Jan. 4 2018 01:32 PM

2017 was quite a year for wine values, trends, and hot-button issues


Value Wines of the Year

Wine fads come and go, but saving money never goes out of style. I’ve tasted about 900-1,000 wines this year and a few under $20 bottles shine a little brighter than the others.

To start, the 2013 My Essential cabernet sauvignon was perhaps the most bang-for-the-buck American red wine I’ve had this year. It should retail for about $20 and is stuffed with a generous amount of rich black fruit, without ever coming close to tasting goopy.

This is a smart and fun project by Master Sommelier Richard Betts and should be consistently enjoyable, because it’s not an overpowering representation of cabernet.

From the old world of Europe, a topnotch red blend from southern France was a huge favorite: the 2015 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian. This mourvedre/ syrah/cinsault blend should only set you back about $18 and is now a preferred pizza-and-burger wine. It’s full-bodied, meaty, floral, and remarkably interesting for a style of wine that sometimes hits the hammer hard on bringing spicy fruit to the table.

Klaus Lentsch pinot grigio is the “dark horse” winner for favorite everyday-drinking white wine. There are oceans of innocuous wine made from this grape variety, but this is not one of them. For $16, this easily bests the big boys of the category that are twice the price.

Pinot grigios can be tricky to pin down stylistically. Oregon pinot gris tends to have increased alcohol and sometimes a touch of sweetness. Alsace, France almost always carries some sweetness with a little mushroom earthiness combined with citrus/tropical fruit notes.

Northeastern Italy doesn’t exactly have one style, but where Lentsch is from in Alto Adige, that’s about as close to a “typical” style that you’ll find: a fruit bowl of apple, pear, peach, and maybe some candied flavors, in a dry representation. The 2015 release is impeccable.

Wine Trends for 2018

You will probably continue to hear more about “natural wine.” There is no legal definition to the term. But often enough, they exist in a deliberate alternative to the Mega Purple wineries of the world.

Many writers and sommeliers earnestly support many natural wine producers and for good reason.

Plenty of bars/restaurants have incorporated these wines into their beverage programs without treating them like an affectation. Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in New York City might lead the way in true natural wine/classic wine balance, and is a must-visit when you venture to the city.

Locally, the trend is just starting to find a voice and hopefully we see it grow, while making sure it’s about good wine first.

Without coincidence, the old guard of the wine world doesn’t matter much to wine lovers in their twenties and thirties. Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate, giants of the ‘90s, are simply not read that much by the new generation.

Many younger folks digest wine content on Instagram and Facebook. They are able to connect with sommeliers or writers they like. And they’re building an evolved social currency that might seem flippant to some, but is realistically more of the same romanticism and storytelling of wine, but without some of the drab window-dressing.

Podcasts, social media and old-fashioned word of mouth will stake out a larger share with a younger demographic.

The Reckoning

Throughout human history, men have largely exploited their power and influence to get what they want. Not exactly news, right?

It’s time we get honest about what exists in this industry of wine, restaurants, et cetera: a heaping dose of patriarchy.

The New Orleans restaurant industry got rocked with more than 25 allegations of sexual harassment in the Besh Restaurant Group, primarily by John Besh, who almost immediately resigned. But if you talk to NOLA food & beverage workers, you’ll find this is not a surprise.

To extrapolate, if you talk with dozens of Mid-Michigan servers, bartenders, hostesses, wine salespeople, you will find the same culture exists here in Lansing.

A colleague who wants to remain anonymous said “I started in the industry at a very young age and with every passing year that I remained, I became more desensitized, less offended and rarely surprised by even the most offensive of behaviors. It wasn’t until I got out of the business that I started to see how truly inappropriate it is.”

Of course, there are others who have experienced these horrible situations.

“Having spent almost 15 years in this industry, I can say it has gotten better with time,” said Kristen Pennington, industry veteran and current business development manager for a Michigan wine import company.

“The only way we can move forward is to shine a light on the problem we so frequently sweep under the rug and to stand up and say this isn’t right.”

Pennington is right. This conversation is long overdue.

We need to cultivate a culture that protects the rights of all workers and lets them know there are people who will listen, and will diligently verify the truth.

Justin King is an Advanced Sommelier and owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in De- Witt. He was named 2017 Best New Sommelier by Wine & Spirits Magazine. Send your patriarchal hate mail to justingking@gmail.com.