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
• Raeburn Rose 2019 ($13, sample, 13.5%): California pink with some tart raspberry fruit that is well made, but the longer it sits in the glass, the more you notice the lingering residual sugar and that it’s not quite dry rose.
• Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Didn’t notice the vintage when I bought this French red, and that is so tasty is amazing given its age. Still has a little dark fruit and some earth, and still eminently drinkable.
• Château de Montmirail “M” 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This red Rhone blend has some heft and black fruit, but isn’t overdone or too heavy. Availability may be limited, which is too bad since it’s close to a Hall of Fame wine. Imported by Kindred Vines
• Excelsior Chardonnay 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This South African white will not help the country get back into the U.S. market. It’s a Kendall Jackson chardonnay knockoff, complete with residual sugar. Imported by Cape Classics
South Africa’s MAN chenin blanc offers quality and value in an $11 white wine
I’ve spent the past couple of months writing about South African wine, not only here but for the trade media. The goal? Trying to figure out if South Africa can fill the void caused by the 25 percent tariff on French, Spanish, and German wine.
Sadly, despite top quality wines like the MAN chenin blanc ($11, purchased, 12.5%), the answer seems to be no. The reasons are many, including the three-tier system (since each wine needs a distributor, which most don’t have) and problematic pricing on higher-end South African wines.
Which is too bad, since the MAN chenin blanc does everything a terrific $10 wine should do. It’s a far cry from the country’s pre-Apartheid chenin blanc, when it was called steen and was likely to be soft and flabby.
Instead, the MAN is fresh, crisp, and enjoyable, without any cloying fruit or sweetness. Look for some lime and tropical fruit and more layers of flavor than most chenins at this price have. In this, is a professional wine and very well done, and shows how far South African winemaking has come.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve speaks to Oregon quality and value
The Ponzi family was one of the first to make pinot noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1970s, and their pinot has long been regarded as some of the state’s best. Now, second generation winemaker Luisa Ponzi wants to do for chardonnay what her father Dick did for pinot.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve ($40, sample, 13.5%) shows the skill and quality in her approach. First and foremost, it’s a tremendous value – a top-notch New World chardonnay that is quite young but delicious now (and could age for as much as a decade).
Look for an almost baked apple aroma, followed by fresh, tart green apple fruit and baking spice flavors and supported by just the right amount of oak. The finish is long and pleasant. This wine, as most great Oregon wines do, sits somewhere between the French and California versions of chardonnay and shows why Oregon has earned its excellent reputation.
Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to buy now drink and buy again and keep for a couple of years.
Hopefully, that guy isn’t looking for a $3 bottle of wine.
This $3 wine challenge? One bottle was sort of palatable, but the other four weren’t even close
A 3-liter box of decent wine, like the Bota Box rose or the Black Box merlot, costs about $15, which is less than $4 a bottle. Do yourself a favor and buy one of those. Don’t waste your money on any of the wines in the WC’s fifth, almost annual, $3 wine challenge.
• Four of the five were noticeably sweet and a couple were very sweet. Which would be fine, except that these wines pass themselves off as dry.
• The Two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s smelled like old cheese. More yummy!
• The best of the five was Walmart’s Oak Leaf, which was thin, watery, and not obviously sweet, but sort of tasted like chardonnay. And it’s the only one that had any acidity, and there was even a touch of nicely done fake oak. Yes, that would be damning with faint praise.
Once again, the Portuguese Esporao Alandra Branco white blend is terrific cheap wine
One of the best things about this job is finding a great cheap wine that remains a great cheap wine from vintage to vintage. And the Wine Curmudgeon has found one with the Esporao Alandra Branco.
The 2018 version of the Esporao Alandra Branco ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is a Portuguese white blend made with grapes like antão vaz that most of have never heard of. And that’s OK – not every wine has to be made with chardonnay. That it doesn’t taste exactly the same as the 2017? That’s OK, too. Vintage difference is not a bad thing as long as quality remains consistent. And it has here.
The 2018 is a little brighter and fresher than the 2017. There is more lemon and lime zest flavor than the than citrus fruit that the previous vintage had, and there is even a little minerality that wasn’t there last time. This wine is leaner and not as full in the mouth; again, not a bad thing, just different.
Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2021. It’s just the wine as winter ends and we’re looking for something lighter and more spring-like.
Who knows? Maybe one of these $3 wines will be a best buy.
The almost annual $3 wine challenge: The Wine Curmudgeon will drink $3 chardonnay with dinner every night this week, because that’s what Google says the Internet wants
The Wine Curmudgeon hates writing this post, but not because the wine is usually so terrible. It’s because, no matter how terrible the wine is, people still buy it and “enjoy” it because it costs $3. How many times do I have to write that cheap wine isn’t good just because it’s cheap?
Nevertheless, since this remains one of the most popular features on the blog and I regularly get emails asking me to do it again, here we go for the fifth time: Can a wine drinker live on really cheap wine? Or are the ultra-cheap wines just cheap, without any other reason for being? The details about the first four $3 challenges are here, here, here, and here.
This year, I will taste five chardonnays (all purchased in Dallas). In addition, the results will run in the weekly Dallas Observer; food editor Taylor Adams asked me to write a fun and creative wine story. I’ll post the link to that story here on March 6, and include the highlights from the tastings. So, once more unto the breach, dear friends:
• Two-buck Chuck chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%). The Trader Joe’s private label was the first — and remains — the most famous of the very cheap wines. It’s a California appellation from the 2019 vintage, and made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine.
• Winking Owl chardonnay ($2.95, 12%) from Aldi (but may be available elsewhere). It’s a California appellation but non-vintage, so 75 percent of the grapes came from California but from different harvests. It’s made by E&J Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world. The price is price is seven more than the last time I did this.
• Oak Leaf chardonnay ($2.50, 12.5%), the Walmart private label. Also made by The Wine Group, American, and non-vintage. The price almost 50 cents less than the last time I did this.
• Bay Bridge chardonnay ($2.99, 12.5%), the Kroger private label; sold at Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Kroger-owned banners. It’s American and non-vintage, and the third of these wines made by The Wine Group.
Look — the Chateau Bonnet Blanc on a store shelf. In Pennsylvania, even.
Despite the gloom and doom surrounding cheap wine these days, we still have the Chateau Bonnet Blanc to drink and enjoy
The Chateau Bonnet Blanc is the $10 bottle I turn to when the rest of the wine world seems to be headed toward $50, whether because of tariffs, premiumization or what have you. And we’ve certainly had a lot of what have you’s lately, haven’t we?
How much quality does this wine deliver? So much that even the 2016, which was all I could buy in Dallas for the past couple of years, was still amazingly fresh and delicious when I had it in January. The 2017 never did show up here, and the 2019 has not arrived yet.
The 2018, as always, is a white blend from France’s Bordeaux that’s mostly sauvignon blanc with a little semillon and muscadelle. It’s not quite as brisk as the 2016, and there seems to be a little more soft citrus fruit mixed in with the herbs and minerality. Which is not a problem, and speaks to the producer’s skill and professionalism: Something that costs this little remains consistent in terms of quality, yet displays vintage difference is stunning.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. Chill the Bonnet and drink on its own or with anything that’s not bloody red meat or covered up with cream sauce. And be glad it’s still with us, despite all the what have you’s.
Imported by Duetsch Family Wines & Spirits
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted