Category:Wine reviews

Mini-reviews 139: Black Friday edition 2020

Black Friday 2020Reviews 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. This month: two reds, a white, and a rose for Black Friday 2020

La Vieille Ferme Rouge 2019 ($8, purchased, 13%): Long-time reader Rich Liebman always insisted I was too hard on this French red blend, which I’ve been drinking off and on for longer than I care to remember. And he was correct — it’s nowhere near as old-fashioned as it used to be. It’s less harsh, there’s more dark fruit, and there might even be something that could be oak. But I’m still not sure it should be part of my regular wine rotation. Imported by Vineyard Brands

CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($6, sample, 12.6%): This California white is notoriously inconsistent, so the good news is that this vintage tastes like $6 sauvignon blanc — more sauvignon blanc in character (some grass, some citrus fruit) and less cheap tasting.

Dixie & Bass Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($18, sample, 14.5%): There’s nothing very subtle about this Washington state red. It’s a standard big, fruity (black cherry?), over-the-top cabernet (though it tastes more Lodi than Washington state). If this is your style of wine, it’s a fair value.

Notre Vue GSM Rose 2019 ($29, sample, 12.7%): This California pink is a pretty, well-made, and enjoyable wine. Look for crisp berryish fruit, and a long, clean, mineral-driven finish. But is really three times better than a top-notch $10 rose?

Wine of the week: Volver Tarima 2018

Volver TarimaThe Volver Tarima is not traditional Spanish red wine, but it is a value

Spanish wine producers, save for some notable exceptions like the reds from Ribero del Duero, have resisted the impulse to Parkerize their wines. Most are still lower in alcohol, restrained in fruit, and taste like Spanish wine has traditionally tasted.

The Volver Tarima 2018 ($11, purchased, 14.5%), a red wine made with monastrell, inhabits the mid-ground between the too ripe, cocktail-like Parker wines and a 12.5 percent Rioja. In this, it’s a pleasant surprise for those of us who want something different, but not something so different that it doesn’t taste like wine.

Yes, the wine is a bit hot, so that the alcohol shows on the back. Having said that, it’s very well-made and surprisingly balanced. There is lots of black fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), but it isn’t too ripe. There’s a little spice, and the tannins are under control – not always easy to do with monastrell. It’s mostly used as a blending grape (known in France as mourvedre).

This is a food wine – braises and stews as the weather gets colder.

Imported by Winebow

Expensive wine 138: Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017

 Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker's CuveeThe Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee offers quality and value in time for Thanksgiving

One thing we can count on this year, despite all of the disasters and sadness, is quality and value in Oregon pinot noir. Yes, premiumization made some inroads, and I tasted some disappointing wine.

But, for the most part, wines like the Panther Creek pinot noir are all they have always been.

The Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017 ($28, purchased, 13.5%) has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but I haven’t always been able to find it on store shelves. So when I saw it this summer, I bought it immediately.

The 2017 is typical of the producer’s style: An earthiness that I like and that is almost Old World; restrained berry fruit, so not quite brambly but not California, either; and refined tannins. The latter are noticeable, but don’t get in the way and are not easy to do with pinot noir. Too many wines, even at this price, either forgo the tannins entirely or boost them so it seems like they sould be in cabernet sauvignon.

Highly recommended, and more than a fair value. This is on its way to being quite complex, and should be even more interesting in a couple of years. Yes, Thanksgiving wine, but a red wine for any occasion that calls for something well-made and a step up.

Thanksgiving wine 2020

thanksgiving wine 2020Four Thanksgiving wine 2020 suggestions

Don’t feel too thankful this year, what with all the damn terrible things that have happened? The Wine Curmudgeon understands, but wants to remind everyone: At least we’re here to enjoy the holiday. A lot of us are much worse off.

So take a look at these Thanksgiving wine 2020 suggestions. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais 2019 ($12, purchased, 13%): This French red is about as old-fashioned as wine gets, and I can hear the wine geeks snickering in the background. But the 2019 is a little heavier than usual, which makes it more of a food wine and which isn’t a bad thing. Look for berry fruit, a hint of tannins, and even a little pepper, Imported by Kobrand

Branchini Pignoletto Frizzante 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Frizzante, in this Italian white, means fizzy. And that means you get a Prosecco-style wine without any of the off-putting qualities of cheap Prosecco. That means it’s not only delightfully fizzy, but minerally,  with a hint of pear, maybe, and barely sweet. Highly recommended — much, much more than I thought it could be. A  tip of the WC’s fedora to Paul DiCarlo at Jimmy’s in Dallas for telling me about this. Imported by Serendipity Wines

