Category:Wine reviews

Wine of the week: McManis Petit Sirah 2017

mcmanis petit sirahThe McManis petit sirah: $10 California red wine that is well made and speaks to quality and value

California’s McManis family, despite the trials and tribulations of the post-modern wine business and the faint-heartedness of others, still cares more about quality than focus groups. The McManis petit sirah is just one of the family’s many wines that proves that point.

The McManis petit sirah ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a reminder of the early days of the blog, when petit sirah was used to make quality cheap wine – a little plummy, a bit rich, not especially tannic, and just enough acidity for balance. Today, it’s mostly used to make sweet, “smooth,” flaccid red blends that cost $15 or $16, because someone somewhere thinks that’s what younger consumers want.

The McManis is the exact opposite of that, one of the best petit sirahs I’ve had in years, regardless of price. There is sweet dark plum fruit, but this is not a sweet wine. Plus, subtle acidity and the correct tannins. In this, it’s a reminder that California used to give us some of the world’s best cheap wine. Drink this with everything from takeout pizza to fancy meatloaf, and it wouldn’t be so bad on its own after a hard day at work, either. And you could do a whole lot worse using the McManis as a gift for the holiday that must not be named later this week.

Highly recommended, and a candidate to for the 2021’s  $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year.

Expensive wine 129: Bonny Doon X-Block Syrah 2013

x-block syrahThe Bonny Doon X-Block syrah is magnificent California red wine, combining the Old World with the New World

Those of us who love savory syrah – that is, where the wine is earthy and funky instead of being stuffed with sweet fruit, like the Australians do it – were especially sad when Boony Doon’s Randall Grahm sold his legendary winery at the beginning of the year. Grahm was famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for many things, but I don’t think he ever got enough credit for wines like the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah.

Grahm was able to combine an Old World approach to syrah with California’s riper and richer fruit. In this, the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah ($48, purchased, 13.5%) is an amazing wine – funky enough for those of us who want that, but fruity enough so as not to turn off people who think funky is a slang term 50 years out of date.

The X-Block is a step up from Grahm’s Le Pousseur syrah, which costs about half the price. But it’s more than worth the added expense: There’s the smoked meat, bacon-y aroma, a bit of pepper and spice, soft tannins, and full, rich black fruit. Open the wine about an hour before you drink it, and serve it with anything beefy or smoky or both. In addition, it’s still young and should age for at least a couple of more years.

Highly recommended, and just the gift for someone who likes savory syrah, what with the Holiday that Must not be Named coming up later this week. So long, Randall. It was a hell of a ride.

Wine of the week: VinNico Radio Boka 2018

radio bokaThe Radio Boka offers Spanish value and quality for less than $10

The best cheap Spanish wines are made with grapes most of us haven’t heard of and are from regions that are equally obscure. Witness the Radio Boka, a Spanish white. It’s made with verdejo, common in Spain and almost nowhere else, and comes from La Mancha, a huge bulk wine region near Madrid.

In other words, this ain’t from Napa Valley or Burgundy.

In this, the Radio Boka ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is exactly what competent and enjoyable cheap wine should be. It doesn’t try to impress anyone, despite the post-modern name and showy label. This is a wine made for weeknight dinners, without any fuss or bravado. As we say on the blog, simple but not stupid.

Look for barely tart lemon fruit with a hint of something tropical in the middle. The finish is clean and fresh, and, like many Spanish whites, it’s a terrific food wine. Tapas, like the potato omelet, certainly, but also seafood and it would be terrific as a braising liquid for chicken.

Imported by Hammeken Cellars

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

Wine and food pairings 8: 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