Robin Goldstein knows even more about cheap wine than the Wine Curmudgeon, which is saying something. But what else would one expect from the co-author and guiding force of The Wine Trials 2010 (Fearless Media, $14.95), perhaps the best guide to wine that costs less than $15 a bottle?
The second edition has just been published, and it's another fine effort. I chatted with Goldstein via Skype (the unofficial Internet phone service of the Wine Curmudgeon) but technical glitches on my part prevented running it as a podcast. Instead, it's a transcript of our interview. In part II today, Goldstein talks about some of the wines that made the book, as well as wine labels and wine names. In part I, which ran Thursday, we talked about the trends in cheap wine and why there is more good, cheap wine than ever before.
RG: I was really surprised by a few of the California chardonnays that have reined in their style quite a bit. There's a movement away from oak in inexpensive American white wine in general. The Fetzer comes to mind.
RG: There you have it, a mass-produced California chardonnay, something that in my more naive days i probably would have dismissed. But blind tasting surprises me every year. You can't dismiss anything. The Fetzer is well-balanced, nice acidity, minerally, a bit vegetal -- absolutely nothing like I would have expected. It made it to the very finals of our tastings and wound up winning its category award for heavy white.
WC: Let me ask you something else. I was talking to a woman at a party recently, and she told me she has learned to put ice cubes in bad white wine, which makes it easier to drink. I was shocked. That's supposed to be a trade secret. Do winemakers underestimate the consumer's intelligence?
RG: Haha. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I have been known to put ice cubes in vinho verde.
WC: Yeah, but we're "supposed" to do that.
RG: i think the way in which winemakers still underestimate our intelligence most is in their bottle labeling. It's starting to change a bit, but I still find it so irritating how condescending so many of these bottles are, like "wine for sushi," "pink lady," or "your girlfriend's a ho viognier." It was amusing for about two seconds, and they're robbing people who actually care, who are actually interested in learning about wine, of the opportunity to know what they're actually drinking. Tell me, on the label, about the grapes, the climate, the soil. Tell me something that will actually increase my appreciation and understanding of the wine. Don't talk to me like a frat boy.
WC: Alcohol levels -- are they starting to come down?
RG: Hmmm. I don't have any data on that, so i wouldn't want to make any categorical statements.
WC: On the wines that made the list.. less alcohol?
RG: If alcohol levels have come down overall in the under-$15 market, it might be because of the increased popularity of pinot noir (which is still hard to fund under $15, that said). But I've been seeing Australian shiraz, Argentine malbec, Spanish reds, etc., continue to pump up the alcohol levels, and it's creating unbalanced wines that play well to the wine magazines. I think, incidentally, that Australian shiraz (not just Yellowtail but the whole category) has done more to set back people's appreciation of good red wine than almost anyone else in the market. I wish I could say there's an overall decrease in alcohol levels, but I'm not really seeing it.
WC: Finally, let me ask if you heard the bad news about the Osborne Solaz? Which did very well in the first edition.
RG: Yeah, the Osborne. That's why it wasn't in our tastings this year. Maybe they were losing money on it, it was such a good deal. Seriously, though, I wish Spanish producers would move back to their roots more. They're responding too much from this Aussie shiraz-type pressure
RG: I was in Castilla la Mancha a few months ago at the Fenavin conference, and there are such beautiful, earthy, light old-world-style wines being made there and sold on the local market for 2 or 3 euros ($3-$5) a bottle. And when I asked the producers why they weren't exporting to the U.S., their answer was always the same: Not enough alcohol, body, and fruit for the American palate.
WC: Nuts to that.
RG: This too will change. The California chardonnay we talked about, that's a start. But we still have a long way to go.
WC: So your favorite wine in the book?
RG: I'd have to say the Lan Rioja, what old-world Spain is still capable of. I also love the Kourtaki Mavrodaphne as a dessert wine. it's unbelievable with chocolate and cherries. Who would have thought?