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.


Decision is in: Too many Georgian wines are fakes

When Russia slapped a ban on the import of wines from neighboring Georgia and Moldova, merchants in the smaller countries loudly protested.

Russia's health ministry said too many of the wines from their former partners in the defunct USSR were health hazards because of impurities and intentionally deceptive ingredients.

Turns out the Russians were correct, at least in the case of Georgia. The United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) now says its tests show that 90% of Georgian wines sold abroad are counterfeit, and 80% of what Georgia exports is sold in Russian markets.

Back in May, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili served wine to his cabinet ministers -- "special" blends of several varieties of foreign counterfeits of Georgian wine. He was making the point to chastise government ministers for not assertively promoting Georgia's wine abroad, thereby allowing bogus brands to take a share of the market.

Police have been arresting sellers and purchasers of phony Georgian wines (as seen in the photo above), but the problem has broad reach in this area of Europe.

Georgia has a long winemaking tradition and for years had a good reputation in Europe, but the FAO says current practices range from alcoholic cocktails mixing spirits, colorings and flavors to wines bearing false appellations of origin.

Emmanuel Hidier, of the FAO Investment Center, said in a statement that the Georgian government had made some progress in crushing the fake wine market at home, but the situation had barely improved for wines sent abroad.

The FAO has been closely involved with Georgian wine since 2000, when the government asked it to help draft the country's first wine law. That law paved the way for Gerogia's first appellation of origin system, similar to those seen in other wine countries. Winemakers are required to reveal where they got their grapes and how they made their wine. A loophole used by counterfeiters takes advantage of the fact that no official documentation is needed to transport wine in bulk or in bottles within Georgia.

The FAO said it was now helping the Georgian government create a new oversight agency to improve implementation of the wine law.

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South Africa goes on a terroir

Simply saying a wine is from Australia, South Africa, Argentina, France or wherever doesn't satisfy the true wine lover. Such folks thrive on detail, such as terroir.

That's the characteristics of the dirt and the atmosphere and the topography of where a particular grape is grown, and what the better winemakers wrest from the soil.

The first South African Terroir Wine Awards gives recognition to the importance of such information.

Bon Courage Estate in Robertson, Steenberg Vineyards in Constantia and Bloemendal Estate in Durbanville made history at the first-ever SA terroir event.

Bon Courage entered two wines, and each won a national certificate emblematic of the best in class -- shiraz and fortified dessert wine, in this instance.

Steenberg also received two national certificates, the top red blend and the top merlot.

Bloemendal won only one best in class, the top sauvignon blanc, but it did double duty by receiving the highest score of all the wines entered.

Twelve wines originating from eight different winegrowing areas in South Africa's Cape winelands received national certificates. Only a certified "wine of origin" made from grapes from a specific ward (a smaller area within a district), estate or single vineyard qualified for the competition.

Its organizers say this type of competition is the first of its kind in South Africa and probably the first of its kind in the world.

The 2006 SA Terroir Wine Awards national certificates for the top wine of a specific cultivar were awarded to the Meerendal pinotage 2004 (Durbanville), Hartenberg cabernet sauvignon 2003 (Stellenbosch/Bottelary), Koelfontein chardonnay 2004 (Ceres), Hamilton Russell pinot noir 2004 (Walker Bay), Hildenbrand chenin blanc 2005 (Wellington), Bergsig touriga nacional 2005 (Breedekloof), Bloemendal sauvignon blanc 2005 (Durbanville), Steenberg merlot 2004 (Constantia) and Bon Courage shiraz inkara 2004 (Robertson).

The Steenberg Catharina 2003 (Constantia) received the national certificate for the top red blend, the Bon Courage white muscadel 2005 (Robertson) the national certificate for the top fortified dessert wine and the Lord Neethling weisser riesling noble late harvest 2005 (Stellenbosch, Neethlingshof) the national certificate for the top natural sweet wine.

Most entries were shiraz wines (24), followed by red blends (23), sauvignon blanc (20), pinotage (18), chardonnay (15), cabernet sauvignon (13), merlot (10), chenin blanc (7), fortified dessert wines (7) and natural sweet (4). Two Cap Classique, Colombar and touriga nacional wines were entered and one gewürztraminer, Cape riesling, pinot noir and white blend.

