Lowering the drinking age to 18

Will lowering the drinking age to 18 cut drinking related problems among young people? This is, oddly enough, one of the newest and most interesting approaches to fighting alcoholism. The theory, as propounded by a surprising number of experts, including some police as well as university presidents who are part of the Amethyst Initiative, says it may be the best way to fight an unprecedented wave of binge drinking and similar problems among college students. Take away the legal barrier, and you ?ll take away a lot of the thrill and the incentive.

Or, as the police chief in Boulder, Colo., home to the hard-partying University of Colorado, told 60 Minutes: ?The abuse of alcohol and the over-consumption of alcohol and DUI driving…are the areas we’ve got to focus our efforts. Not on chasing kids around trying to give them a ticket for having a cup of beer in their hand."

After the jump, a few thoughts about lowering the drinking age and why I ?m writing about it.

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Wine terms: Cheap wine

cheap wineSay cheap wine to someone in the business, and they get insulted. I used to make that mistake all the time. Say cheap wine to a wine drinker, and their eyes light up. Isn ?t that why most of you are here?

That ?s because wine drinkers understand what industry types don ?t: That cheap wine is about more than a price. When it ?s done properly, it ?s a style of wine that is consumer friendly, well made, and offers value. Equally as important, cheap wine isn ?t associated with any of the snotty, winespeak, score-driven attitude that affects too much of the U.S. wine business.

It ?s also the Wine Curmudgeon ?s reason for being. After the jump, a few thoughts on what makes great cheap wine:

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Wine review: Hey Mambo Swanky White 2007

This has been, for the past couple of vintages, a decent enough white wine blend. And then someone at The Other Guys, the subsidiary of Don Sebastiani & Sons (think Smoking Loon) that produces the wine and a Hey Mambo red, had a great idea: Use more viognier and chenin blanc and less sauvignon blanc. (And we know how much the Wine Curmudeon appreciates viognier and chenin blanc).

The result is impressive. Look for a fresh, apricot fruity and juicy wine that isn ?t sweet and has enough zing to stand up to most white wine foods. It reminded me of many of the cheap and well-made Gascogne wines that have showed up over the past couple of years. The suggested retail price is $13, so it may be available for as little as $10.99 in some parts of the country.

And yes, that ?s a Zork closure.

Wine of the week: Gruet Brut NV

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The Wine Curmudgeon has never understood why more people don ?t drink sparkling wine more often. One of the most fun parts of teaching my Cordon Bleu wine class was introducing the students to bubbly as something to drink with dinner (instead of, sadly, their preferred use — mimosas). Quality sparkling wine is fruity, has solid acid, and pairs with almost anything except big red meat.

And the Gruet (about $14) is an exceptional example of well-priced, well-made bubbly. That it is from New Mexico ? regional wine alert! ? makes it even better. The Brut is crisp and full of green apple fruit, without the overdone oak and toastiness that defines so many other, more expensive sparklers and Champagnes. It ?s also a little more sophisticated and softer than cava, Spanish sparkling wine.

Tuesday wine bits 68: Wine labels, Amy Culbertson, cutting supply

? Wine label web site: The people behind LocalWineEvents.com have come up with a web site to help those of us who can ?t remember the name of a wine, but do remember the label. It ?s called WineLabelWorld.com, and features labels from around the world. It works by using an image keyword search, which helps wine drinkers find the actual label, which is displayed on the site. You can also browse the site by country.

? A fond farewell: The woman who gave the Wine Curmudgeon his name is retiring from the newspaper business. Amy Culbertson, the food editor at the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, didn ?t have to think very hard to come up with it when we were brainstorming ideas for the wine column I write for the paper. It was, she said, a natural. And she was right, of course. Amy was a pro, one of the finest people I have worked with. The newspaper business, which is having troubles enough, will be hard-pressed to replace Amy (and the thousands like her) who are leaving in the wake of the industry ?s financial problems.

? When it doubt, make less: Knob Creek, a high-end bourbon, has what appears to be an interesting solution to the recession. It ?s making less bourbon. I got a news release from the company, warning me that it will be more difficult to find the whiskey in stores this year. The release, written in PR-speak, is a little fuzzy. But what I think it means is that the company had two choices ? cut costs by making a less premium spirit, or make less. It opted for the latter. It ?s an approach with much to recommend it, since the market is about to be flooded with high-end wines that have been marked down significantly in order to sell them.

Wine Curmudgeon winecast 3: Winemaker Eric Cinnamon

image Eric Cinnamon, the winemaker for Gallo ?s Rancho Zabaco, was in town last week to attend the Savor Dallas food and wine festival. We talked about  what a winemaker does, what he likes (and dislikes) about the job, and how you can learn more about wine. He also managed to get in some plugs for his wine, which was neatly done.

To download or stream the podcast, go here. It ?s about 7.4 megs and 8 minutes. The recording is mostly solid, though there may be something that sounds like tape hiss (which was a nifty trick for a digital recording).

Wine review: Altano Douro 2006

image Two years ago, this was a nifty $7 wine and it almost made the $10 Hall of Fame. The 2005 vintage, on the other hand, was fat and flabby, and was not interesting at all.

The good news is that the 2006 is almost up to the standards set by the 2003. This Douro, a Portuguese red blend, is still not as well put together as the ?03. It ?s kind of empty in the middle, and it ?s more jammy than it should be. (Whether this was a conscious decision by the winemaker to appeal to the American palate or the result of Portugal ?s recent unseasonably warm weather is anyone ?s guess.)

But it ?s certainly drinkable, with lots of red berry fruit, decent tannins, and it is food friendly ? think burgers or pizza. And you ?ll probably be able to buy it for as little as $8 at some retailers.