Wine Enthusiast Best of Year 2011

Our editors sound off on the most exciting wine, spirits, beer and culinary trends of 2011.


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The continued explosion of wine and wine culture, the ever-diversifying world of spirits and beer and the rise of global cuisine—all are examples of a banner year in America’s beverage and culinary world. Our pages throughout 2011 reflected the dynamic nature of this year, reporting on trends for discerning drinkers and diners. In the following pages our editors sound off on the top trends in the 2011 wine and wine lifestyle world, and also pick our favorite Wine Enthusiast articles and quotes. Enjoy!

2011 Highlights in Wine

Whither wine? This past year, wine lovers gravitated toward Old World-style offerings with lower alcohol and higher acidity levels, and away from high-alcohol “fruit bomb” wines. Meanwhile, Riesling soared in popularity and Malbec stole the spotlight from Cabernet. From Cava to Champagne to domestic bubblies, wine drinkers embraced sparklers of all stripes, particularly Prosecco. On the Millennial front, playful Moscato captured myriad hearts and palates. At restaurants, a growing number of wine lists featured half-bottle offerings, and iPad-based wine lists started a slow, but steady creep into the hands of tech-minded diners.

“South American wines have blown up in the wine scene this year, and ‘Chile’s Standouts From a Year to Remember’ (February, 2011) cut straight to the chase with excellent wines of all styles...at a great price.” —SUSAN KOSTRZEWA, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

“In ‘Snapshot’ (April, 2011), we wrote about the new Pinot Grigio offering from reality star Ramona Singer (The Real Housewives of New York City). I saw her at a trade show—yes, she really is that skinny—and tried the wine. But what were the pourers thinking when they kept asking passersby, ‘Would you like to taste Ramona?’ When you put it that way, NO thanks!” —KARA NEWMAN, SPIRITS TASTER

“Every Friday, I went to [my grandfather’s] house and he taught me everything about the wine market. He used to say there are three ways to lose money. One is to have a mistress. Two is to spend too much time in the casino. Three is to buy chateaus in Bordeaux. He chose the third.” —CLAIRE VILLARS-LURTON, MERLAUT WINEMAKING FAMILY (“Bordeaux: A Family Affair,” June, 2011)

“‘Could Washington Redefine Cult Wine?’ (September, 2011) was bold and informative, calling out superb alternatives—ones that you can actually still find and buy—to those high-priced Cali trophy wines.” —LAUREN BUZZEO, ASSISTANT TASTING DIRECTOR

“No grape brings more joy or more pain. [Sangiovese] demands the best man and nature can give and that’s what makes it so exceptional.”CARLO FERRINI, ITALIAN WINE CONSULTANT (“The Grape at the Heart of Italy,” April, 2011)

“Roger Voss’s piece in our October, 2011 issue, ‘Collectible Beaujolais,’ shined a spotlight on the underappreciated crus of the region. These are great wines with medium-term aging potential at a fraction of the price of wines from many more prestigious regions.” —JOE CZERWINSKI, TASTING DIRECTOR AND SENIOR EDITOR

“I feel almost like a scientist and a detective. Listening. Asking questions. Probing. Diagnosing symptoms. Prescribing the medicine.” —MICHAEL MADRIGALE, HEAD SOMMELIER, BAR BOULUD & BOULUD SUD (Fare Play, May, 2011)

“‘The New Calistoga’ (June, 2011) was a bullseye. It seems every corner of the wine world is modernizing, commercializing and generally buffing up to attract visitors. Calistoga is no exception, but we hope this rustic town with a Wild West flavor only gentrifies so far.” —TIM MORIARTY, MANAGING EDITOR

Toast of the Town 2011

Wine Enthusiast’s signature wine and culinary event, Toast of the Town, reached new heights during its five-city tour in 2011. The glamorous evenings in New York, Chicago, Miami, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco featured some 500 wines, spirits and beers from around the globe and more than 35 small plates from local chefs in each city. Standout moments included an exclusive dinner for four lucky ticketholders with a Wine Enthusiast Magazine editor in Miami; celebrity sightings, such as actor Vince Vaughan’s visit to the event in Chicago; the debut of the Wine Enthusiast lounge, bringing readers and wines together; and over 2,000 wine lovers attending the New York City event—a new record.

