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Expensive wine 57: Ridge York Creek Zinfandel 2009

Dollar for dollar, the best winery in California may be Ridge Vineyards. This may seem an odd thing for the Wine Curmudgeon to write, given that none of its wines cost less than $25. But Ridge crams value in every wine, and I’ve long admired its commitment to quality and fair pricing.

How well run is Ridge? How about the York Creek ($28, purchased, 15.3%), made in a style that usually makes me hit the wine rant key on the computer. It’s Ridge’s version of a high-scoring Wine Magazine zinfandel, which means lots of alcohol, too much oak, and plenty of sweet black fruit, and in this often tastes more like port than table wine. The difference, of course, is that since it’s a Ridge product, the York Creek has structure, body, and tannins, and tastes like wine and not a novelty act. Look for some very nice herbal notes, too, something that seems almost impossible given all the alcohol.

Very nicely done, and if I didn’t like it as much as Ridge’s Lytton Springs zinfandel (which didn’t seem to be available in Dallas), that’s my preference and not a reflection on the wine. It’s well worth drinking, a prime rib wine for Christmas at about half the price of the Winestream Media’s over-the-top zinfandels.

Holiday blog schedule changes 2013

Christmas and New Year ?s Day fall on a Wednesday this season, so I ?ve had to make some adjustments to the the blog ?s schedule:

? The blog will be off Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 for the holiday. On Christmas, the annual Bruce Springsteen ?Santa Claus is Coming to Town ? video will post, while I ?ll run a wine tasting video — wine humor ! — on New Year ?s Day.

? The wine notes that usually run on Tuesday will appear on a Monday, Dec. 23 and Dec. 30.

? The wine of the week, which usually runs on Wednesday, will run on a Tuesday, Dec. 24, and Dec. 31.

? The 2014 $10 Hall of Fame will appear on Jan. 6. If you have any suggestions for the Hall, send me an email or use the link at the top of the page.

Christmas wine 2013 and a few more gift suggestions

A combination post this year, for everyone caught short by the truncated holiday shopping season or who may have been iced in: Wine suggestions for the holiday next week, plus a couple of additional gift ideas. And anyone who wants an autographed copy of the cheap wine book needs to order from the website by Friday afternoon for holiday delivery:

? Red wine: Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain 2011 ($25, sample, 13.5%), one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year and which deserved more than the passing mention it got on the blog in September. This is a classic Washington state red blend with rich, black fruit and where the Washington state syrah stands out. Highly recommended, and a fine value at this price.

? White wine: The Domaine Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Cuv e Th o 2011 ($30, sample, 13.5%) was the highlight of an Alsatian riesling Twitter tasting this summer. It’s a complex wine with the requisite varietal character (some oiliness, lemon fruit) but still quite pleasant to drink in a way that some high-end Alsatian rieslings, which try to cram everything in, aren’t.

? Sparkling wine: Poema Brut NV ($10, purchased, 11.5%), another excellent cava in both price and quality (and a tip ‘o the Curmudgeon’s fedora to reader James Phillips for suggesting it). Look for tight bubbles, very crisp golden delicious apple fruit, and even a little brioche, a yeast-like flavor that usually shows up only in Champagne.

? Wine book: The New California Wine, $35, by Jon Bonne, the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. Bonne is one of the two or three best wine critics in the U.S., and his analysis of California wine — good and bad — is usually spot on. This is a great gift for anyone who wonders why California wine is so wonderful, except when it isn’t, and how the isn’t happens as often as it does.

? Wine glasses: Schott Zwiesel Tritan Forte, about $10 each. These are among the best so-called unbreakable crystal glasses, and crystal does make a difference. How unbreakable is unbreakable? Given my propensity for falling down more often than I plan, I can vouch for their sturdiness. They do break, but you have to make an effort.

More about Christmas wine and gifts:
? Holiday wine gift guide 2013
? Christmas wine 2012
? Wine of the week: King Estate Pinot Gris 2012
? Wine of the week: Dibon Brut Reserve NV
? Wine of the week: Hardys Nottage Hill Pinot Noir 2012

Wine of the week: Ch teau du C dre Cedrus Le Blanc 2012

Wine of the week: Ch teau du C dre Cedrus Le Blanc 2012What’s left to say about Gascon white wine blends that hasn’t been said since the first ones appeared in the 2008 $10 Hall of Fame? The same things I’ve been writing all along — cheap, well-made, food-friendly, and tasty. Can’t get too much of a $10 good thing, can we?

The Cedrus ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is more Gascon cheap white wine excellence, colombard and ugni blanc blended together to make a crisp, citrusy wine with the region’s trademark white grapiness and that is clean and delicious. And all for the same price as one of those incredibly dull, all too fruity grocery store red wines that California insists that we drink.

One of these days, I’ll do a Gascon tasteoff, and see which one is the best of the best. Until then, enjoy this abondance — and think about keeping a bottle or two around for the holidays. It’s a terrific wine if anyone stops by, if all you want is something to drink with Chinese takeout, or just feel like a glass after work.

Winebits 312: Sales trends edition

? YellowTail growth resumes: Remember all those stories about how the strong Australian dollar and YellowTail’s financial problems were going to mean the end of an era for Aussie wine? Not true, apparently. The biggest imported brand in the U.S. expects 2 1/2 percent gorwth this year, reaching almost 9 million cases. Driving that growth are the brand’s two sweet red labels, including a sangria. That YellowTail has rebounded from its problems says much about its marketing skill, but also speaks about its clout with retailers. How many other brands could have slumped the way YellowTail did, but not lose shelf space and even added space for two more wines? In this respect, Big Wine is becoming more and more like other consumer goods, be they ketchup or detergent, with all the means — good and bad — for the consumer.

? Is craft beer headed for a bust? This matters to wine not only because craft beer competes for drinkers with wine, especially in the younger demographics, but because the growth in craft beer (“But even such a healthy rise in consumer demand won’t be enough to sustain the many new breweries jumping into the marketplace“) has similarities to what happened in California with “boutique” wineries heading into the recession and with the unprecedented growth in moscato and sweet red over the past couple of years. What’s interesting is that someone in craft beer has noticed what ?s going on, while almost everyone in wine was in denial before the recession and during the moscato and sweet red boom.

? If you can sell wine on-line. ..: You can sell a lot of it. That was the experience of the British supermarket chain Tesco, which doesn’t face the three-tier restrictions that U.S. retailers face in this country. The story, on the drinks business trade magazine site, says sales may have gone up as much as 51 percent over the same period last year, and offers all the reasons why that is so. Contrast this with Amazon’s wine marketplace, which after nine months still can’t sell wine in all 50 states.

The 2013 Curmudgies

Welcome to the second annual Curmudgies, presented each year to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure that wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. The 2012 Curmudgies are here; the 2013 awards are after the jump:

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Two wines from Aldi, and the differences in cheap wine

There are two kinds of cheap wine — those made to hit a certain price, like Two-buck Chuck, and those made to taste like wine, like the bottles in the $10 Hall of Fame. This is often a difficult concept to explain, since consumers assume price is price and don’t think much past that.

That’s why I was so intrigued by two $5 wines I bought at Aldi, the national discount grocer (and where most of the wine is private label). The wines — a Spanish tempranillo and an Italian red from Montepulciano — demonstrated this contradiction perfectly. The former was everything great cheap wine should be, enjoyable and a value, even at $5. The latter was made to cost $5, and I was reminded of that with every sip.

The quality of wines made to hit a certain price are notoriously inconsistent. That’s because, if the price of grapes increases, the wine contains cheaper grapes of lesser quality so it can maintain its price. Wine made to taste like wine is usually made with better quality grapes, so that it tastes the way it should. The producer either raises the price if grapes become more expensive or takes a smaller profit.

The tempranillo, Vina Decana 2010 ($5, purchased, 12.5%), tasted like tempranillo — cherry fruit balanced by crispness and some sort of combination of vanilla and earthiness. No, it’s not a Gran Reserva Rioja, and I realize all those adjectives might confuse the issue. The point is that the wine has a lot more going on than one would expect for $5, and someone paid attention to this when they made it. In this, it reminded me of the much beloved and sorely missed Solaz, perhaps the greatest cheap red wine of my wine writing career.

The Montepulciano, Violescent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011 ($5, purchased, 13.5%), was just the opposite, made to cost $5 and that what it tasted like wasn’t as important as how much it cost. The wine was rough and acidic, almost green and unripe in an old fashioned “This is the way we churned out cheap wine in Italy before the winemaking revolution of the past two decades” style. It was drinkable, but we want more than that, don’t we?

The other thing this illustrates is that wine quality is not always a retailer’s top concern, and this is especially true for retailers like Aldi that sell on price. Their thinking is centered around product mix, shelf space, what’s available, and what has the best margins. The burden is on the consumer to decide if the wine is a value, and given how little time most of us have to worry about these things (and little experience and education, as well), that’s not as easy as it should be. What’s worse is that retailers count on that, and which is why too much wine is like the Violescent and not the Decana.

More about Aldi wine:
? The Aldi wine experience
? Wine of the week: Aldi private labels
? The Five Day, $3 Wine Challenge: The results