Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in Italy, with roughly 150,000 acres mostly in Tuscany. We were fortunate to have visited the region oh maybe 15 years ago and what I learned then is still good information today.
The first thing we did was hire a driver so when he got lost, and he did, he was able to talk to someone in Italian. The other thing we learned is that Chianti Classico is just about the best wine you can buy for the money and the Wine Spectator magazine was good enough to have recently published a feature article on the region and that I have edited the best bits of for you “Whiners” to enjoy.
Chianti Classico is a treasured Italian appellation deserving of the world stage. It’s the best source of value in Tuscan wine today. After centuries of both struggle and acclaim the region’s fortunes in the modern era have continued to improve and that quality is enforced by the DOCG governing body and noted by the black rooster seal on each bottle.
The wines offer a mix of fruit and savory elements. Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti; which is the wine region within Tuscany, the geographical region) is not a fruity grape but winemaking emphasizes its fruity aspects, mostly cherry, with strawberry, raspberry blackcurrant, and plum notes. On the savory side Mediterranean herbs such as juniper, rosemary and thyme, plus notes of tobacco and earth, all give depth and complexity.
Chianti represents the introductory level of wines from the region. They are typically ready to enjoy on release and fall into the $20- $45 price range. These are often the freshest wines with gentle body and tannins, fresh and mouthwatering, making them the ideal pairing with a range of cuisines. (And no they aren’t in wicker bottomed baskets).
Chianti Classico standards require Sangiovese to be in at least 80% of the blend, the alcohol content must be at least 12% and the wine must spend at least 12 months aging in oak barrels.
That change brought a greater emphasis on estate grown grapes and estate bottled wines and the goal of producing the best quality Chianti Classico in the region. Great Classico is priced from $30-$80 and higher depending on sub-region and vintage. (It’s often the sweet spot on a wine list and with its required aging it’s usually a great value. I also find that when I ask for a Chianti Classico in a restaurant or wine shop I get a positive response from the staffer, as in “they are really good wines.”
Riserva wines (top tier) by law are aged for a minimum of 24 months before release, including three months in bottle. They tend to be made from the estates top vineyards and cost from $25-$55.
Millions of euros have been spent to systematically replant the region over the past 25 years and it’s one of the major reasons for the increase in quality of Chianti Classico.
There are 3000 producers of Chianti Classico accounting for 100 million bottles a year.
I find the wine to be a wonderful companion to not only Italian food but also to many chicken and beef dishes with tomato flavor.
The other things I learned in Italy are that we serve pasta with way too much sauce as well as too large of a serving in general; pasta should finish cooking in the sauce, not be drowned by it and most Italian dishes have three only ingredients, more on that at another time. 2018 was a terrific vintage in the Italy as well as California, drink the wine.
The Wines Were Out in Alexander Valley
It was a starlit evening with wonderful views of the hillsides from the pool deck at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and a perfect spot for the renewal of the Access Alexander Valley wine and food event hosted by the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association after a two year pause.
“It really felt more vibrant and I heard nothing but positive comments from our guests and the wineries who were pouring”, commented Pam Bell the association’s manager. “This is a great branding experience for the wineries and offers them nothing but terrific exposure to an upscale crowd of people interested in the great wines produced in the Alexander Valley”.
Bell said that she had asked the wineries to pour something “special” in addition to their normal tasting room offerings and they really responded. We enjoyed wines from Ferrari-Carano, Mercury, Balletto, Foley-Sonoma, Benovia, Alexander Valley Vineyards and a host of others.
Wine Clubs Are Often Not the Deals They Claim to Be
I get offers all the time from such august organizations as the Wall Street Journal, food magazines and I’ve even seen promotions for a wine club on Turner Classic Movies for wines with movies stars names on the label, I’m sure the Kirk Douglas Cabernet is delicious. Note: TCM uses a wine club service provider, known as Laithwaites, that operates wine clubs for numerous other companies as well.
The September edition of the Tasting Panel Magazine has bit of a smugly written report that you might want to be aware of if you are perhaps involved in a wine club or are considering signing up for one that is not part of a winery.
Note that subscription wine clubs are vastly different from signing up for a winery’s wine club after a visit or from their website, we have several, yet we find that some become overt and we drop them.
The allure of wine clubs is obvious: They demystify wine and curate selections for you. Most of them market their subscription service by promising to deliver a box according to some desirable theme or philosophy.
Whether overt or implied, the baleful message of most wine clubs these days is: “You’re a fool if you let some wine snob [read: sommelier] trick you into spending more than $10 for a bottle of wine.” Pushing the false narrative that wine is universally inexpensive to make, they want to convince their subscribers (or would-be subscribers) that they and they alone, truly have consumers’ best interests at heart when it comes to value. But many come up well short of delivering on their promises.
I have heard time and time again about people subscribing to a wine club only to find that, month in and month out, the bottles they received were largely unpleasant if not undrinkable. There’s a reason for that: Good wine is expensive to make and increasingly expensive to ship. The only way that a club can provide a selection of wine at around $10 a bottle, shipping included, and remain profitable is by sacrificing quality.
The most common method for achieving this is purchasing either “shiners” or bulk wine in bladders for rebranding.
A shiner is a bottle of wine that is sold unlabeled and unbranded because the quality of the wine is not up to their brand standards (and they are therefore unwilling to be associated with it) or when they have completed the winemaking process and have juice that didn’t make the final blend left over. Either way, one can expect that this is not top-quality wine.
