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Christopher Kimball: “Wine is too hard”

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christopher kimball wineGood news for those of us who care about wine. The past decade’s enthusiasm for food and home cooking, which has given us the slow food, local food, and the farm to table movements, as well as consumers paying attention to how their food is made, could soon come to wine.

“Someone needs to come along and make wine simple,” says Christopher Kimball, the proprietor of the America’s Test Kitchen empire, which includes TV and radio shows, cookbooks, and Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He’ll be in Dallas on Oct. 29 with the America’s Test Kitchen road show, part of a fall tour that would wear out a rock star.

“The problem,” says Kimball, “is that wine is too complicated. But someone will probably come along and fix that.”

His perspective is worth paying attention to, if only because Kimball is an intelligent and successful food person who says he was always confused by wine. Are you listening, Winestream Media?

“Wine is where cooking was in Julia’s era,” says Kimball, who was friends with Julia Child, the U.S. cooking icon. “It’s a hobby. If you tried to make one of Julia’s recipes, it could hard and complicated. That’s where wine is. It’s confusing and incredibly complex. Beer is simple. Wine isn’t. There are scores and terms and regions to learn. Does the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy really matter to most people?”

Hmmm. We’ve heard that before, haven’t we?

But Kimball, who finally got a handle on wine by forgetting the complicated stuff and focusing on what he wanted to drink, says wine is on the cusp of where food and cooking was at the end of the 20th century. That’s when the Food Network, a renewed interest in quality ingredients, and more people with more time to cook, made extra virgin olive oil — which almost no store carried when I started working in the newspaper business — a household staple and things like kale and quinoa started showing up in the most unlikely places.

The catch, Kimball says, “is that someone needs to come along and make wine simple in the way wine is simple for the French. You have it with every meal, like bread, and there are only two kinds, good and bad.” But he expects that to happen sooner, rather than later.

The Wine Curmudgeon is working for sooner.

For more on wine and America’s Test Kitchen:
America’s Test Kitchen finally figures out wine
America’s Test Kitchen and wine gadgets

Wine of the week: Moulin de Gassac Guilhem 2013

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Moulin de Gassia GuilhemThe Wine Curmudgeon is a sucker for wines made with less known grapes from less known parts of the world. That’s because the revolution in winemaking and grape growing technology over the past 20 years has allowed these regions to improve quality with grapes that aren’t in great demand. Hence, a much better chance of quality wine for less money.

The Guilhem ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is a case in point. It’s a white blend from a little known part of the Languedoc in southern France, and the Languedoc remains little known itself. The wine is made with grenache blanc, terret blanc, and sauvignon blanc. Those first two grapes are obscure even for wine geeks, and it’s not like this part of France is famous for sauvignon blanc, either.

The result is a Hall of Fame quality wine that is just €5 in France, and yet another example why so much of what we find on the Great Wall of Wine in the grocery store makes me crazy. The Guilhem bears some resemblance to a white Rhone blend, with white fruit aromas and some spiciness. But it’s not oily or heavy, instead featuring red apple crispness — almost juiciness — and just enough minerality to be noticeable. The bottle, chilled, was empty in a half hour, and I was irritated I hadn’t bought two of them.

In this, it’s the kind of wine that demonstrates the advantages of a quality, independent retailer. I bought it from Cody Upton, a long-time pal and one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know. Cody, who is working at Pogo’s in Dallas, asked me how much I wanted to spend — tongue firmly in cheek — and then walked right to this. Does customer service get any better than that?

Winebits 356: Big Wine edition

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wine news big wineBecause it’s always worth knowing what the six companies that control 60 percent of the U.S. wine business, plus their biggest competitors, are up to:

The biggest producer you’ve never heard of: Delicato Family Vineyards makes 5 million cases of wine a year, almost all of it Great Wall of Grocery store stuff, and almost all of it in anonymity. You might have heard of some of its brands, like Bota Box and Gnarly Head, but the winery itself is perfectly happy to be little known. That’s why this two-part interview (here and here) with Delicato president and CEO Chris Indelicato, conducted by the Shanken News Service is worthwhile. Indelicato talked about wine prices and that another big harvest in California this year will mean lower margins for producers, if not lower prices for consumers; that we’ll see more cheap pinot noir that doesn’t exactly taste like pinot noir because consumers want it; and that consumers are smarter than they used to be. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with doing Bota Box pinot noir and what Indelicato calls the consumer’s demand for soft — i.e., sweet — red, but who am I to argue with a 5 million case producer?

• Big companies, big results: Each year, the Impact trade magazine names its Blue Chip Brands, which have to meet growth and profit targets. Not surprisingly (at least for those of us paying attention), one of the Big Six, Constellation Brands, and Diageo, in the top 15, account for nearly one-third of the 2014  of Blue Chip Brands for beer, spirits, and wine. Constellation’s wines included Woodbridge, Black Box, Estancia, Ruffino, Kim Crawford, and Simi, though Diageo’s brands were all beer and spirits. I’d also mention that all but one of the Constellation wines cost $10 or less, but that would probably be preaching to the choir.

Big and getting bigger: The news release itself is close to useless, full of jargon and terms most of us don’t understand. But the gist is what matters: That Chile’s Concha y Toro, the biggest Latin American wine producer with $950 million in sales, is growing at a rate of 18 percent a year. That makes it one of the 15 biggest wine companies in the U.S. market, with more market share here than Diageo.  Again, this is a company that most wine drinkers don’t know (though they have likely heard of Fetzer, which Concha bought in 2011). In this, it’s another example of how the biggest companies continue to tighten their grip on the market.

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