The Coming Wine Crunch

By Robert Whitley

October 15, 2019 6 min read

A headline in the San Francisco Chronicle wine section caught my eye this week: "California wineries, fearing recession, cut grape output. Farmers are worried."

Setting aside the reality that farmers are always worried, my takeaway from the article by Chronicle wine editor Esther Mobley is the fact that there is a looming wine glut. Huge grape crops in 2018, and now 2019, have the wine industry in a dither.

The underlying reason for concern, seldom stated, is that growth in wine sales has flatlined in recent years. The legalization of marijuana in many states is a contributing factor, along with millennials' renewed interest in spirits and cocktails. The increased competition has slowed what was once robust growth in wine sales.

You might think that in the face of the new reality and back-to-back abundant harvests, there would be pressure to lower prices and woo more consumers back to the wine aisle. But you would be wrong.

There are two kinds of growth: volume, as in case sales, and revenue. With sales volume flat, there is only one other path for wineries to boost their bottom line. Cut production, and increase prices. It's just a hunch, but it's my expectation that going into the holidays and beyond, everyone will be paying just a little more for their favorite hooch.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Herdade de Sao Miguel 2018 Colheita Seleccionada Rose, Alentejo, Portugal ($14.99) — The dry table wines of Portugal continue to be among the best values in today's wine world. This dry rose from Alentajo, produced from Touriga Nacional, syrah and Aragonez, is fresh and lively, showing notes of strawberry and citrus. It is beautifully balanced between fresh acidity and a creamy mid-palate. Rating: 90.

Terra Alpina 2018 Pinot Grigio, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy ($16) — Alois Lageder, who produces this wine, is one of the most respected winemakers in northern Italy and an icon in Alto Adige. His signature is purity and freshness, and this pinot grigio reflects Lageder's passion on both counts. With flinty minerality, a gentle beam of fresh citrus and exquisite balance, it's an extraordinary wine for the price and a beautiful example of pinot grigio's potential to excite and titillate. Rating: 90.

Tasting Notes

Canvasback 2016 'Grand Passage' Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($84) — The Red Mountain district is one of Washington's sweet spots for cabernet sauvignon, and Canvasback is one of its stars. The 2016 Grand Passage is richly layered, with impressive depth and complexity. On the palate, the wine offers layers of rich dark-fruit aroma, an inviting floral note and beautifully integrated tannins. While enjoyable now, the pleasure factor will increase exponentially with additional cellar time. Serve between now and 2026. Rating: 95.

Chappellet 2018 Signature Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley ($38) — Though a bit pricy for a chenin blanc, consider that Chappellet has a long history with this underrated grape variety, and that winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus has a no-compromise approach, the same tact he takes with the legendary Chappellet cabernet sauvignons. The 2018 chenin is beautifully structured, with firm acidity balancing the natural fruitiness. The more common approach is a softer, sweeter, more quaffable expression of the grape. This vintage is focused on citrus aromas, such as lemon and orange zest with a passing whiff of apricot. Stony minerality adds to the complexity and ultimate enjoyment of this stunning example of chenin blanc done right. Rating: 94.

Frank Family Vineyards 2016 Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($38) — The zin from Frank Family delivers all of the ripe, jammy berry goodness that zin has to offer without the over-the-top alcohol by volume (ABV) so common in California zinfandel. Blackberry and boysenberry dominate, and a touch of oak spice is the cherry on top. Rating: 93.

William Fevre 2018 Champs Royaux, Chablis, France ($24.99) — The beauty of Chablis is the little-known secret that the village wines often aren't a big come-down from the district's premier crus wines. That's especially true in the hands of a top producer like Fevre. The Champs Royaux from 2018 delivers the signature minerality and stony note of Chablis, along with aromas of apple and citrus, and a subtle hint of wood spice owing to a small percentage of the vintage that is matured in oak barrels. Rating: 90.

Russiz Superiore 2016 Cabernet Franc, Collio, Italy ($25) — The reds that do best in the Collio, most renowned for its white wines, are the early ripening varieties, such as cabernet franc. Marco Falluga's cab franc under his Russiz Superiore label is a good example of the potential for cab franc in the region. This medium-bodied red shows aromas of cherry and blueberry along with an inviting note of white pepper that becomes more pronounced as the wine sits in the glass. It will benefit from additional cellar time to soften the tannins and allow the underlying fruit to more fully emerge. Rating: 88.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]

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