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Wine of the week: Lyeth Meritage 2012

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Lyeth MeritageWineries are like rock ‘n roll bands — they come and go for no particular reason, and if you write about wine or drink it, that’s something you need to understand. Just because a winery made a great wine one vintage is no guarantee it will be around to make a great wine five years later.

Which is much of what you need to know about the Lyeth Meritage ($12, purchased, 13.5%). In the 1980s and early 1990s, this was one of the world’s great wine values, and then it disappeared. I had not seen it in 20 years until I was digging through the bottom shelves of a Dallas wine shop a couple of weeks ago, and there it was.

Hence this very unexpected — but very positive — Lyeth Meritage review. A Big Wine company bought the Lyeth name and has been turning out a full line of wine for the past couple of years. They have done an excellent job with the Meritage, a red blend that’s mostly merlot and cabernet sauvignon. And it shows just how good cheap wine can be when the producer cares — terroir, even. Look for sweet Sonoma black fruit, earthiness, and tannins that offer some grip, each part in balance with the other.

Highly recommended; big enough so that it would complement red meat, but not so big you can’t sip it in the evening after work. And if Lyeth can come back, does that mean there’s hope for Rockpile?

Winebits 374: Wine snobs, wine grapes, lawsuits

winenews

wine snobsBecause we’re better than you are: The Wine Spectator reports that the next big grape will be cabernet franc, mostly because of its “gossamer structure.” The Wine Curmudgeon has absolutely no idea what this means, because, as the article points out, I’m one of the many who aren’t hip enough to appreciate the grape. Plus, there are cabernet franc wines at trendy places in Manhattan. Plus, quotes from sommeliers. Need we say more? This is the kind of wine writing that makes me grit my teeth, knowing I still have so much work to do.

Something besides the usual: The always erudite Andrew Meggitt writes that wine drinkers should not limit themselves to the usual, but should be willing to experiment with wine made with different grapes and from regions that aren’t California. And, somehow, he doesn’t use the word gossamer once. Meggitt, the winemaker at Missouri’s St. James, has been working wonders with norton for more than a decade, and also recommends vignoles, chambourcin, and riesling. Maybe I can introduce him to the writer at the Spectator.

Bring on the attorneys: How else to explain this sentence? “Beam Suntory’s lawyers have argued that a reasonable consumer would understand that having ‘handmade’ on a label does not infer that no machines were used throughout the entire production process.” No wonder my mother wanted me to go to law school — you can make words mean what they don’t, and get paid lots of money for it. This is from yet nanother deceptive label spirits lawsuit, arguing that it’s not possible for a multi-million case brand to be handmade or handcrafted or artisan. So far, the suits target spirits, but the Wine Curmudgeon’s advice makes sense: Don’t wait for a judge to tell you to change your labels.

Wine reviews still matter

winetrends

wine reviews

The conventional wisdom in the wine business over the past decade that wine reviews — unless you’re the Winestream Media, writing for an audience that desperately needs to know that its $28 wine got 93 points — are becoming irrelevant. I’ve written this, and I mostly believe it. For example, the majority of the reviews on the blog are among the least read.

The irrelevancy of review comes from new technology, whether Facebook, texting, phone wine apps, or CellarTracker, that gives wine drinkers the ability to recommend wine to their friends and read their friends’ recommendations without the need for a traditional wine reviewer.

So imagine my surprise when the new Wine Market Council study, detailing the behavior of U.S. wine drinkers, found that reviews still matter.

“I think it is to be expected that people who have not been around wine for years and years are a bit more interested in reading about wine and getting input from knowledgeable sources,” says John Gillespie, the council’s president. And he has some intriguing numbers to back that up.

More than half of Millennials and almost half of Gen Xers who drink wine frequently said reviews were extremely or very important in deciding what to buy. This is twice the number of Baby Boomers who said they valued reviews, and three times the number of the oldest group surveyed, born before World War II.

If that still doesn’t seem a lot, consider this: I located two surveys about film criticism that showed much lower numbers — six percent in a poll on ComicBookMovie.com said reviews were important, and a survey of Indian audiences in 2011 found that just 17 percent said the star rating was important. Yes, these aren’t exactly comparable to the Wine Market Council results, but it’s close enough to make me think wine reviews are still relevant.

The one thing not surprising about reviews in the Wine Market Council survey? The Winestream Media’s grip on its captive audience. Two-thirds of high-end wine buyers who drink wine frequently rated reviews extremely or very important. Which is why they’ll always be a Wine Spectator.

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