Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Cabernet is Falling! Wait, Maybe We're to Blame!

Much has been made about the trending of California Cabernet Sauvignon (and now Bordeaux even!) towards higher alcohol levels, more ripeness, and of course the increased use of oak. Some decry the trends while others seem to embrace the style, and it appears to be causing much debate within the wine community. About a week ago I was reading a fellow bloggers recent post, here, and he referenced an article by Dan Berger that dealt with a change of style in California Cabs over the past 20 or so years.

Mr. Berger is definitely in the camp that laments the changing style, he wrote the following: "First, let’s look back on what cabernet used to be. It was dry red wine. It was aged in oak not for oaky flavor, but for maturity and complexity. It was modest in alcohol – 12.5 percent for the vast majority; a few “over-the-top” wines reached 13.5 percent.

Also, it was designed to be aged a little bit, and a few a lot longer. When very young, the wines were tannic and needed taming. I still have some 1970s cabs in the cellar that are in great shape.

Moreover, once the wines got some bottle age and a bit of bouquet, they went nicely with food. Since they had good acid levels, food was a near necessity, and the list included steaks, chops, stews, roasted chicken, game and more."

After reading his excellent article, I started jotting down some ideas about why this has happened, why it's being debated and what the end result may be. As you can see, I continue to be fascinated with the "why" question. The description above sounds like a delicious wine to me, one that aligns with my taste preferences. It would seem to have elegance and structure with all the flavor elements being well integrated. In short, a wine that I would absolutely love to drink time and time again.

Unfortunately, my next thought was this: "Oh..but I also happen to love some of those big, extracted, juicy Cabs too..why is that?"

Well? I wish I knew! It's confusing because on one hand I feel proud to like the styles that a professional like Dan Berger likes, yet I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I also do love bigger, juicier examples, the very types he's writing off as not true expressions of California Cabernet Sauvignon.

In my limited experience in wine retailing, I've been able fortunate to observe a truly wide range of wine drinkers and what they buy. It's fascinating to say the least because I see more of the disparaged, current style selling than of those more traditional Cabs. That's not simply because it's being made, but because the consumer prefers it. All along the price spectrum, the wine drinker is demanding (in an economic sense) the bigger, bolder Cabernets from this state. That goes for a Novella Paso Robles Cab at $7 from Trader Joes all the way up to the high end "cult" Cabs from Screaming Eagle, Bond, Harlan et al. In the middle, $40-$100 cabs like Meyer, Trefethen, Whitehall Lane are all getting bigger and riper compared to the 1980's and 90's, because their consumers keep buying that style. What if, overnight (well, in one vintage), those wineries all switched back to the traditional style? Sales of their wines would stop. I'm not joking.

The bigger the wine, the bigger the score too, just look at Robert Parker's scores for massive wines. Look at what Jim Laube scores those wines at. In turn, those scores drive what people want to buy, which drives what styles are produced. At this point, that circle shows no signs of breaking, merely a potential for weakening as the Millenials move away from big-name critics scores and more into social scores. Aging Baby Boomers still have money and still buy "new" style California Cabernets, driving that market.

In the end, I jotted down that the "crisis" is a creation of our own making. We being the wine industry, to clarify things. So much wine is sold on scores, so much import is given to those scores, that it's concentrated the true power in the hands of a few. Their palates have dictated what we (consumers this time) have been drinking and how the Cabernet has evolved over 20 or more years. Mr. Berger is part of a long list of people complaining about the demise of their preferred Cabs, but it doesn't appear to have any effect for the majority of wine drinkers who buy the majority of wine made and sold in this country. That isn't to try to write him off, not at all, because his take is as fascinating to me as the person who unabashedly embraces the noveau style's perspective is.

I feel excited about what we will experience in the next 20 years of California Cabs.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A real threat to all wine drinkers out there.

By now a lot of you know about the bill HR 5034 that's been introduced in the U.S. Congress. There are several excellent summarizations of the bill and it's wide-ranging implications. One of them is over at Fermentation, Tom Wark's excellent blog. I urge any wine drinker to take the time to read through his analysis. If you need a quick synopsis or executive summary, head over to Dr. Vino's blog and see what he says. For once, this is something we all need to be aware of because it could end a distribution channel a lot of us use to get our wines. Here's a video that quite nicely summarizes what will happen should this idiotic piece of legislation make it into law. It's on youtube's website because I don't know how to make this dashboard shrink the size to fit the page width.

