Category:Wine advice

Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud

sweet red wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why are so many dry red wines sweet, plus understanding varietal character and counterfeiting cheap 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 .

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I bought a Spanish red wine from Campo Viejo the other day, and it was really sweet. I thought it was supposed to be dry. What’s going on?
Sick of sugar

Dear Sugar:
Welcome to the scourge that is sweet wine labeled as dry — mostly with reds, but also with some whites. I wrote about it here, and the situation keeps getting worse. A leading Dallas retailer told me a couple of weeks ago that it’s part of the plan to get Millennials to drink wine, and he agreed with me: it’s a stupid idea. I also talked about this with a younger man who works for one of the biggest distributors in the country, and he thought the whole thing was pretty funny. If I’m already drinking cocktails or craft beer, why am I going to switch to wine because it’s sweet?

Greetings WC:
I consider myself a fairly typical wine drinker. I buy a wine a second time based on how much I liked it and how much it costs. I have no idea if something is “varietally correct” and to be honest I have no idea what a chardonnay is “supposed” to taste like. I just like what I like.
A typical wine drinker

Dear Typical:
That’s a fine approach as far as it goes. But if you want to take the next step and get even more value for your money, then you should learn about things like varietal correctness and what a chardonnay is supposed to taste like. Otherwise, all wine tastes the same, and what’s the point of that? One of the things I love about wine is the differences, and how grapes can taste so many different ways.

Hey WC:
I saw something on the Internet the other day that wine fraud is a super serious problem affecting wine at all prices. Do I need to start worrying about it for the wine you write about?
Concerned about counterfeits

Dear Concerned:
No need to worry. This is another of those Winestream Media stories made to sound like it matters, but really doesn’t. Most counterfeiting is for expensive or rare wines that most of us will never see in a store, let alone buy. There’s no money in counterfeiting cheap wine because so much of it is made. It’s the same reason no one counterfeits dollar bills, but does $20s and $100s instead. If it costs $5 to make a phony bottle of wine, what pays more? Counterfeiting a $10 bottle or a $500 bottle?

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings

Winecast 34: Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post says those of us who care about affordable, quality wine should be worried about the direction of the wine business. But he says we can fight back.

Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, has spent the past decade fighting for affordable, quality wine — no scores or winespeak, but intelligence and passion. He’s one of the best wine writers in the country, and I’d say that even if we weren’t friends who suffered through interminable wine trip bus rides and even longer Drink Local Wine conference calls.

Dave and I talked about the challenges of the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century and what those of us who care about quality and value can do to overcome those hurdles. Something is very wrong, Dave says, when the average bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon costs $67. But there is hope, as our experiences with drink local demonstrate. Consumers will buy interesting wines that don’t taste exactly like each other, which is the promise of the regional wine movement.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 20 minutes long and takes up 7.2 megabytes (and that’s Dave’s dog, Ringo, chiming in at the end). The sound quality is very good to excellent; we used Skype’s new recording feature, which works surprisingly well for a Microsoft project.

The epic LeBron James wine birthday present

lebron james wine

LeBron, there’s a Ralphs near the Staples Center — and it’s open until 2 a.m.

LeBron James received 16 very nice and expensive bottles for his birthday, but even the NBA’s ranking superstar should know a little about cheap wine

Dear LeBron:

The wine world is all agog with your recent birthday present – 16 expensive and rare wines worth thousands of dollars. But I’m here to tell you, as someone who also has close ties to Cleveland (my dad went to college there), pro sports (I used to write about it), and wine that there is more to enjoying wine than all that pricey stuff.

Yes, each of those 16 bottles is wonderful, but even someone who makes as much money as you do needs to know what’s available at your neighborhood Ralphs. What happens if you want a glass or two when you get home from the Lakers’ game and don’t feel like like opening the Sassicaia?

Which is where I come in. Because who knows more about cheap wine that you can buy at the grocery store than I do? Dare I use the term GOAT?

So here are a few cheap wine supermarket suggestions to keep in mind when you’re just not in the mood for the Opus One. Most of these are in the $10 Hall of Fame, by the way.

• The Bieler Provencal rose, about $10. It was the blog’s 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year, and is always one of the best roses in the world regardless of price. Plus, winemaker Charles Bieler pushes for it to be sold in grocery stores.

• The McManis chardonnay, about $10. My pal Jay Bileti, a noted wine judge, can’t believe how well made this California white is; similar wines cost $18 or $20.

• The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon, about $15. Classic California cab – lots of ripe fruit and soft tannins – but not overdone like other, more expensive California reds.

