Category:Wine reviews

Wine review: LiVeli Negroamaro Passamante 2005


Some of the best cheap wine in the world today is coming out of Italy. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Italians suffer from the same weak dollar problems that affect everyone else. It's amazing what a producer can do when they want to sell something, isn't it?

Of course, there are a couple of other reasons for the price. The LiVeli (about $12) is made with the negroamaro grape in Salento, which means it's made with a little known grape in a little known region (the boot heel of the Italy), neither of which is going to drive up the price. The Wine Curmudgeon is quite thankful.

Negroamaro makes dark, inky red wine. But there is nothing unpleasant about this, as is sometimes the case with inexpensive wine. Rather, it's full and rich and almost black raspberry-ish (with, of course, a nice shot of Italian acidity). Best yet, it's not heavy. I drank it with cappellini tossed with quartered cherry tomatoes just out of the garden, basil, chopped garlic and olive oil, and the sweetness of the tomatoes made a wonderful foil for the wine.

One note: The 2007 should arrive in the U.S. later this summer. I'd buy the 2005 and put the 2007 away for another nine months. It should just get better. How often can you say that about an inexpensive wine?

Wine review: Cucao Chardonnay Reserva 2006


I stumbled on this at an importer tasting, and I don't know that I would have tried it if Sergio Reyes Moore of Geo Wines hadn't insisted. After all, who needs to taste yet another New World, over-oaked chardonnay?

Which goes to prove one of the the Wine Curmudgeon's most important rules: Don't pre-judge wine. The Cucao (about $12) is as far from New World, over-oaked chardonnay as possible. It's made with 15 percent marsanne, a Rhone grape used mostly for blending. This gives the wine a freshness that most inexpensive chardonnays don't have, and it adds some tropical flavors that make it a more versatile food wine. Think Asian or Cajun, which is usually too spicy for chardonnay. And it wouldn't be bad with roast chicken, either.

Wine of the week: La Vigne D’Argent 2005

image The Wine Curmudgeon manages his inventory on some nifty software called CellarTracker, and one of its most interesting features is the ability to read what others write about wines that I've had. I especially enjoyed the comments for this wine.

It's not that other CellarTracker users didn't like the D'Argent, because they did. Rather, they were baffled by it. "Nice to experience a different kind of sauvignon blanc," wrote one. "I'm more familiar with 100 percent sauvignon blanc, and it was interesting to compare to this sauvignon blanc/semillon blend," wrote another.

In our increasingly review-oriented, score-driven wine world, the D'Argent (about $10) is an old-fashioned, very unhip kind of wine. Which means it's not going to be written up, which means people aren't going to try it. Which is a shame, because — as the CellarTracker drinkers learned — it's well worth trying. Forget about New Zealand sauvignon blanc  and grapefruit. This white Bordeaux has very little fruit flavor (maybe some lemon) and lots of flinty minerality — all of which makes for a refreshing, food-friendly wine. It's what most sauvignon blanc was 15 years ago, and that's not a back-handed compliment by any means.

Serve it chilled with big summer salads, almost any shellfish, or grilled chicken marinated in garlic, herbs, and olive oil.

Zinfandel, and why it matters

image Zinfandel drinkers of the world, it ?s time to unite. The wine world, it appears, is conspiring against us.

On the one hand, the establishment, which has always looked down on zinfandel as something inferior to cabernet sauvignon and merlot, continues to do so. One world-class wine maker, an otherwise fine fellow, compared it to South Africa ?s pinotage — which is the definition of an acquired taste.

On the other hand, the hipsters and social climbers who are always looking for the next groovy thing have discovered a big way ? as in big and alcoholic. They ?re touting wines that have as much as 25 percent more alcohol than traditional zinfandels, which makes them almost as boozy as fortified wines like port, Night Train and Thunderbird.

It’s entire possible to make lovely, food-friendly wines at 14 percent or less. See any of the Nalle zinfandels, for example. Not to fear, though. The Wine Curmudgeon can shine a light at the end of this tunnel.

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Wine of the week: Taltarni Three Monks 2005

imageHere’s a red blend for Father’s Day from an Australian producer that is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorites, a company that almost always delivers quality for around $20.

The Three Monks (about $17) is 70 percent cabernet sauvignon and 30 percent merlot, which means it’s hardy enough to stand up to big steaks but isn’t overwhelming. Best yet, it’s not only low in alcohol for an Aussie wine (14 percent), but it has a bit of French style, so that the fruitiness doesn’t overwhelm the wine.

Father’s Day wine suggestions

image Call it barbecuing or grilling. Use a smoker or a gas grill or charcoal. Choose between beef or pork or chicken or vegetables. Regardless of which, though, it’s part of the Father’s Day tradition.

So what wine do you pair with kind of food? The classic pairing for grilled sausage is sweetish white wine like riesling or gew rztraminer. And the heartiest red meats, like grilled rib eye or smoked brisket, can take a hearty red wine.

But sometimes, how you ?re cooking the food makes a difference. Grilled chicken marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary pairs with sauvignon blanc. But smoke that same piece of chicken with a dry rub, and it changes character entirely. Then, you ?ll want a light red wine like a tempranillo or a beaujolais. And rose, of course, will go with almost everything except that grilled rib eye. The bright fruit complements barbecue ?s smokiness quite nicely, in fact.

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Wine of the week: Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

image Time was, the Avalon was $10. The Wine Curmudgeon used to drink it by the case, buy it for visiting wine types and make them guess how much it cost (one of these days I’ll have to share the story about the Avalon and the visiting Australian wine marketer), and recommend it at every opportunity.

It’s not $10 any more (closer to $15, though you can find it for $12 every once in a while). But it’s still one of the best values in the wine world, with almost all of the rich, fruity character of Napa cabernet at one-half to one-third the price.

How does Avalon do it? For one thing, the company only makes cabernet. For another, it doesn’t own land or  touristy production facilities. It’s based on the French negociant model, which allows it to keep costs — and prices — down.

Serve this with a Father’s Day barbecue. Or buy a case and toast Dad with it throughout the year.