Daily Wine News: Burgundy Apocalypse

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 07-01-2016

Label showing the Burgundy coat of arms (Wikimedia)

A label used on a bottle’s neck showing the Burgundy coat of arms. (Wikimedia)

“Can Burgundy prices keep rising? Or will the bubble burst? Will wine lovers rebel and look elsewhere for their pinot noir and chardonnay?” In Bloomberg, Elin McCoy says winemakers are warning of a coming Burgundy “apocalypse.”

In Decanter, Jane Anson gauges reaction to the Brexit vote in Bordeaux and explores what it may mean. “The reality, for the time being at least, is that the biggest immediate impact is exchange rate volatility. It has already led to an abrupt halt of any lingering transactions for the 2015 en primeur campaign.”

In the New York Times, Eric Asimov offers his thoughts on the latest wine school, rosé from Provence, and announces what’s up next: Grüner Veltliner.

In Food & Wine, Ray Isle gets a taste of Ao Yun, a $300 Cabernet blend from the far reaches of China’s Yunnan province.

Stephen Tanzer reports on a vertical tasting of 15 vintages of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon in Vinous.

In Harpers, Jo Gilbert delves into how complicated the Prosecco system has become, “with an increasingly complex hierarchy of categories and subcategories aiming to delineate quality and expression.”

W. Blake Gray ponders up a list of “10 questions to ask about any wine appellation.”

Eater talks with Randall Restiano about what wines to pair with lobster rolls.

Daily Wine News: Paul Draper Retiring

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-30-2016

Paul Draper

Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards.

In the New York Times, Eric Asimov announces that Paul Draper, who has been winemaker and chief executive at Ridge Vineyards for more than 45 years, is retiring. “Since Mr. Draper took charge of the winemaking at Ridge in 1969, the quality and style of Monte Bello has been remarkably consistent, even as prevailing wine styles shifted radically in the 1990s.”

Rachel Signer talks with several beverage directors about rosé’s ability to age in Wine & Spirits Magazine. “If a producer approaches rosé with the same careful winemaking and farming as their white or red wine—rather than treating it as a byproduct—why wouldn’t it age just as well?”

Andrea Frost considers the representations of gender in wine language on Tim Atkin’s site.

In Wine Spectator, James Molesworth checks in at Long Island’s Raphael winery, where winemaker Anthony Nappa is overseeing new plantings and graftings.

W. Blake Gray favorably reviews The Spirituality of Wine by Gisela H. Kreglinger.

What’s the fastest way to chill wine? Wine Folly tests the many different methods to find out.

Michigan Radio considers whether there’s a future for wine made in Detroit.

Adam Morganstern breaks down 11 common additives and techniques used by some winemakers in Eater.

Book Review: The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy, by Peter M. F. Sichel

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 06-29-2016

9781480824072When I asked Peter why he chose to list Vintner first in the subtitle to his memoir—as opposed to the more enticing Prisoner, Soldier, or Spy—he replied, “Because it read better that way.” At ninety-four years old, Peter speaks with eloquence, wit, and candor. He writes that way too. The Secrets of My Life—which had to be cleared by the CIA before publication—is a fascinating account, plainly told, of a man who actively participated in some of the most significant happenings of the twentieth century.

Peter’s memoir covers, and is organized according to, what he calls his “three lives”: his childhood as a German Jew in the midst of a burgeoning Nazi regime and his eventual escape to America; his time working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor of the CIA; and his successful career in wine. While the former two occupy the majority of the book’s pages, wine was, and continues to be, an integral part of Peter’s life.

His ancestors started a wine business in the mid-1800s in Mainz, Germany, selling bulk wine to merchants. The business would grow into a family wine empire of sorts, spanning countries throughout Europe and into America. In the book, Peter discusses the ways in which wars and varying national allegiances came at times to divide the family and the business. Despite this, the Sichel name “became something of a brand,” and endures to this day, with several of Peter’s cousins running operations in Bordeaux and his daughter the proprietor of Laurel Glen Vineyards in Sonoma.

