Keeping the 'bs' in PBS

The Public Broadcasting System, seeing the money rolling into network and cable stations from cashing in on the insatiable public demand for reality shows, has decided to get in on the act.

PBS' "Wine Makers," a reality competition set for 2007, will pit 12 contestants vying for the chance to launch their own label.

The twist is that financing the series requires a new sponsorship model, rather than the method PBS has long used to keep its pristine character from being besmirched by godless commercialism,

Instead of quick, nearly-generic tag lines presented along with the PBS underwriters' logos, the new show will provide what PBS calls "top-tier sponsors" a five- to 15-second spot before and after the half-hour show.

Let's review. Sponsors will give PBS money to give them air time for 5- to 15-second spots about their products and services. Funny, in the real world they refer to those as, how you say, commercials !

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the former Paso Robles Vintners & Growers Association which promotes wines from California's central coast, is the first to sign up.

Plans call for the eight-episode series to employ the usual toss-'em-out-weekly model, with the original field of 12 contestants pared by half in the first two episodes. The contestants will live together like other reality series, and a rotating group of judges will decide on their skills in various aspects of winemaking.

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Jacob's Creek popping its corks

It's about time to retire all those old jokes about bad wines and screw caps.

Jacob's Creek (the namesake stream is seen here), a respectable name on the Australian wine scene, is getting rid of corks on all its wines and using twist-off caps to, as a company announcement put it, safeguard the "quality and consistency" of its wines.

All of the winery's lower-priced wines will convert in the next few months, to be followed by the same move for its premium Heritage Range wines by late in 2007.

Adrian Atkinson, development director at parent company Pernod Ricard, said in a statement, "'Responding to the demands of retailers, consumers and our wine-making team, the decision has been taken to put the entire Jacob's Creek range under screw cap in order to preserve fruit flavours and guarantee consistently high quality."

The matter of screwtops vs. corks has been heatedly debated for several years. Proponents of the change say screwtops prevent contamination of wines. Those in favor of corks say the small amount of oxygen they allow into the wine helps the aging process.

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Putting all their wines in one state basket

New York wines have a continually growing reputation, particularly in the realm of rieslings and red blends. But trying to find a source offering a wide range of what the state's 240 wineries produce is next to impossible.

People living in or near the state capital, however, will be finding their search a lot easier if a new wine shop in the old mill city of Cohoes, just outside Albany, takes hold.

The Harmony House Marketplace, located in a 175-year-old building on Remsen Street, opened this week selling only New York brand wines. The owners are Diane Conroy-LaCivita and Jane LaCivita Clemente.

Conroy-LaCivita, a former municipal clerk and high school social studies teacher, said she and her partner will carry about 138 brands from 40-50 wineries in their 700-square-foot shop. Their goal is to raise that to 90 to 100 wineries.

The city of Cohoes helped the entrepreneurs with grants and other incentives. Conroy-LaCivita said the upfront investment for renovations and other expenses was more than $300,000.

One of the major marketing problems New York wineries traditionally have faced is that few but the very largest companies -- Dr. Konstantin Frank, Herman Weimer and the like -- have enough customers outside their immediate neighborhoods. Most are small-scale producers whose output is snapped up by visitors to the wineries and by nearby stores and restaurants.

The new partners latched on to the New York-only concept after taking several classes at Schenectady County Community College, then embarking on some self-education in the wine world.

"We realized New York had a wide range of very good wines,'' Conroy-LaCivita told me. "We like the idea of supporting state businesses, the ecology, sustainable agriculture, and all those things can work together.''

The shop owners also like the idea of building relationships directly with the winemakers and wineries, something they wouldn't be doing if they handled imported wines.

"We've already visited many of the wineries in the state and started developing close relationships with some of them,'' Conroy-LaCivita says, although she concedes there sometimes is a problem with availability of small-batch wines and
wholesale pricing to vendors.

Harmony House Marketplace (238-2233), 184 Remsen St., is open every day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tastings are scheduled each Friday.

For a video, created by Kathleen Lisson, with the entrepreneurs click here.

Just what wine would a wine buyer buy if a ...

If the buyer for the largest wine superstore in the United States were asked to select a mixed case of wines from the 15,000 his store stocks, what would he choose?

If you guessed a propensity for California labels, you'd be correct. Three of Shawn Lightfoot's picks from among 12 in the case were from California, with threee others also coming from the West Coast, two from Washington and one from Oregon.

The selection was done at the behest of U.S. News & World Report. The magazine contacted Lightfoot at Applejack Wine & Spirits in Denver and asked him to select a case using any vintage or variety, but limited to a total price of $250.

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They wood, if they could

The hottest topic in the world of French wines these days is the controversial debate over the government's decision to allow the French to put wood in their wine, as opposed to wine in wood, to speed up the aging process.

However, as reported on Decanter.com, the French agriculture minister yesterday ducked the controversial issue of wood chips in a speech to open Vinitech, being held this year in Bordeaux, France.

"Dominique Bussereau, speaking on the first day of Vinitech, the world's largest wine techniques and machinery trade fair, said he welcomed the modernization of French wine but made no mention of the divisive issue of wood chips, recently banned for use in AOC winemaking," Decanter.com reported.

"'The state encourages the modernization of the French system of wine segmentation, in order to adapt to evolving consumer demand,' Bussereau said. 'The aim is to conserve our leadership'."

Use of wood chips in winemaking was banned by INAO, the French regulatory body, this month, two months after the EU legalized use. Prior to the ruling seven appellations Anjou, Muscadet, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Medoc, Haut-Médoc and Côtes du Rhône were granted special dispensations, allowing experimental use of wood chips as of the 2006 harvest.

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Indiana gets third wine trail

Indiana has gained its third wine trail, a joint effort of seven different central Indiana wineries under the simple title Indy Wine Trail.

The member wineries: Buck Creek Winery (Indianapolis), Chateau Thomas Winery (Plainfield), Easley Winery (Indianapolis), Ferrin’s Fruit Winery (Carmel), Grape Inspirations Winery (Carmel), Mallow Run Winery (Bargersville), and Simmons Winery (Columbus).

Upcoming events will include celebrations around Valentine’s Day, a barbecue feast during the summer and visits with the winemakers. The new trail features a "passport" program which allows visitors to receive a free wine glass after visiting all seven wineries.

For an update and live links to wine trails in Indiana and every state in the nation, visit Dowd's Guide to American Wine Trails.

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SA picks its top young winemaker

Youth, as they say, must be served. In this instance, however, youth was doing the serving.

For the sixth year, the Diners Club of South Africa sought a winner for its "Young Winemaker of the Year" award, given to the top 30 or younger wine producers in the country.

Francois Agenbag (seen here) of Wolseley, Breedekloof emerged victorious from a field of 62 Dry Red Wine entries. Competitors were allowed to serve the judges blended or single varietal reds, wood-aged or not.

Agenbag's wine is sold under the Seven Oaks label, made at Mountain Ridge, formerly known as the Romansrivier co-operative. His winning entry was Seven Oaks 6+1 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004.

Judges' tasting notes: "Powerful blackberry, chocolate, with spicy oak backing. Big, rich and full in the mouth with ripe, balanced tannins and well controlled oak. Sweet-fruited throughout. Long, fruit-filled finish. Lots of development potential."

In the other award given by the club, "Winemaker of the Year" went to Gottfried Mocke, winemaker for the Franschhoek Vineyards label, for his Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2005.

