There are more than 10,000 wine varietals in the world, more than 25,000 wines available for purchase in the U.S. and there are more than 7,500 bonded wineries in this country. And those numbers do not account for vintages, which when factored in could add 4-5 times the number of wines available for purchase at any given moment.
As for you, only one or two bottles a couple of times a week are to be consumed. That leaves a lot of decisions to be made, and a lot of wine to be passed by. The human condition can be limiting and so disappointing.
These facts make the decision of what to drink even that much more important. You only have a limited amount of time on this earth before you are cast from your mortal coil. Why waste not-so-many opportunities on a beverage that is not the best you can do at any given moment?
But how do you know what is best? Who do you trust to help you through the decision-making process? Relying on the kindness, and limited experiences, of strangers is probably not the best course. You’ve done that already and in retrospect, it probably could have turned out better.
Assuming you have the inclination, you can read wine magazines or go online. Wine Spectator, one of the biggies in the field, reviews and rates more than 15,000 wines a year. They are a respected resource. The issue for me, and it probably only bothers me and no one else, is the 100-point rating system. On that scale, nothing really gets rated less than 70 points. And what is the definable difference between an 89- point wine and a 91- point wine? The simple fact that your tastes are different from my tastes can make those two points a chasm.
To me, defining wine and all of its aspects numerically is the stuff of robots. Tightly scoring all of the pieces-parts of wine does not do justice to overall impressions, which is why most of us drink wine. At least that’s where I come down. There are shortcomings in just about every wine and there might be other values of the wine compensating for the shortcomings of one aspect. Then there are shortcomings that affect the whole ensemble and bring the wine down to unacceptable levels. Again, numeric rankings don’t get it done, for me.
One of the ways to evaluate wine from a distance (the best way is always to pull the cork or unscrew the cap and then you deal with it) is to see what trusted and quality wine competition has said about the wine. There are a lot of professional wine competitions and some of them are very respected while others are “medal mills.” So in relying on the results of a competition to help you evaluate wines, we have opened up another challenge, which is knowing which competitions have validity and which ones are pandering to wineries and winemakers.
Let me hasten to add that I am invited to participate as a judge in about 8 or 9 professional competitions every year. Just so you’ll know. And I think the ones I participate in are quite worthwhile and honest. Did you expect me to say anything different?
I will share with you a sample of the results of one of those competitions, the San Francisco International Wine Competition, which I am honored to serve as a judge every year. More than 5,700 wines are evaluated, many of them several times, by some of the best noses and palates in America and Europe from a wide variety of backgrounds: winemakers, wine journalists, sommeliers, governmental officials, authors, and chemists.
Let me cut right to the information you are most interested in, which are wines that finished at the top of the heap. All of these wines were judged Best in Category, and some did even better than that. The prices are approximate, and the wines may be available a bit cheaper, if they are in the market, which they may not be.
Prosecco – Astoria NV, Treviso DOC, Italy, retail about $14
Champagne – Nicolas Feuillatte, NV, Brut Reserve, $36
Sparkling Wine – Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee, 2007, Brut, $37
Pinot Gris/Grigio – Terra d’Oro, 2015, $16
Albariño – Tangent Winery, 2014, Estate, Edna Valley, USA, $17
Torrontés – Loscano, 2015, Private Reserve, Mendoza, Argentina, $16
Sauvignon Blanc – Old Coach Road, 2015, Nelson, New Zealand, $17
Chenin Blanc – Sauvion, 2015 Vouvray, Loire Valley, France, $12
Chardonnay – Greggarious Vineyard, 2014, Carneros, California
Rosé – Abacela Vineyards, 2015 Grenache, Umpqua Valley, Oregon, $18
Tempranillo – Harney Lane Winery, 2013, Lodi, California, $26
Chianti – Cantine Bonacchi, 2012, Reserva, DOCG, Italy, $12
Barbera – Marchese Vineyards, 2014, Achille, Columbia Valley, USA
Other Rhone Varietal -Red – Ranchero Cellars, 2013, Carignan, Self Ranch, Paso Robles, CA
Shiraz – McLeans Farm, 2014, Master, Barossa, Australia, $45
Red Rhone Blend – Epiphany, 2013, Revelation, Santa Barbara County, California, $44
Merlot – J.Lohr Vineyards, 2014, Estates, Los Osos, Paso Robles, California, $15
Malbec – Shadybrook Estate, 2013, Coombsville, California, $85
Cabernet Franc – Poplar Grove Winery, 2013, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $35
Carmenère – Casa Silva, 2014, Cuvée Colchagua, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $15
Cabernet Sauvignon – HALL Wines, 2013, Ellie’s, Napa Valley, California, $80
Zinfandel – Opaque, 2014, Paso Robles, California, $30
The Best of the Best
Blanc de Noir – Best in Show Sparkling – Gloria Ferrer, NV, Carneros, Sonoma California $22
White Rhone Varietal – Best in Show White – McPherson Cellars, Picpoul Blanc, Timmons Ranch, Texas, $14
Pinot Noir – Best in Show Red Wine – Crū, 2014, Santa Maria Valley, California, $25
Ice Wine – Best in Show Ice Wine – Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate, 2014 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, $50
Tawny Port – Best in Show Dessert – Kopke, 1957, Colheita, Porto DOC, Portugal, $375
Be certain to note that most of the wines are very reasonably priced. That’s very good news for consumers. And many of the better wines are made from grapes not usually associated with their “home” areas where they won an accolade. That makes for some exciting possibilities and new discoveries.
Read Happy Hour here on MyNewOrleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.