Category:Wine advice

Wine I like

wine I like

The most common question people ask the Wine Curmudgeon is, not surprisingly, “What’s your favorite wine?” My answer, also not surprisingly, usually disappoints them. I am, after all, the Wine Curmudgeon.

That’s because I don’t have a favorite. One of the tenets of the Wine Curmudgeon’s faith is that wine should not be about playing favorites, but about looking for new wine to enjoy. What’s the point of drinking the same wine over and over when there is so much still left to try?

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain wines that I like. White Burgundy is my guilty (and expensive) pleasure. Sparkling wine always makes me smile. Well-made regional wine, preferably with obscure grapes, is a huge treat. And, of course, any of my $10 wines — whether I’ve had it before or I’m tasting it for the first time — is a reason to open a bottle.

Which raises an important question that I’ve never really addressed in the blog’s three-year history: How do I decide which wines I like? What are my criteria? What makes a well-made wine? This is especially relevant given Monday’s release of the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame. It is, as always, an eclectic mix — grocery store wines, wines made with odd grapes, lots of rose, wines from small producers, and even chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. What qualities do I find that sets them apart?

The first thing to understand is that wine is subjective. Everyone’s palate is different. What I taste in a wine may not be what you taste. The second thing to understand is that there are no bad wines. If you like a wine, it’s good, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

That’s why I don’t use the words “good” and “bad” to describe wine. They’re empty adjectives and much too subjective — my interpretation of what wine should taste look, as if I was the wine tasting god and everyone had to obey my decisions. I’m also not a fan of descriptions like smooth; I’m not quite sure what that means. Water tastes “smooth,” but it’s not very wine-like. Smooth, I think, is an adjective people who drink a lot of poorly-made wine use when they find a wine that isn’t too tannic or too acidic. Too often, it’s a backhanded compliment.

Instead, I look for several other criteria:

Is the wine flawed? It is corked or oxidized or dirty or out of balance, or any of the countless faults that can creep in?

• Is it varietally correct? If it’s chardonnay, does it taste like chardonnay? This is the most difficult criteria, oddly enough, since wine styles are ever changing. What was considered pinot noir 10 years ago is not necessarily considered pinot noir today, and I have to take that into account.

• Did the winemaker accomplish what he or she wanted to do? Does the wine taste like the winemaker wanted it to taste? This is not always as easy as it seems.

• Can I appreciate the wine even if I don’t like the style? I’ve noted many times how I feel about merlot, yet a merlot made the Hall of Fame in 2009 and 2010. I was able to put my prejudices aside and taste the wine for what it was, not what I thought it should be. (Note to wine snobs: Do this the next time you drink riesling.) This is the most difficult thing to do in wine, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been drinking wine as long as I have or if you’re just starting.

• Is the wine honest? Yes, this is probably subjective, but I think it’s crucial to determining quality. Think about how many $10 red wines, regardless of producer, taste more or less the same, full of fruit and without much acid or tannin, and the cabernet tastes like merlot and the merlot tastes like shiraz. In this, they’re made to appeal to a specific demographic, and the idea was not to make quality wine, but to make adequate wine. And who needs adequate wine? Adjectives like interesting or intriguing are hallmarks of honest wine, because honest wine offers some characteristic that adequate wine doesn’t.

Because, in the end, it’s about finding wine that I like — and, hopefully, that you will too.

New Year’s sparkling wine 2010

image from www.openclipart.org Keep two things in mind when you pick a Champagne or sparkling wine for this week's festivities. First, bubbly has a language of its own, where extra dry means sweeter than dry and brut is the word for dry. Our sparkling wine glossary explains all, and the 2009 New Year's post explained the difference between the world's various sparkling wines.

Second, enjoy sparkling wine more than once a year. Please? The Wine Curmudgeon has never understood why Americans drink such nice wine once a year. It's food friendly, which should not be surprising since most of it is made with chardonnay and pinot noir, perhaps the two most food-friendly grapes. It's fun to drink, what with all those wonderful bubbles, and it tastes good. And how often do I say something tastes good? More, after the jump:

Continue reading

Winebits 159: Holiday wine

A look at what some of the rest of the wine world is recommending that we drink this holiday season:

? Port for dessert: The great Dave McIntyre reminds us not to overlook port as a gift: “Champagne comes to mind, but a less obvious and equally impressive choice is Port.” Best yet, four of his five choices are around $20 or less — a huge value for port.

? 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.)

? Sommelier wine: Even wine experts in Los Angeles are in search of value, reports the Los Angeles Times. Their choices include Alsace’s Albert Mann, sparkling from the Loire, and Spanish bubbly. I know the first two — very nice wines.

Holiday 2010 gift guide redux

Still stumped? Never fear. The Wine Curmudgeon has you covered:

? Our annual holiday gift guide, which has links to several previous gift guides, as well as a link to the Wine Curmudgeon's gift giving guidelines.

? The holiday wine category, which has links to all of the posts about holiday wine. And yes, it's allowed to adapt a Thanksgiving wine for a Christmas or New Year's gift.

? The expensive wine category, which has links to all of the posts and reviews about expensive wine. Because, frankly, if it's an expensive wine that I liked, odds are that it would make a nice gift.

Holiday gift guide 2010

A few thoughts for the wine drinkers on your list. Keep in mind our wine gift-giving guidelines ("Don't buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like") and Champagne and sparkling wine glossary.

? $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.

? Wine books: Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course and The Wine Trials 2011. Yes, I recommend the Zraly book all the time, but that's because it's that good. I even give it as a gift. This is the new version of the Wine Trials, which rates wines that cost $15 and less, and is up to its usual standards.

? 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.

More about holiday wine gifts:
? Holiday book gift guide 2009
? Holiday wines 2009
? Expensive wine 21: Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
? Holiday wine in a hurry

Consumer Reports’ top wines

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."

More, after the jump:

Continue reading

The Freakonomics view of the wine business

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.