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Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

The Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to Read More »

NFL

Once more into the Super Bowl breach

One of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and Read More »

Blue-Apron-Wine

Blue Apron wine: Disappointing and depressing

This was going to be a glowing post about the wine program at Blue Apron, the home delivery service that supplies recipes and ingredients for home cooks who want to try something Read More »

wineofweek

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

It’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have Read More »

winenews

Winebits 423: Kroger wine, direct shipping, Bordeaux

• The big get richer: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kroger wants to contract management of its wine and beer departments to Southern Wine & Spirits, the biggest distributor in Read More »

Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

winereview

affordable red BordeauxThe Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to teach the world to ignore French wine. It’s not just that so much Bordeaux is overpriced and underwhelming, but that the Bordelais are in such denial about it. We just need a new marketing company!

That’s why I was so excited last week, during a Bordeaux tasting in Dallas organized by the Spec’s retail chain, to find a handful of $15 to $20 wines that were worth buying. Granted, that’s still more than I wish they cost, and those at the $20 end were pushing the price/value barrier, but it’s a start. That’s because the couple of times I mentioned price to producers at the event, they looked at me as if I was crazy. They truly don’t understand that they have priced themselves out of the reach of almost all U.S. wine drinkers, and I guess no one noticed that only 9 of the 60 or wines at the tasting cost less than $30.

The best affordable wine at the event, and perhaps the best under $20 red Bordeaux I have tasted in years, was the 2011 Chateau Ampelia ($17, sample, 13.5%), made by from the seventh generation Despagne winemaking family. It’s a blend of 95 percent merlot and five percent cabernet franc, and tastes not only like it’s worth that much money, but is honest in its approach. That means it doesn’t tart up the fruit to appeal to U.S. drinkers, so that the merlot tastes like merlot, the cabernet franc adds a little heft, and it’s not a too fruity malbec. Look for red fruit, a bit of spice, and a wine that will age for a couple of more years. Highly recommended.

Also worth trying: the Chateau Croix Mouton ($17, sample, 13.5%), not quite as impressive as the Ampelia, but with ripe fruit and French style; and the Chateau Puygueraud ($20, sample, 14%), an old standby with fresh fruit and an almost herbal aroma — would that it cost a couple of bucks less.

Finally, to be fair, the quality of almost all the wines was tremendous, Bordeaux as it should be — incredible fruit, top-notch winemaking, and everything that is wonderful about French wine. The 2011 Chateau Clinet was earthy, peppery, deep, and full, all I could have hoped for. That it costs $90 was the only problem.

Once more into the Super Bowl breach

NFL

super bowlOne of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and New Year’s, both of which are actually pretty good days for traffic.

The Wine Curmudgeon does not know why this is, but I do know that it annoys the hell out of me. I am an ex-sportswriter who was so worn out by pro sports that the only thing I still pay attention to is baseball and my Chicago Cubs, and one can argue that the Cubs are not sports or very professional.

So the country’s obsession with the Super Bowl leaves me at a loss. I haven’t watched the game since 1986, which is more or less the last time I got paid to watch it.

Nevertheless, because so many of you do care, I offer you this wine story about the Super Bowl from the New York Times — “Wine Here! A Football Bud Gets Competition,” which includes a cartoon as badly conceived as that headline and this truly dreadful lede: “Beer and football may go together like wine and cheese. But lately more and more people seem be favoring a Bordeaux over a Bud Light.”

Which would have made me rise from the copy desk, pica pole in hand, to chase down the offending reporter (if my pal Johnny D. Boggs hadn’t already forcefully reprimanded the miscreant).

The point of all this is that since the game is being played in suburban San Francisco, which is in wine country, there must be a wine angle to the Super Bowl (even if Bordeaux is a French wine region). To the reporter’s credit, he quotes an expert, some former NFL types, and a wine person or two. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the story any more interesting, and it’s way too long, but if you’re on deadline and the composing room is screaming for the copy, you spell check it, slap a headline on it, and hope for the best.

Right, Johnny?

Blue Apron wine: Disappointing and depressing

Blue-Apron-Wine

blue apron wineThis was going to be a glowing post about the wine program at Blue Apron, the home delivery service that supplies recipes and ingredients for home cooks who want to try something more adventurous than Wednesday night meatloaf. When Blue Apron wine debuted last fall, giving its customers the opportunity to buy wine paired for its recipes, I thought: “Finally. Someone in the food business understands wine.”

Which turned out to be as far from the truth as possible. The six Blue Apron wines that I tasted (all samples) were poorly made, rarely varietally correct, mostly old and worn out, and apparently came from a bulk house whose website seems more excited about label design than wine quality. Adding to the aggravation: I emailed Blue Apron requesting an interview in October, and was told to submit my questions in writing because its executives didn’t do interviews. I’m still waiting for the answers to my questions; maybe they didn’t want to tell me what I found out by tasting the wine (and I hope that the conscientious PR woman who sent the samples doesn’t get fired,  because none of this is her fault).

How depressing was my Blue Apron wine experience? The best tasting wine was a South African pinotage, and one rarely gets to say that about pinotage. Besides, if you’re trying to teach foodies about wine, why would you send them pinotage, a grape that is difficult to make into quality wine and isn’t widely available? The pinot noir, labeled Hilliard Bruce but vinted and bottled at the bulk company, was bland and faded. A Lodi vermentino tasted as much like the Italian grape as a crayon does, and a California sauvignon blanc was green, stemmy, and bitter with almost no sauvignon blanc fruit. The less said about the Spanish monastrell and California chardonnay the better.

In the end, the Blue Apron wine was no better than the wine club plonk I tasted last fall. If Blue Apron treated its food the way it treats its wine, it would not be a $2 billion company and startup darling.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that Blue Apron wine has nothing to do with wine and everything with what marketers call adding value to the product. For an extra $65.99 a month, they’ll send you six “incredible” bottles that will “complement your upcoming Blue Apron meals.” In this, the company is giving its customers something they wouldn’t or couldn’t do on their own. If most Blue Apron customers subscribe because they love food and cooking, they’re less likely to know what incredible tastes like or how wine complements a meal. So six bottles (even 500-ml ones, about two-thirds of normal) for $10 each? Sign me up.

Which means Blue Apron wine is about selling Blue Apron and very little about teaching anyone about wine. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I really wanted to believe Blue Apron wine was the real thing. Even a curmudgeon has hopes.

Finally, to anyone who has subscribed to Blue Apron wine and wonders if all wine tastes like this, no, it doesn’t. The next time you want to pair your Blue Apron Lebanese Arayes (filled pitas), buy a $10 Bogle sauvingon blanc instead of the recommended Blue Apron sauvignon blanc. The Bogle tastes like real wine, and you get an extra couple of glasses for the same price.

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