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Texas’s Rising Star Spirits Shoot Over Fort Worth

Texas’s Rising Star Spirits Shoot Over Fort Worth

The old saying goes that good things are bigger in Texas, and this holds true with the growth of boutique spirits enterprises

Fort Worth, TX is one of those big little cities that stuns and surprises, especially now that the much-awaited Sundance Square development came to fruition last November. Although there have always been superb steakhouses, bold barbecues and stompin' saloons, its transformation to desirable destination is now fully realized.

When a city is ready for its urban chic closeup, it's inevitable that a food and wine festival will appear on the events calendar and rope people in from miles around. That said, the first annual Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival went beyond being a success, with sold out events, nearly flawless crowd control and great local enthusiasm for local chefs as well as distillers from Fort Worth and throughout the state.

"I think one of the things that made the festival such a success is that Texans are proud of their state, and therefore, will support products made here in Fort Worth and elsewhere," says Mike Micallef, co-founder of the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival and president of the Reata Restaurant Group. "TX Distillery's whiskey, for example, is emblematic of that success, at our restaurants and other places around town. They've done a fantastic job with their marketing...and more importantly, they have a great product."

Micallef says that in the long term, the organizers' collective goal is to work toward having 50% of the attendees come from outside of Fort Worth. As a city's appeal is inexorably tied to its restaurants and bars, the themed events promote local chefs as well as ways each one fits into a visitor's or local's experience of the city. Although the featured spirits are from distilleries all over Texas, the foods and the proud, epi-curious attendees make the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival a tailor made showcase for the products in on- and off-premise contexts.

"What gave us the idea was going out to the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Festival, which is popular that tickets for their big Saturday night event sells out in 15 minutes," continues Micallef. "Given that event is staged in a town of people, 30 minutes outside of Abilene, it should work in Fort Worth. Also, when we first saw the plan for the Sundance Plaza, that gave us the impetus to say we needed to do one in Fort Worth."

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Roman Wine Bars

Roman Wine Bars

Insights into Trends and Innovations in an Ancient City

For an insular and largely domestically focused wine market such as Italy, Rome has long offered wine lovers a great and diverse wine market. One of the key reasons it has long been so dynamic is that its home region of Latium isn't a major national wine producing area-much like New York City and its environs. It is also home to a great number of visitors, foreign and domestic, which it strives-and continues-to impress.

Having lived in Rome for many years almost two decades ago, I get back a couple of times a year. The wine bar market has evolved enormously in that time frame. House and jug wines, mostly made in the restaurant owner's grandfather's backyard and served in carafes, were often the only wine of choice. Actual bottles were reserved for high-end, fine-dining destinations and Romans themselves weren't used to seeing or asking for wine lists. Most consumers outside the wine business mostly drank simple, local wines or big-ticket brands from Tuscany or Piedmonte for special occasions. Now even local trattorias and small wine bars usually offer a dozen or so wines, which may even include a handful of French classics on the more innovative lists.

Half bottles are also often available as are wines from great small producers, particularly of well-priced bottles such as Sicilian reds and Campanian whites. Many places are also featuring a handful of mid-range, good-food wines that are placed on the table by the bottle and paid for on consumption: You drink a half a bottle and you pay for it. Whatever is leftover goes back into the bottle and is served to the next round of guests.

It is an inventive way of dealing with wine-by-the-glass consumption that has yet to hit the American market. I saw it once at Salumi in Seattle, Mario Batali's dad's perpetually over-booked simple Italian place and knew it would be well accepted in this country. Read More ==>

When Scotland Means Gin

When Scotland Means Gin

Think spirits and Scotland and you come up with Scotch whisky.

That's correct, of course, but now a new generation of craft distillers are defying convention with a wave of exciting artisanal gins that proudly exploit their Highland heritage.

In fact, there's a reasonable case to be made that the touch paper for the current explosion of boutique spirits was lit by William Grant & Sons with their Hendrick's Gin. First launched in 1999, if it were a single malt it would only now be approaching a decent maturity. But in those 14 short years it has revitalized a category that looked moribund and helped inspire a bunch of new start-ups.

The Scottish connection comes from the fact that William Grant, apart from being a family-owned Scottish company, makes Hendricks at its Girvan distillery on Scotland's West Coast (for golf fans, it's near the famous Turnberry course). That may be a huge complex making both grain and single malt whisky but, in a surprisingly modest building, it also houses the two highly-distinctive and venerable stills that make the Hendrick's spirit, which is then infused with cucumber and rose petal essence.

