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U.S. Wine Consumption Increases for 17th Consecutive Year

According to the 2011 Wine Handbook, U.S. wine consumption continues to increase. Total consumption in 2010 was 303.1 million 9-liter (112 bottle) cases, up 2.1% over 2009. Total wine spending was $26.9 billion dollars in 2010. Domestic wineries benefitted disproportionately with a 3% increase. While purchases of imported wine dropped 0.9%, purchases of Australian wines here dropped precipitously, 12.5%.

The publicly released analysis related to this particular publication, created by the Beverage Information Group, isn’t very insightful. They say that “As the US economy slowly recovers, the wine industry is regaining its momentum to mark the 17th consecutive year of case gains.  This positive direction is directly attributed to the improving economy and the resulting increase in consumer confidence.” But, if growth in wine sales has continued for 17 consecutive years, then that trend cannot be attributed to improvements in the economy relative to the crisis of 2008-2009. And if their reference was solely to the increase in momentum, rather than the overall increase, then there must have been more significant thoughts they could have shared. While a shift from near flat to 2% growth is massive on a year-on-year percentage increase basis, the actual dollar and unit growth was not hugely significant.

If you have interest in the full report, which does include detailed information about sales, consumer preferences, ad spending and regional breakdowns, the 2011 Wine Handbook is available for $815 from Beverage Information Group.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine are compensated in any way for sales of the 2011 Wine Handbook.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Balance - In the Eye of the Beholder

Thomas Riley recently published a thoughtful overview on the current debate about balance, ripeness and alcohol levels in California wine. It’s a difficult, multifaceted issue with intelligent and passionate people on all sides. And there isn’t one right answer.

In a discussion on my Facebook page where I had linked to that article, Rick Davis (winemaker/proprietor at Calstar Cellars) said, “Balance to me means that alcohol, fruit, tannin and acid are in balance. Making a complete wine.” He added that he “find[s] the “lower alcohol” kick nearsighted.” I totally agree with his first statement. I think most everyone would. As for the other, I would just change the malady to tunnel vision.

Balance is, literally, a matter of taste. I don’t mean good or bad taste, though some people would make that argument. Our sense of taste and our abilities to perceive and tolerate acidity, sweetness, bitterness and alcohol strongly influence our determination of balance. Some of these abilities are genetic, some are learned and others are modified by tolerances we build up through our eating and drinking habits.

I drink espresso straight. That either means I enjoy bitterness, don’t have as many bitterness sensing tastebuds as some, have learned to ignore it or some combination thereof. (I used take my espresso with sugar but began avoiding sugar years ago.) My perception of bitterness and avoidance of sugar undoubtedly affects the way I perceive wine. For example, I might more readily notice residual sugar and be less put off by totally dry or minerally wines than someone who uses a lot of sugar.

400px-Partytrick
One man's balance is another man's heat.   Photo: Fluff

Similarly, people who typically drink a cocktail before and/or alongside dinner will generally be less sensitive to alcohol levels in wine. What is the difference between 14% and 15.5% alcohol in a Cabernet Sauvignon for a casual wine drinker whose main drink is Bourbon or a dry Martini? That person may well prefer high alcohol wine. The brisk sales of such wines suggest that to be the case, just as the huge popularity of “dry” wines with considerable RS are in step with America’s heavy consumption of sweetened food and syrupy drinks.

Sommeliers have not only their personal taste preferences but also a need for wines that create balance with food. Playing nicely with food may actually require a slightly unbalanced wine in some cases—heavy tannins to go with some meats or high-acidity to balance a creamy sauce. And high alcohol, even when balanced, can reduce a diner’s ability to taste nuances in food.

Our concept of balance changes over time as well. New or young wine drinkers often prefer slightly sweet wines, obvious oak influence and high alcohol. For many drinkers, myself included, those tasttes can change radically with age, palate training and the focus one puts into tasting a wine. A consumer may now detest the wine he loved 10 years ago.

So any two people may disagree about whether or not a given wine is balanced. Winemakers’ bottlings are tuned to their own palate and that of the management. (Unless the producer is following a recipe to match detailed research into consumer taste preferences. That approach works well for many mass market wines.)

This doesn’t even to get into the issue of whether or not it’s possible to balance high-levels of alcohol. (It is.) Or whether the port-like personality of some of high-alcohol wines—or green flavors in moderate alcohol wines—is “correct.” (It is to the people that like them.)

Taste broadly and with an open mind. Make the wine you want to make. Drink the wine you want to drink. Raise a glass to diversity and don't worry about what other people are making and drinking.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Impressions from the 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma

The 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma took place on the first two weekends of March. More than 140 wineries participated, opening both their doors and their barrels to the public. One fee of $40 per person gave wine lovers a glass and a wristband for tasting access to all of the wineries for a given weekend. I tasted on March 10 and 11.

