Corkscrew - Peeking behind the curtains

A look at what people are drinking

When I was a kid, I compared myself to everyone. One teacher called me “other-directed” and it wasn’t until my twenties that I realized that wasn’t a glowing compliment. I carried a bit of this into adulthood, and perhaps it shows up in my voyeuristic sneak peeks at what wine drinkers are sipping. As a wine writer, it’s good to have my sights on the scene, so I ask bars, restaurants and wine retail shops from time to time to reveal what you’re drinking.

It appears that you guys, after an anything-but-chardonnay run, are migrating back to this classic white. Rathbun’s in Atlanta sees plenty of action in its Edna Valley Chardonnay. But co-owner Cliff Bramble reports an educated price variance in what people are choosing — in the under-$40-per-bottle category, people order a “chardonnay,” whereas in the upper price tier, customers request selections from specific wine regions — aka AVAs — like Carneros or Russian River. Same goes for other varietals like pinot noir or malbec, as in the delicious Terrazas Malbec from Argentina they pour by the glass.

Vinocity Wine Bar in Atlanta constantly scours for quality, underpriced wines. Owner Ian Smith’s best sellers are Poppy Pinot Noir, Plungerhead Zin, Bloom Gewurztraminer and one of my favorites, Quivira Sauvignon Blanc. Looking pretty good there. 

In Tampa, Fla., Bern’s Fine Wines and Spirits and Mise en Place Restaurant echo the chardonnay boon but also report an upsurge in rosé wine love. Kevin Pelley from Bern’s Fine Wines hopes, “Maybe Tampa is only 3 years behind other markets, not five.” Couldn’t come soon enough for this girl — regular readers of this column know my passion for the pink.

The trends bode well, folks — keep drinking. 

Wineries That Wow

I’d like to introduce a new, semi-regular addition to my weekly Corkscrew column: Wineries That Wow. In this short segment, I’ll take an impressive/interesting/ground-breaking/cool winery and give you the lowdown on why you should like them too. This episode features Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, operated by the Cuneo Family for over 100 years in Sonoma County, Calif. I wanted to give these guys some props since I think they’ve finally turned a corner. For as long as I’ve been a wine writer (8 years) their wine has wallowed in mediocrity, but a couple recent sips of chardonnay and a pinot noir turned my frown upside down.

The Cuneos recently completed construction of a new winery and maybe that has made the difference for Mark Lyon, Sebastiani’s winemaker for 30 years. He works with grapes sourced from all over Sonoma — one locale is the impressive and expansive Dutton Ranch — as well as 250 estate-owned acres in the cool-climate Carneros region where pinot noir and chardonnay love life. It’s from that delicious fruit that Mark crafts the eye-opening pinot I tasted. Hopefully all their wines will continue to improve, especially after a recent cash infusion from new owners, Foley Family Wines. Two families making wine together — I like the sound of that.  

Recommended Wines

Sebastiani 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros (California) Elegant with lush, dark cherry earthiness, excellent tart acidity and ripe plum with a flirty, sweet raspberry and strawberry finish. Luscious and worth the price. Sw=1. $28. 4.5 stars.

Sebastiani 2006 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (California) Creamy and buttery but no overwhelming oak found in inexpensive chardonnays. Instead, tangerine, honeyed almonds, earthy vanilla and apricot rule the sip. Good value. Sw=2. $15. 4 stars.

Sebastiani 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay Russian River (California) I was initially repelled by the funky opening whiff. But once it warmed in my glass, the true fruity and buttery notes emerged. Less crisp than most unoaked chards, it’s slightly sweet like a lemon bar baked with golden delicious apples. Sw=3. $17. 3 stars.

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