Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist

This post is a rant about restaurant winelist prices. I have long been a critic of some USA restaurants that burden us with overpriced and underqualified wines. Indeed, part of the reason wines have not become a part of ordinary life in the USA is because of the fuss and nonsense restaurants place on wine–unlike much of Southern Europe, where one can have an excellent vin de pays with lunch or dinner for a reasonable price.

To this end, I have long used a guideline (and taught it to many others) that with some exceptions the cost of wine should not exceed 1/3 the cost of the total restaurant check. Do the math: if you and your dinner mate have a nice steak, salad and dessert, perhaps each meal comes to $20-$35 (or more), depending on the restaurant. Thus the wine for two people should be within that price range to be 1/3 of the total bill.  Continue reading “Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist”

Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino

We were in Italy, traveling from Florence to Rome; the year was 1983. Before we left Florence, I had spotted a mention of a winery near Montalcino that had a nice mid-day meal. Montalcino is between Florence and Rome, and along the route, so we decided to stop in.

In the center of this great medieval city we saw a little fingerboard sign pointing to Fattoria dei Barbi; we followed the sign. Soon we saw another. We traced our way to the winery via the signs, sometimes doubling back because we had missed one.

Arriving at the winery, we went to the most obvious place for a restaurant, a low, smaller building. Although the door posted hours of Noon to 8PM, and it was 12:30, it was locked. We knocked.

A wizened gentleman opened the door, welcomed us, and escorted us to a 12-person bench. He poured wine into the jug on the table, and disappeared. Continue reading “Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino”

Absolutely ZinFul

Here’s another Washington Wine Wonder! Maryhill Winery, just NorthEast of The Dalles, Oregon, on the Washington side of the Columbia River. We had visited them in our last two trips to Oregon, and the very nice young man (and knowledgeable, too!) behind the counter remembered us. That’s probably 5,000 visitors later.

It might have helped that after our first visit, we worked to get Maryhill’s wines into Colorado. It probably also helped that we got signed up in their Industry program on our last visit (their Gold Program is the best one for repeat offenders/customers).

In our first visit, we had purchased an assortment of wines to taste on our visit to the Oregon coast. As I recall, all were great, but the 2001 Zin was outstanding (note that we did not keep the label; the photo at left is from 2005). Between our visit and a week later when we returned to get more, it had won some California judging and had totally disappeared. That was the best Zin I’d tasted in 2 years! And it was gone! Continue reading “Absolutely ZinFul”

Discovering Villa Maria Wine

In 1991, we were visiting New Zealand, enroute to our second visit to Australia–on a wine-exploration mission. As we normally do in a new city (for us), we shopped at several local wine stores, selecting the most-interesting wines (including Sauvignon Blancs–SB, and Pinot Noirs), to sample and enjoy, back at our bed and breakfast lodging on the North Island, in the city of Auckland.

We sampled several well-known wines, including one of our favorites, Kim Crawford. And we discovered a ‘less-known’ wine, a Sauvignon Blanc from Villa Maria. It was great, with significantly different nuances of flavor, than our favorites.

Over the ensuing year, we communicated (via fax, in 1991) with the winery, connecting with the marketing manager. We suggested that Villa Maria should bring their wonderful SB to the USA; at least to Texas and Colorado–key influence spots for the most-interesting wines. The skillful Marketing Manager deferred, saying that their strategy was first, to serve their Asia-Pacific market, which they had carefully been building for several years.

But we persisted, pointing out that visibility in the USA, and our powerful wine media, would help boost  their case in their other carefully-selected markets.

In 1992, we returned to New Zealand, and scheduled an appointment to visit with Villa Maria winery, to the West of Auckland. To do so, we gave up a visit to the great wineries in Hawke’s Bay, on the Eastern side of the North Island–together with that wonderful Art Deco city, Napier, to its South.

We pressed our case, partly out of selfish reasons, because their SB was an excellent value, and the flavor very unique, compared to French, US, and other nations’ renditions. The greatest difference: tropical fruit influence, as opposed to that typical SB grassy taste. We supplied the names of the best importers, state importers, where needed, as in Colorado, and the leading distributors. 

OUTCOME
Six months later, the Wine Spectator magazine posted their review of the then-current Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 1991 vintage. They scored it at 91 points, at a price of $8.99 (US) price. In our statistical analysis, that is a Great Value

There were several significant outcomes from this adventure:

  1. Villa Maria sold out their available wines in the US (the Marketing Manager was correct!);
  2. Many other NZ wineries changed their flavor profile to compete better with Villa Maria’s offering;
  3. Wine makers from France, the USA, and South Africa, travelled to NZ to taste the Villa Maria wines, and to consider adapting to their style. The greatest change was to move away from the grassy SBs, to the tropical fruit–yet still dry–taste. 
  4. This sequence of events transformed the global Sauvignon Blanc flavors for half its producers, over the next 4-5 years–while the rest continued with their preferred taste profiles. 

UPDATE, 10 YEARS LATER
While still tracking the success of Villa Maria, in the early 2000s, we observed a surge of interest in a few Western Australia wineries that offered Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends. Depending on the majority proportion, these were named either SBS or SSB. They were delicious–and only available from a few wineries in Western Australia. We visited all of them, and had some that were fantastic!

We expected this blend would be another major innovation, like Villa Maria; but these wines never gained popularity, in part, perhaps because of a lack of availability, and inconsistent flavors from several different years. Too bad, the wines were delicious, when you could find the right blend. 

UPDATE, 30 YEARS LATER
Today, as of September 2021, Villa Maria is a globally-recognized and popular winery, with vineyards in several of the best wine-producing parts of New Zealand, including Hawkes’s Bay, and the Marlborough region of the South Island.

And recently, in August 2021, New Zealand’s largest winegrower/producer Indevin announced it was buying Villa Maria and its associated brands. 

Still today, we occasionally enjoy a bottle of OUR Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc!