This is one of the most exciting new faces in Beaujolais that you probably haven’t heard of.  The brothers Thillardon, Paul-Henri and Charles, are emerging stars in the region that are hitting their stride at just the right time. They are the ‘poster boys’ for the ‘young and the restless’ natural wine movement in Beaujolais and champions of the forgotten Chenas ‘cru’. Since the domaine was founded way back in 2008, the brothers have accumulated several small parcels throughout Chenas through either leasing or outright purchase and made the decision to move toward the natural winemaking movement after meeting with Fleurie natural wine guru Jean-Louis Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand Cour). From there they have continued to work their way into the natural wine ‘brotherhood’ in Beaujolais.

Dutraive was eco-certified in 2009, and the Thillarons website (all in French) also bears the seal. According to a lengthy article we read in the appetizingly named blog ‘Notdrinkingpoison’ (See complete article), 2015 was the first year that Paul-Henri claimed he got to do everything he wanted from a winemaking perspective. He refrigerated the fermentation for the first time, inducing s long, cool, semi-carbonic process and vinified entirely whole cluster. His timing couldn’t have been better. We certainly can’t remember having something this compelling from Chenas recently. A certain amount of the credit goes to the vintage, but there is a growing buzz about Paul-Henri as well.

His mode is to bottle small parcels individually. One of the things the article pointed out was that a number of the parcels they work with aren’t as exposed, which served to preserve the freshness of the cuvees in the warm 2015 vintage. The first whiff of the Thillardon Chenas Vibrations 2015 makes a big impression. Spices, flowers, chalky minerality are all nicely proportioned within vibrant red fruits that jump out of the glass. It has the wild expressiveness that well-made natural wines exhibit, and there’s little or no sulfer. So we’d recommend this vinous joy-ride be taken sooner rather than later for its gregarious personality. The lads only make small cuvees of 500 cases or less from their various parcels, so there’s not a lot of this out there. Don’t miss it!..$29.98



The ‘Land Down Under’ is still a ‘place of wonder’ when it comes to intriguing value reds. You just have to know where to look. Besides all of the widely distributed corporate beverages (Penfolds, Hardys, etc.), there are a number of small, passionate, under the radar producers with old vines and long histories that are doing some exceptional work for pretty easy-to-swallow prices. We sold some of the first Kalleske wines to come into the country back in the mid-00s and have been a fan of Troy Kalleske’s rich-but-sleek style ever since.

The Kalleske Clary’s GSM was a little later to the party but is the best we have tasted from them (though they weren’t in the market for a while). ‘Clarry’, for whom the cuvee is named, was Troy’s grandfather who tended these old vineyards (established in 1838…no that’s not a misprint). Clarry’s is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro with old vine Grenache from the 1940s and 1960s. The wine is fermented in open-top fermenters and basket pressed. To preserve the superb fresh fruit flavors, it only sees one year in very old oak hogsheads (300 liter barrels) .

Who uses grapes from 40-60 year old vines for an under-$20 go-to red? Well, it’s a short list but that’s the deal here. A 91 from the sometimes stingy Lisa Perotti-Brown with commentary, “…redolent of baked raspberries, kirsch and red currant jelly (we’d add boysenberry, too, but we grew up SoCal… Knotts Berry Farm) with Indian spices, dried oregano and peppercorn hints. Full-bodied, ripe and opulent in the mouth, it coats the palate with plush, velvety tannins and spicy flavors, finishing long.” Does that sound like something that could be had for under a Jackson? We think not…$19.98



If you are already sensing a recurring theme in a majority of our writings this year, we fully admit we have an agenda.  That agenda isn’t necessarily oriented toward selling some sort of program that we have created.  We haven’t created anything, merely observed.  The observation is that, in the many years we have been doing this, we have a hard time recalling any vintage that has been juicier and more appealing out of the gate than 2015.  France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, everyone is rolling out remarkable juice.

Giacomo Grimaldi’s Barbera Pistin 2015 is simply another tool we can use to prove our point.  We have sold Grimaldi’s wine off and on over the years.  If this were baseball, you’d call Grimaldi a solid player with a good average that occasionally gets the big hit.  This Barbera, surely thanks in part to the vintage, is the ‘home run’.  You couldn’t ask for more out of a modestly priced Barbera.

