Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bittersweet Brunello

Recently, a customer asked me to research the availability of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino in the marketplace. I was shocked at my findings. Not only is there a tremendous amount of variety available, but the depth of inventory carried by the suppliers is incredible. The majority of the 2006 wines entered the market place in early to mid 2011. Market conditions suggested these wines wouldn’t last a New York minute. An aggregated score of 97 from The Wine Advocate certainly had the industry buzzing. The buzz between wholesalers and retailers was that ’06 Brunello di Montalcino might help jump start an anemic market and maybe boost the holiday season if the cards fell in the place. With excellent production levels, there would be enough wine for everyone to get a piece of the pie and create their own niche. The current level of inventories suggests that 06 Brunello never really took off the way it we all expected it to. The news is bittersweet.

The Sweet Side
Obviously the news is fantastic for anyone with an affinity for Brunello. The 2006 vintage is the best in over 2 decades. Vintages since 2006 have not been nearly as successful.  Purchasing high quality Brunello after the wines disappear will be rather difficult.  Furthermore, prices have been stable. Given the economic conditions that have persisted over the last 5 years, there has been no room for inflation. The market wouldn’t bear it. A decision to raise prices would have would have buried Brunello. High scoring wines are selling at a fraction of the price when compared to their California or French counterparts. Prices start at $30 per bottle and creep up from there. Find a sweet spot and go for it! It’s clearly the vintage to own. For those that have already dipped your toes in the proverbial water, you might consider diving in. Owning a diverse collection of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino will bring years of great drinking.

The Bitter Side
From my chair, the current condition creates more analysis work then I really wish to put effort into. Four years ago, Montalcino suffered a scandal that may have rocked it to its very foundation. An undisclosed amount of wineries were investigated for allegedly blending either cabernet or merlot into their wines – a practice that is very much prohibited in Montalcino. Could this be the cause of the sluggish movement of Brunello di Montalcino? I’m not sure you can really put the blame of sluggish sales on a hangover from a scandal that occurred 4 years ago and has clearly been dealt with. Furthermore, I’m not quite sure how widespread news of the scandal is. When the news first broke it certainly sent shockwaves through the professional wine market. But how much does the consumer know? I would suspect that 80% of the reason for this lack of demand is the overall glut of excellent wine that flooded the marketplace:

  • Back to back “must have” vintages from California
  • The powerful ’09 Chateauneuf du Pape vintage that many built their career on.
  • Spain’s reemergence as a powerhouse
  • The greatly hyped ‘10 Bordeaux.

Consumer email inboxes are flooded on a daily basis with a dizzying amount of wine offers. The heads of consumers are spinning with a lack of focus and zero guidance. With the emergence of discount services such as Wines Till Sold Out, Bin Ends, Lot 18 and Cinderella Wines, the dialogue has become a shouting match of point scores, half off deals and penny shipping. It’s a condition that allows a vintage like 2006 in Montalcino to get lost in the shuffle. But it’s also a condition that favors these internet cowboys. As inventories of 2006 Brunello di Montalcino continue to languish in warehouses across the country, you can bet your bottom dollar that some importers will be nervous and look to strike a deal at the advisement of their bank – advantage discounters. But then there are smart retailers who will look to take this issue to task and suggest that if you are a wine lover with an affinity for Brunello di Montalcino, now’s the time to strike.

