Category:Wine advice

2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2021 $10 Hall of FameGood news, and just when we need it — nine wines entered the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame

Somehow, nine wines entered 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. That’s the most since 2017, which also had nine.

How is that possible, given the Trump tariff, premiumization, and supply shortages caused by the pandemic? I’m not sure. Chalk it up to a bit of good fortune, as well as a variety of far-sighted importers and retailers who saw an opportunity in a market glutted with overpriced, supermarket-quality plonk.

All was not good news, of course. Some of  the greatest cheap wines in the history of cheap wine dropped out. France’s Chateau Bonnet red, white, and rose now cost as much as $20 each, while the importer for Italy’s much beloved Falesco Vitiano dropped the white and rose and limited distribution of the red. Two other wines dropped out — New Zealand’s Matua sauvignon blanc and the Australian Yalumba Y series rose, both for quality.

Meanwhile, availability became an even bigger problem last year. A half dozen more wines were Hall quality, but weren’t readily available, so I couldn’t use them. And even the ones I did add might be more difficult to find now than they were when I tasted them in 2020. There are still too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they don’t want products from the smaller, niche producers who make the most interesting cheap wine.

Still, given how cheap wine quality has plummeted over the past couple of years, and how pitiful last year’s Hall was, any good news is welcome. The inductees include the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year, the MAN chenin blanc from South Africa; the Campuget and Masciarelli roses; the Italian Tenuta Carpazo sangiovese and La Valentina Montelpuciano; a vinho verde, the Aveleda Fonte; the Spanish Balnea verdejo; the French Le Paradou viogner; and an old friend, the Mont Gravet carignan.

The complete 2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Wine and food pairings 11: Croque monsieur, turkey style

croque monsieurThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with croque monsieur, the French grilled sandwich,  and all that leftover holiday turkey.

Tired of seeing all that leftover turkey in the fridge? The Wine Curmudgeon has a plan — variations on the theme of the French croque monsieur, a grilled ham sandwich that bears more than a passing resemblance to the grilled cheese our moms made when we were kids.

In this, once we substitute leftover turkey for the ham, the possibilities are endless. The adventurous among us can go traditional (save for the turkey), making the sandwich with a bechamel sauce.  Or, you can go Julia Child, grilling the sandwich in clarified butter and cutting off the crusts. My preference? A turkey Reuben, which uses leftover turkey but also offers a change of pace. How often do Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut show up at Thanksgiving?

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. A turkey Reuben lends itself to a variety of wine; these three suggestions will get you started:

• La Vieille Ferme Blanc 2019 ($8, purchased, 13%): This French white blend is much, much better than the old days, with more fruit (pear?) and a very soft finish. In this, it’s a little too soft to be a wine of the week, but it’s certainly worth buying on sale and keeping around the house. Imported by Vineyard Brands

• Herdade do Esporao Alandra 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%): This is an old-fashioned, almost rough and tannic, red blend from Portugal. Having said that, its dark fruit and longish finish is oddly pleasing.. Needs food. Imported by NOW Wine Imports

• Etienne Besancenot Cochon Volant 2019 ($12, purchased, 12.5%): This French pink is fruity (red cherry?), thanks to the 60 percent grenache in the blend. But it’s dry and and enjoyable. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Blog associate editor Churro contributed to this post

Full disclosure: Yet again, I neglected to take a picture of the dish; the one accompanying the post is from the Serious Easts blog.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 10: Lemon rosemary roasted turkey thighs
Wine and food pairings 9: Mushroom ragu
• Wine and food pairings 8: Not quite ramen soup

Slider photo: “Rome Elite Event: wine, food and nice people” by Yelp.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Seven wine things to do in December that have nothing to do with the holidays – but will be a lot of fun anyway

blanket fort
“Can Churro, the blog’s associate editor, use the blanket fort, too?”

Who needs the holidays to have fun drinking wine when you can sip bubbly in a blanket fort?

1. Make a blanket fort in your living room, chill a bottle of sparkling wine, and spend the evening with your significant other. What better way to end 2020?

2. Drink a bottle of regional wine. This especially applies to those of you who have never tasted regional wine, but know it’s terrible because it’s regional wine and therefore you don’t need to taste it.

3. Try a bottle of something you’ve never tasted before. After all, the world does not revolve around chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon.

4. Shop somewhere you’ve never shopped before. After all, the world does not revolve around Costco and Trader Joe’s.

5. Buy a bottle of wine with an ugly label. That will show those wine marketers a thing or two, yes?

6. Put an ice cube in a glass of wine. Just because.

7. Let your local wine shop put together a case for you, sight unseen (but within your price range). Which, frankly, may be the most fun thing on this list.

Photo courtesy of Aimsel Ponti, using a Creative Commons license

Holiday wine gift guide 2020

holiday wine 2020The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2020, and even a couple of things that aren’t wine

The big trend in wine gifts this year? Non-alcoholic products, if the mail in my inbox is any indication. Or — shudder — a $426 decanter. We can do much better than that; after all, why else does the blog exist? Keep in our wine gift buying guidelines in mind, as well.

Consider:

Joe Roberts’ “Wine Taster’s Guide” ($14.99, Rockridge Press) is neither pretentious nor expensive — which is why it’s on this list. Joe, who I’ve known almost since I started the blog, is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we buy wine we may not like because the process is so intimidating.

• The Benziger de Coelo Quintus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($68, sample, 14.1%) is a gorgeous, structured — albeit not especially subtle — Sonoma Coast pinot noir. It’s full of dark fruit, maybe even some tea, and the soft tannins that used to be common in California pinot. Not quite sure how I got a sample, but very glad I did. Highly recommended.

