Wine isn’t an essential part of life?

On his blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy, my pal Alfonso Cevola had written about sommeliers who take themselves too seriously. The discussion had been intelligent and thoughtful, and included the final comment: ?And anyways Wine is a luxury, you don't need it to survive. Its a cash crop its made to make money. Its not food. ?

Which made me wonder: Is that true? Is it a luxury?

I ?m not a sociologist, and I try to avoid those sorts of discussions here. But the question is worth asking, because it says a lot about how we see ourselves. It ?s quite true that I don ?t need wine to live; water will do. But life (and dinner) would be awfully dull without wine.

The novelist Clyde Edgerton has a good take on all this in Raney, about a rural southern Baptist girl named Raney who marries an Atlanta Episcopal boy named Charles. And, as Raney describes it:

Charles has got me to sip his white wine at the Ramada a few times ? to show me how much better it makes the food taste. One night I tried a whole glass. Just to make the food taste better because it can make the food taste some better, depending on what you ?re eating. Thursday night when we stopped by the store I ?d had two glasses. For the first time. I don ?t think I ?ll ever do it again, and I shouldn ?t have then. I can ?t decide what I think about it exactly. It does make the food taste some better.

Which it does, actually.

Winecast 9: Joel Peterson, Ravenswood Winery


Joel Peterson is one of the pioneers of modern zinfandel in California, starting Ravenswood in in 1976 with 327 cases. He did it so well, in fact, that the best zinfandel producers in California were known as the three R ?s ? Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Ridge. In 2001, Constellation Brands bought Ravenswood, and Peterson remained to run the winery for the multi-national.

We talked about Peterson ?s start in the business, and about zinfandel and its reputation (or lack of same). Peterson also offered some sage wine advice. To stream or download the podcast, click here. It ?s about 10 minutes and 9 megabytes long.

Wine of the week: Pillar Box Red 2007

The Wine Curmudgeon isn ?t enamored of many Australian red wines, which tend to be so overwhelming that it ?s difficult to appreciate them. But that ?s not the case with the Pillar Box (about $12).

It ?s actually quite restrained for an Aussie red blend that ?s dominated by shiraz ? and, with only 14.5 percent alcohol, practically milquetoast by Down Under standards. Still, it ?s a full-bodied wine (the tasting notes say fleshy, which is reasonable) that isn’t over-oaked, over-extracted, over-tannic, or too acidic. The irony is that people who like huge Aussie wines also like this, and it gets good scores from the Wine Magazines. But the Wine Curmudgeon has always appreciated irony.

Drink this with almost any kind of barbecue (even smoked chicken or turkey), and it will pair with a variety of red sauce food.

Winebits 81: Aussie Two Buck Chuck, analysts and the recession,

? $3 Aussie wine: Bronco Wine, which brought the world Two Buck Chick, is going to bring $3 Australian chardonnay called Down Under to the U.S., and the Aussies aren ?t happy about it. Said one winemaker: ?The prospect of a three-dollar Australian chardonnay called Down Under does make me cringe, I must admit I realize you can’t stop people making dirt-cheap wines, but I’d prefer it if they didn’t have Australia written on the label." Bronco is buying Australian chardonnay for pennies on the dollar, thanks to an almost unprecedented oversupply in Australia.

? Words of wisdom: We ?re buying less expensive wine and not eating out as much, a couple of analysts said at a major industry event — and alcohol is not recession proof. Said one: ?Consumers want the most for what they spend. ? This is why the Wine Curmudgeon has always wanted to be an analyst. I can figure these things out, and I work cheap.

? Updated Web site:, the free calendar service that details wine events in most of the places in the world where people drink wine (even a listing for Hanoi), has a new look. Founder Eric Orange says to expect a faster and better server, as well. It looks clean and efficient, and it is faster.

Update: Costco’s 90-point wines

I exchanged emails with Annette Alvarez-Peters, Costco ?s assistant general merchandise manager for wine, spirits and beer for the U.S. about my post last week — the one that said that several vendors had told me that the only new wines Costco was buying had to retail for less than $15 and score 90 points or better.

Alvarez-Peters was unequivocal. (And, for the record, she only does interviews via email). Alvarez-Peters wrote, ?Costco does not have a policy to only purchase 90 point wines.  As mentioned previously, there are times we ?promote ? 90 point wines as a feature endcap or quad (4 pallet positions) to create excitement for the department. ?

On the other hand, four people ?- none of whom work for the same company ?- all told me the same story, practically word for word, that Costco won ?t consider new brands that don ?t score 90 points and cost $15 or less. One represents a variety of major national brands, the second handles well-known national and imported wines, a third represents mostly imported wine, and the fourth does smaller domestic and imported brands. And, since the original post ran, a fifth person, who is reasonably important at a major distributor, told me the same thing.

I also want to make an important distinction between wines Costco currently carries and new wine brands that it may purchase. This is something, from comments I ?ve seen about my original post, that not everyone understands. The 90-point policy, if it exists, doesn ?t mean Costco is pulling out wines that didn ?t score 90 points. It means that it isn ?t going to add new wine brands that don ?t score 90 points or that retail for more than $15.

After the jump, the emails that made up our interview:

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Special International Lone Star Wine Competition award

The Wine Curmudgeon is judging the 26th International Lone Star Wine Competition in Grapevine, Texas, today and tomorrow, where a new category has been added — the Texas Vintner's Rising Star Award, sponsored by Paul Bonarrigo, the long-time owner and winemaker at Messina Hof Winery in Bryan.

The award will recognize the best Texas wine made by new winemakers; six wineries are eligible this year. They ?ll compete against each other for red and white wines. This is exactly the kind of progressive approach and attitude that regional wine needs, and I'm very glad to see it in Texas. Bonarrigo is to be congratulated.

I ?ll have a post later this week on the competition, which has attracted more than 500 wines this year from around the world.

Wine review: Vida Organica Malbec Rose 2008


This wine, produced by Argentina ?s Familia Zuccardi (the same company that does the well-done and reasonably priced Santa Julia wines), may be a little hard to find. It ?s mostly in Whole Foods, though I have seen it scattered around elsewhere. In fact, the availability issue is the reason why it ?s not a wine of the week.

But if you can find the malbec rose (about $9), it ?s well worth it. Think strawberry, low alcohol, dry, and a pleasant stony finish. If I used the word quaffer, which I always thought seemed  demeaning, I'd use it for this. Serve chilled with almost any warm weather meal, and especially salads and grilled vegetables.

A note about organic wines: This is made with organic grapes, but it doesn ?t mean the wine itself is organic. The definition of organic wine, according to the federal government, is quite complicated, and many organic wine producers don ?t bother with it.