In the first section of The Secrets of My Life, Peter shares what it was like to grow up amidst the uncertainty and instability of post-WWI Germany—and the utter confusion that came with being both German and Jewish at this time. One day the Sichels were law-abiding members of their home country, and the next they were outcasts. For Peter’s father, it was “like being rejected by a lover.” In reading these vivid accounts of this period of Peter’s life, I found myself drifting into memories of listening to my grandfather tell his own postwar-era stories, and how I marveled at his ability to recall every minute detail.

If there is a common thread in Peter’s life, it’s his enduring relationships with family and friends. In fact, during our interview, when asked for his secret to longevity, he replied, “Have many good friends and treasure them and enjoy them.” I’m convinced after reading The Secrets of My Life that it was Peter’s extensive web of friends and family that enabled him to survive so much disaster and go on to achieve such success. His life is a true testament to the value of investing in people.

The middle portion of Peter’s memoir is an intriguing inner look at espionage in the post-WWII era. After escaping Germany with his family in the late 1930s, being held in an internment camp near Bordeaux by the French government, reaching America in 1941, and enlisting in the US Army a week after Pearl Harbor, Peter became a member of the OSS. He spent many years in Berlin, where he played the spy game against East Germany and the Soviets. He also spent time in Hong Kong and in Washington D.C., where a general joie de vivre characterized the CIA world at the time. Peter speaks of men who did great work for the country, all the while “drinking like fish,” as was vogue and apparently culturally acceptable at the time. Alcoholism is a topic Peter discusses at length, and he credits his own ability to reduce his consumption as one of the reasons he is still around today.

In 1959, Peter left a seventeen-year career in intelligence for a career in wine. The balance of the book is devoted to this part of Peter’s life, including an account of his involvement with the Blue Nun brand, as well as a chapter entitled “Some Advice on Wine.” Peter is keen to educate others. Once, he was even asked to record an LP, which had him providing wine advice to a young couple on one side and on the other some lovely “music to drink by.” The LP—I was shocked to read—sold over 100,000 copies!

I must say that it is quite an uncanny (or, unheimlich) experience to first read someone’s memoir and then speak with them for the first time. I felt as if I knew Peter, but didn’t really know him at all. But it was a pleasure. You can read further selections from my conversation with Peter below the fold.

A short review cannot do justice to the fascinating life of Peter Sichel. I was (again) shocked to learn that The Secrets of My Life is self-published—it has the stuff of a New York Times best seller. Perhaps major presses were deterred by the lengthy battle with the CIA for publication approval. In any case, I am thankful that Peter decided to share his story—it is one worth knowing.

My Recommendation

The Secrets of My Life is not a book about wine per se. It’s more of a journey through major occurrences of the twentieth century with a man whose life also happened to be tied to the wine industry. Nonetheless, it is a captivating read—a gem among the thousands of books self-published each year. What I loved most is the way the book historicizes wine, placing wine’s romanticism beside the blackest of human action. Peter has great wisdom and experience, and he shares it humbly in his memoir. Read it!

Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Hybrid Grapes Matter

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-29-2016

(Source: La Garagista)

(Source: La Garagista)

In Wine Enthusiast, Amy Zavatto talks with La Garagista Winemaker Deirdre Heekin, who explains how unfamiliar grapes make intriguing wines and makes a case for why hybrid grapes matter.

“Local officials have called for parts of Beaujolais to be declared a disaster zone after fierce hail storms severely damaged several vineyards in the area,” reports Decanter.

In Wine-Searcher, Liza B. Zimmerman looks at how internet big guns like Amazon and eBay are changing wine’s retail landscape. “In an ever-busier world, consumers have gotten used to an on-demand market. They want to order almost anything with a click and have it delivered the same day.”

In Wine Spectator, Bruce Sanderson gets a taste of Tenuta Bibbiano’s Bibbionaccio, a new wine borne of technique rather than terroir or tradition.

