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Columns – Jim Clarke

The Distinctive and Very Fine Wines of Crete
Jim Clarke
May 15, 2024

May 15, 2024: Climate change is often accused of driving European winegrowing northward - see the increasing success of England's sparkling wines, with notable still wines chasing hot on their heels. Presumably this means southern European vineyards must be struggling, but on the Greek island of Crete, the southernmost point in Europe, quality wine is booming. There are several reasons for this renaissance, though at root they share a common theme: making great wine isn't simply a matter of latitude. Crete is the largest of Greece's islands, and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean, at 260km long. It's also remarkably mountainous. Vineyards on the island can therefore enjoy cooling sea breezes, the temperature-mitigating effects of elevation, or a combination of the two, depending on their exact location and aspect.

Montalcino's Poggio di Sotto: Still in Good Hands
Jim Clarke
Feb 28, 2024

Feb. 28, 2024: There's always a certain trepidation when a highly regarded 'cult' winery changes hands, especially when a larger company snatches it up. Such wineries often seem to derive as much of their character from the owner's force of personality as they do from their vineyards, and one worries that whatever that passion brought to the wine will disappear. Such was the case when the Brunello di Montalcino property Poggio di Sotto changed hands in 2011. After a recent vertical tasting, I'm very much reassured that Poggio di Sotto is in good hands.

Gigondas: Emerging to the Limelight
Jim Clarke
Nov 29, 2023

Nov. 29, 2023: Twenty years ago, when I began studying wine professionally, Gigondas's status was hard to define. As a budding sommelier you were expected to know it, which is more than I can say for younger appellations like Rasteau and Cairanne, which were both Côtes-du-Rhône Village level wines at the time. Côtes-du-Rhône represented good value everyday wines; Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the southern Rhône's premier wine, as it still is. Gigondas, along with its neighbor Vacqueyras, often seemed lost in its shadow as cheaper alternatives, but not cheap enough to merit the everyday status many Côtes-du-Rhône wines did. That's changed. While Châteauneuf still reigns, Gigondas has stepped out into the light as an appellation worth knowing in its own right.

Chardonnay on the Rise in Oregon's Willamette Valley
Jim Clarke
Jul 12, 2023

July 12, 2023: Given its success with Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Chardonnay seems like a slam dunk white for the region. It has taken some time to prove itself, but during a visit to the region's Chardonnay Celebration in February, I had the chance to catch up on how far Chardonnay has come, and what it took for the grape to find its way in Oregon. Much of the change represents a turn from California influence to a more French, Burgundian approach. This is true in the vineyards and the wineries.

Bibi Graetz's Innovative Twists in the Super Tuscan Genre
Jim Clarke
Apr 12, 2023

April 12, 2023: The 'Super Tuscan' designation embraced a wide swath of wines, most of which first appeared in the last decade or two of the twentieth century. Some were from traditional region like Chianti Classico, even if they eschewed that DOCG, or were not eligible for it because they failed to blend their Sangiovese with other varieties; others came from different areas, especially the coastal regions of Bolgheri and Maremma, and were made with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In any case, the term is as tired as alluding to 'Sideways' when writing about Pinot Noir, and fortunately the creation of proper DOCs for at least those Tuscan coastal regions has obviated the need to use it much. However, that does leave us struggling for a categorical designation for the handful of producers making 100% Sangiovese wines within the borders of Chianti or Chianti Classico who opt not to use those DOCG names. One such is Bibi Graetz's Testamatta ('Crazy Head'). A relatively late addition to the Super Tuscan fold.

2018 Brunello di Montalcino, Considered in Context
Jim Clarke
Nov 23, 2022

Nov. 23, 2022: Over the past decade or more there have been a few trends that have been relatively universal across the world of wine. One of the most pleasant to see has been the fall of prominence of the so-called 'international style' of red wine. This was on my mind after a recent tasting of the releases from the latest Brunello di Montalcino vintage, 2018. The issue with the international style was its homogeneous character. The wines were characterized by heavy extraction, higher alcohols, and pronounced new oak. There are places where this still holds; I was in Napa recently and definitely came across more than a few examples. It's entirely reasonable to suggest that this approach 'works' in some areas, Napa included (though there are alternatives, even there). But when it's applied as a blanket approach, it has a blanket effect. We expect wines from different parts of the world to taste different, and as we've seen this heavy-handed winemaking was obscuring regional and even varietal differences.

