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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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Richer Pour: House Wines on Tap

Richer Pour: House Wines on Tap

Why doesn't every restaurant have wine-on-tap? That's what I thought when I saw the bar-dispensed keg wine demonstrated by Richer Pour founders David Gordon and Eric Ritvo at a high-end eatery in Boston. Especially when I tasted their wonderful Chablis-style Carneros Chardonnay. My second thought was: Where can I buy a bottle of this? Then I realized that's the whole point: There is no bottle.

Richer Pour debuted its wines on tap less than a year ago, after the 30-something founders had noodled around with the concept for a couple years. Introduced by a mutual friend, Gordon is part of a family business (a well-known wine and liquor store in a Boston suburb) while Ritvo describes himself as a "recovering attorney."

Ritvo had fallen in love with wine on a 2006 trip to California and when he decided he wanted to move into wine full time he started talking with Gordon. Gordon saw there was "a hole in the market" for providing high quality house wines to better restaurants at lower prices. Read More ==>

Beronia at 40

Beronia at 40

A Recent Tour by This Rioja Winery Showcases the Effects of Oak Aging

In summer there's a lot of touring—mainly rock bands. I'm still hoping to get to a great concert but I did get to Bodegas Beronia 40th anniversary tour. Beronia is not a band but a winery. It's located in Northern Spain, in the Rioja region.

For a few weeks, Beronia winemaker Matias Calleja was on tour in the U.S. with samples of several decades of Rioja wines celebrating Beronia's 40 years of winemaking. At a summer lunch at Boston's Taberna de Haro, the wines were wonderful with the authentic Spanish food. Which is the point of Bodegas Beronia: This winery was founded in 1973 by a group of Spaniards in a gastronomic society because they wanted to have their own great Rioja wines to drink at their fine dining occasions. Read More ==>

Puglia's Wineries Kick into High Gear

Puglia's Wineries Kick into High Gear

The most successful wineries in this agricultural Italian state are working hard at home and abroad to make its reputation as a bulk wine producer ancient history.

Back in 2006, I was invited by the Italian Trade Commission to cover MiWine, a wine and spirits convention in Milan that included an "eno-tour" component to a specific wine production areas in Italy. I was originally signed up to tour the Lombardia region, and then was convinced to visit Calabria instead. However, as there were too many American journalists signed up to Calabria, I was switched out to Puglia.

It turned out that the real story was not the MiWine show (which only ran a few years), but the Puglia wine region itself, although it had not yet found itself at the time in terms of having a definitive "brand image" American beverage industry professionals and consumers could relate to.


Over the course of five very busy days, my group (which included 40 buyers and wine writers hailing from Denmark, Russia, Egypt, China, India and Japan) visited 20 wineries. Although several estates had product on the U.S. market, others were not as prepared for visiting wine business people as wineries I previously covered in Umbria and Piedmont. Even with the exhaustive itinerary, however, I tasted potential for success in the U.S. market, especially with selections that were very food-friendly and ideal for markets in warmer climates such as California, Arizona and Texas.

Fast-forward to 2013. An opportunity arose to rediscover Puglia's wine industry. The itinerary for the June trip that came with the invitation spoke volumes that much had changed in seven years. A focus on six of its more successful wineries and consortiums (Vigne e Vini, Mottura, Tomaresca, Tenuta Mater Domini, Leone de Castris and Cantine Rivera) represented the Puglian wine industry's more concentrated effort to transform its past reputation as a "bulk wine" industry into greater recognition and respect outside of Italy. Read More ==>

New Mixology Gold on the Santa Fe Trail

New Mixology Gold on the Santa Fe Trail

LONG A HAVEN FOR ARTISTS AND WRITERS, SANTA FE CONTINUES TO BE A FANTASTIC CANVAS FOR MIXOLOGISTS TO APPLY THEIR OWN STROKES OF GENIUS

The mélange of Native American, Spanish and European cultures, along with Northern New Mexco's equally vibrant geological attribute, solidify Santa Fe's status as an ideal home base for visual artists as well as writers (such as Kate Braverman, Cormac McCarthy, Douglas Adams and even D.H. Lawrence). By the same token, it can be argued that mixologists and beverage directors who use craft spirits and mixers as their media of choice have done their part to ensure Santa Fe continues to live up to its reputation on the culinary end.

One mixologist who has done her part to put Santa Fe on the map as a cocktail destination is author/mixologist Natalie Bovis (aka The Liquid Muse), who herself has been a fixture on the pages of THE TASTING PANEL and other beverage industry magazines. While her business savvy and culinary panache takes her around the world, and she's currently based in Los Angeles, she is still very much a booster for Santa Fe's emerging cocktail culture. Read More ==>

Cartizze, a Pleasure on the Tongue

Cartizze, a Pleasure on the Tongue

TODAY, WINES FROM THIS TINY SECTION OF PROSECCO ARE TRADITIONAL YET FRESH, WITH A WONDERFUL BALANCE OF LILTING AROMAS AND FRUIT FLAVORS

Actually, this is more of a rediscovery than a completely new thing. The Cartizze sparkling wines come alive in your mouth, zesty with a touch of fruitiness and the underlying honeyed aroma and flavor that characterize great, traditional Proseccos.

While the wines made from the Cartizze [car-TEE-tseh] hills have always been high quality, on my visit this spring I found these wines to have more consistency, finesse and balance than in the past. Though most Proseccos are not vintage-dated, they are generally produced and released within a year after harvest. The 2012 harvest (which you will be drinking now) was best in Prosecco's hilly areas, like Cartizze.
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