Tag Archives: inexpensive 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: Domaine de la Gaffeliere Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere 2015

Les Hauts de la GaffeliereSo much for bellyaching about the lack of quality cheap white Bordeaux. Since that rant, I’ve found several top-notch bottles, and the most recent is the Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere.

Why the Wine Curmudgeon’s fixation with white Bordeaux? It’s French, sometimes a blend but always made with sauvignon blanc, and have offered value, quality, and terroir for decades. If you wanted a cheap white wine, but weren’t sure what to buy, white Bordeaux was always an excellent choice.

That has changed since the end of the recession, as prices went up and quality didn’t get any better. A $10 wine that costs $15 or $18 isn’t a value, and that has been happening all too often.

But the Les Hauts de la Gaffeliere ($12, purchased, 12%) is. This is a delightful white Bordeaux, made entirely with sauvignon blanc, that offers a sort of flowery aroma, lots of lemon, and the minerality and long, clean finish that sets it apart from sauvignon blanc made elsewhere in the world.

Drink this chilled with almost any kind of chicken or grilled fish. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

wine news

Winebits 446: Cheap wine, retailer foolery, U.S. wine sales

cheap wine

You need to take the bag out of the box if you’re going to slap it.

This week’s wine news: College students take to cheap wine, retailers fudge with scores, and U.S. wine sales will remain flat.

Don’t slap the bag: The Wine Curmudgeon was greatly heartened to see a food website at the University of Florida offer solid advice about buying cheap wine and insisting that cheap doesn’t mean bad wine (and that it linked to my site just hows smart the author, Abigail Miller, is). Writes Miller: “The cuter the label, the simpler the wine,” something I have been preaching for years and that producers assume we’re too stupid to understand. Plus, I brushed up on current slang – “bougie,” a derivative of bourgeois, as in “drinking wine is so bougie,” and slapping the bag, a drinking game that uses the bag inside boxed wine.

Scores and retailers: A Massachusetts TV station discovered that the scores used to sell wine on shelf talkers at liquor stores in its area were playing fast and loose with vintage – that is, the wine that got a 90 was not the vintage for sale. It was something that the TV report found in eight of 10 stores. Said one retailer: “I guess it would be good to know that the winery has won medals, but I think that the consumer needs to look at the year, because the year will make a huge difference.” Sadly, despite the retailer’s observations, I’m told this is a common practice throughout the country.

Not much growth: The U.S. wine boom has ended, and the market will grow at just about one percent through 2020. This compares to growth of 3.3 percent before the recession, a fact the short story mentions but doesn’t try to explain. Has wine become what marketers call a mature category, where we’ve seen all the growth we’re going to have? Or is there something else going on that no one can explain? My guess, given that so few Americans drink wine compared to other countries, is the latter.

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.