Tasting is Believing: Age-Worthy Italian Whites from Gavi
Jim Clarke
Sep 14, 2022

Sept. 14, 2022: It's a common enough belief among casual wine drinkers that white wine should be enjoyed young, or even, as young as possible. During my time managing an all-Italian wine list in Manhattan, I found this attitude to be even more strongly prevalent among my Italian guests, so much so that some looked askance at wines that were less 18 months old. And indeed, Italy does seem to have more than its share of fresh whites that don't really profit from aging. It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: have drinkers learned the hard way that white wine beyond on a certain age is probably past its sell-by date, or do winemakers not invest in making more age-worthy wines because there's little interest in such wines among their consumers? Be that as it may, in Piedmont, a handful of Gavi producers have demonstrated that wine's ability to age in the bottle.

The 'Banks' of Chablis
Jim Clarke
Jul 20, 2022

July 20, 2022: When wine aficionados talk about 'banks' they're usually either talking about Bordeaux, or perhaps about the prices the top, classified growth wines from that region and others like it command these days. If we stick to the more vinous application of the word, we generally find ourselves talking about the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines of Bordeaux's Left Bank - those west of the Gironde River - in comparison to the more Merlot-led wines of the Right Bank. But Bordeaux is not the only wine region with a river running through it, as a recent tasting of Premier Cru Chablis demonstrated.

At Long Last: Subzone Designations for Chianti Classico
Jim Clarke
Mar 15, 2022

Mar. 16, 2022: It is very gratifying to see that the Chianti Classico Consorzio and the Italian government have given official recognition to subregions within the Chianti Classico zone. I can appreciate the reluctance to do so; for many consumers, the confusion between or conflation of Chianti Classico and Chianti wine is real, and the latter has its own subzones to add to the mix. But one would struggle to find a fine wine region with Chianti Classico's size and history that hadn't articulated the various regional differences within its borders in some manner. Keen observers and the region's own winegrowers have long been aware of these differences, but having them officially recognized makes it easier for newcomers in particular to explore the DOCG's wines with confidence.

Decoding the Way to Excellence from Austria
Jim Clarke
Dec 15, 2021

I've long been a fan of Austrian wine and, from a professional perspective, an admirer of the Austrian wine industry's ability to offer clear messaging that make the country's wines easy to come to grips with, even for beginners. That's still true, but in the past decade the appellations and designations of the Austrian wine world have become increasingly complex; it has become harder to know which terms are best used to impressed likeminded wine geeks and which are truly help you when confronted with a wine list. But a few designations are demonstrating some reliability in terms of providing markers for quality and sometimes style as well.

Three Regions for Autumnal Gewurztraminer
Jim Clarke
Oct 5, 2021

While Alsace sets the standard for Gewurztraminer, as French regions are wont to do, a few other spots in the world have made the grape a prominent part of their offerings. Italy's Alto Adige is often said to be the possible birthplace of the grape, but more recent research suggests it was only brought to the area in the nineteenth century, and that the second half of the its name does not in fact derive from the town of Tramin. Gewuztraminer, or in Italian, Traminer Aromatico, is more-or-less the Alto Adige's signature variety within the broader Italian market. The New World has not entirely ignored Gewurztraminer, and it has found a home in California's Anderson Valley (Gewurztraminer seems to favor homes whose names begin with the letter 'A'). While Alsace tends to let grapes hang and ripen deeper into autumn, both Alto Adige and Anderson Valley tend to go for an earlier harvest that will better preserve at least some of its acidity. While these are not necessarily lesser wines in any way, that more restrained approach can make them more suitable for wine drinkers who might be taken aback by Gewurztraminer's extravagant ways.

Catena's Adrianna Vineyard: An Argentine Grand Cru?
Jim Clarke
Aug 3, 2021

There's an old real estate saying about the value of owning the cheapest house in an expensive neighborhood. An analogous truth shows up in the world of winegrowing, one concerning not price but temperature: seek out the coolest sites in a warm growing area. It's a premise that led the Catena family high into the Andes and the creation of what became their flagship site, the Adrianna Vineyard. Named for Nicola Catena Zapata's youngest daughter, the vineyard, situated in the Gualtallary sub-region of the Tupungato region (which in itself is part of the Uco Valley) lies at almost 5,000 feet in elevation. There are a few vineyards stretching a bit higher up into the Andes, but not many, and even then, only by a few hundred feet.

