Turning Tables: At Long Last, José Andrés to Open Restaurant at D.C.’s Old Post Office

Chef and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés recently confirmed he will be opening a new location of the Bazaar at Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office building later this year, following years of anticipation.

“I first dreamed of opening a restaurant at the Old Post Office back in 1993 when I first came to D.C.,” said Andrés in a statement. “Nearly three decades later, I am building that dream into a reality, and couldn’t be more excited to bring my beloved Bazaar restaurant right here to D.C. in this beautiful historic location.”

Andrés premiered his Bazaar concept in 2008 at the now-shuttered Los Angeles location, before opening new spots in Miami and New York, along with Bazaar Meat locations in Las Vegas and Chicago. (Another is set to open in downtown L.A. in 2022.) Across these restaurants, the chef and his team explore traditional and more contemporary takes on cuisine from Spain (particularly tapas) and farther abroad, offering everything from jamón Iberico and patatas bravas to pork belly bao buns and a bagel-and-lox cone.

Spain is a central focus on Bazaar wine lists as well, which feature the likes of Rioja, Priorat, Navarra rosé and bubbly from Josep Maria Raventós i Blanc. These programs are rounded out with bottles from other regions, including Sonoma, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

The latest Bazaar has been designed by Spanish firm Laìzaro Rosa-Violaìn, taking over a space previously occupied by David Burke’s BLT Prime. The restaurant will sit within one of D.C.’s most historic edifices. Built in the Romanesque Revival school, the Old Post Office served as D.C.’s general post office for about 15 years beginning in 1899. It is now operated as a hotel—as of this month, the Waldorf Astoria Washington, D.C.

Andrés had been set to open a restaurant in the Old Post Office several years ago, when it was Trump International Hotel. (The building was leased to the Trump Organization by the U.S. government’s General Services Administration.) The restaurant, Topo Atrio, was slated for a 2016 opening. However, in summer 2015, Andrés pulled the project due to controversial comments made by Trump Organization owner and then–presidential candidate Donald Trump about Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Chef and television personality Geoffrey Zakarian also pulled his planned restaurant from the hotel for the same reason.

The Trump Organization sued Andrés and his ThinkFoodGroup for breach of contract, reaching a settlement in 2017. In 2021, the organization agreed to sell its lease on the Old Post Office building for $375 million, and it is now operated by investment manager CGI Merchant Group and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

“A lifelong learner with a passion for U.S. history, the opportunity for José and our team to open a flagship restaurant at this iconic site is incredibly meaningful,” said ThinkFoodGroup and José Andrés Media president Sam Bakhshandehpour in a statement. “Bringing the Bazaar to D.C. is an important anchor for us, and our partners, who are locally based and community-minded.”—C.D.

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Mina Group Opens Mother Tongue in Hollywood

“It took me a minute to wrap my head around what this concept would look like,” admitted Jeremy Shanker, corporate wine director for the Mina Group.

That concept is the latest restaurant from the Mina Group, Mother Tongue, a partnership with the RSG Group (the company behind fitness and lifestyle brands such as Gold’s Gym). Situated on the top floor of a five-story building in downtown Hollywood, Mother Tongue, which opened June 20, operates in conjunction with (but as a separate entity from) fitness club Heimat, which occupies the first three floors.

Though connected to the fitness club, Mother Tongue does not feel like a place you’d stroll into after an arduous workout. The vibe is distinctly L.A., with its industrial ceiling and rooftop terrace offering panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills, but terrazzo and Murano glass add Mediterranean flair. The main dining room is bright and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing the natural light to enliven the shades of coral and ochre, with pops of green from tropical-looking indoor plants. The 1,500-square-foot terrace keeps a similar color scheme, adding faded emerald to the mix.

Being a member of Heimat provides eating and drinking perks. The top floor also includes a members-only pool with food and beverage service. “L.A. rooftop bars aren’t always known for the best wine selection,” said Shanker, noting that bottle service will include everything from grower Champagne to a selection of wine in cans, including offerings from Broc Cellars and Sans Wine Co. “We’re trying to build something pretty unique in L.A. The audience is bigger than just the exclusive club below us.”

Chef Fernando Darin, a Patina Group alum, crafts a menu with a global bent while being plant-forward, wholesome and built around eating thoughtfully. Every menu item is marked with a letter corresponding to a key at the bottom of the menu indicating dietary considerations such as keto, plant-based or anti-inflammation. “Guests who attend the gym are very mindful and have strict dietary guidelines, and our menu helps accommodate those while still being delicious,” said Shanker.

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Current menu offerings include a gluten-free spirulina cavatelli with moringa pesto and English peas (categorized as beneficial for the mind and cognition) and a keto-friendly wild Pacific salmon chan chan yaki with white miso sauce, Caraflex cabbage and hon shimeji mushrooms.

The beverage list also takes a health-conscious approach, with alcohol-free and low-alcohol options such as sparkling cold-brewed tea and hard kombucha. Around half of the 100-bottle wine list is devoted to “natural wine” (defined by the restaurant as sustainably grown, fermented with native yeasts and made without additives, including sulfites), which Shanker said is structured to encourage exploration. “I believe in giving the guests what they want, not telling them what they want. If a [natural] wine is made well, it likely won’t taste any different [than its more conventional counterparts]. Some of the best wines are made natural; the rest on our list, while not natural, are still made with that approach in mind.”

Shanker says the reserve selection, titled IYKYK (“if you know, you know”), puts true benchmarks of top regions on display. “If you know Chablis, you won’t be surprised to find that Dauvissat is the Chablis we have. But the list is also an invitation to the person who wants to know what great Chablis tastes like; we’re putting all the secrets on the page.”—A.R.

