Wine of the week: Hedges CMS 2017

Hedges CMSWashington state’s Hedges CMS red blend remains one of the world’s great cheap wines

The Hedges CMS red blend from Washington state has traditionally been one of the world’s great cheap wines. So why hasn’t it been on the blog since 2013? Chalk it up to premiumization and availability – its price has been as high as $16 or $17, and I haven’t seen it in Dallas in years.

Enough of the bad news. The good news is that the Hedges CMS 2017 ($12, purchased, 14%) remains everything that it has always been – a Washington state red blend that has the state’s tell-tale richness and fruitiness. But it’s also wine, which means it’s balanced and sensible and never once saw a focus group on its way to a store shelf.

CMS stands for the grapes in the blend; in this case, about two-thirds merlot, with the rest more cabernet sauvignon than syrah. Look for lots and lots of dark berries, but  some heft from the cabernet and its tannins to play off the softness of the merlot. Finally, the syrah rounds it all out. It’s just the thing for Friday night pizza, but would also pair with something much more formal.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 Hall of Fame and the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year. What’s most impressive about the Hedges is that it doesn’t sit in the mouth like a fruit bomb waiting to explode in a mess of sweet, gooey muck. Rather, it’s so well made that it even appeals to people (like me) who prefer a more Old World style, with less fruit and more acidity. What more can we ask for from a $12 wine?

Winebits 664: Fast food wine pairings, ancient wine, pandemic wine sales

Fast food wine pairings

No, this was not the WC’s favorite hat of all time, though the uniform did turn me off polyester forever.

This week’s wine news: Are fast food wine pairings the next big thing? Plus, 7th century BC wine, and more confusing numbers about pandemic wine sales.

Bring on the Whoppers: Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon would be able to discuss the fast food of his youth two weeks in a row? But Christine Struble, writing for the Foodsided blog, asks: “Are fast food wine pairings becoming the newest food trend?” Perhaps, but the concept isn’t new. I received a release in the blog’s early days from a brand called Fat Bastard touting fast food wine pairings; I’ve written about it here several times; and I taught them to wine classes at the late Cordon Bleu and El Centro. Because if you’re trying to reach people whose diet consists of fast food, what better way to teach pairings? Or, as I asked one group of Cordon Bleu students, “What do we pair with a Burger King cheese Whopper?” The consensus was supermarket-style merlot; plus, they got to hear about working the broiler at the Burger King on Skokie Road in Highland Park, Ill., resplendent in my polyester uniform and paper hat.

2,700 years ago: Archeologists have discovered the first Iron Age wine press in present-day Lebanon, reinforcing the idea that wine played a key role in the ancient world. They found the press, used to extract juice from grapes, during excavations at the Phoenician site of Tell el-Burak near the present day city of Sidon (an important trading hub in wine and other goods in the Mediterranean region). Grapes were grown in and around Tell el-Burak, which was inhabited from the late eighth to the middle of the fourth century BC. Researchers have also found amphorae, ancient wine bottles, in the area. But no one was quite sure how the grapes were turned into wine until this discovery.

More conflicting statistics? Blake Gray, writing on Wine-Searcher.com, finds even more conflict in wine sales during the pandemic. He cites research from California’s Sonoma State University, which found that even though U.S. wine sales overall are up, 57 percent of U.S wineries say their own sales are down. Or, as we have noted here, there’s little sense in trying to make sense of any of the numbers. Ostensibly, “Big wineries are taking more market share at the expense of small wineries,” said the report. You will also be happy to know, according to one analyst at the same seminar, that Americans may have had more disposable income than ever, despite the pandemic. I wonder: What country is he living in?

Photo courtesy of MeTV, using a Creative Commons license

Wine review: Dr. Loosen Red Slate Riesling 2017

Dr. Loosen red slateGermany’s Dr. Loosen Red Slate riesling is one more reason why Americans should drink more riesling

Riesling is not that big a deal in the United States. There are many reasons for this, including the idea that real wine drinkers don’t drink sweet wine. Anther, also important reason, is that we don’t see a lot of quality riesling in the U.S., and especially if we don’t live on the East Coast.

Which is where the Dr. Loosen Red Slate riesling ($15, purchased, 12.5%) comes in. I bought it not because I knew the wine, but because we don’t drink enough riesling in the U.S. What did I know? That Dr. Loosen is one of Germany’s leading producers, and that it understands riesling’s perception problems in this country – hence, the word “dry” on the front label.

And I was not disappointed. The Dr. Loosen Red Slate riesling was all I could have hoped for – bone dry, a little petrol aroma, some lime, some zippiness, and a very clean back end. It’s not complex or especially subtle, and riesling aficionados might be a little disappointed that there isn’t more to the wine.

But it’s simple in the best sense, in that it’s made for everyday drinking without pandering to focus groups. The only real problem is the price, which is as high as $18 in some markets. That’s a combination of a couple of things, I think: the tariff, which adds 25 percent to the cost, and the weak U.S. dollar. The euro is at a two-year high vs. the dollar, and that might tack on another 10 percent.

Still, this is highly recommended if you can buy it for less than $15. Even at more than that, it’s still a better quality wine than much else at that price.

Imported by Loosen Bros.

Wine meme update: Let’s not forget about premiumization

premiumization memeThis wine premiumization meme is for you, wine business — enjoy

The blog’s wine meme survey has looked at why young people don’t like wine, the three-tier system, and trolling the cyber-ether for people who disagree with you. So how have we missed premiumization?

