Category:Wine advice

When is buying expensive wine worth it?

expensive wine

“So this is really worth $50, and not some over-priced, premiumiuzed thing I won’t like?”

Three things to keep in mind when your’re deciding if expensive wine is worth the extra money

This post from the Lifehacker website, “When spending the extra money is worth it,” didn’t include wine. Which is probably a good thing, given Lifehacker’s track record with wine.

But it did get me thinking: How do we know when it spending extra money for wine is worth it?

The Lifehacker post poses an intriguing question in our “lots of crap available to buy all the time” age, where any kind of junk is just a click away on the Internet. It’s also relevant given that the holidays will soon be here, and that usually sets off all kinds of wine buying foolishness, where money takes a back seat to common sense.

In this, the post included some obvious choices – paying for movers and buying better quality sheets among them. But the wine question does not have an obvious answer, given how confusing wine is and how wine prices today reflect quality much less than they used to. Plus, there’s no need to spend more than $10 or $12 most of the time; what’s the point of paying $40 for a bottle for Tuesday night Chinese takeout or $50 for a Saturday afternoon barbecue with the neighbors?

So consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s three pointers for knowing when it’s worth buying more expensive wine:

• Is it a memorable occasion? The late Darryl Beeson always insisted the occasion made the wine memorable, and not vice versa. But I’d argue that if you’re celebrating a milestone, it makes sense to spend the extra money. Yes, my definition of milestone might differ from yours, but I don’t regret for a minute paying $150 for a bottle of red Burgundy to celebrate the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory.

• Did someone you trust recommend the wine? I can’t emphasize this enough. How many of us, including people who drink wine for a living, have paid a premium for a bottle only to experience buyer’s remorse after the first sip? Most of the time that’s because we took the advice of someone who didn’t know what they were doing, had an ulterior motive, or just assumed we would like what they like. And that’s when the $60 of wine ends up being used for cooking.

• Are you in a position to appreciate the wine? That is, will it be a long leisurely event with lots of time to sip and assess, and to enjoy a couple of glasses or more? Or will it be a cocktail or holiday party, where you’ll get barely more than one taste of the wine and never remember anything about it? Or will the goal of the function be to get drunk, in which case Winking Owl will do?

Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken

roast chickenThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.

When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.

Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?

The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.

The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will do justice to the chicken — and not a chardonnay in sight:

Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado

Terre del Fohn Muller-Thurgau 2017 ($14, purchased, 12.5%): A beautiful white Italian wine that is made from muller-thurgau, an uncommon grape. It’s almost spicy, a little oily, and offers some light lime fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Tricana.

La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy

Ask the WC 22: Natural wine, wine tariff, wine scores

natural wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why is natural wine so expensive? Plus, trying to figure out the European wine tariff and the basics behind wine scores

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hello Wine Curmudgeon:
Love, love, love, your blog! Also recently fell in love with natural wines, like Martha Stoumen, and I’m wondering if you think they will ever become affordable for the daily wine consumer? When I say “natural,” I’m speaking of the wines that use native yeast only to ferment and do not add sulfites. So far, the natural wines that I have found in the $10-$15 range are simply undrinkable.
Curious about natural wine

Dear Natural:
Thanks for the kind words. Natural wine, even though availability is limited, is probably the most contentious topic in wine today. And you’ve identified the natural wine conundrum – and why I haven’t written about it. It’s almost impossible to make a quality natural wine most of us can afford, given the process. Waiting on natural yeast to do the job is not cost efficient. The other interesting thing about natural wine is that its supporters say it should be expensive, so that its producers can make a living. One of their criticisms of Big Wine and “commercial” wine is that these wines don’t give the grape grower a fair return on their effort and time and cost.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m confused about the new European wine tariffs. Why is there a dividing line at 14 percent alcohol?
Boozed and confused

Dear Boozed:
Don’t worry – we’re all confused. Most of it makes little sense. And the provision that French, British, German, and Spanish wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are exempt from the tariff is especially confusing. That means most whites will be taxed, but some reds won’t be. Maybe it’s the idea that higher alcohol is bad, and those wines should be punished. Or it may also have something to do with the way wine is taxed in the U.S. where higher alcohol wines pay higher excise taxes.

