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 –

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 –

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 –

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 –

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!

Three Wine Trends to Watch for in 2015

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 01-06-2015

One hallway (of many) in the cellar at Krug.

A hallway at Krug.

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 –

In my latest column, I make three predictions about the year ahead.

Three Wine Trends to Watch for in 2015

2014 will likely go down as the year that powerful wine critics lost their grip on the marketplace.

Last year, many retailers stopped using points to sell wines. Instead of “shelf talkers” advertising reviews from publications like Wine Spectator, shops offered handwritten notes praising certain wines. Many restaurants, too, removed points from their menus in 2014. Instead, they decided to educate their servers about wine — and hire fun sommeliers to chat with guests. Thanks to popular mobile apps like Delectable, wine consumers moved away from critics like Robert Parker and toward fellow enthusiasts with similar palates.

This year, look out for three big trends.

Champagne will find a spot at the dinner table. Oenophiles have always talked about top Champagne with the same reverence they reserve for the finest wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. But for most of the past 50 years, everyday Americans poo-pooed Champagne. The good stuff was too expensive and rarely seemed worth it. And the imitations served at weddings — think Cook’s and cheap Prosecco — was, well, gross.

Today, however, consumers are falling in love with Champagne. Shipments to the United States have been climbing steadily since 2009.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Daily Wine News: Serge Hochar

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 01-02-2015

Serge Hochar (Wikipedia).

Serge Hochar (Wikipedia).

While on vacation in Mexico, Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar suffered a fatal accident. He was 74. Jancis Robinson pays tribute.

When it comes to the northern Rhone, Eric Asimov thinks “the best combination of value and distinctiveness is currently found in St.-Joseph.” That’s why it’s the focus of his latest wine school.

“These so-not-snobby sommeliers are just as smart about wine as their suited-up forebears—and won’t make you feel clueless for not knowing a Verdicchio from a Vermentino.” In Bon Appetit, Belle Cushing profiles “6 sommeliers to watch in 2015.”

“We’ve even got single diners at the bar with bottles of Champagne. That’s pretty badass, right?” In Food & Wine, Ray Isle chats with Corkbuzz’s Laura Maniec, who “offers every excuse you need to drink more Champagne.”

In GQ, Jamie Chung raises a glass to “Champagne That Doesn’t Suck.” Chung praises the wines of Cedric Bouchard, Christophe Mignon, and Jacquesson.

In Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran offers “At Chandon’s Strategy For Conquering The Millennial Bubbles Market.”

Alder Yarrow visits Weingut Nikolaihof, which represents “one of the pinnacles of Austrian winemaking.”

Murmur chats with Alder Yarrow about San Francisco.

Wink Lorch details “The Three Wine Events That Won’t Occur in 2015.”

Tom Wark makes “5 Predictions for Wine in 2015.”

In Grape Collective, Rachel Doob profiles Tim Hanni, MW.

Daily Wine News: French Theft

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-31-2014


The French Laundry (Wikimedia).

On Christmas Day, someone broke into the French Laundry’s wine cellar, stealing $300,000 worth of wine. Most of the bottles were Screaming Eagle and DRC.

“I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom of serving sparkling wine in a regular white-wine stem. Is it festive enough? Well, I’m not going to complain if someone hands me a flute filled with Bollinger R.D. But I would be even happier with the same wine in a glass I already have, and that displays more of the greatness.” Harvey Steiman weighs in on the flute vs. glass debate.

Sparkling wine imports are way up this year.

Ray Isle names his “7 Top Sparkling Wines of 2014.”

Mike Veseth, the wine economist, looks back on 2014 and ahead to the New Year.

In Forbes, Adam Morganstern details “The 9 Best Wines and Spirits to Start Drinking in 2015.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Jen Murphy spends some time with chef, restaurateur, and winery owner Michael Chiarello.

In Wine-Searcher, W. Blake Gray looks back at 2014’s biggest news stories on the West Coast.