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You Think You Know Malbec Wine.  You Are Wrong.

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August 19, 2016 — First, a confession. I’ve long thought malbecs from Argentina vastly overrated, slack-jawed big reds found hanging out in bad steakhouses and touted as $15 retail bargains.

So when a host of new, elite versions costing more than $100 a bottle recently came on the scene I didn’t expect to be won over. But I was. Really.

These reds go way beyond being arm candy to charbroiled steak, though they do that pretty well, too.

They brim with scents of violets and lilies. Their intense flavors—blackberry, juicy red fruits, chalk, and dark stones—unroll on your tongue in layer after layer. They’re subtle, complex, and balanced, the kind of vinos that will make you a malbec convert. Which is why some savvy California buyers who used to stash Napa cabs are now looking to its top examples as the new collectibles….

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This is the Year for New World Wines.  Here’s What to Buy

 

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August 15, 2016 — In every wine country, vintners anxiously scan the skies all year, hoping weather challenges will still let them make great, or at least good, wine.

So far, 2016 has been a very rough year for Europe’s vintners, with one weather catastrophe after another. Hailstorms in Barolo. Spring frosts, then mildew, in Champagne, and equally disastrous weather events in Burgundy, Chablis, and Beaujolais. In some instances, 70 percent of the crops were lost. Some tiny growers may go out of business.

Now massive wildfires are raging in Madeira and the north of Portugal. So far the vineyards are safe, but that may not last.

Which all means the inevitable supply vs. demand result of fewer grapes and therefore less wine, no matter what the quality: Expect prices for the 2016 vintage of your favorite wines to go up, maybe way up. Right now your best bet is to hunt down French wines from the great 2015 and very good 2014 vintages (especially in Burgundy and Beaujolais) that are already on shelves.

But for 2016, it’s the New World’s turn to shine…..

 

Drink the Islands: These Mediterranean Wines are Ideal for Summer

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August 2, 2016 — Watching A Bigger Splash, the recent film set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria off the coast of Sicily, set off my recurring summer fantasy: sailing to a remote, sunbaked spot surrounded by a glittering turquoise sea, where I sip chilled local wines overlooking a harbor of gently rocking white yachts.

If, like me, you didn’t make that dream happen this summer, you can let the taste of the best island wines take you to a selection of glam places such as Sardinia, Corsica, Pantelleria, and other fashionable Mediterranean playgrounds.

Many of the native grapes are unfamiliar, with hard to pronounce names (try niellucciu), but don’t worry. The wines, born from grapes grown in volcanic soil and  ripened by luminous sun, salt air, and the mistral wind, are really, really good….

You Should Have Your Own House Wine; Here Are 10 Great Options

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July 27, 2016 — I know, your image of “house wine” is based on some cheap, anonymous vino served in a carafe and short tumblers at a pizza joint. That’s why you need an update.

At a new generation of restaurants, top wine directors offer more aspirational house wines, working with famed producers to create high-quality cuvées designed especially to go with the restaurant’s food. The French Laundry’s wine team collaborates with Napa’s Schramsberg Vineyards to create the restaurant’s house sparkler, Modicum Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, while Au Bon Climat makes special pinot noir and chardonnay cuvees for Daniel Boulud.

So it’s no longer declassé to order them when dining out, which means it’s not gauche to have them in your home either….

 

 

The Most Fascinating Travel Destinations for Wine Lovers in 2016

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July 14, 2016 — So you’ve been to Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Tuscany and splashed out for the exorbitant winery tasting-room fees in the Napa Valley. Where next?

The current oeno-tourism boom means you don’t have to sacrifice luxury if you branch out to less-traveled spots.  An ever-growing number of wineries are wooing curious wine lovers with sophisticated boutique hotels, serene infinity pools, soothing spas, Michelin-starred restaurants, and insider experiences such as harvesting grapes at midnight wearing a headlight.

My criteria for what makes a great wine destination starts, naturally, with truly superb wines. And spectacular scenery is a must, as is fabulous, creative food. But beyond the grape and the glass, I want other experiences—not just the option of being pummeled with grape skins or lolling in a red wine extract bath….

 

German Pinot Noir is the Buzzy Alternative to Pricey Burgundy

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July 13, 2016 — It’s called spätburgunder in Germany. But just think of it as pinot noir with an umlaut.

If you’re picturing Germany as a place where only whites, especially rieslings, thrive, you’ve got it all wrong. Deutschland happens to be the third largest producer of pinot noir in the world—way ahead of trendy New World spots Oregon and New Zealand.

Now that prices are skyrocketing for the reds from hail-torn Burgundy, can those spätburgunders make their mark as a serious pinot alternative? Wine world buzz says yes….

 

Winemakers Warn of a Coming Burgundy ‘Apocalypse’

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June 28, 2016 —  For years, vintages of Burgundy have been smaller and smaller, while prices have gone up and up. Rain, floods, and hailstorms have decimated vineyards since 2010, especially in the Côte de Beaune (the southern part of the famous limestone strip that’s home to the most famous vineyards). Growers invested in weird anti-hail devices, but, alas, they haven’t worked. Regional businesses are facing a crisis of how to survive.

The chardonnay grape harvest was down 30 percent in 2013, pinot noir as much as 50 percent. In 2014, which had some of the worst weather in recent memory, some winemakers lost 90 percent of their crop; 2016 is already looking to be worse, weatherwise. This means the remaining grapes are much more expensive, and businesses that depend on making wines from them will be forced to pay a premium they increasingly can’t afford.

“Growers essentially say, pay what we ask, or we’ll sell to someone else,” says Blair Pethel, one of the growing number of “micro-negociants”— small domaines who buy grapes from growers to turn into wine rather than owning their own vines….

A Real-Life Prince Is Building an Empire in Bordeaux

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June 21, 2016 — Prince Robert of Luxembourg, chief executive officer of a Bordeaux wine empire that includes first-growth château Haut-Brion and neighboring top estate La Mission Haut-Brion, was celebrating good news when he visited New York last week.

He had just released the futures price for his brilliant, powerful 2015 Haut-Brion. Though it costs 83.6 percent more than the 2014, London-based merchant Farr Vintners sold out its initial allocation at more than $6,000 a case (the same price as Château Margaux) in one day.

The prince had also just finalized details for the first-ever auction dedicated to vintages of La Mission Haut-Brion direct from the château cellars, to be held at Sotheby’s auction house in New York on October 19.

 The oldest vintage in the sale, he said, showing me a long list retrieved from his rolling tote, is 1916. One of his personal favorites is the 1978. (I agree.)….

 

The World’s Best Wine Lists, From Restaurants to Airlines

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June 16, 2016 — Wine has become more important than ever to the world’s eaters, whether in South Africa, China, Peru, or the U.S. That’s my take-away from the 2016 World’s Best Wine List awards, which were released Thursday.

This is the third year for British publication World of Fine Wine’s annual restaurant wine list awards, which drew more than 4,500 entries from around the globe in 2016. Full disclosure: I was one of the seven senior judges who gave 817 of them one, two, or three stars. Guided by expertise rather than an official checklist, each judge picked his or her top three in each category, ranking them 1, 2, or 3 (the best). The numbers were tallied, and the lists with the most points won….

 

Orange Wine Has Finally Arrived.  Here Are Eight Bottles to Buy

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June 15, 2016 — When high-end, wine-centric restaurant Rouge Tomate reopens next month in New York’s Chelsea district, there will be plenty of “orange” wines on the list.

Traditionally from Georgia in Eastern Europe, these tannic white wines—made like reds, with grape skins left in during fermentation and aging—have been trending for four or five years as vinous exotica, touted as the fourth wine color. Have they finally become more than novelties?

“They’re here to stay,” says Rouge Tomate Chelsea wine director Pascaline Lepeltier….

 

Chinese Moguls Are Learning How to Make Bordeaux the Hard Way

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June 1, 2016 — When Hong Kong businessman Peter Kwok bought picturesque Chateau Haut-Brisson in Saint-Émilion in 1997, all he wanted was a vacation spot where his three children could learn to speak French.

“I knew nothing about making wine, but the chateau came with vines,” he says. “Fairly quickly I learned that quality is all about the soil—and Haut-Brisson’s wasn’t the best.”

Like so many others who’ve invested in Bordeaux properties, he began to see it the way the French do: Fine wine requires top terroir, which doesn’t come cheap.

In the past four years, he’s purchased four more estates as well as top parcels of vines in Pomerol next to prestigious estates like La Fleur-Petrus and Le Pin, hired a new high-profile management and winemaking team, and consolidated his burgeoning wine brands into something he calls the Vignobles K group, to help in selling his wines through Bordeaux’s traditional négociant system.In the past four years, he’s purchased four more estates as well as top parcels of vines in Pomerol next to prestigious estates like La Fleur-Petrus and Le Pin, hired a new high-profile management and winemaking team, and consolidated his burgeoning wine brands into something he calls the Vignobles K group, to help in selling his wines through Bordeaux’s traditional négociant system….

The 25 Best Rosés Under $25

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May 27, 2016 — Brace yourself. Rosé season starts this weekend. The drink pink boom means pale and pretty wines will be poured at patio parties everywhere to jumpstart a hopefully decadent summer lifestyle. An oversize tub filled with ice and bottles of pink wine is now de rigueur for entertaining.

So what to put in it? Rosés from Provence have been in vogue for what seems like forever—a new high of nearly 6.9 million bottles were imported into the U.S. last year—and alas, the number of luxury versions is exploding. But you don’t have to pay a lot to get something you’ll be happy to drink. If you’re having a party or just want to knock back a glass by the pool, the virtues of those expensive rosés—ability to age, complexity—are beside the point.

In taste testing nearly 150 rosés to come up with my list below, I was dismayed by how many of my past French favorites no longer cost less than $25.

My advice is to get adventurous and expand your taste buds. If you still think only Provence rosé is worth drinking, you’re wrong (though I included several). Other regions in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, and, above all, the U.S. are making super interesting pink wine with plenty of personality….

Get Ready for the Wine World’s Richest, Glitziest Weekend

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May 20, 2016 — One-of-a-kind jeroboams, a sleepover at first-growth Chateau Latour, dinner with Robert Parker, a meeting with Bulgari’s head watch designer, cool cars, and, above all, plenty of frenzied bidding for these over-the-top lots: That’s only part of what to expect at this year’s glitzy, wine-soaked Auction Napa Valley, which takes place the first weekend in June.

Last year 2,000 attendees at this annual three-day charity event splashed out a hefty $15.8 million, though not quite up to 2013’s $16.9 million or 2014’s record-breaking $18.7 million.

Behind the scenes, the pressure is on to bring in even more….

 

 

Do You Need Wine-Lister, a New 1000-Point Wine Rating System?

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May 13, 2016 — Move over Robert Parker. A former Lazard investment banker has created a data-driven fine wine rating system with a wildly ambitious, 1,000-point scale. The just-launched website is now live.

I started out highly dubious that it would be useful in helping wine lovers decide what to buy. The idea of a bottle with a score of 1,000 points seemed like a parody of the 100-point system instituted by Parker, the don of American wine criticism. Even that approach seemed ludicrous to many when first introduced.

Besides, do we really need more wine ratings? For many wine lovers and retailers, the importance of scores has been waning for years—except when it comes to buying Bordeaux and Bordeaux futures.

So I spent a few pre-launch hours perusing Wine-Lister’s site with London-based founder and Chief Executive Officer Ella Lister to discover how Château Haut-Brion, for example, gets to 959 points. What does that mean, exactly, and should anyone care?

I was more impressed than I expected to be, but then I’m a wine geek who’s fascinated by wine data….

 

 

Why One Seismic Event in the Wine World Still Matters 40 Years Later

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May 11, 2016 — The walls of screenwriter Robert Kamen’s writing studio, which is perched on stilts in the middle of his steep-sloped Sonoma vineyard, are festooned with framed posters for his many blockbuster movies—Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon III, Taken I, II, and III. Kamen, who’s been producing his own very good wines for 20-odd years, has made his career out of such action-packed films. He also wrote screenplays for Columbiana, Bandidas, The Fifth Element, and The Transporter.

But the script for his next movie won’t involve anyone getting his teeth kicked in—only stained red. From wine.

Kamen has penned a screenplay based on the real-life “The Judgment of Paris,” a now-legendary blind tasting that pitted California chardonnays and cabernets against some of France’s classic white Burgundies and red Bordeaux…..

Meet the Women Changing Bordeaux’s Historic Wine Traditions

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April 27, 2016 — Bordeaux has been a male bastion for centuries. With a handful of exceptions, men have run the famous region’s great châteaux and made the wines.

But in the past decade, a group of very 21st century women has been shaking up this boy’s club.

Three women in their thirties, who are profiled here, are among the growing number helping to create a new face for the region. While some of the rising female vintners studied enology at the University of Bordeaux, others have taken over their family château or simply become partners on a business level. Each of the three profiled below says women have to prove more than men do in this centuries-old system….

 

Tasting China’s New, $250-a-Bottle Luxury Wine, Backed by LVMH

1200x-1-1April 19, 2016 — The makers of a new red blend from China are aiming to lure luxury wine connoisseurs from such established regions as Napa and Bordeaux, betting they’ll spend $250 a bottle on something novel and adventurous.

I got a sneak preview of the first vintage of the wine at a dinner last week in Manhattan, where I was the first U.S. journalist to taste it.  The Chinese red, which is backed by luxury powerhouse LVMH, is evocatively labeled Ao Yun, which means “roaming above the clouds.” It’s a reference to the craggy, remote aeries in which the grapes are grown in the Tibetan foothills….

 

 

 

 

The 2015 Bordeaux Vintage Is Superb. Here’s the Best and Worst of It

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March 30, 2016 — Next week, the movers and shakers of the global wine world will swoop down on Bordeaux for the region’s annual spring ritual of en primeur. Everyone is eager for a first taste of the 2015 vintage, still aging in barrel. After four years of average to fairly good vintages, the hype for this one is building.

Early whispers suggest that the wines have an elusive “wow” factor and that 2015 is the best vintage since the legendary 2009 and 2010.

Quality was so good at Chateau Cheval Blanc that for the first time since 1988 there aren’t enough barrels of lesser wine to make the second, cheaper bottling, Le Petit Cheval.

Like me, other journalists and merchants will hit the road in a few days, roaming from the Médoc to Graves to Saint-Émilion sipping and spitting barrel samples to decide how good they are, which ones might be worth buying as futures, and which will qualify as bargains. Many châteaux will put out the welcome mat for 1,000 to 1,500 tasters.

I have a sneak preview for you….

 

Bordeaux Winemakers Are Snapping Up Napa Estates

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March 22, 2016 — Alfred Tesseron, who owns Bordeaux château Pontet-Canet, hunted for a Napa Valley property for years. When he and his niece Melanie saw the late Robin Williams’s 640-acre Villa Sorriso high up on Mount Veeder in September, it had the right wine “magic.” The closest neighbor is musician (and vintner) Boz Scaggs.

The château’s visionary technical director, Jean-Michel Comme, walked every row of the 18.4-acre vineyard, probing the soil and vines. The real estate broker organized tastings of older vintages of classic wines made from Mount Veeder grapes, such as Mayacamas, to let Comme see the potential to make great cabernet. He gave it the nod….

 

 

Two New Cult Wines Are About to Debut in Napa: All the Details

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March 4, 2016 — Tracking down the Napa Valley’s latest big-deal wine projects before they get buzz is a sleuthing game I play every time I visit the region.

Two weeks ago, I hit pay dirt at new ventures started by two of the valley’s singular vintners.

First, Christian Moueix, Bordeaux’s Pomerol superstar and owner of Napa’s Dominus Estate, has been hard at work on Ulysses, whose first vintage, 2012, will make its debut this month. And then there’s Bart and Daphne Araujo, who in 2013 sold their cult winery Araujo Estate to billionaire Francois Pinault, of Chateau Latour, and then quickly founded Accendo Cellars, which will release its 2014 Sauvignon Blanc in April and its first Cabernet in September….

 New Wave of Sommelier Wine Clubs Will Change How Your Experience Wine

-1x-1February 29, 2016 — Ian Cauble looks more like a surfer than a master sommelier, but his passion is definitely wine. He starred in the 2012 cult-hit film SOMM, which tracked the trials and tribulations of four sommeliers in their quest to pass the tough master sommelier exam. (Cauble was the blond one who stayed up all night studying his flashcards.)

A year and a half ago he co-founded wine club SommSelect, and when I reached him recently by phone, he was heading to Burgundy to pry older vintages out of top cellars for his members. His club, which has swollen to 2,000 regular buyers, offers monthly selections of exciting top-tier wines for $199—and is just one of the rapidly growing number of hip wine clubs “curated” by sommeliers.

To me, these subscription organizations are game-changers, the only wine clubs worth joining, whether you love discovering interesting wines but have little time to hunt them down or you just want to expand your palate beyond your current comfort zone….

 

 

White Wines from Southern Italy Are Leading a Revolution

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February 19, 2016 — When you think of Italian wine, what comes to mind? Ever-foaming prosecco, perhaps? Tanker ships of pinot grigio? Or maybe it’s big-deal reds from Tuscany and Piemonte, with three-digit price tags attached.

It’s time for a fashion update. The big buzz right now is for whites from southern Italy, the land of still-active volcanoes, sun-drenched beaches, and 80 percent of the country’s olive trees. It’s also where you’ll find off-beat grape varieties few wine geeks have ever heard of. The best of the bottles that are made from these are great wine buys, offering surprising depth and character at bargain prices….

 

 

 

Should You Buy 2014 Burgundy Futures?

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February 12, 2016 — “Ah, I love Burgundy,” sighed a twenty-something bearded sommelier behind me at a very crowded tasting of the region’s 2014 vintage last week. Well, me too. Previewing barrel samples of delicious whites and reds from the hottest wine spot on our planet is my idea of a great day.

To cash in on the must-have fervor of Burgundy aficionados, merchants are currently offering futures of the 2014 vintage and I’ve been trolling New York trade tastings in search of good buys. The idea of futures, of course, is to lock in your supply of these wines (which are made in tiny quantities) before they’re bottled and shipped, eventually ending up on retail shelves.

So should you play the game and buy…?

 

 

Billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni Has New Wine Dreams for South America

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January 25, 2016 — It was twilight when Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni first saw a 2,200-hectare property for sale in rural Garzón, just north of Uruguayan resort Punta del Este, where he has a beach house. The peaceful green hills reminded him of Tuscany. “The place had magic,” he says. “I had to have it.”

He bought it in 1999. “My wife was upset that almond trees on land her grandfather had given her were dying. So we planted them, plus olive trees for me,” he says. He finally added vines in 2007—his first step in creating a wine empire that now includes 12 vineyards on four continents….

 

How to Start a Wine Collection in 2016 — and Why You Should-1x-1

January 8, 2016 — Maybe you’ve been turned off by the auction numbers (“case of Romanée-Conti brings $59,000!”) and think wine collecting is just a one-percenter’s status game.

It’s not just for those with the fattest wallets. Although major price inflation has hit first- and second-growth Bordeaux and grand cru and premier cru Burgundy, under-the-radar collectibles are still out there for those starting out or trying to decide what to do with this year’s bonus.

Here’s what you need to know and what to collect now….

 

 

 

Eight Ways Wine Will Change in 2016

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December 30, 2015 — The impact of climate change and new technologies (like the ability to check wine prices on smartphones) are on my vinous radar for 2016. Sparkling wine, especially ubiquitous prosecco, is still going strong, but “premiumization” is coming. Ditto for rosé.

The future for wine looks bright, though craft beer and craft ciderare siphoning off plenty of attention. Still, more people than ever (in the U.S. and UK especially) are drinking more expensive bottles—although you can get by quite splendidly under $50, too. The fact that “wine red” is the new fashion color for shoes can’t hurt either.

Here’s what else I see in my crystal (glass) for the coming year….

 

The 50 Best Wines Under $50

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December 21, 2015 — I’m always asked if I drink inexpensive wines. Of course, I do–if the wines are really good. Happily, I can report that it’s easier than ever to buy great stuff without spending a fortune. From my tastings this year, I’ve picked 50 wines that cost less than $50 a bottle and also deliver plenty of value for the price.

Tricks for finding the biggest bang for the buck? Look in low-buzz regions that aren’t luxury brands themselves, such as Beaujolais instead of Burgundy. Try unusual grape varieties, like assyrtiko and mencia. Above all, shop around. (That’s what the Internet is for.)….

Top 10 Wines of 2015: From $20 Furmint to $8,540 Champagne

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December 9, 2015 — In 2015, I sampled about 3,500 wines from every continent but Antarctica in my never-ending search for the recommendable. My 10 most memorable bottles range from a great vintage of a rare riesling, to a pet-nat bargain from the Hamptons, to California’s über-classic cabernet. Taken as a whole, they communicate what’s important in the world of wine today (the rise of traditional winemaking styles and unfamiliar grapes, the new appeal of old champagne) and what might happen next (more hot young things out of Australia, among others).

Arranged by price, my top picks of 2015….

 

Tannat is the Ultimate Big Red Wine for Steak

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December 8, 2015 -At celebrity chef Francis Mallmann’s personal retreat in Uruguay, sausages and sweetbreads were sizzling outdoors on his rustic parrilla, a grill over an open wood fire. I heaped my plate. Later, when he passed the second course, a platter of short ribs and thick rib-eye steaks dripping with juice, I couldn’t resist even more meat.

The table was littered with open bottles, but the best wine with all that grass-fed beef was a rich, spicy Uruguayan red made from the Tannat grape by a new winery, Bodega Garzón. I savored the combo as I tried to pick out constellations from a star-studded sky while the sky darkened over green hills with granite outcroppings.

Meat is a big deal in Uruguay, as I discovered during a recent week of winery visits in this under-the-radar South American grape and gaucho haven….

How a Wall Street Exec Became the Ultimate Burgundy Wine Collector

1200x-1December 2, 2015 — Don Stott got the tip that pushed him into serious wine collecting in 1963, when most Americans thought high-end drinking meant soaking up very dry martinis.

At New York’s 21 Club, where Stott had often eaten with his parents, then head sommelier Mario Ricci advised him to buy cases of 1961 Bordeaux. The 24-year-old Stott listened and purchased. He still has some 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild.

But on a trip to Europe soon after, he had a “conversion” to Burgundy. Over the next 50 years he built one of the world’s great collections of the region’s seductive reds and whites. He was savvier than he imagined at the time. If you look at a list of the most expensive wines in the world today, the majority of them are from Burgundy.

This year he put thousands of cases on the block at Sotheby’s in New York. Part one, last spring, brought in $8,412,626….

 

 

Wine on Thanksgiving: A Critic Answers All Your Big Questions

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November 23, 2015 — Everyone knows Thanksgiving is not as relaxing as it pretends to be. But the drinking part should be easy—the antidote to any stress about relatives or kitchen snafus. So how did Thanksgiving become such a source of wine-related anxiety?

I get more calls from friends stressed about what they should pour on America’s quintessential holiday than I do for life-changing celebrations such as weddings. Some wine shops even try to reassure customers by offering wine tastings alongside bites of turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings.

Surely the fuss is because this holiday is all about family and friends and the meaning of gathering them around a table spread with comfort food. That’s a recipe for anxiety right there.

But I’m here to help….

Is Grenache the New Pinot Noir?  How to Shop This Wine Trend

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November 16, 2015 — There’s no movie— yet—with a guy rhapsodizing over a glass of grenache the way Miles (Paul Giamatti) crooned his love of pinot noir in wine buddy film Sideways.

But grenache is having its moment now, thanks to a bunch of talented young winemakers with a new vision of how enticing these red wines can be.

“They’re generous, happy wines, just delicious. They say, ‘drink me,’” says Carla Rzeszewski, former wine director at April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig group.

The best have some of pinot’s seductive pleasure at a cheaper price. Juicy and soft, bursting with heady aromas, lively fruit, and a little minerality, they can suck you in with their supersexy silk and velvet textures….

 

 

 

What Every Wine Geek Needs to Know, Right Now

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November 6, 2015 — Listen up: Do you know what these phrases mean: “Pet-nat,” “concrete eggs,” “en rama,” “koshu,” or “red blotch”? You’re not up to speed with the latest trends if you don’t. These terms tip off changes in the ever-more-evolving wine world that affect what you’re drinking.

Fortunately, they also happen to be among the 350 new entries in the just-published 4th edition of the weighty, authoritative, indispensable Oxford Companion to Wine, so it’s easy to catch up.

First published in 1994 and last revised in 2006, the book keeps pace with the times. The new must-have edition packs 978,609 words and more than 4,000 entries into 912 pages. It weighs 6.2 pounds, so forget reading it in bed.

Over lunch at Gramercy Tavern, accompanied by glasses of savory 2012 Kiralyudvar Furmint Sec ($20 at retail), OCW editor Jancis Robinson filled me in on how she and her co-editor Julia Harding, both Masters of Wine, backed up by some 200 experts, updated this sumo wrestler of a reference guide….

 

 

New York Wine Auctions make Splashy Return with Château Margaux Cellar Sale

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October 15, 2015 — Last week, I was happily swooning over a glass of the plummy, violet-scented 1982 Château Margaux at a preview tasting at Sotheby’s in Manhattan. On Saturday, that vintage will be one of the star offerings at an auction devoted exclusively to bottles direct from the cellars of this first growth Bordeaux château. The 239 lots span vintages 1900 to 2012.

That the sale is happening in New York is a big deal, and not just because the wines are among the world’s best, more seductive than other first growths when young and wonderfully fragrant.

In the past five years, similar sales of wines from first growth châteaux Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Haut-Brion, and Mouton Rothschild have all been held in Hong Kong, chasing high Bordeaux demand in Asia—and more open wallets.

As Sotheby’s president of wine, Jamie Ritchie, put it, this Margaux sale sends a message that New York is back on top of the wine auction game….

Champagne is back, but it has more serious competition than ever

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October 12, 2015 — Sales of luxury bubbles have bounced back, and since we’re heading into prime fizz season, I grabbed the chance last week to sample more than 125 Champagnes and top sparkling wines from countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Drinking expensive fizz has always been linked with a positive economic outlook (though personally I think it’s also an essential perk-up if you’re coping with a downturn). That’s why Champagne plunged in late 2008, and prosecco swooped in as the cheapie alternative….

 

What Do California’s Wildfires Mean for the 2015 Wine Harvest?

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September 29, 2015 — September is wine harvest month. For Shed Horn Cellars in California’s Lake County, it has been a disaster. A wall of flame from the Valley Fire, which started on Sept. 12, burned the winery to the ground.

For nearby Hawk and Horse Vineyards, this harvest is a miracle. Though the same fire charred hundreds of forest acres on the 1,300-acre property, the 18-acre biodynamic vineyard was barely touched. “No one can explain why it was spared,” said an emotional Tracey Hawkins, whose family owns the estate….

Taste-Testing All the Wines at Starbuck’s New, Boozy, Evenings Program

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September 22, 2015 — At 5 p.m. in the North Seventh Street Starbucks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, people at wooden tables sip lattes and focus on their laptop screens. Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy plays on the sound system as I face 10 glasses of wine.

The giant coffee company rolled out its new “Starbucks Evenings” program of serving wine, craft beer, and small plates last month in 70 U.S. locations. I stopped by the first spot to open in New York in order to put the selections to a taste test….

Costco Heir Aims to Create New Napa Cult Wines in 1,403 Steps

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September 14, 2015 — Jumping on new entries in the Napa Valley cult cabernet sweepstakes is an insider sport. If you want to grab bottles of the latest wine, you have to nail a spot on the winery’s mailing list as early as possible. That way you’ll be notified about releases and have the chance to place an order for those pricy bottlings—which you may be able to flip later for big profits.

Normally these cabernets start at $150 and climb to $850. But on Sept. 30, one estate is releasing a first wave of cabernet bottles for less than $100. That’s well below a typical high-profile cab IPO. So what’s the story?

“My big vision,” says Sinegal Estate owner David Sinegal, “is to create a luxury experience where the product is just one part. That’s where everything is going….”

 

Labor Day Drinking: How to Pair a Great Wine with Barbecue

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September 2, 2015 — This Labor Day, chances are you will encounter some barbecue. You will have to decide what to drink with it.

At my house, some family members will stick to swigging local craft brews; you can’t go wrong with good, cold beer in a tub of ice. Others, such as me, are committed wine buffs. Picking the right wines isn’t as easy as you might think. It’s all about the meat, the method, and the sauce…

Is Now the Time to Buy a Case of Château Lafite?

One of the three bottles of the 1869 vintage that sold for a record $HK 1.8 million each at Sotheby's Oct. 29 auction in Hong Kong of wines sourced directly from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Each was expected to fetch between HK$40,000 and HK$60,000. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

August 10, 2015 — In 2011, Château Lafite Rothschild’s wines were riding high, the darlings of Chinese buyers and the auction market.

The futures price in London for the great 2010 vintage, released in July 2011, created shock waves. The wine was one of my top picks of the year, deep and rich, with classic tastes of cigar smoke and cassis and the texture of cashmere.

But it was priced at £12,000 a case (then $19,400) … and the wine hadn’t even been bottled yet.

 Almost immediately that price began to slip, and it’s been declining ever since. Last month, Liv-ex reported that a case of the 2010 had traded for £5,390 ($8,350), nearly 55 percent less than it cost four years ago.

My question: Should you scoop up a case—or three—now?

Read on….

 

How to Help the Greek Economy by Drinking

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July 29, 2015 — At the beach, I’m doing my bit to boost the Greek economy by sipping a refreshing Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko, a salty, smoky white wine from the romantic, volcanic island of Santorini. Just so you know, this is not just altruism—Greek wines have been on an upward quality trajectory for years, and they’re better than ever despite the debt-ridden country’s financial woes.

Luckily, now that the banks have reopened, wineries may be able to pay for the bottles, corks, and equipment they need for the 2015 harvest, which starts next month. Because of capital controls imposed in June, though, that will be complicated. Suppliers are demanding cash upfront.

So boost sales and drink up.

Not a Greek wine fan? You should be….

Bordeaux is in the Midst of a Dazzling Building Boom

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July 17, 2015 — Last month, 400 people in black tie trooped through the new cellars and renovations at first-growth Château Margaux’s official unveiling. The map of the buildings, handed out on a small card, looked like a museum floor plan.

That was the prelude to a dinner of truffled artichoke soup and guinea fowl with chanterelle mushrooms, orchestrated by Michelin-starred chef Guy Savoy.

The architecture got as many oohs and aahs as the food and wine that followed.

Margaux’s new winemaking facility, visitors center, and vinotheque, designed by prize-winning British architect Norman Foster, is just one example of Bordeaux’s ongoing glamorous building boom….

