Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It is Fall... getting cooler. Why not try a Whiskey? How about Sazerac Rye?

Sazerac Rye Whiskey symbolizes the tradition and history of New Orleans dating back to the 1800's. Sazerac Rye Whiskey was used to make the original, first and only branded American Cocktail—The Sazerac.

Nose: Vanilla, clove, anise and pepper

Taste: Candied spices and citrus

Finish: Smooth, licorice and smoked pepper
Any crispier and the glass would shatter: hard as a diamond rye, but oh!

So much more of a rare and valuable gem!

Rating 94.5
Jim Murray's 2009 Whiskey Bible


Friday, September 2, 2011

Yellow Tail Branding as the GO-TO Wine for all occasions for wine drinking?

New Ad for Yellow Tail Wine


A wine brand is playing up the qualities that helped make it so successful in a campaign that is intended to help get it back on the fast track in sales growth.

The brand is Yellow Tail, a line of wines imported from Australia by W. J. Deutsch & Sons.

In just 10 years, Yellow Tail has become the best-selling imported wine in the United States and the No. 2 table wine over all, behind only the domestic Barefoot brand sold by E. & J. Gallo.

However, Yellow Tail’s growth in case sales has slowed notably. Case sales climbed from 225,000 in the brand’s first year, 2001, to 1.2 million in 2003, 6.5 million in 2005 and 8.2 million in 2008.

But sales rose only a bit in 2009, to 8.3 million, and remained at that level last year.

So the most recent campaign for Yellow Tail, which carries the theme “Open for anything,” is being replaced by a campaign with a new theme, “The go-to.”

That phrase is meant to convey that Yellow Tail is the go-to wine, the default option for anyone seeking an everyday wine, something to drink for most occasions.

The campaign reinforces the concept that Yellow Tail is a fun, unpretentious choice for consumers who do not consider themselves to be oenophiles and like to not think about vintages, terroir and pairings.

The campaign echoes the initial pitches for Yellow Tail, which gave the brand a lighthearted image by stressing attributes like drinkability and an affordable price. That approach was typified by a campaign with the theme “Tails, you win.”

The campaign proclaiming Yellow Tail as “The go-to” got under way last week with two television commercials. There will also be radio commercials, posters on the sides of trucks, signs in stores and online ads.

And, of course, the campaign has a presence in social media on sites like Facebook, where the brand’s fan page can be found at facebook.com/discoveryellowtail . Yellow Tail offered brand fans a preview of the two TV spots on the Facebook page.

There are more than 30,000 people who say they “like” Yellow Tail, with a goal of reaching 200,000 by the end of the year.

The budget for the campaign is being estimated at $9 million from now to the end of the current Deutsch fiscal year, which ends on March 31.

And there is “the potential of us spending more,” says Renato Reyes, chief marketing officer at Deutsch in White Plains.

That would be a significant increase from spending most recently, according to data from the Kantar Media unit of WPP.

Deutsch spent $5.1 million to advertise Yellow Tail in major media last year, Kantar Media reports, $2.8 million in 2009, $4.3 million in 2008 and almost $7 million in 2007.

The campaign is being created by the Burns Group in New York, an agency that has been working on Yellow Tail since July 2009.

One reason Yellow Tail’s growth has slowed is the increasing competition the brand has faced as it became more popular. Some rivals have been called “critter wines” because their names and brand identities echo the kangaroo motif of Yellow Tail.

Those critter wines include the Little Penguin, Little Roo, Mad Fish and Monkey Bay. There is even a Web site, critterwines.com, devoted to the phenomenon.

“There has been a ton of copycats,” Mr. Reyes acknowledges, contributing to the fact that “our growth has plateaued.”

Needless to say, he says he believes the competition has trouble matching his brand. Yellow Tail “tastes great and is fun, yet has an air of ‘premium-ness,’” he says. “Yellow Tail experienced a meteoric growth when it was a new brand,” and it “represented a gateway into the wine category” for millions of consumers who “wanted to somehow incorporate wine into their lifestyles.”

And Yellow Tail still has “the right to this broad territory, as a wine for everyday occasions, as a beacon of choice,” he adds.

In focus groups, Mr. Reyes recalled, customers described it using phrases like “safe choice,” “quality I can rely on” and “a brand I feel good about buying.”

