Wednesday, April 30, 2014

200 wine additives: comment on a post about a story

I wrote a story about a $150 corkage fee for Wine-Searcher, quoting Tom Wark. Tom wrote a post about it on his own blog. His post got a comment from a reader named Holly Evans-White, a portion of which I think needs to be seen by a wider audience.
"If my husband makes it; we aren’t going to order it. He works for a big-box that owns over 20 labels and these wines are well represented at ghastly inflated prices throughout the country – Napa Valley & S.F. too – and this morning he was having trouble with the machine that shoots one of 200 additives into their wines."

Mmm! I wonder how many of those wines' back labels talk about the taste of terroir?

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Picking the last 10 spots in the top 100: Wild card time

There are 10 spots left on the publicly sourced list of the World's Best 100 Types of Wine. Last week I showed the 25 candidates for these spots and asked for suggestions, and I got four more good ones. This gave me a few too many wines for one poll.

So I'm splitting it into two, one this week and one next week.

Unlike in the previous elections, please choose only 5 of these 15 wines. The top 5 finishers will make the top 100.

For details on this election, read this.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Small and giant wineries are squeezing out the mid-sized

Small wineries and large wineries are plentiful in northern California, but mid-sized wineries are unusually rare, according to a statistical study published last week.

The authors, from Brock University in Canada, published their near-impenetrable report in this month's Journal of Wine Economics, which was also responsible for a fascinating article about how Algeria's wine industry led to Europe's appellation laws.

This study uses statistics from Wines & Vines' Annual Directory of the Wine Industry in North America to establish how many small, mid-size and large wineries there are, then compares it to other industries -- including Portuguese manufacturing firms and service industries in Luxembourg -- to say, "Is this normal?"

I'm reminded of one of sex columnist Dan Savage's complaints about straight men: he sometimes writes that while gay men write in to ask complex questions like whether their lover can be considered unfaithful for taking a shower with a neighbor, straight men often ask, "I'm really turned on by (insert unusual fantasy, perhaps involving diapers or a TV talk show host). Is this normal?"

This report is so dry that I had to literally sex it up. That's what bloggers do! Believe me, you don't want to read the entire actual report, and I'm not just saying that to make you feel better because it's not online. Here's a crucial sentence, not even one of the longer ones: "Our kernel density estimates indicate that the size distribution has changed from positively skewed to bimodal." (Hehe, hehe, he said "bimodal.")

Anyway. The nut of the issue is that graph. Unlike in 1984, when the wine industry had a normal size distribution, as you can see, there's now a bunch of small wineries and a few big ones, and very little in between.

From the article: "Consumers appear to prefer the more expensive boutique wines or the cheaper large mass-produced wines."

Thanks to study authors Don Cyr, Joseph Kushner and Tomson Ogwang, and apologies for making fun of your superior vocabulary. The full article is not available online but you can read the abstract here. (And if you want to ask if something other than bimodal size distribution is normal, you can read Dan Savage here.)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Help me finish this Best 100 list

For 10 weeks we voted on the World's Best 100 Types of Wine. We'll take the top 9 wines from each week's election to give us 90; this gives us leeway to fix any problems and omissions.

First, I need to hear from you about any deserving types of wine that were not on the list of 150 candidates. I will run the entire list below, so please use a "search" function to see if the wine you recommend was never considered.

I am not interested in overturning results. I may think Corsican red wine belongs on the list, and you may think Virginia Viognier belongs, but the electorate has spoken.

However, I do want to have one more election to determine the final list. I could simply take the top 10 finishers from each group, but because of the random assignment to groups, some wines may not have had a fair shot.

I'm listing three groups below. First, the 90 types of wine that made the list. Second, the 35 wines that definitely missed the cut. And third, the 25 wines that are on the bubble (for some reason nearly half are from Italy).

This group on the bubble includes every 10th and 11th place finisher, like a wild-card playoff, plus 5 other wines that polled more than 4% support. Those wines may have been unfortunately placed in a brutal bracket.

My inclination is to have one final large election with these 25, and any other good wines suggested by you. But let's get this right: if you have other ideas, share them in the comments.

World's Best 100 Types of Wine: Made the Cut

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Algeria created Europe's appellation system

Check out that "Percentage of world exports"
Without Algeria, Europe might not have the appellation system it uses today.

It's an incredible story published this week by two researchers in Belgium, Giulia Meloni and Johan Swinnen, in the Journal of Wine Economics. The paper is very easy to read and I recommend reading the original in its entirety, but here is the Cliff Notes summary.

In the mid-1930s, Algeria was responsible for an astounding 67% of all wine exports worldwide.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ten things you didn't know about Freixenet

Driving to the heart of the story in Penedès
Freixenet might be the best-known wine in the world. The Spanish company makes more than 100 million bottles of Cava each year, with more than half of it in the familiar black bottle of Cordon Negro Brut.

Most wine companies of its size are corporate. But Freixenet -- which owns 17 other wineries worldwide -- is still owned by the Ferrer family and run as a family business. I recently visited the company headquarters in Penedès, Spain, but I'm not going to try to tell you the Freixenet story per se. I'm just going to share 10 things I found interesting.

