Category:$10 wine

The fifth, almost annual, $3 wine challenge

$3 wine challenge

Who knows? Maybe one of these $3 wines will be a best buy.

The almost annual $3 wine challenge: The Wine Curmudgeon will drink $3 chardonnay with dinner every night this week, because that’s what Google says the Internet wants

The Wine Curmudgeon hates writing this post, but not because the wine is usually so terrible. It’s because, no matter how terrible the wine is, people still buy it and “enjoy” it because it costs $3. How many times do I have to write that cheap wine isn’t good just because it’s cheap?

Nevertheless, since this remains one of the most popular features on the blog and I regularly get emails asking me to do it again, here we go for the fifth time: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Or are the ultra-cheap wines just cheap, without any other reason for being? The details about the first four $3 challenges are here, here, here, and here.

This year, I will taste five chardonnays (all purchased in Dallas). In addition, the results will run in the weekly Dallas Observer; food editor Taylor Adams asked me to write a fun and creative wine story. I’ll post the link to that story here on March 6,  and include the highlights from the tastings. So, once more unto the breach, dear friends:

Two-buck Chuck chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%). The Trader Joe’s private label was the first — and remains — the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California appellation from the 2019 vintage, and made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine.

Three Wishes chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%), the Whole Foods private label. It carries an American appellation, which means it’s non-vintage and at least three-quarters of the grapes used to make it were grown anywhere in the U.S. (though most probably came from the Central Valley in California). It’s made by multi-national The Wine Group, which is best known for Cupcake and the big Franzia boxes.

Winking Owl chardonnay ($2.95, 12%) from Aldi (but may be available elsewhere). It’s a California appellation but non-vintage, so 75 percent of the grapes came from California but from different harvests. It’s made by E&J Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world. The price is price is seven more than the last time I did this.

Oak Leaf chardonnay ($2.50, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also made by The Wine Group, American, and non-vintage. The price almost 50 cents less than the last time I did this.

Bay Bridge chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%), the Kroger private label; sold at Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Kroger-owned banners. It’s American and non-vintage, and the third of these wines made by The Wine Group.

Photo: “$2.99” by *lapin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Wine of the week: Chateau Bonnet Blanc 2018

Chateau Bonnet Blanc

Look — the Chateau Bonnet Blanc on a store shelf. In Pennsylvania, even.

Despite the gloom and doom surrounding cheap wine these days, we still have the Chateau Bonnet Blanc to drink and enjoy

The Chateau Bonnet Blanc is the $10 bottle I turn to when the rest of the wine world seems to be headed toward $50, whether because of tariffs, premiumization or what have you. And we’ve certainly had a lot of what have you’s lately, haven’t we?

How much quality does this wine deliver? So much that even the 2016, which was all I could buy in Dallas for the past couple of years, was still amazingly fresh and delicious when I had it in January. The 2017 never did show up here, and the 2019 has not arrived yet.

Which left me with the 2018 vintage of the Chateau Bonnet Blanc ($10, purchased, 12.5%), which was not a problem. How can it be? It’s Chateau Bonnet.

The 2018, as always, is a white blend from France’s Bordeaux that’s mostly sauvignon blanc with a little semillon and muscadelle. It’s not quite as brisk as the 2016, and there seems to be a little more soft citrus fruit mixed in with the herbs and minerality. Which is not a problem, and speaks to the producer’s skill and professionalism: Something that costs this little remains consistent in terms of quality, yet displays vintage difference is stunning.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. Chill the Bonnet and drink on its own or with anything that’s not bloody red meat or covered up with cream sauce. And be glad it’s still with us, despite all the what have you’s.

Imported by Duetsch Family Wines & Spirits

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

 

Cheap white wine face-off: Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc vs. Farnese Fantini trebbiano

cheap white wine face-off

Who needs Cage or Travolta? We have Sunshine Bay and Farnese Fantini.

Which of these two about $7 wines offer the best value in this cheap white wine face-off?

A variety of cheap white wines have served the Wine Curmudgeon well over the years, starting with the late and much lamented Hogue fume blanc. These are the kind of wines you buy in quantity, keep chilled, and know that when you drink it, the result will be quality, value, and enjoyment.

My current choice is the Farnese Fantini trebbiano, an Italian white that costs $8. But, with the appearance of Aldi’s Sunshine Bay, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, that costs $7, is it time to make a change?

Hence, this cheap white wine face-off.

• Price. The Fantini is $7.99, less the 10 percent case discount. That works out to $7.19 a bottle. The Sunshine Bay is $6.95 at my local Aldi, so it’s cheaper – but probably not enough to make a difference.

• Screwcap. Yes to both. This matters a lot, because I don’t want to go through a ritual when all I want is couple of glasses for no particular reason. This kind of wine should be open it and forget it.

