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Category Archives: California wine

Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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Kenwood Sauvignon BlancBig Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it should, it gets dumped or sold or ignored, and Kenwood is a prime example. It started as an independent, was bought by the same $100 million company that owns Korbel sparkling wine, and then sold to the $9 billion Pernod Ricard conglomerate a couple of years ago.

Along the way, and especially after Korbel bought it, quality suffered. Production was almost doubled and what had been a decent grocery store brand became the kind of wine I write cranky things about. Fortunately, Pernod Richard saw something that Korbel didn’t, and this vintage of the Kenwood sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) shows progress toward returning the brand to cheap wine quality.

The Kenwood sauvignon blanc tastes like it should, which I didn’t expect. Look for California grassiness, some citrus and tropical fruit, and a finish that is almost unpleasant but that ends so quickly that it doesn’t get in the way. Hopefully, more improvement will follow, and Kenwood will once again become the kind of wine you can buy in a grocery store without a second thought. It should also be around $10 in most supermarkets, another bonus.

One sign, though, that Big Wine will always be Big Wine: The back label suggests pairing the Kenwood sauvignon blanc with “spring roasted vegetable salad and herb-roasted fish.” My question? If I’m buying $10 wine in the grocery store, will I roast vegetables or fish (and especially fish)? I realize those pairings are there to give a cheap wine an upmarket cache, but do they really think they’re fooling anyone?

What’s wrong with California expensive wine?

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California expensive wineNothing, actually. But what happens when one of the world’s top wine writers picks only a handful of California labels as her best expensive wines in the world for 2015? If you’re a California expensive wine devotee, it’s time to panic, and many did on Twitter and elsewhere. If you have a little more perspective, Elin McCoy’s choices speak to how much great wine is made in the world, and how even those who buy pricey wine sometimes don’t understand the need to try something different.

McCoy’s list of the 50 best wines for $50 or less in 2015 had just seven wines from California. Excluding the six Champagnes on the list, that meant 7 of 44 — just 16 percent of the best expensive wine in the world — came from California. Is it any wonder so many howled so loudly? It’s one thing when I criticize California for making such ordinary, grocery-store cheap wine. But expensive wine? That’s the Napa and Sonoma reason for being, and if those regions don’t dominate lists like this, their supporters figure something must be wrong.

But as McCoy said when I asked her about it, “Those seven wines were more than from any other place but France, so I guess I don’t feel I neglected California too much.” And, she added, the list doesn’t have any wines from Chile, Argentina, and Washington state, which also make great wine.

Hence perspective, something too many American wine drinkers lack. Because it’s not enough to have 17 percent — it must be 50 or 60 percent or even more. Because, dammit, expensive California wine is the best wine in the world. Everyone knows that. And if you don’t, you don’t know anything about wine (and no, I’m not going to link to the blog posts that say that — no need to start the new year with a flame war).

Which is that lack of perspective. I’ve written many times that California makes the best wine in the world, cheap or expensive, but only when it wants to. The rest of the time, it’s content to make wine other people think it should make, be it a focus group or the Winestream Media. And if anyone complains, we get the speech in the previous paragraph.

Or, as one noted wine competition judge told me when we discussed this, “California wines have gotten boring, for the most part. Same ole, same ole, year in, year out. … I can appreciate the box they have built for themselves. Why mess with success? But no one wants to discuss it because we are all so close to those people and that industry, but the reason I love Old World wines so much is that they are interesting, with unexpected, often delightful, surprises. And every year, they are different.”

And difference brings perspective.

Wine of the week: Pinot Patch 2013

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pinot patchRegular visitors here know one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite laments: That it’s almost impossible to find $10 pinot noir that tastes remotely like pinot noir (or $20 or $30 or $40 pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir, but that’s another matter). There are several decent $10 wines that say pinot on the label, but they’re more fruity red blends than anything else.

So I was quite pleased to meet Aaron Inman, whose family owns Romililly Wines, which makes Pinot Patch pinot noir ($11, sample, 13.5%) because that’s one of the reasons for being for the wine — to make a quality, affordable pinot that tastes like pinot. This California red has berry fruit, but not so much that it tastes like a fruity red blend, as well as that hint of earthiness in the aroma that pinot should have. Best yet, the tannins are zingy and not harsh, so that the wine doesn’t remind you of cabernet sauvignon.

Yes, it’s a simple wine, but it doesn’t insult you by pretending to be something that it’s not. In $10 pinot, that’s a victory for the good guys. Drink this with any red meat (burgers on the grill?) and be glad that Inman gave up engineering in favor of winemaking. And check out the picture on the Pinot Patch website of the young Inman and his brother Jesse on their bikes. Those are the kind of people I want making my wine.

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