively and lovely acidity. Based on other A. Rafenelli wines and again I don’t have a tech sheet the Zinfandels undergo 18 months in French oak – a combination of new, one and two year old barrels.
Use a Burgundy glass to enjoy Zinfandel to enjoy the optimum expression of the wine. The nose of this wine is rich black cherry, dried herbs, flowers, leave on forest floor, suede; the palate is refined and the acidity is bold and appreciable. The palate expresses red and black cherry notes, pepper, a core of bay leaves, peppercorn, and violets; a satisfying and lingering finish.
National Zinfandel Day is important to recall and position Zinfandel for a dinner wine in this autumnal period. In fact, I have listed in my Thanksgiving Wines – Ideas for Your Table article some Zinfandel wines for Thanksgiving. I have listed 9 Zinfandels including A. Rafaenelli’s Zinfandel. I think of what I prepare and how apt they are to pair Zinfandel with a Thanksgiving meal – I think of the flavours of Thyme, bay leaf, Tarragon, Rosemary, accenting dishes like Turkey, stuffing, vegetables and so much more. Try Zinfandel for your Thanksgiving meal!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and National Zinfandel Day!
I have been wanting to do this for a long time–which is to give a larger list of suggested wines for Thanksgiving. The intent is that you do not need to buy all of the wines on this list (which is probably understood). When I use to give a smaller selection the wines people wanted get were not available or more difficult to find: hence a fuller list can help you have a wider net to find the wines for your Thanksgiving table.
This list has price points across the board so while some categories are a higher price point–my intention additionally is to pick wines at reasonable price price for the larger list. There are a few that might be expensive and adjust your selection accordingly to feels comfortable to you.
I do not just have one wine or style when I am preparing and serving Thanksgiving. I do think that at minimum I need sparkling, a white and a red wine. I do look an expansive diversity of wines. I am not a fan of Beaujolais Nouveau and I know some people must have it. I am, however, a huge fan of Beaujolais Cru wines and I always have it on my table. It also makes me think of every visit to Paris as I always have a Beaujolais Cru wine and it is always served in a tasting menu.
The diversity for my table is that I might not get a full glass but even a small taste which goes a long way. I do share my wines and I am careful to enjoy through the meal. I hope this helps you to hone in on what wines you will serve.
Wine ideas for your Thanksgiving – specific call outs of Cuvées below.
Champagne Waris Hubert Albescent Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV
Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV
Champagne André Jacquart Brut Experience NV
Champagne Charles Heidseick Blanc de Blancs NV
Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut Reserve
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Extra Brut NV
Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs
Champagne Lanson Extra Age Blanc de Blancs NV
Champagne Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2014
Foods Mentioned in Video as Items that I typically prepare:
I generally have prepared all of the Thanksgiving meals and I love to cook everything. My guests are always gracious and they volunteer to bring food and wine. I do make a decent turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing–and I insist on making each item. I do love this holiday and I love cooking–it gets me away from my computer or technology.
Here is a sampling of what I’ll prepare while I may not make everything in appetizer or first items list. I will always make every item in the second plates
Carrots en Croute
Bacon wrapped dates
Smoked salmon dip
Butter nut squash soup
Turkey gravy / sherry mushroom gravy
French bread stuffing
More Wine Suggestions:
Le Colture Gerardo Valdobbiadene Prosecco superiore Rive di Santo Stefano Extra Brut NV
Nino Franco Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano Prosecco
Nino Franco Primo Franco Prosecco Superiore DOCG
Corvezzo Prosecco Extra Dry NV
Tenuta Sant’Anna Extra Dry Prosecco
Val d’Oca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry ’18
Val d’Oca Rive di San Pietro di Barbozza Prosecco Superiore 2018
Villa Sandi Prosecco Il Fresco
Zardetto Prosecco Brut
Altemasi Trentodoc Millesimato 2014
Revi Dossagio Zero Millesimato Trentodoc
Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut
Ferghettina Franciacorta Cuvée Brut
Bera Brut Alta Langa DOCG
Ettore Germano Alta Langa Brut
Cava Grand Ducay Brut Nature NV
Cava Mestres 1312 Cava Reserva Brut
Caves Roger Goulart Organic Cava Brut Reserva 2018
Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir ’18
Chanson Premier Cru Chablis Montée de Tonnerre ’18
Isabelle et Denis Pommier Chablis ’18
Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay
Please do not use one of the above glass for your Champagne and sparkling wine enjoyment! These vessels are not glassware that is appropriate for any sparkling wine or Champagne. While a long used sparkling wine glass since the 17th century which were truly designed to showcase the bubbles and nothing else including nose and palate. And yes, of course, I want to see bubbles too but I want to make sure I can enjoy the nose of the wine as well.
