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The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t hate expensive wine

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wine curmudgeon expensive wine“So, Jeff,” the conversation begins, “Why don’t you like expensive wine?”

This isn’t the most common question I’ve been asked over the past eight years, but it’s common enough. These days, unfortunately, it’s not only more common, but there’s often an edge in the voice of the person asking it. As in, “So you’d rather drink crappy wine just to prove a point?”

Of course not. I love wine; why would I want to deprive myself of the pleasure it brings, regardless of price? How many times have I bored the cyber-ether with my odes to white Burgundy or Oregon pinot noir?

Because I don’t dislike expensive wine. I dislike poorly-made wine and overpriced wine, where profit is all that matters and quality is barely a consideration. I dislike dishonest wine from producers who use winemaking tricks or marketing sleight of hand to fool the consumer. I dislike pretentious wine, which we’re supposed to like because our betters tell us we should.

Cheap wine can be any of those things just as easily as expensive wine can, and I call out that kind of cheap wine all the time. Hasn’t anyone read my Cupcake reviews?

The difference, wine being wine, is that too many still assume that those qualities can’t possibly apply to the wine they bought for $24.99. After all, it came from a retailer who winked and nodded with them as if they were pals in on a big secret, and didn’t the wine get 93 points from this really smart guy who has the best palate in the world, and which we know because he tells us so?

So when I write something about their wine that they don’t like, as I am wont to do, they assume it’s because I don’t like expensive wine. Otherwise, they’d have to acknowledge that they’ve been suckered by a system as unwinnable as any three-card monte.

Allow me to quote my friend Dave McIntyre, who has said many nice things about me over the years: “Siegel doesn’t equate cheap with bad, like so many others do. He sniffs out inexpensive wines that are well made and provide exceptional value, and his passion is sharing them with the world.”

How can anyone object to that?

More about cheap wine:
Can cheap wine do this?
Cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply
The backlash against cheap wine
Wine I like

 

 

Wine of the week: Ocean Blue Chardonnay 2013

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Ocean Blue ChardonnayOne of the most important trends in the wine business is the increase in private label wines, which give retailers an exclusive to sell and a bigger profit margin when they do. The catch is that private label wines, which are sold in only one retailer and can be limited in availability, are too often of indifferent quality.

That’s not the case with the Ocean Blue Chardonnay ($9, purchased, 12.5%), a private label for the Aldi grocery store chain. This New Zealand white is unoaked, which helps to keep the price down and gives it a bright and fresh approach. In addition, there is lots of crisp green apple and a rich mouth feel despite the lack of oak.

In this, it’s not especially subtle, but $10 New Zealand wine has never been famous for being understated. That’s how the country’s sauvignon blanc became famous, after all. And those who need vanilla or toasty and oaky in their chardonnay will probably wonder what it’s doing here.

But those of us who are more open minded about chardonnay will appreciate the wine’s value. Drink this chilled, on its own or with white wine food, and even something with a simple sauce. Grilled chicken breasts with garlic and parsley, perhaps? And hope more private labels approach this level of quality.

Wine of the week: Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012

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Cusumano Nero d'Avola Two years ago, I wrote: “One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions…” and then listed all the horrible things that would happen when it did. Which is mostly what has happened, and the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012 ($10, purchased, 14%) demonstrates just that.

Six years ago, when I first tasted Cusumano, few people who weren’t the Italian Wine Guy knew about Sicilian wine. Today, it’s all over the wine magazines, the best Sicilian wines from the Mt. Etna region cost as much as $100, and there is even Sicilian wine made to taste like grocery store merlot.

The Cusumano Nero d’Avola, a red wine made with the nero d’avola grape, has gone down a similar path, from a wine rarely tasted in the U.S. to one imported by one of the most successful American wine marketers. Along the way, the price went up, the wine lost something that made it what it was, and I took it out of the $10 Hall of Fame. I’m not the Wine Curmudgeon for nothing.

But I’ve made my peace with these changes, and two recent tastings, this red and the white Insolia, have restored my faith in the brand. This version of the Cusumano Nero d’Avola isn’t as dark and plummy as previous vintages, but it isn’t as fruity as it was when I tasted it a year ago, either. Bottle age helped restore the balance between the red fruit and its Sicilian earthiness, and I enjoyed the wine. It’s red sauce, pizza with cheese and sausage, and maybe even chicken cacciatore.

It probably won’t return to the Hall of Fame when the 2013 vintage arrives this year, given the price increase, but I’ll buy it and no doubt enjoy it. And that will be enough.

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