This past August, the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) quietly issued a cease-and-desist letter to New Jersey's Wine Library, one of the largest retailers in the Garden State and a popular wine source for many New Yorkers.
The SLA ordered Wine Library to stop shipping wine to New Yorkers, a practice that is technically illegal but that has been happening for years without complaint or repercussion. Cease-and-desist letter or not, the ban is practically unenforceable-the SLA simply doesn't have the manpower to adequately monitor interstate sales.
Because of the letter, Wine Library and a few other out-of-state retailers indicated they would stop selling wine to New Yorkers. New York retailers worried that they would start receiving similar letters from alcohol authorities in other states, as a form of retaliation. Since then, however, there's been nothing but silence from the authorities, and Wine Library has continued shipping wine to New York.
A few years ago, I wrote a feature about Jorge Ordóñez & Co., a relatively new winemaking outfit from the heavyweight Spanish importer, in the foothills surrounding his native city of Málaga. The wines of the region were typically sweet wines made from Moscatel de Alejandría grapes left to raisinate on the vine or on straw mats. Ordóñez began making four wines in this style, plus a dry Moscatel called Botani.
My visit in 2010 predated the Moscato madness, so I shot an e-mail to Victoria Ordóñez (she oversees operations on the ground) asking if the thirst for Moscato had swelled upward past the $9 price point to wines of Ordóñez's caliber--the Botani retails at about $17. Sales were indeed up.
Australia soaked the world with critter labels. Zinfandel was lobotomized into a candy wine. Italian bubbly became an '80s ad jingle. California Merlot got overplanted, then yelled at in a popular movie. You know what happened next: The producers who got intoxicated on mass-market success didn't lift their premium counterparts with the rising tide-instead, they eventually torpedoed the whole category.
After the inevitable crash in market share and reputation, each of these regions or wine types floated facedown for years, even decades, before their recent renaissances as wines capable of depth and nuance. (Australia and Merlot are still swimming upstream, arguably.)
What next, then, once Moscato hits the iceberg?
It’s no secret that Bordeaux wines have a bit of a perception problem among U.S. consumers. In a 2012 blog post, senior editor James Molesworth, our lead taster for Bordeaux, said the Bordelais see the U.S. market “slipping away” on account of an “image issue, driven by the escalating prices of the top châteaus.”
A number of good reasons for exploring Bordeaux wines were outlined in that post, including a raft of under-$20 values, cellar-worthy wines at modest prices, stylistic diversity and a move to green farming and winemaking practices. But still, for many people just getting into wine, Bordeaux remains something of an unknown. How much does a consumer really need to know to buy a good bottle?
I asked Bernard Sun, corporate beverage director for Jean-Georges Restaurants, how he would recommend tackling the region. Here are his tips.
When I first decided that how a wine is grown mattered to me as much as whether I enjoy the taste, I wished I had a handy reference that laid out all the environmentally friendly practices, certifications and wineries. Instead, I spent months reading books and websites, interviewing experts, tracking down certified or practicing producers, touring vineyards and wineries and poring over retail shelves. (See Green Revolutionaries.)
Washington wine writer, educator and sommelier Shannon Borg wanted the same thing when she started her journey, so she curated her own personal introduction to the topic, focusing on the U.S. West Coast. The result is The Green Vine, a nice stocking stuffer of a book for eco-minded foodies who want to learn more about wine or for wine lovers who've decided it's time to know more about sustainable, organic and biodynamic winegrowing.
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