Wine of the week: Le Charmel Pinot Noir 2016

Le Charmel pinot noirThe Le Charmel pinot noir is a pleasant, enjoyable, and lighter red wine that offers more quality than it costs

Mel Masters has been making wine in France almost as long as I’ve been writing about it, which should give you an idea of how serious this expatriate Englishman is about his craft. Best yet, Masters has focused on affordable quality wine like the Le Charmel pinot noir.

The Le Charmel pinot noir ($12, sample, 13%) comes from the Languedoc in southern France, so don’t expect any high-end Burgundian sophistication. Even though the aroma is a touch earthy, there is little classical pinot noir varietal character. Having said that, it is more than $12 worth of wine – a pleasant, enjoyable, and lighter red, with a sort of dried cherry fruit flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the soft tannins or the hint of acidity that keeps the wine from tasting like it was made in bulk in California.

In fact, the Le Charmel is the kind of inexpensive pinot noir that we rarely see made in this country anymore; and no, the Mark West is not what it once was. Drink this on its own if you want a glass of wine after work, and you can even chill it a little. It would also pair with weeknight meatloaf, as well as weekend hamburgers.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.

Winebits 537: Good news – and a conundrum – for regional wine

regional wineThis week’s wine news: A regional wine roundup, featuring more deserved good news and one intriguing conundrum

Bring on the regional wine: Jessica Dupuy, perhaps the top regional wine writer in the country, tells Sommelier’s Guild readers that “While California, Washington, and Oregon continue leading in both sales and overall familiarity, an exponential increase in wine production and vineyard plantings in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and beyond has started to paint a more definitive picture of the future of American wine.” Her best bests for top regional wine? Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.

Bring on Michigan wine: Paul Vigna, another top regional wine journalist, agrees about Michigan: “Now I’m a believer, having tried samples of everything from still wines to sparkling, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewurztraminer.” This is no surprise to those of who have followed the state’s success, despite weather that doesn’t always cooperate and the state’s up and down economic climate.

But not at Cooper’s Hawk: I met Tim McEnery about the same time we started Drink Local Wine; Tim had a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Cooper’s Hawk that made wine. But it wasn’t Illinois wine – it was made in Illinois using grapes from California. Tim’s business model was based on the assumption consumers didn’t especially care where the wine was from. Needless to say, we had a discussion or two about the idea. Today, as Mike Veseth notes in the Wine Economist, Cooper’s Hawk is the 34th biggest winery in the country (bigger than Hall of Fame regular McManis) with 30 locations in 30 states. Cooper’s Hawk has always been a conundrum for those of us who support regional wine, since there’s nothing particularly local about the product. What does its success say about the drink local movement, which has also had its share of successes?

Back label wine descriptions: What the jumble and winespeak on the back label really means

Back label wine descriptionsBack label wine descriptions can be as confusing as anything written by wine critics

The recent post about wine critics and their almost indecipherable wine descriptions reminded me that they aren’t the only ones whose goal is confusion and obfuscation. We also have back label wine descriptions for that.

In fact, back label wine descriptions may be more annoying, since their job is to help sell the wine. Who wants to buy a wine where the back label promises something that isn’t there? I’m not the only one flustered by this; a marketing official for one of the largest wine companies in the world told me it bothers good marketers, too. But many of the biggest producers contract the back label writing to third parties, so they’re stuck with what they get.

The other annoying thing? Yes, many of the worst examples come from cheap wine, but many also come from wine costing as much as $25. And what does that say about the $25 wine?

The following are taken from actual back label wine descriptions, with my explanation of what they really mean:

• Silky mouth feel: “We’ve removed the acidity and tannins and added sugar to cover up anything remotely resembling either, just in case any is still in the wine.”

• Unusual fruits like lychee nut and guava: Most wine drinkers probably haven’t tasted those, so the description does two things – first, shows that even a $6 bottle of wine can be exotic. Second, that the wine is deep and complex, even when it only costs $6. So shut up and buy it already. But then there is the other side of the descriptor.

