Wednesday, January 07, 2009


As 2009 arrived, I started to think about all the great and interesting wine experiences I've had in the last year.

There were plenty of forgettable wines, but many memorable wine events.

There were great gatherings of friends where we laughed while tasting through countless bottles.

There were tremendous wine bargains to be had, yet tons of overpriced and overrated wines to stumble over.

And of course there were wines that really impressed me, although there were a lot fewer of those this year than normal.

I rarely break form from review to editorialize, but I've been kicking around a lot of different thoughts in my head lately and so I decided to write them all down. Perhaps I will take the time to do so even more in 2009. So without further ado, here is my year in review, in list form of what I thought, learned and experienced in the world of wine in 2008.


10. Buying wine on the internet is not nearly as fun as buying it in the store but it is a more intelligent way to buy wine.

With endless research available (ability to access critic scores, cellartracker notes, compare prices) it offers a distinct advantage over in-store purchases. However, nothing really compares to wandering through a wine store and picking up the actual bottles. The immediacy is still relevant to me. You can take that bottle home and put it in your cellar or open it that night. With free shipping offers and wonderfully informative and easy to navigate sites, places like Wine Library are making in-store purchasing less and less appealing. If I had free shipping all year I might never buy another bottle in person ever.

9. Portuguese Douros keep getting even better.

I remember when I first tasted some of the highly rated Douros at a Wine Spectator show many years ago. They were so distinctly different and wonderfully delicious that I ran out and bought a ton. There is still tremendous value in these wines and they are hidden gems that lots of people have yet to discover. The prices are going to inch up on them in the years to come. I can just feel it. Enjoy them now while they are affordable value wines on the low end ($8 -$10) and cellar treasures at the high end ($40-$50). Both price ranges could easily double.

8. Sideways effect: Pinot Noir + vs Merlot -

Enough time has passed. I don't want to hear anymore about this issue. Let's make 2009 the official beginning of the end. Let's close the door and move on and not waste anymore time discussing the impact of this film on wine. Pinot prices are out of control now anyway which should hopefully encourage people to experiment with other varietals.

7. Screw Caps

I'm not 100% convinced they are the perfect closure for long term cellaring, but I like them for ready to drink wines and I like the innovation overall. In fact, I like almost all of the alternative closures except for the plastic corks which have killed a couple of my openers. I am looking forward to even new and better closures that I'm sure will soon be invented.

I am 100% convinced that it will take a lot longer to get into people's minds that screw caps do not mean that the wine inside the bottle is cheap. It takes a lot of effort to keep lecturing on it (and it feels like a lecture when I finally finish venting and step down off my soap box) but I have to believe that people will get it eventually.

6. In pursuit of 100 Varietals...

I made a vow last year to go outside the norm and have been drinking a lot of unique varietals I've never tasted before. I've sampled everything from Lagrein and Fumin to Kerner and Croatina. If its something I've never had, then I want to try it. It has been a lot of fun and has led to some great wine discoveries. I'm not stopping in 2009 either.

The message to all is to try something new for a change. Stop buying 12 bottles of anything. I don't care how good it is. There's too much wine and too little time. Buy a second bottle if you love it that much. How often do you find that you get tired of a wine you've bought multiple bottles of? Buy mixed cases and sample more. Do you really want to watch the same movie every night or eat the same meal? Isn't it more exciting to go to a different restaurant?

5. Winemakers are pulling back from over-oaked white wines.

There are still a ton of over-oaked whites in the marketplace, but one thing stood out to me at Lauber's Grand Annual Tasting: there are plenty of alternatives. While some wines have pulled back on the oak, others are creating little or no oak whites. There seems to be a movement in the other direction creating a nice balance. That's what we want in the end. Something for everyone.

I've noticed that a lot of reds, on the other hand, seem to be plowing forward with tons of oak, candied fruit, and one-note over-the-top wines. Not to overgeneralize but I'm not liking this trend and it seems to be creating a lot of boring reds for my palate. I definitely am not looking for Australian fruit bombs when I'm buying reds from California, Spain and Washington State but I seem to be getting too many of them.

4. White Meritages - where have you gone?

There's always Conundrum, Pine Ridge's Chenin Blanc/Viognier and handful of other classics but fewer white blends are being carried by wine retailers. Are fewer of them being made? Is the demand so low? I love red and white blends. I think blended varietals often deliver more exciting wine experiences. I have trouble even finding stores with white Rhone wines in stock and those that do have very limited choices.

Treana kicked the door down, in my opinion, with a phenomenal white meritage that was one of my favorite wines of the year. I'm looking forward to tasting Peter Lehmann's Layers. I hope 2009 brings more of these exciting wines.

3. Bordeaux Futures from 2005

I've never been happier to have purchased futures. Seeing high Wine Spectator scores come out for wines I've already purchased...terrific. Watching the price of wine double before even taking delivery...priceless. With questionable Bordeaux years ahead and prices out of control I don't know if i will ever have that same experience again in my lifetime. I definitely enjoyed it and am thrilled to have wines in my cellar that wouldn't have been able to afford at today's pricing.

2. Wine Spectator's #1 Wine Of The Year is from Chile!

The Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta was the WS choice for WOTY. This is a historic choice for several reasons. Due to 2005 Bordeaux being a tremendous vintage, everyone expected the top spot to come from there. It would have an easy pick to justify with several wines that could have fit the criteria, but WS had the insight and courage to look elsewhere.

Secondly, Wine Spectator has almost always chosen a wine from France, Italy or the US (California) for its' top honor. Choosing a red from Chile was a welcomed surprise. It not only puts Chile back on the map, it helps diffuse a bit of regional elitism. Unintentionally, the message year in and year out seems to be that the very best in wine can only come from 3 places in the world. Here's hoping Spain, Germany, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all eventually get their chance one day to grace the top of the list.

1. Ontario, Canada RED wines deserve some attention

Yeah, that's right. I said red wines. Niagra-on-the-Lake in Ontario is obviously famous for its spectacular Ice Wines. They are delicious, sweet nectars of the gods. However, I had the privilege of tasting through a dozen or more wineries this summer while in Ontario and I was impressed with what I experienced in the red wine category.

It had been about 7 or 8 years since I had last visited Niagra-on-the-Lake for some wine tasting. At that time my experience with red wines there was terrible. The wines were thin, out of balance and really poor imitations of California style wines. The climate just didn't make sense for them to try to emulate California and their future seemed bleak at best.

What I discovered last year is that most of the red wines being made there now are smartly trying to emulate Bordeaux or Italy. They are using some of the vegetal and earthy aspects they are getting from their terroir to create a more Old World kind of wine. And some of these wineries are doing it extraordinarily well.

Marrynissen in particular has made a stellar Cabernet-Merlot. The 2002 offering is exceptional and is a 90 point Bordeaux-esque wine with tremendous character to it. Pellitteri Estates has made a phenomenal Chambourcin that tastes Barolo-esque with tar, roses and finesse. These two wineries were clearly the stars of Niagra and had a lot of other offerings of merit. I'll be really interested to see what lies ahead for them in the near future.

And that's a wrap!


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