? Cheap Chilean wine: Spend any time with Chilean winemakers, and you notice two things. First, how young everyone in the business is, and second, that the inexpensive wines are so well made. Case in point: Calina, some very nice $8 wine from a company affiliated with Kendall-Jackson, made by winemaker Marcela Chandia. I didn’t ask (politeness, of course), but she graduated from college in 1999, which means she probably isn’t 30 yet. I was especially impressed by the chardonnay, with more fruit than oak, and the carmenere.
? Paul Newman wines: Yes, that Paul Newman. His Newman’s Own food company has released a California cabernet and chardonnay, about $16 each. The project is a joint venture with Rebel Wine, which is affiliated with Three Thieves, best known for the quality wine it sells in jugs and juice boxes.
One of the things that I always tell my students (or anyone else, for that matter) is never to judge wine before you’ve tasted it. There might be many reasons to be skeptical — price, alcohol content, the grapes it’s made with, producer — but none of that matters until you take the first sip.
So what did I do when I received samples of BV’s Century Cellars line? Stuck it in the back of the wine closet, figuring it couldn’t be any good because it only cost $6 a bottle.
Those of us who love cheap wine love to share cheap wine finds, which means I’ve been getting whispers about Sicilian wine for a couple of years.
The quality of Sicilian wine has improved dramatically in the past decade, while prices have stayed pretty much the same. That’s because Sicily gets very little respect from the wine snobs. In addition, most Sicilian wine is made with grapes only a master sommelier has ever heard of, which makes it more difficult to sell
The Ajello is a perfect example of all of that. It’s cheap (list price is $12, so it’s probably available for around $10 at some places) and it tastes great. Really, really great. It’s a white wine, but without any of the off-putting turpentine flavors in similarly priced pinot grigio. Instead, it’s clean, clear, and crisp, with a mineral-like finish. Don’t expect much fruit — just a bit of lemon (and you have to look for that). This wine is ideal for shellfish or grilled scallops, any kind of grilled chicken or even just drinking on a slow afternoon.
If the price holds up against the weak dollar, this is definitely a candidate for the 2009 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.
Take a peek at the upper left hand corner, and you’ll find the new Hall of Fame.
What makes a Hall of Fame wine? There ?s not necessarily a precise explanation. It ?s better than it should be, and it ?s consistent from year to year, just like more expensive wines with better reputations. That ?s one reason wines have been dropped from the Hall of Fame, and several were this year.
Several other notes:
? These wines are generally available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so I don’t have to get involved in the Two Buck Chuck debate. There are no Trader Joe’s in this part of the country.
? I am not enamored of Yellow Tail, which doesn’t rise above the level of grocery store wine. They may represent good value, but they aren’t Hall of Fame wines.
? I ?m still searching for that terrific $10 Argentine malbec. Most of the malbec I ?ve tasted in this country is $15 or so; good wines, certainly, but not eligible for the Hall of Fame.
? And there is no pinot noir in the U.S. for less than $10 that is Hall worthy. The French labels like Red Bicyclette and Lulu B are easy to drink, but not especially pinot like. And most of the $10 U.S. I have tasted has some varietal character, but almost nothing else.
Sadly, it was not a good year for cheap wine. We were smacked by the weak dollar, pummeled by the multi-national wine companies, and roughed up the marketers. But some wines made the cut, and I’ll post them on Jan. 4.
? Toad Hollow Pinot Noir Rose 2006 ($10): The flagship of the Toad Hollow line, and that’s high praise considering the quality of the wines. It’s dry, fruity and one of the best buys — of any kind of wine — in the U.S.
There is very little good news in the fifth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza, and the prospects for 2008 ?s lineup in January seem quite gloomy. Two wines dropped out this year, not able to maintain quality with their sub-$10 price. In addition, it was not a good year for new inexpensive wine, a development that doesn ?t bode well for the next 12 months.
Increasingly, wineries, producers and marketers seem to be spending their money on packaging and advertising instead of what ?s in the bottle. And as consolidation increases ? the legendary Bonny Doon was sold in 2006, and who knows what will happen to the quality of the wine? ? that ?s a trend that will only continue.
Still, there is some outstanding wine available, worthy of being included in the Cheap Wine Hall of Fame. Wine that qualifies costs $10 or less per bottle, is available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (which means no Two-buck Chuck or other regional brands), and passes a rigorous tasting process which includes my nagging people until they tell me what they think of it.
The 2007 results:
? New this year: the Jewel Collection, a fancy name for some really smart wine guys, who have figured out how to combine price and quality. Most of their 10 California wines are wonderful values, and the petite sirah is especially good.
? Dropping out: Zenato Pinot Grigio and Texas ?s Ste. Genevieve Chardonnay. The former, which used to offer a lively character, now tastes like too many inexpensive Italian pinot grigios. The latter had a 20 percent price increase in 2006, and doesn ?t provide anywhere near the same value.
? On watch for next year: Bonny Doon ?s Big House Red, White, Pink and Pacific Rim Riesling. Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm sold these brands as part of a reported $50 million deal. It ?s hard to fault his business acumen, but will the new owners have the same wine skills or interest in quality?
? Wine that could be included in 2008: Altano Douro, a $7 Portuguese red blend. A couple of tasters said to stop waffling and include it, but let ?s wait for this year ?s release first . Also, Beaulieu Vineyard Beauzeaux, a red blend that I expected to dislike on name alone, but which turned out to be quite nice; and Little Penguin merlot, which keeps surprising me with its quality.
? The honorable mention wines, or if they didn ?t cost $15, they ?d be in: The rose, brut and extra dry sparklers from New Mexico ?s Gruet Winery. Also, the $15 zinfandels and the Chateau La Paws red and white blends from California ?s Rosenblum Cellars.
? Inexpensive wines that a lot of people enjoy but that aren ?t in. Australia ?s Yellow Tail, which I have really tried to like; California ?s Rex Goliath, which seems too inconsistent to include; and Barefoot Wine, which falls into much the same category as Rex Goliath.