Tom's blog

Sine die, Robert Parker Jr.

This week Robert Parker Jr. made his retirement official. It wasn’t a surprise that the most renown wine critic was hanging up his corkscrew — he had turned over the reigns of his famous Wine Advocate to Lisa Perrotti-Brown some time ago. But, like politicians and athletes, comebacks are always around until someone makes it official.

I owe a lot to Parker because he created the model of a critic when he launched his publication in 1978. I was living in Maryland at the time and quickly subscribed to what was then the Washington-Baltimore Wine Advocate (he dropped the city names a year later). The publication was a tabloid newspaper for several years and largely unknown until Parker broke rank with more famous critics who had panned the 1982 vintage. Parker said it was going to be one of the century’s best. And, it was.

Parker invented the 100-point scale too. Until then, most critics just described the wine and left the reader confused. Others used various devices to indicate recommendations, but it was the 100-point scale — now widely used — that gave Parker a wide range to classify his wines.

A lawyer by trade who fell in love with wine while with his wife in France, Parker was ruthless in using his pen too. He accepted no advertising from the start and thus had no allegiance to anyone other than to himself. Once famous, his scores could make or break a producer. Any wine that scored less than 90 points was largely ignored; those that did score high, particularly the obscure wines, flew off the shelf. And those wineries who experienced high score raised prices and profits.

He was an honest, uninfluenced wine critic people could trust. And, I did. I bought several cases of the 1982s and remember walking through a Washington, D.C., store with his publication in my hand. I have one bottle left — a Gruard Larose that he scored 95 points. I bought my wines on futures. The Gruard Larose cost me about $15 and I was mortified to be spending this much money on a bottle of wine.

Parker’s influence changed the direction of wine too. Bordeaux producers, eager for high scores, actually changed their wines to gain his favor. And, they weren’t the only wines. Those ripe, high-alcohol and extracted wines we taste today started with Parker. (He later launched Beaux Freres in the Willamette Valley with his brother).

Many critics of the critic faulted him for warping French producers who were no longer making traditional wines.

I met Parker when he was at a book fair at the Naval Academy in the early 1980s. He was just becoming known and few people were stopping by his table to buy his first book, “Bordeaux,” a compilation of wine reviews starting with the 1961 vintage. It was a bible to every Bordeaux collector.

My second encounter with Parker was when he invited users of his online journal to write an essay on why people were so critical. He was obviously stewing over the barrage of personal insults that came from some dust-up I can’t remember. I responded — and won a set of expensive wine glasses that I still use.

Parker had the most amazing palate — so good that it was insured for millions. But it wasn’t everyone’s palate. When people felt differently about a wine he panned but they liked, his critics blamed him rather than realizing that wines are personal and that criticism isn’t always a science.

Thank you, Mr. Parker, for everything you’ve done to wine and to wine criticism.

There's more than one epic wine in Australia

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy Penfold’s Grange a number of times and I’m still waiting for my 1995 to mature. But, wow, where has Yarra Yering been all of my life? Maybe I should wonder where I’ve been.

I was recently gifted a 1982 Dry Red Wine No. 2 Shiraz from this producer — thanks, Ben, if you’re reading this! Still very much alive, it was silky bliss. It spent 21 months in 50 percent new French oak and contains a little mataro, viognier and marsanne. Generous aromatics, light red color, red berry flavors and a dash of spice.

This producer has been around for a long time. Established by Dr Bailey Carrodus in Yarra Valley, the first vintage was in 1973. It makes a Red Wine No. 1, which blends Bordeaux grapes. These wines sell for more than $100 a bottle today and obviously age very well.

Other than Grange, I haven’t cellared much Australian wine for very long. Maybe I should.

China adds to wine tariffs

California wine producers are going to suffer from tariff battles between the U.S. and China. The Chinese announced that effective June 1 it will add another 15% to tariffs on US wine imports. That’s on top of the 15% imiplemented in April 2018 and another 10% increase last September, according to the Wine Institute.

