March 2008 Archives

Sipping Pretty: Winning Wines for the Spring Season

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by Courtney Cochran
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When the weather turns warm many of us feel inclined to pursue decidedly spring-like activities. Our short list of favorites includes spending time outdoors, foraging for fresh produce at farmer's markets and seeking out new wines to pair with the season's exuberant flavors and favorable forecast. Read on for some of our favorite selections for spring, along with - naturally - advice on food pairings and occasions for sipping. Santé!


Think Inside the Wine Box

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By Robert Farmer

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Years ago, before I began actually appreciating wine, I attended parties that featured wine that poured from a box. Granted, I was college-age or just a bit older, and the demographic of these parties was such that box wine was to be expected--indeed it was typically appreciated by the very few in attendance not drinking beer. But it also had the stigma of being, well, cheap. And in my more recent years, which have brought a personal wine-drinking evolution, little has changed my perception of that stigma.  


Big Wine, Big Booze

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By Robert Farmer

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An ongoing debate among my wine-drinking friends and me is centered on the nature of so-called "big" red wines. Those who know me know that I like Big. Not saying I prefer big wines exclusively, but given the opportunity, I will call up something chewy, something that packs a punch, something with a more than a little heft. Typically that means I go for a substantial California Cabernet. But increasingly, big wines are being bottled in a number of varietals, and the phenomenon -- like so many other trends in wine - is causing it's fair share of controversy.

Eco Touring at Kunde Estate

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By Robert Farmer

kunde_ecotour.jpgWhen it comes to sustainable wine practice there are those who talk the talk and there are those who walk the walk. For those interested in know more about the latter, there is  Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards (www.kunde.com). The winery that has been a staple in California's Wine Country for a century has also been farming sustainably for five generations. And they are more than happy to show you how it works.

Non Sequitur Sensations

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By Courtney Cochran

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In news that may come as surprising to some - and perhaps not so much to others - market research firm ACNielsen recently revealed that almost one in five of the table wine brands to hit the market in the last three years features an animal on its label.  This leap in popularity of so-called critter wines is remarkable not just because the wines represent a break from traditional wine labeling, but also because the animals featured on the labels often have little or nothing to do with what's inside the bottle.

Dubbed non sequitur labels due to this disconnect between the label and what's inside the bottle, critter wines benefit from customers' association of the animals with themselves (e.g. pet owners often have an affinity for canine-themed labels).  This flies in the face of traditional branding rationale, which argues that images should be strongly associated with the product  - whether it be wine or anything else for that matter - being sold.  But rather than perplexing, I find that this news confirms a suspicion I've long had that wine - made from a puzzlingly large number of grapes grown in regions all over the world and frequently marketed with labels in obscure languages - can sometimes seem about as relatable to American consumers as quantum physics. If at times it takes a critter label to break through all this clutter and strike a chord with the consumer, so be it. 

The Upside of Global Warming?

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By Courtney Cochran
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I've long suspected that there might be an upside - at least a temporary one - to global warming when it comes to wine production in some parts of the world.  Marginal climates, after all, yield some of the world's most sought-after wines (think Champagne, Bordeaux and much of Germany), but these areas are also known for their penchant for producing lackluster wines in years when the weather doesn't get warm enough to make decent juice.

As reported in Decanter, Château Margaux general director Paul Pontallier recently spoke to this phenomenon when he announced, "We are so fortunate with global warming. Look at the number of great vintages we have had [in Bordeaux] in the last 12 or 13 years. It is absolutely amazing."  Counterintuitive though it may sound, Pontallier's statement speaks to the benefits of warming temperatures in spots like Bordeaux, where vintners often struggle to obtain fully ripe fruit each year.  However, a far more chilling effect of global warming was proposed by renowned viticulturalist Richard Smart at a recent climate change workshop in Spain, where he asked attendees, "Have you thought about the fact that in Bordeaux, we may have already seen the best vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon?"

Weighing In

Chilling, indeed.  Not to mention the implications of this news for wine regions on our own shores, many of which have warmer average temperatures than their European counterparts.  We'd love to hear from vintners stateside about the onslaught of global warming and how it's changing their wines and making practices.  Could there be - as the Bordelais suggest - an upside to our own battle with the phenomenon?  Or is the future of wine in our own backyard at serious - and imminent - risk?  We hope you'll take a moment to comment. 


By Courtney Cochran
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Fresh back from Miami, I have to say that the sunny spot is without a doubt a city that knows how to party. And so I wasn't surprised to learn today that charismatic designer Christian Audigier - who shot to fame in the '90s as the man behind the eponymous Von Dutch brand, a favorite among celebrities and musicians, and who now oversees Ed Hardy clothing - chose Miami as the spot to debut his new wine brand, The Cool Wine (http://myspace.com/thecoolwine), at a star-studded affair late last year.

