Category:California wine

Wine of the week: Ryder Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Ryder Estate sauvignon blancThe Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc reminds us that California can still offer delicious cheap wine that offers quality and value

Regular visitors here know how despondent the Wine Curmudgeon has been the past three or four months, what with rising wine prices, decreasing wine quality, and an increasing amount of foolishness from the wine business. And then, from out of nowhere, the Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc arrived.

Ryder Estate is made by one of the oldest producers in Monterey County, but I’d never heard of it until the samples arrived. That was my loss. The wines were mostly enjoyable and fairly priced, and the chardonnay and rose were especially well made. The Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) was even better, almost certain to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and a candidate for the 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year.

This is California wine at its best, and something we don’t see much these days. It offers quality and value, as well as professional winemaking to make those happen. It’s true California sauvignon blanc, and not tarted up with sweet grape juice, flavored with fake oak, or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc knockoff. It’s varietally correct and delicious – fresh, grassy, stony, a bit of citrus and a hint of tropical fruit, and much more balanced than I expected or that we usually see in sauvignon blanc at this price.

Chill this and drink it on its own on a warm summer evening, or pair with grilled chicken or shrimp marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. And then you can worry a little less about the future of the wine business.

Mini-reviews 111: Geyser Peak, Castle Rock, Ranch 32, Tyrell’s

geyser peakReviews 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. This, month, a highly recommended white and red:

Geyser Peak Chardonnay Water Bend 2016 ($18, sample, 14.5%): California white that tastes like coconut and pineapple – another example of the post-modern, better living through winemaking approach that dominates so much wine at this price. Coconut and pineapple are ideal for an ice cream sundae, but probably not the way chardonnay should taste.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This vintage of the Oregon red is not what the 2015 was, unfortunately – a little brambly black fruit aroma, but too heavy and not very interesting. It tastes like it has lots of something in it besides pinot noir, a practice that is legal and not uncommon for less expensive pinot noirs.

Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%) If all $17 wine tasted like this California red, I wouldn’t rant about $17 wine. It’s got actual pinot noir character – almost silky, with precise black fruit and actual oak that lends to the wine and doesn’t dominate it. Highly recommended.

Tyrell’s Semillon 2016 ($22, purchased, 11%): This white is another brilliant Australian wine that was lost in the disaster that was 15 percent shiraz and that the Aussie wine business is still recovering from. It’s somehow balanced, soft and crisp and with lots of fresh stone fruit, and balanced. Highly recommended. Imported by Broadbent Selections

Wine of the week: Wente Sauvingon Blanc Louis Mel 2016

wente sauvignon blancThe Wente sauvignon blanc is a California white wine that speaks to terroir and quality

The Wente sauvignon blanc is a top-notch California white wine that’s widely available – even in some grocery stores. So why has it been seven years since it appeared as the wine of the week?

Blame it on the wine business.

Pricing, for one, is incredibly screwy. The suggested retail price is $18. It’s $16 on wine-searcher.com, $15 at wine.com, and as little as $11 in Dallas. Given that I try to keep the wine of the week at less than $15, and preferably $10 to $12, how do I decide what the real price is so I can use it?

This time, though, quality wins out. The current vintage of the Wente sauvignon blanc (sample, 13%) is classic California sauvingon blanc, the kind of wine that speaks to terroir but has been shunted aside in the rush to make everything taste like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc grapefruit.

The Wente is so far removed from New Zealand — and even some French sauvingon blancs – that many people won’t believe that’s what it is. But that’s exactly what it is, in all its grassy aroma glory – the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. It’s crisp and refreshing, but not simple, and there is just enough citrus flavor (lemongrass?) to hold the wine together.

Highly recommended, and areminder that not all wine has to taste alike –and that it’s not supposed to taste alike.

Wine of the week: CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

CK Mondavi sauvignon blancThe CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc, a long-time grocery store staple, is easily the cheap wine find of 2018

The CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc ($7, sample, 12.6%) is a grocery store wine that I have been trying to use as a wine of the week for years. But it has never quite been up to the challenge.

Until this vintage. Somehow, despite all the horrific cheap wine news this summer, the CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc is well-made, varietally correct, and worth more than $7. Score a victory for value and quality in these dark, dismal times.

There is nothing fancy about this California white wine, which is made by the other Mondavis – the company started by Robert’s brother Peter and run by Peter Jr. Look for lots and lots of white grapefruit, with maybe a certain something or other that tastes sort of pleasant in the back.

But it’s crisp and refreshing and delivers infinitely more value than many wines that cost two or three times as much. In this, it’s easily the cheap wine find of 2018; drink it well chilled on its own or with salads, chicken, and other warm weather food.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but with this caveat: Quality control has been so slipshod for so many cheap wines this vintage that I can’t guarantee that the bottle you buy will taste like the bottle I got as a sample. But at $7, it’s worth the try.

Fourth of July wine 2018

July Foutth wine 2018Fourth of July wine 2018: Four bottles to enjoy to celebrate the holiday

No weekend this year to celebrate the United States’ 242nd birthday. So we’ll make do with Fourth of July wine 2018 for the middle of the week. As always, keep our summer wine and porch wine guidelines in mind: Lighter, fresher wines, even for red, since lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside

Consider these Fourth of July wine 2018 suggestions:

Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This California white is one of Justin’s best sauvignon blancs in years — very California in style, with the grassy aroma, crispness, and just enough lemon/lime to be noticeable. Highly recommended

Pierre Rougon Rose 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This French pink from Provence is solid and dependable — a steal at this price. Look for barely ripe cherry and some earthy minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by Vinovia Wine Group

Chateau Haut Rian 2015 ($13, sample, 13%): This French red blend from Bordeaux (about two-thirds merlot) isn’t overpriced, which makes it worth buying regardless. Throw in full red fruit and soft tannins, and you have an ideal summer red. I just wish it was a little funkier and old-fashioned. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Mumm Napa Cuvee M NV ($20, purchased, 12.5%): Mumm, the French bubbly house, makes this in California; hence the much more reasonable price. Plus, you can buy it in some grocery stores. Look for crisp and green apple and not quite ripe pear, and tight, crisp, bubbles. Very well made, and always enjoyable.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2017
Fourth of July wine 2016
Fourth of July wine 2015
Wine of the week: Mont Gravet Carignan 2016

Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend, Barefoot Bubbly

Barefoot wine review 2018Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend shows Big Wine at its best, while Barefoot Bubbly does just the opposite

Nothing changed with the Barefoot wine review 2018 from the 2017 version. The brand remains maddeningly inconsistent — no guarantee that its products will taste the same from year to year. This is a huge problem, since Barefoot is non-vintage wine and there aren’t supposed to be vintage differences. But E&J Gallo makes so much of it (almost 20 million cases, more than the production of almost every winery in the U.S.) that quality control, apparently, is not what it should be.

The good news first: The Rich Red Blend ($5, purchased, 13%) is a quality sweet red wine that tastes exactly like the back label says it does. In fact, there’s a chart on the back label, modeled after the International Riesling Foundation effort, saying just how sweet the wine is. It’s a welcome development given how many sweet red wines are on the market that pretend not to be sweet.

The Rich Red blend is not as sweet as the Cupcake Red Velvet — closer to the Bogle Essential Red. Look for the cherry, chocolate, and vanilla flavors that are the hallmark of these wines, but also notice the tannins. Yes, tannins in a sweet wine, in an attempt at balance. And it mostly works. And yes, there is a tremendous amount of winemaking going on to get that not especially wine-like combination of flavors. But no one pretends Barefoot makes terroir-driven wines.

The less said about the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee ($8, purchased, 10.5%), the better. When it’s right, it’s an enjoyable bottle of cheap sparking wine that’s easy to recommend. When it’s wrong, as it was this time, about the only thing you can do is pour it down the drain. My experience: It’s  50-50 whether the wine will be drinkable. This time, the Barefoot Bubbly was flat, and barely popped when I took the cork off. Was this a winemaking problem? Was this a supply chain problem —  stored in a hot distributor warehouse after sitting in a hot truck after sitting in a hot supplier warehouse? Either way, it was a waste of $8 that I could have spent on a Spanish cava.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015

Mini-reviews 110: Aldi wine, Bota Box, Chammisal, Jean Bousquet

chardonnayReviews 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. This month, four critically-challenged chardonnays

Broken Clouds Chardonnay 2016 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): I desperately wanted to like this Aldi private label white from California, But it’s a “least common denominator” wine – made to appeal to the most people possible without regard for quality. It’s the same price as Bogle or McManis, but not nearly as well made thanks to the cloying vanilla fake oak and the hint of sweetness. One more example of how Aldi and Lidl aren’t doing in the U.S. what they do in Europe.

Bota Box Chardonnay NV ($15/3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California white, about $4 a bottle, is, sadly, is what everyone thinks boxed wine tastes like. There’s a little chardonnay character, but it’s bitter and tannic thanks to what seems to be the poor quality grapes used to get the price so low. Plus, it tastes like the stems and seeds were crushed with the grapes, which would be the cause of the off-putting flavors.

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($16, sample, 13.5%): This California white is heavy, somehow hot, and oaky though it’s not supposed to have oak. Plus, it’s very warm climate – tropical fruit instead of crisper green apple. In other words, almost everything I don’t like in California chardonnay. Having said that, if that’s your style, enjoy.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Chardonnay 2018 ($12, sample, 13.5): This Argentine white is grocery store chardonnay that would be OK at $8 or $9, but is overpriced here. Plus, it’s not especially crisp the way an unoaked, cool climate chardonnay should be. It just sort of sits in the glass and you don’t really care whether you finish it or not.