Winecast 40: Roberta Backlund, consumer wine advocate

Roberta Blacklund

Roberta Backlund

Consumer wine advocate Roberta Backlund says there are values to be found – the key is not to be shy about what you’re looking for

One of the biggest problems facing consumers when they buy wine, says Roberta Backlund, is a lack of confidence. “Don’t be shy,” she says. Know what you like, and don’t be afraid to say so. Why buy a $15 bottle of red wine when you want an $8 bottle of white wine? Or vice versa?

Backland has been a wine retailer and consultant, and has worked for producers and distributors. In this, she has seen almost everything that goes on in her 22 years in the wine business, and her advice is real world – no scores, no winespeak, and no foolishness.

Did you know, for example, that the trade calls the system where the same product gets three different prices “pulse pricing?” Or that Chilean wine, once one of the world’s great values, may be staging a comeback, so its sauvignon blanc and pinot noir may be worth buying? And that box wine is better than its reputation suggests?

We recorded the interview at Metro State College in Denver, when we were judging the 2019 Colorado Governor’s Cup. Backlund included advice on how to spot, older flawed wines, where to find bargains at your local retailer, and how to get around premiumization.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 ½ minutes long and takes up 8.6 megabytes. The sound quality is good; there’s a little popping, but nothing that gets in the way.

Mini-reviews 125: Guimaro, Castle Rock, Silverado, Bibi Graetz

guimaroReviews 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.

Guimaro Vino Tinto 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): Solid, well-made, and very fruity (black cherry?) Spanish red made with the mencia grape. I wish it had had a little more earth and interest, but it’s young and should get some of that as it ages. Imported by Llaurador Wines

Castle Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2017 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Not a bad value for $18 – mostly a typical, ripe black fruit, rich and oaky Napa cabernet. But it’s not overdone, and you can drink it without feeling you’re eating Raisinets at the movies. The catch is that the suggested price is $25 (though it may be available at a lower price at some retailers).

Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato 2018 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Polished, New World- style rose (lots of berry fruit) with a bit of zip and a touch of heaviness from the alcohol. But it isn’t appreciably better or more interesting than a quality $10 rose.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco 2018 ($12, purchased, 12%): Italian white blend, mostly made with vermentino, that has tart lemon fruit, some floral aromas, and a crisp and rewarding finish. Very food-friendly; one of those wines to sip on the porch as summer ends. Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners

Putting canned wine in perspective

canned wine

Somebody bring the rose. The socca is ready.

No, canned wine is not the end of the universe. So why do we keep hearing that it is?

A recent trade magazine story asked the question, “How seriously should we be taking the rise of wines in a can?” To which my answer was, “Who cares?’

The story was mostly the same winebiz-speak we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years as cans have become more popular. To wit: The wine business is shocked to discover that consumers will drink wine out of something other than a 750-ml bottle with a cork-style closure, so it’s obvious that cans are going to take over the wine business. So we need to do something!!!!!

Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?

We read the same stuff when Tetrapks were au courant and boxed wine was supposed to be the next big thing. And nothing changed – 75 percent of the world’s wine still comes in a 750-ml bottle with a cork-style closure.

So why the panic now? Yes, the quality of much canned wine is suspect. But why should that bother an industry that turns out vast quantities of plonk in bottles?

Because the wine business, and especially the wine business in the U.S., has so much time and money invested in keeping wine exactly the same way it has been since the end of World War II. So anything that threatens the ancien regime is to be feared. And it’s to be especially feared given the current wine climate of flat sales and increased sobriety. Even if, in the end, canned wine won’t make that much of a difference to flat sales and increased sobriety.

So why can’t we just drink wine – canned or otherwise – and enjoy it instead of rending garments and gnashing teeth about the future of the wine business? I recommend this blog post from food writer David Lebovitz. He is discussing socca, the chickpea flour pancake and or crepe thing famous in southern France, and his point is most welcome (as is his socca, one of my favorite Saturday night appetizers):

And for any wine snobs out there that think it’s folly to serve wine in cups instead of glasses haven’t had the pleasure of standing near a wood-burning oven, eating a blistering-hot wedge of socca with a non-recyclable tumbler of wine. Preferably served over ice, Marseille-style.

Photo: “FR’Nice 11’0925 – 13” by karendelucas is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Wine of the week: Calvet Blanc Reserve 2018

The Calvet Blanc white Bordeaux is fresh, modern, and a very fair value

A long time ago, in a wine world far, far away, most quality wine shops sold cheap and enjoyable white Bordeaux. You could even find it in supermarkets. The reason that it was so inexpensive and plentiful is that French producers made too much of it, even for a wine drinking country like France.

The difference between then and today? Premiumization. There is still too much white Bordeaux in the world, but since it’s less expensive, we see less of it. Because the wine business has to sell us $15 wine that’s much less interesting.

So when the Wine Curmudgeon finds something like the Calvet Blanc ($11, purchased, 11.5%), he buys it. It’s more modern in style than white Bordeaux from the old days, made entirely of sauvingon blanc (so no semillon, which was quite common then).

The Calvet Blanc is a little more New Zealand in style than I like, with more grapefruit than the subtler lemon and lime. And there isn’t a lot of the traditional minerality. But it’s not simple or dull, the grapefruit isn’t over the top, there’s a little grassyness to add interest, and the finish is long, clean, and stony. In all, the wine is more than drinkable and a very fair value.