With juice coming from vineyards in Audigier's native France and distribution taken care of by Southern Wine & Spirits, The Cool Wine seems to have all the pieces in place for success as a traditional wine brand. But with packaging comprised of screw cap-topped bottles and boxes covered with colorful tattoo-inspired artwork, The Cool Wine is as much eye candy as beverage, as much fashion statement as libation - hardly traditional attributes in this long-staid industry. Watch for versions of the trendsetting stuff made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay and also a Rosé on store shelves and (naturally) bottle lists in nightclubs soon.

Parducci Puts it in "Neutral"

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By Robert Farmer
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You've read in this space about my efforts to espouse the benefits of living "green" whenever possible. And when that can include drinking green, all the better. The wine industry has noisily been getting into the act, cleaning up their vineyards to reduce environmental impact, and putting wine in bottles that are being called "organic" or otherwise good for the environment.

In Ukiah, Parducci Winery is not just talking the talk; they are walking the walk - in a big way, apparently. The winery, which has long been a leader in biodiversity and organic grape farming, announced recently that they have become "carbon neutral" in their wine production process--the first U.S. winery to achieve the status. That's very impressive, in my view, and not easy to do, from what I know of it. To get "neutral," Parducci worked closely with the California Climate Action Registry, which enabled the winery to calculate greenhouse gas emission helped them take step to offset or mitigate that harmful output. It took three years to accomplish and included such arduous steps as increased use of solar power, use of bio-diesel in farm equipment, and simple steps like switching to compact fluorescent lights in the winery.

But the results have been impressive and I commend Parducci on the effort to set higher standards for the wine industry. Perhaps I'll toast to the effort with a biodegradable paper cup full of their always-zippy Signature zinfandel--one of my personal favorites.

V-logs & Vino: A Winning Combination

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By Courtney Cochran
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In what strikes me as a very smart move, San Francisco-based technology company BuzzLogic (buzzlogic.com ) recently launched a video blog (that's "v-log" for you techies) dubbed "The BuzzLogic Vino Diaries" in which a company staffer interviews guests while sipping wine. Shot in wine bars in San Francisco's tech-centric SoMa district, episodes explore social media topics such as blogging and online communities against the backdrop of a wine tasting.

And while some may dismiss BuzzLogic's use of wine tasting in its videos as a gimmick to make tech talk seem sexier, I see it as a clever move to differentiate the company's v-logs from the many other tech-themed videos that hit the Web each day. You can judge for yourself any time by perusing completed episodes online, or wait just a couple of weeks and check out an interview/tasting with yours truly. That's right, I'll be a guest on an upcoming episode that's being shot this week, and you can check back here for a link to watch it when it's live. And in a move befitting the social networking bent of BuzzLogic, their editor found me - but of course - on Facebook.

Georgia on My Mind

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By Robert Farmer

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Okay first things first. In light of recent news about books being published by authors who simply make things up and claim them as real, I'll admit: I've never been wine tasting in Georgia. But I'll also admit, the Wine Highway Weekend they've got scheduled for March 29 and 30 sounds like something I need to do. Yes, wine tasting in Georgia. And what better way to discover the wines of the Peach State than during an official event designed to garner awareness for the region's burgeoning wine industry?

Like California's, Georgia's wine industry has its roots in the 1800s, before being crushed by Prohibition. But its favorable grape-growing climate, with steep, well-drained hillsides, excellent soil qualities, and warm summers, remained. It wasn't long before grape growers returned and got vines in the ground and by the 1980s, the industry began to blossom again. Today, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia counts ten member wineries, located along the Wine Highway, north and west of Atlanta. During the special event weekend, member wineries and affiliate members will each feature open houses, including barrel tastings, food pairings, and live music.

It may be time to start thinking about heading south for Spring. For information, visit www.georgiawine.com.

LeAnn Rimes & Estancia: Right on Key

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By Courtney Cochran

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As further evidence of wine's inexorable march to the fore of America's pop culture consciousness, Estancia today announced its official sponsorship of the new LeAnn Rimes video, Good Friends and a Glass of Wine. The video - which features the famed country chanteuse and a bevy of her real-life friends relaxing while sipping Estancia Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - celebrates the role of wine in creating an atmosphere of reflection and rejuvenation after a hard day's work.

The announcement marks another high note for wine as it continues to grow in popularity among Americans of all (legally appropriate) ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. It also comes across as a well-timed strategic move by Estancia - a long-established brand seeking to update its image by way of a staring role in a chart-topping song by one of today's most popular young musicians. Sounds right on key to me.

Top 10 Gourmet Winery Experiences

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gourmet.jpgSpringtime weather is sublime, grape buds breaking, gentle breezes blowing and the mild sun shining.  It's time to get outdoors to enjoy this natural setting and an afternoon of gourmet goodies on the grounds of a beautiful winery. Whether for a full picnic or a little cheese and wine, WineCountry.com recommends spending an afternoon at these wineries.  

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