Category:$10 wine

Wine review: Sangre de Toro 2006

sangre de toroSomewhere in my house, either stuffed in a drawer or buried in a box, are probably hundreds of the little plastic bulls that are attached to the neck of the bottle of the Sangre de Toro, a Spanish red blend. When I started doing this 20-some odd years ago, I drank a lot of what I called bull wine. It was $6 or $7 then, well made, and dependable.

I haven;t had Sangre de Toro in years. No reason to, really. I thought I knew what it tasted like, and I thought I had outgrown it. Which is a good reason to repeat the Wine Curmudgeon mantra: “Taste the wine before you judge it, dummy.”

So I bought a bottle for about $10, took it home, unscrewed the cap (a welcome change from the old days) and discovered that the wine has remained relevant. These days, it ?s made with Spanish versions of grenache and carignan. The former gives it fruitiness I don’t remember from before, while the latter adds body. It was fine on its own before dinner, and would also pair with simple red wine food — burgers, sausages, and the like.

Wine of the week: Vini Merlot 2007

Reasons to go crazy over this wine:

• Screw top.

• It costs $8.

• It’s from Bulgaria (and the back label notes that “Since we haven’t seen you in Bulgaria lately.” )

• It ?s actually available, which was really surprising given how many $10 wines that the Wine Curmudgeon likes that aren ?t available.

• It may be the best-made cheap merlot I’ve ever had. It’s certainly the best I’ve had in a long time, with enough tannin and structure to complement the cherry and plum fruit. Best yet, it wasn’t cloying and jammy, like so many inexpensive California merlots. It’s pleasant enough to drink on its own, but it would also complement barbecue, beef fajitas, and meat loaf. Most definitely a candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.

Wine review: Altano Douro 2006

image Two years ago, this was a nifty $7 wine and it almost made the $10 Hall of Fame. The 2005 vintage, on the other hand, was fat and flabby, and was not interesting at all.

The good news is that the 2006 is almost up to the standards set by the 2003. This Douro, a Portuguese red blend, is still not as well put together as the ?03. It ?s kind of empty in the middle, and it ?s more jammy than it should be. (Whether this was a conscious decision by the winemaker to appeal to the American palate or the result of Portugal ?s recent unseasonably warm weather is anyone ?s guess.)

But it ?s certainly drinkable, with lots of red berry fruit, decent tannins, and it is food friendly ? think burgers or pizza. And you ?ll probably be able to buy it for as little as $8 at some retailers.

Wine of the week: Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon, as noted, is a huge fan of chenin blanc. It can produce tasty, well-made, cheap wine that isn ?t chardonnay ? something that is always welcome. Which is why I was so glad to find the Dry Creek on sale for $9 (it ?s probably going to be closer to $11 most of the time).

It ?s a little oily, which is not a bad thing for this kind of wine. (The winespeak term for oily, by the way, is viscous, which sounds like a bad cough, as in, ?Boy, your viscous sounds awful. ?) Most importantly, the Dry Creek is not sweet, which makes it a little more food friendly. This is not an indictment of sweet wine, as regular visitors here know, but a reflection of how much poorly made, sweet chenin blanc exists in the world. Also, look for some apricot fruit and a very long mineral finish.

Serve this with salads, seafood or as an aperitif.

Wine of the week: Hedges CMS Red 2007

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This red wine blend from Washington state has been a steady, dependable $10 effort since at least the early 1990s. I remember buying it on one of the first Internet wine sites, the late Virtual Vineyard. And why did I have to buy it on-line? Because availability was limited.

It ?s still not easy to find (and its white blend cousin, also called CMS, is even more difficult to locate). Why? Who knows? Just know that you should try it if you see it. CMS is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah ? moderate alcohol, pleasant dark berry fruit, some structure and tannins, and solid value. I tasted it against a $25 petite sirah, and there was no comparison. The CMS was a more interesting wine in every way.

Drink this with any hearty late winter dish, like stuffed bell peppers. And be sure to ask your local retailer why he or she doesn ?t carry it.

For more on wine availability and its problems:

Wine review: Bad Dog Ranch Chardonnay 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon is writing about this not just because it ?s quaffable $10 wine, but because it is a product of the legendary and notorious Bronco Wine Company.

Bronco is Fred Franzia ?s wine company ? or, as one magazine called him, The Scourge of Napa Valley. Bronco, by one reckoning, produces more than 60 brands, including Two Buck Chuck, Napa Ridge, and Salmon Creek. The Bronco philosophy, apparently, is to make as much wine as possible, charge a price that pleases the consumer and gives Bronco a fair return while thumbing its nose at the wine business.

So how does the Bad Dog (about $10) fit in all of that? There was not a damn thing wrong with it, and believe me, I was looking. The wine had decent, bright fruit and it wasn ?t over-oaked at all. And, at just 12 1/2 percent alcohol, it was less heavy than a lot of chardonnay I have to taste. Drink this with Tuesday night Chinese takeout or if you want a glass of white wine after work.

The catch? There is no guarantee the wine will taste like this next year or that it will even exist. Bronco, apparently, makes wine when it can get fruit. No grapes that fit the pricing strategy, no wine. There doesn ?t seem to have been a 2006 Bad Dog chardonnay.

Wine review: Corbett Canyon Merlot NV

image Ultra-cheap wine presents a dilemma. At what point is the wine so cheap that quality doesn ?t matter and that it becomes nothing more than an alcohol delivery system, devoid of any pleasure except for the buzz that it provides?

That ?s why the Wine Curmudgeon is so hard on these wines, which can roughly be defined as those that cost less than $6 a bottle. Cheap whiskey is for getting drunk. Wine ? even inexpensive wine — is for enjoyment.

Which is why I was intrigued by the Corbett Canyon, which won the Best of Class for Merlots below $15 at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The competition included some perfectly acceptable wines, including Red Truck, Cycles Gladiator, Mondavi Private Selection and Wente. The Corbett Canyon is $10 for a 3-liter box, or about $2.50 a bottle.

It ?s certainly worth that, and even a bit more. Don ?t expect a lot of depth or sophistication, and if this wine saw any oak it was a passing glance. But the Corbett Canyon tastes like merlot, and it ?s not too jammy or fruity in the way other cheap merlots are. The tannins are even pleasant. Drink it on its own or with any red wine foods.

The biggest problem is the box. It ?s not easy to get the spigot out of the side of the box, and, if you ?re not careful, the spigot leaks. Make sure to turn the knob hard to the left to shut off the flow.