VinoWeek Episode 10 - More Consolidation in the Wine Business

Two more big wine deals were announced this week, as E & J Gallo and Vintage Wine Estates make a bid to broaden their holdings in Sonoma County.  Measure AB-20,  a bill aimed at helping illegal farm workers obtain work permits is making its way through the California legislature.  If it reaches Governor Jerry Brown's desk will he sign it?  Rock star winemaker Susana Balbo wants to improve the education and healthcare systems in rural Mendoza,  Argentina.  Instead of just complaining she's running for a seat in the Parliament of the Mendoza region.   Have you ever purchase wine online?  Lucy Shaw puts forth some surprising statistics on the wine buying habits of American wine drinkers.  These topic and more on this episode of VinoWeek.  Thanks for listening and tell a friend.  Cheers!       

VinoWeek Episode 9 - Big Wine

What companies make  80 percent  of the wine purchased  in the U. S. market?

Which two wine companies own half of the wine brands on the top 20 list for off premise sales?  Here's a hint; one is publicly traded the other is not.  Blockbuster brand Meomi was just purchased by Constellation Brands Inc, the latest in a frenzy of acquisitions being made by some big players in the wine business.  Steve Heimoff wonders who got the better end of the deal.  Why would anyone want to hack a winery?  Rob McMillan pens a in-depth article about the Payment Card Industry, with respect to the wine trade and explores topics any consumer that shops using e business should be aware.  Vindu Goel reports in the New York Times that former winemaker and vineyard manager Jeffry James Hill plead no contest to charges of misrepresenting the origin of wines he sold to his clients and other winemakers.  He's out of the wine business and awaiting sentencing.  As always thanks for listening and tell a friend.  Cheers!    

Week of July 12th through the 20th.

A Change Has Come to Chianti Classico

You're invited to a dinner party and you ask your hosts "What should I bring?".   It's an Italian themed affair, so they suggest you bring a bottle of Chianti (Key- awn- ti).  Chianti is the name of a large area between Florence and Siena, with seven subzones that surround the Chianti Classico zone in Tuscany Italy.  When Italians speak of "Classico" they are referring to the original or heart of an area. 

If you're unfamiliar with Chianti it's pretty easy to find entry level Chianti in the $7 to $12 range.  If you want a bottle with more power and fragrance you should search for a  Chianti Classico or a wine from one of the appended regions surrounding the classico zone such as Chianti Rufina (Roo- fee- nah) or Chianti Colli Senesi (Coh- lee Say- nah- zee).  Price points for these wines range between $12 and $25.  Next up in quality is Chianti Classico Riserva.   Riserva signifies that a wine has received extended aging in either wood, bottle or both.   Riservas typically represent the best that a producer has on offer and you can expect to spend between $20  and $40.  If this wasn't confusing enough the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico members ratified new rule changes for Chianti Classico in 2013.  There is now a new classification for Chianti Classico: the Gran Selezione (Say- Lek- zee- on- eh). 

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines are just now coming onto the market and we were fortunate to be invited to the Chianti Classico trade walk around tasting on May 11th 2015, in the Crown Room at The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. 

Perched atop Nob Hill with breathtaking panoramic views, The Crown Room was a perfect venue for the premiere debut of the new Chianti Classico Grand Selezione wines.  Grand Selezione is being trumpeted as another tier at the top of the DOCG quality hierarchy.

 For a detailed primer on the regulations involving Chianti Classico click this link  For a concise explanation of Chianti Classico with respect to its traditions and how its changed over the years pick up a copy of Matt Kramer's book; Making Sense of Italian Wine. 


What is Chianti Classico Gran Selezione?  The rules regarding the production of the various types of Chianti vary greatly.  Unfortunately, strict codification does not correlate in any way with whether the producers wine is good or not.  Albeit a good starting point, the ultimate proof of a wines worth isn't found in the classification but in the finished product.  The rules of production for Chianti Classico Gran Selezione call for estate grown fruit, 30 months minimum aging, 13% minimum alcohol content and certification by authorized laboratories and special tasting committees. On the surface it sounds great, but here's the rub.  Most quality Chianti Classico producers have been meeting these quality standards for years.   It seems that there isn't much to distinguish between a Gran Selezione or a Riserva Chianti Classico except the premium price one has to pay for the six months additional aging of the former.  Most of the Gran Selezione wines start in the $40 range with several producers pushing the envelope at $150.  Are the Gran Selezione Chianti Classico wines really that much better than the Chianti Classico Riservas we've been enjoying up till now?  Having just added  a bunch of wonderful 2010 Chianti Classico Riservas to my wine stash, none of which I paid more than $30 a bottle for, I can't help but wonder if this new category is an attempt to shake up the stagnant pricing for Chianti Classico?  Are there controls in place to stop a producer from sitting on their Riserva wines for an additional six months, then simply relabeling them and up-charging the consumer for the same wine?  This was a common practice in California back in the seventies and is the reason why in general the words 'Reserve' on a bottle of wine from the Golden State is essentially meaningless. When a producer markets a Gran Selezione, will that product by default declassify their  Riserva; denigrating its value?  How will this new category affect the other wines in a wineries portfolio?  That said, the overall quality of the wines we tasted were outstanding.