 

How to Buy a Bordeaux Chateau

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July 7, 2015 — Over lunch on the stone terrace at Château Fonplégade in St. Emilion, France, owners Stephen and Denise Adams took in the sweeping views of their neat rows of organic vines.

The American couple bought the estate in 2004 and spent millions to restore it, including $1 million just to rebuild a critical vineyard retaining wall.

Maybe you’re one of those wine lovers who think people like the Adamses are living the ultimate wine fantasy. You’re not alone.

Two packed seminars on how to buy a Bordeaux château, held at wine trade fair VinExpo three weeks ago, show just how widespread the fantasy is…..

 

Sex and the Sommelier: Make Way for Women

 

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July 2, 2015 — When Élyse Lambert ascended to the rank of master sommelier at a ceremony last May in Aspen, Colo., the first thing she did was pop the cork on a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne.

She had a lot to celebrate.  A wine consultant to Montreal’s Maison Boulud, she was one of 63 candidates who took the tough final master sommelier exam this year, the last step in a long, grueling, four-part process.

Of the mere seven who passed, she was one of just two women.

 “There were very few female somms when I started out 15 years ago,” Lambert says.  “I began as a waitress. An MS after my name is important to me—and it helps change the image of women and wine in the restaurant world.”

In this enlightened era, only 32 of the world’s 229 master sommeliers—that’s just under 14 percent—are women. Canada has two. Three-quarters of them ply their trade in the U.S….

 

 

 

Top Chinese Wines Have Gone From Bad to Good. Will They Become Great?

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June 26, 2015 —  Ever tasted a wine made from “dragon eyes” grapes?

Neither had I, until I attended a packed seminar and tasting of Chinese wines at trade fair VinExpo last week.

I started out curious but skeptical, as most of the country’s wines I’d sampled previously were largely forgettable, especially those made from Chinese hybrid grapes with similarly poetic, unusual names like French Wild and Rose Honey.

 People outside China don’t know much about these wines because so few have been exported. Only in the past couple of years have a handful grabbed medals in international wine competitions and gained media attention. Many others were (and still are) poor, thin, lacked fruit, and often suffered from basic winemaking faults.

To my surprise, all 17 whites, reds, and sweeties poured were impressive….

 

 

The Most Exciting New Wines and Spirits from VinExpo 2015

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June 23, 2015 — Fireworks spread like giant golden fans across the night sky above Château Smith Haut Lafitte at the party kickoff for last week’s VinExpo 2015, the world’s largest wine and spirits trade fair.

The biannual gathering is a big deal. French President François Hollande gave a speech the next day at one of the vast exhibition spaces on a man-made lake just north of the city. VinExpo is the drink industry’s biannual five-day schmoozefest, a place to do deals, trade gossip, party hard, and, of course, launch new products.

I spent my days hiking from one end of the half-mile-long hall to the other, hunting the highlights among the 2,350 exhibitors from 42 countries. One fast fact: It takes 50 people to keep the 120,000 glasses clean for sniffing and swirling by 48,000 buyers, who flew in from 151 countries. After France, China topped the list for number of visitors.

 Trendy rosés were ubiquitous, but “taste the unexpected” was this year’s theme, and I found plenty of that, from Latvian bitters to Riedel glasses that show off espresso’s different flavors, to wines from war-torn Syria.Here are my picks for some of the most exciting launches….

 

Chianti Classico Makes a Grab for the Super-Premium Market

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June 9, 2015 — The redesigned black rooster logo on Chianti Classico wines is bigger than ever and strutting its stuff.  No longer content to peddle delicious, affordable reds, winemakers in this well-known zone in the heart of Tuscany are aiming for the higher-spending luxury market with a new designation: Gran Selezione.

But is this controversial new category top-tier or mostly hype? When it comes to price hikes, I’m always a skeptic. And as so often happens with Italian wine, controversy and confusion reign.

If you’ve been using the name Chianti as a generic catch-all, stop now.

Chianti Classico is a specific geographic sub-region (roughly between Florence and Siena) that’s long been identified as a top spot for sangiovese grapes….

 

These Restaurants have the Best Wine Lists in the World

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June 2, 2015 — I’ve long thought that New York tops just about everywhere if you want to drink the widest selection of great wines.

It turns out that critics tend to agree. According to the 2015 World of Fine Wine’s Best Wine List Awards, which are being released on Tuesday, the Big Apple is the best city in the world for wining while dining.

Forty New York restaurants made it into the top, three-star award category, while the tally for runner-up London was 24.

Manhattan’s temple of cuisine Eleven Madison Park won the global sweepstakes for the overall best list, beating out Vienna’s Palais Coburg, which topped the best European list and was last year’s top award winner….

 

A Wine Critic Defends Sauternes, Bordeaux’s Sweet, Unloved Stepchild

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May 6, 2015 — Pity poor Sauternes. The Bordeaux region’s unfashionable sweet white wines are always trying something new and controversial to appear cool and with-it to attract drinkers.

The latest attempt is the just-launched SO Sauternes(€18), a new, lighter style of the luscious white intended for mixing with Perrier over ice as an aperitif cocktail. If it’s a success at bars in France, it will come to the U.S. and U.K.

What a waste: The combo is light and vaguely refreshing, but the golden-hued, opulent wines from Sauternes and neighboring Barsac are better than ever, even sublime. And they’re one of the wine world’s great bargains. Deeply fruity and sweetly tart when young, they age brilliantly. Older vintages taste like liquid crème brulee.

So why are they neglected…?

 

Luxury Rosés Are a Real Thing, and Here Are the Ones Worth Splurging For

-1x-1-2April 27, 2015 — Pink-wine season is almost upon us. In recent years, dry rosés have become so essential to drinking al fresco that the wine is practically a synonym for summer. The craze is the wine success story of the past decade. But much of the rising tide has only elevated low-price rosés. Now many important wine houses are trying to enter the market with premium-price, luxury versions.

It was only a matter of time, really. Last year sales of expensive rosés (translation: over $20) grew 41 percent in the U.S., compared with 1 percent growth for all other wine categories.

And last May, a single bottle of a U.S.-made rosé — 1995 Sine Qua Non Queen of Hearts — sold for $42,780 in a Winebid.com auction.

OK, that was a fluke. Only 25 cases of this rare wine were made. Each Sine Qua Non bottling boasts a different name and artwork on the label, which inspires obsessive collectors to aim for a complete set. But are top-end rosés worth extra money in general, or do they just have delusions of grandeur….?

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How to Judge a Great Wine List, According to Critic Elin McCoy

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April 21, 2015 — For weeks I’ve been combing through hundreds of wine lists from restaurants around the globe in my role as judge for the World of Fine Wine’s annual wine list awards.

My first takeaway: The heavy leather-bound wine tome stuffed with staid, predictable reds and whites is, happily, in deep decline, if not a fossil.

Deconstructing the elements that make one list great and another completely mediocre, I realized a brilliant selection of wines was only part of what I was looking for.

Fairly quickly I developed a surprisingly long list of pet peeves: misspelled wine names, missing vintages, preachy essays, exorbitant pricing, and stupid jokes and comments. No one really wants to know that a guest at Scottsdale’s Cowboy Ciao described its list as “better than pornography….”

Bordeaux Preview: Will the 2014 Vintage Be Worth Betting On?

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March 31, 2015 — Several thousand people from around the world are in Bordeaux this week for the annual spring rite of en primeur, roaming from the Medoc to Graves, from Pomerol to Saint-Emilion to get a first taste of the 2014 vintage.

The wines are still aging quietly in barrels as merchants assess which ones to offer their clients as futures, and journalists furiously scribble their tasting notes.

Overall quality looks to be pretty good. The vintage story is a familiar one: a cool, damp summer with the grapes finally ripened by the “miracle” of September sun.

No one is calling 2014 a great, must-have “vintage of the century,” as they labeled 2010, 2009, and 2005….

 

Venture Capitalist Bottles California Pinots That Rival Burgundy

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March 20, 2015 —  Software entrepreneur Kevin Harvey, co-founder of Benchmark Capital, is used to backing startups that make it big, such as Proofpoint and MySQL. It turns out he’s also got the Midas touch when it comes to California’s best spots for pinot noir. He’s just invested in his seventh parcel in the under-appreciated Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco.

His savory, earthy, silky-textured Rhys Vineyards pinots are the closest yet to a California version of great Burgundy—and it’s time to pounce. Here’s why.

The stellar 2012s have just been released, and even though the winery already has a wait list, a handful of retailers will be offering them soon….

How to Buy Napa’s Most Exclusive and Hard-to-Get Wines

-1x-1March 2, 2015 — A group of four Swiss entrepreneurs snagged a prime lot at last weekend’s Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, splashing out $115,000, or $1,917 a bottle, for the 2013 Brand Double Barrel 1588 Cabernet Sauvignon.

“We’re each going to take 15 bottles and drink them ourselves,” said Gregor Greber, who grinned and admitted they got carried away by emotion.

If you go by the record total of $6 million the annual trade auction raked in last weekend, market thirst for expensive Napa cabernet is alive and well. Nine wines among the 225 lots, mostly from the 2013 vintage, brought a price of $1,000 a bottle or more….

How to Find Prosecco That Isn’t Terrible

-1x-1February 25, 2015 — Prosecco is so ubiquitous that you probably think you know what it is—a frothy, fruity, best-selling bargain.

But trust me, not all prosecco is equal. Most is boring—some is brilliant.

I learned to drink it in Italy, where being handed a glass as a greeting happens as frequently as being kissed on both cheeks. And I’ll confess, nothing about it impressed me until I tasted a few luxury bottles.

Now I get it. Most of the world’s sparkling wines are Champagne wannabes. Not so prosecco, made from the glera grape. It’s what you want when you’re in the mood for something completely different, fizz-wise. At its best, it’s all drink-me-now sweetness, with mineral notes, a savory flavor, and tight bubbles….

 

The World’s Next Big Wine Regions

imageFebruary 23, 2015 — I’ve always been a wine-discovery junkie, constantly on the hunt for new grapes, new vintages, new winemakers, and especially new places where vines may never have been planted before. Thanks to ambitious vintners, rising demand from drinkers, a taste shift to lighter wine styles, and yes, even climate change, the number of global hot spots for wine is ever expanding. If you’re still rattling off the names of the old, long-famous regions, you’re way behind the times. In these eight spots, good wine is on its way to becoming great wine, with a few stars leading the way….

 

New Wine Fraud Website Will Help You Avoid Fake Bottles

-1x-1February 11, 2015 — Convicted wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan is safely behind bars, but many of his fakes are still floating around in cellars—along with plenty of other suspect bottles.

Just in time, wine consultant Maureen Downey, who helped the FBI bring Kurniawan down, will launch a website in early April to teach fine wine lovers how to spot what’s real and what’s not.

“Winefraud.com will be a resource for everyone wanting to do due diligence on rare wines,” she says. “There’s been nowhere to learn about this stuff before.” The site will provide tutorials on how to spot fraud and a gallery of photographs of the real things to compare against a suspect bottle or label….

Should You Pay $300 For an Oregon Pinot Noir?

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February 3, 2015 — Oregon pinot noir may not be high on your list of wine priorities yet, but movie producer and wine entrepreneur Mark Tarlov is convinced it should be. That’s why he’s charging an eye-popping $300 each for his two just-launched Chapter 24 Double Zero pinots. “The price is a poke,’’ he tells me. “It’s a signal to say Oregon matters.”

It’s a pretty loud signal, since these are now the state’s most expensive wines. But are they worth the price of grand cru Burgundies?

I sipped and compared his two ’00’ wines, 2012 Shea Vineyard and 2012 Hyland Vineyard, as Tarlov filled me in on the wines’ backstory over lunch at Porterhouse restaurant in New York….

Canadian Icewine Primer: Drink Your Dessert

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Jan 5, 2015 — While most of us are dreaming of escaping to a warm Caribbean beach, Canadian Icewine pioneer Donald Ziraldo is craving temperatures below zero. To make his luscious riesling icewines on the Niagara Peninsula he needs frosty frozen grapes on leafless vines.

I’m a huge fan of these expensive elixirs—and so are sweet-toothed Chinese. In 2013 they swallowed more than 42 percent of all Canada’s icewine, about 104,000 liters worth more than $8 million. The rest of Asia—South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore—snapped up another 30 percent.

Demand is so high that fakes, some made from flavored alcohol and water, are a serious, growing problem.

The real stuff is ideal for Chinese New Year gifts, but for me, taste is the big appeal: ripe tropical fruit or caramel apple sweetness contrasted with zingy acidity and a thick, rich texture that coats your tongue like liquid honey. Maybe that’s why imports to the U.S. are finally growing, having tripled since 2011….

Elin McCoy’s Top Ten Wines of 2015, from a Star Burgundy to an Alpine Bargain

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December 16, 2014 — In my quest for the world’s most recommendable wines, I sampled more than 4,000 this year. My top ten most memorable bottles range from a great vintage of a Napa cult classic to a bargain from France’s snowy alps to a new, rare Italian collectible. All say something about what’s hot in the wine world, and what’s in store for 2015.

2012 Antica Terra Angelicall rosé ($75) 

Made from pinot noir vines planted on a rocky pre-historic seabed in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, this unusual rosé — named for alchemy’s invisible Angelicall stone — is one of the most intriguing pink wines I’ve ever tasted. Over dinner in the Dundee Hills with talented winemaker Maggie Harrison, I savored its exotic mineral and spice character and perfumed aromas, the result of macerating the juice longer on the skins. The rosé craze is still with us, so expect more expensive experiments.

2001 Harlan Estate ($900 to $1,300) 

When you’re invited to the first-ever tasting of 26 vintages of Napa’s Harlan Estate at the winery, you don’t say no. Founder Bill Harlan’s ambition has always been to create an American cabernet-based red that’s the equivalent of Bordeaux’s famous first growths. This dark, powerful stunner, my top wine of the tasting, comes pretty close. Its lush, sensual texture is a Harlan trademark…..

Legendary Port House Quinta do Noval Crafts Luscious Dry Reds

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Dec 11, 2014 — When the maker of the world’s rarest and most collectible vintage port experiments with dry red table wines, the results are bound to be pretty exciting.

That’s my take after a recent New York tasting of Quinta do Noval’s three exceptional reds — the stunning flagship cuvee Quinta do Noval Douro, the intense, fruity Touriga Nacional, and the surprising bargain Cedro do Noval.

These wines, now in the U.S., are emblematic of the ambitious wine revolution sweeping the sleepy, remote Douro Valley in northwest Portugal. Their quality shows why imports of the country’s dry table wines are up 21 percent in the first six months of 2014.

The mastermind behind this project at Quinta do Noval, Christian Seely, is an urbane Brit who was wearing his trademark dark blue Charvet bow-tie and a Savile Row suit at the tasting event in October…

Would You Go to the Wine Equivalent of a Tupperware Party?

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December 8, 2014 — This is a serious question. When a major wine producer embraces the Tupperware selling model, an at-home wine-buying party just might be in your future.

“It’s the social marketing way of selling wine, friends to friends,” says Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of the Boisset Collection, his family’s group of 20-odd wineries in California and France. He started quietly testing the in-home tasting experience idea about a year and a half ago with his new venture, Boisset Wine Living. Now, based on its success, he’s aiming to expand.

“Our program is like Tupperware’s, but it’s high end,” Boisset explains over lunch in New York, during a stop off on his way to Burgundy’s annual Hospice de Beaune auction.

Noted for innovations like putting a screwcap on a $200 grand cru Burgundy, he explains the Boisset Wine Living concept as we sip his bright, fruity JCB #69 Brut Rose Cremant de Bourgogne, a good fizz for the price ($20)….

Dom Perignon Reboots the 1998 Vintage in Sexy New “P2” Bottling

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November 27, 2014 — Iceland’s glaciers and lava-spewing volcanoes aren’t what I picture when sipping a super luxury champagne. But Richard Geoffroy, the ebullient chef de cave at Dom Perignon, has almost convinced me there’s a connection between the character of that landscape and his new special bottling of the 1998 vintage, labeled P2.

The wine, just now entering the market, is the first in a planned separate line of champagnes that have been aged longer. Impressed by a glass of it at a fall New York wine auction, I phone Geoffroy in France for details.

“The wine is all about magnetic energy,” he says. “Iceland looks quiet, minimalist, but under the surface everything is bubbling and surging.” (The brand often likes to make dramatic comparisons – but they took this one to the next level when, earlier this year, they did a debut tasting of the P2 at an ice cave at the Gigjokull glacier on the slopes of a volcano in Iceland.)

In person, Geoffroy, with his short, spiky hair and severe black glasses, has a minimalist look, and regularly erupts – with bold proclamations….

Rival Visions of Bold Sagrantino Reds Thrive in Tiny Italian Hill Town

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November 24, 2014 — For two leading champions of the long-unloved sagrantino grape, turning it into a dry red with mouth-filling exotic flavors involved years of effort, a scientific study and a bitter, months-long family feud.

But both Gianpiero Bea and Marco Caprai think the resulting wines were well worth the struggle.

What the nebbiolo grape is to Piemonte, the thick-skinned, late-ripening sagrantino is to Montefalco, a 13th century hilltop town in central Umbria surrounded by vines and olive trees and noted for black truffles.

Barely grown outside the region, the grape spurred a wine boom in Montefalco that started about 15 years ago. Between 2000 and 2008, production quadrupled. A few big-time investors moved in and there are now 74 wineries.

Yet in the late 1960s, sagrantino was close to disappearing before a handful of growers revived it….

Napa’s Wizard of Oz Winery Makes Cult Cabs Worth the Price

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November 18, 2014 — Maybe you’ve had it with wallet-emptying, soulless Napa Valley cult cabernets that aren’t worth their three-digit price tags.

Me, too, but I’m not giving up on the truly good ones, like Scarecrow, whose origins lie in a historic Hollywood story and a dusty vineyard in Rutherford with stumpy 69-year-old vines called `old men.’

I met the winery’s proprietors Bret Lopez and his wife Mimi DeBlasio in New York recently over lunch and bottles of the not-yet-released 2012, their 10th vintage. Sips reminded me just how superb this red — named for the mindless scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz — can be….

Old Vines Grown in Sand make California’s New Must-Have Bottles

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September 24, 2014 — Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua is the Indiana Jones of lost vineyards, wandering rural California in a beat-up Subaru, hunting gnarled old vines and forgotten grapes.

His Sandlands wines come from disparate vine plantings in the sandy soils of little-known outlier regions, like Contra Costa County east of San Francisco. Here century-old carignane grows in Delhi blow sand that’s 40 feet deep. (That, he explains, is decomposed granite deposited by wind and water.)

What’s the big deal about sand? Passalacqua believes it gives the wines unexpected dimensions.

The Sandlands project is one of the more exciting California wine debuts of recent years, and the few hundred cases sold out fast to insiders and sommeliers. You can still get on the mailing list for his 2012s, to be released in mid October. And you have to be quick — only ‘members’ (those on the mailing list) will have the chance to snag one of the limited allocations….

Exclusive Club Marries Wine and Business for High-End Networkers

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August 19, 2014 — How does one rescue 300 stranded workers from North Sea oil platforms in a snowstorm? William Amelio, chief executive officer of Canada-based CHC Helicopter knows — and earlier this year he used the answer to talk about leadership in front of 30 members of a new club, the International Business and Wine Society.

At the industrial-chic Bouley Test Kitchen loft in downtown New York, the diners plied Amelio with questions, then succumbed to a serious tasting of Chateau Palmer’s silky-textured red Bordeaux with winemaker Thomas Duroux.

In the background, Michelin-starred chefs David Bouley and Anita Lo whipped up the evening’s six-course menu.

The Society hosts monthly dinners where club members talk about business, get an exclusive themed wine tutorial, and chow down on imaginative cuisine. Founder Omar Khan, senior partner of global consulting firm Sensei International, is betting this unique mix is what today’s high-powered networkers want. His goal is to launch 15 to 20 for-profit Business & Wine Society clubs, with 100 to 200 members each, in the world’s key cities.

Launched last September in New York, the Society opened in Hong Kong in February and expects to expand into London by the end of the year.

Is it worth the $5,000 membership fee?….

from WINESEARCHER.COM:

New York’s Sommelier Old Guard

Kevin-Zraly-10004646November 11, 2014 — Long before America’s 1970s food revolution, New York was a serious restaurant town. But only a few fancy spots employed a sommelier back then. He – and he was always a man – was generally considered a master of wine intimidation, a snob in a tuxedo who used his French accent to humiliate customers into buying the most expensive bottle on the list.

A handful of influential pioneers in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly at downtown restaurants, transformed all that. They brought wine to center stage, shifted the somm image away from the stuffy and, along the way, changed what and how New Yorkers drank. Thanks to their lead, the number of somms in the city has exploded in the past decade and the best have gained star status.

First came breezy, enthusiastic Kevin Zraly, now a prominent wine educator and author.

He started at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center in 1976, when he was only 25…

New York’s Sommelier Young Guns

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November 18, 2014 — The sommelier boom in New York’s restaurant world is less than a decade old.

But vino-centric restaurants and the advent of social media have already made the younger generation of Big Apple somms – many of them women – into influencers of what’s worth drinking and what’s not. Their wine philosophies are reflected in their lists, which are often studded with bottles from obscure regions.

Some served early apprenticeships under Old Guard somms like Paul Grieco and Daniel Johnnes (whose La Paulée Scholarships have taken many young ones to Burgundy); others studied to obtain Master Sommelier status.

French-born Pascaline Lepeltier, wine director of Rouge Tomate, is the leading somm proponent of organic, biodynamic, and natural wines….

An Evocative and Sensual Guide to Wine Tasting

So my first reaction to the luminous still-life images of fruits, flowers, herbs, tobacco, nuts, cured meats and more in “The Essence of Wine”, by well-known American blogger Alder Yarrow, was how different and fresh this book looks. When I dug deeper, I began to realize how useful and informative it is.

The pairings of 47 meditative photographs by Leigh Beisch with short lyrical texts and specific wine recommendations from Yarrow aim to evoke the singular flavors and aromas in wine….

Terroir Gives Champagne Its Soul

Champagne-bottle-lineup-1000459322-Oct-2014 — My Champagne ideal is not just a glass of dependable, consistent bubbly to toast a promotion or celebrate an anniversary. Yes, I know the region is a place where concepts of brand, blend and house style reign supreme, but I think the most exciting development taking place now in Champagne is the antithesis of all that.

The growing number of producers departing from tradition to make single-vineyard and single-village wines that reveal the region’s micro-identities are providing the thrills.

Don’t get me wrong. The tête de cuvées from the grandes marques houses can be fabulous and stunning. But I find no thrills in the polished anonymity of their non-vintage bruts, multi-vineyard blends crafted from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sometimes Pinot Meunier. In truth, I’m a terroir drinker, fascinated less by smooth harmony than by the wine language of pieces of land….

The Legendary Martine Saunier

The Legendary Martine Saunier

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 10-Oct-2014 — On a warm evening last summer at the International Pinot Noir Celebration’s grand dinner in McMinnville, Oregon, importer Martine Saunier, slim and chic in a white tunic, was pouring wines from the stellar portfolio she started building back in 1979. As I sipped a dazzling 1989 Domaine Leroy Clos de la Roche, I thought of how much she has shaped the landscape of French wine in America in the past 35 years.

Two months later, over lunch in New York, I finally hear the whole story of how this petite French woman became one of America’s pioneer importers.

“I grew up in Paris, but I spent every summer of my childhood in southern Burgundy,” she says. “My aunt had a house and vineyard near Mâcon and I loved everything about winemaking.”

She learned about fermentation at a young age and when her parents took her to restaurants she would cry until they put a few drops of wine into her glass of water…..

Q&A: Becky Wasserman-Hone:

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July 14, 2014:  What drew you to wine?

I loved everything French – art, music, literature, food, wine. I was a baby existentialist who had wandered around New York dressed in black and carrying a Camus novel, hoping someone would notice. When my marriage was unraveling in the mid-1970s, I needed to find work. The world of wine was an obvious idea, as a job as a bilingual night receptionist in a Beaune hotel was not appealing.

How did you get into the wine business?

My first job was selling oak barrels to wineries in the U.S. for François Frères. I arrived in California with a small barrel to show and my first sale was to Bob and Nonie Travers, owners of Mayacamas. Later I also became a broker for Taransaud. I sold Kistler their first barrels – that put me in touch with viticulture and vinification. My first list of wines came out in 1977 – I worked with Kermit Lynch and the Troisgros brothers, then started Le Serbet in 1979 with wines from domaines who were willing to have a go with an unknown American expatriate. Now we sell wines from more than 80 [domaines]….

Five Ways Wineries Fight Counterfeits

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July 15, 2014 — The new black bottle for the 2012 Angelus, embossed with 21.7-carat gold words and the Saint-Émilion château’s iconic bell symbol, looks like it would be pretty hard to fake. Fusing the gold onto the glass was a complex process requiring two firings at 600°C and 500°C.

But most wineries charging big bucks for their wines use less-dramatic techniques to reassure wine lovers they’re getting what they paid for. (The Angelus fancy bottle is a one-off to celebrate the year the château was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classe A.)

Security companies who’ve spent decades devising protections for pharmaceuticals and Gucci handbags are wooing the wine industry with overt and covert high-tech solutions that go way beyond early anti-fraud efforts. In 1984, for example, Château d’Yquem started incorporating a special watermark its label and, in the 1990s, Penfolds began adding a laser-etched identification on bottles of Grange.

Here’s a short list of ways wineries are now combating fakery….

from BLOOMBERG MARKETS:

Yao Ming Among Star Vintners Seeking Millions from Crowdfunding

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April 24, 2015 — Superstar winemaker Jean Philippe Moulin developed prestige champagnes for brands like Barons de Rothschild and LVMH’s Ruinart but always dreamed of creating a line of bubbly under his own name. Last year, U.K.-based Naked Wines made that possible, providing €500,000 in advance funding through its 250,000 wine-loving customer-investors, who were able to buy Moulin’s four champagnes at a discount, Bloomberg Markets reports in its May issue.

When South African Rowan Gormley founded online retailer Naked Wines at the end of 2008, wine crowdfunding didn’t exist. Yet the company’s reward-based structure has been so successful that by 2012, it had expanded into Australia and the U.S. “In 2015,” Gormley says, “Naked plans to invest £70 million in 145 vintners in 13 countries….”

 

Boom Time in the Vineyards

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March 30, 2015 — After golf ball–sized hailstones battered vines at Château d’Issan in Bordeaux for two years in a row, managing director Emmanuel Cruse was in the market for something—anything—that might protect his grapes. That’s when he decided to try a device that promises to prevent hailstones from forming, Bloomberg Markets reports in its April 2015 issue. Different types of hail cannons, as they’re known, have been around for more than a century in France, even though it’s far from clear they do what they’re supposed to do.

“We had to do something,” Cruse recalls. “Storms destroyed 70 percent of our grapes in 2008 and 2009. Each of those years, we produced less than 6,000 cases of wine,” compared with the typical 19,000 cases. The total financial loss to this third-growth estate in the Margaux appel­lation was almost €3 million ($3.4 million), Cruse says. Insurance paid out just one-fifth of that.

So Cruse invested €150,000 in two cannons that are now permanently installed in his vineyards….

 

 

Bordeaux Is Illiquid and Other Wine Investment Hazards

iF_HoFCW0vl8January 23, 2015 — More than half a dozen firms peddling wine investments in the U.K. alone went belly up last year. Why have there been so many flops?

“Most funds collapse because they have the wrong structure, the wrong strategy and no focus on how to exit,” says Brian Mota, co-manager of The Wine Trust, a U.S. fund founded in 2010 with $15 million to $20 million in assets. Mota is convinced The Wine Trust’s private-equity-fund-type setup, in which investors’ money is locked in for eight years, is the most appropriate for wine, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its February issue.

“It’s an illiquid investment,” Mota says, chuckling at the irony of his statement. “You can only maximize returns if you can sell at the right moment.”

Funds that allow investors to cash in whenever they wish have been vulnerable. Luxembourg-based Nobles Crus said it had wine assets worth 102 million euros (about $125 million) at the end of 2012, when a Belgian financial analyst and various media outlets questioned its valuation methods. Some investors rushed to get out, and the fund couldn’t raise cash fast enough to honor redemption requests…

UntitledDecember, 2014 — Fifty members of Columbia Business School’s Wine Society file into Room 311 of Warren Hall.

Instead of learning about the finer points of finance over the next two hours, they’re going to be sniffing and sipping at a lecture and tasting.

“This is about more than just socializing and drinking,” says Matt Perlman, the society’s vice president, who organizes the group’s weekly tastings, winemaker visits and formal classes like this one. “Knowing about wine is an important skill to have for business,” Perlman, 29, says. “It’s like being able to play golf.”

There are about 20 university wine appreciation groups in the U.S.; Europe boasts more than a dozen. With 400 members, Columbia Business School’s, founded in 1997, is one of the largest…

pinot-noirNovember, 2014 — The pinot noir grape, which goes into some of the world’s most expensive and seductive red wines, is finicky, affected by the subtlest shifts in heat, cold, sun and rain. The best of this varietal comes from cool agricultural spots such as Burgundy in France, Oregon and coastal California in the U.S., and parts of New Zealand. With average global temperatures predicted to shoot up another 2 degrees Celsius by midcentury, though, does the grape’s future lie in even chillier locales?

Yes, but not quite yet….

Wagering on Whisky

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October, 2014 — Last year, when Rickesh Kishnani, managing director of Hong Kong– based Platinum Wines, realized clamoring demand for single-malt whisky was rapidly pushing up prices, he sniffed opportunity. In June, he launched the Platinum Whisky Investment Fund with master distiller David Robertson, co- founder of Rare Whisky 101, a consulting firm in Scotland.

For would-be investors, today’s whisky numbers look pretty hot. Former banker Andy Simpson, whose Whisky Highland Index tracks U.K. auction prices, says the 100 top-performing single malts appreciated about 230 percent from January 2011 through May 2014. Last year, 20,211 bottles of whisky were sold in U.K. auctions, four times the amount in 2010….

Living the Winemaking Dream 

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June, 2014 — Owning a winery is many a wine lover’s secret fantasy, but few have made it work in reality as well as Ken Freeman, a managing director at Harpeth Capital LLC, and his wife, Akiko.

After spending three years prowling the back roads of Sonoma County, the couple in 2001 paid $875,000 for a dilapidated winery and a run-down farmhouse on 3.6 acres (1.5 hectares) in Sebastopol, California. Now, they also own 22 acres of nearby vineyards—and their Freeman Vineyard & Winery sells 5,000 cases a year of superb pinot noir and chardonnay at $35 to $55 a bottle.

Among the latest releases winemaker Akiko Freeman, 49, pours for me is the silky, intense 2012 Gloria Estate pinot, the first made entirely from the couple’s own grapes….

from THE DRINKS BUSINESS:

November 12, 2014 — When winemaker  Ted Lemon of Sonoma’s Littorai winery hosted a retrospective tasting of his brilliant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays at Per Se restaurant last June, most of the guests were sommeliers. They’re the people, Lemon says, who really helped make his winery a success.

How so? In the late 1990s, when Lemon launched his wonderfully elegant wines, the country’s most powerful critics were heaping praise on super-ripe, oaky, alcoholic ones. So he turned to sommeliers seeking wines with the balance and freshness to show off their restaurants’ food. They bought, poured, and the rest is history.

Lemon’s wine-attention-getting strategy was a harbinger of how important sommeliers would be in the 21st century.

About a decade ago, ‘somms’ (as they’re popularly referred to in the US) started morphing into major wine world influencers with the kind of rock star status once reserved for celebrity chefs….

from The World of Fine Wine:

The big boys are back in town

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November 14, 2014 — “Big wine bottles make me happy,” said a student pouring the stellar 2005 Château Pichon Baron from magnum in a recent Bordeaux class at Columbia University. “Me, too,” I thought, even though I almost always buy standard 750 ml-size bottles.

I know oversized bottles, from magnums to jeroboams to huge 15-liter Nebuchadnezzars, have many virtues. They look wonderfully grand, even bacchanalian. Because the wine inside has less contact with oxygen per volume, it ages more slowly and gracefully and endures longer. When someone popped the cork on a jeroboam of Champagne at a party I attended not long ago, the spectacle generated oohs and aahs, adding an exclamation point to the celebration.

That’s the drawback: you have to like inviting a crowd….

Are you tasting what I’m tasting?

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October 3, 2014 — What’s the best way to describe a wine? Do other tasters perceive it in the same way you do? Why do some people like one wine rather than another? To me those questions are at the heart of wine rating and tasting notes, so I was fascinated by the Grand Seminar, “Pinot Noir and the Doors of Perception” at this year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, in July. Moderator Jamie Goode spoke with seven panelists, from a Harvard professor to wine writers to sommeliers, to answer them. They came out one by one, like guests on a late night talk show, for “conversations”.

The problem in describing taste, said Professor Jordi Ballesterof the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, is that “People are different physiologically, they have different brains and cultures. We’re all living in our own taste worlds…..”

An autobiography by the glass

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September 12, 2014 — Wine journalists all know the kind of in-depth retrospective tastings winemakers usually put on for the press — verticals showing how a single wine plays out over a span of vintages.

More interesting to me is the evolution of a winemaker, from his early formation (as the French call it) to the path he ultimately adopts in his own vineyard and winery.

At a tasting hosted in June at New York’s Per Se restaurant by Ted Lemon, founder of Sonoma winery Littorai, the selection of bottlings amounted to his autobiography in 34 glasses of wine, from a 1980 Domaine Dujac Echézeaux he helped make as an apprentice in Burgundy to the most recent Littorai release, a 2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir….

After Rudi: What can the fine-wine world learn from the Kurniawan case?

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March 25, 2014 — On the fourth day of the Rudy Kurniawan trial this past December, I watched Burgundy producer Laurent Ponsot give an overview of the famed region to the jury in the courtroom at the Daniel P Moynihan Federal Courthouse in Manhattan. After pointing out Morey- St-Denis, where his domaine is located, on a large map, he recalled the shock of discovering that Kurniawan was passing off counterfeit bottles of Domaine Ponsot’s expensive reds as the real thing.

It was fitting that Ponsot was the first of three famous winemakers on the witness stand that day. Fake Ponsot wines consigned by Kurniawan to auction house Acker Merrall & Condit for an April 2008 New York sale set the case in motion.

The testimonies of Ponsot, Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée- Conti, and Christophe Roumier of Domaine G Roumier were among the highlights of the landmark United States of America v Kurniawan trial, the first time the US government had prosecuted a criminal case against a wine counterfeiter….

Bordeaux Left Bank Cup: The Battle of the Educated Noses

irW3z6lbpWfwDecember 1, 2013 — On June 14, 2013, guest at Château Lafite Rothschild trailed down candlelit stone steps into the château’s chilly circular cellar to watch eight university wine teams battle for the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup. This was the 12th staging of the annual competition organized by the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc, des Graves, Sauternes et Barsac, an association of Bordeaux châteaux, wine merchants, and brokers.

The three-person teams from around the world waited nervously at round tables on a raised dais in front of lighted stone pillars, ready to display their deep wine knowledge and well-honed tasting skills. The prize? A double magnum of 2002 Lafite….

Auction Napa Valley: A barometer of changing times in California wine

NVV-ANVSeptember 1, 2013 — On June 1, 2013, 1,000 auction goers-including me-were all sitting in a huge air-conditioned tent on the lawn of Napa Valley’s Meadowood Resort, for the glamorous live sale at Auction Napa Valley 2013. The casually dressed attendees were bidding serious money on 46 lots featuring packages of lavish trips, sexy sports cars, even courtside seats at a Shanghai Sharks game in China. All of the lots also included, of course, some of the Valley’s most expensive, hard-to-obtain wines.

That was the spending climax of the wine-soaked event, held from May 31 to June 2, 2013. It started with vintner-hosted dinners on Thursday, followed by a 100-lot barrel auction and 170-lot e-auction at Raymond Winery on Friday, a $1,000-a-ticket raffle for an Audi R8 Spyder, and Saturday’s live auction. Put on by the Napa Valley Vintners, this year’s weekend cost $2,500 to attend and raised a record-breaking $16.9 million for three dozen Napa charities….

from Decanter.com:

NY auction house debuts with Lafite double magnums, top Burgundy

October 8, 2013 — Wally’s Auctions will next month add its name to New York’s crowded autumn auction scene by selling a selection of lavish wines valued at around US$3m.

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To up the glamour factor, Wally’s inaugural auction on 13 November will take place at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where bidders will dine in the downstairs café restaurant on food prepared by a ‘world class chef’, as yet unnamed.

The $3m worth of fine bottles on offer includes hot sellers from Burgundy and Champagne, such as the rare 1982 Dom Perignon Oenotheque and six bottles of 1993 Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux. In July, a six-bottle lot of the same Jayer wine sold at a Sotheby’s London sale for more than $57,000.

Other top items among the 600 lots are a collection of 2010 Grands Crus reds from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in original wooden cases, estimated at $85,000 to $130,000.

Double magnums of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild from the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as California classics like 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, are among the other high-ticket items lurking in the catalogue, which will go live on 21 October, according to Wally’s Auctions president and chief executive officer, Michael Jessen…

from Decanter Magazine:

Producer profile: Harlan Estate

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August 19, 2014 — The views from Harlan Estate’s winery – steep terraced vines with layers of fog below and Mount St Helena in the distance – always remind me how wild some parts of the Napa valley still are. on my last visit, the winery’s lean, rangy owner Bill Harlan, now 73, seemed satisfied (well, almost) with what he’s achieved since he bought this forested land above Oakville 30 years ago and began sketching out his 200-year plan for a great wine estate.

Harlan’s vaulting ambition has never changed: to create a Californian first growth that would command the same prestige and permanence as Bordeaux’s mouton-Rothschild. (Mouton comes up more than once in conversation. It’s not a model for his wine – ‘we want to be purely Californian’ – but he clearly admires the esteem in which it has long been held.) Now that he’s laid the groundwork, he’s obsessed with handing the estate and the philosophy behind it on to the next generation. His son Will, 26, joined the estate’s team with the 2012 harvest.

Of the so-called ‘cult’ wineries that burst on the scene in the 1990s, Harlan is the one I find most fascinating….

Sonoma: Pioneering at a leisurely pace

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May, 2014 — Every time I drive west over the Mayacamas mountains from Napa into Sonoma, I feel I’m leaving behind glitz, glamour and grand estates and entering – with relief – into a slower, more rural wine world. Populated by farmers in jeans, the descendants of Italian grape-growers, and vintners obsessed with Pinot Noir, the byways of laid-back Sonoma remind me of Napa before the mega-rich arrived in their Lamborghinis.

This is where the northern Californian wine rush began 200 years ago, when Russian fur traders planted vines near coastal Fort Ross in 1812. Its wine history lives on at still-thriving, century-old stone wineries and in veteran gnarled vines that new pioneers strive to preserve….

California’s Renegade White Wines

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April 30, 2014 — By day, Brooklyn-born Dan Petroski is the bearded Cabernet maker at Larkmead Vineyards, in the north end of the Napa Valley. In his own time, he indulges a taste for Italian-inspired whites, which he makes under his own label, Massican.

He’s part of a wave of restless, sometimes radical winemakers expanding Napa’s repertoire beyond big, powerful reds. An NYU Stern Business School grad, Petroski ditched the magazine publishing world in New York to live the wine life, first in Sicily, then in California, where he started his brand in 2009.

Instead of following the typical Napa startup model – a couple of hundred cases of plush $200-a-bottle Cabernet – Petroski says he saw “a market need” for fresh, mineral-tinged whites at easy-going prices, built for the table and warm spring weather. And, of course, the quick turnover for whites, from harvest to wine to bottle, is great for cash flow. He buys grapes to make his own label as Napa vineyard land at $150,000 to $300,000 an acre isn’t an option.

“I missed all those light, tangy Italian whites I knocked back in hot, dry Sicily,” he says as he pours a glass of his about-to-be-bottled 2013 Annia….

The State of Chardonnay

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California Issue, 2013 — For years I sneered at the majority of Californian Chardonnays. When I judged at US wine competitions I lobbied hard not to be on the Chardonnay panel. The prospect of sipping and spitting dozens of syrupy alcoholic clunkers with flavours of buttered popcorn, oak and ripe tropical fruit held zero appeal.

But the era of over-the-top Californian Chardonnay is passing. Now the category is in the throes of a serious makeover, developing new identities. New-wave bottlings of the country’s most popular white variety have slimmer, racier profiles that emphasise the grape’s pure citrus flavours – lemon instead of mango, stones instead of butter and toast. The best have a mineral edge and complexity that actually make me crave another glass….

California’s AVAs: What’s in a Name?

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California issue, 2013 — In a chilly cave at Hourglass Winery in Calistoga last February, I listened to seven winemakers talk about Napa Valley’s American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). I found myself questioning, yet again, whether the US’s half-hearted appellation system has any meaning beyond a geographic address.

The ever-loquacious Tim Mondavi, who co-owns Continuum winery on Pritchard Hill, staunchly defended Napa Valley and its 16 sub-AVAs, such as Carneros, Stags Leap and the newest, Coombsville. After reciting the de rigueur mantras, ‘wines are made in the vineyard’ and ‘location matters’, most of the other winemakers on the panel admitted that when you look closely at any individual AVA, the generalisations about a common character to its terroir and wines break down.

To me, most of California’s 116 AVAs are more about marketing and money than terroir and taste….

From Bloomberg Pursuits:

How Japanese Single Malts Surpassed Scotland’s Finest

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March 19, 2014 — My first sip of a great Japanese single-malt whisky was back in 2004, when the 18-year-old Yamazaki was first introduced into the U.S. I found its suave smoothness and elegance as sleek as a new Lexus. It had the familiar spicy, caramel-and-honey notes of a luxury single malt from Scotland but with its own exotic appeal from partial aging in Japanese mizunara oak.

Since then, Japan has been quietly scooping up gold medals at world whisky competitions, and in 2012, the 25-year-old Yamazaki beat out 300 of the world’s single malts in an international blind tasting…..

Bubble Economy:  How Anselme Selosse became the toast of Champagne

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Fall Issue, 2013 — The Savile Row–suited owners of Grandes Marques Champagne houses produce millions of bottles a year, poured regularly at polo matches, grand prix races and charity balls. In contrast, visionary winemaker Anselme Selosse doles out a mere 5,000 cases annually to those in the know.

Now a cult figure in the wine world, Selosse has spent more than three decades managing his family’s Domaine Jacques Selosse in Avize, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Paris, and rebelling against the region’s conventions. A wine heist in March, during which 3,700 bottles worth about 300,000 euros ($405,000) were stolen from the domaine’s cellars, demonstrates the fevered demand for Selosse Champagnes….

What to Pour Now: Six Wines Reach Their Peak

UntitledSummer Issue, 2013 — For the vast majority of wines, the time to pop them open is right away. But when it comes to serious reds, along with many dessert wines and a handful of whites, what you’re paying for is their ability to improve and eventually give maximum pleasure in the glass—a process that can take years. If you track down wines in their prime at auction, there’s the question of where they’ve spent the intervening period. Sleeping in a damp Scottish crypt? Bouncing from collector to collector? Cooking away in an overheated ware- house? Where they’ve matured can spell the difference between liveliness, mere survival and certain death—which is why buying direct from the source is ideal. Happily, a surprising number of chateaux and wineries regularly release older vintages from their library of bottles when they’re, well, perfect. Think of the following six as a foolproof, ready….

from SAVEUR magazine:

How Sweet It Is

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November 13, 2014 — In 1983, on my first trip to Bordeaux, France, my host paired chilled white asparagus with one of the region’s dulcet sauternes. An improbable but dynamic combination, it had me falling for sweet wine. In ancient Rome and elsewhere, sweet wines were the most valued. It wasn’t until the 18th century that glass bottles and corks, which keep oxygen at bay, allowed dry wines to gain quality and eclipse sweet ones. Today, with the interest in unique, local winemaking, sweet wines are making a comeback. The best seduce with aromas of honey and wildflowers and flavors of dried apricot, caramel, and candied lemon peel. They roll over your tongue like silk, but zingy acidity keeps them from seeming syrupy. Each has its own personality. France’s sauternes and barsacs (from a town within Sauternes) are made mainly with sauvignon blanc and sémillon grapes, which are left on the vine to develop Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that concentrates their sugar, yielding an elegant, full-bodied wine that pairs well with savory foods. Made similarly, Hungary’s tokaji aszú wines go back nearly 450 years. The sweetest, labeled “5 Puttonyos” and “6 Puttonyos”—120 and 150 grams of residual sugar per liter, respectively—are delicious with chocolate and, like sauternes, with blue cheeses….

from BLOOMBERG NEWS:

Top 10 Wines From $1,000 Mouton Rothschild to $19 Italian

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December 1, 2013 — I sipped and spat my way across three continents this year, tracking the latest wine and spirits trends and hunting for standouts among the predictable and the pretentious.

My 10 most memorable wines, in no particular order, range from a Rhone classic to a reborn California label to a bargain white from a grape few have ever heard of.

All signal what’s hot in today’s wine world — and where it’s going in 2014….

Austrian Gruner Veltliners Hold Their Own with Burgundies

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November 17, 2013 — Remember the Gruner Veltliner craze?

More than a decade ago, hip U.S. sommeliers were pushing the peppery, lively Austrian white as the chic antidote to oaky chardonnays and boring, faceless sauvignon blancs.

Then they moved on to other wine fashions: Burgundy, the Jura, sherry and esoteric grapes nobody had ever heard of. Poor Gruner Veltliner was demoted to the ‘been there, tasted that’ category.

Too bad. The grape probably makes the best-value great white wines in the world and deserves a serious image upgrade.

That’s my take-away from the immodestly-named “Austrian Monuments” tasting of top-quality reserve Gruners held recently in New York at Le Bernardin.

The 31 wines span four decades, from 1971 to 2012. All are variations on the grape’s pinpoint balance, vibrant acidity, intense flavors of white pepper, spice and minerals, and rich textures that don’t rely on new oak…

Wine World Atlas revised to include Finger Lakes, China

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November 3, 2013 — A rich cabernet blend at a recent reception tasted like a cru classe Bordeaux, but it was a terrific red 2010 from RdV Vineyards Lost Mountain in Virginia.

The state gets a nod as a world-class wine region in the latest edition of “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. For the first time, the authoritative reference allots Virginia wine country, less than an hour’s drive from Washington D.C., a detailed map and two pages of text.

Perusing the new maps added to the World Atlas, first published in 1971 and revised about every six years, is one way I track the wine world’s latest buzz-worthy vineyard spots. Many of these produce superb wines that are relative bargains. The splendid RdV, which costs $95, sadly isn’t.

Over lunch at The Modern in New York, Johnson and Robinson talk about other places they’ve added to the latest revision and why.

“Georgia was quite high up on our add list,” says Robinson, referring to the Republic, not the state. “It’s exporting much more, the wines have improved and are getting international attention.” They also have a certain counter-culture appeal….

Aussie Wine Wizard Breaks Rules With $110 Pinot Noir

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October 20, 2013 — Start with a mysterious, mega-rich, wine-loving Indonesian entrepreneur living in Singapore. Then tap a talented young Australian winemaker known for his silky, savory pinot noirs.

Add in a property in the Yarra Valley north of Melbourne that once belonged to the father of flamboyant 19th-century opera diva Nellie Melba.

The result is one of Australia’s most ambitious if polarizing new wine projects, Thousand Candles, whose first two vintages debut in the U.K. this month and in the U.S. in January. They’re already on shelves in Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand andNorway.

The price for each, A$100 ($110), has been widely criticized in the U.K. and Australian press. “We have been accused of hubris,” admits winemaker William Downie.

What’s the big deal? New wineries in Napa think nothing of introducing their first cabs with $250 price tags.

I spent time in the Yarra Valley with Downie last month to find out if his wines are worth it….

‘The Dead Arm’ Shiraz Maker Revives Australian Wines

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October 6, 2013 — Australian winemaker Chester Osborn, just back from China, is wearing a loud, colorful shirt featuring an electric purple paisley pattern.

The fourth-generation owner of d’Arenberg winery in McLaren Vale, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Adelaide, is known for his flamboyant attire, market savvy and giving his 60-odd wines quirky names like “The Dead Arm” and “The Vociferate Dipsomaniac.”

A couple of years ago, the 51-year-old started “de-constructing” The Dead Arm, his flagship shiraz, for his Amazing Sites project. The wine is a blend from many shiraz vineyards. Osborn took some of the wine from each top plot of land and bottled each as a single vineyard wine.

At a crowded pan-Australia tasting in Adelaide, he tells me, “The idea is to capture the essence of each patch of dirt in a separate wine.”

These single vineyard bottlings reflect Australia’s new obsession with terroir and are more proof that the country’s complex geology and ancient soils can make compelling wines with a sense of place….

Prince Presses Flesh, Offers Reward for Haut-Brion Quest

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September 22, 2013 — Sitting on a hay bale in a Texas barn in the 1980s, I discovered that the best red wine to go with a cowboy stew of longhorn beef is a decent vintage of Bordeaux first growth Chateau Haut-Brion.

Seriously. It’s an extraordinarily complex wine, with distinctive aromas of wood smoke and tobacco and a subtle earthy-savory flavor overlaid with a mineral tang that stands up to meaty stews.

I first fell hard for it at that over-the-top Texas tasting of 50 vintages going back to the still-alive-and kicking 1899.

Yet except for a handful of its most fabulous vintages, like 1989, 1961, and 1945, Haut-Brion’s prices mostly trail the other Bordeaux first growths, according to London’s international electronic wine exchange Liv-ex.

Why? The simple answer, says Gary Boom, managing director of London-based Bordeaux Index, is that there’s less global demand than there is for Lafite and Latour, especially in Asia….

Woman Vintner Puts Rhone Valley Jaboulet Back on Map

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September 8, 2013 —  French winemaker Caroline Frey, in chic white jacket over a sparkly T-shirt and slim velvet pants, hardly looks like a fighter.

Still, she was ready to block roads to prevent construction of a massive TV tower on the Rhone Valley’s most famous vineyard spot and source of her best wine, the hill of Hermitage. Her efforts, along with other winemakers, paid off: in June, it received protected status.

Frey’s tougher job has been resurrecting the reputation of wines from the venerable Rhone firm Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine.

When her father, real estate entrepreneur Jean-Jacques Frey, purchased the wine company in 2006, quality was inconsistent, even for flagship Hermitage La Chapelle, one of the world’s legendary reds, and the Jaboulet brand had lost its cachet.

My recent tastings, however, suggest that 35-year-old Frey, born in Champagne, trained in Bordeaux, and winemaker at her family’s Chateau La Lagune, is beginning to turn the Jaboulet wines around….

Merrill Lynch Man Achieves Winemaker Dream

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August 25, 2013 — As summer winds down, there’s still time to think about changing your life and leaving the fast lane of finance for the slow pleasures of winemaking.

Former Merrill Lynch & Co. securities trainee Ray Walker, now a terroir-obsessed expat in Burgundy, did it on a shoestring, and, and thanks to a run of astonishing luck, succeeded beyond his most far-fetched dreams.

In 2009, at the age of 28, he became the first American to make wine with grapes from the famous Le Chambertin vineyard, whose red was prized by Napoleon.

Over glasses of Domaine Pierre Gelin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos de Meixvelle, at Bar Pleiades in New York, Walker recounts his tale of how he arrived in Beaune from California with little money and ended up making premiers and grands crus reds under the Maison Ilan label he owns with his wife, Christian.

“I love being the underdog,” Walker says. “Besides, I had no back-up plan….”

Wine Loving Inventor Solves Red or White by Glass Battle

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August 12, 2013 — Hankering for a taste of 1979 Il Colle Brunello di Montalcino with your dry-aged steak? At New York’s Del Posto restaurant, a three-ounce pour is $169, six ounces, $338.

The by-the-glass list includes hard-to-obtain 2000 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino for $100 and $200, and last month, rare Italian stunner 2002 Masseto.

All this is thanks to a new wine preservation device, the Coravin 1000. “It’s a wine populist’s dream, giving more people access to the world’s great wines,” says Del Posto wine director Jeff Porter. He’s been offering them “alla Coravin” since last November.

The ingenious $299 device went on public sale two weeks ago. Though most new wine gadgets bring out my inner skeptic, this one will revolutionize how we drink wine at restaurants — and at home….

Forget Red Bordeaux: Grab Sensational 2011 Vintage Ports

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July 28, 2013 — Collectors whining about Bordeaux prices have an excellent alternative this year: the 2011 vintage ports.

I’m a cynic when it comes to wine hype, but these rich, sweet, fortified reds are so sensational they justify it.

Last month, beaming port producers were showing off barrel samples at VinExpo in Bordeaux, where I tasted two dozen examples of this classic wine from northern Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Futures of the 2011s are now on sale at shops; the bottled wines arrive this fall. My advice? Buy.

The best 2011s show such luscious purity of fruit and silky textures they seem drinkable now, though the point of vintage port is that it improves for decades….

Private Equity Wake-Up Kiss for Mayacamas

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July 15, 201 — As my car climbs the steep road to Mayacamas winery on Napa’s remote Mount Veeder, I’m recalling its classic cabernets and chardonnays. Amazingly long-lived and complex, they’re under-the-radar and undervalued for their ‘first-growth’ quality. Is all that about to change?

In April, Bob Travers, the Californian winery’s owner for 45 years, sold the 465-acre (188 hectare) property to Charles Banks of San Francisco-based private equity firm Terroir Capital LLC, his wife Ali, and retail entrepreneur Jay Schottenstein and his son Joey.

Mayacamas fans worry they’ll spoil the very traditionally made wines and push up the prices to increase profit.

“Oh no! Goodbye Mayacamas,” Lyle Fass, owner of online retailer Fass Selections, wrote at winebeserkers.com.

Banks, a former co-owner of Screaming Eagle, hired Andy Erickson, who once made that cult winery’s $750 red, as winemaker.

“I’d hate to see Mayacamas Screagle-ified,” wrote New Yorker Corey Miller in another post.

This kind of sale is a familiar tale in wine country today….

James Bond’s $13,000 Champagne Brings Bling to Vinexpo

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June 30, 2013 — “One hundred thousand welcomes,” Lochlann Quinn said in Gaelic as several hundred wine VIPs slipped into candle-lit tents at his Chateau de Fieuzal in the Graves region of Bordeaux.

With old vintages served in polished crystal, mounds of foie gras, string quartets serenading guests at lavish dinners, and fireworks (red and white), Bordeaux’s Vinexpo wine and spirits trade fair is as much about late-night schmoozing as early-morning selling.

This Crus Classes de Graves dinner, hosted by Quinn, chairman of Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board who bought the chateau in 2001, was just the opening shot.

Nearly 50,000 buyers from 148 countries and 2,400 exhibitors descended on the five-day biennial event held two weeks ago….

Turkey’s Vintners Under Siege as Bans Crush Winemakers

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June 16, 2013 — Trade group Wines of Turkey is showing off the country’s top reds and whites at a packed tasting at VinExpo fair in Bordeaux this week while heavy-handed regulations are making it harder than ever for them to sell at home.

In Turkey, which boasts a 7,000-year wine history, seven wine regions, and 800 grape varieties, its more than 100 wineries face new curbs on domestic sales.

Ironically, this is happening just as its wines are getting better and better. Those made from indigenous grapes like okuzgozu and bogazkere are igniting international interest. With dozens of boutique producers established in the past decade, Turkey is experiencing a wine renaissance.

The recently-passed alcohol bill pushed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP, the Justice and Development party, was signed into law by President Abdullah Gul on June 10.

This latest effort to control where and when people drink was one trigger for the massive protests at Taksim Square….

Harlan Wines, Aston Martin Lead $16.9 Million Napa Sale

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June 3, 2013 — An Aston Martin DB9 Volante, a 20-year vertical of wines from Harlan Estates, and a tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment helped the 2013 Auction Napa Valley charity event raise a record $16.9 million.

Gary Rieschel, founder of Shanghai-based Qiming Venture Partners, paid $800,000 on Saturday, the top single bid during the sale at Meadowood Napa Valley, California — causing the crowd in the tent to go wild, waving orange pompoms and tossing confetti.

Rieschel and his wife Yucca won Lot 20, Harlan Estate’s “The Works,” an eight-person package including the first-ever vertical tasting of 20 vintages (1990-2009) of Harlan’s pricey cabernet blends (the 2010 sells for $750 a bottle), a stay atMeadowood resort in St. Helena, and dinner at its Michelin three-star restaurant.

The event raised twice as much as last year’s $8 million, more than the previous high of $10.5 million in pre-recession 2005, according to Napa Valley Vintners, the event organizer….

Get Over Your Fear of Sweet Wine, Be Bold With Sauternes

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June 2, 2013 — Sweet wines used to be the most famous wines in the world. Offering them was a king’s privilege, a symbol of power. Diamond Jim Brady drank them with thick rare steaks.

They’ve long been out-of-fashion afterthoughts. Never mind that plenty of drinkers regularly and happily indulge in expensive sugary cocktails.

Given this kind of disconnect, isn’t it time for a sweet wine revival? Can these uncool wines become trendy? Those questions were on my mind as I sampled some fabulous, little-known Rivesaltes wines from the Roussillon region in the south of France.

Lionel Lavail, the general manager of Maison Cazes, uncorked vintages dating from 1999 back to 1931 recently at New York’s The Modern restaurant.

Rich-textured and spicy, with layers of apricot, chocolate and candied citrus peel flavors, these are some of the most distinctive wines available — and younger vintages are a bargain….

Bordeaux 2012 Futures: Grab Pomerols, Mouton, Forget Rest

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May 19, 2013 — Buying Bordeaux 2012 futures was always going to be a question of prices. Now that the majority of chateau owners have released theirs, it’s apparent they’re tone deaf to today’s market. Most prices are down less than 10 percent, nowhere near low enough.

No one claims 2012 is a great vintage, though it’s better than the lackluster 2011. Negociants and merchants warned that a price drop to the bargain levels of the 2008s was needed to spark consumer interest.

That didn’t happen. However, there are still a handful of wines worth buying.

“For the first growths, the pricing for 2012 is working,” says Chuck Hayward, brand manager at Oakland, California-based J.J. Buckley Fine Wines, who cites Chateau Mouton Rothschild at $374 a bottle (33 percent below the 2011 release) as a sales success. It’s the cheapest recent vintage of Mouton in the market — the 2009 costs $1,100….

Bordeaux 2012 Winners Leave My Teeth Purple, Tongue Black

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April 21, 2013 — His ponytail tucked into a tight knot, Baptiste Guinaudeau dodges raindrops and ducks into the tiny cellar of his family’s famed property in Pomerol, Chateau Lafleur.

As he pours barrel samples of his 2012 reds, he explains how tricky this Bordeaux vintage was: spring rains that delayed flowering, a 46-day summer drought that stressed grapes, uneven ripening, threats of rot and mildew in the vineyard.

I hear similar stories at nearly every chateau during my 10-day trip to Bordeaux for the annual en primeur mega-tastings in early April. Six thousand wine professionals from 67 countries are here to assess the latest vintage of wines still in barrel, and decide what’s worth buying as futures.

Chateau Lafleur is a success, the grand vin is subtle and elegant, with aromas of violets, spicy flavors and a succulent texture.

Many of the 500-plus wines I sip and spit are not.

Winemakers who picked at the right time and had a gentle touch in the cellar made elegant wines with intense red fruit flavors, freshness and charm, and alcohol levels mercifully below 14 percent.

The best will offer drinking pleasure way sooner than the grander, more concentrated and tannic 2010s. They’re better than the 2011s; many compare them to the under-sung 2001s….

California’s Golden Oldies Reward Savvy Wine Buyers

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April 8, 2013 — Colorado construction magnate Joseph Phelps arrived in the Napa Valley in the late 1960s to build someone else’s winery. In 1973 he ended up founding his own.

Last month, for Joseph Phelps Vineyards’ 40th anniversary, company president Bill Phelps uncorked a dozen vintages of the winery’s flagship cabernet blend, Insignia, at New York’s NoMad hotel.

When the first vintage, 1974, debuted at $12 (then considered a whopping sum) it was one of California’s first Bordeaux-style blends with a proprietary name.

The glasses in front of me held the wine’s liquid history from 1976 to 2009, a track record of aging going much further back than the cult cabs that get more buzz.

The 1976, which originally sold for $20 a bottle, was still going strong — deep, rich and flavorful, with a core of intense fruit and spice. The dark 1985 has minty aromas and chocolate-y, tobacco-y notes.

Both were reminders that wines from the 1970s and 1980s from classic producers are some of California’s most profound bottlings — and they are largely unsung….

Bargain Burgundies Lurk in Region’s ’Outer Boroughs’

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March 24, 2013 — Burgundy bash La Paulee de New York kicked off this year with something new: affordable wines.

The annual three-day weekend, which alternates between New York and San Francisco, is famous for its $1500-a-seat finale, a bacchanal where deep-pocketed collectors splash out on rare vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti while singing Burgundian drinking songs off-key.

So why open the lavish event with a $75 tasting of wines under $35?

“I’m worried people are starting to think about Burgundy as only expensive wines, the way they regard Bordeaux,” says Daniel Johnnes, La Paulee’s organizer and host and wine director of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group. “The region is about more than $1,000 bottles.”

Considering today’s prices, that’s hard to remember….

Why Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Is Hottest Auction Label

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March 20, 2013 — If you stand on the road next to Burgundy’s most famous property, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, you’ll see no discernible aura hovering over its collection of grands crus vineyards. Yet these plots are where the world’s benchmark chardonnay and pinot noir wines come from. (There are eight: one white, Montrachet, and seven reds: Corton, Echezeaux, Grands Echezeaux, Romanee-St-Vivant, Richebourg, La Tache and the crown jewel, Romanee-Conti, for which the estate is named.)

Even in a bountiful year, DRC produces well under 10,000 cases, the equivalent of spilling a few tantalizing drops into the maw of immense worldwide demand, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Spring issue.

I’ve sampled DRC on yachts in Florida, in cold Burgundian cellars, at Hong Kong auctions and in wood-paneled rooms at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. What strikes me always is what the wines share: perfect balance, layered flavors, silky textures and, despite their delicacy, tremendous aging potential.

More than any other estate’s portfolio, DRC’s wines have distinct personalities, each capturing its vineyard’s individual terroir, even in less-than-stellar years. They don’t come cheap. Bottles from 2009, the most recently released vintage, range from $700 to $15,000, and older years can cost from $1,000 to $2,000 an ounce.

Are they worth it? If you believe that the invisible hand of the market always gets it right, the answer is a resounding yes….

Golden Woman Hangs Upside Down, Pours Napa Valley Wine

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March 11, 2013 — “We’re trending above Nascar and the Oscars on twitter,” crows auctioneer Fritz Hatton, as he opens the 17th Premiere Napa Valley trade barrel auction with sharp bangs of his gavel.

Everyone cheers, primed to bid big on cabernet after a week of wooing by vintners at tastings and parties. The wildest event was Raymond Vineyards’ “Napa Gras,” where a woman in long black gloves and abbreviated gold body suit poured wine while hanging upside down.

Napa’s annual February event serves as a barometer of demand for expensive Napa cabs, which seems to mirror the mood on Wall Street. Since this year’s Feb. 23 auction hit a near- record $3.04 million, the Dow has continued to set new highs.

The 211 one-of-a-kind, not-yet-bottled cuvees offered in five, 10, or 20-case lots represent each winery’s best of the best. Most are cabernets from the 2011 vintage, so the pre- auction tastings provide a gauge to the year’s overall quality and an opportunity to scout out the valley’s hot new names…

Does Argentine Malbec Deserve its own Glass?

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February 25, 2013 — “Think of wine like music,” says Georg Riedel, the head of the famous Austrian glass company that bears his family’s name. “We’re toolmakers. We don’t write the score; we’re the amplifiers.”

We were at the Argentine consulate in New York for a taste workshop to see which shape of glass best “amplifies” the violet scent, dark, rich, berry flavor and velvety tannins of wildly popular malbec.

The first-ever glass to show off Argentina’s signature red will debut on April 1, in time for Malbec World Day on April 17.

Does the world need it?

Argentine winery Graffigna thinks so. It commissioned Riedel to come up with the design and has a one-year exclusive to use and sell it….

Bastardo Grapes, Old Vines Spice Sonoma Wine

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January 14, 2013 – In Sonoma’s Bedrock Vineyard, I’m surrounded by 124-year-old twisted vines with the arthritic look of stumpy bonsai trees.

The mad mix includes a couple of dozen varieties. Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson points out familiar zinfandel, little-known bastardo, nearly extinct castets and some grapes no one’s yet identified.

He makes a pretty delicious red that contains almost all of them.

“Old vine field blends are the only California wines that aren’t ersatz,” says the 32-year-old. “They’re unique. What’s magical is the sum of the parts.”

His dozen or so red and white cuvees from historic vineyards are among the state’s most fascinating wines, high on bold personality, with warmth, intensity, perfumed aromas and layers of flavor. Tasting them, I’m drinking California wine history.

While Sonoma has the largest concentration of old vineyards in the state, they’re in danger of disappearing….

Wine Underpants Join Space Whisky on Sale

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December 31, 2012 — Dark, cold outer space is the new wine and spirits frontier.

The extraterrestrial terroir taste in Meteorito, a cabernet made at Chile’s Tremonte winery, comes from a 4.5-billion-year- old meteorite from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

Winery general manager Ian Hutcheon, owner of the nearby Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua and anxious to join his two passions, submerged the 3-inch space rock in some of his 2010 cabernet for a year.

In a blind tasting with colleagues, he found the bottled wine had a livelier and fresher taste, “with a curious twist.” It’s coming soon to New York, where it will cost about $20 a bottle……

Top 10 Wines of 2012 From Burgundy to Armenia to Sonoma

iRIu2jXJ.G.kDecember 17, 2012 — This year I sampled more than 4,000wines in my search for the recommendable, hunting the world’s best in chilly cellars, historic chateaux, at noisy tastings and the tables of generous friends.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 most memorable wines, from bargain to blowout. They range from a great Bordeaux to a new California red to a scarce bottling from the mountains of Armenia. All reflect the growing diversity of today’s wine world — and where it’s going in 2013….

Turkish Wine Renaissance Promotes Rock-Aged Whites

iQcHD2YgHPG812-2-2012 — At a tasting in a World War II cement bunker in Gali winery’s vineyards on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, the 2010 bright, juicy cabernet franc-merlot blend is a big and very pleasant surprise.

One of several dozen small boutique wineries founded in the last few years, Gali is part of the country’s growing wine renaissance. It was the first stop on recent tasting tour that left me highly enthusiastic about Turkey’s wine potential.

After tramping through Gali’s vineyards, with windy views of the blue Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara, I savor the delicious red again on owner Hakan Kavur’s stone terrace with oregano-accented lamb slow-braised in local olive oil.

When it comes to wine, you’re never far from history in this country of more than 800 grape varieties. Though many new vintners in Turkey’s seven wine regions champion international ones like chardonnay and cabernet, I discover the best wines so far come from a handful of Turkish grapes with hard-to-pronounce names like okuzgozu (oh-cooz-goe-zoo) and kalecik karasi (kah- le-djic-car-ah-ser)….

Sherry Returns to Trendy Bars, Old Bodegas,Thanksgiving

November 18, 2012 — In the Ace Hotel’s dimly-lit, black- walled basement, a small wine revolution is going on. Four hundred people are eagerly lining up to sample long out-of- fashion sherries, which have been on a downward hipness spiral for decades.

This fortified wine, once derided as the drink of blue- rinsed aunts, is a new passion for New York’s trend-conscious wine lovers.

Twenty of the best producers, from the Andalucia region of southern Spain, are here for the city’s first Sherryfest tasting. They’re pouring 150 top examples, from pale, dry, refreshing finos to powerful, complex dry olorosos and rich, sweet moscatels.

“It wasn’t easy to convince the bodegas to come,” says Peter Liem, co-author of the just-released book  Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla, and one of the event organizers. “They were pessimistic. But really, sherry is the hottest wine in New York.”

A dozen restaurants and wine bars in the city, including the Beagle and Pata Negra, sell scores of sherries by the glass. London has even more….

Wine Geeks Get New Book of Oddball Varietals

November 5, 2012 — On a tasting trip to Italy’s Friuli region in 2005, Napa Valley viticulture whiz Steve Matthiasson had an “aha” moment. He fell in love with ribolla gialla, a local white grape.

This little-known variety is now a hot vino-geek item in California, with at least five winemakers producing it. Its rise neatly jibes with the vogue for obscure varieties showing up on trendy restaurant lists.

Sated by oceans of boring chardonnay, neutral pinot grigio, and same-old cabernet, adventurous wine lovers have been pursuing the exotic to expand their wine universes. The Wine Century Club, whose members swear to have sampled at least 100 different varietals to join, celebrated its 7th anniversary in June.

Sipping Matthiasson’s 2010 ($45) bottling at a weathered wooden table on his farm behind a Napa subdivision, I find it deliciously nutty and spicy, with a unique stony, mineral character. Then he pours his juicy, intense 2009 Refosco ($40). Made from the Italian red grape of the same name, it smells of crushed berries.

But wait, there’s more….

Dog-Friendly Napa Winery Pampers Pooch While You Drink

October 21, 2012 — Frenchie, a stubby-legged white French bulldog, lolls happily on a leopard-skin patterned carpet under a Baccarat crystal chandelier.

Handing me a glass of bubbly, his flamboyant owner, Burgundy native Jean-Charles Boisset, gets down on all fours, gives the dog a kiss, then picks him up and leads me on a tour of Frenchie’s eponymous Napa Valley winery.

Dog-friendly wineries are on the rise in California. There are 96 in the Napa Valley alone, but Boisset’s Frenchie Winery outdoes them all.

The idea is part of Boisset’s vision for Napa’s Raymond Vineyards, a winery founded in the 1970s he bought three years ago. Raymond’s tasting spaces are a kind of adult wine experience playground — a combo of Disney World, Las Vegas and tongue-in-cheek stage sets….

Fig-Eating Pigs Share Sty With Port Grapes

October 7, 2012 —  In a steep terraced vineyard above northern Portugal’s winding Douro river are 6,000 very special gnarled vines. Their grapes make the world’s rarest, most collectible and expensive vintage port, Quinta do Noval Nacional.

I’d tasted only one vintage of what a critic once called the Mount Everest of port. So there was no way I’d miss the chance to sample 12 historic vintages from 1962 to 2003 with Christian Seely, who brought the Quinta do Noval estate back to greatness

The soothing beige-walled private dining room at New York’s Eleven Madison Park hummed with anticipation. Sniffs of the filled glasses in front of me brought heady aromas of mint, dark chocolate, licorice and nuts.

Seely, wearing a dark blue Charvet bow tie and Savile Row double-breasted suit, looked pretty enthusiastic himself, admitting, “I don’t lead tastings like this every day….”

Saint-Emilion Rankings Offer Winners

September 23, 2012 — After Jean-Luc Thunevin received the letter informing him his Chateau Valandraud had been elevated to Saint-Emilion premier grand cru classe B, he celebrated by opening many bottles of Dom Ruinart champagne.

It was sweet vindication for the wine maker. Fifteen years ago he was dissed by the region’s traditional winemakers as a “garagiste” upstart and called “the bad boy of Bordeaux.”

Unlike the famous 1855 classification of chateaux on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, Saint-Emilion’s three rankings — rising from grand cru classe to premier grand cru classe B to the exalted category of premier grand cru classe A at the top of the hierarchy — are revised every ten years or so.

The new list of 82 names released in early September also brought triumphs to other well-deserving chateaux, such as Angelus, La Mondotte and Canon La Gaffeliere.

Not everyone is celebrating….

Champagne’s Sparkling Pairing With Hot Dogs, James Bond

September 9, 2012 — As I sip the latest release of Krug Grande Cuvee (MC) and chew some salty nuts at Eleven Madison Park, company director Olivier Krug compares making the Champagne to his grandmother’s ratatouille.

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“Champagne is more complex when you blend many ingredients,” he says.

Entering the new label ID code on the Krug website, I find out what those are. This accesses more backstory, like the fact that this particular release of Grande Cuvee ($150) contains wine from 121 vineyard plots and 12 vintages from 1990 to 2004, and information on when it was disgorged.

Revealing numbers like these is a big change. Until recently, most of the region’s grandes marques kept information about their non-vintage-dated blends secret.

Major Champagne house Roederer is touting its 10-year relationship with biodynamics, a risky uber-organic form of viticulture increasingly popular among small grower producers….

Former Credit Suisse Banker Sells Exclusive Wines Online

August 26, 2012 — At first it sounds like another story about an investment banker jettisoning his dull job to cash in on the excitement of wine.

But as Kevin Sidders, a former investment banker at Credit Suisse (CS) and Blue Beacon Capital, starts talking about his new business, VinConnect Inc., over our ceviche lunch in New York, I become seriously intrigued.

His company is an innovative take on the old idea of California winery mailing lists. Instead of cult cabs, VinConnect’s many lists offer sought-after European labels, like Burgundy’s famedClos de Tart, one of my favorites.

Why did it take so long for someone to do this? Especially, as Sidders points out, because direct-to-consumer is the fastest-growing segment of the wine business….

Portugal’s Vinho Verde Offers Crisp Whites, Exotic Reds

August 12, 2012 — Portugal’s light, zesty Vinho Verde has been compared to a dive into a cold pool and a spin along a beach road in an open white convertible. As a car, it’s no Porsche, as these whites typically cost about 10 bucks.

I’ve always thought of the best ones as fresh, simple, slightly spritzy low-alcohol wines ideal for washing down steamed clams on a hot August night.

I’ve also experienced Vinho Verde at its worst: a bit like water with a hefty squeeze of tart lemon and a touch of bubblegum sweetness.

So the quality of wines I tasted on my recent tour of this tranquil, rural region in the country’s northwest came as a major surprise. Not only did I find small producers making excellent, intriguing, even complex whites in diverse styles, but also vibrant, exotic reds. So much for vinous stereotypes….

Brad Pitt, Angelina Seduce With 50 Shades Of Pink

July 29, 2012 — Dry pink wines have been a fad, a craze, a global trend and now they’ve settled into what everyone drinks in summer, and not just at the beach.

My favorites come from France’s Provence, where drinking pink has a 2,000-year history.

With silky textures, vivid aromas of strawberry and fragrant white flowers, and tangy chalky-spicy flavors, most are meant to be drunk young and cost less than $20.

Yet after sampling 15 primo examples at a recent lunch at New York’s Michelin three-star Eleven Madison Park, I realize Provencal roses can be even more seductive and serious than I thought.

Their allure starts before you even take a sip….

California Chardonnay Shines As Stony Hill Turns 60

July 16, 2012 — When Peter McCrea’s parents paid $7,500 in 1943 for an old goat farm on Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain, it came with a house, a barn, a cottage, and three chicken coops. The chardonnay vines arrived four years later.

The rest, as they say, is history. Their Stony Hill Vineyard is one of California’s oldest great wineries.

At a 60th anniversary of the winery’s first vintage, held at New York’s Corkbuzz Wine Studio, a dozen chardonnay bottlings spanning four decades quash any lingering doubts about their quality and ageability.

In contrast to the buttery, oaky, alcoholic style that has largely defined California chardonnay, Stony Hill’s wines are delicate and tightly wound, almost Chablis-like when young.

That can fool you, because the wines gain weight and complexity with age. The 1973 (then labeled pinot chardonnay), is amazingly alive, pure, vibrant, stunning….

Wine Sleuth Sniffs Out Fakes, Takes Hammer To Lafite

July 2, 2012 — Holding a bottle of 1998 Sassicaia in her left hand, Maureen Downey squints at the iconic Italian label through a large silver-rimmed magnifying glass.

It looks authentic, but is it?

We’re in the chilly Vintage Wine Warehouse in Queens, New York, to find out. Downey, with streaked-blond hair, wearing jeans and flip flops that show off white polka-dotted red toenails, is one of the experts you call if you’re worried your Romanee-Conti, Lafite, or Sassicaia might not be legit.

For more than a decade she’s been on counterfeit high alert, first at three auction houses and now at Chai Consulting, the San Francisco-based wine collection management firm she founded in 2005.

The March 8 FBI arrest, and indictment on May 9 by a federal grand jury in New York, of alleged wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan — a.k.a. Dr. Conti — who has sold millions of dollars’ worth of rare wines at auction, have raised fears among collectors about what’s actually in their cellars….

Chinese Wine Lovers Go Californian As Taste Widens

June 17, 2012 —  At Shi Tang, a private wine club in Shanghai, Jesse Coffino circled the table, splashing crisp Graziano chenin blanc from Mendocino county into glasses of 15 eager members.

All were regular drinkers of French wine but had never heard of Mendocino. Coffino had to unroll a map.

“It’s hard to break pre-conceptions in China about where good wine comes from,” said 29-year-old Coffino, a Mandarin- speaking, San Francisco Bay-Area native, the wine’s importer.

French labels, especially Bordeaux, dominate imports in China, with a 45 percent market share, according to VinExpo figures.

Coffino, studio director for prominent Chinese artist Xu Bing, founded San Francisco-based Pacific Brothers Wine company two years ago with his 32-year-old lawyer brother Eli. They’re among the growing number of American entrepreneurs focused on bringing mid-priced, boutique quality California wine to China’s rapidly changing market….

Forget 2011 Bordeaux Futures, Buy Wine In Bottles Now

June 3, 2012 — Delete. Delete. Delete. Of the 578 offers of 2011 Bordeaux futures that flooded Jamie Ritchie’s inbox one morning, most ended up in his trash file.

In mid-May, after doing practically nothing in the weeks that followed Chateau Lafite’s release of its en primeur price at 420 euros ($519) a bottle on April 16, (a 30 percent dip from 2010), thumb-sucking chateaux suddenly rushed en masse with their own offerings. Major players, like Ducru-Beaucaillou, still haven’t.

“All the merchants wanted a fast and well-priced campaign and we didn’t get one,” says Ritchie, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby’s Wine in New York, including its retail shop.

But didn’t the chateaux, including the famous first growths, reduce their prices this year? Yes, but discounts averaged just 15.81 percent off expensive 2010, according to U.K.-based Farr Vintners’ May 25 final Bordeaux report.

Most offers weren’t nearly enticing enough to kick start demand for a vintage that is very good but certainly not great like the 2010 and 2009.

Considering you can find older, ready-to-drink comparable vintages already in the bottle for similar prices, there’s little reason to buy now…..

Wines Targeting Women Are Long on Legs, Short on Flavor

May 14, 2012 — Freud struggled to find an answer to the question “What does a woman want?” Ninety-odd years later, some in the wine industry think they know.

Really?

According to the new “girly-wine” brand marketers, we want to be skinny, to toss our hair playfully like ponies as we pick our bottles to match moods, not foods. We also crave an easy-sipping flavor profile with a naughty edge of sweetness.

High-heeled shoes star in our fantasies. Well, maybe they got that one right. But aren’t Canadian wine maker Strut’s labels featuring photos of long, shapely, perfect legs emerging from short skirts a guy fantasy?

Just looking at them makes me want to forget about drinking and head for the gym….

Crypt Keeper’s $4,000 Cognac Offers Entry to Paradise

April 29, 2012 — In the dusty crypt of a 12th- century abbey, where monks once prayed, I’m rolling a few drops of 1860 Cognac on my tongue.

Sumptuous layered flavors reveal exotic spices, the taste of warm honey, echoes of creme brulee.

This 1860 is pretty spectacular in its own right. But it’s just one of several elements in a luxury Cognac blend, the $4,000,Tesseron Extreme.

I’m at the small Tesseron distillery in Chateauneuf-sur- Charente to discover how it creates elixirs that make Cognac aficionados dig so deep into their pockets.

Founded in 1905 by Cognac collector Abel Tesseron in the Cognac region north of Bordeaux, the company produced eaux-de- vie from its two estates and quietly peddled its rare old stocks to big houses like Hennessy (MC) for nearly a century.

In 2001, it started a line of XO Cognacs (extra old) under its own name. Extreme, its longest-aged and priciest, was introduced more than two years ago….

Bordeaux’s Sunburned New Vintage Needs Price Drop to Star

April 15, 2012 — At 10 o’clock on a sunny Bordeaux Monday morning, tall, slim Christian Moueix places his palms prayerfully together as he intones the tale of 2011’s difficult weather in a smooth baritone.

“The problem factors were very serious drought, a June heat spike, some green merlot, and sunburned grapes,” he says. Still, he managed to pull off some delicious wines anyway, like subtle, complex Chateau Trotanoy.

Complicated, tricky 2011 is definitely not another “vintage of the century.” The worst wines are lean, pruney, bitter and tannic, like biting into a roasted espresso bean, the result of trying to extract too much from shriveled grapes.

I spit into upturned barrel crachoirs (spittoons), red plastic buckets, brown ceramic pots, and stainless steel sinks, in chilly cellars and elegant chateaux. At the end of each day my teeth are purple.

Yet after tasting more than 500 barrel samples during my 10-day visit to Bordeaux earlier this month, the best wines are better than I expected….

Finding Burgundy Bargains as Prices Surge

April 2, 2012 — Sipping samples of Louis Jadot’s superb 2010 Burgundies downstairs at New York’s Bar Boulud, I breathe a sigh of relief. It looks like I can still afford to buy a few of the region’s seductive bottles at reasonable prices.

Why had I been worried? Because Burgundy has been on a hot streak. New Chinese buyers are falling in love with the region’s “grands crus.” At Hart David Hart’s March 24 Burgundy auction, some lots went for double their high estimates.

Liv-ex’s March report says demand has surged in the last six months, and two back-to-back excellent vintages in 2009 and 2010 are now goosing sales.

Oh, and reports have surfaced of alleged fakes turning up at auctions, usually an indication that the clamoring for these wines is pushing prices to ridiculous levels.

All are ominous signs that Burgundy will get even more expensive than it is now….

San Andreas Winemakers Fight Wild Boar to Make Pinot Paradise

March 19, 2012 — David Hirsch, pinot noir pioneer of the “true” Sonoma coast, owes his success to the San Andreas Fault. Its earthquakes pushed up the remote, high ridges that are home to his eponymous vineyard, one of California’s pinot “grand crus.”

Hirsch, a former New Yorker, is among a couple of dozen vintners and grape growers in Sonoma’s brand-new American Viticultural Area (AVA) Fort Ross-Seaview appellation, which became official in January.

To discover why this region is regarded as pinot paradise and whether the wines deserve the hype, I find myself navigating hairpin curves up narrow dirt roads to an altitude of 1,500 feet, where vineyards poke above the fog like sunny islands….

Insider Wine Sleuth Rimmerman Seeks Bargains for Internet Sale

March 5, 2012 — Jon Rimmerman, aka the Garagiste, is late. He’s sending out his daily online wine offer from his BlackBerry in his room at New York’s new Hotel Americano.

It’s a 2006 Ansata from biodynamic producer Marc Kreydenweiss priced at $6.99. This red usually goes for two to three times as much. The bottles sell out in an hour.

Once a day, Seattle-based Rimmerman, 45, pitches one to several little-known, quirky, artisanal and often stellar collectible wines from small producers in an e-mail that includes no dramatic photos of people, vineyards or labels. Since the mid-1990s, he’s relied on prose alone to evoke a wine, a place, and the vicarious thrill of being a wine treasure hunter.

“I want to give people a dream,” he says as we head to the hotel’s restaurant…

Muscadet Vignerons Seek Wine’s ‘Next Big Thing’ in Loire Rocks

February 20, 2012 — As my boots crunch through snow, Pierre-Marie Luneau hands me a chunk of serpentinite rock in his vineyard on La Butte de la Roche. Like all the best Muscadet producers, Luneau is obsessed with how soil affects a wine’s quality.

Muscadet is typecast as a gulpable, fresh, crisp white wine ideally paired with oysters. And in this huge region in the west of France’s Loire Valley there’s always been plenty of plonk.

On a recent tasting trek, though, I discovered just how serious this bargain white is becoming. The Luneaus are among several dozen vignerons busy reinventing it.

Their Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin, like most of the top estates, is in the smaller Muscadet Sevre et Maine area. It has more than 30 separate plots with five types of terroir in four villages.

“Our eight Muscadets,” Luneau says, “express the mineral personalities of these different spots….”

Chanel’s Wertheimers Seduce With Lush 2009 $100 Margaux

February 6, 2012 — Karl Lagerfeld provoked both boos and cheers for his rustic sketch of Chateau Rauzan-Segla on the 2009 label of the Bordeaux estate, celebrating its 350th anniversary. The wine inside, though, is no dashed-off impression.

Deep and ripe, it shows just how much this second growth in the Margaux appellation has jumped in quality since the estate’s purchase in 1994 by haute couture house Chanel Inc., where Lagerfeld is chief designer.

At a recent Wine Media Guild lunch at New York’s Felidia restaurant, eight vintages of Rauzan-Segla were paired with eight from third-growth Chateau d’Issan, another rising Margaux star. Both properties’ wines are still a bit under the radar — labels whose prices haven’t caught up with their growing buzz….

Krug, Rubens Lure Wine Buyers as U.S. Fights Rise of Hong Kong

January 23, 2012 — At Christie’s International (CHRS)’s first New York wine sale of the year on Jan. 25, Krug Grande Cuvee champagne will flow in the presence of Old Master paintings to inspire buyers to bid big, or so the auction house hopes.

This cross-cultural branding is just one way auction houses, which started rushing off to Hong Kong four years ago, are refocusing in 2012.

Christie’s has discovered that their clients who collect classic paintings also dabble in wine, so the Wines of France sale at 5 p.m. follows Old Masters Part 1 at 10 a.m., with works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, and the Art of France at 2 p.m. featuring seductive paintings by Jean-Honore Fragonard. The theory seems to be: they won’t stop spending if you don’t let them leave the building….

If Grateful Dead’s Music Were a Wine, What Would It Taste Like?

January 9, 2012 — Locked away in his garage just over a year ago, Mendocino winemaker Mark Beaman spent hours soaking up the vibe of the Grateful Dead album “Steal Your Face.” Then he set about creating a red wine that “interprets” the album’s music and uses the cover art on its label.

“The Dead’s music style is an earthy, savage blend,” Beaman says. “It made me think of a smoky, bacony syrah, a big one with backbone.”

It took a party with Deadheads and five months to get the recently released punchy 2009 blend of syrah, zinfandel, grenache and petite sirah ($17) to match the music and label.

“Aromas are like the voice, while the guitar lick is the fruit that plays through the wine from start to finish,” says Beaman. “I want someone who tastes the wine while listening to the music to say, ‘I get it….’”

Lady Gaga Dress, Chinese Penis Potion Mark Wine World in 2011

December 27, 2011 — No aspect of popular culture achieves real acceptance until it’s been incorporated into one of Lady Gaga’s outfits, so I was gratified to see her decked out as a wine bottle with cork hat and wineglass gloves on Saturday Night Live’s spring season finale. That was one of 2011’s more notable homages to the drink I sip and spit every day of the year.

Sexy sports cars, too, exploited their wine connection. The Lotus Exige 270E, a 0-60 in 4 seconds rocket on wheels, ran the 2011 Oxford to London Eco-Rally on ethanol derived from chocolate, cheese, and, yes, wine.

Or consider “three penis” wine, which made an appearance on National Geographic’s “The Witch Doctor Will See You Now” series. My idea of a wine-soaked threesome is to open a bottle of Marilyn Merlot with my husband, but in China that would be much too tame….

Top 10 Toasts Rothschild Fizz, $3,500 Port, Boxed Chardonnay

December 12, 2011 — In 2011, I traveled to wineries on four continents and sampled more than 5,000 wines, from old classics to promising new cuvees, in search of the recommendable. As usual, I encountered plenty of overpriced plonk as well as the stunning and memorable.

My top 10 this year are an eclectic mix, from an esoteric natural wine to a super-scarce cult bottling to a white from a country not renowned for its wine. All reflect where the wine world is today — and point to where it’s going next.

NV Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($125)

My current bling wine is this hyper-elegant fizz, the best of a trio of champagnes in the first joint wine venture of the Rothschild clan. The three branches of the famous banking and wine-growing families separately own Bordeaux chateaux Lafite, Mouton and Clarke, so for wineloving show-offs, the pedigree can’t be beat. Yes, it’s too expensive, but its subtle complexity and creamy texture backed up its label power in a New York launch tasting with project chairman Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, whose mother owns Mouton….

See slideshow:

Elin McCoy’s Top 10 Wine Experiences of 2011

Chinese Bank Loans to Wine Buyers Say ‘Drink Now, Pay Later

November 27, 2011 — At the 4th Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Fair, a smiling Wing Lung Bank employee hands me a colorful flyer about its new “Wine Financing Service.” Can’t afford a case of investment-grade Bordeaux? This Hong Kong-based bank will lend you as much as HK$5 million ($641,840) to buy, as long you select from its list of 50 top names. The response, says assistant general manager William Tang, has been overwhelming.

Investing in wine is a big topic at this year’s fair, Asia’s largest, held earlier this month at the city’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. The bank’s booth is one of three dozen in a new “Wine Investment Zone.” Many affluent Chinese, worried about rising inflation, a roller-coaster stock market, and restrictions on real- estate investment, are looking to alternative assets. Wine, a status symbol for new millionaires, is a hot choice….

Burgundy Soars as Chinese Buyers Grab $69,000 Cases at Auction

Nov. 14, 2011 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong investment banker Alan Chen embraced wine collecting after a visit to Bordeaux’s Chateau Margaux five years ago.

“Now I’m fascinated by Burgundy,” said Chen, head of Asian Equities at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd., as we sipped 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg at a pre-auction tasting in Hong Kong.

It’s outstanding, but he prefers the ethereal 1999 DRC Romanee-Conti he poured at his Bali wedding in 2009. When his wife said her favorite wine was 1990 DRC La Tache, he bought 60 bottles the next day. Current auction price? $68,821 a case.

Chen, 41, is part of the new Asian wave of Burgundy collectors bidding up prices….

Anderson Valley: Pinot, Cannabis Flourish

October 24, 2011 — California’s Wild West wine country is the chilly Anderson Valley, where some of the state’s best pinot noir grapes grow alongside old redwoods and hidden marijuana plots.

Like others, Burgundy-lover Peter Knez, former fixed-income chief at Barclays Global Investors and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) advisor, came for the pinot. Luck helped him snap up prize vineyards as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) collapsed, he says as we head up a rough dirt road, wet with rain, to his steep vineyards and eponymous winery high above the valley floor.

With its marginal climate of warm, sunny days, cold foggy nights, long growing season and steep hillsides, this remote 15- mile-long valley in northwest Mendocino has become the spot for classic, balanced pinots with lively acidity and lower alcohol….

South African Winery Boosts $28 Rembrandt White, Jazzy Shiraz

Oct. 10, 2011 (Bloomberg) —  “In South Africa, we’re redefining ourselves socially, politically, vinously,” Mark Solms says, pouring vibrant reds and whites in the garden dining room of a friend’s upper East Side townhouse on a recent New York visit.

A decade ago, the South African brain researcher and psychoanalyst left London for home, and took over a derelict wine farm belonging to his family in idyllic Franschhoek Valley. Now he’s producing some of the Western Cape’s most cutting-edge blends at Solms-Delta winery, an ambitious land-reform project that makes you even more gratified to drink them.

As I sip and spit, he leans forward, brushing back longish grey-white hair, telling a tale of new grapes, the past’s legacy and a vineyard technique called strangulation….


