Holiday wine suggestions

A few thoughts for next week:

? For whites, consider Alsace. These wines — mostly pinot gris, riesling and gew rztraminer — are versatile, pairing with fish and chicken as well as lighter meat like pork. They aren’t the value they were a year or 18 months ago, thanks to the weak dollar, but they’re still fairly priced. Try Willm Gew rztraminer Reserve 2006 ($18), which is a touch sweet with apricot fruitiness on the front and had Alsace minerality in the back.

? Spanish reds. Regular visitors to this space know how much the Wine Curmudgeon likes Rioja, where you can still buy top-level wine for $30 or less. Look for Montecillo reservas ($15) or gran reservas ($25-$30), made by one of the true originals in the wine business, Maria Martinez Sierra. The classic pairing is game, but it also works with beef and cheese.

? Sparkling. Lindauer Brut NV ($11) is New Zealand’s best-selling bubbly, which is just another example of the country’s wine acumen. It ?s softer than a French champagne, though still not sweet. Why this wine isn’t more easily available baffles me.

Wine of the week: Tamas Estates Pinot Grigio 2005

This is a long-time favorite (it used to have another name and another label), but one that doesn’t seem to be available when I want to buy it. It’s a $13 California wine with Italian-style minerality — the flinty quality that in poorly-made pinot grigios tastes like turpentine. But it also has lots of California citrus fruitiness. This is an excellent wine to serve as an aperitif during the holiday season, or with Christmas dinner leftovers.

 

Michael Lonsford’s farewell

Michael Lonsford was the long-time wine writer at the Houston Chronicle, and he was one of the best. He and Diane Teitelbaum in Dallas were, for years and years, the wine writing business in Texas, taking arms against a sea of troubles (if I may paraphrase Shakespeare).

Lonsford retired this year, and it doesn’t look like the bosses in Houston will replace him. This means the newspaper in the fourth-largest city in the U.S. won’t have a wine writer — and the geniuses wonder why no one of a certain socio-economic group reads newspapers anymore.

Lonsford wrote about his career in an email that circulated around the Texas wine business. I want to quote one part, in which he summed up what each of us tries to do, no matter where we are and who we are:

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High-end wine drinkers like Napa cabernet

Red wines over $30 preference This is not really surprising news, but the extent of how much they like it is.

That’s one of the results of a 2007 study of wine drinkers who are representative of consumers who buy expensive wine. The survey, conducted by California’s WineOpinions, found that almost one-half of respondents are “very likely” to buy a $30-plus Napa cab, but only one-quarter are very likely to buy similarly-priced Bordeaux red wine.

Meanwhile, more than a third are “not very likely” to buy a Washington state cabernet or a Spanish red from Rioja, even though the quality is comparable and the price is often one-third less (or more).

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Yes, alcohol makes a difference

imageHad crab cakes — special crab cakes, made with fresh blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico from an old friend of the family — on Saturday night, so I opened a bottle of Shannon Ridge sauvignon blanc ($16). Drank one glass, and opened something else.

This is not my annual plea for winemakers to cut back on alcohol content (I’ll save that for the spring). Rather, it’s an example of why I need to make that plea. This wine is 14.1 percent alcohol — 1.1 points higher than Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, 1.3 points higher than Bogle sauvignon blanc, and 2.1 points higher than Chateau Bonnet blanc. And that’s almost three times the alcohol content in a similar serving of beer.

The Shannon was not fresh or vibrant or lively, all trademarks of sauvignon blanc. It was not food friendly, and if we had sipped it with the crab cakes, we never would have tasted the crab.

It did not taste like sauvignon blanc. There was almost no fruit and very little acidity — just an overwhelming heaviness that made me think the wine was spoiled or that it had been aged in oak for 24 months. But it was not spoiled and it was aged six months in stainless steel. The only explanation was the high alcohol, which robbed the wine of of its character.

Why make sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc?