Category:Wine reviews

A few thoughts on sauvignon blanc

sauvignon blancThe Wine Curmudgeon loves sauvignon blanc. It ?s usually inexpensive, and you can buy great wines for about $15. It ?s food-friendly as well as refreshing on its own, something that can ?t be said for a lot of chardonnays. Finally, it pairs with a variety of white wine foods, and especially with seafood — oysters, mussels and even grilled shrimp. And it pairs with almost anything with garlic and parsley. In fact, just writing about sauvignon blanc, garlic and parsley makes me want to reach for a glass.

What causes the differences between the wines? A combination of weather, soil, and the winemakers ? preferences. The geography of New Zealand – ? an island in the south Pacific — is entirely different from that of Bordeaux, off the Atlantic coast of France. And California is completely different from both of them. Throw in winemaking differences ?- the French do things differently from the Chileans – ? and you have a wine with as many differences as similarities.

Here ?s a guide to the most important regions, what makes that region different, and some representative wines:

? France: The best sauvignon blanc in the world used to come from Sancerre, about 150 miles west of Paris. But prices have gone up, and quality has not improved. At its best, Sancerre is less fruity than the New World wines, with wonderful flinty qualities (look for wine from an area called Chavignol). But good luck finding anything for less than $20. A better bet are the $10 sauvignon blanc/semillion blends from Bordeaux, like Chateaus Ducla and Bonnet, which have the mineral character that Sancerre is getting away from.

? New Zealand: Sauvignon blanc doesn ?t get better than this, both in quality and price. The best wines ? Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Villa Maria, Nobilio, and Spy Valley ? have the region ?s distinctive grapefruit flavor, but in balance. I especially like the $16 Spy Valley and the $12 wines from Villa Maria and Nobilio.

? California: California shouldn ?t be cold enough to make great sauvignon blanc, but there are dozens of excellent producers, including Benziger, Kenwood, Geyser Peak, and Jewel at around $10 and Cakebread, Duckhorn, St. Supery and Chalk Hill up to $30. California sauvignon blancs have more tropical fruit, like lime and pineapple, and what is described as grassiness (difficult to explain, but recognizable when you smell it).

? Chile: Not always for the faint of heart ? can be like New Zealand without the balance. That said, there ?s nothing wrong with the wine, and most of the labels we see, like Veramonte and Los Vascos, are $10.

? South Africa: People who are supposed to know about these things say this will be the next great sauvignon blanc producer. I ?ve had decent wines, more French in style, from Robertson ($10) and Republic of Sauvignon Blanc ($16).

Wine of the week: Freixenet Cava Brut Rosé NV

image Freixenet, once one of the best cheap Spanish cavas, has been more or less a grocery store wine in the past several years. Brands like Cristalino, Perfect and Extra offer more bang for the same or even less bucks.

So when I saw this during my New Year’s bubbly expedition, I picked it up. It was $8 — certainly worth a try. I’m glad I did. This was dry and bubbly, but with a subtle red berry fruitiness that comes out the longer the bottle is open. It’s not as rough as the Freixenet Brut, but it still has that distinctive cava tightness. Highly recommended, either for sipping on its own or with salads and even seafood.

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Wine review: Inama Soave Classico 2006

Those of us of a certain age will remember an Italian wine brand called Bolla, which was huge in the 1970s. Our parents drank it, and it lent an air of sophistication to an otherwise ordinary spaghetti and meatball dinner. My dad loved Bolla’s valpolicella

Bolla’s soave was one of the first white wines I remember drinking. Which means I have a soft spot in my heart for soave, and the Inama did nothing to change my mind. It was little tight out of the bottle, but opened up sufficiently to be a value at $14. It has good soave minerality, which means clear and crisp. It didn’t have quite the subtle lemon and apple fruit of great soaves, but I’m not complaining. Pair it with everything from takeout pizza to more formal fish and chicken dishes.

Wine of the week: Loredan Gasparini Prosecco

Italian sparkling wines are usually not my first choice. Most of the time, they/re sweeter than I like, without the crisp acidity of champagne or Spanish and New World sparkling wine. But this one is a winner, combining prosecco’s trademark 7-Up fizz with a sturdy backbone.

It’s the finish that makes the difference. Too often, Italian sparkling wines offer an interesting sweet fruitiness in the front, but nothing much after that. Part of that is intentional, especially for less expensive wines, and part of it is the way the wines are made, using the charmat method. That’s why I call it 7-Up fizz, because the taste is so reminiscent of the soft drink.

But the Gasparini (about $14) has a solid, interesting, almost steely finish. There’s actually something there, and not just the sweetness hanging around your mouth like 7-Up on a hot day.This is easily one of the best proseccos I have ever had, and a steal at this price.

Sparkling wine for New Year’s

Keep three things in mind when you're picking sparkling wine and champagne for New Year ?s Eve. 

First, there is plenty of quality wine from places other than France, especially from the New World, Spain and Italy. There is also plenty of quality wine from France that isn't the same old stuff. Please, please try something other than Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. 

Second, vintage isn't especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage ? that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years instead of just one. It ?s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality. 

Third, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands, like Korbel, are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or m thode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style 

And cost? There is more than acceptable bubbly at almost every price, and even some expensive wines are good values.

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Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Blanc 2006

image Curse the weak dollar. Otherwise, this white blend from Bordeaux would be $8, which it used to be a couple of years ago. Then I’d have a case of it in the wine closet and I’d have no worries about what to drink for dinner when I needed some everyday white wine.

Sadly, however, the Bonnet is $13. It’s still worthwhile — just not a bargain. But the wine is very Bordeaux-like, and in that respect is still a value. There is a  hint of sauvignon blanc citrus, some semillon to take the edge off, and muscadelle for fruitiness. Plus, unusual in a wine at this price (and even more unusual at $8), it has a wonderful mineral finish that hints at what you’ll find in the sauvignon blancs of Sancerre.

Serve this chilled with any kind of seafood (raw oysters or steamed mussels come to mind) or by itself. And keep careful watch, in case your local retailer puts it on sale.

Tale of two wines

On the one hand, at $65, Flora Springs Trilogy 2004, a Bordeaux-style red blend. On the other, Solaz Shiraz Tempranillo 2004, about $8. Which offers more bang for the buck?

This is not as silly a question as it sounds. The price value ratio isn’t considered nearly enough in assessing wine. That’s one of the problems with scores, which don’t allow for quality based on price. No one is arguing that the Flora Springs isn’t a well-made wine, because it is. It was a bit young, and to my mind had too much acid (though not everyone who tasted this with me agreed). But it was, save for the acid, integrated and  complex, full of lots of dark Napa fruit and even some cocoa. It wasn’t especially subtle, but this kind of wine isn’t supposed to be.

The question, then: Is it eight times better than the Solaz? The answer is no.

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