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A First Course in Wine: From Grape to Glass. Copyright 2013; Race Point Publishers, NY. 224 pages. Forward by Mario Batali.

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Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology of WINE

It’s March Madness – a great time of year if you’re a hoops fan.  There are many parallels you can draw between college basketball and wine such as blending, strategy, scandals and cheating, steroids, marketing, and sales.  In the spirit of Joe Lunardi, the ubiquitous name when discerning the field of 65 to 68 teams, I’ve come up with my own top four seeds (appellations) of the wine world, along with the last four in – representing the appellations that are on the cusp of either former or future greatness, and the last four out – representing the appellations that have faltered of late and are now on the outside looking in.

Top Seeds:

Champagne, France.  No other sparkling wine appellation comes close to challenging the long-standing incumbent of bubbles.  Pumping out more than 250 million bottles per year, the producers of Champagne have managed to stifle the competition while re-telling the convincing story that great sparkling wine doesn’t come cheaply.

Barolo, Italy.  Power, grip, and longevity are the hallmarks of a great Barolo.  There are many other appellations within the country that have garnered international attention in recent years, but none are realistically comparable to the elegance, image, and importance of Barolo.  Regally speaking, it IS the king of wines.

Napa Valley, USA.  California is a juggernaut of a state, accounting for over 90% of all US production.  Only a splash really comes from the North Coast, but the success and image of Napa has made the US as a whole a serious contender on the world’s stage.

Burgundy, France.  It’s hard to deny that this appellation is still the place to go for top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Timeless, romantic, and unforgivingly complex, the appellation has the depth to last a lifetime.

Last Four In:

Bordeaux, France.  It’s more of a commodity these days, but great Bordeaux can make deep run in the world of wine.  Often mis-understood and under-appreciated, there are great Bordeaux whites and reds that more affordable now than ever.  Just because the top chateaux are unattainable, don’t overlook the world’s most famous wine zone.

Barossa Valley, Australia.  Still the place for deep and brooding Aussie reds.  Some are over-oaked, overly-alcoholic, or simply over-whelming, but on the whole, the power and intensity can leave you speechless.

Finger Lakes, USA.  It’s the Valparaiso of the wine world:  most of the time it’s a decent wine that puts forth a lot of character, but it’s usually overshadowed by the big appellations.  However, there are some wines that can really make an impact in the coming years as producers are learning how to cope with the intense winters and cool spring seasons.

Cava, Spain.  Spain’s main appellation for sparkling wines is a bit spotty, but some are really delicious and balanced and can go head-to-head with the best sparkling wines in the world.

Last Four Out:

Central Otago, New Zealand. There’s a lot of talk about the Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, but many of them fail to live up to the hype.

Willamette Valley, USA.  The early success of many wineries made this appellation a compliment to Burgundy, but lately the styles of many wines have changed.  Now the majority of wines seem like they’re in no-man’s land, caught between the funkiness that Pinot Noir is known for and an oaky and high extract world.

Mendoza, Argentina.  Quality is all over the place in Mendoza, and the inconsistency (and volume) from the appellation makes it difficult to navigate.

Anywhere in China.  All of China’s main appellations such as Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Shandong are producing good wines, but the majority are based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and they’re mediocre at best.  Growers need to adapt and learn which grapes to grow in certain locations, and hopefully, some indigenous grapes from China will rise up and bring significance to the country’s wine movement.  Until then, many of its new producers are relying on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to hold them over.

We’ll see what the next few years bring in the world of wine, but in the meantime, look for those top seeds to keep on rollin’ well into the future.

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