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Tag Archives: wine advice

Dessert wine basics

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dessert wine basicsDessert wine is the great mystery of the wine business, usually associated with “dotty old ladies or rich men with English accents,” as I wrote in the current issue of Bottom Line Personal (which has bought quite a bit of freelance from me lately). Give that I have done very little with dessert wine over the blog’s history, this piece gives me an opportunity to correct that oversight.

Highlights from the piece (click the link to the story for recommendations):

• The most common dessert wines are ports from Portugal and sherries from Spain, but dessert wines are made wherever wine is produced, from Australia to Canada to Hungary. Port and sherry are made with wine grapes, though port uses red grapes and sherry white. There are dry sherries, such as fino, but all port is sweet.

• International law doesn’t allow most ports or sherries made anywhere else in the world to be called by those names, so non-Portuguese ports and non-­Spanish sherries will be labeled as “dessert wine,” “port-style,” “sherry-style” or something similar.

• The production techniques for port and sherry are much more complicated than those for table wine and involve long aging (often years) and the addition of brandy or other alcohol to fortify them. That’s why they’re also called fortified wines.

• Dessert wines aren’t cheap, and some, like Sauternes, can cost hundreds of dollars (which may explain their absence here). But since a dessert wine serving is less than a table wine serving, one or two small glasses of port or sherry or whatever are more than sufficient. That means a $20 half-bottle can be the equivalent of a $10 or $15 full bottle of table wine.

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

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Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
Wine competitions and wine scores
Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart

Winecast 23: Lew Perdue, Wine Industry Insight

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Lew PerdueLew Perdue is a long-time wine marketer, wine writer, and wine entrepreneur, and he may be even crankier about the wine business than the Wine Curmudgeon. Or, as he recently wrote about a Kendall-Jackson wine: “At $21.50 retail it is a pale shadow of the Hogue at $13.50. … sour, bitter, thin, harsh.”

Which doesn’t mean his analysis isn’t spot on — the wine industry, which may actually want to make it easier for consumers to buy wine, doesn’t know how to do it. Perdue says he buys six wines at his local grocer for his reviews, and only three are usually worth drinking.

Fortunately, Perdue has several suggestions about what can be done, which we talk about on the podcast. Given that everyone tastes wine differently, he says, wouldn’t it make more sense to find a way for people to find wine recommendations from others with similar tastes, instead of from what he calls the wine elite, with their scores and jargon?

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 20 minutes long and takes up 10 megabytes. The sound quality is very good, and Skype — the unofficial VoIP provider for the blog — was in exceptionally fine form for the second consecutive podcast.

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