• 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.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine
Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.
Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay, a French red, is the blog’s third annual Cheap Wine of the Year
One of the charges leveled against cheap wine is that it’s bland and boring. Yes, Winking Owl is bland and boring. But to assume that all cheap wine tastes like Winking Owl is silly and more than a little snooty. So, for those of you who don’t believe in cheap wine quality — but especially for those of us who do — we have the Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017, the blog’s third annual cheap wine of the year.
How much Le Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) did I drink last year? At least a case. It was especially helpful in washing out the aftereffects of all those $18 fake oak “there’s a lot of winemaking going on here” samples that I have to spit through to do this job.
The Le Coeur is a French red made with gamay in the Loire, so don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. If gamay is known at all, it’s for wine from Beaujolais; it’s not even the most common red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.
There is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that many $15 wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner, whether fried catfish, steak frites, or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad.
A tip of the WC’s fedora to Emily Peterson at Valkyrie Selections, the wine’s importer. She promptly returned emails and answered all my questions, which doesn’t happen much these days. Hence, I can report the wine is available in 26 states and the District of Columbia. That includes most big states except California, and even there it is on Wine.com’s website. Also, the current vintage is 2018, but there is still plenty of 2017 on shelves.
Finally, Peterson reports the importer and producer are trying to hold the line on the price despite the tariff, and it shouldn’t go up more than a dollar or two. Meanwhile, she is urging wine drinkers who think a new, proposed 100 percent tariff is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.
I could have sworn there was something interesting to drink in here.
Reviews 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: Cleaning out the wine closet at the end of the year, but not finding much to drink
• Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($12, sample, 13%): The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region in Italy produces sound, value-driven red wines. This is not unpleasant, with some cherry fruit, but it is also a little green and rough, almost old-fashioned. There are better made examples of this kind of wine. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
• Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Premiumization run amuck — $8 or $9 worth of a California red (some cabernet tannins and black fruit) but that looks and smells like it went through intensive winemaking to goose up the price.
• Kin & Cascadia Pinot Noir 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): A pleasant, Oregon pinot noir that tastes like it came from Oregon (some brambly berry fruit, a hint of spice). But it costs $15 because that’s what entry level pinot noir costs these days.
• La Granja 360 Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): This Trader Joe’s Spanish bubbly, pleasant and sweetish, tastes more like Italian Prosecco than cava. But if you don’t mind the style (common for Trader Joe’s sparkling wines), than you’ll appreciate the soft fruit (less tart green apple and more red delicious) and a much softer mouth feel. But the bubbles are tight, and you can do a lot worse at this price. Imported by Evaki
• Da Luca Prosecco NV ($10, sample, 11%): Acceptable, fairly priced Italian sparkling wine. It’s not especially sweet, which surprised me, but it’s still soft, though the bubbles are tight and the lemon fruit holds the wine together. Imported by Accolade Wines North America
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($6, sample, 12%): This Aldi Spanish sparkler is a step up from similarly priced supermarket wines like Freixenet. Look for tart lemon and green apple fruit, decent bubbles, and some minerality. Imported by Mack & Schuhle
• De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($17, sample, 12.5%): Professionally made bubbly from France’s Loire, with the telltale chenin blanc lemon fruit and hint of softness. Tight, poppy bubbles and just enough acidity. Imported by Signature Imports
Do you get the idea this producer knows a thing or two about great cheap wine?
The Alain Brumont rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is pink wine from France’s Gascony, and we all know how much the Wine Curmudgeon likes Gascon wine. Even more impressive, the Brumont is made with tannat, syrah, and merlot. If anyone had told me a wine made with those three grapes could be so fresh, they would have gotten one of my looks.
But the Brumont is fresh and interesting. It’s more fruity than most Provencal and Spanish roses (cherry, strawberry?) and more New World in style, thanks to those three red grapes. But it’s not heavy, it’s not overdone, and it’s cloying. Somehow, it’s clean and brisk, as rose should be.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Christmas dinner for people who aren’t sure what to drink, who may not like wine, and for everyone who wants something different.
The Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir demonstrates that French red wine is more than cabernet sauvigon and merlot
Red wine from Franc’s Loire is made with cabernet franc, which explains why most of us have never tasted red wine from France’s Loire. Which is too bad, given the quality of the Charles Joguet Chinon.
The Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir ($25, purchased, 13%) is from Chinon in the Loire — not quite coastal, but close enough. That means a cooler climate and less fruity wine, though the Joguet doesn’t taste like that on first impression. But that’s what makes it such an interesting wine — it is fruity (black cherry?) at first. But that gives way to something more Chinon-like: that graphite, almost pencil lead quality that defines Old World cabernet franc, plus a sort of pine forest something or other.
Highly recommended. This is holiday food wine at an incomparable price, whether prime rib, roast salmon, or a vegetarian mushroom dish.