(That brings to mind a line from the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” when a sales clerk advising a woman on a fragrance purchase calls it “a good, safe bet” and “a perfume that fits any mood.”)

The idea was for the Burns Group to create a campaign that would reflect those consumer perceptions as it presents Yellow Tail as “fresh, contemporary, relevant, aspirational,” Mr. Reyes says.

Mike Burns, managing partner of the Burns Group, says that those who drink Yellow Tail “love wine,” but find it daunting that there are “over 5,000 product labels to choose from.”

The goal is to make the brand “the spine of their purchasing behavior,” Mr. Burns says, a brand that “should always be” in their refrigerators or on their shelves.

By declaring Yellow Tail to be “The go-to,” the brand is “trying to own ‘occasionality,’ ” he adds, the concept that it is “the wine that’s right for any moment.”

The campaign tries to convey that the brand “is absolutely the confident choice” for “people who are unpretentious and fun-loving,” Mr. Burns says, through the use of signature Yellow Tail elements like the kangaroo and the colors that appear on the bottle labels.

Mr. Reyes approves of the agency’s approach.

“This notion of occasions, it’s a business-building strategy, especially in a category that’s so fragmented,” he says

If each person who buys Yellow Tail bought it “one more time, that would represent 10 percent growth,” he adds.

The first two commercials in the campaign are fast-paced, meant to communicate energy and vibrancy. Each is composed of vignettes that show consumers enjoying themselves, and Yellow Tail, in situations like a backyard barbecue, a relaxed summer Friday, a house party, a card game, at the beach and on a date.

In both commercials, voices are heard saying “Never the wrong time for the right wine,” “I’ll have the Yellow Tail” and “I just love that kangaroo.” The spots end with a voice that says: “Yellow Tail. The go-to.”

The voices all have a reverberating, echo effect reminiscent of the voice saying “How do I look?” in the electro-music track “Une Very Stylish Fille” by the artist known as Dimitri From Paris.

The music heard in the Yellow Tail spots is from around the same period. It is called “Yachts (A Man Called Adam Mix).” The commercials were produced by the production company Logan, based in Los Angeles and New York.

The media agency for Yellow Tail, MPG in New York, part of the Havas Media unit of Havas, has developed plans for the campaign to reach 180 million adults, Mr. Burns says, compared with 100 million for the current campaign.

The commercials will run on broadcast networks and cable channels and are to appear more often in late-night time slots than previous Yellow Tail spots.

The late-night slots include programs on Comedy Central; “Conan,” with Conan O’Brien, on TBS; “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” on ABC; “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,” on CBS; “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” on NBC; and “Saturday Night Live,” also on NBC.

Among the other television venues for the campaign, Mr. Reyes lists A&E, BBC America, Bravo, Food Network, FX, E!, HGTV, IFC, Style, TLC and USA.

There will also be a presence for the campaign on Web sites like nbc.com and YouTube.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why you should never drink the "Good Stuff" in a restaurant... except when the other guy is buying.

By now you’ve probably heard that Congressman Paul Ryan drank some pricy wines at a Washington, DC restaurant last week and was confronted by another diner who thought it was hypocritical of him to be enjoying such extravagance while pushing draconian budget cuts. Amid all the back-and-forth about Ryan’s big night out, not much has been said about the wine at the center of this kerfuffle, other than the fact that it was expensive.

Ryan and his dinner companions, hedge fund manager Clifford Asness and University of Chicago professor John Cochrane, knocked back two bottles of the 2004 Jayer-Gilles Echézeaux du Dessus, a grand cru red Burgundy. At $350 a pop, it is the fourth-costliest wine on the list at Bistro Bis, the Capitol Hill restaurant where the three men ate. Asness reportedly ordered the wine, which makes sense: As any Manhattan sommelier will tell you, the priciest wines on a list are catnip for master of the universe types.

What we have here is a textbook case of a table with more money than wine sense. Jayer-Gilles is a middling producer, and the 2004 vintage for red Burgundies has turned out to be a major bust: Many of the wines have a pronounced and very unappealing vegetal note. Ryan and his friends could have saved themselves $400 and a lot of grief by going instead with the 2005 Joseph Voillot Volnay Champans, a much better wine from a great vintage that is on the Bistro Bis list for $150 a bottle. Asness may be an ace investor, but next time, he should leave the wine to someone else.

