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Mini-reviews 76: Four $20 (or so) wines worth buying

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, four whites Read More »

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Oregon and pinot noir

Or, how a state that everyone laughed at when it first started making wine has turned into one of the best regions in the world for pinot noir. That’s the subject of Read More »

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Wine of the week: Lamura Rosso 2013

Years ago, before the hipsters discovered Sicily, Lamura was about the only Sicilian producer with any kind of distribution. And even Lamura hedged its bets, marketing the wine as organic as much Read More »

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Winebits 400: Wine writing ethics edition

Who knew we’d have so much controversy about wine writing ethics? But an increasing number of wine writers don’t understand (if events this summer are any indication) that their first duty is Read More »

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Expensive wine 77: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012

Call it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous Read More »

Celebrating without Champagne

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champagneEven before the Champagne business adopted Stormtrooper 101 as its business model, its product was too expensive for almost all of us who buy wine. A decent bottle costs at least $30, and it’s probably closer to $40 by the time you find something interesting. So what’s a wine drinker to do who wants to celebrate with sparkling wine, but doesn’t want to buy Champagne?

Consider these alternatives (and if you’re confused, check out the blog’s sparkling wine FAQ):

• Look elsewhere in France: Champagne isn’t the only part of the country that produces sparkling wine, and the values elsewhere can sometimes be astounding. These wines, called cremant, include Louis Bouillot Brut Rose ($18, purchased, 12%). The Bouillot is from Burgundy, where there is no question of quality, and it’s made with the same kinds of grapes as Champagne. Look for tight bubbles, a little caramel, and muted strawberry fruit. Highly recommended.

• Go domestic: Big Wine comes through here, with Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington state (the same company that does table wine as Chateau Ste. Michelle). These sparklers are made in the Champagne style, so that the second fermentation is in the bottle, cost about $12, and are available in what seems like every grocery store in the country. If they aren’t complex wines, they usually deliver more than $12 worth of value.

• Spend a couple of dollars more for a better quality Prosecco: The surge in Prosecco’s popularity means a lot of ordinary wine is selling for $15, which can make it difficult to find value. Still, it’s out there, like the Valdo Prosecco Brut ($11, sample, 11%). It was much better than I expected, with more depth and character, a touch of yeast, and some sweet lemon fruit.

• Cava is your friend: Regular visitors know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, but it’s worth repeating — it may be the best wine value in the world. The Casa Pedro Domecq Cava Gran Campo Viejo Brut Reserva ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is a serious cava, with lots of apple fruit and lots of bubbles, and it will be gone before you know it.

The craft wine dilemma

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craft wine dilemma

Which is craft wine and which isn’t?

How do you describe a wine that isn’t made by a multi-national and that doesn’t sell millions of cases? Is craft wine the proper description? And, if it is, how do you prevent the multi-national from describing its product the same way?

That’s the craft wine dilemma, as producers try to find terms to separate their wine from mass-produced grocery store plonk — even if their wine isn’t all that different.

There is no legal definition of craft wine, and borrowing the term from beer doesn’t help. Craft beer, which is assumed to be made by small, independent producers, is driving what little growth there is in the beer business, but craft beer includes Shiner and its 6 million cases and Boston Beer’s Sam Adams and its $2.9 billion in sales. Both belong to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group, demonstrating how empty the term is. Consider (and allowing for a 24-can case of beer vs. a 12-bottle case of wine) that Shiner would be tied for 12th on Wine Business Monthly’s top 30 U.S. producers list, just ahead of Bogle, and Boston Beer would be among the top three or four biggest wine companies in the country by sales.

The Brewers Association trade group guidelines don’t help much either, offering lots of PR speak (“Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy”) and little else. Also complicating matters: The rash of lawsuits over the past year from disgruntled consumers suing craft brewers and distillers because their craft products don’t seem to be that much different from the products made by multi-nationals, save for higher prices. No wonder there was such a spirited discussion on Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog this summer about the subject, looking for the best way to describe what Wark calls wine made by a “small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery.”

The craft wine dilemma reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” If an 8 million case producer like Delicato Family Winery uses the term hand-crafted for some of its wine, does hand-crafted have any meaning? On the other hand, can a producer that mostly fits Wark’s definition be called a craft winery if its idea of quality is to make an overoaked fruit bomb designed to get 98 points and cost $100?

Establishing legal (or even trade group-agreed) definitions for craft and similar terms is the obvious solution, but most of the wine business will burn down the blog and carry me off with pitchforks for suggesting it. Still, given that some plaintiffs have won their craft definition lawsuits, maybe that idea is worth considering. Otherwise, it will be a long time before anyone solves the craft wine dilemma.

 

Winecast 25: Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyard

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randall grahmRandall Grahm of Boony Doon Vineyards has done plenty of audacious things during his three-decade winemaking career, whether holding a public funeral for the cork or publicly baiting various members of the Winestream Media. But his new project may be the most audacious yet — creating 10,000 new grape varieties from scratch in a California vineyard, and raising the money to do so through crowdfunding. In this, Grahm once again goes where no winemaker has gone before.

In the podcast, we talk about Grahm’s goal to raise $150,000 for the Popelouchum Vineyards in San Juan Batista, Calif., through crowdfunding — “It has been a learning experience, putting it most charitably” — and why terroir matters. In addition, Graham explains  how difficult it is to create new grape varieties, involving as it does a jeweler’s loupe, tweezers, and paper bags. There is also more Yiddish than we should have had, insights into the mission and pinotage grapes, and what it takes to convince people to donate money for something that won’t happen for years.

You can contribute to the Popelouchum project here; several of the premiums, starting at $100, allow you to name one of those new grape varieties after anyone you want, including yourself. Crowdfunding ends next week, and it was almost halfway toward its goal when we recorded the podcast on Wednesday.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 16 minutes long and takes up 15 megabytes. The sound quality is good, though there is a pause around the six-minute mark when I had to preempt the Wine Curmudgeon’s dogs from barking at the UPS man.

 

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