Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Riedel Recant

I've made many posts about Riedel, and I was thinking about them (and the recent Riedel topic at eBob) in combination with the nice post by Alder at Vinography and its becoming more and more clear to me how the Riedel thing works.

I've had very intelligent people come to me and say something along the lines of "I understand your points about the tongue map being false and that the glasses really won't direct wine to different parts of the tongue, but I still notice a difference between two Riedel glasses." They seem to sound something like (paraphrased) "I don't know how it works, but like palm reading and UFOs, it just works". Now
Caveman probably believes in palm reading and the paranormal, but I always thought the Riedel thing was just a hoax planted in the subconscious by your wallet (you know, the "I spent $50 on this glass so I'll be damned if it doesn't make the wine taste better" phenomenon).

Alder is correct that we can really only taste 5 things and if memory serves, something like 80-90% of what we "taste" is really from the olfactory senses. This reinforced in my mind why different glasses can produce different "tastes". The shape of the glass and the narrowness of its opening alter the nose of your wine enough to change the "taste" - as your mind interprets it, that is, nothing else (acidity, body, etc) is altered.

The best way to test this would be to try two glasses with radically different apertures. First, taste them holding your nose. Second, taste them normally. The difference should be pronounced. To drive this point home even further, try having a very light white burgundy (or red for that matter) in one of those highly stylized ginormous-fishbowl-on-a-stick Bordeaux stems…it's quite astounding when you see what happens to the same wine from a stem which then concentrates the aromas more like a narrow opening burgundy glass. The fishbowl glass will lack aroma and come off as more acidic and slightly thinner, while a narrow aperture glass will be more in balance and more concentrated. Its all about the ratio of bowl to mouth...

Still, I stand by my earlier statements, the shape of the bowl has nothing to do with how the wine hits your mouth and tastes and you should just buy a single set of glasses with a nice bowl shape and a narrow opening, the rest is window dressing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another nail in the minerality coffin!

This is a timely addition to the debate about minerality notes in wine (nice how they ripped off my title, too…just joking!):

The Myth of Minerality
(by Tim Patterson for

Fruit and oak have their place in great wine, but the top prize among wine attributes probably goes to minerality—the expression of rocks and soil in the aromas and flavors that end up in the glass. But for all its desirability and status, minerality is only vaguely defined and not well understood. In fact, the one thing we do know is that it has very little to do with minerals…

Interesting if somewhat short article, and I’ll point out that minerality can (and does) occur in wines which aren’t necessarily reductive, and in fermentations where the yeasts are not very nutritionally stressed. Though I won’t discount that the various low-level sulfur compounds Jamie Goode proposes may have some effect, I think most of the minerality I have tasted results from higher levels of acid salts present in the finished wines, and is therefore primarily dependent on climate & viticultural practices.

Monday, November 27, 2006

More on Riedel

There's an interesting thread on Robert Parker's bulletin board that pretty much sums up each of my previous posts on Riedel. Buy quality glassware with a bowl bigger than the mouth to enhance aromas but don't buy into the marketing BS about having a different glass for each varietal. I'm still waiting for somebody who endorses the varietal glass line to do my blind taste test....

Pour 4oz. of Chardonnay into 5 Reidel/Spiegelau "Chardonnay" glasses and 1 "Burgundy" glass. Have a friend mix up the glasses and blindfold you. If what you believe is true, then you should be able to pick out the Burgundy glass by taste every single time. Try it, you'll be surprised what your preconceived notions (marketing) can lead you to taste (or not taste). Its quite revealing....


Saturday, November 25, 2006

3 thanksgiving Viogniers

Thanks to family who just passed through the area, we tasted a lovely 2004 Oregon Viognier. Tasted against 2 Lodi-area Viogniers (Incognito, ~$15; Jewel, ~$15).

I believe the Del Rio runs ~$20, and is also 14.7% alcohol, though the wine doesn't suffer from "heat" due to that alcoholic strength. Clearly preferred by the majority, the rich fruit which greets the drinker starts with classic apricots and ripe peaches, then mutes in succession to pear, orange blossoms, honeysuckle & tangerines, and finishes with a lite lively acidity and slight mineral notes. Overall length was very good, and body was medium. It paired well with the dinner & pumpkin pie. Recommended.