The wine is packed with fruit, with an unusual density for the genre and price point.  What is more unique is that this Barbera shows not only the typical deep red fruits of the varietal, but as it opens starts to show boysenberry and blackberry tones as well, the hallmarks of a perfectly ripened crop. There’s bright acidity that is well tucked-in underneath so it is sensed only in a supporting role, spice notes laced throughout, and just a hint of the classic ‘almond skin’ to the finish.  Bring on the pasta, a steak, or whatever you want as this wine’s gregarious fruit will take on all comers and definitely perform in a much broader role than just a foil for Italian food.

The hard part of 2015 with wines like this, after two not particularly stellar vintages for Barbera and Dolcetto (2013, 2014), will be showing some restraint.  There are going to be many beautiful efforts.  But this one hits the high notes and is definitely a poster child for exactly what we are talking about…plenty of accessible, gregarious, engaging fruit. . .$19.98




There’s something about Meursault. There are always comparisons made between Chardonnays made all over the world against the ‘motherland’ of white Burgundy, and an occasional case can be made that something might loosely resemble a Puligny or Chassagne. But the distinct, specific streak of toasty, resiny minerality combined with an insistent grilled nut character, is pretty unique. Nothing tastes like Meursault.

We did not know this small estate when it was presented to us though we were familiar with the top-of-the-hill lieu dit ‘les Tillets’ from Guy Roulot bottlings we had years ago (Roulot has since become a Meurault superstar a la Coche Dury, so we don’t see much of any of it these days). Boyer Martenot owns land in several Meursault climates and a couple in Puligny. The family estate is over 100 years old and Vincent Boyer is the fourth generation of winemakers and definitely something of a ‘Meursault whisperer’.

We had him in the store for the video but he is clearly a man of few words who lets his juice do the talking. He is a terroirist, choosing to sit back and gently facilitate the dirt doing the talking. What’s his secret? He’s not saying. His approach in the vineyard is ‘hands on’ lutte raisonée (the short explanation being ‘failsafe’ organic), all the fermentations are done with the indigenous yeast, and the majority of the bottlings from the single parcels. The wines are, across the board, bright, precise, intensely expressive of the terroir but delicate and refined in every other way.

Our attraction to the Tillet among his stellar lineup is the very ‘Meursault’ profile from predominantly thinner, chalkier soils at the top of the hill, and the price performance. This is Meursault in its purest, most native, “less-is-more” sense with the subtle perfume of nuts, mineral, oyster shell, and stone fruits wafting from the glass, a bright, vigorous palate with plenty of verve, and a long, unmistakably classic finish for this particular village. We have had $80 wines from big time names that are considerably less pure and compelling, which kind of makes this one a bargain for the genre as well…$52.98



Sometimes good things come in small packages.  Sometimes great things come in kind of homely packages, but the Kapara Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2012 excels where it really matters.  How about a Cabernet that is all Pritchard Hill juice and costs under $35? Say, what?  Now this is made by a winery located in Clarksberg that buys fruit, but we would make the point that Pritchard Hill is the most exclusive of Napa appellations and is host to a very small but super elite group including Bryant, Brands, Colgin, Ovid, Continuum, Chappellet, all of which have logged hefty scores and even heftier price tags.

So where did this juice come from?  We cannot say, but all of the possibilities are pretty spectacular, and this wine won a ‘double-gold’ medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition on its own.  Salient point, this is stellar juice from an elite source that is simply loaded with deep, dark cassis and blueberries that clearly hint at a much more noble pedigree than its price would suggest.  You’ll have a hard time finding a better value in Napa Cabernet than this tiny, 150-case production gem from Kapara. . . . . . .$34.98


The 2015 Germans: Sie Sind Gut!

