Category:Red wine

Wine of the week: Banfi Centine Toscana 2017

centine toscanoBanfi’s Centine Toscana remains a Hall of Fame quality $10 red wine

The Centine Toscana ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is Big Wine done right – a varietally correct Italian red made with sangiovese made by Banfi, a $70 million company that sells wine in 85 countries. So it should be no surprise that it’s a $10 Hall of Fame quality wine (as is the white version).

The 2017 Centine Toscana is even a little more Italian, so less ripe fruit than the previous vintage and more earthiness. As always, it’s terroir driven, with slightly tart cherry fruit, a pleasant, chalky finish, and appropriately soft tannins. In other words, it tastes like sangiovese from the Tuscan region of Italy, and not a winemaking-driven product from a marketing company focus group trying to figure out how to make a sort of sweet and very smooth Italian wine.

Pair this with summer barbecue – sausages, of course, but also smoked chicken and burgers. And maybe even pizza on the grill for the adventurous. And if the weather allows it, this is a delicious wine with any red sauce.

Wine and food pairings 3: Bratwurst and sauerkraut

Wisconsin-style bratwurstThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this new, occasional feature. This edition: three wines with Wisconsin-style bratwurst and sauerkraut

There are bratwurst, and then there are local, butcher-shop brats prepared in the Wisconsin bratwurst style. That means brats poached in beer with onions, peppers, garlic, and spices. Yes, you can use grocery store brats, but it’s that much better with the local product. Can I recommend Lake Geneva Country Meats, a long-time pal of the blog?

Since this is a wine blog, I poach the bratwurst in wine instead of beer. Use one-half bottle of a fruity, dry white wine; almost anything but an oak-infused chardonnay will work. The other key? Add a well-drained can of sauerkraut to the poaching liquid after you take the bratwursts out and simmer. I use 69-cent grocery store kraut, which works as well as the more expensive, plastic-bag version. The sauerkraut picks up the flavors from the poaching liquid, and becomes something other than just sauerkraut. Plus, you don’t waste all the flavor in the bratwurst-infused poaching liquid.

A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Nick Vorpagel at Lake Geneva, the third generation of the family business and a fine wine guy, too. Who else would hold a cava and Wisconsin-style bratwurst tasting? Hence, cava works with this dish, so enjoy the blog’s legendary $7 Cristalino. Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe.

But consider these wines, too:

Falesco Vitiano Bianco 2017 ($12, purchased, 12%): This Italian white is one of the blog’s all-time favorites, and pairs with sausage as if it was made for it. Imported by The Winebow Group.

Foncalieu Le Versant Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): One more $10 French pink that does everything rose is supposed to do. Plus, it doesn’t cost as much as  bottle of white Burgundy. The Foncalieu is crisp, has a hint of red fruit, and ends with a pleasing, almost stony finish. Imported by United Wine & Spirits

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti 2015 ($8, purchased, 13%): This Italian red is usually one of the best of the cheap Chiantis, though I noticed some bottle variation this vintage. Otherwise, competent as always — lots of tart cherry, earthiness, and soft tannins. Imported by TWE Imports

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 2: Roast chicken salad with Chinese noodles
Wine and food pairings 1: Chicken, okra and sausage gumbo
One chicken, five dinners, five wines

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

Wine of the week: Cellers Unio Clos de Nit 2012

cellers unio clos de nitThe Cellers Unio Clos de Nit shows why Spanish wine offers the best value in the world

Don’t let the age of of the Cellers Unio Clos de Nit discourage you. First, it’s Spanish, and it’s made to hold up. Second, it’s from a top-notch importer, another sign the wine will age well. Third, there are more current vintages, and all should be enjoyable.

In fact, the Cellers Union Clos de Nit ($11, sample, 13.5%) is the sort of Spanish wine that shows why Spanish wine offers the best value in the world. It’s a garnacha blend that is neither too ripe, too hot, nor too over the top. This probably explains why its scores are so low – mid-80s in the couple of places I checked.