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Pascaline Lepeltier Opens Chambers in New York City

Diners and wine lovers still mourning the closing, nearly a year ago, of Racines NY, rejoice: Pascaline Lepeltier and her team have reimagined the Tribeca space as Chambers, which opened June 15. Lepeltier, the beverage director and a partner in the restaurant, is known for her commitment to sustainability and stewardship. Those values shine in the new restaurant, less a Racines reboot than a fresh start.

Though the physical location is the same, Lepeltier and her team have carefully crafted the space to be cozier, with gentler lighting and ample curves; the goal is to become a neighborhood go-to. They’ve added a communal table, where they hope strangers will become friends over the shared pleasures of good food and wine. Even the name reflects the change in tenor—the restaurant is on Chambers Street—and while Racines NY was an offshoot of the renowned Parisian bistro, Chambers keeps things more local and down to earth.

“We wanted to rethink the business model … to ensure we could give the staff a better lifestyle,” Lepeltier told Wine Spectator. To that end, they’ve reduced the number of tables, seating 55; streamlined the menu and service; and provided expanded benefits, predictable hours, ample vacation and increased wages. Guests who opt to sit at the four-seat kitchen counter for a view of the action are charged a $25 booking fee, which goes straight to the kitchen staff.

That unfussy, streamlined approach translates to the wine program, with sommelier Ellis Srubas-Giammanco a driving force behind its new direction. Lepeltier said that, though she was proud of Racines’ list (2,400 selections when it shut its doors), it could lean geeky and “scare people from coming.” She also wants to “rebalance” the relationship between the kitchen and the wine program. At Racines, she said, the elaborate, expansive list sometimes risked outshining the food; at Chambers, she plans to cut the list down to 600 to 800 wines to make it a less intimidating, friendlier match for chef Jon Karis’ elegant, energetic cooking. At opening, the one-page menu offered dishes including veal sweetbreads, black sea bass with artichokes, Berkshire pork loin with summer squash and ricotta cavatelli with ramp pesto and pistachio. Sides are simple, yet distinguished, such as asparagus with white anchovy and broccolini with preserved lemon.

Chambers’ list—for now, predominantly comprising wines from the Racines cellar—walks a fine line between pleasing traditional wine lovers and the vanguard of natural wine and pét-nat enthusiasts. The style is hip but humble—approachable for casual wine drinkers but with plenty to interest even the savviest enophile. There’s particular strength in Jura and the Loire, Lepeltier’s homeland, and some welcome quirks—the opening list offers only two Napa Valley whites, both Chenin Blancs, yet boasts a Chardonnay from Texas. A fascinating cider and co-ferments section will appeal to the adventurous drinker, as will the selection of ancestral method sparklers and skin contact bottlings. The list is producer-focused; many sections have titles like “Vignerons of Vermont” and “Vignerons of Gevrey-Chambertin.” Hybrid and native American varieties will play an increasingly prominent role: The opening list offers a glass of Finger Lakes Concord from Chëpìka, the wine project Lepeltier runs with Nathan Kendall, for an agreeable $9.

“You don’t need me to drink DRC,” Lepeltier said. Indeed, the list currently has fewer than a handful of grand cru Burgundies. She plans to curate the offerings with an eye toward approachability, without sacrificing her passion for highlighting small, family-run producers who farm responsibly and showcase their terroirs. Lepeltier is excited about Chambers’ draft system, which showcases local beverages while cutting down on shipping costs—and has even committed to carrying by-the-glass wines brought to New York by sailboat. And she has assembled a nearly comprehensive selection of Chartreuse.

Chambers also offers an impressive range of low- and non-alcoholic options to engage non-drinkers and promote a healthier culture around drinking in the restaurant industry. Don’t miss the ginger beer, fermented in-house following a recipe by bar consultant Cristian Molina.

For the fall, Lepeltier plans special wine events that explore unexpected connections between wine and topics such as music or philosophy. Chambers is open Monday through Friday during the summer, with the first seating (reservations required) at 6 p.m. and the second (walk-ins welcome) at 8 p.m. After Labor Day, the restaurant will be open Tuesday through Saturday.—K.M.

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Möet Hennessy Buys Napa’s Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Another Napa wine icon is changing hands. Wine Spectator has learned that LVMH Moët Hennessy, the global wine and fashion titan, has signed a deal to purchase Joseph Phelps Vineyards. The agreement includes the brand, winery and inventory, as well as 500 acres of vines in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Phelps produces approximately 60,000 cases of wine annually. The purchase price was not disclosed.

“We have in our portfolio a consistent offer of white wines and RosĂ© wines so we wanted to reinforce our red wines offer by adding an exquisite one,” MoĂ«t Hennessy CEO Philippe Schaus told Wine Spectator. “Joseph Phelps is one of the most respected and acclaimed wine properties in California and in particular in the Napa Valley, notably through the legendary Insignia. It perfectly fits with our DNA and values, [including] MoĂ«t Hennessy’s ambition to keep strengthening its global portfolio of exceptional wines and to grow further with scalable brands. A strong presence in Napa is critical to scale our wine business in the U.S.”

Schaus added that no changes to the winery staff are planned for the immediate future. Chief winemaker Ashley Hepworth will stay.

Joseph Phelps was one of Napa’s pioneers, part of a generation that moved to the valley in the 1960s and ’70s and revitalized its wine scene. Phelps made his career as a building contractor in Colorado, then established an office in San Francisco. His company won a bid to build Souverain Winery in Sonoma and Phelps started spending time in wine country and made Cabernet and Zinfandel in the basement of his home using Napa grapes. Contemplating a career change, he purchased a 600-acre cattle ranch in Spring Valley on Napa’s eastern side in 1973, near Heitz Cellar, and started planting vineyards and building a winery.

