The Wine Curmudgeon is a blog that focuses on the wine most of us drink – cheap wine. And it’s written by someone who has made cheap wine his life’s work and isn’t embarrassed about the choice. Follow to keep up with articles about wine, what it tastes like, as well as tips and advice about buying and drinking wine.
Win four Luminarc wine glasses during the blog’s rose celebration 2019
The blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza begins on Tuesday — rose celebration 2019. This is the third consecutive year we’ll devote most of the week to celebrate rose, perhaps the last bastion of great cheap wine.
Plus, of course, a giveaway — four Luminarc wine glasses on Thursday when I list the the best roses available this season. Plus, two more days of rose reviews, as well as rose news on Tuesday.
Todd Kliman’s “The Wild Vine,” a story about regional wine and drink local, could become a Netflix–style series
Could the first truly interesting wine movie be about – gasp – drink local? We can only hope.
That’s because Todd Kliman’s terrific 2010 book, “The Wild Vine” (Clarkson Potter), may have a decent chance of becoming a film. The production company that bought the rights to the book has even hired a publicist, which doesn’t happen unless the producers are convinced something will come of their efforts.
“The Wild Vine” tells the history of the norton grape and Daniel Norton, the man who accidentally created it, Virginia winemaker Jenni McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards and her fascination with norton, and the role regional wine has played in U.S. wine history. As I wrote in my review: “It’s a perspective that says, ‘Look, pay attention. Long before Robert Parker and scores and California, there was a U.S. wine industry. And if a few things had happened differently. …’ ”
So what about the movie’s chances of actually being made?
“When people say they’re going to option a book for a movie, traditionally nothing happens,” says Kliman, a D.C.-area freelancer and author who has been down the book option road enough times to know how the system works. “So when a book is optioned, there’s no reason to get giddy. But this time, the producer has real enthusiasm for the book and the story, so there may be a better chance than usual that something happens.”
The producer is Dax Phelan, who not only has Hollywood credibility, but grew up near St. Louis and was fascinated by the idea of norton, a red grape that thrives in Missouri and whose norton wineries produced some of the best wine in the world at the turn of the 20th century.
Kliman says the film future of “The Wild Vine” could be a Netflix-style series, where Phelan has contacts, a traditional film, or a documentary. Much depends, of course, on who will pay for production, and that will ultimately decide if anything gets done. No studio, no film – unless there’s a drink local aficionado reading this who has very deep pockets and wants to bankroll the project. My hope is the Netflix option, which would be better suited to the book’s depth and complexity. There’s too much in the book to cram into a 100 minute movie.
And before I get nasty emails and comments, know that there haven’t been truly interesting wine movies. “Bottle Shock” turned the legendary Judgment of Paris into a snoozefest, and “Sideways” – despite Paul Giamatti’s incredible effort – was mostly two guys whining and trying to pick up chicks.
This edition of Ask the WC: Understanding supermarket wine, plus plastic wine bottles and returning corked wine to the store
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 *protected email*.
Guru of cheap wine:
Your review the other day about the Evanta malbec from Aldi said it was a supermarket wine. I don’t understand. What is that?
Likes cheap wine
There are two kinds of supermarket wine — more generally, mass market wine of varying quality made by the biggest producers and sold mostly in supermarkets. More specifically, and what I was talking about with the Evanda, is wine made exclusively for supermarkets, the private label wine made famous in Europe for quality and value and that we don’t see much of in the states. These private label are only sold in one retailer, like Two-buck Chuck in Trader Joe’s.
Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
What are your thoughts about plastic wine bottles?
Plastic wine bottles are another of my quixotic quests (like the Linux desktop). They are a terrific, non-traditional way to bottle wine that the wine business has shown almost no interest in. Plastic bottles — which are the same size as glass — were supposed to be the next big thing in the 1990s and again last decade, but nothing ever happened. Their advantages are obvious: Much lighter than glass, so cheaper transportation costs, more durable, and easier to recycle. But they never became popular. But then again, we’re still using corks, so why should I be surprised?
Can you return a bottle of wine to the store if it’s corked or off in some way?
Of course. Just make sure you have the receipt and return it in a timely manner. Having said that, some stores have goofy return policies where they’ll charge you a restocking fee or only issue store credit. And some stores, even though they say they’ll accept returns, get cranky about it. Then you know not to shop there again. As noted many times here before, the best independent retailers want your business over the long haul, so will be happy to take a flawed bottle back.
