2015 Bordeaux Futures: Worth Buying?

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-14-2016

From Wikimedia.

From Wikimedia.

The excitement over the 2015 Bordeaux vintage is palpable. Early indications suggest that it is the best vintage since the superlative duo of 2009 and 2010. However, the quality of the 2015 vintage likely is not as high or as uniform as these prior years. The communes of Margaux, Pessac-Leognan and Pomerol appear to be the stars with the northern Medoc being of more variable quality due to late arriving rains.

The absence of a quality vintage for almost a half-decade has led to high expectations for the 2015 futures campaign. However, the stratospheric release price and subsequent poor investment performance associated with the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages have caused many to view the Bordeaux futures system with skepticism. Therefore, before we get too seduced by the hype surrounding this new vintage, we should consider whether the current price of these wines make them a compelling value proposition at this juncture.

When analyzing any futures offering for a specific wine, I ask the following three questions:

  1. Is this a wine worth purchasing based on my prior experience with previous vintages and/or its initial description and critical rating? Basically, is this a wine I really want to own?
  2. Is this a wine that is made in such limited quantities that I would need to purchase it via futures to obtain an allocation? Think Le Pin, Ausone, Lafleur, Hosanna, etc.
  3. What is the relative value of this wine compared to the most recent similar quality in-bottle vintage? Put another way, is the current futures price of the wine at least 20% below the lowest current retail price of the most recent similar quality in-bottle vintage? As an aside, I use 20% as a threshold because I feel that it is the minimum discount needed to justify the time-value of money and counterparty default risks associated with buying a wine two years before it is delivered. For example, if I can earn at least 5% per year by investing in stocks and bonds and I want at least a 10% discount to cover the risk that the merchant may not actually deliver the wine when promised, my minimum discount is 20%. I also feel that this discount is sufficient to justify purchasing a wine that has not yet received a final in-bottle rating.

If I can answer question #1 and either question #2 or #3 in the affirmative, I will consider purchasing the wine via futures. However, as you may have guessed, the most important questions is #3. Why? Because it is the only question that deals with monetary value and risk. Moreover, it is the only criteria that can be used as a litmus test to determine the relative value of a specific futures offering for an entire vintage, not just a specific wine.

Now that you understand how I generally analyze a futures offering, let’s look at the 2015 futures campaign to see if it passes muster. Read the rest of this entry »

Pennsylvania is not for wine lovers

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 06-06-2016

keystoneYesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an op-ed I wrote in response to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s recent decision to allow six packs of beer to be sold in select gas stations throughout the state.

In the piece, I discuss why this move to “Free the Six Pack” deserves little fanfare and argue that an earnest push for privatization is what Pennsylvanians, especially wine lovers, really want.

Pennsylvania is not for wine lovers

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has now approved the sale of six packs in select gas stations throughout the state, a move supported by Gov. Tom Wolf. While this effort to “Free the Six Pack” makes for good press, it’s little consolation for consumers in the Keystone State who continue to live under what is certainly the most archaic system of alcohol regulation in the country.

The inanity of Pennsylvania alcohol regulation is felt most potently by wine consumers. Because all wine is sold in state-run stores, because the LCB controls which wines are allowed to be sold, and because legal hoop-jumping or flat-out restriction prevents consumers from having wine shipped directly to their doors from out of state, they are left with little in the way of choice. For the casual drinker, the status quo of endless Yellowtail and Franzia is just fine; but for those who wish to lunge headlong into the world of oenological possibility, it’s maddening.

Those who desire novelty go to great lengths (most technically illegal) to attain what they’re looking for. They cross borders, stuff suitcases and even have prized bottles shipped to out-of-state family and friends, who graciously house them until they can be retrieved. None of this is easy, but there really is no other choice short of moving out of Pennsylvania.

There are several options available to Pennsylvania residents who wish to purchase wine not found in a state-run store. First, there’s the third-party shipping route. This option involves some kind of transit alchemy whereby an out-of-state winery can ship directly to the consumer’s doorstep in Pennsylvania. Doubtless the LCB is getting its tax from someone en-route, but it doesn’t really matter because third-party shipping is expensive and most wineries don’t bother offering it.