Jewel Viognier was the second pick, with some preferring the wine due to less intense fruit, and an almost chardonnay-rich body. It was softer and less “classic” than the Del Rio, and was somewhat shorter in length too. Not bad for the price point, but the intensity of the Jewel didn’t come close in my book to the Oregon contender.

Lastly, there was the 2004 Incognito Viognier. Not nearly as complex as either of the other wines, and certainly not as concentrated, this wine suffered greatly from the competition. I would’ve guessed this wine was ~$10/btl instead of higher.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Harold and Kumar Don’t Come to California

( title...ever)

Mr. Mahesh Kumar has some interesting comments in this article on investing in liquid wine assets. The extract of the interview is in italics, followed by my comments:
“I have a five-point scale as to what makes it investment grade. People say this is ultimately to drink. But there's no difference in trading commodities like coffee beans — you have to look at the fundamentals. For something to be investment grade, it has to be of impeccable quality. For example, Bordeaux, Burgundies, Champagne, Tuscan wines and wine from the Rhone Valley — these guys are of impeccable quality. I get asked why North American wines are not in that category. Wines from Australia, California, South Africa are impeccable but don't meet the other criteria. An investment-grade wine must satisfy all five criteria.“

Okay, so my interest is obviously piqued….let’s just see where this goes, shall we?

“The second is longevity. There's wine you can keep for five years and wine you can keep for 50 years or 100 years and then drink it. Bordeaux and Burgundies have a shelf life of over 100 years. That's a fundamental difference between them and newer wines.”

Retort #1 - see the recent ‘Rejudgement of Paris’ where California wines “out-aged” French wines over a 30-year period (and won quite handily too!). Retort #2 – this guy is trading over a much shorter window than 100 years, the “ageworthiness” of the wines is relevant only to the extent that they are aging during his holding period.

“The third criteria is the wine's price performance track record. Bordeaux and Burgundy wine prices have traditionally performed consistently. Generally, they've performed consistently in terms of their price appreciation. With California wines, some years do well, other years do badly [emphasis added]. There are more price fluctuations there.“

Consistency of ripening and quality fluctuation should not even be in discussion here. To anyone who knows the first thing about French and Californian wine, this is patently absurd.

“The fourth criteria is there's got to be a liquid secondary market. If there isn't a market to buy these wines, there's no point”

Is he actually saying that there is no secondary (read: consumer) market for high-end, new world wines?!?

"And the fifth criteria encompasses all these things — its correlation to markets. By having no correlation to financial markets, it makes it a better investment for a portfolio”.

What he's trying to say here is that this investment option is dominated by New York and London, both strongholds for Francophiles. There is no market to trade California wines because nobody is pioneering that. Do you think there's no secondary market for a 1997 Martha's Vineyard Bryant or a 1997 Caymus?!?!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why does good California wine cost so much?

I am often asked the above question and my reply is that decent wine from most any country costs a fair bit of coin, not just California (though I think Spain is certainly an exception as well as the other occasional "steal" from one place or another). To help answer this question numerically, let's break it down - from the California perspective anyway. There are many variables (buy grapes vs. grow your own, buy bulk wine rather than grapes, own your winery or lease space, etc.), but to make this analysis simple, let's look at your basic California winery that owns half of its own grape supply and makes its wine at its own estate winery.

Let's work backwards from what you, the consumer, pays for a $19.99 bottle of wine:

$19.99 goes to your local wine shop. They make about a 33% profit on the bottle (sometimes bit higher than the distributor because they often hold the bottle longer, but I'll keep their markups the same in this example).

This means that the distributor sold them that bottle for $15. The distributor typically takes about a 33% margin (sometimes more, sometimes less depending where the wine is sold (wine shop or megamart)) and the leverage they have with the winery, meaning that they paid about $11.25 for the bottle from the winery. Typically, the wholesaler pays the freight to ship the wine from the winery, and that cuts into their margin as well.

