This should have been a grand and glorious $10 Wine Hall of Fame. The recession forced consumers to drink down, and we're buying more cheap wine than ever before -- and, hopefully, learning that we don't have to pay too much money or attention to scores to find quality wine. In fact, I added six wines to the fifth annual Hall this year, because there was that much great $10 wine to find.
But I also tasted way too much flabby and dull $10 wine in 2010, and especially from California. Producers, apparently, were throwing anything in a bottle that they could sell for $10 or less, regardless of quality, in order to attract customers. The result was wine that tasted as if it had been made to a formula, and a cynical one at that. Call it the white zinfandel style -- lots of sweet fruit and not much else. So it should be no coincidence that no California wines made the Hall this year.
That's why the 2011 Hall of Fame a mixed bag. Yes, six wines were added, but four dropped out: La Ferme de Gicon, a red blend from the Rhone, which was lacking this year; vini merlot from Bulgaria and the Lockwood sauvignon blanc, which apparently aren’t available in the Dallas area any more; and Meridian’s chardonnay, which tasted nothing like last year’s vintage. In this, the Meridian seemed to demonstrate what was wrong with California's approach to wine last year -- dumb it down, spend less on it, and figure no one will notice.
One other 2011 note: I'm establishing a special place in the Hall -- call it the Asterisk Wing -- for the Vitiano red, white and rose made by the great Riccardo Cotarella. These Italian wines are sometimes $10 and sometimes $11, and it's kind of silly to keep moving them in and out of the Hall because the dollar fluctuates against the euro or because retailers are playing with margin.
The new members are:
• Chateau Barat, a French rose and an incredible wine. It started with lots of strawberry fruit and then morphed into something with a long, minerally finish -- and does it with only 12 percent alcohol.
• Casamatta Toscana, perhaps the best cheap sangiovese I've ever had. Price note: This wine, like the Vitianos, is apparently $10 in places other than Dallas.
• Chateau Boisson, a white French wine that is "about as close as I have come to finding older-style white Bordeauxs that don't taste like New Zealand sauvignon blanc."
• Château Parenchère Bordeaux Blanc Sec, a white Bordeaux that is pleasantly floral and fruity (lime and melon?), but with a firm backbone.
• Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Rosado, a grocery store Spanish rose that "is full of strawberry fruit, is bone dry, offers great value, and is barbecue friendly on a 100-degree Texas afternoon."
• Anne Aimee Muller-Thurgau Cuvee A, an Oregon white wine that is "somewhere between an off-dry German riesling and an old-style gewurtztraminer -- sweetish but also spicy." A tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to Jennifer Uygur, who sold me this wine and then gave up retail in 2010 to open a restaurant with her husband. Good luck, Jennifer and David.
The holdover wines are:
• The chenin blanc, CNW, and a chenin blanc-viognier blend, Chenin Vio, from Vinum Cellars in California. One caveat: These wines are not $10 everywhere, and the CNW seems to be in short supply.
• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the petite sirah.
• Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, which comes in brut (dry), extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.
• California’s Toad Hollow pinot noir rose.
• The Yellow+Blue box wines, and especially the malbec, about $12 for a 1-liter box.
• Domaine Tariquet, a white blend from Gascony, which is the representative for several other Gascon wines made with obscure grapes that deserve to be better known.