Check out the rest of the piece on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online!

Help William Allen #EscapeGravity!

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-16-2015

William Allen.

William Allen.

William Allen of Two Shepherds needs your help. I’m a huge fan of William and his wines, so I want to help make his plea.

I met William at the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference and we immediately hit it off. Passion is hard to fake, a few people can match William’s fervor for wine.

William was there because he kept a wine blog at the time (Simple Hedonisms), but he was really buzzing about the upcoming release of his out-of-control garagiste project, Two Shepherds.

About 15 years ago, William started brewing beer in his garage. Since he was in love with wine, he decided to also try his hand at winemaking. The hobby soon became an obsession, so in the summer of 2009, he decided to take a four-month sabbatical from his tech job to move to Sonoma, plant a vineyard, help out with harvest, and network.

At that point, he was hooked — and knew that he wanted to share his wine with the world. So in 2010, William sourced enough fruit to make 175 cases of wine. They turned out to be a hit. His wines have since been praised by folks like Jon Bonné, Alder Yarrow (who profiled William in 2013) Richard Jennings, and countless others. Last year, Allen bottled 1,000 cases of wine.

A few months ago, William and his partner, wine industry veteran Karen Daenen, decided to kick things up a notch. With the goal of growing to a 3,000-case winery, they purchased a video-production warehouse in North Sonoma and turned it into a (almost functional) winery within just 3.5 weeks. It will eventually include a tasting room, as well.

They’re calling the effort to triple in size in the next five years “#EscapeGravity.” And through Indiegogo, they’re trying to raise $25,000 to help their efforts.

Since most wine stories these days seem to be about small wineries being purchased by huge wine companies, the opportunity to support a small winery taking the next leap comes along all too rarely. So please help William #EscapeGravity!

Bordeaux in Blue Jeans

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 08-19-2015

Jeans (Source: Wikimedia)

Source: Wikimedia

Discover the comfortable and accessible wines from Côtes de Bordeaux.

Generally I prefer not to recycle the marketing lines pitched to me in an effort to taste a wine or attend an event, but in this case, it is too fitting. The wines of Côtes de Bordeaux really are like “Bordeaux in Blue Jeans.”

The Côtes de Bordeaux falls outside of the five classified hierarchies in Bordeaux, the most obvious of those being the 1855 classification, but also including one for Graves, one for St. Émilion, the Crus Bourgeois, and Cru Artisan. The Côtes are a collection of four regions that have banded together under the appellation name.

“Côtes” translates to slopes and “Bordeaux” literally means “the side of the water.” The Côtes de Bordeaux are hillside vineyards, mostly south or southeastern facing, on the right bank of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. The four regions, in order of size, include Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac, and Francs.

Frankly, the appellation is much more about camaraderie and marketing nomenclature than it is about geology and terroir (i.e., 50 miles separates northern Blaye from southern Cadillac, not mentioning the fact that they are on different rivers). That said, what the regions do have in common is they tend to produce accessible wines, both in terms of profile and price, which are perfectly suited for everyday. A la jeans.

As expected given the clay-limestone rich soils of the right bank, the wines are predominantly Merlot-driven. Edouard Bourgeois, sommelier at Café Boulud, summarizes the appellation’s approach and style saying, “These family-run wineries proudly make approachable, affordable, Merlot-based cuvees. They aspire to a different Bordeaux that uses little or no oak and produce wines that don’t require aging and are perfect for by the glass programs or casual meals at home.”

In total, the Côtes de Bordeaux makes 5.5 million cases annually (of the 57 million in Bordeaux) from 941 producers (of the 6,800 in Bordeaux).

A map and quick descriptions of each region are below:

Cotes de Bordeaux map

Blaye: Northernmost region – just across the Gironde from Margaux and Saint-Julien. Blaye’s history dates back 2,000+ years when it was a prized Roman vineyard. Limestone cliffs and some clay.

