Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Drinking out loud. 

Starstruck: Jancis Robinson

Do you have a celebrity crush?  Back in the day, it was boy bands like New Kids on the Block that made me swoon.  Like any tween fan, I wallpapered by bedroom with pictures torn out from Teen Beat and my friends and I would endlessly debate which band member was cutest.  Looking back, I feel deeply sorry for whichever parent had to chaperone us to their concerts and endure endless hours of teengirl squealing.

Recently, Jancis Robinson, wine expert, writer and critic extraordinare, came to New York for one of her only area appearances to promote her new book American Wines. That woman is tenacious.  Not only did she write (in my opinion) the ultimate tome to wine, The Oxford Companion to Wine, she penned the massive Grapes last year, only to follow up with American Wine this year.  When I learned of her visit, I raced to buy my ticket, a good month and a half before the actual event. I did contain my shrieks of excitement, but my, how times have changed.

My wine geek crush was solidified at this talk: she is witty, spunky and incredibly intelligent. She spoke about the American wine industry and its evolution as well as wine culture in our country.

Currently, she's been really enjoying NY Finger Lakes dry rieslings and some cabernet franc and merlot wines from Long Island. She also feels Virginia wines are up and coming - definitely a region to keep an eye on.  She gave some history on Washington State's industry and how it was started by rogue French winemakers who wanted to be freed from rigid French regulations and laws. The resulting wines are growing exponentially in quality and are, I would imagine, very personal and passionate. Speaking to pure Americana, she mentioned that Chrysalis Winery in Virginia and another in Missouri are growing Norton, a native American vinifera, rather successfully and that the University of Minnesota is working on hardy winter vines designed to withstand the wintry  midwestern climate.

She believes retailers are contributing to Robert Parker's influence and feels many shops rely on his rankings to sell wine.  Rather than seeking out new and intriguing producers, they fall back on Parker's rankings, which does a disservice not only to the customer but to other producers.  She also remarked on the evolution of wine service and how there are many "celebrity" sommeliers who seem to be the tastemakers. However, the finest attribute of a good sommelier is humility as one can never know it all. She admitted that she herself is always learning.

In the Q&A session, the question was raised about the importance of knowing the winery, regions, etc., when tasting versus in a sterile room? Unsurprisingly, she believes the viti, vini and cultural factors are hugely important when examining wine.  The only time she feels a sterile room is beneficial is when tasting a small selection of similar wines, such as the tasting precluding en premier sales in Bordeaux.

I practically floated over to the tasting that followed the lecture, riding on the euphoria of hearing her speak.  In total, there were about 8 wines represented, but I was only able to capture notes on three.

So, how are American wines doing?

Gruet Blanc de Noirs, NV, New Mexico (approx $15)
This is actually a sparkling wine I've had before and I must say, it's a great value.  It's very similar in flavor profile and mouthfeel to prosecco, with the slightly buttered toast, pear and apple tones coming through on the palate.  It's easy to drink on its own but would definitely be a fantastic bellini or mimosa base.

Chateau Grand Traverse Lot 49, Riesling, Michigan (approx $21)
I wanted to like this one so much.  The Gruet guy, although not representing this wine, said it had that great slate and minerality often found in German Rieslings.  Truthfully, I tasted almost NOTHING.  I'm not just talking about the slate and mineral, I'm saying I could barely detect any flavor whatsoever.  I really had to dig in there to even detect some slight tones of fruit.  It lacked the acidity and viscosity I love in a  riesling.  Here's hoping this was just a fluke bottle.

Bookcliff Cabernet Franc Reserve, Colorado
Cabernet Franc can be a finicky sucker.  If done well it can evoke dark fruits, spice and tobacco.  This wine, unfortunately, hasn't achieved greatness yet.  It was really stemmy, green, and tasted like underripe peppers, all the markings of an underdeveloped cab franc. I think it has potential, though; maybe in a few more vintages it will really hit its stride.

Keep tasting, friends....