The first half of 2112 had a sense of positive change for the comeback of premium wines — those wines over $20. The famous (or infamous, depending on your outlook) “Two Buck Chuck” is finally down in sales after 10 years, partly due to the fact that grape production in the Napa Valley and other premium wine countries in California is down, leaving less grapes to sell at steep discounts. Demand is pushing up prices. Red grapes especially saw an average of $12 a ton more in 2011 than the year before, across the varietal board.The French are still the biggest consumers of wine, followed by Italy. The U.S. is No. 3 in consumption. China has moved up to No. 6. Direct sales from the winery through the Internet is the fastest growing way to sell wine, with cabernet sauvignon the most popular followed by pinot noir.
It was a great first half for “Taste of Wine.” I attended many international wine trade shows as wines from Italy, Spain and France brought their biggest name wines to the West Coast. I was named a judge at the first commercial wine competition at the County Fair, a big plus for San Diego based vineyards. My 10 choices are priced at the best prices I could find. Napa Valley boasts six choices, with California showing a total of nine wines. The only overseas selection is Argentina. All 10 are equally treated on an excellence scale from 1 to 5, considering flavor, body and value. The list is alphabetical and does not indicate any ranking.
Ft. Ross Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Calif., 2008 for $19. This winning pinot noir has roots high on a ridge overlooking the Pacific. Nighttime fog and plenty of daytime sun makes it special. Visit fortrossvineyard.com.
Frank Family Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, Calif, 2010 for $30. Another pinot for the ages. Cherry and cinnamon are the dominant flavors. Fine tannins are the ticket to an elegant structure. Frank also makes a dashing zinfandel for $30 and a royal cabernet sauvignon for $40. Visit frankfamilyvineyards.
Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Calif., 2008 for $90. This wine was No. 2 in all the world in the Wine Spectator Top 100. Eight percent merlot added to smooth out the tannins. Depth and power. Visit hallwines.com.
Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvee, Napa Valley, Calif., 2007 for $36. A five varietal blend, cab based. A core of 19 blocks of grapes from Hess’ highest altitude vineyard, Veeder Summit. Aromas of plum and currant. Visit hesscollection.com.
Lewis Cellars Cabernet Reserve, Napa Valley, Calif., 2009 for $130. Opulent spices from a small collection of vineyards in Oak Knoll and Calistoga. Small dose of petit verdot for sensitive sweetness. Visit lewiscellars.com.
Norton Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2008 for $13. Big stallion style reds, malbecs are giving cabs a run for it. Norton is the premium horse in the group. Visit norton.com.
Pedroncelli friends.red, Sonoma, Calif., 2010 for $11. The Italian tradition of friends and wine are wrapped up in this blend of merlot, zinfandel, syrah and sangiovese. Visit pedroncelli.com.
Sean Minor Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, Calif., 2010 for $16. A beautiful value pinot with grapes from the Carneros District. Expect a bowl of strawberries, cherries and raspberries with velvety tannins. Try it with salmon or chicken. Visit seanminorwines.com.
Thornton Winery Mourvedre, Temecula, Calif., 2010 for $15.20. One of the great reds from the Rhone Valley of France. Has an earthy quality of its European origin. A “drink now” red. Visit thorntonwine.com.
VSattui Winery Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Calif., 2010 for $30. Grown in the Carneros District. Barrel fermented and aged in barrel for 10 months, Toasty aromas and flavors from a stirring process. Slight peppery accent.
The new Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort and Spa has just opened with the state of the art Chandler’s Restaurant, with local celebrity chef Pasqual Vignau as executive chef. Call (760) 602-0800. Panoramic views and a private wine room are featured.
Il Fornaio in Del Mar and Coronado has Sicily as its Festa Regionale theme, July 2 through July 15. Enjoy a three-course tasting menu for $29.99 and a Sicilian wine flight for $13.99. RSVP at (888) ITALIAN.
World Wine Market and Competition is the name of a major wine seminar at SDSU Mon. July 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. Credits go to the Business of Wine Program. Call (619) 265-7378 for details.
Twisted Vine Bistro and Wine Bar in Carmel Valley has a July 7 and a July 21 cooking class with Chef Mia called “Capture Napa Valley.” Two glasses of wine included. Call (858) 780-2501 for times and pricing.