Tag Archives: $10 wine

wine of week

Wine of the week: Mont Gravet Carignan Vieilles Vignes 2015

Mont Gravet CarignanLet’s not waste any time – the Mont Gravet carignan is the best cheap red wine I’ve tasted since the legendary and too long gone Osborne Solaz. To quote my notes: “This cheap French red couldn’t be any better and still be cheap.”

What makes the Mont Gravet carignan ($10, purchased, 12.5%) so wonderful? It’s not dumbed down for the so-called American palate. It’s varietally correct, not easy to do with a blending grape like carignan. It tastes of terroir, not common in $10 wine. I tasted this wine over and over, looking for flaws, because that’s what the Wine Curmudgeon does. I couldn’t find any.

What will you find? An earthy and fruity (blackberry?) wine, with a welcoming, almost figgy aroma, acidity that sits nicely between the fruit and the earthiness, and just enough tannins to do the job. It’s everything you could want in $10 wine – or $15 wine, for that matter. This is the kind of the the $10 Hall of Fame was made for.

Finally, a word about the importer, Winesellers Ltd., and the tremendous job it does finding great cheap wine. I recommend the company’s wines a lot, and that I have to find a retailer who has them and pay for them, as opposed to getting a sample, isn’t an obstacle. These are wines I buy not just to review, but to drink.

Wineseller looks for producers who care about the same things that I do – quality, value, and making wine that is distinctive and reflects where it came from. How many others do that, let alone for $10 wine?

wine of week

Wine of the week: Charles & Charles Rose 2015

Charles & Charles roseThe Charles & Charles rose from Washington state has played a key role in the rose revolution and embarrassed the Wine Curmudgeon. Both are reasons to recommend it.

First, its role in the revolution, in honor of July 4 this week. The first vintage of the Charles & Charles rose ($11, purchased, 12.2%) in 2008 more or less coincided with the idea that rose was worth drinking, something the U.S. wine industry hadn’t really embraced before then. The Charles & Charles was dry, crisp, and just fruity enough to give wine drinkers a quality pink that was in national distribution just as demand started to increase.

This year’s Charles & Charles rose is another top-flight wine, and should return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The 2014 was a touch softer and not as enjoyable, and I was worried that trend would continue. But the 2015 is crisp, fresh, and alive, bursting with tart watermelon fruit and even a hint of herbs (perhaps the Washington version of garrigue). It’s one of the world’s great roses, and just the wine to drink over the long – and forecast to be 100 degrees here – holiday weekend.

And how did it embarrass me? In November 2013, I gave a sold-out seminar at the American Wine Society conference, focusing on unappreciated grapes, wines, and regions. So we tasted all my favorites – a nero d’avola from Sicily, a Gascon white, cava, a Texas red, and the Charles & Charles rose. My point? That in the chardonnay-, cabernet sauvigon-, merlot-dominated wine business, we overlooked a lot of cheap, terrific wine.

The Charles & Charles rose was the biggest hit, and even people who didn’t drink pink loved it. One woman was so excited she asked where she could buy it, and I had to tell her that it was sold out. It was November and the end of rose season, and the producer didn’t make enough given rose’s new popularity. I literally got the last six bottles in the U.S. for the tasting.

I will always remember the dirty look the woman gave me as she asked: “Why did we taste a wine that we can’t buy?” It doesn’t get much more worse for the WC.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Moulin de Gassac Guilhem 2014

Moulin de Gassac GuihemThe Wine Curmudgeon’s crankiness, as regular visitors here know, is not an act. It’s because I am forced to taste so much insulting wine that is sold by retailers who don’t care as long as they make their numbers. Hence $8 wine with a $15 price tag and private label junk dressed in winespeak and a cute label.

So when I find something like the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($12, purchased, 12.5%), I buy two bottles. Or even more. This is cheap white wine – and French cheap white wine at that – that reminds us what cheap white wine is supposed to taste like. And that it is made with the little known grenache blanc and the even more obscure clairette doesn’t hurt, either. Take that, fake oak chardonnay!