The total tax and tariff rate will be 91%.

China is second only to the U.S. in total value of wine sales. Exports to China and Hong Kong have grown 450% in the last 10 years. They dropped 25% in 2018 when the tariffs were first increased.

This is bad news for U.S. wine producers and it could mean a price increase to consumers from this country.

Paul Hobbs gives greatness to malbec

I confess to not being a fan of malbec. A grape variety basically abandoned by Bordeaux producers, malbec has found a new life in Argentina. Winemakers here have taken advantage of the soil and climate to turn malbec into something more than a blending grape. And, consumers love its fleshy, fruit-forward appeal — not to mention its affordable price.

How ever my lack of enthusiasm for the grape, I came across an orphan in my wine cellar the other day: a 2010 Vina Cobos Bramere. I left it buried among my Bordeaux for years and decided to open it with the prediction it would be over the hill. It was not. The 9-year-old wine was still chock full of tannins. And, it was delicious.

Had I thought more of its creator and less of the grape variety, I wouldn’t have been so surprised. Paul Hobbs, the mastermind behind some of the most complex and heady reds in Napa and Sonoma counties, is the name behind Vina Cobos. Hobbs has been developing property in the Mendoza region for two decades. If there is anyone who can appreciate terroir’s influence on a wine, it’s Paul Hobbs. Two vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco produce chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec grapes.

If you like Hobbs’ wines and if you like malbec, the Bramare will open your eyes.

A comfortable home for merlot

It wasn’t that long ago that noble grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay had no place is Tuscany. Young winemakers, however, abandoned the traditions of their forefathers and adopted new grape varieties in a quest to make the best wine with the best grapes. Only then did they get the world’s attention.

“Super Tuscans,” as these blends became known, were the darling of the trade for years. Today, however, they are so accepted that no one remembers a sangiovese that hasn’t been blended with a non-indigenous grape variety.

The one grape that has found a home in super Tuscans is merlot. I suspect that the reason is that merlot’s soft, fruity and forward character blunts the natural acidity of sangiovese.

I am thinking of this as I enjoy the 2015 Tenuta Luce, a full-bodied sangiovese-merlot blend that stands out in a crowd of generic super Tuscans. The wine has a ripe character but serious tannins and acidity give it signs of longevity. It’s a beautiful wine.

Alas, it costs $95, but you can get a hint of its brilliance by trying Lucente, a second wine of this Tuscan estate.

American vs. French oak

One of the first cases of wine I bought in my early years of collecting was the 1978 Torres Gran Coronas Reserva, also known as the Torres “black label.” Traditionally the wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon but this year it was all cabernet. And, it was fermented and aged in American oak.

I remember the wine fondly but also for the influence of American oak on its character. Today, American oak is not so well revered.

French oak was popularized early in Napa Valley but World War II made it difficult to get French oak without the risk of being torpedoed, so American vintners used oak barrels made in this country — mostly Missouri. Georges de Latour, the iconic founder of Beaulieu Vineyards, however, introduced French oak to the reserve wine that still bears his name today. The French-born vintner changed a lot of minds.

I was recently reading a very interesting article Jordan Winery’s “Wine Country Table” magazine about its on-and-off relationship with American oak. Winemaker Rob Davis said 2012 was a turning point when he moved exclusively to French oak.

Davis said American oak adds more aggressive aromas — dill and coconut — to red wine, which was okay when the fruit was less intense. He said it masked the herbaceous character in the wine caused by grapes poorly sourced. Once Jordan changed location for its cabernet crop, the American oak was too overpowering. That is when they shifted to French oak.

He said as fruit intensity increased, he relied on French oak to merge the oak’s silky tannins with the grape’ ripe tannins. French oak adds finesse and brightness to the wine.

The influence of oak to a wine is vastly unknown to most consumers, yet it says a lot to what they like or dislike about a wine. It’s as true in white wine as in red, although I don’t know of anyone who dares to use American oak in their chardonnay — it’s just to aggressive.

