Thursday, March 31, 2011

Checking Out the Latest Wine News

There are many things happening in the wine world every day readers may not read but could find interesting. As a wine writer, I get e-mail updates of all types from various wine industry publications and newsletters.

U.S. House Legislation on Wine Shipping.
Wholesale wine and beer distributors stop at nothing to build and sustain their empires. There have been two bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in the last year that would be disastrous for wine consumers.

The New York Times published a story Oct. 18, 2010 concerning H.R. 5034 that demonstrates how passage of this law not only hurts wineries looking to serve their customers, but also dramatically effects retailers of wine too: “The bill, though, which is unlikely to come up for a vote until next year, would clearly mean a narrowing of choices for consumers.

Readers can find a wealth of information on H.R. 5034 online. Suffice it to say that wine consumers and wineries are strongly opposed to this contemptible legislation.

There was no real action on H.R. 5034 so the National Beer Wholesalers Association came back with H.R. 1161 this year. The details are slightly different but with the same effect. These stifling direct shipping laws and all of the efforts made to limit shipping prevent consumers from legally buying the wine of their choice and having it shipped to their home. Such legislation destroys free commerce and is job killing.

It’s impossible to go into detail here, but if you attend a local legislative breakfast let your U.S. Representative know you oppose any efforts to restrict direct shipping of wine.

The Silly Argument of Underage Drinking
The arguments about underage drinking and laws like the one above just don’t hold water. Proponents of laws like the ones mentioned consistently spread the fallacy they are trying to protect underage consumers.

Think about that for a second. I borrowed the following list from a fellow wine blogger. For an underage person to order wine online, and get it shipped to their door they must: 1. Obtain a credit card; 2. Obtain fake identification; 2. Order online and get past age verification services; 4. Wait a week or so for their booze to arrive; 5. Be at home when the delivery is made; 6. Convince the delivery person they are over 21; 7. Have a snappy answer ready when the parents find that cardboard box labeled “Contains Alcohol.”

Give the Lady a Drink
According to the Wine Market Council female wine drinkers have surpassed men for the first time since such data has been recorded. The report said 53 percent of ‘core wine drinkers’ are now women. Core wine drinkers are those defined as drinking wine at least once a week.

Future columns
I had the chance to visit with some of the top Paso Robles winemakers in October and ask some questions about Syrah. They have some strong opinions about why the grape never took off to be the “next Cabernet.”

Later this spring I’m planning to travel to Madison, Wisconsin to visit some of that state’s wineries. I did such a trip last summer in Michigan and really got a lot of material and learned about that state’s great cool climate wines.

I also have a tentative trip set for late July to Oregon’s Willamette Valley – home of some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.

Thanks for reading Grape Sense!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Great Affordable Wine Choices

One of the challenging things in introducing wine drinkers to great value wine is directing them to find specific bottles of juice.

I review a lot of wine on my blog but not all are available where Grape Sense is published. And I do review wines on the blog at a higher price point.

So a few times a year I try to list a handful of wines that are widely distributed that I can confidently recommend.

Veramonte Pinot Noir – It’s very difficult to find an under-$15 Pinot. This Chilean Pinot out-performs most Pinot in the category. It has nice Pinot flavor with good dark fruit. I didn’t get much of the ‘dirt’ or earthiness found in higher-priced Pinot but this is very drinkable wine.

Veramonte is in many shops around the Midwest. But if you don’t find it, try a different Chilean Pinot. Many wine people believe the small South American country is the next ‘big thing.’ The Pinot vines are young but they’re only going to get better. Right now a lot of Chilean Pinot is finding its way into the U.S below $15. This one generally retails at $14.

flipflop wines – I’ll lump these wines together for a qualified recommendation. This is a value line of wines featuring a Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Moscato. They sell for $7, or less, and you might have already seen them in your supermarket. At the under-$10 price point, you just won’t find any better choices.

The company is also working with Soles4Souls, an organization that raises money to distribute shoes to needy children around the world. A portion of the proceeds from each bottle benefits the cause.

I tasted the Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio and was very pleasantly surprised. Remember to judge them for what they are - $7 wine. Not bad at all for the cost of a decent six-pack of beer!

Brassfield Estate ‘Serenity’ – This is a white wine blend from Northern California. The wine is a combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, and Semillon. Wine drinkers shy away from blends but they should not. This is one of the most drinkable whites I’ve picked up in months. It has lovely pineapple, honey dew melon, and apple notes. The acidity is really quite mild. You can find it in wine shops at $10-$14.

