About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Carmenere: Chile's Signature Wine

Average American consumers have shown a definite increase in their willingness to explore new wines and broaden their taste experiences over the past few years.  While Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and White Zinfandel remain the mainstays of U.S. wine consumption, this trend has fueled measurable spikes in recent years in two other varietals.  These are Pinot Noir (due in some part to the movie “Sideways”) and Malbec (from Argentina in particular).  Argentinean Malbecs were the “hot” new wines to try in 2009 and 2010 and most retail establishments increased both their regular shelf inventory as well as their promotional offerings of these wines. Another varietal that has been slowly rising in popularity for the past few years that has a potential to become the next big South American wine for average consumers to explore is Carmenere.  Today, The Wine Guy would like to cover the basics about this almost uniquely Chilean wine.

Carmenere is believed to have originated in France where it was once commonly utilized as one of the blending grapes in Bordeaux.  Producers there prized Carmenere for its rich depth of color, however it was not ideally suited to the climate.  Carmenere requires more than average sun and heat to ripen, is susceptible to cloture (poor setting of fruit) and can often yield a very herbal and vegetative wine.  Following the phyloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s and a subsequent hard freeze, many producers abandoned the varietal and as a consequence, it is almost absent from French soil. The usage of Grand Vidure (what the varietal was better known as in the Bordeaux region) is still permitted today under the governing laws of Bordeaux but less than six chateaus still produce a few acres of the grape and blend it into their wine.

The 1800’s were also a time when many Europeans turned to South America for their opportunity to start their own wineries.  Most took rootstock with them and that marks the beginnings of Carmenere in Chile.  The bright Andes sun in the high valleys was much more suitable to cultivation than the damp often-chilly climes of semi-coastal Bordeaux and the vines came to be the dominant varietal in Chile.  However, the plant and the grapes were outwardly highly similar in appearance to Merlot (a mainstay grape in Bordeaux) and many of the Chilean winemakers assumed that was the grape and wine they were producing.  Many of the original vineyards planted by European immigrants were planted with a side by side mixture of both Merlot and Carmenere vines. Consequently, when Chilean wines first began to be imported, their greatest amount of offerings to U.S. consumers were labeled Merlot, a popular varietal for the U.S.  Not being the “Merlot” our palates were accustomed to and also suffering from some inconsistencies in the quality of production, these Chilean imports achieved neither great financial nor critical success.  It’s no small wonder that great Carmeneres from Chile had to wait until winemakers discovered that they weren’t able to produce a great Merlot because they simply weren't using Merlot grapes!  It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the true identity of what had become one of South America’s major volume red wines was discovered.  Since then, there’s been a gradual yet steady improvement in the wine and in the marketing efforts associated with its distribution. An enterprising importer even teamed up with one of the older immigrant wine estates (Vina Undurraga) and began offering some Carmenere wines with the tongue in cheek label of Oops (as in “Oops, my bad!”).

When fully ripened and produced well, Carmenere offers dark plum fruit flavors with light floral notes on the nose.  There’s very little astringency and the tannins are usually round and smooth, much as the merlot it was once mistaken for.  Good Carmeneres usually offer some light hints of spice, either mild black pepper or a taste similar to red chili peppers that have been slow roasted to appoint where they hint of sweetness.  If the wine is produced from under-ripened grapes, however, the spice and floral notes often disappear and the fruitiness can be overpowered by a very veggie taste that is akin to bad tasting green bell peppers. In short, when it’s good, Carmenere is very, very good but when it’s not, it can be awful!

The good news is that there are a number of well made Carmeneres reaching the U.S. and like many other good red wines coming out of South American, they can be quite affordable.  Here are some good, very affordable Carmeneres that The Wine Guy has had the pleasure of enjoying recently:

Santa Alicia Carmenere Reserva:
 The 2008 vintage was rated 89 points and the 2009 came in at 90 points.  This winery was the Chilean Winery of the Year two years ago and consistently makes good wines, often retailing in the U.S. for under $10!

Casillero del Diablo Carmenere Reserva from Concha y Toro:
These wines have been consistently rated in the upper 80’s for nearly a decade and generally retail under $15.  Concha y Toro is one of Chile’s major wine producers and exporters and if you travel to Latin America, you will find this brand is the top seller in most of the countries you’ll visit.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild Carmenere Reserva:
From the Rothschild vineyards and winery in Chile that was founded by Baroness Philippa de Rothschild (Phillipe’s daughter) in the early 2000’s.  This Carmenere is particularly smooth and noted for its judicious usage of oak ageing which can sometimes be unkind to Carmenere wine when not properly applied.  In the U.S. it generally retails under $20 but is also highly popular in fine Mexican restaurants where it costs about the same as retail here.

