Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.
The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.
In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine
Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.
Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay, a French red, is the blog’s third annual Cheap Wine of the Year
One of the charges leveled against cheap wine is that it’s bland and boring. Yes, Winking Owl is bland and boring. But to assume that all cheap wine tastes like Winking Owl is silly and more than a little snooty. So, for those of you who don’t believe in cheap wine quality — but especially for those of us who do — we have the Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017, the blog’s third annual cheap wine of the year.
How much Le Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) did I drink last year? At least a case. It was especially helpful in washing out the aftereffects of all those $18 fake oak “there’s a lot of winemaking going on here” samples that I have to spit through to do this job.
The Le Coeur is a French red made with gamay in the Loire, so don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. If gamay is known at all, it’s for wine from Beaujolais; it’s not even the most common red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.
There is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that many $15 wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner, whether fried catfish, steak frites, or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad.
A tip of the WC’s fedora to Emily Peterson at Valkyrie Selections, the wine’s importer. She promptly returned emails and answered all my questions, which doesn’t happen much these days. Hence, I can report the wine is available in 26 states and the District of Columbia. That includes most big states except California, and even there it is on Wine.com’s website. Also, the current vintage is 2018, but there is still plenty of 2017 on shelves.
Finally, Peterson reports the importer and producer are trying to hold the line on the price despite the tariff, and it shouldn’t go up more than a dollar or two. Meanwhile, she is urging wine drinkers who think a new, proposed 100 percent tariff is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.
The Badenhorst The Curator is a white South African blend that offers a glimpse into the country’s wine renaissance
South African wine has never been much popular in the U.S., save for a brief period at the beginning of the century when it knocked off high-powered Aussie shiraz. When that fad ended, the country’s wines pretty much disappeared from store shelves.
So what is the Badenhorst The Curator ($10, purchased, 12.5%) doing as the wine of the week during the blog’s 2020 Hall of Fame celebration? Because the South African white blend is that well made and that enjoyable.
I bought the Badenhorst The Curator because I had to, given the European wine tariff; the country’s track record for quality and value has been that off-putting for the past 15 years. But The Curator is not what South African wine has been. Rather, it speaks to the country’s renaissance, and especially with white wines. The blend (mostly chenin blanc) is still crisp and fresh, with soft citrus and an almost juicy stone fruit finish that lingers longer than it should. Best yet, the price reminds us that not all wine has to cost $15 just because.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco offers surprising quality and value for a New Year’s sparkling wine
Most Prosecco that costs less than $15 tastes mostly the same – a little sweet, not very sparkling, and kind of blah. There’s nothing really wrong with these version of the Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not something that you look forward to drinking. Enter the Val D’Oca Prosecco.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco ($12, purchased, 11%) has most of the things that the others don’t. Yes, it’s a little sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by a touch of citrus (lime?). Meanwhile, the bubbles are surprisingly tight and bubbly for a Prosecco, and the finish is actually clean and almost crisp. Again, that’s not common for a Proseocco at this price.
Finally, it’s also quite food friendly, whether to pair with something like grilled shrimp with with fried appetizers like frito misto. In this, it’s too well made to use for mimosas.
Rather, it’s exactly the kind of wine to toast the New Year with when you don’t want to spend $40. Highly recommended, and this comes from someone who doesn’t usually say that about Prosecco.
I could have sworn there was something interesting to drink in here.
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. This month: Cleaning out the wine closet at the end of the year, but not finding much to drink
• Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($12, sample, 13%): The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region in Italy produces sound, value-driven red wines. This is not unpleasant, with some cherry fruit, but it is also a little green and rough, almost old-fashioned. There are better made examples of this kind of wine. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
• Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Premiumization run amuck — $8 or $9 worth of a California red (some cabernet tannins and black fruit) but that looks and smells like it went through intensive winemaking to goose up the price.
• Kin & Cascadia Pinot Noir 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): A pleasant, Oregon pinot noir that tastes like it came from Oregon (some brambly berry fruit, a hint of spice). But it costs $15 because that’s what entry level pinot noir costs these days.
• La Granja 360 Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): This Trader Joe’s Spanish bubbly, pleasant and sweetish, tastes more like Italian Prosecco than cava. But if you don’t mind the style (common for Trader Joe’s sparkling wines), than you’ll appreciate the soft fruit (less tart green apple and more red delicious) and a much softer mouth feel. But the bubbles are tight, and you can do a lot worse at this price. Imported by Evaki
• Da Luca Prosecco NV ($10, sample, 11%): Acceptable, fairly priced Italian sparkling wine. It’s not especially sweet, which surprised me, but it’s still soft, though the bubbles are tight and the lemon fruit holds the wine together. Imported by Accolade Wines North America
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($6, sample, 12%): This Aldi Spanish sparkler is a step up from similarly priced supermarket wines like Freixenet. Look for tart lemon and green apple fruit, decent bubbles, and some minerality. Imported by Mack & Schuhle
• De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($17, sample, 12.5%): Professionally made bubbly from France’s Loire, with the telltale chenin blanc lemon fruit and hint of softness. Tight, poppy bubbles and just enough acidity. Imported by Signature Imports