The Jordan cabernet sauvignon is a wonderful wine to prove his point.

Crap by the glass

I was recently in a New Orleans hotel bar and for several days stared at the open bottles of wine stored in their cooler. There was an odd assortment of red, white and rose wines. For kicks I kept a mental note about their levels. There was about a glass of wine left in two opened bottles of rose. In four days, the level was the same.

With this much oxygen left in the bottle over this period of time, the wine has suffered dramatically. Anyone who gets a glass of it will be disappointed and probably assume the quality was a result of poor wine-making. Obviously, it is the result of poor wine preservation.

Good bars will throw out left over wines at the end of a night just to assure customers that they are getting fresh wines. However, there are far too many restaurants and bars who wouldn’t think of throwing away any wine. Witnessing this is the very reason I always ask how long a bottle has been open before ordering a glass of wine. You should too.

The dumbest drinking test ever performed

Imagine if someone walked up to you, professing to be a researcher and ask if you would participate in an experiment that required you get drunk three times. Would you say, “Hell, ya! Anything for science!”

Apparently, several enthusiastic Germans did just that when researchers for Witten/Herdecke University  wanted to see if the degree of a hangover was influenced by whether you drank beer before wine or vice versa. Only on a campus would they try to prove the theory “beer before wine and you’ll feel fine,” right?

Ninety volunteers were split into two groups. One drank 2 1/2 pints of Carlsberg pilsner followed by four glasses of white and likely weird German wine while the other consumed the same amount but in opposite order. The third group was a control group that mixed it up. They ate the same and stopped once they each a certain blood alcohol content. A week later, the two groups reversed roles. After each test, the participants slept under the careful eye of, say, a roommate, and then in the morning they had to gauge their hangover on a scale of 1 to 10.

The results? Inconclusive. But researchers had to come up with something meaningful, so they suggested you concentrate on “perceived drunkenness” and vomiting. Apparently, several of the participants couldn’t handle their alcohol. I’m sure the weird German wine had something to do with that.

BV: revisiting an old friend with a new friend

Thanks to the generosity of new friends (hi, Ben!) I recently had a chance to re-taste the 1982 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour cabernet sauvignon. One sip of the legendary wine brought back a flood of fond memories.

I had started to collect wines in the late 1970s and the BV was simply priced out of my reach. Yet I swallowed hard, kept the receipt from my wife and snagged a couple of bottles. I cellared them for decades and visited the winery several times while I waited. As one of the four pioneering spirits that launched the Napa wine industry, I’ve always been enchanted with the people and place that made BV great.

The 1982 Georges de Latour was only one of BV’s two reserved cabernets made in that decade — BV made the Georges de Latour only in the best vintages. I held onto the wine for a remarkable 15 years and drank it with mutual BV admirers. Little did I know that the wine still had legs on it.

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The reserve wine is named after the founder, Georges de Latour, who with his his wife bought 4 acres in Rutherford in 1900 and for decades struggled to make great wine like his French countrymen. They survived Prohibition by making sacramental wines and then brought in the famous Russian emigre Andre Tchelistcheff to improve the wines. Indeed, he did for several decades. Latour died, Tchelistcheff moved on (he came back to BV twice) and eventually the winery fell into the wrong hands: Heublein. BV, along with Inglenook which also was bought by Heublein, fell into a black abyss. Heublein eventually merged with Diageo, which sold BV to Treasury Estates in 2016.

I chronicle this history because it is common for wine quality to plummet with multiple owners, especially those that are publically owned and obligated to increase profits. What allowed the Georges de Latour private reserve to persevere, however, was the terrific vineyards it used and the winemakers who got the most from them. Joel Aiken, only one of four BV winemakers in its history, made the 1982. He restored BV’s tarnished image by improving quality and introducing new top-flight wines like Tapestry.