More importantly though, the potential effects on smaller wineries all across the country could be devastating. Small businesses are what drive this country, entrepreneurs who take the time, blood, sweat and tears to make their passions a reality. Small, family owned wineries exemplify this notion. They are the ones who don't have massive distribution across the country by the big guys. If you run the numbers, there are more of them than the big mega-wineries out there. While they may not pump out as much wine, you could argue their wines are more artistically driven, more expressive than one bottle out of a production run of 500,000 or more.

Without direct access to consumers, these small wineries are going to be either forced out of business, or worse, forced to sign contracts with the bigger distributors only to watch their wine languish in warehouses as the big distributors focus on moving ever larger quantities of the big producers wines. I have actually witnessed this happen. It's sad to think about especially given the quality and unique nature of wines from small producers but HR 5034 threatens to make this scenario a reality.

It's easy to dismiss the warnings and assume someone else will write to their Representative, we've all done it before. What I suggest though is to join the Facebook page, here, and see what people are actually saying. The contributors to that forum are winemakers, wine drinkers, bloggers, pretty much everyone with a passion for wine.

Basically I'm rehashing what other people/bloggers have already said, I suppose just to add my voice to those urging action on the part of wine drinkers. The ramifications of this ridiculous bill are severe and we should all take note, for a slippery slope exists. Can you envision a world where big distributors control the wine you drink? While that may seem far fetched, think about it. Those distributors buy Congressmen by paying lobbyists huge amounts to secure votes. We all tacitly acknowledge this is happening already in Washington.

Why wouldn't it happen in our wine world? I fully support the right of the individual to buy the wine they want from whomever they want, provided the buyer and seller are responsible adults of legal drinking age. This bill attempts to use some phony excuses to give States back the power to restrict the distribution channels, something the Supreme Court already struck down. It's nothing more than a power play by the big alcohol distributors who've managed to buy some immoral Congressmen.

It's something we all need to watch and voice our feelings about. Take the time do it, what's ten minutes out of your day? Do it while enjoying a glass of wine, tell your wine buddies to do the same thing. You can even make an event out of sending your Congressmen letters, a wine party! Right now is the time to make our voices heard.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wine Bloggers Conference 2010, Walla Walla Washington

I got some absolutely wonderful news today, I was awarded a scholarship to the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. Words that jump out of my brain right now are: excitement, joy, surprise, motivation, encouragement, relief, and gratitude. All of those words help sum up this blog post.

For the past few weeks I've really struggled with this blog, writing then deleting a lot of posts. In retrospect, that was a bad idea, I should have saved them. My point is that I've felt a bit lost, where do I take this blog? It's in it's infancy to be sure, with a handful of followers and maybe a few more readers. That doesn't bug me, I hope in time it'll grow.

I've thought to myself that I'd really like to do more food, beer, and wine industry posts instead of just writing about wines I like and posting a picture of them. That probably won't grow my readers by much since so many others are doing it. Today I was discussing the blog and what direction to take it in with my Dad, when I realized I don't need to necessarily change direction as much as change scope. Adding more content by writing about the aforementioned subjects will do just that.

So, what does that all mean? Why am I so excited about the Wine Bloggers Conference? Well it's like this: Going there will teach me so much about writing, blogging, and creating content that when I get back I will be able to truly expand the scope but do it the right way. You who've read most of my blogs remember I wrote a piece a few months ago explaining why I wanted to go and how important the WBC Scholarship is.

Well, the evidence is right here on this blog. Being recognized as someone who deserves support makes me so much more encouraged and so incredibly grateful. I guess this is how we feel when we're truly passionate about something. In all honesty I can't wait to write more and hopefully bring a unique voice and perspective to my site.

So I just wanted to post up that great bit of news I got today and share it with everyone who reads this. I think I'll be seeing some of you in Walla Walla this year, we're going to have a superb time!

Beau Carufel

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The "Why" of Why I Love Wine.

It seems like a simple question, when you're asked why you like wine, why you love wine, or why you're such a wine geek..It's tough to answer though, isn't it! It isn't tough to spew out a sentence or two with some generic phrases that leaves the questioner thinking "ummm so I still only know that you're really into wine, great answer there genius!". It IS tough to concisely explain why we love wine so much. I keep thinking there's got to be a good way to do it in three sentences. Not three run-on sentences, but three easy to understand sentences. Why did I pick three though?

