The McManis viognier is $10 Hall of Fame quality – a reminder that California can produce great cheap wine
California viognier is infamous for being heavy, overoaked, and too alcoholic, lacking grace and subtlety. So how does the McManis viognier taste completely different – and for just $10?
Because the McManis family still cares about making great cheap wine. Others may have gone over to the dark side, but the McManis viognier ($10, purchased, 13.5%) remains a symbol of what California once was – quality wine at a fair price.
The 2016 viognier remains fresh and interesting, with ripe, juicy apricot fruit, an almost oily mouth feel, and a stone fruit pit finish. In this, it’s classic New World viognier, a little less overwhelming than its French cousins from the Rhone, but still heavy enough that it’s a food wine.
I drank it with a cornbread tamale pie made with chicken and tomatillo sauce, and I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. It would also work with roast chicken (and add some dried apricots) or any post-modern salad with fresh stone fruit.
Highly recommended, and the year’s first candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year. The 2017 is the current vintage, but there is plenty of 2016 on store shelves.
Our Daily Red is an enjoyable $10 California red blend
The wine world may be convinced that the only way to sell dry red wine is to sweeten it, but that’s not a problem for the company that makes Our Daily Red, a California red blend.
In fact, Our Daily Red ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is so dry it’s almost old-fashioned – tart, rustic, and fruity, the kind of red wine that was common until improved winemaking technology made it possible to fix those “flaws” with a nod and wink. Plus, the blend includes the legendary ruby caberent grape, once common in California wine but today mostly interesting only to wine geeks.
In this, Our Daily Red will make some people shake their head and wonder at its inclusion as a wine of the week. But understand that it’s not a cocktail, but a food wine – red sauce, pizza, cheeses, sausages and any combination thereof. Look for lots of dark red fruit and just enough tannins peeking through the tartness.
One other note: The producer says it doesn’t add sulfites to its wine; take that as you will. It’s a surprisingly acidic wine if that’s the case, though I have a feeling unripe grapes are used to make up the difference.
The Line 39 sauvingon blanc is a $10 California grocery store white that has remained dependable for years
If more grocery store wine tasted like the Line 39 sauvignon blanc, the Wine Curmudgeon wouldn’t get nearly as many emails and comments from blog visitors bemoaning availability.
This vintage of the Line 39 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a little more disjointed than previous efforts; that is, all of the parts don’t fit together as neastly as they have in the past, and the wine has some rough edges. Having said that, it is still California-style sauvingon blanc – a little grassy aroma, some citrus fruit (lime, perhaps, but not grapefruit), and a clean and refreshing finish.
In our California sauvignon blanc hierarchy, the Line 39 fits below Ryder and Wente – not quite as layered as either of those, but that’s OK since it’s a couple of dollars less. If it’s not quite up to the $10 Hall of Fame quality of past vintages, it’s still a fine value.
This is wine for roast chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, as well as something to drink when you get home from work and feel like a glass to soothe the rigors off the day.
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. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not
• Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.
• Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%): Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.
• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America
• Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.
The Justin cabernet sauvignon shows off Paso Robles’ terroir in an enjoyable and value-oriented approach
The Justin cabernet sauvignon is so approachable and so well put together that I had to look twice at the label. Could this really be a red wine from the Paso Robles region of California, which is best known for ripe, almost over the top efforts?
It is, and is yet another label from Justin that shows off the wine and not the winemaker. In this, the Justin cabernet sauvignon ($27, sample, 14%) does something I wish more high-end California producers did: Make wine and not points. This vintage shows it’s possible to to combine Paso Robles’ rich, full style with wine that most of us will enjoy drinking.
Call the Justin cabernet sauvignon a surprisingly well mannered Paso Robles cabernet. That means structure, with aromas of cedar, mint, and green herbs, and flavors of rich black fruit. The tannins are soft, but they’re there, so they balance all that fruit. Perhaps most surprising? That the wine is still quite young, and will get deeper and more complex as it ages. It’s amazing how interesting a wine can be when the producer takes the terroir into account.
Highly recommended, and a value at this price. And yes, it’s even a Thanksgiving wine, and especially if the alternative is a sweet, insipid, 14.5 percent pinot noir that costs $35.
The Chateau Montelena chardonnay remains classic California white wine
The Big Guy and I were drinking pricey California chardonnay, which is probably worth a blog post all by itself given our devotion to white Burgundy. The point here, though, is that the wines we tasted, which included the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, reminded us that California producers can make some of the best wine in the world.
The Chateau Montelena chardonnay ($48, purchased, 13.5%) remains the kind of California wine that helped earn the world’s attention at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. It’s elegant and balanced, without the too much of one thing or another that makes me crazy when I taste high-end California chardonnay. Yes, some of my colleagues may consider this a fuddy-duddy approach to winemaking, but it’s their problem if they can’t appreciate grace and virtuosity.
What makes the Chateau Montelena chardonnay so classic? Taste this – even just one sip – and you can tell it’s Napa Valley chardonnay. That means more fruit (a lovely, barely ripe green apple) and an undercurrent of minerality, as well as layers of structure. The oak is decidedly New World, but it isn’t over the top and will integrate into the wine over the next several years.
Highly recommended. This is a delicious wine that will only get better over the next five years and could last even longer.
The Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc reminds us that California can still offer delicious cheap wine that offers quality and value
Regular visitors here know how despondent the Wine Curmudgeon has been the past three or four months, what with rising wine prices, decreasing wine quality, and an increasing amount of foolishness from the wine business. And then, from out of nowhere, the Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc arrived.
Ryder Estate is made by one of the oldest producers in Monterey County, but I’d never heard of it until the samples arrived. That was my loss. The wines were mostly enjoyable and fairly priced, and the chardonnay and rose were especially well made. The Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) was even better, almost certain to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and a candidate for the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year.
This is California wine at its best, and something we don’t see much these days. It offers quality and value, as well as professional winemaking to make those happen. It’s true California sauvignon blanc, and not tarted up with sweet grape juice, flavored with fake oak, or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc knockoff. It’s varietally correct and delicious – fresh, grassy, stony, a bit of citrus and a hint of tropical fruit, and much more balanced than I expected or that we usually see in sauvignon blanc at this price.
Chill this and drink it on its own on a warm summer evening, or pair with grilled chicken or shrimp marinated in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. And then you can worry a little less about the future of the wine business.