The New York legislature has seen the light! After 15 years of effort by the state’s wine industry, and just a little prodding by the US Supreme Court, the Empire State has enacted a law to allow interstate direct shipping of wine to consumers.
Informed by the Supremes that its law allowing New York wineries to ship to consumers in state while banning shipments from California or elsewhere was unconstitutional, New York’s lawmakers did the honorable thing and opted for free trade. Regulated free trade, mind you, but free trade.
New York, you will recall, was one of two states directly affected by the Supreme Court ruling. The other state, Michigan (State motto: “We’re not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.”) appears to be moving the other way, with state liquor authorities seeking legislation to ban all shipment. Such a move could gravely injure Michigan’s own wine industry just as it is beginning to gain national attention.
New York’s law would allow wineries to ship up to 36 cases a year to a customer across state lines and allows shipments into New York from wineries in states that allow reciprocal shipment. Out-of-state wineries will require New York licenses, so there will be some deviltry in the details of regulation. But for now, New York's winemakers are ecstatic, and I have another reason to consider moving to a reciprocal state. (Get the point, Maryland?)
And here a more modest, though no less enjoyable, wine from Chile:
Cousiño-Macul 2004 Sauvignon Gris, Maipo, Chile, $13: A relative of Sauvignon Blanc, this wine shows similar character in crisp, grapefruit flavors, but it also has fuller body and some herbal notes of thyme and especially fennel. Great with light foods or serious sipping (ie., you’ll want to talk about this wine) on the patio. Good value!
My recent immersion in the wines of Chile and Argentina (see WineLine #52 and #53) has given me a greater appreciation for and understanding of the wines of South America, so I was eager to join in a tasting of top wines from both countries held recently at Café Atlanticó, Washington D.C.’s premier Latin American restaurant. The tasting was organized by the restaurant’s sommelier, Francisco Astudillo, who chose 14 of his favorites from both countries.
Fran kept trying to draw me out during the evening as to which country I preferred, but that is such a difficult question to answer. Argentina offers Malbec of medium body, bright fruit, soft tannins and impressive complexity, perfect for medium-weight foods up to grilled steak, plus Cabernet Sauvignon of deeper character for richer meats and more robust flavors. They tend to be in a New World style, though *usually* without the high alcohol that defines today’s dull palates.
Chile’s wines are perhaps a little more Old World in style, though the difference between the two countries is not dramatic. While Argentine wines emphasize fruit, Chile offers mineral and earth, including leafy, tobacco notes in Carmenère.
Here are brief tasting notes of the 14 wines offered at “Fran’s Faves.”
Concha y Toro Don Melchor 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile: Deep, blackberry, leather on the nose, meaty flavors with tar/flint mineral character and a soft, velvety, medium-long finish.
Seña 2000, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile: This wine is nearly dead, marred by horsy aromas and brett.
Montes Alpha 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: Textbook blackcurrant nose, cocoa, mint, very clean winemaking. Not so much tar/flint as Chile often gets. Bright fruit, good acidity. I liked it more than some of my tablemates did.
Almaviva 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, Chile: Tight and closed, not yet showing its potential. Tannic, one-dimensional and short. (See below for a much different and more favorable impression of other vintages.)
Luca Malbec 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Closed, not wanting to reveal itself. Light-bodied.
Catena Alta 2001 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: Blueberry pie in a glass, elegant, rich bright fruit with medium body and a medium-long finish.
Yacochuya 2000 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina: Premier vintage from Michel Rolland, this clocked in at a whopping 16 percent alcohol (GREAT GOOGILY MOOGILY!) It was undrinkable. My tasting note: “Yuck.”
Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira 2001 Malbec, Argentina: First bottle was off; second taste showed bright delicious fruit with medium body and finish. Quite nice.
Tikal 2002 Malbec, Argentina: Animal, wool, leather, beefy flavors. Sharp attack, wood treatment is too harsh for my taste.
Morandé Golden Reserve 2001, Chile: A blend of Carignena, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from an area in southern Chile off the beaten track and near the Pacific Ocean, with an intriguing nose, lavender, thyme, and sea air. Flavors are rich and bright, with dried orange peel, cherry, plum. Gorgeous!
Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta 2002, Chile: Graphite, flint, wet stone, rainwater, flavors of toffee, blackberry. A bit sharp on the tannin but the finish is long and soft. A beautiful effort in a vintage that was not the greatest.
Caro 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest Malbec, with beef, blueberry, stone and orange peel. Rich, long and delicious.
Montes Folly Syrah 2002, Chile: Rich, a bit hot, spicy oaky/tannic. Somewhat harsh on the attack, it mellows nicely on the finish.
Nicolas Catena Zapata 2001, Mendoza, Argentina: Animal, leather, wool, meat and berry notes, elegant texture and long, complex finish.
A week later I was back at Café Atlanticó for a wine dinner featuring Almaviva, the joint venture between Concha y Toro and Mouton-Rothschild. Winemaker Tod Victor Mostero presented three vintages, 1997, 1999 and 2001. While I was not enamored of the 2002 in the earlier tasting, sampling these three vintages together gave an opportunity to gauge how the wine develops over time to reveal its inner character.
We went from oldest to youngest, which made sense given the 2001 was pretty massive and its tannins could have clouded our palates for the more developed 1997. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (about 70%), Carmenère and Cabernet Franc, with the exact proportions of each changing with the vintage.
The 1997 had expressive aromas of green olive, tea, blackberry and flint. At first, I thought the fruit had faded too much in favor of wood spice, clove, cardamom, etc. However, as the evening wore on, this wine developed further in the glass, displaying pomander qualities (dried orange, clove), with more texture and elegance. Delicious.
The 1999 had similar character but was less expressive, more fruit, and a bit harsh on the attack. I was a minority opinion on this at my table, however.
The 2001 nudged out the 1997 for my favorite of the evening, with its beefy nose, cola, vanilla syrup and strawberry notes and palate of blackcurrant, toffee and soft tannins on its long, complex finish. I’ll be honest though – I may have preferred this over the ’97 simply because I’m used to drinking young wines.
The phrase “Supreme Court ruling” carries a sense of finality about it, the idea that the wisest jurors in the land have decided important issues and instructed us lesser mortals how to behave. Last month’s high court ruling on interstate wine shipping, however, carried no such authority. The court’s gavel clobbered both sides with equal force, sort of a high-stakes game of “Whac-A-Mole.”
Wine lovers who muttered “Commerce Clause” like a mantra and hoped the Court would grant us immediate rights to pick up the phone and have our favorite Cabernet delivered to our doors from the winery were naïve, despite the initial rush of media reports that hailed a victory for wine drinkers and small wineries. So were the wholesalers and political Philistines who put their faith in the 21st Amendment as trumping the Commerce Clause.
The Commerce Clause means equality. The 21st Amendment means states’ rights. On the direct shipping issue, these two constitutional clauses contradict each other. But the Supreme Court could hardly declare the Constitution unconstitutional.
Instead, the Court threw the debate back to the States, upholding the 21st Amendment. But they also decreed that state laws must be equal, thereby upholding the Commerce Clause. This threatens the viability of small wineries in states with farm winery laws, such as New York, Virginia or Michigan, where the wineries have benefited from favorable treatment on in-state markets. New York’s Governor George Pataki has introduced legislation to liberalize out-of-state shipments, while authorities in Michigan and Indiana are threatening to end all shipping altogether.
Small wineries in California have little to lose and everything to gain as the direct shipping fight heats up again in state capitals. Small wineries elsewhere have much to lose, for even if they are allowed to maintain in-state privileges, they will now have to compete on a level playing field with their more famous rivals to the West.
Be careful what you wish for ...
Thanks for visiting "Dave McIntyre's WineBLAHG," a totally experimental adjunct to my e-newsletter, "Dave McIntyre's WineLine." Here I'll supplement WineLine with additional tasting notes, short restaurant reviews, reports on wine tastings or other events. As always, I invite your comments and urge you to check out my Web page at dmwineline.com .