In this week's Premium Edition:|
Highly rated dessert wine
As many of you know from my occasional lectures on the topic, I encourage readers to declare independence from the published critics, developing the wine self-confidence to make your own informed choices based on quality and value, using published point ratings to backstop your own judgement, if at all. But let's face it, it can still be reassuring to select and enjoy a wine, then discover that the likes of noted critic Robert M. Parker Jr. shared your good opinion. The excellent dessert wine that I'll discuss in tomorrow's Wine Advisor Premium Edition, for instance, earned a Parker grade of 94. To my pleased surprise, it's still reasonably priced for its niche.
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Wine-shipping news wrapup
As I put together today's Wine Advisor in my portable computer on the seat-back tray table somewhere over Northern Florida, it occurs to me that if it were as complicated to get yourself and your luggage across some state lines in the U.S. as it is to purchase wine from out of state, the public simply wouldn't hold still for it.
And under such unlikely circumstances, if a major national special-interest group opposed the traveler's right to fly from point to point as the national wine and liquor lobby opposes our right to purchase a bottle of wine in a similarly straightforward fashion, I think a lot of us would be out there pounding on the doors of the people responsible in angry outrage.
As we discussed in last Monday's Wine Advisor, the U.S. Supreme Court entertained arguments on this issue Dec. 7, considering state laws that deny individuals in many parts of the U.S. the right to purchase wine directly from producers and vendors across state lines.
"It does appear that our side did a significantly better job than the other side," said Patrick Campbell, wine maker of Laurel Glen winery and a regional director of Famliy Winemakers of California, an industry group that favors consumer choice in wine buying. "The wholesalers look rather shell-shocked afterwards. But then, of course, they didn't have much of a case to work on," Campbell joked, thumbing a brief after-the-fact report into his BlackBerry at my request.
Reporters at the one-hour Dec. 7 hearing, although perhaps more disinterested, seemed to take away similar views.
"Small producers of fine wines may have made a sale in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, as the justices signaled that they were inclined to strike down state laws prohibiting people from buying wines directly from out-of-state vineyards," The Los Angeles Times's David Savage reported from the courtroom. "That would not only give boutique wineries in California and around the country a way to expand their markets, but might also unravel decades-old laws that regulate the marketing of beer, wine and liquor in the United States."
The Washington Post's Charles Lane said he thought wine makers who want to ship directly to consumers across state lines "got a sympathetic hearing." Lane summarized aggressive questioning by several of the justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said, "One thing is certain" ... "The central purpose of [the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition] was not to empower states to favor local liquor industries by erecting barriers to competition."
The hearing attracted international attention. The Sydney Morning Herald was intrigued by the presence of former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr as lead attorney for the Coalition for Free Trade, another group that supports direct shipment to consumers.
The Australian newspaper quoted Starr, after the hearing, calling into question laws that permit in-state winemakers to sell and ship while denying similar privileges to producers in other states. "It's insulting, it's wrong, it's discriminatory," Starr reportedly said, adding that such laws are aimed at protecting wholesalers, who have a "powerful oligopoly."
The arguments also prompted more than a few newspaper editorialists to to take the free-trade side. The Toledo (Ohio) Blade, for example, wrote, "The U.S. Supreme Court would do wine lovers ... a favor by corking anti-consumer laws in 24 states that prohibit direct sales by out-of-state wineries via telephone and the Internet. ... What's being decided is a matter of convenience and choice for adults, and we'll raise a glass of the finest vintage if the Supreme Court rules that way."
In Baton Rouge, La., editorialists for The Advocate wrote, "The justices are right to be skeptical about overly restrictive state laws. The constitutional reservation of regulation of booze to the states is one thing, but it should not trump the obligation of the states to do so fairly - and that means the same rules ought to apply to wineries in a state or outside its boundaries."
One caution: It's way too early for wine enthusiasts to uncork celebrations. The Supreme Court won't announce its decision until next spring, and courts often surprise observers who think they see an "obvious" direction in judges' remarks from the bench.
Since I've covered the background and details of this issue recently, I didn't repeat them today. If you'd like a refresher, though, check the archives for the June 4, 2004, article, "Supreme wine decision,"
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Following up on last week's appealing "Rainwater" Madeira, here's another luscious dessert wine to warm a winter night, this one a sweet Muscat from Rutherglen, a small, historic wine region in Victoria, northeast of Melbourne, that has long been known for its world-class dessert wines.
Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen Muscat ($16.99)
This wine is an attractive, clear reddish-amber color. Dried fruit aromas, rich and full, almost leap out of the glass. The aroma gains complexity from minty floral notes, but intense dried-apricot character is dominant here, filling both the nose and palate. It's a very sweet wine indeed, so much so that lush sugars easily outpace a good level of crisp, fresh-fruit acidity. A hint of milk chocolate joins dried-apricot fruit in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. (Dec. 7, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Sure, it would go with nuts, dried fruit and cheese, but for me, a wine at this sweetness level doesn't go with dessert; it is dessert.
VALUE: Note that this is a 375 ml. "half-bottle," but a little of this rich, sweet stuff goes a long way. By the pricey standard of high-quality dessert wines, this one's a bargain.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's intended for immediate enjoyment, but wines of this style are made to last, and should keep in a good wine cellar for many years. Note also that this wine, in contrast with dry table wines, should keep reasonably well in the open bottle for as long several weeks; longer still under refrigeration, but do let it warm up a bit before serving. A wine of this complexity loses a lot if you serve it ice-cold.
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Wine Grape Varietal Table:
The season's top wine gift
Here's one of the most innovative wine-education products I've seen in a long time: Steve and Deborah De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table displays a world of wine grape varieties in a bright, useful display that would make a perfect addition to your library or wine room ... or, for those in the business, an eye-catching attention-getter on the wall of your wine shop.
This quality fine-art poster - accompanied with a densely-packed, informative pocket-size book - displays nearly 200 wine-grape varieties in a format that should draw a nostalgic "Yeah!" from anyone who's ever sat in a high-school or college chemistry classroom: It is modeled after the classic periodic table of the elements.
Boxed in a large, sturdy cardboard container, ready for gift-wrapping, this set would make a good gift for any wine enthusiast on your list; and if your recipient (even yourself) qualifies as a true wine "geek," then he's just got to have it. Wine accessories just don't get any more geeky than this ... and that's a compliment.
To purchase today, click
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Screwcap preserves freshness (Dec. 10, 2004)
Malbec from Paul Hobbs (Dec. 8, 2004)
Wine shipping comes to court (Dec. 6, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Adriatic-style seafood and pasta (Dec. 9, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Dec. 13, 2004