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Wine and Food Wednesday
The Thrill Will Rise Like A Phoenix

By Charles Olken

It is time to answer that burning question: what is it in the wine world that is exciting today? I don’t mean only the next great Pinot with a well-cooked lamb chop—although that is excitement enough in its own right. I am talking about “thrill”, as in “wow” and “who knew” and “we’ve just turned another corner, taken another giant step on the road to vinous Nirvana, confounded the conventional wisdom and loved it”.

Lord knows that we have our share of those special moments over the past half century. The rise of Chardonnay from 1960 to today (no measurable acreage to almost 100,000 acres), the discovery that barrel aging our wines and bottling them before they dry out could make some of them into world class, the emergence of new places to grow grapes and the inevitable change in our vinous history, the Paris Tasting of 1976.

Those kinds of excitements are fewer and further between these days, and my writing peer, Steve Heimoff, said as much in his blog today and got pilloried for it. He was mostly right, but he somehow managed to offend a swath of the wine community nonetheless. These are the folks who think that the planting of Trousseau Gris somehow matches the emergence of Chardonnay. These are folks who now think that Randall Grahm has become old before his time. They forget that he is out there exploring new lands and launching an incredible experiment by trying to raise grape vines from seeds in the hopes of finding true varietal character that may have been lost over the years with our rush to virus free vines grafted on top of rootstocks that are not from the same variety.

In the midst of the small debate that broke out on the Heimoff blog, one voice in the wilderness asked the simplest of questions? Hardy Wallace, whose own blog, Dirty South Wine, is smart, inquisitive and willing to break a few eggs, asked of Steve Heimoff, “Steve- What would excite you?”

Nothing more. Five words in all. But so profound that I felt personally challenged even though the comment was not addressed to me. What is in this wine world, after almost four decades of observing and writing, of penning issue after issue of Connoisseurs’ Guide, after writing books that have been in print for almost three decades and were renewed just last fall, that would be truly exciting? What a great question.

Here are five answers. There are likely to be twenty more if I want this essay to turn into a short story.

Item: Discover somewhere in California a large swath of land that will grow Cabernet Sauvignon as well as it grows in the best parts of the Napa Valley. Maybe it does not exist. Maybe it is already covered with houses and factories. Maybe it is just waiting to be discovered. Pinot Noir may be one of the world’s most finicky varieties, but it grows well in many more places than Cabernet Sauvignon at this point.

Item: Rewrite our AVA boundaries so that they mean something to the consumers. Too much of what passes for “territory” is determined by the business interests of the wineries. That is why we have AVAs like Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Paso Robles that are hard to define because their sheer size spreads too far for specific definition as to the character they can produce.

Item: Rewrite the 21st Amendment to the Constitution in such a way that wine sales follow a set of national rules for distribution and shipping. It is time that the consumers were served by those laws, not the abolitionists and the wholesale and retail segments of the industry. A bad law may have been necessary seventy or eighty years ago. Today, it is totally anachronistic and harms the consumer and the producers while lining the pockets of State governments and the local sales organizations.

Item: A miracle solution to the closure problem. Yes, it is true that corks are much cleaner than they used to be, but the percentage of corked wines is still too high. I happen to like cork—when it works. But when it destroys the 1988 Mouton at our tasting last week or the Coppola Chardonnay in tonight’s tasting, then I like it less. I am no great fan of the screwcap; frankly, they are utterly charmless and their use has led so far to inconsistent results in our tastings. Plastic plugs masquerading as cork are even more charmless, and they have flaws that destroy wine over time. Agglomerated corks (chop them up, sterilize them and glue them back together) may work perfectly well, but they also break more often than do whole corks. In short, there is today, no perfect closure. Thus, I say again, bring on the miracle solution. That will get my vinous juices flowing at full speed.

