The basics of enjoying wine, part I

image

This is the first of a three-part question and answer series about wine basics. The second part will run June 6 and the third part on June 13.

It's summer. It's warm. You want a glass of wine. But you don't know a chardonnay from a cabernet. What's an aspiring wine drinker to do?

Have no fear. The Wine Curmudgeon is here. In fact, The first question people always ask me about wine is how to get started drinking it. For some reason, Americans are convinced that wine is not something to drink with dinner, but a secret holy society that requires rituals and initiations to understand.

This is silly, and I ?m proof of that. Today, I ?m a wine writer and educator who travels throughout the wine world. But 20 years ago, I was a sportswriter who drank Miller Lite and thought wine was something that only snooty people did. If I can learn about wine, anyone can. My biggest regret is that I didn ?t start sooner. I missed drinking a lot of good wine.

Hence this Q and A, which is enough to get almost anyone ready to look at their glass, take a sip, and sigh.

Continue reading

Wine of the week: Hey Mambo Sultry Red 2006

imageSimple, fruity red blends from California are not what they once were. This is upsetting, because  the Wine Curmudgeon appreciates simple and fruity wines quite a bit. Not every occasion requires a $50 bottle of wine. But prices for simple, fruity red blends have gone up or quality has gone down, or both, in the last couple of years.

The Mambo (about $13), though, has remained consistently satisfying. It's a six-grape blend (no cabernet sauvignon or merlot, thankfully) that offers dark fruit and medium tannins. Serve it with Italian food, hamburgers or anything else that requires a simple, fruity wine.

And yes, it has a silly closure called a zork that does seem to do the job — and without need of a corkscrew.

Screw caps: A better way to enclose wine

image The Wine Curmudgeon loves screw caps. And screw tops. And Stelvin closures. Call it whatever you want — just don't call it a cork.

I mention this not because screw caps are embattled, because they're not. The closures are accepted today as never before, whether it's a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a white Burgundy, or even a high-end Napa cabernet sauvignon. And almost every winemaker I interview who doesn't use screw caps wants to, citing their efficiency and reliability.

Continue reading

Tuesday tidbits 28

? Chinese wine drinkers: The price of high end wines just got a lot higher — or it will, if all those newly wealthy Chinese wine drinkers throw their money around the way the experts expect they will. Or, as Reuters so poetically put it: "[T]he potential of the huge China market as a flood of newly minted consumers there chase Western lifestyle trends." One of the first tests of the Chinese willingness to overpay for wine is a key auction in Hong Kong this week, where a case of 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild could sell for $160,000.

? Siberian merlot, anyone? Just in case some of you were still wondering how global warming would affect the wine world, there is this from The Associated Press: "[B]y 2050, the world's premier wine-friendly zones could shift as much as 180 miles toward the poles." So long France, hello Quebec. Somehow, if and when global warming arrives, I think we'll have more important things to worry about than the quality of Siberian wine.

? Robert Mondavi: Much was written when Robert Mondavi died a couple of weeks ago, but one of the best pieces of writing didn't appear until last week, Jon Bonne's retrospective in the San Francisco Chronicle. It asks a key question: In a world where family wineries are being replaced by corporate labels, and with California so very full of its accomplishments, who will carry forward Mondavi's mission?

Pairing wine with fast food

One of the most common questions I get in my Cordon Bleu classes is whether wine can be paired with fast food. This usually comes from students, trying to be wise guys, who do not yet realize that the Wine Curmudgeon is all knowing and all powerful in the classroom.

Actually, I welcome the question. Showing how to pair wine with a Big Mac (think inexpensive California merlot, with some tannins and acid but lots of blueberry fruit) helps demystify the subject for the students. It also helps change their way of thinking, since most don’t realize that wine is something to drink every day, and just not on special occasions.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who gets questions about this. There is a lot more advice about this floating in the cyber-ether than I realized, whether it’s arguing whether an oenophile is allowed to do it (of course!) or White Castles with beaujolais nouveau. Which sounds mighty damn good.

And then there was this, from the Click Wine Group, which does eight labels from $10-$15, including Fat Bastard. It sent a news release around this week touting its wines’ compatibility with pizza, chicken fingers, takeout Chinese, and even burritos. Some of the pairings seemed a stretch (cabernet sauvignon with a grilled chicken burrito, for instance), but several were excellent, like riesling with a spicy chicken stir fry and a Spanish red blend with barbecued chicken pizza.

The release makes the point that Americans are not only cooking less, but ordering more takeout and delivery. This, it notes, is a reason to pair fast food with wine. That’s all well and good, I suppose, but it does miss the point I make to my classes. Wine goes with anything, regardless of where you got if from.

Wine of the week: Solaz Blanco 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon has a closet full of free wine, samples from producers who want me to try their stuff and write about it. But I use my money to buy Solaz — and a lot of it. And why is that?

Because it's cheap, around $7. And it's well-made. And it tastes good. What more can a wine drinker ask for?

Solaz, as regular visitors here know, is the wonderfully inexpensive wine brand from Spain's Osborne, one of my favorite producers. The various red blends have long been in the $10 Wine Hall of Fame, and the white has been in a couple of years. It's made from the viura grape, a mostly Spanish varietal that produces clean, crisp and floral wines with just a bit of apple fruit. Serve this chilled with salads (I had it the other night with a chef's salad with Russian dressing), Mediterranean food like hummus or bulgur salad, or on its own.