Winebits 586: Regional wine, attack of the nutria, and wine and history

regional wine

“Wine grapes? They sound tasty.”

This week’s wine news: Regional wine hits the mainstream again, plus the nutria may invade wine country, and wine’s role in the beginning of civilization

Wine regions: One of the most important changes in wine has been the acceptance of local, which showed up again recently on a mainstream website called Culture CheatSheet. It lists 15 of what it calls “underrated” wine regions, and none of them are in California. But they are in New Mexico, Utah, and Iowa. “Many emerging wine countries have fewer crowds than Napa and more character than your average vacation spot,” it notes, and who am I to argue? If someone had told me, all those years ago, that our work with Drink Local would lead to this, I would have scoffed.

Watch out for the nutria: Years ago, when I was a young newspaperman in south Louisiana, someone wanted to make a science fiction movie, “The attack of the nutria.” Turns out the guy’s idea could turn into a horror story for some in California’s wine country. The nutria, which is a rodent the size of a beaver, has taken up residence in the state’s San Joaquin Valley. And, as you probably have guessed by now, it tears up everything in its path. “Within five years, the state estimates there could be nearly a quarter million nutria chewing up California’s endangered wetlands,” reports the story. The good news is that the valley is nowhere near the state’s leading wine regions. The bad news is the nutria likes to travel. Young nutria are edible, and I have a couple of recopies from my Louisiana days if anyone in California interested.

Wine and history: The author of a new book says wine was the “catalyst of the birth of Western civilization.” John Mahoney, in “Wine: The Source of Civilization,” suggests that at the end of the final Ice Age, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that they gave up their nomadic lifestyle for farming. Recent analyses of Neolithic pottery dating to 6000 BC found residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.

Wine advice for 53 women, as only the WC can offer it

wine advice

“So you need to find out where to go to read about quality cheap wine?”

Quality wine advice isn’t about toasty and oaky; it’s about helping you find wine you enjoy

The audience – 53 women in a fashionable historic home in Dallas – wasn’t the Wine Curmudgeon’s usual crowd. But their enthusiasm for wine, as well as their questions and comments, made me feel right at home.

I spoke to a group called Mes Amies; my charge was to share with them a view of the wine world that wasn’t about toasty and oaky. In this, I was reminded that the wine business can confuse and annoy even its best customers – and that they aren’t necessarily happy about it.

Among their questions and concerns:

• What if I like a wine and my friend doesn’t? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter. One of wine’s great joys is the almost infinite number of styles, and you don’t have to enjoy every one. You just need to keep trying as many as you can to find those you do enjoy.

• Are screwcap wines of decent quality? Yes. Next question. That I still get asked this question 20 years after screwcaps hit the mainstream speaks to how screwed up (bad pun fully intended) the wine business is about closures.

• The European wine conundrum, or why can I drink so much wine made in Europe and not feel it the way I do with California wine? This is usually part of the sulfites old wive’s tale, in which California producers load their wines up to make us all sick. The answer has nothing do with sulfites; it’s about lower alcohol levels in European wine and drinking them during a 3-hour lunch, compared to a 20-minute dinner in the states, crammed down with three glasses of 14 ½ percent red wine. Which one do you think will make you feel worse?

• How can we learn about quality cheap wine? I’m always flattered when I’m asked this, since I get a chance to plug the blog. But what does it say about the wine business that theses women, most of whom are regular wine drinkers, have to ask me and can’t find out elsewhere?

Mini-reviews 119: OZV rose, Toad Hollow, Dupeuble, Chinon

OZV roseReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month – two California and two French.

Oak Ridge OZV Rose 2018 ($15, sample, 13.8%): This California pink, made with zinfandel, is a heavier, red wine-style rose, that needs food. Look for crisp, almost back fruit is crisp.

Toad Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($17, sample, 13.9%): Major winemaking going on with this California red. Somehow, it’s sweet and tart at the same time, with nary a tannin in sight. One more example of focus group wine aimed at people who don’t drink wine.

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc 2017 ($18, purchased, 13%): This French white is chardonnay from the Beaujolais region, not something you see much on store shelves. It’s well made, with green apple fruit, some minerality, a touch of mouth feel, but that it costs $18 speaks to the dearth of quality chardonnay that tastes like chardonnay at less than this price. Imported by Kermit Lynch

Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir 2015 ($17, purchased, 13%): French red made with cabernet franc from the Loire that is a little fruitier (black cherry?) than I expected, and not quite as earthy. But well made and enjoyable, and a food wine for barbecues and steak frites. Imported by Kermit Lynch

Three reasons to be optimistic about the future of the wine business

wine business futureMaybe there are reasons not to be so doomy and gloomy about the future of the wine business

Mike Dunne, one of the most perceptive people I know in the wine business, left a comment recently that not all is doom and gloom with wine. The Wine Curmudgeon has been especially doomy and gloomy about wine’s future, and with good reason. Just when it seems like the news can’t get any worse, it does.  How does Constellation, one of the smartest companies in the business, overvalue assets it’s selling by a billion dollars?

