Category:Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Biscaye Baie Sauvignon Blanc 2019

biscaye baieThe Biscaye Baie is a Gascon white wine that delivers more than $10 worth of value

The wine business has not been kind to France’s Gascon whites, one of the finest values in the world. There have been importer and distributor problems, the 25 percent Trump wine tariff, and the usual sort of availability foolishness. So imagine the Wine Curmudgeon’s euphoria when he found the Biscaye Baie.

Cheap wine gods be praised.

The Biscaye Baie ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is pretty much everything it should be. If it’s not quite up to the quality of the legendary Domaine Tariquet, it tastes like Gascon wine – fresh, white grapey, maybe a little tart, and, as the producer’s tasting note says, “a wine to be enjoyed at all times. …” Or, as my tasting note says, “Not quite Hall of Fame, but still worth buying in quantity.”

The Biscaye Baie isn’t a blend, like so many other Gascon whites – just sauvignon blanc. Hence, it tastes a little more sauvignon blanc-ish than those blended with colombard, since the latter grape tends to take the edge of the sauvignon blanc’s citrusness. But don’t confuse this with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc; it’s not a grapefruit-style wine, but has a sort of vague lemony something or other.

Practically highly recommended, if I did that sort of thing. But I have bought it in quantity, and keep three or four bottles chilled. We’ve reached the 100-degree season in Dallas, and that’s just one more reason to reach for this wine.

Imported by Aquitane Wine Company

Mini-reviews 135: Bonny Doon, Bota Box, Wente, Cameron Hughes

Bonny DoonReviews 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; four California wines for July.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2019 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Something is missing in this rose, released after Randall Grahm sold his legendary company in January. It’s not bad – some watermelon fruit, some minerality – but it’s not the top-notch rose of vintages past.

Bota Box Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($18/3-liter box, sample, 12.5%): Decent California white that works out to less than $5 a bottle, though it’s nothing more than that. Not sweet but not especially tart, either, with a bit of green herb and citrus. There’s an odd grapiness in the back that makes me think it was blended with something like French colombard to stretch the sauvingon blanc.

Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills 2018 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): Ordinary (if well-made) supermarket-style California red from a quality producer. Not much in the way of tannins or acidity — just lots of very ripe black fruit, lots of oak, and that sort of smooth finish that focus groups prefer.

Cameron Hughes Lot 676 2016 ($14, sample, 14.3%): Heavy, rich, hot, and full California white blend, made in the classic “Trying to get 94 points” style. There’s some fruit (stone, lime?), and a surprising amount of oak. Given its age, the style, and that Hughes buys what other producers can’t move, this may well be a pricey bottle that was sitting in a tank somewhere, unloved and unsold.

Photo: “Summer Hols Day 3 – Rain and Wine” by Ian Livesey is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Wine of the week: Azul y Garanza Tempranillo 2019

azul y garanzaThis vintage of the Spanish Azul y Garanza tempranillo isn’t as interesting as the past couple, but still delivers quality and value

This is the fourth vintage I’ve tasted of the Azul y Garanaza tempranillo, a Spanish red. And each year has been different from the others. That’s incredibly refreshing in our post-modern, all wine must taste alike world.

This time, the Azul y Garanza tempranillo ($13/1 liter, purchased, 14.1%) is a little more rustic and tannic than past vintages, with less cherry fruit. In this, it’s about the opposite of the first vintage I tasted, the 2016, which was softer and fruitier than I normally like. The Azul probably isn’t Hall of Fame quality this time, like the 2017 and 2018. But, like the 2016, it is perfectly enjoyable to drink.

And it remains a fine value, and not just because it’s a liter, with the extra glass and a half of wine. (And, in four vintages, this is the fourth different price I’ve paid – all bought from stores in Texas).

One other thing: Don’t worry about the 14.1 percent alcohol, which is likely a little sleight of hand to get around the 25 percent Trump wine tariff, which applies to Spanish and French wines less than 14 percent. This “adjustment” is happening quite a bit, and it really doesn’t affect the quality of the wine.

Imported by Valkyrie Selections

A tale of two Italian wines: Boffa Carlo Arneis and Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze 

Italian wineThe former is a lovely $15 wine, while the latter is a $40 Prosecco. How can Italy be going in two completely different directions?

Premiumization has done horrible things to the wine business, so horrible that they go beyond cutting sales and alienating younger consumers. Thanks to premiumization, wine is becoming something not to drink and enjoy, but for collecting and for showing off. Case in point: these two Italian wines.

The Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a beautiful, almost elegant white wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a tremendous value for arneis, a lesser-known grape where prices can top out at $30.