One tip to readers who know The Wine Guy’s love and penchant for decanting his red wines:  Carmenere is a red wine that doesn’t require lengthy decanting.  Keep your airing brief on this red,
It’s glass ready with pouring and a little sloshing (how I love using that kind of technical wine term!) in your carafe.

Go ahead and do some exploration.  Enjoy a Carmenere, Chile’s signature red wine.

Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 Wine Predictions

      A recent email newsletter from the International Wine Guild contained some welcome news.  According to Nielsen surveys of off premise wine sales in the U.S. for the fourth quarter of 2010, Italy has regained the top spot as the number one country for U.S. wine imports.  Italy had occupied that spot for over 20 years but was edged out in 2004 by the tsunami of very affordable Australia imports.

      Regular readers know well that The Wine Guy has a definite preference for Italian wines and for wines of other countries that utilize Italian varietals and follow the Italian style.  While there are plenty of wines that I cherish and enjoy and sing the praises of from down under. It’s good to see my favorite source of wine return to his spot of dominance in the U.S. consumer’s preference for imported wines. 

     There were few surprises in the 4th quarter data:  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot remain the top three U.S. varietals purchased, followed by Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and White Zinfandel.   The greatest growth rate in the purchase of U.S. grown varietals were Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.

  The top five most popular import countries accounted for over 84% of the wine imported into the U.S. in the 4th quarter of 2010.  They were Italy, Australia, Chile, France and Argentina.   New Zealand was a close 6th on the list at almost 5% of imports while all other remaining import counties combined accounted for about 11% of import sales.

   Using the sales figures rankings as an outline, here are a few speculative predictions from The Wine Guy for 2011:

The top domestic varietals:

   Still number one but look for broadening diversity in the available styles of Chardonnays on your wine market’s shelves/racks.   Improvements in unoaked chardonnays are occurring with a trend their increasing popularity and you will see an increase in the number of oaked/unoaked blends being offered as well. 

Cabernet Sauvignon:
   Napa is the traditional bastion of quality Cabernet Sauvignon with some challenging by neighboring Sonoma (particularly the Alexander Valley).  However, there appears to be an explosion of great cabernets from other locales in California and from the northwest.  Look for some exception cabs and red blends from the relatively new appellation of Horse Heaven Hills as well as other great growing areas in Washington and Oregon.

  Still a strong number three in popularity, this varietal is getting over the verbal bruising given it in the movie “Sideways”.   (I still love the irony in Miles’s most prized wine, which he drank by himself toward the end of the movie, being a merlot-dominated Bordeaux!)  It’s also growing in the variety of expression being given it from US and South American wine makers.  The northwest US and Chile are some great areas to explore.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris:
   If you love traditionally crisp Pinot Grigio, you can’t beat the better Italian producers, but the round mellow fruit tones of the recent Pinot Gris from the better Oregon producers display how subtlety great tasting good quality white wine can be.

Pinot Noir:
   Some European producers have acquired wineries in the US and are now producing some wines that combine the best characteristics of the US and European styles of Pinot Noir.  With improvement, as well, with the more affordable imported Pinot Noirs from South American and New Zealand, look for continued growth in this varietal.

White Zinfandel:
   Look for the American consumer to ever so slowly begin transitioning to drier rose.  It will take a long, long time but eventually you might even see a drier style of White Zinfandel come on the market.  In the meantime look for and import and do a comparison of your own.

The top import countries:

   Chianti and Pinot Grigio have long been the mainstays of Italian imports but look for their share of the Italian import pie to slip (in volume but not quality) as consumers discover there is a great plethora of Italian wines they can enjoy.  Look for growth in popularity of wines from the Italian regions of Albruzzo, Pulgia and Sicily in 2012.  As usual, reds will dominate the Italian imports but some US producers may begin to tickle the consumer’s interest on some new (to them) Italian white varietals.

   Continuing popularity of Shiraz is a given but look for Australia to begin increasing efforts to export some of its better reds and whites.  Some cabs will begin to make their mark and a few more American consumers will discover the good things Australians can do with Grenache on its own as well as in red blends. Total volume will slip but be partially offset by slightly higher cost.  The trend will be to the better quality yet still affordable wines from down under.

Chile and Argentina:
    South American has made inroads the past few years simply by offering bang for the buck…nicely and highly rated wines at affordable prices.  Look for continuing interest in Malbec.  Also Carmenere will continue ascendency as the next South varietal to be “discovered” by Americans.  Argentina’s Torrontes will make some slow inroads as a white varietal.  While it is potentially a great wine for the U.S. market, I don’t think its time is quite here.

