Stunning Wines on the Edge of American Viticulture

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 04-14-2015

finger_lakesAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I praise the wines of the Finger Lakes region in New York — and highlight the collaborative nature of the winemakers there.

Stunning Wines on the Edge of American Viticulture

Finger Lakes’ wine pioneer Hermann Wiemer released his first wine 35 years ago. While his wines helped the New York region gain critical acclaim, he never curried much favor with local winemakers. And he had little patience for collegiality. In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, he described most Finger Lakes wine as “rubber hose” quality.

Things have certainly changed. Today, consumers everywhere consider Finger Lakes Riesling to be on par with the best offerings from Germany and Austria. Serious oenophiles recognize that other wines from the region show tremendous potential. And ironically, the region’s winemakers credit the collaborative spirit Wiemer shunned for the surge in quality.

Indeed, it’s a struggle to get vintners there to talk about their own wines. Virtually every Finger Lakes winemaker is more interested in promoting the industry as a whole — and praising colleagues — than talking about himself.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Worry About Wine, Not Arsenic

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-31-2015

ArsenicAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I find some good news in the allegation that some of the nation’s top-selling low-cost wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic.

Worry About Wine, Not Arsenic

In late March, two couples filed a class action lawsuit in California alleging that some of the nation’s top-selling low-cost wines contain unsafe levels of arsenic. “Just a glass or two” of wine from producers like Cupcake, Charles Shaw, Franzia, Rex Goliath, and Korbel “could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity,” according to the suit.

Many media outlets jumped on the story. CNN asked, “Should you be worried about arsenic in California wine?” Local CBS affiliates terrified viewers with breathtaking stories about “high levels of deadly arsenic.” But the coverage was grossly overblown.

For starters, the plaintiff’s analysis considered the EPA’s standard for arsenic in drinking water. If your Franzia consumption rivals your water consumption, you have bigger concerns than arsenic. Plus, as the Wine Institute, a trade group representing California wineries, explained, “arsenic is prevalent in the natural environment in air, soil and water… [so] wines from throughout the world contain trace amounts.”

So consumers should rest easy; winemakers aren’t topping up their tanks with the toxin. But the collective freak-out demonstrates that consumers are starting to pay attention to what’s in their wine. That’s worth celebrating.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-17-2015

CC0 Public Domain.

CC0 Public Domain.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I explain why wine enthusiasts shouldn’t worry about academic studies that call baloney on oenophilia.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

One glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was described as “powerful and heavy.” Another was described as “subtle and refined.”  The only difference? The music that was playing while people drank the wine.

A few years ago, Adrian North, a psychology professor at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, tested the impact of music on taste perception by pouring wine for 250 students. Some tasted the wine while listening to music identified by others as “powerful and heavy,” while others listened to music that was “subtle and refined,” “zingy and refreshing,” or “mellow and soft.” Other students drank without any music. After enjoying their wine for five minutes, the students were asked to rate how much the wine tasted like the musical descriptions.

The conclusion, as put simply in the British Journal of Psychology? “Background music influences the taste of wine.”

When North’s study came out, oenophiles were infuriated. Here was yet another academic calling wine appreciation into question.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Widespread derision of wine criticism began in 2001 when Frédéric Brochet, a University of Bordeaux psychologist, poured one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine for 54 oenology students — and then asked them to describe each wine in detail. Students described each wine with the laundry list of descriptors one would expect for reds and whites. What Brochet didn’t tell the students? Both wines were the same. The white in one glass was simply dyed red.

Ever since, the media has jumped at any opportunity to call baloney on oenophilia. But psychologists have long known that humans are easily tricked, especially when relying on taste buds.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-03-2015

IMG_20150228_140315As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I write about the best California wine I’ve ever had — and what it teaches us about great wine.

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Fifteen years ago, Stephen Tanzer, one of the world’s leading wine critics, described the Cabernet Sauvignon from Ridge’s 1991 harvest in Monte Bello vineyard as “among the top dozen made in California during the last 20 years.”

So when I tasted the wine on January 16, 2012, my expectations were high. A few friends and I had gathered at a local steakhouse to explore some of California’s top wines from the 1990s; bottles from producers like Seavey, Dominus, Chappellet, and Dunn were on the table. And the Ridge outclassed everything. The wine, grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, exploded out of the glass with sweet, fleshy fruit, wild herbs, and graphite. It was concentrated but light on its feet. The finish lingered impressively.

The Ridge Monte Bello stopped us in our tracks. It was as if we had discovered the Holy Grail. Without question, it was the best California wine I’d ever had.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

BREAKING: Robert Parker Steps Back From Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 02-25-2015

Robert Parker, 2014 Wine Writers Symposium.

Robert Parker, 2014 Wine Writers Symposium.

