This week’s wine news: Johnnie Walker scotch will use paper bottles, plus political tensions in Mendoza threaten Argentine wine, and get ready for “athletic beer”
• Paper bottles: Johnnie Walker scotch and its multi-national owner Diageo are doing something wine claims isn’t economical – paper bottles. Reuters reports that, starting early next year, the whisky will be available in containers made from wood pulp that meets food grade standards and is fully recyclable. In other words, we’re stuck with $7 wine in glass bottles with some kind of cork, but a $23 bottle of Johnnie Walker Red can come in a milk carton? In addition, paper bottles for Lipton tea and Pepsi are also expected to launch next year. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?
• Argentine wine woes? Argentina, which always seem to be on the brink of political turmoil, is facing threats of secession from Mendoza, its world famous wine region. The Financial Times reports that “Mendoexit” became a possibility after Argentina defaulted on its international debt for the ninth time and the central government blocked the $1.2bn Portezuelo del Viento dam, billed by local media as the “development project of the century.” So far, secession doesn’t seem likely – it’s technically illegal – but the political upset can’t make it easier for Argentine producers to do business.
• Is that like low-carb pizza? The Wine Curmudgeon offers the following, the beginning of a news release for Athletic Brewing, with a minimum of comment: “Lululemon, Spartan, Peloton, Kashi, Beyond Meat …brands not on the radar of American consumers 15 to 20 years ago. Fueling their rise to prominence — Americans’ increasing interest in living healthy, being mindful, getting active, and seeking balance. One of the last industries to understand and truly attack the trend is the beer industry, and one American craft brewer, Athletic Brewing, has changed that and unlocked an entirely new market in the $116 billion beer industry — the ‘athletic beer’ category.” Who knew non-alcoholic beer would help me achieve balance in my life?
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a mushroom ragu
The Wine Curmudgeon buys dried mushrooms, and then they sit on a back shelf, almost forgotten. So, when I found a package while rummaging through the pantry, I thought: Why not use them to make a mushroom ragu, a dish ideal for dinner at time when even ground beef is in short supply?
In fact, almost everything in this recipe can be substituted for what’s on hand. I like spinach noodles, but almost any noodle or spaghetti will work. Less expensive dried mushrooms will work just as well as pricey shitakes. Don’t have dried mushrooms? Then just use more fresh and substitute vegetable stock for the mushroom soaking liquid.
The other thing about this recipe? No tomatoes or tomato sauce. You can certainly add them if you want, but given how many of us are eating spaghetti with red sauce with regularity these days, a pasta recipe without tomatoes is likely most welcome.
• Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): I bought this Argentine blend of malbec and cabernet franc when the European wine tariff was wine’s biggest problem, but not because I wanted to drink it. Once again, don’t judge the wine until you taste it. There is sweet berry fruit (but the wine isn’t sweet), as well as some grit and body from the cabernet franc. Very well done for this style, and people who appreciate this approach will want to buy a case. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Badenhorst The Curator Red 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): Nicely done Rhone-style blend from South Africa, with rich dark fruit, soft tannins, and a pleasant mouth feel, There’s not a trace of the pinotage in the mostly shiraz mix, which is not easy to do. Imported by Broadbent Selections
• Cheap Chianti: This post, featuring five Chiantis costing $10 or less, speaks to pairing wine with food from the region. Each of them show why this is such a terrific idea.
Check out these six roses — cheap and delicious — for the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose celebration
There is lots and lots of quality rose out there at terrific prices as we continue the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose extravaganza with today’s post. But given the surreal way wine works these days, that’s both good news and bad.
Good because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, keeping prices down. Case in point: I got a California rose sample this month that cost $2 less this year, and it was the exact same wine the producer sent me last year. Yes, a price cut in the wine business – as hard as it is to believe.