Castillon: Ridges and plateau of limestone as you move away from the Dordogne. Here you’ll find very similar, but sometimes higher elevation terroir than Saint-Emilion. Closer to the river, the soil is predominantly clay with sand.

Francs: Pale limestone clay soils with several high elevation plots. Dry continental climate with cold winters and hot, sunny summers. Only 46 wine producers in this small region.

Cadillac: Southernmost region in the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, lining the shore of the Garonne. Limestone (sometimes below shallow loam), a variety of clays (including a thick blue clay like in Pomerol) and stony, fine gravel. It’s warmer and sunnier here, which makes the reds more susceptible to rot, so it’s difficult to always let the grapes hang long enough to ripen in the acidic limestone soil.

La Cuvee Bistrot du Puy ArnaudRECOMMENDED BOTTLES
Chateau Robin (Castillon)
 SRP $19
A perfect bistrot wine. Round and plump, but enough acidity to match food.

Chateau Cap de Faugeres 2010 (Castillon)
SRP $18.99
Dark plummy perfume and a rich palate.

La Cuvee Bistrot de Puy Arnaud 2012 (Castillon)
SRP: $25
Biodynamic estate. A fun wine – 100% Merlot grown on limestone soil. Semi-carbonic maceration, all stainless steel. Serve it slightly chilled with the end-of-summer dishes.

Chateau Cru Godard 2011 (Francs)
SRP $17
Organic. Packed with peppery spice and begging for simply prepared meat.

Chateau Lamothe de Haux Valentine par Valentine 2011 (Cadillac)
 SRP: $28
Juicy and easy to drink with a nice vein of minerality.

* In full disclosure, I wrote this article before I started a new job, but I’m now working for a Bordeaux negociant and importer.


Wine At The End of History: How the New York Times (Sort Of) Saved the World From the Natural Wine Revolution

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 06-26-2015

(Flickr: winestem)

(Flickr: winestem)

Whether you know it or not, you’re witnessing a revolution. Being a wine drinker in recent years has meant taking sides (or refusing to take sides, which is just another version of a side) in a revolution in how wine is made and consumed.

While the battle has been waged mostly beneath the radar of the non-wine geek world, a recent article in the New York Times Magazine has changed this.

In “The Wrath of Grapes,” Bruce Schoenfeld embeds himself on the front lines where upstart winemakers and sommeliers have been fighting for balanced and “natural” wines — against overripe, alcoholic, bombastic “Parkerized” wines — in the very territory where the enemy seemed to have the surest hold: California.

The revolution took shape in all the regular ways. There was the overbearing, conservative dictator (Robert Parker) who controlled the information and, increasingly, seemingly, the means of production. There were the radical gorilla fighters (the biodynamic winemakers) getting their hands dirty while other rebellious ideologues (sommeliers, bloggers) pursued the Manifesto of Balance online and in the coolest new restaurants. Across the disputed zone, in underground wine stores and restaurants – and deep in the bunkers of certain online wine blogs and boards — weak and staticy instructions were sent out to the comrades and a counter-market of natural wines gained foothold on both coasts. And there’s been a lot of carnage; just ask the Australian wine industry.

Perhaps more than anything else, the Times article makes clear that The Dictator is all too good at playing his role. Like any good dictator, he ignored the voice of the opposition. And then, precisely at the point his power was most tenuous, he only acknowledged the counter-movement to say that it didn’t actually exist: “The jihadist movements of non­sulphured wines, green, underripe wines, low alcohol, insipid stuff promoted by the anti-­pleasure police & neo-­anti-­alcohol proponents has run its course as another extreme and useless movement few care about.”

In his inimitably gruff, paratactic writing style, Robert Parker speaks with immodest certitude, disregarding the opposition while issuing his 100-point decrees.