Island Wines of Italy
Jim Clarke
Jun 8, 2021

Sicily and Sardinia are the two largest islands in the Mediterranean, and both are home to distinctive wine traditions. In some ways the history of wine production on the two islands have not been terribly different; for a long time, quantity-over-quality, cooperative winemaking dominated. However, in recent decades that has changed, at least in part. Boutique or medium-sized family-owned wineries have emerged, and even some cooperatives have refocused their efforts with pleasing results. In some cases this transition involved a ditching of indigenous grape varieties in favor of internationally favored ones such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but in many cases it's the native varieties that have begun to shine. In this context there is a definite contrast between the two islands.

Reflections on Willamette Valley & Yamhill-Carlton AVA
Jim Clarke
Mar 30, 2021

One of the great prizes of actually visiting a wine region - something I've had scant opportunities to do this past year - is to get the geography in one's head in way that really says something about the wines. The winemakers I talked to back in 2004 were glad to oblige, and the Willamette Valley was abuzz with talk of the nascent sub-AVAs, several of which would become official the following year. A vintage like 2003 can obscure these sorts of differences, and while I came away with some sense for the different soils - mostly simply summed up as a contrast between marine sediments and volcanic, basaltic soils - I didn't come away with as clear a sense of difference as I might have.

Stars Align for Village Chablis
Jim Clarke
Feb 2, 2021

Chardonnay as a varietal wine has taken a turn, and while there are still a great many buttery, oaky examples to be had, less oaky or unoaked, restrained, and more acid-driven examples are becoming more common all over the world, lessening the urgency of "Anything But Chardonnay" nay-saying. Chablis is now in a position to trumpet its 100% Chardonnay nature not as a surprising outlier, an exception that proves the rule, but rather as a classic and distinctive marker at one end of Chardonnay's stylistic range.

A Weird Wine Year in Retrospect
Jim Clarke
Dec 1, 2020

Ah, December. The time of year when, among other, more truly festive activities, wine writers turn to the listicle without shame, recapping their favorite wines and wine experiences of the year, and perhaps making predictions of wine world trends that might surface during the year to come. This isn't a format I've ever indulged in much, if at all, but 2020 has been different in so many other ways, so why not? In fact, much of what I have to reflect upon is about how different this year was. And much of that, in turn, stems from a profound lack of travel. I haven't been on an airplane since March 10th, and even in the beginning of the year, visited not a single wine region. In fact, my sole international trip this year, in January, took me to the Galapagos. In wine terms the best I can say about that is…should you find yourself in San Cristobal, the lovely hotel Muyu has by far the best wine list in town, and a delicious menu to match.

Covid-19 Lockdown and Crisis in South Africa's Wine Industry
Jim Clarke
Jul 28, 2020

Early in my wine studies, I asked master sommelier Greg Harrington what books I should get to complement the classes and tastings of his that I was engaging in. He made several useful suggestions - the World Atlas of Wine, for one - but cautioned that by their very nature wine books were already outdated by the time they passed from the writer's pen to the printer. There is some hyperbole to that, but last week I published my own book, The Wines of South Africa, and Greg's warning has never seemed truer. Even as I was turning in my manuscript, the South African government handicapped the nation's industry with a second round of Covid-19 lockdown measures that leave many observers wondering what will be left in the aftermath.

Japanese Wine II: Hokkaido
Jim Clarke
Jun 9, 2020

In my last column, I wrote about the Japanese wine scene, focusing on Yamanashi. The area is home to Koshu, as well as a number of other varieties that a fan of, say, Californian wines, would be familiar with. However, a very different wine scene has emerged on the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido - one more reminiscent of the Finger Lakes, Ontario, or even Nova Scotia. As those comparisons suggest, Hokkaido is much colder than the larger wine regions Yamanashi and Nagano. It gets warm and humid, but Hokkaido's biggest climatic challenges come in winter rather than summer. Vineyards, and vines, must both be carefully selected and managed to survive through the cold winters.

Believe It: High-Quality Wine from Japan
Jim Clarke
Apr 21, 2020

Last October I made my second trip to Japan. Previously I had not had the opportunity to taste more than a glass or two of Japanese wine; this time, I was able to rectify that error. And error it proved to be, as Japanese wine is at a very interesting place, and intriguing, high-quality wines are not hard to find. The bulk of the nation's wine vineyards lie on the island of Honshu. The Yamanashi prefecture, just an hour from Tokyo, and its neighboring prefecture, Nagano, have the highest concentration of vineyards, but isolated cellars can be found in many prefectures. These outlying areas aren't necessarily also-rans in terms of wine quality, either. Investment in Yamanashi's vineyards and wineries is substantial, and properties range from boutique and rustic to high-tech to classical in their image and approach. The area's tourism infrastructure is well-developed; English language guides and tours are easy to find.

