? My pal Alfonso Cevola, who tolerates my almost constant request for availability information with a patience that is awe inspiring, is an accomplished wine blogger in his own right — On the Wine Trail in Italy. Alfonso’s effort is ranked 64th in something called 100 Top Wine Blogs, which is damned impressive. He is ranked ahead of a bunch of better-known and very chi chi names.
? Availability — that is, who has the wine I’m writing about? — is the bane of my existence as a wine writer. One would think that these days, with high-tech inventory systems, real-time inventory scanning and the like, that any retailer would tell at any time if they carried a wine. And one would be wrong. Case in point: A piece in the New York Times business section a couple of weeks ago, detailing vintage and small producer champagnes. Great article about great wine, but unless you live in Manhattan, not much chance to try them,
? What about Virginia sparkling wine? Dave McIntrye recommends Kluge Estate, which he touts as the best bubbly on the East Coast. What about availability, you ask? It has limited national distribution, and I have seen it in the Dallas area.
This is not really surprising news, but the extent of how much they like it is.
That’s one of the results of a 2007 study of wine drinkers who are representative of consumers who buy expensive wine. The survey, conducted by California’s WineOpinions, found that almost one-half of respondents are “very likely” to buy a $30-plus Napa cab, but only one-quarter are very likely to buy similarly-priced Bordeaux red wine.
Meanwhile, more than a third are “not very likely” to buy a Washington state cabernet or a Spanish red from Rioja, even though the quality is comparable and the price is often one-third less (or more).
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?
I got a news release from a California winery the other day, touting a new wine. “It ?s a very nice red blend for an extremely reasonable price,” said the release.
The wine costs $17.
Reasonable, of course, is relative. A 1961 Bordeaux for $17? More than reasonable. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc? Certainly reasonable. But California wine from the current vintage, from somewhere other than Napa or Sonoma? Very unlikely.
Let me add that I have not tasted this wine, which is why I’m not naming it. But it is indicative of a trend, pioneered by the largest multi-national wine companies, to make wine based on price. The companies see a figure — and the $15-$20 range is currently very popular — and then produce wine to fit that price. I get a dozen samples a month of wine made that way. I drink a couple of glasses, shake my head, and reach for one of my trusty $10 wines.
This is quite different from the old method, where companies figured out how much it cost to produce the wine and added their profit margin to calculate a price.
The reason Two Buck Chuck is so popular is not because it’s great wine. It’s because it’s a great value. But too many wineries (and especially some of the multi-nationals) refuse to accept the price-value argument. They figure they can throw a cute label on the bottle, get a good score from the Wine Magazines, or pull some other rabbit out of their marketing hat and sell a $10 bottle wine for $17.
That may be great for the company, but it doesn’t do anything for the consumer or for the long-term health of the wine business.