Category:Red wine

Expensive wine 88: Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignonm 2013

Penfolds Bin 407The post-modern Australian wine business deals in more irony than a pulp detective story has bad similies. One of the most ironic is that Penfolds, for decades the best known and among the best Aussie producers, is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, which is giving new meaning to the term Big Wine.

Somehow, Penfolds still makes great wine. I’ve been lucky enough to taste the Grange, generally considered the greatest Australian wine, and it is. The Bin 407 ($57, sample, 14.5%), which costs about $500 less than The Grange, shows how committed Penfolds remains to quality.

Look for that unique style of Aussie black fruit – deep and rich and generous and sweet, but because it’s Penfolds, not overdone and surprisingly in balance. Also, layers and layers of other flavors, including lots of pepper and spice. The tannins, too, are firm, and don’t disappear in a wave of fruit.

Highly recommended, and especially for any fathers who appreciates cabernet. The wine is still a little young, but is ready to drink now, and would pair with almost any Father’s Day barbecue.

Wine of the week: Cantina di Casteggio Barbera 2013

Casteggio BarberaThe wine of the week alternates between red and white, with an occasional rose and sparkling. Ideally, where the wine comes from should rotate in the same way, with each part of the world getting its share.

Which, unfortunately, is not how the wine of the week works. There just isn’t enough quality cheap wine from California for it to take its turn, and France is getting closer to California in terms of price and value than I thought possible. Chile and Argentina are becoming increasingly one note and over-priced, so the wine of the week is becoming more Spain and Italy than ever before.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, given that our goal here is to search for price and value and those countries do it better than almost anywhere else. Case in point is the Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 12.5%), another reason why you don’t have to pay lots of money for quality wine.

Barbera is an Italian grape best known for what it does in the Piedmont region, where it’s the second varietal to the more famous nebbiolo, but produces great wines in its own right. The Casteggio Barbera from Lombardi shows why it’s so popular – simple and rustic, with tart fruit (raspberries, cherries?), and light tannins. There is lots of acidity (something barbera is famous for), so this is a food wine and not necessarily something to gulp down when you get home from work. Pair it with sausages and pot roast with a tomato-style gravy.

Mini-reviews 85: Eden Ridge, Campo Viejo, Bonny Doon, Planeta

campo viejoReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Eden Ridge Chardonnay 2013 ($13, sample, 14.5%): This California white shows everything that is wrong-headed about premiumization – $7 or $8 worth of wine that costs one-third more. It’s hot, with an alcoholic tang; stemmy and bitter; doused with oak; and without all that much fruit.

Campo Viejo Rioja 2014: ($10, purchased, 13%): Spanish red made with tempranillo that proves not all Spanish wine is a great value. It’s grocery store plonk that tastes about as Spanish as a glass of water, with sweet fruit and too much oak.

Bonny Doon Gravitas 2014 ($16, purchased, 13.5%): Proper white Bordeaux channeled through California, so brighter citrus fruit, less flinty, and a little rounder, but still delicious. The difference between this wine and the first two is so vast that it’s difficult to put into words.

Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 ($20, purchased, 13%): This red blend from one of my favorite Sicilian producers was sadly disappointing. Though it’s well made, with red fruit and some spice, there’s not enough going on for what it cost: Not complex enough, with almost no finish; not enough Sicilian dark fruit; and not earthy enough.

Wine of the week: Ontañón Rioja Viticultura Ecologica 2013

Ontañón RiojaThe embarrassment of riches that is cheap Spanish wine would intimidate a lesser writer than the Wine Curmudgeon. But I will continue to write about great cheap Spanish wine like the Ontanon Rioja until the rest of the wine world – yes, that means you, California – gets the message.

The Ontanon Rioja ($13, purchased, 13%) is a modern style of Rioja, the red wine made with tempranillo from the Spanish region of Rioja. That means very fresh and with a touch more vanilla and oak than I like. But who am I to quibble about a little more more oak in a wine that is otherwise delightful?

All the parts are there for a well-made and enjoyable Rioja — bright tart cherry fruit, the hint of orange peel, and the earthiness that so many other wines leave out because they don’t want to offend the so-called U.S. palate. Note to wine marketers: If I wanted Dr Pepper, I’d drink Dr Pepper.

Highly recommended, and an ideal wine for spring and summer cookouts, whether burgers or chicken. My only regret? That it’s not a couple of dollars cheaper, so I could put it in the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Mother’s Day wine 2016

Mother's Day wineWelcome to the Wine Curmudgeon’s 10th annual Mother’s Day wine post, in which the point has always been about finding something to make Mom happy. It’s funny how often that doesn’t happen in wine, isn’t it?