Phelps released his first wines—a Riesling and a Cabernet Sauvignon—that same year. Then, in 1974, he produced Insignia, a blend of classic Bordeaux varieties that is now recognized as one of Napa’s signature red wines. It was a radical approach to Napa Cabernet at the time—a proprietary label in which the vintage and winemaker determined the final blend. Insignia helped establish the winery as a leading Cabernet producer, with Phelps’ and winemaker Craig Williams’ 2002 bottling named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2005.

After Joseph’s death in 2015, his son Bill and his siblings took over managing the company. In a statement from the Phelps family, they commented, “Joseph Phelps Vineyards has been a producer of iconic wines for nearly 50 years. During that time, and as we plan for the next 50 years, our family’s guiding principle has always been to honor and build on this legacy. We believe that passing the care of this crown jewel of the Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast to LVMH, a world-renowned leader in the luxury wines and spirits market, will enable us to do just that.”

As of 2021, LVMH was the most valuable company in Europe, a global corporation chaired by Bernard Arnault with dozens of top brands in fashion, spirits and wine, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co. MoĂ«t Hennessy, its wine and spirits division, is anchored by Hennessy Cognac and MoĂ«t & Chandon Champagne. Over recent decades, the company has steadily expanded its wine holdings, adding brands like Champagne’s Krug, Bordeaux’s Château Cheval-Blanc, Burgundy’s Clos des Lambrays, Spain’s Bodega Numanthia and New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay. In Napa Valley, it owns Newton Vineyard and a majority stake in Colgin Cellars.

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Cava Bubbles Up

American consumers have a thirst for bubbly. Sales of sparkling wine from numerous wine-producing regions continue to be one of the strongest-growing categories in the U.S. market. And while French Champagne and Italian Prosecco are well-known success stories, Spanish Cava emerged as a winner in 2021: Shipments to the United States skyrocketed, ending the year with a record 1.98 million cases, an impressive 40 percent increase from 2020, according to the Consejo Regulador del Cava.

Cava has long waited in the wings of the sparkling wine world. Produced using the same traditional method as Champagne, Cava was the first sparkling wine region to introduce and employ the gyropalette, a machine that reproduced the labor-intensive and costly riddling process.

Cava producers passed those savings along, with many situating themselves in the value segment of the sparkling wine market during the late 1970s and early 1980s. But that decision ended up pigeon-holing Cava at lower price points through the 1990s. And when consumers came to expect those prices, wineries had to cut costs to maintain them, sometimes at the expense of quality.

In 2011, half the Cava reviewed by Wine Spectator, roughly 70 wines, rated 80 to 84 points; the other half rated 85 to 89 points, with no wines earning 90 points or higher. But over the past decade, Cava producers have taken notable steps to raise quality, including allowing French varieties in the wine’s blend, tightening yields and aging regimens, recognizing production subzones and more. In 2021, more than 80 percent of all Cava reviewed fell in the 85- to 89-point range, with 13 percent at 90 points or more. And even though quality is on the rise, the vast majority of bottlings are still wallet-friendly, available for $20 or less.

That pricing puts Cava soundly on par with most bottles of Prosecco in the U.S. market. Prosecco began its meteoric climb roughly 15 years ago, teaching Americans that sparkling wine could be enjoyed on a more regular basis—not just for special occasions. During the pandemic it seems that the dolce vita mentality of Prosecco transferred to Cava consumption.

“Because of COVID lockdowns and Champagne supply issues, consumers shifted to products more in line with how they were spending their time: more at home—less grand, more cozy celebrations,” said Monica Lafuente, U.S. director of trade development for Campo Viejo Cava, which experienced a 44.1 percent increase in U.S. case sales from 2020 to 2021. Lafuente also says their market research finds that Cava drinkers are more likely to enjoy their bubbly with a meal.

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At Freixenet and Segura Viudas, the No. 1 and No. 3 ranked Cava brands by sales in the U.S., respectively, it wasn’t just about capitalizing on Prosecco’s success. “In one way, Cava producers were victims of the success of Prosecco—always playing defense, never offense,” said Enore Ceola, CEO & president of Freixenet Mionetto USA, the U.S. division of sparkling wine powerhouse Henkell Freixenet, which owns both Cava brands as well as Mionetto Prosecco, Alfred Gratien Champagne, California’s Gloria Ferrer and Germany’s Henkell, among other sparkling wine brands.

“We decided [in 2019] that it was time to play offense, to better establish the brands within the Cava category, to premiumize the brands, and to refocus on the consumer,” said Ceola. An ad campaign launched in late 2019 may have helped accelerate sales going into the pandemic, and strong retail sales in 2020 helped to offset the loss of restaurant and bar sales. “For Freixenet, we made the brand more lifestyle than before; for Segura Viudas, it was [about explaining] quality, and about premiumization—basically education on the Cava category.”

Premiumization and education may also be pushing the growth of certain categories within the broader spectrum of Cava. Rosé Cava sales grew almost 30 percent in 2021. But more notably, wines grouped under the term Guarda Superiore grew by a dramatic 104 percent, according to the Consejo Regulador del Cava. This includes wines labeled as Reserva, with more than 18 months of aging, Gran Reserva (minimum 30 months) and Paraje Calificado (minimum 36 months). The impressive growth suggests a more educated interest in Cava, with consumers looking beyond its most inexpensive, entry-level versions, most of which are aged only for the required minimum of nine months.

