Tuesday tidbits

? Rosenblum sells out: One of the best independent California wine producers isn’t independent any more. Rosenblum Cellars, which specializes in zinfandel, was bought yesterday by Diageo. The massive multi-national paid $105 million for the winery, which had been owned by by the Rosenblum family since 1978. Kent Rosenblum, a vet, started the winery as a sideline, making just 400 cases his first year. (In fact, Rosenblum still owns a vet practice in northern California).

This is the second of the big three zin producers to go corporate, with Ravenswood Winery selling to Constellation Brands in 2001 (resulting in a surprising drop in quality). Only Ridge Vineyards remains independent. Expect to see the new Rosenblum drop some of its less high-profile wines, like its fun and well-made Chateau La Paws red and white blends, and focus on more expensive zinfandels. No word yet on how much the Rosenblum family will have to do with the winery once the sale is final.

? Bring on Alsace: Gil Kulers at Wine Kulers (love that name) writes about one of my favorite subjects, Alsatian wine. Most of it is a great value, most of it is white, and most of it pairs with sausage."This may shock the steakhouse crowd, which would be lost without its alcoholic, over-oaked cabernet sauvignons," he writes. "After all, how can a measly white wine stand up to all those types of foods, especially heavy dishes featuring Alsace’s renowned sausages and game preparations?" That’s my kind of wine guy. 

? Super Bowl wine: The Wine Curmudgeon, who once toiled as a sportswriter and hopes never to have to do it again, is well aware that there is a football game on Sunday. He’ll just be doing something else. But for those of you who do want to pair wine with football, this is the time to break out the jug wine — the 1.5-liter bottles of grocery store brands such as Meridian, Woodbridge, Glen Ellyn and the like. There’s nothing actually wrong with them, especially when people are eating nacho-flavored corn chips.

Students pair wine with food

Maybe there is something to this teaching business.

My first class at the Dallas Cordon Bleu took its final Friday, and the results were impressive. The test was simple: Match a five-course meal with wine, and I used dishes that these first-year students had either learned or that had simple ingredients and techniques, like pot roast instead of Beef Wellington.

Their job was not to pick a right or wrong wine. Instead, it was to pick a wine and explain why it went with the dish. In this respect, there were no right or wrong answers. If someone could make an argument for white zinfandel with pot roast, they got full credit. That no one tried to do that also struck me as a good sign.

After the jump, the menu and a look at their choices:

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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


? 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..