Napoleon, Henry IV’s Ladies Seduced by Eccentric Wines of Jura

September 25, 2011 — Below my feet, deep under the French village of Arlay, lie 30,000 bottles of Caves Jean Bourdy’s vintages, stretching all the way back to 1781.

That 230-year-old wine is a vin jaune, or “yellow wine,” from the tiny Jura region’s most prestigious appellation, Chateau-Chalon.

I’m sipping the tangy 1969 vintage in the cellar of Jean- Francois Bourdy, the fifteenth generation at this family domaine, who waves around a cigarette as he says, “These old wines are worth a fortune, and they’re still completely drinkable.”

Its nutty, oxidative character reminds me a bit of dry sherry, but the savory saltiness, zing of acidity, and spice- toffee-and-curry powder aromas and flavors are unique, as is the way the wine is made.

Be warned. Vin jaune challenges palate expectations and harkens back to an earlier era. The wine once had illustrious admirers — Prince von Metternich, Napoleon, Rabelais. A winemaker tells me Henry IV used bottles of it to seduce women.

Now the Jura’s most famous wine is finding new fans among old-wine aficionados, adventurous geeks looking for different tastes, and edgy sommeliers….

Bordeaux Flows, Grapes Fly as Saint-Emilion Starts Harvest Fest

September 11, 2011– On Saturday night, a torch-lit procession of chateau owners in bright red toques and flowing robes will parade through Bordeaux’s famous medieval village of Saint-Emilion. Naturally, wine will flow as fireworks explode.

The next day, this vinous group — the Jurade — will proclaim the beginning of the harvest from the top of the stone Tour du Roy. They’ll wave their hats and release clusters of purple-black balloons that look like huge bunches of flying grapes as the wind carries them away.

For wine pageantry, the annual weekend event can’t be beat….

‘Naked’ Winemakers Battle Lab Wizards for Future of Wine: Books

August 22, 3011 –Three decades after America’s big- time embrace of the grape in the 1970s, it’s time to ponder what wine means at the philosophical bottom of the glass. A trio of new books sees winemaking at a crossroads.

Let’s start with David Darlington’s “An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection — and Profit — in California” (HarperCollins, 352 pages, $25.99). This is the best and most entertaining of several summer tomes charting today’s obsession with defining the — get used to this word — “ideal” wine.

Darlington explores the polarities of what winemakers are trying to achieve through the vision of two protagonists. One is the high-tech laboratory wizard Leo McCloskey, chief executive officer of Sonoma-based Enologix Inc.

For $20,000 a year, he helps winemakers “drain-down sweet” and get their wines stylistically “in the right ballpark,” which translates as getting their bottles into the 90+ ratings for Robert Parker and Wine Spectator scores, a leg up in this competitive market.

The other is Randall Grahm, charismatic owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard….

Kanye West, Lil’ Kim Give Props to Frizzante, Summery Moscato

Aug 8, 2011 — Lazing in a hammock, chilled glass in hand, I’m sipping my new favorite summer wine, moscato d’Asti. Who knew that this would bond me to the hip-hop community? Ever since rapper Kanye West started giving shout-outs five years ago to the lightly fizzy, perfumey white wine, moscato has been a varietal on the rise.

There are four main varieties of the versatile muscat grape, which can be made in styles from dry to sweet. The star of the family, though, is moscato bianco, used in Italy’s classic moscato d’Asti, from the Asti area of Piemonte. These wines mostly fall in the middle of the sweetness spectrum and are gently sparkling, or, as Italians say, frizzante. They’re the frivolous, under-$20 whites in a serious region that produces collectible, expensive Barolos….

Bordeaux 2010 Futures Are Hard Sell, But $170 `Bargains’ Exist

July 25, 2011 — Moon-shaped lanterns floated over a Chateau Haut-Brion dinner during Vinexpo last month. Owner Prince Robert of Luxembourg brushed off talk of 2010 prices, launching into tales of his early screenwriting career.

Now we know: his 2010, still in barrel, can be had for $1,159 a bottle. My advice? Don’t bother.

The long, drawn-out Bordeaux futures campaign finally climaxed on Fourth of July weekend. Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, and the other first growths released stratospheric prices while most Bordeaux-obsessed Americans lazed, indifferent, at the beach….

Harvard, Wharton Battle Over Wine at Chateau Lafite Rothschild 

July 11, 2011 (Bloomberg) – Baron Eric de Rothschild and 11 other judges, in crimson velvet robes and matching hats, sweep into the candlelit cellar at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Eight teams from the world’s top business schools and universities wait at round tables, ready for a showdown of their esoteric wine knowledge and tastebud skills.

Surrounding both at this 10th annual 20 Sur Vin wine competition in a stone-pillared wine temple are dimly lit barrels of very expensive red. The recently released futures price for one bottle of 2010 Lafite has climbed to $1,600….

Bollywood Stars Make Indian Wine Sexy, Samant Works on Quality

June 20 (Bloomberg) — By night, Rajeev Samant parties at Mumbai clubs with supermodels and Bollywood friends like director Rohan Sippy. By day, he’s the restless chief executive officer of India’s largest winemaker, Sula Vineyards.

We’re having lunch in Tulsi, a new Indian restaurant in Manhattan, a quiet backdrop for someone who says a Grateful Dead concert was one of the defining moments of his life.

The 44-year-old Samant, a windsurfer and yoga practitioner, is wearing a cufflinked white shirt and jeans. Designer sunglasses perch on his smooth shaved head. Bollywood, he says, reflects — and influences — India’s changing view of wine….

Angels Sorting Good From Bad Get Rewarded With Discount Wines

June 6 (Bloomberg) — Small bands of “Archangels” fan out at London’s recent wine fair, intent on separating the good from the bad. Instead of halos and wings, these 50 seraphim are armed with lists and iPhones.

Their mission is to sip and savor offerings from new independent vintners for U.K. online retailer Naked Wines.

After tasting Decanter magazine’s medal-winning sparkling wines, Archangel Peter Batty, a filmmaker and musician, dismissed the selections as “a lot of crap.”

But at a table of Argentine labels, the Beviam reds from Mendoza’s Bodega Cavas del 23 wowed him. Two days later its 2007 Beviam Syrah was offered on the Naked Wines website, and within 48 hours the 600 bottles were sold out….

Latour Takes on Lafite in China Wine Battles, Czar’s Champagne

May 16 (Bloomberg) — Can Chateau Latour catch Chateau Lafite? We’ll find out on May 27, when vintages from Latour’s cellar in Bordeaux spanning almost 150 years go on sale at Christie’s International in Hong Kong.

Wines resting in the perfect storage conditions of a chateau’s cellar command a serious premium. That was part of the story behind the mindboggling prices at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Lafite sale last autumn — a case of 1982 sold for $132,594, or $11,050 a bottle, double the average current price.

The key factor, though, was the continuing Chinese love affair with Lafite….

Sonoma’s Harvard Winemaker Sells to Fifth-Generation Vintner

May 2, 2011 (Bloomberg) — Patrick Campbell found his calling tending grapes at a Zen Buddhism center on Sonoma Mountain.

Thirty-four years later, the Harvard-educated, viola- playing, kayak-racing winemaker is one of Sonoma’s old guard, known for the long-lived cabernets from his Laurel Glen winery, which he sold two months ago. Like many winery founders today, at 64, he wants to move on.

Campbell, in open-necked blue shirt and black jacket, is in town for a nostalgic wine retrospective, a tasting of 15 vintages of his iconic cabernet sauvignon, hosted by the winery’s new owner Bettina Sichel at New York’s Tocqueville restaurant.

Laurel Glen’s cab is surely California’s most under-the- radar great wine, thanks to Campbell’s lack of patience for marketing and his scorn for chasing critics’ scores….


Bordeaux Annual Rite Means 450 Sips, Thirsty Asians

April 18, 2011 (Bloomberg) — Warm spring sun streams into the Chateau Latour tasting room as I spit one of the top wines from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage into a small stainless sink.

“It’s like a skyscraper,” says Chateau Latour President Frederic Engerer, his arms forming a column in the air to illustrate the taste-shape of this stunning first-growth red.

Ten days ago, Bordeaux’s famous chateaux were basking in the attention of 5,000 merchants and journalists from 68 countries for the yearly ritual of tasting barrel samples of the latest vintage. The purpose, as always, is to create buzz and entice the trade to buy the wines as futures….

Hard-hit Sake Brewers Plead For Help, Extra Sipping

Apr. 4, 2011 (Bloomberg) — On the morning of March 11, Henry Sidel watched Japan’s earthquake and tsunami devastation via computer in a Chicago hotel room. He pulled out his phone and started frantically calling his sake producers.

The founder of New York-based Joto Sake LLC, Sidel was on a sales trip to promote the jizake, or artisanal sakes, he imports from eight top small breweries (kura), in different parts of Japan. It took him two days to track them all down….


More Silk, Less Slurp, Alcohol as Vintners Class Up Pinot Noir

March 21, 2011  (Bloomberg) — I’ve had it with prune-colored California pinots that taste like over-oaked top-heavy syrahs.

I give them a sniff, two sips just to be fair, then a groan and a thumbs-down score.

I’m not merely disappointed. I think they’re a wine crime. Why? Because when pinot is made to caress the tongue instead of grabbing it, it can seduce the palate as no other grape can.

Fortunately, the small band of passionate pinot makers championing pure fruit elegance and silky-textured finesse over gross oak and ghastly levels of alcohol (some 16 and 17 percent!) is growing and getting more vocal….

Wine Revolutionaries Mix Vines, Leopards in South African Hills

March 7. 2011 (Bloomberg) — Eben Sadie pours glasses of red and white, brushes back sun-bleached hair and starts talking his wine revolution. The South African’s non-stop philosophizing seems part vision, part spin — until I taste his brilliant, original wines.

“I’m a soil maniac,” says South Africa’s most outspoken winemaker (a term he hates). “Some people bet on horses, I like to walk into a vineyard and say, ‘I bet this will be the one.’”

Sadie focuses on getting terroir — a taste of the climate, soil, and tradition of where the grapes are grown — into his wines.

We’re in the Sadie Family Wines office above his small winery, a room with orange walls, maps of Burgundy, and crate shelves lined with empty bottles that once held the world’s greatest vintages.

In this cluster of whitewashed buildings in the Swartland district, the opinionated Sadie is making some of the most fascinating wines I tasted during a recent trip through South Africa’s vineyards….

Burgundy Fans Savor $7,000 Reds With Food by Boulud

Feb. 21, 2011 (Bloomberg) – At midnight, the Les Cadets de Bourgogne singing troupe is belting out “New York, New York,” as 370 Burgundy fans sip the region’s greatest wines, twirling white napkins above their heads in time with the music. A disco ball spins above, the light bouncing off the 1,000 or so rare bottles littering tables.

This $1,400 dinner, cooked by four superstar chefs, is the official finale of La Paulee de New York, a bi-annual three-day extravaganza organized and hosted by Daniel Johnnes, wine director at Restaurant Daniel. The event never fails to remind us just how stunning Burgundy’s best pinots and chardonnays can be….

China Buys Bordeaux Chateaux, Wine as 2008 Vintage Hits Shelves

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) — A blizzard threatened the New York arrival of nearly 100 Bordeaux chateau owners who were eager to show off their 2008 vintage, now bottled and soon to appear on retail shelves.

They, and the wines, made it and tales of hours on airport tarmacs mixed with wine talk as I sipped and spat the 100-plus reds and whites at the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion just over a week ago.

Many owners are already touting the greatness of 2010 and suggest 2008 may be Bordeaux’s last price/quality buy.

I’ve heard that about other vintages, but this time it just might be true — at least until the Chinese start hoovering up these wines. After all, 2008 Chateau Lafite, that country’s favorite label, has skyrocketed from $600 to nearly $2,000 a bottle in the past year, riding Chinese demand…

Argentina Lures Bankers Dreaming of Owning Their Own Vineyard

Jan. 24, 2011 (Bloomberg) — For his 50th birthday two years ago, Phil Asmundson, vice chairman of technology at Deloitte LLP, flew to Argentina for a vacation and ended up buying a vineyard.

As a long-time wine collector, making his own was a secret dream. During harvest in March or April, he’ll fly down from New York to pick malbec grapes and play cellar rat.

Asmundson bought 3 acres of land in the Uco Valley for just under $200,000 from Vines of Mendoza, a five-year-old company in Argentina that sells parcels of prime vineyard acreage, plants them to owners’ specifications, then manages caretaking and winemaking. Owners can participate as much or as little as they wish…

Portugal’s ’Great Red Hope’ Faces Tough Fight to Beat Cabernet

Jan. 10, 2011 (Bloomberg) — The steep narrow road, high above Portugal’s Douro river was half washed out. The car skidded around hairpin curves with vines on one side and no guard-rails on the other, leaving me white-knuckled in the passenger seat.

I had asked to see touriga nacional. The name sounds like a football team or an obscure political party, but it’s an iconic Portuguese red grape variety, thought by some to rival cabernet sauvignon.

Last month, touriga nacional was the theme of Portugal’s first ever wine conference, held in the northern city of Porto. The country’s wine industry heavies were selling the grape as their “national” varietal, hoping to follow the success of Argentina with malbec and New Zealand with sauvignon blanc…

Bacchic Bra, Stomping Pachyderms, Cow Plonk Top 2010 Wine Tales

Dec. 27, 2010  (Bloomberg) — George the elephant made a great impression crushing riesling grapes for southern Oregon’s Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards during harvest this year. Winery owner Stephen Reustle partnered with nearby Wildlife Safari for the U.S.’s first-ever elephant grape stomp, conceived as a way to raise funds for the zoological park.

Initially he was dubious of the scheme, worried that the elephant’s weighty step would pulverize the grapes, break the seeds inside and release harsh tannins. He gained some confidence after George lifted one huge foot and Reustle felt its soft, fleshy pads.

Still, the 29-year-old pachyderm wasn’t exactly a grape- pressing natural….

Year’s Best Wines Offer $2,500 White, Czar’s Muscat

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) — In 2010, I once again sipped thousands of wines looking for the few worth recommending. I’m happy to report I found more compelling high quality wines than ever — especially from the 2009 vintage in Germany, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Burgundy — among a sea of plonk and expensive disappointments. Here are my 10 picks of the year.

2007 Fia Nobile Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($20)

My bargain of the year is this lively red from Sicily, discovered at New York’s Convivio restaurant. Charged with finding one wine for dishes with clashing tastes, the sommelier offered his secret weapon — the frappato and nero d’avola grape blend known as Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The Fia Nobile version, my introduction to the category, brims with crushed cherry aromas and light but rich texture.

1939 Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat ($525 at auction)

In the Ukraine’s Crimea, the Massandra winery on the Black Sea once produced sweet dessert muscats for the czars. Its collection of bottles, stored in 21 underground tunnels, survived the Russian Revolution and some were served to Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. History was in my mind as I sipped the amazingly fresh-tasting 1939, with aromas and flavors of rose petals and spicy brown sugar, at a Zachys’ auction before 38 lots of old vintages went on the block….

Bordeaux Wines Bust Price Records With High-Tech Radio ID Tags

Dec. 6, 2010 (Bloomberg) — Henning Thoresen has a simple explanation for why wine buyers bid big for his 2000 Bordeaux at Sotheby’s latest New York auction, including $72,600 for a case of Petrus.

“That’s the power of provenance,” said the sandy-haired, soft-spoken chairman and chief executive officer of Bordeaux Winebank, after six of his wines set records. “When wines have it, collectors pounce and pay.”

The 128 cases of first and top second growths, in original wooden cases, carried tamperproof traceability seals and used eProvenance’s radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to register whether they’d been subjected to extreme heat or cold during storage or shipping. A certificate for each case guaranteed it came direct from chateau cellars and had been stored in Bordeaux since release….

Vienna’s City Vineyards Turn Tavern Plonk Into Musical Whites

Nov. 8, 2010 (Bloomberg) — Beethoven composed part of his 9th Symphony in a small apartment at the Mayer am Pfarrplatz winery. Downstairs in its noisy tavern, with old paintings of antlered animals and memorabilia of the composer, I’m dining on schnitzel and gemischter satz, Vienna’s contribution to the wine world.

Light, tangy, fragrant and surprisingly complex, the best examples of this white blend pair brilliantly with local cuisine, and with music. They are the ideal sippers in the barrel-laden cellar, where winemakers and other guests dance to the echoing strains of Strauss.

The only world capital with major vineyards, Vienna grows more than 600 hectares of vines inside the city limits, and its vinous history goes back some 2,000 years. The Danube, which bisects the city, creates perfect microclimates….

Cocky Brands Bash Growers in Champagne’s Battle of the Bubbles

Oct. 25, 2010 (Bloomberg) — High up over Central Park, glass in hand, I listen to Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger’s theories of champagne and seduction.

Taittinger, president of his family’s eponymous champagne house, drinks a bottle a day.

Champagne, he says, can be a great help “when you’re with a beautiful woman and you’re not a genius.”

But in the wine region where some of the most important battles in European history were fought, today’s clashes are no wars of the sexes. They’re over the authenticity and image of the world’s finest fizz…

Bordeaux Bashers Beware! There’s More Here Than $1,550 Bottles

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Like many young savvy sommeliers, 33-year-old Michael Madrigale of New York’s Bar Boulud, extols obscure wines from the Jura, swoons over Burgundy and indulges in Bordeaux bashing.

“All the high prices in Bordeaux have left a collective bad taste in the mouth of everyone,” he said. His Bordeaux customers “are people with gray hair.”

But is the world’s largest fine wine region really just a no-soul place filled with insanely priced luxury products for investment rather than drinking? Well, not exactly.

Admittedly, Bordeaux’s image is one of glamorous chateaux, 87 glitzy crus classes wines, and worldwide demand. First growths now sell for thousands of dollars — 2009 Lafite futures cost $1,550 a bottle and you won’t get the wine until 2012. That of course, is what has helped make the region a global success.

What everyone forgets is that Bordeaux has more than 8,500 estates, and some of them are tiny family-run properties that make good cabernet and merlot blends for reasonable prices….


Lafite’s ‘Godzilla’ Tops Wine Auctions as Hong Kong Sales Boom

Sept. 20 (Bloomberg) — Sipping Cristal champagne and 39 other blue-chip labels, New York wine lovers kicked off the autumn auction season at a two-night Acker Merrall & Condit sale on Sept. 10. They bid big, especially for Chateau Lafite and Romanee Conti, spending $4.9 million — a sign auction prices are still rising.

“Lafite gets stronger each month, like a well-fed Godzilla,” said Acker’s John Kapon, as he headed off for the company’s two-day sale in Hong Kong on Sept. 17-18, which totaled HK$68.1 million ($8.8 million), the second-highest ever for a wine auction in Asia after Acker’s May sale…

Just Because I’m in a Madhouse, It’s Not Crazy to Drink Local

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) — Sipping pinot blanc in a former mental asylum, I’m testing my decision to drink local wine during my annual summer stay by Lake Michigan.

The whites at Left Foot Charley winery, housed in what was once the laundry of the state loony bin in Traverse City, are so crisp and savory they convince me my palate won’t suffer if, while here, I’m a “locapour”.

The word means someone who’s committed to drinking the vino of the region — say, within a 100-mile radius to a half-day drive of wherever they are…

Beaujolais Gang of Four Rescues Red From Scandal

Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) — It’s a hot night. I have a fan going on the deck, but drinkers at my party want red wine. That’s why I have bottles of Beaujolais resting on a big tub of ice.

These are the first of the fabulous 2009 vintage to hit shop shelves, several from the “Gang of Four” vintners who rescued the world from bubble-gum-style Beaujolais nouveau. Unlike tannic cabernet and merlot, these reds shine when lightly chilled, perfect for summer…

A-List Rieslings Top Bordeaux, Cheaper Ones Soothe in Summer

Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) — The lively, intense, utterly delicious wine I’m swirling in my glass is 89 years old, and it’s a white. Razor-sharp acidity is what preserved this German riesling with the impossible-to-say-in-one-breath name: 1921 Hessische Staatsweinguter Kloster Eberbach Rudesheimer Hinterhaus Rheingau. I checked that spelling, twice.

“Of course, 1921 is one of the two greatest vintages of the last century,” confides bushy-mustached German vintner Reinhard Lowenstein….

How Sonoma Wineries Thrive While Many Cut Prices, Sell Property

July 19 (Bloomberg) — Ziggy, a golden Labrador trained to sniff out bad wine corks, is showing off his tricks at Sojourn Cellars’ tasting salon in Sonoma.

I’m visiting this charming white clapboard house to find out why owner Craig Haserot is thriving when big-name Napa wineries are discounting their cabernets 30 to 50 percent to clear inventory.

“The main thing is that from the beginning we’ve sold 70 percent of our pinots and cabs direct to consumers online,’’ says Haserot. Ziggy wags his tail.

I recently visited several premium wineries in Sonoma that are growing, in contrast with their recession-battered peers….

Whisky Beats Record Lafite as Single Malt Auctions Draw Fans

June 28 (Bloomberg) — Peter Silver, a collector of single- malt whisky, nibbled on cheese and sipped water as bidders pushed up the price of a bottle of Macallan 50-Year-Old Anniversary Malt to $9,250, almost double the record price paid for Chateau Lafite.

Silver, dentist to jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and member of the international tasting group Malt Maniacs, was one of three dozen fans at the Bonhams whisky auction in New York on June 22, which also took telephone bids from as far afield as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Europe…

Bordeaux 2009 Futures Sell 700 Cases an Hour, Freeze Computer

June 14 (Bloomberg) — When offers of 2009 Chateaux Cantemerle futures hit his inbox, Chris Adams, president of New York retailer Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, didn’t hesitate to snap up 50 cases.

The 2009 vintage is another great one in Bordeaux, and futures buying heated up last week as more chateaux released prices for their still-in-the-barrel wines….

Chile Cabs Trump Bordeaux, Napa in Blind Taste-Off

May 24 (Bloomberg) — Sixty-five noses are sniffing glasses in a wine-to-wine taste-off on the 36th floor of New York’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. Mine is one of them.

The 10 numbered reds in front of me include two first- growth Bordeaux, two high-end Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons, an Italian Super Tuscan, and five Chilean wines, all from the 2006 vintage. The bottles are in brown paper bags, so we don’t know which wine is which.

The task? Rate the wines and pick the top three. Will Chile’s “icon” entries make the grade?

Foot-Crushed $600 Wine, ‘Petrus of Spain’ Mark Ribera Region

May 10 (Bloomberg) — Alejandro Fernandez, one of Spain’s visionary winemakers, is serenading me with an old folk song in his tasting room.

It is 25 years since his Tinto Pesquera red gave Ribera del Duero a future as a serious wine region and he is opening bottles to prove it.

La Ribera, a high rocky plateau bordering the Duero river 90 minutes’ drive northwest of Madrid, produces bold, savory, long-lived reds from the tempranillo grape with vivid fruit, dense structure and scents of leather and tobacco…

Burgundy’s Affordable Hidden Gems Shine in Tricky 2008 Vintage

April 26 (Bloomberg) — I enjoy a grand cru Burgundy as much as the next wine lover, and maybe more. But with top names going for several hundred dollars a bottle, my budget rarely supports such splurges.

Which is why I was on the prowl for seriously seductive bargain-priced whites and reds at last month’s Grands Jours de Bourgogne trade fair.  I found some of the most delicious wines I sampled during my week’s stay in the underrated appellation of Auxey-Duresses…

Bordeaux’s Annual Binge Highlights Great Wines, Plus Chinese

April 12 (Bloomberg) — Last week at Chateau Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux, director Gildas d’Ollone and winemaker Thomas Do Chi Nam looked set to share a fist bump despite driving rain outside. Body language usually tells the tale during the region’s annual “en primeur” tastings, and the chateau’s 2009 is that good.

The latest harvest, once again, is being hyped as the region’s “vintage of the century.”

I raved about the last great one, 2005. This year I sampled barrel samples of more than 400 wines over six days to see if the 2009s are as good — or even better. Pichon-Lalande is; some others are not…

J.P. Morgan’s Favored Madeira Wines Make Comeback

March 29 (Bloomberg) – John Pierpont Morgan liked to sip old vintages of Madeira with his fellow industrialists while cruising New York harbor on his steam yacht Corsair.

I’m savoring them in the Manhattan mansion where his son lived, now part of the Morgan Library and Museum complex. The cedary, layered 1780 Borges Bual Madeira ($2,450) on my tongue could have been drunk by Thomas Jefferson. The wine is surprisingly delicious, its caramel and candied fruit flavors and lively acidity intact after more than two centuries…

Diageo Sell-Off Brings Deep Discounts for Bordeaux

March 15 (Bloomberg) – “What’s terrifying,” said John Kolasa, managing director of Bordeaux chateau Rauzan-Segla, “is what will happen to Bordeaux wines in America now that Diageo has bowed out.”

I was sipping his silky, charming 2007, one of the best wines from this lackluster vintage poured at the annual Union des Grand Crus tasting in New York, which never includes first growths.

So far 2010 is awash in discounted Bordeaux and the mostly middle-rung ‘07s promise more. That’s because the biggest U.S. importer of Bordeaux wines, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, a unit of British drinks giant Diageo PLC, announced last year that it was getting out of the Bordeaux business in the U.S. — and then started selling off its vast inventory in October…

Billionaire Koch Expects More Fake-Wine Lawsuits in 2010

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) — I think of the past 10 years as the counterfeit-wine decade.  While the number of fakes began  exploding in the mid-1990s, the problem was only widely acknowledged a few years ago and promises to heat up even more in 2010….

Garlic, Pest-Eating Geese Guard Chile’s New Pinots: Elin McCoy

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) –“See those white bands around the vines? They’re soaked in garlic and oil,” says Chilean winemaker Matias Rios as I kneel down for a sniff. The pungent smell keeps fat insects called burritos from destroying pinot noir vines at Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery, the oldest in Chile.

Whisky Menorah, Insipid Kitty Put Weirdness in 2009 Wine World

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg)— Every year, the world of wines and spirits produces great bottles, pleasant surprises and some thoroughly weird stories. This year, I’m happy to report, was no exception.

Jay-Z’s Bubbly, Pomerol Make My Top Wines of 2009: Elin McCoy

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) — In 2009, I spat out 5,000 wines in my quest for recommendable bottles.

Cobweb-Coated $440 White Riojas Battle Onslaught of Chardonnay: Elin McCoy

Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) — I brushed away drooping cobwebs in the spooky cellar at R. Lopez de Heredia winery in Spain’s Rioja region. In front of me, bottles of 45-year-old white wines rested beneath white mold that felt like a furry animal pelt.

`Davos of Wine’ Connects John Wayne Jokes, Vintners, Physicists: Elin McCoy

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — Piemontese winemaker Angelo Gaja paced back and forth, his hand stuffed in the pocket of his Brioni suit, as he addressed about 200 attendees for the first World Wine Symposium, dubbed the “Davos of Wine.” “Cabernet is like John Wayne,’’ Gaja said.

from BLOOMBERG MARKETS:

Luxury Rum on the Rise

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September 14, 2015 — When I first tasted Bacardi’s $250 Facundo Paraíso XA rum in the New York Palace hotel’s library, it smelled like spice cake and left a deep, smoky tingle of brown sugar and butterscotch. I was impressed. It was as seductive as a single-malt whisky yet as smooth and sweet as a small-batch bourbon.

Rum’s image is still anchored in beach bar cocktails and spiced versions with a pirate or palm trees on the label, but makers of the spirit are increasingly pushing into the luxury business. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of super-premium rum (more than $45 a bottle) rose 414 percent by volume in the U.S. from 2003 to 2014—10 times the growth rate of ordinary rum.

Following the example of other types of distillers, rum makers are producing limited editions of rare, long-aged blends, such as Paraíso, and small-batch and single-barrel bottlings. Rich, complex, and delicious, all are about as far from cheap mixers as you can get….

A New Baron in Bordeaux

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August 17, 2015 — Philippe Sereys de Rothschild likes to call himself a financier in a family of artists. In October, after the death of his mother, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, he became chairman of the supervisory board of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, which oversees first-growth Château Mouton Rothschild and other brands in France (including best-selling Mouton Cadet), Chile (Almaviva), and the U.S. (Opus One). His brother, Julien de Beaumarchais, and sister, Camille Sereys de Rothschild, are co-owners. When I interviewed him, Rothschild, 52, had just returned to Bordeaux from the Cannes Film Festival, where the Mouton Cadet Wine Bar is always a popular hangout and where he hit the red carpet with his frequent companion, actor Carole Bouquet. Rothschild brings more than family connections to his new role: Armed with an MBA from Harvard, he had a career in business and finance, including creating a private-equity technology fund….

Directing a Revival: Francis Ford Coppola brings back legendary Napa estate Inglenook

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June, 2013 — Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola has spent almost 40 years following a wine dream—to restore the once-famous 19th-century Inglenook estate in the Napa Valley to greatness. The iconic, almost 1,700-acre property, which was founded in 1879 by wealthy Finnish fur trader Gustave Niebaum, was broken up in the 1960s. The long story of how Coppola, 74, acquired and reunited its several parts has all the twists and turns of a good movie script. He’s been producing wine on what had been part of the Inglenook estate since 1977 but was able to purchase the trademark only two years ago. And last fall, he finally released his first wines with the name on the label.

As we settle onto a plush couch in the living room of the Victorian mansion Niebaum built on the Inglenook estate, the white-bearded Coppola launches into the complicated tale. Through the windows, we can see the sun shining on acres of cabernet sauvignon vines. “I put it all down to good fortune, to luck, that these pieces came around when I could afford them,” Coppola says. “When I bought the first piece, in 1975, we were riding the financial success of The Godfather….”

Taste of Bordeaux: 12 Bottles from 2009

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May, 2013 — Polished glasses of red Bordeaux from 12 top chateaux face five expert tasters. The vintage is 2009, one of the best in the past decade for France’s most famous wine region. Critics raved about the wines’ ripe, opulent, seductive and dramatic char- acter while they were still aging in barrels. Futures prices were astronomical, up as much as 350 percent from the previous vintage and the most expensive ever.

Now, these stellar wines are in retail shops. To see which ones are worth buying, four fellow judges and I re- cently gathered on the 28th floor of Bloomberg LP’s New York headquar- ters for a blind tasting of a dozen exam- ples. The wines cost from $40 to $250 a bottle—pretty reasonable when compared with first growths such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Ch. La- tour that go for $1,100 to $1,700…

Pisco’s Moment

pisco sour

March, 2013 — Bar-hopping in Santiago several years ago, I fell hard for my first-ever pisco sour, a floral-scented sweet-tart drink topped with frothy egg-white foam. It tasted fruitier than a mojito, creamier and spicier than a margarita and more refreshing than a whiskey sour.

