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
• Domaine de la Rosière Rose 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): Intriguing pink from the Savoie region in eastern France near Switzerland. There are green herbs, oddly enough, with a little red fruit and some spice. Made mostly with gamay, with some pinot noir and mondeuse, a local grape. Imported by Wines with Conviction
• Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2018 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Sicilian red, once a great cheap wine, is fine for what it is, but there are plenty of $8 and $10 simple Italian reds that more or less taste like this – almost unripe dark fruit and lots of acidity. Imported by Terlato Wines International
• Grand Louis Rouge 2016 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): This red Bordeaux blend (more merlot than cabernet sauvignon) is old-fashioned, but not in a good way — tart and and not very ripe fruit. Imported by Laird & Company
• A to Z Wineworks Rose Bubbles ($16, sample, 12.5%): Surprisingly disappointing spritzy rose from an otherwise reliable producer. It approaches white zinfandel sweet, without anything to balance the sweetness. And the price is problematic.
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.
• 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.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with an improved version of perhaps the most notorious of cheap food, ramen soup
Ramen soup is the supermarket plonk of the food world – cheap and almost nasty. But who cares when it costs as little as 20 cents a serving?
The Wine Curmudgeon cares, of course. Why denigrate your body when you can make ramen soup that tastes better and is still cheap – and actually offers nutrition?
The secret is vegetable stock, which is as simple to make as boiling water and adding vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, and whatever else is in the refrigerator) with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Let it cook for 20 minutes, strain, and you have practically free flavor for the soup – without the horrors of the ramen packet mix.
Putting together this soup is almost as simple as the store version. Again, there is no specific recipe other than using the best quality Asian noodles you can afford. So use what’s on hand — if there’s leftover chicken, put in the soup. If there’s leftover lettuce, put it in the soup. The key is to add ingredients you like, including a soft cooked egg (just like the pros).
Finally, a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Frankie Celenza, the host of a cooking show called “Struggle Meals,” who made the recipe I adapted. Celenza can be corny, silly, and over the top, but he is also passionate about food and cooking. He wants his viewers to enjoy cooking, to understand how much fun it can be, and to realize that they don’t need to spend money on pricey ingredients or fancy appliances to make cheap, delicious meals.
Sound like anyone else we know? Would that we could find someone like Celenza to explain the joy and wonder of wine to younger consumers.
• Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This Italian white is stunning, and especially for the price. It’s a beautiful, almost elegant wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended. Imported by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
• Innovacion Rose 2019 ($11/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This Argentine pink, sold at Whole Foods, is a long-time WC favorite. This vintage should develop a little more fruit as it ages, but is already enjoyable — clean, bright, minerally, and a hint of berries. Imported by Winesellers Ltd
• Bodegas Matilde Cava Totus Tuus NV ($14, sample, 11.5%): Well-made and competent Spanish sparkling that is much more California in style than cava. The fruit is more chardonnay-like apple and there is lots of caramel on the finish. Good for what it is, but not exactly cava. Imported by Peninsula Wines
The Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo is an Italian red that tastes like an Italian red and not a California wannabe
Primitivo is an Italian red grape, usually identified as zinfandel even though they’re not exactly the same thing. But that hasn’t stopped countless Italian producers from hopping on the California zinfandel bandwagon, producing wines that don’t taste much Italian but do please a certain Baby Boomer palate. So where does the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo fit into this?
It tastes like primitivo.
Which, honestly, was the last thing I was counting on when I picked up the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo ($12, purchased, 13.5%). I bought the wine because I buy wine, even though I’m not sure I’m going to like it. Such are the demands of the blog.
But the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo was all it should be, and probably even a little more. It’s easily one of the best primitivos I’ve tasted, in that it didn’t taste like badly-made zinfandel. It was fruity (dark berries, plum), but there was much more – a touch of cocoa, some nicely done oak, tannins that offered just enough structure, and all in a well-rounded whole. Highly recommended.
Imported by TWE Imports
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.
The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.
In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted
The Val D’Oca Prosecco offers surprising quality and value for a New Year’s sparkling wine
Most Prosecco that costs less than $15 tastes mostly the same – a little sweet, not very sparkling, and kind of blah. There’s nothing really wrong with these version of the Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not something that you look forward to drinking. Enter the Val D’Oca Prosecco.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco ($12, purchased, 11%) has most of the things that the others don’t. Yes, it’s a little sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by a touch of citrus (lime?). Meanwhile, the bubbles are surprisingly tight and bubbly for a Prosecco, and the finish is actually clean and almost crisp. Again, that’s not common for a Proseocco at this price.
Finally, it’s also quite food friendly, whether to pair with something like grilled shrimp with with fried appetizers like frito misto. In this, it’s too well made to use for mimosas.
Rather, it’s exactly the kind of wine to toast the New Year with when you don’t want to spend $40. Highly recommended, and this comes from someone who doesn’t usually say that about Prosecco.
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.