As for bulk wine, wine clubs purchase it in large bladders and then bottle it at a facility that’s usually in a popular appellation. It may come as no surprise that most of the wine that is labeled “bottled in Napa Valley’ definitely did not come from Napa Valley. Often it is not even from the U.S. let alone California. Though it is perfectly legal to put the bottling location on the label, a non-savvy consumer might confuse “bottled in” with “produced in” – which are vastly different things.
At the end of the day, quality wine is an expensive product to make; be wary of any wine club that tells you differently.
Price Hikes Turn Off Wine Country Visitors
If you think a California wine country visit is only for the well-off – you might be right.
Tasting room visits to West Coast wineries, after rebounding in 2021, are way down this summer compared to pre-pandemic numbers, according to a survey of 400 wineries released last week by a company called Community Benchmark. Hotel bookings are also down in Napa Valley, no wonder because the average daily room rate of $455 is 43 percent higher than in 2020. In Yountville, where the French Laundry restaurant is still a big draw, the average hotel room now costs $934.
Wineries aren’t too upset because the average revenue from tasting room visits is up, from an average of $80 to $100 in 2019 to an average of $110 to $125 today. There are fewer visitors, but they’re spending more. For most wineries, that is a very conscious trade-off.
$1,000 is what a day in Napa Valley costs now for a couple who stay in an average hotel room, go to lunch and dinner in restaurants, visit two tasting rooms, and buy one bottle of Cabernet to take home. (Make it $2000 a day to do that in Yountville – also in Napa County
“The fine-wine side seems to be doing very well.”
Yet there has to be some worry for the future. Today’s middle-aged middle class came up in an era when they could still afford to taste nearly the best. Now they’re seeing a gigantic “you’re not rich enough” dollar sign over large swaths of the wine industry.
A recent sample of high end tastings offered some expensive results – all include private hosting and food pairing:
Gloria Ferrer $95/pp Sonoma
Joseph Phelps $300/pp Napa
Opus One $750/pp Napa
Half a Glass…
It’s Where I Shop
The Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa was one of three California retailers singled out by wine pros to be among the best wine shops in the United States, according to a Wine Enthusiast article.
The magazine surveyed wine, drink and food industry professionals asking them to name the best wine and spirits stores from among the more than 40,000 in the United States.
The premise of the article is that truly great wine shops are more than the bottles on their shelves. They are hot spots for novice wine and spirits drinkers as well as for oenophiles, and they bring people together for tastings, events and even fundraisers.
Two other California stores made the list of 56; Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley (Lynch is a worshiped importer and noted writer) and Good Luck Wine Shop in Pasadena. The list came from wine and spirits retailers nationwide.
Loyal readers will recall that I featured the “The Barn” and it’s rather “industrial look” in a “Whine” a year or two ago. We started shopping at the store when we were only visiting and are now happy regulars.
The Press Democrat with my help
Wine Industry Iconoclast Fred Franzia Dies At 79
Fred T. Franzia, co-founder of Bronco Wine Company recently passed at age 79.
Franzia founded Bronco with his brothers on Christmas Day of 1973. The company became best known for its 2002 launch of Charles Shaw, or “Two Buck Chuck,” which sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s for $1.99 a bottle and moved nearly 2 million cases in its first year, reaching 5 million cases a year later. Today it’s estimated the brand still sells at about 1 million cases a year.
“When asked how Bronco Wine Company can sell wine cheaper than a bottle of water, Fred T. Franzia famously retorted, ‘They’re overcharging for the water – don’t you get it?”
Giants Just Made A Surprising Hire: A Master Sommelier
The San Francisco Giants are the first U.S. professional sports team to hire a master sommelier to oversee and expand its wine programming. The organization chose Evan Goldstein, a lifelong Giants fan who passed the prestigious master sommelier exam at 26, the youngest to do so at the time.
The announcement reflects wine’s ever-growing presence in sports. The Giants claim to be the first baseball team to have served wine in-stadium at Candlestick Park in 1977; today, Oracle Park has a dedicated wine bar on each level.
San Francisco Chronicle
Sept Burger King plans $400M 2-year investment for Advertising and Tech
Burger King plans to invest $400 million over the next two years in advertising, digital platforms, technology, remodels and relocations to spur franchise growth in the United States, the company said in press release.
The company says its “Reclaim the Flame” plan includes $150 million in advertising and digital investments over the next two years and $250 million for restaurant technology, kitchen equipment, building enhancements, remodels and relocations.
Our plan is focused on a few important priorities — operational excellence, refreshed image, and enhanced marketing to provide a superior experience for our guests.
Funny, no mention of better food – go figure.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Sales Booming in US
In 2021, thirsty US wine drinkers popped 69% more Champagne corks than the previous year. Some of that dramatic increase can be attributed to the impact of Covid on 2020, but sales are still growing.
The US has proved to be a particularly thirsty market. Last year, exports rose by a staggering 69.3%. “We are proud to say that not only did Champagne shipments to the United States rebound last year, but the United States led all countries in shipment volume for the first time in decades”, revealed Jennifer Hall, director of the Champagne Bureau USA via a press release.
You folks must be celebrating something…
Wine Business International
I must say that both of these recipes are really tasty but do require a bit of time, they’re worth it and a Chianti Classico will be outstanding with the pork, enjoy!
My recipes for Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Sausage and Bacon Wrapped
and Chicken Sliders Marinated in Butter Milk and Deep Fried are in fact right here. Enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA. at www.woodythewineguy.com