The three wines that received the highest average points were the Bloemendal sauvignon blanc, Avondrood sauvignon blanc 2006 (Goudini) and Steenberg merlot 2004.

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Rhode Island joins recorking movement

We recently reported on new laws approved in Maryland and Ohio to allow restaurant patrons to carry out unfinished portions of wine purchased by the bottle.

Add Rhode Island to the list.

Gov. Donald Carcieri has signed into law what statehouse denizens in Providence have been referring to as a "merlot-to-go" bill. It lets restaurants recork and seal unfinished bottles of wine. Supporters of the law say it should reduce drunken driving because people will no longer feel that they must finish a bottle of wine.

As in the 30 other states allowing such activity, the bottles need to be recorked and transported in an inaccessible area, such as a car's trunk or behind the last upright seat in a van.


Join Mr. Parker, for a mere $12.5G

When most people think of the Naples (FL) Winter Wine Festival, they think opulence. So, it should come as no surprise that an event noted for raising $40 million for charity since its inception in 2000 continues to think big.

The latest twist: a $12,500-a-ticket wine tasting session with Robert M. Parker Jr. (above), one of the world's most influential wine critics.

The festival, scheduled for next Jan. 26-28, already has lined up a list of celebrity chefs that includes Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. The chefs are paired with various vintners to prepare meals at the homes of festival trustees.

Separate auction items for 2007 will include dinner with Martha Stewart in her New York and Maine homes, and a walk-on part in the ABC-TV show "Grey's Anatomy." Plus, a Rolls-Royce Phantom will be auctioned off.

The Parker event is ultra-ultra exclusive, limited to just 50 people for the Jan. 25 session. The $12,500 price will NOT include a ticket for the festival itself. That event, limited to 550 attendees, goes for $7,500 per couple or $20,000 for four people.

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Cornell names its latest offspring

The wait is over.

Meet Noiret, Corot noir and Valvin Muscat, New York's three newest wine grapes.

As I reported a few months ago, the new varieties come from the patient nurturing process at the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station run by Cornell University in the Finger Lakes village of Geneva. Prior to their public release, the varieties go under code names. After release, it is up to winemakers to decide whether they'll use the names in their labelling.

Bruce Reisch, a grape breeder and professor of horticultural sciences at Cornell, said the newly-named grapes developed by Cornell are broadly adapted to the wine-growing regions of the East and produce high-quality varietal wines superior to those now being produced.

The grapes were released at the 31st annual American Society for Enology and Viticulture/Eastern Section Conference and Symposium, held July 9-11 in Rochester, N.Y.

• Noiret (nwahr-ay) is a mid-season red wine grape. It is a hybrid made in a 1973 cross between NY65.0467.08 and Steuben.

• Corot noir is a mid- to late-season red wine grape, It is a complex interspecific hybrid resulting from a 1970 cross between Seyve Villard 18-307 and Steuben.

"Both Noiret and Corot noir represent distinct improvements in the red wine varietal options available to cold-climate grape growers," Reisch said. "Wines are free of the hybrid aromas typical of many other red hybrid grapes." Noiret is richly colored and has notes of green and black pepper, with raspberry and mint aromas and a fine tannin structure, he said. Care should be taken to grow Noiret on sites less susceptible to extreme winter temperatures and downy mildew."

• Valvin Muscat is a mid-season white wine grape with a distinctive muscat flavor and aroma that is desirable for blending as well as for varietal wines. The complex interspecific hybrid grape resulted from a 1962 cross between Couderc 299-35 (an interspecific hybrid known as Muscat du Moulin) and Muscat Ottonel.

"Valvin Muscat is recommended for the production of high-quality muscat wines," Reisch said. "Vines are well suited to good grape-growing sites in the eastern United States, and should only be grown on suitable rootstocks." Some care should be exercised to control disease, and fruit should be picked when the muscat flavor reaches its peak, he noted.

Click here for my pre-release tasting notes.

With the new varieties, whose names are trademarked, the Experiment Station now has nine wine grapes to its credit. The previous Cornell releases are: Melody, Horizon, Cayuga White, Chardonel, Traminette and GR 7.

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A guide to the guides

There are lots of wine magazines with lots of tasting notes and lots of "best of" ratings.

How do you know which truly are good consumer guides?

That's something the former editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine wondered, so he put together a guide to the guides that makes for good reading.

As W.R. Tish (seen here) notes, "It doesn't take a fly on the wall at editorial tastings to see important differences among the major glossy magazines, as well as the extent to which their burgeoning wine review sections are as much marketing guides for the trade as they are buying guides for consumers."

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Maryland, Ohio: Put a cork in it

On July 1, Maryland joined about 30 other states that allow restaurant diners to take home unfinished bottles of wine. In late September, Ohio will join the crowd.

Such bottles still are considered "open containers" and can be transported only in a locked glove compartment, cargo area or trunk of a vehicle.

"We believe that this new law will encourage more customers to purchase wine by the bottle while simultaneously encouraging responsible drinking," said Melvin Thompson, vice president of government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, in a statement. "Re-corking gives the customer the choice of finishing the wine at home instead of being forced to drink it or lose it."

Will this really matter to restaurateurs?

I checked with Jerry Pellegrino, owner/chef of Corks in Baltimore, a wine-centric establishment that deals exclusively in domestic wines, many of which Pellegrino ferrets out in his travels around the country.

"We offer our guests so many alternatives to ordering an entire bottle of wine that I'm not sure the law will help our wine sales, what proponents of the legislation claim," Pellegrino said.

Some restaurateurs were concerned that because it is less expensive to buy a bottle of wine than buying it by the glass, the sales of by-the-glass wines might drop off. However, others note that people who purchase by-the-glass usually do so to either limit consumption or to try something new without a commitment to an entire bottle.

"We're offering over 40 half-bottles and each one of those can be ordered by the glass," Pellegrino told me. "And, we're not talking wines that are the normal suspects. We have things like Foley Charbono, Martinelli 'Guiseppe and Louisa' zinfandel, a vertical of Corison 'Napa' cab and Paul Hobbs 'Dinner Vineyard' chardonnay available. So, if you don't want to order another full bottle at Corks, you don't have to."

Brian Fiori, general manager of Morton's steakhouse in the Sheraton hotel at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, said recorking could be an advantage for solo diners.

"We have a lot of single diners from the hotel," he said, who like to have fine wine with their meals. He told the Sun newspaper the recorking rules will allow these diners to pick a bottle of wine from the part of the restaurant's wine list that offers the widest selection, then bring the leftovers to their room.

A few other Pellegrino observations:

"The law may benefit properties that don't offer an aggressive wine by the glass program or where wine isn't a priority and guests may want another bottle for the table. But I think, going back to the big picture, the law sets a tone about how we view wine in Maryland. We're saying that it's OK to take a bottle home in your car. If you're a wine drinker, you're responsible enough to drive around with it and not gulp it out of the bottle on the highway.

"Maybe it's not something that we should regulate so tightly. Under-age children aren't going to start ordering it on the Internet and have it shipped to their home, and so on. So, financially it's not going to be that beneficial to restaurateurs, but in our quest to deregulate how wine is purchased and distributed I think it's a big win."

In Ohio, where Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill on June 20 that will allow restaurant customers to take home their unfinished bottles, the 90-day countdown to implementation is under way.

Said Walt Wirth, a managing partner in the distributing company 55 Degrees, "The biggest losers will be the servers or managers who got to finish those partially empty bottles of wine."

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Chirac's Parisian wine collection to be sold

Jacques Chirac did a lot more than run Paris during two decades as its flamboyant mayor before he went on to become premier of France.

Among other things, he collected 5,000 bottles of wine, a stash the city now wants to sell off.

The majority of the cellar's 5,000 most prestigious bottles, including several 1990 Château Pétrus, worth more than $1,800 each, are scheduled to be sold this fall. Bertrand Delanoë, the current mayor, said he expects the sale, which includes 191 bottles of 1976 Krug champagne, to raise about $700,000.

During his time as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, were known for their penchant for food and wine on which they are said to have spent $2.7 million of taxpayers' money between 1987 and 1995 alone. Delanoë, who became mayor in 2001, has cut the wine and champagne budget by 65 per cent.

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