Tag Archives: $10 wine

Wine of the week: Banfi Centine Toscana 2017

centine toscanoBanfi’s Centine Toscana remains a Hall of Fame quality $10 red wine

The Centine Toscana ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is Big Wine done right – a varietally correct Italian red made with sangiovese made by Banfi, a $70 million company that sells wine in 85 countries. So it should be no surprise that it’s a $10 Hall of Fame quality wine (as is the white version).

The 2017 Centine Toscana is even a little more Italian, so less ripe fruit than the previous vintage and more earthiness. As always, it’s terroir driven, with slightly tart cherry fruit, a pleasant, chalky finish, and appropriately soft tannins. In other words, it tastes like sangiovese from the Tuscan region of Italy, and not a winemaking-driven product from a marketing company focus group trying to figure out how to make a sort of sweet and very smooth Italian wine.

Pair this with summer barbecue – sausages, of course, but also smoked chicken and burgers. And maybe even pizza on the grill for the adventurous. And if the weather allows it, this is a delicious wine with any red sauce.

Wine of the week: CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

CK Mondavi sauvignon blancThe CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc, a long-time grocery store staple, is easily the cheap wine find of 2018

The CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc ($7, sample, 12.6%) is a grocery store wine that I have been trying to use as a wine of the week for years. But it has never quite been up to the challenge.

Until this vintage. Somehow, despite all the horrific cheap wine news this summer, the CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc is well-made, varietally correct, and worth more than $7. Score a victory for value and quality in these dark, dismal times.

There is nothing fancy about this California white wine, which is made by the other Mondavis – the company started by Robert’s brother Peter and run by Peter Jr. Look for lots and lots of white grapefruit, with maybe a certain something or other that tastes sort of pleasant in the back.

But it’s crisp and refreshing and delivers infinitely more value than many wines that cost two or three times as much. In this, it’s easily the cheap wine find of 2018; drink it well chilled on its own or with salads, chicken, and other warm weather food.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but with this caveat: Quality control has been so slipshod for so many cheap wines this vintage that I can’t guarantee that the bottle you buy will taste like the bottle I got as a sample. But at $7, it’s worth the try.

Fourth of July wine 2018

July Foutth wine 2018Fourth of July wine 2018: Four bottles to enjoy to celebrate the holiday

No weekend this year to celebrate the United States’ 242nd birthday. So we’ll make do with Fourth of July wine 2018 for the middle of the week. As always, keep our summer wine and porch wine guidelines in mind: Lighter, fresher wines, even for red, since lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside

Consider these Fourth of July wine 2018 suggestions:

Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This California white is one of Justin’s best sauvignon blancs in years — very California in style, with the grassy aroma, crispness, and just enough lemon/lime to be noticeable. Highly recommended

Pierre Rougon Rose 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This French pink from Provence is solid and dependable — a steal at this price. Look for barely ripe cherry and some earthy minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by Vinovia Wine Group

Chateau Haut Rian 2015 ($13, sample, 13%): This French red blend from Bordeaux (about two-thirds merlot) isn’t overpriced, which makes it worth buying regardless. Throw in full red fruit and soft tannins, and you have an ideal summer red. I just wish it was a little funkier and old-fashioned. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Mumm Napa Cuvee M NV ($20, purchased, 12.5%): Mumm, the French bubbly house, makes this in California; hence the much more reasonable price. Plus, you can buy it in some grocery stores. Look for crisp and green apple and not quite ripe pear, and tight, crisp, bubbles. Very well made, and always enjoyable.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2017
Fourth of July wine 2016
Fourth of July wine 2015
Wine of the week: Mont Gravet Carignan 2016

Barefoot wine review 2017

Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend, Barefoot Bubbly

Barefoot wine review 2018Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend shows Big Wine at its best, while Barefoot Bubbly does just the opposite

Nothing changed with the Barefoot wine review 2018 from the 2017 version. The brand remains maddeningly inconsistent — no guarantee that its products will taste the same from year to year. This is a huge problem, since Barefoot is non-vintage wine and there aren’t supposed to be vintage differences. But E&J Gallo makes so much of it (almost 20 million cases, more than the production of almost every winery in the U.S.) that quality control, apparently, is not what it should be.

