Tuesday wine bits 66: James Tidwell, liquor taxes, Nazi wine

? Master sommelier: 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. James is not only one of the nicest guys in the wine business, but has also been gracious and generous with helping the Wine Curmudgeon navigate so much about wine that he doesn ?t know.

? States look for recession funding: And what better way than to raise taxes on wine, beer and spirits? WineSpiritsDaily.com reports that Kentucky approved a 6 percent tax on retail beer, wine and spirits sales, while Oregon may increase its surcharge on beer to $49.61 from $2.60 a barrel. Arizona is considering a "Liquor Luxury Tax ? of $3.50 a gallon, which is significantly higher than the current 16 cents a gallon. At least 18 other states are considering proposals to raise taxes.

? Hidden wine set for auction: A British auction house is selling a cache of wines from the 1920s that had been hidden from the Nazis in a bricked up cellar during World War II. The wines, which were on the German-occupied English Channel island of Guernsey, include Chateau Latour 1926, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1928, and Chateau Ausone 1928.

Yes, anyone can write a wine review

The Wine Curmudgeon has always insisted that he is not better or cooler or neater than anyone else. Because I'm not. I just drink more wine. Writing about wine is not rocket science, even though so many people try to convince us that it is.

As proof, I offer this one-paragraph gem from Elyse Symons, a regular visitor here. It pretty much says everything that needs to be said.

?JanKris 2003 Syrah: Meh. When distracted it's OK, but when I'm actually paying attention to what I'm drinking it's like someone took really great grape juice and added a bottle of vodka. Ick. ?

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Wine availability, and why it matters to you

The bane of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s existence is availability. Why are so many wines that I like not in stores for you to buy? In fact, get a group of wine writers together, and one of the topics that always comes up is availability. It drives us crazy. There is a bunch of great wine that you ?ll never taste because retailers, for whatever reason, don ?t want to carry it.

This week, I ?m going to look at availability. I ?ll review several wines that should be in more stores as well as discuss a rating system that takes availability into account. Is that one possible solution to this problem?

Today, after the jump, a look at what retailers buy, why they buy it, and what you can do about it.

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Wine terms: Old World and New World

image Or, the Christopher Columbus view of the wine world.

That ?s because Old World refers to European wines ? primarily those made in France, Italy, Germany and Spain. New World wines are those made mostly in Columbus ? New World ? California (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the U.S.) and South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

How does New World differ from Old World? In style, and styles are different because the Old World differs from the New World in climate, soil, and approach. Or, in other words, terroir. (And yes, one of these days, I ?ll get around to the terroir discussion.)

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Wine review: Bad Dog Ranch Chardonnay 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon is writing about this not just because it ?s quaffable $10 wine, but because it is a product of the legendary and notorious Bronco Wine Company.

Bronco is Fred Franzia ?s wine company ? or, as one magazine called him, The Scourge of Napa Valley. Bronco, by one reckoning, produces more than 60 brands, including Two Buck Chuck, Napa Ridge, and Salmon Creek. The Bronco philosophy, apparently, is to make as much wine as possible, charge a price that pleases the consumer and gives Bronco a fair return while thumbing its nose at the wine business.

So how does the Bad Dog (about $10) fit in all of that? There was not a damn thing wrong with it, and believe me, I was looking. The wine had decent, bright fruit and it wasn ?t over-oaked at all. And, at just 12 1/2 percent alcohol, it was less heavy than a lot of chardonnay I have to taste. Drink this with Tuesday night Chinese takeout or if you want a glass of white wine after work.

The catch? There is no guarantee the wine will taste like this next year or that it will even exist. Bronco, apparently, makes wine when it can get fruit. No grapes that fit the pricing strategy, no wine. There doesn ?t seem to have been a 2006 Bad Dog chardonnay.

Wine of the week: Greg Norman California Estates Chardonnay 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon, thanks to a childhood spent carrying golf bags, is not especially fond of golf. But in my eternal quest for well-made cheap wine, I try not to let personal dislikes interfere. Which is a good thing, because this brand is the brainchild of professional golfer Greg Norman.

The Norman (about $11) is a solid, well-made California chardonnay. It ?s not as fruity as something like Kendall Jackson, and it ?s a little more tropical. It also has more oak. But the oak isn ?t overdone, and this wine would probably please those of us who like our oak restrained as well as those of you who live for oaky and toasty.

Serve this with any typical chardonnay meal, including cream sauces. And it would be fine by itself before dinner.

Tuesday wine bits 65: Open that bottle night, box wine sales, screw tops

? Wall Street Journal wine tradition: That ?s Feb. 28, the ninth annual Open That Bottle Night, devised by Journal wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter. Their goal is to get wine drinkers to open a bottle they ?ve been saving for a special occasion, and otherwise would have forgotten about. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, does not have this problem. My Solaz is always handy. And is that really my pals Bruce and Birgit Anderson of Texas ? Sunset Winery featured in this year ?s article? Nice to see Brecher and Gaiter recognize regional wine.

? Box wine sales up: And by a lot — 32 percent last year, according to Nielsen, compared to 4.4 percent for wine overall. Granted, that increase is from a small base (only about 1 percent of all wine sales in the U.S.), but it does show that consumers are looking for value. A typical 3-liter box contains is the equivalent of four bottles, and is usually heavily discounted compared to the price of a bottle of similar quality.

? Screw tops carry the day: A California tasting, featuring a bevy of wine experts, identified a screw top as the most effective closure in a test with a Washington state sauvignon blanc. The same wine was closed with a cork, two plastic corks, and screw top. The latter ?s wine was ?fresh and the most aromatic ? and the favorite of the tasters.