Wine of the week: Ajello Bianca 2006

image Those of us who love cheap wine love to share cheap wine finds, which means I’ve been getting whispers about Sicilian wine for a couple of years.

The quality of Sicilian wine has improved dramatically in the past decade, while prices have stayed pretty much the same. That’s because Sicily gets very little respect from the wine snobs. In addition, most Sicilian wine is made with grapes only a master sommelier has ever heard of, which makes it more difficult to sell

The Ajello is a perfect example of all of that. It’s cheap (list price is $12, so it’s probably available for around $10 at some places) and it tastes great. Really, really great. It’s a white wine, but without any of the off-putting turpentine flavors in similarly priced pinot grigio. Instead, it’s clean, clear, and crisp, with a mineral-like finish. Don’t expect much fruit — just a bit of lemon (and you have to look for that). This wine is ideal for shellfish or grilled scallops, any kind of grilled chicken or even just drinking on a slow afternoon.

If the price holds up against the weak dollar, this is definitely a candidate for the 2009 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.

Wine review: Viu Manent Reserva Carmenere 2005

Carmenere is the national grape of Chile, but unlike tempranillo (Spain) and malbec (Argentina), you don’t see much of it, even in Chile. This is too bad, because in the right hands, it makes top-flight wine.

Such as this one. I had my doubts before I tasted it, despite Vii Manent’s reputation for producing top-notch quality, inexpensive wine. Carmenere can be that difficult to work with. But I should have trusted the winery, because this wine is not only amazingly well-made, but quite a value at $14. It’s rich and dark, with more plummy and mocha flavors than the dark fruits of merlot or cabernet. Plus, the tannins — that harshness in the back — were so smooth that I almost missed them. It’s a welcome respite from much of the too jammy, over the top New World red wine that I have to taste.

How much did I like it? I’d not only buy it, but I’d buy more than one bottle at a time.

Tuesday tidbits

image

? Nutritional labeling of wines. Yes, you read that right — just like peanut butter, potato chips and soft drinks. The federal agency that regulates wine wants to add serving facts, which will require information about serving size, number of servings per container, calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat content. The wine industry isn’t thrilled, since nutritional labeling adds cost to the product, and makes it less aesthetically appealing. The image above is a sample, taken from the Federal Register, which seems harmless enough. But smaller wineries, especially regional ones, will probably struggle to meet the requirements. It’s one thing, with economies of scale, to put the label on tens of thousands of bottle. It’s another to do it when you produce just a couple of thousand bottles.

? Vintners Hall of Fame. Ernest and Julio Gallo (E&J Gallo Winery), Paul Draper (Ridge Vineyards), Milijenko ?Mike ? Grgich (Grgich Hills) and Sacramento wine merchant  Darryl Corti will be inducted into the hall, sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. Also named as Pioneers are the founders of three of California’s most historically important wineries: John Daniel (Inglenook); Louis P. Martini (Louis M. Martini Winery); and Carl Wente (Wente Vineyards). It’s especially heartening to see Draper’s name on the list. Ridge is among the finest U.S. wineries, and has constantly strived to make zinfandel a socially acceptable grape in a world of cabernet and merlot snobs..

Students taste wine — and notice the difference

Cordon Bleu wine class

My introductory wine students at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas did their in-class tasting on Friday. This is not only an important part of the class, but a big deal for the students. Many of them had never drunk wine before, let alone tasted it in a serious, professional manner.

And, apparently, they learned something.

At some point during the class, maybe around the third red wine, I started to get the sense that the past two weeks were sinking in. Teachers with more experience can probably describe this sensation better — the light bulb going on over the head moment, when everything I had lectured, cajoled, threatened, and discussed with them in class was finally making an impression.

They realized that the tannins in the merlot were bigger than the tannins in the pinot noir, and that the tannins in the cabernet were bigger than those in the merlot. They tasted — and could explain — the fruit difference between the shiraz, merlot and the two pinots. They even seemed to understand the difference between the two cabernets, a youngish one from Sonoma and an older one from Napa.

Most importantly, when we talked about food pairings for each wine, most didn’t have the blank look that had been on their faces since the first day of class. White zinfandel, which had been their stock answer for any pairing, never came up. Someone suggested pot roast for the Oregon pinot; someone else said absolutely not. The wine wasn’t big enough. I was almost giddy.

I even got a compliment. I had warned them that this wasn’t going to be an afternoon at the beach, where everyone would get a pleasant glow. I told them this was a serious, professional tasting, doing 10 wines in a little less than two hours. It was swirling, smelling, discussing, and then tasting, spitting, and more discussing. What did the wine smell like? What did it taste like? How was it different from the others? What do you think it costs? Is it a value? What would you pair it with? Of course, they didn’t believe me. No one ever does when I tell them tasting wine is hard work.

Anyway, about three-quarters of the way through, one of the students (whose test grades reflect how much attention he pays in class) said: “Mr. Siegel, you’re right. This is work. I couldn’t do what you do. I wouldn’t want to do it.”

It’s the small victories in teaching, right?

The wines we tasted:

1. Pikes Riesling 2006. A dry Australian — OK, but nothing spectacular.

2. Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Good example of the California style, with some grapefruit mixed with tropical fruit.

3. Joullian Chardonnay 2006. Not as oaky as some from California, but oaky enough so that the students got the point.

4. Lange Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006. A good wine, but not as good as I have had from Oregon.

5. X Winery Pinot Noir Los Carneros Truchard Vineyard 2006. To my mind, one of the two best wines we had, with wonderful fruit and soft yet sturdy tannins.

6. Dusted Valley Stomp Merlot 2004. Very ordinary New World style merlot. The least favorite of most of the class.

7. Teira Zinfandel 2005. A stunner — low alcohol, with spice and blueberry. I was ready to go buy a case and make a pot of red sauce for spaghetti and meatballs for the class.

8. Wishing Tree Shiraz 2005. The students who had tasted lesser shirazes, like Yellow Tail and Rosemount, were excited they could tell the difference between those and this one.

9. Liparita Enlace Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. A nice Napa cabernet, with the requisite zingy tannins and dark fruit.

10. Mantra Revelations Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This Sonoma cabernet was, as the class noted, younger and easier to drink, though not as complex, than the Enlace.

Wine of the week: Archetype Vineyards Shiraz 2005

The Wine Curmudgeon, as a general rule, does not like shiraz. (It’s one of the two main differences between Robert Parker and myself.) I find the wines to be exaggerations of what they should taste like — too much fruit, too much tannin, and too much alcohol.

So why am I writing about the Archetype? Because it manages to offer shiraz character without tasting like a parody of the grape. It’s not nearly as big and as rich as a shiraz, but much fruiter than a California or French syrah. Look for Wonderful bright berry fruit, with balance between the fruit, acid and alcohol.And, at $15, it offers exceptional value.