by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
October 30, 2008
I started my weekend early on Wall Street last week. Picture this: Friday lunch at a steakhouse on Wall Street enjoying a vertical of Château Brane-Cantenac, a second-growth Bordeaux powerhouse, with two other women in the wine industry. This would be rather unusual even in better times, but given the current economic climate, it was especially rare, so I enjoyed every minute of it. As we shared what we’d heard about the present wine and auction markets, I enjoyed a barrel sample of the 2007 vintage. When I first saw the bottle, I naively mistook the name to be a new line by Brane as it has one of the most handsome label designs for an échantillon bottle. This first encounter was so incredibly integrated, balanced and drinkable, I thought for a minute, the “Echantillon” line might not be a bad idea after all. For the time being, I’ll wait patiently — while the 2007 continues bathing in oak—until the holiday season next year to taste the bottle for its official release onto this market.
As we wondered how things will evolve in the financial and wine worlds, we continued sampling back in years to the 2001 vintage (50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc), which was my preferred vintage of the afternoon. The spiciness intermingled with eucalyptus notes made the plummy wine irresistible. I preferred it over the 2000 vintage everyone’s been raving about (which I found too tannic with a premature loss of fruits).
From this heady lunch, I left early the next day for a completely different scene to attend The Miami International Wine Fair in South Beach (Oct 25th – 27th).
Suffice it to say, my first impression — on my first trip to SoBe — was “We’re not in New York anymore.”
Here is a list of my top five impressions of the fair:
1. Spanish Wine Stole the Show
If you are a fan or just want to get a good overview of the Spanish wine scene, this is a must-visit fair. Out of the 400+ wineries exhibiting, Spanish wineries accounted for 150 spots, ranging from the Alicante region to Yecla, with a good showing from La Mancha (24 wineries).
2. Cava, the Next Sparkling Star
I always thought Cava should be a more popular choice for a well-priced and well-made sparkling wine. Unlike Prosecco, which has been hugely popular, Cava is actually made in the traditional champagne method. Also, since their Cava is usually a blend of three possible grapes (traditionally, Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo), the wine offers many more possibilities than Prosecco, including many new blends with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other grapes, plus vintage versions. It is stylistically dry and, thus, very food-friendly. And almost every producer I met at the fair had a “brut nature” Cava, once again affirming that “brut nature” is becoming a mainstream style.
I was happy to see Pere Ventura again. I was rooting for them at Vinexpo Hong Kong this year and continue to wait for more visibility in the market. A new discovery was Parxet, a Cava producer not from the Penedès, but a small village just north of Barcelona called Alella. Not only is their terroir different from most Penedès-produced Cava, they also add a local grape called Pansa Blanca to their blends.
3. I Fell in love with Rhône-style Wines All Over Again
Funny that I caught up with my two bosses from my Sherry-Lehnann days, Eric Blanz and Michael Yurch, at the fair. Everything comes full circle: when I was at S-L, I had discovered Rhône and fell in love with the region, but then I moved on. Now at the fair’s Rhône seminar, I not only revisited S-L when I ran into Eric and Mich, but also when I was reminded how much I’d missed Rhône-style wines. Granted we were blind tasting the kings and queens of this category, from a 1999 Château Rayas to a 1996 Sean Thackery’s Orion.
Nothing beats blind tasting both for creating objectivity and training the palate. My favorites from the line-up were the 1999 Glen Fiona Walla Walla Syrah from Walla Walla, Washington ($65) and the 2005 Sine Qua Non Atlantis Fe203 2b from Santa Barbara, California ($395). I was surprised that I went for two Rhône-style wines from the New World rather than producers from Rhône. But clearly both renditions pay great homage to the Rhône.
4. Wine Bar with a Touch
On Saturday night, we checked out a self-service wine bar in South Miami Beach, Cavas Wine Tasting Room (437 Espanola Way; 305-534-3352). The bar/store is laid out with self-dispensing wine machines. You buy a debit card and pay for tastings with the touch of a button. There is a choice of three different sizes: one ounce, half glass or full glass.
Two new discoveries I would have brought back with me:
2006 Chehalem Pinot Gris, Willamette, Oregon
Fruit-forward but well-balanced with acidity, I went back for thirds.
2004 Fetish Shiraz The Watcher, Barossa Valley, Australia
An Australian Shiraz that had a mysterious label with the wings of a bird or hawk? No indication of what it was on the label, and the wine was very atypical of a mainstream Shiraz. It was more vegetable, tamed, a bit rustic and had good acidity. A real hard-to-pin-down wine.
5. A Wild, Wide World for Whites
My strategy for tackling wine fairs is to pick a focus. I decided on white wines for Miami, and was so glad I did. It was exciting to taste so many unexpected blends and indigenous white grapes from all over. Three crushes:
2007 Castell del Remei Blanc Planell, Lleida, Spain
A blend of Macabeo and Sauvignon Blanc, it’s clean, crisp and a steal for around $15.
2007 Mata d’Abello Totto, Penedès, Spain
I was intrigued to try a still wine made from Xarel-lo, a traditional Cava grape. This wine contains 8% Muscat and has seen 3 months in a barrel. Round and citrusy, I would love to have this as a house white.
2006 Figge Cellars Chardonnay, Monterey, California
I was really taken by this cool-climate Chardonnay when I first tasted it recently in New York. Then I saw that there was an entire seminar on Figge’s wine under the Wines of Monterey theme. I greatly regret missing the seminar for the chance to taste the Pinot Noir and Syrah. If Figge is any indication of what is happening in Monterey County, California, we’re all in for some pleasant surprises.