I’ve met Aiken a couple of times and there’s no question he put quality first. In fact, at 28 he became the youngest director of winemaking but always yearned to retreat to the hands-on experience of making wine and growing grapes. I always felt the 1982 was a turning point for BV.

How did the recent bottle taste? Wonderful. It may have lost its edge (who hasn’t after 37 years?), but the pedigree of these Napa vineyards and the winemaking team was still obvious in the bottle. Wonderful depth of character, balance and length. It had an old-Napa-world personality — not the bold, alcoholic fruit bombs I often taste today. Classic comes to mind.


Direct-to-consumer wine sale increasing

Sovos and Wine Vines Analytics, in its annual shipping report, shows that direct-to-consumer wine sales are continuing to play a dominant role in how consumers get their wine.

The report shows that more than 6 million cases of wine were shipped directly to consumers last year, representing about $3 billion in value. That’s a lot of business that is bypassing the distributors and retailers.

Many states have liberalized their out-of-state alcohol shipments in recent years and no doubt this has had an influence on the increase. However threatening the growth is to distributors and retailers, it is a boon for consumers.

More than half of the U.S. wine producers make less than 5,000 cases a year and distributors don’t want to spend the time on them. Couple that with the fact that producers don’t want to spend the money on distributors either and you have a trend that has no end. A wholesaler and retailer combined can take up a third of a bottle’s cost.

I spoke to several high-end wine producers who say a 90-plus rating from a renown wine critic eliminates the need for marketing and national distribution. They can sell the wine through their clubs and tasting rooms.

The same goes for several Oregon wine producers I recently spoke to. Their productions are often under 2,000 cases a year. They are putting money into their tasting room to attract tourists. Steve Lutz of Lenne says he’s doing so well with direct-to-consumer sales that he’ll probably have to allocate his wines next year. Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro is also seeing an explosion in direct sales.

According to the report, the average cost of a DtC wine in 2018 was $39. That’s pretty high for most consumers, but in line with Oregon pinot noirs. Oregon’s DtC market grew by 19 percent last year — tied with Sonoma County for the lead.

Distributors will always have business from large producers of wine — Gallo, Kendall-Jackson, Constellation, Trinchero, et al — but there is a steady business being lost from small producers.

Fond memories of a wine pioneer

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Chris Bilbro of Marietta Cellars died recently after battling cancer for several years. I remember visiting Chris several times at his Sonoma County property. Chris’ wine-making assembly line when I was there in the 1980s was shared by the family’s laundry room, so you could literally wash the clothes while bottling the wines. But it was in this old cow barn where Bilbro churned out his famous Old Vine Red.

Old Vine was a blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and other red grapes grown on vines once planted by Italian immigrants. While many winemakers passed on these grapes, Chris was more than happy to take them when he first started out. Unlike anyone else, he sometimes made two batches a year — they were all non--vintage — and labeled them as “lots.” My first Marietta Old Vine was Lot 11. Today, they are on Lot 62.

I loved these wines — often costing around $12 a bottle — and cellared them for years. But they were best when consumed within a year. Today, Bilbro’s sons are making the wine and a lot of it — 35,000 cases of the Marietta Old Vine a year.

It’s still a great wine and a forerunner to the sea of red blends on the market today. Chris never had to resort to cheap tricks — like leaving some residual sugar in the wine — because his blends didn’t need anything to cover up flaws. Try it alongside Apothic Red and see what I mean.

Chris also loved to hunt wild boar in California. He treated a few of us to a boar dinner one night when I was living in Maryland. He told the story about shooting the animal while it was drinking from a pond. When he went to retrieve it, the boar jumped up and grabbed the barrel of his rifle. Chris was hanging on for dear life when he pulled the trigger again to deliver the coup de grace. It turned out his first shot hit the animal in the forehead and it has a dense plate there. It’s a story I’ve retold many times and a story that was quintessential Bilbro. He reminded me of Ernest Hemingway, except instead of making prose Chris made wine.

I miss collecting these wines. Join me in retrying them and toasting a great man.