An Inside Look at Wine Marketing
Jim Clarke
Jan 21, 2020

Wines of Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Germany, Alsace… wherever the wine is from, 'Wines of…' has become the preferred first name for the various so-called 'generic marketing bodies' of the wine world. There are plenty of others, of course: The various 'Consorzii' of Italy's myriad regions, InterRhône, and so forth. In any case, no one likes to be called 'generic' especially when their major goal is to differentiate their region from competitors.

Dutton Ranch: Diverse and Delicious
Jim Clarke
Nov 26, 2019

Over fifty years ago Warren Dutton planted the first of many vineyards in the Russian River Valley, giving birth to Dutton Ranch - a name which appears on the labels of many of the region's top wines, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in particular. It's not a single vineyard designation, though; more of an acknowledgement of a top grower's sense for site and vineyard management. Dutton Ranch today encompasses 1,150 acres of vines, scattered over 80 individual vineyard sites.

Giving White Bordeaux Its Due
Jim Clarke
Sep 17, 2019

At this year's conference of the Society of Wine Educators, I had the opportunity to attend a great tasting of one of my favorite categories, dry white Bordeaux. The tasting seminar was led by Master of Wine Mary Gorman-McAdams, who until last year was the U.S. market advisor for the Bordeaux Wine Council (she's now the Director of the International Wine Center in New York). The tasting re-affirmed my belief that white Bordeaux - the real thing, or Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends from elsewhere in the world - is one of the most interesting categories out there. Why wine drinkers perpetually overlook it is beyond me.

Bubbling Up: Premium German Sekt
Jim Clarke
Jul 23, 2019

Sometimes a country's wines, or some of them, anyway, don't make it beyond the country's borders. Argentina, for a long time, was home to such enthusiastic wine drinkers that exporting seemed unnecessary to most wineries. Similarly, while German Riesling has been exported for a long time, the country's sparkling wines rarely appeared on our shores; Germans are, per capita, the most enthusiastic drinkers of sparkling wines in the world, consuming on average almost five bottles per person each year. Nonetheless, in recent years a few importers have convinced their German and Austrian winery partners to part with a few bottles, and those who enjoy sparkling wines can now add 'Sekt,' as Germanic, traditional method sparklers are known, to their options.

Three Exceptional Sources for Rheingau Riesling
Jim Clarke
May 28, 2019

For the past couple of years I've been attending Prowein, the international wine fair held in Düsseldorf each March. It's a monstrous affair, with almost 7,000 exhibitors from around the world hawking their wines, sakes, ciders, and spirits. As a counterpoint and respite to the vast scale of the show, my wife and I have been heading south afterward to visit the vineyards of Germany. This year we zeroed in on the Rheingau. The Mosel, which we visited the previous year, tends to get more attention in the U.S. market. If the Mosel's Riesling's can be said to have a delicacy at their base, the Rheingau's wines come from a center point of density, even power, in the context of a cooler climate area.

Savoie: Fruit of the Alps
Jim Clarke
Apr 2, 2019

We're now in the twilight of ski season (if you're into that sort of thing), and many end-of-year diehards are streaming to the Rockies, the Alps, or whatever snow-covered mountain range they prefer. Whether you're into skiing or not, apres ski has its own appeal, and in some cases that appeal includes local wines. If you're near Mont Blanc, in France, that might include the wines of Savoie; fortunately, those wines have become increasingly available here in the U.S., without the effort and expense of skiing.

The Remarkable Range of Wine Descriptors
Jim Clarke
Feb 5, 2019

'Cat's pee on a gooseberry bush' sounds less than appealing, but it's a cliché description for Sauvignon Blanc, even among people who've never tasted a gooseberry (the smell of cat's pee being more ubiquitous). I learned a more personal grape-aroma association from Greg Harrington, MS, when he was the Corporate Beverage Director at BR Guest Restaurants in New York; he described red Bandol, from Provence, as smelling 'like the burnt ends of a grandmother's pot roast.' He also said Viognier often smells like Fruit Loops. These associations may seem far-fetched, but at the time, they helped Greg pass the blind-tasting portion of the Master Sommelier exam.

Excellence on a Big Frame: Primitivo di Manduria
Jim Clarke
Dec 11, 2018

In my last column for Wine Review Online, I addressed an effort by producers in the Languedoc to keep up with the apparent trend toward fresher, lower-alcohol wines by adjusting their blends, exploring different appellations, and so forth. Overall, I think this is a good thing, but we should never forget that fresher, etc., is not the only way to make wine. When your grape variety and growing conditions demand richness and power, sometimes it's advisable to let them go for it. Such is the case with Primitivo in Puglia.

