Category:Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvee Balthazar 2018

Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvee BalthazarThe Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvee Balthazar, an Alsatian white, offers terroir and varietal character at a more than a fair price

One reason why the Wine Curmudgeon buys so much wine to review is that too many of the samples I get taste like bowdlerized plonk. And yes, if you don’t know bowdlerized, click the link. It’s worth knowing. Those wines are the reason why I bought the Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvee Balthazar.

Best yet, this is an Alsatian wine that’s actually affordable. Producers in this part of France used to export great cheap whites (remember when the Hugel Gentil cost $10 and not $16?), but prices started going up before the recession, when all “high-end” French wine became more expensive.

So don’t miss the chance to buy the Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvee Balthazar ($13, purchased, 13%). Riesling is the most common Alsatian white, but the region makes excellent pinot blanc, too. These wines are drier, but not especially rich or tart. The Albrecht pinot blanc offers pear fruit, a fresh and appealing body, and a long, stony finish. The bottle was gone much too quickly.

Highly recommended. Pair this with any summer salad or grilled seafood or chicken.

Imported by Foley Family Artisan Imports & Spirits

Wine of the week: Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016

Masciareli Montepulciano d'AbruzzoThe Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a brilliant, well-made, and delicious $10 Italian red wine

Some things, fortunately, haven’t changed for the worse during the duration. One of them is the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

I first tasted this wine at the beginning of 2019 and loved it. My notes ask, “Where has this wine been all my life?” But, somehow, I neglected to use it on the blog. So when I saw a bottle of the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($10, purchased, 13%) on wine.com, I bought it again, and this review is the result.

Wines from Italy’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region have traditionally been terrific values, and this one is no exception. It tastes Italian and it tastes like the montepulciano grape it is made with (and which is not the same thing as the region). Plus, as the Italian Wine Guy pointed out to me, the producer cares about quality, and isn’t in this to fob off faux Italian wines on an unsuspecting public.

It’s not too much to call this wine brilliant, well-made, and delicious — everything $10 wine should be. The fruit this time wasn’t quite as dark and plummy as it was in 2019 (more tart and zippy, actually), but it was still earthy and still had all that bright Italian acidity. Mushroom ragu, anyone?

Highly recommended, and it should join the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame in January, as well as make the short list for 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Wine and food pairings 9: Mushroom ragu, since it’s so difficult to find meat

mushroom ragu

The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a mushroom ragu

The Wine Curmudgeon buys dried mushrooms, and then they sit on a back shelf,  almost forgotten. So, when I found a package while rummaging through the pantry, I thought: Why not use them to make a mushroom ragu, a dish ideal for dinner at time when even ground beef is in short supply?

In fact, almost everything in this recipe can be substituted for what’s on hand. I like spinach noodles, but almost any noodle or spaghetti will work. Less expensive dried mushrooms will work just as well as pricey shitakes. Don’t have dried mushrooms? Then just use more fresh and substitute vegetable stock for the mushroom soaking liquid.

The other thing about this recipe? No tomatoes or tomato sauce. You can certainly add them if you want, but given how many of us are eating spaghetti with red sauce with regularity these days, a pasta recipe without tomatoes is likely most welcome.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. This is light red wine food (or even rose), since you don’t want to cover up the subtleties of the mushrooms. These three suggestions will get you started:

• Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): I bought this Argentine blend of malbec and cabernet franc when the European wine tariff was wine’s biggest problem, but not because I wanted to drink it. Once again, don’t judge the wine until you taste it. There is sweet berry fruit (but the wine isn’t sweet), as well as some grit and body from the cabernet franc. Very well done for this style, and people who appreciate this approach will want to buy a case. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

• Badenhorst The Curator Red 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): Nicely done Rhone-style blend from South Africa, with rich dark fruit, soft tannins, and a pleasant mouth feel, There’s not a trace of the pinotage in the mostly shiraz mix, which is not easy to do. Imported by Broadbent Selections

• Cheap Chianti: This post, featuring five Chiantis costing $10 or less, speaks to pairing wine with food from the region. Each of them show why this is such a terrific idea.