What do locals think of wine and food within Bordeaux’s La Cité? Tom Mullen investigates in Forbes.

Simon Reilly deeply considers what Brexit would mean for wine lovers in Purple Pages.

According to the Drinks Business, Australian winemakers could be the unlikely beneficiaries of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

William McIlhenny, associate publisher of JamesSuckling.com, reviews Trump Vineyards in Virginia.

If you had a wine job, what would it be? Wine Folly creates a flow chart to help you decide.

Stinky Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Don’t Blame the Mouvedre

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 06-28-2016

I’d been preparing for this for a month. And here I was, finally, at Château de Beaucastel, the great jewel of the Rhone valley, makers of the archetypal Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Situated in the middle of vineyards for as far as the eye can see, the domain itself was stunning. I paused to savor how far I’d come from the brutal training I’d gone through just weeks earlier

Flashback to a cold winter night, at the Chesapeake Bay home of Washington, DC wine royalty, Knight of Madeira, and famed anti-Brett crusader Jason Whiteside. On the table are thirteen open bottles—menacing, unrelenting wines that wanted to steal my soul. Each was a bruising example of near 100% mouvedre—one of the most important grapes of the Southern Rhone—but a grape that, in this taster’s opinion, is hard to love on its own. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the grape is “tamed,” if you like, in blends. And Château de Beaucastel—the undisputed mouvedre king–uses more mouvedre in their Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend than any other producer. And this becomes important.

The complexity mouvedre imparts to Château de Beaucastel wines is legendary—or to some, notorious—and has been, as I’ll get to in a minute, the subject of one of the greatest and most impactful wine debates in recent memories. But the wines before me on that cold winter night were not this one.

No, what Jason set before me was something else altogether. Something much more else.

Instead of savoring the complexity of a glorious Beaucastel, it was my task to slog through a palate-bruising, mind-melting gauntlet of mouvedre in pursuit of the grape’s true character.

Far, far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, most of these wines were monastrells, the hotter, thicker, usually oakier Spanish or New World version of mouvedre, and in order for its true essence to reveal itself to me, I’d have to be stronger than any taster had ever been before.

I’m not trying to say I’m a hero, exactly, but if that’s what you’re thinking, I’m not going to argue.

Why was I sacrificing liver, and mind, examining these wines? In short, because of science. Jason had proposed a thesis that—if right—would force the rethinking of one of the most important wine debates in history, and, in many ways, demand that most of us rethink some of their basic assumptions about wine. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Hungarian Elixir

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-28-2016

Somló Hill, Hungary (Wikimedia)

Somló Hill, Hungary (Wikimedia)

Alder Yarrow provides an in-depth look at the wines from Somló, Hungary. “In their youth, the wines of Somló are snappy and tight, brimming with acidity and the brightness of a new vintage, underscored by a distinct wet chalkboard or wet stone minerality… What happens next in their evolution, however, is nothing short of remarkable.”

Decanter columnist Andrew Jefford reflects on his place in the wine industry, and explains why he doesn’t want to be a winemaker. “Have I made the wrong decision?  For me, it hinges on aptitude and ambition: the few that I have lie with texts rather than bottles.”

Elsewhere in Decanter, Richard Woodard reports that “González Byass has made a first foray outside its homeland with the purchase of a controlling stake in Chilean winery Veramonte.”

In Wine Spectator, Robert Camuto profiles father-and-son team Paolo and Diego Bosoni of Liguria’s Cantine Lunae Bosoni.

Adam Lechmere considers the impact of Brexit on Europe’s wine industry in Wine-Searcher.

The Drinks Business is intrigued by the rise of Hungarian reds.

Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport sings the praises of Txakolina for summer.

Food & Wine answers the age-old question of whether expensive wine tastes better.

Munchies offers a guide to buying supermarket wine.