Item: A great bottle of wine. When Steve Heimoff says that there is less excitement in the wine world today, he, of course, means big deal stuff like the items above. Okay, he’s right. But, frankly Steve, does not a great bottle of wine make everything right? I have been working at this same stand since 1974, and it is still exciting, fun, rewarding, because every time I pull a cork, it just might be the next great wine. And even if it is not, I am happy to drink the good ones like the La Crema Russian River Pinot Noir 2009 we tasted tonight. No matter how you slice it, it is about wine quality, and there is plenty of that around to make anyone’s day.


by Jason Carey
Posted on:4/13/2011 9:13:03 AM

I actually have had great luck with screwcap wines. I feel they age very slowly, but in a much more even manner than cork. I wish all wines were sealed with screwcap. I want my wine to taste good, I don't care about the romance of a popping cork sound.

Next Big Thing?
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/13/2011 12:50:17 PM




Just sayin


Gimme A Break
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/13/2011 12:58:16 PM

My Dear Samantha--

My recollection is that a now-dormant blog tried that gambit and gave it up. Not that it was such a bad idea, but the blogger said he would never duplicate scores.

Word has it that he gave up on the system because he could not count that high.

Just sayin'

by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/13/2011 1:17:09 PM

That's too bad, I bet he looked damned cute while sitting cross legged using his fingers and toes....

The Next Big Thing
by Ken Payton
Posted on:4/13/2011 6:42:21 PM
I would offer the hope that little known grape growing countries preserving exotic, unknown, and rare grape varieties find greater acceptance; Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, even Portugal, among many others. What would make me write my heart out, provide inspiration to the end of my scribbling days, is that the stranglehold on the consumer's imagination of a limited number of grape varieties is finally broken.The next big thing? Deepening consumer education. Now that would be exciting...
Exotic and Unknown
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/13/2011 10:42:27 PM


You are probably as well placed as anybody to take on that task. Kind of a chicken and egg thing, of course. You could write about the exotic and the unknown and wind up getting a blank stare for a response when you tell the world about wines they have never tasted and are not likely to in the near future.

But, that story has to begin somewhere, and you are one of the candidates to start the ball rolling.

by Ken Payton
Posted on:4/14/2011 12:47:26 AM
I shall do my best to tell the multiple stories. A blank stare, like a deer in headlights, tell us one thing: We've got their attention.
Yeah But....
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/14/2011 9:50:44 PM

Once you have their attention do you really think you can keep it with the wines from Croatia or Bulgaria? Mybe we should check in with Austria....

Worth the Effort
by KenPayton
Posted on:4/15/2011 12:43:14 PM
Hi Ms. Dugan. I really don't know the answer. But I do know consumers are not a monolithic group. Their preferences and curiosities, if absolutely known, would probably plot a fairly gentle bell curve. Austria? Of course. But let's be fair. Take a look at this modest wiki entry for Croatia. Does it not, at the very least, suggest to you unsuspected depths? And would it not be an intellectual adventure to explore? larger point is that such feasts of knowledge, (viti)cultural and gustatory, are near at hand. It only requires a restless imagination and desire to know more. That is what I hope will be the next big thing: consumer curiosity, a turn toward the unique, the different.Cheers.
Consumer Curiosity
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:4/15/2011 1:00:33 PM

My sense is that consumers are not generally curious unless they have a reason to be. Some people will try every new washing machine detergent, but most folks have their favorites and go back to them unless something jolts them out of their behavior pattern.

I don't buy many new cars, but I am very much ruled by reputation, curb appeal (see the new Audi A7 for the latest addtion to my automotive wish list) and new car reviews. It takes more than the existence of a product to make the consumer interested.

That is why the Loire Reds I wrote about in today's blog are so interesting. They have always been there. Yet, only now are they getting any play, and it is first because they at least have a reputation and secondly, have kept their low prices when so many other wines have seen massive price escalatioins, especially French Red from other than the hotter places in that country.

So, if those wines from other parts of the world are going to make any headway, they are first going to need a champion; secondly, they must be reasonably good; and, third, their pricing needs to be attractive.

Even then, there is no guarantee. I hope you are right, Ken, but hoping that curiosity in and by itself is going to be the maker of those wines' newfound popularity is a lot to ask of folks who have not changed handsoap in fifteen years.

Flaws You Make at Time of Offering Wine
by Shivam Rana
Posted on:11/14/2016 1:18:37 AM
<a href=" ">Common mistake committed while serving wine</a>. Here are listed some common faults we do while offering wines and drinks

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