Imported by Calvet USA

Winebits 612: 7-Eleven wine, Iowa wine, Brexit wine

Brexit wineThis week’s wine news: Customer goes full-on wine critic at a California 7-Eleven, plus the success of Iowa wine and Brexit wine fears

A unique approach to wine criticism: A customer was arrested last week after police say he “threw dozens of glass bottles onto the floor” and damaged several display cases at a California 7-Eleven. No word on the motive for the incident, which took place at 9 in the morning. Maybe it would have been easier to give the wines low scores than to get arrested?

Show me the money: One more example of the success of Drink Local – one of Iowa’s preeminent wineries is for sale for $2.3 million, an unheard of sum when regional wine was little loved and less respected. The Des Moines Register reports that the two-decade old Summerset Winery is for sale at that price, which includes a 12-acre vineyard, a house and an inn. Summerset is the state’s largest winery, accounting for about 10 percent of Iowa’s production.

Stockpiling Brexit wine: Booze companies across Britain have begun stockpiling beer, wine and spirits to keep the alcohol flowing at Christmas, more than six weeks earlier than normal. The Guardian newspaper reports that the importers and distributors don’t want to be caught short if a no-deal Brexit disrupts trade in and out of the country. Says an economist: ““It’s particularly wine from the EU. Companies have bought well ahead of Christmas this year, due to potential disruption at the ports and to try and avoid depreciation in the value of sterling against the euro.”

Wine review: Three Citra Italian wines

Citra Italian winesThese three Citra Italian wines deliver everything great cheap wine should – quality, value, and a more than fair price

When the wine world looks to be at its worst and the Wine Curmudgeon is contemplating something as depressing as a return to sportswriting, great cheap wine always saves the day. This time, it was three Citra Italian wines.

Citra is a co-op, buying grapes from nine growers in one of the less well known regions of Italy, Abruzzo. Which, to be honest, is not always a sign of great things. But its consulting winemaker is the legendary Riccardo Cotarella, and that changes everything.

Cotarella is the man behind Falesco’s Vitiano wines, as good a cheap wines as ever made. These are wines – red, white, and rose – that you can buy and not worry about vintage or varietal. They will always been worth the $10 or $12 or $14 they cost. In fact, they’ve been in the $10 Hall of Fame for as long as there has been one.

The Citra aren’t quite that well made yet. But the three wines I tasted could get there sooner rather than later. Each of the wines is about $10 and imported by Winebow:

Citra Sangiovese 2017 (sample, 13%): This is what cheap Italian red wine should taste like — earthy, with tart red fruit and professionally made. It isn’t rough or amateurish, like a wine from the 1980s, and it hasn’t been focused group to take out the character and interest. Highly recommended.

Citra Montepulciano 2017 (sample, 13%): This red is another example of a red wine made with the montepulciano grape from the Montepulciano d’Aburzzo region that offers value and consistency — some tart and peppery red fruit, a clean finish and competent all around. A touch thin, but these wines aren’t necessarily supposed to be rich and full.

Citra Trebbiano 2017 (sample, 12%): Any review of this white is going to make it sound lacking, one of the perils of wine with the trebbiano grape. It’s not as lemony and as crisp as the Fantini trebbiano, and it doesn’t approach the grandeur of the Gascon Tariquet ugni blanc. But it’s not lacking when it comes time to drink it. Look for some tropical and soft citrus fruit, and buy a case to keep around.

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

So who’s the one running his mouth when almost everyone else is tasting or making notes?

Six things worth noting after judging the Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

• The wines, though fewer in number than in years past, were almost all terrific. One of the difficulties in regional wine is getting past the plateau; that is, quality improves to a certain point and then seems to stall. This year, much of what we tasted had climbed past the plateau. In fact, the judges gave out so many gold medals that the best in show judging featured almost as many wines as we judged on the first day. That rarely happens.

• The highlights were the rieslings and the cabernet francs. The former should always be top notch given Colorado’s terroir, but have been maddeningly inconsistent over the past couple of years. The almost two dozen we tasted were varietally correct, balanced, and enjoyable. The cab francs, which should also do well here, may have been even better. They displayed restraint, one of the grape’s characteristics, but were not thin or dull.

• We discovered a new cold-hardy hybrid that is fruitier and less acidic than the usual suspects, called petite pearl. These grapes are bred to withstand freezing temperatures and to resist disease, but are often difficult to turn into quality wine. Petite pearl, though, seems much more wine-friendly than the others, and it may have the potential to make cold-hardy hybrids more popular. It tastes a bit like gamay, the grape used to make Beaujolais, but with more of a backbone,

• A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my fellow judges, long-time Colorado wine expert Roberta Backland and Wine America president Jim Trezise. Anyone who can endure at my enthusiasm for grapes like petite pearl shows just how much they care about wine.

Mike Dunne, one of the best wine writers in the country, no longer writes a column for the Sacramento Bee. The paper told him it was a luxury it couldn’t afford. So the third or fourth largest metro area in the country’s biggest wine producing state doesn’t have regular wine coverage. Is it any wonder. …

• “Metrics” are one way 21st century business “quantifies” customer service. Metrics allow companies to game the system so they can show they provide customer service even when they don’t. My flight to Denver was the usual post-modern mess – it left almost an hour late, the bags took almost 40 minutes to arrive, and so on and so forth. So of course I got an email asking me to rate the “flight experience.” The Wine Curmudgeon, being the Wine Curmudgeon, answered it with a comment: “Does anyone at the airline really care about my answers, or do you do this so you can phony up the metrics?”

Photo by Alder Yarrow