One of the themes on the blog for the past couple of weeks has been value — does a wine offer more to the consumer than it costs? In this, value is not about price, because not all cheap wine delivers value. Sometimes, it’s just cheap.
It’s also worth noting that a wine doesn’t have to be cheap to offer value. Yes, it’s more difficult for an expensive wine to do this, given that too many expensive wines are expensive because their reason for being is to be expensive. But it is certainly possible, and it happens more often than I acknowledge here.
One producer who consistently does this is New Zealand’s Spy Valley, which as been making $15 and $20 wines that taste like they cost much more for as long as I have been writing about wine. I had one of those sublime, geeky wine experiences with the sauvignon blanc last year, and it’s not even my favorite Spy Valley wine.
That would be the riesling ($18, purchased, 12.5%), which is as enjoyable as it is difficult to find. I only see it in Dallas every couple of years, given the vagaries of the three-tier system, so when I do see it, I buy it, even if it’s a previous vintage. The producer is good enough so that doesn’t matter.
The 2011 didn’t let me down. It’s not riesling like most consumers know it — no sweet tea-like sugar or fruit flavors that taste like they came out of a can. Instead, it’s a dry riesling, complex with layers of flavor that range from petrol on the nose (a classic riesling characteristic) to citrus and tropical in the front and middle. It’s still fresh and almost aggressive after almost two years in bottle, which is a sign that it’s only going to get better with age.
Serve this to someone who doesn’t think they like riesling, and see if they change their mind. Highly recommended, and well worth the money.
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.
This was not the scheduled wine of the week, but since I ?m still waiting, weeks later, for a distributor to call me back about a Gascon wine I want to do, I had to shift the schedule around.
I mention this not to damn the Brancott with faint praise, because it deserves better than that. Rather, it ?s to note (again, sadly) how lazy distributors are and to point out that we shouldn ?t force ourselves to stick to some sort of wine drinking schedule. Which even I find myself doing sometimes. Drink what you like, but be willing to try all sorts of things.
The Brancott ($10, purchased) is a mostly one-dimensional New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but that's not a bad thing for a grocery store wine at this price — especially since so many others aren't even that. Right, Monkey Bay? There is grapefruit, and it does dominate, which is to be expected. But it ?s not overdone, and there is also some ripe tropical fruit in the middle, just 12 1/2 percent alcohol, and a clean, fresh approach. All in all, a very pleasant surprise.
Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled vegetables, small plate salads, and even something like hummus. And be glad that I was forced to take a different path.
The Wine Curmudgeon ?s favorite New Zealand sauvignon blanc is Spy Valley; the catch is that it ?s very difficult to find in Dallas. So when I had a chance to meet Jules Taylor, whose New Zealand winery gets high marks for quality and professionalism ( ?Plus, Jeff, she ?s a great person"), I was excited. There ?s nothing wrong with having two favorites.
I was not disappointed. Taylor is clever and passionate about her work. How do I know this? When someone can sound as excited as she did about her wines when talking to a wine writer after a long and hot day of visiting retailers and sitting in meetings, she must be passionate. (She is also a tequila aficionado, and was very excited to be in Dallas if only for that. Not many interesting tequilas for sale in New Zealand, apparently.)
The sauvignon blanc ($18, sample) is New Zealand sauvignon blanc the way it should be. There is more grassiness than citrus in the front (and lime instead of grapefruit); a soft, almost seductive tropical middle (passion fruit?); and a long, very subtle mineral finish. This is a complex wine, especially for the price, and not only well above the entry level wines on the market, but on par with many more expensive ones. Highly recommended.
Taylor also makes a late harvest sauvignon blanc dessert wine ($20 for a 375 ml bottle, sample), which I really shouldn ?t mention. It ?s not that it isn t very nicely done (lots of apricot, honeyed sweetness, and a bit of sauvignon blanc character). It ?s that she makes very little of it, and even less gets imported to the U.S. If you can find it, buy it.
New Zealand is known for sauvignon blanc. And, as much as its wineries have tried to convince the world that they can make something else, they have run into huge problems. That ?s because their sauvignon blanc is not only terrific, but cheap. Even with the weak U.S. dollar, they ?re still mostly around $10 and exceedingly well made.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon was so excited to find this red blend from Villa Maria, one of the oldest family producers in New Zealand. It ?s not typical; if you see a red from that country, it ?s usually pinot noir because New Zealand is supposed to be too cold to grow cabernet and merlot.
But the cabernet-merlot blend ($14, sample) shows progress has been made with those varieties. It has black fruit that is obvious but not over-ripe, and it ?s not as harsh as a similarly priced wine from France. Also impressive: long tannins and surprising balance.
It's a simple wine, and would be a whole lot better at $12, but given the dearth of drinkable red wine at this price, it's more than worth buying. Serve this with any red wine dish, and it wouldn ?t be bad by itself, either, when you run into someone who will only drink red wine.
? The one thing I didn't like about the Villa Maria ($13, sample): It's not $9 any more. Stupid weak dollar.
? Best thing about the wine besides the taste: The screwcap, of course.
? So what did it taste like? It didn't has much grapefruit as most New Zealand wines, but you could still taste citrus. The middle was a bit short and without any New Zealand-like tropical flavors, but there was a very long mineral finish. In some respects, it was more French in style.
? What do you pair this with? The web site suggests green bean and potato salad, which must be a New Zealand thing. Otherwise, almost any shellfish, grilled or roast chicken and the Wine Curmudgeon's favorite, spaghetti with clam sauce (though I use canned clams).
? What's with this bullit-style layout for the wine of the week? Trying something different. Not sure that it would work every week, but it was fun to do this time.
? New Zealand group sets organic target: Organic Winegrowers New Zealand wants 20 percent of the country's vineyards to be certified organic by 2020. The 140-member organic group signed a memorandum of understanding last year with New Zealand Wine Growers to work towards organic goals. The amount of vineyard land in New Zealand under organic certification has tripled in the past three years, and about 4.5 percent of vineyard land is certified organic. That compares to 5 percent in California, which is one of the New World leaders in organic wine. Note that the Kiwis want organic vineyards, which is different from organic wine according to U.S. law. No synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are permitted in organic vineyards.
? French wine values: My pal Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post says France, thanks to an exceptional 2009 vintage, will offer some exceptional "recession buster" wines in 2011. Dave especially likes the Gugial Cotes du Rhone blanc, about $13, and a white from Savoie, Domaine Eugene Carrel Jongieux, about $11. From California, he likes two reds — the 2007 Parducci petite sirah and Liberty School Cuvee, both about $12.
? Not all malbecs are alike: The Wine Curmudgeon is indifferent to much malbec, and Michael Apstein at Wine Review Online, discussing the various regions and styles of malbec that are available today, does a good job of explaining why: "Argentine Malbec satisfies the current thirst in the United States for big, ripe, fruity red wines to accompany the robust flavors found on the plates in fashionably boisterous restaurants. … Hence, there are plenty of Malbecs from Argentina that disappoint with their simplicity and monotonic profile of dark black fruit." But, he says, there are plety of interesting malbecs, from Argentina and elsewhere.