Mini-reviews 131: Raeburn, Pigmentum, Montmirail, Excelsior

raeburnReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month

Raeburn Rose 2019 ($13, sample, 13.5%): California pink with some tart raspberry fruit that is well made, but the longer it sits in the glass, the more you notice the lingering residual sugar and that it’s not quite dry rose.

Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Didn’t notice the vintage when I bought this French red, and that is so tasty is amazing given its age. Still has a little dark fruit and some earth, and still eminently drinkable.

Château de Montmirail “M” 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This red Rhone blend has some heft and black fruit, but isn’t overdone or too heavy. Availability may be limited, which is too bad since it’s close to a Hall of Fame wine. Imported by Kindred Vines

Excelsior Chardonnay 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This South African white will not help the country get back into the U.S. market. It’s a Kendall Jackson chardonnay knockoff, complete with residual sugar. Imported by Cape Classics

Did the Mafia take over one of Italy’s best cheap wine producers?

mafiaItalian anti-Mafia police raid Sicily’s Feudo Arancio in corruption probe

Feudo Arancia, whose wines have appeared on the blog more than once, may have been taken over by the Mafia. So say Italian police officials, whose financial police seized more than €70m (US$76 million) in assets from the Sicilian winery last week.

Details are still unclear, and it has been difficult to get anyone to talk about what has happened. I’ll update the post if I find out more.

Here’s what we know: The financial police, acting on a request from an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Trentino, seized 900 hectares of vineyards (about 2,200 acres) and several buildings at Feudo Arancio. Police say a Mafia group in Sicily was using Arancio to launder money; four people are reportedly being investigated.

Feudo Arancio is owned Trentino’s Groupo Mezzacorona, one of Italy’s biggest producers and whose $8 pinot grigio is ubiquitous in the U.S.. Mezzacorona executives have “strongly rejected the allegations.”

Feudo Arancio’s wines aren’t as consistently good as Falesco, but they’re worth the $10 they cost more often than not. I’ve reviewed three of them over the years, and the whites seem to be more interesting.

This Italian news report (use Google translate to make sense of it) reads like a pulp novel, complete with references to “men of honor,” the Cosa Nostra, “fugitive bosses,” and “a classic of fixing.”

The charges, if true, seem quite odd. A winery doesn’t appear to be the best place to launder money. It’s not a cash business, like a casino; cash flow, again, is limited; and there are extensive legal reporting requirements because alcohol is involved. But, given the success Italian police have had over the past couple of decades in combating the Mafia, this might have been the best the Mafia could do (assuming the charges are true).

Wine of the week: Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah Pets 2016

Vinum Cellars PetsThe Vinum Cellars Pets is California petit sirah that delivers quality and value

Wine will surprise you, even when you’ve been doing it as long as the Wine Curmudgeon has. Sit and bemoan the lack of quality cheap California red wine and especially the lack of top-notch inexpensive petite sirah, and then you’ll taste two terrific petites – first, the McManis and now the Vinum Cellars Pets.

The Vinum Cellars Pets ($12, sample, 14.5%) was even more surprising than the McManis; the latter has long been one of the best cheap producers in the world. Vinum Cellars, on the other hand, has been annoyingly inconsistent – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not, and with no real reason for the difference.

But know that the Pets is well worth drinking. It’s petit sirah that tastes like petit sirah, so it’s not too jammy or too sweet (either the fruit or from residual sugar). It’s also not too hot, despite the high alcohol.

Instead, there is berry, almost plummy fruit, well-integrated oak, and soft tannins that aren’t too soft. In all, a $12 wine with structure and body, hardly what we’ve come to expect from this grape from this part of the world and certainly at this price.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 638: Michael Broadbent, drinking alone, expensive wine value

Michael Broadbent

Michael and Bartholomew Broadbent

This week’s wine news: Michael Broadbent, a leading English wine writer and critic, has died at 92. Plus, is it OK to drink alone and does expensive wine offer value?

Michael Broadbent: Broadbent, to quote his obituary on thedrinksbusiness trade site, “was a towering and influential figure in the wine trade.” He was a master of wine, wrote two books about wine that were considered standard texts, and was a wine columnist for Decanter magazine for almost 50 years. And that was after he pioneered fine wine auctions for Christie’s. The family business, Broadbent Selections, which is run by son Bartholomew, is one of the finest small importers in the U.S.

Drinking alone? The New York Times’ Eric Asimov asks: “But what if social distancing means you are actually by yourself? Is it all right to open that bottle?” His answer? “If you do have a problem with alcohol or issues with depression, drinking alone is not the responsible choice. But otherwise, why shouldn’t we enjoy the beauty of wine, especially if it is augmenting a meal? If we are going to take the loving step of cooking for ourselves, I believe we should absolutely make the experience even better by enjoying a glass or two of wine as well.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Value for money? David Morrison at the Wine Gourd blog looks at the Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list, which has few inexpensive wines, to find out if it offers value for money. The result? Mostly, though his analysis does rely on points: “yes, good value-for-money can be found in this Top 100 list — go for the highest-scoring wine at $20, or the cheapest wine at your favorite score.” The finding that most interests me is that the best price for value is around $20, since those are among the least expensive wines on the Spectator list. And, as Morrison notes, there is “some very poor value-for-money, but in those cases you are getting vinous excitement, instead.” I’ll settle for the value, thank you.

Update: Dumbest pop culture wines 2020

pop culture wines

“Damn, sold out of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey wine.”

