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Category Archives: Wine of the week

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?

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

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Chapoutier Bila-HautIt’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 much in common — both are controversial and both do things that they’re not supposed to do. Chapoutier, for instance, has gone into the riesling business, something a Rhone producer has probably never done in all of France’s recorded wine history.

They even understand the U.S. market in a way that too many of their competitors don’t. What they don’t have in common is the quality of the wine; Chapoutier’s are much better than anything Franzia does these days, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary. The Chapoutier Bila-Haut ($15, sample, 14%) is a case in point: It’s a varietally correct Rhone-style red blend from the less known Roussillon region in southern France that appeals to both the commercial side of the market — its premiumized price (almost twice what it costs in Europe) and fruit forward style — and to those of us who think Rhone-style wine should taste a certain way.

Look for a hint of the earthiness and rusticity that I appreciate, but which isn’t overwhelmed by lots of red fruit (cherry?) and a richer mouth feel that has more to do with the New World than the Old. Having said that, it was quite pleasant and enjoyable, a red wine that will come in handy as spring arrives and that I would buy at $12 or $13.

Wine of the week: Vionta Albarino 2014

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Vionta albarinoA couple of years ago, about the only people who knew about albarino were the ones who made it. And since they were in Spain, the idea of albarino didn’t bother most American wine drinkers.

Today, though, you can find albarino, a white wine, in a surprising number of U.S. wine retailers, a development that makes the Wine Curmudgeon smile. And why not? The Vionta Albarino ($14, purchased, 12.5%) is a welcome change of pace, existing somewhere between chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigo. Think of the relationship as a wine-related Venn diagram.

The Vionta albarino is an excellent example of how the grape does that — fresh lemon fruit (Meyer lemon?), a little something that comes off as earthy, and fresh herbs. It also offers, as quality albarinos do, a touch of savory and what aficionados call saltiness (since the wine is made near the sea).

The Vionta albarino is a food wine — pair it with rich, fresh, grilled or boiled seafood, so the flavors can play off each other. Highly recommended, and something I’ve bought twice since the first time. Who says all $15 wine is overpriced?

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