Category Archives: Wine

Wine Vision 2015

I’ll be at Wine Vision this year from December 9th through the 11th. If you’ll be in the area, I hope you’ll join us. Below is a little more info. Hope to see you all there!

Wine Vision 2015 to challenge ‘old thinking’ with its focus on innovation, new routes to market and sustainability with commercial rewards

Finishing touches are being applied to the Wine Vision 2015 programme. It promises to challenge traditional thinking in the wine industry by showcasing high-growth new market entrants and by exploring innovative approaches to producing wine, selling it, creating powerful brands and extending consumer markets. “We’re urging the wine industry to move increasingly quickly to keep up with shifting global markets and changing customer tastes,” says Andrew Reed, Managing Director of the Drinks Division at William Reed Business Media. “In established markets wine is under challenge from alternative drinks categories, while in emerging markets brands are racing to win ground in a gold rush. We’re bringing together some of the most progressive individuals in the global industry to investigate sources of future growth.”

Wine Vision’s 2015 highlights will include:

  • A re-definition of the ‘luxury’ for the wine market of the future by Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja, CEO of Tentua Dell’Ornellaia; the estate that produces two of the world’s most coveted wines.
  • An account of how Invivo Wines made it to the Deloitte TOP 50 within seven years of launch and has broken records for crowd funding to fuel its next stage of growth, from its Co-Founder, Tim Lightbourne.
  • An introduction to the new rules of wine marketing from an acknowledged trend setter. Mike Ratcliffe has made rules and broken them as MD of South Africa’s Warwick Estate and the South African-American joint venture, Vilafonté.
  • A close look at power shifts in the Chinese market and the democratisation of wine with China insider Lenz M. Moser, chief wine maker of Chateau Changyu MOSER XV
  • An exploration of ‘fusion wines’ and their appeal to consumers thirsty for a new experience, by Dominic Rivard, fruit wine expert, sommelier, winemaker, distributor, exporter and author.
  • An account of progress at Sonoma County – on track to become America’s first 100% sustainable wine region by 2019 – by Karissa Kruse, President of Sonoma County Winegrowers.
  • A call for collaborative innovation between competitors to raise the game of the whole industry, from Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of Taylor’s Port.
  • An exploration of alternative investment and growth strategies from Charles Banks, Founder of Terroir Selections and recognised for the stellar success of the Jonata and Screaming Eagle brands.

With this year’s Wine Vision taking place in Bilbao, the capital of Spain’s Basque region, it makes sense that the programme will investigate the enduring link between food and wine. Laura Price, Content Editor of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, will lead a panel of wine producers, sommeliers and chefs to discuss how wine and food in combination can stimulate a region’s economic regeneration. Javier Ruiz de Galarreta, President and CEO of Araex Rioja Alavesa & Spanish Fine Wines, will give an account of a unique regional business model that has established the Basque Country’s wine as a global luxury product.

Wine Vision attendees will have every opportunity to sample the fruits of the Basque Country’s success. On the first evening, three top chefs will prepare examples of Basque Country cuisine paired with regional wines at a welcome reception held in the iconic Guggenheim Museum. Their restaurants, Nerua, Azurmendi and Mugaritz have six Michelin Stars between them. On the evening of the second day, the Wine Vision Reception and Dinner will be held in the three Michelin Star Azurmendi restaurant itself. “We took the decision in 2015 that, every year, Wine Vision will travel to a different wine region,” says Reed. “This allows attendees to learn about the sources of success in each region, while continuing to investigate global developments and issues within our programme. On Friday and Saturday after Wine Vision closes, attendees will have the option to investigate the region further, with wine tours to estates including Rioja Alvesa Estate and Basque Culinary Centre.

Wine Vision’s Chairman for 2015, Doug Frost, author, wine consultant, Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, welcomes the investigatory nature of Wine Vision, “This programme gives wine industry leaders around the world the chance to listen to innovative case studies, discuss the global issues that are uppermost in their minds and, for the first time, get close to the success strategies of a progressive wine region. We all learn in different ways – and Wine Vision’s got them all covered!”

Wine Vision 2015 will be held between 9 and 11 December across two venues in the City of Bilbao; the world famous Guggenheim Museum and the Alhondiga, formerly the Basque Country’s wine exchange and now, transformed by architect Philippe Starck, Bilbao’s cultural meeting point. Its sponsors include Araex Rioja Alavesa & Spanish Fine Wines and, returning for the third year running, Taylor’s Port and the world’s largest cork stopper producer, Amorim.

“We’re delighted to welcome Wine Vision to our home country and look forward to meeting our peers from across the global wine industry,” says Javier Ruiz de Galarreta, President & CEO, ARAEX Rioja Alavesa & Spanish Fine Wines. “And to introducing them to a bottle or two of our favourite wines, of course!” .

