April 24, 2006

Whining About Wallaby Wine

An article that ran in yesterday's business section of the NY Times trumpets the success of cheap Australian Yellow Tail brand wine (You know, those wines with the label that features a leaping wallaby, which many mistake for a kangaroo). Yellow Tail gets yet more ink in a separate Times magazine article, too, which discusses the trend toward using cute animals (so-called "critter labels") to pimp more wine. While the wallaby label might be eye-grabbing and the use of its likeness savvy marketing on the maker's part, the Yellow Tail shiraz, in my humble opinion, has more in common with Dr. Pepper than it does with a good, solid bottle of red wine. Yeah, it's $6 a bottle and for that price you can buy it by the case at Costco and load up the ole Suburban. Its fans (This wine has many; Its shiraz is the best-selling red in the country and the company made $77 million off its largely U.S.-based sales last fiscal year) say it tastes better than most $8 or even $10 bottles of American wines. Um, I beg to differ. If we are talking bigger producers, give me a bottle of J. Lohr or Ravenswood (I whine about this wine, too, but it IS better) any day and dump the Wallaby off the Golden Gate!
Americans are drinking more wine than ever, which we are annoyingly reminded of in every article about wine these days. I question whether this has anything to do with the enjoyment of wine. Maybe it's all the talk about the wine/heart health connection and the whole French paradox. (Drink red wine. Eat steak with butter. Sit on your ass. Get skinny) My inkling is that it might have everything to do with the sugar fix increasingly required by our increasingly diabetic nation. Beer, of course, gets you hammered. But it isn't sweet. And it gives you gas. In the Times article, Jon Fredrikson, a California wine industry consultant, is on to something when he calls Yellow Tail "the perfect wine for a public grown up on soft drinks." In other words: sugar junkies.
But Dr. Pepper, at under $1 for a 12-ounce can, doesn't come with quite the kick of a glass of Yellow Tail. But the kick shouldn't be the only thing that matters, as New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik eloquently argues here. Wine is about more than the buzz. It's about the ritual, the wine's story, its label, the lore.
That said, I found this article, which describes how so-called wine experts couldn't taste the difference between white wine dabbled with food coloring and red wine both hysterical (and humbling even though I'd never consider myself an expert). Maybe at our next blind wine tasting party I will hide a bottle of Yellow Tail among a bunch of other wines and see if I can tell the difference. Not sure I could.

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April 18, 2006

Who Overrates Sauvignon Blanc??

Here's an interesting rant against sauvignon blanc posted today by Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Here, Steinberger, whose writing is as crisp as any good Sancerre, argues that there aren't any great sauvignon blancs.... "the grape is a dud," he says. "producing chirpy little wines wholly devoid of complexity and depth, the very qualities that make wine interesting and worth savoring. For years, this offensively inoffensive grape has escaped criticism while chardonnay and merlot have been scorned. The free ride ends here.
Then Steinberger goes on to offer alternatives to crappy boring bottles of sauvignon blanc. Here they are, many of them under $20 a bottle (for our purposes, cheers!)

(quote) So what, you might ask, would be preferable to drinking sauvignon blanc, particularly if you are on a budget? With most New Zealand, South African, and Californian sauvignon blancs selling for around $15 a bottle, and with most Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés now fetching at least $20, there are scores of worthy alternatives. Take, for instance, the chardonnays from the Macon region of France (they aren't called chardonnays, of course, but instead go by names like Vire-Clesse, St.-Véran, Pouilly Fuissé, etc.). The wines of Daniel Barraud, André Bonhomme, Olivier Merlin, and Domaine Delaye all tend to run in the $15-$25 range and have substantially more depth and brio than most comparably priced sauvignon blancs. Ditto Domaine des Terres Dorées' Beaujolais blanc, which, at $10 a bottle, is truly a gift from Bacchus.

Loire Valley chenin blanc yields a number of elixirs: The Vouvrays of Domaine Huet are legendary; Huet's dry Vouvrays (called sec) sell for around $25-$35 a bottle and will encourage much more swilling and sniffing than any sauvignon blanc. (Sauvignon blanc is, at best, a lubricant to conversation; a good Vouvray is a conversation-stopper.) The basic Vouvrays from Domaines Pinon and Champalou can be had for $10-$15 and are usually delicious in their own right. South African chenins are also beginning to make some noise: De Trafford and Rudera are two names of note and go for around $15-$20 per bottle. (end long Steinberger quote!!!)

Here are my thoughts. I must admit that I've never drank sauvignon blanc for its complexity so it boggles my mind that anyone would expect as much from this wine. I simply find a good bottle refreshing on a warm day. I like its tickle on the tongue. I like the way it smells because I like the way grass and melon smell. I like it extra cold on hot days. I do like it for some of the same reasons I like ginger ale. It's light and refreshing. It IS unoffensive. (It's chardonnay Miller Lite or Bud Lite, says my friend Christine, who is a fan) And that's ok, damn it! Besides, it's more fun to make fun of merlot, that largely wimpy tasteless red (with exceptions). Nonetheless, it can't hurt to print out this guy's recommendations for my next trip to Trader Joe's. Maybe then I won't stand like a dufus in front of the French wines for a good 15 minutes blocking the cash register line as I try to translate the labels.

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March 28, 2006

Cheese and Wine and Wine and Cheese, Please

Here's an interesting article about pairing wine and cheese from Wine Spectator that comes from my PIT (Partner in Tasting) by way of a friend of a friend. I am embarrassed to say that I know about as much about pairing as I do about the fine sport of cricket. This is perhaps because the PIT can't eat cheese, an unfortunate circumstance that causes me to sneak the stuff so as to not upset him. He takes my cheese eating personally.
Nonetheless, this article really boils it down to an easy science. Young and soft goat cheeses, which are my favorite, pair well with Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. (The PIT liked a $16 Mauritson's Sauvignon Blanc that we tried recently) Hard cheeses are good with leftover red from the main course. They also pair more easily with both whites and reds. Hmmm. A blue cheese should be eaten with a sweeter wine. These are only fundamentals. For the more complicated questions I've consulted my little book of cheese, which often only makes me more confused because I've not heard of half the cheeses the book covers and only have so much energy in a day, where I typically wash more sippies than I do wine glasses. (Thus the photo: Still life: Shiraz with a sippy.)

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March 14, 2006

Tracking Wine is Easy....If You Have Enough To Track

Here is a cool gadget, though I don't own enough wine to justify buying it :) It's a $200 barcode scanner that picks up a wine's name, varietal, winery, country, type, color, and region. After the scan, the wine details can be loaded on your computer via wine management software. This way, very lucky people can track all of the wines nestled in their cellars, determining peak times to imbibe, etc. This does not apply to us. The Partner in Tasting (PIT) and I have FOUR, count em', four bottles of wine in a rack in our dining room that we will have to drink soon because it gets too hot in the front of our apartment, encouraging unfortunate spoilage. Aside from that we own a bottle of Knudsen's fizzy cider (non-alcoholic) and our newest addition, an $8.99 bottle of Big Yellow Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino on my kitchen table that I bought at Trader Joe's yesterday because I liked the label and because a local parent recommended it. Big Yellow Cab is a new brand from the Mendocino Wine Co., the same people who make Parducci wines and I will review it soon. We also have the
Baron's dessert wine kicking around somewhere that we've yet to touch. We are waiting for the right moment.
Maybe we just drink our new bottles of wine too fast to start a wine cellar. But we're also not big on huge wine inventory at the moment since we have to pay for preschool soon. But we do get excited about wine. Maybe someday we will inherit one of these scanners from a rich aunt or buy an old one for $5 at a local garage sale. Or maybe not. I probably wouldn't be able to get it to work anyway.

