Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Throw out the top 25 brands, and guess what country is the US' biggest source of wine?

Data courtesy U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum
Americans are very brand-oriented when it comes to wine. But what do we drink when we're not buying one of the big names?

I noticed recently that even without Yellow Tail, Australia still ranks in the top 6 sources of foreign wine. Today I decided to crunch the numbers a little further.

What if I took all of the top 25 brands out of the wine import numbers? Who are our largest sources of wine then?

The implication is that these countries are selling us a lot of small-production wine, perhaps artisanal. So who do you think it is? You might be surprised.

First, here are our 8 largest sources of imported wine, all brands included (numbers in gallons).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Make sashimi at home: it's easy

We eat sashimi at home all the time. I discovered in talking to some friends that this is unusual, even among sashimi fans. People pay a fortune for a few slices of fish in a restaurant or sushi shop when you can spend about $25 for more fish than two people can eat.

Sashimi with a bowl of rice is one of the easiest and most delicious meals you can make. Here's a quick pictorial explanation.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Oregon vineyard land rush is also a statement of confidence in the US economy

"Better put out more chairs, investment bankers are coming." Stoller Family Estate, Dundee Hills, Oregon
Oregon is suddenly the belle of the wine ball. A year ago the image was of enlightened hippies earnestly struggling to farm in sync with Mother Nature, with no wineries bigger than 175,000-cases King Estate. This week, it's all neckties, bankers and mortgage rates.

* Maison Louis Jadot just bought a 20-acre vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton district, its first purchase outside Burgundy. Jacques Lardiere, who worked at Jadot for 42 years, will move to Oregon to be the winemaker, a stunning adjustment for a guy who retired earlier this year.

* Earlier this week, Jackson Family Wines (the Kendall-Jackson folks) bought a 15,000 case winery, also in Yamhill-Carlton. This will help them make wine for the La Crema brand from the 280 acres of vineyards they bought in the spring.

* Bacchus Capital Management, a California private equity fund, bought all or part of two Oregon wineries earlier this year. Bacchus' co-founder is Sam Bronfman, formerly of Seagram's and Diageo.

Why the sudden land rush for Oregon vineyards? It's really simple. Look at this chart, from January:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Napa County wineries should not be allowed to wiggle around county law

Andy Beckstoffer is right, and the Napa Valley Planning Commission is wrong. Napa Valley wineries should not be able to wiggle around the county's laws to make more wine from Central Valley fruit.

The Napa Valley Register covered this issue last week and editorialized about it on Sunday. It's right for the Register to suspect Beckstoffer of advancing his own interests by opposing a production expansion by his neighbor, Jean-Charles Boisset, who bought Raymond in 2009.

But the Register needs to step back and take a clear stand. I'm not sure what exactly its editorial advocates, but I know what I think.

Some Napa wineries are trying to skirt the law, the planning commission is misinterpreting the law rather than enforcing it, and it should stop.

Here are the details.

Napa Valley wine should be made from Napa Valley grapes. That's basic.

The question before the Napa County Planning Commission is, how much non-Napa wine should it allow to be made in Napa Valley?

In the great wine regions of Europe, the answer would be "none." But in most of the USA, the answer is "a limitless ocean."

But this is Napa County we're talking about, and the laws are different there.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Australian wine is greater than the US wine press admits

Why won't US media take me seriously?
First, let me give you a number: Australia is the second-largest exporter of wine to the US, behind only Italy. We buy more Australian wine than wine from France and Spain combined.

So why don't you read much about Australian wine?

Part of that is the domination of Yellow Tail, which accounts for 38% of Australia's exports here.

That's a lot, but we're still unduly ignoring the rest of the country. Take away Yellow Tail from Australia and it would still be our 4th largest source of foreign wine, still ahead of France and Spain.

I can't explain why the wine media is so out of sync with the US drinking public. My guess is that media is trend-driven, and Australia's not trendy. What it takes to start a trend, I don't know.

But I will share a little meta-post about my own efforts.

A few years after Yellow Tail took the US by storm, and not coincidentally Australian fine wine sales  dropped, I tried to sell several magazines and newspapers a story about the good wines from Australia.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What country makes your favorite wine?

I wanted to replicate the open-ended Family Feud-style question I saw last week, "What is your favorite wine?" but haven't figured out how to do it technologically. So here's a little poll to play with in the meantime.

I'm curious about the results because I know I have a fairly sizable international readership as well as a very wine-savvy readership.

I've phrased the question with a singular object, "your favorite wine," BUT you're allowed to pick three. This might seem like a conflict, but it reflects my own experience. I would have a hard time picking one single wine as my favorite, but if you let me choose three, that would be fun. Thanks for playing.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wine Spectator supports GMO grapevines made with human and insect DNA

How would you like to drink wine made from a grapevine that contained human and insect DNA?

Wine Spectator thinks this is a great idea. And if you disagree, you're just a loudmouth in a mob.

This is so extreme, right wing even for the Tea Party, that you might think I'm making it up, or it's a new David Cronenberg movie.

A post that ran yesterday on Wine Spectator by Mitch Frank makes this argument: some unknown wine disease might one day threaten grapevines, and therefore we better start genetically modifying grapevines to prepare for it.

Here's one Spectator pro-GMO argument:
"Would GMO vines be vastly different than the vines we have produced by spending centuries selecting our favorite vines, cutting off branches and propagating them? Man has fundamentally shaped the evolution of the Vitis vinifera we treasure today."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top picks at the 2013 San Francisco Street Food Festival

Alicia Villaneuva's tamales are the best you've never had
What: San Francisco Street Food Festival
When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Mission District (exact map is here)
Cost: Admission free, food $3-$8

The Street Food Festival remains San Francisco's greatest food event.

