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Labor Day wine 2014

Labor Day wine 2014

Rose with that barbecue?

Labor Day weekend marks not just the end of summer, but the Wine Curmudgeon’s annual appearance at the Kerrville Fall Music Festival to talk about Texas wine (and to drive 5 mph). Whatever you do to enjoy the weekend, these wines will make it that much more interesting:

? A to Z Pinot Gris 2013 ($13, purchased, 13%): Delightful, fresh Oregon-style pinot gris with ripe melon fruit and a little citrus (lime?) that offers terrific value whether porch sipping or with food. I don’t know that I’ve had an A to Z wine that didn’t enjoy or want to buy again.

?Pedroncelli Zinfandel Mother Clone 2012 ($17, sample, 14.8%): Nicely done California zinfandel from Dry Creek in Sonoma with dark jammy fruit, lots of oomph, and some black pepper. Nice rendition of the post-modern style for those who appreciate this sort of thing, and will pair with barbecue and burgers.

? Pierre Morey Bourgogne-Aligot 2011 ($20, purchased, 11%): Not cheap, unfortunately, but this white wine from Burgundy in France that isn’t chardonnay is exceptionally well made. Look for white pepper and a bit of lemon fruit, and it’s just enough different from chardonnay so that someone who is paying attention will notice.

? Muga Rosada 2013 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Spanish rose, made with grenache, is annually one of the best roses in the world. It’s always very crisp, and this year features tart strawberry fruit. Highly recommended, and a $10 Hall of Fame wine.

Finally, the Wine Curmudgeon’s regular appeal to try your local wine. Dave McIntyre and Mike Wangbickler (the past and present of Drink Local Wine) and I went through a dozen or so Texas wines during one fine Saturday afternoon of tasting earlier this month. Almost all of them were worth drinking again — even the ones I didn’t think I would like. Thanks to Haak, Llano Estacdo, McPherson, and William Chris for supplying the wines.

I was especially impressed with the William Chris sparkling blanc du bois ($30, sample, 11%), which was bubbly, citrusy, and quite fresh. It was a bit simple for the price, but William Chris never seems to have a problem selling its wines.

For more on Labor Day wine:
? Labor Day wine 2013
? Labor Day wine 2012
? Wine of the week: Robert Hall Rose de Robles 2013

The Wine Curmudgeon’s annual Kerrville Texas wine extravaganza

Kerrville Texas wineAnd with a cheap wine book signing this year, as well.

The wine panel at the Kerrville Fall Music Festival is at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 30, where we’ll talk about Texas red wine. No doubt the Wine Curmudgeon will get in a spirited discussion with one of the panelists about the price-value ratio of Texas cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and that we should be making reds from tempranillo, sangiovese, and Rhone grapes instead.

The winery lineup this year is as good as it gets in the state, with eight of the top producers. We’re doing reds on the panel in honor of Rod Kennedy, the Kerrville founder, Texas music impresario, and local wine guy, who died last year.

The cheap wine book signing is from 5:30-8 p.m. on Aug. 29 at Four.0, the winery tasting room on Hwy. 290 outside of Fredericksburg. Stop by and say hello, buy a book (or three), and taste some terrific Texas wine.

Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Line39 Sauvignon Blanc 2012In the old days, which in wine means the end of the 20th century, sauvignon blanc came in three styles — California, French, and New Zealand. Each tasted like sauvignon blanc, but was just enough different from each other to be noticeable. Some time after that, the first two styles started to merge toward the third, so that most sauvignon blanc tasted like grapefuit. That’s because the New Zealand style was about as trendy as trendy gets, and we know how the wine business loves a trend.

Fortunately, the styles have started moving back to where they used to be, and especially in California. I’ve tasted a variety of delightful California sauvignon blanc over the past 18 months, where grassiness — the smell of a freshly-cut lawn — is the predominant note. There is also citrus and tropical fruit, but those don’t overwhelm the grassiness, and the wines are refreshing and enjoyable.

