Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Gavi, Part 1

We recently tasted a half dozen Italian whites from an impeccable supplier and settled on four new types for the store.  The one we bought the most of was the Gavi and it was the most expensive in the array.  While we have sold a lot of Gavis in the past, this one was special.  Hell, this one was remarkable.

Gavi has been called the finest white wine of Italy.  This one is light and dry, fruity and floral, and chalky and minerally.  You get where we're going here: This is complex white wine that none the less fits into a light body format.  Nice trick if you can pull it off.

When we say this wine is special we should qualify our enthusiasm with a little historical perspective.  When we got into this business forty years ago there was a lot of bad Italian wine on store shelves.  We didn't know how bad it was at the time because we were ignorant.  In fairness to Italy, there was a lot of bad wine from everywhere else also.  Suppliers, both domestic and importers, knew the American market was not wine-savvy and our public could be sold on lower quality.  We didn't know the difference.  Just make your pitch convincing and we'll bite.  

As we became more sophisticated taste-wise, SURPRISE, quality improved.  Transportation and warehousing improved first followed by winery technological improvements and some of the most profound of those improvements originated in Italy.  With internationally flowing investment money coinciding with the production, transportation and storage improvements; we now have the quality we were promised from the start.

The textbook might say a Gavi is a light straw (with green hues) color.  It has a fruity appley-nuanced nose and a taste that is fresh, dry and full-flavored while still elegantly light.  The Cortese di Gavi production region has been making this wine style for the past hundred fifty years.  Modern Italian winemaking, courtesy of technology, is now able to make this wine more structured and complex than ever before.  

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Gavi, Part 2

Gavi is the signature white wine of the Cortese di Gavi region in the province of Alessandria in southeast Piedmont.  It has a documented history going back to the 1600's.  So it has a pedigree.  Piedmont in northwest Italy is the finest wine production region of the country.  Gavi is the finest white of Piedmont.

Like all Italian whites, Gavi is seafood wine.  It is sourced forty miles from the Mediterranean coast.  That forty mile buffer distance is covered by the province of Liguria where a fruitier style white wine is made.  The Cortese grape of Gavi fame is also grown with less renown in other regions of Piedmont and can be purchased at a better price than Gavi.  But it's a different wine.  The Gavi is fruitier and its makeup is said to reflect the Ligurian influence.

Cortese is an indigenous grape of the Gavi region and is the sole variety allowed in the wine.  Gavi is a town also and it is ground zero for the 4,000+ acres where the wine is sourced.  If a wine is sourced entirely within the Gavi township it may be labeled Gavi di Gavi.

The Cortese di Gavi wine appellation earned its DOC (Denominacione di Origine Controllata) legal status in 1974.  In 1998 it received the highest legal wine classification, the DOCG.  The G is significant.  It means everything about the production and quality of the wine is guaranteed.  The wine must be 100% Cortese with yield limits and ripeness guarantees.  The wine must be made using traditional methods before each bottle is affixed with a numbered paper seal to prevent counterfeiting.

This wine is bone dry in character.  It is crisp and flinty on the palate with fresh acidity.  The Cortese grape thrives in the mineral rich soils of the region accounting for much of the description above.  Gavi has a floral bouquet accented by delicate lemon.  Fruit flavors include green apple and honeydew with almonds on the finish.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Wine Group

With sales of fifty-three million cases of wine annually, The Wine Group is the second largest wine company in the world.  As generic as The Wine Group name sounds, you can understand how they may have flown under the radar for a lot of us.  Maybe that was the plan all along: Lay in the weeds as long as you can and then make your move.  Or something like that.

Actually The Wine Group didn't ambush anyone.  Some of us in the trade just weren't paying attention.  What The Wine Group did was they built their empire incrementally with sound business sense at every opportunity.  They did it "the old fashioned way" as John Houseman would have said.  Constellation, the mass marketer they recently surpassed, had been a juggernaut in its own right.  A recent serious miscalculation on their part, an error that will remain unmentioned here, may have been their undoing.  S__t happens.  If you want to know more, stop in the store for the details.

