13 wines entered the $10 Hall of Fame 2018, but there is bad news for cheap wine on the horizon
The $10 Hall of Fame 2018 seems to show that all is well with quality cheap wine, despite the troubles and travails that are threatening the existence of the wine we love. But as I looked at the results more closely, the warning signs were obvious.
Yes, 13 wines made the Hall this year, five more than last year – and 2017 was a good year for cheap wine. Plus, I considered about the same number of wines as last year, another good sign.
But the details were ominous:
• Six wines dropped out, one more than 2017, and price creep reared its ugly head. The venerable Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier, which has been in the Hall for a decade, can cost as much as $15 now. And it’s just not worth $15.
• The loss of Pine Ridge, as well as the Hess sauvignon blanc, left just three California wines that aren’t McManis or Bogle in the Hall. That speaks volumes about how difficult it is to find quality cheap wine from California, thanks to exorbitant land prices and that most producers can’t afford to make cheap wine worth buying.
• The induction total was boosted by five roses, which says more about the quality of rose than it does about cheap wine. Take out the roses, and we had a very ordinary year.
• The Mont Gravet carignan, one of my all-time favorites, dropped out for availability; it’s almost impossible to find. Availability has always been a problem given how screwed up the three-tier system is. But it’s worse than ever, and I had to leave several wines out of the Hall because of it. Even though I bought them, they’re difficult to find elsewhere. That’s because the wine business increasingly revolves around the biggest retailers like grocery stores, and the biggest retailers only want wine from the biggest producers. And most great cheap wine doesn’t come from the biggest producers.
In other words, this may be the last Hall of Fame for a long while where this many wines are good enough to earn induction. The quality at $10, and even $15 or $18, isn’t there, sacrificed for “smoothness,” the chance to upsell consumers to equally inferior wine, and a resurgence in cute labels and marketing trickery. Throw in the weak dollar, which will eventually boost the cost of imports, and we’re in for a long, unhappy period.
So celebrate while we can, because there are some terrific wines earning their place in the Hall of Fame.
The new members of the $10 Hall of Fame 2018
• The Monte Antico Toscana, an Italian red blend, combines value and quality in a way too many cheap wines don’t bother with any more. It tastes Italian, but it’s not old-fashioned or full of winemaking gimmicks.
• I’ve waxed so poetic about Spanish wine from Ole Imports that it’s almost embarrassing. But two more are Hall worthy this year – the Flaco tempranillo and the Gordo red blend, made with the decidedly un-Spanish cabernet sauvignon grape.
• The importer Vineyard Brands is best known for its high end and expensive wines. So that it brings the Italian Umani Ronchi Villa Bianchi into the U.S. is a guarantee of cheap wine greatness: “professionally made but also terroir driven and representative of its time and place.”
• Vassal de Mercuès, a red wine from the Cahors region of France, is made with malbec and about as different from the grocery store Argentine version as possible.
• Tempranillo from Spain’s Rioja region remains a great value, and the LAN Crianza is one of the best of those values – earthy, peppery, and a hint of orange peel.
• The French Chateau Haut Beaumond is the rarest of breeds – a white Bordeaux that is cheap, well made, and refreshing.
• One can never go wrong with white wine from Gascony, and the Pigmentum Gascogne is one more example of the high-quality wine produced in that part of France.
• The five roses: Yalumba Y Series from Australia; Farnese, from Italy; the Provencal Pierre Rougon, complete with garrigue; the odd and intriguing Italian Li Veli, made with the negroamaro grape: and the Spanish Riscal, one of the best roses I tasted in 2017.
• Naia, a Spanish white, for price creep.
• Benedetto, $5 Chianti from Italy; no longer available.
• The Hess Select sauvingon blanc, for drop in quality.
• Chateau Pajzos Furmint, white wine from Hungary, for availability.
• The Pine Ridge chenin blanc vigoner blend, for price creep.
• The Mont Gravet, for availability.
The Hall of Fame 2018 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.”
• 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.
• 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. Also on price creep watch.
• 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.
• Moulin de Gassac Guilhem, a French white made with odd grapes from a producer much better know for expensive wine.
• The Line 39 California sauvignon blanc, which “does something too many Big Wines don’t — offer more than the one flavor that dominates everything else.”
• Villa des Anges, an astounding French rose – Provencal quality for half the price.
• Chateau Bonnet blanc, rouge, and rose, maybe the last great cheap Bordeaux: “always varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious.” Price creep may knock these out next year.
• Maculan Pino & Toi, an Italian white blend: “an amazing wine — refreshing and clean, with green apple fruit, and even some kind of a finish.”
• 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.”
• 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.