    Look for a comeback in French Champagne and some exploration of French Whites.  The diversity in domestic Chardonnays may lead to US consumers returning to a previous love of French whites.
As with the South American Torrontes, French Viognier and Vouvray both have the potential to storm the white wine market in the U.S. although it’s not likely to happen yet.    Bordeaux remains soft as an import mostly due to cost but look for some moderate exploratory growth in the red blends.   Southern French rose remains a bubble waiting to burst. 

New Zealand:
    This country’s long dominant reputation in Sauvignon Blanc will likely continue.  However, if the diversity in Chardonnay leads to an exploration of taste alternatives by the U.S. white wine drinker, that could impact the volume of their exports in this area.  Look for some potential growth and discovery of New Zealand Pinot Noirs, although that will be highly dependent upon the ability to get a good volume of that product to the U.S. market profitably at a competitive price.    

Potential Surprises:
1.     Cabernet Franc has never quite made the grade in the U.S. but with some good ones are coming out of the Mid-Atlantic state, it’s a long shot waiting to happen.   Also, the north Georgia winemakers are turning to varietals such as Touriga in their blends and may eventually shed their reputation as being producers of redneck reds.

2.     Greek wines continue to improve in quality and reputation.  Aegean whites as well as mainland Nemea have great potential but the inertia of poor exposure and economic stagnation may be impossible to overcome.
S    Spain and Portugal remain just under the radar in imports.  The Douro valley in Portugal (home of the oldest wine production appellation in the world) has more than just great Port to offer but lacks the powerful marketing of the great wine families of Spain.  They may fare better in recapturing the interest of the American consumer in some red alternatives but will certainly grow their share of the sparkling market as the quality and reputation of Cava continues.
      California producers will continue their expansion of Italian varietals but will continue to suffer comparison with the dominant Italian imports.  What success they have could potentially be mitigated by the side effect of stirring interest in some good established Italian alternatives available from Latin America.
      The major growth for American consumers has previously been in red wine selections.   Mid 2011 may see that trend switch to other styles as more American wine sippers step out of the box.  Beneficiaries will be whites and rose from South America, France Italy, and South Africa.

This overview is just one wine buff’s speculation.  The trades, as well as many other bloggers, will be doing their own predictions this time of year.  It might be worthwhile to read many of these and use them as a chart to decide now what wines you would like to explore in the coming year. 


Friday, January 14, 2011

Penfolds Joins The Fight Against Aids!

During The Wine Guy’s tenure in retailing, customers perusing the Australian wine selections have often asked:  “How do you like that bottle of Penfolds?”   Over time, my stock answer became: “In my opinion, I don’t believe Penfolds knows how to make a bad bottle of wine!”   This southwestern Australian brand is almost singular in being the recipient of that kind of personal endorsement.  While there are many, many producers who often make good or great individual wines, few wineries consistently produce as many good wines over their entire product line as well as this Australian house. Over my wine tasting years, Penfolds has been consistent in its ability to offer a good value in a glass of wine, regardless of price range.   The only less than favorable experience I’ve had in a Penfolds wine came from a bottle that I’m sure was improperly stored.

Founded by English immigrants Christopher and Mary Penfold in Adelaide in 1844, Penfolds first became renown for their fortified wines, especially tawny port. By 1896 with heir and son-in-law Thomas Hyland now in full charge of the company, Penfolds & Co. accounted for fully 1/3rd of Australia’s total wine production.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the development of Grange began the company’s ascension into the ranks of the world’s most reputable producers of wine and by 1995, acclaimed wine critic Robert Parker wrote that Grange was “a leading candidate for the richest, most concentrated, dry red wine on planet earth.” Over the past two decades Penfolds has achieved recognition, penetration and popularity in nearly every major wine consuming market in the world.

The Wine Guy can count the opportunity to enjoy a five-year vertical tasting of Grange as one of his top ten wine tasting experiences ever.  However, it’s not just the luxury wines such as Grange or the higher end brands such as St. Henri that have attributed to this ascendency. It’s also their consistently good presentation of quality wines under $25.00 such as the Koonunga Hill and Thomas Hyland tier of wines.  Often retailing under $12, Penfolds Koonunga Hills Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend has been one of The Wine Guy’s “go-to” value wines for a number of years.

Just after the first of the New Year, Penfolds announced that two of its tiers:  Koonunga Hills and Thomas Hyland were becoming the first wine products ever to become affiliated with Product Red.  The brands that partner with the Product Red program contribute a portion of their proceeds to fight and combat Aids in Africa.  Roughly 67% of the AID suffers in the world are on this continent and over 3,500 of them die each day.   Penfolds is committing to making a contribution of 15% of its proceeds from the sale of Koonunga Hills and Thomas Hyland brand wines towards the fight against this disease.

