The Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto is cheap Spanish tempranillo the way it should be
The Spanish wine regions around Madrid aren’t famous, unless someone is sneering about the tanker cars of cheap red wine produced there every year. Let them sneer, because they’re missing out on terrific cheap wine like the Protocolo.
In fact, one reason why Spanish tempranillo is among the best red wine values in the world is that regions like Castilla-La Mancha do more than make tanker cars of cheap red wine. Much of it is cheap wine the way it should be – varietally correct and following the style of the country, simple but not insulting. And, since producers in these regions can do cheap so well, it holds down the price of better quality tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera.
The Protocolo ($9, purchased, 13.5%) is everything one hopes for in a cheap Spanish tempranillo — soft tannins, just enough acidity to show that it’s red wine, and ripe but not too ripe berry fruit. Plus, it has flavors at the beginning, the middle and the end (a sort of rustic earthiness), just like more expensive wines.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for both the 2020 Hall of Fame and the Cheap Wine of the Year. Drink this with almost any spring and summer barbecue, and then keep drinking it the rest of the year.
The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
Our Dallas Aldi wine road trip finds some cheap wine gems among the rows and rows of Winking Owl
The good news: Our Aldi wine road trip was not the disaster that I feared. Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, had scouted four other Aldi locations in our part of Dallas, and assured me we could find things worth drinking. And he was right.
We found four during our five-store visit. That was impressive, given that Aldi here has consistently fallen short of its effort in Europe and the United Kingdom. There, its private label wines (labels sold only at Aldi) are cheap and critically praised.
The wines worth buying again:
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): The first bottle was flat, a worrisome trend I’ve experienced lately with sparkling wine costing as much as $20. But the second had the requisite character for a Spanish bubbly – tart lemon and green apple fruit and some minerality. A step up from other $7 cavas, especially since they’ve been dumbed down to taste like watery Prosecco.
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red made with tempranillo was this close to being a Hall of Fame wine. It has way too much oak for what it is; leave out the oak, and the acidity isn’t pushed to the back and the wine is in balance. Very nice cherry fruit and even a little Spanish orange peel aroma.
• La Rue Cotes de Provence Rose 2017 ($7.50, purchased, 12%): This looks like legitimate Provencal rose (a watery pink), and it smells like one, too (tart berries). The catch is that it finishes a little sweet, and legitimate Provencal rose doesn’t do that. But that might have been me looking for a flaw. Otherwise, it’s mostly what it should be a fair price.
• Bergeron Estates Reserve Icewine 2016 ($12/375 ml, purchased, 10.5%): Quality Canadian icewine should cost three or four times this, and no one will confuse the Bergeron with Inniskillin. But it does taste like icewine – a luxurious honeyed sweetness – and it does taste like the vidal grape it is made with. It needs more acidity to balance the sweetness, but well worth buying again for those who like dessert wine.
I didn’t buy two wines that Alfonso thought would be OK, a German pinot gris and reisling labeled Landshut, which may have been made by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, a top German producer. So I’ll try those next next – each was about $7. In addition, a Spanish garnacha, Vina de la Nieve from Catalonia ($6) looked worth tasting but wasn’t available for sale. It was on the shelf, but not in the system.
Having said that, there was still too much Aldi wine in the stores whose reason for being was that it cost $3. And too many of the $10 wines were advertised with 88-point shelf talkers, which is about as helpful as writing a blog post longhand and using magic to put it on the Internet. And there was an amazing lack of continuity between stores, where one store would have one wine, another wouldn’t, and third would have something else.
Still, as Alfonso kept reminding me, “Small steps, Jeff, small steps. Aldi is heading in the right direction.” Which I fervently hope.
The $10 Castillo del Baron Monastrell is so well made and so enjoyable that the WC went back to the store and bought a case
The Wine Curmudgeon goes wine shopping once or twice a week, usually hitting two or three stores in the Dallas area. I’ll look for stuff I haven’t seen before, and buy lots of single bottles. That way, even with the losers (because there are always losers), I usually have something to use as the wine of the week. Which is how I discovered the Castillo del Baron monastrell.