1. In the 1930s, company president Pedro Ferrer was executed in the Spanish civil war by Republican forces. Like most industrialists, Ferrer sided with Franco; had he not, he risked having his property seized. Instead, his execution order was signed by the short-lived president of Catalunya, who was later executed himself.

Freixenet decides which grapes to plant by elevation
2. Freixenet uses only one type of yeast to ferment all of three of the Spanish white grapes (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello) that it uses for Cava. Freixenet F5 yeast was isolated in 1987, and has as much as anything to do with keeping 60 million bottles of Cordon Negro (which means "black ribbon") consistent every year.

3. "Cava" is, in my opinion, the worst-defined wine region in the world. It looks like an archipelago, or a rash, across far eastern Spain, with legal areas wherever big producers were making Cava when the name was passed in the 1980s. That happened because Spanish producers like Freixenet had been calling their wine "Champagne," but had to change when Spain joined the European Union in 1982. Producers eventually settled on the name "cava" because the wine is made in caves, but nobody wanted to tell existing big producers that they couldn't use the Cava designation for their wines from elsewhere. The great majority of Freixenet's wines come from Penedès, the main district of Cava, but they cannot use any subdesignation such as Cava-Penedès for political reasons.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A look at a European wine back label

If you think US wine label regulations are cumbersome, check out the back label info that must be used in the European Union.

After not buying into the anti-sulfite craze for decades, EU wine producers now have to write "contains sulfites" in every official EU language. How many languages do you recognize?

I like the "no pregnant woman" symbol above the sulfite warning. This is illegal in the US, apparently because the TTB fears Americans will believe it means wine will prevent pregnancy. Wouldn't that be great!

I'm not really sure what the three symbols to the right mean. Two of them appear to be recycling admonitions, which would seem like one too many. The symbol on the far right seems to indicate that if you have back pain, you should throw away the wine.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Oakland Athletics create best sports stadium wine list ever

UPDATE: Bad news folks, the wine stand described below is gone.

Food at the Oakland Coliseum is dreadful, and sewage overflows into the A's locker room when it rains. It is not a posh place.

But somebody has decided to take wine seriously, and right now the A's have better wines by the glass, er, plastic cup, than 90% of the restaurants in America.

The new wine stand is in the West Side Club, near a new stand selling decent brick oven pizza and microbrews. Other stadiums have good wines by the bottle in their private boxes, but this is Oakland -- the West Side Club is open to everyone, and you can take your cup of Chateau Montelena Cabernet to your seat in the right-field bleachers.

Here's a partial list of what was available at Saturday's game vs. Seattle. Forgive me for not having all the details on vintages and appellations; I was copying off a board onto the back of my ticket.

Monday, April 7, 2014

World's 100 Best Types of Wine: Group J

This is it! The 10th of 10 elections in our quest to decide the World's 100 Best Types of Wine.

You'll note I said "10th," not "last." When this week's election is done, we'll have 90 wines. At that point I'll list the winners and losers, and ask for comment on any candidates that didn't get a chance. We could just add the 10th place finisher from each week, but when I created this election, I left some leeway for unforeseen omissions. We'll get to that next week.

For now, please pick 9 of these 15 wines. Thanks for being a part of this for the past 10 weeks.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

10 steps to a better gin and tonic

Learning to stir
Spain is mad for gin and tonics. It's ironic, Spain has some of the world's best wines and spirits, and yet this is easily the trendiest gourmet drink. Many cocktail bars have a separate gin and tonic menu.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a bartending school run by the Dry Martini chain of cocktail bars. I was there for a demonstration of Cava cocktails, but the bartender/teacher asked if there was anything I wanted to learn to make. Of course there was: I wanted the secrets to a top-quality Spanish-style gin and tonic.

The school director says the two main keys are the glass and the ice. For both, size matters. But there are a number of other steps I've never seen a US bartender take. It's not hard to make a better gin and tonic: here's how.

1) Use a big clear glass, big enough to hold 5 large cubes of ice (you will actually use 6).

2) Use the largest, clearest cubes of ice you can acquire.

3) Stir the ice around in the the glass to chill the glass. This is better than putting the glass in a freezer because the glass stays clear and gets no off flavors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From a wine writer's mailbox

1) Dear W.:

Are you ready for National Pina Colada Day? Our brand ambassador has assembled a variety of recipes of the legendary classic cocktail, all of them containing 2 oz or more of our rum. Please be sure to include them in your coverage of the inaugural year of this important event.

2) Dear W.:

We have just released 2013 Strychnine Road Chardonnay! Winemaker Rod Harden calls 2013 "the greatest year I've ever dreamed of," leading to a wine that bursts from its pants with explosions of peach, wildflowers and hand-harvested Manuka honey. Images available on request.

3) Dear W.:

Smegma Winery is thrilled to announce that we received 91 points from Wine Authority magazine for 2012 Toxic Shock Cabernet Sauvignon!! Wine Authority critic Leonard Giardia says the wine "fills the glass with liquid at a more reasonable price than others in the same category." Images available on request.