A fine example of this change is the Line 39 ($10, purchased, 13.5%), which has worked its way from New Zealand to California over the past several years. In this, it was always more than adequate, but has improved the more California in style that it has become. The 2012, which is apparently the current vintage though a bit old, is grassy, with lime fruit and rich mouth feel. All of this makes it more than just another grocery store sauvignon blanc. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame.

Winebits 348: Wine press release edition

wine press releaseThis year, the Wine Curmudgeon has been overwhelmed with some of the most bizarre wine press releases ever. That I have not written the greatest rant in the blog’s history is because cooler heads prevailed. As several people said, “Jeff, no one cares about this but you.”

Perhaps. But several recent releases are worth noting regardless:

? State stores forever! New Hampshire is one of 17 control states, where the government sells beer, wine, and spirits or some combination thereof, and there aren’t privately-owned retailers. This has always seemed odd given the state’s almost libertarian politics — “Live Free or Die,” after all — and that contradiction does not bother the state’s liquor board. It dispatched a release touting the Washington Post’s endorsement of New Hampshire as “the best state in the country for wine drinkers.” That it was one man’s opinion, and not the newspaper’s, and that the piece had several errors (wine prices are not skyrocketing) didn’t seem to bother the board either. Or that you can buy wine in a grocery store from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week in California. Or that Segura Viudas cava costs one-third less in Texas than it does in New Hampshire. My question: How much money did the board spend on the release, when it could have spent the money on cutting wine prices? (Hat tip to Tim McNally for sending this my way, who lives in New Orleans and knows a few things about the best states to drink in.)

? Roll out the barrels: The battle over oakiness in wine seems over, and those of us who prefer restraint seem to have won. Nevertheless, multi-national Diageo sees a market for very oaky wines, and has launched a brand called Woodwork — “delivering prominent oak influence.” Overlook the writing (the wine “celebrate[s] those who work hard to endlessly pursue their passions”) and this release is a revelation. Diageo admits the wine is made with wooden staves instead of an oak barrel, a common practice in cheap wine but rarely acknowledged. In this, the point of the wine is not winemaking, but adding wood flavor. That honesty is as refreshing as it is unbelievable. (Hat tip to W. Blake Gray for sending this my way; he expects the wine to be a big seller.)

? It’s EPICA! Does someone really get paid for writing this stuff? “EPICA Wines, the adventurous brand that inspires epic lifestyles, has announced the launch of the 2013 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Aimed at millennials, EPICA Malbec was created to capitalize on the growing interest for the Argentinian grape.” Who knew malbec was an adventurous grape? Or that there was growing interest in it? I always thought it was one of the most popular grapes in the world, the fifth biggest import to the U.S. and one that has been around for decades. But then, my lifestyle is hardly epic.

Big Wine and crowdsourcing

Big wine crowdsourcingColumbia Crest is owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, part of a one-half billion dollar company. La Crema is part of Jackson Family Wines, also a one-half billion dollar company. So why is each using a form of crowdsourcing, letting its customers make key winemaking decisions for one of its wines?

Because it’s not enough to make piles of money in the wine business anymore. You also have to be seen as local and accessible, and these multi-nationals (the eighth- and ninth-biggest producers in the U.S.) see crowdsourcing as the way to make them cuddly and artisan-like. Ask your customers for their advice about making wine, and how can they — and the rest of the wine world — not love you?

The Wine Curmudgeon can’t decide if this is incredible marketing or one of the most cynical things I’ve ever seen in the wine business, where cynical things are a dime a dozen. On the one hand, it’s a clever use for social media, which big companies have a hard time doing well. There aren’t too many opportunities for cute pet pictures on a multi-national Facebook page. And the crowdsourcing is certainly no scam — the companies have been honest and upfront about what’s going on.

