• Beard award nominations: The James Beard awards, the food world's equivalent of the Oscars, has announced its 2008 nominations. What is most noticeable are the categories that didn't include any Dallas-area restaurants, especially outstanding wine service. Many people here think this is one of the best restaurant cities in the country, but this does not seem to be the view elsewhere. Personally, I'm not surprised about the wine snub. Save for a couple of places like Pappas Bros. and Cafe on the Green, this is a lousy wine restaurant town. Prices are way too high and wine lists are predictable and unimaginative. They're also sadly lacking in Texas wine, which is unacceptable in a town that prides itself on regional cuisine.
• A $3 wine winner: Oak Leaf Vineyards, run by the negociant firm The Wine Group, has won a bunch of medals, including a gold for its chardonnay, at several recent wine competitions. It's available only at Wal-Marts that sell wine for $1.97 in California and $2.97 elsewhere. I have not tasted this brand, but will do so and report back. The Wine Group is best known for buying the Big House labels from Randall Grahm a couple of years ago.
• Italian wine class: Alfonso Cevola, who is extremely tolerant of the Wine Curmudgeon's personality, knows more about Italian wine than almost anyone. So it's a big deal that he is going to hold a three-part Italian wine class in Dallas, starting at the end of this month. It will cover northern Italy, central Italy, and the South and the islands. The sessions are a warm-up for more in-depth classes later this year for Intermediate and advanced Italian wine lovers. You can register on line or contact Michelle Anderson (214-794-0978) for information.
The Wine Curmudgeon always makes people laugh when he tells them that the wine business is hard work. Well, get ready to laugh, because this is the beginning of the new release season.
That means that over the next three months or so, I will be at a lunch or a tasting three or four times a week, sampling various new vintages. It means paying careful attention when a very enthusiastic winemaker describes his harvesting techniques or her favorite clonal selections. (Are any readers bored yet?)
My second Cordon Bleu wine class finishes its three-week session today with its final, and I was again impressed with how far they have come in such a short time.
This is not so much a reflection of my skills as a teacher; I'm still a work in progress in a lot of ways. Rather, it's about what the chef who teaches the basic baking class said: "If you give them the information, and you show them why it's important that they know this, it's like a light bulb goes off over their heads." And, he added with a laugh, it's always a pleasure to see the light bulb go off.
Some wines are like old friends. You may only talk to them once or twice a year, but when you do, you pick up the conversation where you left off and it's like no time has passed.
This is one of those wines. I don't drink it often, but when I do, I am reminded of why I like it so much. It's not expensive (about $13), it's always well made, and it solves a variety of food pairing dilemmas.
Chenin blanc gets a bad rap in this country, while viognier is very little known. The former is often badly made in a sweet style, while not enough winemakers understand the possibilities that viognier offers. At Pine Ridge, those are not problems.
This vintage is what wine types call off dry, with floral aromas and a clean finish. This means it's sweet enough for spicy food like Thai and Cajun, but not so sweet that those who like dry wine will spit it out. All wineries should be this consistent in quality from year to year.
The Wine Curmudgeon, not surprisingly, does not acknowledge Valentine's Day. But since so many people do, including newspaper editors (who help pay the Wine Curmudgeon's bills), it was only sensible to write something..
The article is not about pairing wine and chocolate. This has not only been done to death, but isn't especially true. Inexpensive cabernet sauvignon doesn’t do chocolate very well, no matter how good the wine writer is. And anyone who pairs $50 cabernet with chocolate is missing the point of $50 cabernet.
• Cheap Chilean wine: Spend any time with Chilean winemakers, and you notice two things. First, how young everyone in the business is, and second, that the inexpensive wines are so well made. Case in point: Calina, some very nice $8 wine from a company affiliated with Kendall-Jackson, made by winemaker Marcela Chandia. I didn't ask (politeness, of course), but she graduated from college in 1999, which means she probably isn't 30 yet. I was especially impressed by the chardonnay, with more fruit than oak, and the carmenere.
• Paul Newman wines: Yes, that Paul Newman. His Newman's Own food company has released a California cabernet and chardonnay, about $16 each. The project is a joint venture with Rebel Wine, which is affiliated with Three Thieves, best known for the quality wine it sells in jugs and juice boxes.