This is the first of two parts looking at ways to decipher the world's wine regions without making your head hurt. The second part will run on Monday.
One of the most difficult concepts to get across about wine is the idea of wine regions. You can get someone to acknowledge that wine is different depending on where it's from, but understanding that it is something else entirely. And I won't even mention there are more than 3,200 wine regions in the world.
Yes, they'll say, they realize cabernet sauvignon is different from merlot which is different from chardonnay. But doesn't all French wine (or California wine or whatever) taste the same?
No, it doesn't. But given how complicated wine regions can be -- Quick: Name the sub-AVAs within the Sonoma AVA -- and it's easy to see why people give up in confusion.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon exists. Wine geography does not have to be a barrier to buying and enjoying wine. It's helpful to know that the Rhone is divided into north and south, but not essential.
Wine makes a wonderful present, and I say this not just because the Wine Curmudgeon likes to have people give him wine. (White Burgundy, if anyone is reading.) It's a fine gift because it requires thought and effort. You just can't pick up the phone and order wine the way you can flowers.
So what does that thought and effort require? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you want to buy Mom wine. (And, if you need more help, Thursday's wine of the week will be aimed at Mom):
• Aussie wine take takes an import hit: It's not news the historically weak U.S. dollar is hurting foreign wine producers. But what is news is that the strong Australian dollar is making imports cheaper Down Under, and clobbering the Australian wine business from that direction. Imports from Chile, South Africa and Argentina will rise 50 percent this year, says a government study. Fosters Wine Estates, which sends brands Like Greg Norman, Lindemans, and Rosemount to the U.S., says that a one cent rise in the value of the Australian dollar against the US costs it A$3.2 million in revenue (about US$3.04 million). The Aussie dollar has risen 10 cents since the middle of December.
• Another shot at Robert Parker: This, from the food writer Alice Feiring: "Forget 'Eureka,' the new state motto can well be: 'Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.' Today's California wines are overblown, over-alcoholed, over-oaked, overpriced and over-manipulated." Sounds like the Wine Curmudgeon, doesn't she? Feiring, whose forthcoming book is called The Battle for Wine and Love -- Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, doesn't mince words. She rips some of California's best-known winemakers, including Helen Turley, and even gets a dig in at a Texan named Michael Stewart, who owns Napa's Stewart Cellars.
• Texas wines in Smart Money: Wine writer Raymond Sokolov praises Llano Estacado, Pheasant Ridge and Woodrose in the current issue of Smart Money (which isn't available on-line.). It also discusses the three-tier distribution system, and how difficult it is to get Texas wines in places out of Texas. One correction, though: Sokolov identifies Llano as a boutique producer, which it isn't. In fact, it makes 100,000 cases a year and is the state's second biggest producer.
This is the first of two parts looking at Colorado wine. Today is an overview, and Monday is a look some of the wines.
Guy Drew, who owns the self-named winery outside of Cortez in southwestern Colorado, insists the high desert in that part of the state will eventually produce world-class wines. And he isn’t alone in that optimism, either. Talk to growers and winemakers throughout Colorado, from Grand Junction in the west to the Front Range in the east, and you’ll hear the same thing. Colorado is a wine phenomenon waiting to happen.
Says Horst Caspari, the state viticulturist: “One day, we’ll be so popular, you’ll see Hollywood celebrities buying land here and opening wineries.”