Nine wines entered the $10 Hall of Fame 2021, as quality cheap wine enjoyed a surprising resurgence over the past 12 months
The last thing I expected for the $10 Hall of Fame 2021 was adding nine wines. I figured we’d lose six or so, and maybe add two or three. That’s the way things were going after the 2020 Hall of Fame debacle, and then we added the Trump wine tariff, continued premiumization, and supply shortages caused by the pandemic in 2021.
So what happened?
• A variety of far-sighted importers and retailers saw an opportunity to sell quality cheap wine in a market glutted with overpriced, supermarket-quality plonk. One leading French wine importer told me it bent over backwards to keep prices down for just that reason. And I saw several retailers add quality $10 wines to its inventory that it hadn’t carried before, including a Texas grocer that never met a wine it couldn’t mark up an extra 15 percent.
• More wine on store shelves from non-tariff parts of the world, including and especially South Africa and Portugal. The improvement in South African quality has been astounding, as witnessed by the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year — the 2019 MAN chenin blanc.
• Some good luck, as well as a little perseverance on my part. The pandemic forced me to change the way I bought wine, which meant I had to take chances I might not have taken.
All was not good news, of course. Some of the greatest cheap wines in the history of cheap wine dropped out. France’s Chateau Bonnet red, white, and rose now cost as much as $20 each, while the importer for Italy’s much beloved Falesco Vitiano dropped the white and rose and limited distribution of the red. Two other wines dropped out — New Zealand’s Matua sauvignon blanc and the Australian Yalumba Y series rose, both for quality.
Plus, availability became even worse, if that’s possible. Much of it was pandemic-related, of course, but distributor consolidation continues to wreak havoc with supply of quality cheap wine. I am finding it more difficult to find $10 wines that used to be common, as witnessed by what happened to the Falesco. There are still too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they don’t want products from the smaller, niche producers who make the most interesting cheap wine.
The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.
The new members of the $10 Hall of Fame 2021
• The 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year, the MAN chenin blanc.
• The French Chateau Campuget rose, a wine I had mostly taken for granted — but no longer: This vintage is step up from the usual fine effort, with more structure and an almost savory finish.
• The Italian Masciarelli rose, made with the montelpuciano grape: It’s “a revelation. … difficult to believe that it doesn’t cost $18 and have a too cute label.”
• The Italian Tenuta Carpazo sangiovese. The 2019 — and vintage matters here, too — is “fresh, earthy, and tart all at the same time. How is that possible?”
• The 2016 La Valentina Montelpuciano. an Italian red, where whole is greater the sum of its parts.
• A vinho verde, the Aveleda Fonte, which is a first for the Hall. But why not? “Perhaps the best vinho verde I’ve ever tasted.”
• The Spanish Balnea verdejo: “An almost stunning wine. … somehow layered and almost nuanced – but costing nothing more than a bottle of very ordinary supermarket plonk.”
• The French Le Paradou viogner. This white shows viognier at its best — wonderfully fruity, but not sweet or stupid.
• An old friend, the Mont Gravet carignan. This French red is one of my all-time favorite cheap wines, and even when it’s not in the Hall, it’s worth buying. The 2018 vintage is “everything a great $10 wine should be – professionally made, varietally correct, and interesting.”
The Hall of Fame 2021 holdovers
• The Gascon Musketeers. These are white blends from southwestern France, led by Domaine Tariquet. 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.”
• 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.
• 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.
• Tempranillo from Spain’s Rioja region remains a great value, despite the tariff. The LAN Crianza is one of the best of those values – earthy, peppery, and a hint of orange peel. Also, the El Coto Rioja crianza.
• 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.
• 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, 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.