Wine of the week: Boutari Moschofilero 2006

We don ?t get much Greek wine this far in the middle of the country, which is a shame. Most Greek wine that that the Wine Curmudgeon has sampled is well-made, inexpensive and very food friendly.

This Boutari is no exception. It ?s a light, low alcohol wine that is more fruity (think melons) than sweet. The grape variety, by the way, is moschofilero ? important in Greece and almost nowhere else in the world. Serve it chilled for sipping at holiday gatherings, with salads, or to accompany a Mediterranean spread with dishes like hummus, tabouleh, pita bread, olives, yogurt cheese, and tzatziki.

Syrah, syrah, sryah

image Yes, it ?s confusing. And yes, one ?s first inclination is to make a joke ? or several (and there is a wine called K Syrah).

But given the increasing popularity of syrah and shiraz, it ?s probably a good idea to remain straight-faced ? at least long enough to explain the difference between the two, as well as to figure out where their much less known cousin, petite sirah,, fits in.

First, syrah and shiraz are the same grape. Wines from the Rhone region of France, California, and the Pacific Northwest are called syrah, while those from Australia are called shiraz. Petite sirah, on the other hand, is not the same grape. It ?s genetically similar to syrah, and almost certainly evolved from it, but it ?s not as intense or as bright (though still a fine wine grape in its own right).

The real difference is in style. Generally, shiraz is much less subtle than syrah, and syrah is not a subtle wine to begin with. The reason is mostly climate. Australia has a longer growing season than the Rhone, California and the Pacific Northwest, so the grapes get riper, which means more intense flavor and more sugar. And more sugar means more alcohol during fermentation, often as much as 1 to 2 percentage points more.

These two wines show the contrast between the two styles. It doesn ?t get much more Aussie than Nine Stones Shiraz McLaren Vale ($15).  It’s a chewy, almost ashy wine with an inky color, made in the style that the Wine Magazines drool over.

Meanwhile, Domaine Gramenon Cotes du Rhone Les Laurentides ($16) is classic southern Rhone wine. This is about two-thirds grenache, but the one-third that is syrah gives it its backbone and an intriguing spiciness.

Wine as the complement to a meal

image The weather here has finally turned cold, which gave me an excuse to make red sauce for spaghetti. And it also gave me a chance to get  the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Reserva 2004 ($30) out of the wine closet.

The wine was everything I had hoped it would be — classic chianti with dark fruit, the tell-tale Italian tannins and earthiness, and low alcohol. We finished the bottle, barely noticing that it was gone. Which led me to wonder: Why are Americans so adamant that wine has to be the star of the meal? We’re forced to drink high-alcohol, tannin-driven cabernets — and made fun of if we don’t enjoy them — when these wines will overpower all but the beefiest meals.

The Volpaia was terrific, and mostly because it didn’t overpower the food. It did what it was made to do — complement the food. The acid in the red sauce and the fruitiness in the wine played off each other in a way that too many New World wines don’t. I can’t tell you specifically what made the wine so good. But I can tell you how good it was with dinner, and that’s the most important thing.

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Pinot noir and salmon

Pinot noir really does go with salmon Talk to enough wine people, and the subject of pinot noir and salmon eventually comes up. For one thing, it ?s still considered trendy (even though though Josh Wesson and David Rosengarten wrote a book called Red Wine with Fish almost 20 years ago). For another, it has to do with pinot noir, and that is still considered tres chic in many wine circles.

Which led to a Wine Curmudgeon moment: What about this pinot noir and salmon? Does it really work? Or is it just more winespeak to wade through?

So I paired three pinots, costing $10, $22, and $40, with steamed salmon served with rice noodles and vegetable and saffron broth, to test the theory. And, to make sure the salmon was up to the task, I used wild Copper River salmon instead of a milder, grocery store product. My thinking: The more flavorful the salmon, the more challenge it would pose to the wine, especially for the $10 bottle.

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Holiday gift ideas

No need to be stumped when it comes to the wine and spirits drinker on your holiday gift list:

? Bounty Hunter Bronze Star Club ($49.95 monthly): The Wine Curmudgeon is not a big fan of wine clubs. Too often, what the club says is ?boutique ? or ?hard to find ? is stuff that someone else is closing out. Plus, you have to pay shipping. But Bounty Hunter, a California wine outfit, has a good reputation and this is a more than decent deal: three bottles a month, two reds and a white. Bounty Hunter promises it won ?t send any wines that someone else is getting rid of, and it guarantees every selection.

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Wine of the week: Kreydenweiss Perrières

image Rhone wine isn’t well known in this part of the country, where the most popular French wines are from Bordeaux and Burgundy. That’s too bad, because Rhone wines offer value and and quality.

The Kreydenweiss ($14), a red blend, is such a wine. It tastes like it’s more expensive, featuring nice balance between dark fruit, acidity and tannins. The fruit isn’t candied, which too often happens with wines at this price, and it’s not as heavy as some Rhone wines. This is a fine example of what can be done and should be done with this style of wine at this price.

It also has the classic French barnyard aroma, which makes many people think there is something wrong with the wine. In fact, the smell will blow off after the wine has been open for a bit. Appreciate it while it’s there.

How much does a reasonable wine cost?

image I got a news release from a California winery the other day, touting a new wine. “It ?s a very nice red blend for an extremely reasonable price,” said the release.

The wine costs $17.

Reasonable, of course, is relative. A 1961 Bordeaux for $17? More than reasonable. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc? Certainly reasonable. But California wine from the current vintage, from somewhere other than Napa or Sonoma? Very unlikely.

Let me add that I have not tasted this wine, which is why I’m not naming it. But it is indicative of a trend, pioneered by the largest multi-national wine companies, to make wine based on price. The companies see a figure — and the $15-$20 range is currently very popular — and then produce wine to fit that price. I get a dozen samples a month of wine made that way. I drink a couple of glasses, shake my head, and reach for one of my trusty $10 wines.

This is quite different from the old method, where companies figured out how much it cost to produce the wine and added their profit margin to calculate a price.

The reason Two Buck Chuck is so popular is not because it’s great wine. It’s because it’s a great value. But too many wineries (and especially some of the multi-nationals) refuse to accept the price-value argument. They figure they can throw a cute label on the bottle, get a good score from the Wine Magazines, or pull some other rabbit out of their marketing hat and sell a $10 bottle wine for $17.

That may be great for the company, but it doesn’t do anything for the consumer or for the long-term health of the wine business.