The 2009 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2008 was a banner year for cheap wine. Excellent cheap wine was plentiful in 2008. In fact, it was one of the best years for $10 wine since I started tracking cheap wine almost 10 years ago.  I ?m not quite sure why, since the weak dollar and producers who focused on $15 wine were two of last year ?s most dominant trends.

The Hall added five labels: Yellow+Blue malbec (about $12 for a 1-liter box), which puts most other malbecs in its price range to shame; Meridian ?s chardonnay, which can be found for as little as $6; the Les Jamelles wines from southern France, which deliver surprising quality for $10; another Gascon wine, Domaine du Tariquet, to join the three that entered the Hall last year; and Lockwood sauvignon blanc, perhaps the most pleasant surprise of any wine I tasted in 2008.

Truth be told, I could have picked two or three times those five wines this year. Almost every rose I tried was worthy. Two Italian wines, Tormaresca Neprica from Puglia and Ajello Bianca from Sicily, were fabulous, but are difficult to find ? and one of the rules is that if wines aren ?t available, they can ?t get in the Hall. The same is true for the various Tortoise Creek wines, which disappeared from store shelves this year.

In fact, the wines that were dropped from the Hall this year did so not because of quality, but availability. The Benziger fume blanc (the winery ?s version of sauvignon blanc) and Jewel ?s unoaked chardonnay and petite sirah weren ?t readily available this year. (In fact, even the winery ?s web site disappeared.)

Here is the rest of this year ?s Hall of Fame:

? The $10 wines from California ?s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the petite sirah.

? Osborne Solaz, Spanish reds and a white. Look for the cabernet-tempranillo and shiraz-tempranillo reds and a white made with a grape called viura, which may be the best of the three. There is also a rose, but I have yet to find it in the Dallas area.

? Italy ?s Falesco Vitiano, which produces a solid rose, an even more solid white blend, and a stunning red blend made of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot.

? Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, which comes in brut (dry), extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.

? California ?s Toad Hollow pinot noir rose.

? The Gascon musketeers — Domaine Duffour, Domaine des Cassagnoles, and Domaine D ?Uby. Michel Duffour, in fact, could well be the poster boy for the Hall of Fame.

In the special, ?If you can find them for $10, buy them ? section of the hall (thanks to the weak U.S. dollar):

? Chateau Ducla and Chateau Bonnet, white blends from Bordeaux. Andre Lurton, whose company owns Bonnet, is part of the powerful Lurton clan, whose holdings include Cheval Blanc and d ?Yquem.

? Domaine Pichot, a French chenin blanc.

? Cinquante-Cinq sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, two French wines.

For previous $10 Wine Hall of Fames:

Wine and cheese

Let ?s start the New Year with a few thoughts on the cheese part of the classic wine pairing, courtesy of Monty Python. This is from the 1979 benefit for Amnesty International, called The Secret Policeman ?s Ball, with John Cleese and Michael Palin reprising their TV series Cheese Shop roles. One word of warning: It ?s live, and Cleese uses an epithet at one point. He also makes Palin crack up.

The blog will be back Monday with the $10 Hall of Fame. Happy New Year.

Happy New Year from the Wine Curmudgeon

The blog is mostly off until Monday, when the 2009 $10 Hall of Fame makes goes up. Until then, this, from one of the early proponents of cheap wine, Carlo Rossi. This commercial is from the early 1970s (there are two others on the Rossi web site). A couple of notes: Burgundy, in those days, referred to almost any California red wine and not pinot noir from the Burgundy region of France, and Rossi was a real person ? a distant relative of the Gallo family, whose company owned (and still owns) the brand.

It ?s funny. Watch the commercial, and you ?ll realize how little wine has changed in the U.S. in the past 35 years despite all the scores and wine writing and our supposedly improved and sophisticated palates. ?It ?s not fancy labels and big prices that make good wine, ? says Carlo, and who can argue with that?

