Don’t fear, regular visitors. That’s not one bottle of wine, but the result of a recent Wine Curmudgeon shopping expedition — 13 bottles, only two of which cost more than $16. And there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.
The occasion for this spree? A chance to shop at Spec’s, probably the best liquor retailer in Texas. Spec’s doesn’t have any stores in Dallas, but I was in Austin for a wedding and Spec’s has several stores there. So that gave me a chance to check out Spec’s vast inventory (at 80,000 square feet, it’s bigger than most grocery stores) and its very competitive pricing. I was not disappointed.
Monday is April 18, the deadline this year for Americans to pay their state and federal income taxes. Which we are famous for whining about (pun fully intended). So, as a public service, here are a few thoughts about wine and how it can improve tax day.
? Drink a bottle of regional wine. Most U.S. states are suffering horrendous budget crises — New York had to close a $10 billion gap. Illinois' was $4.9 billion. Texas' is $27 billion. So if you buy a bottle of local wine, you're supporting local jobs. Each of us can help reduce those deficits, one bottle at time, and it's a lot more pleasant than listening to the complaining and bellyaching that goes on this time of year.
? Visit Michael Franz's annual Tax Day wine column at Wine Reports Online, which he has done for almost 20 years. As someone who specializes in cheap wine, the Wine Curmudgeon applauds Franz's perseverance. Plus, he and colleague Paul Lukacs wade through more than 1,000 wines to make their recommendations.
? Try a cheap wine you've never tried before. Don't worry about reviews or scores or what other people will think. Go to the store, buy it, and taste it. If you like it, you've found a new wine. If you don't, throw it out. I promise not to tell anyone.
? My wine recommendation? Anything from the $10 Hall of Fame would do nicely, but I'd also suggest Cuvee Cep d'Or 2010 ($10, purchased), a rose from Provence. Availability may be limited, but it's a beautiful wine that is well worth looking for. There is just a touch of fruit (watermelon?), and it's bone dry with a long mineral finish. This is everything a Provencal rose should be, and is one of the best-made $10 wines I've had in a long while.
The words "food friendly" crop up on the blog all the time (as well as in many other examples of wine writing. What's most interesting about the term is that it's not really official winespeak — doesn't show up on a lot of wine tasting terminology lists, for example. But it's still an important way to describe wine.
That's because it's not a winespeak term. You won't see it, for example, on many reviews that include scores, which prefer to stick to their tried and true adjectives like cigar box and leathery. For them, food friendly isn't an accurate description of what the wine tastes like. It's an assessment of the quality of the wine, and they have scores for that.
Which is just fine with me. Food friendly wines complement what you're eating, and that is an important assessment to make. If the wine is going to overpower the food — think of an inky, 16 1/2 percent alcohol shiraz — you need to know it before you serve it with a piece of beef that cost an entire week's salary. In this, a food friendly wine is not the star of the meal, but the part that helps to bring out the flavor of the food.
Know, too, that a food friendly wine is versatile, and will pair with a variety of dishes. Think of pinot noir, which goes with salmon, lamb and chicken. The same holds true for red wines from France's Cote du Rhone, which is almost as versatile as pinot noir, or many sauvignon blancs.
So, yes, food friendly wines tend to have softer tannins and more fruit — but that doesn't mean that food friendly wines are always lighter. It's more about balance. Cabernet sauvignon, which is usually tannic and acidic, can be food friendly if those characteristics are in balance with the fruit. Chardonnay can be incredibly food friendly, but not if it's over-oaked or too high in alcohol. High alcohol, in fact, makes a wine food unfriendly, because a high alcohol wine needs food to soften its characteristics.
Second, enjoy sparkling wine more than once a year. Please? The Wine Curmudgeon has never understood why Americans drink such nice wine once a year. It's food friendly, which should not be surprising since most of it is made with chardonnay and pinot noir, perhaps the two most food-friendly grapes. It's fun to drink, what with all those wonderful bubbles, and it tastes good. And how often do I say something tastes good? More, after the jump:
Suggestions for Thanksgiving wine, and please don't agonize over pairings and propriety and pinot noir. Thanksgiving is not about scoring points with the wine snobs, but about sharing what you have with friends and family. In other words, if Aunt Dorothy likes white zinfandel, who are you tell her she can't have any? More, after the jump:
Gary Shansby tells the story with an almost wistful air. A good friend of his, who is smart and wealthy, will only drink Grey Goose vodka. Gary, who owns Partida Tequila, offered to buy his friend a Partida. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose. Can I buy you another kind of vodka? asks Gary. No thanks, says the friend. I only drink Grey Goose.
Why do you only drink Grey Goose? asks Gary. Because it's the best, says his friend. How do you know that? asks Gary. Have you tried any other vodka? No, says the friend. Have you tried my tequila? No, says the friend. Then how do you know that you don't want to try anything else? Because I don't, says the friend. I just know.
Shansby finishes the story and I laugh. He has outlined, neatly, the dilemma facing those of us who do wine education. Yes, this story is about tequila and spirits, and I usually don't do much of that here. But Shansby is also a wine drinker who knows how the business works, and Partida makes some damn fine tequila. I was especially impressed with the blanco (about $45, sample), which had almost nothing to do with the cheap, poorly made tequila that one sees around Dallas.
Besides, the principle is the same, whether we're talking about tequila or pinot noir. It's not enough that wine is confusing. We also have to fight the prejudices that consumers pick up, many of which are fostered on consumers by the companies that sell wine.
"There are so many great wines all over the world — from Chile, from parts of the U.S. — that it's just so confusing to the consumer," says Shansby. "But that also means that they are so many great wines to try at so many attractive prices."
In fact, he says, those attractive prices are going to be around for a while. The recession is the main reason (and he expects its effects to be with us for a long while), which is something we've discussed here many times before. Producers are stuck with unsold wine, with more wine in the production pipeline, so they are cutting prices to move it. Shansby says it won't be unusual to see discounts of 20 to 40 percent. So why not take a chance and experiment? Why not try a wine from a different region than your usual? Why not try a different varietal?
Just don't, says Shansby, let your prejudices make your decisions for you. And who can argue with that.
What do you do when you're ready to take the next step in wine drinking? As noted last week, anyone can learn about wine. But what do you do after you're starting to feel comfortable with the basics? You have found several wines and styles that you like, and you're ready to be more adventurous.
That's when it's time to start doing the paperwork, which is not as off-putting as it sounds. What it means is keeping track of the wines you drink, how much they cost, and whether you enjoyed them. In addition, now is the time to improve your wine vocabulary — not because you should start talking that way, but because so many other people do.
Fortunately, there are several tools to help you do these things. They're mostly easy to use, they're free and they're web-based. The latter means that you can access them from almost anywhere you find yourself drinking wine. After the jump, a look at four sites that will make your wine drinking easier, and even if you're not a novice.