We actually wrote this piece a couple of months ago to with the idea of promoting a couple of specific, higher end estates that happened to arrive ahead of the pack.  As it turned out, we never fired it out because savvy buyers hit them pretty hard before we ever had the chance.  Some of our suppliers treat vintage like a nuisance in their quest to get wines ‘branded’ so that people buy them every year.   But let’s face it, vintage matters.   Some folks can get more out of a difficult harvest than others, and, funny thing, there is always seems to be more widespread success when Nature is kind.  But ultimately vintners are limited by the cards they are dealt no matter how good a player they are.

our assessment has been and continues to be  O! M! G!”

What’s our point?  Well, after an extensive tasting of the Germans in 2015, our assessment has been and continues to be  O! M! G!  We left two massive tastings this spring shaking our heads.  Are the 2015 Germans really that good?  In both cases, we had the opportunity to retaste a few selections from each event in our own, somewhat more clinical environment and let’s just say that we are pretty sure these are the real deal like there hasn’t been in quite some time.

We have a perspective there having been deeply involved in the subject (Germans) since the early 1980s, and have tasted extensively virtually every year since the mid-90s.  We think we have a pretty good handle on the subject, we dare say perhaps better than most critics.  The Germans have had an excellent run over the last couple of decades from a historical perspective.   However, based on the 200+ wines we have tasted thus from the 2015 vintage, we can honestly say it is one of the best vintages we have ever had.

If you are a true fan of great Riesling, it is go time.  The 2015s have powerful but ripe acidity, plenty of packed-in fruit, and already show some complex and defined aromatics even though they were still wound up from bottling and transport back when we had the majority of them.  Even beyond the impressive up front ‘attack’ that you intuitively knew was only going to get better with a little time, and the subtle but sizzling underpinning of acidity, there was a ’second gear’ to almost all of them.  You’d taste, you’d spit (mostly), and the wine would still linger a bit, after which it had an unusual ‘second hit’ on the palate, almost elevating again and saying ‘I am not done with you yet’ (say it with a German accent and you’ll really get the feel).  The wines are precise, loaded and true to their pradikat levels.

We know there are pundits who may not be on the same page (even though they should be), though we have not seen a lot of widespread commentary thus far (which is surprising).  For the most part the pundits seem to favor wines that are sweeter and softer, just the opposite of what we think makes for exceptional Riesling.  We would hold forth high scoring examples from vintages like 2011 and 2014 as proof of our premise.  We found consistent concentration issues that we were not particularly enamored with.  In fact even when some of these wines were offered to us at discounted prices, with scores in hand, we passed!

If you go back to the turn of the century and read the reviews since, the written word would suggest that 2001 would still be the reigning ‘vintage of the century’.  In our minds, 2015 looks to be at least the equal of 2001 and we’d actually give it a slight edge. That’s saying something from a long term perspective, but we are pretty thrilled with the 2015s overall and it is a vintage where the ‘big dogs’ truly shined.  The only downside to the vintage is, as it is so often with exceptional vintages, quantities are rather small.

Needless to say it is high time we started seriously promoting this great vintage, and do we have a lineup for you!  We’re going to make references to a few specific bottlings, but consider this an endorsement of 2015 as a whole.  The beauty here is it is an amazing vintage, and we’ve already done a bit of filtering.  So if you love Germans like we do, have at it knowing full well it’s impossible to make a mistake.

As far as what to buy, it’s all about personal choice.  But we’ve highlighted ten that represent a lovely cross-section of styles and appellations.  We’ll start with Stefan Gerhard Hattenheimer Hassel Kabinett Feinherb 2015.  As most of you know feinherb is another way to say halb trocken or ‘off dry’.  Gerhard was a favorite of ours a few years back before his importer liquidated and the wines were off the market for a while.  The 2015 has the riveting fruit, sizzling acidity and drier profile that defines the style of this up-and-coming Rheingau estate.

On the kabinett front, this is a sensational vintage with the traditionally styled wines showing plenty of fruit and nicely tucked away, lifted acidity.  Start with the Shafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Kabinett 2015At the first major German tasting we attended last June, in a lineup filled with top drawer traditional estates Tim Frohlich’s wines were one of the two clear winners in the room (along with Schloss Lieser).  This young, talented Nahe winemaker is emerging as one of the top guns in all of Germany and his 2015s are epic from top to bottom.  Intense fruit, plenty of verve, and beautifully infused minerality, this Wine Advocate 93 is a winner.

