$10 Wine Hall of Fame (2008)

Even hip and with it young people will want to try these $10 wines. The news is not good for those of us who love cheap wine. There was a lot less of it worth drinking in 2007, and the ranks of the $10 Wine Hall of Fame have been reduced as we celebrate the sixth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza. (The 2007 Hall is here.)

Gone from the Hall are the Big House red, white and pink. The brand was sold last year, and the new owner makes decent enough wine, but it ?s standard grocery store stuff. It lacks the style that distinguished the old Big House labels. Two red wines that I wanted to add – ? Beaulieu ?s Beauzeaux and Altano ?s Douro – ? didn ?t make it. The former didn ?t release a new vintage locally, while the latter was flat and flabby compared to previous years.

The weak dollar didn ?t help the cause, either, so I added a room on the Hall for imported wine whose price was pushed up currency woes: ?If you can find them for $10, buy them. ?

The Hall did add three Gascon white wines – ? Domaine Duffour, Domaine des Cassagnoles, and Domaine D ?Uby. These are made with less well-known grapes from a very less well-known part of France, which is why they ?re less expensive. With that in mind, here ?s 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 (though the cab was a bit below its usual standard this year), a white made with a grape called viura. There is also a rose, but I have yet to find it in the Dallas area.

? Benziger Fume Blanc, the California winery ?s version of sauvignon blanc. One caveat: Look for a recent vintage. If it’s more than two years old, it doesn’t taste fresh.

? 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 unoaked chardonnay and the petite sirah from California ?s Jewel Collection.

If you can find them for $10, buy them:

? Chateau Ducla and Chateau Bonnet, white blends from Bordeaux.

? Domaine Pichot Vouvray, a French chenin blanc.

? Lindauer Brut , a sparkling wine from New Zealand.

? McPherson Cellars Rose, one of the best wines, dollar for dollar, to come out of Texas.

Wines to consider for next year:

? The dry riesling and chenin blanc from Pacific Rim, a Bonny Doon offshoot. I like these wines a lot, but neither was quite there in 2007.

? I’ll keep an eye on the Beauzeaux and Douro reds over the next 12 months, but I’m not optimistic.

? Los Vascos chardonnay. This Chilean is unoaked, which is why it’s inexpensive. Again, though, it has had problems with consistency.

? Two French wines from huge negociants — the Jadot Macon-Villages and the DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages. Sometimes, these are terrific, and sometimes they’re far from it — and this can happen in the same vintage.

? Hugh Hamilton Jim Jim Shiraz. Inexpensive Australian shirazes usually taste like it, but this is on the cusp of being something special.

? The Chalone line from Monterey in California. This is grocery store wine that seems better than it should be. Call me cynical, but I need to taste it one more time.

? Cycle Gladiator, a line of $10 wines from the same California producer who started Rex Goliath (which turned into ordinary grocery store wine under its new owners).

Wine of the week: Loredan Gasparini Prosecco

Italian sparkling wines are usually not my first choice. Most of the time, they/re sweeter than I like, without the crisp acidity of champagne or Spanish and New World sparkling wine. But this one is a winner, combining prosecco’s trademark 7-Up fizz with a sturdy backbone.

It’s the finish that makes the difference. Too often, Italian sparkling wines offer an interesting sweet fruitiness in the front, but nothing much after that. Part of that is intentional, especially for less expensive wines, and part of it is the way the wines are made, using the charmat method. That’s why I call it 7-Up fizz, because the taste is so reminiscent of the soft drink.

But the Gasparini (about $14) has a solid, interesting, almost steely finish. There’s actually something there, and not just the sweetness hanging around your mouth like 7-Up on a hot day.This is easily one of the best proseccos I have ever had, and a steal at this price.

Some wine blogginess for the New Year

? My pal Alfonso Cevola, who tolerates my almost constant request for availability information with a patience that is awe inspiring, is an accomplished wine blogger in his own right — On the Wine Trail in Italy. Alfonso’s effort is ranked 64th in something called 100 Top Wine Blogs, which is damned impressive. He is ranked ahead of a bunch of better-known and very chi chi names.

? Availability — that is, who has the wine I’m writing about? — is  the bane of my existence as a wine writer. One would think that these days, with high-tech inventory systems, real-time inventory scanning and the like, that any retailer would tell at any time if they carried a wine. And one would be wrong. Case in point: A piece in the New York Times business section a couple of weeks ago, detailing vintage and small producer champagnes. Great article about great wine, but unless you live in Manhattan, not much chance to try them,

? What about Virginia sparkling wine? Dave McIntrye recommends Kluge Estate, which he touts as the best bubbly on the East Coast. What about availability, you ask? It has limited national distribution, and I have seen it in the Dallas area.

? Elin McCoy, whose book on Robert Parker is a must read for anyone who cares about wine, notes that 2007 was one of the best years ever for wine auctions. Why does this matter to those of us who don’t buy wine at auction? Because it’s more pressure on wine prices and on producers to make wine that appeals to auction buyers.

Sparkling wine for New Year’s

Keep three things in mind when you're picking sparkling wine and champagne for New Year ?s Eve. 

First, there is plenty of quality wine from places other than France, especially from the New World, Spain and Italy. There is also plenty of quality wine from France that isn't the same old stuff. Please, please try something other than Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. 

Second, vintage isn't especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage ? that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from several years instead of just one. It ?s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality. 

Third, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands, like Korbel, are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or m thode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style 

And cost? There is more than acceptable bubbly at almost every price, and even some expensive wines are good values.

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