All that said, I think this is one of the more asinine controversies we’ve seen in a while, which is saying something. I’m not a fan of Ryan or his plan, but the guy was entitled to have a private dinner with some friends and not be harassed about the choice of wines. Moreover, I fail to understand how this episode reveals Ryan to be a fraud. If anything, it seems perfectly consistent with his public policy aims. Were the Ryan plan enacted, its biggest beneficiaries would be wealthy people like Asness, who’d be left with even more disposable income with which to buy vacation homes, fancy cars, and overpriced Burgundies.

But what really irritates me about this flap is that it is yet another example of wine being used as a political cudgel. Every election season, the beer track vs. wine track meme gets trotted out by the press, and we inevitably hear Democrats denounced as Chardonnay-sipping elites. In this instance, the roles were reversed: Liberals tarred a conservative for drinking a fancy wine. Apart from the fact that all this bleating about wine is symptomatic of an inane political culture—does anyone in Britain care what David Cameron sips during his off-hours?—it is completely outdated. We’ve become a nation of wine drinkers.

Indeed, the United States recently overtook France to become the world’s biggest wine-drinking country (although the French still have us beat on a per capita basis), and from what I can tell, oenophilia knows no political or geographic boundaries. Wine is a democratic pleasure—that’s small-d democratic—enjoyed by millions of Americans regardless of wealth, political affiliation, etc. These days, wine drinking symbolizes only one thing: good taste.

Vintage 2004
Type Red
Producer Domaine Robert Jayer-Gilles
Variety Pinot Noir
Designation n/a
Vineyard du Dessus
Country France
Region Burgundy
SubRegion Côte de Nuits
Appellation Echezeaux Grand Cru

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bouchard Aîné & Fils 2007 Pinot Noir (Vin Pays D'Oc)

Bouchard Aîné & Fils
2007 Pinot Noir

- Alc. 12.5%
- Imported by Boisset America, Sausalito, CA
- Website: - Website: www.boissetfamilyestates.com

The XVIII th century, Hotel du Conseiller du Roy in Beaune stands above the cellars of Bouchard Aine & Fils, who have been perpetuating the tradition of making fine Burgundy wines since 1750.

When people tell me they know of a great tasting $5 wine, I never believe them. Well, I'm here to tell you that I know of a great tasting $5 wine. (Actually, it normally sells for $10, but I bought it on sale for $5.) And, it comes with a twist-off cap. The label says "a deliciously fruit-forward Pinot Noir", which I found to be a great description of it favor.

Bouchard Aîné & Fils (Vin Pays D'Oc) 2007 Pinot Noir had a deep red color and a fruity nose, the latter being dominated by black cherry with some hints of violets. It had a smooth but firm tannin structure. I can't imagine a better $5 wine.



Bouchard Aîné & Fils (Vin de Pays d'Oc Pinot Noir)

Bouchard Aîné & Fils, founded in 1750 in Beaune, the historical heart of Burgundy, has earned acclaim for its expertise in crafting Burgundy’s treasured Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Its cellars in the Hôtel du Conseiller du Roy, a classic 18th-century maison, reveal the history of the winery and of Burgundy – the birthplace of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For over two centuries, Bouchard and Ainé has pursued perfection in quality, authenticity in style and prestige in name.

2008 Pinot Noir – Bouchard Aine & Fils:

"I’m loving pinots right now. They’re not too heavy and they’re very drinkable. I just had a great and inexpensive pinot from Bouchard Aine & Fils, a 2008. I have an unwritten rule, which is that screw top wines suck. This is clearly a case which rebuts my rule on screw tops. There’s only one bad thing about the bottle of Bouchard Pinot which my lady and I just finished, we don’t have another one handy!"

Friday, April 8, 2011

Some Wine 'Rules' Are Made to Be Broken


As wine drinkers have grown more discerning, not to mention diverse, certain "rules" about ordering wine in restaurants may no longer apply.

