This week saw plans put into action at JJ Buckley. Co-owner Shaun Bishop, fine wine specialist John Sweeney, and I recently arrived in Lyon to explore the wines of the Rhône Valley. And what brought us out to this striking region of France other than the scenery? First, it is clear that the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape hold significant sway among JJ Buckley customers, especially if sales of the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage are any indication. Second, early word from several wine critics indicates Rhône enthusiasts should be particularly excited about the 2009 syrah dominant releases from the north. Therefore, when we found out about the bi- annual Decouvertes en Vallee du Rhône event, plane tickets were booked, appointments were scheduled, and we were off!
The Decourvertes tastings bring the global wine trade to the Rhône Valley to taste current and upcoming releases along with a smattering of older vintages. Instead of a “big box” event held in one location, these tastings are arranged by region, beginning in the small, northern hamlet of Ampuis—home to Côte Rôtie—and ending with the grande finale a week later with a sampling of Chateauneuf du Pape in the southern Rhône district. It was a fantastic opportunity, since despite the popularity of Rhône wines in the American market, members of the wine trade do not often find themselves traipsing the steep slopes north of Tain or gazing upon the stones that serve as the foundation for the great wines of CdP. (more…)
Founded in 1986, the Gambero Rosso (which translates to“red prawn”) has done a great deal to advance the Italian wine industry both domestically and, more recently, internationally. It quickly progressed from a newspaper insert to a monthly magazine focusing on Italian wine, food and travel and its Vini d’Italia wine annual is one of the industry’s most comprehensive wine publications today. The legacy of the Gambero Rosso will forever be tied to its association with the Slow Food movement, which also began in 1986, as their efforts to promote traditional, local cuisine married nicely to the Gambero Rosso’s concentration on regional wine education. (more…)
Kicking it into high gear, the JJ Buckley wine staff just booked tickets to Europe for a slew of spring tastings. The plan is to delve into the 2009 vintage in Burgundy, followed by our annual visit to Bordeaux for en primeurs where we will get our first look at the 2010 vintage. Directly after, a few of the staff will jet over to Verona to attend VinItaly and take an extensive look at the newly released 2006 Brunelli.
Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino
Important tastings are also being scheduled here in the States. The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino recently arranged for about 40 wineries to showcase their ’06s at an event in New York. In addition to the introduction of the new wines, there were an assortment of other new releases— Rossos and a smattering of riservas. The first opportunity for many Italian wine buyers to immerse themselves in the new vintage before the official release event in Italy, my co-worker Jeff Loo and I seized the opportunity and hopped a plane to the Big Apple.
In the wine industry, controversies come and controversies go, but one that seems to have stuck around a while revolves around zinfandel. And there’s no better place to dredge up the old debate than at the annual ZAP Grand Tasting held each January in San Francisco. This year marked the event’s 20th anniversary, and the question of what zinfandel is and what it should be gained even more traction than in years past.
The debate on zinfandel was probably best encapsulated by the SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonné’s Thirst column. Rather than go over it in detail, there are a few observations I think bear relevance. For one, it is very easy to project your ideas and philosophies onto a grape like zinfandel. It has a populist appeal which speaks to a broader segment of the market and grates the grits of those who take wine more seriously. Yet when one starts to dig deeper and learn about the old zin vineyards that populate California’s North Coast region, complaints arise that the prices are too high and that it drives away everyday drinkers.
ZAP: Is this the line for Turley?
There can be no doubt that the “zin-fanatics” are a unique bunch of wine enthusiasts and they can certainly rile those who take their wine more seriously, including many who are in the industry. Thing is, those are often the same people who complain that we need more consumers at wine events. Apparently, the 8-10,000 zin fans lining up at Fort Mason don’t count because they are “that type” of consumer. (more…)
2010 proved to be a milestone year for German wines at JJ Buckley. Sales were very strong—our best year ever—as consumers took advantage of our many incredible offerings. We plan to pay more attention to this segment of the market in 2011 in an effort to expand our selection while keeping an eye out for great pricing, of course.
A Tub Full of Pfalz
With that resolution in mind, a small contingent of the JJ Buckley staff took advantage of the opportunity to sample some of the 2009s coming out of Germany. A tasting of this acclaimed vintage was presented by Terry Theise, one of the America’s most vigorous advocates of German wines. Not only do his tastings offer the trade a great chance to assess the vintage but also the opportunity to get some firsthand information from winemakers in attendance. (more…)
With the 2010 harvest just completed in Bordeaux, chateau and estate owners are back on the road introducing themselves to new clients/ markets and revisiting those who have supported their wines in the past. Yet the nature of how Bordeaux is sold means the Bordelais do not visit here as often as winemakers from other countries. Some six to nine months after the harvest, many chateaux sell their wines to negociants, who then sell it to US importers. At that point, the chateau no longer owns the wine, so the responsibilities for promotion and education have been left to the importers or the Bordeaux trade association by default.
