Category:Wine news

International Eastern Wine competition results

Paul Geisz II, Peter Bell, the Wine Curmudgeon, and Phil Ward. Do we look professional or what? The Wine Curmudgeon can ?t decide if the highlight of the the 34th annual competition was the quality of the regional wine we tasted, how many cheap wines won gold medals, or the picture of me in a lab coat.

Probably the first two.

I don ?t think there is any doubt that New York wine, and especially the rieslings, can hold its own with wine from any other region in the world. Yes, some of it is still ?regional ? ? inconsistent and too tasting room in style. But there is a solid tier of affordable, well-made wine that ?s worth writing about. I hope that the wine media in New York is paying attention, and doesn ?t automatically opt for California wine when there is New York wine available.

And the cheap wine? Oh my. One of the finalists for the competition ?s best red wine was a $10 merlot from a Central Coast winery, Five Rivers. It didn ?t win, but I liked it more than the wine that did win.

After the jump, some highlights from the competition.

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Billington Imports closes

Alfredo Bartholomaus And so ends an era in the wine business.

Don Alfredo, as Billington founder Alfredo Bartholomaus is fondly known, is one of the best people I have met in my time writing about wine. (Though his penchant for the pisco sour, a Chilean cocktail, always baffled me.) Bartholomaus was among the first importers to bring cheap, well-made South American wine to the U.S., and every time you enjoy a bottle of Argentine malbec or Chilean sauvignon blanc, you have Don Alfredo to thank.

My pal Dave McIntyre has the sad details about Billington ?s end on his blog and in the Washington Post. It ?s the recession, of course ? the recession that all the wine wise guys said wasn ?t going to hurt the wine business. Well, when it claims someone like Don Alfredo, it hurts the wine business.

I met Bartholomaus several years ago when I took the famous Billington trip to Chile. He was a joy ? understood how wine writing worked, never asked for a favor, and understood that those of us on the trip would write about the wines we tasted because they were good, and not because he was paying the bills.

One of the best parts of the trip, which was a tradition, came on the last night, when Don Alfredo recited Pablo Neruda ?s love poetry after dinner. How do you replace a tradition like that in today ?s multi-national, label-driven,celebrity winemaker culture? You can ?t, and the wine business will be the worse for it.

Fred Franzia: Love him or hate him?

Or, actually, ignore him, which the wine industry seems incapable of doing. Franzia, the man behind Two Buck Chuck, Crane Lake, Forest Glen and a bunch of other cheap wines in the guise of the Bronco Wine Co. loves to throw his success in the faces of the people wine writer David Falchek calls the vinerrati. And they can ?t help themselves ? foaming at the mouth, spewing venom, and the like whenever Franzia does it.

The latest turmoil (and the cyber either is full of it, from the New York Times to Cincinnati to California) centers around a profile of Franzia that ran in the New Yorker. Two things struck me. First, that an old media property could cause such a stink among so many New Media types, and second, that what Franzia said wasn ?t any different from what he has been saying for years and years. And years. He thinks wine is overpriced and that most wine people are phony snobs.

Which is hard to disagree with, given the foolishness that the Wine Curmudgeon sees in the wine business every day. Though, to be fair, The Times ? Eric Asimov notes that Franzia ?s motives are far from pure: ?He ?s not a man of the people making high-quality bottles available for less. He ?s a businessman masquerading as a populist for his own benefit, which is fine but his defenders ought to be honest about Mr. Franzia ?s motivations. ?

Which doesn ?t change his message and why the vineratti dislike it so. And nothing will change until all $100 wine is 10 times better than all $10 wine. Until then, Franzia will continue to drive them crazy.

Winebits 79: Recession update, Dan Berger wisdom, Eric Asimov on cheap wine

? Cheap wine is good wine: Ah, validation.Joseph Gallo, (yes, that Gallo), speaking at a conference for states that sell liquor (or control states), on the effect of the recession: ?People realize that wine they'd never consider before is actually good.  It has started a trend that you don't have to pay a lot for wine to taste good…the market is showing that. ? Note to Mr. Gallo and other industry types: The Wine Curmudgeon has many thoughts on this subject. Give me a call. I ?m actually a lot less expensive than most of the consultants you pay.

? Add an ice cube: The next time some wine drinker is being particularly snotty, show them this, from the great Dan Berger. Berger, who knows more about wine than most of the rest of us combined, focused a recent column on the theme of ?Hey, if you like it, go for it. It ?s your dinner table and your wine. Do what you like. ? Among his suggestions? Yes, adding an ice cube if the wine is too warm or too alcoholic.

