The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is $10 red wine that offers weeknight quality and value
There’s a style of French wine that has survived Robert Parker and premiumization and the decline of wine drinking in France. It’s a simple style, used for the every day kind of wines that still dominate European wine drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec is exactly that kind of wine.
That’s because it exists for one purpose – to drink with dinner, because everyone drinks wine with dinner. In this, the Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) excels; I brought it to dinner with the Big Guy at our local BYOB, and he was surprised that the wine did as much as it did for the price.
That means a rustic sort of quality – tart but accessible, with dark fruit (blackberry, black cherry?), an almost herbal quality, and just enough tannins to show it’s a red wine. This wine is from Cahors in southwestern France, where malbec is still quite common. But it’s important to note that Cahors malbecs bear little resemblance to most $10 Argentine malbecs, which are soft and fruity and rounded. This wine is angular, and you can almost taste the corners.
Hence, it’s red meat wine – I drank it with a roasted lamb shank and white beans, and it was spot on. But it’s also meatloaf and takeout chicken, the sort of thing for a middle of the week dinner. Because where where would we be without wines like that?
Our Dallas Aldi wine road trip finds some cheap wine gems among the rows and rows of Winking Owl
The good news: Our Aldi wine road trip was not the disaster that I feared. Alfonso Cevola, the Italian Wine Guy, had scouted four other Aldi locations in our part of Dallas, and assured me we could find things worth drinking. And he was right.
We found four during our five-store visit. That was impressive, given that Aldi here has consistently fallen short of its effort in Europe and the United Kingdom. There, its private label wines (labels sold only at Aldi) are cheap and critically praised.
The wines worth buying again:
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): The first bottle was flat, a worrisome trend I’ve experienced lately with sparkling wine costing as much as $20. But the second had the requisite character for a Spanish bubbly – tart lemon and green apple fruit and some minerality. A step up from other $7 cavas, especially since they’ve been dumbed down to taste like watery Prosecco.
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): This Spanish red made with tempranillo was this close to being a Hall of Fame wine. It has way too much oak for what it is; leave out the oak, and and the acidity isn’t pushed to the back and the wine is in balance. Very nice cherry fruit and even a little Spanish orange peel aroma.
• La Rue Cotes de Provence Rose 2017 ($7.50, purchased, 12%): This looks like legitimate Provencal rose (a watery pink), and it smells like one, too (tart berries). The catch is that it finishes a little sweet, and legitimate Provencal rose doesn’t do that. But that might have been me looking for a flaw. Otherwise, it’s mostly what it should be a fair price.
• Bergeron Estates Reserve Icewine 2016 ($12/375 ml, purchased, 10.5%): Quality Canadian icewine should cost three or four times this, and no one will confuse the Bergeron with Inniskillin. But it does taste like icewine – a luxurious honeyed sweetness – and it does taste like the vidal grape it is made with. It needs more acidity to balance the sweetness, but well worth buying again for those who like dessert wine.
I didn’t buy two wines that Alfonso thought would be OK, a German pinot gris and reisling labeled Landshut, which may have been made by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler, a top German producer. So I’ll try those next next – each was about $7. In addition, a Spanish garnacha, Vina de la Nieve from Catalonia ($6) looked worth tasting but wasn’t available for sale. It was on the shelf, but not in the system.
Having said that, there was still too much Aldi wine in the stores whose reason for being was that it cost $3. And too many of the $10 wines were advertised with 88-point shelf talkers, which is about as helpful as writing a blog post longhand and using magic to put it on the Internet. And there was an amazing lack of continuity between stores, where one store would have one wine, another wouldn’t, and third would have something else.
Still, as Alfonso kept reminding me, “Small steps, Jeff, small steps. Aldi is heading in the right direction.” Which I fervently hope.
The Fantini trebbiano is an $8 Italian white wine that’s perfect for keeping around the house
The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a white wine to keep around the house for a couple of years, since the new owner of the company that makes the Rene Babier white turned it into Spanish lemonade and the legendary Domaine du Tariquet lost its U.S. importer. The Fantini trebbiano may do the trick
The Fantini trebbiano ($8, purchased, $12) is an Italian white wine from the Abruzzi region in the east on the Adriatic coast. It’s made with trebbiano, the Italain version of ugni blanc, which is one of the grapes used in the Tariquet. As such, it produces a tart (lemon-lime-ish?) wine, and one that is clean, simple, and enjoyable. What more can you ask for at this price?
In this, the Fantini trebbiano is the white version of the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines that also offer varietal character at a fair price. These are basic, every day wines, the kind you drink when you want a glass when you get home from work or need something with takeout pizza or weeknight hamburgers. This is a very European approach to wine, where we don’t plan the meal so that it complements the wine, but we drink the wine because we’re eating dinner and glass of wine sounds good.