The Mionetto is a $40 Prosecco (sample, 11%). It’s a well-made and enjoyable sparkling wine, but in the end, it’s a $40 Prosecco, not all that different or better than the legions of $12 Proseccos cluttering supermarket aisles.

So how did Italy, a country with thousands of years of winemaking chops, go from the more or less traditional approach that gave us the arneis to one based on premiumization and a $40 Prosecco? Because decisions are increasingly made based on marketing and category management, and not on wine.

My guess? Someone, somewhere decided Mionetto needed a product to compete with Champagne and high-end California sparkling wine. So we got a $40 Prosecco – not because the world was demanding a $40 Prosecco or because the grapes were of such high quality that they would produce a wine worth $40. We got it so an Italian wine would be able to sit on a store shelf next to Champagne and grab some of that market share. Because if a wine costs $40, it must be worth it, right?

The same thing has happened with rose, where the marketplace has been flooded with $25 pink wine that is almost no different from $10 and $12 rose in anything other than retail price. The reason? Because people who buy $25 red and white wines have been taught that cheap wine is crap, so why not sell them $10 rose that costs $25? A rose producer I know can launch into a rant on that subject even more quickly than I can, which should tell you how widespread the practice is.

Finally, remember that this post is not about price, but about value, and that expensive wines can offer, value, too. That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s mantra. The wine business will have you believe that value is no different from price, because that’s how it makes its money. Because, $40 Prosecco. But we know better, don’t we?

Photo: “Hanging Bottles” by garryknight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wine of the week: Matua Sauvignon Blanc 2019

matua sauvignon blancThe Matua sauvignon blanc is Big Wine at its best — varietally correct, cheap, and delicious

A blog reader told me that his Costco was selling the Matua sauvingon blanc for $7 a bottle. I told him to buy cases and cases.

That’s because the Matua sauvingon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is Big Wine at its best — a combination of best practices in mass market winemaking, economies of scale, and supply chain efficiencies. The result, from Treasury Wine Estates, is a wine that is simple but not stupid and tastes like it is supposed to — and which may be the best Big Wine product on the market.

The 2019 vintage, which seems to be current, is even a little more well done than past efforts — and those made the $10 Hall of Fame. Look for not too much New Zealand grapefruit, a noticeable if slight tropical middle, and a long, clean finish.

Highly recommended and a wine destined for the 2021 Hall of Fame, as well as the short list for the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year.

Imported by TWE Wine Estates

Expensive wine 134: Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris 2017

eyrie pinot grisThe Eyrie pinot gris shows why this family producer is one of the best wineries in the U.S.

No, the Eyrie pinot gris is not the most expensive wine in the world, and most of the Winestream Media would probably consider it popularly priced. But for those of us who consider value more important than anything else, a wine that costs this much and delivers value is rare and worth noting — and a wine to buy over and over.

The Eyrie pinot gris ($23, purchased, 12.5%) comes from one of my favorite producers, the second-generation Oregon winery that did so much to bring pinot noir to that state (and the U.S.). The pinot gris, if less well-known, is equally worth drinking.

This is still a very young wine, and the pear fruit (and maybe some peach) really isn’t showing the way it should in a few years. It’s sort of hiding in the background, so that when you taste it, you’re not quite sure if it’s there, but you know something is. And, of course, that’s far from the only quality — lots of flint and minerality, maybe some spice, and a clean mouth feel.

Highly recommended. Pair this with grilled seafood or roasted chicken, and be glad such value still exists in a wine costing more than $20.

Wine of the week: McGuigan The Plan 2016

McGuigan The PlanMcGuigan The Plan – an Aussie shiraz that shows sense and sensibility

Australian red wines are infamous for high alcohol, jammy, too ripe fruit, and an absence of balance. So what’s the catch with McGuigan The Plan, which clocks in at an almost unbelievable 12.5 percent alcohol?

Chalk it up to the wonderful unpredictability of wine, where we should regularly discover how little we actually know. McGuigan The Plan ($13, purchased, 12.5%), though it’s from a top producer, is about the last thing one expects from an Australian red made with shiraz – it shows sense and sensibility, to steal a phrase. Yes, it’s rich and fruity, with lots and lots of blackberry. But the wine isn’t hot or sweet, the way some too alcoholic wines can be. Plus, there’s a little spice (and maybe even some pepper) in the middle. And I could swear I tasted a tannin or two. Honest.

In this, McGuigan The Plan is one more reason not to judge a wine before you taste it. It needs food, but with summer burgers or barbecue, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Imported by Palm Bay International