Six wines entered the $10 Hall of Fame 2020, but that was about the only good news for cheap wine over the past 12 months
Remember how bad last year was for the Hall of Fame, with Bogle and Segura Viudas dropping out? Well, this year is even worse. Just six wines entered the $10 Hall of Fame 2020, five dropped out, and fewer than a dozen were considered, and only a couple of which were rose. That’s usually the most dependable of all cheap wines.
And that’s after tasting a couple of thousand wines in 2019.
But it’s no surprise, given the trends in the wine business over the past decade: Higher prices, lower quality, and focus-group wine making to produce smooth and bland and boring wine. Because, of course, White Claw. Call it, as an old pal in the wine business once did, the final McDonald’s-ization of wine. Why anyone thinks that will benefit the wine business is beyond me.
In addition, availability worsened, making it more difficult than ever to find quality cheap wine. There are too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they prefer Big Wine products, which are easier for them to sell to Big Retail.
But, since most of the most interesting cheap wines are made by smaller, niche producers, they can’t find a distributor (or suffer a small one with little clout) and disappear from shelves. That’s the law — no wine can be sold in the U.S. without a distributor. In fact, most of the wines that dropped out did so because of availability.
Finally, a word about the Trump Administration’s proposed 100 percent tariff, which would double the price of European wine: It’s self-defeating, both politically and economically. Plus, it will make the $10 Hall of Fame obsolete after this year if goes into affect in the spring. We’ll just have to wait and hope for the best.
The new members of the $10 Hall of Fame 2020
• The 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, a red from France’s Loire, Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay.
• The Gascon Musketeers return. These are white blends from southwestern France, led by Domaine Tariquet. It got a new U.S. importer last year, and should be on store shelves in most of the country, according to the importer. In this, almost any $10 white Gascon blend is worth buying, and quality seems to have returned after several years of indifference.
• A Portuguese red and white from Herdade do Esporão Alandra, which offered evidence the Portuguese can make a huge contribution to cheap wine. The white is “crisp and spicy, with lots of pleasantly ripe stone fruit.”
• The 1-liter Azul y Garanza tempranillo from Navarre in Spain: “Lots of cherry fruit balanced by refreshing Spanish acidity, making it one of the great values in the world.”
• The French Little James Basket Press. This white returns to the Hall; its absence was caused by indifferent winemaking and availability. But the current vintage is “exactly the kind of $10 wine that used to be easy to find and isn’t anymore.”
• California’s Ryder Estate sauvingon blanc, availablity.
• The Line 39 California sauvignon blanc, which has been sold so many times in the past couple of years that I’m not even sur it knows who owns it. Not surprisingly, quality has suffered.
• The French Chateau Haut Beaumond, a white Bordeaux, availability.
• An Italian white, Umani Ronchi Villa Bianchi, availablity.
• Vassal de Mercuès, a red wine from the Cahors region of France, availability.
Finally, despite how much I wanted to bring Bogle back, I couldn’t. The sauvignon blanc was sweet. There’s no excuse for that.
The Hall of Fame 2020 holdovers
• Banfi’s Centine red and white wines and its CollePino wines. The Centine red “tastes like sangiovese from the Tuscan region of Italy, and not a winemaking-driven product from a marketing company focus group trying to figure out how to make a sort of sweet and very smooth Italian wine.”
• The French white blend Chateau La Graviere Blanc, the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year.
• Matua sauvignon blanc and rose from New Zealand, some of the best Big Wine efforts I’ve tasted in years..
• 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.
• The McManis California wines, all of which are worth drinking and some of which, like the merlot and viognier, are stunning.
• 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.
• 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.
• Chateau Bonnet blanc, rouge, and rose, maybe the last great cheap Bordeaux: “always varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious.” I can still find them for $10 and $12 in Dallas, but it is getting more difficult in other parts of the country..
• 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.” This is from importer Winesellers, Ltd., and most of their wines offer quality and value.
• The Spanish Ludovicus white and Zestos red, white, and rose, the Flaco tempranillo and the Gordo red blend, as well as the Cortijo rose, brought into the U.S. by Patrick Mata’s Ole Imports. If you see Ole on a label, buy the wine.
• The Hall’s rose wing: The French La Vielle Ferme rose, one of the biggest surprises of my wine writing career, as well as the Bieler Sabine, the 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year; and the Charles & Charles from Washington state. Plus, the 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.
• Assorted Spanish cavas, or sparkling wines (though they may cost as much as $15 in some parts of the country): 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;” and the Naveran.
• 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 $15, 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.