Made with potent white-grape- brandy pisco, the national spirit of both Chile and Peru, this silky-textured con- coction slid down my throat so slyly, I had to order another to sip with the tangy ceviche on my plate.

Back home, top pisco was hard to find in bars and stores. Now, at last, it’s the drink du jour in London, New York and San Francisco….

Safe Stashes: How to Select a Wine Storage Company

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January, 2013 — Cases of wine were taking over William Ingram’s Manhattan apartment. “I have a tendency to buy more than I have space for,” the investor says, chuckling.

Now, the majority of his valuable 1,200-bottle collection rests quietly across the Hudson River at Domaine Wine Storage in New Jersey. “It’s hassle-free,” Ingram says. “I get a couple of cases delivered every month for dinner parties.”

At least 25 professional wine storage spaces have opened in and around large cities, including Hong Kong, London and New York, in the past few years. The best will coddle your pricey Burgundies, protect against disaster scenarios, give you advice and even invite you to tasting dinners. Here’s what to look for in a wine storage company….

Bespoke Spirits

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November, 2012 — A taste of 1911 Jim Beam at a friend’s house ignited private-equity investor John Hawkins’s passion for collecting rare, old American spirits. “I put down the glass and said, ‘Wow,’” the 52-year-old managing partner at Generation Partners recalls. “It was so smooth, with flavors of honey and citrus.”

It’s tough to track down pre-Prohi- bition bottles yourself, so Hawkins turned to Soutirage, a wine and spirits concierge service based in California’s Napa Valley that had provided the Jim Beam at the event.

Until recently, the five-year-old company’s mission was to help wealthy clients build and manage their fine wine collections and provide other related services….

The Thriller from Down Under

October, 2012 — Twenty black-tied collectors sampled historic vintages of Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most legendary red wine, as candlelight reflected off polished glasses in Baccarat’s Cristal Room in Moscow. Winemaker Peter Gago was on hand to unveil Penfolds’s new $168,000 silver- and-glass decorative ampoule filled with its fresh, opulent 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real stars on this June evening were the old bottles of Grange, an intensely rich and powerful shiraz-cabernet blend. Gago served his favorite, the rare 1953, which sold initially for A$1.76 a bottle and can now be had in Australia for A$25,000 and up….

California Brandies Fare Well in Blind Tasting with French Cognacs

October 22, 2012 — For the past three centuries, France’s world-famous Cognac region has been synonymous with the heady, amber-colored brandy that bears its name. In California, a handful of small distilleries only a few decades old are aiming for the same kind of quality.

To find out how these American upstarts compare with Cognac’s legendary bottlings, three other judges and I conducted a blind tasting of boutique brandies from today’s fastest-growing category, the luxury XO level, at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. They all had subtle aromas and layered flavors of dried fruit, spice, caramel and leather, thanks to having been aged in oak barrels for a couple of decades.

With only five serious producers, California was the underdog in this competition against six French bottlings. Cognac is home to four giant global brands and hundreds of small family distilleries, and only brandy made there can be named after that region. Like producers in Cognac, the Californians double distill wine in traditional copper pot stills. The big difference is the grapes….

To see a video of the panel, click here: 

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Winemaking Frontiers

Remarkable, intriguing bottlings are now being made in unexpected regions. Here are three surprising sources to check out….

Sophisticated Cider

August, 2012 — Roger Weisman, the bartender at Tertulia restaurant in New York, starts splashing Trabanco Cosecha Propia Natural Cider in a glass. He gradually raises the bottle higher and higher to pour a long, arcing stream. “This Spanish escanciar technique mixes air in, making bubbles,” Weisman says as he hands me the pale, cloudy, slightly fizzy drink. “It’s kind of a flamenco move.”

The cozy, brick-walled West Vil- lage spot, which opened last sum- mer, evokes the rustic cider houses of Spain’s northwest Asturias region, where wild beaches and dry, earthy sidras are the main attractions.

Cider, long considered a simple yet refreshing drink for summer, is becoming more sophisticated and complex….

Tasting the Best of the North Fork

July, 2012 — In late April, I spent a couple days exploring the increasingly sophisticated wine scene on Long Island’s North Fork, two hours east of Manhattan. Several dozen boutique wineries—marked by green Wine Trail signs sporting a bunch of grapes— now line the two main roads between Aquebogue and Southold. I tasted the best wines the region has to offer and was surprised by their quality— as well as by the new restaurants where young chefs are creating an exciting local cuisine to match….

From the Farm to the Glass

June, 2012 — Bartender Scott Beattie swerves his dark-blue Jeep Com-mander onto the shoulder of a Sonoma County road. “Bay laurel tree,” he calls happily as he jumps out, cuts off a handful of leaves, pinches one to release the aroma and lets me sniff. He says he’s picturing it in a tall cocktail of St. George Spirits Terroir Gin, pickled huckleberries and lemon juice.

Foraged wild ingredients, fruit from neighbors’ trees and herbs, vegetables and flowers from local farms—all are essential elements in Beattie’s cre- ative, vibrant drinks. He first gained fame with them six years ago, long be- fore the phrase farm-to-glass cocktail was coined, when he was bar manager at Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg. With two Michelin stars, it’s Sonoma’s answer to Napa Valley’s three-star The French Laundry….

Hong Kong Trendsetter

May, 2012 — Importer and restaurateur Paulo Kin Yee Pong has been foment- ing change in Hong Kong’s rapidly evolving wine world for more than a decade, since he was 24. Now 35, he recently launched another innovative venture: regionally themed wine shops named Bordeaux Etc and Champagne Etc that are one more indication of what a sophisticated wine destination this city has become.

“The Etc stands for my idea of what a wine store should do: endear, tease, cultivate,” Pong said when I stopped by his high-rise office in November. In a hand-tailored dark suit and black- rimmed glasses, Pong was getting ready for the December opening of the shops. Afternoons were spent on-site, tweaking architectural plans, checking plastering and choosing which wines from his own extensive collection he would add to the inventory….

Mixing Up Bloody Marys

April, 2012 — Under the watchful eye of a puckish old king, bartender Bill Dante lines up six different Bloody Marys on the smooth, polished wood. The St. Regis hotel’s King Cole Bar—with its famous Maxfield Parrish mural as backdrop—is where the ultimate brunch drink was probably introduced to America more than 75 years ago. What better starting point to assess Manhattan’s new riffs on the recipe?

The original Bloody Mary, called the Red Snapper at the King Cole Bar, was a tangy mix of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Now, bartenders are transforming the familiar drink in eccentric ways. WD- 50’s Proud Mary is pink and carbon- ated. Spins at The Rum House include a version that uses white rye whiskey instead of vodka and is garnished with a slice of spicy salami. The only constant ingredient is tomato juice….

Chateaux Chinois

February 23, 2012 — On a glass coffee table in his Hong Kong high-rise apartment, Peter V. Kwok eagerly unrolls an aerial photograph of the wine estate he bought in November. His Chateau Tour Saint-Christophe grows merlot and cabernet franc grapes in the St.-Emilion appellation of Bordeaux. With his finger, he traces the outline of its 17 hectares of old vines — and then points out a dark-green slope.

“Those vines may produce the best wine,” says Kwok, managing director of USI Partners Ltd., a Hong Kong holding company with investments in hotels in China, including in Tibet.

Kwok, 63, is one of at least 12 Chinese investors who have recently bought a chateau in Bordeaux, France’s world-famous wine region noted for great reds such as Ch. Petrus and Ch. Mouton Rothschild. Since 2008, these investors have purchased mostly small, little-known and sometimes distressed wineries, and at least 10 more deals are in the pipeline, according to the chateaux and local real-estate firms, Bloomberg Pursuits reports in its premier issue….


Shaking Up Paris: The City’s Cocktail Scene

January, 2012 — Behind the Bar at Prescription Cocktail Club on rue Mazarine in Paris, a young, blond bartender shakes up a Very Old Cuban. The heady mix, for 12 euros ($17), includes rum, ginger liqueur and mint and is topped off with champagne. It’s tangy and refreshing on a warm September night. There’s indie rock on the sound system, candles flicker and a few chic couples are arranged on comfy loveseats.

Before 2007, Paris had no real cocktail scene to match those in London, New York, Sydney or Tokyo. A trio of 29-year-old French entrepreneurs and their clever speakeasy-style bars—Experimental Cocktail Club, Curio Parlor and the newest, Prescription—have changed all that….

Picking the Best Grower Champagne

November, 2011 — Bubbles fizz gently in dozens of wine glasses. Four opinionated tasters had smiled approvingly at No. 1, but con- troversy breaks out over No. 6. “A tasty, creme brulee–like crowd pleaser,” Josh Green says, giving it a solid three stars.

“Pink lemonade with too much fruity sweetness,” coun- ters Raj Vaidya, panning it with zero stars. Robin Kelley O’Connor finds whiffs of cinnamon and flowers, while I sa- vor its creamy texture. We both write down two stars.

We’re at the first ever BLOOMBERG MARKETS panel tasting on a late July afternoon in New York. It’s 100 degrees Fahr- enheit (38 degrees Celsius) outside, but we judges—and the 15 grower champagnes we’re tasting blind—are staying cool in an air-conditioned boardroom at the Penn Club. A couple of hours after we start, I tally our scores, and we remove the bot- tles from their shiny gold bags. Two bubblies are the clear win- ners, while a third qualifies as the tasting ’s best value.

Made by small producers from grapes grown in their own vineyards, these champagnes are nicknamed “farmer fizz…”

Biodynamic Bordeaux

October, 2011 —  In Chateau Pontet-Canet’s vIneyards in Bordeaux, shaggy-maned Breton horses pull carts that spray teas made from stinging nettles and horse- tail plants. Flowers and grass grow be- tween the rows of grapes. And during this fall’s harvest, technical director Jean-Michel Comme will check the phase of the moon before sending out pickers. “These biodynamic methods help us improve quality,” he says. “The wines are deeper. They have more aro- mas. They’re wines of emotion.”

As we look out over the vines from the tasting room above the cellar, Comme splashes a 2010 barrel sample in my glass. This red is a stunner: smooth, elegant and complex. Fifth-growth Pontet-Canet has been punching above its weight for the past five years. Comme and owner Alfred Tesseron say that’s because of their conversion to biodynamics in 2004….

Bold for Barbeque

September, 2011 — Big, intense reds with upfront fruit go perfectly with succulent barbecued pork and beef because they lack the oak and tannins that clash with charred flavors.

When meat is slathered with the hottest rubs and spiciest barbecue sauces, a well-chilled rose is a better match than a red….

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Tasting Across Two Boroughs

August, 2011 —  New York is home to five craft breweries, three wineries and three tiny distilleries that make gin, bourbon, moonshine and rum, and more are slated to open later this year.

This boom in urban boozemaking has made the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan prime tasting and tour destinations. Here are nine of the best spots to visit in the city….

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Betting On South Africa  

July, 2011 — Charles Banks was poking around the small cellar at South Africa’s Mulderbosch Vineyards in spring 2008 when its wine- maker pulled out some old vintages of chenin blanc. Stunned by how delicious the 15- to 20-year-old whites tasted, Banks saw the future unfolding. Three years later, his company, Santa Barbara, California–based Terroir Capital LLC, has purchased two wineries in the Cape Winelands, including the well-known Mulderbosch brand…

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That’s Amaro

June, 2011 — On a cold night this spring, I sat in tiny Bar Veloce in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood sipping a tangerine-colored Italian aperitivo garnished with an orange slice. The fizzy, citrus-and-rhubarb-flavored combo of Aperol and prosecco made me think of lounging in an Italian cafe in warm sunlight. I was in the midst of a crash course in the
family of complex Italian bitter liqueurs called amari, the latest buzz-generating ingredients in cocktails. Their colorful bottles now line the back bar of dozens of hip Italian restaurants. They’re also featured—along with other bitter offerings—at new East Village nightspot Amor y Amargo..

Portugal’s Wine Revolutionaries

May, 2011 — One hand on the wheel, former investment banker Joao Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro casually maneuvers his four-wheel-drive Mercedes up a winding, rutted track through alarmingly steep, rocky vineyards in northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley. This isolated region of terraced vines and tile-roofed, whitewashed houses is famous as the source of grapes for sweet fortified port. Ferreira—who works at Quinta do Vallado, his family’s estate—belongs to a band of five ambitious vintners making sophisticated dry table wines here. Known as the Douro Boys, they ignited a local revolution with their earthy, ageworthy reds….



Spain’s Iconic Reds

March 2011 — Pablo Alvarez pulls his black SUV up to an electrified fence that guards an almost bare area next to an old vineyard. Underneath that square patch, he says in a soft voice, is where his family’s wine estate, Vega Sicilia, keeps bottles of its iconic cuvee, Unico, safely entombed.

Spain’s first collectible wine, and its most famous one, Unico is coveted by aficionados from New York to Singapore…


Espresso Perfetto

January, 2011 — In a downtown New York coffee bar, Italian master barista Giorgio Milos is pulling espresso shots from a shiny, $15,000 La Cimbali machine. A thin stream of brown liquid—called a mousetail—fills a small, warm, white ceramic cup. The espresso Milos hands me looks perfect, with a layer of silky crema, or reddish-brown foam, that has tiger-skin streaks on top. A swirl releases aromas of toast, citrus and chocolate, and a sip reveals complex flavors and a smooth balance between sourness and bitterness.

Espresso aficionados are always looking for the perfect cup. But what makes an espresso great? Milos—who won the Italian Barista Championship in 2008 and works for coffee giant Illycaffe SpA— is a traditionalist, following techniques perfected in Italy, where espresso was invented. In the U.S., the U.K. and Scandinavia, a new wave of passionate baristas are using larger doses of coffee and beans from individual estates to create a richer, more syrupy drink with a different taste profile….

Liquid Assets: Wine funds let you invest in Bordeaux first growths and other top bottlings

November 2010 — Global private investor Phokion Potamianos caught the wine- investing bug early. At 17, he spent 20 pounds on a rare cabernet sauvignon from Greek winery Domaine Porto Carras. “I sold it three years later for £350,” he recalls. “I was very pleased with myself.”

This past spring, Potamianos, now 46, put money—he wouldn’t say how much—into the just-launched Bottled Asset Fund, which is directed by Sergio Esposito, co-founder of New York’s Italian Wine Merchants. Along with Citigroup Inc. Chairman Richard Parsons; William R. Benz, head of Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations; and at least 21 other investors, Potamianos is betting on serious profits from wine. “I’ve found it a fascinating investment vehicle for the last decade, with qualities and economic dynamics akin to the art market and other objects of beauty,” he says…

Greece’s Isle of White

October, 2010 — in his vineyard on the strikingly barren Greek island of Santorini, winemaker Paris Sigalas shows me the strangest-looking grape vines I’ve ever seen. They creep low on the ground instead of standing in neat trellised rows. Each is trained into a coiled-basket shape that hides the grapes from the hot sun and the scouring wind off the Aegean Sea.

This tourist mecca—a 50-minute flight from Athens—is known for its black-sand beaches, deep-blue water and romantic sunsets. It’s also a celebrated wine region where vintners are making intense, modestly priced whites with salty, mineral- tinged flavors from the native assyrtiko grape…

Tokyo’s Mix Master

September, 2010 (Bloomberg Markets) — Bartending legend Kazuo Uyeda shakes drinks the hard way — and serves complex, customer-pleasing creations that go down easy.

Kazuo Uyeda holds a filled cocktail shaker at a precise slant and then pumps his elbows in a three-point twisting motion so furiously that his arms are a blur. The slim Japanese master bartender is showing off his much-discussed “hard shake” in New York’s Hiro Ballroom.

The recent fascination in the West with the mystique of Japanese cocktail techniques has drawn more than 100 top bartenders and enthusiasts to this two-day seminar with Uyeda. In Tokyo, the 65-year-old is a legend…

The World’s Finest Beers

July, 2010 — Every month, Belgian-beer fanatics check the website of Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren to see whether reservations are open for its legendary 12 ale. They phone the abbey’s hot line, which is often busy for hours, on the specified day; make an appointment to pick up one 24-bottle crate; provide the license plate number for a Belgian-registered car; and, on the given date, wait in line at the abbey, which is about an hour and a half west of Brussels. The receipt warns against reselling, though bottles trade regularly on EBay and elsewhere for stiff prices….

Wines au Naturel

June, 2010 — On a damp March night, natural-wine importers Jenny Lefcourt and Francois Ecot are in crowded Manhattan wine bar The Ten Bells with three of their French vintners. “Today, you have a choice: robot wines or real wines from a real place,” says Lefcourt as we sip a rich 2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon Cuvee MMVII, a Beaujolais made by one of the heroes of the natural-wine movement.

By “real,” Lefcourt, 39, means wines made from grapes grown organically but also with as little intervention as possible in the winery. France is the epicenter of the trend, and Paris now boasts almost 20 natural-wine bars and bistros…


The Kick of Bitters

May, 2010 — “Bitters are as essential to cocktails as salt is to food,” Stephan Berg says as he pulls a travel pack of five tiny bottles of different flavors from his briefcase. Berg, 38, is co-owner of The Bitter Truth GmbH, a company based outside Munich that uses top-quality herbs, barks and spices in its concoctions, many of them adaptations of bygone-era recipes. Bitters “point up flavors, add a layer of complexity and give a cocktail an aromatic kick,” says Berg, a barman who has amassed a collection of historic examples…

Wine Wizard

April 2010 — It’s harvest time in the Napa Valley, and winemaker Aaron Pott has been on the road since 7:30 a.m. He’s spending what will become a 12-hour workday nibbling grapes in vineyards and deciding when to pick, sampling fermenting wine and fielding anxious calls on his mobile phone from exhausted cellar workers.

In the midst of the usual harvest craziness, Pott, 43, looks remarkably calm….

Washington’s Whiskey

March 2010 –At a reconstructed version of George Washington’s distillery, I’m stirring a barrelful of boiling water and grain with a heavy wooden rake…

The Tasting Game

February 2010 –Money manager Douglas Famigletti learns how to get the most out of a wine event in seven easy lessons.

Party Like a Pro

January 2010 –Master drink slinger and bar impresario Sasha Petraske pops a large block of ice from a plastic mold, sets it on a cutting board and, wielding the muddler end of a bar spoon like an ice pick, stabs its center.

In SOMMELIER JOURNAL:

Parker’s legacy will endure

April 15, 2012 — Now that Robert Parker, long considered the world’s wine guru, is approaching retirement age—he’ll be 65 in July—it’s an appropriate time to assess what his legacy is likely to be.

The industry has changed dramatically since Parker launched his newsletter The Wine Advocate in 1978. And since 2005, when my critical biography of him, The Emperor of Wine,was published, he has spun off many of the regions whose wines he once regularly reviewed—and influenced—to his new hires: Antonio Galloni; Neal Martin; Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW; David Schildknecht; Mark Squires; and the controversial Jay Miller, who recently stepped down. Only Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley remain completely under his sway. At the WineFuture 2011 conference in Hong Kong last November, Parker himself acknowledged that he was not as influential as he was a decade ago. Which aspects of his influence will endure…?

In DRINKS BUSINESS HONG KONG:

California Wines at Auction

April, 2012 (DBHK)– As auction gavels now bang down record prices for top Burgundies, it’s worth pondering just where California’s sought-after bottles fit in today’s volatile wine auction scene. Any chance they could become the next hot category?

After perusing sale catalogues and canvassing collectors and auction directors, it’s clear that the secondary market for Californian wine is more complicated and divided than one might think. And so far, with only a few exceptions, it is firmly centred in the US, and especially at auctions held in California….

From ZESTERDAILY.COM

Elin’s Wine Pick:  2009 Seresin Estate Reserve Chardonnay

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11.5.12 — I’m always happy to discover another New World producer committed to biodynamic wines — especially when the wines are really good. My latest discovery is the smoky, sophisticated 2009 Seresin Reserve Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It’s fruity and tangy with a slight taste of nuts, a satiny, polished texture and a surprisingly long finish.

This was one of six Chardonnays from New Zealand that I tasted at a seminar on the country’s terroir and climate, which aimed to illustrate the diversity of styles in various regions. One from Central Otago had deep minerality, while Seresin’s, from the winery’s hillside Raupo Creek vineyard in Marlborough, had more zest and citrus character. Though Marlborough gained its reputation from its Sauvignon Blancs, the terroir clearly suits Chardonnay, too….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2013 Château de Trinquevedel Rosé

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9.1.14 -When the weather is steamy hot, no wine is more refreshing than a chilled rosé. This 2013 Château de Trinquevedel, with its complex spice and cherry flavors with hints of refreshing grapefruit, will be delicious after Labor Day, too.

In the past few years, the meaning of rosé has changed from cotton candy sweetish plonk to a powerful symbol of summer in the U.S. Pink wine has become the sophisticated beach and patio drink, a fashionable accessory to the good life. Too bad so few people drink it during the rest of the year. Yes, I’m a fan of the seasonal approach to wine, but just because pale pink wine is gulpable and refreshingin July and August doesn’t mean we should drop it like a beach towel when we get back from our vacations….

6.26.14 — I discovered this under-$20 French red wine on a recent visit to Burgundy, though it wasn’t  from that famous, fashionable region. Legendary wine broker Becky Wasserman poured the deliciously light and fruity 2012 Domaine des Bérioles Saint-Pourçain Les Grandes Brières at a family-style staff lunch of creamy asparagus risotto and a pork casserole, both cooked by her husband, Russell Hone, at their homey offices in the center of Beaune. The domaine is one of the 100-odd fine producers that their company, Le Serbet, represents….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila

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3.31.14 – Sunny Sicily is in the throes of a wine revolution. This rich apricot-and-citrus-toned white, 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila, is an example of just how much has changed since the island turned from producing industrial plonk to quality wine from native grapes. With a 2,000-year wine history, Sicily is now one of Italy’s most exciting, cutting edge regions — and the source of dozens of current bargains. This is one of them.

Dalila is one of the two blends in the Stemmari portfolio, which also includes single varietal reds and whites made from native and international grapes. The Dalila blend is mostly Grillo, a local Sicilian white varietal used traditionally to produce fortified Marsala. Highly fragrant, with exotic notes of mango, Grillo can be exciting on its own, but the addition of some Viognier, a Rhône Valley grape, gives this wine a round, rich texture and contributes aromas of honey and wildflowers….

Billionaire Bill Koch’s War Against Wine Fraud Heats Up

3.27.13 – This week, billionaire William Koch is finally facing off against wealthy San Francisco-based entrepreneur Eric Greenberg before a jury in a federal courtroom in downtown Manhattan. The trial, which began on Tuesday (March 26), is the latest development in a long, tangled legal tale between two wine mega-collectors, one with an avowed mission to wipe out wine fraud.

Koch, founder and president of Florida-based Oxbow Group, filed his complaint alleging Greenberg sold him counterfeit wines back in 2007.

Initially, that suit included Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Zachys Wine Auctions and Zachys Wine & Liquor Store. It claims that some of the rare, expensive bottles Koch purchased at Zachys’ sales in 2004 and 2005, one of which featured 17,000 bottles from Greenberg’s collection, were fakes….

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Elin’s Wine Pick: 2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano Terre del Poliziano

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1.6.14 –  After splurging on plenty of great (and expensive) wines during the holidays, I’m ready to retrench. At $15, this bright, juicy 2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano is the right kind of deal, a medium-bodied red packed with generous flavors of cherry, raspberry, earth and spice, and intriguing aromas of dark cherries and violets. It’s yet another example of the fine values to be found in Italy’s less well-known wine regions.

This red comes from the Maremma, a hilly coastal strip in western Tuscany on the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the local name for the Sangiovese grape is Morellino. Wine was produced there back in Etruscan times, but it wasn’t until Bolgheri, the northern part of the Maremma, gained prominence as the home of Super Tuscan wines like Sassicaia that anyone looked farther south and discovered Morellino….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt

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11.18.13 — Among the 60 or so Austrian wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of weeks I found my Thanksgiving red for this year. The 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt from Austria has cherry aromas, soft fruit and spice flavors, and the fresh acidity that will keep palates alive during an hours-long dinner heavy on rich foods.

Everyone worries about what wine can possibly go with the many contrasting flavors on a Thanksgiving table, from sweet potatoes to  creamy onions to rich sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to turkey roasted with a rosemary rub. I used to be a purist, offering only two American wines, a white and a red, to match the nationality of the holiday. But this year I’m branching out….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante

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10.21.13 — Sicilian wines made from vines planted on the slopes of the famous Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, have been getting well-deserved buzz for the past few years. The fresh, savory 2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante, a white with aromas of flowers and flint, bright acidity, and an intense taste of green apple and slightly smoky rocks, really reflects Etna’s distinctive terroir and has plenty of personality for its very reasonable price.

Tascante is one of five Sicilian estates operated by Tasca d’Almerita, founded in 1830 and now run by the Count Lucio Tasca and his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto. On my first visit to the island, I spent a day at their 500-hectare (1,235-acre) Regaleali estate in Sicily’s center, where Anna Tasca Lanza presides over a stellar cooking school. Eight generations of the family have been intertwined with Sicily’s history. In the late 1990s, Giuseppe became fascinated by Mount Etna, and eventually bought 21 hectares (51 acres) of land in the best zone on the northern side of the volcano, where vines are planted on steep terraces….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne

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9.9.13 – Italy is a huge source of reasonably-priced, food-friendly wines. This juicy, delicious 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, with its tangy taste of smoke, licorice and sour cherries is one of them. So it’s no surprise that it was one of the most-poured-wines-by-the-glass listed in Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2013 restaurant poll.

Vietti is one of the top producers in Piedmont, where the star grape is Nebbiolo, which makes the region’s great, complex, long-lived and definitely pricey Barolos and Barbarescos. But as everywhere, hanging out with the star grape is rarely the way to get the region’s best buys. Barbera is less grand, but it’s also softer and more approachable than Nebbiolo, with charm, wonderful berry-like flavors, and the bright acidity that’s the key to its easy partnership with food. It’s the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy, and accounts for about half the grape plantings in Piedmont….

Elin’s Wine Pick:  2010 Camille Giroud Côte de Beaune-Villages

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8.26.13 — I’m a huge Burgundy fan, so I’m always looking for delicious wines from this fashionable region of France that have reasonable price tags. The lacy, perfumed 2010 Côte de Beaune Villages from boutique négociant Maison Camille Giroud, which tastes of red berries and exudes elegance, is one I’ve sampled recently that definitely fits the description.

The wine was on the list at Le Filet, a trendy Montreal restaurant with outdoor tables that specializes in fish dishes cooked with Japanese flair. The menu is all small plates, and this light, savory Côte de Beaune-Villages went with just about everything we ordered except the briny raw oysters from Prince Edward Island — proving once again the food-friendliness of wines made from Pinot Noir grapes….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2012 Alvaro Castro DAC Dão Branco

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8.16.13 — Portugal continues to be a source of fine wines at exceptionally reasonable prices. When I think of the country’s Dão region, though, I usually think red wine. So this smooth, citrusy white, 2012 Alvaro Castro “DAC” Dão Branco, really surprised me. It has a lovely combination of fragrant crisp fruit and intense mineral tastes, with way more quality than its price suggests. It was one of my favorites among a group of white wines from the Dão region that I sampled recently.

Located in the heart of Portugal south of the Douro, where the country’s famous ports come from, the Dão is one of the oldest wine regions in the country and Alvaro Castro’s family roots go back to the 16th century….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2012 Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé

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7.23.13 – In a summer heat wave, a chilled rosé is my go-to wine choice.

As the temperature last week hovered in the 90s, I sat in an air-conditioned local restaurant much enjoying this crisp, spicy 2012 J-M Raffault Chinon Rosé alongside a creamy cold coconut milk and mango soup and salad of goat cheese, prosciutto, grilled peach halves and a heap of greens. Its savory berry-fruit and watermelon flavors, with hints of violets and herbs, perfectly complemented all of the above. The succulent finish makes you crave another glass.

While I love the pale onion-skin-colored rosés from the south of France in Provence, I also find lively, slightly darker salmon pink rosés from the Loire Valley compelling, especially those made in the Chinon appellation, where Cabernet Franc is the main grape….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2011 J. Lohr Valdiguié

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7.15.13 — Unusual grape varieties continue to provide serious wine bargains for adventurous wine lovers. My latest discovery is this vibrant, deliciously fruity 2011 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguié, whose taste resembles the bright raspberry and pomegranate character of a light Beaujolais. At $10 and 12 degrees alcohol and best slightly chilled, it’s the perfect easy-drinking summer red.

Valdiguié? Naturally, I reached for the ultimate resource for information on grapes I’ve never heard of: The authoritative tome Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz that was published in 2012. I quickly learned Valdiguié is a large, high-yielding grape from southwest France and was planted in California as far back as Prohibition, when it was misnamed Napa Gamay. It’s quite different from the Gamay grape grown in Beaujolais, whose official name is Gamay Noir….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2011 Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny

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7.1.13 — I’ve just come back from VinExpo, the world’s largest fine wine and spirits fair held biennially at the Parc des Expositions in Bordeaux. Among the many delicious wines I sampled over five days, this fresh 2011 Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny, with its combo of crisp, citrusy brightness, savory, mineral elegance, and a honeysuckle character, impressed me — and made me want another glass.

Vigneron Michel Gendrier was pouring this inexpensive white at an excellent “Expression Bio” tasting, where more than 100 French producers who farm organically and biodynamically were showing off their wines.

Cour-Cheverny is a tiny appellation in the Loire Valley where the only grape grown is Romorantin. It’s an obscure traditional variety, supposedly brought to the region from Burgundy by King of France Francis I more than 500 years ago and named after the king’s homeland, Romorantin-Lanthenay.

Today, this rare grape, which turns out to be related to Chardonnay, is almost extinct. What makes the wines from it special is the way their bright vivacious character changes and develops weight and nuance with age….

Elin’s Wine Pick:  2011 Y Rousseau Old Vines Colombard

ElinWinePick.YRousseauColombard6.10.13 — Summer is almost officially upon us, and that means stocking up on plenty of easy-to-serve, yet interesting-to-drink white wines. This bright, fresh, bold-flavored 2011 Y Rousseau Old Vines Colombard comes with a screw cap; notes of tangy lemongrass, spicy peach and citrus; and a fascinating succulence that makes you crave another sip.

The real surprise for me was how good a California wine made from Colombard grapes could be. One of the most planted white varietals in the state, it has long been the backbone of cheap white plonk blends. It’s also a mainstay grape in Cognac, where it makes high acid wines that are quickly distilled into brandy. This wine made me seriously rethink the grape’s New World potential.

Winemaker Yannick Rousseau made his first Colombard in his native region of Gascony, the “Three Musketeers” territory in southwest France….

