Wine Buyers & Cellars: Starting Your Collection

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 04-10-2012

Tasting six wines to compare ages & Old vs. New World.

“Wine, even for the investor or collector, is not just a holder of wealth. It’s a holder of dreams.”

I agree 100% with this quote from a panelist at a recent seminar I attended. However, interestingly enough, in a session described as “starting your wine collection,” many of the panelists didn’t consider themselves wine collectors at all; but rather, just people who love wine and need a place to store it until they drink it. Most seemed to view wine collections more as an accessible and pleasurable assembly than as a formulaic and formal dusty collection.

The panel, hosted by FIAF in its midtown Le Skyroom, was led by Hristo Zisovski, Beverage Director at Ai Fiori. Hristo was joined by Charles Antin, Associate Vice President & Wine Specialist at Christie’s, Michael Chaney, CEO of MEA Digital & Private Wine Collector, and Emmanuel Dupuy d’Angeac, Owner & Founder, AOC Fine Wines.

Below, I put my key takeaways from the panel discussion. Maybe some of them are obvious, but good reminders nonetheless. Anything else you’d add? Lessons you’ve learned as you’ve assembled your own collection? Please share! Read the rest of this entry »

Pinot Meunier: Champagne’s Afterthought or Secret Weapon?

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 04-04-2012

Workers picking Pinot Meunier at Champagne Michel Loriot – Photo courtesy of Peter Liem

A few weeks ago, at a winemaker dinner as part of the Capital Wine Festival, Argyle winemaker Rollin Soles was discussing his delightful Brut Rosé from Oregon with a small group of wine lovers including my wife and me.

As the mustachioed Soles explained in his native Texas drawl, he was never quite pleased with his Rosé – that is, until his assistants convinced him that something was missing. The secret weapon, it turns out, was Pinot Meunier (“moon-yay,” as Soles charmingly pronounces it), added to the blend beginning with Argyle’s 2006 vintage.

As we continued to discuss Pinot Meunier, the black-skinned grape believed to be just an ancient genetic mutation away from Pinot Noir, Soles revealed that he appreciated the brightness Meunier added to his Rosé, while he simultaneously diminished the grape overall. “In Champagne, they don’t even grow Meunier in grand cru vineyards,” he scoffed.***

Soles was mistaken, as we’ll see below, but he can’t be faulted for his belief, as it has been the dominant narrative in Champagne and beyond for a very long time. But things are changing quickly.

As Peter Liem, the noted Champagne-based wine writer and critic, wrote almost four years ago, “[M]eunier is downright hip, especially among the younger generation of growers, and you’re much more likely to hear positive comments about meunier now than ever before.” Importer Terry Theise, who knows a thing or two about Champagne, seems to agree. As he told me last year, “A lot of producers, especially but not exclusively young producers, have discovered the potential of old-vines Meunier. The variety will give delightful results if it’s planted in a decent spot and given its share of respect.”

The disagreement over the relative worth of meunier is just one of the many divides between old and young, and large and small, producers in Champagne. Why, though, do les grandes marques harbor such prejudice – “rustic, obvious and . . . incapable of aging” – toward the grape that composes over one-third of the region’s plantings? And, more importantly, who is right? Read the rest of this entry »

Where in the World is La Mancha?

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education, Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-01-2012

If I asked you to name the largest wine growing region in Spain, what would you guess? Rioja? Ribera del Duero? Navarra?

Up until a week or so ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue. Who would have guessed it’s La Mancha? With 445,000 acres (695 square miles) under vine, it is not just the largest wine region in Spain — it’s the largest in the world. I don’t spend much time drinking wine from Spain, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the region and its wines through a small tasting.

First some background on La Mancha. Despite being such a large region, I was surprised at how few grape varietals are commonly grown there. Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet, Moravia, Merlot and Syrah constitute the major red varietals while Airen, Macabeo, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay make up the white wines. La Mancha has hot summers with little rain (only 12-16 inches per year) and lots of sun, creating wines with expressive fruit and medium-to-high density.

As I began learning about the region, it became apparent that they’re going through a makeover of sorts. This isn’t new to the Spanish wine industry either. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every region in Spain has reached out to the American wine consumer over the past 2-3 years with claims of “unbeatable quality-to-price ratios” (a wine consumer’s most coveted metric) and a “new focus on quality over quantity.”

La Mancha is no exception. They seem to be trying to tear down the preconceived notion that they aren’t a serious wine region but in fact can compete with more respected, highly coveted wines of Priorat, Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

I tried six wines from La Mancha, four of which I thought to be very good to excellent, one was flawed, and one missed the mark for me. Check out my tasting notes below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Rosé Champagne: Think Pink All Year

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 02-28-2012

Uploaded to flickr by -Jérôme-.

Valentine’s Day was two weeks ago. Did you open a bottle of sparking rosé with your sweetheart, per the clichéd guidance spouted by seemingly every publication in the country (and beyond)?

Even respected wine writers can’t resist the urge to advise consumers to go pink in February. It’s great if you took their advice for the holiday — as long as you didn’t pair it with chocolate (haven’t we been over this before?). But I’m here to tell you, sparkling rosé – especially Champagne – is a serious wine for any occasion, and it deserves a place in your cellar and on your table more often than you may think.

I recently tried a relatively new rosé Champagne, made in a non-traditional style, and it blew my mind. More on that below, but first, some background.

Rosé Champagne is not cheap; it will cost you around $40 to get in the game, around $80 to play for real, and into the hundreds to roll with the best vintage têtes de cuvée. The reason for the higher tariff is that it is labor intensive, and therefore scarce (ok, and also maybe the market-driven notion that pink bubbly is reserved for special occasions). On average, rosé makes up only 8-10 percent of a given Champagne house’s production. Even at Billecart-Salmon, most famous for its fabulous rosé, less than a third of its 2 million bottles per year are pink.

Rosés were rarely seen, let alone taken seriously, in Champagne until the late 20th century, and only really began gaining steam as an earnest winemaking endeavor, as opposed to an afterthought, in the last decade or so. Before, they were often fruity and easy drinking, with lots of sugar (playing into the Valentine’s stereotype). Now, rosé Champagnes are increasingly serious, complex wines with low dosage that allows the wines’ true character and terroir to emerge. Read the rest of this entry »