Wine Adventures

What's happening in the wine world

Like most pursuits and professions, the wine world is ever-changing.  Wines go in and out of style (consider the recent craze for rosés, and the popularity of Prosecco), and new winegrowing regions catch the attention (and the dollars) of wine buyers.  A few years back, most California Chardonnays were subjected to heavy oak treatment.  Then the fashion tilted back the other way, and people developed a taste for purer, more fruit-forward flavor profiles.  Now, we’re back to the more buttery styles.

So it might be a good idea to look ahead a bit, especially considering the recent global situation, and try to divine what might be in store for wine lovers in the coming months. 

First, industry professionals have noted a trend toward wines from Oregon and Washington State.  Of course, Oregon is best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and maybe consumers have become a bit tired of the “typical” California style of these varietals.  Example:  a few years ago at the New York Wine Experience, Wine Spectator Senior Editor Bruce Sanderson and I sampled down a whole row of California Pinot Noirs.  There must have been ten or twelve tables, and they all tasted remarkably similar, with upfront aromas and flavors of strawberry…one after the other.

In Oregon, they tend to make their wines in a more Old World style, perhaps because several winery owners from Burgundy have bought vineyards there.  A bit more complexity, more layers of flavor, more earth, spice, cedar, smoke, and leather.

There has been a swing toward wines from Washington State, as well.  The winegrowing region is in the dry land east of the Cascade Mountains, and quite a hike from the cities on the west coast.  But since it’s colder and drier there, the big reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, are more reserved and austere than those same varietals grown in California.  A distance of around a thousand miles makes for a completely different climate down south, where the grapes ripen more fully, resulting in wines that are more dense, more plush, and a lot more fruity.  Maybe the trend is going toward a more reserved, classic flavor profile.  Plus, the prices of Washington State wines tend to be a bit more consumer friendly.  That’s a biggie.

Another trend that will certainly have long-term effects on the wine we drink is climate change.  Many experts maintain that vineyards will be affected not so much by increasing warmth, but by volatility in the weather patterns.  While it’s true that French grape growers are thinking about moving their vineyards farther north because of increasing temperatures, events like heat spikes or unexpected frost, drought, hail, and flooding are really keeping vineyard managers up at night.

And then there are wine prices.  While we haven’t yet seen the full effect of projected tariffs, the industry predicts that volume of production will slightly decrease (because of weather patterns?) and prices could rise just a bit.  Might be a good idea to stock up now, and fill all those empty slots in your collection.  Hope you enjoy some new recommendations.

Ask the Wine Whisperer
Why is French oak so widely preferred for making wine barrels?  David L., Port St. Lucie

Winemakers use French oak because the grain of the wood is very tight, and the barrels impart more subtle flavors and characteristics to the wine.  The average age of a French oak tree used for wine barrels is 170 years.

Lions Head Panthera Chardonnay Russian River 2017 ($35) – The extended aging in new French oak gives this sumptuous Chardonnay deep notes of candied lemon, smoke, and crème brulée.  A distinctive style.  WW 89

Lions Head Lion Tamer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2017 ($60) – Mostly Cabernet, with touches of Petite Sirah and Malbec, this mouthfilling red hits all the right notes.  There are black fruits, cherries, coffee, oak, and chocolate all over the place, and it’s all nicely integrated on the palate.  A winner.  WW 97

Gva’ot Dances in White Blend Israel 2016 ($27) – A blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Gewürztraminer, this wine clearly demonstrates that the Israeli wine industry is making its mark on the international scene.  The palate is a mélange of spice and tropical fruit that will go nicely with Thai or other Asian cuisines.  WW 88