Rudy K. is Rudy Kurniawan, the con man convicted last month for bilking wine collectors out of millions of dollars by passing off cheap wine as rare bottles worth thousands. The story, not surprisingly, was huge among the wine writing fraternity, both traditional and on-line, and a Google search yesterday turned up 1.8 million references to it.
On the other hand, a story that could affect every wine drinker — and not just those who can drop a couple of grand for a French first-growth that may or may not be real — was mostly ignored last year. That was the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to cut the legal drinking limit, which would be two glasses of wine for most women and three for men. Yesterday, there were just 37,000 Google references to the plan.
Hence this opportunity for you to make your own predictions, in the spirit of the very popular Do-it-yourself wine review. Just click on the drop-down menus and your resolutions for 2014 are set (although those of you who get the blog via email or on Facebook may have to go the website to use the menus).
In 2014, I’m going to drink:
In 2014, I’m going to try to learn more about wine by:
The blog is off today for New Year’s, but will return tomorrow with our usual features in the run-up to the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame, which debuts on Monday.
Until then, enjoy this primer on wine tasting (courtesy of Holyexpletive on YouTube), which puts everything we’ve talked about on the blog in wonderful perspective. Only wine snobs would think that being a snob would help them get chicks. Or, as the waiter says, “Excellent palate you have, sir.”
The problem with Prosecco for those of us who don’t understand it is that it doesn’t taste the way we expect it to. It’s made differently, so it’s sweeter and not as bubbly. That makes it difficult to judge Prosecco as Prosecco, and not in comparison to Champagne, cava, or any sparkling wine made in a more dry and bubbly style.
Which is even more difficult if you’re one of the world’s greatest living advocates of cava and someone whose only criticism of Champagne is that it’s too expensive.
But the Wine Curmudgeon is nothing if not persistent, and my exploration of Prosecco over the past month or so has helped me get a better idea of what it is and why so many people like it. Because they do: Two-thirds of the increase in imported sparkling wine sales in 2012 in the U.S. came from Italy, and most of that was Prosecco. The key to understanding Prosecco? To accept it for what it is, and not to make the mistake that Champagne snobs make when dismissing cava for no other reason than it isn’t Champagne. Prosecco is supposed to taste like Prosecco, and nothing else.
The Adami ($15, sample, 11%) is a big step in that direction. It tastes like quality Prosecco, with more character and interest than many others at this price. That means more structure — a beginning, middle, and end, instead of just a sweetish, fruity middle — and apple fruit instead of softer tropical flavors. The bubbles are also a little sturdier. All in all, very nicely done, and you could do much worse tonight when toasting the New Year.
Suggestions for New Year’s bubbly from around the cyber-ether:
? Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post has almost every possibility covered, from Greek sparkling wine (who knew there was any) to more conventional — if pricey — suggestions. The Deutz Rose Brut is terrific wine, and that Dave got to an interview with the legendary Maximilian Riedel of wine glass fame when he tasted it makes the experience all that much more fun. And that Dave wants to argue with Riedel about wines glasses — I can only hope to be invited to watch.
? Jon Bonne at the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the state of American sparkling wine, and his assessment is intelligent and evenhanded — including his comments that “sweet wines are getting sweeter and more market-driven.” Among his suggestions: an Iron Horse, one of my choices for a celebration if the cheap wine book ever makes a lot of money, and Gloria Ferrer, perhaps the best value bubbly in California.
? George Yatchisin recommends California sparklers on the KCET television website, and I include his choices for three reasons. First, one of them is Schramsberg, which may be the best bubbly house in the United States and always delivers something worth drinking. Second, because KCET is the public television station in Los Angeles, and how many public TV stations do wine writing? And third, because there are no prices listed for the wines. Damn, that’s impressive, to be able to write about wine and not care how much it costs.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another — in this case, because there’s nothing really wrong with them, but you can do better. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Clos du Bois Pinot Grigio 2012 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): This California white is just another pinot grigio, without any redeeming features other than that it’s cheap and inoffensive. Nothing really wrong with it, but there are lots of other wines that offer more for the price.
? Haury & Schaeffer Grenache 2012 ($10, sample, 14%): French red tastes like it came from California ? all fruit and not much else. Nothing really wrong with it, but not sure what the point of it is since there are already hundreds of wines just like it.
? Bolla Prosecco Extra Dry NV ($12, sample, 11%): Italian sparkling wine took me back to a 1970s wedding, when the bubbly was sweetish, didn’t bubble much, and tasted a lot like 7-Up. Nothing really wrong with it, if that’s what you’re looking for — and many people are.
? Reata Chardonnay 2012 ($20, sample, 14.3%): Early 2000s-style California white wine with a national forest full of oak and more alcohol than it needs, but nothing really wrong with it for people who still like that sort of thing.
Call it champagne with small c (but not in front of a European), Champagne with a capital C, bubbles, or any of its other synonyms — sparkling wine deserves to be served more than at dinner on Dec. 31, for a toast at midnight, or at brunch on Jan. 1.
• I’m still trying to make sense of Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that has become hugely popular over the past year. It’s usually sweeter than cava, California sparkling, or Champagne, and since it’s made differently, the bubbles aren’t as tight. Price can also be a problem, since there are some $15 Proseccos that taste like fizzy 7-Up. Having said that, the widely available Mionetto ($13, sample, 11%) is a safe bet — not so much sweetness that it overwhelms, with a little green apple fruit and decent bubbles.
• Regular visitors here know that Spain’s cava is one of the great cheap wines of all time, and that it’s almost impossible to go wrong no matter what you buy. The Dibon Rose ($10, purchased, 11.5%) may be even more enjoyable than the Dibon Brut, which is headed to the $10 Hall of Fame. Look for strawberry and orange peel, plus a little yeastiness. All in all, an amazing value.
• Sparkling is made throughout the world, including Oregon, where Argyle does a terrific job. The 2010 Brut Rose ($50, sample, 12.5%) is no exception, with lots of tart cranberry fruit, wonderfully crisp bubbles, and a long, clean finish. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s exceptionally well made. Weltevrede’s The Ring Blanc de Blanc Brut 2009 ($23, sample, 11.5%) is a high-quality South African sparkler that offers value along with subdued lemon fruit and refreshing acidity, perfect for a New Year’s Day brunch. And don’t overlook New York’s Chateau Frank Brut 2006 ($24, sample, 12%) — a lovely, fresh, and fruity wine from one of the state’s premier winemakers. There is even caramel and vanilla, just like Champagne, as well as almost tropical fruit.