Still, Mike being Mike, his comment made me ponder. Does he see something that I don’t? In one respect, Mike is completely correct – the wine business isn’t going to vanish tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe young people, who currently seem as interested in wine as I do in the Kardashians, will eventually change their minds. I’m always willing to admit I’m wrong — and hope I am, in this case.

So, given those two conditions, maybe there are three reasons for optimism that I have overlooked:

• The re-emergence of lower alcohol wines. We won the battle against 15 percent chardonnay and 16 percent cabernet sauvigon at the end of the recession, and most wines today are made with more or less normal alcohol levels. If wine drinkers can convince producers we don’t want our rose to kick like tequila, then maybe we can convince them that smooth and sweet isn’t a good idea, either.

• Rose’s success. When I started the blog, rose was a dirty word and difficult to find in shops, stores, and restaurants. The wine business told us to drink white zinfandel and lump it. Today, white zinfandel is an afterthought and even the biggest of Big Wine companies are scurrying to produce what they call dry rose. So we won that one, too.

• Reform in the three-tier system, which limits the wine we can buy and where we can buy it, and decides how much we pay for it. I recently exchanged emails with the blog’s unofficial liquor law attorney, and he was excited about a Connecticut three-tier case that upheld that state’s minimum pricing law. Why excited, since three-tier won the case? Because, said the attorney, the appeals court’s decision was so silly and went against so much precedent that it could be overturned by the Supreme Court. Throw in the Tennessee case currently in front of the Supreme Court, and we have a chance to fire two silver bullets into three-tier’s body.

Wine of the week: Michel-Schlumberger Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Michel-Schlumberger Sauvignon BlancThe Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is entry level white wine that shows what a top-notch producer can do for $10

Michel-Schulumberger is a top-notch California producer that still makes entry-level wines – a wonderfully old-fashioned approach that has gone out of style thanks to premiumization and California real estate prices. I’ve praised the $15 red blend, and the Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is just as well done.

The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is varietally correct and well-made California sauvignon blanc. It doesn’t taste like it came from New Zealand or was tarted up with oak or sugar to get a higher score or to impress a focus group. It’s just what it should be for a wine at this price: Fresh and clean, with that tell-tale grassy aroma that earmarks California sauvignon blanc, some lime fruit in the middle, and a bit of minerality on the back.

How does the winery do it? This isn’t a $50 estate wine; rather, it’s a California appellation, where the grapes come from the less expensive parts of the state and the winery crafts something that’s worth buying and drinking for $10. Would that more producers still did this.

Winebits 585: Playboy wine, Spanish wine, winespeak

Playboy wineThis week’s wine news: Dave McIntyre takes on Playboy wine, plus a potential link between Spanish wine and health and how to avoid winespeak

Buy the bunny? Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post tries Playboy wine (yes, that Playboy) and finds it worth drinking – and in a review written without any horrible puns. Which, of course, is why Dave is one of the best wine columnists in the country. Who else would resist that temptation? Writes Dave: “Were there ‘flavors of cherry and dark fruits’ and spice notes of vanilla and toasty oak on the finish, as the press release boasted? Perhaps. I was impressed by the wine’s balance of fruit and acidity. It was lighter than I expected, rather than the heavy, confected wines all too common these days.”

Of course it’s the wine: Spain, according to several international studies, is the healthiest country in the world. The chart, from Wine Industry Insight, doesn’t discuss why Spain is No. 1 and the U.S. is No. 35, but the Wine Curmudgeon has a thought: Could it have something to do with the quality of each country’s cheap wine? Call it the WC cheap wine and health index; there have been many more more Spanish wines on the blog in its 11 ½ year history than U.S. wines.

Understanding winespeak: Alex Delany, writing for a website called Basically, says “Despite my best intentions, I sometimes hear wine words coming out of my mouth and have an out-of-body experience. ‘Hey, uh, you’re sounding a little insufferable, dude,’ I say to myself. I don’t want to be that guy. And neither do you.” How can I not recommend a piece that starts like that? His advice is good, makes sense, and includes what to do about the dreaded term, “mouth feel.”

Winecast 36: Rose winemaker Charles Bieler

Charles Bieler

Charles Bieler, right, and his father Philippe. They’re a long way from the pink Cadillac.

Charles Bieler is one of the best rose maker in the world; more importantly, he is one of the reasons the rose boom exists. For which we are all most grateful.

Charles Bieler was between jobs in the late 1990s when his father suggested Charles help sell the family rose in the U.S. Charles took up the challenge, painted a Cadillac pink, and traveled the country to convince retailers and restaurants to sell dry pink wine. As Charles says, that was at a time when everyone thought rose was sweet, and he truly wondered if dry rose had a future in the U.S.

Which, of course, it did. We talk about the rose boom, the pink Cadillac trip, and the challenges facing rose today — with advice on how to find the best cheap pink.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 22 minutes long and takes up 8.4 megabytes. This is longer than usual, but Charles is passionate about the subject. The sound quality is very good; Skype’s new recording feature still has some bugs, since it is a Microsoft product.