The Stags’ Leap chardonnay may be the best value among expensive wines I’ve tasted in years
This California white wine may be the best value for any domestic white wine costing more than $25 I’ve tasted in years. It’s certainly the best value in California chardonnay: It tastes like Napa Valley, where the grapes are from. It tastes like chardonnay, and not a tub of butter. And it’s only going to get better with age, truly amazing given its price.
Much of the credit for the quality for the Stag’s Leap chardonnay ($30, sample, 14.2%) goes to winemaker Christophe Paubert, whose approach is focused on the grapes, and not getting on the cover of the Wine Spectator. Hence, a wine that isn’t over oaked, isn’t hot, and isn’t stuffed full of winemaking tricks. “I’m not that kind of winemaker,” he said during lunch in Dallas last month.
Instead, Paubert worked with what the grapes gave him, and the result is a chardonnay that is fresh and bright, with crisp green apple fruit intertwined with a little lemon zest. It’s rich and full in the mouth, but not oaky and toasty, and it finishes with a certain sort of minerality one doesn’t taste much anymore in California chardonnay. Yes, there is oak, but it’s in the background, supporting everything else.
Highly recommended, and especially for Mother’s Day next month. This would pair especially well with something like crab and shrimp stuffed fish, or even a classic French dish like sole in a simple white wine sauce.
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 – two California and two French.
• Oak Ridge OZV Rose 2018 ($15, sample, 13.8%): This California pink, made with zinfandel, is a heavier, red wine-style rose, that needs food. Look for crisp, almost back fruit is crisp.
• Toad Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($17, sample, 13.9%): Major winemaking going on with this California red. Somehow, it’s sweet and tart at the same time, with nary a tannin in sight. One more example of focus group wine aimed at people who don’t drink wine.
• Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc 2017 ($18, purchased, 13%): This French white is chardonnay from the Beaujolais region, not something you see much on store shelves. It’s well made, with green apple fruit, some minerality, a touch of mouth feel, but that it costs $18 speaks to the dearth of quality chardonnay that tastes like chardonnay at less than this price. Imported by Kermit Lynch
• Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir 2015 ($17, purchased, 13%): French red made with cabernet franc from the Loire that is a little fruitier (black cherry?) than I expected, and not quite as earthy. But well made and enjoyable, and a food wine for barbecues and steak frites. Imported by Kermit Lynch
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 Le Cigare Volant shows screwcap wines can age with style and grace
Randall Grahm, the Boony Doon impresario who only uses screwcaps, has insisted for years that wine ages under screwcap. This remains heresy in the wine business, which has grudgingly allowed that screwcaps are OK for cheap wine, but not for fine wine that can cellar for years. Which means not enough of the wine business has tasted this vintage of the Le Cigare Volant.
The Le Cigare Volant ($45, sample, 14.5%) is the Bonny Doon flagship, a fine red wine made in Grahm’s trademark Rhone style. Hence, Old World style and attention to terroir, but New World sensibility and technique. That means subtle tannins and a clean finish, but earthiness and spice (cinnamon, in the way it can be almost chili hot) on the front. There is also a mix of red and fruit black fruit (raspberries and plums), plus an almost gaminess that you don’t expect from California wine. Despite the high alcohol (and very high for Grahm, who prides himself on restraint), the wine is neither hot nor overwhelming.
Grahm says screwcap wines age differently than cork wines, which is not bad – just different. That this wine is still so young but intriguing speaks to this; as it continues to age over the next 8 to 10 years, the Le Cigare Volant will become richer and more complex, and it’s complex already.
Highly recommended. Serve this with lamb or duck, and enjoy not just the wine, but how easy it is to open the bottle.
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.