In a slightly fruitier vein, we have the pick-a-pair from the reliable Monchhof and Christoffel, both made by the talented Robert Eymael of Monchoff.  These definitely play at a little sweeter end of the kabinett range with the biggest different being the sites themselves, with the J. J. Christoffel Riesling Kabinett Erdener Treppchen 2015 playing the tighter, mineral-laced, highly spiced precision hand while the Monchhof Riesling Kabinett Urzig Wurzgarten 2015, while still playing the spice and slate card, leans more in the direction of red currant and violet in its profile.  These are some of the classiest kabinetts you will find for this kid of fare.

It should come as no surprise that Willi Schaefer hit it out of the park in 2015.  His layered, honeyed, insistent, stony Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #10 2015 is, as importer terry Thiese puts it, profoundly expresses the vintage and, like epic vintages 2001 and 2010, more electrifying, and in many ways more astounding.  Selbach Oster seems to have upped their game over the last three or four vintages and the 2015s are a high point.  This single bloc masterpiece from a super-steep slatey site, the Selbach-Oster Riesling Zeltinger Schlossberg ‘Schmitt’ 2015, has impressive density and range, and it’s just getting going.

Finally, after a couple of surprisingly ‘un-amazing’ vintages, the 2015 Donnhoffs are some of the best we have ever had from this Nahe legend.  The Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese 2015 (WA 92) and Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg Nahe 2015 (WA 91) play way above these modest scores..

Hey, it is still early in the game because there hasn’t been a lot of ‘chatter’ in the press about the 2015s in Germany (or about German wine in general for that matter). But this is an epic year that we speak of in terms of the all time greats we’ve experienced like 2001, 1990, and 1983.  See our complete 2015 German Wine List here.


  • This is why you taste. One would have expected the highly touted Cune Imperial Reserva 2010 to stand as something of a monument to a seminal vintage. Most people will presume the 2010 will be the play with a Parker 92 and comments like, “…a textbook Reserva”. Hey, it’s a great drink, don’t get us wrong. But we wondered if James Suckling, who isn’t known for Spanish wines, was a little overzealous when he gave the 2011 a ’96’.  Turns out the 2011 Cune Imperial, from a less touted, warmer vintage, exceeds its sibling in deliciousness, so maybe James was onto somethiing.   Ripe, creamy, tender and fruit forward, it is a pretty irresistible beverage.
  • We try not to repeat ourselves often, but after opening a bottle of the Vina Santurnia Rioja Gran Reserva 2004, we are and wondering why this stuff isn’t flying off the shelves. There aren’t any reviews that we could point to, but this plush, velvety, spicy, plummy red has a lovely texture and tender edges. In our minds this lush, smooth, tasty Rioja with substance and without any ‘bite’ would be the profile of what a lot of folks would describe as ‘the perfect red’.
  • We just tasted it, so consider this an early warning. Be on the lookout for the Cristom Pinot Noir Jefferson Cuvee 2014, one of the most complete under $30 Pinots we have tasted thus far from this spectacular Oregon vintage. The wine has a beautifully dense core of sappy cherry fruit with a precise savory underpinning of forest floor and minerality. It makes us really wonder just how good Steve Doerner’s vineyard bottlings are going to be. We also feel a little sorry for a lot of Oregon vintners that are going to try to get $50-60 for their ‘double-secret-reserve’ bottling when a wine like this can be had for half that price.
  • Just a quick note, as the boats are beginning to land. As an overall guideline to 2015, the little reds like Dolcetto and Barbera in Piedmont, Loire Reds, Beaujolais, and ‘entry level’ Burgundies and Rhones promise to be the best in years. Our job is easy when there are just a few diamonds in the rough. When virtually everything is this tasty, it’s a lot harder to pick and choose, though it’s also hard to make a mistake. Great time to stock up over the next year.

