Maybe it’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s always-assume-the-worst nature, but whenever I start to feel better about cheap wine and its place in the world, I run across something like this, from a user on CellarTracker about the Velvet Devil: “A nice wine if you need a half cup of red wine for a recipe and want to enjoy drinking the rest.”
What does this person expect from a $13 wine? First-growth Bordeaux?
In fact, the Velvet Devil ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is another in a long line of well-made and well-priced wines from Washington state winemaker Charles Smith and deserves much more than damning with faint praise. This is a red wine for family dinners, with enough merlot varietal character to be recognizable — lots of blueberry fruit, a little leather, and a few tannins — and all more or less in balance. It’s a red meat wine (Christmas, even(, but not so fussy that it wouldn’t pair with roast chicken.
And, it’s a huge step up from all those grocery store merlots burdened with jelly jars of dark fruit, wines that somehow taste sweet even though they don’t have any residual sugar. If the Cellar Tracker user thought the Velvet Devil was ordinary, I don’t want to know what they would say about the other.
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.
? Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($10, sample, 13%): South African white was much different than I thought it would be — young and fresh and citrusy, with a bit of a pithy finish. It ?s a one-note wine, but delivers value for price.
? Trump SP Brut 2008 ($30, sample, 12%): Virginia sparkling wine from the former Kluge Estate continues the Kluge tradition of excellent bubbly. Lots of tight bubbles, crisp cherry fruit, an even finish, and a noticeable and welcome lack of oak.
? Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain 2011 ($25, sample, 13.5%): One of the best wines I’ve tasted this year — classic Washington state red blend with rich, black fruit and where the Washington state syrah stands out. Highly recommended.
? Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Laforet 2011 ($17, sample, 12.5%): Pinot noir from France has some Burgundian character, which means it has a little earthiness and not that much fruit. But it’s a little thin, and the price is problematic.
Hedges has made terrific $10 wines for as long as the Wine Curmudgeon has been championing the cheap wine cause, and this version of its trademark red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah is no exception.
There are many reasons to recommend the 2011 ($14, sample, 13.5%), the 25th vintage of this label: The distinctive Washington state fruit-forward style (cherry and black cherry), which speaks to respect for the grapes and not consumer focus groups; surprising balance for wine that offers this much fruit, so that it actually has tannins and acid to offset the former; and the price, which will be at least a couple of dollars less than $14 at most retailers.
This is a food wine, a little heavier than past vintages. This doesn ?t mean it ?s better or worse ? just different, and there is nothing wrong with that. Serve it at summer cookouts, burgers and the like, all of which will play nicely with the wine ?s fruity style. Grilled sausages, perhaps?
Finally, a note about the label, which is about as anti-cute as possible: Hedges has made a concerted effort to be different over the past several years, and that included forming a group to eliminate wine scores. The label, with its flourishes and faux fleur de lis, is part of that. I ?m not sure I like it, but I appreciate the difference.