Holiday wine gift guide 2018

holiday wine gift guide 2018The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2018 — because no one wants to give the wine equivalent of a fruitcake

• Holiday wine trends 2018

How to avoid giving tacky wine gift bags — “for the wine lover on your lists” — or overpriced, celebrity-endorsed wine accessories (because if an A lister likes it, we should buy it)? The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide out 2018, of course. Because why waste money on bad gifts when you can use it for quality wine?

Keep in mind two must-haves for anyone who drinks wine regularly – the Rabbit wine preserver ($10), cheap and effective, and a top-notch waiter’s corkscrew from Murano ($10). Both have passed the WC’s lengthy, real-life testing process — which means I use them over and over and over. And over.

Plus:

• Kevin Zraly’s new edition of the “Windows on the World” wine course (Sterling Epicure, $18) is probably the best one-volume wine book available. That means it’s worth buying, whether for beginning wine drinker or cranky wine critic. Plus, Zraly’s memoir is scheduled to be published in the next year or so, chronicling his 40 years in the wine business.

Chateau La Tour Carnet ($38) is a red Bordeaux that offers quality but doesn’t cost a fortune, given the prices of red Bordeaux. This French blend, more cabernet sauvignon than merlot, combines modern winemaking with traditional Bordeaux style and terroir. Older vintages like the 2010, which may be more expensive, will especially show that combination. This is the red wine for someone who thinks cabernet begins and ends in the Napa Valley.

The L’Conti Blanquette ($15) is sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France, and tastes nothing like any other French sparkling wine. It’s probably closer to Spanish cava, with lemon and green apple fruit. Plus, you can tell people you tasted a wine made with the mauzac grape. Highly recommended.

• Those who know Italian wine find refosco, a red from northern Italy, to be an acquired tasted. I’ve acquired it, and you’l find quality in refosco from $10 to $20. The Tenuta Luisa ($20) is dark but also bright; a little savory but also a little spicy. It’s more interesting than the less expensive versions, and surprisingly available.

• My new weakness is white wine from Spain’s Basque region made with the hondarrabi zuri grape, most costing around $20. The labels include the phrase “Getariako Txakolina,” which is the name of the region. I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t well-made — almost herbal, with citrus and stone fruit, a little fizz, and some minerality — but not sweet. This is about as far from chardonnay as you can get.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016
• Holiday wine gift guide 2015

Holiday wine trends 2018

holiday wine trends 2018Holiday wine trends 2018: We aren’t necessarily spending more money, but we’re demanding better quality and looking for something different

• Holiday wine gift guide 2018

Wine drinkers aren’t necessarily looking for more expensive wine this holiday season. Rather, as part of holiday wine trends 2018, they’re looking for quality – and even something out of the ordinary.

“My customers are looking for wine not just for special occasions anymore, but for something they can drink every day that combines value and quality,” says Adam Acquistapace, whose family owns two gourmet grocery stores in the New Orleans area. “They want something they can drink that’s just good.”

In other words, not as many changes as you would expect, given what we’ve heard about wine prices this year. Even at Pogo’s, a high-end Dallas wine store, $15 to $20 is the sweet spot, says Neal Caldwell, who has been watching Dallas wine trends for more than three decades.

So what are we looking for this holiday season (aside from the mass-produced Meomis, La Cremas, and Veuve Clicquots that always sell well this time of year)?

• One change? Traditional is back, says Caldwell. This includes cru Beaujolais, the $15 to $20 French red wine from the Beaujolais region of France. Other retailers are seeing increased demand for Chianti, the Italian red long regarded as something only for people who remember Chianti’s straw bottles.

• Another change? Even older wine drinkers, usually the least adventurous, are taking chances, says Caldwell. How about sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France? Or an Italian nebbiolo instead of California cabernet sauvignon? The number of different wines sold on Wine.com, the country’s largest Internet wine retailer, increased 40 percent from this time last year. Says Michael Osborn, Wien.com’s founder and vice president merchandising: “Consumers are buying everything from aglianico to zweigelt.”

• A third change: Lighter red wines, something that started a couple of years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s more than just sweet red blends, say retailers, but the also Oregon pinot noir, and European reds.

• And rose continues to surge, and especially for less than $15 (music to the Wine Curmudgeon’s beleaguered cheap wine ears). Roses account for 3 1/2 percent of Wine.com’s sales, and it’s a year-round product that shows up on holiday tables. That was unheard of just a couple of years ago.

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Bianco 2015

Zirtari BiancoThe Feudo Zirtari Bianco is an astonishing $10 white wine, and especially given how old it is

This Italian white blend from Sicily is not supposed to be this enjoyable. First, it’s too old – who ever heard of a $10 white wine lasting more than a couple of vintages? Second, the producer’s wines are notoriously inconsistent, and my notes are littered with lines like “not as good as the last one.” Nevertheless, the Zirtari Bianco is $10 Hall of Fame quality cheap wine.

Which, of course, is one of the joys of doing this – finding a wine like the Zirtari Bianco ($10, purchased, 13.5%) when I don’t expect to find anything at all. It’s a blend of insolia, a native Sicilian grape, and chardonnay. Hence, the sum is far greater than its parts, given the usual quality of Sicilian chardonnay.