Reconsidering Languedoc in a Changing Climate
Jim Clarke
Oct 16, 2018

As the interest in, or preference for, lower alcohol, fresher wines continues to grow, it's creating a dilemma for many regions that have traditionally considered their dry, warm climates as advantageous. Burgundy or Germany might struggle for ripeness in cool vintages, but not Languedoc or Puglia. It's not just about trendiness; the focus on ripeness predates the rise of the so-called 'international style' that favored ripeness, alcohol, and extraction. Since ripeness wasn't always so common as it might be now, regulations for almost all European appellations call for a minimum level of alcohol, not a maximum. Nowadays these warm regions are working to show they can retain freshness, with ripeness now being a 'given.'

On the Rise: Shochu from Japan
Jim Clarke
Aug 21, 2018

The growth of sake in the U.S. has, at least for wine drinkers, probably overshadowed the perhaps more surprising rise of another Japanese beverage, shochu. It makes sense. While 'rice wine' is a misnomer, sake is diverse, relatively similar in strength and texture, and enjoyed without ice, added water, or mixers. But while sake has grown dramatically here, shochu is actually more popular back in Japan, and is growing rapidly in the States as well. A seminar this month given by educator Toshio Ueno at the Society of Wine Educators Conference showed why.

Ravenswood, Updated
Jim Clarke
May 8, 2018

Big changes at a winery always induce worry in fans; will the core of what makes the wines special change? The two most common changes that bring about this hand-wringing are new ownership and new winemakers. Sonoma's Ravenswood winery went through the former in 2001, apparently a relatively painless process as founder and winemaker Joel Peterson stayed on board. As of 2015, however, Peterson is pulling back, concentrating on his own project, 'Once and Future;' Ravenswood is undergoing another transition. Gary Sitton has taken over; given his long experience with the winery, the process, as expressed in the glass, seems to have gone smoothly.

Spit Take
Jim Clarke
Mar 20, 2018

I taste wine with other professionals -- sommeliers, wine writers, and the like -- very often, of course, but it's been some time since I tasted wines with 'regular' wine drinkers, at least anywhere resembling a formal setting. Recently, however, I've had a series of opportunities to do just that, and it's had me thinking about what some people find to be one the least savory aspects of wine tasting: spitting. I spat as a matter of habit, and I saw a few disapproving looks from the guests I was presenting to. From my point of view, I was there as a professional, and it behooved me to behave as one; to these guests' point of view, it was distasteful. The overriding rule, it seems, is that fluids don't leave the body in public, even if they've only been inside the body for a matter of seconds. I have little patience for this attitude, but even baseball, the only other public forum for spitting I can think of, has cut back on the practice.

The Buzz on High Alcohol Wines…From the Old World
Jim Clarke
Feb 6, 2018

It is interesting that wine drinkers are more likely to accept the alcohol in Old World wines, but look askance at overly robust New World wines. I think in some cases this is simply prejudice; Old World producers are cut more slack, simply because they seem to have history on their side. I say 'seem to,' because, for example, Priorat as we know it today is only a few decades old. Its modern reputation for powerful wines is no older than that of Napa or elsewhere, though there's little reason to suppose the older wines, from before Priorat's revival, were lightweights, given the region's extreme growing conditions. However, overall there have been fewer 'big' New World wines that have the same consistently balanced character that wines from Priorat, Amarone, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have shown, so there does seem to be something different happening.

Partial Eclipse: Gaja's Ca' Marcanda
Jim Clarke
Dec 19, 2017

It couldn't be correct to suggest that any of Angelo Gaja's wines have been ignored or overlooked, but there is definitely a tendency to start all conversations about the wines in Barbaresco. Given the quality, history, and the attention that Gaja's Barbarescos have brought to that region, they certainly deserve the limelight. However, sometimes that leaves less light than is deserved for other projects - such as Ca' Marcanda, in Bolgheri, for example.

Hungary's Varied, Stylish Dry Tokaji
Jim Clarke
Nov 7, 2017

Looking back at my tasting notes from a large number of seminars, conferences, visits, and other tasting opportunities this summer, I'm slightly surprised to find that the region that seems to have consistently impressed me is Tokaj, in Hungary. The surprise is not because I hold the region in low regard. Rather, it's that the quality I've witnessed has been spread over such a mix of styles and grape varieties.

