Wine of the week: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2006

image Some wines are like old friends. You may only talk to them once or twice a year, but when you do, you pick up the conversation where you left off and it’s like no time has passed.

This is one of those wines. I don’t drink it often, but when I do, I am reminded of why I like it so much. It’s not expensive (about $13), it’s always well made, and it solves a variety of food pairing dilemmas.

Chenin blanc gets a bad rap in this country, while viognier is very little known. The former is often badly made in a sweet style, while not enough winemakers understand the possibilities that viognier offers. At Pine Ridge, those are not problems.

This vintage is what wine types call off dry, with floral aromas and a clean finish. This means it’s sweet enough for spicy food like Thai and Cajun, but not so sweet that those who like dry wine will spit it out. All wineries should be this consistent in quality from year to year.

I need to remember to drink this more often.

Pink wine for Valentine’s Day

image The Wine Curmudgeon, not surprisingly, does not acknowledge Valentine’s Day. But since so many people do, including newspaper editors (who help pay the Wine Curmudgeon’s bills), it was only sensible to write something..

The article is not about pairing wine and chocolate. This has not only been done to death, but isn’t especially true. Inexpensive cabernet sauvignon doesn ?t do chocolate very well, no matter how good the wine writer is. And anyone who pairs $50 cabernet with chocolate is missing the point of $50 cabernet.

Tuesday tidbits

? Cheap Chilean wine: Spend any time with Chilean winemakers, and you notice two things. First, how young everyone in the business is, and second, that the inexpensive wines are so well made. Case in point: Calina, some very nice $8 wine from a company affiliated with Kendall-Jackson, made by winemaker Marcela Chandia. I didn’t ask (politeness, of course), but she graduated from college in 1999, which means she probably isn’t 30 yet. I was especially impressed by the chardonnay, with more fruit than oak, and the carmenere.

? Rosenblum update: Top zinfandel producer Kent Rosenblum reports that he will stay with his winery for three years after it was bought by massive Diageo. Rosenblum told the San Francisco Chronicle that Diageo was clear that it wouldn’t make big changes. “They want to keep the culture,” he said.

image ? Paul Newman wines: Yes, that Paul Newman. His Newman’s Own food company has released a California cabernet and chardonnay, about $16 each. The project is a joint venture with Rebel Wine, which is affiliated with Three Thieves, best known for the quality wine it sells in jugs and juice boxes.

Students learn about wine service

The wine service class for my Cordon Bleu wine course is among my favorites, mostly because the students are always so amazed at the skills involved,

Last week’s was no exception. Barbara Werley of Pappas Bros. was calm, cool, confident and professional and they loved it. It’s impressive to see someone use a waiter’s corkscrew to open a bottle of wine in so few motions — and, as Werley pointed out, without making any noise.

Also of note:

? Werley runs a 33,000-bottle wine cellar, which elicited more than a few stares of disbelief.

? Pappas’ most expensive wine is an 1847 Ch teau d’Yquem, the French dessert wine. It runs about $70,000 for a half bottle. Students love to hear about wine prices, since they can’t believe anyone would really pay that much. Note to anyone with the cash: Yes, the d’Yquem is probably ready to drink.

? Music to my ears: Werley talked about food and wine pairings, and her most important piece of advice was to do just that — advise. If your customers don’t like a wine, she said, it doesn’t matter how good you think it is. The best wine is wine they like. If they want to drink riesling with steak, help them find the best riesling they can afford.

Tales of wine service woe

image Barbara Werley, one of the world’s best sommeliers, is going to speak to my Cordon Bleu wine class today. Each class does a session on wine service, and I usually bring in a guest speaker (being a screw top guy myself).

I’ll write something about her visit on Monday. Today, though, I thought I ‘d ask the visitors here to share their worst restaurant wine service experience. Tell it in the comments, and the one that seems the goofiest (as chosen by me) gets a prize — a copy of a new cookbook called Small Plates, Perfect Wines.

And I’ll get things started with this, which happened at a well-known neighborhood Italian restaurant in Dallas:

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Wine of the week: Torreoria 2006

People often ask how I can tell whether a wine is good, especially inexpensive wines. And the best answer I can give is to paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, who was discussing obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

And, literally, that’s what happens. I take a sip, and I know. The quality of the wine does all the work. That was the case with this $8 red, a tempranillo from the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia, which is hardly Spain’s best known wine area. But this is one of the best cheap wines I’ve had in a long time. It’s not as sophisticated as a Rioja, even an inexpensive one. And the cherry fruit was a bit muted and it was a little too vanilla-y. But this is nitpicking. I paired it with grilled Cornish hen, and it worked like a charm. This wine is a terrific value, and is almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2009.

New Mexico’s sparkling wine

image Drive north on I-25, past downtown, and it’s on the right, a fairly non-descript beige building stuck among the usual sorts of things scattered along an interstate on the outskirts of town — in this case, Albuquerque, N.M. But don ?t be deceived by looks. The building houses the headquarters of Gruet Winery, which is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the United States.

That Gruet is one of the best, and that the company does it with grapes grown in New Mexico, speaks volumes about how far regional wine making has come in the U.S. Gruet sells more than 80,000 cases in 48 states, and it graces the wine lists of high-class bistros around the country. And, it ?s an example that other regional winemakers can study to see how to match grapes with climate and turn out a critically acclaimed product at a more than fair price.

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