Category:A Featured Post

Two terrific wines from Nieto Senetiner, plus two others well worth drinking

nieto senetiner wine reviewsThe Wine Curmudgeon has long been in a quandary about Argentine wine. The best tend to be expensive, and there are other wines I’d rather spend the money on than its malbecs and red blends. The least expensive wines are too often corporately dull, and overpriced at that.

Which is why it was such a pleasure to taste the wines from Nieto Senetiner, a 126-year-old Argentine producer whose wines were none of those things. Santiago Mayorga, one of the company’s winemakers, knew exactly what I was talking about when I explained my dilemma to him; the company’s approach, he said, was to offer better quality than grocery store malbecs, but at a better price than the country’s high-end wines.

Much better prices, actually. These four wines are each worth buying, and the first two are exceptional values and highly recommended:

? Torrontes 2013 ($12, sample, 13.5%): A bone dry torrontes, which is as welcome as it is rare. Most versions of this white wine, the most popular in Argentina, are sweet to off dry, and too many are sickly sweet. There are delicious off-dry torrontes, but this one has even those beat. Look for an almost lemon tonic flavor with a hint of orange peel, and much more subtle than a sauvignon blanc. Pair this with grilled vegetables, Thanksgiving, even fried fish.

?Bonardo 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): Malbec gets most of the attention, but bonardo has long been an important red grape in Argentina. This wine shows why — juicy strawberry, but also spicy and almost minty. Spaghetti wine in the finest sense of the word, as well as anything with red meat and roast chicken.

? Malbec 2012 ($13, sample, 14%): I drink very little malbec; even well-made versions are usually too soft and fruity for me. This wine, somehow, is varietally correct, but plummier, darker, and deeper, and the well-constructed tannins add interest. There is more to this than just cola and blueberry aromas.

? Don Nicanor Estate Malbec 2011 ($20, sample, 14.5%): This red takes the previous malbec to the next level, with more berry flavor and some black pepper without the alcohol getting in the way. Much more complex than I thought a malbec at this price could be.

A tip o’ the WC fedora to Eli Cohn at Veritas in Dallas, who helped out with the tasting and told me how good the bonardo would be.

Great quotes in wine history: Prince Charles

WordPress, the blog’s platform, is blocking TubeChop videos, so you can’t watch this clip. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Prince Charles’ reaction after a snooty Winestream Media critic gives his favourite $10 wine a 78. Who says the Windsors don’t have a sense of humor?

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the Dedoimedo website; this post is based on his “My reaction to — ” series. The video is courtesy of digitalmediafan via YouTube.

Winebits 354: Costco wine, wine demographics, wine and drugs

costco wine

Annette Alvarez-Peters

? Costco’s Peters speaks: Annette Alvarez-Peters, who buys alcohol for the Costco warehouse chain, is one of the most important people in the wine business; as such, she rarely gives interviews. Hence my surprise at an interview with the Shanken News Daily trade news service, even thought it’s short and Alvarez-Peters doesn’t say all that much. What’s worth noting is how much of its private label wine Costco sells; its Kirkland pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon are two of the chain’s biggest sellers, both at less than $10 a bottle. That consumers will drive to Costco just to buy its wines is mind-boggling in the day of the Great Wall of Wine. Most retailers would kill for that kind of loyalty, which they’d have to do because they don’t know how to get it any other way. The other reason to mention this? Because a Costco piece that ran on the blog in 2012 is the second most popular post , based on one-day visitors, in blog history. Shoppers don’t just want to go Costco — they want to read about it.

? Who drinks wine? The Wine Market Council has updated some of its numbers, and the results are intriguing. If you’re a high-frequency wine drinker (you drink wine at least once a week), you’re more likely to be married than if you drink wine less than once a week, the occasional wine drinker. High frequency wine drinkers are older, 51-44, than occasionals, but it’s not like either of them is young. The latter makes perfect sense given the wine business’ inability to understand it should try to sell wine to people other than old white guys. Note to advertisers: the blog’s demographics skew younger than that, no doubt because I write about wine that younger people can afford.

