Archive for January, 2013

Little by little, I’ve been burning through my meager wine collection. I popped this bottle just before Halloween and took notes, but never posted anything about it until now. Having been disappointed with so many aged Southern Rhône wines lately (Châteauneuf du Pape—you’re on notice!) it was nice to switch from soft, plump Grenache to edgier Syrah. It still sticks with me, too.

Sexy, no?

Sexy, no?

Origin: Cornas, Northern Rhône Valley, France

Composition: 100% Syrah

Appearance: translucent red-black

Nose: smoke, wildberries, wintergreen, leather

Palate: ripe blackberry, liquid smoke, leather, thyme, rosemary

Mouthfeel: medium-bodied and silky with fresh acidity and fine tannins

Really, just shockingly good. This wine has held up beautifully over the last decade-plus. Still vibrant and shows another decade of drinkability as its acidity and firmness on the back palate were long to soften in the glass. This was paired with a hearty beef stew with various root veggies (carrots, parsnips, turnips, and potatoes) and was just right to cut through the richness and fat. The likelihood of finding this vintage now is slim and it surely wasn’t cheap (I think in the neighborhood of $90 a few years back when I added it to the collection), but, based on what I’ve read, I would feel confident with any Clape bottling of the last decade.

The prevailing wave of wine is brands created to fit certain markets and niches. These wines aren’t necessarily different from one-another in the bottle, it’s all a matter of manufactured perception through labeling and target marketing. These wines are almost wholly the stock-and-trade (they are merely commodities, after all) for the growing number of large wines conglomerates that have taken over our head-space (and retail floor space) thereby all but eliminating the impact of the largely unmarketed products of integrity. (These themes are touched on in some of my prior posts here and here and here —sense a pattern?)

Certainly, smaller, independent wineries; distributors/importers with vested interest and genuine love for their products; and retailers with passion to engage consumers on the front-lines are doing their parts. The problem lies with the efficacy of the marketing of flashy, lifestyle-focused branding (with, at best, pedestrian product in the bottle) on a highly susceptible public. This new wave of highly-focused target marketing is successful because the target audiences have not become so inundated with it yet that they have built up a subconscious immunity.

With so much white noise—and that is what almost all traditional (read: passive) media marketing has become—it can be nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. The new target models subsist on feeding into the venues with which their targets interact with most. By creating mini-games centered on the product, full-webpage encapsulator and cursor-activated ads, manufacturing a “community” (make no mistake, you’re not a voice, you are simply a paying resident) via social media apps, etc. what once was solely passive becomes active—active engagement requires consciously giving oneself over to the ideas and ideals presented. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!

Dystopian? You bet!The antidotes are fatigue and broader consciousness. Fatigue just kind of happens in many people, but not all. Eventually, the effects of any marketing (particularly ones that require action on the part of the target not just to buy, but to simply function as marketing) become subconsciously burdensome. Sometimes (though, oftentimes, not), once that has happened the target becomes more broadly conscious of what has been perpetrated upon them. Others have an innate sensitivity to this from the start and realize when the marketing master control system is gaming them and manage to stay one step ahead.

The latter group needs no help from people like me on the front-lines, though it is always wise to encourage them to “spread the gospel”. For the former, however, it is possible to make in-roads. The keys are being cognizant enough of your customers (listen) to determine where they are open to counter-suggestion and to, little-by-little, chip away the marketing-generated barriers to experience. The wonderful thing about those so easily swayed by target marketing is that they are clearly open to suggestion if you can just squeeze in on a one-on-one level. It starts with a simple “if you like this, I think you’ll really enjoy this” proposition and an agreement of future conversation about that new experience. Whether that experience was a hit or a miss is largely irrelevant as you have now made at least an exit ramp onto an in-road to direct human interaction over force-fed virtual interaction.

This is the first step to trust. Trust doesn’t exist in the new marketing model—it trades only in fear. Fear of the new, fear of not fitting in, fear of self-challenge, fear of dissatisfaction, et al.. Trust exists only through tangible experience and is far harder to shake than fear. Fear is something to submit to or overcome—trust is something to be gained or lost. The negative results of both are fed by passivity. While it sounds a bit lofty, I believe, that if a consumer is passive, it is incumbent on me as not just a salesperson but as an ethical, socially responsible human being to be proactive and foster trust as one tiny step to help ensure that we are not left with a race of mindless automatons.

This active engagement has permutations across all levels of wine sales (from winery to distributor to retailer/restauranteur). Just making/recognizing/carrying a good product and hoping for the best is insufficient. We are all responsible for helping our customers (often, our friends) to have genuine experiences that they enjoy and will share with others. The receptivity is there waiting to be engaged. Do it!

So, I challenge you—wine salesperson, winemaker/winery representative, consumer—to be less passive and save humanity. 😉

...your next stop: who the heck knows 'cause the print is so tiny and it doesn't tell you where you're headed anyway.

Going down?

Going down?

I (more than) touched on all of this earlier on here and here, but this brilliant paper provides some wonderful visuals of the Twilight Zone of wine in which we currently find ourselves. The pin-points of the pretty little radial clover flowers of industry consolidation on the map are becoming fewer every day. As a result, the percentage shares of the major players are growing exponentially (particularly after 2011-12’s dramatic M & A trend). At this rate, that grey block (“Other Firms”) that currently comprises around 18% at the bottom of the share infographic will be relegated to the right-side by the end of 2013.