This tells you that the winery received $11.25 for the bottle that you paid $20 for (and you can appreciate why those of us in the industry like having the connections that can get us that $11.25 wholesale price!). Generally speaking, for a winery such as our hypothetical example to be profitable, margins need to be near 50%. That means that the $11.25 bottle costs them about $5.62 to produce. The $5.62 means the grapes, bottles, cellar costs, barrels, labels, corks, etc. and doesn't include salaries for tasting room staff, sales people, marketing, and other overhead. Thus, of the 50% profit per bottle, usually about 40% goes to paying these overhead costs, leaving just over $1 per bottle for net profit. And since growing wineries need cash to buy more grapes, barrels, etc. that $1 (usually accompanied by another dollar or two from the bank) gets reinvested into the next vintage. That's why you often hear that "wineries don't produce cash, they build equity".

Typically, retail prices are about double wholesale, so the winery (and sometimes the wholesaler) may give a price incentive to the retailer to get the price from $22.50 ($11.25 x 2) down to $19.99. This is often in the form of a volume discount ("buy an entire pallet and I'll lower the price") or "free goods" ("buy 10 cases and I'll throw in 2 free") or, in the case of supermarkets, a direct price support like a club card - you know all those club card deals at your local megamart? Those aren't paid for by the megamart, they bill that directly to the winery and wholesaler. So, that $2.51 ($22.50 less $19.99) discount you get at the register sometimes comes directly from the winery's profits. So, if the winery pays half of the club card discount, their sale of $11.25 nets them just $10.00 per bottle! That's 25% of their profit margin, and can turn a profitable product into one that just breaks-even.

So, to summarize - the $19.99 you spend for that Sonoma Valley Cabernet breaks down as follows:

Retailer profit (before salaries and other costs): $5.00
Wholesaler profit (before salaries and other costs): $3.75
Grapes, barrels, cellar staff, etc: $5.62

Winery expenses: $4.50
Winery profit: $1.12

It seems crazy when you look at it that way - it takes a lot to get that $5.62 bottle of grape juice to you!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Update on Wine Consumption by State

Flipping through the 2006 Adams Wine Handbook, I notice that some of you are doing your share, and others are not spreading the gospel.

As an update to
last year's post on consumption by state, here are your progress reports:

2004 Top Ten
1. District of Columbia +3.2%
2. New Hampshire +1.3%
3. Nevada +1.8%
4. Delaware +3.2%
5. Massachusetts +2.0%
6. Vermont +2.8% (moves up to #6 on Connecticut's incompotent drinking)
7. California +4.1% (also passing CT)
8. Connecticut +1.0% (falls from #6 - drink up!)
9. New Jersey +1.8% (passes RI to move up a spot)
10. Rhode Island +.5%

Bottom Ten
42. North Dakota +3.5%
43. South Dakota +3.6%
44. Kentucky +.8%
45. Arkansas +4.5% (nice work!)
46. Oklahoma +3.4%
47. Iowa +2.8%
48. Utah +1.6%
49. Kansas -1.3% (d'oh!)
50. Mississippi -.6%
51. West Virginia -.9% (the bottom two fall farther behind...)

Other notables, Colorado -1.3%, Louisiana down -3.2% (obvioulsy impacted by Katrina), Texas -.9% and Pennsylvania -.9%. Rising stars: Arizona +4.3%, Florida +3.6%, New Mexico +3.5%, Tennessee +3.5%, and Alabama +3.3%.

Overall, consumption was up 2.1%. Not great, but at least its headed in the right direction!

Monday, November 06, 2006

January 20th, 2026 - US Repeats As Pruning Champ

(AP) - The US entry in the International Pruning Competition, "Deep Purple", again won the International Grapevine Pruning Competition held in the burgeoning wine region of Nova Scotia yesterday. Deep Purple edged its Australian Rival, The Croc', by just a .002 seconds. The entry from Mexico actually finished 25% faster, but was disqualified as an illegal entry. Third place was taken by the Japanese entrant, mostly because although the unit is a perfect replica of a human and is extremely deft and quick, the model requires shipment back to Japan for everything from routine maintenance upward. All four machines beat the French entrant handily, as the Maginot 617 failed to start due to a declared workers strike in support of the foie gras producer union's recent technical support was available, and no one dared to cross the picket lines and burning cars set up around it. French fans were chanting Jacques le Rippaire's name until it went in flames after a stray molotov cocktail was thrown from the French picket line.

Next year's competition will be held in Greenland, which for the past decade has been finally living up to its' name. If current trends continue, Greenland will surpass the EU in wine revenues this year by producing 180,000 hectoliters of off-dry Lambrusca rosé. As everyone is aware, this wine is currently the world's favorite appellation-varietal labelled wine, with Asia consuming every drop produced and driving prices even higher than a 1945 Lynch-Bages..."

China of course, won't have an entry, since they need to keep workers in the fields there as they fight double-digit unemployment. Viticulture is their #2 agricultural employer behind only rice production, but they are 75th worldwide in production volume since they refuse to mechanize anything. The new gov't advert campaign touts the fact that their wines are all "crushed under the feet of ten thousand peasants", but they fail to grasp why their wines don't sell when exported. Equally disaterous was the decision of last years ad director (current whereabouts unknown) to use the smash hit " Oblivion is Coming" by the international J-pop sensation Juggernaught.

In an unrelated story, rumors are circulating that the Chinese gov't is content to placate the unemployed with heavily subsidized Greenland Lambrusca rosé.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Importing more higher alc wines

This from the AGI [Agenzia Giornalistica Italia] News Service:
...a boom of Made in Italy wood-free wine in the United States with an 8.5 percent increase of exports and the concrete possibility of reaching a value of one billion dollars for over 2 million hectolitres by the end of the year, also thanks to the positive effect of Italy's World Cup victory. This was estimated by Coldiretti on the basis of an analysis of the Italian Food and Wine Institute in the first 8 months of 2006, from which emerges that the Italian production guaranteed for the absence of wood-chippings has strongly conquered the leadership compared to the Australian competitors where these practices are instead not carried out...
[meaning the Aussies do add oak chips/dust/etc where the Italians aren't - guess that's a source of great local pride...]....and...

Italian wine alone covers almost one-third (31 percent) of the foreign wine market in the United States followed closely by Australia with 29 percent which is forced to "sell" its own wine with a policy of lows prices and with 14 percent from France, which after many years of problems reverses its trend and registers the highest growth rate (+29.7 percent)...
[French bulk increases are thanks in large to the dropping prices due to their glut, and increase in Pinot demand -regardless of quality category]...

So let's look where these wine import trends are pointing:

<14% bottled +9%
<14% bulk -31%
>14% bottled +6%

<14% bottled -9%
<14% bulk +214%
>14% bottled +32%

<14% bottled +16%
<14% bulk +439%
>14% bottled +99%

<14% bottled +16%
>14% bottled +30%

With the exception of Italy, the +14% category is increasing faster than the sub-14% category. All numbers for the >14% categories for each of the countries (including Oz) are off a much smaller base, but it tells you where the trend is...
Most 2005 vintages were generally warmer, and that may influence these numbers slightly, but even so there's still quite a bit of older vintage wines being factored into these numbers.

Notice that the amount of bulk wine shipped (e.g., wine which isn't bottled yet, and is blended/bottled @ the destination country) for both France & Australia has really increased. Now both countries currently have pretty large surplusses and are looking to increase their competitive edge by reducing shipping charges and bottling it here (you don't pay for the weight of glass that the wine is in this way). What is left to see is what portion of the large French bulk quantity remains if/when demand in the US for Pinot Noir starts to stall.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What the heck...?

Which of these hooks would get you reading –


Gotta say the Brits @ BBC have that one hands down! Who wouldn't be enticed by 'guilt free gluttony'...but click on either pic for the link to each article & see the different slant each provides.

The real story is (again) that resveratrol - a compound normally found in red wine - is a very potent agent in the fight against many maladies of aging and bad diet.

That's good news for all of us who enjoy wine. The bad news is that this compound is normally found in small quantities - an equivalent dosage for a human adult would take 100 bottles (8.5 cases) a day of red wine!

Nobody's going to be doing that, but the day a decent supplement become available (provided the monkey & human studies replicate these findings) - look out!

Certainly a private sector proposal for concentrating the resveratrol from the current international wine glut would be attractive to several governments, which have been strapped in the past to subsidize vineyards that otherwise weren't selling or over-producing.