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March 6, 2006

French Wine Lessons and the Baron de Montesquieu

OK, so French wine is a completely different world, about as foreign to many Americans as the idea of their five- week-a-year vacation. (Bless those socialists!) But I hereby declare that I am open to mastering these crazy French wine labels that bear the names of dead Barons and other rich folk who own multiple castles that I will probably not visit someday. I bring up the Baron in my subject line because some friends gave us a bottle of sweet white dessert wine with his name on it. The Baron, who is pictured on the label, looks like a cross between Abe Licoln and Alexander Hamilton. I have no idea what to drink his wine with (Frog legs? Stilton cheese?) or how much this bottle costs.

ArrowContinue reading: "French Wine Lessons and the Baron de Montesquieu"

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February 10, 2006

Quaffable Awfable

PIT's (Partner in Tasting's) look when I mention the word quaffable.
OK. There's something about this word quaffable (meaning easy and pleasant to drink a lot of, as it applies to wine. For example, "This Bogle is intensively quaffable!") The expression really wigs me out. I just don't like it. For starters, it doesn't roll off the tongue. It kind of sits back there with the molars, forming an awkward O in the place where you'd normally choke on an olive. Second, it sounds vaguely obscene. (Or just snotty, as my friend Stefanie said when I mentioned the word to her) Thirdly, I see it used in reference to wine and know that it's one of those words that everyone in the wine can use with confidence and with a very straight face except me because I am not really part of the wine world. That said, I do plan to take a few more introductory tasting classes soon in which I might attempt to use the word without choking. (I've had a few taste coachings, for the record, so I am not completely clueless, and keep tripping on corks from nice bottles all over my house to prove it) Again, this site is for people who are learning, so don't spam me telling me I am an idiot.

Anyhow, in my research I found a really fun well-written blog called, which is why I bring up the word in the first place. This guy writes about wine, largely bottles that cost $12 or under, from Trader Joes. He's worked in the restaurant industry and seems quite knowledgable so he describes wines a lot better than I do. I find myself going back to his website often because he's a lovely writer and has some great new recommendations, like a recent bit on Dehlinger, a small wine producer in Sebastopol, CA. He recommends their wines but the only way to get a bottle is to get on their mailing list. (They don't do tastings and they sell in very few places)
I'm sending a request in today.

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Wine For Dummies

I'll admit it. I've been reading Wine For Dummies lately. I never read this book straight through when I got it from my brother in law a few years ago. It sat on a table collecting dust. But lately I've been using it to try to get up to speed about French wine, of which I know very little. For those of us with rudimentary knowledge of wine and winemaking the first couple of chapters aren't very helpful, but a few of the later chapters on Italian, Spanish, German and French wines are easy to read and informative. (Tips on drinking Burgundy, identifying the Super Tuscans, Cracking the code of German wines, etc) The writers, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, seemed to have fun writing this book. This is from Amazon:
In Wine for Dummies, Mary Ewing-Mulligan teams up with hubby and fellow wine educator Ed McCarthy to guide us on an exhaustive, entertaining trip around the enological--that's right, enological--world. Though clearly experts themselves (Ewing-Mulligan is one of a handful of Americans holding the rare title Master of Wine), the authors assure us that even the most basic knowledge will undermine the very notion of wine pretension. It's as simple as this: "This wine is named for a grape variety. This wine is named for a geographical region. When they make this kind of wine, it goes into this kind of bottle." And so on.

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February 9, 2006

Sonoma Wineries Here We Come!!!!

