The Wine Curmudgeon, not surprisingly, does not acknowledge Valentine’s Day. But since so many people do, including newspaper editors (who help pay the Wine Curmudgeon’s bills), it was only sensible to write something..
The article is not about pairing wine and chocolate. This has not only been done to death, but isn’t especially true. Inexpensive cabernet sauvignon doesn ?t do chocolate very well, no matter how good the wine writer is. And anyone who pairs $50 cabernet with chocolate is missing the point of $50 cabernet.
The Wine Curmudgeon loves sauvignon blanc. It ?s usually inexpensive, and you can buy great wines for about $15. It ?s food-friendly as well as refreshing on its own, something that can ?t be said for a lot of chardonnays. Finally, it pairs with a variety of white wine foods, and especially with seafood — oysters, mussels and even grilled shrimp. And it pairs with almost anything with garlic and parsley. In fact, just writing about sauvignon blanc, garlic and parsley makes me want to reach for a glass.
What causes the differences between the wines? A combination of weather, soil, and the winemakers ? preferences. The geography of New Zealand – ? an island in the south Pacific — is entirely different from that of Bordeaux, off the Atlantic coast of France. And California is completely different from both of them. Throw in winemaking differences ?- the French do things differently from the Chileans – ? and you have a wine with as many differences as similarities.
Here ?s a guide to the most important regions, what makes that region different, and some representative wines:
? France: The best sauvignon blanc in the world used to come from Sancerre, about 150 miles west of Paris. But prices have gone up, and quality has not improved. At its best, Sancerre is less fruity than the New World wines, with wonderful flinty qualities (look for wine from an area called Chavignol). But good luck finding anything for less than $20. A better bet are the $10 sauvignon blanc/semillion blends from Bordeaux, like Chateaus Ducla and Bonnet, which have the mineral character that Sancerre is getting away from.
? New Zealand: Sauvignon blanc doesn ?t get better than this, both in quality and price. The best wines ? Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Villa Maria, Nobilio, and Spy Valley ? have the region ?s distinctive grapefruit flavor, but in balance. I especially like the $16 Spy Valley and the $12 wines from Villa Maria and Nobilio.
? California: California shouldn ?t be cold enough to make great sauvignon blanc, but there are dozens of excellent producers, including Benziger, Kenwood, Geyser Peak, and Jewel at around $10 and Cakebread, Duckhorn, St. Supery and Chalk Hill up to $30. California sauvignon blancs have more tropical fruit, like lime and pineapple, and what is described as grassiness (difficult to explain, but recognizable when you smell it).
? Chile: Not always for the faint of heart ? can be like New Zealand without the balance. That said, there ?s nothing wrong with the wine, and most of the labels we see, like Veramonte and Los Vascos, are $10.
? South Africa: People who are supposed to know about these things say this will be the next great sauvignon blanc producer. I ?ve had decent wines, more French in style, from Robertson ($10) and Republic of Sauvignon Blanc ($16).
Take a peek at the upper left hand corner, and you’ll find the new Hall of Fame.
What makes a Hall of Fame wine? There ?s not necessarily a precise explanation. It ?s better than it should be, and it ?s consistent from year to year, just like more expensive wines with better reputations. That ?s one reason wines have been dropped from the Hall of Fame, and several were this year.
Several other notes:
? These wines are generally available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so I don’t have to get involved in the Two Buck Chuck debate. There are no Trader Joe’s in this part of the country.
? I am not enamored of Yellow Tail, which doesn’t rise above the level of grocery store wine. They may represent good value, but they aren’t Hall of Fame wines.
? I ?m still searching for that terrific $10 Argentine malbec. Most of the malbec I ?ve tasted in this country is $15 or so; good wines, certainly, but not eligible for the Hall of Fame.
? And there is no pinot noir in the U.S. for less than $10 that is Hall worthy. The French labels like Red Bicyclette and Lulu B are easy to drink, but not especially pinot like. And most of the $10 U.S. I have tasted has some varietal character, but almost nothing else.
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.
Curse the weak dollar. Otherwise, this white blend from Bordeaux would be $8, which it used to be a couple of years ago. Then I’d have a case of it in the wine closet and I’d have no worries about what to drink for dinner when I needed some everyday white wine.
Sadly, however, the Bonnet is $13. It’s still worthwhile — just not a bargain. But the wine is very Bordeaux-like, and in that respect is still a value. There is a hint of sauvignon blanc citrus, some semillon to take the edge off, and muscadelle for fruitiness. Plus, unusual in a wine at this price (and even more unusual at $8), it has a wonderful mineral finish that hints at what you’ll find in the sauvignon blancs of Sancerre.
Serve this chilled with any kind of seafood (raw oysters or steamed mussels come to mind) or by itself. And keep careful watch, in case your local retailer puts it on sale.