Nine wines entered the Hall of Fame 2017 as cheap wine thrived over the past 12 months
Cheap wine didn’t just survive the past 12 months, but thrived – and despite everything the wine business threw at it. Forget premiumization. Forget commoditization. Forget snob-ization. The 10th annual $10 Wine Hall of Fame revels in all of the great cheap wine that is still available to buy.
How do I know this? Because every time I went to the store over the past year, I came home with a dozen bottles of quality, well-made, $10 wine. Because four dozen wines were considered for the hall, the most since the beginning of the recession, and three times as many as least year.
That’s why nine wines were added to the $10 Hall of Fame 2017, and it could have been 10 or 12. Or 15. If we’re not quite in cheap wine’s pre-recession glory days, we’re still very well off – and much better off than I feared over the past 12 months. And, frankly, after the horrors of the past couple of years, I’m surprised. So how did this happen?
• The strong dollar. The euro has dropped almost 20 percent in the past year, and those savings ended up on store shelves for wines from France, Italy, and Spain.
• Less demand in Europe, as people continue to drink less wine. That means producers are turning to the U.S. to sell their wine, and cutting prices to do so in a very competitive U.S. market.
• Increased retail competition in the U.S. More stores selling wine means they need more product, and especially product that isn’t available at the local supermarket. The corollary to this is that the smartest retailers are looking for wines from different places made with different grapes, because those aren’t the California plonk sold at the grocery store.
Also surprising: Price creep wasn’t the problem it has been the past couple of years. Still, I considered wines costing as much as $13 for the hall this year, on the the theory that price creep will be with us for a while. One of them made it, and another was restored to the Hall. The rules for eligibility and selection are here.
Five labels dropped out, most for availability.
The new members of the $10 Hall of Fame 2017
• Famillie Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages, a French red blend with grenache, syrah, and mouvedre that just keeps getting better with age.
• Angeline sauvignon blanc, about as perfect a California sauvignon blanc as you’re going to find, regardless of price — lime, grassy, crisp, clean. Closer to $13 than $10.
• Naia, a Spanish white, that is more subtle and more nuanced than most wines made with the verdejo grape.
• Benedetto, $5 Chianti from Italy. A blog visitor said it best: “Great buy! We have spent $200+ for a taste or bottle and I think we spent 8 bucks for this. Will go back and buy more.”
• Villa des Anges, an astounding French rose – Provencal quality for half the price.
• Mont Gravet Carignan. This French red (from Gascony, of all places) is the best cheap red I’ve had in years. Sadly, it’s not everywhere in the country, but there’s lots of it if you live where it is sold.
• Moulin de Gassac Guilhem, a French white made with odd grapes from a producer much better know for expensive wine.
• Banfi CollePino, in which Big Wine does it right – an Italian red made with sangiovese “with the telltale tart cherry fruit, a certain freshness, and soft tannins.”
• Chateau Pajzos Furmint, white wine from Hungary that is “everything a great cheap white wine should be: clean, fresh, and varietally correct.”
• Tractor Shed Red, a California field blend, also for availability.
• The $5 Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red, for quality. This non-vintage wine changed its blend, and the result was a less Spanish, more grocery store-style wine.
• The Hey Mambo red blend, for availability.
The Hall of Fame 2017 holdovers
• The McManis’ California wines, all of which are worth drinking and some of which, like the merlot, are stunning.
• Scaia Rosato, an Italian rose, “A gorgeous, Provencal-style rose with a touch more fruit (raspberry?) as well as the aroma of wildflowers.” I’m worried this won’t be available at this price because it such a value.
• The Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado, a Spanish rose, restored to the Hall for a price creep exception.
• Straccali Chianti, an Italian red that is so well-made that it “embarrasses all those $15 grocery store red Italians with their cute names and shiny labels.”
• Argento malbec, an Argentine red wine that made me reconsider how much I dislike malbec. Sadly, this is what’s left of what used to be wonderful values from South America.
• The Lamura Sicilian wines, just some of the dozen or Sicilian wines that cost $10 or less and offer spectacular value. You can find them by clicking the cheap wine tab at the top of the page or doing a search for “Sicilian” in the box to the right under the wine categories heading.
• Two California sauvignon blancs: The Hess Select “is a tremendous value, given that most sauvignon blanc at this price tastes like it came off an assembly line.” The Line 39 “does something too many Big Wines don’t — offer more than the one flavor that dominates everything else.”
• Chateau Bonnet blanc, rouge, and rose, maybe the last great cheap Bordeaux: “always varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious.”
• Maculan Pino & Toi, an Italian white blend: “an amazing wine — refreshing and clean, with green apple fruit, and even some kind of a finish.”
• The Pine Ridge chenin blanc/viognier blend, always a value and always well made, but a good example of pricing differences and price creep.
• The La Fiera pinot grigio: “Quite possibly the perfect pinot grigio — a little lemon fruit and a restrained, quinine-like finish, three flavors, and not overdone in any way.”
• Chateau Font-Mars Picpoul, a French white that “is everything picpoul is supposed to be.”
• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the old vine zinfandel and sauvignon blanc. One big-time sommelier keeps a case of the chardonnay at home, which speaks volumes about its quality.
• Dry Creek’s fume blanc, a stellar sauvignon blanc from California that restored my faith in inexpensive California wine, and its chenin blanc: “not indifferently made and is not sweet. … This is a wonderful alternative to chardonnay.”
• Five Spanish cavas, or sparkling wines — Segura Viudas brut (dry) and rose (“How can they do this so inexpensively?” a competitor asked me); the legendary Cristalino brut, extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose; Dibon, which Robert Parker liked as much as I did; Casteller, “tight bubbles and tart, sweet lemon fruit;” and Perelada, brut and rose, “impossibly well done for the price.”
• The Gascon Musketeers, white blends from southwestern France, that include Domaine Tariquet, Domaine Artigaux, Domaine Duffour, Domaine D’Arton Les Hauts, Domaine de Pouy, Chateau de Cedre, and Domaine des Cassagnoles. Almost any Gascon white blend, even those not listed here, are worth trying.
• The Hall’s Asterisk Wing — for the Vitiano red, white, and rose made by the great Riccardo Cotarella. These Italian wines are sometimes $10 and sometimes $11 or $12, and it’s kind of silly to keep moving them in and out of the Hall because the dollar fluctuates against the euro or because retailers are playing with margin.