Monday, August 29, 2016

BRAMBLES: What to Drink Next?

As the tasting glass was returned to the bar, he sheepishly looked up and offered that he really likes wine, but was unable to talk about it. "I am not a poet", he declared.  We should not be required to be lyrical in order to enjoy a glass of wine, yet, the marketing focus increasingly seems to be that wine consumers should to be able to confidently offer some quippy 'wine-speak' to demonstrate their prowess as knowledgeable wine lovers. Has wine loving reached the point in its luxury consumerism that we only pronounce enjoyment in our glass of syrah that 'offers 'mulled juniper berries and damp forest floor'?

Throughout its long history wine has been a social beverage, a libation to be shared and enjoyed responsibly.  As a luxury commodity however, premium wine has earned(paid for) its long and increasingly marketed history, evolved from booze for the privileged to a fine gentleman's refreshment, to a liquid symbol that segregates the proletariat.  On one hand it is evelage(rising or development) for such a pleasure as wine, something that was felt as strongly as poetry in a bottle  to be described in a lexicon of poignantly beautiful terms.  But at its core, wine is about the delicious, individual discovery to be found in a every glass.
Austria's Heuriger wine tavern

Brilliant color, perhaps found no where else in nature, combined with the symphony of aromas that lift from the glass only begin to introduce wines' charms.  That tactile dance in your mouth, the complexity of its delicious liquid personality, and lingering aftertaste warmed on the palate to enhance its unique memory combine to make our individual relationship with wine something quite special.  Genetic variations in individual taste perceptions mixed with our unique food histories result in no two of us having the very same taste perceptions, meaning that the wine party in your mouth and brain are yours alone!  All the more reason to share the pleasure of the experience, and raise a glass(or two).

Glossy industry magazines flush with premium brand advertising, those lifestyle features promoting a particular glamour label, combined with the omnipresent shelf talkers of retail displays commingle to find us swimming in a remontage(pump-over) of marketplace enhancement that seduces wine consumers without yield. Reach for a bottle off a retail shelf, and collect a wine-speak catch phrase in the bargain.  Even as the overwhelming volume of wine we consumers regularly drink is below the premium categories, our expedition into higher priced bottles finds us within a torrent of testimonials and inherited greater responsibilities to speak of wine knowledgeably. And, for novice premium wine consumers a little sense for wine will reward beyond the pocketbook and into the unique qualities to be found in every glass.

"The joy is in the journey"' certainly applies to wine with its individual and emotional connection to our sense of pleasure. So then it may be most important for wine lovin' consumers just to venture forth, to continue to explore different labels, regions beyond the norm.  In doing so they will begin to absorb wine knowledge in the most pleasurable way, one glass at a time, no matter how they can describe it. Now, what to drink next?


Tasting Values:
Piero Mancini 2014 Vermentino Di Gallura 2014; yellow-green hue, citrus and mineral aromas, with moderate acidity leads notes of yellow apple, stone fruit and a kiss of bitter almond; and dances with white fish or light dishes! (could not help myself)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

BRAMBLES; Taste That!

"The wine one has drunk can't compare to the wine one is about to drink"

Local grape crops have begun to change colors, an annual occurrence that this year is arriving early. It is veraison, where the fruit acidity(malic) declines, allowing tartaric acids to become increasingly prominent, and while then gradually increasing the production of sugars.  Its natures survival cycle, as the vines maturing propagation needs and its cycle of ripening continue to physically evolve.

Nearby, early ripening, high acid Pinot Meunier begins our harvests in the cool, dark hours of a late July Thursday morning, destined to be used in regional sparking wines. Part of a traditional and time honored recipe, Meunier is widely planted in its ancestral homeland of Champagne, and remains an important building block here to our many local sparkling house cuve'es or blends.