Yes, I am heading to Sonoma with the husband for a night in a week or so. I've not planned the vineyards we are going to hit yet, but I will most certainly come back with a slew of reviews for the blog. We'll probably stop by Unti, a cool little place run by a dad and his son out of a small shed in Sonoma. We also love Ridge, Quivira, Dry Creek, Raymond Burr, Ferrari-Carano (AAHHHHH those tulips are lovely in spring!) and Hanna wineries. (What am I missing???) Maybe we'll even hit J and do some sparkling white tastings and I hope to maybe swing by Buena Vista in out of the way Sonoma because I love their wine, particularly this fantastic Zinfandel I tasted there last year. (The only problem with Buena Vista is that they only sell their reserve wines at the winery and through their wine club) Although I typically thumb my nose at a lot of Zin, (my tongue! It's evolving!!) Buena Vista crafted this lovely one that we bought and I drank by myself accidentally mistaking it for a cheap Trader Joe's bottle one night while giving my daughter a bath and booking dinner at the same time. OOPS. "This is a great bottle for just $6.99," I said to myself as I took another gulp. I didn't realize I'd been drinking an expensive bottle that I was saving for a nice occassion (It cost about $38) until I looked at the label the next day. DuH! S.O. wasn't happy.

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February 2, 2006

Boxed Wines and Screw tops, Oh My!

I am finally ready to try wine in the box. To come clean, I've always thought of wine in a box as totally trailer park -- the stuff that your red-nosed aunt pours into a pink tumbler with ice cubes before parking it in front of Days of Our Lives. Well, my friend Anne, who has Gucci good taste, says Joel Gott in a box is pretty darn good. So I have decided to take her word and investigate further. The wine, a joint production of Joel Gott and a couple of buddies, is called Three Thieves (A brassy enough name) and it comes in a 1-literTetra know those soft sided boxes they use for chicken broth and your kids' juice boxes. MSNBC reports that these wine boxes have been big in Europe for years. Vive La France! Anyway, Three Thieves got a lot of press when the company introduced its screw cap jug wines in 2004. I never bought any, largely because I never saw it at the store, though now I picture myself slugging it down while attempting some dance of my Celtic roots.The 2002 Napa Valley Cabernet jug was priced pretty fine at $11 a liter. Wine Spectator gave it an 87 out of 100 points, too, not bad for a jug.
Wine Spectator says the Bandit Tetra box quality is a couple notches below the jug.
The Tetra pack comes in California Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sangiovese. I am going to hunt down a few Tetra packs this week to review on the blog soon. Unfortunately, it has rained constantly here in SF so there will be no picnic with the Tetra boxes, though I promise to have an open mind and to not drink it from a Dixie Cup.

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February 1, 2006

A Wine Preservation System That Works?

OK, so I've got six quarter-full bottles of good Cabernet sitting on my dining room table. I am in denial about tossing them out. I opened them four days ago for our wine party so they're probably all nasty by now. But I can't quite bring myself to toss them. Unfortunately, I've not tried anything that works when it comes to saving a bottle of wine and end up crying as I pour it down the sink. I've tried stoppers. They are pretty lame. Those plastic vaccuums don't do much either. I'm too cheap to invest in some nitrogen pump that looks like it might blow up my house. Some say sticking a bottle of red in the refridgerator for a day or two will help preserve it. That's not worked very well for me.
Anyway, I was listening to NPR's interminable fund drive this morning and they were gabbing about a device called the ReServe Preservation system. (Give NPR $30 a month and you get the ReServe system and a tote bag free!!!)
According to the company's website, ReServe pumps Argon, the most neutral gas -- a gas that won't react with wine -- into your bottle. The website says that wiinemakers have used Argon for decades to top off barrels during the winemaking process because it safely displaces oxygen from the bottle to reduce oxidation of the wine. (Oxidation spoils the bottle.) Here's what the ReServe people have to say about the system, which looks like a microphone stuck to a pumping device that you stick on a bottle. It actually looks pretty easy to use. "In tests with recognized wine experts, ReServe preserved over sixty wines at "restaurant quality" by an average of over 6 days, a significant improvement over other preservation systems." A quick surf netted prices between $125 to $200 for ReServe, which is sold by Williams Sonoma and Marshall Fields. I hope to review the system in a future post.

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