Full disclosure: I forgot to take a picture of the ragu; the one accompanying the post is from the What James had for Dinner blog. My noodles were fettuccine size.

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 8: Not quite ramen soup
• Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken
• Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil

Slider photo: “Rome Elite Event: wine, food and nice people” by Yelp.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wine of the week: Torres Verdeo 2018

torres verdeoThe Torres Verdeo offers a welcome and refreshing take on Spanish verdejo

The Wine Curmudgeon hasn’t been able to visit his local shops as much as usual during the duration, which means I’ve been buying more from national wine retailers. That also means I’ve had to drink more Big Wine products than usual, and many of them have been as expected. On the other hand, there have been a variety of pleasant surprises, including the Torres verdeo.

The Spanish white comes from a branch of the Torres family, which has been making wine in Spain for five generations and 150 years. It’s best known for Sangre de Toro, a supermarket red wine that comes with a plastic bull. The Torres Verdeo ($11, purchased, 13%) costs three or four dollars more, but it also tastes like this part of the family wants to do something a little different than make supermarket red wine.

The wine is made with the verdejo grape, which can be turned into into quality cheap wine but can also be tart or bitter or both. In this, the Torres verdeo is a step up, much better than I expected (and this comes from someone who has bought and enjoyed cases and cases of the Sangre de Toro). It’s almost layered, so that the lime flavors aren’t quite as limey as in less well made versions, and there seems to be the taste of some kind of stone fruit. Plus, the wine shows an almost nutty oiliness that rarely shows up in wines of this price.

If not highly recommended, certainly worth trying, and I will taste a second bottle to see if this is a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Mini-reviews 133: Even more rose reviews 2020

rose reviews 2020Reviews 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, five rose reviews 2020 in honor of the blog’s 13th annual rose fest.

• The 13th annual Memorial Day and rose 2020 post

Casillero del Diablo Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12.5%): Much improved over last year. Heavier than European rose, but not heavy like roses made to taste like red wine. Look for dark red fruit and almost spicy, and a fine supermarket purchase. Imported by Eagle Peak Estates

Yalumba Y Series Rose 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Not off-dry, but very fruity (cherry) with a hint of residual sugar. Not unpleasant, but not the tart cherry and minerality of past vintages. In fact, there seems to be extra acidity at the back to offset the sweetness. Imported by Winebow

Tiamo Rose NV ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%): Consistent canned pink from Italy that equivalent to half a bottle. Look for fresh berry aromas, some not too ripe strawberry fruit, and a long finish. Shows that canned wine can offer quality and value when someone cares. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Matua Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($10, sample, 13,5%): This New Zealnd rose, made by Treasury, may be one of the best Big Wine products in the world – bright, fresh, crisp and almost lemony. No word on when the 2019 will be available. Imported by TWE Imports

Château de Nages Rosé ButiNages 2019 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Total Wine private label was much better than I expected – lighter, crisper, and zippier than most Rhone roses with tart strawberry fruit. Imported by Saranty Imports

Memorial Day and rose 2020

memorial day and roseCheck out these six roses — cheap and delicious — for the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose celebration

There is lots and lots of quality rose out there at terrific prices as we continue the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose extravaganza with today’s post. But given the surreal way wine works these days, that’s both good news and bad.

Good because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, keeping prices down. Case in point: I got a California rose sample this month that cost $2 less this year, and it was the exact same wine the producer sent me last year. Yes, a price cut in the wine business – as hard as it is to believe.

Bad because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, much of it unsold from last year. That’s almost unprecedented for rose. But pink wine’s sales have slowed thanks to the general wine sales slowdown and the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. In this, many producers have delayed release of the 2019 until they sell out. Bota Box, whose 3-liter rose is one of the best values in the world, isn’t releasing its 2019 until August. And I haven’t seen the 2019 Angels & Cowboys rose, always well-done, though there is lots of 2018 on store shelves.

