Wine of the week: Moulin de Gassac Guilhem 2014

Moulin de Gassac GuihemThe Wine Curmudgeon’s crankiness, as regular visitors here know, is not an act. It’s because I am forced to taste so much insulting wine that is sold by retailers who don’t care as long as they make their numbers. Hence $8 wine with a $15 price tag and private label junk dressed in winespeak and a cute label.

So when I find something like the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($12, purchased, 12.5%), I buy two bottles. Or even more. This is cheap white wine – and French cheap white wine at that – that reminds us what cheap white wine is supposed to taste like. And that it is made with the little known grenache blanc and the even more obscure clairette doesn’t hurt, either. Take that, fake oak chardonnay!

Look for amazing acidity, tempered by just enough white fruit (barely ripe pears?) and a certain white pepper spiciness. It’s easy to tell that the producer, best known for some highly-rated and pricey wines from southern France, cares about the cheap stuff, too.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 443: Three-tier system excitement

Three-tier systemThis week’s wine news features our old pal the three-tier system, but it’s mostly good news – including some of the biggest changes in state liquor laws since Prohibition.

Well done, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania wine drinkers, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and its infamous state stores, will soon be able to buy wine at a retailer not owned by the state. Somehow, despite years of political impasse, the legislature passed a bill that the governor signed that will allow hundreds of restaurants, hotels, and grocery and convenience stores that sell take-out beer to sell bottles of wine. As the story notes, passage was almost anti-climactic given how bitter the debate has been for years.

Wine in N.Y. supermarkets? Perhaps, reports the MPNNow website in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes wine country. New York remains the biggest market where grocery stores can’t sell wine in the U.S., and attempts to allow it have failed for decades. The impetus this time? Pennsylvania’s new law that allows grocers to sell wine, and which not only may send New York residents across the border to buy wine, but reduce the number of Pennsylvanians going to New York to shop in its liquor stores and visit its wineries. The story is well written, and hints at the contentious debate that will ensue if the issue makes it to the state legislature.

Colorado signs up, too: Expect to see wine in Colorado supermarkets, as well, after legislators agreed to a law that allows grocers, Walmart, and Target to compete directly with liquor stores and allows each to expand sales to 20 locations in phases over 20 years. Current law limits each chain to sales at one location in the state. The bill, a compromise, faces a court fight from those who want to eliminate all restrictions and allow groceries to sell wine, beer, and spirits in all locations immediately.

Buzzfeed puts wine in its place

The Buzzfeed website, the arbiter of all things cool for everyone who isn’t an old white guy, takes on wine in this 3:20 video. And wine doesn’t come off well — at all. Or, as one of the participants says, “I could get really drunk on that.”

The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this as part of my decades-long campaign to demystify the wine business, on the assumption that consumers will drink more wine and enjoy it more if they understand it. Also, to remind my colleagues that most U.S. wine drinkers don’t care about toasty and oaky, points, or orange wine. They want affordable quality, and quality is not measured by most of the foolishness we bore them with.

Because, as another video participant says, “Oh, these wines, they really taste like something you’d pour on a cut.”

Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

Father’s Day wine 2016

Father's Day wineHow do you decide how much to spend on a Father’s Day wine gift? Check out the cyber-ether, and one suggestion calls for $1,500? Which struck the Wine Curmudgeon as totally inappropriate – not because one shouldn’t spend a lot of money on Dad, but because how many dads would want their children to waste money like that?

Hence the blog’s annual Father’s Day wine post, in which we offer sensible, quality and well-priced wines to buy. Keep the blog’s wine gift-giving guidelines in mind throughout the process: Don’t buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like.

This year’s Father’s Day wine suggestions:

Feudo Zirtari Rosso 2012 ($12, sample, 13.5%): If all international style was made like this, the WC wouldn’t be nearly as cranky. The nero adds earthiness and dark plum, while the syrah makes it taste a little less Sicilian. Nicely done.

Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($12, sample, 13%): More than a one-note New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and an example of what Big Wine can do when it wants to. Yes, citrus, but also some tropical in the middle and minerality on the back.

La Fleur de Francois Rosé Brut NV ($16, sample, 12%): French sparkling wine from Bordeaux with lime and raspberry fruit, a clean and crisp finish, and an almost flowery aroma. More like cava than Champagne; no oak showing. Very well done.

Conde Pinel Rose 2015 ($10, purchased, 12%): Yet another well crafted, solidly made Spanish rose (this time with tempranillo), complete with strawberry fruit, a little slate, and lots of crispness.

More Father’s Day wine:
Father’s Day wine 2015
Father’s Day wine 2014
Wine of the week: Ontanon Rioja Viticultura Ecologica 2013

 

Wine of the week: Kopke Fine Tawny Port NV

kopke tawny portThe Wine Curmudgeon likes port. I just don’t drink much of it, mostly because the price/value ratio is completely out of whack. Too much cheap port – and that means anything less than $20 – is not worth drinking. So when I find something like the Kopke tawny port ($13, purchased, 19.5%), I run to the keyboard as quickly as possible.

Port has its own vocabulary and can be quite complicated, but don’t let that intimidate you. Know that it’s a dessert wine, sweet but balanced, and that a little goes a long a way thanks to the high alcohol. A couple of small pours after dinner can make a terrific meal that much better.

The Kopke is amazingly well done for the price, and I didn’t expect nearly as much as it delivered. This is another example of a simple, well-made wine that doesn’t try to do more than it should. Look for fresh red fruit, some dried fruit (plums?), brown sugar sweetness, and just a touch of oak to round it out. You may also notice a sort of nutty aroma, which is typical for well-made port. I’d open the bottle well before you want to drink it; it actually gets rounder and more interesting after being open for a couple of days.

Highly recommended, and especially as a Father’s Day gift. And, if I expand the price range for the 2017 Hall of Fame, the Kopke may well get in.

Winebits 442: Orange wine, Big Beer, Franken-wine

Orange wineOrange is the new rose: How else do we know that rose has become acceptable? The wine geeks and hipsters are looking for something else to drink because rose is too bourgeois: “Rosé addicts probably won’t be abandoning the pink stuff, but funky, fruity and unique orange wines add yet another colorful hue to summertime happy hours. Orange you glad you have something new to drink?” Sigh. And, as if you couldn’t guess, the cheapest wine listed in the story is $15, and one costs $90.

Bring on the Bud: There is much hand-wringing in the wine business over the popularity of craft beer, and it’s easy to see why. Craft beer producers are clever in a way wine types can’t even begin to imagine or would do if they could imagine it. Consider this offer from a Buffalo, N.Y., craft brewer – bring it an unopened Budweiser, and get a discount on its beer, complete with this quote: “We don’t care where the Anheuser Busch product came from or how you acquired it. You don’t even have to pretend someone left it in your fridge after a party. We just want it off our streets.”

Faking great wine: In one respect, this is nothing new, as any Northern Exposure fan will tell you. But this approach – making wine in the laboratory without grapes – does seem to be taking wine where it has never gone before. Or should be taken. And because this is a tech company that’s making a wine-like product, nothing is cheap. How does $50 a bottle sound? Thought I do wonder what the artificial intelligence wine review will say.