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Wine of the week: Stephen Vincent Crimson 2016

Stephen Vincent CrimsonThe Stephen Vincent Crimson is an excellent example of that vanishing California breed, a well-made and enjoyable cheap red wine

Call this wine of the week, the Stephen Vincent Crimson, a bit of serendipity – a $12 California red wine that doesn’t taste like it has been tarted up, dumbed down, or manipulated to please a focus group.

The Stephen Vincent Crimson ($12, purchased, 13.9%) is a red field blend (mostly petite sirah this vintage), which means it’s made with whatever grapes are available that year. The 2016 offers ripe cherry aromas and lots of dark berry flavors, but finishes bone dry.

That it was dry was actually surprising, since the fruit was so ripe and because so many sweet reds pass themselves off as dry these days. In fact, I kept swallowing, over and over, figuring that the cotton candy sign of residual sugar would eventually show up in the back of my mouth.

But it never did. And that that’s a sign of how well made the Stephen Vincent Crimson is. In addition, most wines of this style and at this price wouldn’t bother with tannins or acidity. But there are tannins, are soft but noticeable, and the acidity is just below the surface, tempering the fruit.

This is an excellent example of that vanishing California breed, a well-made and enjoyable cheap red wine (and you can even drink it slightly chilled). Pair this with barbecue as summer winds down, or even something a little spicy, like pork chops tandoori. That’s what I did, and it was one of this summer’s great wine dinners.

Winebits 606: Bunny Becker, Ohio wine, alcohol preference

Bunny beckerThis week’s wine news: Bunny Becker, one of  the grand dames of Texas wine, has died. Plus an Ohio winemaker sees a return to the glory days and wine continues its fall from favor

Bunny Becker: Mary Clementine Ellison “Bunny” Becker, co-founder of her family’s Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country, died last week at age 79. To quote Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy, “Becker had a heart for making not only quality wine, but also quality connections with the people in her life.” She was always sweet whenever we met, and treated all she knew with kindness and respect.  Becker played a key role with husband Richard, an MD, as their winery grew from a vacation home along Hwy. 290 outside of Fredericksburg to one of the two or three most important producers in the state.

Glory days: The center of the U.S. wine business in the couple of decades before the Civil War was the Ohio River valley near Cincinnati, where Nicolas Longworth made world-acclaimed riesling-style and sparkling wines with the much maligned catawba grape. Winemaker Kate MacDonald, a Cincinnati wants to bring that back. She was a Napa winemaker who had a change of heart, starting the Skeleton Root winery in southern Ohio. “I think most winemakers and growers thought I was nuts,” she says. “But once I became aware of the legacy and read about the classical style of wines Longworth produced from American grapes, I was hooked. It became a calling of sorts to try to resurrect them.”

Almost third: Not too long ago, I was getting news releases proclaiming the U.S. as the biggest wine drinking country in the world. These days, though, wine has fallen to almost third in popularity in the U.S., barely holding off spirits. Gallup reports that 30 percent of us say wine is our favorite alcoholic beverage, compared to the 29 percent who choose spirits. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points, which means wine may well have dropped from first in 2006 to last in this survey. The Wine Curmudgeon would be remiss if he didn’t mention this decline coincides with premiumization, but what do I know?

Expensive wine 123: Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2016

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir shows California’s Anderson Valley to its best advantage

My friend, the New Orleans wine judge, critic, and radio host Tim McNally, regularly rants about the decline in pinot noir quality and value. Tim would rant less if he tasted the Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir.

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir ($40, sample, 13%) is red wine from California’s Anderson Valley, one of the world’s great – if less known – pinot noir regions. The best Anderson Valley pinot noirs are more restrained than many of their New World colleagues, sitting somewhere between France’s Burgundy and Oregon in style. Which is a damn fine place to sit.

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir is classic Anderson Valley pinot – earthy with spice and green herbs in the front, almost silky dark berry fruit, elegant tannins (perhaps the most interesting part of the wine), and wonderfully restrained oak. All in all, this is a New World pinot noir that isn’t too big or too overpowering, yet still tastes like the New World and not a lesser Burgundian knockoff.

Highly recommended, and given the price of very ordinary California pinot, a fine value. Drink it with any sort of lamb (crusted with a garlic and herb paste, perhaps?) or a Mediterranean vegetable platter marinated with herbs, garlic, and olive oil.

Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil

shrimp boilThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a traditional Louisiana-style shrimp boil.

My adventures in south Louisiana as a young newspaperman taught me more about the world than I will ever be able to explain. Like a shrimp boil.

I’m 23 years old and the only thing I know about shrimp is that they’re served only on special occasions, maybe once a year. And that they’re boiled in salted water, and if they taste rubbery and bland, that’s OK, because they’re served only on special occasions. And then another reporter took me to Gino’s in Houma, La.

It was a revelation. This was food, and not Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. This was not something for a special occasion, but something people ate regularly. It opened my mind to the idea of food that wasn’t what I grew up with, and that opened my mind to the idea of other cultures, and that made it possible to open my mind to wine. And I’m not the only one who experienced this kind of revelation: The same thing happened to Julia Child when she went to a boil at Emeril Lagasse’s house.