Complicating matters is the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine, which accounts for some of the best cheap rose in the world. It’s not so much that the tariff bumped up prices; in fact, I’m surprised so many producers didn’t increase prices more. Rather, importers cut their orders because they were unsure what they could sell given the general slowdown in wine. So there is still lots of great cheap Spanish and French rose, but there isn’t necessarily a lot from each producer.

Not to fear, though: The Wine Curmudgeon has found cheap, delicious, and honest roses (not sweet, not high in alcohol and not tannic). And don’t overlook the blog’s rose primer and the rose category (from the dropdown menu on the lower right), which lists 13 years of rose reviews.

Today, six standout roses – each highly recommended. Tomorrow, six more roses worth writing about:

Bielet Pere et Fils Sabine Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 13%): This French pink is one of the world’s best roses every year, regardless of price. In this vintage, the cabernet sauvignon in the blend gives the wine a little more structure, depth, and body, plus a little darker flavor (blackberry instead of strawberry?). As it ages, the cabernet should go to the back and more red fruit will come to the front. Imported by Bieler et Fils

Santa Julia Organica Rose 2019 ($6/375 ml can, sample, 13%): This is the same high-quality Zuccardi family rose that shows up under a variety of labels – this time, in a half-bottle sized can. Look for some not too ripe berry fruit, a bit of structure, and a fresh finish. Let it open up, and it’s even better in a glass. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

MontGras Rose 2019 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This Chilean pink made with zinfandel is quite fruity, with lots and lots of red berries. But it’s not sweet. Quite interesting, in fact, and perfect for anyone tired of the taut, crisp, Provencal style. Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners

Banfi Centine Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 13%): Banfi’s Italian Centine line offers some of the best cheap wine in the world today, and the rose is no exception. It tastes Italian, with a well-done crispness and soft cherry fruit. A touch short on the finish, but that’s not a problem. Imported by Banfi Vintners

Mont Gravet Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12%): This French label is all a $10 rose should be — a little bit of not quite ripe berry fruit, crisp, clean and fresh. It’s not fancy or flashy; rather, it’s wine for people who care more about what’s in the bottle than the marketing campaign. (And the 2018 is still yummy, too – I’ve got six bottles in the wine closet). Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.

Charles & Charles Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 11.4%): Winemakers Charles Bieler and Charles Smith combine on this Washington state rose, which shows up on this list every year. The 2019 is stunning – low alcohol, bone dry, with pleasingly crisp and tart strawberry fruit.

More about Memorial Day and rose:
• Memorial Day and rose 2019
• Memorial Day and rose 2018
• Memorial Day and rose 2017
• Will the 2020 rose season survive the coronavirus pandemic?
• Wine of the week: La Vieille Ferme Rose 2019

Photo: “Rose tasting 2012” by WineCoMN is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Wine of the week: CVNE Vina Real Rosado 2019

CVNE rosadoThe CVNE rosado is Spanish pink that does exactly what it should do for $11 – and even a little more

It’s difficult to believe, as we celebrate the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose extravaganza, that most wine drinkers used to think rose and white zinfandel were the same thing. That’s why, back then, it wasn’t always easy to find quality rose. But when you did, it was Spanish more often than not. The CVNE rosado continues that tradition.

The CVNE rosado ($11, sample, 12.5%) is a blend of tempranillo, garnacha, and viura, a white grape. The combination, if not uncommon, offers an interesting take on a typical tempranillo rose. Here, the viura adds a little lemon something or other to the tempranillo’s cherry fruit, which is welcome and interesting. It lightens the cherry and gives the wine a lift in the middle that it might not otherwise have. Plus, all the other qualities that make Spanish rose shine are there – the freshness and that lingering finish, a little crisp, a little tart, and even a little minerally.

This is a well-made rose, and CVNE once again shows why it’s one of my favorite cheap wine producers. It also makes the well-done Cune rose, which costs a little less. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Arano LLC