And some Cava drinkers who enjoyed these higher-quality examples in 2021 may have been consumers looking for bottles of Champagne. “With Champagne shortages, consumers are turning to bubbly alternatives like Prosecco and Cava, so those categories are benefiting,” said Bill Edwards, senior vice president of on-premise national accounts at wholesale giant Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, in a November 2021 interview with Shanken News Daily, a sister publication of Wine Spectator. Increased demand for Champagne coupled with supply chain challenges resulted in a shortage in the fall and winter of 2021, and almost anyone visiting a wine shop on New Year’s Eve experienced it firsthand.

The challenge now for Cava producers is maintaining 2021’s growth, which means retaining customers. This includes older wine drinkers who remember leading Cava brands from earlier years, said Ceola. But it also encompasses newer consumers. Cava producers believe they need to focus on retaining younger wine drinkers. “They’re 22 or 23 years old—they’re discovering sparkling wine now, but not necessarily Prosecco,” said Ceola. “They try different things—they don’t necessarily stick to just one brand or category—it’s more about the moment or the occasion.”

While the curiosity and experimentation exhibited by the Gen Z and Millennial consumer poses challenges for brands hoping to engender loyalty, Ceola also sees opportunities, such as targeting the occasions for consumption, not just the consumer themselves or a specific category of wine. “Freixenet was a huge brand in the U.S. in the late nineties, but at that time sparkling wine was totally celebratory. It’s exciting for us to see how today’s consumer is embracing sparkling wine.”

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Wine Spectator Reveals 2022 Restaurant Award Winners

After two challenging years, during which many customers took a long hiatus from dining out, restaurants are developing innovative ways to attract diners back, no matter their preferences. From wine flights to creative, quality “mocktails” and more, restaurants around the world are pulling out all the stops with their beverage programs to enhance the full dining experience, giving all wine lovers a reason to be excited about going out again.

For example, take a look at our newly revealed list of nearly 3,200 restaurants that have earned Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards in 2022. This year’s winning restaurants, each offering outstanding wine programs, hail from all 50 states and more than 70 countries and territories. The awards are given across three categories: Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence and Grand Award. We are excited to honor all of these restaurants for their hard work and dedication.

Explaining why the awards matter so much to restaurants, sommelier Jason Ferris said, “When guests see that [Wine Spectator] plaque, or that logo on your menu, it gives them confidence that your wine program stands out among its peers.” The restaurant where he works, the Park Inn in Hammondsport, in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region, was upgraded to Best of Award of Excellence this year.

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At Award of Excellence winner Avanti Restaurant in Dallas, wine director Virginie Naigeon-Malek committed to creating a gender-equal wine list, as well as to showcasing local Texas wines on their Italian- and Mediterranean-driven list. “Beyond the extraordinary recognition and visibility, winning a Wine Spectator Restaurant Award means joining an international community of wine lovers passionate about celebrating the work of winemakers and truly intentional about advancing a diverse, innovative and sustainable wine industry,” she said. “A powerful connector, this award also drives social impact!”

The Award of Excellence is given to restaurants that offer thoughtfully chosen lists, containing both quality and diverse selections that are compatible with the menu’s style and pricing. Generally, these lists average around 100 selections but can be much larger. This year, 1,782 restaurants earned an Award of Excellence.

An additional 1,290 restaurants, of which 137 were new to the awards program this year, achieved our Best of Award of Excellence—for those that go the extra mile. These lists offer around 350 or more well-chosen selections, with a vast array of wines from top producers, wide breadth of regions and vintage depth. Restaurants deserving of our Best of Award of Excellence also take their love of wine a step further, such as carefully designing the presentation of the list, training staff on wine to ensure guests have knowledgeable assistance and giving diners an opportunity to learn more through curated wine dinners.

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“My first Wine Spectator award with One Market Restaurant was in 2011. I can remember painstakingly adding my new items to the wine list and double checking for errors,” said Tonya Pitts, now wine director of the San Francisco dining spot, where she strives to create diversity not just in regions and grape varieties but through special lists, tastings and dinners highlighting wines owned, grown or made by women and members of BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and Indigeneous communities. “Never would I have thought we would be elevated to two glasses on my first solo wine list with the company. Now I strive to get the next glass and Grand Award every year.”

The Grand Award is Wine Spectator’s most prestigious honor and is given to the world’s elite wine programs. To earn this award, restaurants must show unwavering dedication and passion to building and growing an exceptional wine list year after year. These wine lists generally have 1,000 selections or more, present diners with a depth of vintages from some of the world’s most highly regarded producers and include multiple bottle formats. All of our Grand Award winners offer the ultimate dining experience: creative presentation, flawless customer service, comprehensive wine knowledge and pristine cellar conditions. Candidates for the Grand Award are required to go through a rigorous inspection by one of our judges. For 2022, we are bestowing the Grand Award on 97 worthy restaurants throughout the world, including 2 first-time winners: Gabriel Kreuther in New York City and Press Restaurant in Napa Valley.

Read the full profiles of them at WineSpectator.com/Restaurants, or in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator, available on newsstands July 12.

To find more great dining spots for enjoying wine, go to WineSpectator.com/Restaurants/Search, which features all of Wine Spectator’s 2022 Restaurant Award winners in a free database searchable by location, cuisine type, wine strengths, pricing and award level. To access restaurant recommendations on the go, try Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards app, available free in the App Store. All award winners are featured in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator.

Throughout the year, keep on top of restaurant-related news and trends and learn more about the Restaurant Award winners in Q&As with leading sommeliers, chefs and restaurateurs, as well as in roundups of exciting restaurants in different categories, from restaurants with super-value wine lists to bucket-list destinations. Sign up for our free Private Guide to Dining email newsletter so you don’t miss anything!

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Chateau Ste. Michelle Without the Chateau?

Washington wine giant Chateau Ste. Michelle is continuing to shake things up, with news this week that it quietly put its 118-acre Woodinville property on the market. The site has been the winery’s home base since 1976, when the company built the iconic chateau that graces the wine’s labels.

The move follows Ste. Michelle’s decision to consolidate all of its winemaking to existing facilities in Columbia Valley, which lies east and across the Cascades from Woodinville and the Seattle metro area. The winery’s reds have long been produced in Columbia Valley, but its vast white wine production remained in Woodinville until this harvest. Ste. Michelle produced 3.1 million cases in 2020.

The move comes on the heels of the $1.2 billion sale in July 2021 of parent company Ste. Michelle Wine Estates to New York–based private equity firm Sycamore Partners.

“Producing wine in Woodinville so far removed from our Eastern Washington vineyards has resulted in decades of shipping millions of gallons of white wine to our Woodinville facility and burning nearly 75,000 gallons of diesel through over 1,600 freight trips each year,” the company said in a statement. “We are evaluating how to best utilize the facility going forward, including exploring a potential sale of our Woodinville property, or perhaps a portion of it.”

The company declined further comment, but according to news reports, the Woodinville property includes a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, a nearly 50,000-square-foot barrel storage facility, plus the chateau, event facilities, gardens, offices and more. The real-estate listing said the property was zoned for multiple purposes and was “primed for redevelopment.”

No wine region in America is more dependent on a single company than Washington is on Ste. Michelle. It’s a symbiotic relationship with growers and other wineries. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates makes about 60 percent of the wine in the state, and it supports and promotes the industry and wine tourism. Many of the state’s leading winemakers earned their stripes at Ste. Michelle before striking out on their own.

If Ste. Michelle sells its Woodinville facility, there will be repercussions for the area’s booming wine tourism industry. There were no wineries or tasting rooms nearby when Ste. Michelle opened in 1976, and today there are more than 130 in four different districts. Ste. Michelle has long served as a shopping mall’s anchor store, drawing in consumers who then patronize the nearby smaller, family-owned wineries as well, which benefit from Ste. Michelle’s advertising and traffic.

These developments are a long time coming. Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler retired in 2018, and veteran winemaker Bob Bertheau left in 2021. After years of impressive growth, the company’s production volume declined by more than 1.2 million cases between 2017 and 2020, according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator. In 2020, the company wrote off $292 million worth of wine it couldn’t sell, but current CEO David Dearie said last year that sales and profits were rebounding.

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Marin County Winemaking Iconoclast Sean Thackrey Dies at 79

Sean Thackrey, who earned a dedicated following for his unconventional wines made at his bare-bones winemaking facility in Marin County, died May 30 following a decade-long battle with cancer. He was 79.

Thackrey’s first career was as an art dealer, specializing in 19th century European photography. He made a home in the small town of Bolinas, where in 1979 he began to make wine, sourcing some of his first Cabernet and Merlot grapes from Stags Leap District grower Nathan Fay. Thackrey instantly took to winemaking as a creative outlet, approaching it from an artistic viewpoint.

Known for crafting brawny and wild blends from old vineyards, particularly from Syrah and other RhĂ´ne varieties, Thackrey firmly established himself on the periphery of the wine industry. He rejected conventional winemaking trends, telling Wine Spectator in 2003 that Napa Cabernet and Bordeaux were “just too damn polite for me. Why drink a wine that you wouldn’t like if it were a person?”

Thackrey’s Orion cuvée, a Syrah from St. Helena’s Rossi Vineyard, earned multiple outstanding ratings in Wine Spectator blind tastings. All of his wines were named for constellations, reflecting his fascination with humankind’s affection for patterns.

Despite his affinity for Syrah and other RhĂ´ne varieties, Thackrey resisted categorization, and his wines illustrated that individuality, with rugged tannins and powerful flavors. “Please don’t call me a RhĂ´ne Ranger,” he said in 1995, “because that’s not what I’m about.”

Thackrey looked to the past for inspiration, with history as his guide. And he loved historic wine texts, and amassed one of the world’s largest personal collections of wine books and manuscripts. The Thackrey Library, as it became known, included scores of centuries-old books, including medieval illuminated manuscripts and a 6th century Egyptian papyrus. He sold the collection for $2 million in April.

His winemaking facility in Bolinas was famous for its seemingly haphazard, tech-free production zone more typical of a country backwater than a famous Northern California winery—“as if it could have been transplanted from Appalachian moonshine country,” Wine Spectator reported in 2003.

Thackrey also enjoyed writing, and his family reports that he would put a great deal of thought into his words before publishing them on his website or on social media. “I’m not exactly self-evident to most people myself,” he posted on Facebook in March 2020, after learning of the death of Michael Broadbent. “No nice little commercially determined package of nice little charms; and my own complexities—and my desires for their expression—are absolutely there in my wines; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be mine; and those who like them that way, bless their complicated hearts, wouldn’t like them any other way, any more than I would.”

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The True Sonoma Coast Gets Wine Appellation Status

Defining California’s Sonoma Coast American Viticulture Area (AVA)—and the wines it produces—has long been challenging. The vast region spans 750 miles, with vineyards near the Mendocino County border in the north to the Carneros border in the south, some 20 miles inland from the Pacific coast. But as of now, wines made from the westernmost reaches of the Sonoma Coast, closest to the water, can be labeled under the West Sonoma Coast AVA. Officials with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced the approval of the West Sonoma Coast AVA, making it the third sub-AVA within the greater Sonoma Coast, as well as Sonoma County’s 19th appellation.

“It’s long overdue,” Hirsch winemaker and general manager Jasmine Hirsch told Wine Spectator. “People have been talking about true Sonoma Coast for over a decade; there’s already recognition. The TTB approval is just an acknowledgment of what we’ve been talking about.”

