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Ten Wishes for 2010
By Robert Whitley
Dec 30, 2009
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I’m not very good with a crystal ball. If I were, playing the lottery would be my game. So you’ll get no predictions for the new year from me, merely hopes and aspirations. Here they are, my top ten hopes (related to wine) for 2010. Let us begin with number ten.

10. Ditch the heavy bottles. When I pick up a standard 750ml bottle of wine and realize it weighs twice as much as it should, the first thought that comes to mind is “expensive.” I never think “value.” I am right about that 100 percent of the time. Still, it’s not the cost that is so annoying. I purchase my share of expensive wines when I believe I’m on to something special. I object to the heavy bottles because they’re usually so thick they won’t fit into the slots in my refrigerated wine cabinet. This is particularly true of Syrah and Pinot Noir because the shape of the bottle combined with the added thickness and weight makes those wines impossible to cellar without some kind of hinky accommodation. If wineries are looking for a way to cut costs next year, I think this would be a splendid idea.

9.  Lower the fudge factor on alcohol content. As it currently stands, wineries can legally understate the alcohol in a bottle of wine by as much as 1 ½ percent. In a wine listed at 14.9 on the label, the true number could be well above 16 percent. That’s creeping up on the levels found in Port, which is fortified with a distilled spirit. I’m sorry, but that’s a bit too much octane for my medium rare rack of lamb! A mere half a percent seems more appropriate. After all, a simple lab analysis is all it takes to determine the exact percentage of alcohol. A winery without a lab is hardly a winery at all.

8. Cool the misleading wine bar hype. The modern wine bar is one of the most exciting developments in wine appreciation in recent years. I’m all for them. But a wine bar should really be a wine bar – not just a restaurant that happens to serve a few wines by the glass. Too many restaurants are trying to sex up their image and attract younger crowds by utilizing the wine bar description in their signage and marketing materials. It’s misleading and it’s wrong. A wine bar might serve food – sometimes very serious food – but its focus should be wine.

7. Waive the corkage. OK, this is a bit self-serving. I am prone to take a bottle of wine, or two, with me when I dine out. And I pony up on the corkage without complaint. But I do find it attractive to visit restaurants that offer nights when the corkage is waived, a practice that has become more common during the current recession. What bothers me, though, is when a restaurant sticks the corkage fee(s) on the bill even after I’ve ordered additional wines from the list and perhaps after-dinner drinks as well. When I feel I’ve been gouged, I never go back.

6. Decanters, please. While having lunch recently at Cindy’s Back Street, a casual eatery in the Napa Valley, I noticed half of an entire wall devoted to decanters. It occurred to me that if Cindy’s can stock an ample supply of decanters in its tiny space, just about any restaurant could have decanters at the ready when a customer orders a good bottle of wine. This is so important because restaurants by and large stock wines that are young and would benefit from aeration. Not to mention the fact that the presentation elevates the experience.

5. Drink local wines. I’m not advocating the consumption of local wines exclusively, simply that everyone pay occasional homage to their local wine industry. Local wines usually remain local because they are unique and may lack global appeal. Nothing wrong with that. Experiencing what the local vintners can do is educational, and in some cases uplifting. If I lived in New York I like to think I would be on to some of the better Rieslings and Cabernet Francs, wines that do well there. Virginians can take pride in many of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Rhone-style wines of the region, including some extremely good Viognier. I’ve also had fabulous Riesling from Michigan. Even here in southern California, where I live, the Fallbrook and Orfila wineries in San Diego County have produced world-class Syrah, Sangiovese and the Bordeaux varietals. Don’t be a snob, try a local wine next time you’re out.

4. Don’t give up on Syrah. There is a sentiment among many vintners these days to rip out their Syrah and go with a more popular grape because Syrah remains a difficult sell. Don’t do it. One of the reasons Syrah hasn’t taken off is that it’s planted in so many places that can only produce bland wine. Same thing happened with Pinot Noir and Merlot. There are wonderful Syrahs being made by a handful of wineries – Truchard, Bonny Doon, Alban, Edmunds St. John come quickly to mind – that can serve as useful benchmarks for the industry. More wines like those and Syrah will sell.

3. Chardonnay 101. Winemakers need to go back to school on Chardonnay and get with the trend toward lower alcohol and greater minerality. That’s just my opinion, of course, but I’ve witnessed these preferences in numerous public tastings over the past year. Wine lovers don’t need to be hit over the head with a heavy dose of alcohol and oak to find inspiration. They really do appreciate subtlety and nuance. Winemakers are beginning to understand and offer Chardonnay with balance and finesse. That said, still more winemakers need to come around.

2. Marketing 101. Despite the recession, wine sales continue to grow. The new model is price combined with quality. Restaurateurs know it. Everyday wine consumers know it. Not every winery, however, is altogether on board. Too bad, because that ship has sailed. If a winery doesn’t somewhat over-deliver quality for the price, the savvy wine buyer – whether it’s a buyer for a restaurant, a wine shop, a grocery store or Joe sixpack – will simply look elsewhere because quality wine at attractive pricing is everywhere. So lower your sights (re: prices) and get in the game!

1. Bordeaux 101. My number one hope for the new year is that Bordeaux, my first love, comes back to earth. I once bought all of the first growths from nearly every vintage, and many of the seconds. But the 1989 vintage broke the bank, and I’ve been a fringe player in the Bordeaux arena ever since. I long for the days when the great chateaux were attainable. I still buy the occasional Chateau Margaux or Cheval Blanc, but at current prices those purchases are few and far between. I wonder what will happen to Bordeaux when an entire generation of wine enthusiasts has missed out on the experience of a beautifully cellared classified growth from a glorious vintage. Will anyone care if no one outside the auction salons of Sotheby’s has partaken? Bordeaux, it’s time to come home.

Robert welcomes comments at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com.