No blackberries this year

blackberries

Too many sparrows, and no blackberry tart this year.

Yes, we had plenty of rain. Yes, we had enough coolish nights (for here anyway). But we also had The Birds, who ate all but a dozen blackberries off my berry bush this year.

Three weeks weeks ago, the bush was full of red, unripe blackberries, and I was already planning my jam, pie, and tart. Then, over the next 10 days or so, more berries disappeared every morning, courtesy of the sparrows (and maybe some squirrels). The bush was picked clean by the beginning of last week.

Next year, deer netting. My only consolation? That the neighborhood has a chance, courtesy of the birds and the seeds they didn’t digest, for a blackberry bush explosion.

Fourth of July wine 2016

Fourth of July wine 2016This weekend, we’re supposed to get our first 100-degree days in Dallas. That means lighter and fruitier – though still tasty and value-driven – Fourth of July wine 2016.

Keep the concepts behind summer wine (and porch wine) in mind as you decide on wine for this holiday weekend. It’s not so much the food that matters, but that lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s hot, humid, or both.

Consider these Fourth of July wine 2016 suggestions:

Muga Rosado 2015 ($12, purchased, 13.5%) This Spanish pink is consistently one of the best roses in the world. Look for crisp red raspberry fruit, bright acidity, and a long mineral finish. It’s so well done, in fact, that if I raise the price ceiling on the $10 Hall of Fame next year, this wine will be one of the main reasons.

Dancing Coyote Albarino 2014 ($12, sample, 13%): This California white helped introduce albarino to U.S. consumers, and I am most grateful. Look for crisp green apple fruit and minerality, though it’s not quite as salty (really) as a Spanish albarino. A tremendous value.

Hey Mambo Red 2014 ($10, sample, 13.5%): Great cheap California red blend the way it should be, with something else besides lots of berry fruit. That means freshness instead of that horrible cloying fruitiness, as well as proper soft tannins. Very well done, especially for Big Wine, and an example for others who think Americans will only drink wine masquerading as Kool-Aid.

Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California bubbly that is softer than Spanish cava, not as sweet as Italian Prosecco, and a better value than Champagne. Look for some of the latter’s yeastiness and caramel, though the fruit is almost berryish from the 40 percent pinot noir. The bubbles are tight and long lasting, and the wine improves the longer it is open.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2015
Fourth of July wine 2014
Wine of the week: Charles & Charles rose 2015

Is this the end of For Sale in Texas Only?

For sale in Texas onlyA proposed change to federal wine label laws could mean the end for wine that says For Sale in Texas Only – a term that implies that a wine is local when it might be made with grapes from anywhere in the world.

The Treasury department’s tax and trade bureau announced this week that it wants to revise the regulations that allow a wine to carry For Sale in Only designation. In Texas, we call it FSTO – which stands for For Sale in Texas Only – but you’ll see FSO labels in every state: For Sale in Colorado Only, For Sale in Pennsylvania Only, and so forth.

Under the new rules, wines labeled FSO won’t be allowed to list the vintage or the grape it is made with, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay. Currently, FSO wines can list both and look local in almost every respect, save that they don’t have a state name or other appellation on the front label. The only clue that they aren’t local is a line in small type on the back label that says FSO, and that only wine writers, wine geeks, and winemakers understand.

FSO is sometimes used to circumvent appellation laws when the wine isn’t made with enough local fruit for it to have a state name. This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so, as the number of wineries has almost doubled and grape acreage hasn’t kept up.

That’s because appellation laws require that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that state for it to labeled Texas (or whatever). If a wine is made with less than 75 percent local grapes, it must use the word American on the front label, something producers don’t like to do because it’s obvious that the wine isn’t local. And what’s the point of local wine that isn’t local?

Hence the FSO label.

It’s important to note that FSO isn’t illegal and that many producers use it legitimately. The problem comes when it’s used to disguise non-local wine as local. That, apparently, was the impetus for the rules change – a Georgia winery selling an FSO wine made with Napa Valley grapes in North Carolina, and which caught the attention of a key Napa trade group and the Napa Valley’s U.S. congressman.

In fact, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif)., who chairs the Congressional wine caucus, emailed me to say that FSO in the Georgia case was “a TTB labeling loophole” and “works against strict and rigorous labeling rules to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

The actual rules proposal is almost indecipherable unless you practice liquor law. My thanks to Austin attorney Kimberly Frost, who did her usual brilliant job in explaining it to me. The new rules will limit FSO wines to terms like red wine or white wine on the front label, in the hope that producers will use the more accurate American appellation so they can list the grapes and the vintage..

One irony to all this? The new FSO rules may give regional producers incentive to buy California bulk wine and put their label on it. That means  we could see more California wine sold by wineries in the other 47 — Texas-bottled Russian River pinot noir, anyone? That’s because the revisions will allow producers to use grape names and vintage on California bulk wine, which they couldn’t do if they bought California grapes or grape juice and combined them with local grapes to make FSO wine.

The tax and trade bureau is taking comments until Aug. 22, but there’s no time frame on when the rules will take effect. My guess, given how slowly the agency works, is that we won’t see anything until the middle of next year, and it could be even later than that.

 

Wine of the week: Charles & Charles Rose 2015

Charles & Charles roseThe Charles & Charles rose from Washington state has played a key role in the rose revolution and embarrassed the Wine Curmudgeon. Both are reasons to recommend it.

First, its role in the revolution, in honor of July 4 this week. The first vintage of the Charles & Charles rose ($11, purchased, 12.2%) in 2008 more or less coincided with the idea that rose was worth drinking, something the U.S. wine industry hadn’t really embraced before then. The Charles & Charles was dry, crisp, and just fruity enough to give wine drinkers a quality pink that was in national distribution just as demand started to increase.

This year’s Charles & Charles rose is another top-flight wine, and should return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The 2014 was a touch softer and not as enjoyable, and I was worried that trend would continue. But the 2015 is crisp, fresh, and alive, bursting with tart watermelon fruit and even a hint of herbs (perhaps the Washington version of garrigue). It’s one of the world’s great roses, and just the wine to drink over the long – and forecast to be 100 degrees here – holiday weekend.

And how did it embarrass me? In November 2013, I gave a sold-out seminar at the American Wine Society conference, focusing on unappreciated grapes, wines, and regions. So we tasted all my favorites – a nero d’avola from Sicily, a Gascon white, cava, a Texas red, and the Charles & Charles rose. My point? That in the chardonnay-, cabernet sauvigon-, merlot-dominated wine business, we overlooked a lot of cheap, terrific wine.

The Charles & Charles rose was the biggest hit, and even people who didn’t drink pink loved it. One woman was so excited she asked where she could buy it, and I had to tell her that it was sold out. It was November and the end of rose season, and the producer didn’t make enough given rose’s new popularity. I literally got the last six bottles in the U.S. for the tasting.

I will always remember the dirty look the woman gave me as she asked: “Why did we taste a wine that we can’t buy?” It doesn’t get much more worse for the WC.

Winebits 444: Prosecco, direct to consumer, Barnes & Noble

ProseccoPremiumizing Prosecco: These days, it’s not enough to increase sales of a product eight-fold. You have to trade consumers up, even if that means you’ll sell less of the product. That’s the situation with Prosecco, the Italian sparklng wine, reports the Shanken News Daily website. Sales have passed 4 million cases, almost exceeding Champagne. But that’s not good enough, say marketers, since Prosecco rarely costs more than $15 – just a fraction of what Champagne costs. So the push over the next several years will be to convince consumers to buy higher-priced Prosecco, even though the reason for its growth and popularity is that it can cost one-third less than Champagne.

Take that, Michigan: Remember the good news about three-tier last week? Not so fast, says the state of Michigan. The liquor cops there, who still seem to have a chip on their shoulder from losing the landmark Granholm case in the Supreme Court in 2005, are cracking down on wineries who ship to consumers in the state. ShipCompliant, which helps producers navigate the various local liquor laws, reports that wineries who don’t list their special Michigan license number on the packing label are being cited. If this seems nitpicky, but it’s all part of the fun that is 50 laws for 50 states.

Bring on the booze: What do you do if you’re a struggling national bookstore chain? Sell beer and wine, of course. Barnes & Noble will add alcohol to stores in Virginia, California, New York, and Minnesota this year in an attempt to boost long-depressed sales. Ironically, Barnes & Noble is suffering at the same time that independent bookstores are enjoying a revival; what does it mean that independents who don’t sell wine are doing better? Hmm. Customer service, perhaps?

Drop dead, restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine prices
Restaurant wine prices are too high, which prevents restaurants from selling more wine and restaurant customers from drinking more wine. Everyone understands this but restaurants (see the cheap wine book and various academic studies); nevertheless, the people who run them seem content to charge higher prices, sell less wine, and make even less money.

The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this again on Saturday night during dinner at Urbano’s, probably Dallas’ best-known BYOB restaurant and where the food is more or less moderately priced. During the 2 ½ hours we were there, everyone was drinking wine, most of the tables had more than one bottle (including sparkling and rose, not a common sight), and hardly any of the wine I saw was grocery store plonk. The table next to us, in fact, came prepared with a very expensive wine carryall that contained several pricey bottles.

What was the reason for all that wine? Urbano’s charges $5 per bottle for corkage, so no one had to pay $50 for a bottle from a mediocre wine list. Instead, a table of of four will spend $10 at Urbano’s for two bottles of wine, cutting the bill by at least one-third.

The caveats? Urbano is small, with fewer than a couple of dozen tables, and its reputation as BYOB means it attracts wine drinkers. But given the traditional Dallas antipathy to wine – the bottle at my table when I go out usually gets more than a few stares from the sweet tea drinkers – every table at Urbano’s that had wine speaks volumes about the difference price makes. Because, as our waitress told me, 80 percent of their customers bring their own wine.

So, once again, a plea for fair restaurant wine pricing. I don’t expect wine so cheap that it competes with retail pricing. But would it be so awful if restaurants only doubled the price of the bottle that cost them $10 instead of tripling it?