This is a long-time favorite (it used to have another name and another label), but one that doesn’t seem to be available when I want to buy it. It’s a $13 California wine with Italian-style minerality — the flinty quality that in poorly-made pinot grigios tastes like turpentine. But it also has lots of California citrus fruitiness. This is an excellent wine to serve as an aperitif during the holiday season, or with Christmas dinner leftovers.
Had crab cakes — special crab cakes, made with fresh blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico from an old friend of the family — on Saturday night, so I opened a bottle of Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16). Drank one glass, and opened something else.
This is not my annual plea for winemakers to cut back on alcohol content (I’ll save that for the spring). Rather, it’s an example of why I need to make that plea. This wine is 14.1 percent alcohol — 1.1 points higher than Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, 1.3 points higher than Bogle sauvignon blanc, and 2.1 points higher than Chateau Bonnet blanc. And that’s almost three times the alcohol content in a similar serving of beer.
The Shannon was not fresh or vibrant or lively, all trademarks of sauvignon blanc. It was not food friendly, and if we had sipped it with the crab cakes, we never would have tasted the crab.
It did not taste like sauvignon blanc. There was almost no fruit and very little acidity — just an overwhelming heaviness that made me think the wine was spoiled or that it had been aged in oak for 24 months. But it was not spoiled and it was aged six months in stainless steel. The only explanation was the high alcohol, which robbed the wine of of its character.
Why make sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc?
We don ?t get much Greek wine this far in the middle of the country, which is a shame. Most Greek wine that that the Wine Curmudgeon has sampled is well-made, inexpensive and very food friendly.
This Boutari is no exception. It ?s a light, low alcohol wine that is more fruity (think melons) than sweet. The grape variety, by the way, is moschofilero ? important in Greece and almost nowhere else in the world. Serve it chilled for sipping at holiday gatherings, with salads, or to accompany a Mediterranean spread with dishes like hummus, tabouleh, pita bread, olives, yogurt cheese, and tzatziki.
The wine was everything I had hoped it would be — classic chianti with dark fruit, the tell-tale Italian tannins and earthiness, and low alcohol. We finished the bottle, barely noticing that it was gone. Which led me to wonder: Why are Americans so adamant that wine has to be the star of the meal? We’re forced to drink high-alcohol, tannin-driven cabernets — and made fun of if we don’t enjoy them — when these wines will overpower all but the beefiest meals.
The Volpaia was terrific, and mostly because it didn’t overpower the food. It did what it was made to do — complement the food. The acid in the red sauce and the fruitiness in the wine played off each other in a way that too many New World wines don’t. I can’t tell you specifically what made the wine so good. But I can tell you how good it was with dinner, and that’s the most important thing.
Last year, when Randall Grahm sold his Big House brand, those of us who appreciated unpretentious, good value, everyday wine waited for the other shoe to drop. Would his new venture, freed from what he called the golden handcuffs of success, live up to the reputation of the $10 Big House red, white and pink?
Yes, as it turns out. Grahm has released three wines under the Ca del Solo label ? a sangiovese, a muscat, and an albarino, each for about $15. In fact, these may be better than Big House (even allowing for the higher price). The sangiovese, with lots of dark fruit and a touch of Italian style not often found in California, is one of the best sangioveses made in this country, regardless of price. The albarino, made with the Spanish grape, is cleaner and more interesting than many Spanish albarinos I ?ve tasted, while the muscat has a wonderful balance between sweetness and acid and very bright orange fruit.
One caveat: Availability is spotty, mostly because Grahm made just 8,000 cases total, or just 1/50th of the old Big House production. He is apparently truly terrified of those golden handcuffs.
Argyle Winery’s efforts are not only well-made, but they’re almost always good values. The sparkling wine, at $25, puts many $40 French bottles to shame.
So what do we do with the $45 Nuthouse pinot? It’s certainly a quality wine, with wonderful earthy Burgundian overtones and trademark Oregon fruit. I liked it a lot. But $40? You can buy two nice bottles of $20 wine and you won’t be any worse off.
The problem is twofold: First, pinot noir is pricey because it’s not easy to make well. Save for some French vin ordinaire like Red Bicyclette. Lulu B., and French Rabbit, it’s almost impossible to find a decent bottle for less than $20. Second, wineries charge a lot because they can. Consumers are caught up in pinot’s media hype, which extends far beyond Sideways to the Wine Magazines, and they pay those prices because they think they’re supposed to. High-end pinot drinkers are some of the biggest wine snobs I’ve met.