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Wine, food, and truth in labeling

Serious food writing may be more rare than serious wine writing. Usually, it’s poetic rhapsodizing about quinoa and kale, beatifying this week’s hot chef, and barely paying attention to quality, price, or Read More »

wineofweek

Wine of the week: Arrumaco Verdejo 2014

Want to find out what real verdejo tastes like? Want to strike a blow for quality, terroir and value? Then buy the Arrumaco Verdejo. Its importer, Handpicked Selections, is one of those Read More »

winenews

Winebits 435: Wine lawsuits and legal foolishness edition

This week, more legal foolishness from the world of alcohol and wine lawsuits. Because, of course, even those of us who didn’t write “Bleak House” and “The Pickwick Papers” see the humor Read More »

winereview

Five cheap Chiantis

One of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Read More »

podcastsradioslider

Winecast 26: Rich Cook, wine competition director

Rich Cook runs three wine competitions and he is an assistant director for four more. And that’s not even his real job; Rich makes his living as a public school music teacher. Read More »

Five cheap Chiantis

winereview

cheap chiantiOne of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Maybe because there is so much in Chianti in the world, or that it’s not popular with wine drinkers who are not of a certain age, or because the Italians just do it that way.

Regardless, these five cheap Chiantis – four cost $8 or less – are varietally correct, with sour cherry fruit and that certain tartness that identifies the wine as Italian, and they offer as much value as other red wines costing twice as much. Plus, they’re low in alcohol, which makes them an ideal red wine as the weather warms and spring turns into summer.

Pair these with any food remotely associated with red sauce or sausage, as well as almost anything grilled outdoors, including chicken, and the odd meatloaf or hamburger. And I speak from personal experience – these wines have more than once rescued an evening where circumstances forced me to eat corporate takeout pizza.

Melini Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%). Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%) from Aldi tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but “this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5. It’s simple and juicy, with a touch of cherry fruit, and softer than most of the rest of the wines in this post.

Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) may be the best cheap Chianti of the bunch, with more depth than the Melini, some earthiness, black pepper, and grip that’s rare in an $8 wine. Plus, the sour cherry and tart acidity are spot on, making this wine almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Caposaldi Chianti ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way that made so many of the Italian wines of my youth undrinkable. Almost as well done as the Straccali,

Placido Chianti ($8, purchased, 12.5%) is very, very simple, but still tastes like Chianti, a winemaking approach that California gave up on years ago in favor of lots and lots of sweet fruit regardless of what the wine should taste like. The Placido doesn’t insult the drinker, and if you’re stuck on the road late at night with one of those sodium- and gimmick-laden corporate pizzas, you’re in luck with this wine.

Winecast 26: Rich Cook, wine competition director

podcastsradioslider

rich cookRich Cook runs three wine competitions and he is an assistant director for four more. And that’s not even his real job; Rich makes his living as a public school music teacher.

In this, Rich brings a fine palate and a sensibility about wine that more people should have. So who better to talk about wine competitions and what wine drinkers can learn from them?

I know Rich from the Critic’s Challenge, where he is the assistant director to Robert Whitley and works with Robert on three other events. Rich also runs the Monterrey and Toast of the Coast competitions, as well as the San Diego County Fair home wine contest (which may be the most difficult kind of event to run).

We discussed how wine competitions work, something that doesn’t get enough attention in the wine world; what medals mean and how they are awarded; and how to tell if a particular competition’s results are relevant to you as a consumer. We also talked about the controversy surrounding competitions – are the results accurate or completely random.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 19 1/2 minutes long and takes up almost 19 megabytes. The sound quality is good, though there are a couple of spots where some outside noise gets in the way.

Google to WC: Maybe you don’t have to drop dead

google links

google linksThe good news about the new Google links edict, in which the search engine giant will penalize bloggers who use samples for their product reviews, is that it shouldn’t harm the Wine Curmudgeon or anyone else who is a legitimate wine writer. The bad news? That we have to trust Google – a highly secretive company that doesn’t tell anyone what it does or why it does it.

That’s the learned opinion of Stephen Kenwright, who has been parsing Google’s search algorithms since 2003 for Branded3, a consultancy in Leeds and London in the United Kingdom that helps companies boost their search results.

I contacted Kenwright after Google’s March samples announcement, and he didn’t disagree that there was reason to be concerned. “What you wrote,” he said, “made a lot of sense. Google’s guidelines are open to interpretation.”

So how legitimate was my fear that those of us who use samples were being lumped in with the sleazes and scumbags who trade in links for scam and profit? Links matter because their quality and quantity are crucial in getting the best search ranking from Google, and those of us who write on the Internet live and die by Google’s search rankings. A crummy search ranking, and you can’t find me no matter how good I am. Links also matter to the producers who send us samples, since Google’s new policy will penalize them as well – even though they aren’t trying to cheat the system.

Said Kenwright: “You’re writing a review– are you giving the best possible advice? Or is there no real reason for the review and the link to be there? Then you’ll probably be penalized. If you trust Google to do the right thing, it probably will.”

The key word, of course, is probably. Kenwright said Google’s targets are bloggers and companies who pile on links for no legitimate reason – a highly-ranked Mommy blogger, for instance, who suddenly reviews rifle scopes, or a well-read travel site for backpackers that for no particular reason starts doing luxury hotel reviews.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is my readership interested in this product?’ “ said Kenwright. “Do your readers expect to see this review on this site? The deciding factor is whether the reviews are genuine or not.”

So producers can keep sending samples to those of us who do legitimate wine reviews, and I can keep using those samples in my reviews without sending the blog crashing and burning to the bottom of the Internet.

I hope.

The headline on this post refers to the infamous 1975 New York Daily News headline during New York City’s bankruptcy crisis.

More about Google and wine blogging:
Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel
Google as the WC’s editor
Wine and sex

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