A few thoughts on sauvignon blanc

sauvignon blancThe Wine Curmudgeon loves sauvignon blanc. It ?s usually inexpensive, and you can buy great wines for about $15. It ?s food-friendly as well as refreshing on its own, something that can ?t be said for a lot of chardonnays. Finally, it pairs with a variety of white wine foods, and especially with seafood — oysters, mussels and even grilled shrimp. And it pairs with almost anything with garlic and parsley. In fact, just writing about sauvignon blanc, garlic and parsley makes me want to reach for a glass.

What causes the differences between the wines? A combination of weather, soil, and the winemakers ? preferences. The geography of New Zealand – ? an island in the south Pacific — is entirely different from that of Bordeaux, off the Atlantic coast of France. And California is completely different from both of them. Throw in winemaking differences ?- the French do things differently from the Chileans – ? and you have a wine with as many differences as similarities.

Here ?s a guide to the most important regions, what makes that region different, and some representative wines:

? France: The best sauvignon blanc in the world used to come from Sancerre, about 150 miles west of Paris. But prices have gone up, and quality has not improved. At its best, Sancerre is less fruity than the New World wines, with wonderful flinty qualities (look for wine from an area called Chavignol). But good luck finding anything for less than $20. A better bet are the $10 sauvignon blanc/semillion blends from Bordeaux, like Chateaus Ducla and Bonnet, which have the mineral character that Sancerre is getting away from.

? New Zealand: Sauvignon blanc doesn ?t get better than this, both in quality and price. The best wines ? Kim Crawford, Whitehaven, Villa Maria, Nobilio, and Spy Valley ? have the region ?s distinctive grapefruit flavor, but in balance. I especially like the $16 Spy Valley and the $12 wines from Villa Maria and Nobilio.

? California: California shouldn ?t be cold enough to make great sauvignon blanc, but there are dozens of excellent producers, including Benziger, Kenwood, Geyser Peak, and Jewel at around $10 and Cakebread, Duckhorn, St. Supery and Chalk Hill up to $30. California sauvignon blancs have more tropical fruit, like lime and pineapple, and what is described as grassiness (difficult to explain, but recognizable when you smell it).

? Chile: Not always for the faint of heart ? can be like New Zealand without the balance. That said, there ?s nothing wrong with the wine, and most of the labels we see, like Veramonte and Los Vascos, are $10.

? South Africa: People who are supposed to know about these things say this will be the next great sauvignon blanc producer. I ?ve had decent wines, more French in style, from Robertson ($10) and Republic of Sauvignon Blanc ($16).

One week in a wine classroom

I finish my first week teaching the introductory wine class at the Dallas branch of the Cordon Bleu today, and I have enjoyed it. A couple of observations:

? Most of the students, who are younger than 30, don’t seem to drink wine. They know it’s out there; it just doesn’t much interest them. This contradicts any number of studies that say that the students’ generation (the Millenials) is becoming more interested in wine.

? Many of them know about Two Buck Chuck, the inexpensive wine sold only at the Trader Joe’s grocery store chain. This is especially interesting, since there are no Trader Joe’s in Texas.

? The idea that the government, as in some European countries, can regulate what grapes are grown where and which grapes can be used to make specific wine strikes many of them as silly. I mention this because — especially in Texas — so many people are worried that the schools don’t do a good job of teaching the values of free enterprise.

? The 1855 Bordeaux wine classification is  even more confusing than I thought, and I thought it was pretty confusing already. It’s one thing to know; it’s something else entirely to explain it to 30-some odd students. How do you come up for a good answer to: “Why did the French do it that way?”

Wine of the week: Freixenet Cava Brut Rosé NV

image Freixenet, once one of the best cheap Spanish cavas, has been more or less a grocery store wine in the past several years. Brands like Cristalino, Perfect and Extra offer more bang for the same or even less bucks.

So when I saw this during my New Year’s bubbly expedition, I picked it up. It was $8 — certainly worth a try. I’m glad I did. This was dry and bubbly, but with a subtle red berry fruitiness that comes out the longer the bottle is open. It’s not as rough as the Freixenet Brut, but it still has that distinctive cava tightness. Highly recommended, either for sipping on its own or with salads and even seafood.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Wine review: Inama Soave Classico 2006

Those of us of a certain age will remember an Italian wine brand called Bolla, which was huge in the 1970s. Our parents drank it, and it lent an air of sophistication to an otherwise ordinary spaghetti and meatball dinner. My dad loved Bolla’s valpolicella

Bolla’s soave was one of the first white wines I remember drinking. Which means I have a soft spot in my heart for soave, and the Inama did nothing to change my mind. It was little tight out of the bottle, but opened up sufficiently to be a value at $14. It has good soave minerality, which means clear and crisp. It didn’t have quite the subtle lemon and apple fruit of great soaves, but I’m not complaining. Pair it with everything from takeout pizza to more formal fish and chicken dishes.

Tuesday odds and ends

? Our pal Scott Carpenter, the Everyday Wine Guy, has announced his wines to watch for the new year. Scott likes Spanish tempranillo (no surprise to regular visitors here, who know how much I like it) and Argentine malbec, He also recommends Sonoma’s Hannah Winery and Vineyard, and those are nice wines. They’re a bit pricey for the Wine Curmudgeon, starting at about $20, but they deliver value.

? Expect to see wine distribution issues take center stage in state legislatures across the country this year. On one side are consumers, Internet-based retailers, some traditional retailers, and some wineries. They want to lift shipping restrictions that prevent consumers from buying wine on-line and directly from wineries. On the other are distributors, some state alcohol regulators, and some retailers, who like the current system the way it is. Big money is being spent in this fight, according to the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, a trade group for Internet wine sellers. It reports that distributors and their allies contributed $50 million between 2000 and 2006 to legislators, candidates, and the like. We have an especially cantankerous situation in Texas, where the retailers and distributors faced off last year and more than $7 million was spent in contributions.

.

Test your wine IQ

How well do you know wine, and especially how we drink it in the United States? The answers — which will clear up quite a few misconceptions — are after the jump.

1. What’s the average price of a bottle of wine sold in the U.S.?

2. How many Americans drink wine?

3. Where does the U.S. rank in per capita consumption of wine?

4. What’s the most popular wine in the U.S.?

5. How long does the average American keep a bottle of wine?

Continue reading

The 2008 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

Take a peek at the upper left hand corner, and you’ll find the new Hall of Fame.

What makes a Hall of Fame wine? There ?s not necessarily a precise explanation. It ?s better than it should be, and it ?s consistent from year to year, just like more expensive wines with better reputations. That ?s one reason wines have been dropped from the Hall of Fame, and several were this year.

Several other notes:

? These wines are generally available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so I don’t have to get involved in the Two Buck Chuck debate. There are no Trader Joe’s in this part of the country.

? I am not enamored of Yellow Tail, which doesn’t rise above the level of grocery store wine. They may represent good value, but they aren’t Hall of Fame wines.

? I ?m still searching for that terrific $10 Argentine malbec. Most of the malbec I ?ve tasted in this country is $15 or so; good wines, certainly, but not eligible for the Hall of Fame.

? And there is no pinot noir in the U.S. for less than $10 that is Hall worthy. The French labels like Red Bicyclette and Lulu B are easy to drink, but not especially pinot like. And most of the $10 U.S. I have tasted has some varietal character, but almost nothing else.