Hi, WC:
I know this will sound stupid, but I don’t understand wine scores or what they’re supposed to do. Why can’t someone just say if the wine is good or bad?
100 points

Dear 100:
The 100-point scoring system used to be the most contentious part of wine. It’s based on the system we know from school – 90 to 100 is an A, 80 to 90 is a B, and so forth. Its original goal was to expand on good or bad, so that you would know how good or how bad. But – and regardless of every other problem with the system – almost no wine gets less than 85 points any more. Which means one of two things: either no wine is badly made enough to warrant 82 or 79 or 64 points, or the system is so flawed that scores have become meaningless. I think it’s the latter, and that’s one reason why I don’t use scores.

Photo: “Great Sage – Bar” by ZagatBuzz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Preparing for the 25 percent wine tariff

wine tariffFive ways to save money if and when the 25 percent wine tariff for France and Spain takes effect

So far, there’s been no sign that the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine won’t go into effect at the end of the week. So those of us who are rightfully worried about all that quality $10 wine going away should act now:

• Stock up before prices increase. Last week, I bought what might have been the last seven bottles of Chateau Bonnet Blanc in Dallas, and also bought most of what was on the shelf of the Azul y Garanza tempranillo. The Bonnet, of course, is one of the all-time great cheap wines, but it almost certainly won’t be $10 after Oct. 18. The Azul, $11 for a 1-liter bottle, is not just a terrific value, but a quality wine as well – Spanish tempranillo that tastes like Spanish tempranillo.

• Look for closeouts and sales before Oct. 18. Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods, did a 20 percent French wine sale last week. So I bought a case of assorted $10 French rose for $8 a bottle; hopefully I can hold out for the first six weeks or so of the tariff.

• There is always Italy. The good news is that Italian wine was excluded from the tariff (though not its olive oil and some of its cheeses). The bad news is that this means that very ordinary $9 pinot grigio will become an even bigger attraction as retailers drop similarly-priced French and Spanish wine. But $10 Sicilian wines will still offer value, while regions in the middle part of the country like Umbria and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo have long been famous for price and quality.

• Sparkling is safe. One would have thought that if the U.S. really wanted to punish France, it would have taxed Champagne. Hence there should still be value in $12 to $15 cava, the Spanish sparkling wine.

• Think South Africa. South African wines haven’t been popular in the U.S. for almost 20 years, but this could be their time to shine, says James McFadyen, a long-time retailer and distributor on both sides of the Atlantic. Producers like Ken Forrester and Mulderbosch offer quality and fair prices for both red and white; the catch has been availability.

Winecast 40: Roberta Backlund, consumer wine advocate

Roberta Blacklund

Roberta Backlund

Consumer wine advocate Roberta Backlund says there are values to be found – the key is not to be shy about what you’re looking for

One of the biggest problems facing consumers when they buy wine, says Roberta Backlund, is a lack of confidence. “Don’t be shy,” she says. Know what you like, and don’t be afraid to say so. Why buy a $15 bottle of red wine when you want an $8 bottle of white wine? Or vice versa?

Backland has been a wine retailer and consultant, and has worked for producers and distributors. In this, she has seen almost everything that goes on in her 22 years in the wine business, and her advice is real world – no scores, no winespeak, and no foolishness.

Did you know, for example, that the trade calls the system where the same product gets three different prices “pulse pricing?” Or that Chilean wine, once one of the world’s great values, may be staging a comeback, so its sauvignon blanc and pinot noir may be worth buying? And that box wine is better than its reputation suggests?

We recorded the interview at Metro State College in Denver, when we were judging the 2019 Colorado Governor’s Cup. Backlund included advice on how to spot, older flawed wines, where to find bargains at your local retailer, and how to get around premiumization.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 ½ minutes long and takes up 8.6 megabytes. The sound quality is good; there’s a little popping, but nothing that gets in the way.

Premiumization be damned: $139.36 for 14 ½ bottles of cheap wine

cheap wine

Look at all those bargains at Jimmy’s just waiting for us to buy.

It’s still possible to buy quality cheap wine for $10 a bottle

So what if the cheap wine news these days is about failure? The Wine Curmudgeon, undaunted by the obstacles of premiumization, perseveres. The result? 14 ½ bottles of quality cheap wine for less than $10 a bottle.

