Tuesday, March 27, 2012

BRAMBLES; Growth and the Muscat

Flooded Vineyards are a Problem

There was a plan in our small Sonoma county garden.  Organized nature, I think it was, with a tapestry of colors, shapes and textures that blend into one another over small spaces, seemingly isolated from one another. That was five(5) years ago, and we continue to move and re-plant, replace and mourn our garden losses.  My curtain of vitis vinifera grape vines and our barrels of seedless vinifera table grapes over the same period have also never really reached our modest expectations.  There would be overly vegetal growth with long, irregular canes and poor fruit-set; or when they had promise, like in 2010, my fruit would became a steady diet for local birds or raisin from a flash of summer heat.  Chronically disappointed by these developments(or lack thereof), this new Spring is now following a dryer than normal, and again a mild winter, and I have come to the new philosophy that sometimes things just do not grow the way we want.  We just need to grow with it!
Domestic Concord grapes

What continues to grow are wine $ales. I remember hearing once that the 'American sweet tooth' was reflected by the commercial dominance of sweet wines in the domestic marketplace.  With sweetened White Zinfandel, Boones Farm, Concord and other fruit wines prominent outside of dry-wine California, it seemed to make sense. It was also understood that an easy way to mask flaws in any wine is to add up to the allowable measure of sugar. But recent trends here are indicating that there are now newly discovered wines that have continued to add to the domestic power of sweet.
  • Wine Business reports that sales of retail wine, off-premise segments below $20 and above $20 all showed significant growth in the four(4) weeks prior to early March. This continuing trend is supported in large part by the great growth of sweet red wines and the newly found popularity of white moscatos(Muscats).
  • As impressive as that is, Wine Business has also reported that U.S. imports of Rose' wines from the Provence region of southern France grew at an astonishing 62% in volume in 2011 over the previous year!
  • Continued domestic wine growth has currently been reported by the Wine Institute as well as Nielsen Company, citing the 18th consecutive year of volume growth for our industry.  In addition, current numbers confirmed that U.S. wine drinkers are continuing to firmly be the World's largest wine consumers by overall volume.
  • Western Farm Press noted that a 2011 survey of California nurseries showed a whopping 25%+ of all grape variety sales were for the Moscato vine. It is expected that plantings of Muscat grapes are to increase by as much as 136% by 2015!
Immature Moscato

Perhaps the world's oldest domesticated variety, Muscat grapes(WINE STUDY:01/23/12) known by many synonyms are grown around the world, and as such are a thirst-quenching workhorse. They have evolved into a pretty large grape family. Uniquely, the variety has high concentrations of antioxidant flavonoids; about the amount found in many black skin grape varieties. It can produce dry wines in Spain or Alsace, semi-dry wines in Croatia(near its ancestral origins), or a sweet wine in the U.S. or Austria. Muscat is often fortified to arrest its fermentation or sun-dried to concentrate its sugars as with the VDN's of France or the passito wines of Italy, respectively. It even is the base for sparkling wines, most notably the Moscato d' Asti products of Asti Spumante made from the pressurized-tank Charmat method.
Moscato d'Asti Vineyards

An azure blue bottle with a golden foil sat chilled recently on our dinner table.  What could only be described as tropical aromas escaped even as I opened the bottle. A clear, golden straw tinted wine poured into the glass and what arose left impressions of stone fruits and warm Summer flowers.  The La Sirena 2007 Napa Valley Moscato Azul enjoyed that evening was a rich, dry and balanced wine; described by my wife as being what could be only imagined as a papaya/ guava galette. Delicious, textured and flavorful, and it could not be mistaken for fresh. But, the evolution of this nectar was such that it filled and enriched our senses with its warm color, its complex aromas and its mouth-filling fruit character. This was one terrific food wine that added so much to our meal, and I had a moment where I understood its now growing varietal popularity. 
Ripe Moscato

From what has been reported by current wine trends and this reporters personal wine journey, Muscat or Moscato is in pretty good shape.  Pricing, both imported and domestic, continues to reflect value, and selection seems poised to grow consistently in our marketplace. Sometimes we just need to grow with it. Now where did I put that bottle of dry Provencal Rose'?

Update: Wine Educator practical exam results should be coming out in the next few weeks, and I'll advise.


Monday, March 19, 2012

BRAMBLES: Springing thru Winter with Alcohol

Sonoma County Zinfandel
On a recent sunny Spring-like afternoon a gnat flew into my wine glass and seemed to enjoy a few moments swimming in the 2009 Piedmont Barbera.  Its plum-grape hue and aromas were complemented by its bright acidity, its candied plum and orange peel flavors, and quickly stained the gnat's wings. He/she(I can't tell) swam around to the opposite rim of the glass and seemed to try climbing out. As I'm not a supporter of animal cruelty, I tipped the glass away from the gnat and took a sip to flavor the meatball sandwich I was eating. It was a bright counterpoint and delicious(the wine, not the gnat!).  As my gnat seemingly staggered its way up towards the inner rim I wondered if he was showing the effects of alcohol?
Barbera d'Asti Vineyards

Alcohol in wines has recently been in the news once again. A consistent trend to pick riper fruit(higher sugar) had resulted over the years in critic approved and consumer accepted fuller bodied wines and typically higher alcohol. Numerous studies have confirmed that many wines have increased in alcohol content by as much as 2% over the last generation from wineries around the globe. It has not been uncommon to see New World wines of California and other warm locals producing white wines in the 14.5 alcohol range, and red wines above 15%! There certainly have been improvements in grape farming and fermentation sciences that may have contributed to this trend. Yet, I'm convinced that wines are made for consumers in consistent 'house styles' so that they are more easily branded for those who enjoy their stylings.

North Coast grape harvests over the last three years have been significantly cool and challenging for growers who have as a result picked less fruit.  One of the results of the smaller yields in the face of growing wine consumerism is that grape prices from growers are once again starting to climb(just like farming costs). But the real benefit, according to a SFGate report, is that nature has forced a welcomed change to less robust, more subtle wines with good brightness and acidity. As a result, wines from these most recent California vintages will be lighter in style and (thankfully)lower in alcohol.
Wine as Foods Companion

Decanter magazine has recently reported that a growing and significant minority of wine consumers prefer lower alcohol wines. Commissioned by the German wine trade fair, Prowein, the survey of more than 1000 wine drinkers from the US, the UK, Germany and China, indicated they preferred wines of 12% alcohol or less. Perhaps most surprisingly, the low alcohol preferences were markedly higher among the younger adults surveyed.

Those of us old enough to remember pre-1980's table wines saw 11 - 12% alcohol content in wines with regularity. Ultimately, the uniqueness of individual grape varieties and growing environments, farming yields and cellar practices, means that there can be no fixed acceptable level of alcohol in wine.  As a complex, living organism made up of organic compounds, good wine will always be the result of correct balance. Alcohol is just one link in the chain that is a wines ultimate balance
Party-Boy Baby Bacchus

Recently published studies out of the University of California San Francisco indicate that alcohol is part of a reward-seeking behavior in gnats who are not sexually satisfied. Apparently gnats that have recently mated show little interest in booze, but those that were shunned by lovers may require a more socially rewarding  experience, such as alcohol consumption, and choose to consume it.
And then my gnat flew back inside the wine glass.

Wine Sips:
  •  2009 Tres Ojos, “Old Vine Garnacha,” San Gregorio, Catalonia, Spain
  •  2009 Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
  •  2010 Santa Julia Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina