Category:Wine advice

Riesling — the grape that doesn’t get enough respect

Riesling is, perhaps, the most misunderstood of all the wine varietals. People who don’t like sweet wine dismiss it because it can be sweet, while people who drink sweet wine are often confused by the various ways that riesling is made. Both of which are too bad, because riesling is a refreshing alternative to the white wine that we usually drink.

Most rieslings, even those that are dry, have some sweetness. But since it occurs naturally, and not as added sugar or high fructose corn syrup or a winemaking trick, it’s not overwhelming and unpleasant.

In fact, in the best rieslings, the sweetness ? even in the most sweet ? is balanced by the fruitiness and acidity of the wine. There are some top-flight German rieslings that combine a wonderful lemon freshness with low alcohol and sweetness; drinking them is about as much fun as wine gets (as my old pal Cody Upton, who shared a bottle with me on a 100-plus Dallas afternoon can attest).

The good news is that riesling is making significant progress in overcoming this resistance. Chateau Ste. Michelle, the giant Washington state producer, has scored financial success with its $10 grocery store riesling, which you can order in a strange restaurant and it will be OK. The Wine Curmudgeon has mostly been partial to Pacific Rim ?s various rieslings, which can be a step up from Chateau Ste. Michelle and are almost as widely available.

In addition, the International Riesling Federation, a consortium of producers and like-minded sorts, has worked diligently to improve the way riesling is labelled. The group uses terms like dry and sweet, a huge improvement over the old German system, which uses terms like auslese and spatlese.

More about riesling, including a variety of wines to try, after the jump:

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Catfish meuniere, Randall Grahm, and Spy Valley

Honest wine

Honest wine is the best pairing for honest food.

The most important lesson I ever learned about seafood came from the late, much loved and much missed Merlin Kleinpeter: If you can ?t buy it from Robert at Bayou Seafood, she used to say, then don ?t buy it.

Which was Merlin ?s way of telling me that fresh is what matters, and that any supplier who wasn ?t honest about things like freshness wasn ?t worth my time and money. If the crabs weren ?t good that day, then Robert told her so, and Merlin didn ?t buy them.

I mention this because food and wine are inextricably linked, and not just about which wine goes with which food. Pairing wine with most takeout pizza, which never tastes as good as you think it should, is one thing. That ?s what $10 grocery store merlot was invented for.

But pairing wine with honest food ? food that someone cared about and that required them to make an effort when they prepared it — is another matter entirely. More, after the jump:

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Wine and your wedding

Wine and your wedding

It’s your wedding — pick the wine you want, not what others force on you.

This is the time of year when brides-to-be start planning for next spring’s weddings. And, since one of the most common questions that the Wine Curmudgeon gets from blog readers is about choosing wine for weddings, why not a post with just such advice?

Even better, I brought in two other experts ? wedding planner Linda Alpert of suburban Chicago’s Affairs with Linda, and my old pal Mr. Sommelier, who has been doing this sort of thing even longer than I have been writing about wine. And, yes, that is a nom de plume, since Mr. S. has a day job and his bosses might not appreciate this gig.

“They know they’re supposed to have wine, but they’re not sure what to do,” says Alpert, something we’ve heard on the blog before. Thank you, wine business, for confusing your customers. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to tell someone you would like them to answer your questions in English, not winespeak.

• The people are attending your wedding because they like you, not because they want to tweet about the wine selection. In this, simple is usually more than sufficient. Make sure the wine more or less pairs with any food you’re serving (whether reception or dinner), make sure there is red and white, and don’t worry about spending trillions of dollars to impress anyone. Most people won’t notice.

• What specific wines to serve? That depends on your budget and local availability. But this is what brands like Rodney Strong, Hess and King Estate do best — give you value for money and quality wine that’s a step above the grocery store stuff.

• Mr. S. has your quantities covered with his interactive Drinks Calculator. Click a few boxes on the web page, and it generates a complete list of what you’ll need. As a rule of thumb, figure on a couple of glasses of wine at dinner.

• Hotels are not in business to help you save money on wine. They’re in business to make as much money as possible, and their markups make restaurants look reasonable. And, says Alpert, how does a $40 corkage fee sound if you want to bring in your own wine? The hotel’s house wine, because of this, is almost always your best bet, she says.

• Caterers, on the other hand, are more flexible, and are more willing to work with you if you want to buy your own, Alpert says.

• Yes, you should serve sparkling wine. And, no, it doesn’t have to be the expensive French stuff. Mr. S. likes prosecco, the Italian bubbly, which is reasonably inexpensive, while regular visitors here know my preference for cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. And, since so many future brides get hung up pouring a big-name Champagnes, the prices hotels charge are gouge-worthy.

Why most wine is not made to age

P4210035We ?ve talked about this on the blog, but a regular visitor makes the point dramatically with this picture. When you buy wine, drink it. Almost all of the world's wine is made to drink more or less when you buy it ? and not to age.