I visited these wineries:

  • Saturday - Freestone Vineyards, Red Car, Siduri
  • Sunday - Stonestreet, Soda Rock, Kendall-Jackson (downtown Healdsburg), Joseph Swan

About the Experience

I enjoyed the weekend thoroughly. On the whole, the wines — in barrel and in bottle — were good. The tasting rooms I visited were well-equipped for the volume of people I saw there. The staff were largely helpful and friendly. I felt welcome and unhurried. Altogether, I sampled 75 wines, 20 of them barrel samples. I’ll only detail the barrel samples within this article.

There has been talk about rowdy behavior and intoxication on the part of some attendees. I have no doubt that it occurred, but I saw none. Attendees at my stops were cheerful but sober and responsible. I know though that the crowds were much bigger at places like Stonestreet and downtown Healdsburg on Saturday than on Sunday when I was there.

red-car-crowd
The Red Car tasting room has a hip vibe and was the most festive of the tasting rooms I visited.

About the Barrel Samples

Freestone Vineyards poured two barrel samples. Both were components of what will be their 2011 Pinot Noir. They will age another 11 months in barrel before blending. The Pastorale Vineyard component is from 777 and Calera clones with 11% whole cluster. It’s nose was sweet and fetching: baking spice, red cherry and vanilla with a hint of earthiness. The palate is medium-bodied with fresh acidity. The Quarter Moon Vineyard barrel is based on clone 459 with a whopping 100% whole cluster. That leads to a fuschia color with tart raspberry and strawberry flavors complemented by brown spice. The acidity is generous but so are the drying tannins. It will be a useful partner with the fleshier Pastorale, but isn’t endearing on its own.

Red Car offered a “barrel sample” of rosé which was light and fresh with an almost orange hue. There was also a barrel of 2011 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s medium-minus in color with flavors of raspberry, sweet tart and some resin from partial whole cluster fermentation (usually about 10% at Red Car). There are additional aromas of vanilla and spice. The acidity is brisk. It’s a promising sample and one can see its developmental arc resulting in something quite similar to the delightful 2010 Dreamland Pinot Noir.

Carroll-Kemp-of-Red-Car
Red Car proprietor and winemaker Carroll Kemp also poured reserving wines, inlcuding his 2010 Dreamland and 2007 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noirs.

Siduri offered up a grand assortment of wines. With their broad selection and revealing representations of terroir, the tasting was like a stroll through a gallery of vineyards. Siduri showed just one wine in barrel to the public though, the 2011 Siduri Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir. Sexton is a new vineyard for Siduri. It is on Sexton Rd. off of Bodega Highway. The wine is focused with raspberry flavors and a hint of wood framed by very moderate, light-grained tannins and acidity approaching medium-plus. The finish is generous. Very nice.

After the light-footed Pinot Noir and silky Syrah which made up most of my Saturday tasting, Sunday morning at Stonestreet Winery gave my tongue some new sensations. The Bordeaux-varietals and blends from their estate vineyards on Alexander Mountain are excellent but built for lengthy cellaring.

The 2010 Stonestreet Legacy is a multi-vineyard blend consisting of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. Focused aromas of black currant and currant leaf announce the Cabernet Sauvignon while a background of dark chocolate and smoke make reference to the French oak barrels. The body is medium-plus with notable acidity and prominent, chalky tannins that coat the mouth but aren’t drying. Pure flavors of black currant, blackberry and currant leaf persist for nearly a minute. This is a very good wine and will be accessible upon release but will improve for at least a decade in the cellar. It will be released in September, 2013.

The 2010 Stonestreet Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in December, 2013. It’s the company’s flagship wine and 300 cases will be bottled. It is a single-vineyard wine coming from the highest of all the Stonestreet estate blocks at 2,400 feet. In the glass, the wine is dark ruby with deep aromas of black currant, currant leaf, black cherry, mocha and redwood. The wine is medium-plus in body with flavors that echo the bouquet until silenced by strongly drying, chalky tannins. This wine will want cellaring for several years after release, but will reward the wait.

From Stonestreet I headed down Hwy 128 a short distance to Soda Rock Winery, having never been there before. Re-opened in January 2011 by it’s new owners, Ken and Diane Wilson, it is still under-going restoration and renovation. However, it’s already an airy and attractive place with an old-timey feel. It appears to be geared for events and was a popular stop for carloads of attractive 20-somethings.

Soda Rock offered four barrels of it’s own wine and two from Pezzi King. [Pezzi King had just been purchased by Ken Wilson.I found the 2010 Soda Rock Primitivo the most attractive of the Soda Rock sips with purple berry and vanilla flavors carried by moderate tannins with very fine texture. The 2010 Pezzi King Harris Kratka Vineyard Zinfandel was also fun with bright blueberry and blackberry fruit.

