By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
For Pat 2014 marks 45 years since a part-time job in college marked the beginning of his exploration of the alcoholic beverage industry. The wine, spirits, and beer landscape has changed drastically since 1969 with an amazing evolution that today offers consumers an incredible variety of alcoholic beverages, ranging from value-priced wines and spirits to those priced for only the top one hundredth of one percent of earners today. Remembering this evolution brings clarity to where the beverage world is headed today.
Today the wine market is truly international with wines from countries like South Africa, Chile and Argentina are available and competitively priced as wines from California. Cordials and spirits from obscure parts of the world are widely available and small batch/small production bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys and ryes fill retailers’ shelves and tempt the pocketbook. Craft and seasonal beers offer a bewildering display in beer sections at local stores.
In 1969 the wine selection in most stores consisted of a selection of jug wines from producers such as Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony and Almaden. Some progressive stores may have carried Liebfraumilch or Zeller Schwartz Katz from Germany, or Lancers or Mateus roses from Portugal. Usually in major metropolitan areas one or two stores offered a limited supply of Burgundy and Bordeaux wines from France.
In the beer department Budweiser and Schlitz dominated beer sales with the two of them battling neck and neck for dominance. Local beers had begun their slide to oblivion as national brands with huge advertising dollars charged forward. Gin was the dominant white spirit, and American blended whiskeys such as Seagram’s 7, Four Roses, and Calvert dominated American brown whiskeys. Single Malt scotches were nowhere to be seen with blended scotch whiskies such as Cutty Sark, J and B, and Dewar’s representing the Scots.
Information about wine, sprits and beer was scarce. Few authoritative books existed, and wine articles in newspapers and magazines that are ubiquitous today rarely were published. This changed in the early 1980’s with the emergence of Robert Parker Jr. writing and publishing the Wine Advocate which offered no nonsense criticism of wines available in the market place. His policy of not accepting advertising , a easy to grasp 100-point grading system, and a spot on prediction that the 1982 Bordeaux vintage was monumental launched a new age of wine appreciation. Local community colleges offered wine appreciation courses that offered comparative tastings and a chance to share your tasting impressions with your classmates. We met during one of these courses and began our adventure of wine tasting and appreciation.
Today wine articles and even beer and spirits columns appear in newspapers, food and wine magazines and blogs like ours which is available at www.moreaboutwine.com. Wine, spirits, and beer tastings are offered at many wine and spirits stores and often come with a presenter that can educate you on viticulture and vinification practices that shape the wine you are tasting. So if your New Year’s resolution is to broaden your wine, spirits, or beer education go for it. Sign up for a class at the community college, form a tasting group with your friends, buy a subscription to a wine publication such as the Wine Advocate , Wine Enthusiast, or the Wine Spectator. Above all enjoy the experience. Share your tipple of choice, and your table with friends and neighbors, few experiences will match the experience of a shared glass of wine, and a bite of food and a shared conversation.
SPECIAL PINOT NOIRS
Etude Pinot Noir Estate Carneros 2011 ($45). This is a classic, cool-climate pinot noir from the esteemed Estate Grace Benoist ranch in the Carneros region at the mouth of Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Ripe cherry and plum fruit nose and flavors in an elegant medium bodied package. This is a very nice expression of pinot noir. Bird Pinot Noir Marlborough Big Barrel 2012 ($28). Although New Zealand has made its name as a world-class producers of sauvignon blanc, more and more this island nation is producing some very intriguing pinot noir that deserve attention. This well made pinot noir exhibits delicious wild cherry fruit and a hint of white pepper that is well balanced and quaffable. Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros 2012 ($25).This is a very nice but not overblown pinot noir that still manages to exhibit good ripeness without over doing it. Delicious ripe strawberry flavors and a hint of oak in the nose and mouth create a nice impression that pleases the palate.
Guarachi Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2011 ($65). This is a beautifully elegant California pinot noir that balances minerality, fruit, and acidity in a wonderful package. The wine shows strawberry and cherry nose and flavors and a long pleasant finish. Try this beauty with pork, salmon, or chicken dishes. Impressive.