Elin’s Wine Pick: 2011 Inama Soave Classico

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 5.20.13 –  In the 1970s, ’80s, and part of the ’90s, Italy’s Soave wines used to have a bad reputation as cheap, insipid, mass production whites, the kind you definitely want to avoid. But in the past couple of decades, a determined younger generation has been reviving the region’s even older tradition of quality. This crisp, almondy 2011 Inama Soave Classico, with its combination of smoky minerality, spicy fruit flavors and mouth-filling texture is a great everyday bianco that’s widely available at a very good price.

The Veneto region around the city of Verona, in the northeast of Italy, is Soave country. The wines are named for the town of Soave, and the best ones, like this Inama, come from rugged surrounding hillside vineyards of mineral-rich basaltic rock in the Classico zone, the original Soave area mapped in 1927. Only wines made in this zone can use the word Classico on the label.

The grape is late-ripening Garganega, which very much reflects where and how it’s grown. Soaves made from grapes grown on the flat valley floor outside the Classico zone tend to be pretty neutral. Though up to 30% of a Soave can contain Trebbiano or Chardonnay, Stefano Inama sticks to 100% Garganega, from old vines, which he believes give wines more richness and complexity….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca

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3.25.13 – Every week, I taste dozens of sample bottles that have arrived on my doorstep, looking for good values. One that really impressed me last week was this striking, aromatic 2011 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca, with lively fruit, mint, and spice flavors and a crisp texture. This white is much more expressive and complex than its price would suggest. It’s also a wine that needs the right dish — like the pasta with freshly-made pesto we served — to shine.

The Masseria Li Veli stone winery is on the Salento peninsula in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s “boot.” Its long history began in the 19th century, when famous Italian economist Marquis Antonio De Viti De Marco transformed the estate with the goal of becoming a model for winemaking in Italy’s south. A century later, the Falvo wine family purchased and restored it, aiming to focus on local varietals.

This white is part of the winery’s Askos project, started in 2009, to rediscover and celebrate forgotten grapes…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Domaine Cazes Le Canon du Maréchal

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3.11.13 – At a recent tasting of rare sweet wines at New York’s The Modern restaurant, the producer also poured his $12 dry aromatic white as an aperitif. This fresh, lively, easy-sipping 2011 Domaine Cazes Le Canon du Maréchal has intense aromas of apricots and orange blossom, and soft, round tropical fruit and peachy flavors with attractive herbal notes. It was lovely for sipping without food while just standing around and chatting, but is also one of the few wines that would go with asparagus. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that it has been a by-the-glass pour for asparagus dishes at Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in France.

Domaine Cazes, which has no connection with the Cazes family of Bordeaux’s Château Lynch-Bages, is in the heart of the small, somewhat obscure Roussillon region between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean in southern France on the Spanish border. The area is part of the historic principality of Catalonia, which is mostly around Barcelona. General manager Lionel Lavail showed off a few phrases of Catalan and said, “We’re more Spanish than French…”

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Château Saintongey Vieilles Vignes 

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1.14.13 — It’s oh-so-fashionable now to bash Bordeaux wines as slick, unaffordable and made only for investors. But they’re not. This attractive, fruit-scented 2010 Château Saintongey Vieilles Vignes, with lovely taste notes of cherries and herbs, has just enough structure and tannin to make it excellent with roast lamb on a cold night and costs only $15.

No, this wine isn’t one of the region’s fancy crus classés that require a decade or more of cellar aging to be at their best. Château Saintongey is a simple Bordeaux rouge for everyday drinking from the vast area south of the city of Bordeaux called Entre Deux Mers.

The 37 acres of vines and the chateau were acquired and totally renovated 20 years ago by Charles Yung et Fils, which owns seven estates in Bordeaux.

Chateau Saintongey is part of the company’s mid-range and vintages of this wine have won plenty of medals in France, the U.K. and the U.S.  It’s the kind of attractive inexpensive Bordeaux red that the French enjoyed with Sunday dinner a couple of decades ago and that turned up on wine lists at French bistros in the U.S….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose

Charles-Heidsieck

12.17.12 -The holiday season is a time for wine indulgence, and to me that means fizz from Champagne, the only region in the world entitled to use the name on the label. At the New York Wine Media Guild’s annual Champagne lunch, I tasted this good buy Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve, a crisp, elegant and sophisticated non-vintage bubbly with a seductive pale pink color and a lot of complexity for the price. A combination of bright red fruit and spice flavors, with an overlay of toastiness and a creamy texture, this wine is best when not too chilled to reveal its tantalizing aromas.

A decade ago, pink fizz was only a small percentage of the Champagne region’s production. But demand continues to boom and rosé bottlings are now up to 8%. Most big houses as well as small growers make at least one for their portfolios; sadly, they cost more than their regular non-vintage or vintage brut counterparts….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Calcu Cabernet Franc

CalcuCabernetFranc

12-3-12 — Chile has long been a good source for just the kind of bargain reds you need in quantity for holiday parties and dinners. At $14 a bottle, this spicy, smooth 2010 Calcu Cabernet Franc from the Colchagua Valley, with its taste of red berries, hints of cocoa, and wonderfully silky texture, really over-delivers for the price.

The rural Colchagua Valley, in the central part of Chile about 80 miles south of Santiago, is the southernmost sub-region of the Rapel Valley. It’s better known for big-name prestige reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère — such as icon wine Clos Apalta — than Cabernet Franc. But recently a few producers have become very interested in this varietal. Based on the examples I’ve tasted, including this one, I’m convinced Cabernet Franc has a promising future there. (Thanks to the brilliant new book “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz and just published by Ecco, I now know that Cabernet Franc is one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents.) Bordeaux varietals were first planted in this region — also home to Chilean cowboys — back in the 19th century…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé

11.19.12 – When it comes to choosing what to drink with Thanksgiving dinner, I belong to the no-one-wine-is-perfect crowd — but sparkling rosé is pretty close to ideal. That’s why my pick this week is lively, fruity non-vintage Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé, with its elegant pink color, crisp apple and strawberry flavors, zippy acidity and creamy texture….

 

11.5.12 — I’m always happy to discover another New World producer committed to biodynamic wines — especially when the wines are really good. My latest discovery is the smoky, sophisticated 2009 Seresin Reserve Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It’s fruity and tangy with a slight taste of nuts, a satiny, polished texture and a surprisingly long finish.

This was one of six Chardonnays from New Zealand that I tasted at a seminar on the country’s terroir and climate, which aimed to illustrate the diversity of styles in various regions. One from Central Otago had deep minerality, while Seresin’s, from the winery’s hillside Raupo Creek vineyard in Marlborough, had more zest and citrus character. Though Marlborough gained its reputation from its Sauvignon Blancs, the terroir clearly suits Chardonnay, too….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Catena Alta Malbec 

10.22.12 – I used to think Malbec’s popularity was bound to wane, but it’s still a hot varietal in the U.S. despite the dozens of simple, jammy examples. This big, savory 2009 Catena Alta Malbec, with its aroma of violets and layers of glossy dark fruit flavors, is one of the best around. It’s not cheap, but it iswell worth the price, and has a great back story, too.

This rich, sophisticated red is perfect for drinking with grilled strip steaks on a cool night. It was one of the best wines I tasted at a Women in Wine Leadership Symposium held in New York City last week. The event was a chance for top level women in the industry such as Costco’s wine buyer Annette Alvarez-Peters and innovative women wine producers to share thoughts about the state of women in wine and some good bottles.

Laura Catena, the managing director of her family’s Catena Zapata winery in Argentina and author of the book “Vino Argentino,” held forth on a panel about multigenerational wine families. The winery was founded in 1902, but her father Nicolas, third generation, put it on the path to world fame….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2011 Mt. Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Gris

10.15.12 – New Zealand is so identified with Sauvignon Blanc that few people realize this country also makes delicious whites from other varietals. This spicy 2011 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris from Central Otago is full of racy acidity and ginger, pear and quince aroma and flavor notes, and has a rich texture and surprisingly long finish. Think of it as a perfect accompaniment to smoked trout or a creamy salmon pâté.

This white was one of many excellent wines I tasted on a one-day trip from New York to Montreal with eight New Zealand winemakers and winery owners in a restored private rail car. The organizers solved the problem of how to taste on a swaying train by serving wines in stemless Riedel “O” glasses placed in wooden boxes divided into individual sections….

 

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Stags’ Leap Winery Viognier 

10.8.12 — Viognier was once hyped as the next white varietal in California to go boom, but over the past two decades examples have been a mixed bag. This elegant 2011 Stags’ Leap Viognier, with its luxurious texture, aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, and taste of white peach and apricots, is a reason to revisit the category. It is one of the really interesting California bottlings of the varietal. Many others, sadly, are not worth drinking.

The best, like this Stags’ Leap, are rich and exotically perfumed, yet also have vibrant acidity and a stony minerality….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Il Palagio When We Dance Chianti

8.20.12 – Dozens of celebrities have become vintners in the past decade or so, but only a handful are making wines as interesting as the three reds from rocker Sting and his producer, philanthropist wife Trudie Styler. The latest debut from their Tuscan estate, Il Palagio, is fresh, charming 2010 When We Dance Chianti, which has wonderful aromas of cherries and lilies, a bright, lively taste of red cherry fruit and a very down-to-earth price.

I think of it as a go-to everyday Chianti,  one that is perfect with summer pastas with fresh heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, the best olive oil and chopped basil from the garden. Made in a fruity, drinkable  style and fermented and aged in stainless steel, When We Dance is a blend of mostly Sangiovese, Tuscany’s signature grape, with dashes of Canaiolo and Colorino for color and tradition….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Chanin Bien Nacido Chardonnay 

8.13.12 – Lately, I’ve been musing on all the talented rising stars among the younger generation of winemakers around the world. In California, one of them is 26-year-old Gavin Chanin, whose brilliant, balanced 2009 Chanin Bien Nacido Chardonnay I tasted for a second time a week ago with wild sockeye salmon sautéed with shallots, parsley and wine. This white has deliciously concentrated fruit, but definitely leans toward a mineral, focused style, with the racy acidity the French call nervosité. There’s depth, but not heaviness; richness, but also plenty of subtlety.

I liked it even better with dinner than I did at the packed In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York several months ago….

 

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Domaine du Loup Blanc Le Petit Chaperon Rosé

7.30.12 – It’s midway through summer rosé season, and I’ve happily been sampling widely. In my tastings, some reasonably priced pink wines from southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region have surprised me — like this juicy, strawberry-scented 2011 Le Petit Chaperon Rosé from Domaine du Loup Blanc. Made from Cinsault and Cenanson grapes, it’s an exuberant, gulpable rosé that offers mineral and cherry flavors that seem to go with just about everything.

Interest in dry rosés has been growing for the past eight years as more and more drinkers discovered pink wine isn’t synonymous with sweet, plonky white Zinfandel. The international winemakers’ group RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers), which staged its eighth annual Pink Out tasting in San Francisco in May, surely helped raise consciousness about dry rosé….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2011  Handley Cellars Pinot Gris Helluva Vineyard 

7.23.12 – Only a handful of California wineries make good wines from Pinot Gris. One of them is the round-textured 2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris from their Helluva Vineyard, with its lemongrass and honeysuckle aromas. Another winner from this year’s Critics Challenge annual wine competition, it’s a white that combines coastal freshness, nectarine and mineral flavors, and enough weight to match rich salmon or pork dishes.

Milla Handley was one of Anderson Valley’s pioneers. She first made wine there in 1982, when she fermented and aged 10 barrels of Chardonnay in her home basement. Now the winery produces a wide range of varietals, from Gewürztraminer to Pinot Noir (she makes four), and an excellent sparkling wine, too….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:2010 Zantho Zweigelt Burgenland

7.16.12 – When two talented, successful winemakers start a joint project to create a brand of inexpensive wines, the results often deliver a lot of deliciousness for the price. Witness this peppery, cherry-and-cassis-flavored, soft-textured 2010 Zantho Zweigelt, a red from dynamic Austrian duo Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck.

The two vintners launched a line of wines with the brand name Zantho a decade ago, producing them at a cooperative winery in southeastern Austria’s Burgenland region. It lies in the village of Andau, known originally by the name of Zantho. The native lizard found in the areas vineyards inspired the image on the label…..

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño

7.2.12 – Quirky philosopher-winemaker Randall Grahm has always been a champion of exotic and obscure varietals, and this newly-released summery, tangy white, 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyards Albariño, is one of his successes.

That’s a surprise, because growing conditions on Albariño’s native turf — cool, rainy Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain’s Galicia region and in northern Portugal where it’s called Alvarinho – are completely different from those in California’s warm Central Coast, where Bonny Doon’s grapes grow.

Albariño has a pretty short history in the U.S. Practically no one had even heard of the grape until a few importers began bringing in Spanish examples of these fragrant, light, vibrant, mineral-tinged whites 20 years ago….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Banfi Centine Rosso Toscana

6.25.12 – I’m always hunting for delicious reds that over-deliver for price, and this darkly fruity, smooth 2010 Banfi Centine, a red blend from Tuscany, is one of them. I tasted the current vintage last month while judging at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (now in its ninth year). It won Best of Show trophy for reds in our final sweepstakes round, beating out bottles that cost six times as much.

The Centine label has been on best buy lists since the first vintage hit retail shelves more than 15 years ago. This was the first time, though, that I’d sampled it blind alongside such stiff competition. No, this 2010 isn’t subtle or complex or terroir-driven, but it does have surprising structure and depth, freshness and a dark cherry and berry taste, all of which go well with everything from hamburgers and steaks on the grill to pasta and pizza….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc

6.18.12 – Though winemakers on Long Island’s North Fork tout their Merlots, I wish more would plant whites like Chenin Blanc. That was my conclusion after tasting the zippy, slate-and-grapefruity 2011 Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc on a recent visit to the winery in Aquebogue. The wine, bottled with a screw cap, has a raciness and complexity reminiscent of the Loire Valley, and was perfect with succulent local Pipes Cove oysters at a nearby restaurant. I think of it as an ideal summer wine to sip while watching waves roll in and dining on grilled fish, fried clams or a big bowl of mussels.

The North Fork is a long narrow peninsula at the far eastern tip of Long Island and its history as a wine region goes back nearly 40 years. The first grapes were planted in Cutchogue in 1973, almost as an experiment, by Louisa and Alex Hargrave, whose Hargrave Vineyard inspired a second wave of pioneers. Among them were Charles Massoud, an IBM executive, and his German wife Ursula, who founded Paumanok 10 years later. They planted a diversity of red and white grapes and named their estate after the Native American word for Long Island. The Massouds’ son Kareem is now the winemaker….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Lioco Chardonnay 

6.11.12 – Chardonnay continues to be the world’s most popular white, so I’m always on the lookout for good ones. Among the many delicious California examples being poured at the first New York City “In Pursuit of Balance” tasting, this chalk-and-pear-flavored 2010 Lioco Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, with aromas of white flowers and citrus, stood out for its combination of richness and edgy minerality.

It’s one of the few California chardonnays to remind me of wines from France’s Chablis. Why? This is an un-oaked white, fermented with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks, that has depth and minerality. Aging on the lees for five months and no filtration gives the wine richness. It has elegant acidity and modest alcohol well below the state’s bigger-is-better buttery examples. Best of all, unlike  the growing number of boring no-oak Chardonnays that also have no flavor, the tangy Lioco tastes of the terroir in which the grapes were grown….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Viña Mein Blanco

June 4, 2012 — Some of the best wine bargains today are made in Spain from local varietals few have heard of. The fragrant, super food-friendly 2010 Viña Mein Blanco is a blend of seven grapes that I encountered at Restaurante Costa Brava in San Diego. With plates of tapas like salty jamón serrano and tender grilled octopus, this fresh, citrus-and-mineral white with melony aromas and a soft texture was just plain delicious. It was also great with my main course — braised rabbit — and I kept sipping glasses of it as I watched local flamenco dancers far into the night.

The main grape in Viña Mein is Treixadura, with smaller percentages of Godello, Loureira, Torrontés, Albariño, Albilla and Lado….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 P + S Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro

May 28, 2012 — One of the most promising spots these days for delicious, well-priced wines is Portugal’s Douro Valley, famous for rich, sweet, fortified Port. The plummy, lush-textured 2009 P + S Post Scriptum is a terrific example of the new dry reds being made from traditional Portuguese varieties growing on the steep slopes above the Douro River. This new release has exotic aromas of violets and Earl Grey tea, delicious dark berry and chocolaty notes, and the balance you find in a plump, smoothly fruity Bordeaux.

The combination of Bordeaux grace and exotic Portuguese flavors is hardly surprising. P + S stands for Prats + Symington, a joint wine project between the Symington family of Port fame and Bruno Prats, former owner of Bordeaux’s Château Cos d’Estournel. The partners began experimenting in 1999….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2011 Wrath Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc

May 21, 2012 — Just before dinner, I open wine samples that have recently arrived, hunting for something impressive. All too often the California Sauvignon Blancs seem ho-hum, with none of the snappy flavors that make the varietal fabulous with seafood. This classic 2011 Wrath Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc is one of the exceptions. With herbal aromas, tart gooseberry fruit, flinty minerality and plenty of structure, it’s like New Zealand meets the Loire Valley in the same bottle. And it was great with a stir-fry of shrimp and bok choy.

Michael Thomas and his family bought the 72-acre San Saba vineyard in Monterey County back in late 2007 and have rapidly transformed its viticulture. The estate is just below the Santa Lucia Highlands, where cool morning fog rolls in from the Pacific. Add in little rainfall and a very long growing season, and you have the conditions to make a ripe Sauvignon Blanc that still has zing and balance. Like other wines in Wrath’s Ex Anima line, it’s neither fermented nor aged in oak….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Au Bon Climat La Bauge Au-Dessus Pinot Noir

May 14, 2012 — Last week, while drinking with friends in Le Cirque’s Lounge and Bar in Manhattan, I discovered a terrific wine of the week lurking on the restaurant’s expensive list. The succulent 2007 Au Bon Climat La Bauge Au-Dessus Pinot Noir is silky-textured and delicate, with luscious cherry-berry flavors, notes of spice, leather and damp earth, an elegant structure and a long juicy finish.

It’s more Burgundy than California in style, and, in this day of over-$50 single-vineyard California Pinots, it’s very reasonably priced for the quality — at least in retail shops….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

May 7, 2012 — Last Friday night I blind-tasted a dozen Sauvignon Blanc samples I’d received in the past couple of weeks and picked out this brilliant creamy, chalky 2010 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon from New Zealand as a winner. Its layered minerality, rich grapefruit, lemon and herb flavors, and subtle complexity make it more French in style than the typical zingy, in-your-face examples from New Zealand. At the end of a dinner for two with mustard-coated wild salmon sautéed with shallots, the bottle was empty and I was longing for just one more glass….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil Godello Valdeorras

April 30, 2012 — At the Vintus Wines spring portfolio tasting in New York City last week, I found a surprising number of potential wines of the week. Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez was pouring several less-than-$20 candidates that really impressed me, especially this delicious white, the 2010 Gaba do Xil Godello from the region of Valdeorras. With aromas of orange peel and flowers, crisp flavors of chamomile, stones and fresh pears, and a full, round texture, it’s a tasty, versatile value that seemed to sing of spring….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Littorai B.A. Thieriot Vineyard Pinot Noir

April 23, 2012 — On my recent trip to Sonoma, Calif., I stopped by Littorai winery to taste new releases with one of my favorite California Pinot producers, Ted Lemon. In his lineup of vineyard-designated Pinot offerings, I fell hard for this Asian spice-black cherry-and-mineral 2009 Littorai B.A. Thieriot Vineyard Pinot Noir, a succulent wine with plenty of richness and a long, long finish that promises to be even better with more age.

No, it’s not cheap, but then expressive Pinots that evoke a strong sense of place never are, no matter where they come from. This one is worth it…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2005 Château Fonréaud

April 9, 2012 — Last week I was in Bordeaux sampling hundreds of barrel samples from the 2011 vintage, but in my travels I also tasted some reasonably priced wines from older vintages that really impressed. One of them was the cassis-scented 2005 Château Fonréaud, a sumptuous wine with the depth, core of warm fruit flavors and wonderful balance that can make even less expensive Bordeaux reds great food wines.

I tasted it over dinner with the proprietors, Jean and Marie-Hélène Chanfreau, on a cold night at the elegant château surrounded by vines. The estate is in the sprawling, less fashionable Bordeaux district of Listrac, north and west of famous Left Bank Margaux estates like Château Palmer, but it has superb vineyards with 30-year-old vines planted on gravel over limestone at the highest point in Listrac….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Fort Ross Pinotage

April 2, 2012 — On a recent trip to California, I headed out to the dramatic Sonoma Coast to visit Fort Ross Vineyard, high above the Pacific. Yes, the winery makes the expected fine Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in this cool, cool climate, but the owners also produce this delicious and unusual 2007 Fort Ross Pinotage, a nod to South Africa where they both grew up.

Pinotage is a controversial grape that people generally love or hate. Developed in South Africa in 1925, it’s a thick-skinned cross between varietals Pinot Noir and Cinsault. In the best wines, it exhibits the same bright, tangy fruit as Pinot Noir, along with the rustic, earthy, brambly flavors and robust structure that come from Cinsault….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Gainey Sauvignon Blanc

March 26, 2012 — I’m a fan of zingy, fresh Sauvignon Blancs — and I usually find less expensive California examples pretty boring and flat. So I was delighted to discover the zesty, vibrant 2010 Gainey from the Santa Ynez Valley in one of my recent blind tasting lineups of winery samples.

Interestingly, the 2010 is somewhat different from previous vintages. In the past, Gainey’s white also contained a fair amount of Semillon. But in 2010, the winery opted to leave it out, making the wine 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Though the previous version had many fans, I think I prefer it this way. It still has melon, guava and citrus scents and flavors and a rich texture, but it also has a new freshness and minerality that really combined well with a mixed green salad and sautéed scallop dinner after my tasting….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 

March 12, 2012 –– For years California Chardonnays were bashed as buttery, oaky and over the top. But more and more of them fit a different profile. This lemony 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands is pure and crisp, with weight and richness but without the telltale vanilla notes of new oak aging. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel and limestone-based cement tanks.

And this balanced white comes in an unusual ceramic bottle that keeps the wine as chilled during dinner as it is when you pour the first glass. Winemaker Charlie Wagner II says he was inspired by the ceramic bottles used for absinthe….

 Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Saumur La Pierre Frite Rouge

February 20, 2012 — During my week tasting wines in the Loire Valley, I sampled everything from stellar dry and sweet whites to deliciously complex reds, and all reminding me just how wonderfully diverse this region is. One red that captured me was this fragrant, cassis-laden 2010 Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Saumur La Pierre Frite, a new domaine to me, which I sampled at Le Favre d’Anne, one of Angers’ one-star Michelin restaurants.

Alongside stuffed quail with foie gras on a celery root timbale, its smoky flavors and aromas of violets and lavender seemed just about heaven. I didn’t realize until later how reasonably priced it was. And the grapes are organically grown, too — the vineyards have been certified since 1997….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 François Chidaine Touraine Blanc

February 13, 2012 —  I’ve just come back from a tasting tour in the Loire Valley, home to some of the best bargains in the wine world. One of them is the crisp, zippy and sappy 2011 François Chidaine Touraine Blanc, which tastes of cut grass and herbs. I sampled it at Chidaine’s stand at the Salon de la Loire, the region’s annual trade fair in Angers. The blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and a small percentage of Chardonnay is a textbook perfect savory white that shows surprising complexity and length for the price. And on a freezing snowy day, it made me think of — and long for — spring.

François Chidaine has worked with his father Yves since 1989, and gained a following for his delicious and complex wines from his family’s Chenin Blanc vineyards in Montlouis and later for his Vouvray from the famous Clos Baudoin estate, which he began acquiring in 2002….

 Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Ruinart Brut Rosé Champagne

February 6, 2012 — This is the last of my picks for Valentine’s Day. In the past five years, rosé Champagne has become the essential seductive bubbly for romantic toasts. The delicate non-vintage Ruinart Rosé Champagne, with its flattering salmon color, fresh strawberry aromas, flavor of cherries, and polished texture, is both delicious and a good value compared to other rosé fizzes.

No one knows precisely why rosés in general and pink fizz in particular suddenly took off in popularity five or six years ago. It’s been fashionable from time to time since the first one was made in the late 18th century…


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Lasseter Family Winery Amoureux Malbec Red Blend

January 23, 2012 — I’m hunting for Valentine’s Day wines early this year, and my first pick is the rich, full, velvety red blend 2008 Lasseter Family Winery Amoureux from Sonoma. What could be more in keeping with the day’s romantic sentiments than a wine whose French name means lovers and whose label features a bee sipping nectar from a red rosebud? Its backstory has an appropriate dose of romance too.

The wine’s bold blend includes about two-third Malbec, a fair amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and small dashes of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Hollywood couple John and Nancy Lasseter, who bought their estate on the outskirts of town of Glen Ellen a decade ago, say they selected the wine’s name because they first discovered and fell in love with Malbec while honeymooning….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2011 Bodega Colomé Torrontés

January 9, 2012 — One of my recurring New Year’s wine resolutions is to drink more wines made from the less well-known grape varieties that offer value, new flavor profiles and high quality. So this week I’m trumpeting Torrontés, the fragrant native white from Argentina that’s been vastly overshadowed by the country’s wildly popular signature red, Malbec.

The light, delicate deliciously rose-petal-scented 2011 Bodega Colomé Torrontés, with its refreshing citrus, herb and spice notes and smooth yet lively texture, is a prime example. It’s surprisingly food-friendly. I enjoyed it with tangy lime and chili-laced ceviche, a plate of sushi appetizers and a stir fry of scallops and baby bok choy….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

December 19, 2011 — My last pick was an expensive Champagne, so this week I’m highlighting a lighter, easy-to-drink $15 Prosecco, the Italian fizz that’s skyrocketed in popularity. In a lineup of a dozen examples, the gulpable non-vintage Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, with its soft bubbles, fresh green apple and flower scent and tangy citrusy flavors really stood out.

Don’t think of Prosecco as poor man’s Champagne. Its character is completely different, with none of the edgy acidity and layered complexity that are Champagne’s hallmarks. Fresher is better. In Italy, it’s the national aperitivo, something to sip anytime, and its uncomplicated appeal fits particularly well with the spirit of the holidays. I plan to keep several bottles in the refrigerator to pull out for low alcohol sustenance while trimming the tree, as a pick-me-up while wrapping presents or to welcome unexpected guests bearing gifts. Put out a plate of olives and prosciutto, pull the cork and you have a party….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve Brut Champagne

December 5, 2011 — For me, holidays and sparkling wine go together. There is nothing more celebratory than welcoming guests with a glass of bubbly, like this crisp, pure, stunningly elegant non-vintage Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve Brut Champagne.

When I tasted it at Hong Kong’s Cuisine Cuisine restaurant a couple of weeks ago, it perked up three unusual salty, savory and slightly sweet appetizers, and I was reminded that Champagne goes well with just about everything. It’s a blanc de blancs, meaning it’s made only from Chardonnay.

The Pierre Péters is a grower Champagne, the newly hot category also known as “farmer fizz….”

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Potel-Aviron Beaujolais-Villages

November 21, 2011 — Every November the what-wine-goes-with-Thanksgiving-dinner agonizing starts all over again. One of my rules has always been to choose an American wine for this all-American holiday. But rules are made to be broken, right? This year my answer to the what-to-pour dilemma is the lively, juicy, easy-drinking 2009 Potel-Aviron Beaujolais-Villages. Light-bodied and gulpable, it has a silky texture, bright, tart berry-fruit flavors and surprising finesse for a wine at this price.

Beaujolais is superbly versatile when it comes to food, which is why it’s such a good pick for Thanksgiving…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Movia Lunar Ribolla Gialla

November 14, 2011 — A recent obsession of hip sommeliers and natural wine aficionados is the category of “orange” wines — white wines made the way red wines are, by letting the crushed juice sit on the grape skins for a period of time to pick up tannin, weight and extra flavors. The appealing and unusual 2007 Movia Lunar Ribolla Gialla, with the rich, full texture of a red and the citrusy vitality of a white, is a good introduction.

It shone at the end of a long dinner and a lineup of fascinating wines at Hong Kong’s Crown Wine Cellars, a wine storage facility in underground World War II bunkers with a private members clubhouse.

Don’t expect a whistle-clean, zingy white. The color of the Movia Lunar is a slightly cloudy soft orange and the flavors are a deep complex blend of minerals, dried pear, fresh peach and cardamom….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2008 Cascina Gilli ‘Vigna del Forno’ Freisa d’Asti

October 31, 2011 —  I love discovering varietals I’ve never tasted before, which happens frequently with Italianwine. That’s because the country has literally hundreds of native grapes, most found only in a single region or even just a small area. The fresh, yet smoothly rich 2008 Cascina Gilli Vigna del Forno Freisa d’Asti, with its bright ruby red color, delicate aromas of wild berries and intense matching flavors, is my latest find. I sampled it alongside thin slices of delicious hard sausages and chunks of salty parmesan at importer Domenico Selections’ fall portfolio tasting.

Chiara Martinotti from Cascina Gilli, in northern Piemonte, was pouring and talking. I learned that the freisa grape is native to the region, where it became known in the 20th century. Now there’s a rising interest in this grape….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Foursight Zero New Oak Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir

October 24, 2011 — As winemakers from other appellations flock to Mendocino’s cool Anderson Valley to make bright and balanced pinot noirs, people who have a long history in the valley have also planted grapes to keep their land in the family.

That’s the story behind this vibrant, fruit-charged 2009 Foursight Zero New Oak Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir. I tasted it two weeks ago at the Boonville Hotel’s restaurant Table 128 and was pretty impressed. I was also quite intrigued.

California winemakers usually age their pinot noirs at least partly in new oak barrels. While some use only a small percentage, there are plenty whose pinots have the telltale signs of too much — a toasty vanilla nose and ponderous, raw wood flavors that make the wine more about oak than fruit.

Foursight winemaker Joe Webb, son-in-law to the owners, uses no new oak at all to age this wine. It’s made in an old-school way with indigenous yeasts, a percentage of whole clusters, no filtering, no fining, minimal sulfur. The result is pretty, delicate and complex, with spicy strawberry and cherry flavors. It’s understated and positively gulpable….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Tudal Winery Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard

October 17, 2011 — I can be finicky when it comes to the world’s most finicky grape, pinot noir. Too many California winemakers, even in top areas, seem to have a fatal attraction for producing big, oaky pinots for cabernet lovers. But that’s not the case with the classic 2009 Tudal Winery Pinot Noir from the Bacigalupi Vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. It shows off much of what makes pinot fans embrace the grape: dark black cherry and rhubarb aromas, bright red fruit flavors with a touch of earth and minerals, and a full-bodied soft texture that makes you keep drinking.