Earlier today, Robert Parker announced (subscription required) that he’s taking a step back from his Bordeaux coverage. As Parker explains:

As just part of the planned coverage for this year, Neal will review the 2014 en primeur releases from Bordeaux. Meanwhile I plan to review the newly bottled 2012 vintage wines and produce a comprehensive 10 year retrospective on the incredible 2005 Bordeaux vintage.

Parker’s decision makes sense. He’s reviewed virtually every Bordeaux vintage for nearly four decades and could surely use a break. But winemakers in Bordeaux must be nervous. No critic will ever have Parker’s influence. And one must assume that he’s now done with en primeur — and will likely move away from all Bordeaux reviews in the near future.

A Conversation with Terry Theise

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 02-18-2015

Terry TheiseRegular readers know that over the past few years, I’ve become obsessed with Champagne. Last week, while thinking about how popular the region has become — and what a debt we’re all in to Terry Theise — I realized that I didn’t know why, exactly, Theise started importing Champagne.

So we connected by phone and the discussion inspired my most recent Grape Collective column. We covered all sorts of issues — from Theise’s seminal trip to Champagne to what the future of the region will look like. It was fascinating. Check out our conversation below!

David White: How’d you decide to start importing Champagne?

Terry Theise: I was already bringing in growers from Germany and Austria. So my entire mentality was based upon working with small, family producers. The background of my history with Champagne is that when I came together with Odessa Piper — then my girlfriend, now my wife — we were long distance for quite a while. She had a restaurant in Madison; I had a child in the D.C. area. So neither of us really could move.

So, as happens in long-distance relationships, you have a lot of misery and heartbreak when you’re apart. But when you come together, it’s a big celebration. So we quickly ran through all the grower Champagnes that were available in the U.S. market and I found myself thinking, “Is this really all? There have to be more good growers than this.”

So one year, in 1995 or 1996, we just made a detour to Champagne. I had a list of interesting growers from Michael Edward’s first book and other research I had done. So I thought we’d take four or five days and just check out some of these growers.

This was all personal. All I wanted to do was to buy some Champagne to ship back to myself so I’d have stuff in the cellar to open up with Odessa. So we visited a number of producers. And I came away with my mind expanded — I had not realized the profound degree to which Champagne was a wine of terroir, just like every other wine of Northern Europe.

As we’re driving back — fishtailing all over because the trunk is full of Champagne — I’m thinking about how interesting the region is. I must have even observed that out loud, because Odessa then says, “You really ought to do this professionally.”

I say, “Oh, come on, I’m already pushing a rock up a hill with German wine and now I’ve just strapped a safe to my back with Austrian wine. How much misery do you want to put me through?”

And she says, “Do you think these wines deserve an audience?”

I said, “No question about it, they do.”

And she says, “Do you think that someone will be successful with them at some point?”

And I say, “Yeah, I think so, I think the right kind of importer will be successful with these wines.”

So she says, “How will you feel if that person isn’t you — and you had the chance and walked away from it?”

The only proper response to a question like that is, “Yes, dear,” and the result is that I began to import small grower Champagnes.

Once that decision was made, I went back diligently looking to put a portfolio together — and I had a lot of assistance from the producers, because you can get a chain reaction going with growers. If you taste with somebody and you like his wines and you’re personally simpatico, you can easily ask for other addresses to visit. The growers are perfectly happy to be collegial, so I got a lot of references from certain people. So in the first year, I put a portfolio together consisting of nine growers. That’s expanded and has now reached what I imagine to be its apex of 16 growers.

There were just 33 grower Champagnes in the U.S. market at that point. There are around 250 today. Of those nine you brought in, were any already in the United States? I don’t want to ask if you stole them from other importers, but were any already in the market? Or were they all brand new?

A couple of them — one or two — were here with either small local importers or national importers who weren’t doing a very good job for them. And when I surveyed the landscape, I saw a lot of good importers had a Champagne producer in their portfolio, or maybe two, but that struck me as tokenism. As an importer, you wouldn’t claim to represent Burgundy if you only had one or two Burgundy growers in your portfolio. You want to be comprehensive. And you want to show all of the manifold expression possible from Burgundy or, as I came to learn, from Champagne. So if I was going to tell the story that I knew needed to be told, I had to have Champagnes representative of a wide range of terroirs. As I often say, I wasn’t the first one to do it, but I was the first one to overdo it. Read the rest of this entry »

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 02-17-2015

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, by sharing a great love story, I explore why Champagne is such a special beverage.

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

“Here you have this wonderful, miraculous thing, with hundreds of thousands of little tiny bubbles that are defeating gravity and exploding in this gentle fragrant foam on the lip of the glass. There is something beautiful — in a kind of giddy way — about just the sight of Champagne.”

It was slightly surprising to hear wine importer Terry Theise make this statement.

Since the dawn of global wine consumption, large producers like Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot have dominated the Champagne market. These companies purchase their grapes from thousands of growers across the region to deliver a consistent product each year — and spend millions trying to convince us that their wines are best enjoyed when celebrating.