While still technically "small batch" (Hendricks' prepare just 450 liters at a time),  the brand has been so successful that global sales now exceed half a million cases. During 2013 in the U.S., Hendricks saw the continuation of their Voyages into the Unusual program, a large-scale experiential event series that featured in seven markets: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.
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Learn About Wine's 2014 Stars of Santa Barbara from The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills

Learn About Wine's 2014 Stars of Santa Barbara from The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills

Ian Blackburn, founder of Learn About Wine, is one of Los Angeles's biggest proponents of the wine industry-specifically the California wine industry—and he preaches his gospel through a myriad of educational classes as well as consumer and trade-driven events. Blackburn hosts an annual series under the "Stars of . . . " title: Stars of California, Stars of Paso Robles, Stars of Cabernet and recently the Stars of Santa Barbara—often at the luxurious boutique Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. The intricate backdrop of this posh establishment, with its constant loading and unloading of passengers from Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Maseratis, is evocative of the very stage Blackburn believes the noble California vintner is deserving of.

To Blackburn's point, similar complaints from those in the trade mirror his concerns as countless consumers visit the many wine-growing region in the U.S., often without any great knowledge of the area, and enjoy mixed experiences, leading to the "been there, done that" mentality Blackburn alludes to, and which frustrates those working in the industry. To visit a wine region once, and to declare solid and unyielding opinions of the wines from that region (based on a handful of experiences) is equivalent to dining at a restaurant but once, and declaring it either permanently inept because of a bad experience, or thoroughly perfect because of one great visit. To do justice to those opinions, it is necessary to revisit in order to be witness to consistencies and inconsistencies.


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The Duende of the Duero

The Duende of the Duero

Although Spain's Rioja wine production region is well-established as both a popular travel destination and source of red wine for quality-minded American consumers, producers in and around the neighboring Ribera del Duero denomination are not to be ignored, with a strong push they hope will get American consumers and wine professionals to both visit the region and bring it into their restaurants, retailers and homes.

Indeed, oenotourism, is critical to the Spainish economy, especially in these times where the nation is affected by the well-publicized pan-European economic crisis making world headlines.  On that front, the wine tourism industries of Rioja, Jerez and Valencia are well-oiled machines that have kept public perception about Spain and its gastronomy-driven lifestyle thanks to its collaborations with restaurants and tourism boards  (Case in point: Frank Gehry's complex anchoring the Marqués de Riscal winery and the Santiago Calatrava's Gaudi-inspired structure for Ysios Winery).

Based on creative measures wineries and related businesses in Castilla y León have used to promoted themselves, they are also selling duende, which loosely translates from Spanish as, "having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity." In other words, everything a winemaker would want the final consumer to experience in every bottle.

Wineries from the Ribera del Duero appellation and other neighboring appellations are working the trades on both sides of the Atlantic, and things are really starting to flow, evidenced by coverage in Tasting Panel as well as other trades. The tourism office of the Castilla y León region of Spain (encompassing the provinces of Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid), meanwhile, is working alongside those wineries to generate deeper consumer and trade interest in wines that spring from the same river-enriched soils and microclimates. The goal is to develop interconnected marketing initiatives that are intended to be greater than the sum of its components. Read More ==>

A Bird's Eye View of New Zealand's Wine Culture

A Bird's Eye View of New Zealand's Wine Culture

Thanks to an inspired collaboration between Air New Zealand and the country's top tier wineries, oenophiles can hit New Zealand's wine trail before they land.

Air New Zealand's Business and Premium economy sections are like a boutique hotel in the sky, artfully blending style and quirky humor. While their 2012 security film, trading on director Peter Jackson's box office-shattering translation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epics, prepping passengers for their journey to "Middle Earth" went viral on YouTube and is now the stuff of legend, travelers from the U.S. now are treated to a "safety in flight film" starring U.S. television legends Gavin McCloud and Betty White in a scenario that blends Cocoon with Hot in Cleveland.

However, the food and beverage program in Business Premier and Premium Economy (which gets its "premium" from pod-style seating areas and Business class perks) is serious stuff that both the wine buying consumer and a beverage industry professional (buyer or sommelier especially) should pay close attention to, even with Betty and Gavin's banter about proper use of life jackets and proper in-flight etiquette.

