Category:$10 wine

Wine review: Altano Douro 2006

image Two years ago, this was a nifty $7 wine and it almost made the $10 Hall of Fame. The 2005 vintage, on the other hand, was fat and flabby, and was not interesting at all.

The good news is that the 2006 is almost up to the standards set by the 2003. This Douro, a Portuguese red blend, is still not as well put together as the ?03. It ?s kind of empty in the middle, and it ?s more jammy than it should be. (Whether this was a conscious decision by the winemaker to appeal to the American palate or the result of Portugal ?s recent unseasonably warm weather is anyone ?s guess.)

But it ?s certainly drinkable, with lots of red berry fruit, decent tannins, and it is food friendly ? think burgers or pizza. And you ?ll probably be able to buy it for as little as $8 at some retailers.

Wine of the week: Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon, as noted, is a huge fan of chenin blanc. It can produce tasty, well-made, cheap wine that isn ?t chardonnay ? something that is always welcome. Which is why I was so glad to find the Dry Creek on sale for $9 (it ?s probably going to be closer to $11 most of the time).

It ?s a little oily, which is not a bad thing for this kind of wine. (The winespeak term for oily, by the way, is viscous, which sounds like a bad cough, as in, ?Boy, your viscous sounds awful. ?) Most importantly, the Dry Creek is not sweet, which makes it a little more food friendly. This is not an indictment of sweet wine, as regular visitors here know, but a reflection of how much poorly made, sweet chenin blanc exists in the world. Also, look for some apricot fruit and a very long mineral finish.

Serve this with salads, seafood or as an aperitif.

Wine of the week: Hedges CMS Red 2007


This red wine blend from Washington state has been a steady, dependable $10 effort since at least the early 1990s. I remember buying it on one of the first Internet wine sites, the late Virtual Vineyard. And why did I have to buy it on-line? Because availability was limited.

It ?s still not easy to find (and its white blend cousin, also called CMS, is even more difficult to locate). Why? Who knows? Just know that you should try it if you see it. CMS is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah ? moderate alcohol, pleasant dark berry fruit, some structure and tannins, and solid value. I tasted it against a $25 petite sirah, and there was no comparison. The CMS was a more interesting wine in every way.

Drink this with any hearty late winter dish, like stuffed bell peppers. And be sure to ask your local retailer why he or she doesn ?t carry it.

For more on wine availability and its problems:

Wine review: Bad Dog Ranch Chardonnay 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon is writing about this not just because it ?s quaffable $10 wine, but because it is a product of the legendary and notorious Bronco Wine Company.

Bronco is Fred Franzia ?s wine company ? or, as one magazine called him, The Scourge of Napa Valley. Bronco, by one reckoning, produces more than 60 brands, including Two Buck Chuck, Napa Ridge, and Salmon Creek. The Bronco philosophy, apparently, is to make as much wine as possible, charge a price that pleases the consumer and gives Bronco a fair return while thumbing its nose at the wine business.

So how does the Bad Dog (about $10) fit in all of that? There was not a damn thing wrong with it, and believe me, I was looking. The wine had decent, bright fruit and it wasn ?t over-oaked at all. And, at just 12 1/2 percent alcohol, it was less heavy than a lot of chardonnay I have to taste. Drink this with Tuesday night Chinese takeout or if you want a glass of white wine after work.

The catch? There is no guarantee the wine will taste like this next year or that it will even exist. Bronco, apparently, makes wine when it can get fruit. No grapes that fit the pricing strategy, no wine. There doesn ?t seem to have been a 2006 Bad Dog chardonnay.

Wine review: Corbett Canyon Merlot NV

image Ultra-cheap wine presents a dilemma. At what point is the wine so cheap that quality doesn ?t matter and that it becomes nothing more than an alcohol delivery system, devoid of any pleasure except for the buzz that it provides?

That ?s why the Wine Curmudgeon is so hard on these wines, which can roughly be defined as those that cost less than $6 a bottle. Cheap whiskey is for getting drunk. Wine ? even inexpensive wine — is for enjoyment.

Which is why I was intrigued by the Corbett Canyon, which won the Best of Class for Merlots below $15 at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The competition included some perfectly acceptable wines, including Red Truck, Cycles Gladiator, Mondavi Private Selection and Wente. The Corbett Canyon is $10 for a 3-liter box, or about $2.50 a bottle.

It ?s certainly worth that, and even a bit more. Don ?t expect a lot of depth or sophistication, and if this wine saw any oak it was a passing glance. But the Corbett Canyon tastes like merlot, and it ?s not too jammy or fruity in the way other cheap merlots are. The tannins are even pleasant. Drink it on its own or with any red wine foods.

The biggest problem is the box. It ?s not easy to get the spigot out of the side of the box, and, if you ?re not careful, the spigot leaks. Make sure to turn the knob hard to the left to shut off the flow.

Wine of the week: Tormaresca Neprica 2007

image And it ?s just as wonderful as last year, when the Neprica was the third best read post on the blog. And, in even better news, it ?s apparently more widely available this year. (Thanks to Kathleen Talbert at Talbert Communications for tracking down availability.)

Why is this wine so wonderful? It ?s cheap ? list is $12, so it ?s probably $10.99 or less at most stores. It ?s well made, with typical Italian acidity and sour cherry fruit. It ?s food friendly, pairing with anything from red sauce to sausages and grilled peppers and onions. Plus, it ?s made with some interesting grapes, including the Italian varietals negroamaro and primitivo. The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

And why is the Neprica more available this year? Because, apparently, so many people asked about it. This is an example of consumers convincing retailers they should actually stock something more interesting than the usual bottles they stick on the shelves. A tip o ? the wine glass to everyone who asked about it. You made a difference.

Wine of the week: Domaines Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches 2006

image This is the kind of wine that makes the Wine Curmudgeon walk a little quicker down the aisle at the store. That ?s because as soon as I see it, my cheap wine radar goes off.

In this case, my radar worked perfectly. The Lurton is a sauvignon blanc from the Languedoc in southern France, where more and more great cheap wine is being made. (And the Lurtons are one of the great winemaking families of France, producing everything from Cheval Blanc to vin ordinaire like this.)

It probably has too much grapefruit flavor for a French wine, but that's picking nits. There is great stoniness and minerality, and this is about as close to classic white Bordeaux as one is going to find for $10. Even more surprising, this is not the current vintage. If you can find the 2007, it will probably taste a little fresher and a little more interesting. Regardless, it ?s an early candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.

Drink this chilled — on its own, or with almost anything other than red meat.