• Bronco launches sweet red wine: Bronco Wine Co., which gave the world Two Buck Chuck, will sell Crane Lake Sweet Red Table Wine through its Domaine Napa brand. The wine will retail for $5, and will no doubt infuriate the people that Bronco impresario Fred Franzia usually infuriates when he does something that isn't part of the conventional wisdom. That's because Americans aren't supposed to drink sweet wine (and white zinfandel sales have been decreasing for years). Plus, regardless of how sweet it is, it will probably be competently made, and that Franzia can sell competent wine for $5 irritates his critics no end. And how sweet will it be? About twice as sweet as Sutter Home white zinfandel.
• Inside the home of Two Buck Chuck: Fortune details the success of Trader Joe's, the California retailer that sells Franzia's Two Buck Chuck (the Charles Shaw wines that are $1.99 in California and as much as $3.49 elsewhere in the country). The story doesn't spend a lot of time on the retailer's wine business, but that it was written at all says a lot about the effort that went into it. Trader Joe's is notoriously secretive about its business (though they always return phone calls to tell you that they don't want to comment). There was some fine reporting done here. Or, as the magazine notes: "To get inside the mysterious world of Trader Joe's, Fortune spent two months speaking with former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers, most of whom asked not to be named. What emerged is a picture of a business at a crossroads: As the company expands into new markets and adds stores -- analysts say the grocer could easily triple its size in the coming years -- it must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers."
• Wine industry salaries go up -- and down: Wine Business Monthly's annual salary report says that salaries fell by 1.3 percent -- but since bonuses increased by 24.5 percent, the total cash compensation in the wine industry showed an increase over 2009. Who was getting a bonus, considering what a rotten couple of years the wine business has had? Meanwhile, sales vice presidents saw salaries decline five percent, and even winemakers had salaries shrink -- the first that has happened in "many years."
It has not been a good week for the Wine Curmudgeon and his email and blogging backend (thought I'd throw a tech term in there, to show I'm serious about this). The blog's email address stopped working, and I didn't find out about it until this morning. So, for all of you who emailed, and were wondering why that damned snotty Siegel took so long to get back to you -- that's why.
Also, as several of you pointed out, I identified last week's wine of the week incorrectly. It should be Dona Paula Los Cardos malbec. I have no idea how I wrote what I wrote, especially since I always double check that stuff.
Hedges CMS White is the kind of wine we don't see enough of in the United States -- a well-made, everyday wine at a reasonable price. It's a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and marsanne, and I've been drinking it (along with its companion, CMS Red) for years. The suggested retail price is $14, but it usually costs less than that, and I picked up a previous vintage over the weekend for $10.
The wine was as it always is -- crisp, fresh and even a little more interesting than usual, with more of a stony finish and less fruit than normal (probably because it was a year older). Is it white Burgundy? Nope. But, as the Wine Curmudgeon always points out, it's not supposed to be.
Which brings us to the Hedges' entry in CellarTracker!, the blog's unofficial wine tracking software. One of CellarTracker!'s most fun features is the public tasting notes, where you can see what other people have to say about your wine. The public notes also encourage wine scores, which I tolerate for two reasons: first, because the software is so good otherwise, and second, because it allows me to point out the fallacy of wine scores. More, after the jump:
Reviews of wines that don't need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
• Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir NV ($20, sample): Sparkling wine of the year at this year's Indy International (my panel picked it), and one of the best made California bubblies I've ever tasted. How nice is this wine? We had two Frenchmen on the panel, and they loved it as much as I did.
• Clos de los Siete 2008 ($19, sample): This Argentine red blend is made by the infamous Michel Rolland, who takes extraction and fruitiness to new levels. Call him the Jerry Bruckheimer of the wine world; if blowing up one building isn't enough, he'll blow up another. If you like this style -- lots of fruit, oak and alcohol -- you'll adore this wine.
• Trapiche Pinot Noir 2008 ($8, sample): The Wine Curmudgeon doesn't understand why producers make $8 pinot noir, since it's almost impossible to make it taste like pinot noir. This Argentine label tastes more like pinot than some of its contemporaries, but it still isn't very pinot. But if you want a well-made $8 red wine, you could do a lot worse.
George Taber, who does this wine writing stuff about as well as anyone, and Ron Saikowski, a top Texas wine blogger, sent the Wine Curmudgeon an email: "What is your perception of your influence in people selecting wines based on your recommendations?"
The email is part of a study about whether consumers pay attention to what people like me write. It's a subject that comes up a lot among those of us who do it; sometimes, writing for the Internet seems like sending a message in a bottle. Even if anyone finds the bottle, you have no idea whether they paid any attention to the message. Or, as my pal Alfonso Cevola put it the other day, "I have tilted at windmills for years."
I'll try not to do too much navel gazing here. After all, if I feel unappreciated, I can always find something else to do. But whether anyone reads me is part of a larger and much more important issue -- can the wine business get out of the niche that has strangled it for the past 25 years? Is the Internet the key to a future that isn't about scores, cult wines and buying labels to impress people? Can it be used to teach Americans to drink what they like, to educate them about wine and how it works, and give them a sense of how much fun wine is? I think so, and that's what I told George and Ron. More, after the jump:
Call it the malbec conundrum. Argentina's national grape produces one of the most popular wines in the world, but finding a $10 malbec that is worthwhile is not easy to do. There are plenty of cheap malbecs, but save for the Yellow & Blue, the Wine Curmudgeon hasn't had much success. Most of the $10 malbec that I taste is too fruity or too jammy or too much a combination of the two, as if winemakers are trying to make it taste like Australian shiraz.
Enter the Los Cardos (about $10, purchased), from the well-respected producer Dona Paula. It still has malbec's juicy, ripe fruit (mostly cherry), but it's not nearly as over the top as some are. There's also a bit of a finish, which you don't see in most inexpensive malbec -- they're mostly a big gob of fruit at the beginning, and hardly anything else. My pal John Bratcher, who is the Wine Curmudgeon's malbec expert, said that he has tasted more expensive malbecs that didn't offer this much value.
Finally, several things to keep in mind about this wine: First, it has a screwcap, which means that the wine changes significantly after you open it. It's going to take 15 or 20 minutes before it tastes the way it should. Second, don't be afraid to chill this -- 20 or 30 minutes in the refrigerator before you open it. It's a bit hot (which means the alcohol, at 14 percent, is more noticeable than it should be), and chilling it will keep the alcohol at bay. Third, it's a food wine, and will taste better if you drink it with something like roast chicken, hamburgers or pizza.