The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc remains classic New Zealand white wine — and a more than fair value
When the blog was new, so was New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and the Villa Maria was among the best – and it cost just $10.
Those days are gone. New Zealand is acknowledged as the leader in sauvignon blanc, and even the French copy the style – lots of citrus, usually grapefruit, and little else for wines costing less than $15. But the Villa Maria remains consistent, quality wine. And if it isn’t $10 any more, it does offer more for your dollar than the shelves and shelves of cheaper monkey-labeled, bay-themed bottles.
The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc ($12, purchased, 12.5%) offers classic Kiwi style, sitting just a notch below the two I think are the best, Jules Taylor and Spy Valley. Yes, there is lots of grapefruit (more white than red), but the wine also has the three flavors all well-made wine should have regardless of price – the grapefruit in the front, some sort of white stone fruit in the middle, and a refreshing, clean stony finish.
Highly recommended, and a bargain for anything less than $13.
Reviews 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, four red wines from around the world.
• District 7 Pinot Noir 2017 ($20, sample, 13.5%): This is top-notch red wine from the Monterey region of California, where it’s a little cooler and where pinot noir can be more pinot noir-ish because it’s cooler. Look for an earthy beginning, refined tannins, and delicious and correct cherry fruit. The price isn’t great, but that’s what quality introductory pinot noir costs these days.
• Domaine de Colette Beaujolais-Villages 2017 ($17, purchased, 12.5%): This is a very nicely done French red wine made with the gamay grape from the region of Beaujolais. It has structure and body, not always easy to do when working with gamay, but also offers gamay character — some soft cherry. Let it sit open for at least 30 minutes. Highly recommended. Imported by Charles Neal Selections
• Castello di Magione Umbria 2017 ($15, purchased, 13%): This Italian red wine made with sangiovese is earthy and tart, which is normally what I like. But it tastes like something is missing, and for $15 I don’t want to have to figure out what that is. Imported by Margaux and Associates
• Oak Ridge Winery OZV 2017 ($13, sample, 14%): This professionally made red blend from Lodi in California tastes exactly like it came from Lodi: Lots of sweet dark fruit, lots of oak, and not much in the way of tannins. If you appreciate this style of wine, then you’ll enjoy this.
The Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto is cheap Spanish tempranillo the way it should be
The Spanish wine regions around Madrid aren’t famous, unless someone is sneering about the tanker cars of cheap red wine produced there every year. Let them sneer, because they’re missing out on terrific cheap wine like the Protocolo.
In fact, one reason why Spanish tempranillo is among the best red wine values in the world is that regions like Castilla-La Mancha do more than make tanker cars of cheap red wine. Much of it is cheap wine the way it should be – varietally correct and following the style of the country, simple but not insulting. And, since producers in these regions can do cheap so well, it holds down the price of better quality tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera.
The Protocolo ($9, purchased, 13.5%) is everything one hopes for in a cheap Spanish tempranillo — soft tannins, just enough acidity to show that it’s red wine, and ripe but not too ripe berry fruit. Plus, it has flavors at the beginning, the middle and the end (a sort of rustic earthiness), just like more expensive wines.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for both the 2020 Hall of Fame and the Cheap Wine of the Year. Drink this with almost any spring and summer barbecue, and then keep drinking it the rest of the year.
The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is $10 red wine that offers weeknight quality and value
There’s a style of French wine that has survived Robert Parker and premiumization and the decline of wine drinking in France. It’s a simple style, used for the every day kind of wines that still dominate European wine drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is exactly that kind of wine.
That’s because it exists for one purpose – to drink with dinner, because everyone drinks wine with dinner. In this, the Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) excels; I brought it to dinner with the Big Guy at our local BYOB, and he was surprised that the wine did as much as it did for the price.
That means a rustic sort of quality – tart but accessible, with dark fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), an almost herbal quality, and just enough tannins to show it’s a red wine. This wine is from Cahors in southwestern France, where malbec is still quite common. But it’s important to note that Cahors malbecs bear little resemblance to most $10 Argentine malbecs, which are soft and fruity and rounded. This wine is angular, and you can almost taste the corners.
