Category:Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Villa Maria Pinot Noir Private Bin 2018

villa maria pinot noirThe Villa Maria pinot noir is simple but structured — a fine value for pinot noir

There’s no reason why the Villa Maria pinot noir should be such a value and taste so much like pinot noir. It’s almost a Big Wine product, for one thing, and it’s almost impossible to find quality pinot noir at this price.

Nevertheless, that’s the case – a welcome relief in these days of sweet, focus grouped pinot. In fact, you can’t ask more from the Villa Maria ($14, purchased, 13%) at this price. It isn’t complex, but it is structured, with an almost Burgundian forest floor aroma, some herbs and tannins, and lots of bright berry fruit in the New Zealand pinot style. It’s especially impressive for an entry level product.

So how does this happen? For one thing, Villa Maria is still owned by the Fistonich family; its Big Wine deal is an import agreement with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and the latter is lot more hands off when it comes to telling its “partners” what to do. Second, I was lucky enough to meet Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich early in the blog’s history. He impressed me as someone who cared about the wine his company made in a way that too many others don’t.

Serve the Villa Maria pinot noir with the usual suspects, like lamb and salmon, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. It would make terrific coq a vin, both as the wine for the chicken and to drink with the dinner. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Mother’s Day wine 2020

mother's day wine 2020Four suggestions — rose, white, red, and sparkling — for Mother’s Day wine 2020

Mother’s Day wine 2020: This year.s version, the 14th annual, finds us in a different place than ever before. But the premise hasn’t  changed — We’re looking for value and quality, and we want to buy Mom something she will enjoy and not something we think she should drink.

These Mother’s Day wine 2020 suggestions should get you started:

La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($9, purchased, 13%): Supermarket Chilean white  sauvignon blanc at a fair price (lots of citrus and not much else); given how inconsistent these wines have become it offers value. Imported by Cabernet Corporation

CVNE Via Real Rosado 2019 ($12, sample, 12.5%): The white viura grape, part of the blend for this Spanish pink from a top producer,  adds a little lemon something or other to the tempranillo’s cherry fruit. It’s both welcome and interesting and a well-made wine. Highly recommended. Imported by Arano LLC

F. B. Schönleber Riesling Extra Brut 2013 ($22, sample, 13%): German sparkling isn’t common in the U.S., and this bubbly makes me wish that wasn’t the case. It’s a delicious, dry and minerally sparkling that exceeded all expectations. Highly recommended. Imported by Angels’ Share Wine Imports

Masseria Li Veli Primonero 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red, made with the negroamaro grape, has earth, dark black fruit and very Italian in structure and acidity. Fire up the social distancing barbecue. Imported by Li Veli USA

Photo:“Contest18A Mother” by FolsomNatural is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

More about Mother’s Day wine:
Mother’s Day wine 2019
Mother’s Day wine 2018
Mother’s Day wine 2017
Wine of the week: MAN Chenin Blanc 2018

Wine of the week: Tiamo Pinot Grigio NV

tiamo pinot grigioYes, the Tiamo pinot grigio comes in a can – but it’s still top-notch cheap wine

Canned wine, for all its success in the U.S., has been held back by two things: canned formats are confusing, and the price too often reflects convenience and not quality. That’s where the Tiamo pinot grigio comes in.

The Tiamo pinot grigio ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%) does what most other canned wines don’t: It tastes like the grape it’s made from, the quality matches the price, and it’s wine and not a sugared up canned beverage for the beach. In this, it could be the best canned wine I’ve tasted save for the Tiamo grillo, which is no longer available.

And it’s one of the best pinot grigios I’ve tasted in a while, canned or otherwise. This Italian white wine is crisp and clean, but it’s missing the tonic water finish that passes for varietal character in other cheap pinot grigios. Best yet, it has actual fruit flavors — some not quite ripe stone fruit that isn’t cloying or overdone. And at $5 for the equivalent of a half bottle, it offers plenty of value.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. This is back porch wine for Mother’s Day in the age of social distancing, and it wouldn’t be bad for an indoor campout, either.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Expensive wine 132: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2017

chateau montelena chardonnayThis vintage of the Chateau Montelena chardonnay shows once again the greatness of California wine

Full disclosure first: When we talked last month, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told me he read the blog and enjoyed it. Who am I to argue with his good sense?