Labels are meant for more than government warnings

One of my pet peeves in wine is the business of labels. I get that in a sea of competition it is important for a producer to distinguish his wine from the others. Ever since Far Niente introduced its embossed 50-cent label in the 1980s, there has been a rush to out-do each other.

Consumers can be attracted to a wine’s label if they have little knowledge of what is actually in the bottle. So, makers of such ridiculous wine as “Cheap Wine” or “Mommy’s Time Out” know that shoppers find a label funny and just enough to convince them to buy it for themselves or as a gift for someone else.

The front label of Rodney Strong’s Upshot blend.

The front label of Rodney Strong’s Upshot blend.

Most producers, however, even squander the opportunity to help the consumer with the contents on the back label. Warnings about sulfites, alcohol content, where the wine is made, etc. fulfill government regulations — but there’s often nothing about grape varieties, oak aging or tasting descriptions.

Producers should use as a model a new label from Rodney Strong. Upshot — a red blend — is more than a pretty face. Its front label has the blend, time in barrel, specs,  harvest date, timeline and more.   Credit this to director of winemaking Justin Seidenfeld who gets it.

One can make the claim it’s more information that he or she needs to know, but who can complain? Not me.

On selling Oregon pinot noir

Williamette Valley has a disproportionate share of small wine producers. More than 70 percent produce less than 5,000 cases a year, which makes national distribution futile. Steve Lutz, owner and winemaker of Lenne wines in Yamhill County, attributes the small production to pinot noir, the region’s primary breadwinner.

“Pinot noir doesn’t lend itself to mass production because it’s expensive to grow. And, our model is high quality,”  he told me in a recent phone conversation. He produces 2,000 cases a year.

With quantities so small, most distributors do not want to spend the effort to get them on the shelves. Even if they found a cult wine to make them money, there isn’t enough to satisfy demand.

So, Oregon winemakers are bypassing the distribution network in droves. Nearly all of them are selling their wines direct to consumer. As more states liberalize their laws restricting out-of-state alcohol shipments, Willamette winemakers can cast a wider net. Most of them easily sell out their productions — some are allocating their wines.

The primary venue for direct-to-consumer sales is the tasting room. Many of these wineries are a short hop form Portland and some producers have even opened separate tasting rooms in the city to market their wines.

Tom Fitzpatrick of Alloro wines told me that tasting rooms have become competitive and he has had to make improvements to remain a draw. But the effort has born success: direct-to-consumer sales in his tasting room rose from $50,000 in 2009 to $700,000 in 2018.   

Fitzpatrick sells 15% of his wine to distributors just to get his name out there.

For the consumer, it requires a visit to the region to discover small producers who, like an oyster, wait for nutrients to come to them. No where else on the West Coast is this so apparent.

Book a ticket.

Rodney Strong is turning a page

I’ve been drinking Rodney Strong wines for decades and until recently it seemed to have fallen into a pattern of making generic wine for the masses. In recent years, however, its emphasis on its premium reds has shown that its proprietor Rick Klein is capable of producing top-shelf wines.

Now comes Justin Seidenfeld who Klein has given a lot of liberty as director of winemaking. Seidenfeld has control of both vineyards and winemaking in this family-owned operation. In a recent meeting with him, he said 2019 would be an important year of innovation.

Justin Seidenfeld, director of winemaking

Justin Seidenfeld, director of winemaking

Seidenfeld knows the science of winemaking and his unabridged explanations can make the head swim, but I could at least understand that he is precise in making balanced, consistent and technically correct wines.

For instance, while most growers will focus on yield per vineyard, he has shifted to yield per vine. Vigor and ripening can vary from vine to vine. He maps each one so that pickers can harvest them at perfect ripeness. This brings consistency and quality to the grapes.

Similarly, the staves in an oak barrel are inconsistent because of the vagaries of a tree. However, Seidenfeld spends inordinate amount of time matching up the staves to bring consistency to the aging and fermentation process.

