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 #3 in consumption.  China has moved up to #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 6 choices, with California showing a total of 9 wines.  The only overseas selection is Argentina.  All ten 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.
•Frank Family Pinot Noir, Napa Valley CA.  2010.  $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 ( $30.) and a royal Cabernet Sauvignon ($40.) www.frankfamilyvineyards.
•Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley CA.  2008.  $90.  This wine was #2 in all the world in the Wine Spectator Top 100.  8% Merlot added to smooth out the tannins. Depth and power.
•Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvee, Napa Valley CA.  2007. $36.  A 5 varietal blend, Cab based.  A core of 19 blocks of grapes from Hess’s highest altitude vineyard, Veeder Summit.  Aromas of plum and currant.
•Lewis Cellars Cabernet Reserve, Napa Valley CA.  2009.  $130.  Opulent spices from a small collection of vineyards in Oak Knoll and Calistoga.  Small dose of Petit Verdot for sensitive sweetness.
•Norton Reserve Malbec, Mendoza Argentina.  2008.  $13.  Big stallion style reds, Malbecs are giving Cabs a run for it.  Norton is the premium horse in the group.
•Pedroncelli, Sonoma, CA.  2010.  $11.  The Italian tradition of friends and wine are wrapped up in this blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sangiovese.
•Sean Minor Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, CA.  2010.  $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.
•Thornton Winery Mour-vedre, Temecula CA. 2010. $15.  One of the great reds from the Rhone Valley of France.  Has an earthy quality of its European origin.  A “drink now” red.  www.thorntonwine. com.
•VSattui Winery Chard-onnay, Napa Valley, CA.  2010. $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.
Wine bytes
•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 9pm.  Credits go to the Business of Wine Program.  Call 619-265-7378 for details.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at  Reach him at [email protected].
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