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Wine of the week: Anne Amie Cuv e A Muller-Thurgau 2012

Wine of the week: Anne Amie Cuv e A Muller-Thurgau 2012One of the most nefarious developments in the wine business is the $15 wine that is only worth about $10. You’ll see this a lot at grocery stores, but it shows up elsewhere as well. The point of these wines is to add value not through what’s in the bottle, but what’s on the bottle — a clever name, a funny label, or paragraphs of winespeak.

That these wines trick consumers into paying more than they should is bad enough, but they also sour the market for $15 wines that are worth that much money, like the Anne Amie. How is a wine drinker, faced with the grocery store wall of wine, going to know that the Anne Amie is an honest wine that delivers value and not something made to fool them?

That’s why I’m here. Anne Amie in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of my favorite U.S. producers, making smart, value-driven wines with grapes that aren’t for the faint hearted. The Amrita, for example, is a blend of 10 grapes, including chardonnay and riesling, a combination designed to warm even the most curmudgeonly heart. The Cuv e A ($15, purchased, 12.6%) does the Amrita one better.

Muller-Thurgau is a white German grape not much planted anywhere anymore, even in Germany. It’s sort of like riesling and gewurtztraminer, but with its own characteristics. That means it’s crisp, but not necessarily fruity. The 2012 Cuv e A is softer than previous vintages, almost off-dry — which isn’t a bad thing. Look for white pepper and spiciness, with honey and apricot flavors. Exceptionally well done, and the kind of wine that’s perfect as spring arrives.

Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

? Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

? Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

? Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

New features for the blog?

New features for the blog?

Always trying to find the right mix for readers.

Update: Thanks for all the emails — some very good advice and comments about what we’re doing here and how we do it. I was quite flattered to have so many people tell me they didn’t want anyone else to write for the blog.

Still working on the transition from the old platform to the new, and especially with updating the broken links — and we’re only in the seventh month after the switch. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and Google’s search algorithms are even more special.

Having said that, it’s time to continue the blog’s progress into the 21st century, and that means I need your thoughts about the following. If you like the ideas — or don’t like them — leave a comment at the end of this post or .

? A regular (monthly? every six weeks?) live chat about cheap wine, the wine business, and so forth, where you can come to the blog and ask me questions in real time. You type them in, and I answer. I’ve done this elsewhere, and it’s usually a lot of fun. The catch? What happens if you hold a chat and no one is there to chat?

? Someone besides me writing blog posts. I’m thinking about this not so much because I’m tired of writing the posts but because I’m wondering if another voice — though still focused on what we do here, still objective about wine, and still a quality writer — would add something to the blog. Also, if you’d like to so some writing for the blog, .

? Wine Curmudgeon TV. I’ve toyed with this before, but the logistics have always been daunting. They aren’t quite as daunting these days, so the question is: Is it worthwhile to do a shortish, 10-minute chat with a guest or guests about wine? And what kind of guests? Because winemaker interviews and features haven’t been all that popular here.

Cheap wine can be intimidating

Cheap wine can be intimidating

OMG, $5 wine!

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? That cheap wine can be intimidating, given that cheap wine’s reason for being is that it’s approachable in a way more expensive wine isn’t. But too many wine drinkers who won’t buy a wine because it’s too expensive are also wary of buying a wine because it doesn’t cost enough.

The Wine Curmudgeon saw this again over the weekend, when a couple of old pals came to visit. They are far from wine snobs, and revel in finding value in cheap wine. But when I recommended the $5 Vina Decana from Aldi, one of them looked at me and asked, “But it only costs $5. How can it be any good?”

Fortunately, I am resilient in the face of adversity (as well as very stubborn). We went to Aldi, bought the wine, tasted it, and all was well. This experience reminded me, despite all of the progress we have made with cheap wine over the past decade, how much wine business foolishness we still have to overcome.

Yes, many of us have spent years proselytizing for cheap wine, and the improvement in cheap wine quality has been well documented. But we’re bucking a 50-year-old system that told wine drinkers that cheap wine wasn’t worth drinking, and that very cheap wine was even less worthy of their attention. This has been the point of wine education since the first wine boom in the 1970s, that price equalled quality. It was only sometimes true then, and it’s even less true today. Which is why it’s more important than ever to taste the wine before you judge it, no matter how difficult that may be.

Hence the idea of $4 or $5 wine, despite the success of Two-buck Chuck, is still something pink and sweet that comes in a box and is bought by old ladies with cats. That this isn’t especially accurate any more doesn’t seem to matter in the rush to upsell consumers to $15 and $20 wine that doesn’t necessarily taste any different, but is more hip and with it. Chloe, anyone?

Also, the continued need for people like me, as much as there shouldn’t be. Fortunately, I enjoy the work.

