Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The "King" Might Be A Bit Naked

When The Wine Country was putting together our tasting events for the new year we tried to think of showcasing wines that would fill our little tasting area to damn near overflowing, (we know some of our regulars hate it when it is really crowded but a good chunk of those regulars are regular tasters, not so much buyers and as much as we love teaching people about wines…we need to sell wine as well. So new faces and big crowds are what we need to ensure that we will still be around for those regulars to come in and learn…we need both.) so we started with things like Cheese & Red Wine and Paso Robles, all tastings that have generated large crowds in the past so when Randy said, “Cabernet, let’s do a Napa Cabernet tasting” my first instinct was, “Hmm maybe something a little more exciting, something that has a bit more energy” but after thinking about it I let my, “well it’s a classic, Cabernet Sauvignon is king” mindset take over and told Randy I thought it was a good idea.

I used to be in charge of allocations at The Wine Country which meant that I would take the names of people that were falling all over themselves to get their hands on certain wines and when those wires arrived I would dole them out, taking into account those that supported the store in other ways, (no one likes a cherry picker) people that had supported that wine in the past things like that. More often than not the wines that I was in charge of dribbling out bottle by bottle were Cabernet Sauvignon…and most of those were from Napa. Ten years ago many of those wines would sell out within days, sometimes hours but each year I saw fewer names and many of those once, never-make-it-out-of-the-back-room wines sitting on our shelves…even made it unnecessary for anyone to be “in charge” of allocations, it’s now just up to department heads to give people a call when whatever wine arrives and the only wine, aside from some of my super rare Burgundies that gets people in a frenzy is Sea Smoke…….a Pinot Noir.

So yesterday was our Napa Cabernet tasting, ten wines a few of which were under $20.00 so we were expecting a good crowd, I mean it’s Cabernet and everyone loves Cab. I ran through the lineup before the tasting started, Bennett was out of town so I wanted to make sure the wines were okay before the tasting started, plus I am admittedly out of the loop when it comes to California wines so it was important for me to taste and make mental notes so I can help our customers when Bennett is not there. As I worked my way through the lineup I was reminded that Cabernet Sauvignon does absolutely nothing for me, the wines were well made, (well except for one) some were from some very famous wineries but the grape its self just is not my thing. Big berry fruit, big body, some tannin, although I tasted more wood tannin than grape but for my palate they seemed to lack complexity and worst of all diversity. Some are tasty but the last thing, (and remember I am just speaking about MY palate here) I find them is interesting or exciting for that matter.

So rather than the full house we were hoping for we ended up with 84 people, not tiny but like I said, not a full house and the thing I found even more startling was most of those 84 people with stained purple teeth walked right out of the tasting room and into French and Spanish…mostly Spanish wine department and bought white wines, not the “king” of red wine Cabernet Sauvignon they had just been tasting….what gives?!

I spent a chunk of the evening last night thinking about the reasons for the shift in adoration with regard to Cabernet, one thing has got to be the prices…I watched Caymus Cabernet go from $24.99 to over $40.00 in one vintage and we have seen brand new wineries out of Napa start out with price tags over $60.00 and those prices are going to send some people to other regions to seek out wines more in the budget not to mention make people take notice or aim a more critical eye at what is in the bottle….I mean if I just paid $60.00 it had better deliver right?

Another issue is the dramatic shift in style that many wineries took, opting to produce more lavish or showy wines rather than wines built for cellaring. These wines are round, rich with fruit and oak and the tannins have been shaved off making them soft and plump…now you have made a “ready now” wine which is great for tastings or special occasions but I know very few people that are plunking down $60.00 for everyday drinking…least not anymore. They score well, taste yummy right from the get but what is going to happen to these ready now wines after a few years in the bottle….well maybe a few people in the past few years, (since the shift in style) have opened a few bottles to find that all that lovely primary fruit has diminished and the lack of backbone or tannin has left them with a super soft wine that has lost fruit or brilliance with time. I have heard so many stories about “tired” wines that are less than 10 years old…dude, that is all bad and people will only flush so much money, and tired wine before they say, “Enough is enough”

Maybe what is happening is natural, part of our growing as a wine culture, the more we learn and taste the more our palates evolve and what we once found delicious we now find kind of boring or at the very least less exciting. Think about the way we eat…things like Cajun or South Western food, these were once exciting flavors that opened our eyes and palates to big, bold flavors and we gobbled it up but after a while we began looking for something different, more defined and fresher tasting….compare the number of Japanese restaurants to the number of Cajun….we still like those big flavors but finesse seems more palatable for daily consumption. The same thing rings true with the wines that people are drinking daily, we have a saturation point and maybe, just maybe those gloppy rich wines are just too satiating, if you give it all up on the first sip what is going to inspire a nation of growing wine drinkers to want another? I’m just sayin’ there might be a flaw in the long term business plan.

After Cabernet there was Zinfandel, after Zinfandel there was Shiraz, after Shiraz there was Grenache, after Grenache there was Malbec, (which is still hot as hell and part of that may have something to do with price) from Malbec we went to Pinot Noir and as of right now there is no hotter area in the store than Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, anyone else seeing a pattern? Me thinks the masses need refreshment and the “King” might just be a bit naked.

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