Admittedly, no matter which side you’ve been on, it’s been exciting times to be a wine drinker. But I’m ready to climb out of the trenches. I’m going AWOL. Read the rest of this entry »

Millennial Wine Drinkers at Restaurants

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 02-24-2015

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials are a popular, nay hyped, topic among those in the wine industry. Wine marketers excitedly chase this demographic with the latest packaging, social media campaign, or on-trend red blend.

As a millennial myself, I tend to roll my eyes when I see wine news interspersed with phrases like, “targeted at millennial consumers,” “aimed at millennial males,” or “courting a new generation of wine drinkers.” Note: all of those are pulled from the last week of industry newsletters. Usually what follows, to my millennial sensibilities, seems insincere and manipulative. I want something that is authentic and truly appeals to me vs. a product and campaign that’s attempting to get more share of my wallet.

Plenty of research studies, both within and outside of the wine industry, are directionally useful to understanding younger wine drinkers. Gallo’s latest Consumer Wine Trends Survey featured a number of findings about millennials. The Wine Market Council has put out a succession of media alerts highlighting its recent annual research, including millennial consumption trends. Or for a more general understanding, the idea and content engine, psfk, publishes frequent opinion pieces covering millennial marketing and case studies. Given the hotness of this topic, the list of sources goes on.

However, in my opinion, the most insightful way to learn and to gain credibility with millennials is to go right to the source. Fill in the holes of millennial truisms with your own conversations & experiences, and with the experiences of others who are on the frontline of working with millennials.

To this end, I had the chance at this month’s Vino2015 to listen to a panel discussion all about Echo Boomers Growing Impact in the wine world. This panel included Jack Mason, wine director at Marta, a Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant modeled on the “rustic tradition of Roman pizzerie.” Jack, himself a 27-year old millennial, provided extremely useful and resonant primary observations on what millennial wine drinkers seek in their dining experiences.

He began, “Millennials are lazy and rebellious. They want to be in the know and they want a unique experience.” Read the rest of this entry »

More Civility from Robert Parker

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-17-2014

Flickr, Spring Dew.

Flickr, Spring Dew.

Last Monday, Ron Washam (the “HoseMaster of Wine”) wrote a satirical essay on In Pursuit of Balance.

Created in 2011 by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch, IPOB has been somewhat controversial. In showcasing producers who eschew power and in favor of restraint, the organization is exclusionary by design. And many have taken issue with its use of the word “balance.” (Last year, for example, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman proclaimed that he “[resented] the implication that richer, more full-bodied wines can’t be balanced.”)

On Tuesday, Robert Parker decided to share his feelings on IPOB:

Subject: Hosemaster classic

His latest comedic genius is especially skull-breaking through the wonderful imagery of a Coravin needle in Jim Laube’s head,…capturing the silly nonsense and money-grubbing lunacy of the Pursuit of Balance crowd….how about In Pursuit of Breathing? Even one of the old geezers from my formulative past-Charlie Olken(who has probably forgotten in one day more about California wine than all the “balancers” know collectively)-CO is the founder and pioneer of the long and excellent Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine….in short, no serious person pays any attention to Raj Parr and his zealots as it is so obvious they are only trying to sell their own wines….aren’t there enough sommeliers to support them? Keep the humor flowing RW….turds that actually or so full of hot air and float to the surface will eventually end up where they belong….history tells us this…..

In summary, Robert Parker believes that “no serious person pays any attention to Raj Parr” and that IPOB producers are “turds.”

Never mind Parr’s various wine ventures, his role as wine director for Michael Mina’s 21 restaurants, or the huge following he has on Instagram and Twitter. And never mind the fact that many IPOB producers (Au Bon Climat, Calera, Failla, Hanzell, etc.) have been praised by Parker in the past.

To quote New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, “this must be an example of the new civility among wine writers that Bob has recommended.”

