Category:Wine of the week

Wine of the week: McManis Viognier 2016

mcmanis viognierThe 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.

Wine of the week: Our Daily Red 2017

our daily redOur Daily Red is an enjoyable $10 California red blend

The wine world may be convinced that the only way to sell dry red wine is to sweeten it, but that’s not a problem for the company that makes Our Daily Red, a California red blend.

In fact, Our Daily Red ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is so dry it’s almost old-fashioned – tart, rustic, and fruity, the kind of red wine that was common until improved winemaking technology made it possible to fix those “flaws” with a nod and wink. Plus, the blend includes the legendary ruby caberent grape, once common in California wine but today mostly interesting only to wine geeks.

In this, Our Daily Red will make some people shake their head and wonder at its inclusion as a wine of the week. But understand that it’s not a cocktail, but a food wine – red sauce, pizza, cheeses, sausages and any combination thereof. Look for lots of dark red fruit and just enough tannins peeking through the tartness.

One other note: The producer says it doesn’t add sulfites to its wine; take that as you will. It’s a surprisingly acidic wine if that’s the case, though I have a feeling unripe grapes are used to make up the difference.

Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Line 39 sauvignon blancThe Line 39 sauvingon blanc is a $10 California grocery store white that has remained dependable for years

If more grocery store wine tasted like the Line 39 sauvignon blanc, the Wine Curmudgeon wouldn’t get nearly as many emails and comments from blog visitors bemoaning availability.

This vintage of the Line 39 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a little more disjointed than previous efforts; that is, all of the parts don’t fit together as neastly as they have in the past, and the wine has some rough edges. Having said that, it is still California-style sauvingon blanc – a little grassy aroma, some citrus fruit (lime, perhaps, but not grapefruit), and a clean and refreshing finish.

In our California sauvignon blanc hierarchy, the Line 39 fits below Ryder and Wente – not quite as layered as either of those, but that’s OK since it’s a couple of dollars less. If it’s not quite up to the $10 Hall of Fame quality of past vintages, it’s still a fine value.

This is wine for roast chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, as well as something to drink when you get home from work and feel like a glass to soothe the rigors off the day.

Wine of the week: Marchesi di Barolo Maràia 2016

Marchesi di Barolo MaràiaThe Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality

One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.

Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.

Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)

But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.

Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2016

Cellaro Luma GrilloForget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious

How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”

Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.

No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?

Note to wine business: How about all of us?

The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Wine of the week: Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV

Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de LimouxThe Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux isn’t Champagne, but it’s not supposed to be — so enjoy the difference

The world does not revolve around Champagne, as I make mention of each year around this time. Sparkling wine is made almost everywhere that wine is made, and there are a variety of interesting, fairly priced, and quality labels. So know that the Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV does not taste like Veuve Clicquot or Nicolas Feuillatte, but also know that it’s not supposed to.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux ($15, purchased, 12%) is a cremant, which is what sparkling wine from France not made in the Champagne region is called. A cremant from Limoux is made the much the same way as Champagne (the second fermentation is in the bottle and not a steel tank, as with Italy’s Prosecco), but there are a couple of differences. Hence, the production is called methode ancestrale to differentiate it from Champagne’s methode champenoise.

First, cremant de Limoux is made with different grapes, primarly mauzac, which is local to the region. Next, the second fermentation is unaided, so that the bubble creation doesn’t get a boost from the addition of more yeast, as in Champagne. These differences make for subtle, yet interesting changes from the sparkling wine most of us drink.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux, thanks to the mauzac, is a very traditional blanquette, with a yeasty, brioche kind of finish. But unlike so many Champagnes that finish in that style, it’s also quite fresh and light, with barely ripe apple fruit. In this, it’s almost a food wine – New Year’s brunches, for example. What you don’t want to do is use it for something like mimosas, which would cover up what makes the wine interesting.

Imported by Espirit du Vin

Wine of the week: Henry Fessy Gamay Noir 2016

Henry Fessy gamayThe Henry Fessy gamay noir is a quality red at a more than fair price — and just in time for the holidays

The cheap wine gods have taken pity on the Wine Curmudgeon. Maybe it was all the plonk I drank this year, or that I had to write the same things over and over in 2018 – sweet when it’s supposed to be dry, over-ripe with too much alcohol, and not varietally correct. Because the cheap wine gods put the Henry Fessy gamay on a store shelf where I could find it.

The Henry Fessy gamay noir ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of red wine that used to be relatively easy to find but is a rarity in our Big Wine, sweet and smooth 21st century world. This French red is delicious, but more importantly, it’s varietally correct: It’s made with the gamay grape, so that means not quite tart berry fruit instead of the flabby softness that is all too common in cheap Beaujolais. Plus, there is a bit of zip, a lick of baking spice, and refreshing tannins. Missing is any hint of focus-group inspired smoothness or of residual sugar hiding behind fake oak and handfuls of added acidity.

This wine tastes like it should cost $17 or $18 instead of $12 (and I bought it on sale for $10). So what’s going on here? First, gamay isn’t a grape that gets much respect, even in France, and that tends to lower the price. Second, it’s not an appellation wine, but a vin de France, where the grapes came from anywhere in the country and which also lowers the price. Third, the producer is known for quality, high-end Beaujolais, so we get the expertise without the cost.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. This is the kind of wine to buy by the case and drink when you want a glass of quality at a more than fair price.

Imported by Louis Latour