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Category Archives: Wine news

Diane Teitelbaum, 1946-2014

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Diane TeitelbaumThe next Dallas Morning News wine competition will see many changes — new name, new people in charge, new format. But the biggest change will be that I won’t drive Diane Teitelbaum to the judging.

Diane died this morning, and there is no way to express how much she will be missed. I might still be an ex-sportswriter looking for something to freelance about if not for Diane, and I’m not the only person she helped. She was a force in the wine business — not just in Dallas, but internationally — for some 40 years, whether as critic, judge, consultant, buyer, confidant, and retailer. She answered questions, offered advice, and listened to complaints, and always with an open mind and a keen intelligence.

She was a professional, and I know of no higher compliment. She cared about wine, and she cared about helping others love wine as much as she did; that’s a much rarer quality than it should be. Drinking wine with Diane was both a treat and a revelation. Her palate was impeccable, and not just because she could taste something I couldn’t. It’s because she understood how the wine fit together, and she could explain it so that something that was usually lost in winespeak and gobbledygook made perfect sense.

I tasted 26 pinot noirs with Diane two summers ago for a freelance story. In the process, I got a history lesson about red Burgundy, pinot noir from France; details about how the wine import business worked; and insights into how pinot noir had changed over the last couple of decades. All of that was wonderful, but the best part was that she helped me figure out the wines in a way I never would have by myself. Her patience for those $10 pinots, most of which were very ordinary, was remarkable, as was her sense of humor as we slogged from wine to wine. I wrote a better story because of her, and I’m a better wine writer because of her. I’ll never be able to thank her for that.

The other thing to know about Diane is that she always spoke her mind. When you were right, she told you so. When you were wrong, she told you so, and many of us over the years were forced to listen, often sheepishly, as Diane explained how we had screwed something up. I never resented this, because I appreciated her honesty. Diane was a woman in the wine business when there weren’t many, and she would not have done all that she did if she had not stood up for herself.

And why did I drive Diane to the Morning News competition? Because she was famous worldwide for her inability to get anywhere on time. We both knew that if I didn’t pick her up (“and tell her you’ll be there 15 minutes before you will be,” everyone who knew her always said), there was a 50-50 chance she might not make it at all. Which would be a damn shame, because judging with Diane made every competition that much better.

Winebits 362: Wine sales, Cava, imported wine

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u.s. wine salesMore wine: We’re continuing to drink more wine than ever in the U.S., up about 1 million cases in 2014 over the previous year, reports Shanken News Daily. The percentage increase isn’t much, just 0.3 percent. But that there is growth, despite the after-effects of the recession, shows that wine may have finally established itself in this country as something more than a niche product. As the Shanken story notes, “consumption has increased nearly 80 percent over the past two decades,” and per capita consumption has finally risen past its 1970s levels. 

Bring on the sparkling: Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but it faces intense competition from Prosecco, the similarly-priced bubbly from Italy. The latter is typically sweeter and fruitier, and the Italians have parlayed that into double-digit growth over the past several years. Freixenet, the biggest Spanish producer and the top imported sparkling in the U.S., saw sales fall four percent last year. Why does that matter? Because exports account for around two-thirds of global Cava sales. Hence concerns that competing with Prosecco on price alone could lead to what happened with Australian shiraz and Argentine malbec — lots of cheap wine of varying quality. I’m not sure that Freixenet’s plan to add more expensive wines to differentiate itself from Prosecco is any better, given that Cava quality is so good at $10 and $15 there is little reason to trade up.

Bring on the imports: How global has the the U.S. wine consumer become? Imports account for about one-third of the wine we drink, and that figure is expected to increase over the next two decades to as much as 45 percent. In the first half of 2014, though, we drank less imported wine than in the previous year (but the dollar value of the wine we drank increased by five percent). The biggest winner in those six months was New Zealand; the biggest loser was Australia. Sales from Italy and France, the top two exporters to the U.S. were mostly flat, though the dollar amount of what they did sell increased eight and six percent.

Winebits 361: Thanksgiving 2014 edition

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Thanksgiving 2014Thanksgiving wine suggestions from around the Internet:

 • Keeping it simple: From Real Simple, part of the Martha Stewart magazine empire, “affordable” wines for Thanksgiving. And who says we’re not making progress on the cheap wine front? The recommendations include so many wines that I’ve reviewed here that I think the author may have visited the blog once or twice. They include Gruet sparkling (though the article says it’s New Mexico, which hasn’t been true for years); the Pine Ridge chenin blanc blend (and can the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame be just seven weeks away?); and the Sicilian Planeta red. One caveat: This is a dated post, despite its high Google position, and some of the wines listed will be hard to find.

Surprisingly simple: From Forbes, which offers mostly affordable wine, including too many that aren’t all that good. Still, one of the world’s great wine values, the $12 Acrobat pinot gris, is included. Equally as bizarre — the $10 Handcrafted chardonnay, about as simple as chardonnay from a Big Wine producer gets, is next to the $60 Sea Smoke, a 14.9 percent California monster with 16 months of oak and a critical darling. The only thing those two wines have in common is that they have grapes in them.

 • Never simple: From Eric Asimov at the New York Times, whose annual Thanksgiving column, which I always enjoy, is not unlike the Passover Seder scene from “Annie Hall” — lots of arguing between people who mostly agree about they’re arguing about. His choices include a $14 white Loire from Fournier Pere et Fils, made with sauvignon blanc that I’d love to try. But I’ve never seen in a store and Wine-Searcher,com says it’s only available from east coast retailers. The rest, as delicious as they sound, seem to be as New York-centric as the Fournier.

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