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Ray Isle on What's Next in Wine and Beer

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Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Cayman Cookout in Grand Cayman. Right now: Executive Wine Editor of Food & Wine magazine, Ray Isle.


What programs are you doing here?
Four wine seminars. One where you figure out your Champagne personality is based on the different Champagne houses. I'm doing a tasting in an hour with Vérité, some pretty terrific Bordeaux style wines from Sonoma, all 100 points from Robert Parker. Which, if you care, is a huge deal. If you don't, well, you know. Tomorrow I'm doing a Wines of Washington (WoW), but really it's more about the difference between Napa and Washington. For people who haven't dealt with Washington wines, it's meant to be like: "Look, they're just as good!" And I'm doing a Sassicaia program.

I heard you're into barbecue.
I lived in Texas and realized if I never left Austin I would never do anything. I grew up in Houston. In Austin I was in a crappy band called the Underground. Truly awful. Punk, kind of in your face. And I worked at the Sheraton 800-number, part of my feeling in Austin I wasn't going anywhere so I left for grad school to go to Boston.

What's the Texas wine scene like?
Well we're doing the Austin Food & Wine Festival, so we'll be revisiting Hill Country wineries. I've written about them before and there's some really interesting winemaking going on. I think Texas is the same way California was in that it's trying to figure out what grapes perform best. It's still a work in progress, but there are blips of brilliance.

What do you like to drink with barbecue?
Several things. Beer? In my role as wine editor I'm kind of the everything-with-alcohol editor. Also, good red wine with barbecue. Zinfandel and Amarone work really well. Big rustic reds. Southeastern Spain also works well. In Texas, if you're talking barbecue, you're talking beef, brisket, not a lot of sauce. That's very different from pulled pork and vinegar where you want something with some zing. Bourbon and barbecue is not a bad combination either.

What's the next big thing in wine this year?
I think there are a number of regions. I'm really interested in Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. Some producers--like Varner and Rhys--are great. I don't know if it's going to happen this year, but the former Soviet block countries, like Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria (a little less so), and Hungary. Slovenia's been known for a long time. But the rest will, at some point (maybe not next year) blow up and it'll be really great.

I see more alternative sparkling wines popping up, and people that are exploring Champagne-style wines in places like the Loire Valley, Alsace, and Burgundy. Whether it's good or not, alternative wines that aren't made in traditional method--like Cava, Prosecco, and some American sparkling wine--have been turning up more in stores.

Argentina's doing great with Malbec, but what's next for Argentina? You can stay producing Malbec forever, and I think people will be like great, but what's next?

What's next for beer?
Well, right now I like a lot of farmhouse stuff. A lot of the beer geeks will say Italy. There are alot of small producers there, but you have to go there to get it. Just like how super tiny beer producers in the US aren't exporting to Italy. But there's a real creative buzz there right now.

There's that impetus to be the most-whatever beer ever in America. But hopefully we've pushed how hoppy we can make beer and we'll pull back from there. There are some good Southern craft breweries lately. But beer distribution is wildly complicated. Wine distribution is, too, in different way. But one of the things about the whole local movement is some things stay local. Which sucks if you don't live there, but is kind of charming. The advice I always give is: Buy your hometown.

· All Cayman 2012 Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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