After a few lumps of coal last week, I thought I’d turn back to being cheery and hand out a few candy canes this week.
First, a candy cane to those vintners embracing an organic approach to their vineyards. From numerous vignerons in the Loire (far too many to name individually) to Viñedos Orgánicos Emiliana, the organic arm of Chile’s massive Concha y Toro operation, organic vineyard practices are now seemingly the norm as opposed to a minority. While there is no way to quantify whether or not organic vine growing results in better wine quality, it certainly makes sense on many levels to engage in sustainable agricultural practices. (And a double candy cane for those who employ organic practices without using their approach as a marketing tool.)
A candy cane to the quiet consultants, who prefer to let their wines do the talking. Winemaking consultants like Alberto Antonini, Roberto Cipresso and Philippe Cambie have their fingers in dozens upon dozens of wineries, yet they never seem to stamp their own personal style on the wines at the cost of the winery's individuality. In a world where hype can sometimes win out over right, it's good to see there are still those who eschew glamour in place of a job well done instead.
To restaurants and the growing number of sommeliers that take the time to put together an exciting wine list. It seems simple enough, but assembling a wine program still all to often plays second fiddle to either the kitchen or, worse, the sizzle at the front of the house. Wine lovers want steak, not sizzle, and nothing earns our loyalty better than a restaurant where the wine list shows genuine thought, lists the current inventory properly and without mistakes, and features wines that are stored and served properly (which includes stemware). From an eclectic mix like the 100-selection list at Trestle on Tenth to a several-hundred list like that at Nice Matin, all the way up to a large, showpiece list like Veritas', nothing beats the anticipation of dining out, knowing you're going to have some great wine too.
A candy cane to the vintners in developing wine regions such as South Africa and Chile, who have not raised their prices despite a dollar that winds up hurting the value of their exports. They’ve realized, for the most part, that market share maintained today is market share gained for tomorrow. They’re beginning to see the benefits of their wisdom as well—2007 saw a new record for South African wine exports to the U.S., and Chile as well projects to have its best year ever in 2007.
An enormous candy cane to whomever is responsible for the weather in the Rhône Valley and, in particular, the sunshine that seems to pour down on Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Every year since 1998 (save for 2002, just to keep them honest) the Southern Rhône has enjoyed terrific growing seasons, each with their own distinct character. It’s an unprecedented run that I can't be more thankful for.
An almost equally large candy cane goes to those states that allow direct shipping, instead of falling for the sham arguments proposed by wholesalers whose only interest is in maintaining the out-dated and anti-consumer three-tier distribution system. With the wine world more diverse than ever, access to wines needs to be more consumer-friendly than ever. There is no sane reason for anyone of legal age not to be able to buy any wine they want, from any store or winery they choose, no matter where it is. Period.
And lastly, a candy cane to you, the readers. Writing about wine has to be the best job around. But telling others about great wine wouldn’t be any fun if no one listened, and a large number of you are obviously listening. Thanks for your continued feedback and participation, and here’s hoping for the best in the coming year.