• An alluring hint. … : “The flavor isn’t actually there, but if we suggest it, you’ll probably taste it and think the wine is better than it is.”

• Robust, with intense, dark fruits: “We’ve added as much Mega Purple as humanly possible.”

• A mocha finish with lingering oak: Regular readers here know what that is without any help from me – scorching amounts of fake oak, and then even more. And maybe even a little bit more just to be on the safe side.

• Freshly picked peaches (or apricots or even red fruit like cherries): “You’re damn right it’s sweet. But we’re not going to say that, are we?”

• A long, stony finish: “We couldn’t get rid of that odd, bitter taste in the wine, and we didn’t want to add any more sugar. So we want you to think that the bitterness is a good thing.”

Wine review: Four Target California Roots wines

Target California Roots winesThese four Target California Roots wines don’t do anything to help the cause, and three of them aren’t even worth the $5 they cost

The Wine Curmudgeon wanted to write a glowing, “run out and buy these wines” review. Those of us who care about cheap wine need the good news. But these four Target California Roots wines aren’t much better than the $3 junk I tasted earlier this year – sadly, more marketing hype than wine, and where the back labels are of higher quality than the wine.

For instance, why does $5 wine have a cork? Why do the bottles have a punt (albeit shallow)? Why is the phrase “vinted in the Golden State” on every bottle? Why should I care? Why is not one of the wines labeled sweet, including the moscato, when my mouth felt like cotton candy at the end of the tasting?

The wines were purchased; each cost $5. My Target didn’t have the red blend, the fifth wine. Read and weep:

California Roots Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (13.5%): Smells like boysenberry juice, tastes too much like children’s cough syrup, and finishes with that old Big Wine standby, charred chocolate fake oak. It’s not so much that it doesn’t taste like cabernet, but that it’s overpriced at $5.

California Roots Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%): This smells like chardonnay, with lots of green apples, and I had high hopes I could write something nice. But the wine is so thin – diluted apple juice for babies? – that it had almost no flavor at all, save for a bit of sweetness. I’ve never tasted chardonnay made in the style of cheap, inoffensive pinot grigo.

California Roots Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%): Professional and competent wine, even if it’s not exactly pinot grigio. Think Costco’s Kirkland pinot grigio (pears and tonic water), but with appropriate amounts of sugar to cover up any bitterness and to round out the rough spots.

California Roots Moscato 2016 (10%): Not quite as sweet as white zinfandel, but that’s the approach. There’s a hint of the characteristic orange aroma of the muscat family, but everything else is sugar. And then a little more sugar just to be on the safe side.

Wine sales in Texas after the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart lawsuit

Oh no! These shelves will be empty! Poor, poor pitiful us.

We’ll still be able to buy quality wine in Texas after the Walmart lawsuit, no matter what the panic mongers are telling us

Yes, it’s doom and gloom here in Texas after last month’s ruling that ended the unconstitutional monopoly that the state’s liquor store owners have enjoyed for more than 40 years. How will we ever be able to buy something besides Barefoot ever again?

“So while these new rulings, if enacted in Texas, might free up the market and lower prices they could ultimately harm the overall quality of the Texas wine market by lessening the overall total wine selection.”

Which, of course, we will. The naysayers, prominently quoted in the Wine-searcher.com piece quoted above, make it sound like allowing Walmart to open liquor stores is the beginning of the end: “Some of the most-legislated markets – such as New York and Texas – also have the most vibrant wine markets because these laws have forced owners to specialise and have steered fine-wine buyers to wine-focused independents and chains.”

Excuse me while I reach for my hyperbole eraser.

Nothing will change in Texas if and when Walmart, Kroger, and any other national chain opens standalone liquor stores. Yes, I’ll be able to buy a fifth of bourbon when I go to the grocery store, but that’s about it. I’m not even sure prices will go down; has anyone noticed the foolishness behind supermarket wine pricing?

Some independent retailers, shorn of the monopoly that has protected them since the state’s retail lobby “convinced” the Legislature to pass unconstitutional legislation in the early 1970s, might go out of business. But it’s difficult to feel sorry for any business that stays afloat because a law was designed to stop it from failing.