Until now, that is: The ultimate wine premiumization meme.

Of all wine’s problems — and there are entirely too many to mention — premiumization may be the one that makes me the craziest. Case in point: I got an email the other day touting a $25 gruner veltliner, a white wine from Austria. Check Wine-Searcher, though, and there are dozens of gruners in Austria that cost €4 or €5. How did an everyday wine in Europe become a luxury in the U.S.?

As a friend noted the other day: “We can moan and complain about wine prices all we want, but this is what it comes down to in the end: a $25 bottle of gruner. On sale. Is it any wonder hard seltzer is all the rage?”

So this wine premiumization meme is for you, wine business. Enjoy.

Photo courtesy of OME Gear using a Creative Commons license

More wine memes:
One of the greatest wine memes ever?
Distracted boyfriend meme meets the wine business
Federal appeals court slaps down Texas Walmart liquor stores

Winecast 51: Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine and wine during the pandemic

ray isle

Ray Isle: “Producers are doing anything they can to keep prices from going up.”

“It’s a complicated time for sure, and especially complicated for small producers. … It’s not a time I’d want to be starting a winery.”

Ray Isle, the executive wine editor of Food & Wine, has a unique perspective on wine during the pandemic. He not only writes about wine for one of the country’s leading food magazines, but he brings a practical sense to the job that many of his colleagues don’t bother with. Or, as he said during our chat: “I got into wine as a poor graduate student, and my budget for wine was about $14.99 a month, and I’ve never abandoned that. You have to write about the affordable stuff. That’s what people like to drink.”

We talked about that, and Ray offered a variety of value wine suggestions, including the Sokol Blosser Evolution No.9 white blend (in a 1.5 liter box, no less, which I also liked); a South African red and white; and an $11 Chianti. We also touched on:

• Wine prices and availability during the pandemic — both seem to be better for domestic wines than for imports because of the tariff.

• The future of the tariff; he, too, is cautiously optimistic about getting rid of the 25 percent levy regardless of what happens in November.

• The state of restaurant wine, and why we should be worried about the future of the U.S. restaurant business because trouble there means trouble for or wine.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 18 minutes long and takes up about 12 megabytes. Quality is very good to excellent.

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco 2018

Feudo Zirtari Sicilia BiancoThe Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco is a $10 Sicilian white blend that reminds me why I like Sicilian wine

The pandemic has limited my ability to find terrific cheap Italian wine, since I don’t get to Jimmy’s, Dallas’ legendary Italian grocery, as often as I used to. Fortunately, I was able to find the Zirtari Sicilia Bianco white blend elsewhere; it has long been one of the world’s great cheap wine values.

And this vintage of the Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco ($10, purchased, 13%) shows why that’s true. It’s made with a native Sicilian grape, insolia, and chardonnay, which leads to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. There’s some spice and a little green apple or pear fruit from the insolia, while the chardonnay fills up the background. This is kind of quality cheap wine I used to see a lot on store shelves, but that has slowly vanished. Not sure if it’s just more importer and distributor problems, or someone somewhere decided we’d rather buy $15 bottles of European wine designed by a focus group instead of $10 wine that tastes like it came from Europe.

Highly recommended. Chill this and drink it on its own (the spice is always a revelation) or pair it with grilled shrimp or chicken with lots of herbs.

Imported by SM USA

Winebits 663: White Castle wine, legal weed, premiumization

white castle

I can just taste the merlot cocktail with my 2 a.m. slider.

This week’s wine news: White Castle, home of the real slider, will offer cocktail recipes, while the illegal marijuana business shows no signs of going away and Dom Perignon’s owner is in a legal spat with Tiffany’s

The 2 a.m. munchies: The Wine Curmudgeon spent more than his share of time at White Castle as a young reporter, what with getting off work after midnight. But no one thought to recommend a wine-related cocktail with my sliders – something now available to customers. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the burger company’s “Cocktails and Craves” marketing campaign recommends cocktail pairings to make at home with three of its most popular items. How about the Original Slider with an Orange Afterglow, a beer and orange ginger ale concoction? Or the Cheese Slider with a Castillo Rosa Margarita made with pink lemonade? Or the Jalapeno Cheese Slider with a Midnight Merlot Punch that mixes merlot with raspberry Sprite, garnished with fruit and fresh mint. Who knew? If I had been able to come home and drink that merlot punch with my sliders, I might have started wine writing that much sooner.

Illegal weed may still matter: Legal marijuana was supposed to force illegal weed off the market, or so thought most business analysts. But illegal weed still matters, if a recent shootout means anything. Reuters reports that seven people were killed in a suspected illicit marijuana operation in suburban Los Angeles last week. This happened even though California legalized recreational marijuana a couple of years ago, but police said the crime scene contained a several hundred plants and 1,000 pounds of weed. That’s not a huge operation, but it’s not for personal consumption, either. It’s also worth noting that one reason Canada’s legal weed sales stalled was competition from the illegal market.

Premiummization battle? LVMH, the French multi-national that owns Dom Perignon Champagne (among other luxury brands), is being sued by high-end jeweler Tiffany’s. LVMH called off its merger with Tiffany’s, citing the tariff and the pandemic. Both have cut deeply into luxury goods sales. But Tiffany is having none of it, filing a lawsuit to force the deal to go forward and dismissing the tariff and pandemic as window dressing. Feel free to insert your comment here about two rich and powerful companies fighting over who is going to become more richer and more powerful when the world is in such a mess.