The 2015 $10 Wine Hall of Fame has some terrific cheap wine, but most of it is wine that has been there before. This year, just four wines were inducted into the Hall, compared to 16 last year and 12 in 2013. Meanwhile, five dropped out, and I considered only a dozen or so for inclusion, a fraction of the total that I looked at in 2014.
This is a reflection of the continuing changes in the wine business, including producer and distributor consolidation and the increasing market power of Big Wine. There is still lots and lots of cheap wine, but those changes mean that too much of that cheap wine is boring — made to taste a certain way to appeal to a focus group. Or, as one top-level Big Wine executive put it recently, discussing one of his company’s new brands: “It relates to a wider demographic than we originally thought it would. We expected to attract younger Millennials, and we have, but the brand is almost more successful with older Baby Boomers.”
In this, we may be nearing a point first described by Steve McIntosh of Winethropolgy in a comment to a post on the blog last year about wine prices: “But if quality could be objectively measured in standard units, I ?d wager that a dollar will buy you less in 2014 than it did in 2013 — at least in the $10-15 bottle segment.” In other words, we’re getting less quality for our $10, which may explain why I considered so few wines for this year’s Hall of Fame. The goal of too many producers seems to be to make cheap wine instead of cheap wine that’s interesting.
Also notable this year: Tremendous disparity in pricing, even more than in previous years. It’s not that a wine might be $10 in Dallas and $12 elsewhere, which isn’t unusual, but that it might be $10 here and $15 in another part of the country. This may be another function of Big Wine, which can bring more sophisticated techniques to pricing based on region and geography.
But cheap wine doesn’t have to be dull or stupid or overpriced, and that’s the point of the ninth annual Hall of Fame. Go here to find out which wines are eligible and how I pick them.
The new members of the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame:
? Castillo Perelada Cava Reserva Brut, a Spanish sparkling wine that is “maybe the best $10 cava I ?ve tasted yet ? impossibly well done for the price.
? Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado, a Spanish rose, “One of the best roses in the world, always fresh and delicious.
? The Zestos Old Vine Garnacha, another gem from Ole Imports, which takes cheap wine to another level of quality.
? The biggest surprise in the Hall, the Louis Jadot Beaujolais, a wine I’ve been drinking for 30 years but that was a revelation in 2014: “Not just the way I remember Beaujolais, but a lesson for everyone who wants to make great cheap wine rooted in tradition but featuring modern techniques.”
? La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, an Italian red that was OK but not nearly what it had been in the previous vintage.
? The Mandolin syrah, which is almost impossible to find and not up to previous standards if you can find it.
? Australia’s Yalumba Y Series, mostly for availability, but also because the couple of wines I found were older and tasted it.
? Pacific Rim’s dry riesling, which continued its pattern of dropping in and out of the Hall as its vintages changed.
? The $5 Vina Decana, a Spanish tempranillo from Aldi, that disappeared from the grocer’s shelves.
The 2015 Hall of Fame list of holdovers:
? The Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, discovered during my epic 2013 cheap pinot tasting: “What changed my mind was the aroma, earthy and spicy, and the taste, cherry fruit that wasn ?t too fruity, and surprisingly soft, pinot-like tannins.”
? McManis’ petite sirah, “a little earthiness and lots of dark fruit, not too overdone, and, most importantly, varietally correct.”
? 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 across 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.”
? Tractor Shed Red, a California field blend: “a fruity wine with character and qualities other than just the fruit.”
? Ch teau Font-Mars Picpoul, a French white that ?is everything picpoul is supposed to be. ?
? The $5 Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red: ?All I can say is that the Wine Curmudgeon is as surprised as you are. ?
? More than a dozen 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. The most recent additions are the Planeta red and white blends; the red “shows how far Sicily has come from the old days,” while the white “is another amazing” effort.
? The $10 wines from California ?s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the old vine zinfandel and sauvignon blanc.
? The Yellow+Blue box wines, and especially the torrontes and malbec, about $12 for a 1-liter box.
? Dry Creek’s fume flanc, 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.
? Three 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; and Dibon, which Robert Parker liked it as much as I did.
? 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.
? 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.