The West Sonoma Coast AVA spans 141,000 acres and encompasses approximately 1,000 acres of vines in 50 vineyards, predominantly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, planted on mountainous topography ranging from 400 to 1,800 feet in elevation, in close proximity to the Pacific. The AVA can be broken into three sub-regions from north to south, including remote Annapolis, the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA and the area arounds the towns of Freestone and Occidental. The Russian River Valley and Petaluma Gap AVAs provide borders to the east and south, and the Mendocino County line abuts the north.

When sub-appellations such as the West Sonoma Coast are proposed, evidence must be provided to show meaningful differences from the surrounding area. The broader Sonoma Coast AVA was largely ambiguous before the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA (2012), Petaluma Gap (2018) and now West Sonoma Coast were added. Covering more than 500,000 acres (almost half of the total land area of Sonoma County), the Sonoma Coast AVA, for many, was too broad to help wineries explain their terroirs to consumers.

For the last decade, the West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association (WSCV), a group that includes 28 wineries and vineyards, has been trying to define and convey the unique aspects of the region to media, trade and wine lovers. For years, Ted Lemon, WSCV president and founder winemaker for Littorai, and others have referenced their wines as being from the “True” Sonoma Coast.

“From proximity to ocean to rainfall totals to soils, even from an ecological perspective, we’re talking [about] moving from land of the redwood to land of the oaks. These factors truly define [West Sonoma Coast],” said Lemon.

Wines from the West Sonoma Coast are unmistakably defined by coastal influence. “Our proximity to the ocean and San Andreas fault line is what we all share,” said Hirsch. “It takes me an hour and a half to drive to Ted [Lemon], but I consider him a neighbor. From a physical terroir point of view, we’re all dealing with the same climatic and logistical challenges.”

Daytime temperatures in the West Sonoma Coast are typically 10 degrees cooler than in other parts of the Sonoma Coast. Some vineyards sit above the fog line, while others lie below. Though daytime highs are cooler, nighttime lows are warmer, providing a modest diurnal swing. That allows the grapes to ripen slowly during the day and the night, which can only be achieved in a genuinely cold-climate maritime environment.

Those extreme conditions have an impact on farming. “I write all my 10-year plans based on getting one and a half tons per acre,” said Lemon. In other regions, yields are much higher. “If we get more, we jump for joy!” Farming in the West Sonoma area means grappling with a different blooming cycle from other regions and growing in minimal alluvial soils. “The nature of the weather and soils limits you to smaller yields, which affects color, tannin, and acidity,” added Lemon.

These influences translate to the finished product in a good way. “Growing here gives us a higher probability of making wines with, as I like to call, Old World structure with New World fruit,” said Hirsch. The gradual ripening helps grapes reach physiological maturity at lower sugar levels, with distinct natural acidity. “There is something we’re all seeking in our wines that is so compelling that we’re willing to face extreme challenges and risks of farming here, which speaks to the commitment we have in the region,” she added.

Lemon agrees but believes challenges loom. The association’s initial petition, drafted in 2015, included a boundary that overlapped parts of the Russian River Valley AVA. However, for sub-appellations, overlapping AVAs is not permitted, and that portion along the western fringes of the Russian River Valley had to be removed to obtain approval.

As a result, the borderline runs through the middle of Freestone valley. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we all voted and agreed this is what we wanted to do,” he explained.

Sub-appellations of larger regions can sometimes struggle for recognition, but Hirsch likens the delineation to Burgundy. “Just as we might talk about CĂ´te du Nuits, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the other villages,” she explained. “Hirsch Vineyards is in Fort Ross, but also West Sonoma Coast. We can get micro and zoom in on many levels, but we have more in common with vineyards near Freestone and Occidental than we do in Carneros or Russian River Valley.”

Both Lemon and Hirsch believe that it won’t take much time for the wines with the West Sonoma Coast label to catch on. “When we go out and show wines, it’s going to be immediately impactful, and members are excited to put it on labels and use as soon as they can,” said Hirsch. “This is a start for trade and consumers to understand better what a wine will taste like before cracking a bottle. There’s still a tremendous amount of diversity, but this is a more focused way than just Sonoma Coast.”

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You Must Remember This: Moderate Wine Consumption Linked to Lower Risk of Dementia

Don’t forget your daily glass of wine if you want to keep a good memory, a new study on alcohol and dementia suggests. While it isn’t breaking news that moderate wine consumption has been linked yet again with a lower risk of developing dementia, a general term used to describe memory loss, researchers at Germany’s University of Giessen and University of Leipzig recently took a look at coffee, tea and wine, and found similar brain benefits for wine and tea.

“Since dementia is a subject whose relevance increases every year and many have had personal experiences with the disease, elucidating valuable dietary means to prevent suffering from it was important to us,” lead author Dr. Sylva Mareike Schaefer told Wine Spectator.

The study, published in Brain Sciences, collected data from 350,000 participants in the U.K. Biobank cohort, a large-scale biomedical database with health information from more than half a million United Kingdom residents, ages 38 to 73. The researchers identified 4,270 dementia cases within the group surveyed.

Participants had answered questionnaires on dietary habits. Red wine, white wine and Champagne consumption were grouped together under “wine”, while beer, spirits and fortified wine were labeled “non-wine”. A portion of wine was defined as 10 grams of alcohol (a standard glass of wine is 14 grams). Wine consumption was grouped into four categories: none, light (less than or equal to 12 grams of alcohol per day), moderate (greater than 12 to 24 grams per day) and heavy (more than 24 grams per day).

Coffee and tea consumption were documented in cups per day. Moderate coffee consumption was defined as between three to four cups per day, while tea was grouped into four categories like wine: none, light (zero to two cups per day), moderate (three to four cups per day) and heavy (more than five cups per day).

