The Next Big Thing

Wine drinkers have got to be among the fussiest and most demanding consumers in the world.

I am always being asked about what’s coming into the market that bears attention. This question comes from people who are annually receiving a new product with the release of every wine’s latest vintage. Beer drinkers don’t get a new product every year. Nor do Scotch lovers or people who enjoy Kentucky bourbon.

And even so, with a new release of every wine from every winery every year, wine drinkers continue to seek the Next Big Thing. Thrill me. Amaze me. Dazzle me. I think the proper response is, “Spoil me.” Maybe it’s too late. Many of you already are.

Yet, who am I to disappoint? Why would I not leap towards an answer to your questions? You certainly deserve to know what is coming down the wine chute. Although many of you missed, and continue to miss, the rosé phenomenon, and you have chosen to bypass the moscato landslide, both of which are still in full swing.  Even a few of you have continued to boycott merlot, despite the fact that the 2004 movie which started the trend is quite long in the tooth by now, and there are some excellent merlots coming from all corners of the New World.

So I will encourage you to expand even further your palates and your curiosity. I will feed your insatiable desires. Then you can point the finger at me and say, “He….He did it. He caused us to continue pulling corks and unscrewing caps. It’s not our fault. It’s his!”

Pinot Noir from Chile

The Holy Grail of winemaking is pinot noir. Most winemakers want to make all the varietals they can given the limitations and definitions of their locations. But it seems at the end of the day, they all want to make pinot noir.

In warm climes, this presents some challenges, if not completely ruling out planting this precocious grape. Such was the case with Chile. Was. Now some ambitious, and that is probably an understatement, winemakers have found places in Chile that can support the fruit and return good results. The results are not great yet, but you know how these things start. I have full confidence matters are going to significantly improve, and they will do so dramatically.

The pinot noir wines from Chile are, even at this young stage, exhibiting the true varietal character of Bing cherries and strawberries. And these wines are also bringing the bouquet of cardamom spice, along with a bit of bacon fat. As the vines mature, and the winemakers’ use of oak is tempered, I think we will see more elegant examples on the retailers’ shelves.

What these wines have going for them now is fair pricing. There are some under $20 that are quite serviceable and pleasurable. When the winemakers finally figure it all out, I don’t think we will see those prices again.

Veramonte Ritual, Casablanca Valley
Leyda Vineyards, Leyda
Valdivieso Reserva, Casablanca Valley

Red Wines from Portugal

Whether Portugal can grow wine grapes has long since been proven. The extended growing season, with plenty of sunshine, serve this country well and we have all enjoyed the enticing elixir called port which brings layer after layer of fruit and wood characters, gained in the vineyards and from long storage periods in barrels in the winery.

The “wall” many wine lovers are going to encounter when learning about other wines from Portugal is that the grapes are not any of those with which most drinkers are familiar. What should a touriga franca smell like? What are the layered flavors of tinta roriz? Did the alfrocheiro preto play too much of a role in the blend?

However, the pursuit is interesting. Whether you know the grapes or not, you can appreciate the silkiness, fruit-driven qualities, excellent tannins, and long finishes of the wines. You will immediately sense the structure of a well-made wine, and you may even appreciate the tones that American oak aging brings to the party. The bonus is that here are red wines in the European style of moderate alcohol levels, able to be enjoyed young.

There is no need to wait for these wines to “find themselves.” They arrive to you with excellent pedigree and a long history of traditional family winemaking. It’s just taken America a while to discover them. We seem to be paying attention now. About time.

Altano, Douro. From the esteemed and trustworthy Symington Family
Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande, Douro
Domini, Douro
Quinta do Crasto, Douro

Red Wines from Greece    

Right now, there are some truly excellent wines coming from this most ancient land with 6,000 years of winemaking experience. But you have to forget about two things. The first is the financial chaos of present-day Greek life. It has no meaning in a wine discussion. And the second is retsina, that pine tar wine that has been associated with Greece going back to the days when the wines were shipped all over the world in the uncured wooden barrels made from trees that are prevalent on the peninsula.

Now that those matters are out of your mind, you are now open to the new world of Grecian wine. After Greece joined the European Union in 1981, a number of dedicated winemakers decided to join the modern world, using, for the most part, indigenous grapes and modern winemaking techniques and equipment, including the adoption of the French system of defining where the best grapes are grown and what grapes are those. That has led to big changes in the past 10 years.

Asyrtiko is the white grape that offers the best path to success. What is really terrific about asyrtiko is that when the winemaker tries to use too much oak, the wine rebels. So for those of you who have “had it” with heavily oaked wines, this one is self-governing. The winemakers are dialing down the oak because the grape demands it. The temptation was there in the first place because this grape develops in the hot sun and is very acidic. And therein lies its charm, great with food.

On the red side, xynomavro and agiorgitiko are the darlings. Did I mention that wine lovers who know the usual lineup of grapes are going to be challenged by these? Yes, I did, but it was about Portugal. Well, add Greece to that thought also.

Xynomavro and agiorgitiko can be reminiscent of so many other grape varietals that often in blind tastings it’s tough to state, “I don’t know this wine.” You don’t, of course, but it does seem familiar. The former is often confused with pinot noir and the latter with merlot. Which has led the way to the modern vinification techniques now employed.

Skouras Megas Oenos – Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon
Kir-Yianni Paranga – Xynomavro
Tselepos Moschofilero – another white grape made by one of the finest wineries in Greece
Gaia Estate – yes, the same family from Italy and here using Agiorgitiko

Look, none of these wines are destined to ever take up row after row on your wine retailer’s shelves. Nor will they require entire pages of a restaurant’s wine list.

But they are good. And they are making a mark. Importantly, they are likely to become more and more common, and, as they are tried and trusted, you will encounter them at the damndest places, like on your table.

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