You are drinking Rosé this summer, aren’t you?

20140605-102915-37755310.jpgSummer is here and the temps have creeped up and, at least in my backyard, it’s pretty toasty out when wine o’clock rolls around each day. (And yeah, yeah, I can already hear some of you sniping about how you think I start drinking wine at breakfast, etc.) Anyway, at 5pm, when most of the year we are cracking open the chardonnay, you’ll now find me uncorking (or unscrewing) a bottle of delicious rosé. And I am not alone.

For many years in this country, rosé wines were shunned while our European breathren and sistren reaped all the benefits of these delicious wines. Why?

Well, many people blame our indifference on the fact that, for a long time now, the most prominent bottle of rosé found on grocery store shelves has been Sutter Home White Zinfandel. While many call it a rosé, and technically it is, it actually is more of a blush wine. What really sets it apart from a true rosé is its sweetness. Rosé wines are fermented dry, or nearly dry, and certainly do not possess the soda pop-like qualities of Sutter Home’s famous offering. Unfortunately, many American wine drinkers drank their fill of White Zin, grew tired of the sweetness, assumed that all pink wines were the same, and gave up on rosés altogether.

What is a rosé wine? It’s basically a wine made from a wide variety of (mostly) red grapes but the juice from those grapes is only left on the skins long enough to impart a light red or pinkish hue. This method also eliminates, to a large degree, the tannins that are normally found in red wines, which come from the skins, stems and seeds. Once removed from the skins, the juice continues fermentation as if it were a white wine, usually in stainless steel tanks as opposed to oak. The resulting wines are dry, crisp and fruity, perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot summer afternoon or evening, and quite complementary to food.image

Another great thing about rosés is that, contrary to the red wines made from the same grapes, these wines are (usually) extremely affordable. I have been enjoying some sensational rosés of late for less than $16 per bottle. (The Charles and Charles rosé, which lists for $11.99 a bottle, could be had for $8.45 a bottle this week by buying six with your Safeway club card.)

So head on down to Safeway or Whole Foods or your nearest wine shop and buy 3 or 4 different bottles to try. I am currently enjoying the three bottles pictured herein, but there are countless other labels on the market. Drop me a note with your favorites, and I will give them a taste. Hey, all in the name of research!

 

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“My Breakfast With Bob”– a non-report on a wine writer session with Robert Parker, Jr.

2014 Wine Writers Symposium 041

While there were many highlights to last week’s Wine Writers Symposium at the Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley, there was no disagreement that Wednesday’s 8:30 a.m. keynote presentation by Robert M. Parker, Jr. was the highlight of the event. Only a man of Parker’s stature could cause 45 wine writers, who had imbibed late into the evening, to be in their seats well ahead of the appointed start time.

Before Parker entered the room, The Symposium Chair got on stage to strongly suggest that we consider the session a treat to behold, rather than a reportable event. In other words, he didn’t want us to write about it, probably fearing that the cantankerous Parker would never speak to us ever again. (This was the first time Parker had ever addressed this forum in its ten-year history.) However, some of the writers in attendance either conveniently forgot or blatantly ignored the Chairman’s request, so some very well-written, detailed write-ups have hit the blogosphere today.

To read detailed accounts of the one-hour keynote, I direct you to the entries that my colleagues Richard Jennings and Katie Kelly Bell have penned. I, on the other hand, would prefer to give some observations and opinions on this highly-anticipated keynote. As a relative newcomer to the world of wine writing, it was fascinating to have a front-row (okay, second-row) seat as the king of the wine writing world addressed those who seek his crown.