Creativity in Wine PR

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-17-2014


Complexity New Zealand’s Grapes on a Train

Scrolling through the inbox of a wine writer would be an enlightening experience for most wine industry PR professionals. A quick perusal would reveal that the standard PR toolkit relies on the following common tactics:

- press releases (yawn)
- requests to send samples
- invitations to large, walk-around tastings
- invitations to seminars, often called “master classes”
- invitations to dinners or lunches, sometimes with winemakers
- invitations to press trips

It’s hard for a message to stand out when every producer or trade group wants their press release shared, their “master class” filled, or their wines reviewed. So, what can PR do to make their efforts more memorable and effective?

I can think of two recent programs that have been particularly creative.

The first one was crazy and random. However, I still find myself talking to other attendees about it. Complexity New Zealand organized an event called “Grapes on a Train,” where a group of press and trade attendees took a scenic, 10-hour train ride to Montreal via the historic Adirondack train from Penn Station. Six winemakers joined us from New Zealand – Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines, Brett Bermingham of Nautilus Estate, Ben Glover of Mud House Wines, Nick Picone of Villa Maria, Tim Health of Cloudy Bay, and Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef.

On board, we were handed wooden trays with stemless glasses (new ones for each seminar – I can’t imagine the logistics that went into organizing this event on a moving train). Attendees were then ushered through four seminars, which highlighted the variety and quality of New Zealand wines.


The event was brilliant in that it held a group of busy, easily-distracted writers and somms captive for the entire day. And it got all of us talking. Why had we all agreed to do this? Why were a bunch of New Zealand winemakers going to French Canadian Montreal? How did they get the budget to pull this off, including accommodations for the night in Montreal and flights back to New York in the morning?

It didn’t make sense. But somehow, it worked. The execution was flawless. Read the rest of this entry »

Laurence Faller Matters: Wine Fetishism and Wine Reality

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 06-19-2014

Domaine Weinbach is located in a 16th century Capuchin monastery at the foot of the mighty Grand Cru Schlossberg, just outside of the charming village of Keyserberg, resplendent with twee medieval half-timbered houses lined with flowerboxes. 

Laurence Faller.

Laurence Faller.

It was the morning following Christmas, and we—my wife, brother, and myself–were greeted by Laurence’s sister, Catherine, who manages sales. The winter scene could not have been more idyllic; I stood with my wife and brother in front of an ancient monastery that might have been of gingerbread, watching the fog roll down the Schlossberg mountain, glistening with hoarfrost. Two shutters popped opened above me—I heard a sing-songy “âllo!”

Looking up at Catherine peering out from the shutters from above, I half expected a bluebird to land on her shoulder.

With the passing of Laurence Faller on May 13th at the way-too-young age of 47, the wine world lost one of its most distinguished winemakers. But Laurence Faller’s significance to the wine world exceeded the gorgeous wines she made.

Passionate, beautiful, and immensely talented, Laurence was part of a group of whip-smart young Alsatian and Loire Valley winemakers whose biodynamic, non-interventional, or otherwise experimental techniques would resonate throughout the wine industry, forever changing how we think and talk about the relation between wine and earth.

She was a leader. She was a visionary.

And she was also a woman.

Through her actions and examples, Laurence was an all-too-rare role model for the minority of people in the industry who are not White Males.  Let’s face it: especially, perhaps, in the United States, wine collection—like other hobbies of fetish, such as collecting baseball cards; cars; cigars; coins; indeed, collecting or compulsively consuming anything, really—is largely a male enterprise.

This is not, of course, to say that women don’t drink wine. The numbers show quite clearly that they do.  However, we also know that the world and culture of “wine collecting” is largely driven by men—and a fetishization of worldly things that is, somehow, distinctly masculine in ethos. So much of the wine world is reducible to dudes lusting after and gushing over their treasured bottles, fretting and hand-wringing over what bottles to buy and how many.

Meanwhile, many bottles—especially, ironically enough, the most rare and expensive examples—may never even be opened. In wine as in sex, fetishism is mostly something men do.

And then there’s the fact that the culture is driven largely by people chasing points—those grand numbers that, through a mystification rooted in an appeal to authority, give off that sheen of objectivity that justifies the enterprise. And, of course, it’s a historical fact too that the kinds of over-reaching rationalizations involved in this kind of quantification—the kind that extend from a naïve positivism—have long been associated with masculinity.