Most of the producers line-ups included their Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva and their Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.  One over-riding theme that kept coming up as I tasted the wines presented was that in general I preferred the Riserva and Chianti Classico wines.  Some of the producers may be trying too hard and the input from the winemaking side made the wines seem  too powerful.  They seemed to have the slap you side the head, look at me make up in their DNA.  Stunningly wonderful wines for sure, representing the best of the best and sure to reward careful, patient cellaring.   And to taste oh what a treat, but if I were choosing a bottle to take to a dinner party, a less ambitious Chianti Classico from a quality minded producer, with its gregarious nature, clarity of fruit and refreshing acidity would be more appropriate.  There's drinking wines and there are tasting wines and a fair number of the Gran Selezione wines as good as they are now fall into the latter category.

The conundrum  the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico must deal with, is confusion in the marketplace.  The minimum grape variety requirement for Sangiovese Chianti Classico is 80%.  Many producers elect to make 100% Sangiovese wines, but the rules allow you to add up to 20% of indigenous varieties or international varieties such as Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In my opinion any of those varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon added at those percentages, combined with over ambitious barrel aging hinders the delicate floral nature of Sangiovese.  From a consumer viewpoint three bottles side by side on a retailers shelf bearing the same Gran Selezione designation, could have strikingly different sensory profiles.  Chianti has always been a blended wine and it wasn't until as recently as 2006 that white grapes such as Trebbiano and Malvasia were eliminated from the prescribed blend.  This myriad of choices for blending only serves to baffle the consumer.  Most producers decided to stay at the 10% and below line if they elected to include Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend.  The wines on offer were well blended and I could not detect any out of balance wines with regard to varietal correctness.  In fact I was surprised to discover after tasting Fontodi's Vigna del Sorbo that it only included 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, having mistaken it's wound tight, firm backbone on initial tasting for a wine that sported a healthy dose of Cabernet.       


There were several producers at the event who candidly disclosed  they were in favor of the Consorzio adopting a 100% Sangiovese disipline, similar to the regulations observed by their neighbors to the south, in the region of Brunello di Montalcino.  Their sentiment has merit.  What brand Brunello di Montalcino has achieved in less than fifty years with regard to prestige and pricing is remarkable.  Whether Brunello's notoriety is a result of excluding any complimentary grapes from the wine is up for debate, but it does offer the consumer (discounting recent scandals) a greater surety of the type of wine they can expect when they make a purchase.              

At this point I have more questions than answers, but I must reiterate the new Gran Selezione wines are high-quality cellar candidates.  These are statement wines of power and panache.  Try as many of the 2010's and 2011's as you can afford and please leave a comment letting  us know what you discover.  Almost half of my recommended wines have not made it to retailers yet, so while you're waiting the smart money is on the excellent and reasonably priced Chianti Classico Riservas from the 2010 and 2011 vintage.  As with any new classification there is always room for refinement and as the dust settles and  we see more of the wines come onto the market, we'll get more of a sense of where the Gran Selezione category is headed.  Grazie Mille to the Consorzio and its producers for hosting the event.

Stay tuned for our Recommendations!   

VinoWeek EP7 - Week of May 3rd

Auction Napa Valley is coming to you online.  Bidding starts on May 31st and it's a great opportunity for  those in the industry and wine lovers that can't make the trek to Napa Valley participate in the auction.  Peg Melnik writes a nice article featuring Hoby Wedler, a blind UC Davis graduate student, who is leading blind wine tastings at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville.  There's a lot at stake as the battle lines are being drawn between Empire Wine and the New York State Liquor Authority.  Although we haven't tried it yet we're tempted; Alder Yarrow has found a company that can help make receiving shipments of wine less problematic.  If you adhere to a vegan diet Sara Rennekamp provides a more in-depth viewpoint into the winemaking process, so that you can make a more informed decision when purchasing your wines.  Alder's first walk through the famed Grand Cru vineyards of Champagne was not what he had expected.  The photos and video that accompany the article are appalling.  Conversely Caroline Henry has found that there is successful budding culture of sustainable growing that is taking hold in the Champagne region.  In this week on VinoWeek we tackle these subjects and a few more as we strive to keep you up to date on what's going on in the world of wine.  Thanks for listening and if you like what you hear please tell a friend.  Cheers!        