Bad because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, much of it unsold from last year. That’s almost unprecedented for rose. But pink wine’s sales have slowed thanks to the general wine sales slowdown and the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. In this, many producers have delayed release of the 2019 until they sell out. Bota Box, whose 3-liter rose is one of the best values in the world, isn’t releasing its 2019 until August. And I haven’t seen the 2019 Angels & Cowboys rose, always well-done, though there is lots of 2018 on store shelves.
Complicating matters is the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine, which accounts for some of the best cheap rose in the world. It’s not so much that the tariff bumped up prices; in fact, I’m surprised so many producers didn’t increase prices more. Rather, importers cut their orders because they were unsure what they could sell given the general slowdown in wine. So there is still lots of great cheap Spanish and French rose, but there isn’t necessarily a lot from each producer.
Not to fear, though: The Wine Curmudgeon has found cheap, delicious, and honest roses (not sweet, not high in alcohol and not tannic). And don’t overlook the blog’s rose primer and the rose category (from the dropdown menu on the lower right), which lists 13 years of rose reviews.
Today, six standout roses – each highly recommended. Tomorrow, six more roses worth writing about:
• Bielet Pere et Fils Sabine Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 13%): This French pink is one of the world’s best roses every year, regardless of price. In this vintage, the cabernet sauvignon in the blend gives the wine a little more structure, depth, and body, plus a little darker flavor (blackberry instead of strawberry?). As it ages, the cabernet should go to the back and more red fruit will come to the front. Imported by Bieler et Fils
• Santa Julia Organica Rose 2019 ($6/375 ml can, sample, 13%): This is the same high-quality Zuccardi family rose that shows up under a variety of labels – this time, in a half-bottle sized can. Look for some not too ripe berry fruit, a bit of structure, and a fresh finish. Let it open up, and it’s even better in a glass. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• MontGras Rose 2019 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This Chilean pink made with zinfandel is quite fruity, with lots and lots of red berries. But it’s not sweet. Quite interesting, in fact, and perfect for anyone tired of the taut, crisp, Provencal style. Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners
• Banfi Centine Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 13%): Banfi’s Italian Centine line offers some of the best cheap wine in the world today, and the rose is no exception. It tastes Italian, with a well-done crispness and soft cherry fruit. A touch short on the finish, but that’s not a problem. Imported by Banfi Vintners
• Mont Gravet Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12%): This French label is all a $10 rose should be — a little bit of not quite ripe berry fruit, crisp, clean and fresh. It’s not fancy or flashy; rather, it’s wine for people who care more about what’s in the bottle than the marketing campaign. (And the 2018 is still yummy, too – I’ve got six bottles in the wine closet). Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.
• Charles & Charles Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 11.4%): Winemakers Charles Bieler and Charles Smith combine on this Washington state rose, which shows up on this list every year. The 2019 is stunning – low alcohol, bone dry, with pleasingly crisp and tart strawberry fruit.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with an improved version of perhaps the most notorious of cheap food, ramen soup
Ramen soup is the supermarket plonk of the food world – cheap and almost nasty. But who cares when it costs as little as 20 cents a serving?
The Wine Curmudgeon cares, of course. Why denigrate your body when you can make ramen soup that tastes better and is still cheap – and actually offers nutrition?
The secret is vegetable stock, which is as simple to make as boiling water and adding vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, and whatever else is in the refrigerator) with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Let it cook for 20 minutes, strain, and you have practically free flavor for the soup – without the horrors of the ramen packet mix.
Putting together this soup is almost as simple as the store version. Again, there is no specific recipe other than using the best quality Asian noodles you can afford. So use what’s on hand — if there’s leftover chicken, put in the soup. If there’s leftover lettuce, put it in the soup. The key is to add ingredients you like, including a soft cooked egg (just like the pros).
Finally, a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Frankie Celenza, the host of a cooking show called “Struggle Meals,” who made the recipe I adapted. Celenza can be corny, silly, and over the top, but he is also passionate about food and cooking. He wants his viewers to enjoy cooking, to understand how much fun it can be, and to realize that they don’t need to spend money on pricey ingredients or fancy appliances to make cheap, delicious meals.
