Of the California wineries celebrating their 50th birth year in 2022, six gathered to mark the occasion with a retrospective tasting at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Each dazzled us with three wines while reflecting on five decades of harvests and providing a snapshot of their current vintages.
It’s Sauvignon Blanc—not Grüner Veltliner—that’s the star of the show in Austria’s Südsteiermark DAC, a historic winegrowing region in the country’s southern state of Styria that has evolved rapidly over the last thirty years. The variety is grown at high elevation in all five of Südsteiermark’s sub regions and on steep slopes that rival those of the Mosel.
There is no better time to gauge the quality and stylistic range of Sauvignon Blanc than during the only international wine competition devoted solely to the variety: the 2020 Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, which unfolded in Touraine, France, in early March.
INTERPRETING OUR ATTRACTION TO THE SMELL OF WET ROCKS
Vineyards and apple orchards lie under the soaring peaks that surround Bolzano, the bustling center of Alto Adige, a pristine and autonomous region in northeastern Italy. Less than a two-hour drive from Innsbruck over the dizzying Brenner Pass, Bolzano is a study in contrasts; a place where Austrian and Italian cultures merge and Old and New World lifestyles converge.
At first glance, this ethereal Sauvignon Blanc which is described by Mike Bruzus, associate winemaker at Picchetti Winery, as “almost color less, the palest straw” could be mistaken for water. But from the moment your nose comes within a few inches of the glass, there’s a rush of aromas, a jumble of fragrance that includes pink grapefruit, pineapple, gooseberry, honeydew melon, guava, lychee and mineral notes of wet rocks and saline. A precursor of what’s to come when you taste it and a certain indicator that this isn’t a “simple” wine.
In a repeat performance, Imagery Estate Winery founded by Joe Benziger in 1985 has been honored for the second year running by the California State Fair as the 2018 Golden State Winery of the Year. Benziger, who was at the helm for the 2017 award, has now retired but serves as guide and mentor for his second daughter Jamie Benziger, 31, who stepped up as winemaker in 2018.
While researching the current popularity of blended wines in preparation for a talk at the 2017 International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show about blends that begin life as bulk wine, I discovered white blends emerged as the exception rather than the rule. Consumer preferences for monovarietal white wines—Sauvignon Blanc is currently the fastest-growing white variety—are the likely drivers there, but that doesn’t stop winemakers from creating successful proprietary blends. In 2014, blended wines accounted for more than 40 percent of new entries to the U.S. market, with the lion’s share going to reds (29.3 percent) and whites accounting for just 1.9 percent. When surveyed, domestic consumers said they liked blended wines because they are experimental, interesting and trendy with better value. But it’s not the classic blends from regions like Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône, Valpolicella and Rioja they’re referring to; it’s the under-$25 blends that are marketed as nothing more than just that—blends. One striking example of success with modern blends is Dave Phinney’s Locations Wine portfolio, which goes even further by eliminating vintage and relying …
San Francisco continues to be one of the world’s most important destinations for leading players in the wine industry, so it’s no surprise that a major conference dedicated to the private label and bulk trade is making its way to the city on July 26-27.
Pyrazines—too much of a good thing and they’re a fault; absent in varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and they leave something to be desired. In relation to bitterness, pyrazines can be the source of a flaw or fault, but that’s just one of many ways they can impact wine flavor. Ask any maker of Bordeaux varieties, someone who grows grapes in a marginal climate or experiences a colder vintage, about their concerns, and they’ll surely count elevated pyrazines among them. Admittedly, pyrazines are a double-edged sword. Without them we wouldn’t have the expansive range of wine styles that are possible from Sauvignon Blanc or the markers that help us identify the family of Bordeaux varieties and the likes of Carmenère. But in the extreme, pyrazines dominate wine at the expense of other varietal flavors. We’ve all tasted them—from pungently herbaceous boxwood (the polite reference to cat pee) and jalapeño pepper in Sauvignon Blanc to rank green bell pepper or even weeds in red wines that haven’t achieved physiological ripeness. Pyrazines are the family of volatile organic …