The New Stock Report: What’s Past is Prologue

Since the first ‘Stock Report’ (such as it was) got sent to probably 100 people back in February of 1985 (we were actually called ‘Liquor Exchange’ back then), our approach has remained the same.   We see ourselves as part wine finders, part educators and part librarian.  The ‘wine finders’ part is obvious.  We are always looking to find new genres, new producers and new ideas to present to our customers.  We have been, and still are students of wine, secure in the knowledge that nobody knows everything about this ever changing subject.

Our job as educators is extremely important, and maybe a little bit self serving.  We feel it is essential to offer people the opportunity to learn and experience more in the world of wine, be that explaining new growing areas, helping you understand new techniques, essentially trying to get as many people as we can comfortable with this vast, very ‘subjective’ subject.

We understand our role as storytellers as well, as we seek to offer a wide range of different approaches to get to the point of why this or that wine tastes like it does.  Wine is varietals, regions, weather, soils, and a litany of other things we can recite.  But the wines don’t make themselves, so sometimes the ‘people’ story matters, too.  The librarian part is simple…to help you find what you are looking for within our large and ever changing collection of wines or using our network to find you something you are looking for we don’t have.  These are the things that, in our minds, are what a wine merchant is supposed to do.

In the beginning, the newsletter, via ‘snail mail’, was our only outreach.  Things started to change in the 90s with the internet and the continued rise of wine information in the computer age.  Essentially, the fax machine, the computer and and ultimately the Internet, sped up the dissemination of information and the sales cycles for wines in general.  While the ‘Stock Report’ was always something of a personal expression of the wines we had found and our ideas on them, the timeliness of a ‘monthly’ publication was compromised in the New Era.

“It will be the ‘old’ Stock Report, written by the same old dudes, presented in a different ways.”

Email marketing was something we embraced early (2002) and the fastest, most cost effective way to let you know what was happening.  But the Stock Report always served to fill in the smaller categories and specific- interest wines that weren’t best served by the direct email format.  As we have experienced, trying to make an all encompassing ‘monthly’ missive, on top of everything else we do, wasn’t necessarily doing the best service to those cool little things we find and love to talk about.  Yet we didn’t want to eliminate that geek driven message that has been such an integral part of our program since the start.

It’s all about communication, but the ways people can communicate is ever changing.  The email program is important, to be sure.  But there are only so many days in a year, and we can only highlight maybe 300-400 wines using that format.  We have ten times that amount on the floor, exciting things we had good reason to purchase, and each has a story to be told.  To that end we are making the Stock Report a more ongoing type of information source, with regular updates as often as daily.

New things come in almost every day and the ‘new’ Stock Report format can be updated on a continuous basis for you inspection and referencing.  There will be content referring to wines we have talked about before that we think should have gotten more attention.  Rants from the editorial team will also be regular features, as will the one or two line ‘Briefs’ giving ‘quick hit’ updates on a variety of wines and subjects.  But, most important, it will provide a platform for us to make notes on some of the other cool, fun juice we get in.

Some might be a little too eclectic, or too limited in quantity, or for some other such reason, not be best suited for the email format.  Yet they are worthy of attention.  Plus, like the site itself, you’ll be able to access it 24/7.

It will be the ‘old’ Stock Report, written by the same old dudes, presented in a different ways.  It aspires to be more dynamic and ongoing, as well as, ultimately, intended to provide more information in an easier-to-access format.  We hope you enjoy it.


And Now, A Look Even Further Ahead: Part II

To briefly recap from last time, the production side of the wine industry is better than ever, more people have the tools and the knowledge to make the best wines ever.  There are very few ‘bad’ wines these days that suffer from bacterial, microbial, or other forms of ‘funk’ that hygienic winemaking has mostly eliminated.  The most significant source of bad bottles stem from the closures, either those with TCA that cause the wine to be corked, or an imperfect seal that allows the wine to oxidize.

Screw cap closures virtually eliminate all of those problems, and the next generation is not as connected to the ‘screw caps mean cheap wines’ mentality.  Millennials grew up with fine wines that came with screw caps and there’s no reason to think the acceptance of screw caps will not continue to increase moving forward to the point where most of the wines that are consumed ‘off-the-shelf’ will come in cap closures, allowing the cork trees to replenish to make better corks for those ‘special’ bottles destined for the cellar.

