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.
Here’s a red blend for Father’s Day from an Australian producer that is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorites, a company that almost always delivers quality for around $20.
The Three Monks (about $17) is 70 percent cabernet sauvignon and 30 percent merlot, which means it’s hardy enough to stand up to big steaks but isn’t overwhelming. Best yet, it’s not only low in alcohol for an Aussie wine (14 percent), but it has a bit of French style, so that the fruitiness doesn’t overwhelm the wine.
Call it barbecuing or grilling. Use a smoker or a gas grill or charcoal. Choose between beef or pork or chicken or vegetables. Regardless of which, though, it’s part of the Father’s Day tradition.
So what wine do you pair with kind of food? The classic pairing for grilled sausage is sweetish white wine like riesling or gew rztraminer. And the heartiest red meats, like grilled rib eye or smoked brisket, can take a hearty red wine.
But sometimes, how you ?re cooking the food makes a difference. Grilled chicken marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary pairs with sauvignon blanc. But smoke that same piece of chicken with a dry rub, and it changes character entirely. Then, you ?ll want a light red wine like a tempranillo or a beaujolais. And rose, of course, will go with almost everything except that grilled rib eye. The bright fruit complements barbecue ?s smokiness quite nicely, in fact.
Time was, the Avalon was $10. The Wine Curmudgeon used to drink it by the case, buy it for visiting wine types and make them guess how much it cost (one of these days I’ll have to share the story about the Avalon and the visiting Australian wine marketer), and recommend it at every opportunity.
It’s not $10 any more (closer to $15, though you can find it for $12 every once in a while). But it’s still one of the best values in the wine world, with almost all of the rich, fruity character of Napa cabernet at one-half to one-third the price.
How does Avalon do it? For one thing, the company only makes cabernet. For another, it doesn’t own land or touristy production facilities. It’s based on the French negociant model, which allows it to keep costs — and prices — down.
Serve this with a Father’s Day barbecue. Or buy a case and toast Dad with it throughout the year.
Wine Curmudgeon note: This post is attracting so much traffic that new visitors should know that I wrote another Barefoot post in September 2010 — Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap? It updates this post and offers some thoughts on the Barefoot merlot. There is also a review of Barefoot riesling, written in December 2009.
Original post: Barefoot Cellars wines get a lot more publicity than most inexpensive wines. The $6 cabernet sauvignon and merlot showed up on The Wine Trials' top 100 list. The $6 pinot grigio earned raves last week from the Wall Street Journal's respected wine columnists, John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter. And the $10 extra dry sparkling wine got a gold medal at the prestigious Dallas Morning News competition this spring.
Is it time for the Wine Curmudgeon to take another look at Barefoot?