Category:Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Greg Norman California Estates Chardonnay 2007

image The Wine Curmudgeon, thanks to a childhood spent carrying golf bags, is not especially fond of golf. But in my eternal quest for well-made cheap wine, I try not to let personal dislikes interfere. Which is a good thing, because this brand is the brainchild of professional golfer Greg Norman.

The Norman (about $11) is a solid, well-made California chardonnay. It ?s not as fruity as something like Kendall Jackson, and it ?s a little more tropical. It also has more oak. But the oak isn ?t overdone, and this wine would probably please those of us who like our oak restrained as well as those of you who live for oaky and toasty.

Serve this with any typical chardonnay meal, including cream sauces. And it would be fine by itself before dinner.

Wine review: Corbett Canyon Merlot NV

image Ultra-cheap wine presents a dilemma. At what point is the wine so cheap that quality doesn ?t matter and that it becomes nothing more than an alcohol delivery system, devoid of any pleasure except for the buzz that it provides?

That ?s why the Wine Curmudgeon is so hard on these wines, which can roughly be defined as those that cost less than $6 a bottle. Cheap whiskey is for getting drunk. Wine ? even inexpensive wine — is for enjoyment.

Which is why I was intrigued by the Corbett Canyon, which won the Best of Class for Merlots below $15 at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The competition included some perfectly acceptable wines, including Red Truck, Cycles Gladiator, Mondavi Private Selection and Wente. The Corbett Canyon is $10 for a 3-liter box, or about $2.50 a bottle.

It ?s certainly worth that, and even a bit more. Don ?t expect a lot of depth or sophistication, and if this wine saw any oak it was a passing glance. But the Corbett Canyon tastes like merlot, and it ?s not too jammy or fruity in the way other cheap merlots are. The tannins are even pleasant. Drink it on its own or with any red wine foods.

The biggest problem is the box. It ?s not easy to get the spigot out of the side of the box, and, if you ?re not careful, the spigot leaks. Make sure to turn the knob hard to the left to shut off the flow.

Wine of the week: Tormaresca Neprica 2007

image And it ?s just as wonderful as last year, when the Neprica was the third best read post on the blog. And, in even better news, it ?s apparently more widely available this year. (Thanks to Kathleen Talbert at Talbert Communications for tracking down availability.)

Why is this wine so wonderful? It ?s cheap ? list is $12, so it ?s probably $10.99 or less at most stores. It ?s well made, with typical Italian acidity and sour cherry fruit. It ?s food friendly, pairing with anything from red sauce to sausages and grilled peppers and onions. Plus, it ?s made with some interesting grapes, including the Italian varietals negroamaro and primitivo. The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

And why is the Neprica more available this year? Because, apparently, so many people asked about it. This is an example of consumers convincing retailers they should actually stock something more interesting than the usual bottles they stick on the shelves. A tip o ? the wine glass to everyone who asked about it. You made a difference.

Wine of the week: Domaines Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches 2006

image This is the kind of wine that makes the Wine Curmudgeon walk a little quicker down the aisle at the store. That ?s because as soon as I see it, my cheap wine radar goes off.

In this case, my radar worked perfectly. The Lurton is a sauvignon blanc from the Languedoc in southern France, where more and more great cheap wine is being made. (And the Lurtons are one of the great winemaking families of France, producing everything from Cheval Blanc to vin ordinaire like this.)

It probably has too much grapefruit flavor for a French wine, but that's picking nits. There is great stoniness and minerality, and this is about as close to classic white Bordeaux as one is going to find for $10. Even more surprising, this is not the current vintage. If you can find the 2007, it will probably taste a little fresher and a little more interesting. Regardless, it ?s an early candidate for the 2010 $10 Hall of Fame.

Drink this chilled — on its own, or with almost anything other than red meat.

Wine review: Bonny Doon Vineyard Dolcetto Ca’ del Solo 2006

image Randall Grahm is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite winemakers, and not just because he used to make great cheap wine. Today, the slimmed down version of Bonny Doon makes great $20 and $25 wine, delivering more value than many wines that cost $10 and $20 more than that.

The Dolcetto (about $22) is a prime example. It ?s an Italian grape that isn ?t much grown in this country, but in Italy, it ?s the grape of Piedmont. There, it produces dry, earthy, fruity wines with less acid than many of the Italian wines we ?re used to in the U.S. Grahm ?s version of Dolcetto has brighter fruit than the Italian version, yet retains the grape ?s earthiness. Frankly, I don ?t know how he does it.

Serve this with any Italian-style meal (save seafood) or roast meats. It ?s probably too pricey for Monday night spaghetti and meatballs, but it would be good.

Wine of the week: Hayman & Hill Meritage 2006

image Just when the Wine Curmudgeon laments the influx of poorly made $15 wine, I find one that is worth $15. The Hayman & Hill is a fine introduction to what the English call claret, the French call red Bordeaux, and I call enjoyable. (California uses meritage, a term that is best left undiscussed.)

This California wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, petite verdot and cabernet franc. It has some cabernet oomph, while the malbec and merlot soften the cabernet and the petite verdot and the cabernet franc add some interest. It ?s not especially fruity, jammy or oaky, though the tannins aren ?t quite as refined as they could be. Still, it ?s a fine example of this style of wine, something that is almost impossible to find at this price.

It ?s definitely a food wine; in fact, it ?s not going to be nearly as enjoyable if you drink it on its own. It ?s just too big. I had the Hayman with mushroom barley soup on an especially cold Dallas night, and I was surprised and pleased at the pairing. It should also complement any red meat or red sauce.

Wine of the week: Ste. Genevieve White NV

This was one of the first wines to make the $10 Hall of Fame when I started it for Dallas ? Advocate Magazines almost 10 years ago. It was called Texas White, cost $2.99 and you could buy it at 7-Eleven.

The wine dropped off the list after a couple of price increases and a drop in quality. The winery, Texas ? largest (it also does Peregrine Hills), went through ownership changes and the fate of this kind of vin ordinaire wasn ?t high on the agenda. So when I saw it recently for $3.89 and re-labeled as an American wine, I thought I ?d try it. I didn ?t have high hopes.

Which, once again, shows why one needs to taste the wine before judging it. The Ste. Genevieve ? a blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay, French colombard and pinot grigio from Texas and California — is a bit thin on the back, but not unpleasantly so. Otherwise, it can hold on its own with any $10 wine. There is a floral nose with a hint of sweetness, some green apple, and not enough oak to bother anyone. Buy a case, keep it cool, and open it anytime you want a glass of white wine.

Availability note: If you aren ?t in Texas or surrounding states, it will be difficult to find this.