There are really only two rules for a shrimp boil. Everything else is a suggestion, and any recipe is just a guideline. First, use shrimp from the Gulf of  Mexico and avoid imported shrimp at all costs. The latter have as much flavor as Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. Second, use the boxed pouch seasoning called crab boil from Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry. And make sure the boxes are nowhere near their expiration date; otherwise, all their flavor is gone. Both companies make other styles of seasoning, but this is the easiest to use. And the less said about Old Bay (which is mostly celery salt), the better.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. No red wine with a shrimp boil — there’s no way to get the flavors right:

St. Hilaire Crémant de Limoux Brut NV ($13, purchased, 12%): This French sparkling wine from the Languedoc, mostly chardonnay but also chenin blanc and mauzac, is crisp and bubbly, with pear and apple fruit. Exactly what the shrimp needs. Highly recommended. Imported by Esprit du Vin

Celler de Capçanes Mas Donís Rosato 2018 ($11, purchased, 13%): This Spanish pink is a little soften than I expected, but that’s because it’s made with garnacha. But it’s still well worth drinking — fresh, ripe red fruit (cherry?), and an almost stony finish. Imported by European Cellars

Hay Maker Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($10, sample, 12.5%): The marketing on this Big Wine brand from New Zealand is more than a little goofy –“hand crafted goodness,” whatever that means. But the wine itself is spot on — New Zealand citrus, but not overdone; a little something else in the middle to soften the citrus; and a clean and refreshing finish. Imported by Accolade Wines North America

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy
• Wine and food pairings 3: Bratwurst and sauerkraut

“Don’t be so stingy” — Peter Lorre and Vincent Price in wine tasting cage match

Roger Corman’s take on wine tasting, featuring Peter Lorre and Vincent Price

What happens when director Roger Corman, writer Richard Matheson, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price and the immortal Edgar Allan Poe take on wine tasting?

This six-minute scene in Corman’s 1962 “Tales of Terror.”

Corman’s horror films, often starring Price and based on Poe stories, are the stuff of cult legend (and a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my old pal and video guru Lee Murray for introducing me to Corman all those years ago). The story in the link does a fine job of outlining Corman’s career. For our purposes, it’s enough to know that Corman, Matheson, Lorre, and Price take a tired and cliched scene and turn it into something better than it should be. Lorre makes a wine tasting face at Price at about the four minute mark that is priceless.

Video courtesy of Dr. Lance Boyle on YouTube

 

Wine of the week: Scaia Garganega Chardonnay 2018

Scaia Garganega ChardonnayThe Scaia garganega chardonnay is an Italian white blend that pairs the unlikeliest of grapes to produce a terrific wine

Buy this wine.

There’s no better way to describe how terrific the current vintage is of the Scaia Garganega Chardonnay ($12, sample, 12.5%). This Italian white blend is made with two of the unlikeliest grapes possible – garganega, a grape usually used to make tanker trucks of barely drinkable Soave, and chardonnay, hardly the most Italian of grapes.

But it works. It worked for the 2017 wine. It worked for the 2016 wine. It worked for the 2015 wine.

And it works in this, the 2018. Somehow, the Scaia garganega chardonnay tastes better than the sum of its parts. Look for a bit of citrus (lime?), but not as tart as previous years, and some pineapple from the chardonnay that softens the garganega. The wine smells fresh and flowery, and the finish is clean and crisp and a bit stony. Somehow, there aren’t the off notes typical of poorly-made Italian chardonnay. Even more surprising, there is none of the cheap, almost tinny quality too often found in poorly-made Soave.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2020. It’s also a leading contender for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Chill this, and drink it on its own or with anything that isn’t red meat. It’s also worth noting that the 2018 is difficult to find; my local retailer still has cases of the 2017. (A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Katherine Jarvis at Jarvis Communications, who found a sample for me). But not to worry if you can’t find the 2018. The 2017 is still delicious, and the Scaia garganega chardonnay ages better than a $10 wine should, getting softer and more interesting.

Imported by Dalla Terra

Winebits 605: Wine bottles, wine theft, Swedish wine

wine bottlesThis week’s wine news: Tablas Creek embraces lighter wine bottles, plus wine thief gets 18 months and Sweden’s wine industry

Lighter bottles: Jason Haas of the Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles asks a question that has always puzzled me: “So, given that lighter bottles cost less and people seem to like them more, why are there still wineries using the heavy bottles?” The post, discussing the winery’s almost decade long switch to lighter wine bottles, is well worth reading. It offers insight into how wineries make marketing decisions – or don’t, as the case may be. Haas says the lighter bottles, besides the positive environmental impact, have saved the winery untold amounts of money. So what’s the answer to his question? Apparently, heavy bottles still denote quality to retailers and producers, if not to all consumers.

Wine scam: William Holder, whose wine storage scam bilked wine collectors out of their wine and as much as $1.5 million, will spend 18 months in federal prison. He has also been ordered to make restitution. Holder charged collectors for storing their high-end wine, but then sold some of it to retailers and brokers around the country. Hence, when the customers came to collect their wine, it wasn’t there.

Even in Sweden: David Morrison at The Wine Gourd writes about Swedish wine: The “main limitation of Swedish wines at the moment is that they are not good value for money” because of “high production costs associated with the small volumes.” We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Morrison says quality seems to be good among the three dozen or so Swedish producers, despite the price/value problems. This is especially impressive since the Swedes have to grow hybrids that can handle the colder climate, and hybrids are notoriously difficult to turn into quality wine.

Photo: “Don’t forget the wine” by Sergio Maistrello is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0