Thursday, December 8, 2016

American wine consumers still don't care about what sommeliers like

Wine Purchase Decision Making by percentage of respondents
If you ask a sommelier what's most important about wine, in order, she'll probably tell you region, then producer, then grape.

For average American wine consumers, it's almost backwards.

Sonoma State University released its third annual American Wine Consumer Survey this week. It's based on 1081 consumers, and ends thus: "Caveat: Since this survey is based on a representative sample of American wine consumers, and not a random sample, it cannot be generalized to all wine consumers." This begs the question, "Why bother?" But I'll report some of its findings anyway because what the hell, we're in the post-fact era, and only liberals worry about truthiness.

The survey asked what factors are most important in buying a wine. Price is No. 1, of course. But after that, it's brand, varietal and country.

I get that: people outside the gourmet bubble ask me what I think of French wines, or Spanish wines, not what I think about St-Joseph wines or Rias Baixas wines.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How well does Stags Leap District wine age? Thoughts on a 25-year blind vertical tasting

Digital art by Daniel Eskridge
Earlier this month I attended an interesting blind tasting held by Stags Leap District Winegrowers. We tried 18 Cabernet Sauvignons from 13 vintages dating back to 1991. It was an unusual setup because the wines were from 18 different wineries.

Even so, it was easy to track the progression in ripeness in Napa. The wines from 2003 on were mostly made with different intentions than the earlier wines. Most had more up-front fruit that tastes darker, and I wonder how they will age. That's not the goal of most of Napa Valley anymore -- or for that matter, of most wineries in the world -- and I'm not here to pretend that it should be.

The older wines in this tasting were cherry-picked because the wineries think they're still tasting good. It's very different from going to a winery and tasting 10 vintages in a row. The two oldest wines in the tasting were two of my favorites, but that doesn't mean those wineries consistently make age-worthy wines. Once in New Mexico I tasted a 10-year-old Pinot Noir that was fabulous and I wondered why the winery had stopped making still wines. "That was the only good one we made," the winemaker told me. So you never know.

But that said, here were the highlights, some lowlights, and random thoughts from the tasting.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Don't die before drinking your best wines: What I learned when my plane caught fire

I thought this might be the last photo of me, and I was OK with that
I learned I won a Born Digital Wine Award on Thursday night, while at the home of my friend Eduardo Brethauer in Santiago, Chile. We celebrated briefly, but without even sharing any wine because I had a plane to catch.

Eight hours later that plane was on fire over the Pacific Ocean. And I really, really regretted not having had a glass of bubbly with Eduardo.

Obviously there is a happy ending as I am not writing this from beyond the grave. But for 25 minutes, smoke slowly wisped through the front of the cabin and tense messages from the crew reminded us where the life vests were under each kind of seat. I had time for regrets. And a surprising number were about wine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wine is like TV: there are no more bad vintages like 1969

 We finished behind what?
My favorite TV critic, Alan Sepinwall, co-authored a new book purporting to rank the top 100 TV shows of all time. It's easy to nitpick: Cheers above Breaking Bad? But the rankings are theirs, not mine, and this is a great opportunity to reintroduce the best column I've ever read about people who bitch about Top 100 lists like this.

We are living in the best era ever for American television, and the works in progress listed in the back of the book, not ranked because their stories haven't finished, constitute a better "vintage" of television than any previous year.

That got me to thinking about wine. People of a certain age remember printed vintage charts that oenophiles carried in their wallets. Until about 20 years ago, most wine lovers thought about a vintage mainly by how good or bad it was in Bordeaux. That was a measure of how important Bordeaux was in the wine world, but also of how bad a bad vintage in Bordeaux could be: The wines were actually unpleasant to drink. The same was true in Burgundy. It wasn't until Napa Valley came to prominence in the 1990s that the world discovered a great wine region where a "bad" vintage didn't mean terrible wines.

Nowadays, though, there simply is not a bad vintage for wine as a whole.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is this wine good for Thanksgiving? Take the quiz! (5 questions)

Thanksgiving is one of the trickiest holidays for people who like wine but aren't obsessive about it. One of the questions wine experts get asked most often is: is this a good Thanksgiving wine?

At The Gray Report we're here to help with a simple 5-question quiz. You don't have to know anything about wine in general. If only cooking a perfect turkey was this easy!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How common are Champagne-related deaths?

Did Champagne kill Cassandra Lynn Hensley? Answer below!
There's a stat kicking around the Internet: that 24 people a year die from Champagne corks. I won't link to any stories just now to build suspense. But the number is oddly specific.

I decided to briefly look into this before fact-checking becomes illegal in the United States. How safe are your children around Champagne? Think of the children!

Here's what I could come up with:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What President Trump means for the wine world

Photo by Jennifer C. Martin
President-elect Donald Trump owns a winery, but does not drink.

If the U.S. wine industry is looking for comfort in the wake of the election, it's in the first part of that sentence. Trump is unlikely to pursue legislation or regulations that hurt his own businesses.

People are not going to stop drinking because Trump is President. George W. Bush was a teetotaller and U.S. wine consumption rose steadily throughout his tenure.

However, foreign wine producers dependent on the U.S. market cannot feel comfortable today.

When French leaders spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq under Bush, many U.S. drinkers turned their backs on French wine. No matter that France was right: we didn't want to hear it. People even renamed fried potatoes as "Freedom Fries."

French President Francois Hollande once said that Trump made him want to retch. His personal dislike of Trump may not matter.