• The Matua sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, each about $12. Who knew a Big Wine company could produce varietally correct and satisfying cheap wine like this?

• The Banfi Centine red, white, and rose, each about $10. Full disclosure: A good friend of mine is a big deal at Banfi, but these are so well done that I’d buy them even if he wasn’t. Which I do. Great with red sauce, by the way.

Let me know if you need any more cheap wine advice.

The Wine Curmudgeon

2019 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

$10 Hall of Fame 20198 wines entered the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but long-time standbys like Bogle and Segura Viudas dropped out

The Wine Curmudgeon never thought he would write these words: Three of my all-time favorites, wines I’ve been drinking for more than 20 years, weren’t good enough to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Bogle’s reds (excepting the pinot noir), plus the Segura Viudas and Cristalino cavas were a shell of what they have been; none were included in this year’s hall, the 13th annual. The former were noticeably and unpleasantly sweet, and not nearly as well made as Bogle’s sweet Essential Red. The cavas tasted more like Italian Proseccos than Spanish sparkling wine, soft and sweetish and devoid of cava’s crispness.

And that was just the beginning of the bad news:

• More than a dozen wines dropped out, including two other standbys: The Gascon white blends that have been in the hall for most of its history, and the Dry Creek fume blanc. The best Gascon, Domaine du Tariquet, lost its importer and isn’t for sale in the U.S. anymore, while the Dry Creek tasted bitter and harsh, something else I never thought I would write.

• Higher prices continued to wreak havoc. The Chateau Bonnett red, white and rose, which cost $6 in Europe, can cost three times that much in the U.S. I left the wines in the hall because I can still find them for $10 or $12 in Dallas, but this may be the last year I can include them. Because, frankly, they’re not worth $16 or $18.

• The decline in quality was marked. The venerable Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier, which was once Hall of Fame quality for $10, today costs as much as $16 or $17 and isn’t worth it, either — awkward, unbalanced, and touched up with residual sugar. Consistency has become a problem, too. A wine could taste the way it’s supposed to one time, and completely different the next. This points to shortcuts in winemaking, as well as use of less expensive and inferior grapes.

• Availability continues to get worse; witness the Tariquet. Meanwhile, distributor consolidation means wineries that produce 200,000 or 300,00 cases — once enough to rank among the biggest in the country — aren’t big enough to find a national distributor. Hence, they will only be sold in parts of the country. That almost happened to McManis, another Hall of Fame standby, in 2018.

I wrote last year “this may be the last Hall of Fame for a long while where this many wines are good enough to earn induction. The quality at $10, and even $15 or $18, isn’t there, sacrificed for ‘smoothness,’ the chance to upsell consumers to equally inferior wine, and a resurgence in cute labels and marketing trickery.”

I take no pleasure in being right.

The $10 Wine Hall of Fame 2019 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 $12 or $13 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 icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Holiday wine gift guide 2018

holiday wine gift guide 2018The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2018 — because no one wants to give the wine equivalent of a fruitcake

• Holiday wine trends 2018

How to avoid giving tacky wine gift bags — “for the wine lover on your lists” — or overpriced, celebrity-endorsed wine accessories (because if an A lister likes it, we should buy it)? The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide out 2018, of course. Because why waste money on bad gifts when you can use it for quality wine?

Keep in mind two must-haves for anyone who drinks wine regularly – the Rabbit wine preserver ($10), cheap and effective, and a top-notch waiter’s corkscrew from Murano ($10). Both have passed the WC’s lengthy, real-life testing process — which means I use them over and over and over. And over.

Plus:

• Kevin Zraly’s new edition of the “Windows on the World” wine course (Sterling Epicure, $18) is probably the best one-volume wine book available. That means it’s worth buying, whether for beginning wine drinker or cranky wine critic. Plus, Zraly’s memoir is scheduled to be published in the next year or so, chronicling his 40 years in the wine business.

Chateau La Tour Carnet ($38) is a red Bordeaux that offers quality but doesn’t cost a fortune, given the prices of red Bordeaux. This French blend, more cabernet sauvignon than merlot, combines modern winemaking with traditional Bordeaux style and terroir. Older vintages like the 2010, which may be more expensive, will especially show that combination. This is the red wine for someone who thinks cabernet begins and ends in the Napa Valley.

The L’Conti Blanquette ($15) is sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France, and tastes nothing like any other French sparkling wine. It’s probably closer to Spanish cava, with lemon and green apple fruit. Plus, you can tell people you tasted a wine made with the mauzac grape. Highly recommended.

