? Eric Asimov likes sparkling wine: The New York Times wine columnist, in his holiday rundown, notes that “Unless the object of your largesse is seriously misanthropic, Champagne is always ? I repeat, always ? welcome. …” His choices? Charles Heidsieck Brut R serve and Camille Sav s Carte Blanche. Asimov, as always, has impeccable taste (and the wines aren’t ridiculously expensive.)
? $10 wine: Volteo, five Spanish wines that combine quality, value and approachability. I especially liked the tempranillo and a white blend made with viura, viognier and sauvignon blanc (which I haven't reviewed yet, and might be better than the tempranillo). These wines will likely end up in the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame.
? Regional wine: Have someone on your list who likes wine, but can be difficult to buy for? Then think regional. There is New York riesling, Texas viognier, Virginia red blends, Missouri norton, New Mexican sparkling, and Pennsylvania chambourcin — to name just a few.
? A top-flight corkscrew: The best corkscrews are double-hinged — the part of the corkscrew that rests against the top of the bottle has two parts, which makes pulling the cork that much easier. Best yet, they cost as little as $10.
? Expensive wine: My standby is Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, a $50 wine that offers depth and complexity. It's white Burgundy, which means chardonnay, but not like chardonnay that most of us have ever had. My red wine choice is HDV's Belle Cousine, a $60 merlot blend from Napa made by Burgundy native Stephane Vivier.
One would think that it would be incredibly difficult to rate wine as if it was a refrigerator. There are objective measurements for refrigerators — how well does it maintain temperature? — and hardly any for wine.
Nevertheless, Consumer Reports, which has been rating products for some 80 years, does wine. I don't know that I agree with all of the choices in the December issue (a famous critter wine made it), but I can't argue with their methodology. This is about as objective as wine tasting gets.
"We're very specific about what we're looking for," says Maxine Siegel (no relation), who oversees the wine project for the magazine. "There are acceptable standards that we're looking for. And it does have to be a tasty wine."
Stephen Dubner is the co-author of the popular Freakonomics books and blog, which look at economic theory from a less than traditional perspective. In this radio interview transcript, Dubner talks about wine prices and the wine business, and whether price reflects quality and whether the experts are really experts.
A couple of the Wine Curmudgeon's pals show up, including Robin Goldstein of The Wine Trials, and it's a decent discussion of the objective vs. subjective nature of wine quality and wine prices. Which is nothing new to regular visitors here.
But anyone who appreciates what we do on the blog will love this. Dubner quotes his Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt: "My approach to buying wine for gifts is simple: I go in the store, and I look for the label that looks the most expensive of anything in the store. And I make sure it costs less than $15, and if it does, then I buy it."
Maybe I should should send each of the Steves a tin of Wine Curmudgeon M&Ms.
Suggestions for Thanksgiving wine, and please don't agonize over pairings and propriety and pinot noir. Thanksgiving is not about scoring points with the wine snobs, but about sharing what you have with friends and family. In other words, if Aunt Dorothy likes white zinfandel, who are you tell her she can't have any? More, after the jump:
Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.
Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.
Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.
Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.
"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."
In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?
Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.