Regardless, it’s easy to write nice things about the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, which I do every couple of years. This vintage ($50, sample, 13.9%) is again a testament to what makes California wine so wonderful – fresh, layered, sophisticated, and uniquely different from great wine anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the 2017 tastes completely different than the 2015. Which, as Crafton and I discussed last month, is part of the joy of wine. Truly take what the vineyard gives you, and let the wine speak for itself. Because what’s the point of making the same wine every year just to get 92 points?

The 2017 is still very, very young, and its fruit and spice won’t completely show themselves for at least several years. But the wine is still drinkable and quite enjoyable – some floral and apple-y aromas, a wonderful rich baked apple fruit precisely balanced with the rest of the wine, and a long, amazing, and chalky finish.

Highly recommended, and just the thing for Mother’s Day. Toast Mom with this, even if you can’t be with her, and appreciate life’s small pleasures in a time of uncertainty.

Wine of the week: La Vieille Ferme Rose 2019

La Vieille Ferme roseLong-time favorite La Vieille Ferme rose reminds us how great cheap wine can be — and what better time to be reminded?

The wine world is in trouble, and it’s not just the coronavirus pandemic. Sales are down, the European tariff is still with us, and younger consumers are drinking something else. How to solve the problem? Make more wines like the La Vieille Ferme rose.

What better way to remember why we love wine than to open a bottle of the new vintage of the La Vieille Ferme rose ($10, purchased, 13%)? There are few better ways to improve the irritations caused by a stay at home order than sipping this French pink wine. Sip and savor, close your eyes, and remind yourself that this too will end. You’ll be surprised at how well that will work.

Look for minerality and barely ripe strawberry fruit, as well as the freshness that should be an integral part of all roses. And marvel at the price – this wine can still be found for as little as $8, despite the 25 percent tariff.

In fact, the point with the La Vieille Ferme rose is just not that it’s worth drinking or that it offers value. Lots of wines do that. Rather, since the producer decided to improve quality four years ago, the wine has remained a well-made, quality cheap pink. That just doesn’t happen much in post-modern wine, where it’s easier to let quality slip, ride the wave, and make up the difference with a cute label or fancy marketing (and especially for rose).

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. (And a tip of the WC’s fedora to everyone who has noticed that I regularly mis-type “LaVieille.” I’ve quadruple-checked the spelling this time, and I think they are all correct.)

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Mini-reviews 132: Ava Grace, Tasca D’Almerita, River Road, Chateau Malescasse

ava graceReviews 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.

Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.

Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow

River Road Family Stephanie’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, sample, 14.3%): Classic, post-modern cocktail party California pinot noir – heavyish, with lots of cherry fruit, almost no tannins, and only a hint of pinot noir character.

Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import

Wine of the week: Le Paradou Grenache 2017

Le ParadouThe Le Paradou Grenache displays quality and balance for $11

Grenache is the Wine Curmudgeon’s kind of grape. It can make great cheap wine, but it’s not always easy to work with and it isn’t especially popular as a varietal wine.

So how excited was I to see the Le Paradou Grenache ($11, purchased, 13.5%) on a virtual store shelf? Quite excited, as you can imagine. And the Le Paradou didn’t let me down.

This French red is labeled Vin de France, which means it’s not part of the appellation system. These wines are notoriously uneven in quality, but this one offers value for money. Most importantly, it doesn’t suffer from grenache’s flaws – too jammy, almost sweet, too ripe, and practically cloying.

Instead, the Le Paradou is surprisingly balanced – not so jammy, but dark; berry fruit that is almost not ripe; a little spice or black pepper, something missing from all those overworked grenaches; and even a tannin or two hiding in the back. How often does that happen in grenache?

In other words, simple but not stupid, and the kind of cheap wine we need more than ever.

Imported by European Wine Cellars