This is my digest of what’s being talked about around the wine industry’s water coolers.
PINOT POWER Thanks to the movie Sideways, pinot noir is red hot. The sexy porch scene starring pinot as foreplay is lighting the libidos of Americans and sending them to their wallets. AC Nielsen reported that, since the movie opened in October of last year, sales of pinot noir are up 16 percent. Slow sex life? Buy some pinot and see if it works.
WINERY SHUFFLE It’s not love in the air – it’s the smell of winery acquisitions. Big-time, big-name wineries like Mondavi and Chalone have been scooped up like bank chains. This can mean good things or bad things for your favorite wines. If the new owners – Constellation and Diageo, respectively – have deep pockets and are willing to invest some cash, it might increase the quality of the wine. Or, if the acquiring companies are looking to make some fast profits, they might start cutting corners. I guess we’ll see which way the liquid pours.
GREEK WINE? About 6,000 years ago, some of the earliest winemaking occurred around Greece. Since then, France has kinda kicked the Greeks’ asses, but now they’re trying to make a comeback. Recently, I visited a Greek restaurant called Zaytinya in Washington, D.C., where the only wine on the list was Greek. Funky, long grape names with equally unfamiliar winery names stared at me, but luckily a helpful bartender translated for me. I tried a fruity Xinomavro/Agiorghitiko blend from Kir-Yianni winery, tasting similar to a smooth, spicy syrah. Xinomavro is a dark, intensely flavored red grape from the Naoussa region in northern Greece. Agiorghitiko, an earthy, spicy red grape, hails from the ancient area of Nemea. I look forward to seeing more of these sophisticated wines, rather than the vile tree sap-flavored Retsina that Greece is infamous for.
BLENDS ARE MORE FUN One thing I’m pretty damn excited about is the slow shift away from single varietal wines, or wines labeled by their grape name. I love a good cabernet, but blend it with shiraz and it lights my fire. By adding a smidgeon of this and a dollop of that, a winemaker can create a cohesive, more rounded wine. Some bear cool, fantasy names, and some just list the grapes, but whatever you do, start trying a few.
SCREW IT Have you noticed the Boone’s Farm-like closures on your favorite Down Under wine lately? These metal saviors aren’t just creeping up on us, they’re sprinting. The Aussies and New Zealanders love the screwtop, preferring it to the cork, which can pollute up to 10 percent of wine. You will continue to see more and more of the screwtop, so get over yourself and try one. Same goes for bag-in-a-box wine.
CORRECTION In my column on the movie Sideways, a reader called me out when I incorrectly said Chateau Cheval Blanc is made mostly from merlot, the primary grape in France’s St. Emilion wines. Turns out, Cheval Blanc is 60 percent cabernet franc grape, with the remaining percentage merlot. Good call.