How to Properly Design a Wine List

When we talk about the design of a wine list, what is it that we're talking about? Most of the time, we're talking about the careful curation of choices for what wines go on the list. But I'd like to talk about the other meaning of designing a wine list. Yes, I'm talking about literally what that list looks like -- the choices that were made in deciding how the carefully curated selection of wines should actually appear to the guest. This conversation is going to be about aesthetics and the fundamentals of graphic design; about organization and readability; about context and creativity. Wine list design, I must say, from the standpoint of someone who designs things for a living and pays lots of people who do, too, is almost universally awful. For the past four years, I have been a judge for the global World's Best Wine Lists Awards ...
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The Highs and Lows of Vintage 2018

brittan_vineyards_oregon_pinot_pick.jpg In preparing to summarise the state of the 2018 vintage in some of America's top wine regions this week, I found myself relieved that the highlights did not include winemakers contending with raging wildfires, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Of course, this past year has not been completely free from fires in California and Oregon (and there was an ill-timed hurricane on the east coast) but these examples of force majeure thankfully weren't raging around the ears of wine producers as they brought in their grapes at the end of the season. That said, not everyone had an easy time of it in 2018. Perhaps the toughest vintage stories this year come from America's east coast, where unusual and rather persistent summer rains made for an extremely soggy harvest in some places and, unfortunately, no harvest at all in a few unlucky cases. 'In general bud break was late, flowering ...

Elevating Colorado Wine

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What's the ultimate sign that an emerging American wine region has finally broken out of obscurity? An influx of winemakers from Napa or Sonoma eager to try their hand in the area? Showing up regularly on grocery-store shelves in other wine regions? Getting featured as one of the best wine regions you've never heard of in Vogue magazine? Having wines that regularly score more than 90 points in a major wine publication? The establishment of subappellations and stricter geographic labelling requirements by the government? Many such milestones measure the path towards a wine region's greater prominence, but marking the inflection point of a wine region's ascendancy seems possible only in retrospect. Nonetheless, I recently found myself trying to gauge the trajectory of Colorado's wine industry, which has recently experienced every single one of these milestones, on my way to judge that state's annual Governor's Cup wine competition along with some ...

Wine and Weed

cannabis_tour_sign.jpg Elton John sang of needing 'Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine, and a little weed just to level me sometime.' Lowell George of the band Little Feat crooned 'And if you'll give me weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, I'll be willin'.' The fruits of the vine and the blossoms of the cannabis plant have been enjoyed together for much longer than the two have appeared in popular song lyrics. But they've only recently become business bedfellows in America. On 15 August, just 13 days after the second annual Wine and Weed Symposium was held in Santa Rosa, California, Constellation Brands announced it was investing $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corporation, a Canadian medical marijuana purveyor. Constellation, in addition to being the largest beer importer in the world, is also one of the world's largest wine companies, owning brands such as ...

What’s Happening to Zinfandel?

Soucie-Vineyard-Zinfandel.jpg These days, wine festivals abound across America, especially those featuring Pinot Noir, which seem to be popping up by the handful in every major wine market in the country. There was a time, however, when wine festivals dedicated to a single grape were few and far between. Ten years ago, the hottest ticket in public wine-tasting events took place once a year in San Francisco. Consumers (and the trade) would line up hours in advance for the sold-out event, held in not one, but two massive event pavilions, and by its conclusion, the event would resemble less of a public wine tasting and more of a fraternity party gone wrong. The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival, ZAP for short, was simply the biggest wine party thrown in San Francisco each year, showcasing over 200 producers' wines to literally thousands of eager, even fanatical wine drinkers. A decade later, California Zinfandel ...

America’s Broadening Palate

crush_image.jpg In 2017 America held on to its title as the top importer of wine in the world by value, buying wine worth $6.2 billion from around the globe, which amounted to 17.2% of all wine imported anywhere last year. Of that staggering amount (representing a 12.4% increase since 2013), Italy and France made up the largest share of suppliers, followed by, in declining order, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile. Within that group, New Zealand saw a 50% increase in imports (see Australia looks north), and both Italy and France posted serious gains, while Australia, Chile and Argentina's shares continued to fall by double-digit percentages. Look further down the list of countries whose wines are imported to the US and the statistics start to get more interesting. Imports from Portugal, Greece, Canada, Austria and Israel each grew by 15% or more, while wine imports from the ...

The Savvy Lake

nathan-dehart-vigilance-vineyards.jpg 'It's so crisp and cool and clear, I just love it', said pensioner Diane Tibbs while her husband Brad nodded in agreement as they both tipped back their glasses to finish them off. 'Easily half of what I buy, especially after April, is Sauvignon Blanc', said Marika Klaver, a 30-year-old corporate interior designer, who went on to explain that the balance of her wine consumption is split between Pinot Grigio and Merlot, a red that she adds to the mix as autumn rolls around. On 5 May, these consumers, and more than 300 others, made their way to Lake County, California, to attend the 2018 International Sauvignon Blanc Experience. Even so, most drinkers of California wine may not have heard of Lake County, nor the Sauvignon Blanc conference that the region hosts in an attempt to remedy that fact. Despite its level of obscurity, Lake County remains one of California's ...