I’d rather be served in a coupe – very old wine silhouette like the flute and while fun and old timey have the same problem of nose and palate experience as the flutes. I call coupes “Jackie O’s” because of the mid-century adoption of these wine stems. I also found only one picture thus far of Jackie Kennedy Onassis drinking a glass of wine and it is a coupe and by that extension it had to be a sparkling wine. There are photos of wine objects near her and one where she is being poured wine in a vineyard setting but she is not drinking it.
But I digress.
I have been to wine events where someone will ask for a Burgundy glass for their sparkling wine which is not optimum either. The Burgundy glass is designed for still wines and not sparkling wine. If you visit Champagne and the only glass you will see will be a Tulip glass. The Tulip allows for full sensory experience and the 80% of our senses informs the experience of any wine overwhelmingly. The tulip also allows for a view of the alluring bubble action as well.
I have one particular set of friends who enjoy a high end Champagne daily (generally $75 and above) but they only use a flute and I have urged the acquisition of Tulip glasses to maximize the experience of the wines they pour frequently. I said try out a pair and see if they experience an improvement in their Champagne experience. A dollar spend of $2,000 per month but glassware that was never designed to maximize the value of the wines they are enjoying. If one can afford pricey wine everyday a slight spend on decent Tulip glasses can be easily accomplished. I know other people who have a large monthly spend on expensive wines but also use inadequate stemware. I kindly remind and challenge them to spend just a tad more on better stemware and they will be rewarding their daily tasting.
While good and great wine glasses are “expensive” they are a reward to wine drinking and with great care you can hold on to your wine glasses for sometime. There is a great disparity in how people enjoy their wines in glasses that are completely inadequate. At least in the US as compared to Europe many restaurants have terrible wine glassware–one restaurant here in San Francisco and one of California’s oldest restaurants uses stemware that might cost a dollar. I do think eating out in San Francisco which is an expensive food town should match with better stemware. I can for the most part reliably go to a Manhattan restaurant and have decent stemware but New York is an anomaly in the US restaurant landscape as it relates to stemware.
A Much Ado about Nothing–restaurants who use poorly designed stemware do not encourage another glass of wine to be purchased. The framing of wine is to pair and complement the food being served and optimizing the experience.
But A Much Ado About Something is about making the investment in better stemware to showcase fine wines that one might be serving. And it is not just for expensive wines but for well priced wines which can also live up to a better experience for even the everyday experience. So regardless of your wine budget a small investment reward with a totally sensory experience that you will wonder how you did without better stemware.
For the upcoming Thanksgiving and New Years do you and your palate a favor and buy some Tulip glasses. If skeptical by one and pour side-by-side with a flute and see which you might prefer.
We all deserve the optimum experience in drinking wine!
I have been to Mendocino rarely as compared to Napa or Sonoma. I remember early in my days here in California I drove to Philo and I clearly remember visiting Scharffenberger Cellars; it was a huge investment in time for me then and now–four hours to and fro San Francisco. But the days I was visiting was BiP (Before iPhone) hence few-to-no photos of my treks to Mendocino County. There is something so alluring about Mendocino County–green and not crowded like other wine countries in California.
Saracina Vineyards is on 101 north (north of Hopland, California). Mendocino is a very wide spread AVA and from San Francisco you will have to decide which fork in the road to take: Highway 128 to Anderson Valley or Highway 101 to Hopland to visit Saracina. Mendocino AVA is a very diverse wine AVA and there are more than 3 dozen wine grape varieties produced: the expected and known grapes from Zinfandel, Carignan, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the the unexpected grapes of Charbono, Arneis, Pinotage and Montepulciano to name a few.
