Category:$10 wine

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

Can Grocery Outlet spread the gospel of quality cheap wine?

Grocery OutletGrocery Outlet, the west coast discount supermarket, wants to use cheap wine to help it expand across the country

Grocery Outlet, the west coast discount supermarket, wants to expand across the country. Can it do so in this age of Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and all the rest? And if it does, can it spread the gospel of quality cheap wine?

That’s the question I tried to answer in a freelance piece for Meininger’s Wine Business International. Grocery Outlet’s plans are ambitious: Expanding from 332 to some 4,000 stores as it moves east —  and, say company officials, with cheap wine a key to that expansion.

So why should we be so excited about wine at Grocery Outlet?

For one thing, there are 50 wines in each store that cost $5 or less. For another, those 50 wines are usually not bottom-feeders like Winking Owl. Rather, it’s branded wine from producers we’ve heard of, but that the company buys as seconds, remainders, and discounted items from wholesalers and wineries. And Grocery Outlet is famous among California wine geeks for discounting expensive wine, which it sells for as much as 50 percent off.

This isn’t a new business model for retailing, but it’s very unusual for wine. For one thing, three-tier makes it more difficult than selling overstocks of canned soup. For another, it means each store’s selection changes depending on what the chain can find to discount, so the great $5 wine that was there the last time may not be there the next time. Third, it doesn’t usually stock national brands like Barefoot or Kendall-Jackson, which isn’t the conventional wisdom.

“What we’re doing, and we’re doing it every day, is to find wine through the normal channels, but that it’s wine that we can sell at the right price,” says Cameron Wilson, Grocery Outlet’s director of wine, beer, and spirits. “But what we’re also doing is upgrading the technical quality of the wine we carry, so that everything we carry is in good shape and that it shows well.”

Which sounds like a fine reason for us to care about Grocery Outlet’s success.

Panic wine buying

panic wine buying

Panic wine buying, as the Wine Curmudgeon stocks up before a possible 100 percent European wine tariff.

The Wine Curmudgeon, faced with the prospect of a 100 percent European wine tariff, does some panic wine buying

The picture pretty much says it all. I spent an hour or so last week at Dallas’ biggest wine retailer, stocking up in case worse comes to worst. The result? 28 bottles of wine for $290. It’s good to know that the Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t lost his touch in the face of an international crisis of epic proportions.

A few thoughts after my panic wine buying:

• Lots of gaps on the shelves. Lots. I bought the last two bottles of the Chateau Bonnet white, and there wasn’t any Chateau Bonnet red or new Hall of Fame member Azul y Garanza, the $11, 1-liter Spanish tempranillo. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has panicked.

• Lots of cheap wine I haven’t seen before. It looked like the retailer had done some buying, too, stocking up on inexpensive European wine before the 25 percent tariff raised its prices. I bought some of these new wines, and will report back as the situation warrants.

• I even bought California wines. This included the always dependable McManis as well as the Shannon Wrangler red blend, which was the wine of the week 4 ½ years ago. Oddly enough, the wine cost $2 less this time.