Why did I buy it, having never tasted it? First, it’s a Spanish red, so quality should be good because we can trust Spanish reds. Second, it’s from the Yecla region in Murcia on the country’s southeastern coast, and that you haven’t heard of either means the price should be more than fair. Third, it’s made with monastrell, the Spanish version of mourvedre, and red wines made with grapes that aren’t cabernet sauvignon usually offer value.
And my analysis was spot on. The Castillo del Barnn monastrell ($10, purchased, 14%) was so impressive that I went back a week later and bought a case. It’s an interesting and intriguing wine that shows off the region and the grape – a funky, herbal aroma; big but not heavy; just enough bright black fruit (black cherry?); and a pleasing acidity. Plus, the tannins don’t overwhelm the wine, which can happen with poorly made monastrell.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. It’s red meat wine (Spanish-style roasted lamb, perhaps?), but also something like chicken with paprika.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza
Pizza is as much a part of the Wine Curmudgeon’s being as wine and the Chicago Cubs. How could it be otherwise, growing up, going to college, and starting my career in the Chicago area?
But leave Chicago, and pizza becomes something to miss. In the three decades I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve had a handful of great pizzas (not including Louie’s, since Lou was from the Chicago area as well). Hence, I usually make my own, and the thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza works much better than I hoped.
This recipe, adapted from from ATK’s Christoper Kimball days (and no, we don’t want to go there) is about as close as you can get to top-notch professional pizza in a home oven. Yes, it’s thin crust, but that’s because it’s almost impossible to replicate authentic Chicago-style thick crust at home. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Plus, it takes just one rise by using Rapid Rise yeast; there is a minimal amount of kneading; and no special equipment is required other than a full-size sheet pan. In all, from taking the ingredients out of the cupboard to eating it, the process takes less than 90 minutes – or about as long as it takes pizza delivery on a rainy Friday night.
• Azul y Garanza Tempranillo 2017 ($10/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This vintage of the Spanish red is a little tighter and not as soft as previous vintages; so I enjoyed it more. But there is still lots of cherry fruit balanced by refreshing Spanish acidity, making it’s one of the great values in the world. Imported by Valkyrie Selections
• Three Thieves Rose 2017 ($8, purchased, 13%): Never doubt Charleis Bieler, rose maker extraordinaire who contributes to this pink when he isn’t making the Bieler Sabine or the Charles & Charles rose. It’s another terrific value, sitting somewhere between Bota Box and the Charles & Charles — not too heavy, a little tart strawberry fruit, and a clean finish.
The Vibracions rose is $10 cava that will please even the most demanding significant other for the Holiday That Must Be Named
The Holiday That Must Not Be Named requires offerings as if it was a Greek god who must be appeased, else thunderbolts slam down from the heavens. Which is where the Vibracions rose comes in.
The Vibracions rose ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is cava, or Spanish sparkling wine, that offers amazing value, modern winemaking, and traditional cava style. In other words, a cheap wine to please even the most demanding Greek god – or even a significant other.
The key is a Spanish red grape called trepat, which was once common but now is too often passed over in favor of pinot noir. Trepat gives cava a berry-like brightness that pinot doesn’t always offer (particularly if the pinot is from Spain). That quality is on display in the Vibracions, which offers an almost dark, spicy aroma; bright, fresh strawberry fruit, though not too tart and with a hint of something darker; and the kind of tight, cascading bubbles that always denote top-notch sparkling wine.
Highly recommended – a Hall of Fame quality wine. Chill and drink it on its own, or pair with with almost any Holiday That Must Not Be Named dinner. It’s also the sort of thing for brunch, served with creamy, almost custard-like scrambled eggs topped with chives.
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.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.