Where else can you eat try Central Kitchen, State Bird Provisions and President Obama's favorite Malaysian food in the same hour?

Entry is free. Crowds are large, so come early And no wonder: the festival has perhaps the greatest one-day collection of small-bite food in California. Combine the mastery of La Cocina's top street vendors with high-end chefs concentrating on producing just two items each, and you've got more exciting food than anybody could eat.

Two food lists here. First, here are my favorites from the recent media preview:

Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas
Alicia Villaneuva's Oaxacan cheese tamale, with mild pepper slices, was my favorite item from the preview. If you haven't had one of her tamales from her tiny food cart yet, it's about time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What are San Francisco Giants fans' favorite types of wine? Survey says ...

How Family Feud works
The San Francisco Giants play a Family Feud-type game with fans at home games, in which a single fan has 60 seconds to guess all the top answers to a question. It's often based on an advertiser, resulting in some stupid questions like, "What are the best things about flying Virgin America?" (No. 1 answer: "Mood lighting." From a Virgin? That's cockpit tease.)

On Friday, the question was interesting. San Francisco is probably the most wine-savvy city in the United States, and it's the capital of California wine country. So what would 100 Giants' fans say when asked,

"What is your Favorite Type of Wine?"

I'll give you a chance to play along. There are 5 answers and you have 60 seconds. The answers are after the jump.

Survey says:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bunnahabhain Toiteach: Great Scotch with foggy origin story

I'm drinking up my liquor cabinet as fast as I can since learning the horrifying fact that liquor will not last indefinitely in an open bottle. So I came upon this bottle of Bunnahabhain Toiteach Scotch whisky, which I received as a sample last year and never got around to writing about.

Why? Here's the entire conversation I had about it with the importer:
Me: "You sent me a sample of the Toiteach and I like it. What more can you tell me about it?"
Importer: "Retails for $79.99. Here is all our information."
Not so much, right? I'll save you from clicking on the sell sheet. The distillery was founded in 1881. Although Bunnahabhain is in Islay, most of its Scotches are not peaty; in fact that's what the distillery is most famous for among aficionados. But this one is. "Toiteach" is pronounced "toe-check" -- sounds like a Scotch for hockey fans -- and means "smokey" in Gaelic. It's un-chill-filtered, 12-years old, bottled at 46% alcohol, with no added color.

It's also delicious; it was one of those bottles that I drank really quickly until deciding I would save the last swallow for a special occasion. When I learned it wouldn't last forever, I decided Sunday night was a special occasion.

For me this has the perfect blend of Islay flavors: smokiness, sure, but not to the exclusion of milk chocolate notes and some orange peel, with fine freshness that makes the glass, and the bottle, empty faster than expected.

Some of my open bottles of Scotch are going to be shaken up with sweet Vermouth to make Rob Roys -- gotta clear out that liquor cabinet -- but this one I had in a whisky glass with two lumps of ice. Don't gasp, that's how they drink it in Scotland.

Order it here, for less than list price.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gallup drinking preference poll is misleading: Beer still far outsells wine

Gallup released its annual poll of American drinking habits this week, and it's more good news for wine: Americans are about as likely to say they drink wine as beer.

Americans are full of shit. I'll show you.

First, here's the Gallup preference chart

It's interesting data: Gallup has been asking people some of the same questions since World War II. As you can see, 47% of Americans said beer was their favorite alcoholic beverage in 1992, and only 27% chose wine. Now it's nearly tied, 36-35.

Except it's not. The above is what Americans say when pollsters ask them what they like. Below is what they actually buy.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Climate change scientist: Washington, New Zealand are winners; Australia, Calistoga are losers

Antonio Busalacchi
Antonio Busalacchi is an unusual combination: he's a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at University of Maryland. And he's also a wine educator who holds an advanced sommelier certificate.

Earlier this week, he released a climate study of 24 major world wine regions that, he says, "went beyond the normal simple measures of mean temperature and precipitation but also evaluated growing degree days, drought severity index, extreme temperature thresholds at which photosynthesis shuts down, latitude temperature indices, and disease pressure indices."

I called him in Orlando, Florida, where he had just finished a Bourbon tasting as part of a wine educators' conference, so he was well-lubricated and ready to talk about the study.

What led you to do this study?
It's a combination of my profession, my daytime job, and my emerging career as a sommelier and wine educator. My family is in the restaurant business, so I brought those two aspects together.

The press release said you expect Bordeaux to make low-acid wines.
We're seeing, right now, Bordeaux is in the sweet spot. The warming experience in Bordeaux is referred to as the "bon problème." But people are starting to ask what's going to happen in 20 years.
They're already starting to see changes in the blend in Bordeaux, such as more Petit Verdot coming into the blend at wineries that never used it before. Warming climate is going to mean changes in the blends.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How to make a 90-point wine

Chester Osborn
Chester Osborn told me this story earlier this week.

Osborn makes a lot of great high-end wines for his family winery, D'Arenberg in Australia's McLaren Vale. He also makes The Stump Jump ($10).

It's a Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre, three grapes McLaren Vale does well cheaply. But it's not his lovely $65 The Dead Arm Shiraz; it is what it is, a drinkable supermarket wine. The 2006 Stump Jump got 86 points from Wine Spectator, a score the magazine defines as "Very good, a wine with special qualities." But 86 is a long way below 90 in the eyes of wine distributors.

"The Stump Jump went absolutely mad in 2008," Osborn says. "It was the ripest, oiliest wine we ever made because of the vintage. When we made the '08, I made about 800,000 liters of wine that I thought I'd have to distill. It was so oily and weird. That was the wine I put in The Stump Jump."

And you know the punch line.