Theise has spent the past twenty years urging Americans to ignore these companies and instead drink “farmer fizz,” or Champagne produced by the farmers who grow the grapes. And he’s worked harder than anyone to dispel the notion that Champagne should only be consumed on New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and other special occasions.

But Theise recognizes that Champagne carries an emotional charge. There is, to put it simply, something special about Champagne. As Theise writes in his most recent catalog, “we invest our hearts in it.”

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Craft Beer Boom Benefits Wine Industry

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 02-03-2015

beermugAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I write about Super Bowl XLIX to explain why the boom in craft beer sales will benefit the wine industry.

Craft Beer Boom Benefits Wine Industry

About 50 million cases of beer were purchased on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s no wonder Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest brewer, purchased three and a half minutes of ad time during the big game.

Two of the beer company’s commercials were widely praised. Bud Light’s spot made virtually every viewer hope for an epic evening in a life-sized Pac-Man maze. Budweiser’s tale of a lost puppy finding his way home melted millions of hearts. But Anheuser-Busch’s third commercial, which mocked craft beer and the people who enjoy it, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many football fans.

“Proudly a macro beer, [Budweiser is] not brewed to be fussed over,” the spot began. “It’s brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like drinking beer . . . Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”

In this narrative, craft beer drinkers are fussy hipsters who dine on Brussels sprouts and chicken liver mousse at cerebral, trendy restaurants. Budweiser fans, by contrast, are blue-blooded men who drive trucks and hang out at packed bars — and don’t give much thought to what they drink.

The motivation for this commercial, aimed at making Budweiser synonymous with manliness? Fear. Americans have been abandoning Budweiser for more than 25 years. While the company sold nearly 50 million barrels of its iconic beer in 1988, it sold just 16 million in 2013. Many Americans have moved to light beer, but Budweiser is most worried about the rise of craft beer, especially among 20-somethings.

Among 21- to 27-year-old drinkers, more than four in 10 say they’ve never even tried Budweiser. In this demographic, craft beer makes up 15 percent of beer purchases, compared with 10 percent for older generations. This trend is accelerating. That’s great news for craft brewers, obviously, but it’s also a positive development for small wine producers.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Gearing Up for #BerserkerDay

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 01-26-2015

berserkerslogoMany wine geeks spend all their free time on Wine Berserkers, a wine discussion board that was launched in 2008 after Todd French, an oenophile in San Clemente, was kicked off Robert Parker’s e-bulletin board. Today, Wine Berserkers is world’s most active wine board. It boasts nearly 20,000 members and receives nearly 9,000 visitors each day.

Tomorrow, Wine Berserkers is expecting to receive more traffic than ever before. The reason? BerserkerDay.

Every year, French invites wineries, retailers, and others to offer “berserk” deals. These deals are posted throughout the day — and many are absolutely unreal. It’s completely free — retailers don’t pay to participate, and this year, BerserkerDay is open to the public. You don’t even have to be registered on Wine Berserkers. (That said, paying members can preview the deals today!)

As French explains, “this day of deals is a fantastic way for those ITB to give back to consumers, and also the reverse, as many, many new and exciting wineries/producers/wines are discovered by Berserkers on BerserkerDay, with purchases made, and discussions from those who might have experience with them.”

So check it out. And make sure your credit card is ready for some serious damage!

 

Are Modern Sommeliers Educators? Absolutely.

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 01-20-2015

taste vinAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. These columns are hosted by Grape Collective.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I praise the educational approach favored by today’s top sommeliers.  

Are Modern Sommeliers Educators? Absolutely.

I was out past midnight one recent Wednesday, despite a meeting early the next morning. When I headed home, my route took me through Washington, D.C.’s popular 14th Streetcorridor, where a few bars and restaurants were still open.

As I passed Doi Moi, a trendy Southeast Asian restaurant, I noticed that virtually every table in the front half of the restaurant was full. Odd for so late on a weeknight, I thought. I then realized that the tables were packed with staffers. The team had assembled, with notebooks and glasses in hand, to learn from wine director Max Kuller. He holds seminars twice each month to teach his team about wine.

Kuller represents a new generation of sommeliers, one that has rejected the exclusivity and stuffiness of yesteryear in favor of an approach that values inclusivity and education. Kuller is more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt than a three-piece suit. And while his list includes a handful of expensive trophies, it mostly offers offbeat, wallet-friendly wines that work well with Doi Moi’s cuisine. Thanks to regular gatherings, Kuller’s team is familiar with Doi Moi’s full list. And Kuller works hard to make sure his colleagues take the interaction of wine with food seriously.

Spotting the late-night wine seminar was refreshing. Earlier that evening, I dined at La Chaumiere, a French bistro in Georgetown that opened its doors in 1976 and has hardly changed since. 

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!