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Tempranillo emerging in New Zealand

Seeing a new brand emerge with a medal in a prestigious competition is one thing. Seeing a new variety win its class is another.

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2005 was awarded the top trophy in the "Other Red Varieties" class at the 2006 Air New Zealand Wine Awards in Taradale, NZ, Sunday night. It is the only New Zealand-produced wine of this variety available in the market, although several other growers have the grapes planted.

Tempranillo is a Spanish grape variety that growers are successfully utilizing in the Hawke’s Bay area that has a warm climate and similar terroir to Europe.

“New Zealand consumers are quite conservative about the wines they drink. It’s up to the industry to offer them something new, educating their palates on a wider range of flavor profiles,” chief winemaker John Hancock said when he accepted the award. “Having a new variety recognized at this level is a big step and will encourage consumers to try something other than Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.”

The Tempranillo 2005 was aged 12 months, predominantly in French oak barrels. It is Trinity Hill's second vintage of the style. It also won a gold medal in the "Other red wines" category in the recent AMP Mercedes Benz Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards.

Go here for a full look at the Air New Zealand winners in all categories.

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W(h)ining over a 'no' vote

Massachusetts voters on election day rejected Ballot Question 1, a proposal that would have allowed for wine sales in food stores by granting a new type of locally issued liquor license.

“I think voters understood this thing for what it was. Why do we need to double the amount of liquor licences in the state and add 3,000 licenses?,” said Joe Baerlein, a spokesman for the No on One Campaign Committee. “They soundly rejected that.”

On the other side, the supermarket industry said it was the opposition's scare campaign that thwarted their attempt to gain a foothold in the retail wine market.

“We knew from the beginning that changing the status quo regarding wine sales was going to be a tough fight,” Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, said in a statement. “The liquor industry spent millions of dollars to maintain their monopoly on wine sales and, unfortunately, Massachusetts voters were misled by a negative, scare campaign.”

No matter who is right, the votes are what counted, and the "no" votes won by about 14%.

About 40 grocery stores have full liquor licenses or beer-and-wine licenses under a state law that limits chains to three licenses each.

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French wood chip debate takes new turn

Barely six months ago, I reported under the headline "Worried French put wood in wine, not vice versa" that "The sagging French wine industry often tries to put a good face on its situation despite increased global competition and less than stellar sales. That now will be a little more difficult to accept since the French government plans to allow vintners to flavor their wine with wood shavings, a technique French winemakers have derided as the work of lesser mortals."

Adding wood chips to wine to increase oak flavor has long been practiced by some winemakers in the U.S., Australia and South America. The idea is to avoid the cost and time involved in aging wines in oak barrels.

"The use of wood shavings is already authorized by the European Community and will soon be entered into national regulation," France's Agriculture Ministry said at the time in a formal statement, an effort to "open up the range of authorized winemaking practices."

Wine purists in France predictably objected to the move, although many in the industry were all in favor of it.

Now, France's National Appellations Institute (INAO) has proposed a law to allow the nation's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) regions to ban or limit the use of oak wood chips in at least some wines.

Its logic to ban use of chips across more than 460 AOC regions is concern the practice may damage their quality image. It proposed the move even before the European Union has had a chance to publish new wine rules allowing wood chips to be used.

The INAO position, like the controversial practice that spawned it, was not met with universal support.

“INAO no longer knows what it is doing. It has been completely wrong-footed by European Commission plans to reform the wine sector,” Jean Clavel, head of the Coteaux Languedoc AOC region, told BeverageDaily.com. “Using oak chips in some wines can add a little complexity, and helps them to respond to international demand from consumers who are used to woody aromas in their wines.”

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Chirac's City Hall collection tops $1 million

The much-anticipated auction of a wine collection created for Paris's City Hall when Jacques Chirac was mayor has brought in $1.2 million, 75 percent higher than pre-event estimates. (Click here for a video report on the event.)

The catalyst was a bidding war that developed between British and Chinese merchants. Stephen Williams, managing director of London's Antique Wine Co., spent 10,000 euros (US$12,561.83) for the most expensive labels in the catalog, two bottles of 1986 Romanee Conti with a value estimated before the sale of 1,500 euros (US$1,884).

Chirac, who went on to become president of France, had acquired nearly 5,000 bottles of such rare labels as Petrus and Margaux. Bertrand Delanoe, the current Socialist mayor, ordered the dispersal of the collection through the Oct. 20-21 auction.

"This was about fetishism,'' Claude Maratier told the Bloomberg News Service. "The two wine merchants saw great potential in buying Paris city wines, in buying Chirac's wines. It is a teaser for their clients.''

Maratier is the independent expert on the sale organized by Paris auction house SVV Giafferi, which reported final figures today.

Bidders ranged from an unidentified West African billionaire represented by his trader to an anonymous wine merchant calling in bids from Monaco. Proceeds from the auction will go to the city treasury for general use.

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IWSC's best of the best

A veritable downpour of medals showered on entries in the 2006 International Wine & Spirit Competition held in Australia.

The IWSC reported a record 6,000 entries in the competition which also saw the number of participating countries rising to 73 this year.

Here are some the best-in-class winners among the wines. Click here for a list of all medal winners in all classes.


• Alsace Grand Cru AC - Riesling: Cave de Turckheim Riesling Grand Cru Brand 2002, Cave de Turckheim.

• Botrytis Affected Wine - Sémillon - Australia:
De Bortoli Noble One 2004, De Bortoli Wines Pty Ltd.

• Botrytis Affected Wine - Western Cape: Nederburg Noble Late Harvest 2005, Distell.

• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Australia - NV: Arras Bottle Fermented 2000, Hardy Wine Co.

• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Traditional Blends - England: Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 1998, Nyetimber Vineyard.

• Chablis Grand Cru AC: Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Reserve de L'Obedience 2003, Domaine laroche SA.


• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC - Veneto - 2000: Amarone Classico Della Valpolicella DOC Monteci 2000, Societa Agricola Monteci S.S.

• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC - Veneto - 2001:
Il Bosco Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC 2001, Gerardo Cesari SPA.

• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC - Veneto - 2003: Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Classico 2003, Cantine Salvalai Srl.

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Chile - 2001: Carmen Winemaker's Reserve Red 2001, Vina Carmen.

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Stellenbosch - 2001: Meerlust Rubicon 2001, Meerlust.

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Stellenbosch - 2003: Vergelegen Estate Red 2003, Vergelegen Wines.

• Blendhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.bold.gifed Red Wine - Merlot Dominated - Regions of South Africa:
Lanzerac Classic 2002, Lanzerac Estate.

• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Traditional Blends - England: Denbies Greenfields 2003, Denbies Wine Estate.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Coonawara - 2001: Parker Terra Rossa First Growth 2001, Parker Coonawara.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Coonawara - 2003: Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Nugan Estate.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Maipo Valley 2004: Valdivieso Cabernet Sauvignon Vineya 2004, Vina valvedieso.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Mendoza - 2003:
Trapiche Medalla 2003, Trapiche.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Rapel Valley: Vina Misiones de Rengo SA Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Vina Misiones de Rengo SA.

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Stellenbosch - 2003:
Saxenburg Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Saxenburg.

• Cabernet Sauvignon Blend - Napa:
Oakville Ranch Robert's Blend 2001, Oakville Ranch Vineyards.

• Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - McLaren Vale:
Geoff Merrill Pimpala Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000, Geoff Merrill Wines.

• Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - Stellenbosch: Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Laureat 2004, Distell.

• Carmenere - Colchagua Valley - 2004: Arboleda Carmenere 2004, Vina Arboleda.

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An insider's look at a wine dinner

Photo by William M. Dowd

They come in my mail in bunches, announcements of and invitations to one wine dinner or another.

Some extol the virtues of various domestic and foreign wines. Others emphasize the food. Whatever the offer, all are trying to get a piece of a very old activity that suddenly has become the hottest thing in the restaurant world, especially since members of the increasingly competitive wine industry try for a greater share of business.

What goes on inside a wine dinner?

Each has its subtleties and differences, but there's a general pattern to them. Don't be put off by the "insider-speak" some attendees use to inflate their egos. It's really just a matter of putting together food and drink that tastes good.

A good example of the genre took place at the venerable Jack's Oyster House in Albany, New York's capital city. Jack's has been open for business every day since it opened its doors in 1912. The event paired the culinary skills of Dale Miller and the wine-making skills of David Lake.

Each man has earned top industry honors, so the opportunity to explore their efforts at the same event drew a sizable group to 42 State St. and a second-floor banquet room at the oldest restaurant in town.

Miller is one of fewer than five dozen professionals in the entire United States who hold the Certified Master Chef designation, a title conferred to only the occasional survivor of a rigorous multi-day practical examination at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Lake holds the Master of Wine designation, which The Times of London calls "Britain's most rigorous professional examination.'' He's one of 226 in the world, and the only one in North America.

On this particular evening, it was a truly eclectic group, a mixture of wine novices, wine lovers, at least one competition judge, several wine sales execs and the just plain curious.

As with virtually all such events, what you find is an ad hoc partnership between the host restaurant and a winemaker, distributor or trade organization. On this evening, Canandaigua Wine Co. was featuring its Columbia Winery labels from Washington state, although the world's largest distributor obviously handles a wide range of brands.

The wine provider usually also supplies the host for the evening. The host handles the greetings, gives a brief background talk on the geography and climate of the area in which the featured wines are produced, and introduces a different wine with each course.

Ray Fox was the host, a genial, well-informed fellow who stays away from the intricate wine-snob jargon that is so off-putting to so many people, particularly those just getting into wine.

Prices vary, but generally are in the $45 to $75 per person range. The Jack's event was $65, which covered the meal, wines, tax and gratuity.

Miller tends to shine at special events, and this evening was no exception.

He opened with a pair of seafood appetizers.

A large, carmelized diver scallop was served with a clever "tartare'' of ruby grapefruit, avocado and roasted pepper. Citrus juices are wonderful with scallops, with a citrus marinade sometimes substituting for cooking. Here, the pan searing and the citrus inclusion were a perfect preparation device.

It was paired with a 1999 Columbia Yakima Valley pinot gris, with hints of lemon and grapefruit that worked beautifully with the scallop as well as its avocado garnish that always cries out for acid.

A slice of wild Copper River salmon filet was crusted in hazelnuts, basil and pine nuts, served with a pasta pillow stuffed with shredded leek and a vin blanc sauce. A 1997 Wyckoff Chardonnay from Columbia was a buttery, full-bodied perfect companion.

After a strawberry sorbet palate cleanser, guests plunged into the main course, a pan-roasted tournedo of beef with what Miller calls "a hodgepodge'' of smoky bacon, diced tomato and thyme, drizzled with a merlot-based demi-glace.

The succulent beef was accompanied by a truffled puree of Yukon Gold potato and a succotash. The wine accompaniments were a 1997 Columbia Milestone Merlot that I found rather thin and slightly sour, and a bold 1998 Columbia Syrah that offered an aromatic bouquet, rich flavor and smooth aftertaste.

The feast ended with a light, delicious gateau, an almond-scented cake with fresh berries, an apricot glaze and a splash of white chocolate. A peach-scented Columbia ice wine was the crowning touch.

Miller made an appearance, to enthusiastic applause, after the dinner to field questions from the guests. While he said more such dinners, with perhaps a live cooking demonstration, are in the offing, he said no theme had been decided.

Considering the initial dinner here was titled "April in Paris," and this one was called "North by Northwest," an appropriate movie title for any future event might be "La Dolce Vita."

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Italy says goodbye to tokai

Winemakers in the northern Italian region of Friuli have been making Tocai (or Tokai) wine for centuries. Now, says the European Union, they can keep on doing so but they have to call it by a new name: Friulanio.

Italy and Hungary have been feuding over the name for 50 years or more, with Hungarians claiming only white wine made in the Tokaj region of Hungary could legitimately lay claim to the name.

For some time, a lower court decision decided that both Italian and Hungarian producers could market Tocai, a ruling later upheld by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. However, as part of the agreements for Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004, Hungary was given exclusive rights to the Tokai label from the end of March 2007.

With that deadline looming, winemakers in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy appealed to the European Court to overturn it. The court, however, ruled that Italian Tocai “does not qualify as a geographical indication” because “it has no special quality, reputation or characteristic that is attributable to its geographic origin.”

Gianola Nonino, whose family has been making wine at Udine in Friuli for generations, called the decision “appalling.”

“They have stolen a part of our history,” she told the Times of London, adding that the new name, Friulano, is “terrible” since it is simply an adjective describing anything that comes from Friuli.

Curiously, the tokai wines of the two countries are different. Italian Tocai is an aromatic dry white made entirely from the Tocai grape (known in France as Sauvignon Vert). Hungarian Tokai or Tokaji is a sweet dessert wine made using Furmint and Haréslvelü grapes.

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Competition booming Down Under

The annual Air New Zealand Wine Awards are getting to be such a major event, the competition for medals is ramping up.

Entries for this year's event have topped 1,700, an increase of about 10% over last year and an all-time high.

Wine varietals leading this year's wine awards are Chardonnay with 325 entries, Sauvignon Blanc with 318 and Pinot Noir with 236 entries. This year Viognier also gets its own class, with 22 entries received this year. This specialty white wine is growing in production due to consumer demand.

Marlborough wines once again topped entries with 680 wines all up, almost 40 per cent of the total entries, followed by Hawke's Bay with 412, Nelson with 126 entries and Gisborne with 125 entries.

New Zealand Winegrowers Chief Executive Philip Gregan said, "As we reach 20 years of Air New Zealand sponsorship, the awards are stepping out with a new look logo, medals and for the first time on-bottle recognition for trophy winning wines with a new sticker. The awards are as eagerly followed by consumers as the industry and this year we are launching a new interactive Web site and advertising campaign.

The wines will be judged over three days, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, in North Shore City. All wines are critiqued for either a bronze, silver or gold medal. Gold medal wines are then re-tasted to find the possible 19 Air New Zealand Wine Awards trophy winners, and final results will be announced on Nov. 11.

The overall medal results will be available here or here.

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Targeting the 4-pack market

Target stores in 19 states have gotten into the wine-selling business.

The variety store chain is selling Wine to Go, four-packs of wine in single-serving sizes of pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon/shiraz, merlot and chardonnay.

However, in a nation of varying and often conflicting laws about sales of alcoholic beverages, availability is limited. Target does provide a map showing which states allow wine sales in its stores.

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Miracle of the vines

Sagrantino, a venerable wine from the Umbria region of Italy, has long been known for its deep red color. It originally was produced in the Middle Ages by followers of St. Francis of Assissi for use in religious services

Now, after a decade of research and experimentation between the University of Milan and the Arnaldo Caprai estate, a white version of the wine has been produced.

After 10 years of researches, Marco Caprai told the AGI news service, "We have managed to obtain a species of vine which, although it is not naturally-occurring, was present in the genetic features of the Sagrantino that we used to know. This result has been achieved resorting to self-fertilization, that is one of the most frequently used methods of genetic improvement applied to create new varieties of vines."

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007 returns to his beery roots

The late Ian Fleming's super spy James Bond has taken on a patina of sophistication over the decades that makes most fans forget his humble origins.

In the first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," the character who became known for his knowledge and enjoyment of wines and spirits actually drank beer. (Pause here for startled gasps by those reading this sacrilege for the first time.)

The 21st and latest latest Bond flick, a version of "Casino Royale" that is true to Fleming's novel rather than being twisted into a serio-satirical comedic mess that went under that title in 1967, has a definite beer tie-in.

Producers not only have the latest Bond actor, Daniel Craig, drinking beer, they have a six-figure deal with beermaker Heineken for a promotional partnership that includes a TV commercial shot on the Bond set featuring Bond girl Eva Green.

Quite a change for Bond who is remembered for some of his haughtier pronouncements. In 1962's "Dr. No" he turned up his nose at a 1955 Dom Perignon champagne, snootily telling his villainous host, "I prefer the '53 myself." Then, in 1964's "Goldfinger," Bond says of a brandy he is served, "I'd say it was a 30 year old Fine indifferently blended, with an overdose of Bon Bois."

Bottoms up.

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Canadians prefer goblet to shot glass these days

Earlier this year, I spent some time with master distiller Harold Ferguson at the Canadian Mist operation in Collingwood, Ontario, learning the basics of blending Canadian whisky.

As it turns out, I probably should have been spending more time with some local winemakers or wine sellers to stay current with Canadian consumer preferences.

According to a new Statistics Canada report, wines sales have outpaced spirit sales in the country for the first time ever, by a slight $4.2 billion to $4 billion (Canadian). Beer sales, however, remain way out in front with $8.4 billion in sales for the same fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2005, and was just reported.

The growth in wine sales has been mostly in reds, with sales of that sector up 60% in the past five years. That is more than double the increase in sales of white wine and triple that of all spirits.

Although Canada's modest wine producing sector experienced slight growth, 71 percent of wine bought in the country during the fiscal year was imported from, in order, France, Italy, Australia, the United States and Chile.

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Pomegranate wine working in Israel

Pomegranate has been the fruit of the moment for several years, selling bigtime in its natural form as well as in juices and extracts. There even is a pomegranate liqueur.

According to Productscan, a product data service, 215 new pomegranate-flavored foods and beverages were brought to market in the first seven months of 2006, compared to just 19 for the whole of 2002. Pomegranate flavors are finding their way to everything from natural fruit juices to chewing gum and even sausages. Now, some enterprising folks in Israel have stepped up their use of the sweet/tart fruit for winemaking.

Father and son Gaby and Avi Nachmias, the third generation of a farming family who were founding members of Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in Israel's Upper Galilee area near the border with Lebanon, began experimenting 10 years ago to create a new strain of the ancient fruit that would be richer in vitamins and antioxidants, sweeter and deeper in its red color than most pomegranate types, according to the Web site ISRAEL21C.

That led to more experimentation and, in 2003, the family produced 2,000 bottles of pomegranate dessert wine from their own fruit. In 2004, they founded the Rimon Winery, named after the Hebrew word for pomegranate.

"In general, pomegranates don't have enough natural sugar to ferment into alcohol on its own," Leo Open, Rimon's director of international marketing, told ISRAEL21c. "In the past, some people have added alcohol to pomegranate juice to create a form of liquor, but no one has successfully made wine. Our pomegranates are the only ones in the world that have enough sugar to do so naturally."

Starting this year, the company began featuring a product line that includes a dry wine, a dessert wine, a heavier port wine with 19% alcohol content, and a rosé wine. It also produces pomegranate vinegar and a line of cosmetics made with oils extracted from the fruit.

"Earlier this year, we started exporting to the Far East in Asia, and we are now in touch with people in U.S., Europe, and even South America," Open said.

Domestically, Rimon wines cost about $15 to $24 a bottle. The company will not speculate what distribution costs will do to pricing in the U.S.

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Chile makes full-court press in New York

Wines of Chile, the trade group representing about 90 Chilean wineries, is launching its first-ever "Salud! Chilean Wine Fest" in New York, beginning Monday, Sept. 18, which is Chile's Independence Day, and running through Saturday, Sept. 30.

The program pairs Chilean wines with various restaurants and retail wine shops to offer special samples and in-store tastings for consumers.

Participating restaurants will be pouring Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, or Bordeaux-style red blends by the glass as part of
the promotion.

They include, alphabetically:

• 2 West (Ritz-Carlton Battery Park)
• AJ Maxwell's Steakhouse
• Bar Americain
• Barca 18
• Beacon
• Ben & Jack's Steakhouse
• Churrascaria Plataforma
• Churrascaria Tribeca
• Devin Tavern
• Dos Caminos Park Avenue
• Dos Caminos Soho
• Dylan Prime
• Hearth
• Hell's Kitchen
• Ipanema
• Marseille
• Maya
• Nolita House
• Pampano
• Paris Commune
• Patroon Pomaire
• Porcao Churrascaria
• Riodizio Churrascaria
• Sapa
• Savoy
• Suenos
• Thalassa
• The Rainbow Room Grill
• Town

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One Aussie label fading away

If you're into collecting rare wines, grab a bottle of Broken Earth from Australia.

Tandou Limited, a southeastern Australian agriculture company, has decided to sell its winery at Monash as well as the Broken Earth name and get out of the wine business.

Chief executive Guy Kingwill said in an announcement that Tandou, founded in 1972, is facing significant challenges.

"We need to focus our resources and strategically have made the decision to focus our resources in the areas of the cotton farm and the orchard areas and had to make a decision to exit the wine business," he said.

Tandou began as a private company growing irrigated cereals and grazing merino sheep. It now is involved in producing both cotton and wool, owning and operating fruit orchards, and operating water management systems.

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Viet entrepreneur toasts coconuts -- with his wine

Ba Thanh, a farmer and entrepreneur in Vietnam's major coconut-growing area, hasn't taken a traditional route to success.

Whereas other coconut growers concentrate on the meat, milk and fiber of the plant, he decided he wanted to turn it into wine. His first successful experiment came late last year. Now, less than a year later, his wine plant in Ben Tre province is turning out 15,000 bottles a month.

Most of the wine is consumed in-country, but he does have customers in the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Of course, coconut wine is not new. It's just that the Ben Tre success is new to the Vietnamese economy.

In the Philippines, for example, lambanog is a popular drink. It is most commonly described as coconut wine or coconut vodka. It's distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut.

Vietnamese wines still are in the developmental stage. Grapes have mainly been grown in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces, with 6,000 acres currently under cultivation.

The climate and soil in Ninh Thuan are particularly suitable for the growth and development of vines. In this province, grapevines can be pruned at any time of the year, whuch results in 2.5 to 3 harvests per year. Cardinal is the most popular grape, a unique variety popularly grown in Vietnam with a high yield potential with vines propagated mainly by cuttings.

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NY's Trezise a man of integrity

Jim Trezise leads a hectic, complex professional life. The president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is continually on the go, continually juggling sometimes-conflicting priorities, often for people with conflicting personal agendas.

I speak here of simultaneously gladhanding people on behalf of the NYW&GF, schmoozing politicians to obtain favorable legislation and their personal support for the industry, traveling from vineyard to vineyard, wine competition to wine competition, trade show to trade show, viticulture educational session to ... well, I'm not typing that again. But, you get the point.

Through it all, and in an industry that often swallows the souls of lesser mortals, Trezise has earned and sustained a reputation as an upstanding, legitimate guy. That view now has been formalized with his selection as winner of the Wine Industry Integrity Award for 2006 as decided by the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission in California.

The award, created in 1998, honors individuals who have conducted their careers with integrity while making significant contributions to the wine industry. The award will be presented at a dinner in honor of Trezise at the Wine and Roses Hotel in Lodi, CA, on Friday, Nov. 3.

According to selection panel member John Ledbetter, "Jim works tirelessly promoting and educating the American public, regulators and elected officials not only about New York wines, but American wines as well. He is an extremely dedicated and effective voice for our industry, and woven through it all is his great personal integrity."

The award was no secret to a band of several dozen judges -- including yours truly -- who labored at the New York Wine & Food Classic competition in Canandaigua, NY, last month. It was mentioned by Peter Marks of COPIA, a selection panelist, at the Governor's Cup luncheon that concluded the annual event. However, I thought it better to await the formal announcement.

Trezise has headed the NYW&GF since its inception in 1985. The foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization that sponsors research and promotion programs in support of New York grapes, juice and wine.

He also is director general of the International Federation of Wines and Spirits, based in Paris, is on the executive committee of the American Vintners Association, and is co-founder of the American Wine Alliance for Research and Education. He holds a master's degree in international communications from American University in Washington, DC, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Allegheny College.

The integrity award panel of judges this year was chaired by the wine writer Gerald D. Boyd and besides Marks included Steve Burns of O'Donnell Lane LLC, Linda Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle, John Ledbetter of Vino Farms, Norm Roby of Decanter Magazine, Zelma Long of Zelphi Wines, and last year's honoree, Robert Steinhauer of Beringer Wine Estates.

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Pinot noir dominates New Zealand test

Pinot noir was the star of this year's prestigious 12th annual Romeo Bragato Wine Awards in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Grape grower John Rutherford of Marlborough produced the winning Rutherford Pinot Noir 2004 that earned the Bragato Tropy, as well as the Mike Wolter Memorial Trophy for champion Pinot Noir.

Geoff Jensen of Omaka Springs Estates, Marlborough, took second for his Falveys Sauvignon Blanc 2006, earning the Richard Smart Trophy for Reserve Champion Wine.

Grape growers from Marlborough and the Hawke's Bay received all eight trophies and 11 champion awards.

"The Romeo Bragato Wine Awards is a special competition because it recognizes the viticultural excellence of grape growers and individual vineyards," said Philip Gregan, chief executive of New Zealand Winegrowers. "The quality of entries received were in sync with any top winemaking industry and there were some standout wines reflecting the level of innovation and expertise New Zealand has reached in grape growing and wine making."

Judges awarded 476 medals -- 53 golds, 141 silvers and 282 bronze. Entries were up 20 per cent from last year, with 667 wines received for judging.

The major awards:

• Champion of Show -- Rutherford Pinot Noir 2004, John Rutherford,
Rutherford Vineyard, Marlborough.

• Reserve Champion Wine -- Falveys Sauvignon Blanc 200http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.bold.gif6, Geoff Jensen, Omaka Springs Estates, Marlborough.

• Champion Chardonnay --
Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2005, Meric and Heather Davies, Summerhouse Vineyard, Marlborough.

• Champion Sauvignon Blanc -- Falveys Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Geoff Jensen, Omaka Springs Estates, Marlborough.

• Champion Riesling -- Charles Wiffen Riesling 2004, Charles Wiffen, Charles Wiffen Wines, Cheviot, Marlborough.

• Champion Red Wine -- Cornerstone Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2002, Robert Newton, Cornerstone Vineyard, Hawke's Bay.

• Champion Pinot Noir -- Rutherford Pinot Noir 2004, John Rutherford, Rutherford Vineyard, Marlborough.

• Champion Syrah -- Bridge Pa Louis Syrah 2004, Lisa Daysh, Bridge Pa Vineyard, Hawke's Bay.

• Champion Gewurztraminer -- Te Whare Ra Gewurztraminer 2005, Jason Flowerday, Te Whare Ra Vineyard, Marlborough.

• Champion Dessert Wine --
Villa Maria Reserve Noble Botrytis Riesling 2004, Colin and Chris Fletcher, Fletcher Vineyard, Marlborough.

• Champion Amateur Wine --
The Winery IV 2004, Chris and Sally Brownlie, Saltaire Growers, Hawke's Bay.

Click here for the complete list of medal winners. And, look here for New Zealand wineries by region.

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S. African shiraz test won by Saxenberg

Saxenberg, a South African winery using 100% own-grown fruit from its Kuils River farm near Stellenbosch, took top honors in the 2006 Wine magazine TOPS at SPAR Shiraz Challenge.

TOPS at SPAR is the leading chain of liquor and wine stores in South Africa.

The challenge drew a record 215 entries, with Saxenburg’s Private Collection 2003 taking top honors just ahead of the 2004 Koelfontein Shiraz. Each was rated 4.5 stars.

Seven others achieved 4-star status:

• Avondale Syrah 2003
• Bon Cap Syrah 2004
• Cloof The Very Sexy Shiraz 2004
• Fairview Solitude Shiraz 2003
• Groote Post Shiraz 2003
• Marianne Shiraz 2004
• Raka Biography Shiraz 2004

The winning entry came from winemaker Nico van der Merwe, the cellarmaster at Saxenburg for the past 16 years.

Judges' tasting notes for the 4.5 and 4.0 star wines:

Saxenberg Shiraz 2003
Cellar Price: $14+ (US)

"Complex nose with clean, ripe fruit balanced by pepper and spice. Palate is medium bodied with black fruit matched by firm but elegant tannins. Oak is very well managed. Long finish."

Koelfontein Shiraz 2004
Cellar Price: $8+ (US)

"Nose shows very ripe black fruit and some peppery herbaceous notes. Palate is full bodied and dense. Lots of dark fruit and firm tannins, but well integrated. Well balanced. Long finish."

Bon Cap Syrah 2004
Cellar Price: $7+ (US)

"Plenty of pepper and spice to go with abundant red fruit on the nose. Palate is medium bodied and elegant. Oak noticeable for some but should intergrate in time. Long dry finish."

Groote Post Shiraz 2003
Cellar Price: $9+ (US)

Nose is very forthcoming and shows dark fruit, some fragrant notes, spice and oak char. Palate is full bodied, intense and complex. Juicy, ripe fruit matched by elegant tannins.

Cloof The Very Sexy Shiraz 2004
Cellar Price: $9+ (US)

Dark fruit and pepper on the nose. Ripe on the palate with soft tannins. Accessible.

Avondale Syrah 2003
Cellar Price: $10+ (US)

Nose shows berry fruit and some herbaceous notes. Appealing texture in the mouth - soft and round.

Raka Biography Shiraz 2004
Cellar Price: $11+ (US)

"Forward nose showing ripe dark fruit, some perfumed notes and pepper. Palate is rich and layered. Good balance between sweet ripe fruit and oak. Long finish."

Marianne Shiraz 2004
Cellar Price: $19+ (US)

"Ripe berry fruit as well as spice and pepper on the nose. Oak quite prominent at this stage but also shows dense fruit, which suggests this wine will benefit from time in bottle."

Fairview Solitude Shiraz 2003
Cellar Price: $20+ (US)

"Nose shows red fruit, pepper and light oak notes. Palate shows concentrated fruit offset by soft, pleasing tannins and refreshing acid."

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Kentucky eases wine shipping rules

Kentucky's criminal statute against out-of-state wineries shipping wine into Kentucky has been ruled unenforceable by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Simpson in Louisville.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Huber's Orchard & Winery (its logo is seen here) in southern Indiana, which claimed Kentucky’s law violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by giving preference to Kentucky businesses over out-of-state merchants.

Now, and until a new law goes into effect in January, Kentucky cannot enforce the criminal statute against out-of-state wineries shipping into Kentucky.

Dan Meyer, executive director of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky, said the ruling needs to be studied to see how it may impact the new law.

“This is round one,” he said. “We’ll see where to go from here.”

The state General Assembly passed a law earlier this year requiring Kentucky wineries to sell their goods through wholesalers, the same as producers of beer or spirits.

Simpson also struck down current provisions requiring consumers who want wine shipped to order it in person. That could allow orders of out-of-state wine by telephone, mail or Internet. He said requiring customers to order in person gives too much advantage to Kentucky wineries, thus violating interstate commerce protections.

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Virginia's best not fully decided

A dozen judges tested 139 wines from 32 wineries and vineyards across the state Monday during the State Fair of Virginia's 15th annual Wine Competition.

The best-in-show, however, won't be known to the public until it is announced at the 3rd annual Black Tie & Boots gala fundraiser for the State Fair's scholarship program on Sept. 27.

Meanwhile, the curious will have to be content to know who won the major category gold medals. Afton Mountain Vineyards, Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Rappahannock Cellars and Stone Mountain Vineyards took two golds each. The gold medalists:

• Afton Mountain Vineyards, Estate Bottled Chardonnay, 2004
• Afton Mountain Vineyards, Gewurztraminer, 2005
• Chateau Morrisette, Cabernet Franc, 2003
• Cooper Vineyards, Norton, 2004
• Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Cabernet Franc, 2005
• Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Chardonnay, 2005
• Horton Vineyards, The Tower Series Cabernet Franc, 2002
• Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Ingleside Merlot Reserve, 2002
• Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Ingleside Virginia Gold, 2002
• Lake Anna, Barrel Select Chardonnay, 2005
• Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery, Oakencroft Merlot Reserve Monticello, 2004
• Prince Michel Vineyards, Prince Michel Cabernet Franc, NV
• Rappahannock Cellars, Cabernet Franc Reserve, 2004
• Rappahannock Cellars, Meritage Reserve, 2004
• Shenandoah Vineyards, Founder Reserve Chambourchin, Lot 03 NV
• Stone Mountain Vineyards, Chardonnay Reserve, 2005
• Stone Mountain Vineyards, Merlot, 2005
• Tarara Winery, Tarara Winery Merlot, 2004
• Waterford Vineyards, Barrel Select Chardonnay, 2005
• Woodland Vineyard, Woodland Vineyard Chardonnay Barrel Select Virginia, 2005

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Cease-fire helping Israeli grape harvest

In the whole scheme of precarious life in the Middle East, making wine seems like incidental stuff.

However, winemaking is part of Israel's economy and the current cessation in hostilities with Lebanon-based Hezbollah is good news for people involvbed in that enterprise.

The cease-fire is allowing Israelis to harvest an especially promising grape crop that could prove to be the nation's best ever. Numerous soldiers just back from combat can be seen helping with the harvest.

"At the last minute," Noam Jacoby told an Associated Press reporter. He is the manager of the Recanati Winery, whose vineyards on the Lebanese border were declared a closed military zone during the war. Besides a few rows of vines that were plowed by tanks, Jacoby said, "it's not too bad."

Grape harvesting began this week in northern Israel, the richest grape-growing region. The weather has been perfect this season, but 34 days of fighting threatened the ability to take advantage of it.

"Treatments that had to be done were missed," Ronit Badler of the Galil Mountain Winery told the AP. "The wine, the grapes look good, but we'll have to see what happens."

Israeli wines have progressed in recent years beyond the stereotypical thick, sweet vintages and have been getting encouraging reviews from wine critics. The northern part of Israel is ideally suited to wine-grape cultivation because of its volcanic soil and its relatively cool climate with low temperature differentials between day and night.

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2 icons lead the winners in NY Wine Classic

Photo by William M. Dowd

CANANDAIGUA, NY -- Two iconic Finger Lakes wineries came out on top of a record field in the 21st annual New York Wine & Food Classic judging this week.

A 2005 Dry Riesling from Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards won the Governor’s Cup award, emblematic of the best of show. Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars was rated Winery of the Year for the highest point total in the judging.

The event, held at the Inn on the Lake here at Canandaigua Lake in the western Finger Lakes near Rochester, drew 703 entries from New York-only vineyards in the official regions of Long Island, the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Erie, and other regions of New York State.

I was among 24 judges from across the nation and England, with a heavy contingent from California. Judges included prominent wine writers, restaurateurs, retailers, and wine educators. Four-judge panels determined the initial awards in blind tastings, with top-scoring wines evaluated by all 24 of us for Best of Category and Governor’s Cup awards on the second day, also in a blind tasting.

The awards were announced at the Governor’s Cup Celebration luncheon at the New York Wine & Culinary Center (seen above) that was formally opened in June. The restaurant prepared a special multi-course luncheon using all New York ingredients and paired with award-winning wines from the 2005 competition, which was also held at the Inn on the Lake.

The Classic, organized by the indefatigable Teresa Knapp of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation headed by the equally indefatigable Jim Trezise, was open to all 239 New York wineries. This year 30 double gold (unanimous vote by the panel), 53 gold, 200 silver, and 249 bronze medals were awarded.

The best-of-category awards:

Best White -- Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards, 2005 Dry Riesling.
Best Sparkling -- Chateau Frank, 2000 Blanc de Noirs.
Best Rose/Blush -- Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Emperor’s Blush.
Best Red -- Jamesport Vineyards, 2004 Cabernet Franc.
Best Specialty Wine -- Baldwin Vineyards, Strawberry Wine.
Best Dessert Wine -- Wolffer Estate Vineyards, 2005 Late Harvest Chardonnay.

The best-of-class awards:

Best Vinifera Sparkling Wine --
Chateau Frank, 2000 Blanc de Noirs.
Best Chardonnay -- Bedell Cellars/Corey Creek Vineyards, 2005 Reserve Chardonnay.
Best Dry Riesling -- Hermann J. Wiemer, 2005 Dry Riesling.
Best Semi-Dry Riesling -- Mazza Chautauqua Cellars, 2005 Riesling.
Best Semi-Sweet Riesling -- Chateau Lafayette Reneau, 2005 Johannisberg Riesling.
Best Gewurztraminer -- (tie) Bedell Cellars/Corey Creek Vineyards, 2005 Gewurztraminer, and Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, 2005 Gewurztraminer.
Best Cayuga White -- Swedish Hill Vineyards, 2005 Cayuga White.
Best Other White Hybrid -- Atwater Estate Vineyards, 2005 Vidal Blanc.
Best Other Native Varietal -- Thirsty Owl Wine Co., 2005 Diamond.
Best White French American Hybrid -- Red Newt Cellars, Red Newt White.
Best Niagara -- Red Newt Cellars, Blue Newt White.
Best Native White Blend -- Lucas Vineyards, Miss Behavin’.
Best Blush -- Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Emperor’s Blush.
Best Cabernet Franc -- Jamesport Vineyards, 2004 Cabernet Franc.
Best Merlot -- Peconic Bay Winery, 2001 Merlot.
Best Cabernet Sauvignon -- Chateau Lafayette Reneau, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Best Pinot Noir -- Chateau Lafayette Reneau, 2002 Pinot Noir.
Best Other Red Vinifera -- Keuka Spring Vineyards, 2005 Lemberger.
Best French American Hybrid Red Blend -- Lucas Vineyards, 2005 Tug Boat Red.
Best Mead -- Torrey Ridge Winery, Scarlet Red.
Best Fruit Wine -- Baldwin Vineyards, Strawberry Wine.
Best Late Harvest -- Wolffer Estate Vineyards, 2005 Late Harvest Chardonnay.
Best Ice/Iced Wine -- Lakewood Vineyards, 2005 Borealis.

Six wines were disqualified from the second-day judging because they did not meet the minimum of 100 cases available.

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Judges pick the best of Missouri

Six in-state wineries earned "Best of the Bunch Honors" in the 2006 Missouri Wine Competition.

The competition, sponsored by the Missouri Wine & Grape Board, drew 207 wines from 24 Missouri wineries.

Best of Class awards in nine categories went to these wines:

• Best Sparkling wine - Stone Hill Winery 2002 Blanc de Blancs
• Best Dry White wine - Montelle Winery 2005 Seyval Blanc
• Best Dry Red wine - Tower Rock Winery 2004 Cynthiana
• Best Semi-Dry White wine - Augusta Winery 2004 Vignoles
• Best Semi-Dry Red wine - Augusta Winery Reserve Red
• Best Sweet White wine - Stone Hill Winery 2005 Vignoles
• Best Sweet Red wine - Augusta Winery River Valley Red
• Best Dessert/Ice wine - St. James Winery 2004 Late Harvest Vignoles
• Best Dessert/Fortified wine - Mount Pleasant Winery 2002 Vintage Port

The Governor's Cup, the ultimate award for a Missouri winery, will be awarded to one of the Best of Class winners on Sept. 28 at the opening of the "Missouri Wine: History Uncorked" exhibit at the Mercantile Library in St. Louis. Details on the event: (800) 392-9463.

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Vino in need of veritas?

Consider this statement:

" ... (O)ver the last 20 years or so, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has gotten pretty casual about enforcing the letter of the law. These days the biggest selling 'wine' in Washington state is the 5-liter boxed product bearing the Franzia label. Retailing for about $8 a box, it bears the description 'table wine with natural flavors.'

"Discard the 'table' and 'natural,' which have no legal meaning at all, and you're left with 'wine with flavors.' Look back up at the definition and you'll see that under Washington state law, Franzia boxes aren't 'wine.' And if they're not wine pure and simple, the law goes on to require that the label must bear 'a truthful and adequate statement of composition.' And even then, such products can be called only 'specialty wine,' if not 'artificial wine' or 'imitation wine."

That's the position taken by writer Roger Downey in a Seattle Weekly commentary.

Agree or disagree, it's quite an interesting topic, particularly with Washington's status as a giant among American wine producing regions.


International Wine & Spirits results are in

Photo by William M. Dowd

The results are in for the International Wine and Spirit Competition, held in London each year.

Here are the best-in-class gold medal winners in the wine competition. For winners in the spirits competition, go to Dowd's Spirits Notebook for a complete rundown.


• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Veneto, 2000
Amarone Classico Della Valpolicella DOC Monteci, 2000

• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Veneto, 2001
Il Bosco Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC, 2001

• Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Veneto, 2003
Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Classico, 2003

• Barolo DOCG - Piedmonte - 2001
Marengo Vini Barolo Fontanazza, 2001

• Beaujolais Village AC
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, 2005

• Blaufrankisch - Burgenland
Weingut Giefing 2003 Blaufrankisch Reserve

• Blended Red Wine - Barbera Dominated - Isola Dei Nuraghi IGT
Cantina Sociale di Dolianova "Terresicci" Red IGT Isola Dei Nuragai, 2003

• Blended Red Wine - Brazil
Aurora Cellars Proprietary Red, 2004

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Franc Dominated - Stellenbosch
Dornier Donatus Red, 2003

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Chile - 2001
Carmen Winemaker's Reserve Red, 2001

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Stellenbosch - 2001
Meerlust Rubicon, 2001

• Blended Red Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon Dominated - Stellenbosch – 2003
Vergelegen Estate Red - 2003

Lanzerac Classic, 2002
• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Traditional Blends - England

Denbies Greenfields, 2003

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Coonawarra - 2001
Parker Terra Rossa First Growth, 2001

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Maipo Valley - 2004
Valdivieso Cabernet Sauvignon Vineya, 2004

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Mendoza - 2003
Trapiche Medalla, 2003

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Rapel Valley
Vina Misiones de Rengo SA Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004

• Cabernet Sauvignon Blend - Napa
Oakville Ranch Robert's Blend, 2001

• Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - McLaren Vale
Geoff Merrill Pimpala Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, 2000

• Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - Stellenbosch
Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Laureat, 2004

• Carmenère - Colchagua Valley - 2004
Arboleda Carmenère, 2004

• Chianti Classico DOCG - 2003
Brolio Chianti Classico (Ricasoli), 2003

• DOCa - Rioja - Crianza - Red Blends - 2001
Domecq Bodegas Azpilicueto Reserva, 2001

• DOCa - Rioja - Crianza - Red Blends - 2003
United Wineries Bodegas Langunilla Crianza, 2003

• DOCa - Rioja - Crianza - Tempranillo
Viña Diezmo Crianza, 2002

• Douro DOC - 2003
Escada d'Oro Reserve, 2003
Chateau La Tour Carnet, 2003


• Alsace Grand Cru AC, Riesling
Cave de Turckheim Riesling Grand Cru Brand, 2002

• Beaujolais Village AC
Sainsbury's White Burgundy, Rodet, 2004

• Beerenauslese - Austria
Lenz Moser Prestige Beerenauslese, 2004

• Botrytis Affected Wine - Sémillon - Australia
De Bortoli Noble One, 2004

• Botrytis Affected Wine - Western Cape
Nederburg Noble Late Harvest, 2005

• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Australia - NV
Arras Bottle Fermented, 2000

• Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine - Traditional Blends – England
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, 1998

• Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - Tuscany
Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Greppone Mazzi, 2000

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Coonawarra - 2003
Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003

• Cabernet Sauvignon - Stellenbosch - 2003
Saxenburg Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003

• Chablis Grand Cru AC
Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Reserve de L'Obédience, 2003

• Champagne - Prestige Cuvée - 1983 - Blanc de Blancs
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires, 1983
De Venoge Grand Vin Des Princes, 1993

• Champagne - Prestige Cuvée - 1985 - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir
Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie, 1985
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin La Grande Dame, 1995

• Champagne - Prestige Cuvée - 1998 - Blends
Champagne Bourgeois Cuvée du Dernier Siécle, 1998

• Champagne - Prestige Cuvée - 1999 - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir
Champagne Jacquart Cuvée Allegra Vintag, 1999

• Champagne - Prestige Cuvée - Non Vintage - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir
Charles Heidsieck Reserve Charlie Mis en Cave en, 1990

