The other day, we had a wine epiphany. We were reading a story about the invention of blue wines and laughed at the notion of wine being anything but red, white, or pink. As crazy as this trend sounds to most of us, it isn't crazy to new generations of wine drinkers who know no bounds. Should color really matter? Were we just hung up on tradition?
The towering walls of winemaking we once thought were sacrosanct are coming down. Younger generations of winemakers are challenging practices established by their parents and grandparents. Frustrated winemakers obligated to use certain grapes are contesting government restrictions and labeling. The focus today is not to make the best wine within a region's carefully prescribed formulas, but to make the best wine period. Maybe we're uncomfortable that the rules are changing, but do they really matter if in the end the wine tastes delicious?
Here's just a smattering of changes in the last decade or so:
Blends. Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja broke Piemonte restrictions on grape varieties in the late 1990s and created some of the first blends that incorporated French grape varieties with the local barbera and barbaresco grapes. Dave Phinney, the wine genius behind The Prisoner, took blending a quantum leap further. He is blending grapes across an entire country or state -- for instance, Piedmonte barbera is blended with sangiovese to make "I" for Italian. In California, syrah is being blended with cabernet sauvingon. Anything goes today.
Colors. People once scoffed at rosés -- are they dry or sweet? -- but today there are orange and blue wines from which to choose. Abe Schroener, who we've met several times, is one of the most unconventional winemakers you'll ever encounter. He makes polarizing orange wines, loves to add sulphur, and most recently takes great wine and carbonates it to come up with a more interesting sparkling wine. Blue wines -- a blend of red and white grapes laced with anthocyanin and indigo pigments and softened with sweeteners -- is a creation of a few enterprising Spaniards.
Oxidation. Once thought to be a flaw that resulted from a wine's exposure to air is now seen as an asset. It creates nutty, fermenting apple flavors like those found in cider. We've tasted it in California marsannes and rousannes and in some Spanish wines.
Containers. Wine once came in glass sealed with a cork. Today, there are several closures ranging from glass stoppers to screwtops. The container can be a box or a can. And, it's not just for cheap wine any more.
Get used to change. We haven't seen the end of it yet.
Stu Marfell is chief winemaker for Dashwood and Goldwater, two New Zealand wines owned by billionaire investor Bill Foley who also is owner of the new expansion NHL franchise in Las Vegas. Marfell, who slightly resembles a young Jim Carrey, visited with us recently to showcase the Dashwood and Goldwater sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs that are available in the U.S. market.
Marfell crafts wine from the renowned Marlborough region on the northern section of South Island. He says Marlborough is surrounded by the cool ocean waters and dominated by warm, dry winds that create ideal growing conditions -- hot days and cool nights.
Goldwater wines are sourced from the Wairau Valley, one of the two main grape growing valleys in the Marlborough region. According to Marfell, the Wairau Valley has more fertile, alluvial soils and hence produces riper fruit. We found the Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley 2016 ($19) to present pleasant citrus flavors tempered by tropical fruit notes and refreshing acidity.
Marlborough pinot noir is gaining notice and deserved popularity due to its easy drinkability and consumer-friendly prices. The Goldwater Pinot Noir Wairau Valley 2011 ($24) was Californian in style but was clearly in a good place. Ripe cherry in a medium-bodied, likeable package makes this wine a clear winner.
Dashwood, on the other hand, is the result of blending fruit from the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. Marfell said the Awatere Valley was created from an ancient seabed and contains less fertile soils than the Wairau Valley. We found the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Wairau and Awatere Valleys 2016 ($15) to have abundant herbal notes and rich fruity flavors -- but not an abundance of grapefruit notes that are pronounced in some New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
The Dashwood Pinot Noir Wairau and Awatere Valleys 2014 ($20) was a leaner more Burgundian style than the Goldwater sample. Aged in 20 percent French oak, it had a lean style with cherry and raspberry notes and a slight smoky edge.
ONX Reckoning 2014 ($58). This is a big, impressive blend from a Paso Robles producer who is new to us. Syrah is combined with malbec, grenache and petite sirah to create a mouthful of blackberry and plum flavors with hints of chocolate and licorice. Great floral and lavender aromas.
Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2016 ($25). We can't write highly enough about this incredibly delicious rosé. Made from an exotic combination of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and counoise grapes, it has nectarine aromas with grapefruit, peach and melon flavors.
Greg Norman Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($15). Ripe plum, blackberry and black currant flavors dominate this great value from Australian golf legend Greg Norman, who has been making wines in California for more than a decade.
Love & Hope Rosé 2016. What's there not to like about this rose even when consumed in cooler weather? Certainly not the name or the label which includes, "real dialogue between Austin Hope and Tim Love." And, certainly not the effusive cherry and strawberry flavors from this blend of mourvedre, grenache and syrah.