Trend Watch

• Chefs have gone whole hog in a new way: adding in-house butchering to their grow-your-own garden plots. Talk about hyper-local ingredients.
• It isn’t enough to get it from the farm anymore. Now farms are putting their brand name on packaging. Think of it as a locavore seal of approval.
• Finally! Molecular gastronomy’s foams are a thing of the past. Simplicity is today’s sexy, with a back-to-basics aesthetic for both wine and food.
• No more excuses for not knowing what to order. Wine apps for your phone and at-table iPad wine lists give you all the expert info at your fingertips.
• Budget-minders and other egalitarians: Pay-what-you-wish restaurants are hot, from the established One World Everybody Eats in Utah to Panera in St. Louis.
• Whether an island is your destination or just your state of mind, tiki cocktails help slow the pace to minivacation mode. No grass skirt necessary.


2011 Highlights in Food

In 2011, consumers went back to basics, craving simple and locally grown foods, including sustainable seafood and farm/ estate-branded ingredients. Many restaurants even went the hyper-local route, as chefs sought locally raised animals or lovingly cultivated gardens nearby for seasonal produce. The local focus extended to beverages, too, as restaurants tended to pay closer attention to selections from their hometown area. Nutritional concerns also took center stage, as First Lady Michelle Obama championed the value of nutritionally-balanced children’s dishes. “Gluten free” became a new rallying cry for many cooks, and more attention was paid to food allergies.

“One of my all-time favorite Wine Enthusiast stories was our BBQ sauce pairings piece, ‘All Fired Up for BBQ’ (June, 2011). Those sauces and those recipes had me dreaming for months about the USA from far-away Italy...” —MONICA LARNER, ITALIAN EDITOR

“A hush fell over the kitchen. When you are in the presence of an amazing sauce, it has a way of making words, coherent thought, history, badges of honor and pride fall to the ground.” —ALEX GUARNASCHELLI (Fare Play, March, 2011)

“Don’t sit on anything at Pancha’s. In fact, don’t touch anything at Pancha’s except your own beer bottle. And maybe the darts.” —LORI NARLOCK (“California Winemaker Dives,” February, 2011)

“The ‘Q&A with Nadia G’ (October, 2011) was fun! I don’t know if this new cooking show diva is the next Martha Stewart, but she’s interesting and savvy and has a plan (based partly on social media) to take over the world!” —STEVE HEIMOFF, CALIFORNIA EDITOR

“Our outdoor entertaining piece, ‘Celebrating Summer’ (July, 2011), was not only beautiful, but offered fun, practical tips–including party playlists–for home cooks and wine lovers.” —ALEXIS KORMAN, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR

The Chicken Liver Mousse (Recipe of the Month, August, 2011) was velvety and savory with a rustic twist. And Barnard Griffin’s ’08 Riesling from Washington State made a great pairing—the high acidity cut through the mousse’s richness while the wine’s off-dry nature foiled the salty qualities.”—ANDREW HOOVER, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Restaurant Awards

Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s new America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants of 2011 issue was a blockbuster— our list of the 100 best and brightest wine-focused hotspots in the nation provided the year’s definitive dining-out guide for wine lovers. Chosen by our editors for their innovation, ingenuity and dedication to presenting excellent wine to diners in an engaging and informative way, these restaurants are at the forefront of changing the culinary culture in the U.S.

“A chef with an active and imaginative palate cannot help but create good food. It isn’t always about cooking something to perfect doneness or seasoning to perfection.” —MICHAEL PALEY, PROOF ON MAIN (“America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants,” August, 2011)

“I loved ‘Saké Beyond Sushi’ (February, 2011). I’m still curious about pairing saké with cheeses and liver pâté.” —K.N.

Trend Watch

• Se habla Español? Restaurants specializing in Spanish tapas, haute tacos and Peruvian-style ceviches continue to open, with wine and spirits offerings to match.
• Wine goes mobile and rugged with alternative packaging, like the mobile tetra pak, which helps you sip wine at the top of a mountain while enjoying a view.
• China’s consumption of imported wine quadrupled between 2005 and 2009. The possibility of 1.3 billion Chinese oenophiles is boosting international businesses.
• Cold snaps in California produced lowerthan- average temperatures and, as a result, lower-than-usual alcohol levels in Napa Valley Cabs and others.
• Wines served on tap from the barrel give restaurants green street cred (fewer bottles sent to the recycling bin).
• Haute bitters making a splash on cocktail menus include exotic flavors like Jamaican Jerk, Mexican mole and black Mission fig.