Pop culture wines 2020 include swimsuit models, reality shows, and pro wrestling

How could I forget to update the dumbest pop culture wines list in 2019? Chalk it up to even more wine business foolishness than usual – the 25 percent European wine tariff, the grape glut but not necessarily lower wine prices, and all the rest.

So here are the dumbest pop culture wines 2020. The list is not scientific in any way or meant to be inclusive. Talk about the headache I’d get trying to do that.

And not all wine made by celebrities or based on movies and TV is useless. My pal John Bratcher had a long talk last month with actor Kyle MacLachlan, who owns a Washington state winery. He was just as unhappy with the three-tier system as any of the rest of the us; how much more legit can MacLachlan’s wines be?

Pop culture wines are not about quality. They’re made because the grapes are cheap and the margins are high, and they get a lot of free ink, cyber and real, from the non-wine media. Because, celebrities! Or, as one review put it for wine based on the “Outlander” series, “Truth be told, the labels are what really sell this wine.”

Otherwise, is there really any reason for these wines to exist?

• How did we have to wait so long for a pro wrestling wine? “Dream” Sparkling and “Nighmare” GSM, a red blend, from the legendary Rhodes wrestling family. They’re apparently sold out, so fans of the squared circle are out of luck.

• Christie Brinkley is world famous for her Sports Illustrated swimsuit appearances, but I wasn’t aware that qualified to her to sell three $20 Proseccos. But what do I know?

MasterChef wine, based on the reality cooking show. Three bottles, $56. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

More about pop culture wine:
Welcome to the wine business, Sarah Jessica Parker
Update: Dumbest pop culture wines 2018
Do we really need more celebrity wine?
Downton Abbey claret — wine merchandising for dummies

10 (mostly) wine-related activities to keep you busy while you’re at home

wine

So what do we want to do next? Bake bread or install Linux on your old laptop?

Because when there’s a crisis, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to help

March 21 update: Thanks for all the emails and kind words about this post. It has been one of the best read on the blog since this thing started. I’ll work on a virtual tasting and let you know whether we can do it. My only regret? No one has asked me to help them install Linux.

1. Try a wine you’ve never tried before. How difficult can it be, when you can’t buy toilet paper, to push your cart over to the supermarket Great Wall of Wine and pick out a $10 bottle?

2. Look for every corkscrew in the house and get rid of the ones you don’t want. How many corkscrews do you use? And do you really need this one?

3. Never, ever use the phrases “social distancing” or “sheltering in place.” This thing is bad enough; do we need to butcher the English language in the process?

4. Try a wine and food pairing you’ve never tried before. Chardonnay and frozen chicken pot pie? Tempranillo and quesadillas made with all the leftovers in the meat drawer in the fridge?

5. Install Linux on an old computer. You’ll be stunned at how easy it is. Really. I’ll even help if you want.

6. Hold a virtual tasting. I did that this week with my pal Jay Bileti, who lives in southern Arizona. We turned on Skype, opened two New World syrahs, and talked about the wines. That they weren’t even the same wines didn’t matter. The point was to taste and talk about wine, and it was tremendous fun. In fact, the more I think about it, there’s probably a way to do a virtual tasting through the blog, so that regular visitors can participate. If there’s enough interest, I will figure something out.

7. Bake bread. This is even even easier than installing Linux. This recipe is as basic as it gets – mix, knead, let rise, and bake. And don’t worry if you don’t have a stand mixer; you can use a food processor with a bread blade or mix by hand.

8. Finish the damned novel. (Yes, I know that doesn’t apply to most of us, but the thing has been sitting in a folder on my computer longer than I care to admit.)

9. Order from wine.com. The on-line retailer has been a long-time supporter of the blog, but that’s not the reason why I’m including it here. This is a chance to see if on-line wine sales make economic sense for you.

10. Keep a list of every despicable PR pitch you’ve received since this mess started, tying the pandemic into whatever foolishness they normally pitch. Sadly, there have been dozens. Then make sure to never, ever use those PR people in the future.

Art: “LEGO Minifigure Enjoying Wine” by Pest15 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

 

Wine judge showdown: Bruce Lee scores one for Drink Local

Don’t tell Bruce Lee that Drink Local doesn’t deserve a gold medal

Judge enough wine competitions, and you eventually run into the judge whose idea of being open minded is to give a sauvignon blanc a gold medal. Many don’t even bother to taste regional wine — they just mark it off because it’s Drink Local. Or, as a judge at a major U.S. competition once told me: “Only chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir get gold medals — just so you’ll know not to waste your time.”

Enter Bruce Lee, who has no time for this kind of foolishness. This blog post is dedicated to every judge I sat with during my career who would benefit from this kind of discussion.

The scene is from one of the first — and still one of the greatest — martial arts movies, 1973’s “Enter the Dragon.” Almost everything that has followed, whether Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong style, or even Disney, starts with “Enter the Dragon.” My apologies to Lee, as well as to everyone else associated with this incredible effort. Who knew John Saxon was a kung fu expert?

A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to KAABA on YouTube, where I found the original scene. And all silliness like this owes a debt to WineParody, whose Robert Parker epic is the standard by which these efforts are judged.

Make sure you turn captions on when you watch the video; you can make the captions bigger or change their color by clicking on the settings gear on the lower right.

More wine and film parodies:
Robin Hood
Casablanca
Shaft