After Soda Rock, I made a stop at the Jimtown Store for lunch. I had a good time looking through the mix of food items, knickknacks and antiques in the general store while waiting for my Flying Goat Coffee espresso and a reuben sandwich. Once fortified, I drove into Healdsburg and quickly found a parking spot on the square. A short walk took me to Kendall-Jackson.

Kendall-Jackson had one barrel to taste, the 2010 Highland Estates Hawkeye Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard, on Alexander Mountain, provides Cabernet Sauvignon purity reminiscent of the Stonestreet wines, proud flavors of black currant, black cherry, redwood, spice and cocoa. However, the Highland Estate tannins, while still chalky, are gentler and promise earlier accessibility. The wine is also more fruit driven, lacking the currant leaf aspect. It’s a very good wine that also has crowd-pleasing potential.

On the way home, I stopped in at Joseph Swan Vineyards (no relation). Their setup was the most fun. They had six barrels open, each providing samples via a shiny glass wine thief. Spitting and dumping was accommodated by large wood, sawdust-filled boxes on the floor. There was no place for me to sit my glass down, so I couldn’t take notes.

I do remember my favorite from among their wines though. It was the 2010 Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Syrah. It is dark and medium-plus in body, supple with deliciously earthy and leathery dark fruit flavors. Another standout was the 2010 Tannat Matthew’s Station Vineyard. Tannat is best-known as an inky, astringent and often rustic wine from southern France. I sipped the darkly-tinted barrel sample suspiciously. The flavors were also dark but they and the texture were polite, even urbane. “Hey, that’s pretty good,” I said to myself. If you’d like to aopdt a fully-housebroken Tannat, give this one a try.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

The Best White Wines at Sonoma in the City 2013

I attended the 2013 Sonoma in the City (San Francisco) trade and media tasting on April 16. It was a three-hour long, walk around tasting. Every AVA in Sonoma County was represented and at least 130 wineries had wines on offer.

My plan was to start with the whites, move onto Pinot Noir and then to the bigger reds. That proved impossible. I was only able to get through the white wines and taste about ten rosé and red wines in the allotted time. However, I did taste, rate and write notes on 111 white wines. There were a few producers I missed, such as Quivira, Frostwatch and Duckhorn. Several prominent producers didn't attend (at least not with whites or a dedicated table), including Hirsch, Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard, Dunstan, Three Sticks, Moshin, Woodenhead, Failla, Littorai, Peay, etc.

Overall, the wine quality was high. There were at most 20 wines that I scored below 87 points. Six earned 93 points or better.

The wines were not only well-made, but distinctive side-by-side. Sure, there was a lot of apple and pear in the Chardonnay, grapefruit and guava in the Sauvignon Blanc. And full-body was the norm. These weren’t cookie-cutter or manufactured wines though.

There were also some good values. Chief among the sweet deals is the 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc at just $16. But don’t overlook the beautiful 2011 Cartograph Floodgate Vineyard Gewurtztraminer at $22 or the two Chardonnay from MacRostie Winery.

The wines below are those I rated most highly amongst the whites. Each of them scored an equivalent of 90 points or higher. I have listed them in alphabetical order within each quality segment. I apologize for the lack of detailed notes on the Highly Recommended. I had them all entered and then lost it in a web-fail. I'm posting the article as is rather than holding it for another two hours while I redo those notes.

Very Highly Recommended

2010 Clouds Rest Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
Beautiful and aromatic. Fruit blossoms, baking spice, stone fruit and citrus. Nearly full-bodied, but fresh with a long finish.

2010 Flowers Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $40
Full-bodied, fresh and flavorful with pear, baking spice and stone fruit.

2010 Flowers Chardonnay Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $58
Aromas and flavors of green apple, baking spice, pear, savory herb and a waft a yeasty bread. Full body.

2009 Gary Farrell Vineyards Chardonnay Westside Farms Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $38
Gentle on the nose, but complex. Baking spice, warm nuts, apple, pear, ginger and cream.

2010 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Valley Sonoma County, $75
Juicy, delicious, long and, as usual for Hanzell Chardonnay, a wine that will be even more charming after 3 - 10 years in the cellar.

2011 Red Car Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $54
Gorgeous and my favorite white of the day. Medium+ body and long with baking spice, ginger, apple, oak and loads of ripe and juicy pear.

T040513 f

Highly Recommended+

2009 MacRostie Winery Chardonnay Wildcat Mountain Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $35
Aromatically restrained but generous on the palate. Spice, apple, pear. Nearly full-bodied.

2011 Red Car Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $35
Elegant nose, balanced palate. Baking spice, walnut skin, apple, pear, butter and cream.