Know three things about Texas wine sales after the Walmart lawsuit:

• Supermarkets sell spirits in Florida and California; I haven’t heard anyone complain they can’t buy a quality bottle of wine in either state. Right, Kermit Lynch?

• Some small Texas retailers don’t need the monopoly – they have thrived selling quality wine and offering quality service, knowing those are more effective weapons than an unconstitutional law. Pogo’s in Dallas, the not-related Wine Merchants in Austin and Houston, and Put a Cork in It in Fort Worth don’t need the Legislature to protect them.

• The independent pet store was supposed to go out of business in the early 2000s, thanks to national chain retailers like Walmart and PetsMart and more pet products in grocery stores. Sound familiar? But there may be more independent pet stores in the U.S. today than there were then.

So no, I’m not worried about Walmart or Kroger or Target or whatever opening a liquor store and destroying my chance to buy quality wine. And anyone who reads the blog knows that if there was a reason to worry, I’d be the first one to write about it.

The other thing to know? If and when three-tier reform hits your state, you’ll read and hear the same dire warnings. And there won’t be any reason to believe them, either.

Wine of the week: Little James Basket Press White 2016

Little James Basket Press whiteThe Little James Basket Press white once again offers quality, value and terroir for $10

The Wine Curmudgeon has never been able to figure out why the Little James Basket Press white keeps improving in quality while its companion red keeps getting less interesting. One would think both would improve – or not.

The Little James Basket Press white ($10, purchased, 13%) is a sauvignon blanc and viognier blend from southern France. It’s made by Sainte Cosme, a top-notch Rhone winemaker that makes high-end wines that get critical raves (and which makes the red’s drop in quality even more disappointing). That the producer spends the time and effort to make $10 wine is as welcome as it is surprising.

This vintage of the white is fresher and more tart (lemon?) than the 2015, which means more sauvignon blanc character. The viognier lends a floral aroma; if it doesn’t soften the wine, it does balance it. What doesn’t it taste like? The pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc that it’s compared to on the importer’s website. It’s French, and doesn’t resemble Italian or New Zealand wine. Which it’s not supposed to anyway.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by The Winebow Group

Winebits 536: Cheap wine crisis, royal wedding wine, irrigation robots

cheap wine crisisThis week’s wine news: Cheap wine crisis continues with Acrobat sale, plus what will they drink at the royal wedding and robots may irrigate vineyards

Acrobat sold to high-end producer: Acrobat, the Oregon label owned by King Estates that specialized in wine costing less than $15, has been sold to California’s high-end Foley Family Wines. Why is this bad news for cheap wine drinkers? Because Foley, which describes itself as “a major producer, marketer and distributor of highly-acclaimed, handmade wines from some of the world’s greatest vineyards” did not buy Acrobat to continue selling quality Oregon pinot gris for $10 or $12. Expect to see price increases as Foley premiumizes the Acrobat wines, setting a niche for them between $18 and $22. The other sad part about this? I asked the King people a couple of years ago about the future of Acrobat, which was started to sell lower-priced wine, and they assured me Acrobat had a future with the company.

Bring on the British bubbly: The smart money is on Chapel Down, a British sparkling wine producer, as the wine for the upcoming Royal Wedding. Food Network reports that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will serve their guests bubbly from Chapel Down, the same English producer that provided the wine for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Prices are about what yoiu’d expect to pay for French Champagne – $50 a bottle for the ordinary stuff.

Irrigation robots: California grape growers, worried about drought and a labor shortage, may be able to use an irrigation system that needs minimal human input. Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery, or RAPID, uses a machine to monitor and adjust water emitters attached to irrigation lines. The RAPID robot will have GPS, so it can map its route around vineyards, and will rely on drone and satellite imagery to monitor the weather. It will also have a “grasping hand” so it can control the water emitters, increasing or decreasing the flow of water. The most efficient drip systems, which can be turned on and off remotely, always delivers the same amount of water.