Look for spice (white pepper, nutmeg?), almonds, and pear fruit, which is a surprisingly delicious combination considering the two grapes that have been blended together. Plus, it’s not thin in the mouth or on the finish, which is what usually happens with a three-year-old cheap white wine.

Highly recommended, but there is a conundrum: Should you try to find this vintage, and hope it held up as well as my bottle did? Or should you buy the current vintage and hope that it’s as well made as this one? I don’t have an answer, though it’s almost certainly easier to find the current vintage.

Imported by Santa Margherita USA

Winebits 569: Organic wine, three-tier lawsuits, New York wine

organic wineThis week’s wine news: California betting on organic wine, plus three-tier lawsuits and an English critic signs off on New York wine

Make it organic: Organic wine has never been especially popular in the U.S., with a market share in the low single digits. But several producers see its growth as part of premiumization, as consumers pay more for better quality wine. “I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just not happening as quickly as we like,” says one winemaker. “I think it’s inevitable.” Perhaps. But until consumers see a difference between organic wine and conventional wine – the way they do with tomatoes – inevitable doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Join the lawsuits: Want to participate in the upcoming Tennessee three-tier case that will be heard by the Supreme Court? Then you can contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the Tennessee law. The campaign, sponsored by a retailer trade group and WineFreedom.org, which works for three-tier reform, was near its $25,000 goal at the beginning of the week. Meanwhile, the trade group for the country’s distributors and wholesalers filed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the law because three-tier is vital to the safety of the republic.

Drink Local: Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, has been to New York’s Finger Lakes and found it worth drinking: “We are as far from Red Cat” as possible, referring to the legendary cheap, sweet white wine that fueled New York’s wine business for decades. That Jefford, one of Britain’s leading wine writers, likes what he found in the Fingers Lakes speaks volumes about how far Drink Local has come.

Wine to drink when you’re visiting your mom

wine to drinkFour wines to drink when you’re visiting your mom

I spent a week in Chicago with my mom before Thanksgiving, which brought up the question of wine. I wasn’t where I knew the stores, and I wanted to find wine my mom would enjoy. Because, as noted here many times, what’s the point of sharing wine with someone when you don’t take their tastes into consideration?

My mom’s palate is discriminating, and she looks for value almost as much as I do. She is also open to wines that aren’t mainstream, so lesser known regions and varietals are OK. But the wines had to be well made and taste like they’re supposed to.

The catch: I was limited to grocery stores and one visit to Binny’s, the biggest chain in the area. The grocery store selection wasn’t any better than it is in Dallas (and the pricing was just as screwy), and Binny’s was more expensive than I thought it would be.

In the end, I bought four wines – three from retailers and one at a local restaurant (and, as an added bonus, I know two of the winemakers – always nice to be able to brag to your mother):

Domaine de Pouy ($10): This Gascon white blend is suffering from the same problem as most of the rest – not enough white grapiness and almost too tart. Having said that, it was the least tart of those I’ve tasted this year, and Mom liked it. So a winner all around.

Charles & Charles rose ($12): Mom buys this Washington state pink at her local supermarket, so it was an easy choice. The price was a couple of bucks more than I pay in Dallas, but this rose remains one of the best and most consistent values in the world – rose or otherwise.

Armas de Guerra ($13): I’m not quite sure how this Spanish red, made with the little-known mencia grape, ended up in a supermarket. But I’m glad it did. Its bitter cherry fruit and earthiness made it a terrific match for Mom’s legendary spaghetti and meatballs.

Giesen sauvignon blanc ($10): This New Zealand white was the best of a very mediocre wine list at an otherwise interesting restaurant. Not surprisingly, almost no one else was drinking wine. Don’t the people who run the place see the correlation? The Giesen had more than just grapefruit, with a little tropical in the middle. It was much better than I thought it would be.

Graphic courtesy of Ephemera, using a Creative Commons license

Mini-reviews 115: Rioja, German rose, Youngberg, Umani Rochi

german roseReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: a German rose, plus Oregon pinot noir, a Rioja, and an Italian white for Black Friday 2018

Vallobera Rioja Crianza 2015 ($15, purchased, 14%): Heavy, old-fashioned Spanish red that isn’t very interesting – sweet cherry fruit, not much orange peel or earth, and almost flabby. Very disappointing. Imported by Evaki

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 11.5%): This German pink is sweet (not quite white zinfandel, but noticeable) and fizzy, with almost crisp cherry fruit. Neither sweet nor fizzy is a bad thing, and there will be people who will like it. But not for anyone expecting a dry rose. Imported by Loosen Bros. USA

Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Jordan Block 2014 ($49, sample, 14%): This is a well-made wine, and the winemakers apparently accomplished what they were trying to do – an Oregon pinot noir that is heavier and more California in style than Oregon. It doesn’t have any brambly fruit, but more concentrated, rich black fruit.

Umani Rochi Villa Bianchi 2016 ($9, purchased, 12%): This Italian white is not quite $9 worth of wine – very tart (citrus fruit?), too simple, and not crisp or fresh enough to balance the tartness.