There 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.”
The 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.
This 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
The 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.
This question comes up every once in a while in the wine cyber ether, and then there is a flurry of activity as the various angels dance on the heads of their respective pins. But determining value in wine deserves more attention than that.
It is the ultimate question for any consumer good, be it ketchup or automobiles or blue jeans. Did you get more value from the product than you paid for it? Was the wine worth more than it cost? But this is a complicated question to ask, let alone answer, given how different everyone’s palate is. My idea of value is probably different from yours, which is neither good nor bad. It just is, and people who read the blog know what I like and whether it matches what they want. That’s the best we can hope for
Further complicating the issue: Value doesn’t matter to most of the Winestream Media, which treats every wine the same regardless of price. A 92 is a 92 is a 92, and while you sometimes see a producer boasting that its $12 wine got a 91, only the most cynical or most desperate will boast their their $100 wine got a 91.
So where does that leave us with value in wine?
• Value probably doesn’t matter in very cheap wine. No one buys $3 wine for value; they buy it because it’s cheap. That it tastes good is an unexpected bonus.
• Value also doesn’t matter much for expensive wine. Who pays $200 for a bottle hoping they’re getting $300 worth of wine? Besides, who pays $200 for a bottle and then admits it was crappy? Wine has taught us that it’s an excellent wine because it cost so much, and who are we to argue?
• Value is all in wine that costs $8 to $20, despite the wine business’ best efforts to convince us otherwise. I wrote this in the cheap wine book, and I’ll repeat it until I die at the keyboard: The vast majority of wine that that costs between $15 and $20 isn’t worth it, because it sells us what’s outside the bottle – the label, the name, the appeal to the appropriate demographic – instead of what’s inside. I taste these wines all the time (got eight samples last week, in fact), and it’s the same regardless of where they’re from or whose name is on them – the least expensive grapes and the most basic winemaking, but a label that preens about the wine’s quality. Nowhere is there $15 worth of wine in the bottle.
The embarrassment of riches that is cheap Spanish wine would intimidate a lesser writer than the Wine Curmudgeon. But I will continue to write about great cheap Spanish wine like the Ontanon Rioja until the rest of the wine world – yes, that means you, California – gets the message.
The Ontanon Rioja ($13, purchased, 13%) is a modern style of Rioja, the red wine made with tempranillo from the Spanish region of Rioja. That means very fresh and with a touch more vanilla and oak than I like. But who am I to quibble about a little more more oak in a wine that is otherwise delightful?
All the parts are there for a well-made and enjoyable Rioja — bright tart cherry fruit, the hint of orange peel, and the earthiness that so many other wines leave out because they don’t want to offend the so-called U.S. palate. Note to wine marketers: If I wanted Dr Pepper, I’d drink Dr Pepper.
Highly recommended, and an ideal wine for spring and summer cookouts, whether burgers or chicken. My only regret? That it’s not a couple of dollars cheaper, so I could put it in the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.
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.
• Beso de Vino Syrah/Grenache 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): The sort of wine that I am always wary of, given the cute front and back labels. So it’s not surprising that this Spanish red blend doesn’t taste much of Spain, syrah, or grenache – just another International style wine with way too much fruit.
• Graffigna Reserve Centenario Malbec 2014 ($15, sample, 14%): Competent Argentine grocery store malbec with sweet black fruit, not too much in the way of tannins, and just enough acidity so it isn’t flabby. Not what I like and especially at this price, but this is a very popular style.
• Our Daily Red Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($10, sample, 12.5%): This California red is juicy, simple, and zesty, with more red fruit than I expected. There isn’t much going on, but there doesn’t need to be given what it’s trying to do. Enjoyable in a “I want a glass of wine and this is sitting on the counter” sort of way.
• Albero Cava Brut NV ($8, purchased, 11.5%): One day, I’ll find a wine at Trader Joe’s that will justify its reputation for cheap, value wines. This Spanish sparkler isn’t it — barely worthwhile, with almost no fruit and not even close to Segura Viudas or Cristalino.