One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions. The Winestream Media will flock there, and its members will write glowing 94-point reviews about wines made with grapes most people have never heard of. The region’s winemakers will become celebrities, starring in glossy cover photos and showing up in wine gossip columns.
Until then, let’s drink the wine and not let anyone else know how well done it is.
Case in point is the Cusumano ($10, purchased), yet another Sicilian wine that is stunning in its combination of value and quality. It’s made with the nero d‘avola grape, common on the island, and one that gives the wine a dark, plummy and almost earthy character. Which, of course, is not what most of us expect from a $10 red wine. There is no sweet fruit, no winemaking alchemy to take out the tannins and smooth out the acid. You get what the terroir and the grapes offer, and that’s a drinkable, impressive hearty red wine of the kind not found often enough in California.
Pair this with a red sauce, roast chicken, hamburgers or sausage. And if someone asks you where you got it or how much it cost, mumble your answer so it stays our secret.
The Wine Curmudgeon used to regularly pour this wine blind, and dare anyone who tasted it to guess where it was from. It was, of course, a trick question – there’s no way anyone would guess New Mexico.
Unfortunately, Gruet has been a victim of its own success. It was probably the first regional wine with distribution throughout the U.S., and it long ago had to start using grapes from California to ensure it could make enough to meet demand. And its price hasn’t been $10 in a number of years (to say nothing of the company’s other problems).
I was also unsure about quality after the addition of the California grapes. It might have been my imagination, but something seemed to be missing the couple of times I had tasted it. So I was relieved to find that the Brut ($13, purchased), Gruet’s entry level wine, was up to its usual standards this time around.
Look for lots of tiny bubbles, some crisp green apple and a little something more than most bubbly at this price has. In this, it’s less austere than a cava but not quite as complicated as a well-made, medium-priced California sparkling. Which means it’s an ideal wine for The Holiday That Must Not be Named; you can still get a smile when you tell the other person the winery is in New Mexico.
I don't have anything against expensive wine. I even drink it myself when the occasion arises. My point is that we expect everyone to drink expensive wine, whether they want to or know anything about it instead of realizing the limitations involved. It's like learning to drive -- you don't start with a Lamborghini, do you?
In fact, I told the people on the show, I look for the same thing in expensive wine that I look for in cheap wine -- value. And the Sauzet ($50, purchased) delivers on this count over and over and over. It's chardonnay from the French region of Burgundy, and specficailly the area called Puligny-Montrachet. In this, the wines are elegant and always in such balance that it's almost impossible to believe.
Sauzet is just one of many excellent producers from the area. The 2006, which I've tasted three times, has changed -- and for the better -- each time. Always, it's a mix of green apple fruit, spiciness (cloves or white pepper?) oak nestled in the background, and the minerality that defines this wine.
This would make a lovely gift for The Holiday That Must Not be Named, as well as for any dinner with someone you care about.
New Zealand sauvignon blancs were all the rage in the couple of years before I started the blog. One of them, Cloudy Bay, even got big scores from the Winestream Media, something that almost never happens to sauvignon blancs.
Since then, they’ve mostly faded into the store shelf and have become just another wine to buy. I’m not quite sure why; the fickle consumer, perhaps, who moved on to something else?
So I was surprised to see the Thorny Rose ($9, purchased, 13.5%), apparently a new label from Big Wine’s Constellation Brands. Who is doing new sauvignon blancs these days?
Be glad they’re doing this one. I expected another tepid grocery store New Zealand sauvignon blanc, with lots of sort of grapefruity fruit and not much else. Instead, I tasted lots of real grapefruit, as well as a tiny bit of tropical fruit in the middle and even an attempt at a finish. This is not a one-flavor wine by any means. (Though, if you click on the link to the wine, be warned: The copy reads as if it was written by someone my age trying to appeal to someone in their 20s.)
Serve it chilled with roast or grilled chicken or boiled or grilled seafood, and don’t forget how much sauvignon blanc likes garlic and parsley.
Rioja – red wine made with the tempranillo grape from the Rioja region of Spain – has long been one of the world’s great wine values. The simplest Riojas, called crianza, are everyday wines that usually deliver tremendous quality for $10. That more of us don’t know about them is one of the many things that make the Wine Curmudgeon so cranky.
Bodegas Faustino, which has been making wine in Spain for 150 years, has long been known for its wines with Roman numerals – Faustino I, Faustino V, and Faustino VII. This Faustino ($10, purchased, 13%) is part of its “modern reds” line – a term that usually makes me run screaming into the night, hinting as it does of merlot blended into the mix, winemaking alchemy to produce sweet fruit, and lots of fake oak.
Happily, this “modern red” is terrific basic Rioja, with everything as it should be. Look for cherry fruit, bright acidity, earthiness and that wonderfully funky Rioja aroma. The only thing that seemed modern about it was better winemaking – no off flavors or smells, which can sometimes happen with old-style Rioja.
You can serve this with almost anything except a white cream sauce, which is one of the great strengths of Rioja. It’s especially fine with bean dishes.
Reviews 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
• Knez Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, sample): California red was OK as far as it went, but not very interesting. The various parts were there – pinot smokiness and some black fruit – but something was missing.
• Leese-Fitch Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($12, sample): A stunning grocery store white that I’d drink again -- just 13 percent alcohol and almost no fruit at all (for a California wine, anyway). Lots of grassiness on the aroma and an almost flinty finish.
• Camelot Chardonnay NV ($7, sample): Lots and lots of fake oak, though it does taste like California chardonnay if you like lots and lots of fake oak.
• Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling 2011 ($18, sample): Disappointing, especially considering how much I enjoy Alsace riesling. Too sweet for the alcohol level, and though it had the requisite amounts of petrol on the nose and soft, ripe white fruit, seemed out of balance.