The Changing States of Somm

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As I attended Napa's glitzy and convivial annual trade tasting and Premiere auction a few weeks ago, I noticed a camera crew snaking its way through the crowd of retailers, winemakers and wine buyers tasting the (very promising) 2016 vintage. 'Who are they?' I asked the winemaker whose barrel sample I had just spit out. 'That crew?' she replied, 'They're making SOMM 3.' Apparently there will be another sequel in the series of documentary films that, with its first instalment in 2012, put the spotlight on America's growing fascination with wine professionals. While the first movie was a fairly entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of a group of friends working to pass their Court of Master Sommelier exams, the follow-up proved to be a slightly incoherent paean to the world of fine wine that might have seemed entirely unrelated to the original, had not some ...

Will Basketball Be the Next Sideways?

31915296404_d70512693b_k.jpg It all began with Instagram. Some of the more wine-savvy among the 35.4 million fans following NBA basketball star LeBron James noticed that LeBron seemed to like wine. In November of 2014, during the Thanksgiving Holiday, James snapped a photo of a 2008 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, writing 'I'm thankful for this lovely bottle of wine I just had'. Wine postings on James' Instagram feed became more numerous in 2016, as he snapped photos of 2010 Colgin IX Estate, 2004 Opus One, 1990 Sassicaia, 2013 Staglin Family Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet, 2009 Ch Pontet Canet and more. Last November James posted a photo of a whole line-up of bottles, including 2004 Pierre-Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet, 2007 Mayacamas Cabernet, 2004 Quintarelli Amarone Classico, 1997 Sassicaia among others. His photo included the postscript, 'PS don't talk to me about wine like u know it if you really don't know ...

Introducing VINEYARD Sonoma County

VINEYARD Sonoma County 2.JPG Even before the day fully breaks, the fields come alive. The first hint of light on the horizon brings with it a cacophony of song as the birds move from their night's seclusion out into the vines. If the fog has settled in through the night, this time can be eerie, as rows of gnarled shapes slowly emerge through the brightening light. Or, in the absence of a marine layer, the vineyard shrugs off the night to glow in the colors of the season as the sun approaches the horizon and then slips its way into the day. Frequently, as the sun pierces the fog or sparkles in the frost-laden grasses between the rows, George Rose is waiting, camera in hand, to capture something of the day's beauty in first light. His quiet footsteps among the dark vines will startle jackrabbits, blacktail deer and the occasional stray skunk. The whisper ...
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In Case You Were Wondering if Forbes.Com Was Journalism

DRC-LaTache-Labels.jpg Bloviation by politicians and nutters aside, most people are aware that professional journalism has its own code of ethics that anyone who studies journalism in school learns the same way doctors learn the Hippocratic Oath. Anyone unfamiliar with the specifics of such ethics can get a refresher at the Society for Professional Journalism. One of the key tenets of such ethics surrounds independence, in particular the disclosure of conflicts of interest. News organizations and journalists as a group have a professional obligation to avoid conflicts of interest in their reporting whenever possible, and to disclose them if they exist. The one area of exception to this strict disclosure has historically been the editorial page and the Op-Ed, page, so named for being opposite the editorial page of a newspaper. Historically any publication that had an editorial section or an Op-Ed section might be understood to feature objective journalism throughout the ...

2017 – The Dangerous Vintage

rockgarden_buty_wines_2017.JPG In 2017, the United States suffered the most weather-inflicted natural disasters in a single year since records have been kept. Eighteen separate events, ranging from tornadoes to hailstorms, from floods to wildfires, exceeded $1 billion in estimated damages, with the total weather-related damage for the year totalling more than $300 billion and climbing. Much of the country was considerably warmer than average, with several parts of the country experiencing severe drought, while others experienced record inundations of rain, thanks in part to one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. So how did wine fare in one of the wildest weather years in recent memory? I reached out to vintners across the country to see what the 2017 vintage looks like. 'Weather was moderate throughout the growing season which helped retain acidity', says Kelly Koch, winemaker at Macari Estate on the North Fork of Long Island in New York. ...

Napa Luxe

colgin_estate.jpg What is the defining characteristic of a wine region? The answer depends on who you ask, of course, but typical responses often range among the many distinctive aspects of the wine world: geology, topography, oenology, or even culture. The Mosel has its steep slate soils, Châteauneuf-du-Pape has its distinctive blend of 14 grapes, Chile's Maule Valley has its twisted old vines of País and Carignan. And what of California's Napa Valley? Beyond an affinity for Cabernet Sauvignon, an argument could convincingly be made that Napa has become known simply for luxury. Perhaps this is why the recent news that Colgin Wine Cellars had sold a 60% interest to the luxury-goods giant Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton was met with an inaudible shrug after the initial volley of press releases and news briefs. Colgin, owned by Ann Colgin and her financier husband Joe Wender, is a tiny producer perched on top of ...

