Wine scores and price: What really matters

Last night, I tasted the Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir Vintner's Collection 2006. As I always do, I tried to guess how much it cost while I was tasting it. And I figured the Sterling was around $18, which I thought made it an OK wine ? nothing more.

Turns out the suggested retail is $13, which means it ?s probably available for as little as $11 in some parts of the country. Which means the Sterling is a heck of a wine. Which is when the Wine Curmudgeon had a brainstorm: Wine scores don ?t matter ? prices matter. Shouldn't there be a way to take that into account when evaluating wine?

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Wine of the week: Yellow + Blue Malbec 2007

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The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a great, cheap Argentine malbec for years. The Yellow + Blue ($10 for a 1-liter box) may be it.

A couple of caveats: Availability could be limited, and there ?s no guarantee that the wine will be around after this vintage. That ?s because it ?s the project of a startup importer called J. Soif, and wine importing is a difficult business. What works one year may not work the next year.

Having said that, the Yellow + Blue is a $10 Hall of Fame candidate that delivers more than $10 worth of wine. It has well-done tannins, something that ?s rare in cheap malbec, and the fruit isn ?t so over the top that it covers everything else else up, another flaw in $10 malbec.

So what about the box? Soif boss Matthew Cain, who has worked for Kermit Lynch, one of the best importers in the world, says his focus is not only on quality wine, but on green wine. Hence organic grapes and the box, called a TetraPak, which is supposed to be less harmful to the environment than a glass bottle.

This is an interesting sales pitch, but the problem with selling wine as environmentally friendly is that most of the wine that makes that claim doesn ?t taste this good. Consumers are stuck with a tradeoff between quality and carbon footprint, and what ?s the point of that? If all I cared about was the environment, I ?d drink boxed Franzia.

The green wine discussion deserves its own post, which I ?ll get to soon. Until then, enjoy the Yellow + Blue.

Grape Creek Vineyards

image This is one of an occasional series detailing Texas wineries. The complete list is here.

Jason Englert, the winemaker at Grape Creek Vineyards, has done an impressive job in his three years at the Hill Country winery. His wines have won a bunch of medals, the prestigious San Francisco International and Dallas Morning News competitions included.

In addition, he has used new owner Brian Heath ?s resources to put together a professional and competent wine program, moving Grape Creek close to the first tier of Texas wineries. Heath, a financial services executive, has expanded the winery ?s tasting room and upgraded its production facilities.

The catch, though, is that Englert has done this by making a lot of wine with grapes that aren ?t from Texas. That Grape Creek uses non-Texas fruit is neither good nor bad, given the state ?s grape shortage. Rather, it raises the question of what will happen when there is enough Texas fruit for Englert to use.

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Tuesday tidbits 39

? Top winemaker has had enough of overdone wine: And the winemaker is none other than Tom Eddy, one of Napa ?s leading cabernet sauvignon producers. "After 35 years of making wine I still can't tell the difference between a 91 and a 92 score, but I can tell the difference between a balanced wine and an overripe, raisined cabernet with 16 percent alcohol," he says. "Come on, if I really wanted the alcohol, I'd rather have a Cognac. ? This is news ? Eddy is not an outsider criticizing the industry, but an insider who has had enough.

? We ?re drinking less: The Wine Curmudgeon can never get enough of alcohol consumption surveys, mostly because most of them contradict each other. But I did notice something intriguing in this one. There's been a gradual decrease over the past 50 years in the average amount of alcohol people drink, and more people today don ?t drink than did five decades ago. Alcohol consumption among men has gone from about 2 1/2 drinks a day to 1 1/2.

? New Zealand wine exports: The standing joke about New Zealand is that the country has more sheep than people. Now, you can add wine to the punch line. The Kiwis expect to export about US$700 million by 2010, which works out to $170 worth of wine for each resident. By comparison, wine exports in the U.S. in 2007 were $951 million.

Wine review: Lockwood sauvignon blanc 2007

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The Wine Curmudgeon, who comes from a long of retailers, loves to guess the price of wine. And I ?m quite good at it. Drives the wine producers crazy.

So as I sipped this Monterey County sauvignon blanc, I figured it was a $15 or $18 wine. It had classic California sauvignon blanc varietal character ? some grapefruit, but some tropical flavors as well. It had three flavors ? something in the front, middle, and back. Usually, less expensive wine only has one or two flavors.

The third flavor was a long mineral finish. And, though the wine was only bottled in May, it was ready to drink, another good sign.

So when I checked the price, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a suggested retail of $10.99. This means, when the wine hits store shelves in a month or so, it should be $9 or $10. This is a $10 Hall of Fame candidate. Serve it with shellfish or grilled chicken.