• Champagne - Vintage - Blanc de Blancs - 1998
Champagne Duval Leroy Blanc de Chardonnay, 1998

• Champagne - Vintage - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir - 1989
Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesime, 1989

• Champagne - Vintage - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir - 1996
Piper Heidsieck Millesime, 1996

• Champagne - Vintage - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir - 1998
Piper Heidsieck Millesime, 1998

• Chardonnay - Casablanca Valley - 2004
Laroche Rio Vino Chardonnay Vina Punto Alto, 2004

• Chardonnay - Casablanca Valley - 2005
Arboleda Chardonnay, 2005

• Chardonnay - Marlborough - 2004
Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay, 2004

• Chardonnay - Monterey
Riva Ranch Reserve Chardonnay, 2003

• Chardonnay - Stellenbosch - 2004
Uva Mira Vineyards Selection Chardonnay, 2004

• Chenin Blanc - Botrytis - Regions of South Africa
Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur Noble Late Harvest, 2004

• Chenin Blanc - Coastal Region
Bellingham The Maverick Chenin Blanc, 2004

• Chenin Blanc - Stellenbosch and Wards
Ken Forrester FM Chenin Blanc 2003 Stellenbosch

• Côtes de Castillon AC
Chateau d'Aiguilhe 2001 Cotes de Castillon

• DO Priorato - Red Blend
Coma Vella, 2003
Priorat Coma Vella, 2003

• Douro DOC - 2004
Sogrape Vinhos SA Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda Vinha do Pombal, 2004

• Gewürztraminer - Israel
Sha'al Gewürztraminer, 2004

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Indy International picks its winners

Nearly 4,000 wines were entered in the 2006 version of the Indiana Commercial
Vintners & Amateur Winemakers' Indy International Wine Competition held this month.

Of the 3,859 entries, 341 received gold medals,, 1,156 silvers and 1,370 bronzes. Wines were judged in Commercial, the sub-category Indiana Commercial, and Amateur categories.

The winningest Indiana winery was the Huber Winery of Borden, IN. The Indiana Winegrowers Guild's state wine champion award went to Larry A. Kreke of Indianapolis for his Liebfraumilch Scolley Winery, Muller-Thurgau 2006. Mahlon Butz of West Lafayette won the Indiana-Grown Amateur champion award.

The American Airlines Trophy for best of show grand champion wine went to Mission Hill Family Estate of Westbank, BC, for the Canadian operation's Five Vineyards Riesling Ice Wine 2004.

Other American Airlines Trophies were presented as follows:

• Red Wine -- Martin Family Vineyards of Healdsburg, CA, for its Martin Petite Sirah 2003.

• White Wine -- Sileni Cellar Selections of New Zealand for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006.

• Sparkling Wine -- Champagne Pommery of Reims, France, for its Millesime Grand Cru Champagne 1998.

• Dessert Wine --
Foster’s Wine Estates, Australia, for its Trafford Tawny Port.

• Rose/Blush Wine -- Harlow Ridge Winery of Ceres, CA, for its Blush, Lodi 2005.


• Winningest Winery -- V. Sattui of St. Helena, CA.

• Fruit Wine -- Cooper’s Hawk Winery of Orland Park, IL, for its rhubarb wine.

• Mead -- Meadery of the Rockies, Palisade, CO

The competition coordinator for the event was Ellen Butz. A complete rundown on medal winners in all categories is available here.

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NZ winemaker bucks the trend

Neighboring Australia is letting its grapes rot on the vines and in the fields to combat an oversupply from further depressing prices in its wine industry.

But, in New Zealand some growers are bragging about a bumper harvest.

Marlborough, the industry giant that produces Grove Mill and Sanctuary wines, has reported increased after-tax profits as a result of a good harvest and the dropping value of the New Zealand dollar which helps export business, according to company CEO Rob White (seen here).

"The 2006 harvest is considerably up on the 2005 harvest and we are very comfortable with the quality. A bigger harvest produces better economies because it lowers our cost structure," White said.

The forecast was based on a continued decline in the Kiwi dollar, which had helped export sales. But while export prospects were brighter – the company exports 64 per cent of production with sales strong in the U.S. – prices at home were under pressure.

"It's quite brutal. There's increased competition out of Australia ... . There's a lot more pressure from retailers in terms of price and supplier margins. We are seeing prices squeezed."

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SA's Bilton broadens its scope

The new winemaker at one of South Africa's best wineries is making his mark very quickly.

Rudi de Wet (seen here) has created Bilton Wines' first white, a Bilton Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Bilton has built its reputation on its red wines.

De Wet and consultant Giorgio Dalla Cia didn't follow the usual Sauvignon Blanc style, adding a touch of Sémillon for its brilliant green straw color and tropical fruit notes.

Bilton's vineyards are located high on the slopes of the Helderberg, where the climate encourages slow ripening of the grapes and the development of several varietal flavour.

The new wine is expected to retail domestically at about $6 a bottle, jumping to about $9 or $10 once it is exported to the U.S.


Cinzano wooing the ladies

Cinzano isn't just the same old vermouth plus a name on cafe table umbrellas.

The Italian company is adding to its product lineup for the first time in 144 years with two new varieties of its wine-based drink, Spritzz Up, which are designed to be drunk with lemonade or tonic over ice.

"Fruity Wine" and "Cheeky Red," says the company's marketing manager, are aimed at women in the 18-30 age niche.

"We've looked at the market, done our research and believe there's a sizeable opportunity for a wine-based drink that you mix with lemonade or tonic in large wine glasses over ice," Karen Crowley said in a statement.

Spritzz Up is 14.5% alcohol by volume. The primary market will be the United Kingdom, but with an eye toward taking the drink to the U.S. in the near future.

Cinzano has been making vermouth since 1796 and is particularly known for its red, sweet version called Cinzano Rosso although it also has a white called Cinzano Bianco plus Cinzano Extra Dry, and rosé, lemon and orange versions.

The brand is owned by Campari Group.

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Illinois latest to give re-corking the OK

Come Jan. 1, 2007, you can count Illinois among the growing number of states allowing re-corking of wines purchased with restaurant meals.

More than 30 states now allow restaurants to re-cork unfinished portions of wine bought by customers. Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation Monday that will allow patrons to take one partially consumed bottle with them, providing all laws involving transportation of alcohol are followed.

In most cases, that means the bottle must be recorked, put in a secure bag, and carried in a locked glove compartment or trunk of the vehicle. Otherwise, the Illinois Vehicle Code still prohibits transportation of alcoholic beverages in open containers.

John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who sponsored the legislation in the state senate, said he did so because it may reduce the number of drunken drivers because diners would no longer feel the need to drink the entire bottle before they leave the restaurant.


Wine Spectator does the honors

Wine Spectator magazine has selected three establishments to become new Grand Award winners in its annual global rankings of what it refers to as "restaurants passionate about wine."

That brings to 77 the number of Grand Award winners, rather exclusive company when one considers we're talking the whole world, and that the total number of places honored at one of three award levels is just 3,772.

The newbies are:

Blackberry Farm, in Walland, TE, in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has 4,200 selections among 90,000 bottles.

Restaurant Latour, at the Crystal Springs Resort in Hardyston in northern New Jersey. It has 2,800 selections among 28,000 bottles.

Sona, in Los Angeles. It has 2,200 selections among 21,000 bottles.

The full listings of award winners are in the "Dining Guide" issue of Wine Spectator dated Aug. 31.