The wine program, curated by Jim Harre, international wine judge, hotelier and Air NZ's In Service Flight Director and Wine Consultant, and Foxes Island Winery owner John Belsham, goes far beyond providing a sexy flourish for restaurant-caliber cuisine created by chefs such as Peter Gordon, who is known internationally and appeared on television shows such as Globe Trekker. It is a proper showcase for the wineries that has endured for over 25 years in tandem with the New Zealand Winegrowers.

Beyond the bottles dispensed on board (an estimated 650,000 poured per year), the program has its own Wine Awards as well as a small but substantial booklet that serves as a primer for passengers on the country's top varietals and production regions. There are also pairing suggestions broken down by grape varietal, wine production area overviews, as well as a blank section for one's own tasting notes. In other words, a stroke and a sip of collaborative marketing genius.
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FROM THE PUBLISHER

FROM THE PUBLISHER

I suppose many of you have heard the news that the Sommelier Journal is alive and well again. When the news that it had suspended publication first came out in October, the word and the melancholy spread like downy mildew on a grapevine.

I called the publication's founder, David Vogels, and we determined that we could bring it back to life. David, who will stay on as Consulting Editor, has developed a loyal following. Sommelier Journal has gained much respect as an authoritative guide, written for wine professionals by wine professionals, in the seven years he has been publishing the magazine.

  
With that in mind, and the positive reinforcement of my wonderful team, we purchased Sommelier Journal and are reviving it as The SOMM Journal. It will launch this spring.

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Best Wishes from THE TASTING PANEL

Best Wishes from THE TASTING PANEL

To All Our Readers and Supporters:

THE TASTING PANEL would sincerely like to wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year! We look forward to great things in 2014 and thank you for your support over the past year.

THE TASTING PANEL Editorial Team

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The New 50-Year-Old Port in New England

The New 50-Year-Old Port in New England

When sommeliers have someone celebrating a big birthday or anniversary (or retailers have to make a gift recommendation for such an occasion), it's great to be able to offer something from the original year, whether it's 30, 40 or 50 years ago. This season, there's a new 1963 Port on offer from LGL imports.

It's the Messias Port Colheita 1963—essentially a single-vintage tawny port that is 50 years old.  It has been aged in cask in its original warehouse near the Douro River in Portugal, and bottled in April of this year (2013).  Total number of bottles in the world: 3,000. That's bottles, not cases. Read More ==>

Diageo Relaunches Mortlach Globally with Four New Expressions

Diageo Relaunches Mortlach Globally with Four New Expressions

Diageo has announced the global launch, effective mid-2014, of four new expressions from their renowned Speyside single malt distillery, Mortlach.

The new products are Mortlach Rare Old (43.4%, non-age), Mortlach Special Strength (49%, non-age, non-chill-filtered, travel retail exclusive), Mortlach 18 Years Old and Mortlach 25 Years Old (both 43.4%).

Prices are expected to start around the current level of Diageo brands such as Johnnie Walker Platinum, though final details of pricing, promotion and packaging will not be released until next year. Mortlach is to be positioned as a luxury, not super-premium, style and a company spokesman described this release as seeking to "define luxury for single malt, becoming the next great luxury brand."
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Calabria's Wines: On Their Toes

Calabria's Wines: On Their Toes

Shaped by Greco-Roman history, the sea and a compelling roster of indigenous varieties, Calabrian winemakers are determined to make a statement in the U.S. and global markets on their terms with a little help from their friends.

Although Calabria's winemakers are committed to being true to themselves, it doesn't mean they're sitting on their laurels and content to keep their wineries a cottage industry. While Calabria boasts thousands of years of winemaking history dating to the early days of the Greek colonists, the wines they are making today with both indigenous and "international" varietals have much to offer consumers, retailers and sommeliers looking to push their options and boundaries beyond Tuscany and Piedmont.

Getting the message out about Calabrian wines' potential in the U.S. market, however, is an ongoing necessity, which over the past year received collaborative support from Sprint Calabria (an organization representing the global interests of Calabria wine and food producers), the regional government and the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West. Activities included producers' participation in Vino California this past spring as well as smaller workshops and tasting events.

One of the most ambitious initiatives was a three-day FAM trip organized in September for a hand-picked delegation of West Coast wine buyers and writers. The ambitious itinerary consisted of a tasting-focused conference in Lamezia Terme's convention center with various producers and field trips to several participating wineries producers. It was the ultimate showcase for Calabrese products, giving the invited decision maker delegation an opportunity to experience for themselves why these products are prime for import into the U.S. market.