Yves Vatelot (c) talks with JJ Buckley employees Jeff Loo (l) & Farley Walker (r)
Today, however, most of the traditional Bordeaux importers are no longer participating in the market. Now that retailers are going directly to the negociants in France, some chateau owners realize that it will be up to them to reacquaint loyal followers of past vintages while introducing their wines to new customers. Following JJ Buckley’s visit to the en primeur tastings last spring, the staff wanted to ensure our customers had the opportunity to meet important winemakers and owners in Bordeaux. And we could think of no better way to start than with Yves Vatelot of Chateau Reignac, one of the most charismatic owners we encountered during our visit. (more…)
A while back, I caught up with my friend James Lindner, who was in town for the Wine & Spirits event in San Francisco. An energetic and passionate chap, he travels the globe representing Barossa Valley’s Langmeil Winery, an estate with a rich history dating back to the 1840s. The Lindner family purchased this historic property in 1996 and set about renovating the buildings and vineyards, including a small plot of shiraz that turned out to be a national treasure. (more…)
It was just a year ago when I left my previous job to join the staff at JJ Buckley, and I knew from the outset that I would get a quick introduction to the world of Bordeaux. I knew the basics: the blends, the properties, the appellations. And I knew the names of the major and minor players. But, did I really? One of the names frequently dropped by my JJB teammates was Stephane Derenoncourt, who I discovered was one of the top consulting winemakers in Bordeaux.
The JJ Buckley team in Bordeaux
JJ Buckley’s recent trip there to taste the 2009s in barrel was a revelation for me. Besides providing a great opportunity to learn about the vintage at an intimate level, I was also able to discern the imprint of many of the consultants who work in Bordeaux. It became clear that Michel Rolland’s wines have a certain style, wines of great power and body with luscious and full weight. When trying the wines from the properties owned by Gerard Perse, I noticed strong tannins with substantial texture. Stephane Derenoncourt’s wines stood out, particularly for the harmony of fruit and tannin. They showed an exquisite balance even in the young 09′s.
One of the most incredible stories in today’s wine world is that of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar. With vineyards first planted in the Bekaa Valley in 1930, Serge Hochar and his family have made wine continuously through times of both peace and strife in his war-torn home. Any winemaker will tell you that harvest is a stressful, difficult labor of love under ideal circumstances. But with the added complication of bullets, mortars, and armed checkpoints, Serge has passionately persisted with an unparalleled dedication to his craft. Only twice in his decades-long career was he unable to complete harvest. In 1984, Decanter Magazine made Serge its first “Man of the Year” for his single-minded devotion to winemaking through such incredible conditions.
Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar with Boo Mahmoud of Broadbent Importers
A recent invitation to a Chateau Musar tasting prompted me to clear my schedule—when you get the opportunity to meet with Serge personally, you go. Tasting with him is less a presentation centered on tastes and aromas, soil types or vineyard aspects related to his wines, than it is a discussion of deeper subjects—philosophy, life and wine’s inextricable role in those areas. As he said, “I am not as interested in talking about the world of wine as I am about wine’s place in the world.” Questions from our group served as launching points for Serge to talk about a variety of topics ranging from history to art and back to wine, sprinkled throughout with glimpses of his impish humor. Tasting with Serge is a graduate-school experience and at times I felt transported back to my days at LSU, albeit with much better refreshments. (more…)
I recently attended a dinner where Oz Clarke was the guest of honor. When it comes to wine writers, Oz has risen to the top of the heap, which is marked by an abundance of other British authors. For years, they easily filled a large chunk of the wine sections in book stores…maybe due to the fact that England had such a long head start on wine consumption or perhaps because in America, it was quite some time before we had any writers who could tell us about the world of wine.
Early on, writers such as Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent lent their authoritative voices to the British tradition of writing books about wine with a broad scope. However, many books printed today reflect the current inclinations of the American audience, who increasingly prefer more specific and focused topics in their wine publications. For instance, Robert Parker has gained much of his popularity by being one of the world’s experts on Bordeaux, while pursuing his passion for California cabernets and Rhone varietals. At the same time, Alan Meadows of Burghound created his reputation through his single-minded pursuit of thoroughly understanding Burgundy. (more…)