As a quick history lesson for my readers whose lives are not consumed by wine, Parker started writing about wine in the mid-1970s as a sidelight to his law career. While there were other wine critics, he quickly built his fame through his wine newsletter, The Wine Advocate. He also created a 100-point scoring system to rate wines, which eventually became as controversial as it was revered. As his influence grew, it was soon possible to see that Parker’s ratings began to have a significant effect not only on wine prices, but on how wines were made. High scores allowed wineries to raise prices, and made owners millions of additional dollars. Low ratings, naturally, has a less-positive impact on prices. But what really started to rile people in the industry was what has been coined the “Parkerization” of wine.  Parker has an affinity for big, bold, ripe wines that are high in alcohol and get better with age, and eschews more nuanced and acidic wines. (This is an over-simplistic description, I realize, but you can read more in Wikipedia.) Because winemakers saw the positive economic benefit of a high Parker rating, they started making wines they hoped he would like, to get a better rating. This led to a feared homogenization of the world’s leading wines. Over time, new wine critics emerged, with differing palates and opinions, who started throwing stones at Parker and his empire. Parker threw the stones right back. And several of the people involved in the stone-throwing were sitting in the audience at the Meadowood with me that morning.

Among those in the room were Eric Asimov, chief wine critic of the New York Times; Jon Bonné, author and wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle;  Alder Yarrow, owner of Vinography wine blog; Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible; Jay MacInerney, author and wine critic for the Wall Street Journal; and Elin McCoy, author of the unauthorized biography on Parker titled The Emperor of Wine. Most had taken umbrage with Parker at one time or other, and recently several of the writers have taken issue with Parker’s steadfast promotion of big bold wines even as the world has moved to newer, lighter and more varied wines.

2014 Wine Writers Symposium 042Many in the room expected fireworks, but frankly they failed to materialize. Parker entered the room appearing disheveled, as if he had just gotten out of bed. That, combined with his fragile gait due to recent spinal surgery, gave many a sense that, like so many older wines, he too had passed his prime. However, his brain and mouth were fully synched and he presented himself with a surprising warmth and likability. Did he say some controversial and arrogant things? Absolutely. Is he opinionated and stubborn? For sure. Does he admit to having detractors? Oh yes. But he gave us the sense that he doesn’t have any trouble sleeping at night.

A 30-minute “off-the-cuff” talk by Parker was followed by a 30-minute Q&A session with the audience. The most interesting question as far as I was concerned was the one asked by Jon Bonné, who is a strong advocate of, basically, the wines that Parker doesn’t like. Bonné asked a long question, carefully worded to avoid raising any ire, but trying to get Parker to agree that there is room for more diversity in wine varietals. Parker actually started his reply by saying “I basically agree with you,” and then went on a 4-minute diatribe whereby he basically disagreed completely with the approach of making lower-alcohol wines that won’t stand the test of time.

During the course of the hour, Parker stated that he hoped we would all be successful as wine writers, which on the surface is noble and magnanimous, but he also stated that he hoped the wine writing profession would not decline once he is gone. We all winced at that one.

And finally, Parker ended by wishing that wine writers could all be more civil toward one another, somehow joining together as wine lovers and abandoning some of the negativity that has populated wine writing over the past few years. He even offered us his office phone number as a sort of olive branch should we wish to talk directly to him about a contentious issue, rather than putting our vitriol in print. It was an interesting way to close an interesting discussion.

Overall, I believe the assembled writers felt honored to have the opportunity to hear Mr. Parker speak in person to a group of peers, but I am not sure that a whole lot of opinions were changed. But my general belief is that controversy in wine writing, like in many aspects of life, is a good thing. If everyone had the same opinions, life would be pretty damn boring. Controversy sells magazines and newspapers (and blogs, I guess.) People want to read about and discuss disparate viewpoints. There is always room for another opinion…and if the wine world is about anything, it’s about opinions.

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Some great restaurants in the Napa Valley you may not know about

The_Restaurant_Interior0The recent publication of the 2014 Michelin ratings for restaurants in the United States once again shines a bright (and well-deserved) light on a dozen establishments here in the Napa Valley. To no one’s surprise, The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood (pictured at left) retained their 3-star ratings, and are in fact the only restaurants in the entire Bay Area to achieve the highest ranking from the famed travel guide. Although Napa County does not have any two-star winners, it does have five one-star restaurants, which include Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, Bouchon in Yountville, La Toque in Napa, Solbar in Calistoga, and Terra in St. Helena. Redd, a Yountville favorite of many, lost their one-star rating this year, but still churns out food that packs the place.