Saracina is a 400 acre site and was originally founded by John Fetzer and Patty Rock in 2001. In 2018, the property was purchased by Marc Taub. Under Marc’s direction has been to keep the producer as wines best known to the region as well as stylization. The site has six parcels of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Ranch also has olive groves and produces olive oil and honey.
I was fortunate to taste Saracina wines with food from BrewVino in San Francisco with Saracina winemaker Alex MacGregor. Alex MacGregor, a native of Canada, cut his teeth in winemaking in Dry Creek Valley before making his way to Mendocino. Alex’s perspectives of winemaking reflects a desire to hone in on wines of place; wines that represent Mendocino County. I appreciate his philosophy and how he wants to preserve traditional wines of the county.
Lolonis Vineyard is 29 miles north of Saracina – this wine is a delightful Sauvignon Blanc; and this wine is of the non-gooseberry style. Nose of green apple, dried citrus, and moist rocks; palate of green apple, white stone fruit, minerals, and delicate floral note.
This Sauvignon Blanc expresses freshness, and cleanness. The nose characterizes autumnal fruit and floral notes. The palate characterizes white peach, passion fruit and hint of moisten mineral.
Saracina Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc 2002
A wine that is so relevant and though aged it is a delightful experience. I do not think I had tasted 2002 Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino in the mid-2000s from any Mendocino producer. And to think about where I was and what I was doing made me travel back in time. Nose of winter fruit; heirloom apple, and delicate spice. Palate of Comice pear in mid-winter, floral note and mineral.
Saracina Valley Foothills Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2019– SRP: $38
This wine is a 200 cases production, ABV 13.5% and aged 18 months in French Oak. The clone is Robert Young. An outstanding Chardonnay and such an approachable price point for such a lovely and memorable wine. This wine is superb with food and this expression is so fitting for oysters, Cioppino, and autumnal dinners like Thanksgiving and simply year round. I love the weight on this wine and expression on the nose of Comice pear, quince, and winter spices; palate of autumnal fruit, nutmeg, and hazelnut.
Saracina Day Ranch Hollywood Hill Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2019 – SRP: $55
This wine has a 198 cases production, ABV: 14.2% and aged: 18 months in French Oak- 25% new. Anderson Valley along with Carneros are amongst my favourite regions for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California. Nose of red and black bramble, leather, autumnal herb garden, and violets. The palate is Boysenberry, blackberry, crushed red candy, pepper, and bright red floral notes.
Saracina Winter’s Edge Mendocino County Red Blend 2018 – SRP: $30
This is wine is 50% Grenache and 50% Field Blend of Grenache, Carignane, and French Columbard. The vineyard site Casa Verde Vineyard was planted in 1944. This wine is a very lovely traditional California style — the field blend makes for a distinct and pleasing wine. This is a time transport in a predominate style in California and I do believe though we are drinking the best wines today including wines from field blends. Vinification: open top fermentors, native malolactic fermentation and aged in 19 month older François Frères barrels. Nose of red and black fruit, forest floor, bay leafs and spice; palate of raspberry, currant, clove, espresso, and red flowers.
I very much appreciate Saracina’s mission to produce authentic wines expressing Mendocino one glass at a time. The land of Milk and Honey, olive oil and wine. Lovely wines for Thanksgiving and beyond.
I attend many zooms on wine and often but not always fellow wine writers have onpointquestions. In one particular forum recently, one person brought up recently that that more information on a wine label could open a Pandora’s box. Which, of course, I thought was absolutely ridiculous.
First, A: That is way too dramatic and it makes no sense. What scenario could a person have too much information on wine or anything else for that matter? Why would it be a bad thing that brands provide more information on back labels about baseline information on the bottle that consumers are thinking about buying. I do know wine consumers who DON’T buy because there is not enough information. While cost is one thing–there may be fundamental needs that go beyond price. A lack of information would help a person to not buy or potentially not buy a bottle of wine.
B. There is nothing wrong with transparency and I as a consumer like information on products I am buying. I want to know if it is made in a certain manner or essential information that may affirm my purchase. I have rarely found less information compelling–if anything it is frustrating.
