Category:Wine reviews

Expensive wine 125: Two Bruno Paillard Champagnes

bruno paillard champagneYes, they cost a lot of money. But these two Bruno Paillard Champagnes show that not all expensive wine is overpriced

Champagne long ago stopped being priced reasonably, its cost hostage to the Champagne business’ hubris and demand from Asia. Even a very ordinary bottle, barely worth drinking, can cost $40. So when I tasted two Bruno Paillard Champagnes last week, offering finesse and elegance at a fair price, it was time to write a blog post

The Extra Brut Premiere Cuvee NV ($50, sample, 12%) and the Extra Brut Premiere Cuvee Rose NV ($60, sample, 12%) are reminders that expensive wine does not have to be overpriced. (Quick note: Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. See the blog’s Champagne and sparkling wine primer.)

Neither is cheap, but both offer quality comparable to more costlier bottles – and, frankly, they’re much more interesting. One reason? Paillard blends old wine saved for the purpose into the current wine, giving them an almost honeycomb character. Plus, this is a family business that does things its way.

The Premiere Cuvee is not quite grower Champagne, but it’s not the same $45 bottle sitting on liquor store shelves, either. Look for a light, fresh approach to the wine, minus the yeasty character so many other wines strive for. There is crisp apple and even some lemon fruit, courtesy of the chardonnay in the blend (even though the wine is about 45 percent pinot noir).

The rose is even more appealing (which, given the price, should tell you how much I enjoyed it). Again, even though there is probably more pinot noir in the blend, there is enough chardonnay to make it much fresher than you think it whould be. The cherry fruit is complex – something deeper and more subtle than the usual produce department cherry flavor. Highly recommended.

Imported by Serendipity Wine Imports

Wine of the week: Our Daily Red 2018

Our Daily RedThe 2018 Our Daily Red is a step up from the last vintage – less rustic and a touch fruitier

Dear Wine Business:

I know it sounds like I do a lot of carping, but I truly do have your best interests at heart. Don’t we both want people to enjoy wine?

Which brings us to an odd red blend from California called Our Daily Red ($9, purchased, 12.5%). It’s a pleasant everyday wine, and one I have enjoyed before. In fact, this vintage is less tart and has a little more dark, almost cherry, fruit than the 2017 did, making it less rustic and more modern. In this, it’s a Friday night wine when you’re ordering takeout pizza and binging Netflix.

So what’s the catch? It’s the back label, which insists the wine is something that it isn’t: “fruit forward and loaded with black fruit.” A Lodi zinfandel is fruit forward and loaded with black fruit, not Our Daily Red.

This sort of untruth through advertising is quite common on wine back labels, which try to convince people to buy the wine based on what the wine business thinks consumers want instead of what’s in the bottle. Some big producers, I’m told, even have marketing companies write the copy.

So what happens when someone opens Our Daily Red expecting it to taste like a post-modern California merlot tarted up with residual sugar? They go, “Ooo, gross,” spit the wine out, and never let wine touch their lips again.

And spitting out is hardly what we want, is it?

So let’s take it easy on the back label hyperbole. All a back label really needs is a simple fruit comparison and maybe a pairing. Shouldn’t it be enough to trust your customer to enjoy a well-made wine?

Your pal,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Mini-reviews 125: Guimaro, Castle Rock, Silverado, Bibi Graetz

guimaroReviews 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.

Guimaro Vino Tinto 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): Solid, well-made, and very fruity (black cherry?) Spanish red made with the mencia grape. I wish it had had a little more earth and interest, but it’s young and should get some of that as it ages. Imported by Llaurador Wines

Castle Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2017 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Not a bad value for $18 – mostly a typical, ripe black fruit, rich and oaky Napa cabernet. But it’s not overdone, and you can drink it without feeling you’re eating Raisinets at the movies. The catch is that the suggested price is $25 (though it may be available at a lower price at some retailers).

Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato 2018 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Polished, New World- style rose (lots of berry fruit) with a bit of zip and a touch of heaviness from the alcohol. But it isn’t appreciably better or more interesting than a quality $10 rose.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco 2018 ($12, purchased, 12%): Italian white blend, mostly made with vermentino, that has tart lemon fruit, some floral aromas, and a crisp and rewarding finish. Very food-friendly; one of those wines to sip on the porch as summer ends. Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners

Wine of the week: Calvet Blanc Reserve 2018

The Calvet Blanc white Bordeaux is fresh, modern, and a very fair value

A long time ago, in a wine world far, far away, most quality wine shops sold cheap and enjoyable white Bordeaux. You could even find it in supermarkets. The reason that it was so inexpensive and plentiful is that French producers made too much of it, even for a wine drinking country like France.

The difference between then and today? Premiumization. There is still too much white Bordeaux in the world, but since it’s less expensive, we see less of it. Because the wine business has to sell us $15 wine that’s much less interesting.

