The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2020, and even a couple of things that aren’t wine
The big trend in wine gifts this year? Non-alcoholic products, if the mail in my inbox is any indication. Or — shudder — a $426 decanter. We can do much better than that; after all, why else does the blog exist? Keep in our wine gift buying guidelines in mind, as well.
• Joe Roberts’ “Wine Taster’s Guide” ($14.99, Rockridge Press) is neither pretentious nor expensive — which is why it’s on this list. Joe, who I’ve known almost since I started the blog, is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we buy wine we may not like because the process is so intimidating.
• The Benziger de Coelo Quintus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($68, sample, 14.1%) is a gorgeous, structured — albeit not especially subtle — Sonoma Coast pinot noir. It’s full of dark fruit, maybe even some tea, and the soft tannins that used to be common in California pinot. Not quite sure how I got a sample, but very glad I did. Highly recommended.
• The Wine Curmudgeon has a drawer full of wine-stained tablecloths, mostly from dripping wine bottles. Hence, the marble wine coaster ($19.95), which not only would have saved many of my tablecloths but looks good, too.
• Ice wine is one of the great joys of the wine world, but is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. And it wasn’t easily available or cheap to begin with. So when a winemaker reader tipped me to the Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine 2018 ($50/375 ml bottle, sample, 9%), I asked for a sample — something I rarely do. And I was not disappointed. This is ice wine in all its glory — lusciously sweet, but balanced, with pineapple and tropical fruit and refreshing crispness. Highly recommended.
More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2019
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: two reds, a white, and a rose for Black Friday 2020
• La Vieille Ferme Rouge 2019 ($8, purchased, 13%): Long-time reader Rich Liebman always insisted I was too hard on this French red blend, which I’ve been drinking off and on for longer than I care to remember. And he was correct — it’s nowhere near as old-fashioned as it used to be. It’s less harsh, there’s more dark fruit, and there might even be something that could be oak. But I’m still not sure it should be part of my regular wine rotation. Imported by Vineyard Brands
• CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($6, sample, 12.6%): This California white is notoriously inconsistent, so the good news is that this vintage tastes like $6 sauvignon blanc — more sauvignon blanc in character (some grass, some citrus fruit) and less cheap tasting.
• Dixie & Bass Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($18, sample, 14.5%): There’s nothing very subtle about this Washington state red. It’s a standard big, fruity (black cherry?), over-the-top cabernet (though it tastes more Lodi than Washington state). If this is your style of wine, it’s a fair value.
• Notre Vue GSM Rose 2019 ($29, sample, 12.7%): This California pink is a pretty, well-made, and enjoyable wine. Look for crisp berryish fruit, and a long, clean, mineral-driven finish. But is really three times better than a top-notch $10 rose?
I’ve watched this video a dozen times, and I still marvel at how Kermit’s Muppeteer makes it look like a felt frog is actually playing the banjo. And how Steve Martin keeps a straight face is also beyond me. (Video courtesy of Funny Or Die YouTube.)
Enjoy the holiday with the people who mean the most to you. The blog will return tomorrow with our regular features, including the annual Black Friday wine reviews.
The Volver Tarima is not traditional Spanish red wine, but it is a value
Spanish wine producers, save for some notable exceptions like the reds from Ribero del Duero, have resisted the impulse to Parkerize their wines. Most are still lower in alcohol, restrained in fruit, and taste like Spanish wine has traditionally tasted.
The Volver Tarima 2018 ($11, purchased, 14.5%), a red wine made with monastrell, inhabits the mid-ground between the too ripe, cocktail-like Parker wines and a 12.5 percent Rioja. In this, it’s a pleasant surprise for those of us who want something different, but not something so different that it doesn’t taste like wine.
Yes, the wine is a bit hot, so that the alcohol shows on the back. Having said that, it’s very well-made and surprisingly balanced. There is lots of black fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), but it isn’t too ripe. There’s a little spice, and the tannins are under control – not always easy to do with monastrell. It’s mostly used as a blending grape (known in France as mourvedre).
This is a food wine – braises and stews as the weather gets colder.
Imported by Winebow
This week’s wine news: Wine.com reports 217 percent sales increase, plus restaurants are headed in the opposite direction and another critic ponders the need for toasty and oaky
• Wine.com sales: Wine.com, the U.S.’ biggest on-line wine retailer, ended the first six months of its fiscal year with a 217 percent sales increase compared to the previous 12 months. Can anyone say pandemic? Even without the increase in on-line retail caused by the coronavirus, sales for the previous 12 months were up 102 percent. One key to the jump: repeat sales from customers who pay $49 a year for free shipping, similar to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. Sales from those customers increased by about one-fifth more than overall sales for the past 12 months, as more of those customers bought more wine on-line. This raises the question again: How, once the retail world returns more or less to normal, will we be able to go back to thinking of on-line wine as something special, and not something we buy every day?
• Not so good news: Tom Wark, writing on the Fermentation blog, asks: “Do we allow a huge swath of restaurants across the country to simply disappear in the wake of COVID and state’s restaurant shutdown orders or do we act to aid these institutions?” This has been the elephant in the room as the pandemic continues, with restaurants — rightly or wrongly — bearing the burst of government restrictions. I don’t know that I agree with all Tom writes, but his piece is well worth reading.
• No tasting notes: Guy Woodward, writing in the British trade magazine Harpers, pulls no punches: “Who reaps the benefit, for example, of reading that a wine has notes of ‘gentian, elderflower, seaweed, mussels, salt spray, chicken stock, sage, fennel, peach kernel, lemon, alkali and wet stone’?” This is the second British shot over the winespeak and tasting notes bow in recent weeks — quite a surprising development, given how entrenched the two are. Again, reason for optimism that some in the wine business understand the need to make wine more accessible.