2011 Highlights in Spirits & Beyond

It was yet another high-spirited year in 2011, as cocktail festivals popped up in seemingly every city across the nation to celebrate hooch in its many forms. And there was much to celebrate, ranging from endless variations on whiskey to burgeoning interest in rum and mezcal. This was also the year that tipplers indulged a collective sweet tooth with cake-flavored vodkas, spiked slushies and alcoholic whipped cream. On the more sophisticated side, a growing number of bars offered barrel-aged cocktails and apéritif drinks galore. Small artisan and urban distillers rounded out the scene, creating spirits with local flavor.

“‘Scotland’s Whisky Smugglers’ Trails’ (June, 2011) was a bracing blend of history, travel tips, whisky lore and the author’s personal journey of discovery—the search for the perfect bottle. The end result looks effortless, but believe me, that was a difficult story for author, editor and art director.” —T.M.

“People come in and they want the wildest drink on the menu, the one with nine ingredients. But I love to introduce them to a classic, like the daiquiri or a martini, and blow them away. Then we can move on.” —STERLING FIELD (Mixologist of the Month, October, 2011)

Craft Beer
“The craft beer boom continued to thrive in 2011, with people not only snatching up domestic offerings but also looking to interesting and unique artisanal imports as well, especially from Italy and Belgium. ‘The Sea of Suds’ feature (August, 2011) highlighted 30 of today’s great American craft brewers (and 5 superstar international brewers), and although we got to feature what seems to be so many of them, there are absolutely hundreds more out there just waiting to be discovered as well!” —L.B.

“Kara Newman’s ‘Home Bartending on a Budget’ (November, 2011) shows that sometimes in cocktails, keeping it simple is the best way to go. Her practical approach reflects real life and that’s what busy readers want.” —MARINA VATAJ, WEB EDITOR

Trend Watch
• You may catch more flies with honey, but from coast to coast, vinegars are the ‘it’ ingredient in cocktails.
• For white wine, the drier the better, as restaurants, wine bars and oenophiles fully embraced refreshing, food-friendly varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Verdejo and Assyrtiko.
• Sweet reds. Beyond Port and Lambrusco, 2011 saw a rise in production of “specialty” sweet red wines.


2011 Highlights in Travel

What staycation? Wine lovers took their passion on the road in 2011, indulging in culinary- and wine-centric travel to classic culinary cities and wine regions and emerging, exotic locales. On the domestic front, Las Vegas was a top destination, thanks to its lavish hotels and restaurants, followed by New York, Chicago and California wine country. Further afield, McLaren Vale and Barossa in Australia attracted visitors, as did Croatia, Italy, Argentina’s Mendoza Valley and rum-focused Puerto Rico. Buzz around the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) also brought thrill-seekers to London to toast the historic event. En route, a number of airlines upped the ante on their wine and spirits offerings, and cruise ships added mixology classes and deepened on-board wine lists.

“I loved Touring the Amalfi Coast' (May, 2011). The article and layout made me want to go, which is what a good wine-travel piece should do. Fabulous photos and great information—this was my favorite travel-related story of the year.” —MICHAEL SCHACHNER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

“‘Greece’s Northern Bounty’ (November, 2011) brought back fond memories of our trip through the vineyards of Greece, and pairing these delicious wines with dishes by wellknown Greek-American chefs was a stroke of genius.” —MIKE DESIMONE AND JEFF JENSSEN, CONTRIBUTING EDITORS

"How remote is Patagonia? Writer Bruce Chatwin called it ‘The farthest place to which man has walked from his place of origins.’ You won’t see icebergs or penguins—but will encounter some of the southernmost vineyards on the planet.” RISA WYATT (“Undiscovered Wine Regions,” March, 2011)

“‘Croatia in Living Color’ (September, 2011) highlighted the rich winemaking traditions of an underexplored region, and provided useful tips for travelers.” —M.V.

Trend Watch
• Sommeliers are offering increasingly esoteric wines, like Côt from the Loire and Roussette de Bugey Montagnieu.
• Sustainable wine. Wine drinkers continued to go greener in 2011, as did vintners.
• With two books devoted to the topic and a wave of appearances on wine lists, natural wines were a buzzed-about topic in 2011.

 

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