The results showed that, among all participants, moderate wine drinkers had a 19 percent lower risk of dementia than non-wine drinkers. One wrinkle—when the data was divided by gender, wine-drinking men showed a 17 percent lower risk, but wine-drinking women did not show a statistically significant difference compared to non-wine drinkers.

“We were indeed surprised that the positive effects of wine consumption were [statistically significant] in men and all participants but not in women,” said Dr. Schaefer. “However, these findings are supported by another research group that also found a reduction of Alzheimer’s dementia after red wine intake, who suggest that women may be more vulnerable to the noxious effect of alcohol.” She adds that women are also more susceptible to dementia due to their higher life expectancy.

There was no statistically significant difference in risk based on levels of coffee consumption, which Dr. Schaefer attributes to the possibility that the positive and negative effects of coffee and caffeine canceled each other out. But tea showed a similar effect to wine—people who drank three to six cups per day had a 31 percent lower risk of dementia. What does tea have that coffee doesn’t? Like wine, it contains high amounts of flavonoids—polyphenolic compounds found in plant-based foods.

Since the study relied on self-reported data, the results are vulnerable to measurement errors and biases, such as people giving answers they believe are more socially acceptable. Dr. Schaefer adds that the UK Biobank database includes a “healthy volunteer” selection bias, which means that people who voluntarily participate in research studies tend to be more health-conscious than non-participants.

But the authors observe that other studies corroborate the connections between alcohol consumption and memory loss. And it all goes back to what’s in the glass. “The potential neuroprotective effect of wine might be caused by natural ingredients of wine not present in non-wine beverages, such as the phenolic substance resveratrol found in the epidermis of red grapes,” the authors wrote.

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Haut-Brion Auction for a Cause Raises $6.23 Million

Sotheby’s offered an unprecedented sale of wines from the cellar of Domaine Clarence Dillon’s CEO, Prince Robert de Luxembourg, on May 21, and the response was impressive. Some 4,200 bottles of collectible wines—all 818 lots on offer—were sold during the nine-hour auction, most for above estimate, for a total of more than $6.23 million. And it was all for charity.

The sale was to raise money for the PolG Foundation, which was launched by Prince Robert and his wife, Princess Julie, to raise money for research to help those suffering from mitochondrial diseases. The couple established the organization last year, five years after their son Frederik was first diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease. For the sale, Prince Robert opened up his personal cellars, which includes wines from his family’s estates, including Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, among others, as well as other top wines he has collected over the years.

“On behalf of all of the mitochondrial disease community, my family and the PolG Foundation, I want to thank all of the bidders for providing us with a glass that is not only half full but now brimming over with hope and opportunity,” said Prince Robert, in a statement. “I have an empty cellar, but a very full heart.”

The biggest sale price was paid for a lot donated not by Prince Robert, but by some of his friends. Haut-Brion is a member of Primum Familiae Vini, a group of family-owned wineries including names like Antinori, Sassicaia, Mouton-Rothschild, Château de Beaucastel and Symington. A beautiful case filled with 12 wines from the members, along with a “passport” to visit each of their estates, sold for $237,500, well above the high estimate of $150,000.

[article-img-container][src=2022-05/ns_brionpfv052322_1600.jpg] [credit=(Courtesy Sotheby’s)] [alt=Primum Familiae Vini] [end: article-img-container]

A custom console designed by Prince Robert and Linley of London—which contained a vertical of Haut-Brion vintages selected to celebrate the first eight decades of the Dillon family’s ownership of Château Haut-Brion—sold for $112,500. A jeroboam of Haut-Brion 1926 sold for $87,500.

“The phenomenal result of this exceptional sale is recognition of the reputation and incomparable provenance of the genuinely rare wines that were donated, combined with the importance of the medical research being undertaken by the PolG Foundation,” said Jamie Ritchie, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s Wine & Spirits. “We are thrilled to have been able to support the new foundation by raising funds for such a great cause.”

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Updated: Bordeaux 2021 Futures Prices and Analysis

Update: May 24, 12 p.m. This story will be continuously updated as more wineries release their futures allocations. Check back for the latest.

In a time of war and deep economic anxiety, Bordeaux’s futures campaign has begun, with the first top wineries releasing futures allocations this week. Early indicators suggest price increases will be minimal, with some producers even reducing prices from last year. The big question is whether all the top names will show similar restraint.

Château Pavie, Cheval-Blanc and Léoville Las Cases collectively kickstarted the campaign, releasing their first tranche of 2021 futures the week of May 16. Cheval-Blanc raised prices slightly, Pavie trimmed prices slightly and Las Cases dropped them by more than 14 percent compared to the 2020 futures on release. What’s more, the dollar is the strongest it’s been against the euro in several years, giving Americans a discount.

But the 2021 futures offer twin challenges for sales teams. The vintage was not easy: Heavy April frosts drastically reduced yields, and a rainy summer left many vintners fighting fungal diseases for much of the growing season. Some winemakers had to chaptalize in the cellars. Many are calling it a traditional vintage, more elegant than powerful. And they are quick to point out that methods in the vineyard and the cellar have drastically improved in the past 50 years—outstanding wines can be made even in challenging years.

Then there’s the economic outlook as the campaign starts. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a surge of COVID-19 cases in China have exacerbated the challenges faced by an economy already struggling with inflation and the after-effects of the pandemic. With the S&P 500 officially entering bear market territory this week, many who typically invest in Bordeaux futures aren’t feeling flush with cash.