We've all probably asked a "why" question about someone else's interest in wine. I know I have, and I can relate from personal experiences that I've gotten a wide variety of answers. Some people take the question as an excuse to ramble on for 15 minutes about terroir, expressionism, artistry, tastiness, and how it speaks to their soul. Others simply say "I like wine because it tastes good". And of course everything in between. Which answer or answers have you given? Perhaps you (attempt to) get more eloquent if you've in fact had some wine, because everyone knows we speak better after a few glasses.

I picked three sentences because that seems to be about the length of time that someone will actively listen to you after asking a question. I know of course that it varies from person to person, but we've all see someone's eyes start to glaze over or the wheels start turning in their head when we take too long to explain the mystical qualities of a good Barolo, something that we struggle (albeit nobly) to quantify for our simple questioner. Yea right! Viewed a different way, you have three chances to help someone understand why you love wine so much.

This is especially important because getting our friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and anyone else to drink and enjoy wine is a rewarding experience. You are helping someone learn a new language, introducing them to a new world and broadening their horizons. Why give them the impression that you either don't know why you like wine or you like wine for reasons beyond their comprehension?

My point is that those of us with a wine background should continually strive to make wine more accessible. That isn't to say that it needs to be dumbed down, far from it. Wine's innate complexities will manifest to new enthusiasts, given enough time and  tasting experience. This is so long as we who have been lucky enough to experience them haven't turned off those less experienced people who want to enjoy it and learn more, with our crummy/overwrought answers to their questions. It's a responsibility then, to choose our words carefully and be aware of who we're talking to. We should be happy they have taken an interest in our interest, yet aware of how intimidating wine can be. Historically wine has opened doors, been a great social lubricant. Let's keep it that way..

Or we can always just quote Sideways, right?

Beau Carufel

Friday, April 2, 2010

Yummy! Who doesn't love a great Albarino?

2008 Abacela Albarino Estate Grown 

Oh Albarino, how I love thee. Light but supple, dry but richly textured. It can wash across your palate or it can dance around like the lightest ballerina, leaving hints of flavor each time it touches down. For these reasons I can't get enough Albarino. I've had it with many foods from sushi to grilled chicken to fresh summer salads. Each time's been wonderful, adding, supplementing and enhancing the flavors of the dish.

I picked up this little gem at San Diego Wine Company the other day and paired it with some pre-made sushi rolls. After chilling it for about two hours, I felt it was ready to be tasted. Right away you taste wonderful floral and stone-fruit, paired with lime peel and ruby grapefruit. There could even be some nectarine and minerals present. One of the many things I like about good Albarino is that it can have weight but also be well integrated and light. I know that may seem like a contradiction but hear me out. One the nose, you get great intensity yet everything is balanced out, none of the scents were heavy handed. So to me that shows it's got some weight, some substance, without being something like a Chardonnay, where you smell heavier scents like butter, tropical notes and oak.

With that, I just wanted to taste the wine! I mean come on, that's the whole point right? Right away, great citrus blended with ripe stone fruits, like a pear that was dipped in white peach juice. I love this! It's got a life to it, a way of dancing across your palate (like I said in the first paragraph) and each time you get a new flavor. There are some really interesting minerals on the mid-palate, like a limey-limestone..or wait, how about this: take one of those dark, round, dark shale type stones you may find at the beach, douse it in lime juice, and lick it! That's it! How cool, I'm really enjoying this wine. I also found there's a creamy/oily sensation, it's positively luxurious! Great floral notes and a fleshy, weighted sensation across the back of your tongue help give the finish some depth and complexity.

I think it's easy for you, the reader, to tell that I thoroughly enjoy this wine. There are so many of the qualities I look for and desire in this wine, it's hard to find any faults. If anything, I'd like the finish to have been longer, with a better transition from the fleshy, creamy/oily to the tapering acidity. Beyond that I was hard pressed to detail anything I didn't like. That's because there was nothing else wrong with it. To me, the folks at Abacela did a superb job on this wine, all I can say is BRAVO! Solid A from me, this has to be one of the most certain scores I've ever given. For 15$, it's well worth buying a few bottles especially since summer is coming along soon.

Beau Carufel