Sound like anyone else we know? Would that we could find someone like Celenza to explain the joy and wonder of wine to younger consumers.
• Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This Italian white is stunning, and especially for the price. It’s a beautiful, almost elegant wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended. Imported by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
• Innovacion Rose 2019 ($11/1-liter, purchased, 13.5%): This Argentine pink, sold at Whole Foods, is a long-time WC favorite. This vintage should develop a little more fruit as it ages, but is already enjoyable — clean, bright, minerally, and a hint of berries. Imported by Winesellers Ltd
• Bodegas Matilde Cava Totus Tuus NV ($14, sample, 11.5%): Well-made and competent Spanish sparkling that is much more California in style than cava. The fruit is more chardonnay-like apple and there is lots of caramel on the finish. Good for what it is, but not exactly cava. Imported by Peninsula Wines
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica is Argentine malbec that delivers much more than expected
What does one do when government feuding makes French and Spanish wine, normally the best values in the world, too expensive for the blog? Look toward Argentina and the Santa Julia Malbec Organica.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica ($10, sample, 13.5%) is almost everything most Argenine malbecs are not. That means it isn’t cloying, devoid of character, and amped up on sweet fruit at the expense of everything else. Which means a well-made, fruity (zippy berries?) wine, where the tannins are soft but serviceable. In all, a balanced, pleasant, and professional effort, and the kind we sorely need in these trying days.
But why not? Santa Julia is the organic label from Familia Zuccardi, a top Argentine producer that has appeared on the blog many times over the years. Its wines are almost always a solid choice when one is in a supermarket and confused about what to buy.
Serve this on its own if you want a glass of wine after work, or with everything from spaghetti and meatballs to takeout burgers.
Aldi’s Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5
May 22 update: The 2018 version of this is now in more stores, and it was disappointing. It’s much more commercial than the 2017 — soft, very ripe fruit, and missing the acidity of the 2017. It’s still worth $4, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as the 2017.
Is is possible? Has Aldi finally hit the private label jackpot with the $4 Evanta malbec? I think so.
The Evanta malbec ($4, purchased, 12.9%) comes as close to Aldi’s European wines for quality and value as any wine I’ve tasted that the chain sells in the U.S. It’s even on a par with the long gone and much lamented Vina Decana, which is probably the best value/quality wine the discount grocer has offered in this country.
The Evanta malbec is what supermarket private label should be — $10 or $12 worth of wine for $4 of $5. It offers better quality and more varietal character than many Argentine malbecs that cost $15 or $18, and there’s no chocolate cherry fake oak or too ripe fruit in an attempt to appeal to the so-called American palate. Instead, the Evanta has blueberry fruit, almost nuanced oak, and enough acidity so that you can tell it’s malbec and not fruit juice and vodka. Plus, it’s somehow fresh and not cloying, almost impossible to do with a wine at this price.
Highly recommended. This is the kind of wine to buy a case of and keep around the house. I’m going to do that, and I don’t much care for New World malbec. It’s that well made and that much of a value.
Reviews 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.
• Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($7, purchased, 12.4%): This is how dedicated the Wine Curmudgeon is – I still buy Aldi wine even though I haven’t tasted one worth recommending in years. This New Zealand white is another disappointment, no different than any $7 grocery store Kiwi Zealand sauvignon blanc — almost raw grapefruit flavor and nothing else.
• Muga Rosado 2017: ($15, purchased, 13.5%): One of the drawbacks to the rose boom – this Spanish pink increased in price by one-third. This vintage is much better than 2016, with clean and refreshing berry fruit and that wonderful rose mouth feel. But $15 – and as much as $18 elsewhere – is a lot of money to pay for $12 of quality. Imported by Fine Estates from Spain
• Zonin Dos Almas Brut NV ($12, sample, 12%): This Argentine bubbly is too soft and too sweet for brut. Plus, it’s decidedly dull, with simple structure and bubbles. There are dozens of sparkling wines in the world that cost less and taste better. Imported by Zonin USA