There are dribs and drabs of that occurring right now. Sometimes and rarely so are any data points on front labels – perhaps a wine variety percentage break down. But more often than not is the back labels are places for information and you do see information sometimes. One common feature is to include certification such a sustainability, organic grapes, vegan friendly, etc.
I do get a lot of questions about wine because a consumer don’t have the needed information to feel okay about completing a wine purchase. If people are buying in person or online often there is no one to help. Try going to a wine retailer on a Saturday, a club warehouse any day of the week. While an online retailer can display wine bottle information and depends on retailer information can also be lacking.
Consumers may gravitate and buy a wine that clearly states features; and those features may satisfy the need of the individual wine consumer. With less service in the wine retailing the more people I do think are okay with self-servicing their purchase and a wee bit of information goes along way to empower the purchase not take way from it. This is in within reach and a bottle label can help clinch the deal for a wine consumer to take a bottle to the register.
One of the top questions I get from people are for Vegan Friendly wines and that is because they have found difficulty in getting the wines they want. Even a well educated wine store or large format store might be challenged. How do I know? I have asked the question and have not found satisfying answers to often. I do not that sometimes producers do not list that their wine is Vegan Friendly on back of bottle and I do wonder why someone would hold back that information. I do not practice a Vegan diet but I am not opposed and welcome Vegan production of wines. They are no less delicious and I do know anyone who has a negative connotations with a Vegan Friendly wine.
More not less information is not a nice to have but one where consumers will lift bottles to take home that satisfy their needs for information and will put ones away that do not.
Would an individual investor dismiss too much information on their potential investment targets? No, of course not–the more the information the better. So too with wine information should not be hard to find but should be made easily available–QR codes help but are not always ideal–sometimes click on a QR code in a cavernous club warehouse and you may not be able to open up the webpage (due to a weak connection to a network) but a bottle label chock full of information is a reasonable solution and no technology needed.
I do think if consumers are getting more choices on wines and styles they too will be rewarded with more information in the future. I do think written information on a wine’s back label has so many benefits. Wine producers face so much competition it does behoove them to provide everything a potential customer might want to have.
More is more and less information is not so desirable–there is no Pandora’s box for wine bottle label information contrary to the above person I mentioned.
Demystifying wine is essential today as it has always been… perhaps much more important today than at any other time in the past. The world of variety, region and style is as complicated and misunderstood as it has always been and instead of wine becoming less demystified it is still in the complex and mystified strata.
Many regions and even wine countries have been misunderstood or mystified and those regions deserve to placed on tables to be tasted.
I attended a conference where Eric Asimov NY Times wine critic talked about the need to consider ‘mystifying’ wine once more. He was a superb speaker and was completely engaging–he talked about the nuances of childhood travel where he his brother would debate if landing at an airport counted as a new state visited or did you have to actually touch terra firma. I was amused as have thought the same thing.
While I don’t agree summarily with mystifying wine. I don’t take offense at what I think his aims were – while I didn’t get to speak with him I did interpret his word as being a need to re-appreciate wine via its alluring qualities. I appreciate loving wine for its enduring and even difficult-to-put-into-words sentiment; which I think get’s us to appreciation.
What I do want to advocate for wine is a continuous journey to demystification. There are the essential qualities and characteristics: style, state, variety, vintage, region, nose, palate, and price. As an example, an overly extracted red wine is speaking of that wine or even regional style but the immensely extracted red wine is not a superior wine–it is a wine that expresses regional or even winemaker preferences.
I do believe strongly in a need to demystify and support appreciation and there is room to make for optimum experiences for wine appreciator/consumer.
The pandemic certainly shown that wine is oh so mystified. Here is a good example of a mystification on wine: sparkling wine sales during the pandemic plummeted.
According to the International Wine and Spirit Record sparkling wine sales were down:
Champagne down 18%
Prosecco down 7%
Cava down 14%.
On a normal year the British consumed 26.9 mm bottles of Champagne with a population of 66.5 million people. The US consuming 25.6 million bottles with a population of 328 million people (and 2020 numbers are 20.8 mm bottles). The story of decreased sparkling wine consumption showed that sparkling wine is still treated as a celebratory wine in the US. While British consumption of Champagne too was down in 2020–there is a more normalised behaviour of Champagne consumption in any given year. It is not just a celebratory wine but a wine to be enjoyed more frequently.