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Irish Fling, Scottish Jig

Irish Fling, Scottish Jig

With the current worldwide boom in the sales of both Scotch and Irish whiskies, it isn't surprising to learn that many of the major players are expanding their distilling capacity. Clearly they believe that there is a lot more growth to come from the developing markets in Latin America, Africa, India and China. Based on some upbeat projections, Diageo, Chivas Brothers, Dewar's, William Grant and Irish Distillers have all either re-opened old plant or built or are hastily building new distilleries, some very large indeed.

What is a little more unexpected is the raft of micro-distilleries (and some slightly larger operations) also hoping to capitalise on whisky's new-found fashionability. Since the tiny Kilchoman distillery on Islay began operating in 2005, a considerable number of other craft distillers have announced their intention to open their doors. They're inspired by a new generation of younger drinkers, by the example of craft distilling in the U.S., where more than 500 small operations are flourishing, and by recent changes to legislation in the U.K. which make obtaining a distillery licence for a small operation considerably easier than it was in the past.

Let's look at a few on these newbies. They may not represent a significant increase in the amount of whisky being made, but they do offer variety and an entrepreneurial approach that brings color to the scene. Read More ==>

Bordeaux: Old World, New Tricks

Bordeaux: Old World, New Tricks

On your next professional visit to Bordeaux, France, be sure to check out city venues that show how an "Old World" wine industry is staying timely and relevant.

Given Bordeaux's history as a winemaking center, the city and region is one of the world's quintessential destinations for serious oenophiles and foodies. However, a few things happened along the way-New World wines and increased competition, among other things. As recently as ten years ago, the city was simply a jumping off point winery tours winding through the countryside, and historic towns like St. Émilion, which is a sort of Disneyland for wine tourists.  However, enter the savvy Alain Juppé, Bordeaux's mayor and former prime minister of France, who organized a makeover to the city that would make Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent proud.

The now UNESCO-heritage certified city boasts foodie-focused boutique shopping as well as 40 wine bars that run the gamut from traditional, to ultra-modern, to concepts that unify past and future, as well as some pre-history (i.e., jagged limestone that seems to burst out of the Art Nouveau walls at Grand Bar Castan). Bordeaux wines are also enjoying an international renaissance, evidenced by documentaries such as Red Obsession, a documentary chronicling how Bordeaux's top châteaux are struggling to accommodate demand for their rare, expensive wines in China.
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Paul Simonon of The Clash x Sailor Jerry Flash Collection Debuts

Paul Simonon of The Clash x Sailor Jerry Flash Collection Debuts

On September 23, Sailor Jerry inked another tattoo on an already covered body of iconic art by authentic artists. Having been first established as a clothing brand in 1999, Sailor Jerry Rum took to its roots to announce The Flash Collection by Paul Simonon: a limited-edition capsule collection designed by none other than the famed Clash bassist.

As long-time supporters of pure expression by true artists, and championed by Norman Collins's axiom of "Good work ain't cheap and cheap work ain't good", this collection embodies the spirit of Sailor Jerry the brand, as well as the rum.

With Sailor Jerry, Simonon has found a brand in which the two realms are intertwined; the result is a radical leather biker jacket, two phenomenal t-shirts, and a neckerchief all designed by Paul Simonon with authentic Sailor Jerry flash art. The jacket design works in the distressed feel of Paul's own vintage version, and skull and crossbones ride above a banner that reads 'Jack to a King'. The shirts display two original pieces of Norman Collins's flash art and the red and white neckerchief features a hula girl playing the ukulele - an instrument Paul jams on - and tiki-influenced tribal masks. Read More ==>

VineSleuth Metrics Validate Expert Tasters

VineSleuth Metrics Validate Expert Tasters

In the course of developing software for predicting consumer wine preferences, Houston-based start up VineSleuth is shedding new light on the abilities of expert wine tasters and the validity of blind tasting assessments. Contrary to popular belief, the company's VineSleuth metrics, which are based on the work of Chief Science Officer Michael Tompkins and his team, reveal that tasters can consistently identify aroma and flavor characteristics in blind evaluations.

"We have extensive experimental data which support that expert evaluators have the capacity to precisely identify wine characteristics in blind repeat samples," said Tompkins whose work spans thirteen years in the field of numerical methods. "During the course of our experiments, our vetted evaluators repeat sample characteristics about 90% of the time," he says.

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