? The 24th annual Dallas Morning News Wine Competition will be held Feb. 9-10. This is notable because it’s the largest U.S. commercial wine competition outside California, and the fourth largest in the United States. It gets more than 3,000 national and international entries. I haven’t judged it yet, but I have my hopes. It is known for very competitive non-vinifera categories, which the Wine Curmudgeon really enjoys.
? We’re all wine snobs, apparently. A California study found that if people think wine costs more, then they think it tastes better. The subjects’ brains showed more pleasure when they were drinking wine they were told cost more — even though they were drinking the same wines throughout the study. The researcher who ran the study was befuddled, saying: “We were shocked. I think it was because the flavor was stronger and our subjects were not very experienced.” He thought wine professionals might deliver different results, but I’m not too sure.
? One of the most interesting people in the Texas wine business, grape grower Alphonse Dotson is included in Saveur’s 10th annual list of 100 favorites in the world of food and wine. Dotson, who is also president of the Texas wine trade group, is instantly recognizable thanks to his trademark cowboy hat. He cuts quite a figure at formal events.
The 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).
? 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?”
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.
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.
? 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.