The Russian River Valley has been prime pinot territory for decades, thanks to Pacific fog and cool temperatures, and 2009 was an excellent vintage…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2002 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage

October 10, 2011 —  Last Friday, as the sun finally emerged in rain-lashed Anderson Valley, I stopped to taste at Roederer Estate and was reminded all over again why this is one of America’s best producers of sparkling wine.

The latest vintage of their top cuvée, elegant, layered 2002 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, is a fine example, with baked apple and brioche aromas, tarte tatin flavors and a sleek texture that’s both crisp and creamy. Almost a decade old, it still shows plenty of tiny bubbles, is just beginning to reveal its depth, complexity and richness, and promises even more in the future.

The Louis Roederer Champagne house in France, famed for its high-end Cristal bottling, first put down California roots in 1982…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura Brut

October 3, 2011 —  Three weeks ago, I was in France’s Jura region, east of Burgundy’s famous Côte d’Or and about an hour’s drive from the Swiss border, sampling dozens of wines I’d never tasted before.

One of my biggest surprises was the excellent quality of the sparkling wines, called Crémant du Jura, which are made by the same traditional method used in Champagne.

The best one was this vivid, floral-and-almond-scented non-vintage Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura, with its crispy bubbles, polished style, creamy texture, and earthy minerality. It’s much better than many basic non-vintage Champagnes, but costs a whole lot less….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Wolffer Estate Grandioso Rosé

September 26, 2011 — An early taste of East Coast Indian summer last week inspired me to open a line-up of chilled rosés. The finesse and elegance of this 2010 Wolffer Estate Grandioso Rosé from Long Island really impressed me — and made me question, once again, why so many of us act as if only Memorial Day to Labor Day can be rosé season. The Wolffer’s subtle ripe fruitiness, fresh lively acidity and delicious dry chalky savor remind me of rosés from Provence.

It has the same pale coppery-salmon color and the same versatility with food. The Wolffer rosé was delicious with our entire dinner, from aperitif, to olive and tomato salad, to spicy grilled shrimp and a soft cheese afterward.

But the red grapes in this wine are Bordeaux varieties merlot and cabernet franc, which do well in the Long Island East End’s breezy maritime climate….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Saintsbury Chardonnay Carneros

September 19, 2011 — Driving home from a summer vacation visiting family in Michigan, I stopped overnight in Buffalo, N.Y., and soon had thoughts of a crisp delicious white after a long day in the car. Happily, at Protocol restaurant just off the New York State Thruway the wine list included the lively 2008 Saintsbury Chardonnay, with its balanced, citrus-and-pear flavors and surprising character and elegance for the price. Only $20 retail, it cost me just $29 at the restaurant.

One of the world’s most popular white varietals, chardonnay is produced in just about every grape-growing country. An awful lot of these wines are completely mediocre, and finding one that consistently displays real finesse and elegance in this price range can be daunting. Decent examples from Burgundy, the grape’s home, tend to be more expensive, and modestly-priced California bottlings too often range from the neutral and boring to tasting of buttery popcorn or far too much oak. Which makes the Saintsbury look like even more of a standout….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Les Sources du Château de la Rivière

September 12, 2011– At historic Château de la Rivière, high above the Dordogne river in Fronsac on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, I found this lip-smacking, violet- and berry-scented red. The 2010 Les Sources du Château de la Rivière, a succulent, silky-textured Merlot blend from a great vintage, is gulpably fruity right now. It’s the chateau’s second wine, and it spent no time aging in oak barrels.

Fronsac remains a little-known and underrated appellation despite the growing number of ambitious estates making serious wines in the past decade. One I visited recently is this fairytale stone chateau. Beautiful and imposing, with several stone towers and a grand wide terrace overlooking vineyards sloping to the river, it’s the largest estate in the appellation, with 58 hectares of vines….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Breggo Ferrington Vineyard Gewürztraminer

September 5, 2011 –I love the flower and spice character of a good Gewürztraminer, and the best California examples I’ve tasted have all come from the cool Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. This refreshing yet exotic 2010 Breggo Gewürztraminer, made from Ferrington Vineyard grapes, is perfect sipping for the last gasp of August.

Think aromas of lemongrass, lychee, rose petals and tangerine peel, and light, crisp, spiced-apple and pear flavors, with a hint of cloves. A mouthwatering, elegant white with a subtle hint of sweetness, it was the ideal choice for thin pork chops sautéed with fresh Granny Smith apple slices in a spicy soy sauce marinade….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2007 ‘1907’ Madiran (Producteurs Plaimont and Cave de Crouseilles)

August 15, 2011 — The French wine appellation of Madiran suddenly grabbed attention a few years ago when London-based scientist Roger Corder recommended its wines as the most heart-healthy in the world. Luckily, it turns out they’re also worth drinking for the taste. Take this generous, tartly fruity 2007 ‘1907’ Madiran that I drank with some hearty spare ribs a couple of nights ago. Its dark black fruit flavors and deep iron tang tell you you’re tasting something quite different and give the wine a surprisingly complex taste for its $14 price tag. There’s a hint of licorice and other minerals, too.

The ‘1907,’ named for the year the appellation was first defined, is both powerful and fresh, a winning combination for a summer red. Produced by independent winegrowers jointly with two local cooperatives, it’s a blend of grapes from all over the small Madiran appellation, yet manages to give you a sense of place….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2008 Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon

August 8, 2011 —

Bernard Portet, co-founder of famous Napa Valley pioneer winery Clos du Val, has always championed balanced, elegant reds, even bucking the steady trend toward high-scoring high-alcohol, oaky wines. So, no surprise that his first wine after his retirement a year ago is this deliciously smooth, complex and balanced 2008 Heritance cabernet sauvignon, which sells for a very reasonable price. My advice is to snap it up….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Lafon-Roset Le Rosé de Lafon-Rochet

August 1, 2011 — Drinking pink is just as hot a trend this summer as it has been for the past six. So many new rosés are now on the shelves that I’ve focused my tastings this year on those from regions not usually associated with pink wine. One of the most interesting and delicious I’ve sipped recently is the intense, strawberry-scented 2010 Lafon-Roset, made by Château Lafon-Rochet, one of five grands crus classés in Bordeaux’s St. Estèphe appellation.

Owned by the Tesseron family, Lafon-Rochet is known for its balanced, elegant, well-priced red. The rosé is a new idea — 2009 was the first vintage — partly the inspiration of the new generation, 32-year-old Basile Tesseron, who is taking over management of the château from his father Michel….

 Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling ‘Brand’

July 25, 2011 — VinExpo week in Bordeaux last month was filled with parties and tastings of hundreds of wines. At the 12th Tour de France dinner at Domaine de Chevalier, where nine producers showed off their best wines, this bright, deliciously intense 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling “Brand,” reminded me how stunning the top wines from Alsace can be.

Yes, this wine is very expensive, but it’s a collectible that will age and age. I sipped it with freshly shucked oysters and a half dozen other hors d’oeuvres, impressed by its layers of powerful fruit, elegant acidity and extraordinary finesse….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina “V”

July 18, 2011 — With summer temperatures and humidity soaring, I’ve been drinking mostly cool white wines for the past couple of weeks. Sadly, a surprising number have been neutral and boring or too heavy to refresh. But not this 2010 Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina “V” from Italy’s Campania region, which is mouth-filling but also fresh and vivid. Its flavors are pure, crisp citrus and tangy minerals yet it has a lovely honeyed finish. Aromas of piney woods, white flowers and juicy pears tantalize.

The wine was so satisfying as an aperitif with a classic caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil that we just kept drinking it with grilled shrimp and veggies. And it’s only $16….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Magrez-Aruga Koshu

July 11, 2001 — In a world of supersize wines, how pleasant to come across a white of delicacy and nuance — from Japan, of all unexpected spots! The underplayed but luscious 2009 Magrez-Aruga Koshu has a lightly floral aroma and round citrus and kiwi flavors with a distinct hint of minerality. It has a vague resemblance to sauvignon blanc — to which it may be related — but this is not a wine that shouts its virtues or flavors. What really stands out is its high acid subtlety. What could be better with sushi?

Since I’ve tasted only a couple of wines made from Japan’s most important native grape, I’m not sure if quiet subtlety is a hallmark of the best, but based on this wine, food-friendly koshu should have a bright future….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Domaine du Gros’ Noré Bandol Blanc

June 27, 2011 — I came across this little-known French white recently on the imaginative wine list at The Fishery restaurant in North Pacific Beach, Calif. Tangy and crisp, but also rich and complex, the 2009 Domaine du Gros’ Noré Bandol Blanc has a slightly salty taste that reminds me of the sea — which is why it was perfect with the ahi tuna poke laced with chili and cilantro.

The sun-drenched Provence region is definitely the land of rosé. But the small appellation of Bandol within it, which surrounds the picturesque coastal fishing village with the same name, has also won acclaim for serious Mourvèdre-based reds. Yet few wine lovers realize that producers there make tiny quantities of whites too…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon

June 20, 2011 — Mid-range California cabernets can often be better right-now drinking than $100-plus wines, which usually require years of aging for their tannin and oak to mellow. The bold, fruity 2007 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon is a good example. Savory and rich, with aromas of cedar and spice and taste notes of cocoa and dark fruit, it has a lush, mouth-filling texture that’s the definition of smooth.

I think of Paso Robles as a hotbed of syrah producers — it’s sometimes known as “the Rhone zone” — but it’s home to more than 40 grape varieties. Cabernet sauvignon accounts for a whopping 38 percent of the region’s vine acreage….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese

June 13, 2011 — June has become the unofficial beginning of rosé drinking season. Each year I wonder whether the drink-pink trend will start slowing, but, no, it just keeps growing. The reason is wines like this dry, pale pink 2010 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, with its bright fruit aromas, fresh strawberry-rhubarb-watermelon flavors, and crisp, savory finish. It’s a wine for sipping on the deck or patio, with or without food, a wine that makes you crave another glass….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2010 Zonte’s Footstep Sea Mist Verdelho

June 6, 2011 — Blind tasting 180 wines in two days at a competition is an über-fast way to track trends and discover terrific bottles. This 2009 Zonte’s Footstep Sea Mist Verdelho was one of my standouts at the annual Critics’ Challenge, held a week ago in San Diego.

After being tapped for a platinum medal by one of my co-judges, the wine turned up in a lineup tasted by all the judges in our quest for the best white wine of the competition. It lost the runoff to an excellent “medium-sweet” California riesling, but I thought this mouth-filling yet zingy Australian Verdelho should have won. It has fragrant aromas of herbs, ginger and limes, a tantalizing flavor mix of chalk, citrus and tropical mango, and a crisp finish, perfect to sip both as an aperitif and with spicy grilled shrimp….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Pali “Alphabets” Pinot Noir

May 30, 2011 — Finding a delicious pinot noir for under $20 is no easy task. One producer that delivers on value when it comes to this finicky grape is Pali Wine Co. This stylish 2009 Pali “Alphabets” cuvée from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is spot-on, offering intense ripe bing cherry flavors, velvety texture with underlying lightness, and aromas that marry earth, iron and sweet berries. Its uncomplicated pinot pleasure won’t disappoint, as so many inexpensive examples made from this grape do….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou G Malagousia

May 23, 2011 — Greece has a bewildering number of native grape varieties with unpronounceable names, and many make simply stunning wines. The whites especially are worth discovering — like this delicious 2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou G made from Malagousia. It brims with very fresh, floral, almost jasmine-scented aromas and distinctive flavors of citrus and melon overlaid with a faint smokiness and minerality. Delicate yet intense, round yet crisp, and incredibly food friendly, it’s a perfect partner to grilled fish and summer salads.

The Malagousia grape very nearly died out completely. Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who started his eponymous winery in northern Greece just southeast of the city of Thessaloniki in 1981, is the one who rescued and revived it….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon

May 16, 2011 –Finding a delicious, complex California cabernet for $30 isn’t an easy task — which is why I’m so excited about the wonderfully balanced 2007 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon, the second label of Sonoma’s Laurel Glen Vineyard. This red overdelivers for the price, with a spicy aroma of tobacco, red berries and smoke, and bright forward fruit flavors underlined with minerality and a tantalizing floral note. Approachable now, it has enough hidden tannin to age well….


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Pullus G Traminec

May 9, 2011 — The 2008 Pullus G Traminec, a lovely white with rich aromas of wild roses, tangerine and lychee, is just one reason to explore the fascinating wines of Slovenia, the world’s latest vine spot to generate buzz. Crisp and fresh, it’s loaded with lovely green herb and spice flavors, has a lightly creamy texture, and will convert even those who think they don’t like gewürztraminer (called traminec in Slovenia). It’s lighter, crisper and more delicate than California or Alsace examples, with a real taste of terroir, and I found it a perfect match with a dinner of coconut milk-shrimp curry….


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde

May 2, 2011 — Portugal’s vinho verde (literally, “green wine”) is that country’s water-white, prickly-tart picnic favorite, best served stone-cold. At less than 10 percent alcohol, it can be knocked back with abandon.

Vinho verde is not a wine category usually associated with memorable bottlings. But the 2009 Varanda do Conde is on another level, straw-colored, with a tickling slight effervescence that underscores sappy-tart acidity and bright, citrusy, lingering fruit. This is sheer deliciousness in the glass, cracklingly crisp, and gulpably appetizing…


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Prazo de Roriz Douro DOC red

April 25, 2011 — Northern Portugal’s Douro region, noted for rich sweet fortified ports, is fast becoming a hot spot for excellent dry reds too, and the soft, ripely fruity 2008 Prazo de Roriz is a great example of the growing trend. Its plush texture, smooth tannins, and dark cherry and mineral flavors are balanced by a tangy acidity that makes this red incredibly food friendly, especially with smoky, spicy grilled foods.

Summers are scorching in the Douro, where vines are planted on rocky slopes in steep terraced vineyards that look like steps down to the 475-mile long Douro River, which originates in Spain…


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Morgan Double L Vineyard Chardonnay

April 18, 2011 — Some people have the impression I think California chardonnay ought to taste like white burgundy. Not true. I’m a fan of wines that taste like the place they come from. This 2009 Morgan Double L Vineyard chardonnay is a superb California example that would never be mistaken for a bottle from France, but it’s no over-the-top buttery-oaky white.

Fleshy, creamy-textured, and full of varietal lemon, pear and hazelnut aromas and tastes and a sweet vanilla, toasty hint of oak, it has an attractive edge of minerality too…


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands

April 11, 2011 — Pinot noir fans hardly need to be told that the finest expressions of their favorite grape come from France’s Burgundy region. But there are side effects to this: scarcity and high prices. That’s why I’m always cheered when I come across an enticing example with a real-world price tag: The scented, savory-tart 2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands — a wonderful mouthful of authentic burgundy from a super vintage, and a solid value at $35….


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc

April 4, 2011 — I’ve been a fan of New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs for years — no other country’s version of the grape quite matches their racy, dazzling style, zingy gooseberry tang and live-wire acidity. The 2010 Chasing Venus is a delicious example of the breed. It’s entirely fermented in stainless steel to preserve a maximum of crisp fruitiness. One cold, appetizing glass rapidly invites another, which makes it a perfect aperitif, and its citrusy edge accents seafood like a squeeze of lemon….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Amavi Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah

March 28, 2011 –As a wine, syrah has something of a Jekell-and-Hyde personality. In a hot region, it’s often clunky and can be downright brutish (think inky-monster Australian examples). But in a cooler climate, this emphatic red can really shine, projecting power without heaviness. A delicious example of this is the 2008 Amavi Syrah from Washington state — it’s not a wine to study, it’s a wine to drink with gusto from a large goblet, accompanied by grilled meat….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Paul Dolan Chardonnay

March 21, 2011 — I’ve complained a lot in print about excessively oaked California chardonnay. Here’s one that shows the state’s winemakers can still produce modestly-priced, balanced, focused bottlings that de-emphasize the oak to bring out all the sex appeal of the grape — and give it the crisp, lean character that can make it such a pleasure at the table.

There’s lots to like about the 2009 Paul Dolan Chardonnay. It has just the right amount of fruit and restrained alcohol. It brims with noticeable richness and minerality and bright lemony notes of refreshing acidity, all of which make it a super food wine….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Kanonkop Pinotage

March 12, 2011 — Trying wines made from unfamiliar grape varieties is one of the most enjoyable aspects of tastings for me. On a recent trip to South Africa, I sampled many examples of the country’s local red, pinotage, and was surprised by the wide range of flavors and styles.

One of the best was the 2008 Kanonkop Pinotage, with its rich, full taste; smoky aroma; dark, plummy mocha depths and unusual tangy wild note that somehow seemed to reflect the continent….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Viré-Clessé Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon

March 7, 2011 — A decade ago, Mâcon whites were no-personality, bargain-basement chardonnays, but this intense and lemony Viré-Clessé, made by superstar Burgundy winemaker Dominique Lafon, shows just how much the region’s wines have changed. With its floral aromas and racy mineral, citrus and pear flavors, this rich, round wine has a balance, complexity and precision I rarely find in California examples of the world’s most popular white….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  Craggy Range Te Kahu

February 28, 2011 — An attractively priced, screw-topped proprietary red from one of New Zealand’s top producers, the 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu hits all the right notes. Bright and balanced, with mouthfilling black fruit flavors, yet lively acidity, it’s an extremely versatile food wine. As you might expect from a merlot-dominant bordeaux-style blend, ripe plumpness comes wrapped in soft, textured tannins that check the fattiness of meat dishes, but its tartness complements those with a tomato base too. Additional spicy nuances — cedar and smoke — emerged when I sipped the final glass with a plate of hard cheeses: gruyere, Canadian cheddar, Wensleydale….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Veramonte Reserva Pinot Noir

February 21. 2011 — It’s hard to find a good cheap pinot noir. Most under-$20 examples are just light but dull reds or over-charged fruity plonk — either way, they lack the seductive style that makes the classic grape of Burgundy so appealing.

That’s why the 2009 Veramonte Reserva Pinot Noir grabbed my attention. Tart, fresh and succulent, with a balance of scented aromas, soft fruit and silky texture, this is a drink-me-now bottle that could be mistaken for a top-class bourgogne rouge….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2004 Château Calon Ségur

February 14, 2011 — If you want a wine on the candlelit table that will trumpet your affection, this bordeaux with a big heart on its label can’t be beat. The 2004 Calon Ségur is medium weight, succulent and elegant, with sweet currant and earth flavors and plenty of fruit aromas. A delicious classic that’s ready to drink right now, it’s also a serious wine that will age well, which makes it a fitting symbol for long-lasting love….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Lini 910 ‘Labrusca’ Lambrusco Rosso

February 7, 2011 — A red sparkling wine may not sound like a must-try. But trust me, this deliciously dry, fruity, cherry-colored frizzante will change your mind about Italy’s lambrusco. Its fresh, lively earthy-berry flavors dance on the tongue, and its acidity and tiny bite of pleasurable bitterness in the finish make it just right with flavorful food.

I sampled it while trolling the several hundred liquid offerings at Vino 2011, New York’s annual Italian wine expo held at the end of January. The Lini “Labrusca” was just one of a half-dozen fascinating bottlings made from Italian indigenous grapes being poured by import company Domenico Valentino….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Franciscan Estate Sauvignon Blanc

Jan 31, 2011 — Sauvignon blanc has become my go-to white. When faced with a wine list full of mysterious choices, I know I can’t go wrong by choosing this varietal. It’s got plenty of edgy, tart personality, pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes, and its price tag rarely causes sticker shock.

Franciscan Estate’s latest vintage of this grape hits the right notes: fresh, clean, herby aromas, mouthwatering acidity, cleansing mineral-laced flavors and a liveliness that’s all too often missing in California examples…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:2007 Château Tanunda Noble Baron Cabernet Sauvignon

January 24, 2011 — First-rate cabernet comes in various styles. There’s the classic Bordeaux model, the muscular Napa Valley cult-wine model, the lean, herbaceous South African model — the list goes on and on.

Here’s another example that manages to strike its own special balance: a supple, rounded, sleek and seductive cab from Australia, the 2007 Château Tanunda “Noble Baron.” It’s from the Barossa Valley, a warm region largely associated with smoky-deep, powerful shiraz. But it shows none of the over-the-top qualities in which New World winemakers sometimes indulge. It’s often said that the mark of a really good wine is that it invites a second glass. I found myself pouring out the next one just after polishing off the first…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2008 Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru

Jan. 10, 2011 — Whenever I have the chance to taste chablis — and I mean the real thing, from France — I go for it. It’s the one wine that demonstrates why chardonnay doesn’t need an in-your-face overlay of oak flavor to be delicious. Yes, I know fermenting and/or aging the world’s best-known white grape in barrels can add nuance, but I find most New World winemakers can’t resist overdoing it, like chefs who over-salt their dishes. The result? Aggressive chardonnays that trade elegance for obviousness.
This Chablis allows the pure character of cool-climate chardonnay to shine through…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2010 Indaba Chenin Blanc

January 3, 2011 — The holidays are over, and like most wine lovers, I’m looking for good value wines. Here’s refreshingly crisp super-lively everyday white that’s a downright bargain: 2010 Indaba Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Packed with citrus and pear notes and a tart, mineral-edged appetizing flavor, this dry, tangy wine is my current “refrigerator white” — a bottle that’s kept pre-chilled so I can have a glass while I’m chopping vegetables or stirring pots. It comes with a screw-cap to maximize freshness….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Taittinger Prélude Brut

December 27, 2010 — If there’s one holiday that calls for a bottle of champagne, it’s New Year’s Eve. Even if you feel like bidding good riddance to 2010, who doesn’t have hopes for 2011? That’s worth uncorking a bottle of France’s top bubbly. I’ll be opening up Taittinger’s lovely, stylish “Prélude” as I watch the ball drop and make a few toasts (and silent wishes).

Somewhere, some sourpuss of a wine lover may be thinking that popping the cork on a pricey fizz at midnight while wearing a funny paper hat is a waste of effervescence. I disagree; I want to start the New Year with a bang, a nose-tickling scent of citrus and smoke, a cascade of fine bubbles, and a tart, clean, lingering finish….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: Dow’s 20-year-old Tawny Porto

December 20, 2010 — One reason I look forward to the holidays is the excuse they provide to open bottles that seem pretty indulgent. Tops on my list is port, whose rich, fruity warmth seems perfect at the end of a grand winter dinner. And its sweet, velvety texture matches everything from salted nuts to rich sweets like Belgian chocolates or plum pudding, that I try to studiously avoid for most of the calendar.

My pick this year? Dow’s 20-year-old tawny, with its dried-fruit scent (think apricots), wonderfully smooth texture, and tangy, lingering finish…


Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: NV Jaillance Cuvée de l’Abbaye Brut Crémant de Bordeaux

December 13, 2010 — If there’s one time of year when you don’t need an excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly, it’s the holidays. But there’s usually a tug of war with the wallet: Few of us can afford to uncork champagne for a large gathering, even if our palates point in that direction.

Which is why this surprisingly stylish French fizz is my pour of choice this season. Pale yellow and frothy, it’s rich, deep, round and tartly dry, with a citrusy note to its refreshing acidity. Tasted blind, its burnished notes suggested much pricier bottlings. At under $20, it’s my idea of how to float a party with style….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2005 Mocavero “Puteus” Salice Salentino Riserva

December 6, 2010 –One of my biggest pleasures is finding distinctive wines made from unusual indigenous grapes in emerging regions. At a tasting of wines from Puglia, Italy, I discovered the intense, full-bodied 2005 “Puteus” Salice Salentino, a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera di Lecce from the Mocavero winery. This fresh red’s spicy, earthy aromas, bright ripe cherry flavors and satiny texture make you immediately crave another glass.

Puglia, the long narrow “heel” of boot-shaped Italy, is hardly a new wine spot. Vines have been grown here for millennia. Yet until a decade ago, the vast quantity of its wines, mostly produced by cooperatives, were pretty rustic, sold in bulk as high-alcohol blending vino. Then a growing number of growers began embracing modern innovations in viticulture, without giving up tradition….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Poet’s Leap Riesling

November 29, 2010 — I’m a riesling fan, so I was delighted to find a tantalizing U.S. bottling that goes way beyond the simple and fruity style of the vast majority of domestic examples. The 2009 Poet’s Leap is fresh and zingy, with aromas of smoky flint and spicy fruit, flavors of white peach and wintergreen, and the racy acidity that makes riesling so food-friendly.

It also demonstrates the serious potential of Washington State’s Columbia Valley as a source of truly fine rieslings — especially when made with an Old World sensibility….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Blason d’Issan

November 22, 2010 — I often hear wine lovers complain that all Bordeaux reds are now expensive luxury collectibles for trading, not affordable drinking. Really?

This second label of Château d’Issan in the Margaux appellation shows that’s an oversimplification. Even in the widely panned 2007 vintage, the wine offers the kind of elegance, balance and character that made Bordeaux famous. At $30, it outclasses just about any California cabernet in the same price range….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Tablas Creek Vineyard Rosé

November 14, 2010 — For most of us, the traditional menu on Thanksgiving rarely changes. But choosing wines to serve with it seems to provoke anxiety every year, even among experienced party givers. A friend begged me to come up with only one wine that could take on everything from her roasted turkey with sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to gooey marshmallow-topped baked sweet potatoes and more.

My pick is the 2009 vintage of Tablas Creek’s bold, vibrant, fruity-spicy dry rosé from their organic vineyard in Paso Robles. One of the best dry rosés in the U.S., it also fulfills my unwavering rule of drinking American on this national holiday….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2007 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir

November 8, 2010 — Sometimes one wine is enough to show that a region is a serious contender in the New World pinot noir sweepstakes. That’s how I feel about Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir, which comes from the coastal Hemel-En-Aarde Valley in South Africa’s Walker Bay region.
The 2007 vintage is one of the best pinots outside Burgundy that I’ve tasted. With its complex earthy, spicy aromas and seamless, subtle flavors, it has a Chambolle-Musigny-like finesse and succulence, framed by elegant tannins that will repay several years of aging….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:  2009 Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit

November 1, 2010 — On my recent six-day stay in Austria, I found myself falling in love with the country’s signature grape, grüner veltliner, all over again. This example from the latest vintage, the 2009 Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit, comes from Nigl, a producer on everyone’s short list of the best. Quintessential fresh GrüVe (as the grape is nicknamed), it’s delicate and peppery, with green, savory flavor notes and lemony acidity and a creamy texture….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie

October 25, 2010 –Some regions are woefully underrated, which means the best examples are fantastic buys. That’s the story of Muscadet, the fresh, light, crisp, racy French white made at the cool western end of the Loire Valley. The 2009 Domaine de la Pépière is the latest vintage of my go-to label, made by brilliant winemaker Marc Ollivier. Its tangy, slightly salty taste recalls the briny, savory scents of the nearby Atlantic Ocean….

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Edmunds St. John Syrah “Cuvée Fairbairn”

October 18, 2010 — Sometimes at a big tasting, as I’m sipping and spitting dozens of wines, one will just jump out with its sheer deliciousness.
That’s what happened when I sampled the 2008 Edmunds St. John Syrah “Cuvée Fairbairn,” a deep syrah with savory flavor notes of berries, pepper, and leather and aromas of lavender and smoke. This is maverick California winemaker Steve Edmunds’ first wine ever from biodynamic grapes…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week:2009 Cullen Ephraim Clarke Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

October 11, 2010 — On a visit to Western Australia, I became a huge fan of the snappy sauvignon blanc-semillon blends of the Margaret River region, which are nicknamed “SBS” or “SSB,” depending on which grape is dominant.

This example from pioneering Cullen winery is one of the very best. The latest vintage of its flagship “SBS” is a wonderful balance of tangy acidity and savory herbs and spices, with aromas of smoke and honeysuckle. The texture is surprisingly rich and round for a wine with a why-not-finish-the-bottle 11.5 percent alcohol…

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Villa Ponciago Fleurie la Réserve

October 4, 2010 — The pleasures of the outstanding 2009 vintage in Beaujolais show brilliantly in this debut wine from a producer new to the region. It’s lip-smackingly good, with a spicy, velvety richness, intense aromas of violets and peonies, and a tangy seductive charm. That’s a lot for a mere $20.

Tucked between renowned Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, Fleurie has always been one of my favorites…


Does Napa Have Terroir?

September 2. 2010 — Debates about terroir are as hot as ever, especially when it comes to California. My big question is always: Do wines from individual vineyards display a distinctive sense of place in, say, Napa Valley?

It doesn’t help that Napa produces hundreds of wines made by producers who are all over the map in their approach to winemaking.

So when I had a chance to sample 63 wines made from Stagecoach Vineyard grapes, I grabbed it. On the basis of rocks, exposure, altitude, microclimates and volcanic soils, this is surely one of the valley’s most distinctive sites. Would the wines reflect that — and the subtleties of its soil and topography…?


Do Wine Medals Matter?

June 30 –2010

In May, I was a judge at two international wine competitions in California that taught me plenty about the current state of California wine. But they also illustrated a new trend in U.S. competitions: targeting particular audiences and offering specific judging perspectives, a big change from the traditional state fair model.

Does that make the results more relevant? Well, maybe….

New Blaufrankisch Thrills

May 3, 2010 — The latest grape aiming to join the ranks of great wine is blaufrankisch, a varietal that practically no one had heard of until a few years ago. Though its name hardly rolls off the tongue as easily as chardonnay or cabernet, it’s beginning to garner fans among adventurous wine lovers and turn up on hip wine lists. But is the world ready for an expensive new red with an unpronounceable name?

I asked myself that question after a day of surprising tastings with six Austrian growers earlier this year….

Chilean Quake’s Wine Toll

March 6, 2010 –The massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27 and killed more than 800 people hit the country’s wineries hard. For the past week, dozens of winemakers have been tweeting tales of toppled and cracked tanks, crashed barrels, collapsed buildings, broken bottles and vast amounts of wine lost, streaming onto floors.

Yet among these sad tales were small triumphs…

Wine Watching in 2010

January 30, 2010 — Everyone in the fine wine world is happy to see the back of 2009. Though I see positive signs for 2010, I’m not breathing a sigh of relief — yet….

Trouble With Grenache

December 10, 2009 — In Washington, a “sex on wheels” wine should just about do it.

Is Terroir a Hoax?

November 9,  2009 — …why one wine tastes different from another made by the same winemaker, from a vineyard not far away, the differences are clearly there.

Improving a Wine’s Wattage

October 7, 2009 –“Yes, we want to make a Saint-Estephe-style of first growth.” Wine tasting at Château Montrose.

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