About Wine Vision

Wine Vision is a leading industry event created by the international publishing and events business, William Reed Business Media. Wine Vision was founded in 2013, takes place annually and complements a portfolio of wine publications and events, which include Harpers Wine & Spirit, and the globally renowned International Wine Challenge. It is part of a series of industry specific Vision events focused on wine, nutrition, food and drink.


Bob Lindquist proves me wrong. My second article for LE PAN Magazine.

Check out my second article for LE PAN Magazine.

Bob Lindquist is a Rhone variety pioneer, not just in California, but anywhere outside the Rhone Valley. As such, he’s one of my heroes. I love the wines he’s made at Qupe Winery over the last few decades, and he’s not so bad either. Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t mind expressing my ignorance around him; it’s a rather easy way to get schooled. I’m in the wine business to get schooled. Happens a lot.

So on one of those occasions when I just couldn’t stop myself, I told Bob that I believed Marsanne was a problematic ager. Let’s be honest: what I actually said was that it doesn’t age. Or something that stupid.

Bob laughed and told me he’d send me some wine. So you see my evil plan worked to perfection. A few weeks later I opened a box of Qupe Marsanne of various and sundry ages.

The first one was corked; let’s leave it at that. The next one, 1994 Qupe Marsanne Santa Barbara County, was definitely not corked. It was clean and correct and delicious. It showed citrus, lime, orange, lemon, wet wool (something like Vouvray), roasted nuts (something like Meursault), buttered corn (he didn’t really use American oak, did he?) and roasted green apple (something to do with aging crisp and tart white wines).

This sort of wine is exciting like old Hunter Valley Semillon is exciting; it breaks expectations apart, it makes a taster question notions of New World and Old World characteristics, and cool climates and warm climates. Does time trump all varietal and regional flavors?

I wish I had ten more bottles like this. It has successfully aged, in the sense that it has not only survived, but has improved. As it lingered, I tasted almond slivers with green apple, wet linen and lime and orange notes. The length however was not as I might have hoped. There were few earth aromas and flavors at the end, so I was left with a delightful wine, but not a GREAT wine.

Was it Marsanne’s fault? The region’s fault? The vintage? We don’t know or at least I don’t know. Maybe Marsanne always needs a bit of a boost from Roussanne, as is so common with the top Hermitage Blanc. But who needs great wine all the time? I’d take delicious wine all the time and count myself amongst the luckiest tasters in the world.

Bob’s Marsannes are that. They’re delicious. Even, and maybe especially, when they age.

– See more at:

The pain and the pleasure

Novelist Jay McInerney once wrote “Sometimes I think the difference between what we want and what we're afraid of is about the width of an eyelash.” While McInerney’s wine writings are too often dewy-eyed panegyrics to the lifestyles of the rich, there is something to the conflation of desire and anxiety, even fear. A strange study in British Columbia last year showed that a group of men crossing a swaying suspension bridge were more likely to a find a particular woman sexually attractive than if they observed that woman on flat, safe ground.

Silly news? Perhaps. But with Valentine’s Day as background, could we dare to move beyond our safe choices into less charted territory, and if we did so, would that add to the excitement? Instead of the usual Prosecco or Cava for bubbly, what if true Champagne were the tipple? Yes, it’s expensive (likely to be forty or fifty dollars) but you and your companion might discover the remarkable mix of yeast, toast, fruit and effervescence that exemplifies the best of bubbly. Try Billiot ($65), Feuillatte ($45), Gosset $50), Pol Roger ($65) and for the loveliest of pink sparklers, Bollinger Brut Rose ($90)

Oregon Pinot Noir is more talked about than consumed; the 2011 vintage has been completely overlooked: beauties such as Ayres ($28) or Adelsheim ($30) are far too gentle and elegant for most critics. The earthy notes of Rhone wines remind many of bodies in motion: Chapoutier’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine 2009 is spicy and rich.

The silken juiciness of great German Riesling may offer wine’s shortest path to pleasure. There are plenty of stars in Germany’s firmament: Fritz Haag, Gunderloch, J.J. Pruem, Karthausershof, Moenchhof, Schloss Lieser, Weins-Pruem and Zilliken are just a few. Or you can evoke Greece’s bright beaches with the brilliant sunniness of Sigalas Assyrtiko ($22) or Skouras Moschofilero ($19), both vibrant icons. Chenin Blanc has a mineral, savory character expressed best in the Loire Valley (try Huet’s Vouvrays) or in South Africa: Raats ($14) and Ken Forrester ($16) are easy to highlight.

But if deep red is the color for your Valentine, the extravagance of Italy’s Amarone is hard to top: Masi Costasera ($65), Tommasi ($70) or Zenato ($75) are deeply generous in spirit.

