Category:Wine advice

Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine

grocery store wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Dependable grocery store wines, plus, Millennials and wine and canned 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 buy most of my wine at the grocery store, and you don’t review a lot of grocery store wine. Are there a couple you can recommend?
Supermarket shopper

Dear Supermarket:
Of course – Bogle is always worthwhile, and Line 39 and Hess from California usually are, too. The Villa Maria (closer to $15) and Matua sauvignon blancs from New Zealand are typically well made. Many of the roses offer value, like the Charles & Charles and the Bieler Sabine. There is a catch, though, even with these wines — grocery store pricing. One day the wine will be $10, and the next day it will be $18, and there is no rhyme or reason why.

Hey Jeff:
Aren’t you wrong about the lack of interest in wine among younger generations? I thought I saw a study a couple of years ago that said Millennials were the biggest consumers of wine in the U.S.?

Dear Curious:
I think you’re referring to the infamous Wine Market Council study, which was shunted to one side and never spoken of again. I’ve been told there were problems with the methodology. Most studies since then, including this one, aren’t optimistic about Millennials taking up wine the way the Baby Boomers did.

Hi, WC:
What do you think about canned wine? Isn’t it kind of cool?
Tired of bottles

Dear Tired:
Canned wine is like the rest of wine. Some of it is terrific, some of it isn’t, and much of the excitement is marketing driven. The smart people I’ve talked to say canned wine has a future as an alternative like boxed wine, filling a niche in the market. My other problem, besides the middling quality/price ratio for too many of them, is that I don’t like to drink out of a can. I don’t drink beer that way, either.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition
Ask the WC 13: California chardonnay, grip, affordable wine

Wine and food pairings 3: Bratwurst and sauerkraut

Wisconsin-style bratwurstThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this new, occasional feature. This edition: three wines with Wisconsin-style bratwurst and sauerkraut

There are bratwurst, and then there are local, butcher-shop brats prepared in the Wisconsin bratwurst style. That means brats poached in beer with onions, peppers, garlic, and spices. Yes, you can use grocery store brats, but it’s that much better with the local product. Can I recommend Lake Geneva Country Meats, a long-time pal of the blog?

Since this is a wine blog, I poach the bratwurst in wine instead of beer. Use one-half bottle of a fruity, dry white wine; almost anything but an oak-infused chardonnay will work. The other key? Add a well-drained can of sauerkraut to the poaching liquid after you take the bratwursts out and simmer. I use 69-cent grocery store kraut, which works as well as the more expensive, plastic-bag version. The sauerkraut picks up the flavors from the poaching liquid, and becomes something other than just sauerkraut. Plus, you don’t waste all the flavor in the bratwurst-infused poaching liquid.

A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Nick Vorpagel at Lake Geneva, the third generation of the family business and a fine wine guy, too. Who else would hold a cava and Wisconsin-style bratwurst tasting? Hence, cava works with this dish, so enjoy the blog’s legendary $7 Cristalino. Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe.

But consider these wines, too:

Falesco Vitiano Bianco 2017 ($12, purchased, 12%): This Italian white is one of the blog’s all-time favorites, and pairs with sausage as if it was made for it. Imported by The Winebow Group.

Foncalieu Le Versant Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): One more $10 French pink that does everything rose is supposed to do. Plus, it doesn’t cost as much as  bottle of white Burgundy. The Foncalieu is crisp, has a hint of red fruit, and ends with a pleasing, almost stony finish. Imported by United Wine & Spirits

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti 2015 ($8, purchased, 13%): This Italian red is usually one of the best of the cheap Chiantis, though I noticed some bottle variation this vintage. Otherwise, competent as always — lots of tart cherry, earthiness, and soft tannins. Imported by TWE Imports

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 2: Roast chicken salad with Chinese noodles
Wine and food pairings 1: Chicken, okra and sausage gumbo
One chicken, five dinners, five wines

Winecast 32: James Gunter, Wines with Conviction

james gunterLooking for wine value from Europe? Importer James Gunter’s advice: Don’t be afraid to try regions and varietals that you may not know

James Gunter started in the wine business standing behind a cash register. Today, he runs Wines with Conviction, a top-notch small importer that specializes in France. His wines are uniformly well made and well priced, whether it’s a $10 Gascon white or a high-end white Burgundy.

