Wine Time

Wine Trends for 2009: Quality and Value

The best wine bars, like the best restaurants, are always a reflection of the owner's vision and personality. 13 Celsius Win Bar in midtown Houston is no exception.

On the bar side, proprietor Ian Rosenberg, an architect by profession and training, has transformed a circa-1927 Mediterannean-style building into one of the most elegant and sexy spaces for a wine bar in Houston. The building's redevelopment recently won an Honorable Mention in the Urban Land Institute's 2009 Development of Distinction Award.

One the wine side, proprietor and wine evangelist Mike Sammons is well known for his fanatical pursuit of unusual and daring wines that would never see the light of day in a typical cookie-cutter wine bar. Mr. Sammons and his staff, the antitheses of wine snobs, are known for engaging their customers with a personal touch when helping them choose a wine: "What mood are you in? How adventurous are you? Do you want to be challenged or do you want to relax? OK, I've got just the wine for you..."

Recently I asked Mr. Sammons to provide a sampling that represented trends in wine for the coming year. Six bottles were chosen and presented, each representing a trend such as bio-friendly/organic wines, the return of Merlot wines, etc. (full list below).

But there was one overall theme/trend for the tasting: quality and value. All of these wines retail for less than $20 a bottle, most for around $15.

There are any number of clichés I could use to describe Mr. Sammons' talent for choosing and presenting wines -- he's like a painter at his canvas or a composer conducting an orchestra -- but I'll just stick with the basics: he's really, really good at what he does.

And you don't have to be a wine expert to realize that there's a method to the wine-selection madness. Each wine presented was unique and different from the one before it, evoking a kaleidoscope of flavors and aromas.

As the wines began arriving, the sense of anticipation about what might possibly come next was heightened by the elaborate double decanting procedure (almost a ceremony) used to aerate and soften the harsher aspects of more tannic wines like a Rhone or Cabernet Sauvignon.

A full list of the wines and trends are listed below. With this tasting 13 Celsius proved that high quality wines can be enjoyed on a regular basis without emptying your wallet.

Wine Trends for 2009 with comments by Mike Sammons of 13 Celsius

  • High quality budget wines from Spain, Chile or Argentina

    Wine: Falset Marcà Old Vines Grenache (red)
    Vineyard: Agrìcola Falset-Marcà
    Varietal: Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon
    Region: Montsant Spain
    Year: 2004
    The Montsant wine region in Spain is little known but the wines are clear and expressive and simply delicious.

  • Bio-friendly and organic wine

    Wine: Beckmen Estate Grenache (red)
    Vineyard: Beckmen
    Varietal: Grenache
    Region: Santa Ynez Valley California USA
    Year: 2006
    This is a real crowd pleasing wine, offering just enough berry fruit with a hint of sweetness that makes you want to quaff this wine. All organically grown.

  • Obscure wine from an unexpected country

    Wine: Inama "Il Più" (red)
    Vineyard: Inama
    Varietal: Carménère
    Region: Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy
    Year: 2005
    Veneto grows some really great wines. This wine is obscure and a little unusual: a french blending grape that flourishes in Chile as a single varietal but here we see it cultivated with great success in the red dirt vineyards of the Veneto...weird and cool and very good.

    And a traditional version of this varietal, for comparison:

    Wine: Viu Manent Carménère Reserva (red)
    Vineyard: Viu Manent
    Varietal: Carménère
    Region: Colchagua Valley, Chile
    Year: 2007

  • Light, aromatic wines

    Wine: Finca La Linda Torrontés (white)
    Vineyard: Luigi Bosca
    Varietal: Torrontés
    Region: Cafayate-Salta, Argentina
    Year: 2007
    This wine is so floral that it's almost perfume-like. It's inexpensive but delicately made and it really shows great on the palate with essences of honey and apricot.

  • The return of Merlot

    Wine: Milbrandt "Legacy" (red)
    Vineyard: Milbrandt
    Varietal: Merlot
    Region: Washington State USA
    Year: 2005
    Remember the movie Sideways? As a result of this movie sales of Pinot Noir skyrocketed while Merlot (once the quintessential red wine for Americans) slowed to a near complete halt. As a result winemakers largely abandoned their Merlot-based wines (with the exception of Bordeaux, where Merlot is king) in favor of other grape varieties. Lately, winemakers have started to get back into Merlot. This wine is a great example of how juicy and big a Merlot can be when made under special circumstances.

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J.C. Reid
Contact: J.C. Reid