Life on the vine

I comment on wines, and the industry. I believe that you can enjoy good wine, sometimes even great wine, without spending a fortune.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Don't give me that girlie-man wine

Several months ago, I took the wine industry to task for marketing a low-cal white wine to women. It was a pretty bad wine -- dry, tasteless and lifeless. What the industry needed to do, I argued, was show women some real respect -- cut them in on the financial action in the wine industry, put them on corporate boards of directors, etc.

Now comes word that the industry is marketing a wine for men. Ray's Station Vineyards in Sonoma County is pitching "hearty red wines for men." OK. Let's see, what's the thinking here.

Well, the winemaker believes that there are a lot of men who worship, say, NASCAR and backyard BBQ, and they like wine, too.
"These guys, they're married, they've got a couple of kids," Brian Hilliard, head of marketing for Ray's Station told The Associated Press. "Wine is part of their lives, but it's not integrated in a way that they really force themselves to be knowledgeable."

Another Sonoma winemaker, Ravenswood, is marketing macho wines as well. "No wimpy wines!" declares a recent slogan.

Look, this is all very interesting and all very unnecessary. Most of the people who buy wines are women. They are buying them for their families. Their families include husbands. Many of the husbands have already been sold on the joy of drinking wine. In short, the industry is preaching to the choir.


That's because the wine industry, I'd argue, isn't really going after a new demographic of customers. It is merely trying to please the ones it already has. The wine industry has done a woeful job of marketing serious, quality wines to African-American markets, for example. Ditto for marketing to Hispanic markets, which is unfortunate given the high number of low-paid Hispanic workers employed by the industry.

This decision not to go after the African-American and Hispanic markets in a strong way is troubling. Blacks and Hispanics drink a lot of spirits and, unfortunately, they tend to buy the high-priced brands. Just spend some time watching the videos made by rappers and you will see that young urban minorities want to enjoy the good stuff.

The wine industry could add to its bottom line, but it would rather not deal with working-class customers. Oh, well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Greetings, from New Orleans

You may have been wondering these last two weeks: How come McQueen hasn't updated his wine blog? Well, I'm in transition.
I no longer operate out of Macon, Georgia. I have moved to New Orleans, for a new job with a new company. I still manage journalists. I just do so now in a more interesting city (sorry, Macon, no disrespect meant, but the Big Easy, even damaged by Katrina, is an interesting place.)
Lots of places that used to be open are now closed or close early. But this is a city where a wine lover (and a bit of a foodie) like me, can have a lot of fun.
So give me a few weeks to get the lay of the land and I will be reporting back to you shortly about our mutual love of wine.
Stay tuned.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Soup, salad, vino

You've seen the same question that I have dozens of times.
Typical question: What wine should I order with my soup and salad?
Typical answer: Don't bother. Order the wine to fit the main entree, as in the meat, you are ordering with that meal.
That answer only takes you so far. What if you just want a soup and a salad for dinner? Which is what happened to me over the weekend.
My wife, my youngest son (the freshman in college, Otto) and I went out to an Indian restaurant that had just opened in my town. I scanned the menu. All of it was interesting, but what I really wanted was a soup: sweet corn soup.
Truth be told, I had no idea what kind of soup that was. Nor did I ask. I ordered an appetizer, this sweet corn soup and then I faked it...ahh...corn...vegtable...ahhh...light...Give me a chardonnay, please.
Well, the soup had a deep beef broth and some good corn. I would have been better off ordering a light but not overbearing red wine, probably a pinot noir.
So, I started thinking about different soups and what goes well with them. (I think we should match the wine with the soup, which really is your main course, instead of with the salad. If you want to just have a salad, choose a medium white wine -- a good pinot grigio will probably do the trick.)
Here are a few soups and recommended matches:
--French onion. Prepared correctly, this is a great soup, full of onions, broth and cheese. Not too spicy, but a hearty soup.
Wine: Try a pinot noir.
--seafood bisque. This is a heavy soup, but full of seafood. Wine: Go with the traditional, a chardonnay.
--clam chowder. My wife makes a great homemmade New England clam chowder, full of potatoes, clam, cream, with a sprinkling of bacon. She uses chardonnay in the cooking process. Wine: A chardonnay, of course. (In general, if you use a certain varietal to prepare the food, drink that varietal with the meal.)
--tomato. Treat this like any other dish heavy with tomato sauce, like a pizza or a bowl of spaghetti. Wine: A nice chianti classico.

