This year, the Wine Curmudgeon has been overwhelmed with some of the most bizarre wine press releases ever. That I have not written the greatest rant in the blog’s history is because cooler heads prevailed. As several people said, “Jeff, no one cares about this but you.”
Perhaps. But several recent releases are worth noting regardless:
? State stores forever! New Hampshire is one of 17 control states, where the government sells beer, wine, and spirits or some combination thereof, and there aren’t privately-owned retailers. This has always seemed odd given the state’s almost libertarian politics — “Live Free or Die,” after all — and that contradiction does not bother the state’s liquor board. It dispatched a release touting the Washington Post’s endorsement of New Hampshire as “the best state in the country for wine drinkers.” That it was one man’s opinion, and not the newspaper’s, and that the piece had several errors (wine prices are not skyrocketing) didn’t seem to bother the board either. Or that you can buy wine in a grocery store from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week in California. Or that Segura Viudas cava costs one-third less in Texas than it does in New Hampshire. My question: How much money did the board spend on the release, when it could have spent the money on cutting wine prices? (Hat tip to Tim McNally for sending this my way, who lives in New Orleans and knows a few things about the best states to drink in.)
? Roll out the barrels: The battle over oakiness in wine seems over, and those of us who prefer restraint seem to have won. Nevertheless, multi-national Diageo sees a market for very oaky wines, and has launched a brand called Woodwork — “delivering prominent oak influence.” Overlook the writing (the wine “celebrate[s] those who work hard to endlessly pursue their passions”) and this release is a revelation. Diageo admits the wine is made with wooden staves instead of an oak barrel, a common practice in cheap wine but rarely acknowledged. In this, the point of the wine is not winemaking, but adding wood flavor. That honesty is as refreshing as it is unbelievable. (Hat tip to W. Blake Gray for sending this my way; he expects the wine to be a big seller.)
? It’s EPICA! Does someone really get paid for writing this stuff? “EPICA Wines, the adventurous brand that inspires epic lifestyles, has announced the launch of the 2013 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Aimed at millennials, EPICA Malbec was created to capitalize on the growing interest for the Argentinian grape.” Who knew malbec was an adventurous grape? Or that there was growing interest in it? I always thought it was one of the most popular grapes in the world, the fifth biggest import to the U.S. and one that has been around for decades. But then, my lifestyle is hardly epic.
? Fewer wineries using oak: Yes, believe it or not ? the amount of wine aged in oak has declined by one-third, reports The Drinks Business trade magazine. The story quotes a French barrel maker lamenting the change, though my guess is that there are as many consumers who are as happy about it as he isn ?t. The short story doesn ?t go into two other possible reasons for the drop: the incredible cost of barrels, which run $300 to $900 each and can cost as much as $4,000, and the improvement in oak alternatives, like chips, staves, and dominoes. They give an oak-like result to the wine at a fraction of the cost and time involved.
? Just like cosmetics: Can wine be sold through home parties, like Mary Kay or Avon? Or Tupperware, for those of us of a certain age? A variety of companies have tried this over the years, but the concept never really took off. Blame the three-tier system and its restrictions as well as financially insecure operators. The concept is making a comeback, though, reports the Wines & Vines trade magazine, under the auspices of winemaker Boisset Family Estates. The producer is selling selected wines through a new shop at home program, where ?ambassadors ? conduct the tasting, talk about the wines, and help guests order through a Boisset website. This helps them circumvent retail licensing laws, which hampered previous efforts.
? Bring on the high alcohol: Because, if a group of researchers have their way, winemakers will be able to use more efficient, artificial yeast to make wine in the next couple of years. Said one scientist: ?Now we have the opportunity to adapt yeasts further, turning them into predictable and robust hosts for manufacturing the complex products we need for modern living. ? This is a terrifying thought, given what winemakers can do with technologically-improved natural yeasts. The researchers, apparently, have never had a 15 percent chardonnay.
Wine is still too confusing, though some effort has been made over the past several years to make it easier for wine drinkers ? new and experienced ? to understand what ?s going on. Check out this newspaper article from 1977, and you ?ll see what I mean:
The result of all this is that any but the most experienced wine aficionado often will (1) buy a very expensive wine, equating high price with quality; (2) buy a very cheap but unpleasant wine and then throw it all away; (3) buy the same wine all the time; (4) not buy wine at all.
Depressing, too, given so little of that has changed in almost 40 years. But there are five things that can be done to make wine less confusing. The list, after the jump:
Winespeak always includes references to oak (even the Wine Curmudgeon is guilty of this), and most of the references always seem to describe the wine as toasty and oaky. This can be quite confusing, since the relationship between wine and oak is not obvious.
How can something made with grapes be toasty and oaky?
That's because some wines are aged in oak barrels. Generally, but not always, these are more expensive wines, and they are more often red wines than white wines.
Oak aging helps temper the acid and tannins in red wine, making it more drinkable. The only white wine that gets much oak is chardonnay, and California has turned this into a unique style — rich, buttery, oaky, almost caramelly wine. I recently tasted a high-end chardonnay from a major California producer, and the wine was spot on for creme brulee. More, after the jump: