Category:Wine reviews

Wine and food pairings 7: Not quite ramen soup

ramen soupThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with an improved version of perhaps the most notorious of cheap food, ramen soup

Ramen soup is the supermarket plonk of the food world – cheap and almost nasty. But who cares when it costs as little as 20 cents a serving?

The Wine Curmudgeon cares, of course. Why denigrate your body when you can make ramen soup that tastes better and is still cheap – and actually offers nutrition?

The secret is vegetable stock, which is as simple to make as boiling water and adding vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, and whatever else is in the refrigerator) with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Let it cook for 20 minutes, strain, and you have practically free flavor for the soup – without the horrors of the ramen packet mix.

Putting together this soup is almost as simple as the store version. Again, there is no specific recipe other than using the best quality Asian noodles you can afford. So use what’s on hand — if there’s leftover chicken, put in the soup. If there’s leftover lettuce, put it in the soup. The key is to add ingredients you like, including a soft cooked egg (just like the pros).

Finally, a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Frankie Celenza, the host of a cooking show called “Struggle Meals,” who made the recipe I adapted. Celenza can be corny, silly, and over the top, but he is also passionate about food and cooking. He wants his viewers to enjoy cooking, to understand how much fun it can be, and to realize that they don’t need to spend money on pricey ingredients or fancy appliances to make cheap, delicious meals.

Sound like anyone else we know? Would that we could find someone like Celenza to explain the joy and wonder of wine to younger consumers.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will pair with the ramen:

• Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This Italian white is stunning, and especially for the price. It’s a beautiful, almost elegant wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended. Imported by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits

• Innovacion Rose 2019 ($11/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This Argentine pink, sold at Whole Foods, is a long-time WC favorite. This vintage should develop a little more fruit as it ages, but is already enjoyable — clean, bright, minerally, and a hint of berries. Imported by Winesellers Ltd

• Bodegas Matilde Cava Totus Tuus NV ($14, sample, 11.5%): Well-made and competent Spanish sparkling that is much more California in style than cava. The fruit is more chardonnay-like apple and there is lots of caramel on the finish. Good for what it is, but not exactly cava. Imported by Peninsula Wines

More about wine and food pairings:
• Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken
• Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza

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: Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo 2017

Cavaliere d'Oro PrimitivoThe Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo is an Italian red that tastes like an Italian red and not a California wannabe

Primitivo is an Italian red grape, usually identified as zinfandel even though they’re not exactly the same thing. But that hasn’t stopped countless Italian producers from hopping on the California zinfandel bandwagon, producing wines that don’t taste much Italian but do please a certain Baby Boomer palate. So where does the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo fit into this?

It tastes like primitivo.

Which, honestly, was the last thing I was counting on when I picked up the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo ($12, purchased, 13.5%). I bought the wine because I buy wine, even though I’m not sure I’m going to like it. Such are the demands of the blog.

But the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo was all it should be, and probably even a little more. It’s easily one of the best primitivos I’ve tasted, in that it didn’t taste like badly-made zinfandel. It was fruity (dark berries, plum), but there was much more – a touch of cocoa, some nicely done oak, tannins that offered just enough structure, and all in a well-rounded whole. Highly recommended.

Imported by TWE Imports

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Mini-reviews 129: Beaujolais, El Circo, El Terrano, gewurtztraminer

BeaujolaisReviews 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.

Domaine Pierre Labet Beaujolais-Villages 2017 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): French red made with gamay that mostly tastes like it should, though I’m surprised it’s not fruitier. It’s not the best example of a Village, but it’s not the worst, either.

El Circo Volatinero 2018 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Spanish red made with tempranillo that doesn’t taste especially Spanish or much like tempranillo. It’s bland and boring – dare I say, “Smooth?” Imported by Seaview Imports

El Terrano Verdejo 2017 ($8, purchased, 13.5%): Another cheap white wine from Whole Foods that isn’t worth even the little it costs. Spanish, but thin and watery lemon fruit, and not much else. Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits

Flora & Stone Gewürztraminer NV ($5, purchased, 12%): Aldi private label California white that tastes like gewurtzraminer, but also tastes like it has been sweetened to please a focus group. It mostly tastes like wine, but it could have been so much more enjoyable.

Photo: “Empty wine bottles” by WineCoMN is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

Wine of the week: Raimund Prum Dry Riesling 2018

raimund prumThe Raimund Prum dry riesling, an Aldi private label, shows the discount retailer can sell great cheap wine in the U.S. when it puts its mind to it

Have we found a white counterpart to Aldi’s $5 La Cornada tempranillo? Perhaps, given my initial impressions of the discount retailer’s Raimund Prum dry riesling.

The Raimund Prum dry riesling ($7, purchased, 11.5%) is not a sticky sweet focus group-induced riesling; rather, it’s more or less what dry German riesling is supposed to taste like. That means a hit of oiliness, a touch of honey, a bit of stoniness, and white fruit flavors. In this, it’s not bone dry, but the slight residual sugar that’s there is part of the winemaking process and not added at the end to make the wine sweet. It’s easily one of the best cheap German rieslings I’ve tasted in years. Which is not surprising, since Raimund Prum is a top German producer.

This is the kind of simple, but not stupid, every day wine that Aldi sells in Europe and Great Britain, but has hesitated to sell in the U.S. Hopefully, it marks a change in the company’s approach to wine in this country. Highly recommended.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Imported by Prestige Beverage Group

Wine of the week: Cantina di Casteggio Barbera 2016

Cantina di Casteggio Barbera

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera offers much more than $9 worth of value in a tart, leathery style

Barbera grapes produce some of Italy’s best known and best expensive wines. So what’s a barbera doing as a wine of the week?

Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.

In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted

Imported by Premium Brands

Expensive wine 128: Chateau d’Epire Savennieres 2017

Chateau d'Epire SavennieresThe Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine

Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.

The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres ($25, purchased, 13%) is gorgeous, delicious chenin blanc from the Savennieres region in the Loire. And, frankly, at this price it’s an infinitely better value than much of the $25 chardonnay made here or in France.

Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.

The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Imported by Kermit Lynch

2020 Cheap Wine of the Year: Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017

Le Coeur de la ReineLe Coeur de la Reine Gamay, a French red, is the blog’s third annual Cheap Wine of the Year

One of the charges leveled against cheap wine is that it’s bland and boring. Yes, Winking Owl is bland and boring. But to assume that all cheap wine tastes like Winking Owl is silly and more than a little snooty. So, for those of you who don’t believe in cheap wine quality — but especially for those of us who do — we have the Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay 2017, the blog’s third annual cheap wine of the year.

How much Le Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) did I drink last year? At least a case. It was especially helpful in washing out the aftereffects of all those $18 fake oak “there’s a lot of winemaking going on here” samples that I have to spit through to do this job.

The Le Coeur is a French red made with gamay in the Loire, so don’t be surprised that you haven’t heard of it. If gamay is known at all, it’s for wine from Beaujolais; it’s not even the most common red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.

There is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that  many $15 wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner, whether fried catfish, steak frites, or a Brussels sprout Caesar salad.

A tip of the WC’s fedora to Emily Peterson at Valkyrie Selections, the wine’s importer. She promptly returned emails and answered all my questions, which doesn’t happen much these days. Hence, I can report the wine is available in 26 states and the District of Columbia. That includes most big states except California, and even there it is on Wine.com’s website. Also, the current vintage is 2018, but there is still plenty of 2017 on shelves.

Finally, Peterson reports the importer and producer are trying to hold the line on the price despite the tariff, and it shouldn’t go up more than a dollar or two. Meanwhile, she is urging wine drinkers who think a new, proposed 100 percent tariff is foolish to leave a comment with the feds. Go to www.regulations.gov, enter docket number “USTR-2019-0003” and click search. Then, click “comment now” and leave your comments/concerns. Comments are open until Jan. 13.

More Cheap Wine of the Year:
2019 Cheap Wine of the Year: Château La Gravière Blanc 2017
2018 Cheap Wine of the Year: Bieler Pere et Fils Rose 2016