Wine of the week: Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

imageThose of you who remember my post last month lamenting the current state of zinfandel will be surprised to see this particular wine of the week. But the Wine Curmudgeon is more than willing to admit when I make a mistake. And this Ravenswood Sonoma County (about $15) is worth drinking.

Joel Peterson, who runs the winery today for Constellation Brands, started  Ravenswood as a zinfandel house more than 30 years ago. And he still remembers how to do it in the classic style ? moderate alcohol with jammy, berry fruit. Is it old-fashioned in this day of high alcohol, over-ripe zinfandels, many of which taste more like port than table wine? You bet, and that ?s a good thing. Serve this zingy red wine (not to be confused with sweetish white zinfandels or Ravenswood ?s basic $10 wine) with barbecue ? brisket, sausage and all of the trimmings.

I’m going to write more about zinfandel in the next week or so, after pondering my April post and tasting some more of the wine, and I have a podcast with Peterson that will go up next week.

Fred Franzia: Love him or hate him?

Or, actually, ignore him, which the wine industry seems incapable of doing. Franzia, the man behind Two Buck Chuck, Crane Lake, Forest Glen and a bunch of other cheap wines in the guise of the Bronco Wine Co. loves to throw his success in the faces of the people wine writer David Falchek calls the vinerrati. And they can ?t help themselves ? foaming at the mouth, spewing venom, and the like whenever Franzia does it.

The latest turmoil (and the cyber either is full of it, from the New York Times to Cincinnati to California) centers around a profile of Franzia that ran in the New Yorker. Two things struck me. First, that an old media property could cause such a stink among so many New Media types, and second, that what Franzia said wasn ?t any different from what he has been saying for years and years. And years. He thinks wine is overpriced and that most wine people are phony snobs.

Which is hard to disagree with, given the foolishness that the Wine Curmudgeon sees in the wine business every day. Though, to be fair, The Times ? Eric Asimov notes that Franzia ?s motives are far from pure: ?He ?s not a man of the people making high-quality bottles available for less. He ?s a businessman masquerading as a populist for his own benefit, which is fine but his defenders ought to be honest about Mr. Franzia ?s motivations. ?

Which doesn ?t change his message and why the vineratti dislike it so. And nothing will change until all $100 wine is 10 times better than all $10 wine. Until then, Franzia will continue to drive them crazy.

Winebits 79: Recession update, Dan Berger wisdom, Eric Asimov on cheap wine

? Cheap wine is good wine: Ah, validation.Joseph Gallo, (yes, that Gallo), speaking at a conference for states that sell liquor (or control states), on the effect of the recession: ?People realize that wine they'd never consider before is actually good.  It has started a trend that you don't have to pay a lot for wine to taste good…the market is showing that. ? Note to Mr. Gallo and other industry types: The Wine Curmudgeon has many thoughts on this subject. Give me a call. I ?m actually a lot less expensive than most of the consultants you pay.

? Add an ice cube: The next time some wine drinker is being particularly snotty, show them this, from the great Dan Berger. Berger, who knows more about wine than most of the rest of us combined, focused a recent column on the theme of ?Hey, if you like it, go for it. It ?s your dinner table and your wine. Do what you like. ? Among his suggestions? Yes, adding an ice cube if the wine is too warm or too alcoholic.

? ?I have nothing against people who choose to drink boring wines:" Eric Asimov, the wine columnist for the New York Times, has an intriguing look at cheap wine. He makes a distinction that I would argue with, since it assumes that most cheap wine is boring wine. This, of course, is far from the case. He also recommends several cheap American-made wines (though his definition of cheap includes wines that cost $20). He laments that there aren ?t more, which surprised me. I ?d suggest he try the Bogle petite sirah and the Avalon Napa cabernet, as well as Peirano's The Other Red and White.

Winecast 8: Eric Renaud, Bern’s Steak House

image Eric Renaud is a breath of fresh air in the restaurant wine business. Renaud, in this late 30s, is the passionate, intelligent and customer-focused senior sommelier at the legendary Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Fla. Bern ?s is renowned for its wine list, which has 6,800 different selections and more than one-half million bottles. Frankly, if more restaurants took Renaud's approach, they'd sell more wine and make more money doing it ? and wine drinkers would be better off.

