Category:Wine advice

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.”

Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition

wine availablityThis edition of Ask the WC: Wine availability, and why can’t I buy what you’re writing about?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. This time, I answer the dozens of recent comments and emails from readers about wine availability, which has apparently been driving everyone crazy. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Hello, Wine Curmudgeon:
I love your blog, and you make me laugh. But I can’t always find the wine you recommend. Is that me? Or am I missing something?
Can’t find the wine

Dear Can’t:
It’s not you. It’s not even me, despite what some readers think. It’s the way wine is sold in the U.S. Every wine on a store shelf has to have a distributor. The retailer, no matter how large – even as big as Costco – can’t buy wine directly from the producer. That’s the law (and our old pal), the three-tier system. Some wines, for whatever reason, won’t have a distributor in all 50 states. I try to review wines that should be available in a quality independent retailer in a mid-sized city. My only other choice is to do Big Wine products, which are available in most places, but what’s the point of that?

Dear WC:
I’m getting annoyed going to my local supermarket and not being able to find the wines you write about. It happens all the time. Why don’t you write about wines I can buy there?
Tired of the hassle

Dear Tired:
It’s not my fault. Honest. It’s the three-tier system, because you can’t buy wine like you can buy ketchup and laundry detergent. Grocers, for a variety of reasons, usually carry different wines than the ones I review. It doesn’t mean you can’t find the wines I recommend in supermarkets. It’s just less likely, and why I suggest looking for a quality independent retailer.

Hey WC:
I really like a nice glass of rose. I lived in the New York City area for years, but have just moved back to home, a smallish city in the Midwest. Not as easy to find good wine, and especially the rose that I like. I tried and Wine-searcher — no luck. Can you help?
I want my rose

Dear Rose:
Welcome to the joys of availability. Go to a good independent retailer and ask them to check if the wine has a distributor in your city. That’s not difficult, but not every retailer will do it. If the wine is available, the retailer can order it from the distributor even if they don’t ordinarily carry it. Again, not difficult, but not every retailer will do this. Hence, my recommendation of a quality independent retailer. Finally, you may have to accept that the wine doesn’t have a distributor in a smaller market. Or, even if it does, the distributor may not carry it. That’s another example of why three-tier is so infuriating.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 13: California chardonnay, grip, affordable wine
Ask the WC 12: $5 wine, varietal character, negative reviews
Ask the WC 11: Arsenic lawsuit, marijuana, wine competitions

Want to get young people interested in wine? Try wine education

wine educationWine education is the key to help Millennials enjoy wine; otherwise, they assume it’s expensive, snobby, and geeky

The news is everywhere for anyone who wants to pay attention: Younger people, and especially the Millennials who should be the future of wine, aren’t much interested in it.

I see this every time I teach at Dallas’ El Centro College. Beer and spirits, yes, those they want to know about. But wine? As one student said, midway though this semester’s first wine tasting: “I’m never going to understand this. It’s too complicated.”

Never fear, though. Wine education to the rescue.

This has happened every time I’ve taught a class. The idea of wine perplexes the students, most of whom have never had any and don’t know anyone who has. About the only thing they do know is that wine is expensive, snobby, and geeky, which are hardly qualities to recommend it.

This is disheartening enough, but consider that these are culinary students in El Centro’s top-notch Food and Hospitality Institute. They need to learn wine in order to have a career. And if they’re overwhelmed, how must the rest of their age group feel? They don’t need to learn about wine to make a living.

Which is where wine education – something the wine business considers as unnecessary as ingredient labels and tasting notes written in English – comes in. This also happens every time I’ve taught a class. Get the students past the idea of expensive, snobby, and geeky. Show them that wine can be simple and fun. That’s when the light bulb goes off and they aren’t intimidated anymore.

In other words, wine education.

Give potential wine drinkers something other than toasty and oaky to work with. Show them wine doesn’t have to cost as much as a car payment to be enjoyable. Let them figure out what they like instead of telling them what they should drink.

And it works every time. This semester, the same student who was ready to give up after tasting two red wines was confident and assured during the sparkling wine tasting. She was able to explain why she liked the California sparkling better than the French Champagne, and her reasons were considered and well thought out. (The fruitiness, mostly.)

