The world of cheap wine is in flux as we celebrate the 2012 $10 Wine Hall of Fame. Cheap wine is more popular than ever, but the wine industry -- and especially the wine writing part of it -- seems to resent cheap wine more than ever.
Their reasons aren’t quite clear, but chalk up much of the backlash to the fact they’re tired of cheap wine and want to get back to making and writing about the expensive stuff. The wine business can be snobbish, no?
Nevertheless, and in one of the best years ever, the 2012 Hall added eight wines and dropped only four. The new members are:
• Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, a sweetish white wine that has been in and out of the Hall several times over the years. The wine "isn't complicated, but it is a good example of what dry riesling can be."
• Dry Creek Fume Blanc, a stellar sauvignon blanc from California that restored my faith in inexpensive California wine.
• The Santa Julia + torrontes and malbec, Argentine wines that combine quality with price. The malbec would humble wines at twice the price, while the torrontes is easily the best example of that varietal I've tasted in years.
• Segura Viudas brut and rose sparkling wines from Spain. Cheap -- sometimes as little as $8 -- and so well made it's almost spooky. Or, as one competing winery executive asked me, in a very plaintive voice, "How can they do this so inexpensively?"
The four wines dropped were Anne Aimee Muller-Thurgau and the Vinum Cellars chenin blanc and CNW white blend, which aren’t $10 any more, and the Toad Hollow Pinot Noir Rose. It’s especially sad to drop the Toad Hollow, which has been a fixture since the Hall started. But the current vintage, for whatever reason, is more white zinfandel than rose, and it doesn’t meet the Hall’s standards.
The holdover members of the Hall of Fame:
• Notorius, a white wine from Sicily. This was just one of more than a dozen Sicilian wines that cost $10 or less and offer spectacular value, almost all of which are worthy of inclusion. I have not had a bad Sicilian $10 wine in four years of tasting them.
• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the old vine zinfandel.
• Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, which comes in brut (dry), extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.
• The Yellow+Blue box wines, and especially the sauvignon blanc, about $12 for a 1-liter box.
• 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. Is on Hall watch, though, because of limited availability.
• Casamatta Toscana, perhaps the best cheap sangiovese I've ever had, though it's on Hall watch this year as it price fluctuates above $10.
• 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." On Hall watch because of limited availability.
• 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."
Finally, the Hall's 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.