Winebits 572: Texas ABC, restaurant wine, fake Prosecco

Texas ABCThis week’s wine news: Texas liquor retailer sues the Texas ABC, plus a restaurant tries to solve the industry’s wine problem and Italian authorities seize fake Prosecco

Texas ABC lawsuit: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been plagued by scandal, mismanagement, and more scandal over the past several years, is in even bigger trouble. Spec’s, the largest independent retailer in the state, has sued the agency for malicious enforcement. The federal lawsuit is the result of the TABC’s attempt to fine Spec’s $700 million after a lenghty investigation a couple of years ago.. The catch? Two judges dismissed the agency’s suit against Spec’s, saying the charges were completely unsubstantiated. Why does this matter to wine drinkers in the rest of the country? Because it might mean the end of the TABC when the state legislature meets early next year. It almost dissolved the agency two years ago, and pressure is mounting to kill it in the upcoming session. If that happens, it will send a message to liquor cops across the country about how they enforce three-tier.

One last chance: An English restaurant chain, emerging from bankruptcy, says its new plan revolves around selling better quality wine. Says the new wine buyer for the Argentine-themed Guacho: “It’s always the big wineries [who are represented] – those who can afford PR, travel and marketing. But there are so many super-interesting smaller wineries in Argentina. It’s my duty to champion those guys. If no one gives them a chance they’re never gonna get an importer.” It’s a fair plan, the idea of moving away from Big Wine, and stands an even better chance of working if the chain keeps fair pricing in mind.

Lots and lots of fake Prosecco: Italian police have seized more than 80,000 cases of Prosecco from two producers. Police said each added extra sugar to the wine during fermentation to increase the alcohol content and exceeded their production quotas. The authorities became suspicious after finding some two tons of sugar at the wineries. No doubt the wineries should have been more subtle.

Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll

2018 cheap wine poll Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll, its fourth victory in five years; Columbia Crest finishes second for the second year in a row

And it wasn’t even close.

Bogle has won the 2018 cheap wine poll, the sixth annual. It was Bogle’s fourth title in five years, and it took almost half the votes. Washington state’s Columbia Crest was second with 18 percent, while Other was third, with dozens of wines and wine brands getting single votes, including many that cost more than $10.

Barefoot, the most popular wine on the blog and more or less the best-selling wine in the U.S., finished sixth. It had finished seventh each of the previous three years.  Finally, Two-buck Chuck, the Trader Joe’s private label, finished last once again — something it has done every year of the poll.

Frankly, given the quality of some of Bogle’s wines this year, its victory speaks more to the sad state of cheap wine than anything else. When even Bogle — a brand I have waxed poetic about for more than a decade — starts adding sugar to some of its dry red wines, we’re in big trouble.

This year’s results are below. You can find the results for 20172016, 2015, 2014,  and 2013 at the links.  I’ll probably retire the poll after this year unless the blog’s visitors clamor to do it again in 2019. It’s not so much that Bogle keeps winning; rather, it’s that cheap wine quality has sunk so far that it seems silly to ask people to reward poorly made wine.

Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-fried chicken and gravy

oven-fried chickenThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with oven-fried chicken and gravy

The Wine Curmudgeon can’t fry food. At all. In any way. No matter what I do, it’s under-cooked or overcooked – and greasy. Which is why this oven-fried chicken recipe works so well.

Marinate the chicken in plain yogurt, roll it in seasoned flour, and roast it in the oven for 30 or 40 minutes. No splattering, no burning, and no mess all over the top of the stove. I’ve used this recipe, or a variation, since my mom gave me a copy of the legendary Campus Survival Cookbook, where it first appeared..

What makes this recipe work? Because it’s as close to traditional fried chicken as I’ve found. The key is that the chicken is cooking more or less the same way as if you fried it. Yes, the crust isn’t quite the same, but it’s as tender and juicy as if it was fried. And the leftover cooking oil, with all the fried bits, is just begging to be turned into gravy. Mix a couple of tablespoons of flour to make a roux, stir for a couple of minutes, and add stock, water, or milk to reach the desired consistency.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These wines will get you started on pairings:

M. Chapoutier Bila-Haut Blanc 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): The French white blend is always well made – refreshing with bright green apple and pear fruit and a clean finish. If you can find it closer to $12, you’ve got a bargain. Imported by Sera Wine Imports

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): Mostly what it should be – a French red wine made with gamay from the Beaujolais region. No ripe banana flavor, which happens too often these days, but soft cherry and a little (not much) spice. Imported by Kobrand

Mont Gravet Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink does just what $10 rose should do, and that’s why it’s rarely necessary to pay more. It’s fresh and juicy, with barely ripe strawberry and raspberry fruit. And it’s made with cinsault, which I’m beginning to think is the perfect grape for rose. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 3: Bratwurst and sauerkraut
• Wine and food pairings 2: Roast chicken salad with Chinese noodles
• Wine and food pairings 1: Chicken, okra and sausage gumbo

Hangover cures: The worst part of the holiday season?

hangover curesThe annual  PR hangover cures offensive is here again, and it’s as annoying as ever

This holiday season, my in-box has overflowed with emails for hangover cures. Any number of experts claim to have figured out how to fix the headaches, nausea, and overall green feeling that comes with too much alcohol.

In fact, one expert has published a book detailing his remedy, and the effort got a moderately favorable review in the Sunday New York Times book section. Which, to be honest, might be more impressive than discovering an effective hangover cure.