Drinking to excess, and excess in general, is also historically tied to masculinity. One white male, Hercules, famously got so drunk on Alsatian wine that he left his shield in the Rangen vineyard (his shield is now on the Alsatian flag). Perhaps even male demi-gods, and not just Oedipus, aren’t immune to fetishization. Read the rest of this entry »

Weirdness at the Wine Advocate

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 03-06-2014

DSC01964Early this morning, Robert Parker took a break from several weeks of traveling to post an update for his readers.

In a brief blurb about the Wine Writers Symposium, he wrote, “…Lisa and Jeb were there and later told me the tasting of Jon Bonné’s “new California” wines, assisted by Eric Asimov, was a disaster of showcasing largely emaciated, excessively acidic, hollow wines –apparently many of the attendees were turned off, wondering how wine writing could intentionally go down such a losing path.”

As readers asked for clarification, Wine Advocate editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW shared some quick notes:

Here are the wines as I recall them off the top of my head (forgive me if I get some of the wine details wrong): Chappellet 2012 Chenin Blanc (dilute, lacking perfume, simple, thin and abrubt); Abrente 2012 Carneros Albariño (neutral aroma, flavorless without vibrancy and texture…I wondered if they had actually planted Albariño); Massican 2012 White Wine Blend (a blend of mainly Ribolla Gialla with smaller proportions of Tocai Friuliano & Chardonnay. It was vaguely interesting for uniqueness-sake but not particularly exciting as a wine…fairly simple, tart and nondescript); a Pinot Grigio (can’t remember the name) with some residual sugar to give it texture and the illusion of fruit flavor…enough said.; Heitz Grignolino (this was touted as a red wine but looked like a rose and tasted something like an average quality Gamay); a really disappointing Cabernet Franc (again, I’ve forgotten the producer but I was truly disappointed with this austere, astringent, weedy example because I know Napa can produce great Cab Franc when it’s matched to a compatible site), Lagier Meredith 2011 Syrah (The wine of the tasting for me – a pleasant, cooler vintage style with a medium body and plenty of pepper and spice.) I seem to remember we finished with an under-ripe, hollow, hard, acidic and forgettable Cabernet Sauvignon that wasn’t even close to Napa greatness standards.

The actual lineup was as follows:

- 2012 Abrente Albariño
- 2012 Chappellet Chenin Blanc
- 2012 Massican Annia (46% Ribolla Gialla, 36% Friulano, 18% Chardonnay)
- 2011 Matthiasson White (56% Sauv Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla, 18% Semillon, and 8% Friulano)
- 2009 Heitz Grignolino
- 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah
- 2011 Turley Wine Cellars Library Vineyard Petite Sirah
- 2010 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon

Jeb Dunnuck, who reviews wines from the Rhône Valley, Southern France, Washington, and Central & Southern California for Wine Advocate, also chimed in:

The whites were mediocre at best. Most were tart, hollow and under-ripe; one needed RS to keep it palatable. Eric Asimov even commented that one was not profound and quaffable… Nothing wrong with that, but the idea that that’s what Napa should strive towards is ridiculous. Reds were better (one weird, odd ball blend was a no go), with the 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah showing well, but it’s far from their best vintage. Disappointing as a whole and I can’t imagine anyone left there thinking this is the direction Napa should be going.

I’m not sure where Perrotti-Brown had a Cabernet Franc or Pinot Grigio, but it wasn’t in that room. And I’m shocked that Dunnuck found the “weird, odd ball blend” so disappointing – it received a score of 94-96 in the May 2013 edition of the Wine Advocate.

I’d bet the bank that most attendees felt it was one of the strongest panels of the week. It was certainly where we had the most interesting wines. And the discussion was fantastic. Jon and Eric talked at length about the history of the California wine industry – walking attendees through where California’s been, where it is, and where they think it’s going.