One of the biggest changes in the wine business over the past couple of decades or so has been in cheap wine. When I started doing this, cheap wine was mostly French, and we drank a lot of Beaujolais. Then, in the late ’90s, the Australians arrived, and we started drinking $10 shiraz with cute labels.
In the last 10 years or so, Chile (cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc) and Argentina (malbec) have become known for their cheap wine. Meanwhile, the French are stuck with warehouses of lousy cheap wine that they can’t sell, and the Australians have their own crisis — too many vines and not enough demand, with important producers on the cusp of bankruptcy. Which would seem to mean that the Chileans and Argentines will have cheap wine to themselves for the foreseeable future.
But that’s not necessarily true. Slowly — practically in stealth mode, in fact — Sicilian wine has arrived in the U.S., and it offers better value and better quality than almost any other cheap wine in the world. So why haven’t you heard about Sicilian wine? First, because it’s Italian, and the Italians may be the worst wine marketers in the world. Second, because the wines are made with grapes like nero d’avola and grillo, which most of us have never heard of. Third, most of the island’s grape production was traditionally used to make wine in other parts of Italy, and it’s only in the last couple of decades that the grapes were used to make wine for export.
But the wines are worth looking for, despite those obstacles. After the jump, a few suggestions about what’s available.
Today's metaphysical question: How does Ricccardo Cotarella produce a wine of this quality, ship it to the U.S., overcome the high euro, and sell it for about $10? Most California wineries who do cheap wine can't even come close to this.
In other words, Riccardo Cotarella is still a genius.The Wine Curmudgeon has been drinking Falesco wines for almost 10 years, and I have never been disappointed, whether it's the red, white or pink. This vintage of the white, the Bianco ($10, purchased), is made with verdicchio and vermentino. They have produced a wine low in alcohol with tell-tale Italian acid and just enough fruit to appeal to American palates. Think of it as tart with a touch of lime, but fresh and clean and pretty close to fabulous. Highly recommended, and certainly in the $10 Hall of Fame.
Chill this and drink it on its own, with salads, or most any kind of chicken. Fried chicken, in fact, would be quite a nice pairing.
The Wine Curmudgeon, who usually knows no fear when it comes to tasting wine, was a bit wary of the Geyser Peak. A decade ago, when I started writing about cheap wine, this was one of the first ones that impressed me. It was in the first couple of $10 Hall of Fames, and I've always had fond memories of it.
But, for a variety of reasons, I haven't tasted the Geyser Peak ($8, purchased) much over the past several years, and wasn't sure what to expect this time. I didn't want to be disappointed if the wine wasn't what I remembered it being, or if my palate had gone in one direction and the wine had gone in another.
Not to worry, though. The Geyser Peak was all that it ever was — solid, dependable, $10 wine that succeeds in being more than some wines that cost twice as much. It has lots of lime, a bit of a middle (not something many $10 wines have), and a long, lime pith finish. Chill and serve with salads, grilled shrimp, and roast chicken — almost any white meat dish, actually. A candidate to return to the $10 Hall of Fame.
One of the tenets of the Wine Curmudgeon's faith is that wine writing is not rocket science, and that anyone can write a wine review. Like this. Or this. This comes from regular visitor Karen Kimbrough, about the Portuguese Fado Ros 2009:
"A glass of Fado Ros 2009 from Portugal, about $10 a bottle, is refreshing and dry with no sharp edges, and soft with hints of berries."
Finding a quality $10 malbec is difficult; finding a quality $10 torrontes makes the malbec search seem easy. That's because torrontes, which is malbec's white grape counterpart in Argentina, is in short supply. The best torrontes grapes are used to make pricey wines, and even some of the least of the grapes end up in those pricey wines.
Fortunately, Argentine producer Fincas Ferrer has found a way around this problem. The Accordeon ($10, sample) is not only one of the best-made torrontes I've had, but it's a steal at this price. I tasted the wine at a lunch with winemaker Miquel Salarich and several other Dallas wine writers, and we took turns asking Salarich if this wine was really only $10. He just smiled and said yes.
Torrontes, when it is done well, should be floral and fruity. Sometimes, the wine is off-dry, with a hint of sweetness, but this is often used to mask the wine's faults. The Accordeon is bone dry, though still low in alcohol, and it has peach fruit and an almost riesling-like oiliness (which is a good thing) as well as a classic peach pit finish. It's just not a simple, fruity white wine; there's much more to it than that.
Drink this wine chilled on its own, or with any kind of spicy food. Highly recommended, and almost certain to show up in the 2011 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.
There is very little good news in the fifth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza, and the prospects for 2008 ?s lineup in January seem quite gloomy. Two wines dropped out this year, not able to maintain quality with their sub-$10 price. In addition, it was not a good year for new inexpensive wine, a development that doesn ?t bode well for the next 12 months.
Increasingly, wineries, producers and marketers seem to be spending their money on packaging and advertising instead of what ?s in the bottle. And as consolidation increases ? the legendary Bonny Doon was sold in 2006, and who knows what will happen to the quality of the wine? ? that ?s a trend that will only continue.
Still, there is some outstanding wine available, worthy of being included in the Cheap Wine Hall of Fame. Wine that qualifies costs $10 or less per bottle, is available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (which means no Two-buck Chuck or other regional brands), and passes a rigorous tasting process which includes my nagging people until they tell me what they think of it.
The 2007 results:
? New this year: the Jewel Collection, a fancy name for some really smart wine guys, who have figured out how to combine price and quality. Most of their 10 California wines are wonderful values, and the petite sirah is especially good.
? Dropping out: Zenato Pinot Grigio and Texas ?s Ste. Genevieve Chardonnay. The former, which used to offer a lively character, now tastes like too many inexpensive Italian pinot grigios. The latter had a 20 percent price increase in 2006, and doesn ?t provide anywhere near the same value.
? On watch for next year: Bonny Doon ?s Big House Red, White, Pink and Pacific Rim Riesling. Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm sold these brands as part of a reported $50 million deal. It ?s hard to fault his business acumen, but will the new owners have the same wine skills or interest in quality?
? Wine that could be included in 2008: Altano Douro, a $7 Portuguese red blend. A couple of tasters said to stop waffling and include it, but let ?s wait for this year ?s release first . Also, Beaulieu Vineyard Beauzeaux, a red blend that I expected to dislike on name alone, but which turned out to be quite nice; and Little Penguin merlot, which keeps surprising me with its quality.
? The honorable mention wines, or if they didn ?t cost $15, they ?d be in: The rose, brut and extra dry sparklers from New Mexico ?s Gruet Winery. Also, the $15 zinfandels and the Chateau La Paws red and white blends from California ?s Rosenblum Cellars.
? Inexpensive wines that a lot of people enjoy but that aren ?t in. Australia ?s Yellow Tail, which I have really tried to like; California ?s Rex Goliath, which seems too inconsistent to include; and Barefoot Wine, which falls into much the same category as Rex Goliath.