Good wine...good cause…good reasons to go out and buy some wine that comes with a red screw cap.  Remember, these folks don’t know how to make a bad wine!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wine Tastings Can Be Fun & Informative!

(The Wine Guy, aka The Wine Santa, at a pre-holiday tasting conducted by a wine wholesaler)

In one of my earliest blogs on Roger’s Grapevine, I extolled the benefits of attending wine tastings. (See “Taste More-Learn More” in the blog archives:  7/19/09)   That blog dealt mainly with tastings conducted at winery tasting rooms.    Another source is the many tastings conducted by wholesale distributors.  

Many of these are for the benefit of the trade.  Wholesalers will invite both their on-premise (restaurants, bars, etc) and off-premise (retail shops and stores) clientele to trade shows and special client specific tastings to review their portfolio of offerings as well as sample new selections.  Regular readers will note that a number of my blogs have been taken from these events as they have given me an opportunity to explore, sample and learn about wines and wine producers.  Sharing that information is part and parcel of what this blog is about.

Good wholesale distributors and their better representative staff will also support wine tastings for the benefit of their client’s customers. These are great opportunities for the consumer to try and sample new wines before purchasing.  While the client's staff may conduct the tastings with sample support from the wholesaler, many are conducted by the wholesaler’s representative.  These are your best opportunity to learn about the wines being sampled.  The representative is usually quite familiar with the wine itself and with the producer’s history and can provide a wealth of information along with the sample tasting of the product.  There may be a slight “tasting fee” as there often is at winery tasting rooms.  However, this fee is often waived with a purchase of the wines being tasted.  In many cases, the tasting is complimentary.

The photos attached are of Michelle, an experienced wholesale representative in the Arizona market for Republic National Distributing Company.   Michelle focuses on retail chain accounts for her wholesaler.  She works with these accounts in assessing their inventory levels, processing orders to maintain adequate stock, providing background information and sampling opportunities for her clients.  She also regularly invests time in conducting sample tastings for her client’s customers. Back in day when The Wine Guy  (prior to my retirement)was responsible for managing the beverage department of one of Michelle’s client’s she was one of the best trade representatives I had and I make it a point to attend her tasting events when I have the opportunity.

Check with your regular suppliers of wine, be they retail or on-premise sources and discover if they regularly offer wine tasting opportunities.  Taking advantage of these events is a terrific way to advance your knowledge of wine and to explore your taste preferences.   All of us have preferences in wine but venturing from them to try something new can be enjoyable.  Most of us will also find that these preferences can change and vary over time.  

Exploring what wine has to offer is always worthwhile and with the help of professionals such as Michelle, it can be fun and informative, as well.

Try something new from the world of wine soon!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Special New Year's Toast

We’ve entered a new year!  While most of you spent the recent New Year’s weekend ringing in the new decade and saying goodbye to the old, the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I took the occasion to celebrate four decades of married life together. 

We often refer to our annual celebration as “contract renewal”.   Thank goodness the negotiations weren’t all that tough.  I thought it appropriate to include some excerpts from our weekend celebration in tribute to the one who served as my inspiration to pursue an interest in wine.

Being residents of Arizona, we “escaped” the usual New Years crowds with a trip to Tucson.
Our adventure began with a stagecoach ride at the “Old Tucson” movie studios.

                            There were some stops at an old west tavern (note the wine barrel!)

We visited a rustic watering hole (now you understand why I call her the “fetching” Mrs. Wine Guy!)

A glass of wine at the saloon and dance hall led to a photo op with Miss Kitty and the girls…. 

Thank goodness I behaved myself, otherwise I might have been left behind later at the marshal’s office.

We over-nighted at the Hacienda del Sol Resort Ranch, which offered a great sunset view from our patio.

Our celebration dinner was a five-course meal with special wine pairings for each course at the resort’s Grill restaurant.  This chef and the sommelier did an excellent job in planning and it’s one of the reasons this facility is regularly recognized with Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator.

A little extra touch for dessert was well appreciated as was the reserve Spanish Cava with which we toasted the occasion.

We began our forty-first year together with a breakfast trail ride in the desert.  A tad brisk but what fun!

                                                As the anniversary card I gave her said,

               “On the road of life, it’s not where you go but who you’re with that makes the difference.”

Here's a Wine Guy toast to the one I’ve been fortunate enough to explore the road of life with for forty plus years..  Like a superbly fine wine, age has improved the quality and enjoyment of the experience!