Ortman Cuvee Eddy – Here is a red wine blend that is just making its way into Midwestern stores. I’ve become a big fan of Ortman wines because of the food-friendly style. This wine is fashioned, somewhat, as a French Cotes du Rhone. It’s a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petite Syrah.

This wine has a jam-like blackberry flavor with a bit of chocolate. I like the spice. It is tremendous wine with food. It comes from California’s Central Coast region, specifically the Paso Robles region. It has a suggested retail price of $20.

7 Deadly Zins – Michael David winery’s Zinfandel should be very easy to find and even easier to drink. It’s definitely for the big red wine drinkers or a good introduction to bigger wines for the beginner. It offers up berry, pepper, spice and some earthiness that is just perfect at the $15 price point.

This producer also makes Zins which are much more powerful at a higher price. If you want a big Zin, try Michael David’s ‘Earthquake’ which retails for just over $20.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Southern Indiana View of Traminette

Jim Pfeiffer’s Turtle Run Winery sits south of I-64, just west of Corydon, in southern Indiana. It takes a little effort to find his nifty tasting room, but the unusual blends and his off-beat sense of humor makes the drive worth the trouble.

Pfeiffer is a self-described blend-o-holic. It should come as no surprise then he has a different take on Indiana’s Signature Grape – Traminette - than many others. He tends to ask his own questions and provide the answers.

“Traminette is one of my favorite wines,” Pfeiffer said. “I really like the spicy "gwertz" characteristics. I'll always remember the first Traminette I tried, which was an experimental wine I tasted at the Indiana Wine Grape Growers Guild meeting in 1999. I loved the flavors, and immediately decided to plant the vines, which we did in 2000.”

That doesn’t put Pfeiffer in unique company. As reported in the last Grape Sense column, Indiana wineries are rushing to plant Traminette. As a matter of fact, the Indiana Agriculture Statistics Service at Purdue estimates Indiana has 600 acres in vineyards. The top grape remains Chambourcin but Traminette has grown from 26 acres in 2004 to 65, second highest, in the most recent statistics.

“Traminette has been planted in Indiana more than any other grape variety the past few years,” said Bruce Bordelon, Purdue Horticulture Department. “Growers like the performance in the vineyard and wineries love the wine quality. Much more is likely to be planted over the next few years as its popularity with consumers rises. It will likely be the most widely planted variety in Indiana within the next five years.”

Traminette has no bigger fan, but Pfeiffer makes his “signature Indiana wine” in a dry style instead of the more prominent sweet versions. “I tend to think this grape really delivers as a dry wine grape,” he said. “First, the balance of acids coming in from the vineyard is flat out perfect. The total acids are completely in line with the strength of the acids, or PH. When that is aligned, you can go dry, dry, dry. Additionally, and uniquely, like many red wines, this wine stays in balance and maintains its flavor with higher alcohol.

“Folks who try our Traminette are very pleasantly surprised to see a dry one on the market. I get a lot of excitement from Traminette fans who first taste ours. I see the Traminette market growing, due to Indiana pride as the state grape, and, obviously due to the flavors. Is there a limit? Certainly, its flavors are alluring to me but certainly not as much to my wife. I think it was a good decision to name this grape the Indiana state grape, since it can perform in a number of different terroirs.”

Pfeiffer lauded Purdue’s efforts to promote the grape. Most all Indiana wineries were quick to jump on the bandwagon. “There are people who are ‘Traminette-o-philes’ who specifically want to try our Traminette. This has been great. However, there are folks who simply do not like the flavors. So will Traminette take on the rage, of say, a California Cabernet Sauvignon? Definitely not. Will it have the broad, universal appeal of say Merlot or Chardonnay? Probably not either. Its distinctive flavors tend to torque people towards it or against it. Rarely do we hear, ‘eh, it's okay.' "

Turtle Run 2009 Traminette – I haven’t tasted Pfeiffer’s 2009 yet, but I have had the 2008 several times. It sells for $12. It’s aged only in stainless steel. His website describes the 2009 as generous lime, lemon, and a hint of grapefruit. And, keep in mind it won’t be the sweet Traminette you may have tried elsewhere. The dry Turtle Run Traminette is my favorite Indiana wine.

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