A few weeks ago, I reported about growing concern over falling sales in the French wine industry, a trend that some attribute to an overly complicated system of wine regulations that makes the country's wines too complicated for the average consumer to bother with.
Let's return to this subject today, illustrated with tasting reports on a French wine producer, and an importer of Italian wines, who are marketing interesting wines with labels that take the "poly" out of "polysyllabic."
The French venture is a new label from Jean-Michel Cazes and his son, Jean-Charles, who own the respected Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Les-Ormes-de-Pez in Bordeaux. Their new venture, called L'Ostal Cazes, incorporates 150 acres of vines near Livinière, the first cru-designated sub-appellation within the Minervois region of Languedoc. Its two mass-market wines - a Shiraz (yes, they call it by the Australian name) and the Shiraz/Cabernet that I review below - are marketed under the Cazes family name and the proprietary trademark Circus, with the varietal names shown only discreetly at the bottom, and the appellation (Vin de Pays d'Oc) given only on the wine's back label.
The Italian wine, Canalegrande - a brand intended primarily for restaurant service but also sold direct to consumers through the importer's Website - goes even further toward simplification.
Importer James Koch explains in the firm's one-page fact sheet:"How many restaurants in the USA would ever consider pouring 'Azienda Agricola Podere Casale Gutturnio Fermo Colli Piacentini DOC 2003' by the glass?" The "Canalegrande approach," Koch says, restates the technical language in simpler English, presenting the wine under the proprietary name "Canalegrande" (with a woodcut-look logo showing a Venetian canal and bridge), the names of the grape varieties Barbera and Bonarda offered in place of the obscure "Gutturnio Fermo," and the little-known region Colli Piacentini banished to the back label in favor of "Italian Dry Red Wine."
"The result is a line of 'unusual' top-quality Italian wines that can be offered by the glass and easily explained to and by the staff."
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Canalegrande 2003 Barbera & Bonarda Italian Dry Red Wine ($18.50)
The simplified front label sells the wine identified in more detail on the back as "Azienda Agricola Podere Casale Gutturnio dei Colli Piacentini DOC 2003." By any name it's a fine Italian red from the Po River valley south of Milan, a blend of the familiar Barbera and the not-so-familiar Bonarda grape, the local name in Lombardy for Croatina, a different variety than the Bonarda of Piemonte. All this may help explain why they wanted to simplify the label. It's a very dark wine, blackish-purple at the center, clear garnet at the edge. Fresh berries make for an appetizing aroma, warm and ripe; on the palate, mixed-berry fruit is shaped by tart, lemon-squirt acidity in a wine that, like many of its Italian brethren, is made to go with food. U.S. importer: J.K. Imports, Pasadena, Calif. (Feb. 7, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: The wine would do well with a variety of red meats, poultry and cheeses. I matched it against an offbeat pasta creation, shredded chicken in an Alfredo-style sauce accented with smoked Cheddar and a hint of chipotle peppers over fettuccine.
VALUE: A good value for a wine of this quality at this price, which is available for by-the-case purchases made online.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink now; although I have little experience with this offbeat region and blend, I see no reason it shouldn't last a few years on the wine rack.
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Meet me in the Rhone!
It's hard to believe that only three months remain before our annual tour with French Wine Explorers on June 6-12. We still have room for a few more, so I hope you'll visualize yourself, and perhaps a partner or friend, joining in as we visit some of the top wine producers, fine restaurants and luxury hotels of the Northern and Southern Rhône. It's a real joy for me to meet and get to know Wine Advisor readers as we travel on these memorable tours, and I hope you'll consider coming along.
This seven-day, six-night tour will take us on an in-depth exploration of the region's beautiful scenery, delicious Provençal cuisine, and rich, expressive wines, highlighted by a very special opportunity to join the wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a gala dinner and dance in the historic 14th century wine cellars of the Papal Court at Avignon.
If you have any questions at all about the tour, please feel free to get in touch with me personally at email@example.com.
For more information, visit French Wine Exporers' Northern and Southern Rhône tour page,
Circus by L'Ostal Cazes 2003 Shiraz/Cabernet ($12.99)
The bold, colorful and simplified label puts the producer's familiar name and the marketing concept up front, with the wine-geek details (Vin de Pays d'Oc) in small print on the back; and the Australian varietal name "Shiraz" in place of the French "Syrah" suggests a wine made in a fat, fruit-forward crowd-pleasing style. But there's still a mid-Atlantic hint of the Old World in the wine's complex aroma and relatively full structure. Inky dark reddish-purple in color, it offers fresh and relatively subtle aromas of black plums and fragrant black pepper. Black-fruit flavors are mouth-filling and ripe, smooth and easy to sip, but there's plenty of fresh-fruit acidity to provide structure and balance. (Also tasted, the Circus 2003 Shiraz for the same price was similar but a bit more sweet and plushy; the firm's grand vin, L'Ostal Cazes 2002 Minervois la Lavinière ($29.99), featured in the Wine Advisor Premium Edition on Feb. 22, 2005, is a memorable wine of outstanding quality-price ratio.) U.S. importer: Palm Bay Imports Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: A classic red-meat wine, it was fine with a grass-fed Kentucky Green River rare ribeye.
VALUE: Excellent value at this price, and may be found discounted for less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Designed for immediate enjoyment and ready to drink, but its fruit and sturdy structure will hold it for several years in the wine rack or cellar.
A British distributor, Mentzendorff & Co. Ltd., offers a page featuring Circus and Cazes' Michel Lynch line. The link is too long to transmit reliably in E-mail, but you can reach the page by visiting Metzendorff's Home Page,
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When do you drink sparkling wine?
The festive fun of a popping cork, a frothy pour, a glass full of bubbles: It's no wonder that Champagne has become all but synonymous with celebration. Indeed, for many people, a festive occasion is the only time to uncork a sparkling wine. If it's not New Year's Eve, or a wedding feast, the bubbly remains tightly corked in the fridge.
But Madame Lily Bollinger, the widow who ran the Champagne house that bears her married name from 1941 through 1971, thought differently, saying, "I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry, and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
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Wine Sale Going On Now!
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Bucko's Wine Reports: Late Winter Releases
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: How can anyone drink this stuff?
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:
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (March 4, 2004)
WT101: Syrah, Shiraz, Sirah (March 2, 2004)
When skepticism is warranted (Feb. 28, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: The ultimate baguette (March 3, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, March 7, 2005