Pic Saint Loup Earns An AOC Of Its Own
Jim Clarke
Sep 26, 2017

Across the globe many wine regions seem intent on carving themselves up, whether wine drinkers are interested or not. How many place names are we expected to remember? Languedoc, however, seems justified in trying to divvy itself up a bit. As a region it encompasses almost 500,000 acres of vineyards - more than many wine-producing countries. The Languedoc's latest appellation is Pic Saint Loup, and it's one worth memorizing.

Wines of British Columbia: Tough to Find but Worth the Effort
Jim Clarke
Aug 15, 2017

If there's a wine that doesn't travel well, it might be the wines of British Columbia. By this, I don't mean that their wines crack up in transit, but that they barely travel at all. Domestic wine consumption within Canada is strong; as W. Blake Gray pointed out here on Wine Review Online some time ago, Canadians drink ten times more than the country produces, so there is little need to export. Domestic sales are encouraged by the provincial Liquor Boards, too, within their own provincial borders in particular. How provincial are they? Well, enough that it's easier to find an Ontario wine in New York than in British Columbia, for example. But while Ontario wines are starting to dribble across the border, British Columbian wines remain virtually unknown in the USA.

Savennières: Consistent Excellence from the Loire
Jim Clarke
Jul 4, 2017

For what is generally considered a uniformly cool-climate area, the Loire Valley can be confusingly diverse in its wine styles. In terms of plantings it is two-thirds the size of Bordeaux, but as it follows the Loire river inland, it's stretched over a significantly wider range of climates, from maritime to the continental. It is home to red grapes both Bordelais (Cabernet Franc) and Burgundian (Pinot Noir); for whites, Chenin Blanc, in the central stretch, lies in-between Sauvignon Blanc plantings in the east (Touraine, stretching to Sancerre and Puoilly-Fumé) and Muscadet in the west. And Chenin itself is capable of an amazing range of expressions -- dry, off-dry, sweet or syrupy, plus still or sparkling. But smack in the middle of all that is one of the most consistent, distinctive and exciting of all French wines, namely, Savennières.

A Choice White for Summer: Picpoul de Pinet
Jim Clarke
May 23, 2017

With about 1,300 hectares planted, Picpoul de Pinet is a tiny appellation in the grand scheme of things, nestled in among a number of the Languedoc's predominantly red wine appellations but nonetheless responsible for more than 60% of the Languedoc's white wine production. The appellation's vineyards lie southwest from Montepellier along the Mediterranean coast, across the Bassin de Thau lagoons from the picturesque resort town of Sète and its attendant oyster farms, which almost seem to exist solely to prove the 'grows together, goes together' cliché -- oysters are an excellent pairing with Picpoul.

Advent of Arneis
Jim Clarke
Apr 11, 2017

Few grape varieties have a birthday that isn't lost in the annals of time, but a handful of them at least have a turning point, a time when someone took notice of a grape and brought it to the world's attention. While rediscovering 'lost varieties' is a favorite hobby for some sommeliers today, it's easy to forget that similar discoveries have been made in the past, and that grapes we think of as well-established may have been bit players just decades ago. One such variety is Piedmont's Arneis. While we don't know whence it came or when, we do know that it wouldn't be what it is today if one man hadn't given it some renewed attention fifty years ago.

Two Superb Sources of Sauvignon to the Rescue
Jim Clarke
Mar 7, 2017

While sales of Sauvignon Blanc continue to rise, up 13.3% in 2015 according to the Wine Market Council, I come across increasing numbers of wine professionals and more serious sorts of wine drinkers who are giving the grape less and less attention. The top wines of Sancerre -- Dagueneau, for example -- remain highly-regarded, of course, as do a few other examples from around the world. But as a variety, Sauvignon Blanc seems to be a low-priority for many people who really pay attention to what they're drinking. Chardonnay endured the protest chants of ABC ('Anything But Chardonnay') but are the days of 'QRS' -- Quit Reaching for Sauvignon, or Quit Recommending Sauvignon -- upon us?

Grand Cru Chablis: Burgundy's Best Top-Class Whites
Jim Clarke
Jan 17, 2017

When one hears the words 'Grand Cru Burgundy,' it's probably the reds of the Côte de Nuits that spring to mind -- some of the most exciting, age-worthy, and often profound wines in the world. One might also think of Corton, in the Côte de Beaune, so not far away or the white wine Grand Crus of Montrachet or Corton-Charlemagne. But there are seven Grand Crus that seem to cross people's minds less frequently, even though they represent the best values to bear the name Grand Cru Burgundy. I'm talking about Grand Crus of Chablis.