When your intention is to demonstrate your ardor, then ardent spirits may be just the right drop. Sure, you know Cognac, but there are other brandies to explore: I can ardently recommend its wilder sibling Armagnac (there are not many in this market, sadly) or California’s Germain Robin Craft Method Brandy ($55). As for me, I’ll give my Valentine her choice of all of these. She knows I’ll be content with any of them, along with a copita of head-spinning Del Maguey Mezcal, as good a mix of fear and pleasure as any.


This article previously appeared in the Kansas City Star



What I Drank Tonight (and quite enjoyed)

Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa Valley – After the relative elegance of 2002, I found many 2003 North Coast reds to be a bit brutish, and I have a strong affinity for wines that whisper more than shout. I would also have to admit to a prejudice regarding such wines, at a minimum, believing the elegant wines to be more likely to age gracefully. But the damning admission would be that I am as often wrong as right about the ageability of some of these wines with big tannins and warm fruit. The 2003 Ackerman strikes me as such a wine: the label says 13.5%; I find that rather unlikely. The tannins have some grit to them; there is an earthy element that is more humus than stone. But the fruit is ample (if a bit warm and stewy), the oak deft and compelling. If I am suggesting that this wine is not particularly elegant, I can also state (perhaps confusingly) that it is aging very elegantly. But this drives to the crux of the biscuit as I admit to a frequent misapprehension of Napa Cabs such as this: instead of hanging on to its hard edge, it has perceptively softened and widened its layers of flavors. A touch of spearmint, black plums and black cherry compote, elegant spice and barrel elements in the moderately long finish. Short version? I would gladly serve this to my European friends who doubt California’s ability to be true to their traditions and to make lovely ageable wines nonetheless. 

Imagining Better Wine Communications in Logrono, Spain

Winery in Spain

At the Digital Wine Communications Conference in Spain, a keynote talk was given by one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Clark Smith, a winemaker and winemaking gadfly. It would also be true that he is amongst the most vexing. To some degree, that’s by design. He wants to challenge our notions about wine and wine “purity” whatever that is.

Clark’s biggest complaint is wine writers; fair enough. He correctly denigrates many of the prejudices today’s wine press and bloggers bring to wine: the use of sulfites (must be bad, right?), additives (sounds terrible) and most annoying to him: manipulation. Writers will tell you: wine manipulation is bad. But as Clark points out, “wine does not make itself. Benign neglect is not high moral ground”, he says. “Wine writing is done today by people who don’t understand winemaking.”

Clark begins his argument by noting that the word “manipulation” has dual meaning: it might describe “shrewd or devious management by artful, unfair or insidious means.” Or it might mean “treatment or operation in a skillful manner.” When it comes to wine, the term manipulation is itself not so subtle manipulation of the reader’s prejudices. But wine is food (grape juice). Food is supposed to be natural, so isn’t manipulation in itself bad? Winemaking, as Clark likes to say, is just cooking. Would these writers insist that a chef is a devious manipulator of foodstuffs when they transform wheat into pasta and tomatoes into marinara? Beef into meatballs?

Winemakers, like chefs, ought to use all the healthful and beneficial tools in their toolkits to make the most delicious wines. Some of those tools include the addition of water, sugar, powdered tannins or tartaric acid (basically ground up parts of wine grapes), sulfur (used for centuries and in far greater proportions in bagged and dried fruits), and micro-oxygenation (just getting some air to wines), among other tactics.

There are some techniques that may be particularly confusing or unsettling, such as the addition or removal of alcohol or other compounds by fairly complicated processes. But I’m not sure I understand precisely what is happening when a chef magically creates that marvelous transformation from egg yolks and butter into hollandaise. That doesn’t mean something evil is happening.

Now, I am decidedly not arguing for wine to be something other than the fermented grape juice that it has been for millennia. Ideally, I’d like it to be affordable; and I’d like it to speak of the place in which it’s grown. I want it to remind me of human culture too. And winemakers are always coming up with some ideas for improving their own particular wines. We can argue plenty about whether or not the wines are in fact better as a result. But today, there are words and practices that frighten consumers. As Clark says, “You [in the wine press] have made honesty too expensive.” So instead we pretend nothing has happened at all. And that’s a bad strategy for wine improvement and consumer understanding.

People Drink What They Like

With the U.S. the largest single wine market, there are outsized trends for which we must bear responsibility. First up: Moscato, a gentle, (usually) sweet, (often) low alcohol white wine that has rather surprisingly been adopted by the hiphop community. Drake likes it and so do lots of other people, some of whom make records and hold microphones very close to their mouths.

But should this really surprise us? Wines with distinctive sweetness have historically been consumed in greater number than dry wines unless, of course, you are a wine snob, er, expert. Those who embrace wine with fervent passion are often dismissive of people who want their wines to have some sweetness. The people who consider themselves wine-knowledgeable can be downright rude about wines like Moscato. Too sweet, they sniff. Too simple, they snort. Apparently, at least in my telling of it, they make lots of noises with their noses.