So when the Wine Curmudgeon finds something like the Calvet Blanc ($11, purchased, 11.5%), he buys it. It’s more modern in style than white Bordeaux from the old days, made entirely of sauvingon blanc (so no semillon, which was quite common then).

The Calvet Blanc is a little more New Zealand in style than I like, with more grapefruit than the subtler lemon and lime. And there isn’t a lot of the traditional minerality. But it’s not simple or dull, the grapefruit isn’t over the top, there’s a little grassyness to add interest, and the finish is long, clean, and stony. In all, the wine is more than drinkable and a very fair value.

Imported by Calvet USA

Wine review: Three Citra Italian wines

Citra Italian winesThese three Citra Italian wines deliver everything great cheap wine should – quality, value, and a more than fair price

When the wine world looks to be at its worst and the Wine Curmudgeon is contemplating something as depressing as a return to sportswriting, great cheap wine always saves the day. This time, it was three Citra Italian wines.

Citra is a co-op, buying grapes from nine growers in one of the less well known regions of Italy, Abruzzo. Which, to be honest, is not always a sign of great things. But its consulting winemaker is the legendary Riccardo Cotarella, and that changes everything.

Cotarella is the man behind Falesco’s Vitiano wines, as good a cheap wines as ever made. These are wines – red, white, and rose – that you can buy and not worry about vintage or varietal. They will always been worth the $10 or $12 or $14 they cost. In fact, they’ve been in the $10 Hall of Fame for as long as there has been one.

The Citra aren’t quite that well made yet. But the three wines I tasted could get there sooner rather than later. Each of the wines is about $10 and imported by Winebow:

Citra Sangiovese 2017 (sample, 13%): This is what cheap Italian red wine should taste like — earthy, with tart red fruit and professionally made. It isn’t rough or amateurish, like a wine from the 1980s, and it hasn’t been focused group to take out the character and interest. Highly recommended.

Citra Montepulciano 2017 (sample, 13%): This red is another example of a red wine made with the montepulciano grape from the Montepulciano d’Aburzzo region that offers value and consistency — some tart and peppery red fruit, a clean finish and competent all around. A touch thin, but these wines aren’t necessarily supposed to be rich and full.

Citra Trebbiano 2017 (sample, 12%): Any review of this white is going to make it sound lacking, one of the perils of wine with the trebbiano grape. It’s not as lemony and as crisp as the Fantini trebbiano, and it doesn’t approach the grandeur of the Gascon Tariquet ugni blanc. But it’s not lacking when it comes time to drink it. Look for some tropical and soft citrus fruit, and buy a case to keep around.

Wine of the week: Michel-Schlumberger Maison Rouge 2017

Michel-Schlumberger Maison RougeThe Michel-Schlumberger Maison Rouge is a textbook example of how to make quality, inexpensive California wine

How do you make a quality, $11 bottle of California wine? Check out the Michel-Schlumberger Maison Rouge:

• Screwcap, since you’re not trying to fool anyone into thinking this is a wine made to age.

• Light bottle with a minimal punt, so you’re not spending more money for glass than on the wine.

• California appellation, since the grapes are less expensive.

The result is the Michel-Schlumberger Maison Rouge 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.9%), a red blend from a top quality Sonoma producer that makes a second line of high-value, affordable wines. In fact, there’s a $30 version of this wine with a Sonoma appellation.

Unfortunately, I don’t see many of the second label wines in stores often enough. But when I do, I buy what I see. And buy it again.

This vintage of the Michel-Schlumberger Maison Rouge has rich, ripe, red fruit and soft tannins, and it’s likely more zinfandel than anything else. But the wine isn’t over the top or too ripe, in the way of some cheap red blends and zinfandels. Plus, the finish is just tart enough so the wine isn’t cloying.

Highly recommended. This is fall barbecue wine, and you can even chill it a touch.

Expensive wine 124: Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Beringer private reserveThe Beringer private reserve cabernet shows off the style that made this kind of wine famous

The wine closet continues to offer surprises – witness the high-powered Beringer private reserve, a Napa red. This was a sample from the long ago recession, when producers were so eager to move product that they even sent pricey bottles to me.

The Beringer private reserve ($115, sample, 14.5%) has aged barely at all in that decade. It’s still a huge wine, with rich and luscious black fruit. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have tasted like if I had opened it when I got it.

And, though the wine isn’t subtle, it’s not overpowering. The structure is round and supple, and if there aren’t layers of flavor, it’s much more than a one-note wine. There are very relaxed tannins hiding in the back, and all that fruit isn’t especially cloying. Despite the high alcohol, it’s not noticeable until you’ve finished the bottle. So it does need food as big as it is.

In this, it’s an excellent example of the style of Napa cabernet so beloved by critics who give points, retailers who use points to sell wine, and wine drinkers who buy wine according to price and points.