The good news first: The Rich Red Blend ($5, purchased, 13%) is a quality sweet red wine that tastes exactly like the back label says it does. In fact, there’s a chart on the back label, modeled after the International Riesling Foundation effort, saying just how sweet the wine is. It’s a welcome development given how many sweet red wines are on the market that pretend not to be sweet.

The Rich Red blend is not as sweet as the Cupcake Red Velvet — closer to the Bogle Essential Red. Look for the cherry, chocolate, and vanilla flavors that are the hallmark of these wines, but also notice the tannins. Yes, tannins in a sweet wine, in an attempt at balance. And it mostly works. And yes, there is a tremendous amount of winemaking going on to get that not especially wine-like combination of flavors. But no one pretends Barefoot makes terroir-driven wines.

The less said about the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee ($8, purchased, 10.5%), the better. When it’s right, it’s an enjoyable bottle of cheap sparking wine that’s easy to recommend. When it’s wrong, as it was this time, about the only thing you can do is pour it down the drain. My experience: It’s  50-50 whether the wine will be drinkable. This time, the Barefoot Bubbly was flat, and barely popped when I took the cork off. Was this a winemaking problem? Was this a supply chain problem —  stored in a hot distributor warehouse after sitting in a hot truck after sitting in a hot supplier warehouse? Either way, it was a waste of $8 that I could have spent on a Spanish cava.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015

Mini-reviews 110: Aldi wine, Bota Box, Chammisal, Jean Bousquet

chardonnayReviews 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. This month, four critically-challenged chardonnays

Broken Clouds Chardonnay 2016 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): I desperately wanted to like this Aldi private label white from California, But it’s a “least common denominator” wine – made to appeal to the most people possible without regard for quality. It’s the same price as Bogle or McManis, but not nearly as well made thanks to the cloying vanilla fake oak and the hint of sweetness. One more example of how Aldi and Lidl aren’t doing in the U.S. what they do in Europe.

Bota Box Chardonnay NV ($15/3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California white, about $4 a bottle, is, sadly, is what everyone thinks boxed wine tastes like. There’s a little chardonnay character, but it’s bitter and tannic thanks to what seems to be the poor quality grapes used to get the price so low. Plus, it tastes like the stems and seeds were crushed with the grapes, which would be the cause of the off-putting flavors.

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($16, sample, 13.5%): This California white is heavy, somehow hot, and oaky though it’s not supposed to have oak. Plus, it’s very warm climate – tropical fruit instead of crisper green apple. In other words, almost everything I don’t like in California chardonnay. Having said that, if that’s your style, enjoy.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Chardonnay 2018 ($12, sample, 13.5): This Argentine white is grocery store chardonnay that would be OK at $8 or $9, but is overpriced here. Plus, it’s not especially crisp the way an unoaked, cool climate chardonnay should be. It just sort of sits in the glass and you don’t really care whether you finish it or not.

vinho verde review 2017

Wine of the week: Vinho verde 2018

vinho verde 2018Vinho verde 2018: Drink the Broadbent, but pass the rest unless you want sugar and cheap fizz

The Wine Curmudgeon has been a long-time supporter of vinho verde, the Portuguese white wine with a greenish tint. It’s cheap and ideal for hot weather: A slightly sweet lemon lime flavor, low alcohol, and a little fizz. So imagine my disappointment when five of the six wines I tasted for the vinho verde 2018 review were almost uniformly awful.

I was warned, though. When I bought the wines, the saleswoman told me the producers had softened them — winespeak for removing the acidity and adding sweetness. And, boy, was she correct. The wines weren’t quite in white zinfandel territory, but they’re getting there. Call this one more victory for focus-group produced wine, which assumes U.S. wine drinkers don’t like anything but sugar.

Our vinho verde primer is here. Most of the cheaper wines, like Famega, Casal Garcia, and Gazela, are made by the same couple of companies but sold under different names to different retailers. These vinho verde 2018 suggestions will get you started:

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV ($7.50, purchased, 9%): Just about the only vinho verde that tasted like wine — a tinge of sweetness instead of a mouth full of sugar, plus acidity to balance the sweetness. It also had a full mouth feel and some structure, while the fizziness was pleasantly in the background.

Gazela Vinho Verde NV ($5, purchased, 9%): Tasted like 7-Up mixed with grain alcohol, but with too much sugar and not enough alcohol.

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde NV ($5, purchased, 9.5%): Noticeably sweet, but other than that, sort of what vinho verde is supposed to taste like. Other than the Broadbent, the best of a bad lot. For what that’s worth.

Famega Vinho Verde 2017 ($6.50, purchased, 10.5%): Not quite as sweet as the Gazela, but sweet enough. Otherwise, mostly vinho verde.

Aveleda Vinho Verde 2017 ($6.50, purchased, 9.5%): Almost smelled like a rotten egg, which usually comes from too much sulfur to the wine. This is a wine flaw, not common much these days, and shouldn’t have happened here.

Gazela Vinho Verde Rose NV ($4.50, purchased, 9.5%) Sweet cherry-flavored Alka-Seltzer.

For more about vinho verde:
Vinho verde review 2017
Vinho verde review 2016
Vinho verde review 2015

Follow-up: Just because it’s a cheap wine doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking

cheap wime

“What do I care if it’s any good? It’s cheap.”

Wine drinkers of the world unite: We have nothing to lose but crappy cheap wine

Ordinarily, a rant like last week’s Two-buck Chuck rose and cheap wine post makes a brief impression in the cyber-ether, and then it fades away. But not this time.

The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who thinks we’re getting played by the wine business. You do, too, given the comments and emails I got after the post ran.

Wrote one reader: “Thank you, WC, for some sanity on this ‘cheap wine is good’ chatter. Someone gave me the Two-buck Chuck sauvignon blanc. It was undrinkable – pungent, flabby and almost no SB flavor, so it may be worse than the rose.” And another: “I tried it just to test. Virtually tasteless.”

In this, those of us who want quality for our $10 are caught between a rock and a hard place. Premiumization has forced up the price of quite ordinary wine, so that we’re paying $15 and $18 for a product worth $10 or $12. But when we trade down to look for value, because who wants to spend $18 for alcoholic grape juice, what happens? We end up with foolishness like the Two-buck Chuck rose.

That happens every time I do the $3 wine post, when I drink five $3 wines with dinner for a week. Most of the wines are made with little concern for varietal correctness, and it’s rare when a chardonnay tastes like a chardonnay. Mostly, they’re made to cost $3, and if that means sub-par grapes, a grimy sweetness, less than ideal winemaking, and a poor quality product, so be it.

That’s why I’m here

But we buy it and hope for the best. Partly that’s because we’ve been taught that the only good wine is expensive, and we don’t want to believe that. Why, after all, am I here?

But it’s also because we believe that Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or whomever won’t sell us a crummy product. We trust them in a way we don’t trust the phone and cable companies, and quality retailers spend millions of dollars to earn and keep our trust. And, for the most part, they do a fine job. Whole Foods may have its problems, but when I buy an organic tomato, I have no doubt that’s what it is.

So where does crummy cheap wine fit in? Because if a retailer sold chicken or piece of beef that tasted like these wines, someone would call the health inspector. It’s because it’s wine, and they can get away with it. If I buy bad beef, it’s easy to tell it’s bad. If I buy bad wine, how do I know? The store won’t tell us (and try to return a bottle that’s gone off – can’t be done). The critics won’t tell us, because they don’t review those wines. So we’re stuck assuming that it’s supposed to taste the way it does. And if we don’t like it, then we’ve been taught that we aren’t smart enough about wine to know the difference between good and bad.

Talk about a rigged game. It’s not so much we can’t find the bean under the shell; there isn’t even a bean for us to find.