Happy holidays from all of us at Circo Vino! We had a busy and productive year in 2018, and we wanted to wrap it up with some holiday cheer, highlights from some recent events, and a curated list of some of our exceptional premium value offerings from our portfolio. After a year like this, we’re looking forward to taking it easy and enjoying a glass or two of wine with our family and friends.
While the big news for us was our summer trip to Austria for VieVinum, a few of our Winery Partners made the trek to the US for some exciting events. It’s not every day that you get to taste wine with the person who made it, so these visits from Alfons Wimmer and Fritz Weininger of Hajszan Neumann, Hannes Reinisch of Johanneshof Reinisch, and Peter Veyder-Malberg offered a special treat for industry professionals and consumers alike.
In July, Pinot Noir lovers from all over the world descended on McMinniville, Oregon for the International Pinot Noir Celebration, a three-day event centered around all things Pinot Noir. The celebration included an event called The University of Pinot, which featured a seminar and tasting focused on Austrian Pinot Noir, led by our own Sariya Jarasviroj Brown. Fritz Weininger and Hannes Reinisch were on hand to present their expert takes on this increasingly important Austrian variety. Hannes stuck around in the US before and after the Celebration to visit some some customers in the Northwest with Joshua Segal of Prufrock Wines.
Alfons Wimmer Did some traveling as well, visiting Chicago, Milwaukee, and the California coast to share the new vintages of Hajszan Neumann wines with our distributors. Under the watchful eyes of Alf and Fritz, Hajszan Neumann is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with, producing exciting wines which showcase the best that Vienna has to offer.
Finally, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in New York hosted an intimate Winemaker Dinner with Peter Veyder-Malberg. For those who follow Peter, you will know that he rarely leaves the batcave and even eschews having his wines rated by wine journalists. Peter’s elegant, uncompromising Rieslings and Grüners from the Wachau are truly special, and we’re so happy for the 12 lucky folks who got to experience these wines with Peter.
Wine is a romantic, largely emotional purchase, somewhat immune to standard, logical value analysis. As consumers, we will often pay more for the intangible aspects of a bottle: scarcity, provenance, and marketing savvy. Most of all, though, we are buying an experience, and who among us wouldn’t want to experience something that exceeds our expectations? That’s where the Circo Vino portfolio comes in. With our focus on thoughtfully crafted, smaller-scale wineries, we find that our winery partners function more like an extended community, and the down-to-earth nature of their attitudes results in quality wines produced in a wide range of expressions which consistently outperform their modest prices. We want to explore the concept of “Premium Value” wines this month, so we got the lowdown from some industry insiders and pulled some gems from our cellar in hopes of shedding light on this overachieving wine segment.
Joshua Segal is our go-to guy in the Pacific Northwest. He has been instrumental in getting the word out about Austrian wine in the Portland and Seattle areas, and his extensive knowledge is a great asset when it comes to raising awareness about the incredible value that these wines deliver. The key to any value wine is that it is “compelling,” according to Josh. He also stresses the importance of “selling the quality, not the price.”
A wine that surprises or inspires above the expectation of its price point is the backbone of value. Every Winery Partner in the Circo Vino portfolio is dedicated to the quality of their product above all, and this consistent quality translates to a value at any price point. Josh’s personal recommendation for a value wine is the Grüner Veltliner Furth-Palt from Michael Malat, which offers an outstanding example of Austria’s signature grape at an attractive price point.
Arizona sommelier Oscar Avila, of Atlas Bistro, is intimately familiar with the slippery concept of value in wine. Fresh out of the 2018 Austria Uncorked: San Francisco’s Best Somm competition, Oscar shared some insights into the psychology of the wine consumer, providing an interesting picture of the different views on the topic:
“Value wine is a tricky subject. As a sommelier it actually takes some effort to sell my guest on a wine that I myself consider a value wine. There are two definitions for me when speaking about a “value wine.” One, a wine within a known region/appellation that punches above its weight class or two, a known varietal or high-quality varietal that originates from an unknown region. The former is an easier sell because you are communicating with the guest within their realm of knowledge, you are speaking of a region that the guest is familiar with (i.e. Napa, Mendoza, Burgundy, Tuscany). The latter is a little tricky but also, at least for me, more interesting because we are talking about regions that the general public is not familiar with and may have never had any experience drinking either. It is a virgin, pure experience for the guest. This part, for me, is the most exciting part of being a sommelier. Not only is it easy for myself to find these value wines in unknown regions (i.e. Austria, Hungry, Corsica, Bierzo) but we are discovering, both the guest and I, something new together. There is a shared experience of discovery, the sommelier gets the satisfaction of introducing a wine or region to a newcomer and the guest gets the satisfaction of obtaining exciting “inside” information.”
