Greetings and salutations! It wasn’t that long ago that America was strictly a beer-and-a-shot nation, give or take communion on Sunday. For many Americans who came of age in the 70’s, the concept of “wine” meant the mediocre Italian Chianti in a stubby bottle with basket trim, the dreaded white Zinfandel (a/k/a pink Kool-Aid) or perhaps instead a revolting, hangover-inducing bottle of Cold Duck on New Year’s Eve.
Then came the roots of change in the form of the “Judgment in Paris” in 1976, in which two fledgling Napa Valley producers (Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena) beat the world’s finest French vintners in a head’s up tasting completion for both red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Bordeaux Blend) and white wine (Chardonnay vs. White Burgundy) with world-class French judges issuing their now-famous edict in favor of the upstart “New World” American offerings. [Note: See “Chapter 4” of The Wine Bargain Sleuth for a more detailed discussion of the Judgment in Paris.]
Suddenly, it became popular, even patriotic, to drink wine in general and those from Napa Valley in particular. The past few decades have been an era of increasing interest and demand by Americans in wine that the statistics clearly bear out. From personal experience, I have seen the price of quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon more than quadruple in the past 15 years alone! Clearly, your Wine Bargain Sleuth should have had either more foresight or better cash flow in the late 90’s. Sigh.
All of which leads to a very exciting pronouncement: The US now consumes more wine than any nation in the world! We’re number one! We’re number one! Take THAT, France and Italy! For the record, the US consumers gained the numero uno position by drinking a healthy 329 million cases in 2013, an increase of 1% over 2012 and a very healthy 18% increase over 2005, according to info provided by Impact Databank. While France and other European countries have their consumption decreasing, in some cases significantly, demand in the good old US of A is continuing to increase.
Interestingly, a recent Food and Wine interview with the opinionated and witty Olivier Magny echoed much of the same theme. Mr. Magny, the proprietor of Paris’ unique wine shop and school O Chateau, was quoted as saying that Americans knew their wine more than the French: “In my experience, they do. They study wine more. And, contrary to what people think, French DNA doesn’t come with the genes for wine knowledge.” For a fascinating read, click on this link to the article with Olivier Magny:
If you travel to Paris, I highly recommend tracking down O Chateau and taking a half-day wine class. You might have to give up one additional day of riding open air busses or exploring that umpteenth new section of the Louvre, but based upon my visit there it is well worth it, not only to taste interesting French wines but also to gain the French perspective on wine, which might surprise you as much as some of the statements of O Chateau’s owner in the article above.
However, before we get big heads over this news, wine sleuths, there IS room for improvement, according to the same Impact Databank information. Our per-capita consumption is not the highest overall, but we are in the top five, and we are the only country in the top five that has continued to increase our consumption over the past four years. You might recall President Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Your country is counting on you to do your part to keep up the good work!
Without further ado, below are this Chapter’s recommended Value Wines – and one remarkable Splurge Wine — for your viewing pleasure:
Value Wine No. 1: Exceptional Value Pinot Noir: Handcraft
As the warmer months are gaining on us, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth continues his quest for quality, affordable Pinot Noir to stash away. In that vein, we have a treat for you this month in the 2012 Handcraft Pinot Noir California! List price on the 2012 Handcraft beauty is a mere $14.95, but a little sleuthing online or at your local wine merchant might land it for closer to $12 per bottle. In today’s rising Pinot Noir market, that qualifies as a bona fide value! Other than great Pinot fruit, what makes this 2012 Handcraft special is that approx. 24% of its juice is a unique blend of Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Petit Sirah, which in turn gives the pinot a bit more depth and earthiness that allow it to pair beautifully with summer fare such as burgers, ribs, BBQ and grilled sausages. The 2012 Handcraft Pinot Noir has classic Pinot Noir notes of strawberry, cherry and cola, but the blend grapes add a bit of structure and interesting tea and spice flavors with a silky smooth finish. This domestic Pinot Noir was awarded a gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and Wine Enthusiast awarded it a solid 89 rating and named it a Best Buy. What are you waiting for? We just found your summer “go to” red!
Value Wine No. 2: A Smoking Value in Chardonnay
White wine fans are currently celebrating the ebb of summer with their favorite chilled whites. The pool season often brings our thirsty friends to our homes in search of copious quantities of refreshing, crisp whites. Since the key word here is “copious”, it makes good sense to find and acquire a great value white wine for your guests. Your friendly Wine Bargain Sleuth has a recommendation that every wallet will embrace this month: the 2012 Smoking Loon Chardonnay California Steelbird Unoaked. Retailing for a bargain bin price of $8, the Smoking Loon Chardonnay was described by Wine Spectator as “Pure Chardonnay, intense, fresh and vibrant, this is loaded with citrus, green apple and citrus blossom, showing steely, flinty notes. Sings and dances from start to finish.” Widely available with 52,000 cases made, the 2012 Smoking Loon Chardonnay was also named a Best Value by Wine Spectator. If you have yet to sample an unoaked Chardonnay as opposed to an oaky, buttery one, the 2012 Smoking Loon represents a very minor expenditure to try something delicious. I enjoyed the crisp apple qualities and polished finish of the 2012 Smoking Loon. And quick math tells us that a clever wine sleuth can pick up a case for less than $100—even before the case discount! What are you waiting for?
WORTH A SPLURGE WINE: Brunello Beauty
Although in the past Chapters we have talked about Italian wines and extolled their virtues, until now we have neglected to recommend a full throttle yet elegant Italian Red. However, this month we remedy this situation by naming a gorgeous Brunello, 2008 Antonio Sasa Martina Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, as this month’s Worth a Splure wine. I had the opportunity to taste the 2008 Antonio Sasa Martina at a great wine event hosted by my friends Rex and Michele at Ronin Wines, and I was simply blown away by the Italian beauty. Deep tastes of blueberry and a bit of cherry and raspberry, polished fine tannins and just a mouthful of luxurious smoothness and balance with a finish that seems to lengthen with each sip describes the fine red wine. I then sampled another glass a few months later with good friends, and I was equally impressed by the 2008 Sasa Brunello di Montalcino. This time, my overwhelming description was liquid velvet, with a dry, lengthy finish. The wine is multi-layered and complex. Although I am an admitted Cab Sav fan, I think the 2008 Sasa Martina is a terrific change of pace that pairs elegantly with foods such as spicy Italian sausages or a hearty lasagna. You can lay your hands on a bottle of the 2008 Antonio Sasa for about $80. Not cheap, admittedly, but well worth it! Although this particular vintage has not been rated, the 2006 Antonio Sasa Martina was awarded a terrific 91 rating by Wine Advocate, and to my palate the 2008 vintage measures up or exceeds that lofty rating.
Thought for the Day: Summer is Coming!
Summer is nigh upon us. Let us take the opportunity for the change of seasons to push ourselves out of the typical comfort zone and reach out to try 2 new wines, or even better, 2 new wine varietals this month! Grab a delicious Austrian Gruner Veltliner as a alternative to a Chard or a Sav Blanc or try a polished Brunello instead of the Cab Sav or Merlot. What is the worst that can happen?
Until next month– Cheers!
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