For some reason, hangover cures have been all the rage for the past couple of years. Drink this. Eat this. Follow this routine. Each solution is supposed to do for hangovers what penicillin did for venereal disease, and the hangover experts have the anecdotes, surveys, and assorted facts and figures to support their claims.

What none of them apparently have, of course, is any scientific evidence. But, as has been noted on the blog many times, what does science matter when it comes to booze and our health?

That’s because, scientifically, the only way to cure a hangover is not to get one. Or, as I used to tell my El Centro classes in the alcohol and health lecture, “Drink in moderation.” Even the hangover book author sort of acknowledges this, noting that alcohol causes several physical changes in the body, and that too much drinking involves psychological factors as well. Which is a difficult hurdle for one pill or potion to overcome.

The other thing that baffled me about all of this? Americans are drinking less now than ever, so why the increase in hangover cures? One would think, in the post-modern world of designated drivers, increased police scrutiny, and improved alcohol education, there wouldn’t be much need for a hangover cure. But again, the relationship between health, alcohol, and reality is never quite what common sense says it should be.

Wine of the week: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay 2016

Domaine de Bernier chardonnayThe Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay, a French white, is just this close to being named 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year

The Wine Curmudgeon rarely questions what other people think about what they drink. After all, it’s part of the blog’s reason for being. But this comment, on wine-searcher.com discussing the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay, is worth noting:

“Light on flavor, but good nose. Not as good as Yellow Tail.”

Arghhhhhhhhhh.

Taste, of course, is relative. But to say that tarted up Yellow Tail chardonnay, fortified with residual sugar and pumped full of fake oak, tastes better than this French white from the Loire region? That’s like saying I enjoy spending $100 on 92-point Wine Spectator Napa cabernet sauvignons.

No, Yellow Tail is not better than the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay ($10, purchased, 12%). The wines are just different. That’s the point of wine, something that I have been trying to get across for 11 years. Obviously, I still have some work to do.

The Domaine de Bernier is $10 Hall of Fame wine, an unoaked chardonnay that tastes exactly like it’s supposed to taste: Wonderful green apple aroma, clean and crisp, a bit of apple and pear fruit, no oak, and a little minerality. I drank it with spaghetti with clam sauce, and the wine was gone before I realized it. If it wasn’t a little thin on the back, I’d name it the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year here and now.

The Yellow Tail comment speaks to the danger of buying wine on price, which happens more and more given the sad state of cheap wine. The reasoning goes: “I like Yellow Tail, and it’s $10 chardonnay, so let me try this $10 chardonnay.” That approach, though, overlooks the differences in the wines, that the Domaine de Bernier is not supposed to taste like the Yellow Tail. The former is more subtle – a food wine instead of a cocktail wine. A French wine, and not an Australian wine. A wine shop wine instead of a grocery store wine.

And those differences are OK. All I ask is that wine drinkers try to understand why they exist and use that knowledge when they buy wine. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be stuck with overpriced, poorly made plonk.

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Winebits 571: Ed Lowe, three-tier foolishness, wine prices

ed loweThis week’s wine news: Ed Lowe, whose Dallas restaurant served Texas wine when hardly anyone knew what it was, has died. Plus, New York state three-tier foolishness and cheaper bulk wine prices

Ed Lowe: How important was Ed Lowe to the U.S. regional wine movement? He served Texas wine for 30 years at his Celebration restaurant in Dallas, and when he started doing that Texas wine was chancy at best. Lowe, 69, died before Thanksgiving during a canoe trip in the state’s Big Bend region. I knew Lowe a little, and we talked several times about local wine, his half-price Thursday night wine promotion, and quality local food. Celebration was farm-to-table long before the term was invented by some East Coast hype guru, and Lowe (who could still be seen busing tables) truly believed in the concept. The world will be a poorer place without him.

Take that, Wegman’s: The East Coast grocery store chain has been fined more than $1 million for illegally managing liquor stores by the New York state booze cops. That’s because grocery stores aren’t allowed to sell alcohol in New York, save in one location. The state liquor authority claimed Wegman’s violated any number of laws and regulations, including “illegally trafficking in wine.” That’s a delightful 21st century crime, yes? The infractions are arcane to anyone who doesn’t follow three-tier, and Wegman’s may actually have violated the law. The larger question, though, is why these laws still exist.

• “Awash with wine:” More bad news for premiumization – wine prices in the bulk market are dropping, “and in some cases, significantly,” reports a British wine trade magazine. The world is flush with wine after bountiful 2018 harvests around the world, and those interviewed in the story say prices could keep falling. Why do bulk prices matter? Because, save for the most expensive wines in the world, bulk prices influence the price of grapes everywhere. Cheaper bulk prices usually mean cheaper grape prices, and that usually means cheaper wine prices.

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

The cheap wine poll 2018

cheap wine poll 2018Voting is closed in the cheap wine poll 2018.

Dec. 14 update: Bogle takes the lead in the cheap wine poll. Voting ends at midnight today.

Welcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s cheap wine poll 2018, the sixth annual. Voting ends at midnight Dec. 14. I’ll post the results on Dec. 17. Vote for one brand only, and just one vote per person. Click on the respective buttons next to each entry at the bottom of this post. If you get the blog via RSS or email, click here to vote on the blog.

Share the poll with your friends and fellow cheap wine drinkers by clicking on any of the social media buttons at the end of the post. The first five polls attracted some 18,000 visitors. The winners:

Falesco Vitiano in 2013

Bogle in 2014, 2015, and 2017

McManis in 2016.

There are 8 producers for 2018; I trimmed the list to those that actually get votes. Plus, you’ll be able to add write-ins this year, something many of you have requested.