No, this isn ?t a post about snagging that $100 Bordeaux for $97.50 or slipping one over on the wholesaler. It ?s some solid, consumer-oriented advice about saving money on wines people really drink.
The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a great, cheap Argentine malbec for years. The Yellow + Blue ($10 for a 1-liter box) may be it.
A couple of caveats: Availability could be limited, and there ?s no guarantee that the wine will be around after this vintage. That ?s because it ?s the project of a startup importer called J. Soif, and wine importing is a difficult business. What works one year may not work the next year.
Having said that, the Yellow + Blue is a $10 Hall of Fame candidate that delivers more than $10 worth of wine. It has well-done tannins, something that ?s rare in cheap malbec, and the fruit isn ?t so over the top that it covers everything else else up, another flaw in $10 malbec.
So what about the box? Soif boss Matthew Cain, who has worked for Kermit Lynch, one of the best importers in the world, says his focus is not only on quality wine, but on green wine. Hence organic grapes and the box, called a TetraPak, which is supposed to be less harmful to the environment than a glass bottle.
This is an interesting sales pitch, but the problem with selling wine as environmentally friendly is that most of the wine that makes that claim doesn ?t taste this good. Consumers are stuck with a tradeoff between quality and carbon footprint, and what ?s the point of that? If all I cared about was the environment, I ?d drink boxed Franzia.
The green wine discussion deserves its own post, which I ?ll get to soon. Until then, enjoy the Yellow + Blue.
So as I sipped this Monterey County sauvignon blanc, I figured it was a $15 or $18 wine. It had classic California sauvignon blanc varietal character ? some grapefruit, but some tropical flavors as well. It had three flavors ? something in the front, middle, and back. Usually, less expensive wine only has one or two flavors.
The third flavor was a long mineral finish. And, though the wine was only bottled in May, it was ready to drink, another good sign.
So when I checked the price, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a suggested retail of $10.99. This means, when the wine hits store shelves in a month or so, it should be $9 or $10. This is a $10 Hall of Fame candidate. Serve it with shellfish or grilled chicken.
So what do I do on a sun-blaring, lawn-scorching Tuesday evening after a long, trying day of dealing with editors? Open a bottle of Cristalino ?s rose (about $8), of course.
First, it ?s cheap, which always cheers me up. Second, it ?s bubbles, which cheers me up even more. Third, it ?s well-made, delicious, cheap bubbles, which cheers me up most of all. The rose is bone dry, refreshing and brisk, with low alcohol, a bit of strawberry and caramel, and lots of fizz. I ?m not exaggerating: It ?s amazing how much better this wine makes me feel.
And I ?m not the only who feels that way. Cristalino sparklers have won just about every award possible from those of us who care about good cheap wine, from my $10 Hall of Fame to the New York Times to the Wine Magazines (as difficult as that is to believe). Drink this well-chilled, and serve it with everything from those Tuesday night leftovers to Indian or Thai (it ?s more than fruity enough for the spice) to big salads.
This not fair. Yes, some sweet wine doesn ?t taste a whole lot better than Coke laced with grain alcohol, but that ?s no reason ignore it. And it ?s not a sign of wine weakness to drink sweet wine. German rieslings, most of which are sweet, are some of the best-made wines in the world. They can age for decades, just like red wines from France and California, and they provide a wonderful sweet, lemony, stony flavor that can be addictive. Plus, they ?re a lot less costly than other high end stuff.
What to look for in a sweet wine? Stick to white, because most sweet reds aren ?t very interesting. Explore German riesling, especially those with the term auslese or spatlese on the label. They denote degrees of sweetness (the latter is less sweet than the former) and are only used on the best quality German wine.
Frankly, the Wine Curmudgeon didn ?t think he ?d like this. So what happened when I tasted it? I was quite taken with its quality ? a well-made, varietally-correct zinfandel for about $8 at most grocery stores. It ?s hard to beat that (and proves, once again, not to pre-judge wine).
Unlike some zinfandels, the Smoking Loon wasn ?t especially fruity. I ?m beginning to think that lack of fruit is a function of the 2006 vintage in California, since this wasn ?t the first time I ?ve noticed it. But this was not a problem, since the wine was spicy and brambly ?- just the way zinfandel should be. It ?s a contender for next year ?s $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this with barbecue, pizza and burgers.
If it’s summer and you have $10, you can buy a pretty good rose — and sometimes even get change back. In fact, this may be the best rose season in memory. The Wine Curmudgeon can’t remember when he has seen more quality pink wine at an affordable price.
For some reason, the slowing economy and the weak dollar, which have pushed up a variety of other wine prices, haven’t done the same for rose. In addition, the “rose is hip, so let’s charge $20 a bottle” trend, which has been big the past couple of summers, seems to be running out of steam. There are still pink wines that cost that much, but the focus has returned to where it should be ? quality stuff for $15 and much less.
What do you need to know about rose? It’s a fruity wine that’s not as heavy as most red wines and even some whites. But it’s not sweet. That’s white zinfandel or white merlot or whatever, and if that’s what you drink, give rose a try.
Also, rose’s fruit flavors are mostly red berries (think strawberry), as opposed to the white fruits or citrus of most white wines. Roses should be served chilled, and they pair pretty much with any food, including beef and barbecue — some of them are that dry.
A note on vintages: Look for 2007, and be wary if anyone sells anything much earlier than 2006. Roses are not made to age, and should be fresh and flavorful. The color in older vintages starts to fade, like paper that yellows.
Any of the following are well worth trying, and this is far form a complete list. One of the beauties of :rose is that they ?re cheap enough to try, so try lots of them:
• From France: Tortoise Creek ($9), Matignon Cabernet d’Anjou, ($10), Fat Bastard ($10), and Pink Criquet ($15). Some of the Fat Bastard wines don’t impress me, but this one does. And the Pink Criquet, made with St. Emillion grapes, is especially impressive.