The people who like sweetness in their wines are understandably put off by all this sniffing and snorting. Neither group has the faintest idea why the other group can’t see reason. But there’s the problem: each is having a different experience with these wines. Those whose palates prefer sweet wines are often reacting against the bitterness, astringency and tartness of dry wines. Their bodies, in effect, are telling them not to like these wines.

The people who drink these “bone-dry”, “earthy”, “powerhouse” wines (and all the other odd descriptions we wine people generate) are just as perplexed because our bodies are telling us these wines taste good. Most of us wine people aren’t very sensitive to tartness, so we often seek out things that are tart: “dry” wines are just our thing. People who lack sensitivity to bitterness like the aforementioned big, astringent wines; they figure those who don’t haven’t yet learned how great these wines are. The sweet wine drinkers have, they will say, “uneducated palates”.

What a crock.

It’s personal, as taste should be. We are not supposed to agree on what tastes good and what doesn’t. But I’ll tell you this much, more people like the sweet, mild character of Moscato than the wine snobs will admit. You go, Drake.


Loire Valley Love

Angers, FranceAngers, France – It’s quite a contrast; the university town of Angers and the countryside around it. From a tidy, nearly shiny, university town exuding white washed, business-like utility to rolling vineyards along wide and lazy rivers overseen by magnificent chateaux depicting a gilded age. These remarkable edifices, confidently bold, were once the seasonal homes for royalty and their treasurers. Today they might be held and maintained by the state; some still remain the possession of the uber-wealthy. A few centuries ago, Ben Franklin famously wiled away his ambassadorship chasing skirts in one of these castles, to the enduring distaste of John Adams. Today, these monuments still rule over the vineyards and grain fields stretching in every direction.

But the contrasts don’t end there. The Loire Valley’s agricultural lands are marked only by tawny roads, often straight, often following the contours of the gentle slopes, adding to the measured look of vast order. There is a distinct lack of visible buildings. Here in the midway point of the river’s languid flow to the Atlantic, many of the wineries utilize caves for their wine storage – ancient, humble caves carved from the soft tufa. A friable, sandy soil bound together by sticky limestone, tufa provides a distinct soil underpinning the Loire’s venerable vineyards. These caves have held not only wine, but people too. For millennia, these inhabitants of these porous dwellings have been called troglodytes. It’s not a loaded term here; it’s merely a description of a way of existing, and some caves still provide shelter for the downtrodden or even a few seeking a simpler way.

Instead I’m touring caves where wine is made and stored for sale in international markets. In these parts, Chenin Blanc is the white grape of choice for most.  For enthusiasts like me, it’s a grape capable of greatness primarily (if not solely) in this part of France.

In the central part of the Loire Valley, Chenin rises to remarkable excellence; often on the tufa soils, but other times with slate underpinning the best vineyards, especially with wines such as Savennieres, dry, earthy and powerful. But ubiquitous in American stores are Chenin Blancs labeled as Vouvray. Some are dry, most are slightly sweet and some are even produced as sparkling wines, sappy and refreshing, without all the bombast and richness of classic Champagne. That gentle character may explain why Sparkling Saumur and Cremant de Loire, as these bubblies are labeled, have never been a big factor in the U.S. market. It can’t be the prices; they’re quite reasonable.

That’s true of all Loire Valley wines: from the tart, bracing Muscadets made at and near the Atlantic coast to the fragrant, nearly lusty Sauvignon Blancs produced near the other of the river in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume (the 2012 vintage is particularly fat and lush). Aside from a few cultish brands, none of these wines will set you back much (see prices below).

It’s part of the reason I was keen to visit. But as usual, I learned far more than I expected: I thought Muscadet a pleasant wine, even interesting at times. It’s usual devoid of personality, or so I have foolishly thought over the years. It’s subtle stuff, yes, but I found here great Muscadet, even though I would have scoffed at those words before my visit. Made from a grape that announces its ├⌐migr├⌐ status in its name, Melon de Bourgogne (of Burgundy, that is), it’s more at home along France’s sea-sprayed northwest coast. Notes of salt, lemon, lime skin and tart, green apple prevail. With the region’s oysters, mussels and other shellfish, it’s as if a simple lemon squeeze has been transformed into a sauce, a garnish and a counterweight.

Even this breadth of grapes and places doesn’t begin to describe the variety of wines the long Loire Valley produces: spicy, tart red wines, tangy roses, and the most lush and unctuous of dessert wines. Despite stark contrasts between wines and styles, the wines all represent excellent value and if you thirst for some crisper and lighter styles in wine, you need to slake that thirst with some of these.