“In a growing season that was clearly the most difficult since 2013, there is simply no reason for consumers to chase the 2021s simply because their prices are in line with 2020s,” advises Wine Spectator senior editor and lead Bordeaux taster James Molesworth. “Instead, go after more 2020s. Or better yet, stock up on 2016 Left Bank reds and 2015 Right Bank reds. Those are the still-young vintages to be socking away.” (Wine Spectator has not yet reviewed the 2021 barrel samples.)

May 24: Full Speed Ahead

New releases have continued to come quickly this week, as two well-known wineries, one on the Right Bank and one on the Left, released prices on May 23. Two more top names followed the next day.

Château AngĂ©lus released its allocation on May 23, pricing them at at €265 per bottle ex-nĂ©gociant, up 1.9 percent on their 2020 futures’ opening price. The St.-Emilion estate has been aggressive with pricing in recent years, and this suggests thier not changing their approach. The wine is available at leading U.S. retailers for about $340 per bottle, a 10 percent drop on the 2020 futures, thanks to the strong dollar. There are numerous vintages of AngĂ©lus from recent top vintages already on store shelves.

Always value-conscious, Château LĂ©oville Barton’s owners have released its 2021 futures at €55.80 per bottle ex-nĂ©gociant, down 7 percent on the 2020’s opening price. Top retailers are offering it for $77 per bottle, or $924 per case, a 15 percent drop on the 2020 futures.

This morning, Château Palmer released its 2021 futures at €240 per bottle ex-négociant, identical to 2020. Reflecting the smaller vintage and a growing strategy of holding on to more wine for future sale, the winery released 30 percent less futures than last year. Château Pontet Canet also released its first tranche on May 24, at €74.40 per bottle ex-négociant, unchanged from the 2020’s release price. 

[article-img-container][src=2022-05/ns_cases052022_1600.jpg] [credit=(Deepix Studio)] [alt=Jean-Hubert Delon] [end: article-img-container]

May 20: Three Big Names Kickoff

Château Pavie’s owners released their first allocation of 2021 futures on May 18, pricing them at €234 per bottle, ex-négociant, down 2.5 percent on the 2020’s opening price. Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, leading American retailers are offering it for $302 per bottle, or $3,624 per case, a 13 percent drop on 2020s on release. However, the 97-point 2019 vintage is currently available at top retailers for $360.

Cheval-Blanc released its 2021 futures the day after Pavie, raising prices by 2.6 percent on the 2020’s opening price, at €390 per bottle, ex-négociant. The futures are available at U.S. retailers for $513 per bottle, or $6,156 per case. That’s 7 percent less than the 2020s on release. But the 97-point 2019 vintage is currently available at top retailers for $500.

The Left Bank debuted its first heavy hitter this morning, as Château Léoville Las Cases released its 2021 futures at €169 per bottle, ex-négociant, down 14.6 percent on the 2020’s opening price.

2021 Futures Prices

These estates represent a selection of leading wineries. Retail prices are an average of trusted retailers we follow. Prices for the 2021s are listed alongside the current prevailing retail price for Bordeaux’s recent benchmark vintages, so you can measure where the wines are vis-Ă -vis those currently on retail shelves. You’ll find more updates and analyses below the chart.

Data compiled by Cassia Schifter

Château 2021 initial futures offering at U.S. retail 2020 initial futures offering at U.S. retail 2020-2021 retail change Current 2016 price at U.S. retail Current 2015 price at U.S. retail
Angélus $342 $380 -10% $448 $446
Beychevelle $NA $85 -% $121 $122
Brainaire-Ducru $NA $50 -% $73 $77
Calon-SĂ©gur $NA $121 -% $167 $149
Canon $NA $141 -% $205 $325
Canon-La Gaffelière $NA $80 -% $111 $126
Cheval-Blanc $532 $575 -7% $860 $849
Clos Fourtet $NA $118 -% $135 $142
Cos-d’Estournel $NA $223 -% $258 $234
Ducru-Beaucaillou $NA $240 -% $229 $235
Figeac $NA $243 -% $274 $240
Giscours $NA $62 -% $81 $91
Grand Puy Lacoste $NA $77 -% $108 $93
Haut-Brion $NA $628 -% $722 $696
Hosanna $135 $163 -17% $175 $209
La Fleur-PĂ©trus $NA $260 -% $253 $249
La Mission Haut-Brion $NA $366 -% $529 $501
Lafite Rothschild $NA $701 -% $892 $800
LĂ©oville Barton $77 $91 -15% $163 $150
LĂ©oville Las Cases $222 $308 -28% $352 $240
Léoville Poyferré $NA $105 -% $137 $121
Les Carmes Haut-Brion $NA $128 -% $145 $117
Lynch Bages $NA $134 -% $167 $166
Malescot-St.-Exupéry $NA $61 -% $85 $105
Margaux $NA $629 -% $737 $1,917
Mouton-Rothschild $NA $627 -% $741 $664
Palmer $NA $342 -% $384 $413
Pape Clément $NA $96 -% $119 $139
Pavie $301 $346 -13% $459 $436
Pavie-Macquin $NA $88 -% $104 $103
PĂ©trus $NA $NA -% $3,225 $3,689
Pichon Baron $NA $162 -% $201 $182
Pichon Lalande $NA $197 -% $238 $216
Pontet-Canet $NA $112 -% $166 $161
Rauzan-SĂ©gla $NA $100 -% $113 $151
Smith-Haut-Lafite $NA $140 -% $133 $140
Talbot $NA $59 -% $72 $79
Troplong-Mondot $NA $108 -% $168 $146
Trotanoy $NA $335 -% $375 $315
Valandraud $NA $157 -% $211 $213
Vieux Château Certan $NA $358 -% $379 $402

NYR means a wine has not yet been submitted for review. $NA means a wine has not been released or is not sold in sufficient quantities by U.S. retailers yet to determine an average price.

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