Monday, October 30, 2017

Unicorn whiskies from New Zealand

At a time when rare spirits have a new cachet, San Francisco's Anchor Distilling has unearthed some of the rarest whiskies in the world.

The New Zealand Whiskey Collection consists of four very expensive whiskies from a distillery that has been defunct since 1994. Not only that, the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin only operated for seven years, between 1987 and 1994. At the time, wine exports from New Zealand were still extremely rare -- imagine a world before Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc -- and the distillery owners couldn't get enough domestic interest to keep their business running.

Perhaps these whiskies were ordinary when they were made. Perhaps they offered New Zealanders no reason to pay a premium over good imported Scotch. Obviously a Dunedin product would have access to New Zealand's famously clean water for brewing. As for the quality of the local barley, I really can't say, but it's the water that matters most anyway. Maybe the original distillers were learning on the job and their work was underwhelming.

That was then. Now it's 2017, and these whiskies sat around for decades, quietly aging, in the defunct distillery. That's exciting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

South African wineries juice up their Chenin Blanc into white blends

Andrea Mullineux
Chenin Blanc is having a moment with New York sommeliers. However, in countries where it never fell out of fashion -- South Africa, where it's the most-planted wine grape, and England, where they drink a lot of what South Africa grows -- people are a little bored with Chenin Blanc.

Even if you love Chenin Blanc, it's easy to see how that can happen. South Africa excels at making cheap, clean, easy to drink Chenin Blanc. No one disputes that high-end Chenin Blanc can be interesting, but for most people it's a wine you drink when you want something simple.

One thing that surprised me when I visited South Africa two years ago was how many producers are beefing up their Chenin with oak treatments, just to do something different. It's not the U.S., where a decision to order Chenin is a conscious and even trendy choice for its light body and food friendliness. Winemakers in South Africa want their Chenin Blanc to be challenging. They want complexity. They want body. Sometimes they want it to be something that by nature it's not.

I was offered the opportunity to taste some premium South African white blends. It's an obscure category -- in fact, it's about the most obscure category I can think of, as I didn't realize it existed before I got the email. Naturally I said "sure!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trends in the wine world: a conversation with Wine & Spirits' Josh Greene

Josh Greene
Wine & Spirits magazine's Top 100 is a bit different from those of other publications. The magazine chooses wineries rather than individual wines (it does the latter also), thus rewarding excellence across a range rather than a single unicorn wine.

You might think that this philosophy would lead to stability in the list: a great winery this year is likely to be a great winery next year. In fact, turnover has increased in recent years and 31 wineries -- nearly one-third of the list -- are new in 2017.

I met Wine & Spirits publisher and editor Josh Greene to chat about the 2017 list and what kind of trends in the wine world it reflects. Full disclosure: I occasionally write for Wine & Spirits myself, but I have nothing to do with its Top 100 coverage.

Gray: Why 31 new wineries?

Greene: First of all, the market is expanding so much. There's a whole lot of wines we haven't seen before. There are also new projects that are beginning to hit their stride.

Gray: Doesn't it represent some difference in the outlook of the magazine?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Wine divide: ordinary people and enophiles are experiencing different products

Quick, don't think about it, just answer:

When you hear the word "Wine", what type of wine do you imagine?