We talked about Gunter’s approach to finding great values: Look for producers who have been overlooked by the big companies; don’t be afraid to try wine that isn’t cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay; and especially don’t be afraid to try regions you’ve never hard of.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 1/2 minutes long and takes up 9 megabytes. The sound quality is excellent; we recorded it the Wine Curmudgeon’s new Linux-compatible Fifine K669 microphone.

The best wine advice: Three things everyone should know

wine adviceThis wine advice isn’t about varietal, appellations or even price. It’s about appreciating wine, which is what matters

The best wine advice I’ve gotten in more than two decades of wine writing had nothing to do with varietals, appellations, or even price. It was about understanding and appreciating wine — something too many of us overlook in our haste to find deals, impress others, or chase scores.

Because if we don’t appreciate what we’re drinking, what’s the point?

Hence, three pieces of wine advice, from some of the smartest people I’ve met in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this:

• “Wine always changes. That’s the point. If it didn’t change, everything would always taste the same,” said the late and much missed Diane Teitelbaum. Many of us are annoyed and frustrated, even in this age of better wine through chemistry, when a wine doesn’t taste identical every vintage. I complained about this when I was a new wine writer, and Diane gave me one of her looks. One of the joys of wine, she said, is that it does change, and that you can learn to appreciate the differences.

• “If you don’t like chocolate ice cream, and someone told you to east chocolate ice cream, would you? Of course not. So why do that with wine?” said Josh Wesson, one of the smartest retailers I ever met. This came early in my career, too, during the 1990s heyday of scores. That’s when too many people bought on points, regardless of what kind of wine got the points.. Wesson was spot on: If a big, heavy red got 93 points, but you don’t like big heavy reds, why buy it because it got 93 points?

• “The minute you think you know everything about wine, you’ve lost what wine is all about. You can never know everything, and you’re missing the point if you think you can.” This is from the legendary importer and distributor Martin Sinkoff, also when I was starting out. And, in the past 2 ½ decades, it may have been the best advice Ive ever received. How many of us have met someone who knows everything about wine, and who is the first to tell us so? And how little do those people really know? And how little do they appreciate wine?

Rose trends 2018: Try as it might, the wine business won’t ruin pink wine

rose trends 2018Let’s celebrate the start of Rose Week — the blog’s 11th  annual celebration — with the rose trends and non-trends that are dominating pink wine

Tim McNally, the New Orleans wine writer, judge, critic, and radio host, talking about rose trends 2018: “Given the unfortunate development path of pinot noir in America, I guess we should have foreseen what they were going to try to do to rose.”

And that, as well as anything I can write, sums up rose trends 2018. Important parts of the wine business, both here and in France, have decided to change rose into something else, in the same way they changed pinot noir into a fruiter, darker, more cabernet sauvignon-like wine.

More than one-third of the 100 or so roses I’ve tasted this year were made to appeal to some sort of idealized red wine drinker – heavier and less fresh, more alcoholic, and tasting of the tannins and bitterness associated with red wine. That almost all of them cost more than $20 added insult to injury.

In other words, everything that rose isn’t. To which the Wine Curmudgeon says, “Nuts.”

Because, despite these most unwelcome developments, rose is healthier than ever. Yes, there are some truly aggravating pink wines out there, and yes, prices have soared in many cases. But there are still dozens and hundreds of roses that taste like rose and cost less than $12. We’ll feature those wines on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, along with a three-book giveaway on Thursday.

These changes have happened for four reasons:

• Higher prices, of course, are part of premiumization. In addition, more high-end wineries are making rose, so they’re not going to sell $10 wine for $10 (even if they could afford to, which most can’t).

• Many of these high-end producers, especially in California, are known for making red wine. They’re only making rose because it’s trendy (I actually got a news release that sort of said that). So they’re terrified that if they made a fresh and crisp pink wine, their loyal customers wouldn’t know what to do with it.

• Because $25 wine can’t be made the same way as $10 wine. Otherwise, it would be $10 wine. Hence the need to “improve” it – oaking it, for example, or making it riper and more alcoholic, even if that turns it into another kind of wine.

