Wine, Etc.: 2013 was a weird year in the wine world

This was a weird year in wine - not necessarily weirder than any other, but weird nonetheless. About the time you think that wine is just about what's in the bottle, something comes along to remind you that wine is another commodity susceptible to strange behavior.

Take, for instance, wine thieves. We're not talking about those professional siphons that remove wine from casks either. These are thieves with two feet - and not a lot of brains. This seems to be a particular problem in Hungary where one producer decided to lay a trap. After failing to catch the insider taking a few bottles home every night, he decided to spike one of the bottles. With antifreeze.

A 30-year-man would have been arrested for the crime, but unfortunately he died after springing the winemaker's clever trap. The winemaker was sent to prison for murder. But he no longer had a theft problem.

Italians may not kill their enemies, but they don't take criticism lightly either. Gianfranco Soldera, owner of the well-respected Case di Soldera, found that out. He produces $300 Brunello di Montalcino and has been rather vocal about the poor quality of wine produced by his neighbors. Of course, he seem to be justified in his complaint - several years ago some of those producers were convicted of blending foreign grapes in their brunellos. But did he really have to tell the local press that his neighbors make "bad wine?"

Shortly after the public rebuke, more than 82,000 bottles of five vintages of wine were destroyed by vandals. His neighbors are suspects. He keeps his thoughts more to himself nowadays.

And about the time you thought you could count on a wine bottle being ROUND, along comes someone to put our favorite drink in a SQUARE bottle. Truett-Hurst of Dry Creek Valley introduced a series of wines sold at Total Wine in square bottles. They theorize that once the bottle is empty, it can be used for olive oil or flowers. How nice.

You would think that Apple has the power to do whatever they like, but calling the color of its new iPhone "champagne" is not one of them. The French were very unhappy with this announcement and dispatched their tallest French lawyers to take on Apple. Instead of a champagne iPhone, you can now choose a gold one.

At the close of the year, we learned a lot about counterfeit wines. Billionaire Bill Koch spent $4.5 million on 421 bottles of wine he now believes are counterfeit. He testified against the smooth-taking salesman, Rudy Kurniawan, who was convicted of fraud and faces 40 years in prison. Investigators found a treasure trove of evidence at the Kurniawan home. All of this shows that most of you were right all along: there isn't much difference between a $15 and a $150 bottle of wine.

Researchers had a wild year telling us what we drink and how much longer we'll live if we don't stop. But we liked the best analysis that showed red wine tastes better if it put in a blender for a couple of minutes. It apparently aerates the wine faster than a decanter, even if it is a tad short of romance. Maybe it's us, but would you really put a nice wine in a blender? Before or after you made salsa?

Whatever awaits us in 2014 can't be any worse. Happy New Year, everyone.

Wine picks

Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($22).


This moderately priced Sonoma County cabernet is a pleasant drink with black cherry and espresso notes, good balance and medium body.

Stickybeak Toscana 2011 ($20).


Made by the Australian producer of the same name, this Italian blend of sangiovese, merlot and syrah is a mouthful of fruit. Fruit-forward cherry flavors mingle with allspice, cloves and other spices.

Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 ($15).

This value-priced chianti from Banfi aims to please every year. It has a velvet texture with dark berry flavors and a hint of licorice.

Renwood Winery California Zinfandel 2011 ($15).

This Amador County producer makes several very good zinfandels at reasonable prices. Although the Fiddletown Zinfandel is a robust giant, this simple California blend is an uncomplicated quaffer for the price. Blended with the zinfandel are primitivo, roussane, mourvedre and souzao grapes.

XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 ($12).

It's hard not to enjoy this medium-bodied but luscious zinfandel made from old vines grown in Sonoma County. Good balance, simple plum and raspberry flavors with black pepper. A very good wine to serve with pasta, pizza, burgers and the like.

Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($15).

Nothing is complicated about this California cabernet that draws grapes from Alexander Valley and Paso Robles. It may not be destined for your cellar, but it's a decent drink to open at tonight's dinner. Black berry and cassis flavors with a dash of espresso.

Garnet Monterey County Pinot Noir 2012 ($15).

We've always liked this simple and affordable pinot noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Good fruit extraction, silky texture and ripe cherry and blackberry flavors.

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