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mixed case: opinion and advice archive

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Mixed Case

February 2013

What's Your Oldest Wine?
I'll start …
Posted: Feb 28, 2013 4:45pm ET
By Ben O'Donnell

There are some superlatives virtually everyone in a community of enthusiasts locks up in a bejeweled memory box, to be opened and shown off on occasion. Your fastest mile, if you're a runner. Your SAT score, if you're a try-hard. If you're a wine freak, one superlative you can trot out is your oldest wine, a snapshot of a different world of wine than we inhabit, less and less likely to be revisited as bottles fade and disappear.

The oldest wine I've ever drunk was a 1947 Porto Rozes. This was at the Dînner des Grands Chefs that Relais & Châteaux puts on every year; last winter's was in Manhattan, and 45 chefs cooked at stations around the perimeter of the ovoid Gotham Hall while guests ate in the middle. Daniel Boulud, Gary Danko and Jean Georges Vongerichten manned the stoves. Waitstaff paraded out cradling child-sized bottles of Pommery. The Port needed no fanfare, being the age of India, Israel and the CIA.

Perhaps there's no substitute for the real thing in this case. (I previously recommended bargain alternatives to Châteauneuf and Champagne from their kin terroirs: Lirac, across the Rhône, and Burgundy's "Golden Gate.") But as I told Sauternes lovers on a $20 budget, sometimes the real thing is just the thing for your wallet.

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You Can't Buy That From Here
Wineries can ship a bottle of wine to consumers in 39 states and counting. So why are retailer shipping rights going in the opposite direction?
Posted: Feb 26, 2013 10:30am ET
By Robert Taylor

We Americans have access to more wines today than ever before. Your local wholesaler carries a vast array of wines from which your local retailers select their inventory. If you can't find what you want that way, in 39 states and Washington, D.C., you can order a bottle from a winery in another state. Wherever you live, you could likely drink a different bottle of wine every day for the rest of your life. Call me greedy, but I don’t think that’s enough.

Say you're trying to track down a bottle you want from Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 Wines of the Year: 69 percent of the Top 100 wines from 2006 to 2012 were imported.

Your local wholesaler or state liquor authority decides which, if any, of those imported wines are available to you. If they don't offer it, and you live anywhere other than the 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, that permit out-of-state retailers to ship directly to consumers, you're out of luck.

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National Fight Over Retailer Wine-Shipping Resurfaces in Nebraska
Are new measures to restrict online wine sales a sign of more struggles to come?
Posted: Feb 21, 2013 11:20am ET
By Robert Taylor

After years of legal struggles culminating in a 2005 Supreme Court decision, wine lovers in 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, can buy directly from out-of-state wineries. The trend seems to be to continue removing restrictions: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are considering bills to become the 40th and 41st states to permit wineries to ship directly to their residents.

But for U.S. retailers, the trend has gone in the opposite direction. Only 14 states currently permit their residents to order wine from out-of-state retailers, down from 18 states in 2005. Now, Nebraska is considering a bill that would hamper retailer shipping, which has been legal there since 1992, and require retailers to have their list of brand offerings pre-approved by the state’s liquor control commission.

Nebraska State Senator Russ Karpisek introduced Legislative Bill 230 in January, which would have limited direct shipping to "manufacturers" (wineries) only. Nebraska's original law—among the earliest measures addressing direct shipping—permitted “persons” licensed to sell alcohol to obtain a shipping license, wording chosen long before online wine retailers became a force in the market.

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The Trouble with "Complexity" in Wine
We keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what you think it means
Posted: Feb 19, 2013 12:30pm ET
By Jennifer Fiedler

Since Matt Kramer wrote his excellent (and extremely popular column) on "How to Taste Wine" this past December, I've been giving some thought to the term "complexity," which he considers to be one of the six most important words in wine tasting.

True complexity in a wine, he wrote, is the ability to return to the glass and find something different in it each time, and further, a sense of uncertainty or surprise about what you find. It's a neat idea and one that really resonated with me, especially about the element of surprise.

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The World's Most Exclusive $20 Wines: Napa Cabernet
If you want the real deal, find the wineries that run lean, drive assertive deals with their growers and don't get caught up in the hype
Posted: Feb 12, 2013 12:05pm ET
By Ben O'Donnell

"I spent 10 years down in the Central Coast," Harry Hansen, head winemaker at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley, said. "I made Paso Robles Cab, I made Central Coast Cab, and it's always tough to sell your wine against Napa Valley Cabernet. There are just some things that are so good that even if you pay a little bit more for them, they're worth it."

Perhaps there's no substitute for the real thing in this case. (I previously recommended bargain alternatives to Châteauneuf and Champagne from their kin terroirs: Lirac, across the Rhône, and Burgundy's "Golden Gate.") But as I told Sauternes lovers on a $20 budget, sometimes the real thing is just the thing for your wallet.

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Will You Pay More for Wine in 2013?
Grapes are becoming more expensive, and wineries are feeling the pinch
Posted: Feb 7, 2013 12:00pm ET
By Mitch Frank

At the end of 2008, my California colleague Tim Fish and I made a bet. So far, neither of us has won. Tim was working with me on a cover story on how the wine industry was confronting the darkest days of the Great Recession, when average Americans were watching the value of their biggest assets—their homes—evaporate.

Despite their woes, consumers never abandoned wine. Since the early 1990s, wine has become an increasing presence in Americans' lives, and they were not willing to suddenly part with what they saw as a pretty affordable luxury. But they did cut back on what they were willing to spend—a $9 bottle became very attractive, and a special-occasion wine meant $25 instead of $40. Wineries responded. They did not cut prices too obviously, but they made less of their more expensive wines (like Russian River single-vineyard Pinot Noir) and shifted that juice into more affordable wines (cheaper Sonoma County Pinot).

Are you coming for the game? Good. (If not, pay attention, because you should visit soon.) It's not hyperbole to say that New Orleans is one of the greatest cities on the planet in which to celebrate. If you enjoy good food, wine, beer, cocktails and music, it is hard to go wrong. Here are some tips for making the best of a trip down here. This isn't a comprehensive list of the best places to eat and drink. It's a handy cheat sheet for anyone coming to watch the 49ers and the Ravens, or just coming to enjoy our insanity.

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