Category:Red wine

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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Holiday wine suggestions

A few thoughts for next week:

? For whites, consider Alsace. These wines — mostly pinot gris, riesling and gew rztraminer — are versatile, pairing with fish and chicken as well as lighter meat like pork. They aren’t the value they were a year or 18 months ago, thanks to the weak dollar, but they’re still fairly priced. Try Willm Gew rztraminer Reserve 2006 ($18), which is a touch sweet with apricot fruitiness on the front and had Alsace minerality in the back.

? Spanish reds. Regular visitors to this space know how much the Wine Curmudgeon likes Rioja, where you can still buy top-level wine for $30 or less. Look for Montecillo reservas ($15) or gran reservas ($25-$30), made by one of the true originals in the wine business, Maria Martinez Sierra. The classic pairing is game, but it also works with beef and cheese.

? Sparkling. Lindauer Brut NV ($11) is New Zealand’s best-selling bubbly, which is just another example of the country’s wine acumen. It ?s softer than a French champagne, though still not sweet. Why this wine isn’t more easily available baffles me.

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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Syrah, syrah, sryah

image Yes, it ?s confusing. And yes, one ?s first inclination is to make a joke ? or several (and there is a wine called K Syrah).

But given the increasing popularity of syrah and shiraz, it ?s probably a good idea to remain straight-faced ? at least long enough to explain the difference between the two, as well as to figure out where their much less known cousin, petite sirah,, fits in.

First, syrah and shiraz are the same grape. Wines from the Rhone region of France, California, and the Pacific Northwest are called syrah, while those from Australia are called shiraz. Petite sirah, on the other hand, is not the same grape. It ?s genetically similar to syrah, and almost certainly evolved from it, but it ?s not as intense or as bright (though still a fine wine grape in its own right).

The real difference is in style. Generally, shiraz is much less subtle than syrah, and syrah is not a subtle wine to begin with. The reason is mostly climate. Australia has a longer growing season than the Rhone, California and the Pacific Northwest, so the grapes get riper, which means more intense flavor and more sugar. And more sugar means more alcohol during fermentation, often as much as 1 to 2 percentage points more.

These two wines show the contrast between the two styles. It doesn ?t get much more Aussie than Nine Stones Shiraz McLaren Vale ($15).  It’s a chewy, almost ashy wine with an inky color, made in the style that the Wine Magazines drool over.

Meanwhile, Domaine Gramenon Cotes du Rhone Les Laurentides ($16) is classic southern Rhone wine. This is about two-thirds grenache, but the one-third that is syrah gives it its backbone and an intriguing spiciness.

Wine as the complement to a meal

image The weather here has finally turned cold, which gave me an excuse to make red sauce for spaghetti. And it also gave me a chance to get  the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Reserva 2004 ($30) out of the wine closet.

The wine was everything I had hoped it would be — classic chianti with dark fruit, the tell-tale Italian tannins and earthiness, and low alcohol. We finished the bottle, barely noticing that it was gone. Which led me to wonder: Why are Americans so adamant that wine has to be the star of the meal? We’re forced to drink high-alcohol, tannin-driven cabernets — and made fun of if we don’t enjoy them — when these wines will overpower all but the beefiest meals.

The Volpaia was terrific, and mostly because it didn’t overpower the food. It did what it was made to do — complement the food. The acid in the red sauce and the fruitiness in the wine played off each other in a way that too many New World wines don’t. I can’t tell you specifically what made the wine so good. But I can tell you how good it was with dinner, and that’s the most important thing.

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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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Holiday gift ideas

No need to be stumped when it comes to the wine and spirits drinker on your holiday gift list:

? Bounty Hunter Bronze Star Club ($49.95 monthly): The Wine Curmudgeon is not a big fan of wine clubs. Too often, what the club says is ?boutique ? or ?hard to find ? is stuff that someone else is closing out. Plus, you have to pay shipping. But Bounty Hunter, a California wine outfit, has a good reputation and this is a more than decent deal: three bottles a month, two reds and a white. Bounty Hunter promises it won ?t send any wines that someone else is getting rid of, and it guarantees every selection.

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