? ?I have nothing against people who choose to drink boring wines:" Eric Asimov, the wine columnist for the New York Times, has an intriguing look at cheap wine. He makes a distinction that I would argue with, since it assumes that most cheap wine is boring wine. This, of course, is far from the case. He also recommends several cheap American-made wines (though his definition of cheap includes wines that cost $20). He laments that there aren ?t more, which surprised me. I ?d suggest he try the Bogle petite sirah and the Avalon Napa cabernet, as well as Peirano's The Other Red and White.

Tuesday winebits 78: South African wine aroma, wine score silliness, Cornish wine

? That burnt rubber smell: South African red wine, and especially pinotage, has a distinctive aroma, similar to burning rubber or road blacktop. This has been the subject of many jokes in the wine world, but it ?s actually a serious problem for the South Africans. Who wants to buy wine that smells like burnt rubber? What ?s worse, they aren ?t sure why that happens, reports Decanter.

? Wine scores don ?t work, one more time: This, from very important French wine critic Michel Bettane, when asked to score a a couple of South African sauvignon blancs at a wine competition (and as reported by Neil Pendock, who was on the panel): ?Michel, what do you score the first ?60 and 80 ? (points of out of 100). ?How does that work ?80 if you like this grassy style of sauvignon, 60 if you do not. ? Too bad the Wine Magazines don ?t try this approach.

? Cornish wine: As in Cornwall in southwestern England, because this is even a bit much for a regional wine devotee like the Wine Curmudgeon. A white wine from Camel Valley in Cornwall, where it seems to be always cold and rainy, won a gold medal at the very prestigious International Challenge in London. The wine is made with the bacchus grape, a hybird that makes riesling-style wines.

Tuesday winebits 77: Wine importers, vineyard prices, fast food wine

? The best wine importers: Mike Steinberger at Slate has written one of the best guides ever to understanding wine importers ? the people who bring non-U.S. wines into the country. It gets a bit wine geeky at times and it ?s too long, but, overall, well worth the effort. ?The importance of importers ?the quality of their selections, the care with which they treat their wines ?remains paramount, ? he writes, and includes a cheat sheet you can print, clip and carry with you to consult at a retailer or restaurant. I ?ve touched on this subject briefly; now I don ?t have to do anymore.

? California vineyard price update: It looks like prices for vineyard land in Napa and Sonoma are finally leveling off, especially for the highest-priced land. They still aren ?t falling, reports my old pal Paul Franson, but the go-go days of the middle of this decade seem to be over. However, a prime acre of Napa land still costs $300,000 ($125,000 an acre in Sonoma), so it ?s all relative. Interestingly, writes Franson, few properties seem to be for sale, something that may be helping to hold up prices. What happens at the end of the year, if wineries and growers are forced to sell land, is anyone ?s guess.

? Do you want wine with that? A Pacific Northwest burger chain has started serving wine and beer, which seems like a quite welcome development. The Burgerville chain, with 39 locations in Oregon and Washington, is testing beer and wine at a store in Vancouver. If successful, the chain expects to add the program elsewhere within the next four to six months. It is serving mostly local beer and wine, but prices aren ?t fast-food — $6.50 to $9 for a glass of wine.

Texas crop update

And it ?s not good at all. Some of the state ?s best vineyards are reporting significant losses, thanks to a series of late winter freezes and thaws that followed in rapid succession.

Neal Newsom, whose Newsom Vineyards in west Texas supplies grapes for some of of the state ?s leading producers, says he may get as little as half a crop from his 95 acres — and his experience may be typical. Newsome says his grapes mostly made it through a first freeze at the end of March, but didn ?t survive a second freeze. Temperatures had climbed into the 70s and 80s between the two freezes, and buds started to appear. Then, when the second freeze occurred a couple of weeks after the first, the budding grapes were set up to die.

The problem, says Newsom, was not so much the second freeze, which hit 21 degrees around Easter weekend. It ?s not unusual to see a freeze that late in the year. Rather, it was the unseasonably warm temperatures between the freezes, which made the vines  bud earlier than usual.

This is the fourth consecutive year that west Texas will produce less than a full crop, thanks to bad weather. Reports from the rest of the state aren ?t good, either, including the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio. Rick Naber at Flat Creek near Marble Falls told me he may have lost more than half his crop.