• The Wine Curmudgeon has a drawer full of wine-stained tablecloths, mostly from dripping wine bottles. Hence, the marble wine coaster ($19.95), which not only would have saved many of my tablecloths but looks good, too.

Ice wine is one of the great joys of the wine world, but is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. And it wasn’t easily available or cheap to begin with. So when a winemaker reader tipped me to the Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine 2018 ($50/375 ml bottle, sample, 9%), I asked for a sample — something I rarely do. And I was not disappointed. This is ice wine in all its glory — lusciously sweet, but balanced, with pineapple and tropical fruit and refreshing crispness. Highly recommended.

More holiday wine gift guides:
Holiday wine gift guide 2019
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017

The WC video redux: Holiday wine tips

Plus, opening a sparkling wine bottle in just one take

Yes, this post ran about this time last year, but I wanted to put it up again for a couple of reasons. First, it’s timely — and a damn fine job, if I say so myself. Many thanks to host Michael Sansolo; his show is “Shopping with Michael” for the Private Label Manufacturers Association.

The other reason? Because this was the only video we did as part of the PLMA’s private label wine project. Our goal was to convince U.S. supermarkets to do for private label wine what European supermarkets do — high quality and low price.

But the pandemic edged our effort to the sidelines. And, more sadly, long-time PLMA president Brian Sharoff died at the end of the spring, and it was his vision that started the project. Brian gave me a chance to work on it, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.

So, I’m posting this one more time for Brian. He is much missed, and not just because he always made fun of my hats.

Winecast 53: Doug Caskey and Drink Local during the pandemic

doug caskey
Doug Caskey and his spiffy Colorado wine Zoom background.

“The situation isn’t good, but it’s difficult to make a monolithic assessment. The situation depends on where you are, and it can be all across the board.”

Colorado’s Doug Caskey has been one of the leaders in the local wine movement for almost as long as there has been one. He has been the executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board since 2000, and has served in a variety of roles with the Wine America trade group. As such, he is well-placed to discuss how the pandemic is clobbering regional wine.

Perhaps the biggest problem, Doug said, is that state laws classify wineries as bars. This means they suffer from the same restrictions as places people go to pick up girls and boys and to get drunk. Which, of course, is hardly the case with a winery tasting room. In addition, local wineries depend on events like weddings and concerts to stay in business, which are also limited by pandemic bar restrictions.

Among the topics we discussed:

• The recent spike in coronavirus cases doesn’t bode well for Drink Local, since wineries that have been able to re-open their tasting rooms may not be able to keep them open.

• The pandemic hasn’t been a boon for Drink Local at retail, despite all the glowing sales numbers. Consumers seem to be buying the best known brands instead of trying lesser known regional labels.

• The Trump wine tariff, advertised as a help to Drink Local, has actually been a tremendous hindrance. It has wreaked havoc on the wine supply chain, making it more difficult for local wines to get on store shelves.

Yurts, as a solution to outdoor winter dining. Yes, yurts.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 13 minutes long and takes up almost 9 megabytes. Quality is mostly excellent. And yes, I was able to post Doug’s Zoom background.

Ask the WC 25: Three-tier reform, wine prices, wine scores

three-tierThis edition of Ask the WC:  Is the Supreme Court going to take a three-tier system case? Plus, what’s happening with wine prices and why does the WC dislike 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.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
I really liked your post about buying wine illegally. Is there any chance we can get rid of all these stupid laws and buy wine like normal people?
On-line wine buyer

Dear On-line:
A variety of cases are wending their way through the legal system that could make it possible for us to buy wine from out-of-state retailers and on-line. They include my favorite, Walmart’s attempt to overturn a Texas law that says publicly-held companies can’t get a state retail liquor license. Talk about foolish. However, another case is attracting more legal attention — Lebamoff v. Michigan. Lebamoff, an Indiana retailer, sued to be allowed to sell wine in Michigan. In this, it directly addresses out-of-state retailer sales. Tom Wark, who follows these things in his role as executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers, told me he thinks there’s a good chance the Supreme Court accepts Lebamoff. If so, it should decide once and for all whether Internet and out-of-state retail sales are constitutional. Having said that, there’s no guarantee the court rules in favor of direct retail shipping if it takes the case.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
What’s going to happen with wine prices? I thought they were supposed to go down, but all I see is $15 wine in the grocery store.
Cheap wine buyer

Dear Cheap:
Your guess is as good as mine. The grape glut is real, here and in Europe, and I’m working on a post about that for next week. But I agree — prices don’t seem to have responded to an excess of wine on store shelves. The tariff, of course, is one reason. I also wonder if supply chain problems caused by the pandemic are limiting the supply. A limited supply means prices won’t fall, even if demand has decreased during the pandemic. So we will just have to wait and see.

Greetings, Charmingly Grumpy:
I’m new to the blog.. How come you don’t use wine scores like everyone else?
Inquiring mind

Dear Inquiring:
Scores are one of the three or four worst things about the wine business (the others being corks instead of screwcaps, premiumization, and three-tier). They’re biased in favor of expensive wines, regardless of quality; they don’t give enough credit to “lesser” grape varieties or to white wine; and they reflect the critic’s taste and not necessarily whether the wine is any good. In this, they are a crutch for retailers, who can post 88 points and figure that’s customer service. I explain what the wine tastes like so you can make up your own mind.

Photo: “Dallas Food Truck Truck Festival – August 2011” by BetterBizIdeas is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0