This is yet another wine that the recession has turned into a tremendous value. When the Wine Curmudgeon first came across the Pillar Box, it was about as hot as a cheap wine could be — an Australian shiraz blend that Robert Parker loved. And retailers weren’t hesitating to charge a couple of bucks more for it than the suggested $12.
Two years later, some retailers are still selling the 2007 vintage that I tasted then (check out the comments on the first link in this post). And the current vintage, the 2008, hasn’t been replaced by a 2009 or even a 2010, which should have happened in the normal course of events. But the recession, as well as the near-collapse of the Australian wine business, means there has not been a normal course of events for the past three years.
The Pillar Box ($10, purchased) remains an excellent value; especially since it cost $2 less than it did two years ago. And I bought it at a Dallas retailer notorious for higher prices — who knows what a discounter in another part of the country might sell it for? Look for the classic shiraz bacon fat aroma and lots of rich red fruit. But this wine’s flavors are balanced; it’s not over the top or too simple in the way it shows its fruit, and there is some heft at the back to balance the fruit. The extra bottle age has helped, too. This is another great Fourth of July wine — think smoked brisket or chicken.
The Wine Curmudgeon read one of those expert prognostications last week, reassuring the wine business that all would be soon be well with the world again. Which, for the wine business, means that consumers will stop buying cheap wine, the world oversupply of grapes will go away, and prices will go up.
To which I offer the House White ($10, purchased) as the wine of the week, from the always reliable Magnificent Wine Company. Note that it was $10, a couple of bucks less than its suggested retail price. Note, too, that it was a 2008 vintage, even though there is a 2009 vintage available. Why does that happen? Because there is so much 2008 left that my local retailer (another many others) isn't stocking the 2009. Yes, the wine business may be improving, but there is still such a glut of wine in warehouses and on shelves that we won't see pre-recession pricing for a very, very long time.
Despite its age — and $10 white wines don't often last this long — the House White is sturdy and worthwhile. It's a blend of mostly chardonnay from Washington state, so look for a lot of stoniness. Though there isn't a lot of fruit left (maybe a little peach), that's not a problem. There are no off flavors, either, something to watch out for in older cheap wines. Drink this chilled for almost any summer white wine opportunity.
A regular visitor to the blog suggested the Wine Curmudgeon try this Spanish red, so I bought it and brought it home. It was only then that I noticed the alcohol level: 15 percent. Gulp.
But, because I firmly believe in tasting a wine before I judge it, I did just that. And I can report that the Evodia ($10, purchased) handles the high alcohol well. Save for touch of alcohol-inspired heat at the front, that 15 percent wasn’t an issue.
Having said that, the Evodia is not a subtle wine, and it does need food like beef, barbecue or something with enough fat to offset its oomph. It’s not a summer porch sipper by any stretch of the imagination; this is a New World-style garnacha with lots of sweet fruit (blackberries and cherries?). It doesn’t have much more than that, but what’s there is excellent, and it’s a candidate for the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Wine Curmudgeon needed two wines to go with the paella he was making (and which didn't turn out well at all, a story for another time). I knew which red I wanted, and which will show up here as a wine of the week one of these days. I wasn't sure about the white; all I knew was that I wanted something that I had not tried before and that it should cost $10.
Which is how the Paso ($10, purchased) ended up in my shopping cart. I didn't know the producer, Bodegas Volver, but I knew the importer, Jorge Ordonez, who was one of the first to being quality Spanish wine to the U.S. The price was right, and the Paso was made with verdejo, which makes seafood-friendly wines that are usually more expensive.
Call it wine-buying roulette, and yet another example of why wine is so much fun. I took a chance and won. The Paso was everything I hoped it would be and a little more — fresh and lively with lots of citrus-style acid and stone fruit flavors. It wasn't as complex as a pricier verdejo, but it wasn't supposed to be.
This is exactly the kind of wine that I wish more California producers appreciated: Well-priced and well-made, and just the thing to drink with dinner when you want wine but don't want to spend a lot of money or endure wine-pairing hell.
The Wine Curmudgeon appreciated this wine the first time he tasted it, in those long ago days of newspaper wine columns. It’s cheap, it’s consistent, and it comes from a producer that cares about the quality of its inexpensive wine. What’s not to like?
However, I have neglected to review the Toad Hollow ($10, purchased) in the blog’s three-plus years of existence (though it is an original member of the $10 Hall of Fame). So let’s remedy this now as we celebrate rose wine on the blog this week; my annual rose preview will run tomorrow.
Look for lots of strawberry and acid to complement the fruit, which has always been a Toad Hollow trademark. The wine seemed a bit sweeter this vintage than in the past couple, though that may have been because it had not been in the bottle long enough for all of its bits to come together (a wine geek would describe a young wine like that as a little shocky).
Update: I did a little checking, and the wine is noticeably sweeter than usual this year. That’s disappointing, because this has always been one of the great dry roses produced in the U.S. It probably won’t stay in the Hall of Fame.
As much as the Wine Curmudgeon appreciates this wine, both for how little it costs and its sentimental value, I don't do much with it on the blog. It's one of those wines that I seem to get around to only once in a couple of years.
However, people who visit the blog apparently want more. There was the request six weeks ago from a reader looking for the plastic bulls that come with the wine, and there has been a pretty significant increase in search requests from the cyber-ether this spring. So, the Wine Curmudgeon, vigilant as ever to the needs of his visitors, decided to review a bottle.
Which turned out to be a good idea. Save for a screwcap, the Sangre de Toro ($8, purchased) is much as it always has been, a rough and peasant-style red wine blend (garnacha and carinena — the Spanish versions of grenache and carignane).
Do not be put off by that description; it's a welcome development in a world where too much wine is bland and glossy and without character. There's some red fruit and lots of acid, which means this wine needs food — meat sauces, stews and similar dishes. I drank it with sausage gravy over rice, and I was surprised at how well it worked.
"For years friends and passing strangers have been asking me to recommend 'a good bottle of wine for under $10 (sometimes $5),' " says Taber. "I could usually come up with something, but that experience got me to thinking that there must be a lot of people out there with that same question."