Look for amazing acidity, tempered by just enough white fruit (barely ripe pears?) and a certain white pepper spiciness. It’s easy to tell that the producer, best known for some highly-rated and pricey wines from southern France, cares about the cheap stuff, too.

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

wine of week

Wine of the week: Château Bonnet Blanc 2014

Château Bonnet BlancThere aren’t many wines that I would drink every day, but the Chateau Bonnet Blanc is one of them. What higher praise does a cheap wine need?

The Bonnet has been in the $10 Hall of Fame since I started the blog, and it has never been anything other than consistent, delicious, and a value. Quality cheap wines come and go, but not the Bonnet – something I wish the rest of the wine world understood. That the Bonnet doesn’t do better in the annual best cheap wine poll is surprising and may speak to distribution difficulties for inexpensive foreign wine in the U.S. One retailer told me his store, part of good-sized chain, was at the mercy of the wine’s distributor, which brought the wine in from France when it wanted to, and not when the retailer needed it. Regardless, the Bonnet Blanc – as well as the red and rose – is worth looking for and asking your retailer to find if he or she doesn’t carry it.

What do you need to know about this version of the Chateau Bonnet Blanc ($10, purchased, 12%)? It’s a white blend from France’s Bordeaux region, mostly sauvignon blanc, but also semillon (typical of white Bordeaux), plus muscadelle to add interest. Look for some tropical fruit aromas; clean and long throughout; some, but not a lot of citrus; and even white flowers from the muscadelle.

Drink this chilled on its own, or with any kind of summer food that isn’t big and beefy. Highly recommended, and this time the marketing blurb on the website isn’t more annoying gratuitous foolishness: “In 2014, Château Bonnet produced a wine in keeping with its legendary reputation.”

wine of week

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.

Memorial Day and rose

Memorial Day and rose 2016

rose 2016This year, as we celebrate the blog’s ninth annual Memorial Day and rose post at the traditional start of summer, we have much to enjoy. Not only have the hipsters and the Hamptons elite embraced rose, but so has Big Wine – Dark Horse, an E&J Gallo label, has released a dry rose, something I don’t remember Gallo brands doing very often (though the wine isn’t quite up to this post’s standards).

So let us rejoice. The rest of the wine world might be going to hell in a hand-basket – premiumization, consolidation, Millennialization and all the other -ations that have taken so much fun out of wine – but rose remains cheap and delicious and widely available.

This year’s recommendations are after the jump. You should also check out the rose category link, which lists eight years of rose reviews. The blog’s rose primer discusses styles, why rose is dry, how it gets its pink color, and why vintage matters. Vintage, in fact, is especially important this year; I didn’t see as many 2015s on shelves as I should have, and there seemed to be more older wines. In rose, older does not usually mean better. Continue reading

wine of week

Wine of the week: Les Maurins Reserve Bordeaux 2014

les maurinsThe biggest mistake I made with this wine was not buying a case after I tasted the first bottle. But I only bought two bottles the next time, and the Les Maurins was gone the third time I went back to the store.

Which is the catch for the Les Maurins ($7, purchased, 12%) – otherwise a $10 Hall of Fame wine. It’s an Aldi product in the U.S. (though apparently widely available in Europe), which means availability is always going to be a problem.

Which is incredibly frustrating, because this is a great cheap wine – not quite as well done as the $10 Chateau Bonnet Blanc, but very well done and so much better than most of the wine that costs $7 that I have to taste. For one thing, it’s a white wine from the Bordeaux region of France that tastes like white Bordeaux, with lemon-lime fruit, chalky minerality, and a very clean finish. It’s not too citrusy or too fruity, two common problems with cheap white Bordeaux (much of which isn’t all that cheap at $12 to $15).

So those of us in the 33 states with Aldi stores should watch for the Les Maurins. There is also a $7 Les Maurins red Bordeaux, which is apparently as equally as well made as the white and is a big hit in Australia. Hopefully, that will show up here sooner rather than later.