Tag Archives: varietal character

Ask the WC 18: Sweet red wine, varietal character, wine fraud

sweet red wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why are so many dry red wines sweet, plus understanding varietal character and counterfeiting cheap wine

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I bought a Spanish red wine from Campo Viejo the other day, and it was really sweet. I thought it was supposed to be dry. What’s going on?
Sick of sugar

Dear Sugar:
Welcome to the scourge that is sweet wine labeled as dry — mostly with reds, but also with some whites. I wrote about it here, and the situation keeps getting worse. A leading Dallas retailer told me a couple of weeks ago that it’s part of the plan to get Millennials to drink wine, and he agreed with me: it’s a stupid idea. I also talked about this with a younger man who works for one of the biggest distributors in the country, and he thought the whole thing was pretty funny. If I’m already drinking cocktails or craft beer, why am I going to switch to wine because it’s sweet?

Greetings WC:
I consider myself a fairly typical wine drinker. I buy a wine a second time based on how much I liked it and how much it costs. I have no idea if something is “varietally correct” and to be honest I have no idea what a chardonnay is “supposed” to taste like. I just like what I like.
A typical wine drinker

Dear Typical:
That’s a fine approach as far as it goes. But if you want to take the next step and get even more value for your money, then you should learn about things like varietal correctness and what a chardonnay is supposed to taste like. Otherwise, all wine tastes the same, and what’s the point of that? One of the things I love about wine is the differences, and how grapes can taste so many different ways.

Hey WC:
I saw something on the Internet the other day that wine fraud is a super serious problem affecting wine at all prices. Do I need to start worrying about it for the wine you write about?
Concerned about counterfeits

Dear Concerned:
No need to worry. This is another of those Winestream Media stories made to sound like it matters, but really doesn’t. Most counterfeiting is for expensive or rare wines that most of us will never see in a store, let alone buy. There’s no money in counterfeiting cheap wine because so much of it is made. It’s the same reason no one counterfeits dollar bills, but does $20s and $100s instead. If it costs $5 to make a phony bottle of wine, what pays more? Counterfeiting a $10 bottle or a $500 bottle?

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings

Ask the WC 12: $5 wine, varietal character, negative reviews

$5 wine
Yes, Abe, there is $5 wine worth buying.

This edition of Ask the WC: Is there quality $5 wine?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask the Wine Curmudgeon wine-related question by clicking here.

Hello Wine Curmudgeon:
You advocate cheap wine, but is there anything cheaper than $10, which is your cutoff, worth drinking? Are there $5 wines I can buy?
On a fixed income

Dear Fixed:
There is lots of $5 and $6 wine; Barefoot at about $6 is the best-selling wine in the U.S. But finding wine at that price that is interesting and varietally correct is difficult, which is why I use $10. Your best bet would be the Rene Barbier red and white (though the red isn’t what it was) at about $4, and several Italian Chiantis, like Melini, that cost around $6. Otherwise, you get what you pay for.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m confused by some of your reviews. Your write that wine should have varietal character. What is that? Doesn’t it matter that it just tastes good?
I like good wine

Dear Good:
Varietal character, to me, is the most important thing in wine. Does a cabernet sauvignon taste like a cabernet sauvignon? Does a chardonnay taste like a chardonnay? Otherwise, what’s the point? Why buy a sauvignon blanc that doesn’t taste like sauvignon blanc? Unfortunately, Big Wine doesn’t think varietal character is as important as I do, and tends to make wines that have similar characteristics regardless of varietal – soft red wines with little tannin, lots of fruit, and too much fake oak, whether the wine is cabernet, merlot, or pint noir. That may be a good wine, if you like that style, but it’s not very interesting.

Hello, Wine Curmudgeon:
How come you don’t write negative reviews? I’d assume that someone as cranky as you are would enjoy saying nasty things about bad wine.
Puzzled in Pennsylvania

Dear Puzzled:
That’s a question I get asked a lot, and my old pal Dave Falchek, who writes reviews for the Scranton newspaper, has taken me to task for not doing it. And I do sometimes include wines I don’t think are well made in the monthly mini-reviews. But I’m here to find cheap wine worth drinking, and I think it’s more important to write about those wines in the wines of the week and the other reviews than to show how clever and snarky I can be.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 11: Arsenic lawsuit, marijuana, wine competitions
Ask the WC 10: Spanish wine, wine prices, oak
Ask the WC 9: Premiumization, wine bottles, Chicago Cubs

Is U.S. wine too bland?

That's the conclusion of Dan Berger, the pre-eminent wine critic and author. U.S. producers, particularly in California and particularly with red wine, are dumbing down the way their wine tastes. "Will you find varietal character in most wines? No, not any more," he wrote in his weekly newspaper column. Instead, "The result, over the past 20 years or so, has been a lot blander wine than I have ever seen, not to mention more alcoholic and less likely to go with food."

This is the same conclusion the Wine Curmudgeon reached when putting together the 2011 Hall of Fame. Too many wines, particularly if they were from California and particularly if they were red, were flabby and dull. So I called Berger (tasting, right), told him what I had found, and asked him what was going on.

"The joke used to be, among people who didn't like red wine, is that they didn't like red wine because it all tasted the same," says Berger. "Now, it's not a joke. They're right."

After the jump, why this is happening and what consumers can do about it:

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