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Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 wine learnings

Everybody has to do an end of the year list.  So have I learned anything new during the past year while doing this blog?   Hope so!   Here are some highlights from the year. 

Good and cheap Pinot Noir don't have to be mutually exclusive, but may be difficult to find.

Here are some really good ones I've found at different price levels:

Mark West California, $10
MacKenzie Russian River, $20
Siduri Sonoma Coast, $30

And probably the best "available anywhere" cheap Pinot is the Kenwood Russian River. It retails at $18 but it's often steeply discounted and becomes a great deal at around $12.

Sparkling wines

The best deals continue to be in bubbles.  If you're only drinking sparkling wines for New Years you really should try them with food and other events in your life.  They brighten up any day!  One thing that hurts sales of sparkling wines in the U.S. is the use of the traditional terms for defining them.  For instance, an Extra Dry is sweeter than a Brut. 
The Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee is one of my favorite bang-for-the-buck bubblies. Their Blanc de Noir is also a good deal.
And please note I didn't call it Champagne as to not piss off the French and other wine snobs.  :)

Two "P" wineries in Sonoma County

Preston - Across the board excellent balance at decent prices (mostly mid-$30s).  Just the right amount of fruitiness, but not overwhelming as many are. If you haven't had Lou's wines or haven't in a while try them!

Pedroncelli - Very well-made in what I'd call an older style (not fruit bombs) at extremely reasonable prices.  They top my QPR list ("QPR" is a wine geek term for a good deal).

Other winery discoveries

Bennett Valley Cellars - Excellent Pinot, good prices
Davis Family - Not a new winery to me, but their Pinots blew me away! 
Inman - More great Russian River Pinot. They pride themselves on earth-friendly farming and processing.
Gracianna - They make real Zinfandel! That is, not a mouthful of fruit backed by 16% alcohol.
Robert Rue -  Never heard of them?  Me neither until recently.  Great Zins!

What Sonoma County does well

Based on my extensive tastings at the last couple Sonoma County Harvest Fairs (hey, somebody has to do it) I've generalized and formed opinions on the state of wine in Sonoma.   Warning: Always be wary when anybody says generalize and opinion...

Pinot Noir prices have stabilized but the wines are not consistently worth the money.  PN is the chanciest wine to buy if you don't know the wine already.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, however,  are mostly good across the board.  Zinfandel continues to be largely made in the fruit-forward, high alcohol style though most are hiding the hot alcoholic taste in the wine.  There are a minority of winemakers still doing the spicy, brambly style of Zin. 

There's a move away from overwhelming oak and butter in Chardonnays though some may be moving towards too stark of a wine, but at least there are options in styles now.   Sauvignon Blanc is still Sonoma's most underrated wine.

Consumer tastes are getting more sophisticated

Wine continues to improve meaning there are fewer bad ones out there compared to a few years ago.  Now there are parallels in beer, coffee and even chocolate in quality, the sense of place (terroir), and, of course, prices.


Speaking of price... the recent economic problems and large supply of grapes has made for some bargains in negociant labels and in great deals from some wineries. (Negociant = someone who buys wine from several places and assembles their own finished product--they don't make the wine themselves).  The prices won't stay this way forever so buy and enjoy now--assuming you have a job.

 It was a tough year to be in the wine business

Raisined Zinfandel
Whether you are growing, making or selling it was not a good year.   The problems with selling anything this year are pretty well-known.  But for wine grape growers in Northern California it was the worst weather imaginable.  Cool and damp followed by blistering heat and cycling back to damp then finally rain.  Will be be a lousy year for wine?  I don't think so as winery crews are fairly sophisticated in what they can do, but we'll see.  I do feel sorry for the growers as they got the short end of Mother Nature's stick.

Quality of life, consumer-wise
Sonoma County and other nearby areas have an amazing supply of "the good life."   Not just wine, but local beers, breads, cheeses, and produce are first-rate, too.   There are several micro-breweries in Sonoma County with Russian River Brewing considered one of the top breweries in the world.  There are several more in neighboring Marin, Napa, and Mendocino counties.   There is no problem drinking local.   See, you don't have to visit just for the wine!

The rise of eco-friendliness

Concern about everything from the land, energy consumption to corks and bottles is on the minds of most in the wine industry.

In the Tasting Room

Prices to tour and taste keep going up, in Napa anyway, and there's more focus on retail sales rather than hospitality and education.  How about more focus on the wine?
Sonoma Valley old vines in March

The best time to visit?

The vineyards are most beautiful in the spring and autumn.  The crowds are biggest in summer and autumn.  The best weather is May-Oct.