We always love your questions, whether you’re looking for a special bottle of wine or you are confused by a label. Keep them coming. Here are a couple of questions that may resonate with you:
Q: I got into red wine in the ‘90s. I fell hard for quality $10 values like Napa Ridge Cabernet, Penfolds Koonawarra, Estancia Cabernet, and all the Gallo of Sonoma lineup. The ’97 vintage was incredible all around. 20+ years later I have to spend $20 to get something remotely as good as what use to be $10. It’s not inflation, it’s the quality of what’s in the bottle. It also tastes like every supermarket wine under $20 is heading toward Apothic… sweet with smoky oak. I’m getting what I call “honey mustard” a lot as well. Is it the wine or have my tastes gotten way more selective?
A: Where do we start with this excellent question? We bet your tastes have become more selective. But the wine industry has changed dramatically since the 1990s and, thus, so has the wine. Sweet red wines like Apothic Red weren’t as abundant then – wines were refreshingly dry. Cheap, red wines are quite common now and, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Napa Ridge and Estancia, once made by family-owned wineries, are now part of large corporate wineries. Instead of the wines being made from grapes grown on their estates, they are now made from grapes grown in the vast holdings of corporations. Often these vineyards are in less favorable locations or a blend of locations. That Estancia wine you remember from the 1990s was made by Franciscan using grapes from their estate. We doubt that its current owner, Constellation, is using grapes from the same vineyard today.
There is also a dirty secret that many winemakers use Mega Purple, a grape concentrate that enhances a wine’s color but also rounds off harsh tannins and adds sugar. Although we will never be sure until winemakers are required to list ingredients, we swear we can taste a wine that has this concentrate. We’ll be writing about this in a later column.
Now, as far as costs go, wine is subject to the same gravitational pull as any product. French barrels, for instance, has doubled since the 1990s. An acre of prime vineyard in Napa Valley cost $200,000 five years ago. Today it cost as much as $1 million, if you can find it. Having given winemakers an excuse for charging more for their plonk, it’s really about demand. They’ll charge whatever then can get. Some winemakers charge over $300 for a cult cabernet sauvignon and sell out every year!
We suggest you look to Spain, Portugal and South America where winemakers haven’t succumbed to the sweet wine fad. We like Evodia and Las Rocas, each selling for about $12, and Bodegas Breca from the Aragon region of Spain. It’s an old-vine grenacha you can find for around $17.
Q: Should I feel obligated to share an expensive bottle of wine I’ve brought to a BYOB party?
A: In a recent “Miss Manners” column, a writer complained that she and her husband often join a group of friends for dinner at a local restaurant. The waiters pour house wine to the guests, but she often buys a more expensive bottle for she and her husband to enjoy. However, some of her friends ask them for a glass of what is obviously a better wine. The writer is annoyed and asks columnist Judith Martin for advice.
Martin didn’t condone the obnoxious behavior but suggested the writer endure the house wines and save the special wines for dinner at home.
That’s sound advice and it got us to thinking about the number of times we have been in similar situations – tail-gate parties, picnics, crab feasts and even restaurants that allow BYOBs. Some people bring $10 wines or bring nothing at all, then hold out their empty glasses to us.
If you don’t know the crowd or it is larger than a bottle can satisfy, bring a reasonably priced wine. Hiding your special bottle and not sharing violates social etiquette. Don’t do it.
Tenuta di Arceno
We recently tasted three chianti classicos from Jackson Family Wines’ Tuscan outpost, Tenuta di Arceno, founded in 1994. Located in the most southernmost region of Tuscany, the estate produces classic chianti classico as well as wines from the IGT classification which allows international grape varieties.
The Tenuta Di Arceno Chianti Classico 2018 ($25) is crafted from 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent merlot grapes and presents youthful fresh fruit notes of fresh cherries. The merlot softens the sangiovese acidity to make a very agreeable package.
The Tenuta Di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 ($30) on the other hand displays a deeper, richer qualities with softer and riper plum and cherry fruit notes. It is 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. Very elegant.
The Tenuta Di Arceno Strada al Sasso Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2017 ($50) is the result of a new chianti classico designation implemented in 2014. This new classification is a level above riserva and requires slightly higher minimum alcohol levels and 6 months more aging than riserva. Tenuta Di Arceno is sourced from one vineyard on their estate and is 100 percent sangiovese. The result is a complex chianti classico featuring fresh and dried cherries and plums with hints of earth and leather.
Tbilvino Saperavi Red Dry 2018 ($15). From the country of Georgia, this delicious wine – if you can find it – offers ripe fruit flavors. Made from the indigenous saperavi grapes.
Clean Slate Riesling 2019 ($13). We were intrigued by this partnership between Moselland of Bernkastel-Kues of Germany and Winebow. From the Mosel region, the wine is low in alcohol and slightly sweet like many rieslings from Germany. The fresh peach and apricot flavors are spiked with notes of spice and mineral. It’s a good sipper or a wine to pair with spicy oriental foods and seasoned chicken.
Ram’s Gate Estate Pinot Blanc 2019 ($38). Using three clones of grape varieties, this delicious and fresh pinot blanc from the Carneros region has spicy aromas and pear flavors. Although it may seem light to the palate, it’s quite elegant and makes for a perfect match with seafood.