James Tidwell, the sommelier at the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, has become a master sommelier ? one of just 96 in North America and 167 worldwide. The honor is probably the highest that a wine person can achieve, and is incredibly difficult to do. It took James, who knows way more than I ever will, eight years of on and off work to earn the honor. And he had to start over once.
We talked this week about how difficult it is to become a master sommelier and why James did it, and he added some pointers about finding good value wines (whether in a store or in a restaurant). Click here to download or stream the podcast. It ?s about 12 minutes and 11 megabytes. This is probably the best sound quality I ?ve done yet, with very little hiss.
Somewhere in my house, either stuffed in a drawer or buried in a box, are probably hundreds of the little plastic bulls that are attached to the neck of the bottle of the Sangre de Toro, a Spanish red blend. When I started doing this 20-some odd years ago, I drank a lot of what I called bull wine. It was $6 or $7 then, well made, and dependable.
I haven;t had Sangre de Toro in years. No reason to, really. I thought I knew what it tasted like, and I thought I had outgrown it. Which is a good reason to repeat the Wine Curmudgeon mantra: “Taste the wine before you judge it, dummy.”
So I bought a bottle for about $10, took it home, unscrewed the cap (a welcome change from the old days) and discovered that the wine has remained relevant. These days, it ?s made with Spanish versions of grenache and carignan. The former gives it fruitiness I don’t remember from before, while the latter adds body. It was fine on its own before dinner, and would also pair with simple red wine food — burgers, sausages, and the like.
Lo and behold, they appreciate the Wine Curmudgeon in the New York City borough. Food editor Pam Silvestri has a brief Q and A with me in today ?s paper. All of my favorite subjects, like cheap wine and regional wine, are included.
True story: Silvestri sent me an email a couple of weeks ago asking to do the interview, and I thought it was a practical joke. I know more than a couple of people who would be more than capable of that, including setting up a fake email account. So how much of a curmudgeon does that make me?
I did call the number, and it was actually her. And we had a nice chat.
• It’s from Bulgaria (and the back label notes that “Since we haven’t seen you in Bulgaria lately.” )
• It ?s actually available, which was really surprising given how many $10 wines that the Wine Curmudgeon likes that aren ?t available.
• It may be the best-made cheap merlot I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the best I’ve had in a long time, with enough tannin and structure to complement the cherry and plum fruit. Best yet, it wasn’t cloying and jammy, like so many inexpensive California merlots. It’s pleasant enough to drink on its own, but it would also complement barbecue, beef fajitas, and meat loaf. Most definitely a candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.
? Fat Bastard is sold: French producer Boisset bought the company that makes Fat Bastard, one of the first clever label brands. Boisset is best known in the U.S. for owning Deloach and inexpensive imports from the south of France like French Rabbit and Lulu B. This is another in what looks to be continuing consolidation at that end of the market, which has included Gallo ?s purchase of Spanish producer Las Rocas.
? Sting launches wine label: The front man for the Police will sell about 2,500 cases of red wine made on his country estate in Tuscany. It is supposed to be available in the U.S. later this year. The wine will be a Super Tuscan, though it doesn ?t have a name yet (and no, it probably won ?t be called Roxanne.) And, yes, one of the headlines for this story in the cyber-ether was ?Message in a bottle. ? Ouch. The Wine Curmudgeon is going to have to teach these people how to write headlines.
? European label ban: The European Commission, in what looks to be a reversal of policy, apparently will not allow U.S. wineries that use the word chateau, clos, or even vintage on their labels to be sold in the European Union, reports Wines & Vines. This seems to be part of the long-standing trade dispute between the EU and the U.S. that everyone thought had been settled in 2006. But the Europeans have re-opened the discussion, which they were allowed to do. One of the biggest losers? Napa ?s Clos du Val, run by French winemaker Bernard Portet, which had to stop selling its wine in Europe — where it enjoys a fine reputation. I know Portet a little, and he will not be happy.
Yes, the Wine Curmudgeon is on Facebook, and has entered the world of social networking. I am told it is a key part of the future, and the people who have told me that (and you know who you are, dammit) usually know what they are talking about.
So look for me there ? my account is Wine Curmudgeon. We ?ll see how this works, part of my never-ending attempt to negotiate the marketing environment in the New Millennium. The catch, of course, is that I have to post updates, which I have not been very good about doing in the short time I have had the account.
And I can tell everyone right now that there is no chance ? ever ? that the Wine Curmudgeon will ever Twitter.