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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

$10 Wine Hall of Fame (2008)

Even hip and with it young people will want to try these $10 wines. The news is not good for those of us who love cheap wine. There was a lot less of it worth drinking in 2007, and the ranks of the $10 Wine Hall of Fame have been reduced as we celebrate the sixth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza. (The 2007 Hall is here.)

Gone from the Hall are the Big House red, white and pink. The brand was sold last year, and the new owner makes decent enough wine, but it ?s standard grocery store stuff. It lacks the style that distinguished the old Big House labels. Two red wines that I wanted to add – ? Beaulieu ?s Beauzeaux and Altano ?s Douro – ? didn ?t make it. The former didn ?t release a new vintage locally, while the latter was flat and flabby compared to previous years.

The weak dollar didn ?t help the cause, either, so I added a room on the Hall for imported wine whose price was pushed up currency woes: ?If you can find them for $10, buy them. ?

The Hall did add three Gascon white wines – ? Domaine Duffour, Domaine des Cassagnoles, and Domaine D ?Uby. These are made with less well-known grapes from a very less well-known part of France, which is why they ?re less expensive. With that in mind, here ?s the rest of this year ?s Hall of Fame:

? The $10 wines from California ?s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the petite sirah.

? Osborne Solaz, Spanish reds and a white. Look for the cabernet-tempranillo and shiraz-tempranillo reds (though the cab was a bit below its usual standard this year), a white made with a grape called viura. There is also a rose, but I have yet to find it in the Dallas area.

? Benziger Fume Blanc, the California winery ?s version of sauvignon blanc. One caveat: Look for a recent vintage. If it’s more than two years old, it doesn’t taste fresh.

? Italy ?s Falesco Vitiano, which produces a solid rose, an even more solid white blend, and a stunning red blend made of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot.

? Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, which comes in brut (dry), extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.

? California ?s Toad Hollow pinot noir rose.

? The unoaked chardonnay and the petite sirah from California ?s Jewel Collection.

If you can find them for $10, buy them:

? Chateau Ducla and Chateau Bonnet, white blends from Bordeaux.

? Domaine Pichot Vouvray, a French chenin blanc.

? Lindauer Brut , a sparkling wine from New Zealand.

? McPherson Cellars Rose, one of the best wines, dollar for dollar, to come out of Texas.

Wines to consider for next year:

? The dry riesling and chenin blanc from Pacific Rim, a Bonny Doon offshoot. I like these wines a lot, but neither was quite there in 2007.

? I’ll keep an eye on the Beauzeaux and Douro reds over the next 12 months, but I’m not optimistic.

? Los Vascos chardonnay. This Chilean is unoaked, which is why it’s inexpensive. Again, though, it has had problems with consistency.

? Two French wines from huge negociants — the Jadot Macon-Villages and the DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages. Sometimes, these are terrific, and sometimes they’re far from it — and this can happen in the same vintage.

? Hugh Hamilton Jim Jim Shiraz. Inexpensive Australian shirazes usually taste like it, but this is on the cusp of being something special.

? The Chalone line from Monterey in California. This is grocery store wine that seems better than it should be. Call me cynical, but I need to taste it one more time.

? Cycle Gladiator, a line of $10 wines from the same California producer who started Rex Goliath (which turned into ordinary grocery store wine under its new owners).