Tag Archives: regional wine

Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

asimov texas wineAsimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.

That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.

It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?

Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.

Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.

So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:

• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.

• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”

• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.

• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.

• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.

So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.

Dear Onion: Local wine is not shitty

local wine

No, Onion, your post was not worthy of Jonathan Swift.

Your post making fun of local wine is lame — and using “shitty” because you can’t think of anything funny to say is even lamer

Dear Onion:

The Wine Curmudgeon has long respected satire (Jonathan Swift! And Mark Twain! And Mel Brooks!) and has even written some. So it is with much regret that I write you regarding this week’s post about local wine, which was not funny, not satire, and not true.

In fact, your post was so lame that I am using the word “shitty” in my post, something I have not done in almost 15 years of writing the blog. When you are a good writer, you don’t need to use “shitty” in an attempt to make something funny. It’s funny because you are a good writer.

And whoever wrote “Shitty Region Of Country Figures It Might As Well Give Producing Wine A Shot” is not a good writer. Or even a decent one. It was bad writing at its worst, making fun of something without being clever, witty, or entertaining. (For the proper use of “shitty,” see the 1971 version of “Shaft.”)

Consider this line from your post. It’s as old and tired as any wine humor, the equivalent of the worst “Take my wife, please… joke: “We have all this space that’s just sitting here. How hard could winemaking possibly be? And it’s not like most people can tell the difference between good and bad stuff.”

As I once wrote on the blog discussing this very topic, most people who make fun of wine think it’s stupid to begin with, so there is no need to be funny. Your post is an excellent example of this. Someone there, no doubt needing to make a deadline, said, “Let’s make fun of wine in the middle of the country!” Someone else, no doubt knowing the need to make a deadline, said, “Cool!”

Perhaps most depressing is that wine needs satire. As regular readers here know, I am always ready to make fun of the wine business. But this didn’t do that. There is excellent wine, as good as in France or Spain or Italy or California, in several of the states you mention. I know this because I am the co-founder and past president of a group called Drink Local Wine; in other words, I have actually tasted the stuff you brush off because wine is stupid to begin with, so wine in Texas or Michigan must be even more stupid.

Hence, I will make you the same offer I have made the mainstream media – when you venture into areas you know nothing about, check with me first. I am passionate about good writing, and always happy to help.

Yours in wine humor,

The Wine Curmudgeon

Winebits 586: Regional wine, attack of the nutria, and wine and history

regional wine

“Wine grapes? They sound tasty.”

This week’s wine news: Regional wine hits the mainstream again, plus the nutria may invade wine country, and wine’s role in the beginning of civilization

Wine regions: One of the most important changes in wine has been the acceptance of local, which showed up again recently on a mainstream website called Culture CheatSheet. It lists 15 of what it calls “underrated” wine regions, and none of them are in California. But they are in New Mexico, Utah, and Iowa. “Many emerging wine countries have fewer crowds than Napa and more character than your average vacation spot,” it notes, and who am I to argue? If someone had told me, all those years ago, that our work with Drink Local would lead to this, I would have scoffed.

Watch out for the nutria: Years ago, when I was a young newspaperman in south Louisiana, someone wanted to make a science fiction movie, “The attack of the nutria.” Turns out the guy’s idea could turn into a horror story for some in California’s wine country. The nutria, which is a rodent the size of a beaver, has taken up residence in the state’s San Joaquin Valley. And, as you probably have guessed by now, it tears up everything in its path. “Within five years, the state estimates there could be nearly a quarter million nutria chewing up California’s endangered wetlands,” reports the story. The good news is that the valley is nowhere near the state’s leading wine regions. The bad news is the nutria likes to travel. Young nutria are edible, and I have a couple of recopies from my Louisiana days if anyone in California interested.

Wine and history: The author of a new book says wine was the “catalyst of the birth of Western civilization.” John Mahoney, in “Wine: The Source of Civilization,” suggests that at the end of the final Ice Age, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that they gave up their nomadic lifestyle for farming. Recent analyses of Neolithic pottery dating to 6000 BC found residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.

Beard award semifinalists: One more victory for regional wine

local wineFour of the seven wineries on the 2019 Beard award semifinalist list are part of drink local

Four of the seven wineries that are semifinalists for this year’s James Beard Awards for best wine, beer, or spirits producer are regional. What does that say about how far we’ve come with drink local?

The four wineries are among the 20 semifinalists for the top booze honor in this year’s food and wine version of the Academy Awards. The regional honorees are McPherson Cellars in Texas, RdV in Virginia, Red Tail Ridge in N.Y., and La Garagista in Vermont. All four are terrific wineries that do credit not just to regional wine, but to winemaking in the U.S.

It’s also worth noting that the two California wineries among the semifinalists are Winestream Media favorites – the self-named wineries from Cathy Corison and Steve Matthiasson in the Napa Valley. That wineries from Lubbock, Texas, and Bethel, Vt., are on the same list with Corison and Matthiasson would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

Best yet, they don’t make the same kinds of wines that the two Napa wineries make, or the other honoree, Red Willow in Washington state. Their wines speak to the terroir of each producer – something else that makes regional wine so exciting. Just as Italian wine shouldn’t taste like French wine, U.S. regional wine shouldn’t taste like it comes from California.

