Category:White wine

Wine of the week: Zestos Blanco 2018

zestos blancoZestos Blanco, a Spanish white, is the kind of great cheap wine everyone wishes they could make

Being cheap isn’t enough to make a great cheap wine. Otherwise, the $10 Hall of Fame would be little different from a list of the country’s best-selling $8 supermarket labels. That difference can be seen in the Zestos Blanco, which is both cheap and marvelous.

How marvelous? A friend of mine, who enjoys the wines I recommend but pays little attention otherwise, tasted it the other day and said: “I’ve had this before, haven’t I? I remember it, because it’s so well made compared to the rest of the stuff I buy at the grocery store. Which all mostly tastes the same.”

The Zestos Blanco ($10, purchased, 12%) is a Spanish white made with malvar, a grape found mostly in and around Madrid. It produces a crisp, almost lime-infused, tropical sort of wine that is bone dry and has surprising body (but isn’t tart). That combination makes it an especially wonderful food wine, be it Chinese takeout or something as complicated as roast salmon.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame; also, a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Finally, a note about the importer, Ole & Obrigado. Patrick Mata, who runs Ole, is one of the smartest people I’ve met in the wine business. He is also one of the most stand-up: He returns phone calls and emails, answers questions honestly, and is unfailingly polite.

I mention this because his company, and everyone he employs, could suffer dramatically from the 25 percent European wine tariff. I’ve tried not to beat up on the tariff more than necessary on the blog, but it’s worth noting again the financial harm it could cause Ole and dozens of other small- and medium-sized importers. Trade policy is just not imperial pronouncements. It’s also the people we overlook when we’re making those imperial pronouncements.

Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken

roast chickenThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.

When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.

Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?

The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.

The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will do justice to the chicken — and not a chardonnay in sight:

Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado

Terre del Fohn Muller-Thurgau 2017 ($14, purchased, 12.5%): A beautiful white Italian wine that is made from muller-thurgau, an uncommon grape. It’s almost spicy, a little oily, and offers some light lime fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Tricana.

La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy

Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2017

Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!!The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! remains a classic Italian cheap white wine

The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite cheap wines. So why have I reviewed it just three times in 12 years?

Availability, of course. What other reason could there be?

The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of cheap wine that Europeans understand implicitly – you buy it, you drink it with dinner, and you enjoy it. No posturing about scores and no fretting about pairings.

So why isn’t it regularly available? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably has something to do with changes in its importer and distributor over the past decade.

But when the Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is available, it’s always a treat (even at $10, as opposed to $8 the last vintage). It’s a white blend made with trebbiano and malvasia, plus an even more rare grape called roscetto. The result is a tart, lemony wine, and some years it can be really tart. The 2017 is comparatively subtle – less tart, more balanced, and even a bit of minerality.

I don’t know that I enjoyed this vintage quite as much, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the wine. It remains as it has always been – enjoyable and well worth buying and drinking.

Imported by Winebow

Mini-reviews 126: White Burgundy, albarino, Estancia, petit verdot

white burgundyReviews 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.

Jean-Jacques Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): This is the second time I bought this chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, which shows that even those of us who do this for a living make mistakes. Bland, boring, and overpriced. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Raimat Saira Albarino 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This Spanish white is cheaply made, watery, and doesn’t much taste like albarino. It apparently exists for no other reason than to cost $10. Imported by Aveniu Brands

Estancia Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($8, purchased, 13.5%): Estancia was once a dependable cheap wine producer. Now, it’s just another Big Wine brand. This California white is green and unripe and tastes very little like sauvignon blanc.

Cameron Hughes ‘Lot 638’ Petit Verdot 2016 ($15, sample, 14.4%): VinePair’s reviewer loved this Washington state red wine, raving about its “concentrated dark-berry fruit, especially blackberry and black currant.” That’s the exact reason I didn’t care for it – too ripe and too overdone, especially given the grapes involved.

Photo: “Lancers” by Rochelle Ramos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Wine of the week: Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2018

sunshine Bay Sauvignon BlancThe Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc may be a one-note wine, but it’s well made and a value at $7

The 2017 vintage of this wine was one more Aldi private label disappointment. But one of the many wonderful things about wine — like baseball — is that there is always the next vintage. And the 2018 Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc is everything the other one wasn’t.

Don’t expect this New Zealand white to mimic a stunning Sancerre or the craftsmanship and terroir of New Zealand’s Spy Valley. Rather, the Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc ($7, purchased, 13%) is a one-note New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But it’s a very well done New Zealand sauvignon blanc — grapefruit, but not too nuch; a hint of minerality on the black, and clean and crisp throughout. It’s not insipid, it’s not stupid, and it doesn’t have a trace of residual sugar, the way too many California sauvignon blancs are selling themselves these days.

In this, it’s one more reason to taste the wine before you judge it. And, as opposed to the 2017, it’s a big step up from most other $7 supermarket Kiwi sauvignon blancs.

Imported by GK Skaggs

Mini-reviews 125: Guimaro, Castle Rock, Silverado, Bibi Graetz

guimaroReviews 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.

Guimaro Vino Tinto 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): Solid, well-made, and very fruity (black cherry?) Spanish red made with the mencia grape. I wish it had had a little more earth and interest, but it’s young and should get some of that as it ages. Imported by Llaurador Wines

Castle Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2017 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Not a bad value for $18 – mostly a typical, ripe black fruit, rich and oaky Napa cabernet. But it’s not overdone, and you can drink it without feeling you’re eating Raisinets at the movies. The catch is that the suggested price is $25 (though it may be available at a lower price at some retailers).

Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato 2018 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Polished, New World- style rose (lots of berry fruit) with a bit of zip and a touch of heaviness from the alcohol. But it isn’t appreciably better or more interesting than a quality $10 rose.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco 2018 ($12, purchased, 12%): Italian white blend, mostly made with vermentino, that has tart lemon fruit, some floral aromas, and a crisp and rewarding finish. Very food-friendly; one of those wines to sip on the porch as summer ends. Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners

Wine of the week: Calvet Blanc Reserve 2018

The Calvet Blanc white Bordeaux is fresh, modern, and a very fair value

A long time ago, in a wine world far, far away, most quality wine shops sold cheap and enjoyable white Bordeaux. You could even find it in supermarkets. The reason that it was so inexpensive and plentiful is that French producers made too much of it, even for a wine drinking country like France.

The difference between then and today? Premiumization. There is still too much white Bordeaux in the world, but since it’s less expensive, we see less of it. Because the wine business has to sell us $15 wine that’s much less interesting.

So when the Wine Curmudgeon finds something like the Calvet Blanc ($11, purchased, 11.5%), he buys it. It’s more modern in style than white Bordeaux from the old days, made entirely of sauvingon blanc (so no semillon, which was quite common then).

The Calvet Blanc is a little more New Zealand in style than I like, with more grapefruit than the subtler lemon and lime. And there isn’t a lot of the traditional minerality. But it’s not simple or dull, the grapefruit isn’t over the top, there’s a little grassyness to add interest, and the finish is long, clean, and stony. In all, the wine is more than drinkable and a very fair value.

Imported by Calvet USA