As always, the most important piece of advice to make that possible? Buy Mom a Mother’s Day wine gift that she will like, and not something that you think Mom should like because you know more about wine than she does. In other words, if Mom likes sweet white, then buy her the best sweet white you can find, and don’t worry about whether it’s a proper wine for her to drink.

These Mother’s Day wine suggestions should get you started doing just that – and all are highly recommended:

Domaine Robert Sérol Turbullent NV ($18, sample, 8.5%): This rose sparkling wine, made with the gamay grape from a less well known part of the Loire in France, is one of those wines that most of us are afraid to try because it’s so different. So take my word for it: Terrific Mother’s Day bubbly, with raspberry fruit, tight bubbles, and surprisingly dry given the lack of alcohol.

Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Petit Chablis ($20, purchased, 12.5%): Delicious and almost affordable white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Chablis area in the Burgundy region of France) that is varietally correct – a rich mouth feel, wonderful lemon fruit, hints of white spice, and an almost nutty flavor mixed in with all the rest. A good introduction to Chablis for someone who drinks mostly California chardonnay.

Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Rose 2015 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): Given how many roses – even from the Old World – are amping up the fruit this vintage because some focus group said they should, the Bieler remains what a great Provencal rose should be: Tart raspberry fruit, crisp and refreshing, and always enjoyable. There is even a hint of what the French call garrigue – an almost herbal aroma from the flowers and herbs growing near the vineyards.

Alois Lageder Schiava 2014 ($15, purchased, 12%): A fascinating wine from one of my favorite Itlalian producers made with the odd schiava grape. It produces a light, spicy, fruity (berry?) red wine with few tannins. Somewhere between gamay and pinot noir, but truly its own wine and one that should please both red and white drinkers.

More about Mother’s Day wine:
Mother’s Day wine 2015
Mother’s day wine 2014
Expensive wine 86: Jansz Premium Cuvee NV
Wine of the week: Banfi CollePino 2014

Mini-reviews 84: Beso de Vino, Graffigna, Our Daily Red, Albero

Beso de VinoReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Beso de Vino Syrah/Grenache 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): The sort of wine that I am always wary of, given the cute front and back labels. So it’s not surprising that this Spanish red blend doesn’t taste much of Spain, syrah, or grenache – just another International style wine with way too much fruit.

Graffigna Reserve Centenario Malbec 2014 ($15, sample, 14%): Competent Argentine grocery store malbec with sweet black fruit, not too much in the way of tannins, and just enough acidity so it isn’t flabby. Not what I like and especially at this price, but this is a very popular style.

Our Daily Red Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($10, sample, 12.5%): This California red is juicy, simple, and zesty, with more red fruit than I expected. There isn’t much going on, but there doesn’t need to be given what it’s trying to do. Enjoyable in a “I want a glass of wine and this is sitting on the counter” sort of way.

Albero Cava Brut NV ($8, purchased, 11.5%): One day, I’ll find a wine at Trader Joe’s that will justify its reputation for cheap, value wines. This Spanish sparkler isn’t it — barely worthwhile, with almost no fruit and not even close to Segura Viudas or Cristalino.

 

Five cheap Chiantis

cheap chiantiOne of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Maybe because there is so much in Chianti in the world, or that it’s not popular with wine drinkers who are not of a certain age, or because the Italians just do it that way.

Regardless, these five cheap Chiantis – four cost $8 or less – are varietally correct, with sour cherry fruit and that certain tartness that identifies the wine as Italian, and they offer as much value as other red wines costing twice as much. Plus, they’re low in alcohol, which makes them an ideal red wine as the weather warms and spring turns into summer.

Pair these with any food remotely associated with red sauce or sausage, as well as almost anything grilled outdoors, including chicken, and the odd meatloaf or hamburger. And I speak from personal experience – these wines have more than once rescued an evening where circumstances forced me to eat corporate takeout pizza.

Melini Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%). Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%) from Aldi tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but “this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5. It’s simple and juicy, with a touch of cherry fruit, and softer than most of the rest of the wines in this post.

Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) may be the best cheap Chianti of the bunch, with more depth than the Melini, some earthiness, black pepper, and grip that’s rare in an $8 wine. Plus, the sour cherry and tart acidity are spot on, making this wine almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Caposaldi Chianti ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way that made so many of the Italian wines of my youth undrinkable. Almost as well done as the Straccali,

Placido Chianti ($8, purchased, 12.5%) is very, very simple, but still tastes like Chianti, a winemaking approach that California gave up on years ago in favor of lots and lots of sweet fruit regardless of what the wine should taste like. The Placido doesn’t insult the drinker, and if you’re stuck on the road late at night with one of those sodium- and gimmick-laden corporate pizzas, you’re in luck with this wine.