Oregon wine update

image And it’s mostly good news, if my experience yesterday at a 20-winery tasting in Dallas is any indication. Oregon is best known for its world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, and there was plenty of that on hand. But the state’s producers are working with a variety of other other cool climate grapes, including and especially German varietals.

That said, the 2006 harvest had its problems. I tasted a surprising number of flabby and uninteresting wines, including too many that were overly alcoholic. That almost never happens in Oregon. I was told that this development has more to do with the difficulties in 2006 (not enough sun, too cool) than with any style shift. I hope so. Oregon is famous for its accessible, fruit-driven wines, which are a welcome relief to so much that comes out of California.

Here are some of the highlights from the tasting:

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? Now that’s a bribe:  Tip o’ the wine glass to Dave McIntyre, who passed this along. Wine magnate Bernard Magrez has outraged a group of journalists by offering each of them a Cartier wristwatch worth more than $2,600. The writers attended a wine lunch and got a bag when they left that had a press kit and a box with the watch, which most did not open until they had left the restaurant. Decanter, which ran the story, reports that that the majority of watches have been returned.

? Wine writers hall of fame: Silly, I know, but there it is — the first inductees will be honored June 16. (No word on whether they will receive pricey Cartier watches.) The group includes Italian specialist Burton Anderson; Hugh Johnson of World Atlas of Wine fame; Edward McCarthy, the co-author of many of the Wine for Dummies books; the Robert Parker; Frank Prial of the New York Times; the Jancis Robinson; and Kevin Zraly, whose Windows on the World is probably the best introductory book about wine. Posthumous inductees are pioneer wine writers Alexis Lichine and Frank Schoonmaker.

? Rolling Stones get into the wine business: Specifically, the band has has signed a licensing agreement with a Canadian icewine producer. The product, to be called Sympathy for the Devil, will retail for about C$125 (which is about US$125). The winery plans to do a red and white with the band, as well.

Wine review: House Wine 2005

image Or yet another reason why the Wine Curmudgeon likes Washington state wine.

This is a well-made, unpretentious red blend (cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with syrah, malbec and cabernet franc for good measure) that is everything so many Napa and Sonoma wines aren’t. It’s easy to drink, yet also food friendly.

It’s a touch pricey at $13, but considering how many decent red blends cost half as much more, that’s not a huge problem. Plus, one has to appreciate the humor in both the wine’s name and and the winery — the Magnificent Wine Co.

Serve this at room temperature with hard cheeses (or even cheese puffs). I made chicken in red wine with it, and then served the wine with dinner.

Where does flavored vodka fit into the mix?

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t do a lot of spirits writing, and when I do, it’s mostly whisky (or whiskey, depending on your point of view).

Which made this story, which I wrote for the Fort Worth newspaper, so fascinating. Flavored vodkas, which barely existed a decade ago, are huge, hundreds of million dollar labels. Flavored vodkas may have accounted for $1 out of every $6 spent on spirits in the U.S. in 2006.

Why the growth? Spirits companies want a slice of the key 21- to 35-year-old female demographic, and that group loves flavored vodka. After all, you can’t make a Dutch Chocolate martini with bourbon, but you can with chocolate flavored vodka.

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Wine of the week: Escudo Rojo 2006

image Availability is the great challenge in the wine business. This is just as true for inexpensive wines as it is for the limited production, big score, highly-rated cult wines that get so much attention.

Which means you should always keep your eye on a couple of readily available wines that can be found in grocery stores that are food friendly and easy to drink. The Escudo Rojo (about $14), a red blend from Chile, is one such wine.

It’s made with carmenere, which has evolved into the national grape of Chile (after winemakers there thought it was merlot for a century or so). Carmenere is a little softer than merlot, and with a little more herbal quality. Blend it with cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc, as is done here, and you get a New World, fruit forward style wine that is also balanced. (And, since this is made by a Rothschild company, you also get 12 months of oak.) Serve this with barbecue or hamburgers.

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? Screw tops for Sonoma-Cutrer in Texas: This is not some low-end grocery store wine, either. Sonoma-Cutrer is one of the most popular restaurant brands in the country, and its wines run as much as $65 retail. So why the new enclosures? Winemaker Terry Adams says the Stelvin screwcap makes the wine better than using a cork.

? Another reason why we like Jancis Robinson: Wine writers should be be more humble and honest, the leading English wine critic told an international panel of wine writers and winemakers in Spain. “‘We must always remember that we are parasites on the business of winemaking,” she said. Or, as the Wine Curmudgeon always says, tell people what the wine tastes like and let them make up their own minds, without any gobbledigook or winespeak or any of the other crap that too many of us foist on the public.

? Ingredients on wine labels: This proposal has been kicking around the federal agency that regulates wine sales for a couple of years. Officials want wine labels to include the same things that are on canned goods: serving sizes, calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein and potential allergens on the label. The industry is less than thrilled, citing the usual sorts of issues industries always cite. No word yet on if — or when — the government will rule on this.