This is the first of two parts looking at ways to decipher the world’s wine regions without making your head hurt. The second part will run on Monday.
One of the most difficult concepts to get across about wine is the idea of wine regions. You can get someone to acknowledge that wine is different depending on where it’s from, but understanding that it is something else entirely. And I won’t even mention there are more than 3,200 wine regions in the world.
Yes, they’ll say, they realize cabernet sauvignon is different from merlot which is different from chardonnay. But doesn’t all French wine (or California wine or whatever) taste the same?
No, it doesn’t. But given how complicated wine regions can be — Quick: Name the sub-AVAs within the Sonoma AVA — and it’s easy to see why people give up in confusion.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon exists. Wine geography does not have to be a barrier to buying and enjoying wine. It’s helpful to know that the Rhone is divided into north and south, but not essential.
Most wine drinkers see Bordeaux as a great black hole made up of wine speak, unimaginably high prices, and an incredibly complex system of chateaux and classifications.
Which makes this wine (about $15) all the more welcome. It's a merlot and cabernet sauvignon blend in the classic Bordeaux style, but without any of the pretensions noted above. Classic means it's not a fruit forward popsicle, full of blueberry and cola, like most inexpensive Californa merlots. Rather, it has less fruit, more earthiness, and tastes more interesting. I stumbled on this when I was looking for a red Bordeaux to use for my Cordon Bleu class tastings, and it more than filled the bill.
Serve it with most beef (hamburgers on the grill wouldn't be bad at all) and even some meatier vegetable dishes.
And it’s mostly good news, if my experience yesterday at a 20-winery tasting in Dallas is any indication. Oregon is best known for its world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, and there was plenty of that on hand. But the state’s producers are working with a variety of other other cool climate grapes, including and especially German varietals.
That said, the 2006 harvest had its problems. I tasted a surprising number of flabby and uninteresting wines, including too many that were overly alcoholic. That almost never happens in Oregon. I was told that this development has more to do with the difficulties in 2006 (not enough sun, too cool) than with any style shift. I hope so. Oregon is famous for its accessible, fruit-driven wines, which are a welcome relief to so much that comes out of California.
Here are some of the highlights from the tasting:
This is a well-made, unpretentious red blend (cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with syrah, malbec and cabernet franc for good measure) that is everything so many Napa and Sonoma wines aren’t. It’s easy to drink, yet also food friendly.
It’s a touch pricey at $13, but considering how many decent red blends cost half as much more, that’s not a huge problem. Plus, one has to appreciate the humor in both the wine’s name and and the winery — the Magnificent Wine Co.
Serve this at room temperature with hard cheeses (or even cheese puffs). I made chicken in red wine with it, and then served the wine with dinner.
Availability is the great challenge in the wine business. This is just as true for inexpensive wines as it is for the limited production, big score, highly-rated cult wines that get so much attention.
Which means you should always keep your eye on a couple of readily available wines that can be found in grocery stores that are food friendly and easy to drink. The Escudo Rojo (about $14), a red blend from Chile, is one such wine.
It’s made with carmenere, which has evolved into the national grape of Chile (after winemakers there thought it was merlot for a century or so). Carmenere is a little softer than merlot, and with a little more herbal quality. Blend it with cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc, as is done here, and you get a New World, fruit forward style wine that is also balanced. (And, since this is made by a Rothschild company, you also get 12 months of oak.) Serve this with barbecue or hamburgers.
No one ever believes the Wine Curmudgeon when he tells them that wine writing is a lot more than sipping $100 bottles in five-star restaurants in the company of mini-skirted and leather-booted PR women.
It’s work — not mining coal or repairing roofs work, but work nonetheless. Last Thursday, I attended a wine lunch at 12:30 p.m., went to two walk-around tastings, and then did a home wine tasting as one of Two Wine Guys — all in the space of six hours. And I skipped two other events. (One sales rep said skipping them proved I wasn’t manly enough. I think he was joking.) This wasn’t a typical day, but something like it happens a couple of times a year.
Why did I do it? To taste wine that I wouldn’t normally taste, and especially expensive wine. To schmooze with other wine writers, wine executives and wine makers, which is an integral part of doing this job well. And because the point of writing about wine is to drink as much of it as possible.