The other key here? I didn’t pass judgment on the student or tell her she was stupid for daring to prefer the “inferior” wine. Sadly, when’s the last time you saw someone in wine be that open minded?

Enough with the Champagne glass conspiracy already – can’t we just drink and enjoy?

Champgne glass

$60 will buy two Reidel Veritas Champagne glasses — and won’t we sleep better at night after that purchase?

Once again, we’re being told that we aren’t drinking bubbly from the correct glasses, and we’d better stop – or else

A couple of months ago, when I wrote about the most recent Champagne glass conspiracy, I thought we were done with worrying about what a Champagne glass should look like. The glass in that post was so over the top that only the geekiest among us would pay attention. And the rest of us could enjoy our bubbly in whatever glasses we had, content that the wine business has passed us by.

Silly me.

Once again, we’re being told that we aren’t drinking bubbly from the correct glasses, and that we must spend $30 a glass to do it the proper way. It’s called the Veritas glass from our friends at Reidel – with a wider middle and narrow top, two design changes that are supposed to help us enjoy more aromas and flavors. No, this isn’t as bizarre as the cement mixer glass from the previous post (which also needs to be dusty to work most efficiently), but it’s overkill nonetheless.

Most of us spend less than $15 a bottle for sparkling wine. Why do we need to pay twice as much for the glass? Why can’t we enjoy our bubbly in whatever glasses we have and be done with it?

Because this is wine, and if they aren’t telling us what to do, they’re reminding us that what we do is wrong. And, by the way, spend more money.

I wrote this in the previous Champagne glass post, and it’s worth repeating: “What difference does the design make to the vast majority of wine drinkers? Can we tell the difference between the bubbles in a flute glass and in the cement mixer glass? Isn’t the wine just as enjoyable in the former? The answers: Almost certainly not, and of course. And I can’t imagine most of us want to drink wine out of a dusty glass.”

But then again, what do we know? We’re just the slobs who pay for everything.

Wine and food pairings 2: Roast chicken salad with Chinese noodles

roast chicken saladThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this new, occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a roast chicken salad with Chinese noodles

Technically, this isn’t chicken salad, not the kind that Americans know all too well – leftover, dried out chicken glopped with too much mayonnaise. Rather, it’s a way to take ingredients as simple as chicken thighs and lettuce and turn it into a dinner more interesting and more fun to eat during the week – yet still easy to do.

This dish has its roots in late 1980s nouvelle cuisine, where the goal was to pile as little food as possible as high on the plate as possible while charging as much money as possible. So, given my sense of humor, why not do the same sort of thing, but that was cheap and enjoyable? In other words, make a simple green salad, top it with the Chinese noodles, and then top the noodles with the roasted chicken thighs. Drizzle with vinaigrette (made from the chicken fat and liquids from roasting, even), and you have one dinner, one plate, and minimal cleanup.

There are two keys here: marinating the chicken thighs in lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and fresh rosemary; and using the odd Chinese noodles that are dyed yellow. You can substitute rice noodles or even ordinary thin egg noodles, but the Chinese version seems to work the best. Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe.

Pairing wine with this is not nearly as complicated as it may seem:

GrooVee Grüner Veltliner 2012 ($10, purchased, 12%): Gruner is an Austrian grape that has been touted by the hipsters and the sommeliers as the next big thing for a decade. This is a Hungarian version that turns most Austrian gruners on their heads, despite its age and silly name. Look for a petrol aroma and peach and lime fruit. Imported by Quintessential. Highly recommended.

Zestos Garnacha Old Vines 2015 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red is a little heavier and more Parker-like this year, but still well worth drinking and neither hot nor too flabby. Lots of red cherry fruit, almost candied, but backed with a peppery finish. Imported by Ole Imports

Arrumaco Rose 2016 ($8, purchased, 11.5%): This Spanish wine is pink. You’re having chicken. What else needs to be said? Look for lots of almost sweet strawberry fruit, though the wine is bone dry. Imported by Handpicked Selections

More on wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 1: Chicken, okra and sausage gumbo
One chicken, five dinners, five wines
One pork shoulder, five dinners, five wines