Tag Archives: wine advice

Ask the WC 26: Wine gifts, supermarket wine, blog ads

Wine giftsThis edition of Ask the WC: How do I buy a wine gift when I know nothing about wine? Plus, what exactly is supermarket wine and why do the blog ads look so bad?

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 know nothing about wine, but I need to buy a colleague some wine for his retirement party. A friend who reads you said you could help. All I know is that he likes red wine — and we can spend between $50 and $70 a bottle.
Don’t know much about wine

Dear Don’t:
Thank your friend for sending you to the blog. I’d find a good local shop and asking them to recommend one of two wines: Either a Kermit Lynch-imported French red, if he likes French wine, or a Montelena or Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon if he prefers California. Kermit Lynch is not only one of the  world’s great importers, but their wines are as much about value as quality. And the two California producers combine New World style with Old World sensibility.

Hey, WC:
You’re always writing about “supermarket wine,” but you never really say what it is. So what is it?
Supermarket shopper

Dear Supermarket:
Supermarket wines are usually made by the biggest producers and are mostly sold in supermarkets and large retailers. You probably won’t seem them in neighborhood and independent shops. So labels like Barefoot, Josh Cellars, and Woodbridge are supermarket wines.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
Why do the ads on your site and the email look so big? Can’t you make it look less tacky?
Good taste

Dear Good:
I’m limited in what I can do, since it’s just me and I’m at the mercy of the services I use for the ads and the email. But not to worry — big changes are coming soon to the blog, and the ads are going away.

Photo: “Liberty Wine Shop” by Ruth and Dave is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Curated” wine clubs, and why they don’t seem to be the answer

curated wine clubs
Do you have any curated chardonnay that is rich and opulent in texture?

“Curated” wine clubs are supposed to use science or experts to find wine you like. But they keep recommending oaky California chardonnay to the Wine Curmudgeon

Know two things about a host of “curated” wine clubs making the rounds these days, companies like Sippd, Bright Cellars, and SommSelect. First, they’re supposed to use science or an expert to take the confusion out of buying wine. Or, as Sippd claims, “Sippd uses AI to provide you highly personalized wine recommendations.” Second, they really don’t work, and certainly not any better than asking the woman at your local wine shop what’s on sale that you might like.

I pointed and clicked through a variety of those websites last week and used three for this post (a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to regular blog visitor Wiseguy for setting me off on this adventure). The results were past discouraging.

I found pricing to be mysterious. Bright Cellars offers “$20” wines discounted to $15. In fact, a quick check on wine-searcher showed that many Bright Cellar wines seemed to be labels developed for Bright Cellars, so no telling what the true price is since you can’t buy them elsewhere. Meanwhile, SommSelect charged $68 for a bottle of French sauvignon blanc that cost $52 on much of the East Coast.

In this, the SommSelect wines were almost all high-end and not aimed at ordinary wine drinkers, even though many reviews for the site say otherwise. How about “A wine club may, on average, cost a little bit more than pulling your ten-buck bottle of wine off the shelf in the store. But, by signing up for a wine club, you aren’t simply buying one or more bottles of wine, you’re buying years of experience from sommeliers. …”

This was depressing in and of itself; how much longer will the wine business perpetuate the myth that only sommeliers are worthy of finding wine worth drinking?

Even more depressing. …

The science, algorithms, and artificial intelligence on Sippd and Bright Cellars were about as effective as letting Churro, the blog’s associate editor, pick wine the way he picks his chew toys. The algorithm sites ask a series of questions about wines and flavors that you like, and then the algorithm magically and mysteriously finds similar wines. Not surprisingly, they don’t ask about price.

Sigh.

Sippd, which sells its wines through Wine.com, gave me an 83 percent “taste match” for E&J Gallo’s La Marca Prosecco, which is pretty funny since I don’t really like Prosecco. And it offered a 92 percent “taste match” for a $129 red Bordeaux, which is even funnier since I’ve never bought a $129 bottle in my life.

And Bright Cellars recommended five wines, all from the U.S. when I buy mostly imports. Even worse, they included two California chardonnays (“Rich and opulent in texture. … rich and creamy. …”) and a couple of reds that claimed to contain some kind of chocolate something or other. Regular visitors here know that those are the kinds of focus group wines I regularly rant about.

Maybe you’ll have better luck with these sites than I did. I hope so. No one should be as miserable as I was after I finished — once again worrying about the future of the wine business.

Photo: “_MG_5551 2” by Yahoo Inc is licensed under CC BY 2.0

More about wine clubs:
Wine Insiders wine club, and why more people don’t drink wine
Update: Third-party wine clubs and their experts
Blue Apron wine: Disappointing and depressing

Wine and food pairings 11: Croque monsieur, turkey style

croque monsieurThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with croque monsieur, the French grilled sandwich,  and all that leftover holiday turkey.

Tired of seeing all that leftover turkey in the fridge? The Wine Curmudgeon has a plan — variations on the theme of the French croque monsieur, a grilled ham sandwich that bears more than a passing resemblance to the grilled cheese our moms made when we were kids.

In this, once we substitute leftover turkey for the ham, the possibilities are endless. The adventurous among us can go traditional (save for the turkey), making the sandwich with a bechamel sauce.  Or, you can go Julia Child, grilling the sandwich in clarified butter and cutting off the crusts. My preference? A turkey Reuben, which uses leftover turkey but also offers a change of pace. How often do Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut show up at Thanksgiving?

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. A turkey Reuben lends itself to a variety of wine; these three suggestions will get you started:

• La Vieille Ferme Blanc 2019 ($8, purchased, 13%): This French white blend is much, much better than the old days, with more fruit (pear?) and a very soft finish. In this, it’s a little too soft to be a wine of the week, but it’s certainly worth buying on sale and keeping around the house. Imported by Vineyard Brands

• Herdade do Esporao Alandra 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%): This is an old-fashioned, almost rough and tannic, red blend from Portugal. Having said that, its dark fruit and longish finish is oddly pleasing.. Needs food. Imported by NOW Wine Imports

• Etienne Besancenot Cochon Volant 2019 ($12, purchased, 12.5%): This French pink is fruity (red cherry?), thanks to the 60 percent grenache in the blend. But it’s dry and and enjoyable. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Blog associate editor Churro contributed to this post

Full disclosure: Yet again, I neglected to take a picture of the dish; the one accompanying the post is from the Serious Easts blog.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 10: Lemon rosemary roasted turkey thighs
Wine and food pairings 9: Mushroom ragu
• Wine and food pairings 8: Not quite ramen soup

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

Seven wine things to do in December that have nothing to do with the holidays – but will be a lot of fun anyway

blanket fort
“Can Churro, the blog’s associate editor, use the blanket fort, too?”

Who needs the holidays to have fun drinking wine when you can sip bubbly in a blanket fort?

1. Make a blanket fort in your living room, chill a bottle of sparkling wine, and spend the evening with your significant other. What better way to end 2020?

2. Drink a bottle of regional wine. This especially applies to those of you who have never tasted regional wine, but know it’s terrible because it’s regional wine and therefore you don’t need to taste it.

3. Try a bottle of something you’ve never tasted before. After all, the world does not revolve around chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon.

4. Shop somewhere you’ve never shopped before. After all, the world does not revolve around Costco and Trader Joe’s.

5. Buy a bottle of wine with an ugly label. That will show those wine marketers a thing or two, yes?

6. Put an ice cube in a glass of wine. Just because.

7. Let your local wine shop put together a case for you, sight unseen (but within your price range). Which, frankly, may be the most fun thing on this list.

Photo courtesy of Aimsel Ponti, using a Creative Commons license

Holiday wine gift guide 2020

holiday wine 2020The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2020, and even a couple of things that aren’t wine

The big trend in wine gifts this year? Non-alcoholic products, if the mail in my inbox is any indication. Or — shudder — a $426 decanter. We can do much better than that; after all, why else does the blog exist? Keep in our wine gift buying guidelines in mind, as well.

Consider:

Joe Roberts’ “Wine Taster’s Guide” ($14.99, Rockridge Press) is neither pretentious nor expensive — which is why it’s on this list. Joe, who I’ve known almost since I started the blog, is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we buy wine we may not like because the process is so intimidating.

• The Benziger de Coelo Quintus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($68, sample, 14.1%) is a gorgeous, structured — albeit not especially subtle — Sonoma Coast pinot noir. It’s full of dark fruit, maybe even some tea, and the soft tannins that used to be common in California pinot. Not quite sure how I got a sample, but very glad I did. Highly recommended.

• The Wine Curmudgeon has a drawer full of wine-stained tablecloths, mostly from dripping wine bottles. Hence, the marble wine coaster ($19.95), which not only would have saved many of my tablecloths but looks good, too.

Ice wine is one of the great joys of the wine world, but is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. And it wasn’t easily available or cheap to begin with. So when a winemaker reader tipped me to the Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine 2018 ($50/375 ml bottle, sample, 9%), I asked for a sample — something I rarely do. And I was not disappointed. This is ice wine in all its glory — lusciously sweet, but balanced, with pineapple and tropical fruit and refreshing crispness. Highly recommended.

More holiday wine gift guides:
Holiday wine gift guide 2019
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017

The WC video redux: Holiday wine tips

Plus, opening a sparkling wine bottle in just one take

Yes, this post ran about this time last year, but I wanted to put it up again for a couple of reasons. First, it’s timely — and a damn fine job, if I say so myself. Many thanks to host Michael Sansolo; his show is “Shopping with Michael” for the Private Label Manufacturers Association.

The other reason? Because this was the only video we did as part of the PLMA’s private label wine project. Our goal was to convince U.S. supermarkets to do for private label wine what European supermarkets do — high quality and low price.

But the pandemic edged our effort to the sidelines. And, more sadly, long-time PLMA president Brian Sharoff died at the end of the spring, and it was his vision that started the project. Brian gave me a chance to work on it, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.

So, I’m posting this one more time for Brian. He is much missed, and not just because he always made fun of my hats.

podcast

Winecast 53: Doug Caskey and Drink Local during the pandemic

doug caskey
Doug Caskey and his spiffy Colorado wine Zoom background.

“The situation isn’t good, but it’s difficult to make a monolithic assessment. The situation depends on where you are, and it can be all across the board.”

Colorado’s Doug Caskey has been one of the leaders in the local wine movement for almost as long as there has been one. He has been the executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board since 2000, and has served in a variety of roles with the Wine America trade group. As such, he is well-placed to discuss how the pandemic is clobbering regional wine.

Perhaps the biggest problem, Doug said, is that state laws classify wineries as bars. This means they suffer from the same restrictions as places people go to pick up girls and boys and to get drunk. Which, of course, is hardly the case with a winery tasting room. In addition, local wineries depend on events like weddings and concerts to stay in business, which are also limited by pandemic bar restrictions.

Among the topics we discussed:

• The recent spike in coronavirus cases doesn’t bode well for Drink Local, since wineries that have been able to re-open their tasting rooms may not be able to keep them open.

• The pandemic hasn’t been a boon for Drink Local at retail, despite all the glowing sales numbers. Consumers seem to be buying the best known brands instead of trying lesser known regional labels.

• The Trump wine tariff, advertised as a help to Drink Local, has actually been a tremendous hindrance. It has wreaked havoc on the wine supply chain, making it more difficult for local wines to get on store shelves.

Yurts, as a solution to outdoor winter dining. Yes, yurts.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 13 minutes long and takes up almost 9 megabytes. Quality is mostly excellent. And yes, I was able to post Doug’s Zoom background.