That the wine was so terroir driven shouldn’t have surprised me, since it’s Spanish and from the Montsant region in Catalonia, where terroir remains important. Given that the samples I’ve been tasting for the past three or four months have been just the opposite, I’ve come to expect the worst. But the Cellers Unio Close de Nit was nothing like that. It has an earthy, almost plummy aroma, followed by garnacha’s red fruit jamminess and a soft but pleasing finish.

This is summer cookout and barbecue wine, as well as something to keep around the house when you want a glass of red. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.

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

Father’s Day wine 2018

Father's Day wine 2018Father’s Day wine 2018: Four wines that offer quality and value — because that’s what Dad taught you

The Father’s Day wine 2018 news releases have been landing in my mailbox for a month or so, and most of them bore me to tears. I mention this not to bash wine marketing again, but to note that the releases don’t understand what Dad wants. It’s not about spending money; it’s about value and pleasure.

Which is the point of this year’s Father’s Day wine post. Keep the blog’s wine gift-giving guidelines in mind throughout the process: Don’t buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like.

This year’s Father’s Day wine suggestions:

d’Arenberg The Footbolt 2014 ($18, sample, 14.6%): Australian shiraz’s fall from grace should not apply to d’Arenberg, an Aussie producer that makes some of the most interesting red wine in the world. d’Arenberg does it by combining terroir, top quality grapes, and — believe it or not  —  high alcohol in a fresh and intriguing fashion. This is shiraz for people who love wine, and not booze. Highly recommended. Imported by Old Bridge Cellars

Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Prices for this Italian white are all over the place — probably because it’s more than the citrus-flavored tonic water of cheaper pinot grigios. Look for some lemon fruit and minerality, plus something that can only be called character. Imported by HB Wine Merchants

Zolo Signature Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.9%): This Argentine pink reminds me why I love wine — a $10 wine bought with no expectations and that gave me more than a bottle of enjoyment. It’s a syrah blend with lots of just ripe strawberry fruit, but not too heavy, too fruity, or sweet at all. Highly recommended. Imported by Vino del Sol

Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose NV ($25, sample, 12.5%): I drank this at the Friday night reception at this year’s Critic’s Challenge. And then I drank some more. And some more. It’s beautiful, well-made, and delicious — tight bubbles, strawberry aroma, and soft red fruit flavors. Highly recommended.

More Father’s Day wine:

Father’s Day wine 2017
Father’s Day wine 2016
Father’s Day wine 2015
Expensive wine 106: Graham’s 20-year-Tawny Port

Wine of the week: Bogle Pinot Noir 2015

bogle pinot noirThe Bogle pinot noir is, as always, $10 Hall of Fame wine. The same can’t be said for the label’s cabernet sauvignon

How amazing is the Bogle pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%)? It mostly tastes like pinot noir. This is unheard of in a $10 wine, and it’s not all that common for pinot noir that costs as much as $30, either. That Bogle can do it speaks to the producer’s emphasis on quality and value.

That’s the good news. The bad news, and it pains me to write this, is that the 2015 Bogle cabernet sauvignon ($10, sample, 13.5%) is as disappointing as the pinot noir is not. The cabernet is soft, flabby, and bereft of almost any varietal character. In this, it’s another example of winemaking by focus group; someone, somewhere, decided that U.S. wine drinkers don’t want tannins or spice or pepper or earth or anything that adds interest to cabernet. Instead, all we want is great gobs of gushy fruit, so any number of red wines that were once worth buying aren’t (like this one and this one). I never thought to add a Bogle wine to that list.

Regular visitors here know of my respect – almost reverence – for Bogle. That is borne out in the pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%), which is as subtle and elegant as a $10 pinot noir is going to get. Look for cherry fruit, some peppery spice, a little foresty something or other, and oak that is there to be barely noticed. Again, all qualities I rarely seen on wines at this price.

Hopefully, the decision makers at Bogle will realize wine drinkers prefer wines like the pinot and will return the cabernet to its former style. That, more than anything, is why I included it in this review. Because it’s easy to buy cheap wine; it’s much more difficult to buy cheap wine that reminds us why we love wine.