BY RICK RIOZZA
You recognize this line already: “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends—we’re so glad you could attend . . .” The 2018 game of wine is presently afoot. Most of us have both feet in and ready for another turn. So what’s ahead in one of our great minor pastimes of enjoying the fruit of the vine?
Last year, the wine world took some hits. A couple events so close to our vino hearts unfortunately included the October wildfires that rapidly burned and spread in Northern California’s Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino counties affecting thousands. A total of 44 people were killed, 245,000 acres were burned and around 9,000 buildings destroyed; at least 11 wineries reported significant damage. Sonoma grape grower and wine producer, Tom Gore, will catch us up on the successful efforts taking place in the wine country, later this month in this column.
On a different scale, the 2017 growing season was not easy for many vintners in California, Chile, and especially in Europe. What some said was the worst frost in 25 years hit winegrowing areas in France and Italy. Some of the world’s most famous regions were slammed with destructive frosts: south Left-Bank Bordeaux, major Right-Bank Bordeaux (Pomerol & St. Emilion), Champagne & Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, and parts of northern Italy.
As usual, the strange fortuitous outcome from the European frost is that the small crop size generally produces well- defined and often exciting wines. For instance, in Beaujolais, the Gamay fruit produced an excellent vintage—even the 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau is a tasty table wine with its dark berry and spice flavors. No “nouveau” haters allowed this year!—go back to start or lose one turn.
The game of wine is always fueled at this time with “what’s trending” or what’s new on the wine horizon. Is it all that important to be abreast of foretelling wine news?! You guessed it… doesn’t matter. The game is within you and without you.
So cozy up—as we’re prone to do when playing, and, enjoy a nice glass of vino as we check out the scene:
Many a wine columnist or marketer-at-large will wish to claim the most likely wine to be the bomb. French-style rosés—those “blush” wines, no longer sweet but dry and showing excellent fruit complexities, have been at the top of the heap for a while now (they are great food-pairing wines). If you’re a betting person, chances are still good you’d win big by picking yet another rosé. Probably a Pinot Noir rosé from California—especially from Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, where their pinots continue to score the highest in the State.
Most wineries everywhere now produce dry rosés. My tip: Enjoy a “retro-style” rosé from Anjou (Rosé d’Anjou) from the Loire. Even Thomas Jefferson played-on back in the day and searched after this Gamay rosé that’s just a “touch” off-dry, keeping all generations happy.
Here in the desert with our quick winters and the evanescent spring times, I’m going to suggest that our savvy wine bars and wine clientele embrace glasses of those chill-able, light, juicy reds that include Beaujolais, Loire’s Chinon (Cab Franc) and Sicily’s Frappato. These wines are low on alcohol, high on red fruit flavors and adore a quick chill.
You’re probably quite familiar with the fresh garden flavors Beaujolais; and, the Cab Franc from the Loire Valley is always fun for California red wine aficionados who aren’t afraid to push the game up a notch. Frappato, on the other hand, is probably one of Sicily’s tastiest sippers that no one has heard of—allora!
My wine of 2018 is—just kidding. A nice glass to relax and reminisce on Sicily is the Frappato. This is the fruit-forward Italian masterpiece portraying cranberry sauce, strawberries, raspberries and candied oranges wrapped up in soft leather; its low tannins make for easy drinking. Right out of the gate, I’m thinking a bacon burger with that baby. I’ll say this—it may well be one of this year’s sexiest pours for gatherings and parties
Okay—some fast topics: Canned Wine Can! Thanks to the successful packaging of craft beer, cans are cool with Millennials and now cool with the wine crowd remaining. Big and small brands alike are investing in cans ranging in all sizes and in all varietals. Even more convenient than boxes, cans can go everywhere.
And by the way, “vintage” box wines are surging and tasting better and better. I’ve recently been enjoying the Spanish brand Intruso imported by The Organic Cellar in Laguna Beach. Produced from the Monastrell grape ( known as Mouvèdre in France and is the “M” in the GSM blends of California ), it’s from the 2011 vintage and quite delicious. This box also register with the Organic/Natural wine buzz that is trending big time. Bravo to the brave new world of wine!
Speaking of Spain, in the wine world, it’s a hot spot. More and more shelves at the stores are displaying Spanish with Tempranillo (Rioja), Garnacha, aka Grenache, and Cariñena, aka Carignan. Perhaps you don’t know Cariñena. The taste profile includes sweet dried cranberries, a touch cinnamon, and a note of Kielbasa sausage. A savory wine certainly, bold red fruit driven and gamey. And most of these winning wines are way underpriced!
Not that my recent article titled, “My Sherry Amour” caused anything, but, it seems Sherry wine is the sip on this year’s lips. We know Sherry’s dessert qualities, but who would have thunk so many of us like the very dry “Fino” version of Sherry that tastes of musky seawater. For those who haven’t had, try it and try it again later. You tell me.
And finally, the Millennials (who now purchase more wine than any other age group—especially the women) have been drinking “red blends” and are now moving more up-scale to Cabs and Pinots. But progressive wine appreciation always happens—and cheers to that! Game On!