Image courtesy of Hagerstenguy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license

 

 

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2014

Colorado Governor's Cup 2014Ten years ago, when I first tasted Colorado wine, I spent much of my time being polite. As in, “This is nice. Thank you for letting me taste it.”

Those days are long gone, as was amply demonstrated last weekend during judging for the fifth annual Colorado Governor’s Cup. The red wines were exceptionally strong, and though the whites weren’t as good, they were technically sound and professionally made. In the regional wine business, that’s an accomplishment.

The best reds were cabernet franc and petit verdot, two Bordeaux grapes that do well in Colorado and that the state’s winemakers have taken to with enthusiasm (and especially cab franc). My panel gave a gold and double gold to cab francs, and a gold to a petit verdot. And the best wine of the competition was a petit verdot, from Canyon Wind Cellars. The results are here.

The wines were varietally correct, but also distinctive and reflected Colorado’s terroir — not a lot of fruit, more dry than a California wine, yet complex and very long. This is not an easy style of wine to make, but the state’s winemakers have made great progress figuring out how to work with their terroir over the past decade.

Finally, a few words about my pal Doug Caskey, who oversees the Colorado Wine Board and has run the competition since it started. One reason I enjoy judging this event so much is that Doug brings together judges who understand that Colorado wine isn’t French wine or California wine and isn’t supposed to taste like it came from those places. Sadly, too many judges downgrade wines that are “different,” which has nothing to do with quality, but with a preconceived notion about what wine is supposed to taste like that borders on snobbery and elitism.

The two people on my panel, Tynan Szvetecz and Sarah Moore, were terrific in this respect, and it was a pleasure to judge with them. I’m always lucky to work with people who put up with my idiosyncrasies, and they were no exception.

Book review: Buy the Right Wine Every Time

Book review: Buy the Right Wine Every TimeTom Stevenson is a British wine writer and critic best known for his work with pricey and high-end wines, and especially Champagne. So what’s he doing writing a book that rates hundreds of wines with an emphasis on value, and where cheap wines are allowed to shine?

Writes Stevenson:

Inevitably the most widely available wines include many of the cheapest brands, an area of wine habitually avoided by critics. As such wines are almost exclusively purchased by most wine drinkers, those critics (myself included) have effectively disenfranchised most wine consumers. That is something I want to correct. …

Welcome to the fight, Tom.

This makes “Buy the Right Wine Every Time” (Sterling Epicure, $14.95) the ideal complement to the cheap wine book. I didn’t want to list wines, which is what the blog is for. Stevenson does, and includes not only Winestream Media favorites like Cakebread and Dom Perignon, but lots and lots of cheap wine, including $10 Hall of Fame mainstays like Bogle and Seguras Viudas. It even includes — gasp — favorable entries for white zinfandel, which surprised even Stevenson.

The ratings list 382 wines by price and “recommended,” “highly recommended,” and “to die for.” They mostly avoid winespeak (though comparing the Santa Rita sauvignon blanc to nettles probably won’t help most $10 wine drinkers), and include a much welcome link to similar wines, the goal being to help readers try something different. That’s such a good idea that I think I’ll steal it for the blog.

Most importantly, and the true genius of the book, is that the wines, whether cheap or expensive, are “widely available.” This is a refreshing approach given all the upset about wine availability these days. The drawback is that a lot of very ordinary cheap wine is included, and probably too much from Australia, but it points to the difficulties availability presents to those of us who have to buy wine. My only criticism of the book: Not enough rose, and no roses from Spain or the U.S.

That someone like Stevenson has discovered that cheap wine is part of the wine world — and that it is one key to spreading the gospel of wine — is just another indication that the wine world has changed for the better. And who doesn’t want that?

Wine of the week: Aragonesas Los Dos 2012

Wine of the week: Aragonesas Los Dos 2012One of the joys of wine is stumbling on something enjoyable when you least expect it. Which is also one of wine’s frustrations, since stumbling on something enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s going to be generally available.

Which pretty much sums up the Los Dos ($8, sample, 14%), a Spanish red blend made with garnacha and syrah. The producer, Bodegas Aragonesas, a decent-sized Spanish winery, doesn’t list the wine on its website, which means the wine may be a one-off made for the export market or not made every year. Hence my concern about availability, given the way these things work.

Still, if you can find the Los Dos, it’s worth buying. It’s not quite $10 Hall of Fame quality; it’s too simple, even for a $10 wine. But it delivers much, much more than its $8 cost. Look for garnacha-style red fruit (cherry?) and a certain richness in the mouth. There isn’t much else going on, but the fruit and alcohol don’t overwhelm the wine the way I thought they would. It’s clean and professional, and someone tried for balance when making it, which isn’t usually the case with wines targeted for the U.S.

This is a food wine, for red meat and barbeque, and a very pleasant and welcome surprise. Assuming we can find it on a store shelf, of course.