Oxbow Farmers Artessa Dom Carneros 017In addition, five restaurants received the “Bib Gourmand” designation from Michelin, signifying that travelers can obtain two courses of very good food and a glass of wine for under $40. The winners here include Bistro Jeanty and Redd Wood in Yountville, C Casa and Oenotri in Napa, and Cook in St. Helena.

With all this publicity, it can be very difficult to book a table in prime time (weekends, or favored dining hours) at these establishments unless you plan very far ahead. Last-minute visitors are often frustrated at their inability to secure a reservation at one of these top tables (with the exception of C Casa, which is a super-casual take-away stall inside the Oxbow Market.)

Many of my Bay Area friends ask me for restaurant suggestions when they come up to visit, having had trouble booking at one of the above-named places. Fortunately, I have been able to sample some great eateries throughout the Valley that offer great food, wine and service but still fly under the radar. For those looking for alternatives to the big names, I offer these suggestions, in no particular order:

Farmstead dinner 036Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch: Currently one of our favorites, this indoor-outdoor establishment across the street from Tra Vigne in St. Helena features great farm-to-table cooking, an emphasis on smoked meats (owing to Chef Stephen Barbour’s acumen in this area) and open architecture and design that seem to be inspired by Restoration Hardware. While there is no corkage fee here technically, they do charge $5 if you bring your own wine, which they donate to a local charity-of-the-month. A great deal any way you look at it.

photo (10)Ciccio in Yountville: Operated by the Altamura family (long-time grapegrowers and winemakers in the Valley), this is a small, no-reservations accepted hotspot featuring wood-fired pizzas and other Italian specialties. The menu changes often. They only serve wines made from their grapes (often sold to other producers), and corkage is a steep $25 if you bring your own. It was recently reviewed very favorably by the SF Chronicle, so it may get more crowded. On a recent Wednesday night visit it was packed and Redd Wood, across the street, was half-full.

Market in St. Helena: Located right in the heart of the Main Street shopping area, Market is a well-kept secret. It’s not big, and it can get noisy, but they turn out some amazing American food at moderate prices. Corkage is free, so bring your own. Dining at the bar is a popular option here, too.

Hurley’s in Yountville: Bob Hurley is a big, affable guy who loves food and enjoys serving old friends as well as new ones. Many locals frequent this small favorite right smack in the middle of town, which features patio seating when the weather is good. Hurley’s is known for its wild game week in November, and also offers late-night dining at the bar, which is a rarity in these parts. Perfect if you have been drinking wine all day and need a burger or fries to soak up some of that juice. A go-to spot for us, and we often go without a reservation and sit at the bar.

Il Posto Trattoria in Napa: Quite possibly the least-impressive venue for a restaurant in Napa, as it is located in a small, unattractive shopping center (at Wine Country Avenue and Solano,  just west of highway 29) featuring a paint store, UPS outpost, mini-mart and seafood shop. But what it lacks in location it more than makes up for in food and value. Still fairly easy to get into at lunch, but dinner is pretty busy, because locals enjoy it. Don’t let the lack of pretense drive you away; this is one of the great finds in Napa.

Fume Bistro, also in Napa: Just across 29 and one block south of Il Posto, hidden on the frontage road, Fume Bistro is another hopping locals place that serves great food in generous portions. Pizzas, chops, ribs, seafood, a full bar, amazing desserts, and all at great value. Amazing weekend brunch. Find it, try it, but let’s keep it between us.

slide-3a-signBistro Don Giovanni: Almost everyone knows this famed Italian joint right off 29 in Napa where the vineyards start. But it never makes the big lists, which is fine with those of us who like to get in regularly. It’s fairly big, with tables inside and out (and some great heat lamps), so even if you don’t have a reservation you can probably still get in if you wait a bit. Great pizzas, pastas, a reasonable wine list, and the world-famous butterscotch pudding. Mangia!

