Zagat Wine hosted a tasting of over 70 of the wines they offer with many of the vino producers themselves in attendance. In the swank Manhattan Penthouse Club members sniffed, swirled, sipped and spit their way through wines from Italy, the US, France, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina.
Although there were plenty of great Merlots and Chardonnays, there were also lots of interesting and unusual varietals to keep the wine-curious crowd buzzing as they got buzzed. We tried a sweet Canadian ice wine, a Moscato from Texas, a Torrontes blend from Argentina and some fab, 2001 vintage fizz from Long Island. (Seriously, who has a car, we're heading to Sparkling Pointe on the North Fork to down some more of that fizz as soon as we can!).
And the winemakers were just as diverse: we met a Tuscan princess whose family has been making wine since Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa (a relative of hers, we learned!), a tattooed guy from Washington creating extremely nuanced wines from some of the more expected varietals, a French expat couple who moved to Mendoza in Argentina to produce wines in the French style from 100 year old South American vines and a British family producing some big French wines in the South of France.
We chatted with some of the producers about up and coming trends in the world of wine, and overall it seems that just as people are more curious and educated about food, consumers are more curious and educated about what they drink with their food, and that is leading to better and better wines and a greater variety of what is available.
"We're seeing wines that are a bit more refined and elegant. It's not about big and bold anymore. The over oaked, over buttered trend, we're going away from that and going towards more 'minerally' and earthy. Wines that pair well with food." -- Brennon Leighton, winemaker at Charles Smith (Walla Walla, WA)
"It's a question of taste and fashion. As wines become fashionable people want the fashionable wines. Fashions come and go. What I've noticed is that people are coming back to tradition. If you are in Tuscany you want to drink Tuscan wine." -- Princess Natalia Strozzi from Principi Guicciardini Strozzi (Tuscany, Italy)
"People have now discovered the Malbec in Argentina and are more prepared and curious to try blends. Malbec is a very nice base wine, like a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Right now the top wines in Argentina are blends. We are making a blend with Torrontes, which is not a new grape. It's been in Argentina forever, and we're blending it with Chardonnay." -- Diane Joyaux Fabre, Director at Bodegas Fabre S.A. (Mendoza, Argentina)
"The appellation of Chateau Neuf du Pape is responsible for the original idea of appellation. It's a very strict geographical area not changed since 1924. You can use up to 13 grape varieties. We use three mainly Grenache. Which gives great fruit without astringent tannins and great flexibility whether drinking by itself or with food. We blend it with Syrah and Mourvèdre.
We are seeing that people are trying to make connections to wines with more provenance. So whether that's knowing more about the area the wine comes from or the producer. A lot of people are on the wine journey. They've started with wines that are very easy to understand and now they what to trade up to a higher level of sophistication." -- Alastair Cassie, export manager Le Cellier des Princes
Duncan Hurley, creative director at Zagat Wine walked us through some of the ins and outs of membership in the club, explaining, "You can order a la carte from us, or you can join the club. If you join the club you get a case every three months, with 8 different wines (12 bottles). You can be totally led and we'll do it all for you. And then what a lot of people do is join the club and then supplement with more bottles of what they like, because if you're like me, then 12 bottles over three months is not a lot." Judging by what we tasted, we think we could finish a lot more than that. Get info about the club here.