Music Feedback
New This WeekAround TownMusicFilmArtTheaterNews & FeaturesFood & DrinkAstrology

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend
The year that was
A look back at the 2001 wine business

It’s been a business doing pleasure with you " my grandfather used to say, and while he wasn’t talking about wine, his words do serve to remind us that wine — one of life’s nicer pleasures — is also a business. So when we talk about the year in wine, we’re really exploring the actual business of wine — a world with which most consumers are generally unfamiliar.

But understanding the wine business can make you a better consumer. When it comes to wine, supply (or lack thereof) creates demand. Wineries have to sell what they’ve made, and their success depends mainly on the extent to which they influence critics, writers, sommeliers, and retailers. So what you see on the shelves depends in part on what wine writers, critics, and salesman are saying; we, in turn, tend to talk about what’s available, and we’re influenced by what wineries tell — and sell — us.

In my next column, I’ll gaze into my crystal goblet and make some predictions for the year ahead, but today we’re talking about the year that was. And 2001 was at best a mixed year in the wine trade. Prices dropped after many years of steady increases, especially in ultra-premium wine ($10-plus per bottle). Recent events, of course, haven’t helped, but the trend started before September 11: the economic downturn has led to less spending at restaurants, and fewer expensive bottles of wine purchased. Wineries have felt the ripple effects of reduced expense accounts and less lavish spending.

But people are still buying, though they’re spending less. Fruity wines, with some complexity but greater versatility than cabernet sauvignon and merlot, are the most compelling; these include syrahs, pinot noirs, and zinfandels, as well as grenache-based blends, New World–style tempranillos from Spain’s up-and-coming Ribera del Duero region, hot malbec from Argentina, and all manner of Italian varietals, including lovely sangioveses and barberas. Many champagnes taste fruitier and less bone-dry these days. And 2001 saw a surge of excellent imported wines under $20 from France (Rhône, Alsace, Loire Valley, the Pays D’Oc), Italy, Spain, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Today, the best deals often arise when a specific region has excellent vintages back-to-back. Several cases in point: 1997-’98 Italian reds, 1998-’99 Oregon pinot noirs, 1999-2000 South Americans, and 1998-’99 Rhônes (especially Southern Rhônes). Back-to-back winners present an opportunity to purchase two different vintages at once, and to gauge the effects of an extra year of aging.

People have begun to realize that most great wines are now made for drinking almost immediately upon release. This is good business: wines that aren’t great on release are harder to sell, and unsold wine means fewer dollars for wineries. I look for wines that are ready to drink; the wineries have helped create this demand by making wine more approachable early on and touting the virtues of their great young wines.

So how does all this translate into better wine-buying (and, in this holiday season, gift-giving)? You’ll see value in all the wines mentioned above. You’ll also see more sales, as retailers try to encourage marginal buyers. And you’ll see wine lists with reduced prices.

Some wine writers advise against giving wine as gifts, as so many wine lovers have distinct tastes, and your offering may get lost in the shuffle. I disagree. The key is to give people wines they might not otherwise know about. If you are worried about a wine getting lost, give it as part of a larger gift, perhaps with glasses or a corkscrew, and make it clear that the bottle is meant to be drunk right now with you. In essence you’re giving two gifts: the wine itself, and the pleasure of being turned on to it by you, the giver, then and there.

Here are some gifts I’ll be giving this year; as always, these are as much categorical recommendations as they are specific. If the staff at your store suggest a different champagne or a 1999 Oregon pinot, they probably know what they’re talking about. Like me, they want you to be happy.

1999 Hamacher Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon. Bright and fruity, bold strawberry flavors, lots of spunk. This versatile, wily wine goes perfectly with pulled pork, fried catfish, or other rich, spicy foods. A can’t-miss ticket, composed of fruit from numerous vineyards.

1999 Rockland Petite Sirah Napa Valley California. Holy Moses! Over-the-top, rambunctious, and intoxicatingly heady, well beyond its alcohol content. Good with game, venison, and all manner of rich, fatty, holiday cuisine.

Laurent Perrier Brut LP Champagne (in a box with two flutes). This blend contains roughly equal amounts of chardonnay and pinot noir, with 15 percent pinot meunier for good measure. Also contains some older vintages; it comes across as clean, with apples and citrus notes (I got a bit of lemon). All in all, a lovely box for under $30. Also try the rosé.

1999 D’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings McLaren Vale. Grenache-shiraz-mourvèdre blend, and pricey, but what a power-packed fruit wallop this bad boy delivers! Plum and pomegranate up front, fresh oak on the back, a tight package, but lingering; perfect for prime rib, lamb shank, or beef stew. Best to open an hour or so before serving, and decant if possible.

David Marglin can be reached at wine[a]

Issue Date: December 27 - January 3, 2002
Click here for the Uncorked archives
Back to the Food & Drink table of contents.
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

home | feedback | about the phoenix | find the phoenix | advertising info | privacy policy | the masthead | work for us

 © 2002 Phoenix Media Communications Group