Aldi’s Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5
Is is possible? Has Aldi finally hit the private label jackpot with the $4 Evanta malbec? I think so.
The Evanta malbec ($4, purchased, 12.9%) comes as close to Aldi’s European wines for quality and value as any wine I’ve tasted that the chain sells in the U.S. It’s even on a par with the long gone and much lamented Vina Decana, which is probably the best value/quality wine the discount grocer has offered in this country.
The Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5. It offers better quality and more varietal character than many Argentine malbecs that cost $15 or $18, and there’s no chocolate cherry fake oak or too ripe fruit in an attempt to appeal to the so-called American palate. Instead, the Evanta has blueberry fruit, almost nuanced oak, and enough acidity so that you can tell it’s malbec and not fruit juice and vodka. Plus, it’s somehow fresh and not cloying, almost impossible to do with a wine at this price.
Highly recommended. This is the kind of wine to buy a case of and keep around the house. I’m going to do that, and I don’t much care for New World malbec. It’s that well made and that much of a value.
This week’s wine news: Ron Washam puts the sommelier scandal in focus, plus more on why wine scores don’t work and yet another examination of sparkling wine glasses
• “Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business:” Ron Washam, writing on Tim Atkin’s website, offers some much needed perspective on last fall’s sommelier scandal, in which a then-sommelier apparently gave a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the master sommelier exam to one of the candidates. “The wine world moves on,” he writes, “unconcerned with ethics and truth, as well it should. Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business. You don’t want to use them liberally, or at all, they pretty much destroy the ecosystem.” As Washam notes, the Court of Master Sommeliers has brushed the scandal under the rug, and sommeliers remain wine royalty. Is it any wonder that I worry about the future of the wine business?
• No more scores: Ian Cauble, writing in the Robb Report, hits scores firmly up the side of the head: “A high score doesn’t always mean the wine is excellent. …” he says, and then explains why. In this, his is one more voice trying to free us from the tyranny of 92 points. “Don’t assume the score tacked onto a shelf is Holy Writ,” he writes. “Drink and acquire what you like. Above all, remember that wine is about the land, the people who make it, and the friends with whom you enjoy it. A single score never defines the full story.” I could not have said that better myself, and I have been trying for almost 20 years.
First, Barbara Banke, the chairwoman of Jackson Family Wines, told Wine Business Monthly in February: The wine business “seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”
Second, the suggested retail price for the company’s flagship product, Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, is about $17. But you can find it for $10 or $12 without too much trouble, which no doubt causes much consternation at company headquarters.
Is a pattern emerging here?
The Jackson Family proposal for taxing European wine has nothing to do with free trade, the so-called “level playing field,” or any other political rhetoric. It has to do with profit – Jackson doesn’t want to sell $10 wine, so it doesn’t want anyone else to sell it, either.
Which I completely understand. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. So why hide the company’s true intentions behind complaints about unfair trade? Because who would agree to tax $10 European wine to protect one company’s profits? Hardly anyone who doesn’t work for that company.
Which brings us to the Wine Curmudgeon’s wine supply and demand primer. California’s role in the world wine market is important certainly, accounting for about 280 million cases a year. But it’s not as important as Californians like to think. The French, Spanish, and Italians combine for almost 1.8 billion cases a year, while the total production of Chile plus Argentina is some 11 percent higher than California’s.
So what makes anyone think that the so-called “level playing field” would change anything? The rest of the world already has plenty of wine of equal quality and that will probably still cost less, even without the offending tariffs and subsidies. Why would a European buy €15 or €20 California wine (assuming anyone in California could sell it for that little, given California’s pricing structure) when they could still buy €8 or €10 European wine in the supermarket?
And this assumes that California can somehow produce enough wine to export. Which, as I mentioned in the first post, it doesn’t. We drink almost all the wine made in the U.S. in the U.S., and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon. They’re pulling out vines in California, not planting new ones to sell cabernet sauvignon to France and sauvignon blanc to Chile.
So there may not be much demand in the rest of the world for California wine, even if there was enough supply to export it, tariffs or no. The Jackson Family proposal ignores those basics, because it doesn’t help their argument.
Fortunately for those of us who care about wine and not wine company profits, I’m here to make sure those basics aren’t ignored.
The Dauvissat Chablis is chardonnay that shows why that French region makes such terrific white wine
There are very few values left in high-end French wine (to say nothing of not-so-high-end French wine). But you can still find value from Chablis in Burgundy, like the Dauvissat Chablis.
