Category Archives: Wine advice

Ask the WC 7: Winespeak, availability, Bordeaux


winespeakBecause the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.

Wine Curmudgeon:
You use the term structure for wine, which sounds like a lot of jargon to me. What does structure mean?
Confused by language

Dear Confused:
Think of a wine’s structure like the structure of a house. A house has to have a foundation, a floor, and a roof. Leave one of those things out, and you don’t have much of a house. A wine, regardless of price, needs structure, too, and that includes tannins, fruit, and acidity in the proper proportions. Leave one of those out, and it’s like a house with a crappy roof — livable, but why would you want to?

Hey Curmudge:
Where do you buy your wine? I know you try to find wines that are available, but how do you do it?
Curious consumer

Dear Curious:
I’m one of the few wine writers in the country who buys wine to review, and it’s probably more than half the wines I do. The rest come from samples that producers send, and that number has fallen significantly since the recession. I shop for wine at least once a week in two or three places. I go to grocery stores like Kroger and Albertson’s, independent wine shops (Jimmy’s and Pogo’s are two of the best), chain wine shops (we have Spec’s and Total Wine in Dallas), and specialty stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market. That way, I can compare prices, see who has what, and talk to retailers and customers. I enjoy this, not only because it’s part of a job that I like, but because I come from a long line of retailers, and learned to appreciate this stuff when I was a kid.

I have tried a few red Bordeauxs, and most are not very good in the $10-$20 range. I like many California cabernet sauvignons and red blends, and am not put off by the “earthiness” of French wines. But most of the Bordeauxs I’ve tried are just harsh and bitter. Any suggestions for reasonably priced Bordeaux would be appreciated.
Searching for French value

Dear Searching:
You aren’t alone — Bordeaux has priced most wine drinkers out of its market, whether from greed, infatuation with China, or French stubbornness. It’s almost impossible to find quality red Bordeaux for less than $20 a bottle, as you note (Chateau Bonnet and one or two others being the exception). Instead, we get poorly made wine, whether with unripe grapes or raw tannins — just like the bad old days. Ironically, we talked about this in my El Centro class last week, that the wines that most Americans used to drink to learn about wine are now too expensive for most Americans to drink.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 6: Box wine, wine closeouts, open wine
Ask the WC 5: Getting drunk, restaurant wine, wine reviews
Ask the WC 4: Green wine, screwcaps, mold

Dessert wine basics


dessert wine basicsDessert wine is the great mystery of the wine business, usually associated with “dotty old ladies or rich men with English accents,” as I wrote in the current issue of Bottom Line Personal (which has bought quite a bit of freelance from me lately). Give that I have done very little with dessert wine over the blog’s history, this piece gives me an opportunity to correct that oversight.

Highlights from the piece (click the link to the story for recommendations):

• The most common dessert wines are ports from Portugal and sherries from Spain, but dessert wines are made wherever wine is produced, from Australia to Canada to Hungary. Port and sherry are made with wine grapes, though port uses red grapes and sherry white. There are dry sherries, such as fino, but all port is sweet.

• International law doesn’t allow most ports or sherries made anywhere else in the world to be called by those names, so non-Portuguese ports and non-­Spanish sherries will be labeled as “dessert wine,” “port-style,” “sherry-style” or something similar.

• The production techniques for port and sherry are much more complicated than those for table wine and involve long aging (often years) and the addition of brandy or other alcohol to fortify them. That’s why they’re also called fortified wines.

• Dessert wines aren’t cheap, and some, like Sauternes, can cost hundreds of dollars (which may explain their absence here). But since a dessert wine serving is less than a table wine serving, one or two small glasses of port or sherry or whatever are more than sufficient. That means a $20 half-bottle can be the equivalent of a $10 or $15 full bottle of table wine.

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless


Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
Wine competitions and wine scores
Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart

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