• More expensive packaging and marketing. One of the world’s leading rose makers told me that grape costs for his $10 French rose and for a world-famous celebrity rose were about the same. But, he said, the latter charges twice as much because it spends the difference for a “nicer” bottle and to market the product to the Winestream Media.

Yes, some roses are worth $25 or $30 or $40. But it’s almost impossible to buy a bad bottle of rose for $10. If you spend more than $15, expect it to be spectacular. First and foremost, ignore the hype and buy what you want. Because if we do that, no amount of $25 rose that tastes like cabernet will matter.

More about rose trends:
Seven reasons why we love rose
Pink wine is everywhere, and it’s only April
Who cares who started the rose boom?

Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings

wine consumptionThis edition of Ask the WC: European wine consumption, and why they’re drinking less; plus, wine refrigerators and how much wine the WC tastes a year.

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 .

Hi, WC:
You recently wrote that “European producers keep pulling out vines in the wake of reduced wine consumption in France, Spain, and Italy.” Why is that? Why are they drinking less?

Dear Surprised:
European wine consumption has been steadily declining for years, thanks to stricter drunk driving laws, the aging of the population, and younger drinkers turning away from wine. Sound familiar? Having said that, Europeans still drink more wine per capita than we do — about one bottle a month for Americans compared to four bottles per person in France.

Oh Cheap Wine One:
I’m thinking about buying a wine refrigerator. Do I need one?
Chilling out

Dear Chilling:
Probably not, unless you’re buying wine that needs to age. And most wine doesn’t. The usual figure is that 90 percent of the wine in the world is made to drink within a couple of years of its vintage. In which case, use the fridge — take a cold white wine out about 20 minutes before you want to drink it, and chill a red for 20 or 30 minutes before opening.

Hello, Wine Curmudgeon:
You must write hundreds of wine reviews a year. Do you really taste that much wine? How much do you taste a year?

Dear Curious:
I write about 200 reviews of some sort on the blog each year (which doesn’t include reviews and the like for my freelance work). All told, I probably taste a couple of thousand wines a year between trade tastings, competitions, and drinking at home. It’s like my pal Dave McINtyre says: “It’s not so much that my palate is better is yoursd. I just drink a lot more wine than you do.”

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition
Ask the WC 13: California chardonnay, grip, affordable wine
Ask the WC 12: $5 wine, varietal character, negative reviews

Back label wine descriptions: What the jumble and winespeak on the back label really means

Back label wine descriptionsBack label wine descriptions can be as confusing as anything written by wine critics

The recent post about wine critics and their almost indecipherable wine descriptions reminded me that they aren’t the only ones whose goal is confusion and obfuscation. We also have back label wine descriptions for that.

In fact, back label wine descriptions may be more annoying, since their job is to help sell the wine. Who wants to buy a wine where the back label promises something that isn’t there? I’m not the only one flustered by this; a marketing official for one of the largest wine companies in the world told me it bothers good marketers, too. But many of the biggest producers contract the back label writing to third parties, so they’re stuck with what they get.

The other annoying thing? Yes, many of the worst examples come from cheap wine, but many also come from wine costing as much as $25. And what does that say about the $25 wine?

The following are taken from actual back label wine descriptions, with my explanation of what they really mean:

• Silky mouth feel: “We’ve removed the acidity and tannins and added sugar to cover up anything remotely resembling either, just in case any is still in the wine.”

• Unusual fruits like lychee nut and guava: Most wine drinkers probably haven’t tasted those, so the description does two things – first, shows that even a $6 bottle of wine can be exotic. Second, that the wine is deep and complex, even when it only costs $6. So shut up and buy it already. But then there is the other side of the descriptor.

• An alluring hint. … : “The flavor isn’t actually there, but if we suggest it, you’ll probably taste it and think the wine is better than it is.”

• Robust, with intense, dark fruits: “We’ve added as much Mega Purple as humanly possible.”

• A mocha finish with lingering oak: Regular readers here know what that is without any help from me – scorching amounts of fake oak, and then even more. And maybe even a little bit more just to be on the safe side.

• Freshly picked peaches (or apricots or even red fruit like cherries): “You’re damn right it’s sweet. But we’re not going to say that, are we?”

• A long, stony finish: “We couldn’t get rid of that odd, bitter taste in the wine, and we didn’t want to add any more sugar. So we want you to think that the bitterness is a good thing.”