Talk to a reasonably well educated wine drinker ? or even a wine professional ? and ask them what they think of Kendall-Jackson. ?Oh, it ?s OK, but. they ?ll say.
And the but? Usually something along the lines of K-J is OK for grocery store wine, or that people who like it don ?t know a lot about wine, or it ?s not my style of wine ? anything to point out the difference between themselves and people who like Kendall-Jackson.
Frankly, the Wine Curmudgeon didn ?t think he ?d like this. So what happened when I tasted it? I was quite taken with its quality ? a well-made, varietally-correct zinfandel for about $8 at most grocery stores. It ?s hard to beat that (and proves, once again, not to pre-judge wine).
Unlike some zinfandels, the Smoking Loon wasn ?t especially fruity. I ?m beginning to think that lack of fruit is a function of the 2006 vintage in California, since this wasn ?t the first time I ?ve noticed it. But this was not a problem, since the wine was spicy and brambly ?- just the way zinfandel should be. It ?s a contender for next year ?s $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this with barbecue, pizza and burgers.
The Wine Curmudgeon likes petite sirah a lot. The grape isn ?t well known, it usually offers lots of value (see the Bogle petite sirah), and it ?s mostly a dark, interesting wine that isn ?t as over the top as shiraz. It should be noted here that petite sirah and syrah and shiraz are related, but not the same grape, and that it’s actually the U.S. version of a French cross called durif.
So it wasn ?t difficult to enjoy this wine, made by Kent Rosenblum, the wine world ?s most famous veterinarian and one of its newest millionaires. The Pickett Road has a chocolate and almost chalky finish, with big cherry fruit in the front. I prefer a little darker style of petite sirah, with less bright flavors. But these grapes come from the Napa Valley, and I suppose this is what happens when one uses luscious, rich Napa fruit to make petite sirah. I paired it with a smoked turkey breast for a July 4 barbecue, and it was quite effective.
The drawback? This is a $25 wine, which is a bit pricey for what it offers. It ?s well made, certainly, but you run into all sorts of metaphysical pricing questions when a wine costs this much. Such as: Should one spend $25 for a petite sirah?
Some of the best cheap wine in the world today is coming out of Italy. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Italians suffer from the same weak dollar problems that affect everyone else. It's amazing what a producer can do when they want to sell something, isn't it?
Of course, there are a couple of other reasons for the price. The LiVeli (about $12) is made with the negroamaro grape in Salento, which means it's made with a little known grape in a little known region (the boot heel of the Italy), neither of which is going to drive up the price. The Wine Curmudgeon is quite thankful.
Negroamaro makes dark, inky red wine. But there is nothing unpleasant about this, as is sometimes the case with inexpensive wine. Rather, it's full and rich and almost black raspberry-ish (with, of course, a nice shot of Italian acidity). Best yet, it's not heavy. I drank it with cappellini tossed with quartered cherry tomatoes just out of the garden, basil, chopped garlic and olive oil, and the sweetness of the tomatoes made a wonderful foil for the wine.
One note: The 2007 should arrive in the U.S. later this summer. I'd buy the 2005 and put the 2007 away for another nine months. It should just get better. How often can you say that about an inexpensive wine?
Zinfandel drinkers of the world, it ?s time to unite. The wine world, it appears, is conspiring against us.
On the one hand, the establishment, which has always looked down on zinfandel as something inferior to cabernet sauvignon and merlot, continues to do so. One world-class wine maker, an otherwise fine fellow, compared it to South Africa ?s pinotage — which is the definition of an acquired taste.
On the other hand, the hipsters and social climbers who are always looking for the next groovy thing have discovered zinfandel.in a big way ? as in big and alcoholic. They ?re touting wines that have as much as 25 percent more alcohol than traditional zinfandels, which makes them almost as boozy as fortified wines like port, Night Train and Thunderbird.
It’s entire possible to make lovely, food-friendly wines at 14 percent or less. See any of the Nalle zinfandels, for example. Not to fear, though. The Wine Curmudgeon can shine a light at the end of this tunnel.
This is the third of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. To see part I, go here; part II, here.
Everything you have said so far sounds good. But how do I find out what I like to drink? Drink a glass, of course. If you like it, then buy something similar. If you don ?t like it, pour it down the drain and try something else. Wine is not rocket science. You don ?t have to go to school to learn how to like it. If it tastes good to you, that ?s enough.
Start with inexpensive wines, and work your way up. And don ?t be afraid to try different wines. Just because you like white zinfandel doesn ?t mean that ?s the only wine you can drink. Try a rose or a German riesling. They are similar to white zinfandel, but more sophisticated.
Well, I suppose. But there are so many wines to choose from. How do I get started? Walk into a wine store, or a grocery store with a good wine department, and ask for help. Do you want to learn about reds? Whites? About a region? About wine for picnics? About inexpensive wines? Don ?t try to learn everything in one day. It can ?t be done, for one thing, and it ?s not any fun either.
Tell the staff how much you want to spend, if you have any preferences (dry vs. sweet, red vs. white, and the like), and ask them to recommend something. In addition, ask if they offer classes or tastings. These days, as wine becomes more popular, more and more stores do those things. They ?re cheap and easy ways to taste even more wine.
How can you tell I tell if the retailer is any good? If they don ?t tell you what wine you should drink, but ask you what you want to drink. It ?s your money ? don ?t let a snooty retailer with inventory to move make you buy something you don ?t want to buy. And if you buy something you don ?t like on a retailer ?s recommendation, it ?s perfectly acceptable to tell them the next time you ?re in the store.
That makes sense. But aren ?t there some simple rules of thumb, just to start with? Sure. Remember these, and you ?ll always be able to come up with a decent bottle in a pinch. First, all wine doesn ?t have to be a varietal like chardonnay or cabernet. The best values, especially for inexpensive wine, will be blended from several different grapes. It ?s very difficult to find a terrific cabernet for less than $10, but there are a dozen red blends that will do the same thing the cabernet does for one-third less.
Second, younger is better, since less expensive wines were not made to last as long as their more expensive cousins. Stay away from red wines older than 3 and white wines older than 2. It ?s better to have a wine that ?s a little too young than a little too old.
That should you get you started. The rest is up to you. The most fun part about wine is the journey ? so much wine to taste, and so little time to do it.