As a general guide, think about the elements in the soup. For example, a thick soup with beef and potatoes should be treated like a meal where you have beef and potatoes. Therefore, a good Merlot or zinfandel might be in order.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Wine goes well with pizza, too

When we eat pizza, we probably think of several drinks that would go well with our pie -- a soft drink, particularly a Pepsi or a coke, or maybe an ice cold beer.
Rarely do we think about a nice red wine with our pizza. But we should: There are several wines that match up very well with the tomato sauce, meat, cheese and bread crust that are the basic ingredients of pizza.
I'd urge you stick with red wines -- the better to match with the tomato -- and I'd recommend a pretty stiff wine, one that can compete with the spicy combinations that make up pizza.
Over the years, I've had several good wines with pizza. Here are four of the best -- and, the good part is, they're all under $15.
--Icardi barbera d'asti tabarin. I had the 2001 vintage 18 months ago with a sausage pizza. The wine cost $11. Barbera is an Italian wine that you can match with almost any Italian dish. It goes well with spaghetti, lasagna and linguine with red sauce. It is the everyday wine of Italy.
--Lolonis Ladybug Red Cuvee V, nonvintage, about $13. The owner of a wine shop off Vineville Avenue, where I live in Macon, recommended this wine to me nearly a year ago. It has proved everything he said it was: stout but smooth, with a full taste of cherry.
--Rancho Zabaco dancing bull zinfandel. About $10. Regular readers of my blog and wine articles have read me praise this wine many times. It's a strong red wine, full of flavor, and goes well with any "heavy" meal.
--Delicato shiraz. I like the 2001 vintage, if you can get it. If not, grab the first bottle you see on the shelf. It sells for under $6 most places, and it is without a doubt the best buy for the money of any red -- or white -- wine. It downed a glass or two with a pepperoni pizza.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Go ahead: Buy some bordeaux. You can afford it

I drove to Atlanta this weekend with two objectives in mind:
One, we wanted to visit our 19-year-old son, a freshman at Morehouse College. Two, it was time for our periodic trip to the Dekalb Farmer's Market, a huge grocery store stuffed with about very sort of meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetable from all over the world.
We like to visit the store, which is about 10 miles east of Atlanta proper, as a good alternative to the plain-vanilla grocery stores in our town -- Macon, Georgia, about 80 miles south of Atlanta.
Personally, I like to visit the store because I prefer to shop for my wine and my food at the same time. It saves time and, candidly, since so much of my wine drinking is everyday consumption, I really don't need to go to a fancy wineshop that often each year. I make about five visits a year to a really good wineshop, stock up on fine wines and leave it at that.
Anyway, the Dekalb Farmer's Market has a decent wine section. I'd estimate there about about 2,000 different brands to choose from -- most of them in the reasonable $10-$20 range.
I usually head straight to the bordeaux section. That's because not many stores in my city sell bordeaux -- not even the wineshops. The best wineshop in Macon has, at any one time, no more than four different bottles of bordeaux for sale.
That's a shame since bordeaux, in my estimation and that of many, many others, is clearly the best wine there is. It certainly should be the most popular. Every year, the growers in the bordeaux region of France produce 700 million bottles a year, and 80 percent of that is red wine.
The perception is that bordeaux is not a wine the average U.S. consumer would want. That perception is fueled by a myth. Yes, bordeaux can be damned expensive. The best bordeaux can sell for $1,500-$2,500 a bottle at auction.
But don't let that figure scare you away from bordeaux. You ought to be able to get a good bottle of bordeaux at a well-stocked grocery store, like the DeKalb's Farmer's Market near me, for under $30. You can also get a bottle for under $30 at many good wine shops.
Last weekend, I paid $16 for a bottle of mid-grade, 2000 bordeaux from Chateau Bel Air.
A few tips of how to get the best out of your bordeaux buying experience. I'll stick to the reds. We'll discuss the white and sparkling wines from the region in another post:
1. Try to buy bottles from the 2000 vintage. That, of course, is consider the very best vintage since the famous 1961 vintage.
2. If you can't find a bottle of 2000 bordeaux, buy anything from 1995-on -- except wine from 1997 or 2004. The incredible string of good bordeaux wines started in 1995, by many accounts and continued until the 2003 vintage.
3. Wine from 1998 and 1999 is pretty good -- about the closest there is to the 2000 vintage.
4. Don't worry too much about trying to decipher the label. It looks complex, but here is the bottom-line: Bordeaux wines from the Left Bank -- as in left of the Gironde River, which bisects the Bordeaux region -- are made primarily with cabernet sauvignon grapes. That's the tough, deep-colored grape. If you like really hearty meat, such as steak, with your wine, bordeaux from the Left Bank is what you want. It won't say "Left Bank" on the label, but look for wines from these chateaux: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Estephe, St.-Julien, Graves. These are names that command high prices in the marketplace for their very best wine. Still, there you can buy some good bordeaux from this region for $35. Secondly, the bordeaux from the Right Bank is made primarily with the merlot grape. That's a little bit easier-to-drink. In the U.S., merlot has been among the most popular wine because it matches well with a lot of meats. In fact, merlot and a hamburger or ham-and-cheese sandwich is a perfect match. OK, you want to look for these chateaux on the label: Pomerol, St.-Emilion. These two wine producers are the best of the best from the Right Bank.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wine with your TV dinner? Huh!

