Category:California wine

Sparkling wine for New Year’s

Keep three things in mind when you're picking sparkling wine and champagne for New Year ?s Eve. 

First, there is plenty of quality wine from places other than France, especially from the New World, Spain and Italy. There is also plenty of quality wine from France that isn't the same old stuff. Please, please try something other than Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. 

Second, vintage isn't especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage ? that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years instead of just one. It ?s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality. 

Third, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands, like Korbel, are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or m thode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style 

And cost? There is more than acceptable bubbly at almost every price, and even some expensive wines are good values.

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Tale of two wines

On the one hand, at $65, Flora Springs Trilogy 2004, a Bordeaux-style red blend. On the other, Solaz Shiraz Tempranillo 2004, about $8. Which offers more bang for the buck?

This is not as silly a question as it sounds. The price value ratio isn’t considered nearly enough in assessing wine. That’s one of the problems with scores, which don’t allow for quality based on price. No one is arguing that the Flora Springs isn’t a well-made wine, because it is. It was a bit young, and to my mind had too much acid (though not everyone who tasted this with me agreed). But it was, save for the acid, integrated and  complex, full of lots of dark Napa fruit and even some cocoa. It wasn’t especially subtle, but this kind of wine isn’t supposed to be.

The question, then: Is it eight times better than the Solaz? The answer is no.

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Wine of the week: Tamas Estates Pinot Grigio 2005

This is a long-time favorite (it used to have another name and another label), but one that doesn’t seem to be available when I want to buy it. It’s a $13 California wine with Italian-style minerality — the flinty quality that in poorly-made pinot grigios tastes like turpentine. But it also has lots of California citrus fruitiness. This is an excellent wine to serve as an aperitif during the holiday season, or with Christmas dinner leftovers.

 

High-end wine drinkers like Napa cabernet

Red wines over $30 preference This is not really surprising news, but the extent of how much they like it is.

That’s one of the results of a 2007 study of wine drinkers who are representative of consumers who buy expensive wine. The survey, conducted by California’s WineOpinions, found that almost one-half of respondents are “very likely” to buy a $30-plus Napa cab, but only one-quarter are very likely to buy similarly-priced Bordeaux red wine.

Meanwhile, more than a third are “not very likely” to buy a Washington state cabernet or a Spanish red from Rioja, even though the quality is comparable and the price is often one-third less (or more).

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Yes, alcohol makes a difference

imageHad crab cakes — special crab cakes, made with fresh blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico from an old friend of the family — on Saturday night, so I opened a bottle of Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16). Drank one glass, and opened something else.

This is not my annual plea for winemakers to cut back on alcohol content (I’ll save that for the spring). Rather, it’s an example of why I need to make that plea. This wine is 14.1 percent alcohol — 1.1 points higher than Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, 1.3 points higher than Bogle sauvignon blanc, and 2.1 points higher than Chateau Bonnet blanc. And that’s almost three times the alcohol content in a similar serving of beer.

The Shannon was not fresh or vibrant or lively, all trademarks of sauvignon blanc. It was not food friendly, and if we had sipped it with the crab cakes, we never would have tasted the crab.

It did not taste like sauvignon blanc. There was almost no fruit and very little acidity — just an overwhelming heaviness that made me think the wine was spoiled or that it had been aged in oak for 24 months. But it was not spoiled and it was aged six months in stainless steel. The only explanation was the high alcohol, which robbed the wine of of its character.

Why make sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc?

Pinot noir and salmon

Pinot noir really does go with salmon Talk to enough wine people, and the subject of pinot noir and salmon eventually comes up. For one thing, it ?s still considered trendy (even though though Josh Wesson and David Rosengarten wrote a book called Red Wine with Fish almost 20 years ago). For another, it has to do with pinot noir, and that is still considered tres chic in many wine circles.

Which led to a Wine Curmudgeon moment: What about this pinot noir and salmon? Does it really work? Or is it just more winespeak to wade through?

So I paired three pinots, costing $10, $22, and $40, with steamed salmon served with rice noodles and vegetable and saffron broth, to test the theory. And, to make sure the salmon was up to the task, I used wild Copper River salmon instead of a milder, grocery store product. My thinking: The more flavorful the salmon, the more challenge it would pose to the wine, especially for the $10 bottle.

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Upgrading your wine for the holidays

image You ?re pretty confident about wine, as far as it goes. You know a good $10 or $12 bottle from a not-so-good one, and if one of your friends needs a recommendation for a decent red wine to take to someone ?s house for dinner, you can offer two or three suggestions.

But there ?s a holiday coming up, and so it seems like the right time to spend a bit more ? whether it ?s as a gift for the significant person in your life or to treat yourself. But if all you know is $10 wine, what do you do?

Consider the following:

? Find out if the $10 wine you like has a more expensive label. Bogle, one of the best $10 wineries, does a couple: The Phantom, a red blend, and a Russian Rover pinot noir, both around $17.

? Buy a less expensive bottle from a winery that makes high-end wines. Ridge and Newton are both expensive and well-regarded California names. But Ridge ?s Three Valleys, a red blend featuring zinfandel, is a steal at about $23. Newton ?s Claret, made with mostly merlot in the Bordeaux style, is another terrific $25 wine.

? Buy a nicer wine from a region that you like. New Zealand is famous for its $16 sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. So why not try something like Cloudy Bay, whose prices are closer to $30?

? Upgrade your grocery store favorite. Most offer not only a basic line, but one or even two more at higher prices and, usually, better quality. Kendall-Jackson, for instance, sells its vintner ?s reserve wines for $12 to $18. The next step up is the grand reserve, where prices run from $20 to $35.