Champagne's Club Trésors
Jim Clarke
Oct 18, 2016

On the north side of Reims' city center you'll find a surprisingly modern wine bar, a sleek and minimal space set at the edge of the city's more staid, stereotypically French pedestrian zone. Inside, a map of Champagne covers the floor; bottles hang on cables from the ceiling. Enter and pull on one of the bottles down to eye-level and you'll get a description of a Champagne producer, conveniently suspended over the region where they're located on the map. Even more conveniently, their Champagne is on the shelves on the wall nearby. Grab a bottle, or a glass…and now you're in the Club.

Savigny-les-Beaune: Strong Value in an Otherwise Pricey Region
Jim Clarke
Sep 6, 2016

Beaune is the obvious place to stay when visiting Burgundy, home to plenty of guesthouses and restaurants and easily navigable by foot. From there you drive north and south on the D974 and pass through all the major communes of the Côte d'Or. Chances are you'll taste many young wines at the cellars of various vignerons, preciously parceled out from half bottles because Burgundy's prices make letting a full-bottle sit open for tasting too wasteful. After these young wines beat up your palate all day, your thoughts turn to what you'll drink with dinner that night. If you're not lucky or deep-pocketed enough for an older wine, one village comes to mind, one you didn't even pass through: Savigny-les-Beaune.

Lee Hudson: Carneros Grape-Grower Extraordinaire
Jim Clarke
Jul 26, 2016

Grapes are probably the only thing grown to be small at Hudson Ranch. Giant pumpkins, gourds taller than a man...perhaps it's his Texas roots, but Lee Hudson grows vegetables with an eye toward size. Since small, concentrated grapes are preferred for quality wine, it's probably for the best that--when turning to viticulture--he keeps that distinction in mind. 'Distinction' is the right word, as Hudson's grapes go into many top wines, with quite a few of those bottled as single-vineyard designates. Not that many, though: 'Only thirteen use the name,' says Hudson, of the twenty-seven producers to whom he sells fruit. For those thirteen, reputation and relationship are important, as is what portion of the vineyard they're sourcing from. 'Vineyard designation has to be driven by terroir. I have to have confidence in the site. It's got a southwest exposure if it's got 'Hudson' on it.'

A Distinctive Spanish Variety: Mencía
Jim Clarke
Jun 14, 2016

For the winedrinker beginning to explore Spain, it can often feel like every Spanish red grape is actually just Tempranillo by another name, be it Cencibel, Tinta del País, or Ull de Llebre. 'Green Spain's' Mencía, however, is definitely its own thing. Found in Galicia and León, Mencía's character varies. It's certainly capable of making big, dark, powerful wines, but does Spain need more of those? In my view, Mencía is at its most intriguing when it doesn't try so hard, and allows aromatics and freshness to dominate.

On the Rise: Terrasses du Larzac
Jim Clarke
Apr 19, 2016

The Languedoc--long France's capital of cheap and cheerful bistro wines--is a going to great efforts to redefine itself, both in terms of pushing toward better quality and more literally, changing appellation laws and names and attempting to bring more clarity and distinction to the region's terroirs. In almost every case this is a work in progress, but the Terrasses du Larzac seems to have started off with a clearer direction than most.

Beer Versus Wine, or a Cooperative Relationship?
Jim Clarke
Mar 15, 2016

California is densely packed with craft breweries, as is Oregon, to the north, and Washington, more northerly still…the whole West Coast of the U.S., really. As it happens, those three states also make up most of the U.S.A.'s wine industry (the other major wine-producing state being New York, actually). Are wine and beer competing? Perhaps a bit; but the notion that they're cooperating would be more like it.

Napa Valley Boot Camp
Jim Clarke
Jan 26, 2016

When did the term 'Boot Camp' take on a positive connotation? In most contexts it sounds like a slog, at best, and one that involves a lot of sweat and work. I'm not adverse to some exercise, but it doesn't sound like my sort of thing. But an invitation to join a group of New York sommeliers for a trip to Napa Valley was not to be turned down, despite the name: The Napa Valley Boot Camp. I was one of the few writers invited; the rest were mostly sommeliers. Having been part of that community not long ago, I expected to see a lot of familiar faces. Given the attitude most of New York City's have about New World wines, about Napa in particular, about ripeness, and about already-famous grape varieties, I was excited not just to taste and learn myself, but to see how these sommeliers reacted to the experience.

Exemplary Patience: Pre-Aged Wines from Rioja
Jim Clarke
Dec 15, 2015

According to researchers, the vast majority of wine sold in the U.S.A. -- 95% or more -- is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. This is fine for a great many wines; only a tiny percentage of wines actually benefit from aging anyhow. However, many of those that do are classics, or come from our most highly regarded regions. Many of these are nonetheless subject to the 48-hour rule, and wineries have adapted their winemaking accordingly, fashioning wines that show more generosity and riper tannins. But few do what Rioja does, despite the fact that it's the simplest answer to the problem: Age the wines longer at the winery before selling them.

Talking Turkey
Jim Clarke
Oct 27, 2015

It's that time of year when wine columns everywhere start talking turkey. What to pair with it, the challenges of the Thanksgiving dinner, and so forth. But (and read this in the voice of Peter Segal from public radio's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me if you can) we've invited you hear to talk about wines from Turkey instead. We've got three things to tell you about Turkish wines; if two out of three catch your interest, you should track down some of these wines. Given its geographical location, it should be no surprise that Turkey makes wine. The entirety of Asia Minor was pretty thoroughly Hellenized; if wine wasn't being made there before the Greeks got to it, it certainly was afterward. However, that hasn't made Turkey a home for the Greek grape varieties we know today. Instead, what varieties would you expect to find there?

Secondary Varieties
Jim Clarke
Sep 1, 2015

First impressions last, and chances are, your first impression of Argentine wine involved Malbec. New Zealand? Sauvignon Blanc. These and other countries have ridden their signature varieties to success in the U.S. market (and elsewhere), but they aren't one-trick ponies, and are worried about being perceived as such. If Malbec's popularity fades, will interest in Argentine wine go with it?

Bordeaux Knocks…Who Answers?
Jim Clarke
May 12, 2015

For many wine-drinking Americans, even many in the trade, Bordeaux is now something more read about than actually consumed. We read about amazing prices, about the Chinese thirst for these wines, about how that drove up prices, about the fickle Chinese consumer turning elsewhere, but prices not going down. I know there's a certain prestige in being the most expensive product in a category, but it's not really an effective springboard for marketing efforts. Bordeaux = high prices is the main message that gets out, and it seems to hurt as least as much as it helps. The wines, by and large, are good, certainly, and many are great. I do know people who drink Bordeaux, of course, and do so myself on occasion -- but preferably on someone else's dime. Typically that 'someone else' is my parents' age or older, and ideally, has reached the point where they realize there's no way they can consume all the Classified Growths in their cellars so they're eager to share. There are exceptions, but not many, and they tend to be in the wine trade.

Hungary Beyond Tokaji
Jim Clarke
Feb 10, 2015

Outside of Western Europe, many wine-producing countries are often stereotyped by one type of wine: New Zealand by Sauvignon Blanc; Argentina by Malbec…and so forth. It's a sign of maturity, in the market and in the wine regions themselves, when we start recognizing individual regions of a country and their distinctive character -- Marlborough, Central Otago, and Hawkes Bay, or Marlborough Pinot Noir instead of Sauvignon Blanc, to use New Zealand as an example. I say 'outside of Western Europe' advisedly, because as Eastern Europe's wine-producing countries turn toward the American market I think we may start to see the same thing happening. When we do, I think it will happen for Hungary first.

Differing Shades of Sangiovese
Jim Clarke
Dec 9, 2014

I worked as the Wine Director at the Armani Ristorante in New York for about two years, and one of the pleasures I looked forward to when I took the job was the chance to dive deeper into Italian wines. They made up 70-75% of the list there once I had revised it; previously I had worked with a list that reached broadly into any number of countries, New World and Old. I expected to enjoy exploring the country's wealth of indigenous grape varieties, naturally, but as regards the major grapes, I looked forward to working with Nebbiolo much more than Sangiovese. That changed, and in the year or so since I left, it is the daily interaction with Sangiovese that I miss the most.

Whither Washington Whites?
Jim Clarke
Sep 30, 2014

Many regions receive more attention, in the form of press coverage and high scores, for their red wines than their whites. This seems particularly true for Washington state, despite the fact that the state's production is more-or-less evenly divided between the two. Even some of the state's producers don't seem too excited about white wine; several years ago I asked Master Sommelier Greg Harrington, proprietor of Gramercy Cellars in Walla Walla, for some ideas on white wines to create a Washington whites section for my list at Megu...where I worked as sommelier…and he had no recommendations.