Hence, it’s red meat wine – I drank it with a roasted lamb shank and white beans, and it was spot on. But it’s also meatloaf and takeout chicken, the sort of thing for a middle of the week dinner. Because where where would we be without wines like that?
The Stags’ Leap chardonnay may be the best value among expensive wines I’ve tasted in years
This California white wine may be the best value for any domestic white wine costing more than $25 I’ve tasted in years. It’s certainly the best value in California chardonnay: It tastes like Napa Valley, where the grapes are from. It tastes like chardonnay, and not a tub of butter. And it’s only going to get better with age, truly amazing given its price.
Much of the credit for the quality for the Stag’s Leap chardonnay ($30, sample, 14.2%) goes to winemaker Christophe Paubert, whose approach is focused on the grapes, and not getting on the cover of the Wine Spectator. Hence, a wine that isn’t over oaked, isn’t hot, and isn’t stuffed full of winemaking tricks. “I’m not that kind of winemaker,” he said during lunch in Dallas last month.
Instead, Paubert worked with what the grapes gave him, and the result is a chardonnay that is fresh and bright, with crisp green apple fruit intertwined with a little lemon zest. It’s rich and full in the mouth, but not oaky and toasty, and it finishes with a certain sort of minerality one doesn’t taste much anymore in California chardonnay. Yes, there is oak, but it’s in the background, supporting everything else.
Highly recommended, and especially for Mother’s Day next month. This would pair especially well with something like crab and shrimp stuffed fish, or even a classic French dish like sole in a simple white wine sauce.
Our Dallas Aldi wine road trip finds some cheap wine gems among the rows and rows of Winking Owl
The good news: Our Aldi wine road trip was not the disaster that I feared. Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, had scouted four other Aldi locations in our part of Dallas, and assured me we could find things worth drinking. And he was right.
We found four during our five-store visit. That was impressive, given that Aldi here has consistently fallen short of its effort in Europe and the United Kingdom. There, its private label wines (labels sold only at Aldi) are cheap and critically praised.
The wines worth buying again:
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): The first bottle was flat, a worrisome trend I’ve experienced lately with sparkling wine costing as much as $20. But the second had the requisite character for a Spanish bubbly – tart lemon and green apple fruit and some minerality. A step up from other $7 cavas, especially since they’ve been dumbed down to taste like watery Prosecco.
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red made with tempranillo was this close to being a Hall of Fame wine. It has way too much oak for what it is; leave out the oak, and and the acidity isn’t pushed to the back and the wine is in balance. Very nice cherry fruit and even a little Spanish orange peel aroma.
• La Rue Cotes de Provence Rose 2017 ($7.50, purchased, 12%): This looks like legitimate Provencal rose (a watery pink), and it smells like one, too (tart berries). The catch is that it finishes a little sweet, and legitimate Provencal rose doesn’t do that. But that might have been me looking for a flaw. Otherwise, it’s mostly what it should be a fair price.
• Bergeron Estates Reserve Icewine 2016 ($12/375 ml, purchased, 10.5%): Quality Canadian icewine should cost three or four times this, and no one will confuse the Bergeron with Inniskillin. But it does taste like icewine – a luxurious honeyed sweetness – and it does taste like the vidal grape it is made with. It needs more acidity to balance the sweetness, but well worth buying again for those who like dessert wine.
I didn’t buy two wines that Alfonso thought would be OK, a German pinot gris and reisling labeled Landshut, which may have been made by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, a top German producer. So I’ll try those next next – each was about $7. In addition, a Spanish garnacha, Vina de la Nieve from Catalonia ($6) looked worth tasting but wasn’t available for sale. It was on the shelf, but not in the system.
Having said that, there was still too much Aldi wine in the stores whose reason for being was that it cost $3. And too many of the $10 wines were advertised with 88-point shelf talkers, which is about as helpful as writing a blog post longhand and using magic to put it on the Internet. And there was an amazing lack of continuity between stores, where one store would have one wine, another wouldn’t, and third would have something else.
Still, as Alfonso kept reminding me, “Small steps, Jeff, small steps. Aldi is heading in the right direction.” Which I fervently hope.