? Examine that spending: The British spend about 1 billion (about US$1.6 billion) more on illegal drugs and sex each year than they do on wine and beer, according to a just-released UK government study. That works out to about 260 (US$422) per adult. I don’t know whether that’s a lot of money for dope and whores, but I think the numbers are a little dicey. The average adult in the U.S. spends about $150 a year on wine (based on 242 million adults and $36.3 billion in wine sales, per the Wine Institute) and $413 on beer (based on $100 billion in beer sales, per the Brewers Association). That a country with a pub culture spends less per capita than we do on beer and wine is hard to believe, which makes me think the drugs and sex number should be higher. By comparison, I spend nothing on the latter and some US$2,500 (about 1,500) annually on wine, which doesn’t include other booze or restaurant wine purchases. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

Second annual five-day $3 wine challenge: The results

$3 wine

“The horror, the horror. …”

Results: The third $3 wine challenge 2017

Results: The first $3 wine challenge 2013

In one respect, this year’s five-day, $3 wine challenge was no different than last year’s: I made it through unscathed. But the results were also depressing in a way they weren’t last year.

I wanted to find a wine among the six — five $3 merlots and a $4 red blend — that I could enjoy without reservation and use as another example in my campaign to help wine drinkers understand that price is not the most important thing about wine quality. One was OK, one was undrinkable, and the rest were as brainless as bottled ice tea. With so much quality cheap wine in the world, and sometimes for just a dollar or two more, why do so many people buy these, often making a special trip to do so?

When that analysis comes from someone who has spent 20 years trying to say nice things about cheap wine, it means there’s very little reason to drink them.

I drank a bottle of wine with dinner five nights last week to answer the question: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? I tasted five merlots and a red blend from leading retailers in the United States. Each wine but one was non-vintage with an American appellation:

Two-buck Chuck ($2.99, 12.5%), the Trader Joe ?s private label, 2012 vintage and California appellation. Call this the Miller Lite of the tasting; drinkable, with some berry fruit, but thin and not very memorable. It’s probably $3 worth of wine, but it raises the question of why you’d go to Trader Joe’s just to buy it. It’s not that much more of a value than most $6 or $7 grocery store merlots.

• Three Wishes ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. Not offensive, but nothing more than that. Some dark fruit, but thin and the poor quality of the fake oak showed through. Not much in the way of tannins, either, and this wine needed tannins to balance the oak.

Winking Owl ($2.89, 12.5%) from Aldi but may be available elsewhere. Real wine that mostly tasted the way it was supposed to taste — some berry fruit, fake oak that wasn’t annoying, and proper tannins. This is not top-quality merlot or even $10 merlot, but compared to the rest, it was right bank Bordeaux.

• Yosemite Road ($3.99, 12%), a private label for 7-Eleven. This red blend is one of the best sweet reds I’ve ever tasted, and a terrific value if that’s what you’re looking for. It wasn’t as sweet as a poorly-made white zinfandel, and there was fruit flavor (red berries?) to go with the sweetness. The catch, of course, is that the wine does not say anywhere on the label that it’s sweet, and the alcohol percentage indicates a dry wine. As noted before, this is dishonest and cheats consumers. Producers have an obligation to say if it’s sweet, and putting the words jammy, velvety, and soft on the label is not good enough. In other words, I wasted my money.

Oak Leaf ($2.97, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Almost a carbon copy of the Three Wishes, but with enough unripe fruit to give the wine an old-fashioned, this is what we used to drink from France in the 1970s feel. However, since this is the 21st century and there is no reason for that kind of wine to exist, it’s not a selling point.

Southern Point ($2.39, 12.5%), the Walgreen’s private label. I had high hopes for this wine, given how well the drug store chain’s chardonnay did in a tasting several years ago. However, it was one of the worst wines I’ve drunk in a decade, combining poor winemaking and poor quality fruit. It didn’t taste like merlot, but like a cheap, alcoholic wine cooler without any fizz. This is the kind of wine that I have been fighting against for 20 years, but somehow still seems to get made.

Spanish wine may offer the best value in the world — part II

Spanish wine reviewsThis is the second of two parts discussing why Spanish wine may be the best value in the world today. Part I, an overview of why Spain offers so much value, is here.

If wine drinkers know Spanish wine, it’s tempranillo from Rijoa or Ribera del Duero. Older wine drinker might know Spanish sherry, while the hipsters know garnacha and the Winestream Media-hyped wines from the Priorat. In this, it’s as if nothing has happened in Spain over the past 20 years.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Spanish wine — red, white, pink, and bubbly — is better than ever. Cava, the Spanish sparkling, has received most of the attention, but it’s not alone in the Spanish wine renaissance. The whites, including viura, verdejo, and albarino, can be spectacular for as little as $10. The reds, always excellent from the best regions, have improved dramatically regardless of where they’re from. Aldi’s $5 Vina Decana tempranillo (which, sadly, appears to be gone) is from Utiel-Requena, about as little known as a Spanish wine region gets.