He has introduced a delicious rose and red blend to the broad portfolio as a means to grow production. And, Kleiin has created a new toy for him: a seperate label called Rowen. Putting a new name on the label allows for it to succeed without the influence of Rodney Strong’s public image. It’s a delicious Bordeaux blend with deceiving tannins.

My favorite is still the big Alexander’s Crown cabernet sauvignon, but the chardonnay is more appealing than ever because of its bu rgundian-like profile.

Strange suggestions on saving bad wine

I do a lot of public wine tastings and invariably a question comes up that starts with, “Is it true….?” Rarely, it is. Here are some of those questions:

  1. Will a raisin save a sparkling wine that has gone flat? This has been an idea floating around the internet for some time. Respected journals and scientists have debunked it. A raisin, because of its crinkly nature, will excite what carbon dioxide is left in sparkling wine. But it won’t manufacture new bubbles. I experimented with this and found that a sparkling wine opened longer than 40 minutes will get no reaction from the raisin. Once flat, always flat.

  2. Will a penny dropped in a corked wine eliminated the foul taint? I was in a restaurant when a salesman tried this to save a precious French wine he had poured to wine writers. Not only did the attempt fail, but it was pretty disgusting to consider drinking anything fouled by a dirty penny. There has been evidence that plastic wrap bunched in wine will remove cork taint successfully — but unfortunately acidity and flavors are also removed.

  3. Will putting red wine in a blender accelerate the breathing process? A modernist chef recently promoted this and there is some validity to the idea. Setting the blender to high for 30 seconds will certainly reduce the time a wine would spend in a decanter to achieve the same result. But do you really want spin wine in a vessel used last night for a tomato sauce? Even if it was cleaned, is there soap residue left?

    Some times there are no cures or short cuts to enjoying a good wine.

Loire's forgotten red wines

The other night I joined some friends at a tasting of Loire wines. The white wines from this region — sparkling wine, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, for example — are delightful but not the most known from France. However forgotten the white wines, the red wines are even more ignored. How unfortunate.

Loire’s 630-mile region is host to a number of grape varieties both commonly known and obscure. Like all of France, the grape varieties aren’t evident on the label. Instead, the appellations or villages are highlighted. Thus, you may not known that cabernet franc is the pride of Chinon or that Sancerre is all about sauvignon blanc.

The red wines often fail to impress newbies because they don’t seem to have a lot of body or complexity. However, I’ve found that these wines are deceiving and generally get out of their adolescent stage in a few years. Their high acidity masks the fine tannins and subtle flavors. The Domaine de Reuilly Denis Jamain Pinot Noir I tasted had a lot of finesse and could be mistaken for a top-drawer Oregon pinot noir. But who thinks of Loire for its pinot noir?

I didn’t think I’d find a pinot noir from Loire that I liked, but even more impressive was the 2016 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil “Cuvee Alouettes.” Bourgueil is one of the most famous places in the Loire for cabernet franc, a grape variety relegated to blends in other parts of the world. While other Loire producers blend cabernet sauvignon in their wines, this producer relies exclusively on cabernet franc. No wonder — why dilute something so pure?

The wine, like most other from this region, is loaded with fresh fruit reminiscent of bing cherries and spice. The only reason I would think this wine has longevity is that I’ve enjoyed older cabernet francs from the Loire.

I’m headed to the store to sock away a few of these red wines.

Wine consumption highest in Idaho. Really?

I don’t have anything against Idaho, known to most of us as a potato, but I find it hard to believe that its residents consume more wine per capita than any other state.

The National Institute of Health checks wine sales every year and finds that the Gem State continues to lead the pack in per capita consumption, followed by Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, New Mexico and Vermont. Now, there aren’t a lot of people in Idaho so those who are stuck there drink a lot. Or so it seems.

Californians drink the most wine — but there are a lot of people in California so their per capita consumption isn’t as impressive.