• Quality. Are the wines professional and well made? Yes to both. Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, there is still a lot of cheap, crummy Italian white wine in the world, and so didn’t expect much from the Fantini. But it is clean and crisp, without any off flavors or residual sugar. The Sunshine Bay, given Aldi’s track record in the U.S., was even more surprising. It’s much better made than similarly-priced New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

• Style. Do they taste like they’re supposed to? Yes, again, to both. The Fantini is lemon-lime-ish, simple but not stupid. The Sunshine plays up the New Zealand grapefruit style, but there;s a hint of tropical fruit in the middle, and the citrus doesn’t overwhelm the wine.

My choice? I’ll probably stick with the Fantini, since it’s more food friendly. But for those who like the New Zealand style or want a little more heft in their white wine, the Sunshine Bay is an excellent alternative. And I will keep buying it.

Wine of the week: McManis Petit Sirah 2017

mcmanis petit sirahThe McManis petit sirah: $10 California red wine that is well made and speaks to quality and value

California’s McManis family, despite the trials and tribulations of the post-modern wine business and the faint-heartedness of others, still cares more about quality than focus groups. The McManis petit sirah is just one of the family’s many wines that proves that point.

The McManis petit sirah ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a reminder of the early days of the blog, when petit sirah was used to make quality cheap wine – a little plummy, a bit rich, not especially tannic, and just enough acidity for balance. Today, it’s mostly used to make sweet, “smooth,” flaccid red blends that cost $15 or $16, because someone somewhere thinks that’s what younger consumers want.

The McManis is the exact opposite of that, one of the best petit sirahs I’ve had in years, regardless of price. There is sweet dark plum fruit, but this is not a sweet wine. Plus, subtle acidity and the correct tannins. In this, it’s a reminder that California used to give us some of the world’s best cheap wine. Drink this with everything from takeout pizza to fancy meatloaf, and it wouldn’t be so bad on its own after a hard day at work, either. And you could do a whole lot worse using the McManis as a gift for the holiday that must not be named later this week.

Highly recommended, and a candidate to for the 2021’s  $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year.

Wine of the week: VinNico Radio Boka 2018

radio bokaThe Radio Boka offers Spanish value and quality for less than $10

The best cheap Spanish wines are made with grapes most of us haven’t heard of and are from regions that are equally obscure. Witness the Radio Boka, a Spanish white. It’s made with verdejo, common in Spain and almost nowhere else, and comes from La Mancha, a huge bulk wine region near Madrid.

In other words, this ain’t from Napa Valley or Burgundy.

In this, the Radio Boka ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is exactly what competent and enjoyable cheap wine should be. It doesn’t try to impress anyone, despite the post-modern name and showy label. This is a wine made for weeknight dinners, without any fuss or bravado. As we say on the blog, simple but not stupid.

Look for barely tart lemon fruit with a hint of something tropical in the middle. The finish is clean and fresh, and, like many Spanish whites, it’s a terrific food wine. Tapas, like the potato omelet, certainly, but also seafood and it would be terrific as a braising liquid for chicken.

Imported by Hammeken Cellars

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Mini-reviews 129: Beaujolais, El Circo, El Terrano, gewurtztraminer

BeaujolaisReviews 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.

Domaine Pierre Labet Beaujolais-Villages 2017 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): French red made with gamay that mostly tastes like it should, though I’m surprised it’s not fruitier. It’s not the best example of a Village, but it’s not the worst, either.

El Circo Volatinero 2018 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Spanish red made with tempranillo that doesn’t taste especially Spanish or much like tempranillo. It’s bland and boring – dare I say, “Smooth?” Imported by Seaview Imports

El Terrano Verdejo 2017 ($8, purchased, 13.5%): Another cheap white wine from Whole Foods that isn’t worth even the little it costs. Spanish, but thin and watery lemon fruit, and not much else. Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits

Flora & Stone Gewürztraminer NV ($5, purchased, 12%): Aldi private label California white that tastes like gewurtzraminer, but also tastes like it has been sweetened to please a focus group. It mostly tastes like wine, but it could have been so much more enjoyable.

Photo: “Empty wine bottles” by WineCoMN is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Wine of the week: Raimund Prum Dry Riesling 2018

raimund prumThe Raimund Prum dry riesling, an Aldi private label, shows the discount retailer can sell great cheap wine in the U.S. when it puts its mind to it

Have we found a white counterpart to Aldi’s $5 La Cornada tempranillo? Perhaps, given my initial impressions of the discount retailer’s Raimund Prum dry riesling.

The Raimund Prum dry riesling ($7, purchased, 11.5%) is not a sticky sweet focus group-induced riesling; rather, it’s more or less what dry German riesling is supposed to taste like. That means a hit of oiliness, a touch of honey, a bit of stoniness, and white fruit flavors. In this, it’s not bone dry, but the slight residual sugar that’s there is part of the winemaking process and not added at the end to make the wine sweet. It’s easily one of the best cheap German rieslings I’ve tasted in years. Which is not surprising, since Raimund Prum is a top German producer.

This is the kind of simple, but not stupid, every day wine that Aldi sells in Europe and Great Britain, but has hesitated to sell in the U.S. Hopefully, it marks a change in the company’s approach to wine in this country. Highly recommended.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Imported by Prestige Beverage Group