Tag Archives: wine advice

10 (mostly) wine-related activities to keep you busy while you’re at home

wine

So what do we want to do next? Bake bread or install Linux on your old laptop?

Because when there’s a crisis, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to help

March 21 update: Thanks for all the emails and kind words about this post. It has been one of the best read on the blog since this thing started. I’ll work on a virtual tasting and let you know whether we can do it. My only regret? No one has asked me to help them install Linux.

1. Try a wine you’ve never tried before. How difficult can it be, when you can’t buy toilet paper, to push your cart over to the supermarket Great Wall of Wine and pick out a $10 bottle?

2. Look for every corkscrew in the house and get rid of the ones you don’t want. How many corkscrews do you use? And do you really need this one?

3. Never, ever use the phrases “social distancing” or “sheltering in place.” This thing is bad enough; do we need to butcher the English language in the process?

4. Try a wine and food pairing you’ve never tried before. Chardonnay and frozen chicken pot pie? Tempranillo and quesadillas made with all the leftovers in the meat drawer in the fridge?

5. Install Linux on an old computer. You’ll be stunned at how easy it is. Really. I’ll even help if you want.

6. Hold a virtual tasting. I did that this week with my pal Jay Bileti, who lives in southern Arizona. We turned on Skype, opened two New World syrahs, and talked about the wines. That they weren’t even the same wines didn’t matter. The point was to taste and talk about wine, and it was tremendous fun. In fact, the more I think about it, there’s probably a way to do a virtual tasting through the blog, so that regular visitors can participate. If there’s enough interest, I will figure something out.

7. Bake bread. This is even even easier than installing Linux. This recipe is as basic as it gets – mix, knead, let rise, and bake. And don’t worry if you don’t have a stand mixer; you can use a food processor with a bread blade or mix by hand.

8. Finish the damned novel. (Yes, I know that doesn’t apply to most of us, but the thing has been sitting in a folder on my computer longer than I care to admit.)

9. Order from wine.com. The on-line retailer has been a long-time supporter of the blog, but that’s not the reason why I’m including it here. This is a chance to see if on-line wine sales make economic sense for you.

10. Keep a list of every despicable PR pitch you’ve received since this mess started, tying the pandemic into whatever foolishness they normally pitch. Sadly, there have been dozens. Then make sure to never, ever use those PR people in the future.

Art: “LEGO Minifigure Enjoying Wine” by Pest15 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

 

Ask the WC 23: Wine prices, rose, South African wine

wine pricesThis edition of Ask the WC:  Has the wine tariff pushed up wine prices? Plus, why isn’t rose sweet and whether South African wine is worth buying

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.

Greetings, WC:
Have wine prices gone up because of the tariff? I can’t tell, but I buy the same wine over and over, so I’m not a good person to ask.
Watching my pennies

Dear Pennies:
The biggest surprise with the tariff — to me, anyway — has been retailer reluctance to raise prices, and especially for the wines we write about on the blog. There have been exceptions, of course; I was in the country’s premier “natural food” grocer the other day, and it looked like every French and Spanish wine had gone up exactly 25 percent, the amount of the tariff. But many of the other retailers I have visited or talked to are making an honest effort to hold the line. I’m especially seeing many retailers bring in similarly-priced labels to replace the tariff wines. Which, all things considered, makes me a lot less cranky about the tariff. Still, as one Dallas retailer told me, all bets are off when the new rose vintages arrive in the next month or so.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
Is rose supposed to be sweet or not? Some taste like white zinfandel, and others don’t. When did this start?
Pinked out

Dear Pinked:
Rose is dry. White zinfandel is sweet. This used to be cut and dried. But in the wine business’ ill-conceived attempt to woo younger consumers, they’re sneaking residual sugar into “dry rose.” Typically, most European pinks are still dry, so you’re safe with French, Spanish and Italian wines. One way to tell: If the dreaded word smooth appears on the back label, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wine was sweet. Rose is supposed to be fruity, not smooth.

Hello, Wine Curmudgeon:
Am I starting to see more South African wine in the U.S.? Is it worth buying?
Curious

Dear Curious:
The answer to the first part of your question is yes and no — yes, because sales have increased substantially, and no because sales are starting from such a small base. South African wines, save for a burst of popularity in the late 1990s, have been few and far between in the U.S. But quality has improved markedly since then, and it’s possible to find Rhone-style red blends, whites like chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc, and even dry rose at a fair price.

Photo: “a Bourgogne” by miss_rogue is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Cheap white wine face-off: Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc vs. Farnese Fantini trebbiano

cheap white wine face-off

Who needs Cage or Travolta? We have Sunshine Bay and Farnese Fantini.

Which of these two about $7 wines offer the best value in this cheap white wine face-off?

A variety of cheap white wines have served the Wine Curmudgeon well over the years, starting with the late and much lamented Hogue fume blanc. These are the kind of wines you buy in quantity, keep chilled, and know that when you drink it, the result will be quality, value, and enjoyment.

My current choice is the Farnese Fantini trebbiano, an Italian white that costs $8. But, with the appearance of Aldi’s Sunshine Bay, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, that costs $7, is it time to make a change?

Hence, this cheap white wine face-off.

• Price. The Fantini is $7.99, less the 10 percent case discount. That works out to $7.19 a bottle. The Sunshine Bay is $6.95 at my local Aldi, so it’s cheaper – but probably not enough to make a difference.

• Screwcap. Yes to both. This matters a lot, because I don’t want to go through a ritual when all I want is couple of glasses for no particular reason. This kind of wine should be open it and forget it.

• Quality. Are the wines professional and well made? Yes to both. Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, there is still a lot of cheap, crummy Italian white wine in the world, and so didn’t expect much from the Fantini. But it is clean and crisp, without any off flavors or residual sugar. The Sunshine Bay, given Aldi’s track record in the U.S., was even more surprising. It’s much better made than similarly-priced New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

• Style. Do they taste like they’re supposed to? Yes, again, to both. The Fantini is lemon-lime-ish, simple but not stupid. The Sunshine plays up the New Zealand grapefruit style, but there;s a hint of tropical fruit in the middle, and the citrus doesn’t overwhelm the wine.

My choice? I’ll probably stick with the Fantini, since it’s more food friendly. But for those who like the New Zealand style or want a little more heft in their white wine, the Sunshine Bay is an excellent alternative. And I will keep buying it.

Wine and food pairings 7: Not quite ramen soup

ramen soupThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with an improved version of perhaps the most notorious of cheap food, ramen soup

Ramen soup is the supermarket plonk of the food world – cheap and almost nasty. But who cares when it costs as little as 20 cents a serving?

The Wine Curmudgeon cares, of course. Why denigrate your body when you can make ramen soup that tastes better and is still cheap – and actually offers nutrition?

The secret is vegetable stock, which is as simple to make as boiling water and adding vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, and whatever else is in the refrigerator) with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Let it cook for 20 minutes, strain, and you have practically free flavor for the soup – without the horrors of the ramen packet mix.

Putting together this soup is almost as simple as the store version. Again, there is no specific recipe other than using the best quality Asian noodles you can afford. So use what’s on hand — if there’s leftover chicken, put in the soup. If there’s leftover lettuce, put it in the soup. The key is to add ingredients you like, including a soft cooked egg (just like the pros).

Finally, a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Frankie Celenza, the host of a cooking show called “Struggle Meals,” who made the recipe I adapted. Celenza can be corny, silly, and over the top, but he is also passionate about food and cooking. He wants his viewers to enjoy cooking, to understand how much fun it can be, and to realize that they don’t need to spend money on pricey ingredients or fancy appliances to make cheap, delicious meals.