One must ask a simple question here before moving on.  Presumably the wine industry will cater to the market (though it is known to try and manipulate certain aspects) as time marches on.  But what exactly is the market?  Is it the small upper part that maintains cellars and buys wine on a regular basis, usually with the curiosity to try new genres just because they want to and the itch to keep up on trends?  The small, savvy group is the one we maintain has the most impact on the market and spends the most money proportionately.  The trends often start here.

Is it the second tier that is willing to spend money on high priced wine clubs and restaurant markups with just enough knowledge to know they want something better?  These are professional folks that have the money to spend but not necessarily the experience or desire to sort through the rhetoric.  They are more susceptible to price (more expensive is better, right?) and marketing (‘being in a wine club makes me a special insider’) impressions.  There’s a mediocre, single vineyard $60 Petit Verdot Reserve out there somewhere for these folks but they do make up a sizeable buying force.  Certain market brands (not mentioning names) have established remarkable followings with this largely loyal group.  This is the ideal target for most wineries and direct-to-consumer entities. Some will take the step to the smaller group, others will become disenchanted with the lack of value, but the remainder is still a sizeable group with buying power.

The third group is the largest in population though probably far less connected.  These are the more occasional buyer that purchases wines pretty much the same way they buy potato chips and soda.  They find a brand they like and stick with it unlike shaken out of the pattern.  Of course they make up the largest group in terms of tonnage and are the targets.  For the most part these are the folks that like wine but aren’t fanatics about it.  They will see things when they filter down to the grocery/’big box’ level, and won’t see or seek out many opportunities to try something different.   These are the ‘brand buyers’ that corporate wineries seek.

We aren’t casting judgment from our perspective, just observing.  At this point we have described these groups from a multigenerational context.  In truth the big change in wine perception came with the baby-boomers, arguably the first American generation to have some sort of wider-spread wine culture.  It was rare to see people ordering wine in restaurants or bars as an aperitif or cocktail back in the day.  But it is pretty common now and the next generation, the millennials, grew up with this around them.  Most ‘boomers’ are now in their 60s and 70s and aren’t buying a lot any more.  The industry looks to the next-gen buyers to try and figure it out.

“It was rare to see people ordering wine in restaurants or bars as an aperitif or cocktail back in the day.”

It’s a little hard to cover all the bases, and our perspective is certainly a bit skewed as we deal largely with the savviest group.  But there are a few things we have noticed over the last few years.  The media has changed buying patterns.  We hardly ever hear the term ‘vertical’ from a buyer any more.  For those that don’t know the term, a lot of folks would find a few wines they liked and buy some every year, year in and year out.  These days a buyer will be more sensitive to reviews on high end wines and cluster buy the highest rated vintages and top wines from the media.  He is more attuned to score than brand if push comes to shove.

Back in the olden days, brands established themselves more slowly but on a much more solid footing.  In today’s lightening communication world, wines and labels can get hot overnight and disappear almost as fast.  In the ‘148 character’, digital world where a lot of folks don’t ever look up from their phones, slow building would seem to be at a disadvantage.  It’s hard to get someone’s attention long enough to tell much of a story (unless you have them trapped in your winery tasting room).

Most of the wine purchased is drunk right away, though that isn’t necessarily a massive societal change.  It is however on a bit of an upswing.  The next-gens seem to be more inclined to meet outside the home, which kind of precludes the whole cellar building process.  We would suggest that this trend has supported the explosion of casual restaurants, ethnic eateries, and ‘pub-like’ venues over ‘fine dining’ (that itself is a very fertile subject for another time).  Suffice it to say that those are less likely to provide that ‘revelation’ moment wine-wise, and support the more casual buying of wine.

On the production end, things are technically much better as we said.  But the combination of the media formats favoring blowsier, more overt styles and the general public’s waning attention span (air a wine for a half hour?…omg, lol what am I supposed to do in the meantime?), favors the sweeter, more commercial, more obvious style of wine.  Sadly for the big picture, we see wine, like the world, becoming more homogenized.  Busy people don’t have time for details, so simple and non-obtrusive has a ready market.

