Archive for the 'American wine' Category

Jim Barrett and the Irish Order of the Wine Geese

Jim Barrett, who purchased Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley in 1972, died yesterday at the age of 86 (see bio). Chateau Montelena burst on to the international stage just a few years after Barrett purchased the property when its chardonnay outpaced other whites to win the Paris Tasting of 1976. This was captured (with a degree of artistic license) in the film Bottle Shock a few years ago. Bo Barrett, Jim’s son who took over the title of winemaker at Montelena in 1982 (which he yielded to Cam Perry in 2008), told me once that the film generated a huge amount of interest in visiting the property and sent tasting room sales soaring. The wines continue to be very good including restrained versions of both Zinfandel and Chardonnay as well as cellar-worthy cabernets.

In the press release about Jim Barrett’s death, one of his affiliations caught my eye: he was a member of the Irish Order of Wine Geese. What? That’s a new one to me. Thankfully, Senior Irish Wine Correspondent and now Master of Wine Mary Gorman-McAdams wrote a piece about it over at It turns out to be a loose collection of those with Irish heritage in the wine industry worldwide. Bordeaux famously had the Barton and Lynch families among others, Australia has Jim Barry as well as the Horgan family of Leeuwin Estate, and there are several in the US, including Concannon and Montelena.

So that gives a few wine options if you want to raise a glass of something other than green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sure Jim Barrett would approve.

BREAKING: Trader Joe’s raises the price of Two Buck Chuck

Trader Joe’s is raising the price of Two Buck Chuck from $1.99 to $2.49, citing higher costs. Introduced in 2002, it’s kind of hard to believe they hadn’t raised the price already. Oh, and people are already throwing around “upchuck” as a new nickname after the price increase–or, wait, was that a tasting note?

Good thing I loaded up on Charles Shaw while it was still $2–my wine collection has now appreciated by 25%! Mmm, aged Charles Shaw…

Oh, and it’s been about $2.99 in NYC for a while.

California Cremant?

With all the uproar over Korbel “champagne” being poured at Monday’s inauguration, it’s time to wonder aloud whether sparkling wine from California needs a term of its own. Other French bubblies are known as crémant, Spain has cava, Germany has Sekt, even England has Britagne.

“Sparkling wine” is incredibly anodyne as a term. Given all the marketing geniuses that we have in this country, you’d think we could come up with a name of our own. Maybe French it up with a term like “California Crémant”? Or go with the American love of acronyms and pour some CSW? (California sparkling wine)

What do you say?

Just how concentrated is the wine industry? [graphics]

Philip Howard, a professor at Michigan State specializing in food systems, has led a team to assemble a superb infographic that depicts just how big is Big Wine–and how few companies control choices at supermarkets.

He’s put the graphics on his web site. Now you can find out just which brands Gallo and Constellation own! (Not to pick nits, but it’s not clear why Pam Bay and W.J. Deutsch get separate boxes than two of the brands they import, Cavit and Yellow Tail, respectively.)

The US wine industry has been quite concentrated in much of the post-Prohibition era, especially compared to France or Italy, which are dotted with small vignerons. This corporate concentration is most on display at the drug stores (!) and grocery stores that the Michigan team visited (those store buyers buy from distributors–a graphic of wine distributor consolidation would be really fascinating and probably more enlightening about wine consumer choices.) Fortunately, even if Big Wine is pretty big, there is a tasty countermovement underway in California (and elsewhere) as new, small labels are popping up–one of my exciting trends to watch for 2013. The hardest part is finding the wines, which is where specialty wine shops are invaluable.

Click through and zoom to learn which wine brands Altria, the cigarette maker, owns. Also check out Howard’s graphics on beer and coffee industries!

Top wine trends for 2013 – and a hangover analysis

It’s January, so it’s time to put down the crystal glasses and take out the crystal ball. I have a piece on about the top trends for 2013. Click through to find out my thoughts on critics, millennials and craft beer. Which stories/issues are you watching this year?

Also, an oldie but a goodie: in 2008, the New Yorker ran a piece on hangovers, their causes and possible cures. There are lots of good lines in the piece, but one takeaway for wine geeks is the suggestion that overindulging in red wine gives more of a hangover than white because of the greater presence of congeners. How does that square with your experience?

About those Jefferson bottles…

thomas jeffersonThomas Jefferson is often known in wine circles as the best friend that wine enthusiasts ever had in the White House. He might even have been the sommelier-in-chief since he frequently poured wine at official functions (he abhorred whiskey, the main drink of the day) and had wine vaults built below the east colonnade for his collection. At that time, entertaining expenses came out of the president’s own pocket; a story in the now-defunct Wine News once put the valuation at $11,000, or about $200,000 in today’s money.

However, Jefferson was also complicated and deeply hypocritical argues an op-ed in yesterday’s Times. While Jefferson maintained that men were “created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he continued to own slaves at Monticello for fifty years after the Declaration even while some (but not all) of his contemporaries freed theirs. And to make the connection to wine, there was this passage in the op-ed:

[Jefferson] sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.

The article doesn’t state whether this was after his presidency. But it does reveal the economic basis for at least some of his wine purchases, which casts the real Jefferson bottles in a different light.

Sandy and the aftermath

In the wine world, we often talk about weather. But usually it’s about how it affects the grapes, not the the places where we drink it.

Well, it’s been five days since we had power at our house and it’s still dark. But we’re far from being the worst affected by Hurricane Sandy as New York and New Jersey have been declared federal disaster areas. Indeed, in light of the devastation and relative depravity in the area, writing about wine seems a little superfluous. As the storm was approaching, it was fun to joke about hunkering down with wine. But after seeing the damage, it’s a little sobering to say the least. Nonetheless, wine can be a balm and I hope that everyone affected can return to enjoying a glass of wine soon enough, thanks to the Herculean efforts of rescue workers. And here’s to hoping that the many wine shops and restaurants with thoughtful wine programs in lower Manhattan and the region are able to return to business soon without too much loss.

We hope to return to regular posting on Monday.

Say champagne, mean Champagne

Almost half of the sparkling wine sold in the US says champagne on the label. The only catch: that’s “California champagne,” usually with the “California” in 2-point font and the “Champagne” in 36-point bold.

So says the Champagne Bureau USA, the DC-based arm of the CIVC, the Champagne trade association. Although the term is banned in Mexico and Australia for domestic sparkling wine, and Canada will phase out the use of any domestic use of “Champagne” in 2014, the US–the third largest market for Champagne after France and the UK–has no such sunset. Six years ago, the EU and US agreed to allow no new labels to use the term thus limiting the term to existing labels (about 16 comprise almost all the volume). Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, thinks it’s time to tighten the laws and ban “California Champagne” on labels.

“US law agrees with protecting communal names such as Napa Valley,” he says. “Yet it permits duplicity with Champagne.” Read more…


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