Expensive wine of the month, June: Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 2006

image And when the Wine Curmudgeon says expensive, he isn ?t kidding — $95 for a 375-milliliter bottle, or half the size of a normal wine bottle. But it certainly was fabulous wine.

Ice wine is usually made with white grapes, which give a better base for the acid the wine needs to balance with its rich, lush, sweetness. (Ice wine and dessert wine primer here.) That the Inniskillin was made with cabernet franc, which can be tricky to handle even as a table wine, speaks of the talent and daring of winemaker Bruce Nicholson.

So what does that mean for the wine? It ?s not as honey sweet as white ice wine, and the fruit is strawberry instead of lemon, lime or apricot. In this, the sweetness is different and surprising than what one expects from an ice wine. Think of strawberry ice cream taken to a place it has never been before. Drink this on its own, reasonably cook, and enjoy.

Lone Star International Competition results

There were some surprises when we finished the 26th annual judging on Tuesday, and pleasant ones at that. Several wineries that usually don ?t get high medals did, and I was especially impressed with the efforts of wineries from places like Pennsylvania and South Dakota. The complete results are here. Among the highlights:

? A gold medal for McPherson Cellars ? grenache-mouvedre blend. This wine will go a long way to show what Texas can do with red grapes that aren ?t cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

? San Martino Winery in suburban Dallas won a gold for a tempranillo. This was an interesting wine, with a fruity, New World style appeal. I ?m not sure it tasted exactly like tempranillo, but it impressed the judges.

? Of course, just to show how little I know, Kiepersol Estates in East Texas (East Texas, of all places) won a gold medal for a merlot. Kiepersol winemaker Marnelle de Wet Durrett does a terrific job and is too often overlooked when we discuss Texas wines.Driftwood Estates won two golds for cabernets, and Red Caboose, a new one to me that is southwest of Fort Worth, also got a gold for a cabernet.

Wine isn’t an essential part of life?

On his blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy, my pal Alfonso Cevola had written about sommeliers who take themselves too seriously. The discussion had been intelligent and thoughtful, and included the final comment: ?And anyways Wine is a luxury, you don't need it to survive. Its a cash crop its made to make money. Its not food. ?

Which made me wonder: Is that true? Is it a luxury?

I ?m not a sociologist, and I try to avoid those sorts of discussions here. But the question is worth asking, because it says a lot about how we see ourselves. It ?s quite true that I don ?t need wine to live; water will do. But life (and dinner) would be awfully dull without wine.

The novelist Clyde Edgerton has a good take on all this in Raney, about a rural southern Baptist girl named Raney who marries an Atlanta Episcopal boy named Charles. And, as Raney describes it:

Charles has got me to sip his white wine at the Ramada a few times ? to show me how much better it makes the food taste. One night I tried a whole glass. Just to make the food taste better because it can make the food taste some better, depending on what you ?re eating. Thursday night when we stopped by the store I ?d had two glasses. For the first time. I don ?t think I ?ll ever do it again, and I shouldn ?t have then. I can ?t decide what I think about it exactly. It does make the food taste some better.

Which it does, actually.

Winecast 9: Joel Peterson, Ravenswood Winery

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Joel Peterson is one of the pioneers of modern zinfandel in California, starting Ravenswood in in 1976 with 327 cases. He did it so well, in fact, that the best zinfandel producers in California were known as the three R ?s ? Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge. In 2001, Constellation Brands bought Ravenswood, and Peterson remained to run the winery for the multi-national.

We talked about Peterson ?s start in the business, and about zinfandel and its reputation (or lack of same). Peterson also offered some sage wine advice. To stream or download the podcast, click here. It ?s about 10 minutes and 9 megabytes long.

Wine of the week: Pillar Box Red 2007

The Wine Curmudgeon isn ?t enamored of many Australian red wines, which tend to be so overwhelming that it ?s difficult to appreciate them. But that ?s not the case with the Pillar Box (about $12).

It ?s actually quite restrained for an Aussie red blend that ?s dominated by shiraz ? and, with only 14.5 percent alcohol, practically milquetoast by Down Under standards. Still, it ?s a full-bodied wine (the tasting notes say fleshy, which is reasonable) that isn’t over-oaked, over-extracted, over-tannic, or too acidic. The irony is that people who like huge Aussie wines also like this, and it gets good scores from the Wine Magazines. But the Wine Curmudgeon has always appreciated irony.

Drink this with almost any kind of barbecue (even smoked chicken or turkey), and it will pair with a variety of red sauce food.

Winebits 81: Aussie Two Buck Chuck, analysts and the recession, LocalWineEvents.com

? $3 Aussie wine: Bronco Wine, which brought the world Two Buck Chick, is going to bring $3 Australian chardonnay called Down Under to the U.S., and the Aussies aren ?t happy about it. Said one winemaker: ?The prospect of a three-dollar Australian chardonnay called Down Under does make me cringe, I must admit I realize you can’t stop people making dirt-cheap wines, but I’d prefer it if they didn’t have Australia written on the label." Bronco is buying Australian chardonnay for pennies on the dollar, thanks to an almost unprecedented oversupply in Australia.

? Words of wisdom: We ?re buying less expensive wine and not eating out as much, a couple of analysts said at a major industry event — and alcohol is not recession proof. Said one: ?Consumers want the most for what they spend. ? This is why the Wine Curmudgeon has always wanted to be an analyst. I can figure these things out, and I work cheap.

? Updated Web site: LocalWineEvents.com, the free calendar service that details wine events in most of the places in the world where people drink wine (even a listing for Hanoi), has a new look. Founder Eric Orange says to expect a faster and better server, as well. It looks clean and efficient, and it is faster.

Update: Costco’s 90-point wines

I exchanged emails with Annette Alvarez-Peters, Costco ?s assistant general merchandise manager for wine, spirits and beer for the U.S. about my post last week — the one that said that several vendors had told me that the only new wines Costco was buying had to retail for less than $15 and score 90 points or better.

Alvarez-Peters was unequivocal. (And, for the record, she only does interviews via email). Alvarez-Peters wrote, ?Costco does not have a policy to only purchase 90 point wines.  As mentioned previously, there are times we ?promote ? 90 point wines as a feature endcap or quad (4 pallet positions) to create excitement for the department. ?

On the other hand, four people ?- none of whom work for the same company ?- all told me the same story, practically word for word, that Costco won ?t consider new brands that don ?t score 90 points and cost $15 or less. One represents a variety of major national brands, the second handles well-known national and imported wines, a third represents mostly imported wine, and the fourth does smaller domestic and imported brands. And, since the original post ran, a fifth person, who is reasonably important at a major distributor, told me the same thing.

I also want to make an important distinction between wines Costco currently carries and new wine brands that it may purchase. This is something, from comments I ?ve seen about my original post, that not everyone understands. The 90-point policy, if it exists, doesn ?t mean Costco is pulling out wines that didn ?t score 90 points. It means that it isn ?t going to add new wine brands that don ?t score 90 points or that retail for more than $15.

After the jump, the emails that made up our interview:

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