Oscar also addressed the disconnect between wine and other commodities which are subject to unconventional value assessments:
“I believe there is a logical misstep when it comes to Americans buying wine. We have seen a huge movement in organic, and bio-dynamic produce and products, along with a movement in purchasing local (i.e. farmers markets, craft beer) which the majority of the population believes translates to higher quality. At the same time these movements, when translated to wine, are superficial. When I ran a high-end wine list I would always get asked what organic or bio-dynamic wines I had on my list. Now while one or maybe two wines where “certified” either organic or bio-dynamic, my entire list was made up of small production, family owned wineries that I knew where not putting “crap” into their vines and wine. Also, while most see fruits, vegetables, and proteins as components of their diets the idea that wine is just alcohol and not also part of a diet, is lost. For example, the amount of times I grocery shop and see people searching for “organic” or “local” but then grabbing the cheapest bottle of wine that is mass produce using low-quality grapes is baffling.”
Oscar has hit on the crux of the issue here: perception. Consumers just see wine differently when it comes to value. But if one were to take a sommelier’s advice, Oscar chose some highlights from our portfolio that he thinks represent an excellent value. “The Stift Göttweig Rosé in the 2016 vintage was one of my favorite wines that year, and the Malat Brut Sekt is, I think, probably one of the best non-champagne sparkling wines in the market.”
Our Trapeze Artist, Sariya, chimed in on the issue of value as well, and offered up a few suggestions for your holiday table:
“When I curate wines for the Circo Vino portfolio, quality is the number one criteria. Evaluating deliciousness to price ratio, however, is also a key factor. The idea of value is subjective in that a well-crafted, tasty, premium Riesling that retails for $75 can seem like a value as compared to a comparable Chablis, for instance. As well, a $25 retail wine that tastes and acts like something twice the price is usually a home run for me. This list represents some of the many, many “value” wines we have worked hard to import for the USA. Look for them in a fine dining establishment or independent retailer near you.”
Crazy Creatures Grüner Veltliner by Michael Malat 2017 – 100% dry farmed in Kremstal, Austria with estate-grown fruit, this wine is an expression of easy-drinking Grüner Veltliner for those who still want a wine with substance and structure. The fantastical creatures on the label are artfully illustrated adding whimsy and fun while still keeping it classy. (SRP $17-$19)
Domaine Ciringa Sauvignon Blanc Fosilni Breg 2016 – Grown on the slopes of a 20 million-year old sea basin in Slovenia, this single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc gets its laser point focus and complexity from being rooted in 100% shell lime stone soils. Organically grown with biodynamic influences, the grapes are tended and harvested by hand. (SRP $21 – $23)
Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz 2017 – Crafted from 18 different heritage grape varieties from an organically farmed vineyard site in Weinviertel, Austria handed down from Ingrid’s grandmother, this wine is an ultimate in the retro-wine movement. The vineyard is interplanted and grapes are co-harvested and co-fermented just as in days of yore. ( SRP $21 – $23)
Johanneshof Reinisch St. Laurent 2015 – The St. Laurent variety is born of a spontaneous crossing of Pinot Noir and an unknown father grape. Showing the more yin side of Pinot Noir with darker fruits and a meatier texture, this variety has become class of its own. The Reinisch family dedicates over 50% of their production to St. Laurent and Pinot Noir, with some of the oldest plantings of both farmed organically in Austria’s Thermenregion. (SRP $18 – $21)
Malat Pinot Noir Classic 2015 – A little known fact about this 10th generation wine making family who is famous for Sekt, Riesling, and Pinot Noir is that 20% of their production is devoted to Pinot Noir. A favorite variety of both winemaker, Michael, and his father, Gerald, the family has some of the oldest plantings in Kremstal, Austria. It’s deliciously varietal, a juicy, red-fruited, old world expression of the grape. (SRP $27 – $30)
Knoll Riesling Smaragd 2016 – A premium level value, this wine is a blend of single vineyard sites across the Loiben area of the Austria’s Wachau. It offers opportunities for both early drinking and aging. Filled with floral, spice, and yellow fruited notes, this wine is a great expression of the Wachau’s most easterly sub-appellation. Its delicious with lots of focus, power, and elegance – but not so cerebral that you can’t share it with friends. (SRP $48 – $50)
Peter Veyder Malberg Gruner Veltliner “Liebedich” 2016 – A premium level value, this wine is a blend of single vineyard Gruner Veltliner sites from across the Wachau Valley. Crafted as a love letter from the winemaker about the terroir that has captured his heart and attention, it is a pure and focused expression of Gruner Veltliner. (SRP $45 – $48)