How is this possible? I followed the blog’s cheap wine checklist. It’s even more valuable today, when $15 plonk is passed off as inexpensive. So look for wine from less pricey parts of the world, wine made with less common grapes, and shop at an independent retailer who cares about long term success and not short term markups.

The retailer was Jimmy’s, Dallas’ top-notch Italian grocer – so the wines are all Italian. Here are the highlights of what I bought for less than $140, which includes a case discount but doesn’t include sales tax.

• A couple of bottles of the Falesco Est Est Est, $10 each. This white blend used to be $7 or $8, but it’s still a value at $10.

• A 350 ml can of the Tiamo rose for $5 – hence, the half bottle in the headline. There wouldn’t be an onus about canned wine if all canned wine was this well done, . Highly recommended.

• Banfi’s Centine red Tuscan blend, $10. The Centines (there is also a white and rose) are some of the best values in the world. This vintage, the 2017, was a little softer than I like, but still well worth $10.

Principi di Butera’s Sicilian nero d’avola, $10. This was the 2016, but it was still dark and plummy and earthy, the way Sicilian nero should be. Highly recommended.

• A couple of roses – a corvina blend from Recchia, $8, and the Bertani Bertarose, a $15 wine marked down to $8. Because who is going to buy a $15 Italian rose made with molinara and merlot? They were in similar in style – fresh and clean, with varying degrees of cherry fruit.

More about buying cheap wine:
Cheap wine checklist: $82.67 for a case of wine
Once more: A case of quality wine for less than $10 a bottle
Nine bottles of wine for $96.91

Ask the WC 21: Mulderbosch rose, older vintages, Big Wine

This edition of Ask the WC: What happened to the Mulderbosch rose? Plus, why are there so many older vintages on store shelves and what’s going on with Big Wine?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hey Wine Curmudgeon:
Did you know the Mulderbosch rose, one of your well-reviewed $10 roses, went away a year or so ago? It doesn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon. Do you have any information? I’m sure many of your followers would like to know also. Thanks.
Where’s the Mulderbosch?

Dear Mulderbosch:
The past couple of years have not been kind to Mulderbosch — the South African winery was sold and it lost its U.S. importer. Plus, says Bob Guinn, the vice president of sales for the winery’s new owner, “the brand had been ‘footballed around’ for the past few years so we have spent the majority of this year cleaning up older inventory and pricing.” But there is good news: There is a new importer, and there are still distributors in 47 states. So we should be seeing the wine return to store shelves sooner rather than later.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m seeing a lot of old vintages for wine that costs $10 and $15 on store shelves, some as old as 10 years. They can’t be any good, can they?
Older vintages

Dear Older:
Oddly, I’m seeing more of that, too, even in supermarkets where they tend to pay more attention to inventory rotation. The standard rule is two years for white wine and three years for reds. That means nothing much older than the 2015 or 2016 vintages for white wine and nothing much older than 2014 or 2015 for reds. The exception, of course, is for wine made to age, but most wines aren’t. In addition, we may be seeing more older wines as wine sales remain flat and more older wine remain unsold and stays on shelves.

Dear WC:
Why is Big Wine dumping all its cheap wine brands? I even heard a rumor Yellow Tail was for sale.
Call me curious

Dear Curious:
Yellow Tail may well be for sale, as Big Wine seems to be trying to be less about wine and more about legal weed, craft beer, and spirits. A couple of weeks ago, a second-tier whisky brand sold for $266 million. That makes it more valuable than most of the cheap wine brands Constellation sold to E&J Gallo in its fire sale this spring. Says Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, one of the smartest people in the wine business: “The overall growth rate in spirits is better than wine today, so even a second-tier whisky brand is more valuable. We are losing the young customer because of a bogus negative cumulative health messaging, like the ‘One bottle of wine is the same as smoking 10 cigarettes’ and because young consumers are more frugal.”

Photo: “Rose” by aliciagriffin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 20: White Bordeaux, crossing state lines, lower alcohol
Ask the WC 19: Supermarket wine, plastic wine bottles, corked wine
Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud