Riesling: It’s OK to drink sweet wine

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Sweet wine is much maligned ? so much so, in fact, that wine snobs don ?t like to admit they drink it. Instead, when they ?re forced to quaff something sweet, they call if off dry.

This not fair. Yes, some sweet wine doesn ?t taste a whole lot better than Coke laced with grain alcohol, but that ?s no reason ignore it. And it ?s not a sign of wine weakness to drink sweet wine. German rieslings, most of which are sweet, are some of the best-made wines in the world. They can age for decades, just like red wines from France and California, and they provide a wonderful sweet, lemony, stony flavor that can be addictive. Plus, they ?re a lot less costly than other high end stuff.

What to look for in a sweet wine? Stick to white, because most sweet reds aren ?t very interesting. Explore German riesling, especially those with the term auslese or spatlese on the label. They denote degrees of sweetness (the latter is less sweet than the former) and are only used on the best quality German wine.

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? So you want to own a winery? Then be prepared to pony up piles and piles of cash. Forbes takes a look what it takes to go into the wine business, and the verdict is millions of dollars. Land prices, legal and business red tape, and the vagaries of farming call come into play. Says one successful executive turned wine entrepreneur: ?Before I knew it, I was into it for $15 million, It was like the blink of an eye. I didn’t see it coming at all."

? French court says no to St. Emilion classification: The court said that the wine classification system in the region on Bordeaux ?s right bank was flawed, and that it couldn ?t be used to rate wine by quality. The irony here is that the St. Emilion system is infinitely more sensible than the more famous system used on the left bank in the Medoc. In St. Emilion, the ratings are reviewed every 10 years. In the Medoc, they ?ve changed just once since 1855. But, as I used to tell my Cordon Bleu students, that ?s the way they do it in France.

? Southwest wine winners: Colorado ?s Guy Drew Vineyards won a gold and the best red designation for its 2004, while New Mexico Wineries won a gold and the best white accolade for its 2007 San Felipe Moscato. They topped the winners at the Southwest  Wine Competition, part of the Toast of Taos. I was impressed with a sherry-like wine from Oklahoma ?s Deer Creek called Trois Elise, which won a silver.

Wine review: Drylands Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Drylands is a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (about $12) for people who don ?t want too much of the citrusy, grapefruit flavor that has made this style of white wine famous. The grapefruit is there, of course, but it isn ?t quite as big, and there is also a welcome dollop of pineapple in the middle. Plus, it has a more interesting finish than other wines at this price, which don ?t offer much more than the first burst of grapefruit.

Highly recommended for price and quality. Serve the Drylands with grilled shrimp, raw oysters or steamed mussels (using the wine to steam the mussels).

Wine trends: What we’re drinking and why, part III

This is the third of a three-part series about wine consumption in the United States. Part I is here; part II is here.

Obviously, wine consumption in the U.S. differs by region. People in New York are going to drink differently from people in Alabama who are going to drink differently from people in Oregon. But those consumption patterns are even more different than you might imagine.

That was perhaps the most intriguing bit of information in he 2007 Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Overview. It ?s just not different ? it ?s quite a bit different, and there doesn ?t seem to be any real reason. In the 52 weeks ended Jan. 12, 2008, for example, wine sales increased 15.6 percent in Dallas and decreased 6.3 percent in Birmingham, Ala.

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Wine of the week: Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

Frankly, the Wine Curmudgeon didn ?t think he ?d like this. So what happened when I tasted it? I was quite taken with its quality ? a well-made, varietally-correct zinfandel for about $8 at most grocery stores. It ?s hard to beat that (and proves, once again, not to pre-judge wine).

Unlike some zinfandels, the Smoking Loon wasn ?t especially fruity. I ?m beginning to think that lack of fruit is a function of the 2006 vintage in California, since this wasn ?t the first time I ?ve noticed it. But this was not a problem, since the wine was spicy and brambly ?- just the way zinfandel should be. It ?s a contender for next year ?s $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this with barbecue, pizza and burgers.

Roses: The good, the best, and the better

If it’s summer and you have $10, you can buy a pretty good rose — and sometimes even get change back. In fact, this may be the best rose season in memory. The Wine Curmudgeon can’t remember when he has seen more quality pink wine at an affordable price.

For some reason, the slowing economy and the weak dollar, which have pushed up a variety of other wine prices, haven’t done the same for rose. In addition, the “rose is hip, so let’s charge $20 a bottle” trend, which has been big the past couple of summers, seems to be running out of steam. There are still pink wines that cost that much, but the focus has returned to where it should be ? quality stuff for $15 and much less.

What do you need to know about rose? It’s a fruity wine that’s not as heavy as most red wines and even some whites. But it’s not sweet. That’s white zinfandel or white merlot or whatever, and if that’s what you drink, give rose a try.

Also, rose’s fruit flavors are mostly red berries (think strawberry), as opposed to the white fruits or citrus of most white wines. Roses should be served chilled, and they pair pretty much with any food, including beef and barbecue — some of them are that dry.

A note on vintages: Look for 2007, and be wary if anyone sells anything much earlier than 2006. Roses are not made to age, and should be fresh and flavorful. The color in older vintages starts to fade, like paper that yellows.

Any of the following are well worth trying, and this is far form a complete list. One of the beauties of :rose is that they ?re cheap enough to try, so try lots of them:

• From France: Tortoise Creek ($9), Matignon Cabernet d’Anjou, ($10), Fat Bastard ($10), and Pink Criquet ($15). Some of the Fat Bastard wines don’t impress me, but this one does. And the Pink Criquet, made with St. Emillion grapes, is especially impressive.

• From Spain: Cortijo III ($8), Espelt Corali ($10), and Faustino V ($9). Actually, I tasted about a dozen Spanish roses this spring, and all were worth drinking.

• From the U.S.: McPherson Cellars ($12), Toad Hollow ($11), and Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare ($13).

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? What wine will we be drinking in 2058? This forecast comes courtesy of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has been selling wine for 310 years. How does wine from China sound? ?Cabernets and chardonnays of real promise will be made. With the right soil, low labour costs and soaring domestic demand, China is set to take the world of wine by storm. ? And you know all those expensive wines you can ?t afford to buy today? You won ?t be able to afford to buy them in 2058, either ? they ?ll be the province of the super-rich, says the report.

? French wine blog: Master of Wine Sheri Sauter Morano is blogging about French wine for Sopexa, which does marketing and public relations for much of the inexpensive wine that France sends to the U.S. She knows her stuff, and writes in an approachable, easy to ready style (and is not nearly as cranky as some of us).

? Wine and your health: Tired of all reading those stories that say wine is good for you? So is Brandon Keim, writing in Wired. He is discussing  recent reports that associate resveratrol, an anti-aging ingredient, found in red wine: ?But to receive an ostensibly therapeutic dose from wine, you’d have to drink yourself to death. … Tell your friends and family first: you’ll need to drink 750 bottles. ?