Wine of the week: French Maid Pinot Noir 2007

French Maid Pinot Noir 2007 Reasons not to like this wine: First, the label, which makes the young woman on the Lulu B. wines look matronly. The Wine Curmudgeon has nothing against sex, but on a wine label? Second, it ?s cheap pinot noir from the Languedoc region of France, which means there ?s a decent chance it won ?t taste like pinot noir. (In fact, so many negociants are producing Languedoc pinots these days that the region has an identifiable style.) Third, I never trust cheap wine that says things about itself like ?richly textured palate ? and ?velvety tannins and well-integrated oak. ?

Which is why one should always taste the wine before one judges it, because the French Maid (about $12) is quality wine. It ?s fruity and berry-ish, but a little fresher and not as fruity or berry-ish as other pinot noirs from the Languedoc. Plus, it has a touch of pinot character that most cheap Languedoc and New World pinots don ?t have.

It ?s light enough to drink as a New Year ?s aperitif or with almost any sort of New Year ?s meal. It ?s also a fine barbecue wine as spring approaches, with everything from hamburgers to smoked chicken.

For more on inexpensive pinot noir:

Bubbly, one more time

A roundup of suggestions for the New Year ?s holiday from some of the leading authorities in the cyber-ether:

? Gil Kulers spares no expense when discussing champagne, which means the real stuff from the Champagne region of France.

? Less expensive sparkling wine from the San Francisco Chronicle.

? Budget bubbly from Good Wine Under $20, where Wine Curmudgeon favorite Gruet shows up.

? My take on champagne and sparkling wine for the holidays, as well as that of my pal Dave McIntyre: finding bargains among the most expensive bubbly and a look at some less expensive wines.

Tuesday tidbits 58: top 100, Randall Grahm, wine pairing widget

? Cheap wine galore: The Wine Curmudgeon was impressed with the good taste displayed by ?s customers. The Internet retailer released its 100 most popular wines, based on sales, and four of the top 10 cost $10 or less, including Wine Curmudgeon favorite Cristalino. The best selling wine was the $10 Chilean Veramonte cabernet sauvignon, and only two of the top 10 cost more than $15. One question, though: Why buy Cristalino and pay shipping when it ?s in most discount wine stores?

? Because one can never get too much Randall Grahm: Our old pal Dan Berger reports that the iconoclastic master of Bonny Doon is up to his usual tricks, which is good for the wine business and for those of us who care about quality and not scores. Writes Berger: ?All this internalized angst is nothing new for Grahm, who I once described as the James Joyce of wine, only to have him suggest it might be best to use the term James Juice. ?

? Wine and food: I ?m not sure if this is the be all and end all, but it is clever. The Wine Market Council has developed a wine and food pairing gizmo that lets you pick a wine and to pair with good or a food to pair with wine. It ?s still simple (pick fish, and there are only a handful of dishes), and it doesn ?t take a computer to come up with pairing chardonnay with smoked trout. But it ?s a nice start.

Wine terms: Good and bad and why they don’t matter

If you like chardonnay, it's good wine. If you don't like it, it's bad. So what's the middle ground? Regular visitors here may have noticed that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t label wines as good or bad. Instead, I try to describe the flavors and suggest pairings. The adjectives I use, like well-made or professionally made or classic, are objective – ? they should be accurate regardless of who is writing them.

This doesn ?t mean that I don ?t have opinions, of course (in what may be the wine understatement of the year). Rather, it ?s that good and bad are subjective, and don ?t help anyone understand wine. What I think of as good ?- a subtle yet powerful Puligny Montrachet from Sauzet, for example – ? others might consider bad. They might prefer the oak and vanilla flavors of classic Napa chardonnay, which I think tastes like drinking a baseball bat.

This is also why scores are so useless; they ?re just extensions of good and bad. The writer who gives an octopus inky, 16.5 percent alcohol shiraz a 93 says more about his or her palate than the quality of the wine. If I did scores, the same wine could get a 78 for the same reasons.

After the jump, a look at why good and bad don ?t apply to wine, using one of the best-made wines I ?ve ever had as an example.

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