Local birds, too, have also noticed the color change, an indication that the seeds found in the fruit were ripening, becoming less bitter.  It becomes an increasingly common site across these endless acres of manicured rows, draped with netting to protect the precious harvest of premium wine grapes valiantly enjoying their final hours of sugar producing sun, the culmination of the annual cycle.
Verasion begins maturity

Just like the birds, our recognition of what is in our wine glass prepares our wet appetite.  Hue, clarity, brilliance and intensity that are recognized prepares us for an anticipated and hopefully delicious wine experience. On site, dark wines should then remind us of dark fruits, offering the opportunity to enjoy its unique color and flavor profile. Rising from the glass are complex and volatile aromatics that when perceived individually translate to countless aroma memories, many times too numerous or congested to be clearly recalled. Yet, absorbing the air-mixed nuance from the glass is one of the joyful traits of most quality wines. Just Imagine. Could that be the aroma of stewing fruit on the stove-top with a whiff of a cigar box or hint of citrus fruit bowl nearby? Imagine!

Site, sniff, savor and swallow(or spit)

Feeling the sensation of drawing wine into your mouth; holding on the palate it as we warm it up, making those many impressions found more perceptively volatile.  As we take in a small amount of air, and the hundreds of airborne compounds rise to reinforce our first aromatic impressions, sending these countless flavor memories to our brains.  The flood of signals are recognized, reacting with our taste memories to create an impression of past experiences. The taste lingers, offering us the unique opportunity for recognition to be savored; a lingering expression that can even follow beyond the eventual swallow.  This taste recognition, repeated, promotes our ability to increasingly recognize the physical effects of and the emotional memories that exist for each of us to enjoy in every wine.

Tasting is a discipline, to be sure.  But the rewards await, compounded by the repeat of the exercise.  How has that wine in the glass changed from its initial impression?  When reacting with food pairings does the tasted wine display other facets of its diverse personality? When repeated, the wine tasting exercise beckons to explore, to go further, beyond our comfort zones and invariably offers the taster the chance to 'expand' the palate with broader recognition.  And we can suddenly realize that this hedonistic exercise searching for pleasure in a glass actually offers the taster an opportunity to alter the perception, the change the cadence of passing time.  As we take a cue from our local birds, it all begins with the recognition of what is held in the glass. Now, taste that!


Thursday, June 30, 2016

CHENIN BLANC: 'Put me in, Coach'

Royal vineyard landscapes of the Loire
 Multi-faceted, adaptable and generous.  It certainly helps if there is a high standard of recognized quality in your arsenal as well.  These are exactly the qualities of the taken for granted utility player, quietly dependable, just like in the pass time that is baseball.  These same qualities apply to a noble white grape variety that is truly under appreciated, Chenin Blanc.  From its earliest chronicles in the 9th century, reliable Chenin has been the workhorse of the Loire, where it is utilized to make a broad selection of often taken for granted, delicious wines.  And yet, sitting at the end of the varietal bench, it on occasion needs to stand up and declare, 'put me in, Coach', for I have something uniquely special to offer!
Carbon dioxide rising from traditional method Chenin Blanc
An aromatic varietal, Chenin offers lactic notes of clotted cream or buttermilk, or whiffs of straw flowers to roasted nut, dancing with fruit characters that readily appear apple to melon to citrus. Its high acid promotes its longevity, evolving to a continued production of yummy esters that produce a rich, increasingly aromatic bouquet as this varietal ages.  Additionally, its ancestral homeland of the riverlands that are the royal Loire, promotes conditions that invite botrytis, the fungal attack that ushers a concentrating of flavors and sugars to produce glorious, viscous late harvest wines.  As a true workhorse, Chenin also produces amazing dry to off-dry sparking wines from the time honored traditional process, known outside of Champagne as Cre'mant or Mousseux; acid driven wines that are offering more than visual, but also a refreshing sensory impact from the released CO2(carbon dioxide).

Perhaps to re-affirm its overlooked bench position, there today is much more Chenin planted in the old soils of South Africa, where the variety is known by the synonym Steen, and is also planted widely in California's Central Valley AVA, where it adds substance to many generic white blends and typically is not identified by its varietal name at all. In the Loire, various levels of grape ripeness create a spectrum of styles with versatile Chenin, so still wines can be identified as dry(sec) or off-dry(demi-sec), where increasing amounts of residual sugar create a more weighted body and richer styles. Allowable AOC minimum levels for designations(sec vs demi-sec), complex soil profiles(sandstone to clay, schist to chalk) and a moderating influence of the numerous rivers all combine here in the meandering Central Department to produce a broad variety of Chenin wines from the same general region, so it becomes important to know the producers. All we need to do is put a little Chenin in the game(on the table or picnic blanket) to be refreshed by its substance and personality.

