Having learned my lesson the hard way (it’s a long sob story not worth any more pixels), I appreciate good wine apps. I recently came across Bryan Petro’s “CorkSharing” (wine tourism app for iPhone and Android) and thought it worth sharing.
CorkSharing was designed for those who like to plan their route in advance and who enjoy a little preferential treatment upon arrival. The app allows users to visually scan a map of a wine region showing an overlay of participating wineries. Users can then click on a winery’s red dot to review their self-reported details and, if all looks good, to book a tasting appointment.
From a winery’s perspective, the app automates the reservation process, from booking the appointment to taking payment for the tasting fees (CorkSharing takes a 15% booking fee – there is no other cost to participate). The company currently has more than 600 participating wineries from around the globe.
To see more on how it works, here’s a helpful video demo:
Winery Sign-Up Process If you run a winery tasting room and would like to test CorkSharing, sign up for it here.
Tasting Event Promotion Holding a tasting event you want to publicize? Post it here.
My App Review
My vision for our failed iPhone app was to allow wineries to book reservations, as CorkSharing does, but also to push promotions to users once their device was within a reasonable distance. Imagine a slow day in your tasting room, and the ability to post an instant promotion of limited duration. Generating more TR traffic for you, and providing greater value for customers seemed like a great deal.
CorkSharing gets you much of the way there, and seems a likely candidate among wine apps to go the distance. However, they desperately need more wineries on board before the app reaches critical mass, and they are constantly working on this. Unlike other apps, they don’t scrape data from winery websites in order to create the appearance of endless choices (only to disappoint users who click on winery after winery not participating in the booking).
The app is free and easy to use. Even at this early stage it’s worth downloading. Any wine lover planning their next trip will find it useful!
I highly recommend that any serious wine lover visit Priorat – the wine region just 100 miles outside Barcelona.
Not only is Barcelona one of Europe’s great cities (Super-Wife says it’s her favorite, while Cole and I say Paris wins by a nose), but you hop in a car at the Barcelona airport and you’re in the wine country within a couple of pleasant hours. Actually, that’s not saying much – you can be in “wine country” within a couple hours of anywhere in Spain – the country has 67 “DO’s”, or “regional designations” granted for the consistent quality of their wine.
But just a few hours outside Barcelona one can find three of Spain’s notable wine regions – Priorat, Montsant (which forms a near-perfect donut around Priorat) or Penedés (where most of Spain’s best sparkling wine is produced). But of these, Priorat is the most notable, one of but three wine regions earning Spain’s top-tier designation of “DOC” (Denominación de Origen Calificada, along with Rioja and (just recently) Ribera del Duero – see sample, here). This top-tier classification is also known as “DOQ” in Catalan, which is still common in this Northeastern part of Spain.
But the wine pilgrim must be warned in advance – while some of Priorat’s wines justify their worldly reputation, many more are the result of carpet baggers seeking the advantage of Priorat’s reputation with wines that are less interesting but no less expensive. To help avoid the clinkers, the wise traveler will form a bond of trust with a local, and ask for opinions. Such time-saving advice will usually be offered within the first shared drink – not only a wise investment of your time and money, but also the chance to make a great and interesting connection – two good reasons for overcoming the initial hesitation for the mono-lingual traveler.
Though the wines of Montsant may be lesser known, they are highly affordable and the best far exceed the worst of Proirat. Plus, wine fans will enjoy the agricultural paradise of Montsant. This region is known for its olives, almonds, and honey in addition to its wine, grown in the local soil known as Licorella – just as rocky as the Schist found in Priorat’s vineyards. And here’s an extra plus for Montsant – we found far fewer tourists in the towns of Montsant than in those of Priorat, though we suspect the next Peter Mayle is already hard at work on the book that will soon bring this region to the world’s attention, resulting in an influx of ex-pat settlers.
But until then, it is quiet and idyllic, an area with sufficient visual rewards to justify throwing away New World notions such as maps and schedules in favor of simply following your whim and a few roadsigns. On these scenic agricultural backroads, you might drive for an hour before encountering another car. Visit old towns where shops still shut down during lunch hours, and where the store at the agricultural co-op sells a wide variety of local products, from wine to honey to almonds to olive oil. Be sure to bring some empty bottles to be filled with the co-op’s community wines (photo, right) – usually very affordable and surprisingly good.
But this posting will run for pages if I don’t limit its scope to the picturesque town of Gratallops, in the very heart of the Priorat. This town of just 250 permanent residents plays host to a large number of wine writers, tourists, and merchants over the course of an average year.
As with many agricultural areas, the Priorat (or Priorato, as it was known in the pre-revolutionary days) was an area in decline for most of the 1900’s. Then in the 1980’s the Pastrana family, who had been poking around the area for more than a decade, resurrected some old Garnacha, Cariñena and Tempranillo vines on their property, re-introducing these premium grape varietals along with a modern, trellised vineyard and contemporary winegrowing techniques. As owner Carles Pastrana tells it “We brought a focus on quality to the region and thought we were building a legacy for our grandchildren, or if things went really well, for our children.”
But things happened much faster than that. In 1989 their very first wine was released to rave reviews and huge scores from one rather influential wine writer named Robert Parker Jr.
Suddenly the family winery – Clos de l’Obac (photo, left) rocketed the Priorat region to the forefront of the wine world. Other producers followed suit, and today the region is home to a handful of wealthy producers, living and working in towns very much like Gratallops, each connected to each other by miles of roadways so narrow you’ll be glad you didn’t opt for the upgrade at the rental car agency. Caution – never be in a hurry here, as it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself chugging along behind some slow-moving piece of farm equipment. Remember, Priorat’s roads of today were their mule trails of yesteryear.
For such a small town, Gratallops is home to several great restaurants, even though schedules are somewhat vexing. Spain is a wonderful country for foodies, and this region is no exception. Clos de l’Obac has their own restaurant in town, and the chef at the village’s main hotel – Cal Llop (or Wolf’s Den – photo at right) – is quite accomplished in his own right. We highly recommend the hotel both for its food and the charm and hospitality of its staff (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Though the town of Gratallops (Grah ta yoops) was saved from ruin by the wine industry and its related tourism, its documented history goes back thousands of years. In fact, its name is first found in a document dated 1258, though the town existed under a different name during the Moorish occupation of the region.
Gratallops translates, roughly, as “where the wolves (llops) come to scratch. Apparently, this hilltop town was a popular claw-sharpening destination prior to being over-run with Homo sapiens. Take 30 minutes to walk all the streets in this hilltop town and you’ll see multiple artistic references to said wolves in various scratching positions, including the one shown in our photo at left.
On a final note, it must be said that most of the wonderful wines you’ll discover here are unavailable in the U.S., such as those from Freddy Torres, a garagiste producer right in the heart of Gratallops. And those that ARE found here are inevitably red, and invariably pricey.
So it was with great surprise and pleasure that one of my favorite distributors recently introduced me to the white wine from Igneus, a producer just up the road from Gratallops. Their 2009 Barranc Dels Closos ($26) is a captivating blend of Macabao (Mack-ah Bay-oh – a white varietal rarely found outside Spain), Garnatxa Blanca (aka Grenache Blanc, or white Grenache), Pedro Ximinez and a trace of Muscat. It is both aromatically rich and yet medium-bodied and refreshing. It may just be impossible to find a more perfect wine for the regional specialty of Barcelona – paella – though I’d thoroughly enjoy the challenge!
When Simon and Schuster’s publicist asked if I’d review George Taber’s latest book, I didn’t hesitate. I’d enjoyed his previous books “To Cork or Not to Cork” and “The Judgment of Paris” and a new book from the retired journalist, wine collector and author was likely to provide hours of enjoyment.
But his new book arrived at a bad time. I was in the middle of a wine club shipment and all my spare reading time was already divided between two biographies – one on Robert Parker and an out-of-print book on James Beard. These were forced to the back of my night stand with only a minor amount of fisticuffs and complaints, the books embodying the self-promoting characteristics of their respective subjects. And then I dove into “In Search of Bacchus“, and it was like taking a mental vacation to 12 of the best wine regions in the world.
This book is partly a travelogue written during his visits to a dozen of the world’s premium wine-growing regions. The reader is introduced to each new region with a relatively brief (~25 pages) overview of regional winemaking history and the three or four wineries most critical to its current level of success. Each region could easily justify a book unto itself, perhaps even several several volumes, but “In Search of Bacchus” is a useful introduction to each growing region. A temptation to travel.
These introductory sections are written in Taber’s identifiable style – high-toned, well-researched and erudite – reflecting his chops honed during his years as a journalist (and a well-schooled wine enthusiast). I found each of these sections quite useful, packed with useful bits of insight and information. As you complete each chapter, you’ll swear you’ve found the location for your next wine pilgrimage (honey we’ve got to go to this one, no wait, THIS one! no, no…)
Following each detailed section is a brief story about Taber’s experience at one of the wineries mentioned. While the entire book is written in the first person, this is where the reader feels as if he/she is actually looking over Taber’s shoulder. It is less fact-driven, more intimate, and only slightly frustrating in that many of the experiences Taber relates are not available to the average wine tourist without his insider connections.
Picking Nits I’m a fan of Taber’s work. But I do find his style a bit dry. Never does he squeal with delight, moan in the pain of a hangover, or admit to a lusty thought or other human foible. With his apparent writing skills, I’m sure Taber could craft an ode to make a lover swoon. But he doesn’t reveal that side of himself here, and while I appreciate his dispassionate professionalism, I’d also welcome a glimpse behind the Taber curtain from time to time. Otherwise, he might as well be writing about economics instead of the greatest, most sensual beverage on earth. I mean, the Romans also called Bacchus “The Liberator”, a God who could free one from one’s normal self through madness, ecstasy or wine!
In person, Taber strikes me as someone you’d enjoy sitting next to at a long dinner – interesting, unassuming, and friendly. See for yourself:
Wine & Tourism – Finding the Right Balance
One of the issues surrounding wine tourism is the issue of access. Taber doesn’t shy away from the fact that some wineries actively discourage tourists (well, mostly in Bordeaux, not surprisingly) while others put wine on the back burner with massive, tightly-packed tasting rooms, huge (and barely-trained) pouring staffs, and more souvenirs and paraphernalia than wine. Such differences exist between individual wineries more than between wine regions, with both extremes even found in tourist-hungry Napa. This book quietly raises the issue, and the wise wine pilgrim can then rely on the internet to develop an itinerary that suits their particular style.
Buying “In Search of Bacchus”
Despite these nits, with its release date so close to the holidays it seems obvious that “In Search of Bacchus” will be one of the biggest wine books of this holiday season, and I can’t think of another new wine book I’d rather read. Those interested in buying a copy for their favorite wine-lover can simply click here (also available as an eBook, though in Epub format only. I make no commission on sales of this book).
And now that I’ve completed the book and am nearing completion of this review, my books on Parker and Beard are over on my nightstand, fighting to see which gets read tonight. It appears to be a pretty good fight.
Dave the Wine Merchant