The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is $10 red wine that offers weeknight quality and value
There’s a style of French wine that has survived Robert Parker and premiumization and the decline of wine drinking in France. It’s a simple style, used for the every day kind of wines that still dominate European wine drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is exactly that kind of wine.
That’s because it exists for one purpose – to drink with dinner, because everyone drinks wine with dinner. In this, the Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) excels; I brought it to dinner with the Big Guy at our local BYOB, and he was surprised that the wine did as much as it did for the price.
That means a rustic sort of quality – tart but accessible, with dark fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), an almost herbal quality, and just enough tannins to show it’s a red wine. This wine is from Cahors in southwestern France, where malbec is still quite common. But it’s important to note that Cahors malbecs bear little resemblance to most $10 Argentine malbecs, which are soft and fruity and rounded. This wine is angular, and you can almost taste the corners.
Hence, it’s red meat wine – I drank it with a roasted lamb shank and white beans, and it was spot on. But it’s also meatloaf and takeout chicken, the sort of thing for a middle of the week dinner. Because where where would we be without wines like that?
The Stags’ Leap chardonnay may be the best value among expensive wines I’ve tasted in years
This California white wine may be the best value for any domestic white wine costing more than $25 I’ve tasted in years. It’s certainly the best value in California chardonnay: It tastes like Napa Valley, where the grapes are from. It tastes like chardonnay, and not a tub of butter. And it’s only going to get better with age, truly amazing given its price.
Much of the credit for the quality for the Stag’s Leap chardonnay ($30, sample, 14.2%) goes to winemaker Christophe Paubert, whose approach is focused on the grapes, and not getting on the cover of the Wine Spectator. Hence, a wine that isn’t over oaked, isn’t hot, and isn’t stuffed full of winemaking tricks. “I’m not that kind of winemaker,” he said during lunch in Dallas last month.
Instead, Paubert worked with what the grapes gave him, and the result is a chardonnay that is fresh and bright, with crisp green apple fruit intertwined with a little lemon zest. It’s rich and full in the mouth, but not oaky and toasty, and it finishes with a certain sort of minerality one doesn’t taste much anymore in California chardonnay. Yes, there is oak, but it’s in the background, supporting everything else.
Highly recommended, and especially for Mother’s Day next month. This would pair especially well with something like crab and shrimp stuffed fish, or even a classic French dish like sole in a simple white wine sauce.
Our Dallas Aldi wine road trip finds some cheap wine gems among the rows and rows of Winking Owl
The good news: Our Aldi wine road trip was not the disaster that I feared. Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, had scouted four other Aldi locations in our part of Dallas, and assured me we could find things worth drinking. And he was right.
We found four during our five-store visit. That was impressive, given that Aldi here has consistently fallen short of its effort in Europe and the United Kingdom. There, its private label wines (labels sold only at Aldi) are cheap and critically praised.
The wines worth buying again:
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): The first bottle was flat, a worrisome trend I’ve experienced lately with sparkling wine costing as much as $20. But the second had the requisite character for a Spanish bubbly – tart lemon and green apple fruit and some minerality. A step up from other $7 cavas, especially since they’ve been dumbed down to taste like watery Prosecco.
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red made with tempranillo was this close to being a Hall of Fame wine. It has way too much oak for what it is; leave out the oak, and and the acidity isn’t pushed to the back and the wine is in balance. Very nice cherry fruit and even a little Spanish orange peel aroma.
• La Rue Cotes de Provence Rose 2017 ($7.50, purchased, 12%): This looks like legitimate Provencal rose (a watery pink), and it smells like one, too (tart berries). The catch is that it finishes a little sweet, and legitimate Provencal rose doesn’t do that. But that might have been me looking for a flaw. Otherwise, it’s mostly what it should be a fair price.
• Bergeron Estates Reserve Icewine 2016 ($12/375 ml, purchased, 10.5%): Quality Canadian icewine should cost three or four times this, and no one will confuse the Bergeron with Inniskillin. But it does taste like icewine – a luxurious honeyed sweetness – and it does taste like the vidal grape it is made with. It needs more acidity to balance the sweetness, but well worth buying again for those who like dessert wine.
I didn’t buy two wines that Alfonso thought would be OK, a German pinot gris and reisling labeled Landshut, which may have been made by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, a top German producer. So I’ll try those next next – each was about $7. In addition, a Spanish garnacha, Vina de la Nieve from Catalonia ($6) looked worth tasting but wasn’t available for sale. It was on the shelf, but not in the system.
Having said that, there was still too much Aldi wine in the stores whose reason for being was that it cost $3. And too many of the $10 wines were advertised with 88-point shelf talkers, which is about as helpful as writing a blog post longhand and using magic to put it on the Internet. And there was an amazing lack of continuity between stores, where one store would have one wine, another wouldn’t, and third would have something else.
Still, as Alfonso kept reminding me, “Small steps, Jeff, small steps. Aldi is heading in the right direction.” Which I fervently hope.
The Fantini trebbiano is an $8 Italian white wine that’s perfect for keeping around the house
The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a white wine to keep around the house for a couple of years, since the new owner of the company that makes the Rene Babier white turned it into Spanish lemonade and the legendary Domaine du Tariquet lost its U.S. importer. The Fantini trebbiano may do the trick
The Fantini trebbiano ($8, purchased, $12) is an Italian white wine from the Abruzzi region in the east on the Adriatic coast. It’s made with trebbiano, the Italain version of ugni blanc, which is one of the grapes used in the Tariquet. As such, it produces a tart (lemon-lime-ish?) wine, and one that is clean, simple, and enjoyable. What more can you ask for at this price?
In this, the Fantini trebbiano is the white version of the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines that also offer varietal character at a fair price. These are basic, every day wines, the kind you drink when you want a glass when you get home from work or need something with takeout pizza or weeknight hamburgers. This is a very European approach to wine, where we don’t plan the meal so that it complements the wine, but we drink the wine because we’re eating dinner and glass of wine sounds good.
Three wines that offer quality and value when you’re serving wine to people who don’t drink much wine
The Wine Curmudgeon has entertained twice in the last month where the guests weren’t professional wine drinkers. That is, they were people who fit the profile of the typical U.S. wine drinker – someone who drinks a bottle of month and isn’t interested in the stuff that keeps wine geeks up at night.
The challenge then: How you buy wine to serve with dinner for people who don’t drink much wine? The goal is to pour something interesting that isn’t stupid or insipid, but won’t intimidate your guests. The key: Keep in mind that you want to serve wine other people will like, and not what you think they should like.
A few suggestions and guidelines:
• Try to stay away from tannins and their bitterness, which may be the most off-putting part of wine for those who don’t drink much of it. But what if you want to serve red wine? Then look for something made with sangiovese, gamay, or tempranillo, like the Capezzana Monna Nera 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This Italian blend is mostly sangiovese – fresh and well-made with soft cherry fruit. Imported by MW Imports.
• Chardonnay, and especially cheap ones with too much fake oak, can make typical wine drinkers grimace. So can overly tart sauvignon blanc. Hence, chenin blanc like the Ken Forester petit 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%). This South African white is a long-time favorite, offering crisp white fruit and a refreshing finish. Imported by USA Wine Imports
• One of the best things about the rose boom? It’s ideal for situations like this. The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%) is a French pink, almost tart and strawberry, and a tad better made than most at this price. Imported by Pioneer Wine Co.
The $10 Castillo del Baron Monastrell is so well made and so enjoyable that the WC went back to the store and bought a case
The Wine Curmudgeon goes wine shopping once or twice a week, usually hitting two or three stores in the Dallas area. I’ll look for stuff I haven’t seen before, and buy lots of single bottles. That way, even with the losers (because there are always losers), I usually have something to use as the wine of the week. Which is how I discovered the Castillo del Baron monastrell.
Why did I buy it, having never tasted it? First, it’s a Spanish red, so quality should be good because we can trust Spanish reds. Second, it’s from the Yecla region in Murcia on the country’s southeastern coast, and that you haven’t heard of either means the price should be more than fair. Third, it’s made with monastrell, the Spanish version of mourvedre, and red wines made with grapes that aren’t cabernet sauvignon usually offer value.
And my analysis was spot on. The Castillo del Barnn monastrell ($10, purchased, 14%) was so impressive that I went back a week later and bought a case. It’s an interesting and intriguing wine that shows off the region and the grape – a funky, herbal aroma; big but not heavy; just enough bright black fruit (black cherry?); and a pleasing acidity. Plus, the tannins don’t overwhelm the wine, which can happen with poorly made monastrell.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. It’s red meat wine (Spanish-style roasted lamb, perhaps?), but also something like chicken with paprika.