Category:Wine reviews

Zinfandel update: Yes, there are some worth paying for

The Wine Curmudgeon spoke too soon last month. I ?m still not overwhelmed by what is happening with zinfandel in the U.S., but ? as Rich Coughlan ?s comment in that post noted ? there are still some wines that are made to be wine and not port, which means they have too much fruit and too much alcohol.

I did go to the Dallas stop on the Zinfandel Advocate & Producers tour, and found several wines worth trying. Plus, my chat with Ravenswood ?s Joel Peterson, which will go up next week as a podcast, helped. And his Sonoma County zinfandel isn ?t bad, either.

The ZAP wines included:

? Ridge ?s product line. Don ?t know how I could overlook that, since I think Ridge is, dollar for dollar, the best winery in the U.S. The Lytton Springs (about $35) remains one of my all-time favorites (though the current vintage could sit for another year).

? Pedroncelli Mother Clone 2007 ($12): An old-style zinfandel that isn ?t old-fashioned ? affordable, moderate alcohol, and jammy, brambly fruit.

? Ironstone Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($11): I was quite surprised by the quality of this wine, which you might be able to find for as little as $10. This is what inexpensive, value-oriented zinfandel used to taste like, peppery and with decent fruit.

Wine of the week: Vinho verde 2009

Here’s what you need to know about vinho verde:

• It’s cheap, about $5 or $6.

• It’s a white wine with a greenish tint (though there is also some red, not as enjoyable).

• It’s a Portuguese wine from the Vinho Verde region, made with a variety of gapes most of us have never heard of.

• It needs to be well chilled, or else it tastes like warm, slightly flat beer.

• It’s mostly dry, with subtle green apple and lime flavors, but also low in alcohol ? and may even have a bubbles.

• Avoid older vintages. This wine is not made to age, and much of it is non-vintage.

• There are about a half dozen brands on the market at any one time, and they all taste pretty much the same. Some of them are, in fact, the same wine, with different labels for different retailers. I bought the Casal Garcia this year, but you’ll also find Aveleda, Famega, and Gazela.

• Drink it by itself, or with any kind of summer food. I wouldn’t do it with beef, but hamburgers might be OK.

Mini-reviews 2: Fess Parker, Savennieres, Gordon Brothers, Croix de Rambeau

A monthly feature ? reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final weekday of each month.

? Fess Parker Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2006 ($28): Classic California chardonnay toned down a notch, which means you can taste the pineapple fruit.

? Domaine des Baumard Savenni res 2004 ($20): This is chenin blanc from the Loire, but more fruity than the usual steely, clean style.

? Gordon Brothers Syrah 2006 ($20): If you want to spend this much on New World syrah, you can do a lot worse. Look for a bit of tar and lots of black cherry.

? Ch teau Croix de Rambeau 2005 ($17): Red Bordeaux that is mostly merlot, made in a more New World style — 14 percent alcohol and more fruit than I would have liked.

Wine of the week: Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

imageThose of you who remember my post last month lamenting the current state of zinfandel will be surprised to see this particular wine of the week. But the Wine Curmudgeon is more than willing to admit when I make a mistake. And this Ravenswood Sonoma County (about $15) is worth drinking.

Joel Peterson, who runs the winery today for Constellation Brands, started  Ravenswood as a zinfandel house more than 30 years ago. And he still remembers how to do it in the classic style ? moderate alcohol with jammy, berry fruit. Is it old-fashioned in this day of high alcohol, over-ripe zinfandels, many of which taste more like port than table wine? You bet, and that ?s a good thing. Serve this zingy red wine (not to be confused with sweetish white zinfandels or Ravenswood ?s basic $10 wine) with barbecue ? brisket, sausage and all of the trimmings.

I’m going to write more about zinfandel in the next week or so, after pondering my April post and tasting some more of the wine, and I have a podcast with Peterson that will go up next week.

Rose update 2009

Welcome to the annual Wine Curmudgeon rose post, where our motto is: If it ?s summer and you have $10, you can buy a pretty good rose ? and sometimes even get change back. And Memorial Day weekend is a fine place to start.

The quality of rose available in stores continues to improve. When I started writing about rose regularly, about 10 years ago, there wasn’t much to choose from. Since then, there are not only more wines, but they are better than ever. I don’t know that I have actually tasted a poorly made rose in the past couple of years. Some of them have been too expensive, but that ?s another story.

The most important thing to know about rose is that it isn’t white zinfandel (or white merlot or whatever); roses are pink wines made with red grapes and they aren’t sweet. Why are they pink? Because the red grape skins are left in the fermenting grape juice just long enough to color the wine. (All red wine gets its color from the grape skins. The skins are left on cabernet sauvignon and merlot for much longer, so the wine is much more red.) This is also why roses don ?t have tannins, the flavor that makes your mouth pucker, since the skins give red wine its tannic quality.

Rose’s fruit flavors are mostly red berries (think strawberry). They should be served chilled, and they pair pretty much with any food, including beef and barbecue. Rose was made for Sunday afternoon, sitting on the back porch, wine in hand, and burgers on the grill.

A note on vintages: Look for 2008, and be wary if anyone sells anything much earlier than 2007, save for Spanish wines. Roses are not made to age, and should be fresh and flavorful. The color in older vintages starts to fade, like paper that yellows.

Rose styles vary by country. Spanish wines are going to be bone dry with less fruit flavor. French and South American roses are a little more fruity, while U.S. roses are the most fruity of all. Some U.S. wines are so full of strawberry flavor that they might even seem sweet. Any of the following (and this is far from a complete list) are well worth trying, but please experiment:

• From France: Cave de Saumur ($10), Bieler Sabine ($12), and Chateau Famaey ($10). The latter is almost like a strawberry popsicle, and not common in French wines.

• From Spain: I don’t know that you can go wrong with any Spanish rose that is around $10. Just don’t expect a lot of fruit.

• From U.S.: McPherson Cellars ($12) from Texas, Toad Hollow ($11) from California, and Charles & Charles ($12) from Washington state.

For more on roses:

Wine of the week: Fortant Merlot rose 2007

Well-made French rose for $8 -- what more can you want? The Wine Curmudgeon didn ?t expect to like the Fortant. Not quite sure why, but had my doubts. Which violated the first rule of wine tasting: Drink the wine before you make up your mind.

In fact, this is a well-made cheap wine that delivers a lot of oomph for the $8 it costs. It has lots of strawberry and a long finish ? a splendid example of how to make quality wine and not charge a lot. And yes, it ?s a dry wine, despite its name (which may have been the reason I had my concerns). Not surprisingly, Fortant is part of the Robert Skalli family, which has been doing fine work with wine from southern France for 40 years.

Serve this chilled, and sip it on the porch as long as summer is here. And even after summer if you want.

Wine review: Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2008

A South African chenin blanc that offers value and quality. Though South Africa ?s wines continue to improve, there doesn ?t seem to be any discernible pattern. It ?s a two steps forward, one step back, one step sideways kind of thing — especially for cheap wines.

But there has been progress, and especially with chenin blanc. The South Africans used to call it steen, and it was often greenish and sour. But the Simonsig chenin blanc (about $10) is a fine example of the improvement. It ?s crisp, dry, clean and with apple fruit and a nice mineral finish. It ?s lighter than chardonnay (no oak), and has the makings of a classic New World chenin blanc. Serve this chilled: Either before dinner, with salads, Chinese takeout or whenever you want a pleasant glass of white wine.