Does the elephant in the room, Gallo, have reason to fear The Wine Group?  Probably not.  But wouldn't that be something if they did!

The Wine Group was established in 1981 but their prehistory is worth documenting.  Giuseppe and Teresa Franzia were Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the last century.  They settled in the Central Valley of California where they bought eighty acres for their vineyards.  At their beginning they were growers who sold their grapes to interests in the Midwest and on the East Coast.  They may have had winery dreams early on but Prohibition curtailed that plan until its repeal in 1933.  The Franzias then took out a $60k loan and were in the business.

In 1973 the Franzias sold their business to Coca Cola which already owned Mogen David.  In 1981 Coke sold their winery portfolio to their wine division CEO, Art Ciocca.  The contrast in wine business acumen at this juncture is hard to ignore.  For people in the know, 1980 marks a turning point in this industry.  It had become evident that wine was going to catch on as a part of our culture.  The signs were there.  Moreover wine coolers were on the cusp of their own boom.  Coke should have seen that opportunity but didn't.  With their buying power in glass they could have dominated that market.  

Upon losing that Coke glass-buying asset, Art Ciocca innovated.  He created the bag-in-the-box format that continues quite profitably today.  Now The Wine Group represents more than sixty wine brands which are predominantly in-house creations but their portfolio also includes historic wineries they have purchased along the way.  In their portfolio are labels like Concannon, 7 Deadly, Cupcake, Imagery, Tribute, Almaden, Beso del Sol, Chloe and Benziger.  These and many others can be found in grocery stores everywhere.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

American Vineyards

The following numbers are gleaned from a 2018 Forbes magazine article, a 2016 wineroad.com article, a 2018 wineamerica.org article and the current wikipedia article on the subject.  What we have learned in this endeavor is that reporting is an inexact science; numbers tend to lie depending on the economic perspective of the reporter.  Also, information becomes dated quickly in our booming wine business.

There are well over two  million acres in grapevines in the United States, fifty-three percent of which are dedicated to table grapes and raisins.  The most widely planted grape in America is the Sultanina at 14% of that 2 mil. figure. 

There are probably a million acres in wine grapes in the country with up to 85% of them residing in California.  If you include Oregon and Washington, that gives you 90% of our American wine production.  Chardonnay is still king in this tabulation accounting for 29% of those vineyards.  Cabernet Sauvignon is second at about 22% of the total.  Pinot Noir is third with about 18%.  Merlot is next at 14% and Zinfandel is the last of the biggies with 9% of the acreage.  Our favorite white wine grape must not be a favorite of many people since Sauvignon Blanc only accounts for 4% of the total.

That leaves 4% for all of the other types combined which confirms our favorite whine about how the wine industry big guys are crushing the farm wineries.  If you mass market the major types to the tune of about 96% of all wine business (which the thirty largest wine companies do) then the Mom & Pops have to eke out a living from the crumbs off the economic table.  Which is, in fact, the way that pie is cut up.  But enough of that.  Back to business...

In descending order, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Rubired, Ruby Cabernet, Barbera, Grenache, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Alexandria, Riesling, Viognier and Gewurztraminer round out most of that remaining 4% of grapevine acreage.  Which brings us to the reason for this rant - We had heard that Rubired was being much more widely planted than it apparently is.  Or is it?

Rubired is one of a handful of the world's tinturier grapes, grapes with a red flesh and juice that are now being reduced to a concentrate.  Think - Welch's.  That concentrate is finding it's way into many wines of differing qualities in order to beef up the richness of the product.  So whether you like your premium California reds big chewy and jammy or you just like an everyday red that is a little more substantial than others, you may have Rubired to thank for what you have. Just how prevalent Rubired is in practice is a closely guarded trade secret. 

By the way, the following grape types are ascendant so look for them to be factors in the future: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Vermentino, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.