I was watching the new Harrison Ford movie "Firewall" with my wife last weekend, and about a quarter of the way into the action, the ruthless thief who has held Ford's family hostage pops a TV dinner into the microwave.
He took it out and turned to Ford.
"Do you have any wine?" the thief asked, holding the TV dinner.
Ford: "Yes, in the basement."
The thief, played by Paul Bettany, turns to one of his henchmen.
"Go get me a nice bottle of red," Bettany commands.
"I don't know nothing about wine."
"Just look for the bottle that has a lot of dust on it," Bettany replies in his proper British accent.
Is that how you should judge a good bottle of red wine, by it apparent age? And, by the way, what wine does go well with a TV dinner?
Let's deal with the second question first. Answer: Any darn wine you like. But be realistic: Do you really want to drink a bottle of 2000 Bordeax with a "hungry man" dinner of cube steak and mashed potatoes? Wouldn't you rather have that exquisite bottle of Bordeaux with the finely cut steaks you got from the butcher at the
gourmet store.
In wine, as in life, it's all about appropriateness.
So, an inexpensive, uncomplicated wine might be the most appropriate match with a TV dinner, itself a pretty unglamorous but functional meal.
I recommend the table wines from Europe. Many are good wines, in fact. But they carry the table wine designation, in part, because these wines aren't always made with grapes from a particular region.
Look for these words on the label:
French wine, vin de table
Spanish wine, vino de mesa
Italy, vino de tovala

We don't tend to drink as much with our midday deals as Europeans do. But tables wines are good with that ham-and-swiss you're having for lunch.
Now, to the second issue: Does a wine have to be old to be good?
Of course not. The vast majority of wines are meant to be consumed as soon as you buy them. Only the better red wines -- the bordeauxs, the zinfandels, the cabernets -- really benefit from being stored for five or so years.
I follow the philosophy that I want to hold on to really good wine for several years, but drink them at special events. For example, my older son, Michael, will be finishing his military duty with the Army in September. I have been saving a bottle of 2000 Bordeaux just for this event. My younger son Otto will graduate from college, hopefully, in three years. I have a 2001 bottle of Bordeaux lined up for that.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's not champagne, but it's good enough

Valentine's Day will be here pretty soon. This is one of the two days that we traditionally go in search of champagne. New Year's Eve is the other.
I realize that you are trying to impress your lover when you go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne on Valentine's Day. But unless your lover knows a lot about champagne and can detect an expensive bottle or is impressed by the fact that you spend too much on him or her, save your money.
Get a bottle of sparkling wine from Spain rather than an expensive bottle of champagne. It will taste just as good. Anyway, who do you think you are fooling by worrying about the taste of champagne on Valentine's Day. You have other things on your mind and the champagne is just a cover for your devilment.
But I digress.
Anyway, the Spaniards make a type of sparkling wine called "cava." It is made with the same method as the one employed by the French in the Champagne region. (I assume you already know that only sparkling wine from this region is truly "champagne." Any other sparkling wine made anywhere else in the world isn't really champagne; it's a fake.)
Therefore, when you pick up that bottle of sparkling wine from New York State and you see the words "champagne" on the label, you are being suckered. It's not.
So why not just get some good sparkling wine? That's cava. I've bought bottles of cava for as little as $8. It's light, smooth, refreshing -- and bubbly. No, it is not fine French champagne. It is good enough for what you want to accomplish -- if you know what I mean.
Seriously, go into any wine shop or serious liquor store and ask for some "cava." Or you can just go to the section of the shop where champagne is sold and look on the label for the words cava.
You'll save a lot of money.