Highly Recommended

2010 32 Winds Wine Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard Carneros Sonoma County, $49
2010 Argot Chardonnay “Hidden Truths” Bennett Valley Sonoma County, $42
2010 Balletto Pinot Gris Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $18
2012 Grey Stack Sauvignon Blanc Rosemary’s Block Bennett Valley Sonoma County, $30
2011 Benovia Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $36
2010 Capture Wines Sauvignon Blanc Les Pionniers Sonoma County, $45
2010 Capture Wines Chardonnay Ma Vie Carol Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Sonoma County, $48
2011 Cartograph Gewurtztraminer Floodgate Vineyard Russiant River Valley Sonoma County, $22
2011 Clouds Rest Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc “Musque” Green Valley of Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $38
2011 Del Dotto Chardonnay Cinghale Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma County, $85
2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $16
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $35
2011 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $50
2011 Fort Ross Chardonnay Estate Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma County, $40
2011 Freeman Chardonnay RYO-FU Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $40
2010 Gary Farrell Vineyards Chardonnay Russian River Selection Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $32
2011 Gary Farrell Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $25
2004 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Sparkling Wine Carneros Sonoma County, $32
2011 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay “Sebella” Sonoma Valley Sonoma County, $36
2011 Hartford Court Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $30
2010 Hartford Court Chardonnay Stone Cote Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $60
2010 Hartford Court Chardonna Fog Dance Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $65
2011 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $30
2011 Keller Estate Pinot Gris La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $30
2012 Kokomo Winery Sauvignon Blanc Timber Crest Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $20
2010 La Follette Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $38
2010 MacPhail Family Chardonnay Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
2011 MacRostie Winery Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $25
2008 Martinelli Winery Chardonnay Three Sisters Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $60
2011 Mauritson Family Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, $21
2010 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $75 (sold out)
2010 Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $38
2010 Ramey Chardonnay Platt Vineyards Sonoma County, $60
2009 Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard, $60
2012 Twomey Estate Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $25
2011 Sojourn Cellars Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sonoma County, $45
2010 Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards Chardonnay “The Cutrer” Russian River Valley Sonoma County, $32
2010 The Donum Estate Chardonnay Estate Carneros Sonoma County, $50
2011 White Oak Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County $16

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

J Vineyards & Winery Certified Sustainable by CSWA

J Vineyards & Winery has announced it has been certified sustainable in accordance with the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance (CSWA) program. That program, established in 2010, features 227 “best practices” with third-party verification. There are now 51 wineries and/or vineyards certified sustainable by CSWA. Included among them are wineries of all sizes, from the small, Santa Cruz Mountains producer Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards to family-owned Honig Vineyards & Winery of Napa Valley to mega-big E & J Gallo.

TearJ has been working toward certification since the inception of the program. "This has been my vision for J since its founding 25 years ago." said Judy Jordan, J Founder and President. "The business practices we have implemented over the past three years are keys to a healthier future."

"For the past two years, we've been diligently working on aligning J with CSWA's commitment to wine quality," said John Erbe, J Vineyards & Winery Viticulturalist. "Our estate vineyards have been planted utilizing the latest techniques in water conservation, wildlife habitat corridors, and soil erosion reduction."

According to J, their sustainability measures include:

  • Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and cover-crop programs throughout the winery's ten estate vineyards to protect riparian habitats. IPM methods are also used to build soil tilth while attracting beneficial insects.
  • Replacing all inefficient incandescent lights throughout the winery with new, high-intensity, lower energy lighting.
  • Recycling all paper, corks, and glass used throughout the winery.
  • Reducing water used throughout the winegrowing and winemaking process.
  • The computerization of refrigeration compressors to reduce energy consumption, coupled with energy-efficient cooling towers.
  • Replacing existing water boilers with higher-efficiency heaters that work in stages.
  • Reducing the weight of sparkling and varietal wine bottles.
  • Low VOC paints throughout the winery.

Judy Jordan established J Vineyards and Winery in 1986 to make sparkling wine from Russian River Valley fruit. The first vintage, released in 1991, was the 1987 J Vintage Brut. In 1997 she purchased the winery facilities, south of Healdsburg, and 118 acres of vineyards from Piper Sonoma. J's winery and tasting room remain in that location. Prior to creating her wine business, Jordan had earned a geology degree from Stanford and worked briefly in that field. The daughter of Tom Jordan (founder of Jordan Vineyards in Alexander Valley), she had also grown up around and worked in the wine business. Today, J Vineyards and Winery holds 250 acres of vineyards and makes high-quality sparkling wines and still wines from grapes associated with Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris. {Pinot Gris used to be an accepted component of Champagne.]

The J Vineyards & Winery Visitor Center and Bubble Room is located at 11447 Old Redwood Highway, just south of Healdsburg.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of J Vineyards and Winery. All rights reserved.

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