For example, a man is no longer considered the automatic recipient of a wine list; women are (more) frequently regarded as eligible, too. In fact, I was handed the list just the other week (full disclosure: my male companion was frantically waving the sommelier away). Cowardly dining companions aside, one reason women may be getting the wine list more often may be that there are more female sommeliers working the floor. Belinda Chang, wine director at the Modern in New York, estimates there are 30% more female sommeliers now than when she started out in 1995. Ms. Chang (who says she is handed the list 50% of the time when she's dining out) takes a direct approach to determining the gender of The Decider when she's working. She simply approaches the table and asks, "Who's in charge?" Half the time, said Ms. Chang, "The man will point to the woman." (Though for some couples, this sentiment may apply only to the question of wine.) Ms. Chang said she can pretty much predict who is going to end up with the wine list. The aperitif is usually the giveaway." If a guy orders a glass of lager, I probably won't be handing the list to him," said Ms. Chang, who gives a man—or woman—who orders a glass of Grüner Veltliner much better odds.

Meanwhile, the wine list has lost a bit of its ceremony, not to mention heft. Another rule gone by the wayside is that a serious wine list should look—and feel—like a library book.

Today, a wine list may be no more than a few sheets of paper or even the back of a menu.

It could even be a tablet computer. (Except at a steakhouse. Where beef is king, the wine list comes leather-bound.) Scott Monette, co-owner and wine director of the Flagstaff House in Boulder, Colo., switched from a traditional wine list to an iPad a few months ago—a move apparently so shocking it made the local news. With a wine list that features nearly 3,000 selections and is updated daily, Mr. Monette said he needed to reduce his paper and printing costs. So far it hasn't been cheaper—the restaurant spent about $10,000 on 13 iPads. But in the long run Mr. Monette said he expects to save money. A smart wine list might be the reason to dismantle rule No. 3: Sommeliers are the best source of advice. With wine lists that allow diners to access the Internet, sommeliers may not be diners' first source of information. Electronically emancipated diners can now look up descriptions, get the latest wine scores—and even find out how much that Cabernet really costs at retail.

I asked Mr. Monette if he was afraid the iPads would stop his customers from talking to his sommeliers. And did his sommeliers resent the change? I experienced a bit of iPad antipathy recently myself during lunch with a wine collector who spent about half an hour researching a bottle on his own iPad—ignoring both me and the hovering sommelier.

Mr. Monette wasn't worried. Though his wine stewards had been nervous at the beginning, Mr. Monette said the tablets had actually inspired his customers to ask better questions. According to Mr. Monette, there was a "deeper discussion" between stewards and diners. (I wondered if that included such penetrating questions as "Why is this Cabernet marked up four times retail?")

This brings us to the fourth rule ripe for discarding: When in doubt, order the second-cheapest wine on the list.

The idea behind this rule was always that the second-cheapest wine would be a pretty good deal and the person ordering it wouldn't look like a cheapskate—or at least not as much as if he or she had ordered the wine at the absolute bottom.

Mark Ellenbogen, founding wine director of the famed Slanted Door in San Francisco and now the wine director of San Francisco's Bar Agricole, was dismissive of the second-cheapest-wine rule. "The second-cheapest wine is a formulaic maximum that obviously doesn't work," he said firmly.

Obviously? Well, it certainly wasn't easy to find the second-cheapest wine on Bar Agricole's list. That's because Mr. Ellenbogen has organized it mostly by producers—a few famous, most obscure. The second-cheapest wines that I found were the 2009 Señorío di P. Peciña Rioja ($29) and the 2009 Domaine de la Pépière Cabernet Franc ($30). In many cases, the second-cheapest wine isn't such a great deal.

As Christopher Oppewall, wine director of the Hospitality Restaurant Group of Cleveland noted, "The markups on the more expensive wines are much less." This is pretty much a universal truth—a wine that costs $9 at retail will often show up on a restaurant list for $28. On the other hand, on the Blue Point Cellar Big Bottle list, a magnum of the terrific 2006 Quintessa, a top Bordeaux-style blend from Napa Valley is $275 —about $40 more than retail.

My fifth and final invalid rule is the largely unspoken one that dictated certain wines—Pinot Grigios, Merlots and Chardonnays (particularly from California) were unfit for consumption by well-informed oenophiles.

Wines such as these were considered obvious or "starter" beverages that true wine lovers learned to outgrow. But as wine directors have discovered compelling examples of these grapes, wine drinkers have responded accordingly.

Serious wine lists feature minerally Chardonnays from California's Russian River and Sonoma Coast, well-structured Merlots from Napa and Washington state and complex Pinot Grigios from the Italian regions of Friuli and Alto Adige.

Even Mr. Ellenbogen, whose wine list is an exercise in vinous esoterica, has a Chardonnay among his Bar Agricole offerings, albeit one made in the mountains of Jura, France, and blended with the Savagin grape. When I complimented Mr. Ellenbogen on the selection, he disputed that he deliberately picked the obscure. It was just that he believed the best wine values were in the "least known" parts of the world.

That's a sixth rule, as yet unbroken: A great wine list (and a great wine director) will always have a point of view.

Here are four second-cheapest wines (and one that I'd be happy to see on a list) that are good finds and good deals at retail. 2008 Santadi Grotta Rossa, $12 Wine director John Slover (Ciano, New York) loves this Sardinian red, one of his second-cheapest offerings. Made from the Carignano (aka Cariagne) grape, it's soft and a bit rustic, with a bright acidity that makes it a good match with food. 2009 Hugel Gentil Alsace, $14 Wine director Chris Oppewall features this white at his Cleveland restaurants Blue Point, Cabin Club and Salmon Dave's. A blend of various traditional Alsace varietals from one of the region's top producers, it's flowery with a refreshingly zingy finish. 2009 Señorío de P. Peciña Rioja, $14 This juicy Spanish red isn't particularly complex, but it is fun to drink. Marked by aromas of bright cherry fruit, it's lively and charming. It's one of the cheapest finds on the list of Mark Ellenbogen's Bar Agricole in San Francisco. 2009 Ben Marco Malbec, $20 This well-priced Argentine Malbec would be a terrific second-cheapest red for any restaurant wine list. It's a big, plush, almost purple wine with notes of dark plum and tobacco. 2009 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, $12 This Muscadet is a favorite of mine and of Alexander LaPratt, wine director New York's DB Bistro Moderne. It has an unexpected bit of body and richness, and a decidedly minerally note.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Where did whiskey originate?

Now that St. Patti's Drinking Holiday has past, and Bushmills has a facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BushmillsUSA . I thought it might be a moment to revisit the drink of Whiskey, which is either Irish or Arab, depending on how you want to read your history notes...

Bushmills Whiskey NOTE:
The new campaign captures the closeness between these individuals--these are groups of New York friends whose shared experiences and influences are now shaping pop culture, including the music they write, the art they create, and the businesses they begin. This mirrors the focus of Bushmills, and its dedication to shape its community.

The Bushmills initiative, "Since Way Back," will kick off with a private event in New York City, featuring The Rub. Bushmills reminds you to drink responsibly. When out with friends, make sure to drink in moderation and get home safe: designate a driver or take a taxi.

Both Ireland and Scotland claim to have given birth to whiskey. But, as food writer Kate Hopkins notes in her book 99 Drams of Whiskey, neither country has definitive proof. "Ask an academic," she writes, "...and he or she is likely to shrug and mumble, 'Hell if I know. That part of the world wasn't too keen on keeping records of who was doing what.'"

The making of liquor dates back to at least 800 AD when Arab chemist Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan was carrying out distillation, the purifying of a beverage made via fermentation (i.e. beer, wine or hard cider). Wine was already being distilled around the world when physicians tried distilling beer in either Ireland or Scotland (or both), according to the late English whiskey writer Michael Jackson. In his book Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide, he explains that a family of physicians, the MacVeys (a.k.a. the Beatons), translated medical texts from the Arab world whose secrets of distillation resulted in the first whiskey creations. As doctors, the MacVeys/Beatons served both Ireland and Scotland, which is why whiskey's exact origins remain murky. Let's just call it a tie.

How are the different kinds of whiskeys made?
Generally, whiskey is made by (1) crushing grains (barley, corn, rye, wheat, etc.) to create the grist, (2) adding water to create the mash (3) boiling this mixture and then allowing it to cool, (4) adding yeast, which carries out fermentation by eating the sugars to create alcohol, (5) draining the resulting liquid, which is now beer, and then distilling using a still, and (6) aging the resulting liquor in wooden barrels.

Here's how the different varieties are made:

Scotch is made from water and malted barley (ie. barley that's been steeped in water to trigger germination), distilled to less than 94.8% alcohol, aged for at least three years in oak barrels that can hold no more than 700 liters, and bottled at no less than 40% alcohol. No additives are allowed except for water and caramel colouring. By law, it can only be called scotch if it follows this process and is made in Scotland.

"Single malt" scotch is made from malted barley in a single distillery while "single grain" is made from malted barley and other grains in a single distillery. "Blended" scotch is a mix of whiskys/eys from multiple distilleries.

Irish whiskey is distilled to less than 94.8% alcohol and aged for at least three years in wooden barrels. By law, whiskey can only be called Irish whiskey if it follows this process and is made in Ireland.

Bourbon is made from a mash of at least 51% corn, distilled to 80% alcohol, combined with water to get the alcohol content down to 62.5%, entered into an unused charred oak barrel, aged in that barrel, and then bottled at no less than 40% alcohol. By law, whiskey can only be called bourbon if it is made by this process and in the United States.

Tennessee whiskey is bourbon made in the state of Tennessee and filtered through sugar-maple charcoal. Other American whiskey includes versions made from rye, corn, barley and other grains. Blended American whiskey is a mix of 20% American whiskey and 80% neutral spirit (just plain ethanol of C2H5OH).

How do I drink whiskey?
There's a vocabulary associated with spirits sipping that will come in handy when ordering at the bar. Certain words describe how your bartender will serve your liquor. Ask for your whiskey neat if you want it poured in your glass unadorned, at room temperature. On the rocks, conversely, means you want it poured over ice in your glass.

Straight up usually means the same as "neat," but its usage can cause confusion, as American mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler has explained, because there's also the term up, which usually means chilled and served in a cocktail glass.

You can also order your whiskey with a splash of water or water back, that is, a glass of water on the side. And, of course, there's no shame in simply spelling out in plain language what you'd like when ordering. Whiskey drinking isn't about memorization; it's about enjoying yourself.

I recommend enjoying whiskey with a little bit of water added (And with a little more water added when it comes to high alcohol content barrel proof, aka cask strength, whiskeys, which are bottled without any water added.)

Dilution with water (or coffee and tea if you prefer) helps your nose and tongue smell and taste more of the flavours in your whiskey because it counteracts the alcohol's numbing of your senses. This is what whiskey tasters mean when they say that water helps "open up" the flavours.

When learning how to taste whiskey, keep in mind appearance, aroma (of first the straight whiskey and then the diluted whiskey), mouth-feel, and flavour. For a quick tasting tutorial, famed whiskey taster Charles MacLean, author of Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History, demonstrates his approach for Single Malt TV.

For a slightly more in-depth explanation of professional tasting, consultant editor Michael Jackson, an expert modest enough to recognize that his word on the subject was far from Gospel, shared his approach in Whisky Magazine.

Which whiskeys should I try?
For a final bit of direction, we've come up with suggestions for delicious varieties to taste. The next time you're at a whiskey bar -- in Dublin, Speyside, Kentucky or anywhere else this spirit is dearly loved -- see if they have one of these on the menu.

•Bushmills 12 Year Old: an Irish whiskey with hints of sherry, fruit and nuts
•Connemara Single Malt: a peaty whiskey, sweet, with hints of vanilla, from Ireland's only independent distillery, Cooley
•Dalwhinnie: scotch infused with an aroma of heather
•Ezra B Single Barrel: aged for 12 years, this bourbon is complex and tastes of spices and honey
•Glenfarclas 12 Year Old: a single malt scotch from Speyside that's nutty and peaty with caramel notes
•Talisker: peaty Irish whiskey from the Isle of Skye
•Willett 8 Year Old: a rare release bourbon from Kentucky, its barrel proof bite gives way to deep, smoky, molasses flavours

By now you must be good and thirsty.
So go on and raise your glass. Sláinte!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A closer look at the Family Tree of Wine Grapes... Taste one of each for the New Year!

FROM Riesling to Merlot, wine grapes from around the world are more closely related than expected, says the largest study so far to produce a family tree of grapes. The tree, above, also reveals that in 6000 years of domestication, breeders have left a vast vineyard of possible varieties unexplored.

Sean Myles of Stanford University in California and colleagues looked at 9000 genetic markers in each of the world's 583 cultivated grape varieties, or cultivars, to draw up the family tree of wine grapes.

They found that unlike other domesticated crops, most of the main cultivars are close cousins of one another. This was true regardless of where they are grown (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009363108).

Moreover, breeders have been unimaginative in the crosses they have made, reusing the same cultivars over and over.

The Traminer cultivar, for example, has been bred for millennia and has 20 first-degree relatives. This is good news for breeders seeking to develop cultivars that are resistant to disease, says Myles, as so few of the potential crosses have actually been made.