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Monday, September 13, 2004

Wineblogging: Blackstone, Three Thieves, Roncier
Like a zombie, this blog emerges from the ground after a festering absence, and begins to stumble around looking for brains... sweet, sweet BRAINNNNNS...

Anyway, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write up a couple of wine reviews from this past weekend. Now, I'm no expert. I don't maintain a glorious cellar of fine wines. I almost never order it in restaurants (due to a complicated tax structure, wine by the glass is exhorbitantly expensive in Memphis). But I've tried to educate myself about them, and have enjoyed drinking at least a bottle or two each week for the past year. Note that I also focus on wines that tend to be below $20, but there's a lot of great wines in that price level.

(If you want excellent wine reviews as well as commentary on the law and current events, check out Professor Bainbridge's blog, though he tends to focus on nicer, more expensive vintages.)

First up, the 2002 Blackstone Pinot Noir. I've been drinking more pinot noir this year. With a good one the flavor is light and delicate, and you'll get hints of berry and jam in the background. It's also pretty versatile, since it's not as tannic as a lot of reds, it works well with pasta, fish, and chicken dishes. I wasn't terribly impressed with this one. It might have needed a couple more years in the bottle or better food, but it just didn't have much complexity to the flavor. I grabbed this for $11. Not a bad price, but there's better pinot noirs out there for that.

Second... Here's one I grabbed just for fun, as the packaging impressed me. The 2002 Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon. These three guys--all involved in more prestigious areas of the wine business--jumped on the idea of buying up surplus cabernet sauvignon grapes and then blending them into an inexpensive table wine. It's sold in a one liter jug (with a metal screwcap) for about $8. Frankly, this doesn't taste very good at all. It's pretty harsh right now. It might mellow out over the next few years, but this isn't the kind of thing you'd really make room for in a cellar. However, it's better than some of the other "jug reds", and it is a single grape and vintage, so it's got a little prestige there. I will say that it's much better with food, like spaghetti with a hearty tomato sauce or a burger with lots of mustard and ketchup. I think it would also be a decent match for a BBQ, and the packaging certainly fits with an informal dinner.

And third, one that I really enjoyed, though I've had it before: Roncier Blanc de Blancs. I've been trying to drink more French wines recently, and have found some real gems. This is an inexpensive ($8) white burgundy. There's no oak aging, so it's fairly light and soft on the tongue. Technically, this isn't a "great" wine, as it's an undated table wine and it's not considered complex. But here's why I like it: I find a lot of California and Australian bargain whites to be a little too fruity and acidic, or they go in the other direction and are sweetened so much that they're more of a dessert wine. This one is just a simple white wine flavor, easily drinkable, and AWESOME with simple seafood dishes. The first time I served it was with lime grilled shrimp, and then I served it Saturday night with some pasta and baked tilapia. The winery also puts out a pinot noir under the Roncier label. Also affordable and rather light, but not much in the way of flavor.

Why the attention to French wines? Up until the early 80s, if you were serious about wine all you drank was French, with maybe the occasional German or Italian if you were slumming. California wines became seriously accepted around the country and the world during the 80s, and the influx of inexpensive but bold-tasting Australian wines during the 90s helped bring regular wine consumption to the American masses. Now in the middle of the 00s, you can get wine from damned near anywhere and everyone is drinking it. People still drink French wines, but average consumers are confused or turned off by the complicated labels (which are almost always by region rather than grape, and the better wines tend to have tons of fran├žais on them). There's also the general anti-France backlash following 9/11, and then there's been a couple of years of huge grape production in France. What does all of this mean?

Right now there's a ton of great French wine on the market, it's affordable, and it's accessible to someone like me. I see no desire to boycott French agricultural products. While I may disagree with the French government on certain issues, I've got nothing against the farmer who's pumping out wine or making cheese. Plus, it's a fun and somewhat esoteric subject to study, as it not only involves knowing about the grapes and varieties but also requires a lot of knowledge of geography and foreign languages--two of my favorite subjects!

Damn... This is the longest post I've made in ages. I might post more of these reviews as I try different wines, and might even go back to some of the movie reviews when I see something worth writing about.

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