Daily Wine News: Historic Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-27-2016

Evangelho Vineyard (Source: Historic Vineyard Society)

Evangelho Vineyard (Source: Historic Vineyard Society)

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley profiles Evangelho Vineyard in Antioch, CA, “one of California’s most precious viticultural treasures, both a preserved expression of this area’s history and a source of some of the state’s most soulful, distinctive wines.”

In Grape Collective, Stuart Pigott returns with part 2 of his feelings about “the rise of the hipster somm. “As far as I can see, the biggest effect they’ve had so far has been to give the dusty, old-fashioned world of wine a youthful and sexy new look. Let’s face it though, this puts them on the same kind of level as models and it-girls.”

Decanter considers what Brexit will mean for the wine industry.

Frances Dinkelspiel has an update on the Premier Cru lawsuit: a partial settlement has been reached that will allow some customers to recoup a portion of their investment.

Wines & Vines on the rise of Mexico’s Baja wine region, which is now home to more than 100 wineries.

Jancis Robinson reports on great wines being made by French wine co-ops.

James Suckling talks with Francisco Baettig of Errázuriz in Chile about cool climate areas and Chilean pinot noir.

In the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre shares a few unbelievable stories from local wineries.

Wine Reviews: California Zinfandel

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-25-2016

It’s been too long since I’ve focused exclusively on California Zinfandel. Well, it’s about time. Especially now that it’s summer and I try to grill food as much as possible – juicy Cali Zin and grilled veggies and meats, it really never gets old for me. And there were a few beauties in this tasting.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Alsace’s Identity

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-24-2016

Village of Kaysersberg in Alsace. (Wikimedia)

Village of Kaysersberg in Alsace. (Wikimedia)

In Decanter, Jane Anson ventures into the disputed territory of sugar levels in Alsace wine, and finds two sides still struggling to negotiate a peace settlement. “The reason that it provokes such a heated discussion is because the attitude towards residual sugar is right at the heart of Alsace’s identity.”

Prince Robert of Luxembourg, owner of Château Haut-Brion, speaks with Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy about his big expansion plans for this family business.

Deborah Parker Wong examines the chemistry behind the sensation of bitterness in SOMM Journal.

Alder Yarrow reflects on a lesson about drinking and driving in light of the news that revealed Denis Malbec’s blood alcohol level was above legal limit at the time of his death.

Wines & Vines looks at how Washington state wineries have been turning their attention to Oregon, as producers in the two states forge closer relationships.

In Eater, Susan H. Gordon on the transformation happening in the quality of Vinho Verde wines.

Reuters reports that online sales and frugal customers are impacting China’s wine sales.

Elaine Chukan Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews shares the results from the 2nd Annual Judgment of BC.

“New Zealand must promote both grape varieties and its varied regionality if it is to continue its success,” according to a recent debate covered in the Drinks Business.

Daily Wine News: Wine Drinking Cities

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 06-23-2016

ParisDecanter shares data presented in a French study that lists the world’s cities that drink the most wine. In first place? Paris, of course.

In Punch, Jon Bonné finds some of the “world’s best rosés” hiding in places like Germany and Austria. “We like to think of rosé being from warm places, Mediterranean places… But if you think of rosé this way, well, stop.”

On the blog for First Vine, Tom Natan talks to cookbook authors Jane and Michael Stern about food writing, and explores how their influence has extended to wine writing. “Their food writing, then and now, focused on the connections of the food to the place it comes from, the people who make and serve it, and who farm the ingredients. Those characteristics also started showing up in wine magazine writing, and these days are the main focus of writing outside of wine reviews.”

Wine Enthusiast offers a guide to “the best 2015 rosés for summer.”

Wine Spectator reports that new research from UC Davis suggests an insect may be responsible for the spread of the red blotch virus.

Joe Roberts advises women in the wine world to “stop handing over your power…and start taking the time to do it yourself.”

Oliver Roeder pines data from Vinfolio, a fine wine retailer and analyzes the “weird world of expensive wine” in FiveThirtyEight.