Thanks to everyone who left comments and sent emails with suggestions for the Hall of Fame. This year’s Hall has been among the most difficult ever to compile — not just because of the continuing decline in quality cheap wine, but because the tariff has wreaked havoc with price and availability.
• La Granja 360 Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): This Trader Joe’s Spanish bubbly, pleasant and sweetish, tastes more like Italian Prosecco than cava. But if you don’t mind the style (common for Trader Joe’s sparkling wines), than you’ll appreciate the soft fruit (less tart green apple and more red delicious) and a much softer mouth feel. But the bubbles are tight, and you can do a lot worse at this price. Imported by Evaki
• Da Luca Prosecco NV ($10, sample, 11%): Acceptable, fairly priced Italian sparkling wine. It’s not especially sweet, which surprised me, but it’s still soft, though the bubbles are tight and the lemon fruit holds the wine together. Imported by Accolade Wines North America
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($6, sample, 12%): This Aldi Spanish sparkler is a step up from similarly priced supermarket wines like Freixenet. Look for tart lemon and green apple fruit, decent bubbles, and some minerality. Imported by Mack & Schuhle
• De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($17, sample, 12.5%): Professionally made bubbly from France’s Loire, with the telltale chenin blanc lemon fruit and hint of softness. Tight, poppy bubbles and just enough acidity. Imported by Signature Imports
Do you get the idea this producer knows a thing or two about great cheap wine?
The Alain Brumont rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is pink wine from France’s Gascony, and we all know how much the Wine Curmudgeon likes Gascon wine. Even more impressive, the Brumont is made with tannat, syrah, and merlot. If anyone had told me a wine made with those three grapes could be so fresh, they would have gotten one of my looks.
But the Brumont is fresh and interesting. It’s more fruity than most Provencal and Spanish roses (cherry, strawberry?) and more New World in style, thanks to those three red grapes. But it’s not heavy, it’s not overdone, and it’s cloying. Somehow, it’s clean and brisk, as rose should be.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Christmas dinner for people who aren’t sure what to drink, who may not like wine, and for everyone who wants something different.
• Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc CNW 2017 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This California white is exceptional, but I have no idea how much it costs — prices range from $10 to $17. It’s just not well-made and varietally correct chenin (crisp, with lime and tropical fruit, but it’s a wonderful food wine. If you can find it for $15 or less, buy several.
• Juvé y Camps Brut Rose NV ($18, sample, 12.5%): This pink Spanish sparkler is a perennial favorite — always professional and enjoyable. This version is more cava-like (even though it’s made from pinot noir), so more tart red fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Winebow
• Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy 2018 ($16, purchased, 14%): This California red from Randall Grahm isn’t as grenache-y as past vintages — so less jammy fruit and more spice. It’s different and interesting, and a fine food wine. Plus, probably still a touch young.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica is Argentine malbec that delivers much more than expected
What does one do when government feuding makes French and Spanish wine, normally the best values in the world, too expensive for the blog? Look toward Argentina and the Santa Julia Malbec Organica.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica ($10, sample, 13.5%) is almost everything most Argenine malbecs are not. That means it isn’t cloying, devoid of character, and amped up on sweet fruit at the expense of everything else. Which means a well-made, fruity (zippy berries?) wine, where the tannins are soft but serviceable. In all, a balanced, pleasant, and professional effort, and the kind we sorely need in these trying days.
But why not? Santa Julia is the organic label from Familia Zuccardi, a top Argentine producer that has appeared on the blog many times over the years. Its wines are almost always a solid choice when one is in a supermarket and confused about what to buy.
Serve this on its own if you want a glass of wine after work, or with everything from spaghetti and meatballs to takeout burgers.
The Cote Mas Blanc Mediterranee ($11/1-liter, purchased, 12.5%) is what well-made, value-oriented cheap wine should be. It tastes like the grapes that are in it (35 percent grenache blanc, and bits of vermentino, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc) and it tastes like a wine from southern France. And, at 1-liter, there are two more glasses than a normal bottle.
The grenache blanc gives the wine that wonderfully oily, stone fruit character that we don’t see often enough in our world of fake oak chardonnay and New Zealand-knockoff sauvignon blanc. The other three grapes each lend something without overpowering the wine, and the result is fresh, crisp, and a little floral. In all, it was much more enjoyable than I expected (and especially since the red version, the Rouge Intense, was sweet and almost nasty).
Highly recommended. Chill this, and keep it around over the holidays, in case someone stops by. Or, if you want a glass or two of wine after a long day of holiday something or other.
Thanksgiving is the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday. When else do we get to get to share lots of wine and good food for no other reason than wine and good food? Plus, there is cooking, and it doesn’t get much better than the way a roasting turkey in the oven makes the house feel. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
These Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:
• Maison Albert Bichot Chablis 2016 ($20, purchased, 12.5%): This French white wine, made with chardonnay, gets surprisingly low marks on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Which is just one example of how useless scores are. This is delicious white Burgundy at a price I can’t imagine, crisp and lemony and minerally. Highly recommended. Imported by European Wine Imports
• Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink from the always dependable Georges Vigouroux uses malbec to its best advantage, with not too much dark fruit and a clean and fresh wine. It’s a nice change from everyone making Provencal-style roses. Imported by AP Wine Imports
• Azienda Vitivinicola Tonnino Nero d’Avola 2017 ($14, purchased, 13%): Interesting Sicilian red that more resembles Oregon pinot noir than it does Sicilian nero. It’s more brambly, like berries, than the usual plummy fruit. It’s less earthy, and the acidity is more noticeable. Imported Bacco Wine & Spirits/em>
• Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California sparkling that tastes like it’s supposed to at a fair value — creamy, yeasty, apple fruit, not too tart, and soft but persistent bubbles. In this, it’s a tremendous value.