Sadly, the person who bought these three bottles of 1988 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau didn ?t know that. Which is not surprising, since most Americans (thank you, Winestream Media) still think that ?s true. But Beaujolais isn ?t made to age, and nouveau ? made quickly so it can be sold shortly after harvest ? is especially not made to age.

Hence 24-year-old bottles of wine that look like this. The wine has evaporated in the bottle and those gross splotches (mold, perhaps?) will not doubt enhance the wine ?s current post-vinegar flavor profile.

Thanks to Rich Liebman, who sent the photo and has been a loyal reader since the blog started. Where he found them (and it wasn ?t his house) is probably best left unsaid.

Wine terms: Wine glasses

wine glasses

Pretty pictures notwithstanding, wine glasses affect the taste of wine.

This may seem like a silly topic for a post. How are we supposed to drink wine unless we use a glass? Would that it were that simple. The concept of wine glasses can be as complicated as wine itself; how else to explain something like Riedel's $139 sommelier black glass?

The trick, then, is to approach glasses with the same skeptical eye that we approach wine with. Do you need a decent wine glass to get the most out of wine, even if you're drinking $10 bottles? Yep. Do you need to go overboard and spend hundreds of dollars on a glass? Probably not.

After the jump, a few thoughts on buying and using wine glasses:

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The Cajun wine scoring system

Cajun wine scoring

What wine goes with boiled crawfish? Whatever wine you want.

The Wine Curmudgeon has made a breakthrough in wine scoring systems.

Forget points and stars and thumbs up. Forget controversy. Forget Parker. Never again will we have to argue about whether a 90-point wine is any good.

Welcome to the Cajun wine scoring system, based on years of extensive research eating and drinking in south Louisiana; my tenure
as the sports editor at the Houma, La., Daily Courier; and the wit and wisdom of the inestimable L. Kleinpeter, a native of Thiboduax, La., and a descendant of Rousseaus and Boudreauxs.

Why Cajun? Because few cultures understand food and drink as well. It’s not about pretension or celebrity chefs, but about the freshest possible ingredients and what tastes good. I’ve had dinners at someone’s home in Acadiana that would put pricey restaurant meals to shame. In addition, it’s a culture that has little patience for foolishness, and what’s more foolish than the 100-point scoring system?

Plus, Cajuns understand that you don’t put tomatoes in gumbo.

After the jump, the Cajun scoring system:

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Easy ways to learn more about wine

Wine drinkers are creatures of habit. We tend to drink the same wines and shop in the same places for those wines. Which, frankly, doesn’t do much to expand our wine horizons.

This is an especial problem for beginning wine drinkers, whose lack of experience is compounded by the intimidation factor — wine can be a scary place for newcomers, who are overwhelmed with labels, names, terms, and the like.

Hence this post, part of my New Year’s resolution to write more items for people just getting started with wine. And a big tip of the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to Dave McIntyre, who has written about some of this and jarred me into action.

Four easy things anyone can do to boost their wine savvy:

? Drink more wine. Seriously. One of the things that people always laugh at when I talk about wine is the idea that they can learn more by drinking more. This, I’m convinced, has its roots in our post-Prohibition cultural outlook. Americans have been taught that liquor is different, and can’t be approached like other consumer goods. So we reserve wine for special occasions or let people who are supposed to know more about it than we do tell us what to drink. What we should be doing is drinking more (responsibly, of course), deciding ourselves what we want to drink, and not really caring what others think of what we drink.

? Shop in a different store. It’s amazing, as Dave notes, how this will change your wine-buying perspective. For one thing, there will almost certainly be wines that you haven’t seen before. For another, a store employee could recommend something you’ve never thought about. This is very important for people who only buy wine in grocery stores, where there are a lot of wines but mostly from the same old places made by the same companies and tasting exactly the same.

? Write down the names of the wine you enjoy. And even those you don’t. No one, including the so-called experts, remembers the name of every wine they drink. So we write it down (CellarTracker, the unofficial wine inventory software of the blog!). There is nothing wrong or snooty with this; it’s common sense. You don’t even need a computer or smart phone or iPad — pencil and paper work just as well. Record the name, price and what you thought about the wine (and, believe it or not, phrases like good and bad are perfectly acceptable). If you have that information, you can go into a store and ask an employee to recommend something similar to the wine you liked — or to steer you away from one you didn’t.

? Try a wine you don’t like. You don’t have to do it often. But every once in a while, if you don’t like sweet wine or red wine or whatever, taste one. Yes, there’s a good chance that you still won’t like it. But, given that your palate will change over time as you gain more experience, there’s also a chance you’ll find a new appreciation for a wine you didn’t like.

The photo is from luisrock62 of Argentina, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license