Category:Wine reviews

Mini-reviews 124: Freemark Abbey, Bogle rose, Lacrima, Terra Alpina

Freemark AbbeyReviews 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

Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2018 ($21, sample, 13.7%): Competent, mostly enjoyable California style sauvignon blanc (some grass, some citrus) with richness in the mouth but a surprisingly short finish. Hence, this white wine speaks to how difficult it is to offer value in entry level Napa wine. Because these days, $21 is entry level Napa wine.

Bogle Vineyards Rose 2018 ($10, sample, 13%): Thin, bitter, and slightly sweet California pink wine with almost no redeeming qualities. Rose for people who buy buy rose at the supermarket because someone tells them they should buy rose.

Marotti Campi Rùbico 2018 ($18, purchased, 13%): Intriguing Italian red made with the little known lacrima grape from the Marche wine region, which is best known for white wine. It resembles a quality Beaujolais – lots of red berry fruit, not too much acidity, and just enough heft to be interesting. Price is problematic, since you can buy better wine for less money. Imported by Dionysus Imports

Terra Alpina Pinot Grigo 2018 ($15, sample, 12.5%): Alois Lageder makes some of the best Italian white wine in the world.  This is apparently its second label, but why it would sully its name with this very ordinary and overpriced tonic water pinot grigio is beyond me.

Photo: “When in Italy” by simon.wright is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Wine of the week: Chateau La Graviere Blanc 2018

The new vintage of the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year shows the Chateau La Graviere Blanc at its $10 best

What does the Chateau La Graviere Blanc, the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year, do for an encore? Produce another interesting, value-driven wine in the new vintage.

The Chateau La Graviere Blanc ($10, purchased, 13%), a French white blend from Bordeaux, has been one of the joys of my wine drinking over the past couple of years. It has remained high-quality $10 wine at a time when too much of the wine world cares more about adding sugar and raising prices.

The 2018 version of the Chateau La Graviere Blanc is richer and heavier than the 2017, thanks to the semillon blended with the sauvignon blanc. But know that neither is a bad thing; it shows off the wine’s terroir and reminds us that vintage differences can make a wine more interesting.

Look for some citrus and an almost California aroma of grassiness. There is lots of minerality, which is what a white Bordeaux should have, and the fullness in the mouth moves toward a long and clean finish. This is a food wine, but you can also chill and sip it when you want a glass of after work.

Highly recommended, and it will return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2020.

Imported by Luneau USA

Wine of the week: Stephen Vincent Crimson 2016

Stephen Vincent CrimsonThe Stephen Vincent Crimson is an excellent example of that vanishing California breed, a well-made and enjoyable cheap red wine

Call this wine of the week, the Stephen Vincent Crimson, a bit of serendipity – a $12 California red wine that doesn’t taste like it has been tarted up, dumbed down, or manipulated to please a focus group.

The Stephen Vincent Crimson ($12, purchased, 13.9%) is a red field blend (mostly petite sirah this vintage), which means it’s made with whatever grapes are available that year. The 2016 offers ripe cherry aromas and lots of dark berry flavors, but finishes bone dry.

That it was dry was actually surprising, since the fruit was so ripe and because so many sweet reds pass themselves off as dry these days. In fact, I kept swallowing, over and over, figuring that the cotton candy sign of residual sugar would eventually show up in the back of my mouth.

But it never did. And that that’s a sign of how well made the Stephen Vincent Crimson is. In addition, most wines of this style and at this price wouldn’t bother with tannins or acidity. But there are tannins, are soft but noticeable, and the acidity is just below the surface, tempering the fruit.

This is an excellent example of that vanishing California breed, a well-made and enjoyable cheap red wine (and you can even drink it slightly chilled). Pair this with barbecue as summer winds down, or even something a little spicy, like pork chops tandoori. That’s what I did, and it was one of this summer’s great wine dinners.

Expensive wine 123: Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2016

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir shows California’s Anderson Valley to its best advantage

My friend, the New Orleans wine judge, critic, and radio host Tim McNally, regularly rants about the decline in pinot noir quality and value. Tim would rant less if he tasted the Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir.

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir ($40, sample, 13%) is red wine from California’s Anderson Valley, one of the world’s great – if less known – pinot noir regions. The best Anderson Valley pinot noirs are more restrained than many of their New World colleagues, sitting somewhere between France’s Burgundy and Oregon in style. Which is a damn fine place to sit.

The Long Meadow Ranch pinot noir is classic Anderson Valley pinot – earthy with spice and green herbs in the front, almost silky dark berry fruit, elegant tannins (perhaps the most interesting part of the wine), and wonderfully restrained oak. All in all, this is a New World pinot noir that isn’t too big or too overpowering, yet still tastes like the New World and not a lesser Burgundian knockoff.

Highly recommended, and given the price of very ordinary California pinot, a fine value. Drink it with any sort of lamb (crusted with a garlic and herb paste, perhaps?) or a Mediterranean vegetable platter marinated with herbs, garlic, and olive oil.

Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil

shrimp boilThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a traditional Louisiana-style shrimp boil.

My adventures in south Louisiana as a young newspaperman taught me more about the world than I will ever be able to explain. Like a shrimp boil.

I’m 23 years old and the only thing I know about shrimp is that they’re served only on special occasions, maybe once a year. And that they’re boiled in salted water, and if they taste rubbery and bland, that’s OK, because they’re served only on special occasions. And then another reporter took me to Gino’s in Houma, La.

It was a revelation. This was food, and not Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. This was not something for a special occasion, but something people ate regularly. It opened my mind to the idea of food that wasn’t what I grew up with, and that opened my mind to the idea of other cultures, and that made it possible to open my mind to wine. And I’m not the only one who experienced this kind of revelation: The same thing happened to Julia Child when she went to a boil at Emeril Lagasse’s house.

There are really only two rules for a shrimp boil. Everything else is a suggestion, and any recipe is just a guideline. First, use shrimp from the Gulf of  Mexico and avoid imported shrimp at all costs. The latter have as much flavor as Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. Second, use the boxed pouch seasoning called crab boil from Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry. And make sure the boxes are nowhere near their expiration date; otherwise, all their flavor is gone. Both companies make other styles of seasoning, but this is the easiest to use. And the less said about Old Bay (which is mostly celery salt), the better.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. No red wine with a shrimp boil — there’s no way to get the flavors right:

St. Hilaire Crémant de Limoux Brut NV ($13, purchased, 12%): This French sparkling wine from the Languedoc, mostly chardonnay but also chenin blanc and mauzac, is crisp and bubbly, with pear and apple fruit. Exactly what the shrimp needs. Highly recommended. Imported by Esprit du Vin

Celler de Capçanes Mas Donís Rosato 2018 ($11, purchased, 13%): This Spanish pink is a little soften than I expected, but that’s because it’s made with garnacha. But it’s still well worth drinking — fresh, ripe red fruit (cherry?), and an almost stony finish. Imported by European Cellars

Hay Maker Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($10, sample, 12.5%): The marketing on this Big Wine brand from New Zealand is more than a little goofy –“hand crafted goodness,” whatever that means. But the wine itself is spot on — New Zealand citrus, but not overdone; a little something else in the middle to soften the citrus; and a clean and refreshing finish. Imported by Accolade Wines North America

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy
• Wine and food pairings 3: Bratwurst and sauerkraut

Wine of the week: Scaia Garganega Chardonnay 2018

Scaia Garganega ChardonnayThe Scaia garganega chardonnay is an Italian white blend that pairs the unlikeliest of grapes to produce a terrific wine

Buy this wine.

There’s no better way to describe how terrific the current vintage is of the Scaia Garganega Chardonnay ($12, sample, 12.5%). This Italian white blend is made with two of the unlikeliest grapes possible – garganega, a grape usually used to make tanker trucks of barely drinkable Soave, and chardonnay, hardly the most Italian of grapes.

But it works. It worked for the 2017 wine. It worked for the 2016 wine. It worked for the 2015 wine.

And it works in this, the 2018. Somehow, the Scaia garganega chardonnay tastes better than the sum of its parts. Look for a bit of citrus (lime?), but not as tart as previous years, and some pineapple from the chardonnay that softens the garganega. The wine smells fresh and flowery, and the finish is clean and crisp and a bit stony. Somehow, there aren’t the off notes typical of poorly-made Italian chardonnay. Even more surprising, there is none of the cheap, almost tinny quality too often found in poorly-made Soave.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2020. It’s also a leading contender for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Chill this, and drink it on its own or with anything that isn’t red meat. It’s also worth noting that the 2018 is difficult to find; my local retailer still has cases of the 2017. (A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Katherine Jarvis at Jarvis Communications, who found a sample for me). But not to worry if you can’t find the 2018. The 2017 is still delicious, and the Scaia garganega chardonnay ages better than a $10 wine should, getting softer and more interesting.

Imported by Dalla Terra

Wine of the week: Cortijo Tinto 2016

cortijo tintoThe Cortijo Tinto is is another reminder that Spain’s Roija produces some of the world’s best red wine — cheap, expensive and everywhere in between

The Wine Curmudgeon has watched in horror this summer as several of Dallas leading retailers stuffed much too old vintages of cheap wine on their shelves. How about a $10 white Bordeaux from 2011?. They’re playing off the consumer perception that old wine is better wine; in fact. most old cheap wine is vinegar. Unless, of course, it’s something like the Cortijo Tinto.

The Cortijo Tinto ($10, sample, 13.5%) is a Spanish red made with tempranillo from the Rioja, which produces some of the world’s best red wine, cheap, expensive and everywhere in between. The Cortijo is no exception – that it can provide so much interest and character, despite the vintage, speaks to the quality of Rioja, the producer, and the importer.

Look for lots of dark fruit (blackberries?), but where the fruit doesn’t overwhelm what Rioja wines are supposed to be like. That means a bit of floral aroma, some spice, a bit of smokiness on the finish, and just enough in the way of tannins to hold everything together.

This is one of my favorite wines to keep around the house, so I know I’ll have something worth drinking when I feel like a glass of red wine. It’s fine on its own (you can even chill it a touch), and it pairs with almost everything except delicate fish.

Imported by Ole Imports