The Cune Rioja, from Spain’s CVNE, is a tempranillo blend that will bring joy to anyone who loves quality cheap wine
CVNE’s Cune Rioja brings joy to my tired and worn out brain whenever I see it on the shelf. And these days, when the future of quality cheap wine is very much in doubt, that’s something to depend on.
The Cune Rioja ($11, purchased, 13.5%) is a Spanish red wine from the Rioja region, mostly made with tempranillo. CVNE is a large Spanish producer that has been around for 140 years, and its wines still taste as they should and still offer quality and value for less than $15. Crianza is the simplest of the Rioja wines, but still well made.
This vintage of the Cune Rioja is a little rounder and fuller than the 2014 – the cherry fruit isn’t quite as tart and the wine isn’t quite as earthy. But there is some baking spice and a hint of orange peel, Rijoa’s calling card. And it will pair with almost anything that isn’t in a cream sauce. As I wrote in my notes: “As it should be. One of the world’s great cheap wine values.” What more do we need these days?
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.
When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.
Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?
The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.
The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort
• Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! remains a classic Italian cheap white wine
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite cheap wines. So why have I reviewed it just three times in 12 years?
Availability, of course. What other reason could there be?
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of cheap wine that Europeans understand implicitly – you buy it, you drink it with dinner, and you enjoy it. No posturing about scores and no fretting about pairings.
So why isn’t it regularly available? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably has something to do with changes in its importer and distributor over the past decade.
But when the Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is available, it’s always a treat (even at $10, as opposed to $8 the last vintage). It’s a white blend made with trebbiano and malvasia, plus an even more rare grape called roscetto. The result is a tart, lemony wine, and some years it can be really tart. The 2017 is comparatively subtle – less tart, more balanced, and even a bit of minerality.
I don’t know that I enjoyed this vintage quite as much, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the wine. It remains as it has always been – enjoyable and well worth buying and drinking.
The WC feels like Don Quixote in the wake of the European wine tariffs — chasing the windmills of cheap wine.
Where we are with the 25 percent European wine tariff, and where we may be going
A few thoughts after talking to a couple of dozen people – importers, distributors, retailers, and producers – about the 25 percent European wine tariff (and most asked not to be named, citing the nature of the dispute):
• How long will the tariffs last? Almost all I talked to were pessimistic – one official at an important New York importer said he was an optimist, which meant 12 to 18 months. “And that’s because I’m an optimist,” he said. “Others are telling me the tariffs will be here forever, because who lowers taxes once they’re imposed?” In this, he told me, the tariffs will almost certainly change the way Americans buy wine. This was echoed by an employee of one of the biggest distributors in the country and a prestigious Dallas retailer. If $15 French and Spanish wine suddenly costs $20, who will buy it? They’ll just switch to another $15 wine
• Will anyone “win” this part of the U.S.-E.U. trade war? If winning is scoring political points, then the Trump Administration is having a victory party. And I have no doubt Jackson Family Wines is celebrating, as short sighted as that might be. But if winning is solving a problem, then no one has won and almost no one will win. As a former newspaper colleague of mine, a respected South Carolina political writer, said recently: “Tariffs are a mug’s game.” These were imposed as punishment for something that happened 14 years ago, and it’s difficult to see how taxing British wine will solve an aircraft parts dispute.
• When will prices go up? The tariff only affects wine imported after Oct. 18, so if it’s already in the country, we’re probably safe. The New York importer said his company will raise prices on wine brought in after Oct. 18 in the next 30 to 60 days. On the other hand, a Dallas retailer told me his very large chain is trying to figure out a way to absorb some of the increase for less expensive wines, since it doesn’t want to see them priced out of existence. He said large retailers, thanks to economies of scale, might be able to work around some of the the tariff’s effects.
• What’s the Wine Curmudgeon doing? Trying not to panic. The blog’s reason for being is cheap wine, and much of the world’s most interesting cheap wine comes from France and Spain. Price that out of reach, and I don’t have much to write about, do I? I can still count on Italy, and I’ve spent considerable time in local retailers looking for wine from countries not affected by the tariff. The good news is that I stumbled on a $10 Chilean pinot noir and a $10 South African white blend. The bad news? That doesn’t make 52 wines of the week. And availability is almost certainly going to become even more uneven than it is now, and we know how uneven it is now.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
• Jean-Jacques Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): This is the second time I bought this chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, which shows that even those of us who do this for a living make mistakes. Bland, boring, and overpriced. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons
• Raimat Saira Albarino 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This Spanish white is cheaply made, watery, and doesn’t much taste like albarino. It apparently exists for no other reason than to cost $10. Imported by Aveniu Brands
The Sicalia Terre Siciliane isn’t very Sicilian, but it’s still worthwhile when you need a red wine for a weeknight dinner
Italian wine producers, even though they have thousands of indigenous grapes to work with, are fascinated by what they call “international” grapes — those we know as cabernet sauvignon, melot, chardonnay, and the like. Their efforts can be uneven – for every great Super Tuscan, where international grapes are blended with sangiovese, there are dozens of $8 and $10 washouts. Which is where the Sicalia Terre Siciliane comes in.
On the one hand, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane ($8, purchased, 13%) doesn’t taste especially Sicilian. There is little earthiness or dark fruit or Old World complexity. And why should there be, since it’s a red blend, featuring the Sicilian nero d’avola and the and merlot?
On the other hand, it’s an enjoyable weeknight wine. Who knew? That certainly wasn’t the case the last time I tasted it: “ashy and unpleasant.” This time, though, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane was juicy, with enjoyably tart red fruit, a clean finish, and tremendous value.
No, it’s not very Sicilian, and yes, it needs food. But given the state of cheap wine these days, you could do a lot worse when you want a $10 red wine for a weeknight dinner.
Look for higher prices and less selection as the European wine tariff takes hold
Get ready to pay as much as one-third more for some of your favorite cheap wines – assuming you can still find them. That’s because the U.S.’ 25 percent European wine tariffs went into effect today.
I wish there was good news to report. But since the World Trade Organization approved the U.S. tariff this week, nothing good has happened. The Trump Administration, often reticent to actually impose tariffs, has not backed off this one save for vague hints. The European Union says it will retaliate, escalating the trade war between the U.S. and its best friends in the world.
One of the clearest analyses of what’s going on is here – the tariff covers French, Spanish, German, and British non-sparkling wine that is less than 14 percent alcohol. Italian and Portuguese wine isn’t included, nor is wine from South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
What can we expect to happen with the 25 percent European wine tariff?
• Higher prices almost immediately. Some retailers in Dallas have already hiked prices; the rest should go into effect over the next six months as the new vintages work their way into local retailers.
• Well-known and popular brands disappearing from store shelves. A French wine producer and an English wine business consultant both named La Vieille Ferme, the value-priced French wine, as one of the first to go. That’s because a price hike would take the 1.5-liter bottle from $12 to $16, “and what consumer is going to pay $16 for a $12 wine?” asked the producer. So stores will stop carrying the wine – and others like it, no doubt including many in the $10 Hall of Fame – once current stocks run out.
• Serious financial problems for some of the best and most interesting small- and medium-sized importers, the kind who bring in the wine that I write about on the blog. These problems could even lead to business failures. That’s because the 25 percent tariff is their profit margin. They can’t raise prices to recoup the margin, said the consultant, since the market won’t support those price increases. Plus, they’ll be squeezed by the biggest importers, who will absorb some of the price increase because they can afford to take less margin.