Category:A Featured Post

Wine of the week: Pillar Box Red 2012

Pillar Box RedWant to dissect the sad, recent history of the Australian wine business? Then look at the blog’s reviews for Pillar Box Red ($10, sample, 14.5%), which first appeared in 2009, and again in 2011. It cost $12 for the 2007 vintage, and many retailers marked it up to as much as $15. In those days, the Pillar Box Red was an affordable and more accessible alternative to the inky and overpriced Aussie reds that got high scores and glowing reviews.

These days, the wine costs $10, and you can find older wines for as little as $8. Meanwhile, the release of new Pillar Box Red vintages has been irregular — another sign that the market has dried up for Australian wine at almost any price. Which is good news for wine drinkers, because this an exceptional red blend worth $12, a steal at $10, and even worth buying in older vintages.

Look for powerful, rich black fruit, which remains a signature of this kind of Australian wine. But the Pillar Box Red doesn’t taste cheap, hot, or ashy, and there is more than fruit here. The cabernet sauvignon and merlot in the blend take the edge of the shiraz, and it’s a more enjoyable wine because of it. This is red meat wine, and don’t overlook sausages. Nicely done, and a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 369: Cheap wine, sweet red wine, wine lawsuits

wine lawsuits ? Almost correct: The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to see other wine sites hop on the cheap wine bandwagon, and this recent piece from Wine Folly. a qualiity site, offers several fine pointers: Beware the back label, watch out for private label brands, and double check pricing. My concern is its passive-aggressive style, which comes out in the headline. “Good cheap wine is lying to you.” The piece makes it seem as if only cheap wine does these things, when the entire wine business is full of half-truths, misconceptions, and obfuscations. Which is my reason for being, after all. I was also confused by the post’s fixation on U.S. wine — what’s wrong with buying cheap wine from Spain, France, and Italy?

? Bring on the sweet stuff: You know sweet red wine is firmly established in the market when one of the wine trade newsletters talks about its popularity without one nasty comment. “While ‘sweet’ drinkers may be gravitating toward certain blends and varietals, and ‘dry’ drinkers supporting others, consumers clearly are exploring a variety of options.” That’s quite shocking, that Shanken News Daily (owned by the same company that owns the Wine Spectator), suggests that wine drinkers have minds of their own. But the numbers make believers: sweet red wine is growing at 4 1/2 percent a year, ahead of wine’s overall growth, says the report. And this is where I mention that I was writing about this stuff when the Winestream Media was dismissing it.

? One more lawsuit: Regular visitors know that the Wine Curmudgeon loves lawsuits, when wine companies throw money at their attorneys for no other reason than they can. Though, this suit, about two wines with the same name, does seem to have some merit (with the caveat that I’m not a lawyer and could be completely wrong). I also thought I’d throw this in, two companies named Cipriani suing each other. I mention it for two reasons — first, that it shows wine doesn’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing, and second, that the smaller company, based ion a Chicago suburb, makes some of the best noodles I’ve ever had, and I hope it wins. Update: The two wineries settled out of court a couple of days after this posted. Chalk it up to common sense

Expensive wine 71: Mercer Estates Ode to Brothers Reserve 2011

Mercer Estates Ode to Brothers ReserveWashington state’s red wines can be some of the best in the world, and usually offer value regardless of price. The Mercer Estates Ode to Brothers Reserve ($34, sample, 14.9%), from one of the state’s oldest producers, is no exception.

This is a sophisticated, balanced wine with lots and lots going on, a wonderful example of what Washington state can do with red blends, and especially when the blend doesn’t have cabernet sauvignon or merlot in it. This is a Rhone-style wine, with mostly grenache and syrah and some mouvedre for effect. The grenache offers lots of juicy red fruit, while the syrah’s contribution is classic — meaty aromas and dark flavors. Best yet, the fruit doesn’t overwhelm the wine, as might happen in California.

Highly recommended, even though the alcohol becomes noticeable after a couple of glasses. Which means the Mercer Estates Ode to Brothers Reserve needs food, and almost certainly red meat.

Judging the 2015 Virginia Governors Cup

2015 Virginia Governors CupThe controversy about whether judges at wine competitions know what they’re doing is never far from my mind when I judge these days. How will the competition I’m working try to fix what seem to be serious problems, including too many wines and not enough judges? The 2015 Virginia Governors Cup took a novel approach — lots of judges, small flights of wine, and standardized score sheets. The process — as well as many of the wines — was impressive. More, after the jump:
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The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t hate expensive wine

wine curmudgeon expensive wine“So, Jeff,” the conversation begins, “Why don’t you like expensive wine?”

This isn’t the most common question I’ve been asked over the past eight years, but it’s common enough. These days, unfortunately, it’s not only more common, but there’s often an edge in the voice of the person asking it. As in, “So you’d rather drink crappy wine just to prove a point?”

Of course not. I love wine; why would I want to deprive myself of the pleasure it brings, regardless of price? How many times have I bored the cyber-ether with my odes to white Burgundy or Oregon pinot noir?

Because I don’t dislike expensive wine. I dislike poorly-made wine and overpriced wine, where profit is all that matters and quality is barely a consideration. I dislike dishonest wine from producers who use winemaking tricks or marketing sleight of hand to fool the consumer. I dislike pretentious wine, which we’re supposed to like because our betters tell us we should.

Cheap wine can be any of those things just as easily as expensive wine can, and I call out that kind of cheap wine all the time. Hasn’t anyone read my Cupcake reviews?

The difference, wine being wine, is that too many still assume that those qualities can’t possibly apply to the wine they bought for $24.99. After all, it came from a retailer who winked and nodded with them as if they were pals in on a big secret, and didn’t the wine get 93 points from this really smart guy who has the best palate in the world, and which we know because he tells us so?

So when I write something about their wine that they don’t like, as I am wont to do, they assume it’s because I don’t like expensive wine. Otherwise, they’d have to acknowledge that they’ve been suckered by a system as unwinnable as any three-card monte.

Allow me to quote my friend Dave McIntyre, who has said many nice things about me over the years: “Siegel doesn’t equate cheap with bad, like so many others do. He sniffs out inexpensive wines that are well made and provide exceptional value, and his passion is sharing them with the world.”

How can anyone object to that?

More about cheap wine:
? Can cheap wine do this?
? Cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply
? The backlash against cheap wine
? Wine I like

 

 

Wine of the week: Ocean Blue Chardonnay 2013

Ocean Blue ChardonnayOne of the most important trends in the wine business is the increase in private label wines, which give retailers an exclusive to sell and a bigger profit margin when they do. The catch is that private label wines, which are sold in only one retailer and can be limited in availability, are too often of indifferent quality.

That’s not the case with the Ocean Blue Chardonnay ($9, purchased, 12.5%), a private label for the Aldi grocery store chain. This New Zealand white is unoaked, which helps to keep the price down and gives it a bright and fresh approach. In addition, there is lots of crisp green apple and a rich mouth feel despite the lack of oak.

In this, it’s not especially subtle, but $10 New Zealand wine has never been famous for being understated. That’s how the country’s sauvignon blanc became famous, after all. And those who need vanilla or toasty and oaky in their chardonnay will probably wonder what it’s doing here.

But those of us who are more open minded about chardonnay will appreciate the wine’s value. Drink this chilled, on its own or with white wine food, and even something with a simple sauce. Grilled chicken breasts with garlic and parsley, perhaps? And hope more private labels approach this level of quality.

Winebits 368: Wine terms, wine retailers, winery buyouts

wine terms ? I’m so tired of that: Amanda Chatel at the Bustle lifestyle website says she’s tired of being picked on by beer drinkers, noting that it’s a scientific fact that cheap wine tastes better than cheap beer. She posts 21 questions about wine she doesn’t want to be asked anymore, and if some of them aren’t especially clever, her heart is in the right place, and especially with screwcaps. And because it’s a lifestyle site, there’s a picture of “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope with the post, and the site has 127,000 Facebook likes. Which is something for wine sites to ponder.

? Corporate buyouts: One of the world’s great cheap wine retailers, Cost Plus World Market, could get a new owner this year, if analyst speculation is worth anything. They think World Market’s parent, Bed Bath & Beyond, may be in play since it has underperformed the market. Don’t worry if you don’t understand that sentence; financialspeak can be as obtuse as winespeak. Know that the companies that do leveraged buyouts think they can make money buying Bed Bath & Beyond, stripping its assets and cutting costs, and then selling it again. Which usually means that the company becomes a shell of itself and underperforms the market again, setting itself up for another leveraged buyout. In this, World Market could suffer as well, a cheap wine horror too terrible to contemplate. Hopefully, the analyst speculation isn’t worth anything.

? $40 million, anyone? Those of us who wonder why cheap wine doesn’t get enough respect always overlook the economics of cult wines. California’s Kosta Browne, among the cultiest, was sold for what reports are saying is more than $40 million. Which is a nice return for a 20,000-case winery that makes mostly pinot noir and owns just 20 acres of vineyards. Which means that he deal was almost all about the brand, demonstrating how powerful the allure is for a cult producer. That’s a lot of money for a name, but in the high-end wine business, name is all.