Calcu Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial 2019 ($12, sample, 12.5%): An intriguing and enjoyable white from Chile, with about 60 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent semillon. It’s not light like a supermarket New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and it needs food. But it’s quite Chilean in character (soft lemon instead of grapefruit) with a pleasantly long finish. Not for everyone, but a fine value. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers

Mezzacorona Rose Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2019 ($10, purchased, 12%): An Italian pink that does what it does quite well and for more than a fair price. It’s soft-ish but not sweet — lots of berry fruit, with a hint of acidity and a pleasing, long fruity finish. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

More about Thanksgiving wine:
Thanksgiving wine 2019
Thanksgiving wine 2018
Thanksgiving wine 2017
Wine of the week: El Coto Rioja Blanco 2018
Expensive wine 131: Justin Isosceles 2015

Wine of the week: Chateau de Campuget Rose 2019

 Chateau de Campuget RoseThe French Chateau de Campuget rose is a standout cheap pink wine at a time when we need one

What better way to celebrate the blog’s 13th annual Birthday Week with a wine of the week that symbolizes everything the blog stands for? In other words, the Chateau de Campuget rose.

The Chateau de Campuget Rose 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%) is well-made, it’s consistent from vintage to vintage, and it tastes like pink wine from France’s Rhone. I have tasting notes dating to 2012, with nary a discouraging word. Plus, given how difficult it has been to find quality cheap wine on store shelves this year, it is supposed to be more than widely available.

In fact, this vintage is step up from the usual fine effort – a Hall of Fame candidate, even. It’s still a bit fruity (red berries?), but there is more structure instead of just the fruitiness in the front. It’s blend of syrah and grenache, and the former seems to be keeping the latter in its place. In addition, there is a cleaner, more savory finish.

Highly recommended, and just the wine for Thanksgiving. Or, buy a case, drink it throughout the holidays, and enjoy the simple pleasures of fine $10 wine.

Imported by Dreyfus & Ashby

Wine of the week: Michel Armand Muscadet 2018

Michel Armand MuscadetThe Michel Armand Muscadet is $10 wine that shows you know what makes a quality cheap wine

The Jacques Pepin video that ran on the blog last month talked about finding quality $10 wine, which is more than possible “if you know what to buy.” Which is where the Michel Armand Muscadet fits in.

This French white wine from the Muscadet region in the Loire near the Bay of Biscay is made with a less known grape called melon de burgogne. Not surprisingly, the grape has nothing to do with melons or Burgundy or muscat; in fact, it may be best known for its difficulty in making quality wine. Nevertheless, there’s a long history of quality, affordable Muscadets.

In other words, exactly the kind of wine Pepin is talking about – an everyday wine that tastes as it should and offers much more than $10 worth of value. The Michel Armand Muscadet ($10, purchased, 12%) is crisp, flinty, and almost herbal, with a bit of stone fruit. It’s not fat or sloppy or overdone or any of those things that we’re supposed to want in white wine, but deceptively simple and intriguing.

In this, the Michel Armand reflects a wine tradition that we often forget about. It comes from a coastal region of France, so it’s made to go with the local seafood. I also paired it with a Pepin appetizer, goat cheese toasts, and the wine was gone almost as quickly as the food.

Highly recommended, and almost certain to enter the Hall of Fame in a couple of months – and don’t be surprised to see it on the shortlist for the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Imported by Knows Imports

Wine of the week: La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2018

La Fiera Montepulciano d'AbruzzoConsistency, consistency, consistency: Welcome to the La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Italian red

One of the most difficult things about parsing cheap wine is consistency. So much cheap wine is made to hit a certain price that quality can vary greatly from vintage to vintage. Hence, a wine that is terrific one year when grapes are cheap can taste like sugar water the next when grapes are more expensive.

Fortunately, that has never been a problem with the La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, an Italian red. Year after year – and I’ve been tasting the wine almost as long as I’ve been doing the blog – it is worth its $10 price. It may differ a bit from vintage to vintage, softer or more acidic or whatever, but it is always somewhere around Hall of Fame quality.

In this, the 2018 La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($10, purchased, 13%) has more structure and more oomph this vintage. That means more grip from the tannins and and the acidity isn’t as restrained. But it’s still varietally correct, with lots of cherry fruit, and it’s still fresh and enjoyable. So break out the sausage ragu.

One other note: The wine averaged 83.5 points on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Sigh. When will these people ever learn?

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.