Category:Wine of the week

Wine of the week: Les Jamelles Sauvignon Blanc 2006

image The French, who once supplied the world with quality cheap wine, have been mostly supplanted by the Australians and the Chileans over the past decade. This has caused not just consternation within the French wine industry, but serious financial difficulty.

Some producers, realizing the crisis, have made significant changes to their products. They use better quality grapes, have upgraded their production techniques, and have adjusted their pricing to compete with $7 bottles of Yellow Tail. They understand that consumers will not pay a 10 or 20 percent premium because the wine label has some French on it.

Case in point is the Les Jamelles, one of the finest $10 sauvignon blancs — one of the finest sauvignon blancs at any price — that the Wine Curmudgeon has tasted in a long while. This is French sauvignon blanc the way it used to be — cheap, tasty and complete. There’s hardly any citrus, because Les Jamelles understands that French wine is not supposed to taste like New Zealand wine. It does have some tropical flavor,  mostly pineapple, as well as the minerality that French sauvignon blancs are supposed to have.

Drink this, chilled, on its own, or with seafood, salads or grilled chicken.

Wine of the week: Peirano Estate Petite Sirah 2006

Ask someone from Napa what they think of Lodi, and you’ll get a snicker. “Oh, do they make wine up there?”

Which is one reason why the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine from Lodi so much, and especially wine from Peirano Estate. Regular visitors might know Peirano from The Other, the winery’s red and white blends.

Peirano, and Lodi wines in general, are well-made, offer value, and aren’t pretentious. Case in point is the petite sirah ($15). Petite sirah is related to syrah, but has its own character and flavor. It’s a little deeper and the fruit flavors aren’t quite as jammy. The Peirano has lots of deep, dark rich plummy flavor, but it’s not as overwhelming as a shiraz. You can even drink on its own, though it’s better with food. Serve this with pizza with tomato sauce and sausage, for example, or grilled hamburgers with lots grilled onions and mushrooms.

Wine of the week: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2006

image Some wines are like old friends. You may only talk to them once or twice a year, but when you do, you pick up the conversation where you left off and it’s like no time has passed.

This is one of those wines. I don’t drink it often, but when I do, I am reminded of why I like it so much. It’s not expensive (about $13), it’s always well made, and it solves a variety of food pairing dilemmas.

Chenin blanc gets a bad rap in this country, while viognier is very little known. The former is often badly made in a sweet style, while not enough winemakers understand the possibilities that viognier offers. At Pine Ridge, those are not problems.

This vintage is what wine types call off dry, with floral aromas and a clean finish. This means it’s sweet enough for spicy food like Thai and Cajun, but not so sweet that those who like dry wine will spit it out. All wineries should be this consistent in quality from year to year.

I need to remember to drink this more often.

Wine of the week: Torreoria 2006

People often ask how I can tell whether a wine is good, especially inexpensive wines. And the best answer I can give is to paraphrase Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, who was discussing obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

And, literally, that’s what happens. I take a sip, and I know. The quality of the wine does all the work. That was the case with this $8 red, a tempranillo from the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia, which is hardly Spain’s best known wine area. But this is one of the best cheap wines I’ve had in a long time. It’s not as sophisticated as a Rioja, even an inexpensive one. And the cherry fruit was a bit muted and it was a little too vanilla-y. But this is nitpicking. I paired it with grilled Cornish hen, and it worked like a charm. This wine is a terrific value, and is almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2009.

Wine of the week: Sanford Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2005

image Regular visitors to this space know that the Wine Curmudgeon hates overpriced wine — and that way too many wines that cost more than $10 are overpriced. So when he finds something that is expensive and fabulous, he swoons. Or as close as he can come to swooning.

The Sanford is among the best pinots made in California, and Sanford makes some of the best pinot noirs in the world. Hence, $45 is not a stretch. The wine has a bit of a red Burgundy nose and flavor, which is more rustic than those from California and Oregon. But it also has terrific California-style fruit (think cherry and raspberry), without any of the candied flavors of too many other U.S. pinots.

Drink this by itself (I shared it on a Sunday with several people who came over to talk away the afternoon) or with any classic pinot food, be it duck or beef braised in red wine.

Wine of the week: Ajello Bianca 2006

image Those of us who love cheap wine love to share cheap wine finds, which means I’ve been getting whispers about Sicilian wine for a couple of years.

The quality of Sicilian wine has improved dramatically in the past decade, while prices have stayed pretty much the same. That’s because Sicily gets very little respect from the wine snobs. In addition, most Sicilian wine is made with grapes only a master sommelier has ever heard of, which makes it more difficult to sell

The Ajello is a perfect example of all of that. It’s cheap (list price is $12, so it’s probably available for around $10 at some places) and it tastes great. Really, really great. It’s a white wine, but without any of the off-putting turpentine flavors in similarly priced pinot grigio. Instead, it’s clean, clear, and crisp, with a mineral-like finish. Don’t expect much fruit — just a bit of lemon (and you have to look for that). This wine is ideal for shellfish or grilled scallops, any kind of grilled chicken or even just drinking on a slow afternoon.

If the price holds up against the weak dollar, this is definitely a candidate for the 2009 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.

Wine of the week: Archetype Vineyards Shiraz 2005

The Wine Curmudgeon, as a general rule, does not like shiraz. (It’s one of the two main differences between Robert Parker and myself.) I find the wines to be exaggerations of what they should taste like — too much fruit, too much tannin, and too much alcohol.

So why am I writing about the Archetype? Because it manages to offer shiraz character without tasting like a parody of the grape. It’s not nearly as big and as rich as a shiraz, but much fruiter than a California or French syrah. Look for Wonderful bright berry fruit, with balance between the fruit, acid and alcohol.And, at $15, it offers exceptional value.