Category:Wine of the week

Wine of the week: Farnese Fantini Sangiovese 2013

Farnese Fantini SangioveseDuring last week’s judging at the Texsom International Wine Awards, another judge and I were commiserating about how difficult it had to become to find value in California, and just not at my price range. Fortunately, the judge told me, there is always Spain and Italy.

Which is about the best way possible to introduce the Farnese Fantini sangiovese ($10, purchased, 12%), an Italian red wine from Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast west of Rome. Cheap wine doesn’t get much better than this; it’s as if the last couple of years of premiumization and dumbing down wine never happened. The Fantini (Farnese is the producer) is surprisingly layered and rich for a $10 sangiovese, with almost sour cherry fruit, black pepper, and what the tasting notes call a wood flavor, an intriguing way to describe how sort of oaky it is.

The other thing I liked? That it tasted like sangiovese, but didn’t taste like the $10 sangioveses from Umbria, about two hours north or Abruzzo, or those from Tuscany, another couple of hours north. In this, we get a chance to taste terroir for our $10, and how often does that happen with cheap wine?

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame. Pair the Fantini with red sauce, of course, but don’t be afraid to try it with grilled meats and beef stews.

Wine of the week: Chateau Pajzos Furmint 2014

Pajzos furmintThe Wine Curmudgeon regularly gets emails offering samples from less well-known parts of the world; my reply, always, is that if the wine isn’t for sale in the U.S., it doesn’t do me much good to review it. So imagine my surprise when the Pajzos Furmint, a Hungarian wine, was at a Dallas retailer.

Hungarian wine still isn’t widely available here, even though the country’s producers have been trying to re-establish their industry for 30 years. I’ll taste it every once in a while while judging a competition, usually a dessert wine, and something called Bulls Blood may be on a bottom store shelf, dusty and abandoned.

But a dry white table wine made with the country’s trademark furmint grape? Almost never, which is where the Pajzos Furmint ($10, purchased, 13%) comes in. I bought it not because I thought it would be worth drinking, but because it was supposed to be a dry table wine made with furmint. That’s a big deal if you do what I do, and sometimes, it’s worth suffering for your art.

But I didn’t suffer. The Pajzos Furmint, from the Tokaji region (a rocky, hilly speck in the Hungarian northeast near Ukraine) was everything a great cheap white wine should be: clean, fresh, and varietally correct. It had spice (white pepper?), apricot fruit, and even some nuttiness (almonds?). Missing was any harshness, unripe fruit, or lingering sweetness that wines from less known regions often have.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame. This is a wine for spring salads or sipping on a pleasant afternoon as the temperatures get warmer.

Wine of the week: Flaco Tempranillo 2014

Flaco TempranilloWhat do I say when I find yet another tremendous value from Spain brought into the U.S from Ole Imports? Not much, other than to be grateful that the Flaco Tempranillo, a red wine, is as well made and as well priced as it is.

The Flaco Tempranillo ($9, purchased, 13%) is not as tart as I would have hoped, but then it’s not from Rioja, where that’s part of the wine’s character. Instead, it’s from the region around Madrid in the middle of the country, where a decade or more of winemaking improvements have turned wine that was barely drinkable into consistent, commercial, and and interesting.

The Flaco Tempranillo is just one more example of that winemaking revolution. It’s more even throughout, and there are fewer elements to balance than in a similarly priced Rioja — call it a terroir difference, and who thought we would ever write that about a wine from Madrid? Look for enough cherry fruit to be recognizable, soft tannins, and a bit of herb floating in and out. It’s an exceptionally well done wine, let alone for the price, and the French could learn a thing or two about how to make quality wine for $10 from tasting this.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Kenwood Sauvignon BlancBig Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it should, it gets dumped or sold or ignored, and Kenwood is a prime example. It started as an independent, was bought by the same $100 million company that owns Korbel sparkling wine, and then sold to the $9 billion Pernod Ricard conglomerate a couple of years ago.

Along the way, and especially after Korbel bought it, quality suffered. Production was almost doubled and what had been a decent grocery store brand became the kind of wine I write cranky things about. Fortunately, Pernod Richard saw something that Korbel didn’t, and this vintage of the Kenwood sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) shows progress toward returning the brand to cheap wine quality.

