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Expensive wine 81: Ridge Lytton Springs 2013

winereview

ridge lytton springsDollar for dollar, Ridge is probably the best winery in the U.S. This is doubly impressive given that it makes almost no white wine and most of the reds it makes are zinfandel. But quality will out, as the Ridge Lytton Springs demonstrates.

The Lytton Springs ($32, purchased, 14.3%) is an amazing wine, a zinfandel blend that includes just enough petite sirah, carignane, and mataro so it can’t be labeled zinfandel. Credit this to Ridge impresario Paul Draper’s sense of humor and winemaker John Olney’s sense of what needs to be done with the wine. Who knew one percent more petite sirah and one percent less zinfandel would make such a difference?

Look for lots of jammy black fruit with more oak than expected, but with pepper, acidity, and some herbal notes toward the finish. Best yet, there are even so-subtle tannins, something most zinfandels, even at this price, abandoned years ago and that lend structure to the all that fruit. This wine is a work in progress, and will only become more complete, as the fruit fades and it becomes spicier and deeper over the next couple of years.

Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for a red wine drinker who appreciates something just enough off the beaten path. I had the Ridge Lytton Springs with pot roast, and it was one of those pairings that explains why we do pairings. And Christmas prime rib would be terrific, too.

Expensive wine 80: Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2012

winereview

grgich hills chardonnayWant a classic example of Napa Valley chardonnay, with the just right amounts of fruit and oak, a proper mouth feel, balanced alcohol, at a fair price, and that speaks to Napa’s terroir? Then you could do much worse than the Grgich.

This is not damning with faint praise; rather, it says much about how wine is often made in that part of California — score driven, price be damned, and that the consumer will buy the Winestream Media tells them to buy. The Grgich, which has been around longer than I have been writing about wine, takes none of that into account. The 2013 Grgich Hills chardonnay ($42, sample, 13.5%) is no exception.

Look for green apple, a little citrus, and even some peach tucked away in the back. The oak is there, of course, but it’s integrated and part of the wine — not a flavor in and unto itself. Perhaps the most important quality is the wine’s acidity, something most California chardonnays don’t worry about. It helps the wine taste fresh and clean despite its richness.

Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to give as a holiday gift, drink at this time of year, and enjoy anytime.

Winebits 411: Wine prices, Chinese wine, red blends

winenews

wine pricesExpensive wine prices: Or, as S. Irene Virbila wrote in the Los Angeles Times, a look at old Kermit Lynch newsletters finds a “…breathtaking change in wine prices over the years. Over the course of three decades or more, prices go up, of course. But 10 times in some cases?” Lynch is the celebrated importer whose name on a French wine label is reason to buy it regardless of varietal or region, and Virblia has tracked price changes for several of his wines since the early 1980s with depressing results. Given that cheap wine prices have not increased 10 times over 30 years (maybe doubled, at most) and that the cost of wine production has remained remarkably stable over that time, this speaks to the increased demand for high-end wines since then, and especially for wines with pedigrees from experts like Lynch.

So long, China: Remember when China was going to save the French wine business? Not now, says the Reuters news service. “Now wine is being sold below cost, some is going bad sitting for long periods in poorly maintained warehouses and decent Bordeaux wines are going for 15 yuan [US$2.50] a bottle.” Not that the Wine Curmudgeon warned the French about this, that raising prices to gouge the inexperienced Chinese had dangerous long-term consequences — but what do I know? The Chinese market has been hit by what passes for a recession there as well as the government’s continuing crackdown on corruption, in which wine bribes play a huge part. By the way, those “decent” Bordeaux wines that are selling for $2.50 in China cost 10 times that much in the U.S.

Red blends take over: The popularity of red blends — which means, in most cases, sweet red wine — continues to rise, reports Nielsen. They accounted for more than 13 percent of the $13 billion that consumers spent on table wine during the 52 weeks ended Sept. 12, 2015, up from 11 percent in 2011. How important is that change? As I have written before, it’s almost unprecedented, with red blends the third biggest seller in the U.S. behind chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in U.S. grocery and super stores. Interestingly, the Nielsen report doesn’t use the word sweet to describe the red blends, since so many producers don’t identify the wines as such. But we know what’s going on, don’t we?

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