This trend is alarming in its scope. The major wine/beverage conglomerates are acquiring not only large growth brands, but small labels, independent wineries, and vast acreages of vineyard land all over the globe. This is in response to the growth of wine consumption in the US, but also as a hedge against poor bulk production rates in off vintages. Scores of family wineries and diligently managed vineyards are being lost to support all the new marketing driven brands that the last several years of bumper production created.

Example—MegaWineCo (MWC) created their new California super-premium lifestyle brand, ‘Sweet Release’ (“it’s rim-lickin’ good”—a sweet Syrah/Zin blend and a Moscato/Riesling blend) four years ago. The ad campaigns on WEtv and (it exists, look it up ’cause I ain’t linking it) are paid through 2013 and are in full-swing. The weak 2010 and 2011 growing seasons threatened to limit production on this massive growth brand so MWC is forced to buy up juice from every bulk grower they can (regardless of region/country of origin) to make up the difference. In order to avoid this in 2012 and going forward, MWC makes, um…”offers that can’t be refused” to acquire 200+ acres of Central Coast and North Coast vineyards (as well as some in Chile and the Languedoc, just in case). Whew! Crisis averted…for now. And then the next brand is unveiled. Ad infinitum.

Caveat emptor. It has now become more incumbent on the consumer to determine what they are buying while the marketing department of MWC stays one-step ahead in making it harder to distinguish. Seem disingenuous (at the least)? It is. The wines may taste just fine for the money, but what is the real cost? Well, real choice is severely limited, but most importantly, less diversity is the sacrifice. Have you noticed that a lot of wines are virtually indistinguishable from one-another lately? That’s because they really are identical (or damned near it) with different labels. Brand A with the classic eggshell label and serifed font in red and black sells to men over 35, so create Brand B by simply slapping a label with lightning bugs and a quarter moon in pastels on the same product and you got yourself a brand that sells to women 25 and over. How does a lack of transparency in these instances help you in any way?

If this irks you or matters to you even a little, start by looking for “produced and bottled by” or “estate grown and bottled by” (along with “family owned” or “independently owned”)—not “vinted and bottled by” or “made and bottled by”—on domestic wine labels. It’s no guarantee of quality or that such wine will be a better value than the mass-produced stuff, but at least you’ll have a starting point of provenance—some tangible entity to specifically hold accountable for your drinking experience. From there it’s all a matter of personal preference.

Good luck!

It's an international place.

It’s an international place.

Here I am, back in the saddle with another wine review (of a wine not short on saddle leather notes). I had manicotti on the menu and a desire for a rich, Italian red that didn’t rely on my fall-back red sauce option of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or push me into my cost-prohibitive favorites of Alba. After far too long in the aisle, I settled on a super-Tuscan blend.

L’Arcipelago Muratori makes several red wines under the Rubbia al Colle label from their vineyards in Val di Cornia Suvereto on the Ligurian coast of Tuscany. The “Vigna Molisso” bottling is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot (the tech sheet .pdf on the website is very informative, so look there for that stuff).

(Notes are based on isolated tasting, pairing with food, and re-taste two evenings later.)

Origin: Val di Cornia, Toscana, Italia

Composition: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot

Appearance: opaque deep black-garnet with translucent, slightly bricked edges

Nose: mixed berries, striking balsamic edge, freshly turned garden soil, saddle leather, sandalwood

Palate: robust stewed cherries/wild berries, fire-roasted mixed herbs, subtle menthol, leather, licorice

Mouthfeel: lush with cleansing mid-palate acidity and chalky tannins

Still tight upon opening with a odd earthy plasticine fragrance that blew off a minute after pour. Evolutionary in the glass suggesting that a decant would be in order for a dinner party. Pretty much exactly what I was looking for going in (after much internal debate over this or the G. B. Burlotto Dolcetto—either would have been just right as a pairing partner). Lush and rich but not at the expense of balance and elegance. Ample earthy/vegetal funk and herbaceousness keep this rooted as a wine of place despite the international varietal blend.

Firm and ponderous upon opening. Opens up beautifully over the course of an hour or so as the stewy fruit comes to the fore. Held up gorgeously three nights later with the firm tannins going chalky and the fruit mingling evenly with the earthier mineral elements. Could still lay this down for a few more years, but it’s plenty drinkable now.

Ideal pairing would be gamier meats (venison, goat, et al.) and roasted herbed veggies, or ratatouille. A welcome winter warmer no matter what.

Around $30 in MD (2004 is current vintage).

OK, that title is lifted from Split Enz’ classic 1983 single, “Message to My Girl”. While the basis for the sentiment may be very different, this post is more than just a shallow commitment to stay on top of this blog.

I haven’t been “me” for several months. A new job, fatigue, self doubt, and other personal issues have kept me from sharing my voice. Ideally, this will hold forever. Realistically, I will do the best I can.

I’ve got a little bit of a stock-pile of content in mind for Hopefully, those of you who have been here from the start will stick with me and I can keep you and the newbies interested. It has always been my intent to build into a community, of sorts. But, I need your help on that front—please actively share your thoughts and actively engage me here. This will thrive on lively conversation and the open exchange of ideas.

What this statement really serves as is a commitment to you that I will be me again.
“I can’t spend the rest of my life buried in the sand.”


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