Consistent Chenin Blanc can hit for a tasty average, offering high quality stylings that can be counted on.  Its versatility finds it covering many different field positions wherever it is cultivated( AOC's Anjou, Saumur Blanc, Savennie'res, Vouvray, and southern hemisphere locales), and reliably produces wines of distinction, of substance and charactrer that can reflect their unique environment(terroir). As a high acid chilled wine, the utility of Chenin continues to shine when paired with a spectrum foods like roasted chicken or chilled asparagus.  This season it may be time to put a little Chenin in your life, and savor the greatness that was on your bench all along.

Tasting Values:
  M-A-N Coastal Region Chenin Blanc(Steen) 2015 South Africa


Wine Links:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

BRAMBLES: Get Out & Taste!

Beaujolais Nouveau promotion in Japan

Seasonally warmer weather brings not only shorter sleeves, but also a broad selection of regional hospitality events.  Invitingly, this casual season encourages each of us out to explore the beauty of our landscape and the generosity of numerous social events that can seem on the surface to be revenue drivers for their respective winery venues. Visitors can be exposed to a head swirling number of choices at such events.  Which trending food truck to visit? Is it reasonable to stand in the longest line to sample a popular libation, or is time best served by quantity(visit as many as possible)?  Shall I leave my circle of friends and search out brands that are of no interest to them?

Wine sampling events have almost always been part of the business of wine.  Today, these popular festivals create the opportunity to expose your product(s)(brand) to many qualified new consumers in a controlled environment; to reduce the tasters broad, diluted market restrictions of choice; and sometimes even the restriction of a buying decision.  Consumers can enjoy them all!  But, ultimately a rewarding choice needs to be made by a consumer among a short list of visited brands. By virtue of their event pass consumers can feel, of course, that they paid for all of them!  But, if it is barrel tasting weekend or an AVA (American Viticultural Area) weekend pass, consumers are often guided, even encouraged, to try new brands that they have not previously enjoyed. Encouraged consumers at these wine events seem to be quite happy being in the select company of many others who appear to be really into the same thing: celebrating local wine.

Creative brands can actually maximize the events positive brand impact; being so distinct from their neighbor winery or offering an environment that is simply more fun.  Nearby, there are producers who get the reputation as being a 'party central' venue, or providing a most memorable wine experience. Other brands cultivate new business, collect valuable marketing information to begin a 'dating' period, promote their wine club sign-ups, and some even sell more wine than on a typical weekend. What we know is that a great consumer hospitality experience will typically encourage return visits to the brand, thus increasing the opportunity to bond lasting relationships between brand and consumer.

On a recent weekend, a small brand participating in an area event would have brought on more than twice the usual staffing, poured thru cases of their wine in sampling, and shared the brand with ten times as many visitors.  But, at the end of the day in most cases, the revenue generated by this grand exhibition would only be slightly above average.  And yet, expenses were far beyond what would normally be offered to daily operations.  Hopefully, there is reward as future customer contact information was retained, a few new wine clubs were signed up for long term sales gains, and those happy consumers who left you to visit another nearby venue will remember how special your wines and your hospitality really were.  This seasonal culling can only happen here in Wine Country if wine savvy consumers jump into the pool, to get out and taste the choice of diversity! 

Wine event venues in all varieties

Wine Links:
June 11: Sonoma County BEERFEST -
June 17 - 19: Gay Wine Weekend -
July 14 - 16: California Wine Festival Santa Barbara -

Aug. 05 - 07: Outside Lands(WineLands) -
Aug 25 - 28: Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival -
Summer events: Dry Creek -
Summer events: Sonoma County -

Friday, April 29, 2016

BRAMBLES: Change is Life!

