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 – two California and two French.
• Oak Ridge OZV Rose 2018 ($15, sample, 13.8%): This California pink, made with zinfandel, is a heavier, red wine-style rose, that needs food. Look for crisp, almost back fruit is crisp.
• Toad Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($17, sample, 13.9%): Major winemaking going on with this California red. Somehow, it’s sweet and tart at the same time, with nary a tannin in sight. One more example of focus group wine aimed at people who don’t drink wine.
• Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc 2017 ($18, purchased, 13%): This French white is chardonnay from the Beaujolais region, not something you see much on store shelves. It’s well made, with green apple fruit, some minerality, a touch of mouth feel, but that it costs $18 speaks to the dearth of quality chardonnay that tastes like chardonnay at less than this price. Imported by Kermit Lynch
• Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir 2015 ($17, purchased, 13%): French red made with cabernet franc from the Loire that is a little fruitier (black cherry?) than I expected, and not quite as earthy. But well made and enjoyable, and a food wine for barbecues and steak frites. Imported by Kermit Lynch
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is entry level white wine that shows what a top-notch producer can do for $10
Michel-Schulumberger is a top-notch California producer that still makes entry-level wines – a wonderfully old-fashioned approach that has gone out of style thanks to premiumization and California real estate prices. I’ve praised the $15 red blend, and the Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is just as well done.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is varietally correct and well-made California sauvignon blanc. It doesn’t taste like it came from New Zealand or was tarted up with oak or sugar to get a higher score or to impress a focus group. It’s just what it should be for a wine at this price: Fresh and clean, with that tell-tale grassy aroma that earmarks California sauvignon blanc, some lime fruit in the middle, and a bit of minerality on the back.
How does the winery do it? This isn’t a $50 estate wine; rather, it’s a California appellation, where the grapes come from the less expensive parts of the state and the winery crafts something that’s worth buying and drinking for $10. Would that more producers still did this.
The Nicolas Perrin viognier is a French white wine made with style and grace
The Nicolas Perrin viognier is a revelation – a French white that takes into account terroir and varietal character, and does so affordably and with style.
Know that viognier isn’t much like like chardonnay, even though it’s sometimes compared to chardonnay. So don’t expect toasty and oaky or lots of apple fruit. Rather, the Nicolas Perrin viognier ($10, purchased, 13%) features viognier’s telltale stone fruit, bright and fresh and full. It’s not quite as a fruity as a New World viognier from Texas or Virginia, and there is also more of a mineral note than we get in the U.S. Most importantly, it’s heavier, but in the almost oily way common to French viogniers. In this, it needs food – roast chicken with apricots, perhaps, or grilled scallops.
Highly recommended; almost certain to take its place in the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and a candidate for the 2020 cheap wine of the year.
The Little James Basket Press White is consistent, quality $10 wine in a world where that’s not easy to find
The Wine Curmudgeon is very confused: Why is the Little James Basket Press White still a Hall of Fame quality wine, while the red version tastes soft and flabby? One would think that the same producer – and a top-notch producer at that – wouldn’t do something that silly.
But that’s the case. The Little James Basket Press White ($10, purchased, 13%) is everything the red isn’t: A fresh and lively blend (sauvingon blanc and viognier), with green apple and lime fruit tempered by the viognier’s apricot. There’s even a little spice, though I’m not sure where it comes from. In all, exactly the kind of $10 wine that used to be easy to find and isn’t anymore.
When I bought the Little James Basket Press White at one of Dallas’ biggest independent retailers, I asked the long-time sales guy the same question: Why is this made like wine while the red is made to appeal to people who don’t like wine? He shook his head, muttered something about the wine business and Millennials, and told me not to buy the red because I was exactly right.
Highly recommended, as always, and sure to return to the Hall of Fame next year. Drink this slightly chilled on its own, or with any weeknight white wine dinner, be it takeout Chinese or grilled chicken breasts.
Michigan wine 2019: Another regional wine state that offers quality – and even value
One of Drink Local Wine’s great regrets was that we were never able to do Michigan wine. The state had some of the best regional wine in the country, and its efforts have only improved since then.
I know this because I was lucky enough to get Michigan wine samples last fall, and the quality was consistent and impressive. Wine is made throughout the state, but the best known region is along the northwestern Lake Michigan shore, centered around Traverse City. That means weather is a challenge every year, and cold, snow, and ice have wreaked havoc with any number of vintages. Riesling is its trademark grape, but some cold climate reds are also outstanding.
The following wines were the best I tasted – all were samples. Availability may be limited in other parts of the country.
• Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Resling 2017 ($14, 12%): One of regional wine’s biggest challenges is producing affordable products, but this long-time Michigan producer has done just that. It’s a little tight, but reflects Michigan’s style and terror — almost stone fruit instead of citrus; a crisp, steely finish; and an appealing and pleasing riesling softness. Highly recommended.
• Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017 ($26, 13%): This red is a trifle pricey, but impeccably made and just as delicious. Again, a terroir-driven wine that is less fruity (tart cherry, perhaps?) and more noticeably spicy than a Beaujolais from France, which is also made with gamay. This vintage is sold out, but if the 2018 is anything close to the 2017, it’s a must buy.
• 2 Lads Cabernet Franc 2016 ($35, 13.5%): This is an intriguing approach to cabernet franc, a red grape that does well in many regional states and is best known as the red from the Loire in France. It doesn’t have the pencil lead that marks some Loire wines, and it’s not as fruity as a west coast label. Instead, it features blackberry fruit and baking spice, plus an almost zesty mouth feel. It’s well made and top quality, but the price is a problem.
• Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio 2016 ($27, 13.5%): Excellent example of what Michigan can do with a red blend. It’s brisk and spicy with well-developed berry fruit. There’s an appealingly lean structure, save for a bit of ashy heaviness on the back and a touch too much oak.
• Hawthorne Vineyards Rose 2016 ($12, 13.2%): A dry pink wine that is heavier than I prefer, but still well made and rose-like — dark raspberry and strawberry fruit. And, again, an affordable price.
• Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2016 ($19, 8.5%): This white dessert wine is just so close to being the kind that wins double gold medals and best in shows. It’s sweet – think honey and ripe peaches – balanced by an almost fresh orange juice acidity. That’s where it falls just a smidge short, since a little more acidity would balance the sweetness. But it’s still a delicious wine and well worth the price.
The McManis viognier is $10 Hall of Fame quality – a reminder that California can produce great cheap wine
California viognier is infamous for being heavy, overoaked, and too alcoholic, lacking grace and subtlety. So how does the McManis viognier taste completely different – and for just $10?
Because the McManis family still cares about making great cheap wine. Others may have gone over to the dark side, but the McManis viognier ($10, purchased, 13.5%) remains a symbol of what California once was – quality wine at a fair price.
The 2016 viognier remains fresh and interesting, with ripe, juicy apricot fruit, an almost oily mouth feel, and a stone fruit pit finish. In this, it’s classic New World viognier, a little less overwhelming than its French cousins from the Rhone, but still heavy enough that it’s a food wine.
I drank it with a cornbread tamale pie made with chicken and tomatillo sauce, and I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. It would also work with roast chicken (and add some dried apricots) or any post-modern salad with fresh stone fruit.
Highly recommended, and the year’s first candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year. The 2017 is the current vintage, but there is plenty of 2016 on store shelves.
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.