• Those who know Italian wine find refosco, a red from northern Italy, to be an acquired tasted. I’ve acquired it, and you’l find quality in refosco from $10 to $20. The Tenuta Luisa ($20) is dark but also bright; a little savory but also a little spicy. It’s more interesting than the less expensive versions, and surprisingly available.

• My new weakness is white wine from Spain’s Basque region made with the hondarrabi zuri grape, most costing around $20. The labels include the phrase “Getariako Txakolina,” which is the name of the region. I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t well-made — almost herbal, with citrus and stone fruit, a little fizz, and some minerality — but not sweet. This is about as far from chardonnay as you can get.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016
• Holiday wine gift guide 2015

Holiday wine trends 2018

holiday wine trends 2018Holiday wine trends 2018: We aren’t necessarily spending more money, but we’re demanding better quality and looking for something different

• Holiday wine gift guide 2018

Wine drinkers aren’t necessarily looking for more expensive wine this holiday season. Rather, as part of holiday wine trends 2018, they’re looking for quality – and even something out of the ordinary.

“My customers are looking for wine not just for special occasions anymore, but for something they can drink every day that combines value and quality,” says Adam Acquistapace, whose family owns two gourmet grocery stores in the New Orleans area. “They want something they can drink that’s just good.”

In other words, not as many changes as you would expect, given what we’ve heard about wine prices this year. Even at Pogo’s, a high-end Dallas wine store, $15 to $20 is the sweet spot, says Neal Caldwell, who has been watching Dallas wine trends for more than three decades.

So what are we looking for this holiday season (aside from the mass-produced Meomis, La Cremas, and Veuve Clicquots that always sell well this time of year)?

• One change? Traditional is back, says Caldwell. This includes cru Beaujolais, the $15 to $20 French red wine from the Beaujolais region of France. Other retailers are seeing increased demand for Chianti, the Italian red long regarded as something only for people who remember Chianti’s straw bottles.

• Another change? Even older wine drinkers, usually the least adventurous, are taking chances, says Caldwell. How about sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France? Or an Italian nebbiolo instead of California cabernet sauvignon? The number of different wines sold on Wine.com, the country’s largest Internet wine retailer, increased 40 percent from this time last year. Says Michael Osborn, Wien.com’s founder and vice president merchandising: “Consumers are buying everything from aglianico to zweigelt.”

• A third change: Lighter red wines, something that started a couple of years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s more than just sweet red blends, say retailers, but the also Oregon pinot noir, and European reds.

• And rose continues to surge, and especially for less than $15 (music to the Wine Curmudgeon’s beleaguered cheap wine ears). Roses account for 3 1/2 percent of Wine.com’s sales, and it’s a year-round product that shows up on holiday tables. That was unheard of just a couple of years ago.

What do wine drinkers want?

wine drinkeresWine drinkers want mostly simple things. Why is that too much to ask?

• Wine prices: What do wine drinkers pay for a bottle of wine?

What do wine drinkers want? That is, those of us who drink wine because we enjoy it and aren’t chasing scores, trying to impress others with how much money we spend, or aspire to become wine geeks.

I shouldn’t have to ask this question, but as I start to gather material for the blog’s 11th annual Birthday Week starting Nov. 12, it remains in the forefront. Because, as one Dallas retailer who usually doesn’t say things like this said the other day: “Why is the wine business starting to treat consumers and wine drinkers like they’re idiots?”

So what do wine drinkers want?

• Fair pricing. The point is not how much a wine costs, but whether it’s worth what it costs. Barefoot, regardless of anything else, usually offers $6 of value. How many $20 wines can say that? And, as noted too many times in the past couple of years, fewer and fewer wines that cost more than $15 are worth that much money – to the Dallas retailer’s point.

• Truth in labeling. If a wine is sweet, say it’s sweet. Why is that so difficult to do?

• Varietal correctness. Chardonnay should taste like chardonnay, merlot should taste like merlot and so forth. Why is this so difficult to do?

• Legitimate availability. I get at least one email a week from a reader saying she or he can’t find wines I’ve written about. This happens even though I try to write about wines that are generally available. So why the problem? Because the system is rigged in favor of the biggest wholesalers and the biggest retailers, but not the consumer. Hence, the most available wines are usually the least interesting, the least varietally correct, the least truthful about sweetness, and the most unfairly priced.

• Knowledgeable sales people. Why a Chicago-area grocery store wine salesman would be rude to my mom when she asked about a wine I had written about is beyond me. But behavior like that is becoming the norm – when you can find someone to help you.