Yes, $27 seems like a lot to pay for value. But the Dauvissat Chablis ($27, purchased, 12%) is the kind of wine that offers more than you expect. Chablis is chardonnay, but chardonnay usually made with little or no oak. Hence, it’s not only much different from New World chardonnay, much of which is dripping with oak, but it’s also much different from other white Burgundies. That means a steely, very mineral quality, with almost no vanilla or toastiness, but a wine that can still be rich and full.
In other words, chardonnay for those of us who appreciate fruit and less winemaking. The Dauvissat Chablis is just that: Fresh and crisp, with lots of tart green apple fruit, lots of that wonderful Chablis minerality, and nary oak anywhere. The wine combines Chablis tradition, so that it’s clean and almost stony, but with more New World-style and less subtle fruit. It’s an impressive combination, and especially at a price that usually buys very ordinary white Burgundy or even less impressive Napa chardonnay.
Highly recommended, and should age for at least a decade. This is just the bottle for anyone who wants a white wine for Mother’s Day that is more than buttery and caramel.
Four suggestions — red, white, rose, and sparkling — for Mother’s Day wine 2019
Mother’s Day wine 2019: The 13th time we’ve toasted Mom on the blog, and always with an eye toward value and quality. Isn’t that how Mom raised you? Our Mother’s Day wine gift giving guidelines are here; the idea is to please your mother and not yourself. Because it is Mother’s Day, isn’t it?
These Mother’s Day wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:
• Birichino Malvasia Bianca 2015 ($17, purchased, 13%): This California white is wine geek worthy, that doesn’t mean others won’t like it. It offers all the character the malavasia bianca grape can give (floral, honey, a little orange); that it still has structure and acidity after more than four years is amazing.
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): This Spanish bubbly has the requisite cava character — tart lemon and green apple fruit and a bit of minerality. It’s a step up from what Freixenet has become, and at the same price. Imported by Mack & Schuhle
• Ferraton Père & Fils Samorëns Rose 2018 ($13, sample, 13.5%): This French pink is consistent — a little heavier than Provence rose and more red Rhone in style (cherry instead of berry fruit). But it’s also consistently well made. Imported by Sera Imports
The De Chanceny Cremant Brut Rose is pink French bubbly just in time for Mother’s Day
The first time the Wine Curmudgeon tasted this French sparkling wine, it was apparently corked – flawed thanks to the chemical TCA, which muted the flavors and gave it the faint aroma of wet newspaper. Hardly pleasant at all.
The De Chanceny is made with caberent franc, a red grape, in the Loire region of France, using the same technique as much more expensive Champagne. It’s usually a value, about one-third the price of comparable Champagne, and that’s true here. Look for berry aromas, lots of ripe black cherry fruit mixed with some pleasant tartness, terrific, tight bubbles, and a crisp, clean finish. It’s not as luxurious or yeasty as Champagne, but it’s not supposed to be.
In this, it’s food wine – Mother’s Day brunch certainly, but also a bottle for mom to enjoy when all the celebrating is over and she’s on her own again.
This week’s wine news: An airline investigates wine thefts, plus the growth of direct to consumer wine shipping and a plea for more truthful wine advertising
• Missing airline wine: Employees of Cathay Pacific airlines are being investigated for stealing sparkling wine, as well as ice cream and cutlery. The story is vague about what was actually stolen, and this may be more about a labor dispute than theft, but the point is well taken. As we’ve seen on the blog many times, if you’re going to commit a crime with wine, steal the good stuff. What’s the point of swiping the wretched plonk that those of us in economy have to drink?
• Direct to consumers: Tom Mullen, writing on Forbes.com, gives a level-headed account of the history of direct-to-consumer wine sales in the U.S. – how it became possible for most of us to buy wine directly from a winery, bypassing retailers and distributors. The piece is a bit long, but any mainstream article that calls U.S. wine laws “sometimes archaic” and spends time discussing the history of Missouri wine is well worth reading.
• More truth, less artisan: “I see far too many industrial brands calling themselves ‘artisanal,’ ‘family-owned’ or claiming their wines are ‘hand-crafted’ when they are anything but.” No, that’s not the WC ranting, but Dwight Furrow in Edible Arts. His argument is passionate but logical: The “issue isn’t whether there is an exact cut off point for what counts as artisanal. What is obvious is that wineries with annual case production levels over 50,000—enough to supply large retail stores—are unlikely to use artisanal methods. To claim they do is just false advertising.” His point matters more than ever as younger people, who are more sophisticated about advertising than their parents and grandparents, may be turning away from wine because they see those claims as hooey.