Tarla Mediterranean Grill: Located in the “West End” section of Downtown Napa next to the Andaz Hotel, this started as a very small restaurant but expanded into an adjacent storefront when business proved to be robust.  Great and authentic Mediterranean menu, with very reasonable prices, and an excellent selection of wines available by the glass (or bottle, of course). The owner, Yusuf, is very welcoming and will do his best to ensure you have a great meal. They are about to open a second restaurant called “Napkins” (what many locals refer to themselves as) so we will see how they fare with two different places going at once.

0540AngeleDay3Angele, on the riverfront in Napa: Another of our favorites, this French brasserie serves some great bistro fare in a welcoming, relaxed setting. Owned and operated by the Rouas family, who have supreme restaurant cred, this place turns out exquisite food, has a full bar, and features heated patio seating when the weather is good. The inside isn’t shabby, either. It’s relaxed, consistent, and delicious.

Norman Rose, on First Street in Napa: Part sports bar/pub and part locals hangout, this place is always packed, and rightfully so. Great comfort food using a sustainable approach, the game on TV, microbrews, a full bar and of course wine, all make for a delightful, loud, friendly place to grab a bite without needing one of those pesky reservations.

Okay, that’s ten recommendations, and lord knows there are many more good options I haven’t covered yet, so maybe I’ll get to those in another posting. The point is, don’t be discouraged just because you couldn’t get a table at Bottega or Bouchon. There is so much great food up here that is rarely talked about. You just need to do your research, or, if you are lazy….ask me. Enjoy!

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Suggestions for Optimizing Your Visit to the Napa Valley

Nov 2012 Misc 032A fellow wine writer posted a blog entry earlier this summer entitled “10 Warnings for Visitors to Napa Valley” which caught my eye because I had been meaning to pen an entry on advice for wine country visitors myself. Although Tom Wark’s blog entry sounds negative, the headline is really for dramatic effect. We all want people to visit us up here, but Tom wanted to make sure people know what they are getting into when they make the journey. Tom’s points are all valid, and help visitors set expectations before they arrive. I have a few additional suggestions to help prepare folks for their visits to this amazing place. Taken together, these two lists give you a great idea of what to expect, and offer helpful tips that can enhance your experience in the Napa Valley, whether you are here for a day or a week.

Plan ahead.  So many of my friends from the Bay Area email me and say “Hey, we will be in the Napa Valley this coming weekend; where should we go?” While it is always easy to just visit Napa on a whim, the lack of advance planning really has a bearing on where you can go to taste, not to mention where you can get a dinner reservation. People from all over the world visit Napa Valley, and they plan their trips FAR in advance. When it is busy here (as it has been for the past three months), tasting appointments at the good wineries get booked up months in advance for weekends, and weeks in advance for weekdays. There are 75 wineries here which are open to the public, meaning no reservation is necessary, but there will usually be throngs and busloads of tourists there with you, which makes a tasting quite impersonal. The best wineries, or at least the more exclusive ones, do tastings by appointment only. So do yourselves a favor and book as far in advance as possible. The same goes for restaurants. Recent publicity about the Napa Valley dining scene has made it harder than ever to get a primetime table at the many great restaurants here. Book way ahead. Or, be willing to dine early or late. Better yet, have lunch at one of the good restaurants and try one of the many very-good, lesser-known restaurants for dinner. Shoot me an email and I can make some suggestions.

viewGet up off the floor. Although I have uttered this phrase to friends who have been over-served, what I really mean is this: there are quite a few outstanding wineries in the Napa Valley which are in the hills, up off the valley floor. They are, for the most part, private, meaning you must have a reservation to visit. And they are not always easy to find. But intrepid travelers who do their homework will be well-rewarded with great wines, hospitable owners and tasting room staffs, scintillating views, and less traffic. Pritchard Hill, a region (which should be its own AVA, but isn’t) on the east side of the valley, features a number of outstanding by-appointment wineries, including David Arthur Vineyards, Chappellet, OVID, Continuum, Montagne, Brand, and a few others who you can’t visit, no matter what. These experiences are far different from forcing your way to the tasting room counter at a place like, say, Chimney Rock. There are also outstanding wineries up Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, and up the Oakville Grade, to name a few. Do your homework, make some phone calls, and visit these hidden gems. It will change your entire opinion of the Napa Valley.

Buy some wine. It’s no secret that wineries charge for tastings today, unlike 30 years ago when people could taste for free. Those days are long gone. Some tastings up here are ridiculously expensive. In large part, the prices are intended to eliminate the riff-raff. And usually (but not always) the tasting fee will be waived for folks who buy at least a couple of bottles of wine, or join the wine club. (I went to a well-known winery last year, on the Trail, and the tasting was $65 per person, or $130 for the two of us. The wine is $145 a bottle. All told, we were probably served a half-bottle of wine during our tasting, and a tiny bit of cheese. I did not buy any wine, and felt totally ripped-off at the end of the tasting.) Anyway, my admonition is this: at the end of your tasting, find the wines you liked the most, and at least buy a few bottles of it. The staff has just spent 60-90 minutes with you, and they only have so many selling opportunities per day. If you don’t intend to buy any wine, then visit the public wineries on Highway 29 where they cater more to tasters rather than buyers. But be prepared to pay the tasting fee.

Map your trip. All too often I hear about visitors who end up traversing the length of the valley multiple times during the course of their visit, whether it’s a single day or over several days. Driving in the Napa Valley, especially on weekends, can really take the fun out of an otherwise great visit. Traffic is heavy, the roads are single-lane, people are lost, and getting around can be a pain. Plan your trip so that you visit wineries in an order that makes sense. Don’t think you can have a tasting in Calistoga at 10am and make it to a tasting in Yountville at 11:30.  Yes, you should be able to do it, but trust me when I say you won’t. And nothing is worse than being 20 minutes late for a tasting, because wineries book appointments on tight schedules with little room for tardy customers. If you are coming for the day, start at the northernmost venue on your itinerary and work your way back down as the day progresses. Traffic getting out of the valley starts getting really bad at about 4pm, so plan accordingly. In addition:

Napa-Valley-Tourist-mapKnow your roads. There are two main north-south roads traversing the valley: Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. A series of cross-roads connects the two. Highway 29, on the west, is the most popular thoroughfare and has the biggest-name wineries and restaurants on it. Silverado Trail, to the east, is not as straight a shot, but is far less congested and traffic moves much faster. Savvy visitors know to use the Trail for quick access to the appellation/town where they have an appointment, then cross over to 29 (if necessary) on one of the cross-roads in order to minimize the amount of driving on 29. An important note about the cross-roads: Turning left from a cross-road to 29 South can be very difficult, because there aren’t stoplights to control traffic at most of those intersections. Zinfandel Lane, Rutherford Cross, and Oakville Cross are great ways to access 29 from the Trail, but none of these intersections at 29 have stoplights and it can be extremely difficult to turn left (south) on 29 here. Traffic is so heavy that you can wait ten minutes to turn. It is always easier to turn right on 29 and go north than it is to go south. However, the cross-roads at Oak Knoll Avenue,  Yountville and Pope St. in St. Helena have stoplights at 29, so those are better places to cross and turn south. The cross-roads further north of the town of St. Helena are much easier to turn from, as traffic is much lighter north of St. Helena. No matter which parts of the valley you visit, just allow more travel time than you think you need.

Ask Questions. When you attend a by-appointment tasting, engage the host or hostess in conversation. Their knowledge is amazing, and not just of the wines they are pouring. The Napa Valley has a rich and colorful history, and they can tell you about it. I always ask the host “What is a great wine in the Napa Valley I have never heard of,” and I keep a list of the answers. Those names become my bucket-list for future visits, and I have tried some outstanding wines that way. Also, often times when you engage the hosts, they will open up a bottle of something that they wouldn’t normally pour and treat you to something special. These are the moments that make the Valley so unique, and it’s why people come back every year to their favorite spots (and why you have such a hard time getting an appointment!)

Finally, don’t overdo it. So many people come up here and try to cram five tastings into a day, and then go to dinner. By the end of the day they act like idiots, can’t remember what they drank and liked, and many of the revelers get sick. Don’t be an amateur.  When we have friends up for a day or weekend, we limit ourselves to two tastings a day: one before lunch, and one after. Each tasting is about 90 minutes, and usually includes a tour and a number of wines. We have lunch in between, and usually go very light on the wine with lunch. Once you have had three hours of tastings, another 90 minutes for lunch, and driving time, that’s a pretty full day, and there is still dinner to go. We then head home for a nap, a change of clothes, and then go out for dinner or, more common, cook an amazing dinner at home, and serve the great wines we bought earlier in the day.  (With the proliferation of DUI checkpoints at night and the dearth of cabs in this town, dining in is a better way to go.)  Now, I do often suggest to my friends that they might want to hit one of the sparkling wine houses (Mumm, Domaine Chandon, or Domaine Carneros) at the end of the day on their way out of the valley, just to cap off a nice day. Since no appointments are necessary, it is easy to drop in and enjoy a glass or two of bubbles before heading to dinner or driving back to the Bay Area.

I am always free to answer questions, so please don’t hesitate to ask. Just drop me a note and I will reply as soon as I am able. Enjoy the Napa Valley!

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My two cents on wine scores, Millennials and the like

The twitter-verse the past few weeks has been all, well, a-twitter with dozens of posts from wine writers spewing forth (and I use the term “spewing” intentionally) their opinions about the future of wine scores and just how, exactly, Millennials make buying decisions about wine. Given that I am now a wine writer I have decided that I have every right to chime in on the subject.

The issues of wine scores and marketing to Millennials are really separate subjects, but they do overlap (“Do Millennials give a rat’s ass about wine scores?”) I will give my opinion on the two subjects separately.

As for the wine scoring system, it is my opinion (and I have never been wrong when it comes to my opinion) that scores will continue to be given by many critics, but not all. It’s a way of comparing one wine to another…and it’s not. I despise wine scores, personally, for reasons I will list in a moment. But will scoring continue? Of course it will. It’s established, it’s easy, and Robert Parker is coming back to rate Northern California wines, which means we are doomed.

Why do I detest wine scores? For one thing, many of us “common-folk” (people who aren’t wine bluebloods) don’t trust the scores in the first place. People have always speculated that reviewers could be bought off, either directly (cash) or indirectly (“Please accept my year-long advertising campaign in your magazine.”) To be clear, I am not saying that any of this actually happens. But plenty of people think it does, enough to make many buyers skeptical about wine scores overall.

Second, many times high wine scores result in the prices of those wines increasing to ridiculous amounts. Obviously this is opportunism (read “greed”) on the part of the vintner. I used to occasionally buy a few bottles of Vérité wines from over in Windsor, even at $225 a bottle. Then Parker gave all three of their wines (Le Désir, La Joie and La Muse) 100 points in 2007 and all of a sudden the price soared to $450 a bottle. Thanks, but I won’t be buying any more at that price.

Finally, who is to say that some person I don’t know (any reviewer) would evaluate a wine the way I would? I recently tasted at Cardinale winery in Oakville, and was allowed to sample the 2006, 2007 and 2008 releases. They were priced at $250-300 a bottle, and had scores in the low- to mid-90s from well-known reviewers. I didn’t like any of them. Then they served me their sister wine, Lokoya, and I sampled the three same vintages, which also had lofty scores and were priced even higher at $350-400 a bottle. I disliked them, as well. Even if they were $100 a bottle I would not have bought them. And therein lies the problem with scores for me.

