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Tag Archives: wine rants

Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

crossroad1

Texas wineAnd, apparently, not much has changed with Texas wine a year after I wrote: “Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?”

That was my conclusion after a couple of days tasting wine and moderating a Texas wine panel in the Hill Country last week. The day before I left, a Texas winemaker (who has told me I’m an idiot) took to the Internet to criticize almost everyone else who disagreed with him. During my visit, a winery owner told me I knew nothing about wine, Texas wine, and the ugni blanc grape, my Gascon favorite that is starting to be grown in Texas. And the wine during those couple of days? Mostly, and sadly, ordinary. At worst, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the late 1990s.

What’s going on? Why is this happening? Much of it has to do with the state’s wine success over the past decade — more wineries, better quality, and increased recognition here and elsewhere as part of the local wine movement. There are more wineries making better wine than ever before, using the grapes best-suited for the state’s terroir, and it’s easier to buy quality Texas wine than it has ever been — even grocery stores sell it.

But that success has led to other, less welcome, developments: First, people getting into the wine business not because they particularly care about wine, but because it’s a successful business and they don’t understand that wine is more than a business. Second, as the Texas wine business has changed, not everyone has changed with it, and many of those people are bitter and angry about the changes.

U.S. Hwy. 290 in the Hill Country had a couple of wineries when I started writing about Texas wine some 20 years ago. There are more than a dozen today, and applications for almost two dozen more. Ignoring for the moment whether there is enough business to support that many, we can’t ignore that there aren’t enough grapes. As Houston wine writer Ron Saikowski pointed out during the seminar at Boot Ranch, there are about 8,000 acres of grapes in Texas. We need 40,000 acres to meet the demand, which means we use all the grapes grown here, regardless of quality, and make up the difference with imports, mostly from California and Washington state, and also of varying quality. The irony? As Texas wine becomes more successful, and we get more wineries, the grape shortage becomes more acute.

Which is not to say there isn’t good news. The new vintage of Becker’s Provencal rose ($17, sample, 12%) may be the best ever, and it’s usually one of the best roses in the state (and which says something about how professional wineries can make quality wine). Consumers are more knowledgeable, and so are the people who follow Texas wine. The writers on the panel — Saikowski, John Griffin of SavorSA, and Austin’s Matt McGinnis — know their stuff, and are more than capable of tracking the changes in the business and holding producers accountable. And they’re far from the only ones, also much different from the early days when there were just a couple of us.

Because, frankly, this version of Texas wine has worn me out, and it’s why I’m not judging the Lone Star competition this year. I’ve done it every year but one since they invited me 10 years ago, but I don’t see the point this time. Too many Texas producers don’t want honest criticism; they want gold medals and parades in the street, because they know how much better they are than everyone else. That’s not the way I do business, and anyone who is honest with themselves shouldn’t, either.

 

Local wine, local food

wineadvice

local wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, despite his good intentions and his advocacy of all things local, is not perfect. Even the co-founder of Drink Local Wine sometimes forgets that local wine goes with local food.

Case in point: A recent dinner with pork shoulder rubbed with cumin and coriander, roasted with garlic. onions, and peppers, and served with guacamole and black beans. So, like the wine snobs and dilettantes that I spend so much time excoriating, I bought a French wine, a white from the Rhone, to drink with it.

What a maroon.

I live in Texas. I have been advocating Texas wine for Texas-style food for almost three decades. So why did I buy a French wine made with viognier when when we make some of the best viognier in the world in Texas?

Like I said, what a maroon.

It’s not so much that the white Rhone was overpriced and under-qualified. Even if it had been better made, it didn’t have the bright apricot and peach fruit to stand up to the pork the way a Texas viognier (Brennan, McPherson, and Pedernales among many others) would have. And it was heavier, as well, with an unpleasant oiliness, both qualities that didn’t complement the pork’s spiciness and something the best Texas viogniers don’t have. Ours are lighter and more crisp, which gives them an affinity for something as rich as the pork shoulder.

So the next time you opt for safe instead of local, know that you’re making the same mistake that I did. Just be willing to admit it, and do the right the next time.

Arsenic and cheap wine

winerant

arsenicDavid K. TeStelle may be a terrific trial attorney, a tremendous human being, and a snappy dresser. But he apparently knows little about logic and even less about wine.

“The lower the price of wine, the more arsenic you are getting,” said TeStelle, one of the lawyers suing Big Wine for knowingly selling arsenic-laced wine in the class action lawsuit that has the wine business all atwitter (pun fully intended).

The Wine Curmudgeon will assume that TeStelle was misquoted or taken out of context, since to assume that all cheap wine is stuffed full of arsenic and that all expensive wine is pure and virginal is silly. Logical fallacies, anyone? Did we stop driving cheap cars because the Yugo was a piece of junk? My Honda Fit certainly isn’t. Are Mercedes and BMW models never recalled?

The testing behind the lawsuit apparently didn’t check the arsenic level in any expensive wine, which takes the rest of the logic out of TeStelle’s argument. Maybe BeverageGrades, the lab that did the testing, didn’t want to to spend the extra money, and it was easier to buy Two-buck Chuck since there are three Trader Joe’s in Denver. Or that the Big Wine companies that make most of the cheap wine in the lawsuit have deeper pockets than a $40 brand that makes 25,000 cases. One can’t get damages out of a company that doesn’t have money to pay for damages.

Besides, and I can’t emphasize this enough, none of my wines — the three dozen or so in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame — are on the arsenic list. This speaks volumes about the difference in quality in wine, cheap or otherwise, and something that I have repeated and repeated and repeated throughout my wine writing career. It’s not the price that matters — it’s the honesty of the wine. Does the producer care about quality and value, or is it just making wine to make wine? Which is just as true for $100 wine as it is for $10 wine.

That’s something that everyone who is being snarky about the quality of cheap wine in the wake of the lawsuit (including people I like and whose opinions I respect) should remember. Quality, as well as safety, isn’t something that can be measured by price. It’s something that depends on integrity, and no amount of money can guarantee that.

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