VinoWeek EP 6 - Week of April 19

On this week's VinoWeek podcast we discuss Jeff Siegel's article on the premiumization of wine.  Are consumers really trading up for more expensive wines?  Locally here in wine country we have our legislators making an effort to fix something that doesn't seem to be broken.  Derek Moore pens an interesting post on the legal limbo which barbers and beauty salon owners are finding themselves.  Lake County, Napa north if you will, has been discovered and is gaining more recognition for its microclimates and its rich red volcanic based soils.  If your'e a music lover, a foodie and a wine lover hurry up and get your tickets for Bottle Rock Napa 2015.  The entertainment line-up looks great and the food, beer and wine choices on offer will be spectacular.  We touch on  some more local politics involving the newly proposed Dairyman Winery and a change in ownership of one of the top wine retail destinations for wine lovers in Sonoma County.  We are holding our breath and hoping that the new owner doesn't make any drastic changes to the Bottle Barn.  Christopher Barnes writes and article for Grape Collective, highlighting ViniVeri and Giampiero Bea's philosophy on natural winemaking.  We hope you enjoy the podcast and learn a few things as well.  If you like what you hear, be social and tell a friend.  Thanks for listening and cheers!  

Fausto Albanesi and the wines of Torre Dei Beati

I first became acquainted with the wines of Fausto Albanesi  by happenstance.  I was purchasing wine from an online provider and I was short three bottles to fill out my order.  As I browsed through their offerings his 2010 base bottling of Montepulciano D' Abruzzo caught my eye, so I filled out the order with them.  I picked the wine because  I was familiar with the soft, full of fruit, mildly tannic wines that could be made from that grape.  In fact most Montepulciano D' Abruzzo can always be counted on for modest pricing and good quality.  Upon trying Torre Dei Beati's Montepulciano, to say that I was surprised with the purity and clean expression the wine showed would be an understatement.  We tried another bottle a few weeks later with a spicy ragout over pappardelle.  This served to confirm that we had found a diamond in the rough, so we anted up and purchased another six pack for the wine stash. 

Fast forward to this year's Gambero Rosso, San Francisco and Torre Dei Beati wines were on our list of wines to try.  Fausto's wines have garnered many awards for excellence over the years and his "Cocciapazza" cru Montepulciano is a perennial three glass award winner at Gambero Rosso.   Some producers for various reasons may not attend the tasting and they have the distributor representatives show the wines.  Those producers that choose to make the trip have taken on a substantial financial commitment.  Larger producers with a vast network of distribution in the United States always have a line of people two or three deep.  Sometimes there can be a herd mentality at these tastings, so finding an under the radar winery that makes very fine wines, that others aren't knocking each other out to try can be rewarding.  This strategy is as simple as looking where others don't and seeking out unfamiliar grape varieties.  The line at Fausto's table was short and it worked to our advantage as we got to spend several minutes discussing his business.  Fausto's warmth and generosity with his time was unforgettable.

Fausto and his family live in the hilly town of Loreto Aprutino, a small village of about 4,000 people near the Gran Sasso mountains, about 25 kilometers from the Adriatic coastline.  He first met his wife Adrianna at Vinitaly, the Italian Wine Exposition held every spring in Verona.   Their wine estate is near an area called Coccia Pazza, which in Italian Abruzzo dialect means crazyhead.  His next door neighbors, the mythical estate of Eduardo Valentini , forge wines that command unbelievable sums of cash.  Fortunately for us we don't have to spend eye popping amounts of money to experience Fausto's wines.  Torre Dei Beati wines are imported into the states, but you won't find them at big box stores or chains; look to a small specialty wine retailer to acquire them.  Cerasuolo, Trebbiano D' Abruzzo and Pecorino are wines that you may not be familiar with, but you need to try these wines to experience their purity and sense of place.  These and his entry level Montepulciano all retail in the $15 to $20 dollar range and are well worth the search.  His top tier Mazzamurello and Cocciapazza wines start at $35.   

Join us as we find out more about Fausto and the wines of Torre Dei Beati, why he's chosen to farm organically from the outset and what makes his wines so special.  Thanks for listening.  Cheers!

VinoWeek Episode 3 - Week of March 08, 2015

In this Vinoweek podcast we discuss Yao Ming's recent foray into the world of crowdsourcing for his Napa winery.  Other topics include Premier Napa Valley, the trademark infringement suit CIVC vs Champagne Jayne, Wal-Mart suing the state of Texas for the right to sell spirits, the state of California suing Ernest and Julio Gallo over hazardous dust disposal, and this weekend's barrel  tasting events in Sonoma County.  Thanks for listening.  Cheers!