The 2017 Vinography Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers

bigstock-Red-wine-on-table-Christmas-tr-27372416.jpg Giving gifts to wine lovers during the holidays can be a royal pain. Especially if your recipient tends to have many of the basics covered when it comes to wine. And forget about what a hassle that people like me tend to be. I'm one of those wine lovers who already has most of the gear that he wants, and has very strong opinions about everything else. Sound like anyone you know? I've said before that buying wine for your favorite wine lover can be an exercise fraught with peril. Many wine lovers I know would much rather choose their own wine than have someone buy something for them. Many of you know what I'm talking about when I describe the pang of guilt we feel when someone has clearly bought a pricey bottle of wine that we would politely avoid drinking even if it was open in the room. ...
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Long Road Ahead for Wine Country

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Do you live in London or nearby? Or do you have plans to be there in December? If so, I urge you to join Jancis Robinson on December 2 at the 67 Pall Mall Club for a special fundraiser benefitting California fire victims. Learn more about the event here.
On 8 October, Nick Solga and his girlfriend Katie Bower (pictured above with what remains of their house) were relaxing at home and getting ready to go to bed after a long day touring wine country with Katie's parents, who were visiting from out of town. Their little French bulldog circled restlessly in their bedroom on the third floor of their townhome in Santa Rosa, California, as winds howled across their balcony outside. Solga, who offers PR and marketing services to various wineries, recalled smelling smoke. 'I asked Katie if she had blown out a candle or something, but she hadn't, ...

Why Aren’t There More Central Otago Chardonnays?

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Most wine lovers have heard a thing or two about Central Otago Pinot Noir. Found at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island, the wine region of Central Otago has become synonymous with Pinot Noir, thanks to a strong track record of production in the last twenty years. The wines have gained strength and notoriety over the last decade to the point that the region is readily acknowledged as one of the top producers of Pinot around the world. But unlike many of the other regions around the world that have also made a name for themselves growing Pinot Noir, Central Otago has been focused almost singularly on the red Burgundian grape variety, nearly to the exclusion of its traditional white counterpart, Chardonnay. California's Sonoma Coast, the Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara, Champagne, Australia's Mornington Penninsula and Yarra Valley, Tasmania, Canada's Okanagan Valley and Ontario regions, Southwestern England, even South ...
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Helping Northern California Wine Country After the Fires

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An aerial view of Santa Rosa's Coffey Park neighborhood by George Rose
Earlier this week, in my monthly column for Jancis Robinson, I detailed the catastrophe of the fires that have swept through Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Thanks to the rain late this week, those fires are well on the way to being fully contained, but the impact of their terrible destruction will linger for many months to come. The death toll from will assuredly rise, as will the damage estimates, which currently stand at more than a billion dollars. As my friend Dave McIntyre wrote so eloquently last week, while more than a dozen wineries and several vineyards have been destroyed, the true tragedy of these fires will be their impact on the people of wine country, especially the lower income workers in the vineyards and the service industry. The burning of one building, the Fountaingrove Hilton, has ...

Devastation Continues in Napa and Sonoma

signorello_in_flames.jpg Forty people are confirmed dead. More than 172 people are still reported missing. More than 214,000 acres (86,602 hectares) and over 5,700 homes have been consumed in flames. Evacuations have displaced more than 100,000 people, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And sadly, these numbers will continue to grow. A week after explosive, fast-moving wildfires swept through parts of Napa and Sonoma, I had hoped to provide something of a full damage assessment, assuming the situation would be under control. But the epic disaster in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties remains far from over. Despite the two largest conflagrations being nearly 60% contained, three more fires have now begun to encroach on both the town of Sonoma, and the heart of Napa Valley's wine region. And as I rise early on Sunday to file this story, I can hear strong winds blowing the autumn leaves in ...

How to Move Your Wine Collection Across Town

IMG_8369.JPG As some of you know, I recently moved house. After 17 years in San Francisco, we needed a bit more space and were ready to invest in real estate rather than in private school. I've always said I'd rather get a root canal than move, and that's definitely true. It's one of my least favorite activities in the world. In any case, this time around moving involved some more tricky problems. Apart from how to deal with 17 years of accumulated crap, I needed to figure out how to get the contents of my wine cellar from my house in San Francisco to our new home across the bay in Piedmont. In my case, this meant figuring out the transport of 752 bottles of wine, some precious, some not so precious. In the hopes that my experience might be slightly instructive to someone else in the same position, here's how ...
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Podcasts – A New Medium for Wine

levi_dalton_lg.jpg For those interested in learning more about wine without visiting wine country themselves, the methods for doing so haven't changed much in the past 30 years. There were books and courses to be had, and then, later, internet sites. There were occasional television shows with varying, if limited, lifespans. And for those inclined towards their radio, a few local talk shows could be found, often of poor quality. In the last few years, however, an entirely new medium has emerged from obscurity to become a fully mainstream source of exceptional wine content. And by the beginning of 2018, this medium will become a new frontier for advertising and consumer engagement. I'll explain why in a moment. But first, a little background. In 2005, after my first year writing about wine, I could count the number of my fellow wine bloggers on two hands with many fingers to spare. One of ...