Even wine sales personnel in Idaho have a hard time believing this result. Some theorize that the state’s proximity to California and strong shipping sales from that state have a lot to do with Idaho’s top ranking. I suggest it may be their isolation. Maybe its massive depression over being known as a potato. But now they have bragging rights the rest of us don’t have.

Go, Idaho.

A new TV program on wine

Amazon Prime launched a new series on January 4 that is focused on wine — but not really. Called “It Starts with Wine,” the documentary series begins with a winery in Uruguay. The second one is also in South America.

The producers don’t presume that the series will focus exclusively one wine — it’s more about the wine experience, the food and the people. Even knowing that, I was still disappointed.

The photography is outstanding, but I found little substance beyond the glossy exterior. The third part on the biodynamic efforts of Bonterra left me clueless about what makes them so special. And Bonterra, a pioneer in organic farming, is special. But I learned more about the personal lives of the viticulturalist and winemaker than I did about what makes a vineyard biodynamic.

So, if you are looking for entertainment, perhaps you’ll enjoy this series more than me. But if you are looking for higher learning of the wine business, turn the channel.

English fizz a nice surprise

Champagne has been loathe to dispel the myth that they invented sparkling wine. I can’t blame them. They have commanded the sparkling wine industry for centuries and hold on to their rightful claim that only they can call champagne “champagne.”

But history will show that methode champenois, the process by which today’s champagne is made, was an invention of English physician Christopher Merret. He was the first to add sugar to still wine to produce a secondary fermentation.

But a century earlier, Dom Perignon was fumbling to tame the bubbles in what he called “the devil’s wine.” His problem was that fermentation would stop as temperatures in northern France dropped, only to resume in the spring when temperatures climbed. The result was carbon dioxide (bubbles) which once trap would cause a bottle to burst. Champagne started as an accident; for the Brits sparkling wine was intentional.

However apologetic the good monk, the Brits loved the bubbles in the 17th century and invented a stronger glass bottle. Voila, champagne lived on.

With that history refresher, I was eager to sample two sparkling wines made in England. With more than 400 wineries in southeast England, the Brits have been dabbling in winemaking for some time. However, their success with sparkling wine didn’t appear until global warming made its growing conditions more hospitable.

The two sparking wines — “Ridgeview Bloomsbury and Ridgeview Cavendish — were quite good. They both use the same primary grapes used in Champagne — chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. That makes their product closer to champagne than prosecco (glera) and cava.(xarello and more).

I liked the elegance and depth of the Bloomsbury brut, which was different from the Henriot Brut I tasted as well. But it held its own.

So did its price. The Henriot seemed like a deal at $45 compared to the $55 prices for each English sparkling wine. I have to wonder why anyone would choose and English sparkling wine when for less money he could get French champagne.

However, the English are proud to drink locally made sparkling wine. In fact, sales of champagne have plummeted in England due in part to the local competition as well as the popularity of prosecco and Brexit.

If you are English, be proud of these wines. Surely Dr. Merret would.

For more champagne recommendations, see “My Column.”

A Cotes du Rhone to buy now

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In my 35 years of wine writing I have never lost faith in Cotes du Rhone. Vastly underrated for its power and easily dismissed as a poor cousin of Chateauneuf du Pape, this AOC blend often over-performs.

I was reminded of this last night when I eagerly opened a bottle of 2016 Chateau de Saint-Cosme “Les Deux Albion” Cotes du Rhone. It was a stunner for $22 — worthy of buying more for my cellar. I’ve tasted gigondas from this Rhone Valley property and have found the producer to be reliable across the board. But this simple red blend rocked my senses.

The wine is a class blend of syrah (50 percent), grenache, carignan, mouvedre and clairette from three Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages communes. The whole clusters are co-fermented with indigenous yeasts and vinified in conical wooden vats and concrete tanks for 18 months.

The result is a wine with dark color, dense structure, complexity and huge garrigue and floral aromas. On the palate the flavors range from black cherries to plums with some nice spice tossed in. It can easily age for 3 years or more, which makes it a great wine to put away for the short-term.