It’s safe to recommend almost any wine from these four, with the caveat that availability will be spotty if you don’t live in that state.

Consider these wines:

The McPherson Tre Colore (about $10) is a red blend using the Rhone varietals Texas has figured out. Yes, the rose is terrific, as is the rousanne, but the Tre Colore is the ultimate weeknight wine – well-made, a tremendous value, and just fruity enough (dark berries) without being annoying. I’ve known Kim McPherson a long time, and it’s a pleasure to write this post about the winery.

The RdV Rendezvous (about $85) is a Bordeaux red blend that shows the great progress Virginia has made over the past 20 years. It’s complex, dark (black fruit), interesting, and layered. If a regional wine is worth as much as a great wine from France, Italy, or California, it might be the Rendezvous.

• New York state is best known for its rieslings, but the Red Tail Ridge blaufrankisch (about $26) makes a case for red wine. Blaufrankisch is an Austrian grape, so it can handle the unpredictable Finger Lakes winters. I drank this wine, earthy and herbal, with my Drink Local co-founder Dave McIntyre; the restaurant’s wine list was infinitely more interesting than the food.

Winemaker Deirdre Heekin at La Garagista uses hybrid grapes, and that alone would have kept her off this list for most of the past 75 years. That means grapes like la crescent and brianna, bred to withstand a Vermont winter and very difficult to make quality wine with.

Finally, congratulations to Jennifer Uygur, who owns Lucia in Dallas with chef-husband David. David is a Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest. Even if he doesn’t win, they will have the satisfaction of knowing Lucia is one of the best restaurants in the country.

Mini-reviews 116: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

New Year's wineReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.

Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%):  Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.

Winebits 569: Organic wine, three-tier lawsuits, New York wine

organic wineThis week’s wine news: California betting on organic wine, plus three-tier lawsuits and an English critic signs off on New York wine

Make it organic: Organic wine has never been especially popular in the U.S., with a market share in the low single digits. But several producers see its growth as part of premiumization, as consumers pay more for better quality wine. “I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just not happening as quickly as we like,” says one winemaker. “I think it’s inevitable.” Perhaps. But until consumers see a difference between organic wine and conventional wine – the way they do with tomatoes – inevitable doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Join the lawsuits: Want to participate in the upcoming Tennessee three-tier case that will be heard by the Supreme Court? Then you can contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the Tennessee law. The campaign, sponsored by a retailer trade group and WineFreedom.org, which works for three-tier reform, was near its $25,000 goal at the beginning of the week. Meanwhile, the trade group for the country’s distributors and wholesalers filed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the law because three-tier is vital to the safety of the republic.

Drink Local: Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, has been to New York’s Finger Lakes and found it worth drinking: “We are as far from Red Cat” as possible, referring to the legendary cheap, sweet white wine that fueled New York’s wine business for decades. That Jefford, one of Britain’s leading wine writers, likes what he found in the Fingers Lakes speaks volumes about how far Drink Local has come.

wine tourism conference

Five things I noticed about Texas wine during an Amarillo road trip

texas wineTexas wine is making inroads in the least likely places

• The shock of seeing a Hampton Inn – yes, a Hampton Inn – with a Texas wine on its Happy Hour list is almost indescribable. I’ve been in chain hotels in some of the biggest cities in the world that didn’t have any local wine. But a Hampton Inn in Amarillo? It’s hardly the garden spot of wine country. But the Bar Z winery is in the area, and someone, somewhere in the chain bureaucracy let the hotel do the right thing. This is just one more example of drink local’s move into the mainstream.

• Even more amazing: Much of this part of Texas has historically been dry, but has embraced the state’s wet trend. Since 2004, almost 80 percent of wet elections have been successful.

• I grew up in Chicago where you can buy any kind of booze at the drugstore; a fifth of Scotch at midnight, anyone? And I’ve spent lots of time in California, where you can buy a bottle of gin in the grocery store at 7 on a Sunday morning. But I will never understand the drive-thru liquor stores so common in so many small towns in rural Texas. I passed a couple of them between Dallas and Amarillo, and there were cars in line in each.

• One is never out of Texas wine country. It’s 350 miles or so between Dallas and Amarillo, and almost all of it is in the middle of nowhere. So what did I pass, about 40 minutes northwest of Denton? Brushy Creek Vineyard. Again, if someone had told me there would be a winery in this part of the state when I started writing about Texas wine, I would have laughed.

• The owners of the legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch want to do the Hampton Inn one better. Owners Bobby and Danny Lee want to expand the Texas wines on their list, since they see the tie-in between Texas wine and Texas food. That’s impressive enough. But they also want to price them so that customers can afford to buy them – $20 or $25 Texas restaurant red wine. Could they be on to something that the rest of the restaurant wine world hasn’t figured out?