ENTHUSIAST'S CORNER



The millennium has come and gone. Forecasts of Armageddon and widescale computer meltdowns fortunately proved false, and now we can afford ourselves a moment to reflect and refocus before moving forward.

One thing I would like to see happen this year and in the future is a reduction in the seasonality of wine consumption in America. Why do Americans buy and drink 75 percent of their wine in only 25 percent of the year, specifically the final quarter (mostly between Thanksgiving and New Year's)?

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what drives this seasonal consumption. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is it largely propelled by wine producers and the companies that advertise and sell the wines? Or is it the fact that we are still not as big a wine-drinking nation as we might be some day?

Red hot
The '90s saw Merlot become a synonym for red wine. "A glass of Merlot" was probably the most uttered single request in bars and restaurants across the country. Granted, this may not have been connoisseurship on display, but it showed that Americans were turning the corner toward greater wine awareness.

So, what might be the Merlot of the future? Considering the increasing number of Syrahs coming out of the Golden State as well as Washington, it seems like a good bet. Already Australian Shiraz from the likes of Rosemount and Deakin Estate are becoming common bar pours at quality-conscious metropolitan restaurants. At about $10 a bottle (less at wholesale), these wines offer tons of fruit and oak, and the best of both worlds for patrons (good flavor and character) and proprietors (excellent margins and no need for aging) alike.

Sonoma's new caretakers
Early last fall I spent a sunny Friday touring four Gallo of Sonoma vineyard properties. I was accompanying reporters Michael Schachner and Larry Walker as they visited with and interviewed Matt and Gina Gallo and several other members of the third generation of Gallos to make wine in America. The goal: gathering information for our cover story on exactly what is taking place at the Sonoma outpost of the world's largest wine producer (see page 28).

What we observed was nothing short of impressive: acres of rolling vineyards in the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys. Matt Gallo showed us ripe Chardonnay as the fog rolled in over the Laguna Ranch property. One taste said it all—honey and the essence of fruit, right there at the source. We then romped through the Twin Valley Vineyard. Here Gina Gallo showed us purple-gray bunches of Pinot Grigio, and asked what I thought of the future of the grape. "Positive, but not the next Chardonnay," I said.

We wrapped things up at Frei Ranch, where I was taken aback by the views of the hills framing Dry Creek Valley and the immensity of Gallo's cellar (capacity 60,000 barrels). Clearly the Gallo image as well as the wines from Sonoma are in very good hands.

In this issue, we introduce a new monthly department called Perspectives, where we will explore trends and predictions on big-picture topics within the world of wine and spirits. In most cases, the author will be Paul Pacult, editor of the Spirit Journal and author of the 1997 book Kindred Spirits. In his debut, Pacult sheds light on how the 1990s saw consumers abandon blind brand allegiance and push the alcoholic beverage industry

-Adam M. Strum

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