I’ll start with some specific top levels areas of wine demystification: Five Wine Pillars:
Wine Pillar #1You don’t have to pay a lot for good wine
The question or belief that you have pay a significant sum of money for a good wine is still with us today. I have spoken quite a bit in my videos and have stated that there is no correlation that wine quality gets better for every monetary unit spent.
Wine unlike many consumer products has a very finite lot. Compare with beer and spirits where in general the base material (ingredient) does not have to come from one place or that each year the production is limited by what is grown on estate or contract. Yes, there has been a few producers of spirits who use the word “estate” but in general it is not a root or common word for spirits or even beer production.
There are many confounded reasons why there is confusion. Some wine critics live by the “if it costs a lot; then a high point score is warranted”. I rarely see a wine reviewer give according to the wine itself i.e. lower priced point wines rarely, rarely get a high point score (say in the 93-96 point score range; let alone any higher point score). There is some shame with warranting a high point score to a reasonably priced wine of some wine critics. I do believe that wine is exceptional and when I review wine I do it as blindly as possible:
A) Not knowing wine scores from other wine reviewers
B) Not knowing price point
It can be hard to review blindly and it is not always possible because it is plastered on all of the material you might get when you open up your wine samples–i.e. tech sheets can sometimes supply wine scores. I am not concerned with what someone else might rate a wine. Nothing against another wine review but it is in my “I don’t need to know” as I need to rate without any influence from anyone else.
Brands do manage their prices and raise prices accordingly–this is not the vast majority–there is a pricing in prestige with increasing points scores and accolades (not all producers will price that in but some will). There are some very spectacularly successful producer who sell through their offerings with great ease but that is rare. Perhaps they were first to market a variety or have some special feature that has piqued customer curiosity and reception.
Yes, wine brands are all trying manage their offering and their appeal and many if not most work quite hard to do so. Accolades, praises and points do raise consumer interests in wine and especially when they are shopping for wine.
In the last twenty wines, I reviewed I have noted the following:
Esporão Quinta dos Murças Minas 2019 – SRP $24 my rating 94 Points other rating was Wine Enthusiast with 91 Points
Esporão Vinho Bico Amarela 2020 – SRP $12 my rating 93 Points other rating was Wine & Spirits 90 Points
Observation: I have found that I give the warranted point score regardless of price. If a wine warrants a specific point score then I issue it–I am price and by that extension brand agnostic. I don’t think this is how the wine reviewer community does this in awarding points. Wine scoring, unfortunately, is predictable. So in one regard, I can see how many consumers might be confused about price score and wine and even pricing. There is a greater need for blind scoring as possible to offer consumers the most reliable scoring.
Bottomline: a great wine does not have to cost a fortune
Wine Pillar #2 Region
Demystifying wine includes region. If someone thinks of an old world wine country is expensive it is not the correct way to view a region. If a wine region is compared or depends on another region for marketing their wines that is a not a realistic or even warranted view of wine.
Simply wine stylization can be co-opted in order to sell a regions wines. It is unfair to compare one region to the next for many reasons. Can or should Old World wines taste like New World wines and vice versa? I remember hearing a California winemaker talk about his style of his Italian varieties had to have an American stylization. He said he macerated in the vinfication process longer than he might normally do with his Sangiovese. He said if I used an Italian wine making approach “I would not sell my wines.”
If there were a Judgment of Paris held today, I am not sure the results would be, at least, on a percentage level of “winners” would be the same. In fact, given what occurred, judges Patricia Gallagher and Steven Spurrier scores were not tabulated were a bit of high drama. I would trust what happened in ’76 would not be repeated but it would need to be not just a American v. French competition. A new competition or judgement would need to include Washington State, Oregon, Australia, Chile at minimum and other wine countries as well. The results would be mixed or more accurately distributed and not just a two way competition.
I think of Bordeaux as a region that some people think that it is an expensive region. I have never thought of as I have tasted and reviewed from this region for years. Bordeaux’s total wine production is 95% is affordable and within reach and 5% of Bordeaux wines are expensive wines. So the 5% doesn’t represent the overwhelming majority. Many wines are so approachable and inexpensive that even for a person buying a wine most likely will buy a delightful wine and the investment is not too prohibitively expensive. There are a considerable number of reviews to help hone in consumers coupled with wine merchants helping consumers to find wine they wants to buy.
