User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

What’s Hot—What’s Not

By Charles Olken

Most commentaries about trends in the wine markets rely on reports of supermarket sales, and while there is nothing wrong with that since those reports focus on the comings and going of the broad wine drinking public, they make a certain sense to me.

I use a more locally-based system. It is called, “What are Charlie’s neighbors drinking”, as measured by what they consume at our July 4th neighborhood love-in. I won’t pretend that there is true science here, and some of their choices are oriented to what is being served—this year a full 12-pound, three-day preparation of a Texas-styled barbecued brisket.

Here is what I saw and heard about wine choices (and note, please, that I put out all kinds of bottles that the assembled bibbers can chose so there are options).

Cabernet Sauvignon—I had assumed that the high prices of Cabernet Sauvignon have dampened enthusiasm for that grape among those who drink well but do not have big collections and fancy storage facilities. Turns out that my neighbors no longer worry about spending $50 and up on a good Cab. They still turn to that grape for their fanciest meals. Lots of conversation, though, about how to find a good Cab that does not run up to triple digits.

Pinot Noir—Outpoints Cabernet among our friends for by-the-glass drinking, but not with the beef. Its popularity has not waned, but with Pinot prices, at the $50 level pretty much paralleling those of equivalent quality Cabernet, people chose the Cab for dinner and seem to chose the Cab for special meals.

Zinfandel—Now, I get why the Zin was so popular this year. The smoky, richly seasoned hunk of meat seemed to call for it, at least on first glance. Zin has pretty much been in decline in these parts as witnessed by the diminution of space devoted to it on retailers’ shelves. But, when we finally got to the beef, the Zin did not invite a lot of second glasses. Even the rich end of the rose’ got a play at that point.

Syrah—Both the Cabernet and the Syrah were my choices with the brisket for the combinations of depth, central fruit and structure. But Syrah, despite the CGCW love of the top offerings that show up in our tastings, does not seem to excite many in our neighborhood. Tis a pity, but Syrah did not make a strong showing on the 4th.

Rose—Had to cajole one drinker to try a glass of Blackbird rose’, and lo and behold, he discovered that a dry, deeply flavored rose’ actually was worth the effort. Of course, the conversation with him started with his statement, “Why are there so many rose’s these days?” and went into an explanation that rose’ is no longer just sweet and pink and candy water. OK, he is late to the game because rose’ is very trendy. I think it is only going to get more so because folks are discovering that it can be rich and lively and dry all at the same time, and wineries are discovering that it is good for their cash flow. Sounds like a trend that will keep on growing.

Muscat—Dead in our neighborhood. Either this is a trend that has come and gone or it never made it here. I put some out and got few takers.

Chardonnay—Now here is a surprise that should be no surprise. The Chardonnays were the first bottles emptied out, and I had to get some from home to keep the party going. People like Chardonnay, and when I opened an unoaked version, one of the assembled wandered up to me and marveled that the wine did not taste like oak. That said two things to me. People really do want to drink bright, lively zesty wines like unoaked Chards, Sauv Blanc and the new dry, crisp rose’. And, despite, suggestions to the contrary, Chardonnay has never lost its place as the people’s white wine.

Sauvignon Blanc—Here is the happening grape. I heard more comments about Sauvignon Blanc being the favorite tipple among whites than ever before. It is not that Chard has gone south, but that the deeper trend to zippier whites has driven Sauv Blc to new levels of popularity. Good. The grape has long deserved more than its near second-class status (anybody remember when the Wine Spectator suggested that the grape be pulled out?). Seemingly its time has come.

Sparkling Wine—I don’t put much out for the 4th, but should have. People in my neighborhood have finally figured out why I am likely to be seen started my imbibing with a glass of the bubbly. It has character, it has lots of energy, it tastes good. And now its popularity as a glass of white aperitif for any occasion has come into focus. I could not be happier.

Final Comments—There was less beer consumed this year. Maybe in part because we did not have much in the way of independent brewers’s offerings, but what I did hear were lots of comments about local breweries. Yet, it seemed to me, in my unscientific observations, that the enthusiasm for wine was higher and more discerning this year than in years past. Mrs. Olken thinks that it was the quality of the wine that encouraged folks. I am not so sure. I always put out lots of bottles that I want to drink. Because if I don’t, I am the one who in unhappy with the wine selection.


The CGCW Experience - Take the Tour

Meet the New CGCW

For thirty-five years, Connoisseurs’ Guide has been the authoritative voice of the California wine consumer. With readers in all fifty states and twenty foreign countries, the Guide is valued by wine lovers everywhere for its honesty and for it strong adherence to the principles of transparency, unbiased, hard-hitting opinions. Now, it is becoming the California winelover’s most powerful online voice as well. And, our new features provide an unmatched array of advice and information for aficionados of every stripe.


Your 4th of July BBQ
by Regina M. Lutz
Posted on:7/7/2016 11:40:58 AM

Hey Charlie,

What I want to know is: how do I get an invite to your 4th of July BBQ?! Sounds like great wines were enjoyed by all!

Best, Regina

4th Wines
by Rusty Eddy
Posted on:7/7/2016 1:54:35 PM

Having just returned from Down Under, I'd be interested to know if there were any Aussie wines on offer (I assume not, since you are the CG to CA Wine).  Also, I'm sure you noted at the last NZ tasting that the Kiwis are getting smart and not just relying on SB any longer.  They helped build the category but see the real future (and the bigger margin) in Pinot Noir.

Bullish on Kiwis
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:7/11/2016 3:21:20 PM

Rusty, we are getting very bullish on NZ wines. The best of the NZ Sv Blcs are delicious and unique wines on their own. And I have been a big fan of Central Otago Pinots. Does your comment about PN indicate that Marlborough wineries are investing in Central Otaga or that they are planting PN in their own area. 

by Makreima
Posted on:4/8/2020 3:51:44 AM

Clever Login for Students: Search for your school/district name on URL and enter your student number/google or Microsoft 365 username & password -

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.