Pet Nat Sounds

I open a bottle of Texas (yep, howdy, boy, Texsus is wut ahm talkin’ bout) Pet Nat wine and it’s a fisssssss not a Pop! All is well and good. Pet Nat wines, you see, are not always fully sparkling. Usually they’re a bit light on the heady alcohol, but this being the Great State of Texas, this stuff is 13.2%. By Pet Nat standards that is freaking close to Port. But then the Pet Nat world is not your normal wine world – its name was birthed in the Loire Valley but its roots reach back to antiquity. Any wine bottled before fermentation was completed was likely to be naturally petillant, or pet nat. Yeast, you see, also produce CO2 while they are converting sugar to alcohol.

A few Loire producers decided to cute up this old thing by giving it the darling moniker of Pet Nat. It’s worked. Lots of people are doing it the Pet Nat way. Even in Tejas.

So visiting some of the central Texas wineries that interest me, and Williams-Chris is definitely once of those, and amongst all the reliable wines they sell is a genuine Petillant Natural (cuz it says so on the label) Rose 2015. I buy one and chill it to chill out on my Austin evening. Dried strawberry, touch of cranberry and red currant. Kinda cool. Clean. True and tasty.

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:

My first article for LE PAN Magazine

Hope everyone enjoys my first article for LE PAN Magazine on The Carcavelos crusaders: Resurrecting an ancient wine. I’m very excited about this new project.

A famed and legendary dessert wine of Portugal, Carcavelos was once considered a worthy peer to the country’s other great fortified wines of Madeira, Port and Moscatel de Setubal.

Yet it has been virtually absent from the marketplace for decades. Now a young group of enthusiasts is rescuing it from near-certain extinction.

The vines of Carcavelos barely hang on, snaking along the backyards of a row of sterile, modern apartment buildings. These vineyards date back to the mid-18th century, planted as part of an agricultural station founded by Marques de Pombal, the (sometimes) benign dictator responsible for Port’s delineation in the mountains above the Douro River, and countless other public works.

But many of the vines were grubbed up to make room for these high-rises looming overhead; and the ribbon of vineyards leads to a refurbished agricultural station (again, courtesy of Pombal).

Here two young wine lovers, Alejandro Lisboa and Tiago Correia are making Carcavelos, something that hasn’t happened in years.

They’ve had the backing of the nearby town of Oeiras; with EU assistance, 3 million euros (US$3,271,590) have been spent on the restoration project. It was a last ditch chance to resurrect Carcavelos, though vines can be still found here and there around the region. “The other [vintners] are not producing anymore,” explains Lisboa, “they’re just bottling old wines [wines still in cask].”

There are a total of 60 acres of vines in the defined district of Carcavelos, half of them are hiding between those apartments.

They’re a mix of grapes: Arinto, Galego Dourado, Ratinho, while Lisboa explains, “the oldest wines mixed red and white grapes.”

The law still defines Carcavelos as having two years in barrel and six years in bottle; here, they prefer five or more years in barrel. But they’re experimenting with grapes, barrels and everything they can to restore the region’s past glory.

Alejandro is a landscape architect; his partner Tiago is a technical engineer.

These are not their day jobs. “It is our passion but not our businesses. When we sell one bottle, we are not getting rich. We are restoring our heritage.”

– See more at:


The Flavors of Spirits Past

A counterfeiter of old wines, Rudi Kurniawan, was recently convicted for earning millions selling faked bottles of wine. Such is the value of certain old wines, some of them selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully there is not yet a similar market for old spirits bottles, though it may not be far in the future.

But at this particular moment, old spirits bottles are mere novelty to many, with auction markets and sites only recently including them among their offerings. There is a market nonetheless: among noteworthy bars, Seattle’s justly famed Canon includes tastes of pre-Prohibition whiskies for $100 a shot and more, some bottles scoured from forgotten home bars. Indeed there are probably goodies slumbering in countless basements and unlike wine, time and fluctuating temperatures need not destroy the value and quality of these beverages.

Most spirits are bottled at forty percent alcohol or higher, and they are tough to kill. Their alcoholic strength reflects their very purpose: they will retain their flavor and character nearly forever unless they are exposed to bright lights, air or high temperatures. When someone fishes a bottle of wine out of their grandparents cellar, it’s usually devoid of fruit and good flavor, but when folks come forth with old spirit, chances are good the spirit in the bottle will still be willing.

At a recent tasting, there were several decades-old bottles and all of them seemed no worse for the wear.  Gene Darby, a local enthusiast, had brought in several gems: a Canadian rum and two blended Scotch whiskies. We were mightily impressed by the rum from Gooderham and Worts, a Toronto distillery that closed in 1990, the last of a once proud and robust Canadian rum industry. The pint bottle had its own tin shot cup as its lid, and the bottle was embossed with the facade of a mountain man and his prodigious beard, covering nearly the whole bottle. The rum was quite pleasant, with buttery, somewhat hot, molasses notes. As far as we could ascertain, it dated from the 1920s.

The first of the whiskies was a bottle of Seagrams VO with a tax stamp of 1977, courtesy of Ryan Maybee of Manifesto and the Rieger. It was enjoyable with caramel and chocolate notes, but it was fairly light and short, much as VO has been for as long as I can remember. Indeed this was good evidence that time may have no particular effect on most spirits, for better or worse.

Darby had also brought along Highland Queen Grand 15 blended Scotch whisky 15 year old, and it carried a 1969 tax stamp. This was fairly delightful with smoky notes of peat and iodine, a buttery texture, a nutty intensity with almond and hazelnut, ending in caramel but consistently showing elegance. While a similar Highland Queen bottling is available, this was my first taste and I might seek out some others.

Tasty but perhaps not as exciting was a Dewars Victoria Vat that probably dated from the 1940s. Victoria Vat no longer exists but today you may find Dewars Ancestor to be a similar whisky from the same house. The Victoria Vat offered honey, almonds, and hints of caramel, flowers and seaweed. Throughout it was light and mild, but carried good length.

The excitement of some of these old spirits differs greatly from old wines for which you expect flavors and aromas to have evolved into something heretofore unrevealed. Spirits can go more or less only one direction (down). Unless the spirit has deteriorated, what is exciting instead is the rediscovery of flavors that may no longer be part of the repertoire of a particular brand, as is the case with some old bottles of Chartreuse, a brand that has evolved and changed for centuries.

There may not yet be big money in it, but there is plenty of reason to see what your parents and grandparents have squirreled away in the drinks cabinet. Good hunting!

This article previously appeared in the Kansas City Star

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. 

Wine consultant & writer, one of only four people in the world to hold both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine titles