Category:Wine advice

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.

The new U.S. Pizza Museum is missing just one thing – wine

u.s pizza museum

My Old Style days are a thing of the past — today, it’s wine and pizza.

Four wine-related exhibits for the U.S. Pizza Museum

The new U.S. pizza museum – in Chicago, of course – is a wonderful idea. The only thing that seems to be missing is wine.

Which we can’t have if the museum is to be taken seriously (despite the usual pizza whining from Manhattan). The Wine Curmudgeon knows this because, before I wrote about wine, I wrote about pizza. Those were the halcyon days of Pizza Today magazine, working for the great Bruce Allar and knowing the joy that was the annual Pizza Expo trade show. Where else could anyone get so excited about flour and yeast but at Pizza Expo in the Las Vegas convention center?

I also lived pizza, growing up in Chicago and understanding the symbiosis between cheese, a proper thick crust, the correct tomato sauce, and Italian sausage. Those were the days of Dave’s Italian Kitchen, the pre-chain Giordano’s, the Silo in Lake Bluff, and cold, leftover Rosati’s pizza for breakfast. And yes, I used to drink Old Style with pizza, but I write about wine now, don’t I?

So if the museum doesn’t have a wine and pizza exhibit, then the Wine Curmudgeon will do something about it. Consider these possibilities:

• Always pink: rose with pizza. A French chef, long before the rose boom, told me the only proper wine for pizza was pink. So why not Cuvée des 3 Messes Basses Rose ($10, purchased, 13.5%), a solid, well made southern French rose with tart berry fruit, some minerality, and the necessary freshness and crispness. Imported by Kindred Vines

• Chianti, tomato sauce, and pizza. Any of our cheap Chiantis would work, as would any sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany in Italy. The Monte Antico Toscana, a sangiovese blend, offers fresh cherry fruit and the Italian earthiness I so enjoy.

• Regional pizza and regional wine. One of the things that surprises me about pizza is someone somewhere always seems to be doing something new with it (though you can probably guess how I feel about pineapple as a topping). Given the success of Drink Local, a top-quality Missouri norton like the St. James Estate Norton ($15, purchased, 13.5%), full of spice and dark black fruit, would complement even the unique St. Louis style of pizza.

• Why not seafood? I first saw shrimp on pizza at Gino’s in Houma, La.; despite my Chicago roots, it took me just 12 seconds to accept it as legitimate. In fact, seafood is a common topping in much of the U.S., like the clam pizza popular on the east coast. Seafood-friendly white wine, like the Fantini Farnese Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($8, purchased, 12%). It’s less tart and crisp, but more spicy and chalky than ugni blanc (the French version of the trebbiano grape) as well a little citrus fruit. Imported by Empson USA.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Pizza Museum, using a Creative Commons license

Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

restaurant-only winesThis edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose

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 .

Hey Wine Curmudgeon:
What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that?
Dining out

Dear Dining out:
Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.

WC:
You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing?
Drink Local

Dear Drink Local:
The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.

Hey WC:
Someone left a comment the other day about the price of rose, that it was more expensive than $10. I’m seeing the same thing. Where are you finding $10 rose?
Drinking pink

Dear Pink:
The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition