Category:Wine advice

2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2020 $10 Hall of FameJust six wines entered the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame, and it’s probably going to get worse

Remember how distraught I was about last year’s $10 Hall of Fame? I’m even more distraught this year; compiling the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame was an exercise in misery — and that’s even before I started worrying about tariff-induced price increases.

Just six wines entered the Hall, five dropped out, and none of the new wines were roses or from California. My notes contained so few “HoF 2020” notations that I went through almost all the wines I drank last year, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t.

How did we get to this point? Premiumization, of course, as well as the dumbing down of what’s left of wine costing less than $15. Big Wine, Big Retail, and all the rest are convinced that if they make wine taste less wine-like by adding sweetness, fake oak flavors, and purple grape juice concentrate, they’ll convince people who don’t drink wine to drink it. Which, as White Claw demonstrated, doesn’t really work.

Availability, always a problem, got worse last year thanks to wholesaler consolidation. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products. Since most of the most interesting cheap wines are from smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff would double the price of European wine, which means there would be almost no $10 wine worth drinking or writing about. If that happens, the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame might well be the last one.

Some good news

The six wines that entered the Hall are top-notch, as good as anything I’ve tasted in 20-some years of wine drinking. That includes the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay; the return of the Gascon classic, Domaine Tariquet; the stunning Portuguese red and white Herdade do Esporão Alandra; the 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo; and the French white blend, Little James Basket Press.

The complete 2020 $10 Wine Hall of Fame 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 $13 or $14 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 printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Holiday wine gift guide 2019

holiday wine gift guide 2019

No, the Wine Curmudgeon is not suggesting anyone buy this wine workout Christmas tree ornament.

The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2019 — great wine and even a wine coloring book

• Holiday wine trends 2019

The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide 2019 offers practical, value-oriented, yet still fun gifts. What else would you expect after all these years?

Consider:

• This year’s collection of wine books was, sadly, a bit pretentious for the blog. But never fear: How about a wine coloring book? When Life Gets Complicated, I Wine ($13), with 12 colored pencils. Take that, wine snobs.

• The Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2018 ($29) is the current vintage of one of the best wines I have tasted in almost three decades of doing this. It’s a California wine made with the gamay grape in a region far, far off the tourist track. There usually isn’t much of it, so when I saw it on wine.com, it moved to the top of the holiday wish list. Highly recommended, and marvel at how this wine reflects the berry fruit of the gamay, as well as its terroir.

• Italy’s white wines are too often overlooked, and especially those made with the arneis grape. The Vetti Roero Arneis 2018 ($22) is one such example — almost nutty, with wonderful floral aromas and the soft, citrusy flavors. Drink it on its own, or with holiday seafood or poultry. Highly recommended.

• The Repour Wine Saver ($9 for a 4-pack) is a single-use stopper that preserves leftover wine one bottle at a time. In this, I was surprised at how well it works, and it’s not as expensive as more complicated systems like the VacuVin.

Wine-Opoly ($21), because why shouldn’t we try to take over the wine world just like Big Wine? No dog or iron playing pieces in this wine-centric version of Monopolyl rather, they are wine bottles.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016

Holiday wine tips: The WC makes his Internet video debut

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s — the Wine Curmudgeon talks holiday wine tips

Which deserves a special Sunday post.

My effort is part of the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association Store Brands USA series. Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the private label group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their store brand wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

The host is the eminently talented Michael Sansolo; his show is “Shopping with Michael.” And how is that for opening a bottle of sparkling wine with nary a miscue — and in just one take.

This looks like the format we’ll use for future wine efforts — the give and take with Michael works much better than the usual, sleep-inducing wine lecture video.

When is buying expensive wine worth it?

expensive wine

“So this is really worth $50, and not some over-priced, premiumiuzed thing I won’t like?”

Three things to keep in mind when your’re deciding if expensive wine is worth the extra money

This post from the Lifehacker website, “When spending the extra money is worth it,” didn’t include wine. Which is probably a good thing, given Lifehacker’s track record with wine.

But it did get me thinking: How do we know when it spending extra money for wine is worth it?

The Lifehacker post poses an intriguing question in our “lots of crap available to buy all the time” age, where any kind of junk is just a click away on the Internet. It’s also relevant given that the holidays will soon be here, and that usually sets off all kinds of wine buying foolishness, where money takes a back seat to common sense.

In this, the post included some obvious choices – paying for movers and buying better quality sheets among them. But the wine question does not have an obvious answer, given how confusing wine is and how wine prices today reflect quality much less than they used to. Plus, there’s no need to spend more than $10 or $12 most of the time; what’s the point of paying $40 for a bottle for Tuesday night Chinese takeout or $50 for a Saturday afternoon barbecue with the neighbors?

So consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s three pointers for knowing when it’s worth buying more expensive wine:

• Is it a memorable occasion? The late Darryl Beeson always insisted the occasion made the wine memorable, and not vice versa. But I’d argue that if you’re celebrating a milestone, it makes sense to spend the extra money. Yes, my definition of milestone might differ from yours, but I don’t regret for a minute paying $150 for a bottle of red Burgundy to celebrate the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory.

• Did someone you trust recommend the wine? I can’t emphasize this enough. How many of us, including people who drink wine for a living, have paid a premium for a bottle only to experience buyer’s remorse after the first sip? Most of the time that’s because we took the advice of someone who didn’t know what they were doing, had an ulterior motive, or just assumed we would like what they like. And that’s when the $60 of wine ends up being used for cooking.

• Are you in a position to appreciate the wine? That is, will it be a long leisurely event with lots of time to sip and assess, and to enjoy a couple of glasses or more? Or will it be a cocktail or holiday party, where you’ll get barely more than one taste of the wine and never remember anything about it? Or will the goal of the function be to get drunk, in which case Winking Owl will do?

Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken

roast chickenThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.

When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.

Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?

The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.

The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will do justice to the chicken — and not a chardonnay in sight:

Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado

Terre del Fohn Muller-Thurgau 2017 ($14, purchased, 12.5%): A beautiful white Italian wine that is made from muller-thurgau, an uncommon grape. It’s almost spicy, a little oily, and offers some light lime fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Tricana.

La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy

Ask the WC 22: Natural wine, wine tariff, wine scores

natural wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why is natural wine so expensive? Plus, trying to figure out the European wine tariff and the basics behind wine scores

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 by clicking here.

Hello Wine Curmudgeon:
Love, love, love, your blog! Also recently fell in love with natural wines, like Martha Stoumen, and I’m wondering if you think they will ever become affordable for the daily wine consumer? When I say “natural,” I’m speaking of the wines that use native yeast only to ferment and do not add sulfites. So far, the natural wines that I have found in the $10-$15 range are simply undrinkable.
Curious about natural wine

Dear Natural:
Thanks for the kind words. Natural wine, even though availability is limited, is probably the most contentious topic in wine today. And you’ve identified the natural wine conundrum – and why I haven’t written about it. It’s almost impossible to make a quality natural wine most of us can afford, given the process. Waiting on natural yeast to do the job is not cost efficient. The other interesting thing about natural wine is that its supporters say it should be expensive, so that its producers can make a living. One of their criticisms of Big Wine and “commercial” wine is that these wines don’t give the grape grower a fair return on their effort and time and cost.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m confused about the new European wine tariffs. Why is there a dividing line at 14 percent alcohol?
Boozed and confused

Dear Boozed:
Don’t worry – we’re all confused. Most of it makes little sense. And the provision that French, British, German, and Spanish wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are exempt from the tariff is especially confusing. That means most whites will be taxed, but some reds won’t be. Maybe it’s the idea that higher alcohol is bad, and those wines should be punished. Or it may also have something to do with the way wine is taxed in the U.S. where higher alcohol wines pay higher excise taxes.

Hi, WC:
I know this will sound stupid, but I don’t understand wine scores or what they’re supposed to do. Why can’t someone just say if the wine is good or bad?
100 points

Dear 100:
The 100-point scoring system used to be the most contentious part of wine. It’s based on the system we know from school – 90 to 100 is an A, 80 to 90 is a B, and so forth. Its original goal was to expand on good or bad, so that you would know how good or how bad. But – and regardless of every other problem with the system – almost no wine gets less than 85 points any more. Which means one of two things: either no wine is badly made enough to warrant 82 or 79 or 64 points, or the system is so flawed that scores have become meaningless. I think it’s the latter, and that’s one reason why I don’t use scores.

Photo: “Great Sage – Bar” by ZagatBuzz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Preparing for the 25 percent wine tariff

wine tariffFive ways to save money if and when the 25 percent wine tariff for France and Spain takes effect

So far, there’s been no sign that the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine won’t go into effect at the end of the week. So those of us who are rightfully worried about all that quality $10 wine going away should act now:

• Stock up before prices increase. Last week, I bought what might have been the last seven bottles of Chateau Bonnet Blanc in Dallas, and also bought most of what was on the shelf of the Azul y Garanza tempranillo. The Bonnet, of course, is one of the all-time great cheap wines, but it almost certainly won’t be $10 after Oct. 18. The Azul, $11 for a 1-liter bottle, is not just a terrific value, but a quality wine as well – Spanish tempranillo that tastes like Spanish tempranillo.

• Look for closeouts and sales before Oct. 18. Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods, did a 20 percent French wine sale last week. So I bought a case of assorted $10 French rose for $8 a bottle; hopefully I can hold out for the first six weeks or so of the tariff.

• There is always Italy. The good news is that Italian wine was excluded from the tariff (though not its olive oil and some of its cheeses). The bad news is that this means that very ordinary $9 pinot grigio will become an even bigger attraction as retailers drop similarly-priced French and Spanish wine. But $10 Sicilian wines will still offer value, while regions in the middle part of the country like Umbria and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo have long been famous for price and quality.

• Sparkling is safe. One would have thought that if the U.S. really wanted to punish France, it would have taxed Champagne. Hence there should still be value in $12 to $15 cava, the Spanish sparkling wine.

• Think South Africa. South African wines haven’t been popular in the U.S. for almost 20 years, but this could be their time to shine, says James McFadyen, a long-time retailer and distributor on both sides of the Atlantic. Producers like Ken Forrester and Mulderbosch offer quality and fair prices for both red and white; the catch has been availability.