These wines, tasted over the past six months, will get you started in understanding what’s going on in Spain. But they’re just a sample, and I could have listed a dozen more. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. It will be hard to go wrong.

Muga Rosado 2013 ($10, purchased, 13%): One of the best roses in the world, always fresh and delicious. This vintage has tart strawberry fruit. As one CellarTracker user wrote: “My fifth bottle this summer,” which seems about as good a recommendation as possible.

deAlto Amo Blanco 2012 ($10, purchased, 13%): My tasting notes for this white, made mostly with viura, quibble about crispness and whether it’s too floral. How much have the Spanish spoiled me that I’m looking for things to complain about ?

Columna R as Baixas 2011 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white, made with albarino, is another excellent example of the quality wine that Ole Imports brings to the U.S. Still fresh, despite being an older vintage, with a really interesting, almost baking spice middle.

Cune Crianza 2010 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Yes, this red from Rioja, a tempranillo blend, is three times better than the Decana, which means it’s close to spectacular. Deep, rich cherry fruit, a hint of bitter orange, layered oak, and a full, complete finish. Highly recommended.

Evodia 2013 ($10, sample, 14.5%): This red, made with garnacha, is a hipster wine that the rest of us can enjoy. The last time I tasted it, it was 15 percent alcohol and still drinkable; this vintage, with lots of cherry fruit, good weight, and some black pepper, is even better. I’m always surprised I like it as much as I do.

Val de Vid Verdejo 2010 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): Yes, the vintage is correct, and how a white wine that costs $10 and is this old can be this delicious is beyond me. Has white pepper and a sort of pear fruit that could also be lime without the citrus, plus a longish finish.

Spanish wine may offer the best value in the world — part I

Spanish wineThis is the first of two parts discussing why Spanish wine may be the best value in the world today. Part II, with reviews of some of Spain’s best-value wines, is here.

The reasons are many, and they add up to the same thing: Spanish wine, whether red, white, pink, or bubbly, probably offers the best value in the world, and certainly for the cheap wine that we celebrate here.

Count the reasons:

?Continuing political and economic unrest in Spain. The Eurozone’s inability to recover from the recession, combined with Spain’s particular problems (including 25 percent unemployment), have devastated the domestic wine market. Hence Spain’s need to export at very competitive prices.

?Spanish wine staying the province of Spanish companies, as opposed to multinationals buying or taking over Spanish producers. This has allowed Spanish companies to focus on Spanish wine, instead of Spanish wine being one small part of a larger company.

?Spanish producers focusing on Spanish varietals that taste like Spanish wine, saving us from the spectacle of Spanish chardonnay. This switch to the so-called international varietals has been a problem elsewhere, even though the Italians refuse to admit it.

?Improvements in technology, winemaking, and grape growing. This is part of the revolution seen elsewhere in the world, and the Spanish have not been left behind.

?Spain’s relative anonymity in the U.S. market, which means that its wines have to be better and offer more value — not only to attract consumers, but to convince distributors and retailers they’re worth carrying. If you’re going to take shelf space away from cash cows like Kendall Jackson, Yellow Tail, and Barefoot, you’d better be pretty good.

? Some of the best importers in the world, who can find the wines that fit these requirements. I regularly rave about Ole Imports; Hand-Picked Selections is also excellent, and Eric Solomon and Jorge Ordonez have long been bringing in top-flight Spanish wines. And that’s only a handful of the best.

Wine of the week: Pennywise Petite Sirah 2012

Pennywise Petite Sirah 2012The Wine Curmudgeon long ago accepted the fact that petite sirah didn’t taste like petite sirah, that it had been bastardized by Big Wine to taste like a darker fruit version of grocery store merlot on the cheap end and by high-end winemakers to taste like high-alcohol syrah or zinfandel.

So it is with great joy that I can report that the Pennywise ($12, sample, 13.5%), a California red wine, tastes like petite sirah. Really. And for only $12, which means it’s probably closer to $10 at many retailers.

Look for lots of plum, some herbal notes, quietly done fake oak, and even tannins and acidity to round everything out. The latter surprised me even more than the plum, since it seems to be the goal of most large producers to take tannins and acidity out of cheap red wine so as not to offend consumers (and that the wine suffers is just a minor inconvenience). How much did I like this wine? I’m recommending it even though the tasting notes say the finish includes “toasted cedar plank,” which is one of those descriptors that makes most of us reach for a beer.

This is a burger and weeknight pizza wine, in which the wine will do its job and make the food taste better. That’s a fine accomplishment for a $10 red wine. That it’s petite sirah is even better.