Wine of the week: Rene Barbier Mediterranean White NV

image My specialty is $10 wine, but even I’m surprised when I find quality wine for much less than $10. Below that price, producers are more concerned with profit margins than with quality, and much-sub $10 wine tastes like it. The reds are harsh and raw, and the whites are green and unripe. The alternative is sugaring the wine to mask those flavors, and that brings unpleasantness all its own.

Which is why I was stunned to find the Barbier ($4.99 at World Market) during my research for a $6 wine story that will run in the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth next week. It’s terrific — clean and crisp, with lemon, some minerality and a floral aroma. It ?s made with the same grapes used in Spanish sparkling wine like Cristalino, though it tastes quite different. Serve it as a porch sipper or with anything made with garlic and parsley. It will also pair well with Fourth of July grilled chicken. One caveat: Make sure it’s well chilled. The warmer the wine gets, the thinner and less interesting it tastes.

Tuesday tidbits 33

? Texas award winners: Two big prizes for Texas wines — a double gold for Brennan Vineyard’s 2006 cabernet sauvignon reserve at the prestigious Indy International Wine Competition and a bronze for Sunset Winery’s 2004 Texas High Plains Newsom Vineyard ?Moon Glow ? Merlot at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition this spring. Both showings are impressive. Brennan’s cabernet joined a Clos du Bois from Alexander Valley, a Clos Du Val from Stags Leap District and a V. Sattui from Napa in the double gold category. Sunset’s bronze may be even bigger, given that it is essentially a two-person operation in a converted house in suburban Fort Worth.

? A wine-powered car: Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, runs his Aston Martin, on bio-fuel made from English wine. (No jokes, please, about English wine.) The wine used in the petrol is surplus English wine that European rules don’t allow to be made into wine. The Daily Telegraph reports the wine is apparently not left over from royal house parties at Clarence House or Highgrove, two of the prince’s homes. The prince’s Jaguars, Audi and Range Rovers have all been converted to run on 100 per cent biodiesel made from used cooking oil.

? Bordeaux wine ratings:  Turns out an academic study has found that the 1855 Bordeaux classification system, which has changed just one since then, is outdated. Wrote the authors: “Based on the wine scores that we analyzed, however, some chateaux have moved up in rank, while others have faded. While we doubt that the 1855 classification will be revised, market prices for these producers reflect the new standings.” Though this isn’t surprising, what is (to me anyway) is that they the researchers used scores from the Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, and Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar to measure quality. That’s treading dangerous ground, isn’t it?

Wine competitions: A tough way to make living

That’s usually one of the snickers I get when I tell people I judge competitions —  along with, “Boy,  I wish I could do that” and similar bits of cleverness.

And the Wine Curmudgeon will be the first to admit that judging a competition is not as difficult as mining coal or working at Burger King (my first job, which broke me of the desire to ever have a real job). But it is work.

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Wine trends: What we’re drinking and why, Part I

image This is the first of a three-part series about wine consumption in the United States. The second part is here; the third part is here.

The good news: Americans are drinking more and different kinds of wine. The bad news? We still drink too much marketing-driven wine, and I can’t decide if the increase in sales of more expensive wines is caused by better educated consumers trading up or wine snobs buying on price.

Overall, though, the results from the 2007 Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Overview are encouraging. We bought $9.2 billion worth of wine in 2007, and wine has increased from 14.1 percent of U.S. alcohol purchases in 1990 to 20.7 percent today.

But it’s not so much that wine sales are up. What’s worth noting is that Americans seem to be understanding this wine thing in a way they haven’t before. That is, we’re buying on quality, value and even how wine goes with food.

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Wine of the week: Robert Skalli South of France Chardonnay 2006

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French wine, regardless of quality, has become ridiculously expensive. (Think weak dollar.) So when I tasted this chardonnay last week at a Skalli wine lunch, I could hardly wait to write about it.

It's well-made. It combines classic French style with a touch of New World green apple fruit. And, at $18, it's not ridiculously expensive.

How does winemaker Laurent Sauvage do it? He uses grapes from a less expensive region of France, the Languedoc, and can pick and choose which grapes to use to ensure the best quality. Because he is French, he understands the proper use of oak. Combine all that with vineyard management techniques that focus on maintaining acid levels instead of getting high alcohol, and you have a winner.

How big a hit was this wine? We had eight wines to choose from for lunch, and almost everyone picked the chardonnay. We ate it with chicken breasts in a dill sauce, and it was a smash.

Wine review: LiVeli Negroamaro Passamante 2005

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Some of the best cheap wine in the world today is coming out of Italy. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Italians suffer from the same weak dollar problems that affect everyone else. It's amazing what a producer can do when they want to sell something, isn't it?

Of course, there are a couple of other reasons for the price. The LiVeli (about $12) is made with the negroamaro grape in Salento, which means it's made with a little known grape in a little known region (the boot heel of the Italy), neither of which is going to drive up the price. The Wine Curmudgeon is quite thankful.

Negroamaro makes dark, inky red wine. But there is nothing unpleasant about this, as is sometimes the case with inexpensive wine. Rather, it's full and rich and almost black raspberry-ish (with, of course, a nice shot of Italian acidity). Best yet, it's not heavy. I drank it with cappellini tossed with quartered cherry tomatoes just out of the garden, basil, chopped garlic and olive oil, and the sweetness of the tomatoes made a wonderful foil for the wine.

One note: The 2007 should arrive in the U.S. later this summer. I'd buy the 2005 and put the 2007 away for another nine months. It should just get better. How often can you say that about an inexpensive wine?