As for the remaining 20% of reasoning I can only speculate but I won’t for two reasons: I don’t like to speculate and the details of said speculation are chilling. I’ll give you a hint though, it has something to do with how most Americans are purchasing wine these days and spells doom for the industry. For now, forget the fire and brim stone (I’ll get to that later) and get your hands on some Brunello. Here are some recommendations:

2006 Le Gode Brunello di Montalcino - $60.00
2006 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino - $76.00
2006 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino - $31.00
2006 Collematoni Brunello di Montalcino - $100.00
2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino - $77.00
2006 Nardi Brunello di Montalcino - $80.00
2006 Potazzine Brunello di Montalcino - $80.00
2006 Terre Nere Brunello di Montalcino - $43.00
2006 Carpineto Brunello di Montalcino - $33.00
2006 Siro Pacenti “Pelagrilli” Brunello di Montalcino - $59.00
2006 San Filippo “Le Lucere” Brunello di Montalcino - $65.00

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Chance Encountner With A Zinfandel Icon

At the beginning of March, I spent a few days in Utah chasing its elusive (at least to me) Champagne powder. I had rented a condo with a group of college friends with the intention of escaping the wine industry altogether. Great Colorado beer and lots of skiing was the stated agenda. Yes, I realize the irony of Colorado beer in Utah but Colorado just plain brews better beer, most of which I can’t get in CT. It seems the escape from the wine industry was just as elusive as the powder. As I arrived in Utah one of my buddies announced that our condo neighbor was a winemaker, but he had failed to get his name. The next evening I found myself swirling and sipping with none other than zinfandel icon Kent Rosenblum. What are the odds I would travel 1,900 miles, stay at condo that is removed from the hubbub of Salt Lake City and Park City and my next door neighbor would be one of the most famous zinfandel producers in the country? Kent and I had a blast trading industry war stories and swapping strategies of change within the industry. Of course, most of the conversations I can't reveal (what happens in UT...) and some I may not accurately remember (blame the 16.5% abv). For the record, I still made the first chair. What I do recall is that the 2003 Rosenblum Monte Rosso Zinfandel blew me away. I’ve always been a firm believer that good zinfandel can age gracefully and develop beautiful character. A recent experience with a 1976 Ridge (thank you DF) had proved the theory. The 2003 Monte Rosso was practicing it. Perhaps my love of zinfandel has been rekindled. When I returned to work I immediately sought out current vintages of the Monte Rosso and the Paso Robles. I sought out the Monte Rosso for comparison reasons. The Paso Robles was purely sentimental. It brought me back to my younger days of sharing steaks and zinfandels (yes, plural) with my friends before hitting the bars. I'm too old for that now. But I can still enjoy the steak and zinfandel (singular).

2006 Rosenblum Cellars Monte Rosso Zinfandel
Big flavor full throttled zinfandel highlighting baked cherry, vanilla extract, and molasses. There’s real structure here with the brazen fruit supported by a perfect balance of acidity. Certainly carries plenty of weight on the palate but without overstaying its welcome. The finish maintains the full throttle approach with good spice and silky tannins. At 16.2% alcohol I would expect a burny, spicy zin. Instead, winemaker John Kane has masked that alcohol very well and would be a great match for braised short ribs, creamy risottos or a big porterhouse steak. I suspect this will last into 2015 and beyond but you shouldn’t be afraid to drink it now.
There are only 5 cases in the market

2008 Rosenblum Cellars Paso Robles Zinfandel
A mild, more toned-down version of the Rosenblum portfolio. Bright cherry and rhubarb fruit backed by gripping acidity. Through the mid-palate it develops deeper, darker fruit that leans more toward plum and prune. The finish is decidedly spicy with black pepper and shows off more plum fruit with a silky undertone. I liken this to the well mannered, soft temper third child. Every once in awhile they do something unexpected to show you their wild side. Just to keep you on your toes. It’s certainly worth having around the house. Plenty of inventory in CT.

Recommended Colorado Craft Beers:
When most return from a trip to Colorado they gush about the Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat produced by New Belgium Brewing. And yes, I'll agree those craft beers are delicious. But here are some craft brews made in Colorado that are a little more off the beaten path and outstanding.

Odell Brewing 90 Shilling Ale
Odell Brewing Easy Street Wheat
Left Hand Brewing Sawtooth Ale
Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout 
Left Hand Brewing NITRO Milk Stout

You can find Left Brewing brews in select NYC stores.