The Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet is a French white that offers more than simple pleasure at a more than fair price
The Wine Curmudgeon appreciates Muscadet, the white wine made with the goofily-named melon de bourgogne grape, and would drink it often if it was more readily available. So those of you who figure the wine world ends with chardonnay, save for a brief visit to sauvignon blanc every once in a while, can skip this and wait for tomorrow’s post.
Why my affection for Muscadet? Because it’s cheap, usually well made, and offers a glimpse of all of the amazing wines in the world – if we’re willing open our minds.
Melon de bourgogne wines are not necessarily complex, but even the simple ones are usually worth drinking. The Chateau de la Ragotiere is not simple by any means – surprisingly rich and full for a Muscadet, thanks to extended aging in the winery (another bonus for the price). Look for some lemon and soft apple fruit mingling with more minerality than I expected.
Highly recommended. Drink this on its own as the weather warms up, and it’s also a wine to pair with seafood that is a little more complex than grilled shrimp – something with a pan sauce, for instance, using the wine.
This week’s wine news: BuzzFeed does a cheap wine tasting, and cheap wins. Plus, do you need a 1,000-bottle wine cellar? And is fake Yellow Tail flooding Britain?
• Cheap wine! BuzzFeed’s Hannah Dobrogosz blind tasted five cheap wines against five more expensive ones, and the results went the way most of these tastings go. She found that, dollar for dollar, she preferred the less expensive wines. The piece is worth reading for variety of reasons, and not just the results. First, Dobrogozs is not an old white guy, so seeing someone younger go to all this trouble is encouraging. Second, she writes knowledgeably and without the snark most of these stories revolve around. And how can the Wine Curmudgeon argue with a post that ends with: “Don’t let anyone shame you for enjoying a $6 bottle of wine. As this experiment has taught me, price does not mean you will or won’t like something. Find what you like and what works for you, and enjoy it!”
• How big? Fox broadcaster Joe Buck is selling his palatial St. Louis home, and one of the highlights is what the story calls “a wine room that can hold close to 1,000 bottles.” This raises any number of questions for the WC to ponder: First and foremost, how does one drink 1,000 bottles of wine? That’s close to three bottles of wine a day for a year, something not even I am willing to try. Ah, WC, you answer: It’s not about drinking – it’s about storing. So how does one accumulate 1,000 bottles of wine worth storing? And then decide when to drink them – and what to drink them with. Frankly, it’s easier to illegally buy Domaine Tariquet.
• Yellow Tail: I report this story, though I don’t necessarily believe it. The Mirror, one of those British tabloids that is best known for gossip and racy headlines, claims that Chinese gangs are flooding Britain with fake bottle of Yellow Tail, the $6 Aussie brand. Read the story more closely, and it notes that 41 counterfeit bottles were found in a supermarket in a town near Birmingham in central England, and that “other bottles have been found elsewhere in the country.” Which, of course, is hardly flooding. Besides, there’s little incentive to counterfeit cheap wine, since the fake ingredients don’t cost that much less than what’s normally in the bottle. If the wholesale cost of Yellow Tail is a couple of dollars, what’s the point of making counterfeit Yellow Tail that costs $1 to make, as the story says? And hasn’t Yellow Tail suffered enough?
Patrick Mata: U.S. companies are paying the wine tariff – how does that punish the European Union for airplane subsidies?
Want to make sense of the European wine tariffs, which seem to make no sense at all? Then listen to Patrick Mata, whose Ole & Obrigado is one of the leading Spanish wine importers to the U.S.
“I thought we might go out of business,” says Mata, whose company specializes in importing quality, $15 or less wine from Spain and Portugal. “Our margin is 30 percent on a bottle of wine, and the tariff is 25 percent. How were we going to stay in business?”
The good news is that Ole & Obrigado did, despite the tariff and the pandemic (which clobbered its restaurant business). Sales fell only 20 percent in 2020, which Mata considered a victory of immense proportions.
Mata, a long-time friend of the blog, was open and honest about how the tariff and the pandemic have hurt the wine business. Among the topics we talked about:
• Why raising prices to cover the tariff doesn’t work, and why it especially doesn’t work for the $15 wines that Ole specializes in.
• How to give back during a crisis, and why there should be more to the wine business than just making money.
• What Americans are drinking during the pandemic, and why it’s a victory for Big Wine at the expense of small producers — another unintended consequence of the tariff.
Reviews 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.
• Dueling Pistols Red Blend 2016 ($50, sample, 14%): Surprisingly restrained red blend from California’s Paso Robles, with more juiciness than sweet fruit. Look for cherry fruit, a long, almost stony finish, and and fine, almost earthy tannins. Very nicely done.
• Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignom 2014 ($72, sample, 14.5%): This red from one of California’s most respected long-time producers is everything it should be – fruity (dark berries?), rich, complex, and age worthy.
• Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2019 ($12, purchased, 13%): This French red might taste better when and if you try it; I found it fruity (cherries?), but so tart as to be unpleasant. This producer’s quality control has become notoriously inconsistent. Imported by Kobrand
You can’t – so the blog is moving to paid subscriptions on March 15
The blog will move to paid subscriptions, beginning March 15. It’s a decision a long time coming, and one I have agonized about for months. But it’s the only way that I can continue to offer the kind of wine writing you deserve and that I want to do.
And, because I value those of you who read the blog, current subscribers will get a chance to move to the new system at a substantial discount.
Otherwise, nothing will change. You’ll still get all of the same features and the blog will still focus on wine that most of us can afford to buy – wine costing less than $15 (and usually much less than that). The Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year aren’t going anywhere, and you’ll still get 52 wines of the week that focus on value and quality.
Plus, I’ll still keep my reporter’s eye on the wine business, letting you know about all of the foolishness perpetrated to sell you wine that you don’t want to drink at a price you don’t want to pay.
Because, as one subscriber wrote when I was trying to figure out this subscription thing: “I have always thought I got your true opinion on value wines not tainted by big money. No one was paying you for favorable press.”
And that certainly won’t change.
Hence, the same five posts a week, 52 weeks a year, plus access to the website – and, as a bonus, no more ads. What will change is that it will cost $7 a month for the blog, or $70 a year. Current subscribers can continue for a 20 percent discount off of that — just $56 a year. Click this link to subscribe. Otherwise, the daily email will stop coming when I turn it off on March 14.
Yes, I know some of you won’t make the move with the blog. And I’ll be sorry to see you go. You’re one of the best things about doing this, people who are as passionate about cheap wine as I am. But, given the economic realities of the Internet these days, there isn’t much of a choice. If I don’t move to a subscription format, the blog will have to end sooner rather than later, and that might have been at the end of this year.
In fact, the change probably should have happened sooner. I’ve been so hung up on circulation (one of the curses of being an ex-newspaperman) that I didn’t see the larger picture. Circulation doesn’t matter on the Internet anymore; what matters are people willing to pay for high quality, informed, and honest writing.
And, with all due modestly, that’s what I’ve been doing five days a week for more than 13 years. That’s certainly worth the price of a good glass of cheap wine each month, yes?
People are losing jobs and taking salary cuts to protect a company whose stock price has soared almost two-thirds in five years
We can quantify the tariff’s damage to the wine business with one sentence: U.S. companies are paying the tariff – how much sense does that make if the tariff is supposed to be punishing European companies?
I was reminded of this during a recent chat with Patrick Mata of Ole & Obrigado, one of the best Spanish wine importers in the world. You can hear the entire conversation as a podcast next week; what’s worth noting here is Mata’s analysis of the tariff: His company’s sales were down 20 percent in 2020 because of the tariff (and, of course, the pandemic). How is that punishing Europe for subsidizing airline manufacturing?
It’s not, and it’s one reason why we’re still talking about this foolishness almost 18 months after it started. Because, as one trade group executive noted, “The only link between aircraft and beverage alcohol is the fact you can purchase a drink on your flight.”
In this, take one look at any of the numbers, and you’ll be able to see the wreckage – not in phony, sound-bite geopolitical terms, but in human terms – and in the middle of the worst world health crisis in decades:
• The Commerce Department reported that bottled table wine imports fell almost nine percent in 2020 by volume, and a whopping 21 percent in value. Those numbers, and especially the latter, are almost unprecedented.
• France has been especially hard hit. Bottled table wine shipments to the U.S. had recorded 10 consecutive years of volume growth prior to 2020, when they fell by volume and dollars – almost one-quarter of the latter.
The Carletto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a $10 Italian red that’s a step from most $10 Italian reds
The blog features a lot of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the red wine from the middle of Italy. That’s because it’s cheap, dependable, terrific with food, and almost always well made. If the wines have a flaw, it’s that they all tend to taste more or less the same. The Carletto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, on the other hand, is cheap and well made – but far from just another bottle of d’Abruzzo.
Look for lots of cherry fruit, but also some dark spices and freshness in the back that is more than just the contrast between the fruit and the wine’s natural acidity. In this, it’s much more than spaghetti wine; serve it with something more complex and complicated, including roast lamb.