Tuesday winebits 70: Napa wine prices, St. Emilion classification, Iowa wine

? Napa wine prices: The world as we know it is ending, reports Paul Franson in Wines & Vines. Some Napa producers are considering cutting prices. Participants at an industry panel earlier this month told wineries that people are trading down ? that those who bought $40 to $45 wines (core Napa territory) are buying wines that cost $20 or even $10, and the industry must adjust. Said one speaker: ?Life won ?t be the same. ?

? Court throws out St. Emilion classification: The 2006 St. Emilion classification, which rates the quality of the region ?s wine, is invalid and will have to be redone, reports Decanter. A French appeals court said there were irregularities during the tasting process and should no longer stand. This is huge news, even if it baffles most Americans. The French government oversees wine ratings in Bordeaux ? on the left bank, which is part of the famous 1855 Classification, and on the right bank in St. Emilion. The latter is reclassified every 10 years, and the 2006 reclassification was appealed by a producer who was downgraded. The court told the government it would have to go back and redo the 2006 ratings. This is, of course, yet another reason why ratings are silly.

? Iowa wine: Because the Wine Curmudgeon can ?t get enough of regional wine. It ?s not the best written piece in the world (a little overdone, frankly), but this effort from Appellation America is a terrific overview of what ?s going on in Iowa. Notes author Clark Smith: The best Iowa wines are are ?clean, varietal and always well balanced, wines that succeed by not trying too hard. ? Which is what all winemakers should shoot for, isn ?t it?

Wine terms: Blind tasting

There is one way to solve all of the problems caused by scores, the Wine Magazines, and snobby wine writers. It's blind tasting.

The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this twice last week. The first time came when I was doing a wine tasting as part of the Two Wine Guys. We ran through our paces and took questions at the end, as we always do. And the questions, as they unfortunately too often do, started with "My husband and I only drink cabernet sauvignon. …" and "Can you recommend any $30 wine, because inexpensive wine isn't any good …"

Then, over the weekend, I judged the San Diego International Wine Competition, put together by the inestimable Robert Whitley (which was much fun and where I learned quite a bit, which I'll write about later). When one judges, one tastes blind. That is, you know it's chardonnay, but that's all you know. What don't you know? Where the wine is from and and how much it costs, the two factors that unduly influence too many wine drinkers — even  experienced ones.

After the jump, how blind tasting works and why everyone should try it:

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Wine of the week update

In case you missed one, here ?s a look at the previous seven:

? Vini Merlot 2007: $8 and from Bulgaria ? what more do we need?.

? Gruet Brut NV: Sparkling wine from New Mexico.

? Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2007: Tasty, well-made, cheap wine that isn ?t chardonnay.

? Hedges CMS Red 2007: An old favorite that is simple and straightforward.

? Greg Norman California Estates Chardonnay 2007: Solid, well-made California chardonnay.

? Tormaresca Neprica 2007: Your favorite, back and better than ever.

Winecast 4: James Tidwell, master sommelier

image James Tidwell, the sommelier at the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, has become a master sommelier ? one of just 96 in North America and 167 worldwide. The honor is probably the highest that a wine person can achieve, and is incredibly difficult to do. It took James, who knows way more than I ever will, eight years of on and off work to earn the honor. And he had to start over once.

We talked this week about how difficult it is to become a master sommelier and why James did it, and he added some pointers about finding good value wines (whether in a store or in a restaurant). Click here to download or stream the podcast. It ?s about 12 minutes and 11 megabytes. This is probably the best sound quality I ?ve done yet, with very little hiss.

Wine review: Sangre de Toro 2006

sangre de toroSomewhere in my house, either stuffed in a drawer or buried in a box, are probably hundreds of the little plastic bulls that are attached to the neck of the bottle of the Sangre de Toro, a Spanish red blend. When I started doing this 20-some odd years ago, I drank a lot of what I called bull wine. It was $6 or $7 then, well made, and dependable.

I haven;t had Sangre de Toro in years. No reason to, really. I thought I knew what it tasted like, and I thought I had outgrown it. Which is a good reason to repeat the Wine Curmudgeon mantra: “Taste the wine before you judge it, dummy.”

So I bought a bottle for about $10, took it home, unscrewed the cap (a welcome change from the old days) and discovered that the wine has remained relevant. These days, it ?s made with Spanish versions of grenache and carignan. The former gives it fruitiness I don’t remember from before, while the latter adds body. It was fine on its own before dinner, and would also pair with simple red wine food — burgers, sausages, and the like.

Thank you, Staten Island Advance

Lo and behold, they appreciate the Wine Curmudgeon in the New York City borough. Food editor Pam Silvestri has a brief Q and A with me in today ?s paper. All of my favorite subjects, like cheap wine and regional wine, are included.

True story: Silvestri sent me an email a couple of weeks ago asking to do the interview, and I thought it was a practical joke. I know more than a couple of people who would be more than capable of that, including setting up a fake email account. So how much of a curmudgeon does that make me?

I did call the number, and it was actually her. And we had a nice chat.

Wine of the week: Vini Merlot 2007

Reasons to go crazy over this wine:

• Screw top.

• It costs $8.

• It’s from Bulgaria (and the back label notes that “Since we haven’t seen you in Bulgaria lately.” )

• It ?s actually available, which was really surprising given how many $10 wines that the Wine Curmudgeon likes that aren ?t available.

• It may be the best-made cheap merlot I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the best I’ve had in a long time, with enough tannin and structure to complement the cherry and plum fruit. Best yet, it wasn’t cloying and jammy, like so many inexpensive California merlots. It’s pleasant enough to drink on its own, but it would also complement barbecue, beef fajitas, and meat loaf. Most definitely a candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.