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?

Greene: I don't think so. Luke (Sykora) just left for Sunset (magazine), but he has been at (Wine & Spirits) magazine for seven years. He tasted all the wines for the top 100. I'm still doing Napa. I've always done Napa. We haven't changed. It's the market changing. A lot of people pulled back from super-ripeness. The top wines aren't being pushed as far as they were 10 years ago. But there's a whole lot of new sweet red wines.

Gray: Dry on the label, or admittedly sweet?

Greene: Dry on the label. It says "Cabernet Sauvignon," but they're sweet. I don't think I've ever tasted sugar on my palate before about two years ago. I'm talking about expensive wines -- $120 wines. I taste sugar on my palate. They taste like coffee when you put too much sugar in it. They feel like the sugar is falling out of suspension.

Gray: Why do you think that is?

Greene: Success in these wines at a lower price level. And there's clearly an audience for it. I have never understood why people would pay more for a bottle that doesn't taste different from a $10 wine. These are different from the super-ripe cult wines. Those were ripe, but they had structure.

Gray: What are these sugary wines? Can you tell me some of them?

Greene: I don't want to do it on the record.

Gray: What about other trends. Are there hot grape varieties?

Greene: One grape variety that I hope is coming on is Mourvedre. Skinner does a terrific Mourvedre. The Withers has a Mourvedre rosé that's fantastic.

Gray: What about regions?

Greene: The Eola-Amity Hills are happening. There are four top 100 wineries in that little pocket in Oregon.

Gray: What about modern Australian wines? I feel like young winemakers there are doing some interesting things that are different from the '90s style wines the country used to crank out.

Greene: Penfolds. I don't think Penfolds ever made '90s style wines. They made '50s style wines. Grosset is an example of beautiful winemaking. The wines are easier to get here than in Australia. They sell out in Australia. Giant Steps. Yarra Valley is one of the areas that's really developing. A lot of good Australian wineries lost their distribution because of those really ripe-style wines. Ironic because those wineries weren't making ripe-style wines.
In Europe, it may seem like Piedmont is over-represented, but those are great wines. Paolo Scavino was one of those people that had really big wines for a long time. They're making elegant wines now. Burlotto never went to that style. They just continued to do what they do and now it's popular.

Gray: What about natural wines? Do you have some of those?

Greene: Deiss is definitely on that side of winemaking. They make a 12-variety field blend that really tastes of a place. They're cofermented and they're just beautiful. I've always believed there's a big difference between growing grapes in a monoculture and growing grapes together where they can cross-pollinate. But I have mixed feelings about the natural wine movement because you taste wines that taste like natural wine rather than tasting like where they're from. We struggle with that around the tasting table. There are more and more wines like that. Why drink wines that taste like every other wine?

Wine & Spirits' annual Top 100 tasting event in San Francisco is tonight, Oct. 10. Tickets are $129.12. It's a terrific event with good food and great wine poured by the Top 100 wineries (that list is here): I'd say it's worth it. Buy tickets here.

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Tommaso said...

There's a lot to comment on in your interview with Josh Greene. I was struck by the following "But there's a whole lot of new sweet red wines." His comment brought to mind a wine column that appeared in the NY Times in 2006, "Too sweet to be invited to dinner".
Is Mr. Greene late to notice this trend? Is he correct to note that this trend has moved into higher priced red wines? Is this trend limited to, or more pronounced in California? Should we be asking for more information regarding sweetness to be included on wine labels?

W. Blake Gray said...

He's aware that cheaper red blends are sweet. The conversation is edited. His point is that he has found greater sweetness in some more expensive wines than before.

I cannot answer your other questions.

Unknown said...

I must admit, I'm growing weary of phrases such as, "tastes of a place." Just exactly how does one detect that a wine tastes of a place? Must one taste many wines from that place to qualify as an official arbiter of their of-a-placeness? Are these taste-of-place verifiers really able to judge whether or not a particular wine tastes of the place from which it came? How would they know how a wine from some obscure single-vineyard in Northeast Italy "should" taste? If there are dependable markers that make these wines taste of a place, they're never identified. I suspect that most often, wines that are said to taste of a place are merely wines that lack fruit. I would love to put all these wines-of-place detectors to the test with a blind tasting. There would be plenty of humble pie to go around.

W. Blake Gray said...

Nice rant, Kent. You're right about most of it.

It's not my job to defend Josh Greene, but I should say that he is uniquely qualified, more so than most of us, to judge which wines "taste of a place," because I believe the answer to your second question is "yes." (Which makes many, but not all, proclamations that a certain wine tastes of a place marketing bullshit.) Greene's job entails tasting the same wines vintage after vintage in comparison with other wines of the same grape from the same region. That's exactly what you'd need to do to make such a statement.