We chatted during a break in judging at the 34th annual International Eastern Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Renaud, as he says, is an example that anyone can learn about wine. He started at Bern's lugging cases and bringing bottles up from the cellar. This perspective has taught him to give customers what they want, and not what he wants to sell them; to help them find value on a restaurant list; and to treat wine as something to be appreciated ? and not something to be intimidated by.

The stream or download the podcast, click here. It's about 9 megabytes and 10 minutes long. You ?ll even hear some wine judging and glass tinkling going on in the background.

Rose update 2009

Welcome to the annual Wine Curmudgeon rose post, where our motto is: If it ?s summer and you have $10, you can buy a pretty good rose ? and sometimes even get change back. And Memorial Day weekend is a fine place to start.

The quality of rose available in stores continues to improve. When I started writing about rose regularly, about 10 years ago, there wasn’t much to choose from. Since then, there are not only more wines, but they are better than ever. I don’t know that I have actually tasted a poorly made rose in the past couple of years. Some of them have been too expensive, but that ?s another story.

The most important thing to know about rose is that it isn’t white zinfandel (or white merlot or whatever); roses are pink wines made with red grapes and they aren’t sweet. Why are they pink? Because the red grape skins are left in the fermenting grape juice just long enough to color the wine. (All red wine gets its color from the grape skins. The skins are left on cabernet sauvignon and merlot for much longer, so the wine is much more red.) This is also why roses don ?t have tannins, the flavor that makes your mouth pucker, since the skins give red wine its tannic quality.

Rose’s fruit flavors are mostly red berries (think strawberry). They should be served chilled, and they pair pretty much with any food, including beef and barbecue. Rose was made for Sunday afternoon, sitting on the back porch, wine in hand, and burgers on the grill.

A note on vintages: Look for 2008, and be wary if anyone sells anything much earlier than 2007, save for Spanish wines. Roses are not made to age, and should be fresh and flavorful. The color in older vintages starts to fade, like paper that yellows.

Rose styles vary by country. Spanish wines are going to be bone dry with less fruit flavor. French and South American roses are a little more fruity, while U.S. roses are the most fruity of all. Some U.S. wines are so full of strawberry flavor that they might even seem sweet. Any of the following (and this is far from a complete list) are well worth trying, but please experiment:

• From France: Cave de Saumur ($10), Bieler Sabine ($12), and Chateau Famaey ($10). The latter is almost like a strawberry popsicle, and not common in French wines.

• From Spain: I don’t know that you can go wrong with any Spanish rose that is around $10. Just don’t expect a lot of fruit.

• From U.S.: McPherson Cellars ($12) from Texas, Toad Hollow ($11) from California, and Charles & Charles ($12) from Washington state.

For more on roses:

Wine blogging and ethics

This has been the subject of much discussion in the wine cyber-ether, starting last fall. That ?s when Rodney Strong said it would send samples to selected wine bloggers before it sent them to the Mainstream Media, with the understanding that the bloggers had to write something, good or bad. That ?s because most mainstream types never get around to writing about all of the samples they receive, and they pile up until they ?re given away. This way, Rodney Strong would get some kind of publicity ? and, as we all know, some kind is better than none.

I thought that was much ado about nothing. Samples are samples, with all of the ethical concerns they entail, and it really doesn ?t matter who gets them first. But that doesn ?t mean that ethics aren ?t something worth discussing. I have written about this before, but it ?s worth clarifying and expanding on. After the jump, how I do this at the Wine Curmudgeon and how I avoid conflicts of interest:

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International Eastern Wine Competition update

The Wine Curmudgeon, dressed in a white lab coat and clipboard at the ready, has been judging wine for the past three days. I'm at the 34th annual International Eastern Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, New York.

The lab coat is one of the unique features of this event, which is affectionately known as Wine Camp. I'll write more about this next week (and there is even a picture of me in the lab coat that I'll post). We finished today with the best-of-the-best judging, in which the double gold medal wines face off against each other.

This has been much fun, despite all of the spitting. The other judges in my group (winemaker Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards in New York; Phil Ward, a distributor with New Jersey's Opici Wine Group; and restaurateur Paul Geisz II) have more than tolerated my quirks. Even let me convince them about the quality of a very dry rose that I liked more than they did.

We tasted some intriguing wines, including a bunch of what we thought were New York rieslings, and frontenacs, probably from the upper Midwest. Frontenac is a new grape variety bred to withstand winter, and it makes a cherry-ish red wine with soft tannins that still has a backbone.
Time to put the lab coat back on and resume spitting. More next week.