Carlo Trinchero (left) and Josh Phelps (right), owners of Taken Wine Co.
Last year, the United States downed roughly 1.3 million more bottles of vino than the French. That effectively pulls the U.S. into the lead as the world’s biggest consumer of wine.
This year, your inner oenophile deserves some attention. That includes a plan to seek out new wines from yet unexplored regions, staple wines to bring to dinner parties, wines that will impress in-laws (or potential in-laws) and some guidance on vintage wines you might have cellared—or have access to—that are ready to drink.
To help shed light on these tasks and more, we pegged Josh Phelps and Carlo Trinchero, two energetic movers and shakers from Napa Valley. Phelps and Trinchero make wines under their Taken Wine Co. label, and in the past year alone have been recognized for their efforts in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Zagat 30 Under 30, Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 and a big appearance on the Today Show—along with a slew of accolades, awards and 90+ wine scores to boot. They’ve got some handy advice for anyone looking to up their wine drinking game in 2015.
1. Change your approach to buying wine in a wine shop.
Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to ask the wine shop owner for advice, strike up a conversation and make a new friend. The owner will get to know your palate, and, before long, you’ll be wondering how you lived without this person.
Tip 2: Step outside your comfort zone. Explore varietals and regions you’re not familiar with. Try wines from New York State or from the Midwest, and look outside the U.S. to countries like Portugal and Hungary. There are some killer whites coming from Hungary and some unique amphora-aged wines from Slovenia.
Tip 3: Look for wine with a story or pedigree attached to it. This is where your friend in the wine shop will fill a critical role. Say you want to get to know a winemaker through his or her wines, then see where that leads you.
2. Start drinking wine you’ve been cellaring. If you don’t have a cellar, find someone who does and offer to cook dinner.
We like to drink a lot of vintage Barolo and Napa Cabernet. 1991 Napa Cabernet is killing it right now—look for any bottles of ‘91 Dominus. We also had a 2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo that was insane (Parker and Tanzer both gave it 96 points). But when it comes to vintage-dated wine, Champagne is our staple because it provides the best way to kick-start our tasting events around the U.S. Right now, we’re loving any 2002s we can get our hands on.
3. Fill in the blank: Make __________ your game night wine instead of the usual suspects: beer, vodka and Redbull, tequila shots, etc.
Go for a reasonably priced California Central Coast Grenache blend for your game night wine. You can get a great bottle for $20. We’ve got to self-promote here and say that our Complicated Red Blend is on fire right now. Grab a bottle of the 2013, which hits shelves in March.
4. Think outside the bun this year and pair __________ with burgers.
It’s all about Priorat, a region in northeastern Spain. The wines produced here are primarily a blend of Garnacha (Grenache—can you tell we’re fans of this grape?). The deep black fruit, spice and earthy notes that come from these wines make for an easy drinkability that would go great with any burger. Look for a wine called Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat, which retails for around $20.
5. One-up everyone at the dinner party/house party/BBQ this year by showing up with __________ .
Bring a Sangiovese blend from Italy or a crisp Riesling from Alsace. Both of these regions can produce some inexpensive wines that really deliver. Look in that $12 to $25 range. A favorite is Villa Antinori Rosso from Tuscany, an easy drinking red Sangiovese blend with good complexity that retails for about $25. Of course, if you’re willing to up the ante and spend a bit more, you could look for Antinori’s Pian delle Vigne, Brunello di Montalcino. The 2007 and 2009 vintages retail for around $65 and are just incredible. Trimbach makes a Riesling from Alsace that is a great value for the money—the current release is 2012 and you can find it for $17 to $20. We are making our first Italian red wine that releases this spring—our 2013 Available Sangiovese Blend is going to be a fun BBQ wine.
6. If you’ve never tried wines from __________, this is the year to do it.
Some remarkable wines are coming out of Maury in the south of France—a small appellation known for vins doux naturels, aka sweet wines. But my good friends, California winemakers Dave Phinney and Joel Gott are making amazing big, bold and powerful reds from this region. It’s not uncommon for producers to work with vines that are 100 years old, growing on insanely steep slopes. Check out Shatter ($30) by Joel and Dave. You won’t be disappointed.
7. Both Josh and Carlo have talented dads.
Josh’s dad, Chris Phelps, makes a bold Napa Valley single-vineyard Cabernet called Ad Vivum, that shows epic balance and texture, which is no surprise since he honed his skills while making wine at Château Pétrus, Dominus, Caymus and consulting for a select group of clients.
Carlo’s dad, Roger Trinchero, played in the 1966 Rose Bowl for UCLA, served a tour of duty in Vietnam and after took on a role at Sutter Home, which was owned by his dad, Mario Trinchero. Roger turned Sutter Home into the top-selling wine in the U.S. and eventually founded Trichero Family Estates. He’s a legend in the wine industry.
So, we asked Roger and Chris to let us know which wine, if brought to a dinner at their house, would really impress them. (Tip: Anything that impresses them will likely wow your in-laws or the parents of your boyfriend or girlfriend.)
Chris Phelps (Josh’s dad): “Hands-down, the ideal wine is a 1975 Cheval Blanc from St. Émilion in France, or any recent vintage of Vieux Château Certan from Pomerol (France). Price point is beside the point, dude. You are trying to impress your future in-laws, and you may only have one shot at it!”
Roger Trinchero (Carlo’s dad): “I am impressed when someone has the confidence to bring a wine to dinner that he or she enjoys, whether it is a $50 cabernet from a single vineyard producer (like our Trinchero Napa Valley, Mario’s Vineyard from St. Helena or Cloud’s Nest vineyard), or a fun wine that is a great value like Ménage à Trois.”
8. The best new way to open a wine bottle in 2015?
Growing up in St. Helena and spending time in the hot tub at Meadowood trying to open bottles during our summer in college, we figured out how to open a bottle with a shoe.
9. If you haven’t read __________, it’s the book about wine to read this year.
Our friends Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen wrote a book called Wines of California that is a thorough resource about California wine history and a great book for any wine drinker to own.
10. Winemaker shout-out: Tell us about the guys who inspired you?
Josh: Nicholas Keeler from Authentique Wines. Nick is a super creative guy. I am inspired by his Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Willamette Valley. His wines speak of the place they are from and are such honest representations of the varietals. When you drink them, you almost have no choice but to take pause and marvel at what’s going on in the wine. They invoke serious thoughts! Nick is a visionary, so keep your eyes peeled for more great things from him.
Carlo: Greg Scheinfeld, the winemaker for Uproot wines—they are making some great juice! Super high quality wines paired with genius marketing. Their label concept is awesome (a vertical strip of stacked bars, differing in color, meant to evoke different flavor-profiles). And again, we’re such big fans of “varietal expression,” which happens when a grape really shines through as pure fruit flavors and typical expressions. These wines have that going on. Their Grenache Blanc is one of my absolute favorites. Greg’s business partner Jay has great sense and together they share a passion for winemaking that speaks to us.
Jonathan Cristaldi was dubbed a “Wine Prophet” by Time Out New York for his unconventional creativity as host, entertainer and educator of winos while running The Noble Rot. In 2011, Cristaldi slaved away in a cellar in Napa. Today, he is legit WSET Advanced Certified, writing about wine and spirits.