Renewal of the cycle, Vitis Vinifera
Renewal, it is Spring! A new sunny chapter to be written, just like those that visited many times before.  As my Mom approaches her 85th birthday, I reflected that she must have seen tremendous changes in the domestic wine industry over the course of her lifetime. Change can be slow, it can be seasonal, so looking back over decades we can begin to see the constantly evolving shadows that effect us.  Looking back, so that we can more clearly look forward, we begin to see that in this industry as with ourselves Change is Life!

A first ever German Wine Queen was elected in 1931 to represent the quality region of the Palatinate; by 1933 the Nazi's taken control of the entire state, and the world watched.  In early December of that year(1933), domestic Prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nationally, less than 100 commercial wine producers had survived; poor quality, cheap table wines were the resulting standard through those turbulent years until the late 1960's.  Wine consumption in the U.S. averaged only about one quart per person, so perhaps that was a good thing!.

During the World War years, domestic consumption by 'the greatest generation' had grown to around .75 gals. per person annually. By 1965, Robert Mondavi had broken away from the families Charles Krug to establish his own winery, becoming the first large scale California winery built in Napa since prior to Prohibition. Importantly, Russian immigrant,  Andre' Tchelistcheff had been producing some of California's best wines for a generation at the valley's benchmark Beaulieu Vineyards.
An era of corporate consolidation of the industry was about to be unleashed, and by 1969 giant Heublein acquired a collection of famed wineries including Inglenook and BV.  By the end of the next decade, Allied Domecq, Constellation Brands, and others with international beverage portfolios had joined the industry takeover.

Celebrating the American Bi-centennial(1976) with a trumpeted international blind tasting, a '73 Stags Leap NV estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a '73 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay were voted best, surprising established French quality hallmarks for the first time at any international competition.  At home, domestic wine consumption had grown to a new threshold of around 1.75 gals per person.
Growing in the Napa Valley

As defined by the U.S. Treasury's TTB in 1978, the nations first approved American Viticultural Area was designated as Augusta(GA) AVA. Napa AVA would be approved shortly afterward. The early 80's saw dozens of AVA's defined, including the Russian River, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley AVA's. Today there are more than 230 recognized AVA's nationally.

 A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision(Granholm v. Heald) struck down a ban on inter-state alcohol sales in states that permit in-state sales, thereby supporting sales of California wines in states that had previously barred its commerce.
By 2006 there were more than 4388 bonded wineries throughout the U.S.; by the close of 2014 the number had grown to almost 8000!

According to Sonoma County Winegrowers, in 2012 there were more than 685 county wineries. It has not stopped evolving. Compared to 2005, today there are more than twice as many wineries throughout Sonoma County. Overall, demand continues to grow; in this new century wine remained increasingly popular and continued to grow in market share, and by 2012 U..S. adults were enjoying an average of more than 2.75 gallons per person.
By 2015, California producers had grown to be the fourth largest region or wine 'nation' in the world, with an export value of more than $1.6 billion.

Increasingly sustainability farmed, today there are over 25,000 vineyard businesses nationally, producing the highest value fruit crop in the U.S. Brick & mortar wineries see more than 30 million thirsty visitors annually, and are employing over 50,000 people. And, that is not even counting the thousands upon thousands of dedicated home winemakers. Even as global consumers are drinking about the same per capita as a decade ago, American wine consumption continues to steadily increase.  Today Americans drink more wine than do the French!

Over the course of more than eight(8) decades, she has seen the Great Depression and its recovery, armed conflicts too numerous to dignify with mention, tremendous social change domestically, and a world today that could not have been found in dreams of the 'Greatest Generation'.  Children were nurtured and raised, to have children of there own who dream.  And when we celebrated, even as we gathered around a simple communal table there was wine to be found.  And wine continued to improve, finding its way into more celebrations and on to more tables. Just like us, this industry would never stagnate, always evolving to new heights, and offering the opportunity for us to do better.  Throughout, just like Momma said, life with its many pitfalls and its unbounded joys, we find that change is life.

Happy Birthday, Momma!
"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water." W.C.Fields