The $10 Castillo del Baron Monastrell is so well made and so enjoyable that the WC went back to the store and bought a case
The Wine Curmudgeon goes wine shopping once or twice a week, usually hitting two or three stores in the Dallas area. I’ll look for stuff I haven’t seen before, and buy lots of single bottles. That way, even with the losers (because there are always losers), I usually have something to use as the wine of the week. Which is how I discovered the Castillo del Baron monastrell.
Why did I buy it, having never tasted it? First, it’s a Spanish red, so quality should be good because we can trust Spanish reds. Second, it’s from the Yecla region in Murcia on the country’s southeastern coast, and that you haven’t heard of either means the price should be more than fair. Third, it’s made with monastrell, the Spanish version of mourvedre, and red wines made with grapes that aren’t cabernet sauvignon usually offer value.
And my analysis was spot on. The Castillo del Barnn monastrell ($10, purchased, 14%) was so impressive that I went back a week later and bought a case. It’s an interesting and intriguing wine that shows off the region and the grape – a funky, herbal aroma; big but not heavy; just enough bright black fruit (black cherry?); and a pleasing acidity. Plus, the tannins don’t overwhelm the wine, which can happen with poorly made monastrell.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. It’s red meat wine (Spanish-style roasted lamb, perhaps?), but also something like chicken with paprika.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is entry level white wine that shows what a top-notch producer can do for $10
Michel-Schulumberger is a top-notch California producer that still makes entry-level wines – a wonderfully old-fashioned approach that has gone out of style thanks to premiumization and California real estate prices. I’ve praised the $15 red blend, and the Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is just as well done.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is varietally correct and well-made California sauvignon blanc. It doesn’t taste like it came from New Zealand or was tarted up with oak or sugar to get a higher score or to impress a focus group. It’s just what it should be for a wine at this price: Fresh and clean, with that tell-tale grassy aroma that earmarks California sauvignon blanc, some lime fruit in the middle, and a bit of minerality on the back.
How does the winery do it? This isn’t a $50 estate wine; rather, it’s a California appellation, where the grapes come from the less expensive parts of the state and the winery crafts something that’s worth buying and drinking for $10. Would that more producers still did this.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza
Pizza is as much a part of the Wine Curmudgeon’s being as wine and the Chicago Cubs. How could it be otherwise, growing up, going to college, and starting my career in the Chicago area?
But leave Chicago, and pizza becomes something to miss. In the three decades I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve had a handful of great pizzas (not including Louie’s, since Lou was from the Chicago area as well). Hence, I usually make my own, and the thin crust America’s Test Kitchen pizza works much better than I hoped.
This recipe, adapted from from ATK’s Christoper Kimball days (and no, we don’t want to go there) is about as close as you can get to top-notch professional pizza in a home oven. Yes, it’s thin crust, but that’s because it’s almost impossible to replicate authentic Chicago-style thick crust at home. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Plus, it takes just one rise by using Rapid Rise yeast; there is a minimal amount of kneading; and no special equipment is required other than a full-size sheet pan. In all, from taking the ingredients out of the cupboard to eating it, the process takes less than 90 minutes – or about as long as it takes pizza delivery on a rainy Friday night.
• Azul y Garanza Tempranillo 2017 ($10/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This vintage of the Spanish red is a little tighter and not as soft as previous vintages; so I enjoyed it more. But there is still lots of cherry fruit balanced by refreshing Spanish acidity, making it’s one of the great values in the world. Imported by Valkyrie Selections
• Three Thieves Rose 2017 ($8, purchased, 13%): Never doubt Charleis Bieler, rose maker extraordinaire who contributes to this pink when he isn’t making the Bieler Sabine or the Charles & Charles rose. It’s another terrific value, sitting somewhere between Bota Box and the Charles & Charles — not too heavy, a little tart strawberry fruit, and a clean finish.
The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is a French red blend that tastes like a French red blend, and not something smooth and soft
The Big Guy texted me the other day: “What’s with all these great cheap wines you’ve found lately?” His point? That I have spent much of the past two years wailing about the disappearance of great cheap wine. I’m not sure why we’ve been on such a winning streak, but the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is one more terrific $10 wine.
The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($10, purchased, 13%) is from the Languedoc in southern France, home to much cheap wine of indifferent quality and to not so cheap wine that tastes cheap. This red blend, though, is what the French have done so well for centuries: A professional, well-made vin ordinaire, the sort of quality wine for Tuesday night takeout that seems to be disappearing.
The blend – made with a little more syrah than grenache and carignan – offers rich, dark red fruit, some spice, a bit of that funky French aroma that I like, and well developed tannins and acidity. In this, the latter are quite impressive for a wine at this price.
Drink this with dinner — delivery pizza, burgers on the grill, and even fajitas or enchiladas and burritos.