The Kenwood sauvignon blanc tastes like it should, which I didn’t expect. Look for California grassiness, some citrus and tropical fruit, and a finish that is almost unpleasant but that ends so quickly that it doesn’t get in the way. Hopefully, more improvement will follow, and Kenwood will once again become the kind of wine you can buy in a grocery store without a second thought. It should also be around $10 in most supermarkets, another bonus.

One sign, though, that Big Wine will always be Big Wine: The back label suggests pairing the Kenwood sauvignon blanc with “spring roasted vegetable salad and herb-roasted fish.” My question? If I’m buying $10 wine in the grocery store, will I roast vegetables or fish (and especially fish)? I realize those pairings are there to give a cheap wine an upmarket cache, but do they really think they’re fooling anyone?

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

Chapoutier Bila-HautIt’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have much in common — both are controversial and both do things that they’re not supposed to do. Chapoutier, for instance, has gone into the riesling business, something a Rhone producer has probably never done in all of France’s recorded wine history.

They even understand the U.S. market in a way that too many of their competitors don’t. What they don’t have in common is the quality of the wine; Chapoutier’s are much better than anything Franzia does these days, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary. The Chapoutier Bila-Haut ($15, sample, 14%) is a case in point: It’s a varietally correct Rhone-style red blend from the less known Roussillon region in southern France that appeals to both the commercial side of the market — its premiumized price (almost twice what it costs in Europe) and fruit forward style — and to those of us who think Rhone-style wine should taste a certain way.

Look for a hint of the earthiness and rusticity that I appreciate, but which isn’t overwhelmed by lots of red fruit (cherry?) and a richer mouth feel that has more to do with the New World than the Old. Having said that, it was quite pleasant and enjoyable, a red wine that will come in handy as spring arrives and that I would buy at $12 or $13.

Wine of the week: Vionta Albarino 2014

Vionta albarinoA couple of years ago, about the only people who knew about albarino were the ones who made it. And since they were in Spain, the idea of albarino didn’t bother most American wine drinkers.

Today, though, you can find albarino, a white wine, in a surprising number of U.S. wine retailers, a development that makes the Wine Curmudgeon smile. And why not? The Vionta Albarino ($14, purchased, 12.5%) is a welcome change of pace, existing somewhere between chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigo. Think of the relationship as a wine-related Venn diagram.

The Vionta albarino is an excellent example of how the grape does that — fresh lemon fruit (Meyer lemon?), a little something that comes off as earthy, and fresh herbs. It also offers, as quality albarinos do, a touch of savory and what aficionados call saltiness (since the wine is made near the sea).

The Vionta albarino is a food wine — pair it with rich, fresh, grilled or boiled seafood, so the flavors can play off each other. Highly recommended, and something I’ve bought twice since the first time. Who says all $15 wine is overpriced?

Wine of the week: Benedetto Chianti 2014

Benedetto ChiantiOne of the problems with really cheap wine — the $3, $4, and $5 labels like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck and Whole Foods’ Three Wishes — is that they don’t always taste like the grapes they’re made with. That is, they’re not varietally correct. The merlot tastes like the pinot noir, the pinot tastes like the cabernet sauvignon, and so on and so forth.

Which is not the case with the Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%), a really cheap Italian red wine from Aldi. It tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but that’s true of wines that cost three or four times as much as the Benedetto. Call this the “man, this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5.

The Benedetto Chianti is simple and juicy, with a little tart cherry fruit. It’s softer than many Chiantis and doesn’t have the burst of telltale acidity, but there’s enough of the latter so that you can tell it’s Chianti if you’re forced to do a blind tasting. In this, it’s fairly priced at $5 — just enough less interesting than the $8 Melini, and obviously not as interesting as the $10 Caposaldo and Straccali.

And, for those of you who want to tweak the wine snob in your life, the Benedetto Chianti is DOCG, the second highest rung in the Italian appellation system. That it can be DOCG and only cost $5 says a lot about how the Italian wine business works, and why it’s as well made as it is.