Diversity in choice is something we have today that even in a short two generations ago didn’t quite exist in the US and elsewhere; a large universe of wine regions available to buy. The wine world is still relatively new–not meaning that there are newly established wine regions but more availability in the US today.
I remember just a few short years ago I was in Montreal and I got a lovely Syrah from Wahluke Slope which, of course, would be available in the US but only years later. On my return to San Francisco, I went to several wine merchants and I knew the answer right away–there was not a single bottle of Washington’s Wahluke Slope anywhere in the Bay Area–it simply was not part of any wine retailer assortment or on any restaurant wine list. Yes, while the Bay Area backyard of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains and Livermore Valley but it did not preclude imported wines being readily available.
Keep an open mind on wine countries is to develop a sense of place. Pinot Noir doesn’t taste the same even in say California – Anderson Valley to Carneros to Sta Rita Hills and further afield Willamette Valley is not Burgundy, and so fourth.
Take your favourite variety say Sauvignon Blanc or Syrah and try wines from near and the far flung wine regions in the world. Old World and New World: South Africa, New Zealand, Uruguay, Chile, Loire Valley, Alto Adige/Südtirol, Paso Robles, Rhône Valley, etc. to get a taste of terroir. At minimum it is a fun journey.
There is also the quest that I suggest – in many wine regions is variety that is specific to region and thus is a great way to discover region and variety–some thought starting ideas:
Austria – White: Grüner Veltliner, Red: Blaufränkisch
Croatia – White: Debit, Red: Plavac Mali
Romania – White: Fetească albă, Red: Fetească neagră,
Greece – White: Assyrtiko, Red: Agiorgitiko
Italy – Alto Adige/Südtirol – Lagrein; Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Refosco, Schioppettino, Riobolla Giala, Tazzelenghe; Franciacorta – Sparkling Wines; Piemonte: Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto di Dogliani, Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, Alta Langa – Sparkling Wines; Valle d’Aosta – White – Petit Arvine, Red – Petit Rouge; Cinque Terre DOC; Emilia-Romagna Lambrusco di Sorbara; Toscana: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chianti Colli; Umbria Sagrantino; Lazio – Bellone variety; Marche – Verdicchio, Pecorino; Abruzzo – Montepulciano, Pecorino varieties, and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo; Campania – Aglianico, Fiano, Greco, Falanghina varieties; Basilicata – Aglianico, Primitivo; Puglia – Primitivo, Negroamaro, Uva di Troia, Verdeca, Bombino Nero; Calabria Cirò – Gaglioppo and Greco varieties. Sicilia – Etna DOC – Nerello Mascallese and Caricante; Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG – Nero d’Avola; Catarratto, Grillo and Perricone; Sardegna Cannonau di Sardegna DOC and Vermentino di Sardegna DOC.
France – Jura, Savoie Sud Oest, Val de Loire, and many more regions.
Spain – Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, Empordà, Terra Alta, Alicante, Ribeira Sacra, Txacolí de Bizcaia, Txacolí de Getaria, Txacolí de Álava, Cava, Jumilla, Bullas, Bierzo, Toro et al.
And I specifically didn’t call out well known regions but, of course, have their offerings of lesser known producers and even varieties. My Intention is to highlight many regions not all and hence I did not include every single region.
And many more wine countries to consider getting wines from: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Georgia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Lebanon, Cypress, Israel, Morocco, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Canada, Peru, Argentina, and Chile and others. And many US states: New Mexico, Washington State, Oregon, Virginia, Texas, New York, Colorado, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina and other states.