Another key issue is how wines are sold (we’ll address this detail next time).  There are more exceptional wines than ever as we said in our last piece.  So let’s take our next-gen buyer, the people that the industry will have to rely on for the next 20-30 years, and let’s make a couple of big suppositions.  Let’s assume that a couple a next-geners were at lunch and ordered a glass of wine and actually paid attention to it for a moment.  Now this presumes a lot of other things, like the wine they got poured was actually opened within the last 24 (or 48?) hours and the batteries on their smart phones, tablets and smart watches all ran out at once and they left their wireless charging devices at home.

That a pretty unlikely convergence of events but for the sake of theory let’s move on.  Under these extreme circumstances, let’s say they find they really like what they were drinking.  Suddenly, through no fault of their own, they have the ‘aha’ moment (like we all had at one point or another) and decide maybe they’d like to pursue the wine thing a little bit.

Where are they going to do that?  How are they going of do that?  Where’s the next generation, the generation that will be expected to support the wine industry, going to learn about wine?  That probably is the biggest question because, as much as the wine industry loves to tell itself otherwise, the world has changed a lot since the baby boomers turned 21.  But that’s too big a question for right now.  We’ll take a swing at it in a couple of weeks…

2017: Good Things on the Horizon

This has become a tradition for us to give everyone an outline of what to expect out of the coming year.  Part of the reasoning is that we have the information because we rely upon this info as part of our yearly business plan seeing as there’s always a limit to the amount of money one can spend (even, of course, for the U.S. Government who can simply print it).  Since we have already done the homework, there’s no reason not to share it with you so you have the option of strategizing your own purchases and consider cellaring options.

Some years there is a lot going on, other years less so.  Last year (2016) had a few strong categories and a few big categories that were not so strong performance-wise.  We dare say 2017 has the possibility of being one of the best years for wine buyers in half a decade.  We say that without considering an improved economy which some are predicting.  We are merely talking about the quality and breadth of really good stuff we anticipate should hit the market.

While the domestic market is not near as volatile from a vintage perspective as Europe, particularly in California, the top domestic regions all seem to be on a continuing ’roll’.   California, Oregon and Washington will be mainly rolling out 2014s and 2015s, which are surprisingly uniform in quality, appealing and, from what we’ve seen from 2014, quite accessible.

Domestic quality is such that there should be a trickle down into the next level of players and even the ‘bargain’ producers should be able to find good juice to work with (provided they can find any juice).  That’s the one caveat… quantity.  It is low in certain areas, particularly in 2015, a consistent theme with most of the California producers we’ve spoken with.  What that means to you is that, if you see something that strikes your fancy (particularly among those 2015s), you should move in some haste as they may not be around long if they get any critical attention at all.

The big news of course is the ‘foreign’ 2015s.  The vintage promises to be a watershed for quality wines.  We haven’t seen this much uniform success across borders since 2010, and can only think of a few other times (1985, 1990, 2005) where so many folks from virtually anyplace that grew grapes had a smile on their face.

“The good times are going to roll.”

The good times are going to roll.  As northern Italy gets through the remainder of their rain-affected 2014 whites, they will be (and are being) replaced by the sensational 2015s.  We haven’t had anything this good since 2010, though the more fruit-driven profile is more specific to 2015.  Very tasty.  We have been pleased with some of the whites from the Rhone as well, but will admit that the 2015 whites from Burgundy, while quite good, are a little riper and lower in acidity that the outstanding 2014s.  They will however make for an excellent bridge for fans of domestic Chardonnays who are used to ‘fatter’ wines.  Buy up those 2015 Loire Valley whites as they arrive and the Cabernet Franc-based reds in particular appear to be the finest since the 2005s.

We have already talked at length about the 2015 Germans and Austrians which are both very special vintages.  For whatever reason, the media has not given these wines their due as yet (if they ever will…it’s a Cabernet and Bordeaux world…still).  This has afforded a longer buying window, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and we continue to tell anyone who will listen that this is a vintage of historic quality in both regions.

