When the movie Sideways went from curious comedy to a cult classic and silver screen sensation, it seemed proof was in the Pinot. For a while, anything labeled Pinot Noir – even if it was jammy or tannic (!) was a hit. Now, it’s fairly accepted that an authentic Pinot should not have those traits.
Before that 2005 film, inexpensive Aussie Shiraz was a favorite at hotel bars, airports and clattery steak chains. But now, the folks Down Under have a glut of syrupy inventory.
Then, a few years ago, the recession hit the luxury segment of the wine market, and once-invincible Napa Cabs showed they really were mortal. Bottles that regularly sold out at $100 started showing up for maybe $70 – and being opened for retailer tastings. Even when (if?) the economy recovers, it’s safe to say that many of these wines’ prices will never rise again. Their myth has been shattered.
Everyone agrees Malbec is hot; purveyors are happy to sell it while demand is there. But, how long until the Malbec music stops, and a slow-to-respond supplier/retailer/restaurant is left without a chair? Obviously, some trends in wine consumption last longer than others, so a couple of questions were recently extended to Chicago sommeliers, retailers and wine directors:
1. What do you believe is the most overrated wine/varietal on the market?
2. What relatively obscure or overlooked wine has a chance to break through and become a consumer favorite?
Aaron Sherman: Sommelier, Park Hyatt, Chicago
Overrated? Let me start by saying that the term overrated is a bit scary, making it seem that a wine is “unworthy” and lacking merit. But, Malbec is a grape that will need to show a lot of development if it will be included in the annals of the Great Grapes from Around the World. It has indeed exploded onto the wine scene over the last few years. Unfortunately, I think it has positioned itself in much the same way that Shiraz did: The new, “inexpensive, delicious, big red wine.” So far, other than on price, Malbec has not managed to present a compelling reason for undying affection.
Trendsetter? Pick 3: Raw bars with oysters, shrimp and crab legs have become very popular in Chicago. A platter of ice, mollusks, and bivalves needs a wine of crispness, transparency and acidity. I offer three contenders vying for the spot: Albariño, with the briny hints of the sea balanced by ripe luscious fruit; Muscadet, a favorite amongst sommeliers; and a long shot, Txakoli, (pronounced Choc-o-lee). The spritz, lightness and freshness might be just what we’ve all been waiting for.
Dean Schlabowske: Owner, Cellar Rat, Chicago
Good, not great: Sauvignon Blanc. This is a grape that mostly produces very simple wines; very good is as good as this grape gets. For those drinking everyday examples, there is little to distinguish a $20 bottle from an $8 bottle. Other than the trademark green quality of New Zealand, there is little to distinguish a Chilean from a Californian from a South African example.
Another Argentine: Perhaps Argentina’s nice Bonarda and Bonarda/Sangiovese blends can get a foothold, as the country’s popular, full-bodied Malbec benefits from a consistent climate, cheap land and labor, and a weak currency. I find Bonarda to be more interesting and pleasing than Malbec and it can be made in full, ripe styles that appeal to the wine novice.
Eoin O’Donnell: Sommelier, First Hospitality Group, Salsa 17:
North by Northwest: Italian Pinot Grigio, while enormously successful in the marketplace, is mostly one-dimensional and lacking any real complexity. But, when the grape is grown 300 miles northwest, in Alsace, we land in what can be the greatest expression of the grape under the synonym, Pinot Gris. With firm acidity, these big, stony white wines have a range of flavors of delicious ripe tangerine and peach with smoke and lemon zest topped with a racy finish of spice.
Volcanic value: Aglianico (an obscure Italian wine) is certainly breaking on to the scene. Better vintners produce wines that are earthy, tarry and chocolaty. The Taurasi Riserva from Mastroberardino is phenomenal. The volcanic soils of Taurasi are where this powerhouse of a grape thrives – originating from areas that don’t command the real estate (burden) of Sonoma, Paso Robles, etc., so the consumer gets a great value. The Taurasi Riserva from Mastroberardino is phenomenal.