Wine Pillar #3. Brand Over Dependence
There are brands that have been in the spotlight for longer than 20 minutes of fame and are on a nonstop repeat mode. I have several friends that will only drink Pinot Gris/Grigio from only ONE producer. No matter how much intervention via suggestion and pouring better examples of this variety they don’t want to consider buying on occasion another producers Pinot Gris/Grigio. I do think ‘tasting is believing’ and I thought I could provide a wide array of possibilities. The brand dominance has emblazoned that only this producers Pinot Grigio is the boiler plate of what each wine drinker ‘thinks’ Pinot Grigio should taste like. The price is easily 40-60% higher than other brands Pinot Grigio. Being a former off-premise wine marketing manager is that well known brands have ultra thin and unsustainable margins and this equally applies to on-premise establishments.
Mystification is alive and well today–go to a club warehouse and see what wines are being sold by the palet. This is a signal that consumers believe that only one brand can fulfill their needs. Consumers are reaching for wines that under deliver in value and palate experience. Cracking this wine code is not only what I do it is also what consorzi, conseil and trade associations have been doing as well. Consumer wine events unfortunately have little power to sway wine purchases to change or consider other brands (but I do believe that ‘tasting is belivieng’ will win the day someday).
Wine Pillar #4. Not just Scores; How does it Pour
Scores and I have already touched on are automatic sales points. I have sat in the consumer seat and have had rigid and uncomfortable tastings in Sonoma and Napa in particular and the selling points are “allocations” and point scores. Allocations are not my “on” button and in fact I do find it a turn off. The need to try to reach my emotional connection that a wine is exclusive and available to me and a few others is a weak sales strategy. I do understand that this is how some people feel about wine and the allocation perspectives keeps some people hooked. There are thousands and thousands of brands producing stellar wines and you do not have to join or be part of an allocation to acquire.
In the off-premise world a point score of 88 points and above is considered the minimum threshold to post a wine point score. While I do advocate that one not only buy on point scores alone I also am skeptical of those reviewers who give a higher than bell curve average of points scores and often issue 98, 99 or 100 point scores routinely. Those that give this give it to a predictable set of producers. I have reviewed the thousands of my point scores and I have given and what feel are within bell curve pattern–I am comfortable that my average score is not some number like 97 points because that would render my ratings useless. My scores have always been about discipline and again price and brand agnostic.
There, unfortunately, is not a one site that lists all point scores for all wines and it would be nice to see that. Yes, some online wine retailers list some but key word is “some” not all. I do think point scores will be what help a person decide on say a 94 and 95 Point Champagne (as an example) and the decision has been made. I am more aware that consumers are increasing looking at wine in terms of several key areas: sustainable, biodynamic and vegan friendliness.
I do think the next frontier for consumers is the front and back labels with more data points about the wine in the bottle.
Wine Pillar #5. Staying Away from Trends
I remember my wine marketing days where the topic was “what is the latest trend in wine.”
“Ughhhh” to quote a Peanuts character and I said to myself “not that topic again.” I did explain that only following trends is not good for business–time and again I used data to help drive the point that margins and profitability were hurt when only following trends and not having a singular point of view and retailing authorship.
Trends and fades in the wine world are simply exhausting and do not tell the full story of wine. A wine retailers invests in stock keeping units (SKUs) at the expense of margin to sell “a whole bunch” but what they sold often doesn’t help the store in terms of profit instead it takes other non-trend wines to pay to keep the lights in that store.
I am not sure why wines need to be trended–it is never good for both consumer and retailer. Why is it bad? Grape varieties have been uprooted to say in Napa Valley to plant Cabernet and remove a vineyard with mixed black grapes, Grenache, Zinfandel or other varieties. I am not saying that Cabernet is a trend but i do think we wine appreciators do look back and wish a region like Napa Valley had kept some of what was originally there. Yes, you can find Napa Valley Grenache or Zin but it is rare and getting rarer year over year.
I have lost track of how many trends we have seen: Malbec, Moscato, low sugar, low alcohol. I do think he wine pendulum should do less swinging and be more centered and perhaps we could stop using the word pendulum.
Wine demystification and wine appreciation is needed now. And I do think the greater community of wine writers do aim for that. I do think there is a lot of reporting and reviewing and in doing so has not changed the dialogue or perhaps gathered the interest of readers. Yes, there are some popular wine writers but the many people who imbibe in wine have not started down the journey of wine demystification.
I do think wine demystification can begin on the wine label itself and more data points is a good thing not a bad thing. I do think demystification is a journey and a long haul but it is a long haul worth doing.