Bordeaux has the opportunity to really make a comeback, provided that they don’t lose sight of reason when it comes to prices.  The 2014s are delicious and should provide some really appealing earlier drinking, the 2015s are definitely vins de garde, and the 2016s, which should be offered as ‘futures’ this spring, are rumored to be spectacular in certain areas (clay soils, old vines) that were able to handle the unprecedented drought that hit the region.  Good times for Bordeaux lovers, particularly if the euro stays on the low side (the euro was around $1.35 back when the 2010s came out, it’s now around $1.05).

Sadly, the euro probably isn’t going to be much help in Burgundy because the highly anticipated 2015 vintage was also short on quantities (and because it’s Burgundy).  But the little red Burgundies we have tasted so far have been remarkably appealing as a group, which only means good things for the ‘bigger dogs’.  It’s definitely a vintage to keep an eye on the entry-level Bourgognes, well priced village bottlings, and places like the Cote Chalonnaise and Marsannnay as well as Beaujolais.  If you are super ‘brand conscious’, acquiring certain labels might be frustrating, but we anticipate there will be some opportunities if you love the genre and are looking for some very tasty juice.

There will be lots of ample southern Rhones and seriously good northern Rhones.  We suspect the 2015 Chateauneufs will require some attention as there hasn’t been a vintage this good since 2010.   As to the ‘top notch’ Cote Roties and Hermitages, etc., quality will be ‘amaze-balls’, but a lot of the small, famous names will be hens teeth when it comes to sourcing.

The great thing about 2015 reds is that they are generally gregarious and outgoing.  We have seen that all over France and in the ‘little’ reds from northern Italy.  If you can’t find something delicious, you’re not trying.  There will be those that will say that, because of their outgoing fruit, these wines aren’t structured enough to be considered ‘serious’.  They are ‘fat’, true, but also fresh, which bodes well for development.  We have tasted enough ‘super jammy’ vintages that have been declared ‘great’ that haven’t necessarily aged as well or as uniformly as some experts said they would.  Besides, what’s wrong with being pretty and precocious?

We expect South America will continue to be one of the biggest surprises.  We keep finding really compelling start-ups and producers previously unknown to us that have raised the bar considerably.  We said they same thing last year about Argentina and Chile, which at the time, probably raised a few eyebrows.  In fact, we ran across a lot of stuff that exceeded even our expectations and have to presume that there is a lot more to be found.  What is perhaps even more telling is that some of the labels that have been around a while have upped their games as well (just today a Malbec from Bodega Neomia showed a touch and fruit component that got us excited…we don’t recall something of this fineness from this source in the past).

Finally, our ‘dark horse’ prediction for 2017 is…South Africa.  Now we have been trying to create a niche for South African wines since the 90s.  The wines were often parochial, sometimes solid, and occasionally breakthroughs.  But sustainability of the genre proved to be elusive.  As soon as we stopped promoting them, they seemed to have little carry through on their own.  We have happened upon a few interesting, some maybe a little quirky but delicious items that indicate there is another tier of innovative South African small producers that we have not seen in this marketplace.

By ‘dark horse’ we kind of mean these South African boutiques haven’t had, nor do we expect that they will get much media exposure, and there are all kinds of marketing and distribution issues with small importers and unknown genres by definition.  In other words, we aren’t going to bet the grocery money on their success, but only because market mechanics kind of work against them.  The wines we are talking about got us really pumped, and we have to assume there are some others out there like them.  These wines definitely deserve an audience.

This promises to be a very exciting year for wine drinkers.  Besides all that we have alluded to thus far, there are still remnants of the 2010 Reserva and Gran Reserva Riojas from Spain to be had, and Italian reds will certainly have their share of successes (2013 Tuscans, 2015 Barbera and Dolcettos, 2015 ‘little’ Chianti Classico wines) on an individual basis. The only question we can’t answer yet is if this will be Australia’s time to recapture the market share they deserve, that will be up the consumer as the wines are better than ever.  We’ll also be on the lookout (and hoping) for ‘deals’ on the delicious 2014s from the southern Rhone and Burgundy, a vintage that got largely overlooked as buyers focused ahead on the more ‘newsworthy’ 2015s.  At reduced prices, we will be all over those wines.

Are we looking forward to 2017?  You bet!  Happy New Year…