On the other hand, it could be malarkey to make P.T. Barnum proud. Columbia Crest is making 1,000 cases of high-end cabernet sauvignon from its effort, not much when you consider its annual production is almost 2 million cases and it normally does 5,000 of this particular wine. La Crema churns out almost 1 million cases a year; it hasn’t announced how much the project will produce. First its crowd has to decide between chardonnay and pinot noir.

Plus, given the odds that each crowd could decide to make really crappy wine even with the best of intentions, how much input will it really have? Yes, each company says its winemaker will do exactly as instructed, but given how little most of us know about winemaking and how complicated it is, what are the chances of that happening? Because Columbia Crest and La Crema could turn into the wine industry’s version of New Coke if the wine turns out to be undrinkable, and one doesn’t get to be one of the 10 biggest producers in the U.S. by doing a New Coke.

There is one thing I am thankful for, crowdsoucing veteran that I am. At least the companies didn’t ask for cash to help pay for production, which is the most typical use for crowdsourcing — Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the like. That would have been too much to deal with, even for the Wine Curmudgeon.

Why grocery stores love wine

grocery store wine salesBecause they sell so much of it — and a lot more than most of us realize. Hence the reason for the Great Wall of Wine.

Wine was the seventh biggest category by dollar amount for supermarkets in the 52 weeks ending June 15, recording $6.9 billion in sales. That’s up 3.7 percent from the same period a year ago, and works out to an average of $9.27 a bottle. The figures come from a study &YM_MID=1481439&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_4_b" target="_blank">by the IRI marketing consultancy and published in the Supermarket News trade magazine.

How impressive are those numbers?

? They don’t include wine sales in New York or Pennsylvania, two huge markets that don’t allow supermarkets to sell wine. Yet, even without those two states, grocers account for about 20 percent of U.S. wine sales.

? They don’t include wine sales at Target, Walmart, and Costco. Throw those in, and that 20 percent total should increase by more than a few points.

? Wine was bigger than a host of established items, including cereal, coffee, bottled water, cookies, and soup. Some of that was because wine is more expensive; we bought three times more cans of soup than bottles of wine. Even so, it’s an impressive total, given the restrictions on wine sales. In Texas, for example, we can buy soup as long as the store is open, but we can’t buy wine on Sunday until noon.

? Wine’s growth was bigger than soft drinks, which lost 3.9 percent, as well as cereal (down 4.3 percent), ice cream (down 0.3 percent), frozen pizza (unchanged), and toilet paper (-0.2 percent). I can’t even pretend to make sense of that. Since when did we need wine more than toilet paper?

These numbers, more than anything else, explain why there is so much opposition to supermarket wine sales in the 19 states where it’s still prohibited. We’re not buying jug wine at the grocery store. That $9 average price means we’re buying many of the same wines we’d buy at wine shops and liquor stores, and small retailers don’t want the competition.

The irony is that, as has been noted on the blog, small retailers may prosper competing with grocers, since they offer something supermarkets can’t — someone to answer questions. The Great Wall of Wine has nothing to do with service.

Photo courtesy of Houston Press food blog, using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Robert Hall Rose de Robles 2013

robert hall rose de roblesOne of the best winemakers too many people have not heard of is Robert Hall’s Don Brady. The Wine Curmudgeon has waxed poetic about his work many times, that Brady is able to make interesting, terroir-driven, value-worthy wines in California’s Paso Robles when so many others there go for scores, an excess of fruit, sticker shock, and too much alcohol.

The current version of the rose ($11, purchased, 13%) is a case in point. It’s a blend, including grenache and cinsault, and has a little more strawberry fruit this year than last, so it isn’t as lean or as mouthwatering as in previous vintages. But that’s not a bad thing, for it reflects Paso Robles, which is warmer and produces richer, fruitier wines. And this is a rich, comforting rose that is still low in alcohol. How many others can make that claim?

Highly recommended, not just for summer porch sipping, but as a food wine — hamburgers, smoked chicken, and pulled pork (for the au courant among the blog’s visitors).