Sound like anyone else we know? Would that we could find someone like Celenza to explain the joy and wonder of wine to younger consumers.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will pair with the ramen:

• Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This Italian white is stunning, and especially for the price. It’s a beautiful, almost elegant wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended. Imported by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits

• Innovacion Rose 2019 ($11/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This Argentine pink, sold at Whole Foods, is a long-time WC favorite. This vintage should develop a little more fruit as it ages, but is already enjoyable — clean, bright, minerally, and a hint of berries. Imported by Winesellers Ltd

• Bodegas Matilde Cava Totus Tuus NV ($14, sample, 11.5%): Well-made and competent Spanish sparkling that is much more California in style than cava. The fruit is more chardonnay-like apple and there is lots of caramel on the finish. Good for what it is, but not exactly cava. Imported by Peninsula Wines

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken
• Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza

Slider photo: “Rome Elite Event: wine, food and nice people” by Yelp.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Panic wine buying

panic wine buying

Panic wine buying, as the Wine Curmudgeon stocks up before a possible 100 percent European wine tariff.

The Wine Curmudgeon, faced with the prospect of a 100 percent European wine tariff, does some panic wine buying

The picture pretty much says it all. I spent an hour or so last week at Dallas’ biggest wine retailer, stocking up in case worse comes to worst. The result? 28 bottles of wine for $290. It’s good to know that the Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t lost his touch in the face of an international crisis of epic proportions.

A few thoughts after my panic wine buying:

• Lots of gaps on the shelves. Lots. I bought the last two bottles of the Chateau Bonnet white, and there wasn’t any Chateau Bonnet red or new Hall of Fame member Azul y Garanza, the $11, 1-liter Spanish tempranillo. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has panicked.

• Lots of cheap wine I haven’t seen before. It looked like the retailer had done some buying, too, stocking up on inexpensive European wine before the 25 percent tariff raised its prices. I bought some of these new wines, and will report back as the situation warrants.

• I even bought California wines. This included the always dependable McManis as well as the Shannon Wrangler red blend, which was the wine of the week 4 ½ years ago. Oddly enough, the wine cost $2 less this time.

Holiday wine gift guide 2019

holiday wine gift guide 2019

No, the Wine Curmudgeon is not suggesting anyone buy this wine workout Christmas tree ornament.

The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2019 — great wine and even a wine coloring book

• Holiday wine trends 2019

The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide 2019 offers practical, value-oriented, yet still fun gifts. What else would you expect after all these years?

Consider:

• This year’s collection of wine books was, sadly, a bit pretentious for the blog. But never fear: How about a wine coloring book? When Life Gets Complicated, I Wine ($13), with 12 colored pencils. Take that, wine snobs.

• The Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2018 ($29) is the current vintage of one of the best wines I have tasted in almost three decades of doing this. It’s a California wine made with the gamay grape in a region far, far off the tourist track. There usually isn’t much of it, so when I saw it on wine.com, it moved to the top of the holiday wish list. Highly recommended, and marvel at how this wine reflects the berry fruit of the gamay, as well as its terroir.

• Italy’s white wines are too often overlooked, and especially those made with the arneis grape. The Vetti Roero Arneis 2018 ($22) is one such example — almost nutty, with wonderful floral aromas and the soft, citrusy flavors. Drink it on its own, or with holiday seafood or poultry. Highly recommended.

• The Repour Wine Saver ($9 for a 4-pack) is a single-use stopper that preserves leftover wine one bottle at a time. In this, I was surprised at how well it works, and it’s not as expensive as more complicated systems like the VacuVin.

Wine-Opoly ($21), because why shouldn’t we try to take over the wine world just like Big Wine? No dog or iron playing pieces in this wine-centric version of Monopolyl rather, they are wine bottles.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016

Holiday wine tips: The WC makes his Internet video debut

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s — the Wine Curmudgeon talks holiday wine tips

Which deserves a special Sunday post.

My effort is part of the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association Store Brands USA series. Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the private label group in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their store brand wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.

The host is the eminently talented Michael Sansolo; his show is “Shopping with Michael.” And how is that for opening a bottle of sparkling wine with nary a miscue — and in just one take.

This looks like the format we’ll use for future wine efforts — the give and take with Michael works much better than the usual, sleep-inducing wine lecture video.