Michael Lonsford’s farewell

Michael Lonsford was the long-time wine writer at the Houston Chronicle, and he was one of the best. He and Diane Teitelbaum in Dallas were, for years and years, the wine writing business in Texas, taking arms against a sea of troubles (if I may paraphrase Shakespeare).

Lonsford retired this year, and it doesn’t look like the bosses in Houston will replace him. This means the newspaper in the fourth-largest city in the U.S. won’t have a wine writer — and the geniuses wonder why no one of a certain socio-economic group reads newspapers anymore.

Lonsford wrote about his career in an email that circulated around the Texas wine business. I want to quote one part, in which he summed up what each of us tries to do, no matter where we are and who we are:

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High-end wine drinkers like Napa cabernet

Red wines over $30 preference This is not really surprising news, but the extent of how much they like it is.

That’s one of the results of a 2007 study of wine drinkers who are representative of consumers who buy expensive wine. The survey, conducted by California’s WineOpinions, found that almost one-half of respondents are “very likely” to buy a $30-plus Napa cab, but only one-quarter are very likely to buy similarly-priced Bordeaux red wine.

Meanwhile, more than a third are “not very likely” to buy a Washington state cabernet or a Spanish red from Rioja, even though the quality is comparable and the price is often one-third less (or more).

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Yes, alcohol makes a difference

imageHad crab cakes — special crab cakes, made with fresh blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico from an old friend of the family — on Saturday night, so I opened a bottle of Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16). Drank one glass, and opened something else.

This is not my annual plea for winemakers to cut back on alcohol content (I’ll save that for the spring). Rather, it’s an example of why I need to make that plea. This wine is 14.1 percent alcohol — 1.1 points higher than Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, 1.3 points higher than Bogle sauvignon blanc, and 2.1 points higher than Chateau Bonnet blanc. And that’s almost three times the alcohol content in a similar serving of beer.

The Shannon was not fresh or vibrant or lively, all trademarks of sauvignon blanc. It was not food friendly, and if we had sipped it with the crab cakes, we never would have tasted the crab.

It did not taste like sauvignon blanc. There was almost no fruit and very little acidity — just an overwhelming heaviness that made me think the wine was spoiled or that it had been aged in oak for 24 months. But it was not spoiled and it was aged six months in stainless steel. The only explanation was the high alcohol, which robbed the wine of of its character.

Why make sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc?

Checking out Cellar Tracker

One of the biggest problems I had when I started drinking wine professionally was organizing it. How do you keep track of a couple of hundred bottles of wine, where the number changes almost daily? And how do you do that when your Excel skills are practically non-existent?

That’s when I discovered Cellar Tracker. It’s free, web-based software that lets you track what you own, what you drink, what you like, and what you want to buy. And it’s equally handy for someone who wants to track just a couple of dozen bottles of wine.

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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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