So if scores are questionable, result in higher-priced wines, and are subjective, what do I suggest instead? At the recent Wine Writers Symposium at the Meadowood in Napa Valley, we discussed this topic at length. Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and Susan Kostrzewa of the Wine Enthusiast chaired a discussion on how to write better wine reviews that would allow people to understand what a wine may actually taste like using terms people could relate to. In this discussion, scores were either relegated to lesser importance, or eliminated altogether. I happen to be one who agrees with this approach. A well-written review using a limited list of common terms and descriptors, which also suggests appropriate food pairings, would help me decide if a wine fit my personal preferences.

Now with all of the above considerations, let’s briefly address the Millennials. (For those who are not certain, Millennials are also known as “Generation Y,” and were born between 1980 and 2000.) These younger buyers, in their 20′s and early 30′s, are a huge segment of the buying public and are now shifting from beer and cocktails to wines. They are the future of the wine market. (I should point out that they are not moving away from beer and spirits, but are adding wine to the mix.) As their earning power grows, so does their interest in and budget for better wines. The big question is how to reach these buyers, because they are children of the digital age and do not read Wine Spectator like their fathers do/did.

Many “experts” (tongue planted firmly in cheek) insist that Millennials only communicate via smartphones over social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and whatever else is hot at the moment) so therefore scores and wine magazines are irrelevant. Others insist that “wine-ignorant friends who post online” and other unknown amateur wine analysts on Cellartracker will never replace the wisened old wine reviewers who are in print and online.

My daughter, about to turn 27, is a Millennial, and perfectly fits the group being talked about. She lives in an over-priced apartment in San Francisco, makes a very good 5-figure salary, doesn’t own a car, and works in a hip young ad agency downtown with an in-office bar on the top floor. Wine is consumed regularly after work with colleagues, and trust me when I tell you they aren’t drinking Haut-Brion. Every week they try new, inexpensive but drinkable wines that they can afford. They share their findings and opinions with one another. And yes, they post on all those social media sites and share with ever greater circles of friends. While they may occasionally spend $200 on wine, it’s for a CASE, not a bottle. Many join wine clubs…. like Ram’s Gate, or Jacuzzi, which appeal to Millennials and have approachable price points. They aren’t joining the Bordeaux-of-the-month club. According to my daughter, she does pay attention to scores, but only while at places like BevMo when choosing among several cheap wines. She says “it helps to see that some reviewer gave the wine a good score,” but admits that the descriptive text is more important to her than the scores.

Many wine sellers have caught on to these younger drinkers and are attempting to earn their business. A fascinating business in San Francisco called “Rewinery.com” offers up daily specials via email to subscribers who work in the city. The email may go out at 1pm and offer the first 30 or 50 respondents the opportunity to purchase (for example) a bottle of spaghetti-worthy red wine along with a bag of pasta and a jar of pasta sauce, for $30, delivered to your office before 5pm. Okay, that’s different… and it works. The pairings change all the time, and include late-night deliveries in the city on some nights to your home “in case you have run out of wine.” Wineries sign up with the company to participate in these packages, and provide wines at a discount, but at least the numbers are finite. Customers can buy more bottles if they liked it, at higher prices, but you also know they will be sharing the experience with their friends online. This is a great way for a winery to take a lower-priced SKU and offer it to these new buyers in hopes of building some brand loyalty. It’s definitely worth looking into.

The way I see it, the wine market will always be fractured in different segments, and those segments will utilize different forms of information gathering. Today’s Millennials will become tomorrow’s mainstream market, and another generation will slide into their spot at the bottom of the market totem pole. There will always be different forms of marketing used to reach the defined segments. In other words, anyone who says “scores are dead” or makes any other such de facto statements is wrong. Savvy vintners will employ multiple strategies and tactics to reach their audiences, or they will watch other folks pass them by.

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