Wine of the week: Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2007

image South African wine doesn’t get a lot of respect, and sometimes deservedly so. So when the Wine Curmudgeon finds one that is well-made, inexpensive and food friendly, it’s a reason to write about it.

The Original uses a grape that is too often mishandled in South Africa, producing sweet, uninteresting wines. Raats, on the other hand, treats the grape seriously, and turns out a dry, refreshing wine that is fruity (think pineapple and orange) and even has some minerality on the finish. It’s a lot to expect from a $12 wine.

Serve this chilled with salads, Thai food (though it’s not sweet, it’s fruity enough to stand up to spice) or on its own.

Cordon Bleu students turn wine critics

We do two tastings in my Cordon Bleu wine class — 10 or so red wines and 10 or so white wines. We talk about the flavors of the wines, about pairing them with food, and the differences in varietals across countries and regions.

So why not let them write about what they taste? (And a tip ‘o the wine glass to Ruth Reynard, with Cordon Bleu’s corporate parent, who jostled the Wine Curmudgeon into the Digital Age on this one.)

Hence LCB Anti-Wine Snobs, where the students blog about the wines. They picked the name, they designed the site, and they did the writing. I did a bit of editing and offered some technical advice. Otherwise, it’s all theirs.

And nicely done, too.

Tuesday tidbits 26

? The Wine Establishment strikes back:  Last week, I noted Alice Feiring’s criticisms of California wine, in which she called much of it “over-alcoholed, over-oaked, overpriced and over-manipulated.” Turns out she is a borderline Luddite and an ultra-conservative, says Matthew DeBord, formerly of the Wine Spectator. DeBord’s rebuttal is worth reading, if only because he lumps every single person who disagrees with him into the category of un-young, uncool and unhip. It’s such an over the top performance that I actually feel sorry for him. DeBord also uses the word prelapsarian and the word sucks in the same essay, which is not an easy thing to do.

? Sommeliers as sex symbols: Not quite as silly as wine writers as sex symbols, but sill enough. (We’ll pause now for a giggle, thinking of the Wine Curmudgeon with a stubbled face and an $800 Italian blazer). Nevertheless, I will pass this on from a Los Angeles publicist, plugging a forthcoming wine event: “They ?re hot. They ?re smart. They work for Batali, Fraser and Myers. They can tell the difference between an Austrian or Washington Riesling with a sniff. They ?re all under 35. … Wine & Spirits magazine will introduce 10 of the city ?s brightest young wine experts to a Gen Y group of wine lovers. ” Thank God, because we know no one who isn’t Gen Y can know anything about wine.

? Another example of why our liquor laws are crazy: The California liquor cops have told a home wine event organizer that they will raid his festival if he holds it. The details are complicated, but what it comes down is that amateurs aren’t allowed to hold wine competitions in California, though professionals are. Says one home winemaker: “”If that’s the case, then just about every county fair and club across the state is breaking the law.”

A handy guide to wine regions, part I

image This is the first of two parts looking at ways to decipher the world’s wine regions without making your head hurt. The second part will run on Monday.

One of the most difficult concepts to get across about wine is the idea of wine regions. You can get someone to acknowledge  that wine is different depending on where it’s from, but understanding that it is something else entirely. And I won’t even mention there are more than 3,200 wine regions in the world.

Yes, they’ll say, they realize cabernet sauvignon is different from merlot which is different from chardonnay. But doesn’t all French wine (or California wine or whatever) taste the same?

No, it doesn’t. But given how complicated wine regions can be — Quick: Name the sub-AVAs within the Sonoma AVA — and it’s easy to see why people give up in confusion.

Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon exists. Wine geography does not have to be a barrier to buying and enjoying wine. It’s helpful to know that the Rhone is divided into north and south, but not essential.

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Buying Mom wine for Mother’s Day (or anyone for any holiday, for that matter)

Buying Mom wine for Mother's Day (or anyone for any holiday, for that matter)Wine makes a wonderful present, and I say this not just because the Wine Curmudgeon likes to get wine as a gift (white Burgundy, if anyone is reading). That’s because it requires thought and effort. You just can’t pick up the phone and order wine the way you can flowers.

So what does that thought and effort require? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you want to buy Mom wine — or anyone else, for any holiday or event, when it comes to it:

• Remember that the gift is for Mom, and not for you. If she likes white zinfandel, buy her white zinfandel, even if you think it’s the equivalent of pink iced tea.

• Keep Mom’s wine experience in mind. If she only drinks simple, easily available wines, there’s no need to buy her a 1981 Lafitte-Rothschild. This doesn’t mean you’re cheap; it just means you’re taking Mom’s palate into account.

• Know Mom’s taste in wines. If she likes soft white wines, don’t buy her big, tannic reds (and vice-versa). Again, the idea is to buy her something she’ll enjoy. And how do you tell what she likes, short of asking her and giving it away? Pay attention to what she orders in restaurants or has around the house.

• Buy Mom something that reminds her of a wonderful time that she once had, whether it was a trip to Italy, a visit to Napa Valley, or a special dinner. Get her a wine she had on the trip, drank on the visit or enjoyed at dinner. One of the great secrets of wine is that we remember wines not because they were especially good, but because of what we were doing and who we were with when we drank them.

• Can’t find what Mom likes? Buy something like it, using price and style as a guide. Most $12 California merlots are going to be similar, regardless of producer.