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
• Raeburn Rose 2019 ($13, sample, 13.5%): California pink with some tart raspberry fruit that is well made, but the longer it sits in the glass, the more you notice the lingering residual sugar and that it’s not quite dry rose.
• Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Didn’t notice the vintage when I bought this French red, and that is so tasty is amazing given its age. Still has a little dark fruit and some earth, and still eminently drinkable.
• Château de Montmirail “M” 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This red Rhone blend has some heft and black fruit, but isn’t overdone or too heavy. Availability may be limited, which is too bad since it’s close to a Hall of Fame wine. Imported by Kindred Vines
• Excelsior Chardonnay 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This South African white will not help the country get back into the U.S. market. It’s a Kendall Jackson chardonnay knockoff, complete with residual sugar. Imported by Cape Classics
The Vinum Cellars Pets is California petit sirah that delivers quality and value
Wine will surprise you, even when you’ve been doing it as long as the Wine Curmudgeon has. Sit and bemoan the lack of quality cheap California red wine and especially the lack of top-notch inexpensive petite sirah, and then you’ll taste two terrific petites – first, the McManis and now the Vinum Cellars Pets.
The Vinum Cellars Pets ($12, sample, 14.5%) was even more surprising than the McManis; the latter has long been one of the best cheap producers in the world. Vinum Cellars, on the other hand, has been annoyingly inconsistent – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not, and with no real reason for the difference.
But know that the Pets is well worth drinking. It’s petit sirah that tastes like petit sirah, so it’s not too jammy or too sweet (either the fruit or from residual sugar). It’s also not too hot, despite the high alcohol.
Instead, there is berry, almost plummy fruit, well-integrated oak, and soft tannins that aren’t too soft. In all, a $12 wine with structure and body, hardly what we’ve come to expect from this grape from this part of the world and certainly at this price.
The Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red is what we don’t see often enough – great, cheap California red wine
One of the blog’s great laments is the lack of quality cheap California wine. There’s lots of cheap wine, of course, but not much that most of us would want to drink. Because, as one of the blog’s regular visitors and a longtime California winemaker once told me, “we all decided we needed to become famous.”
Enter the Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red ($12, purchased, 13.9%). This red blend does what so many others don’t care to do – offer quality wine at a fair price that tastes like it comes from California. It’s a blend of syrah, petite sirah, tempranillo, and zinfandel, but remains balanced and interesting even though that grape combination can produce a six-megaton fruit bomb.
Look for some some sweet fruit (red berries?), but it’s not a sweet wine. There are soft tannins in the back, bracing the structure, just as they should, and there’s even a bit of acidity. In all of this, it’s not smooth, and that’s a good thing.
Highly recommended, and especially for anyone who likes this style of wine. And don’t be surprised to see it the Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red in the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
And, because I no longer understand how the wine business works, the 2012 vintage, which was also terrific, cost $14, $2 more than this one.
The McManis petit sirah ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a reminder of the early days of the blog, when petit sirah was used to make quality cheap wine – a little plummy, a bit rich, not especially tannic, and just enough acidity for balance. Today, it’s mostly used to make sweet, “smooth,” flaccid red blends that cost $15 or $16, because someone somewhere thinks that’s what younger consumers want.
The McManis is the exact opposite of that, one of the best petit sirahs I’ve had in years, regardless of price. There is sweet dark plum fruit, but this is not a sweet wine. Plus, subtle acidity and the correct tannins. In this, it’s a reminder that California used to give us some of the world’s best cheap wine. Drink this with everything from takeout pizza to fancy meatloaf, and it wouldn’t be so bad on its own after a hard day at work, either. And you could do a whole lot worse using the McManis as a gift for the holiday that must not be named later this week.
The Bonny Doon X-Block syrah is magnificent California red wine, combining the Old World with the New World
Those of us who love savory syrah – that is, where the wine is earthy and funky instead of being stuffed with sweet fruit, like the Australians do it – were especially sad when Boony Doon’s Randall Grahm sold his legendary winery at the beginning of the year. Grahm was famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for many things, but I don’t think he ever got enough credit for wines like the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah.
Grahm was able to combine an Old World approach to syrah with California’s riper and richer fruit. In this, the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah ($48, purchased, 13.5%) is an amazing wine – funky enough for those of us who want that, but fruity enough so as not to turn off people who think funky is a slang term 50 years out of date.
The X-Block is a step up from Grahm’s Le Pousseur syrah, which costs about half the price. But it’s more than worth the added expense: There’s the smoked meat, bacon-y aroma, a bit of pepper and spice, soft tannins, and full, rich black fruit. Open the wine about an hour before you drink it, and serve it with anything beefy or smoky or both. In addition, it’s still young and should age for at least a couple of more years.
Highly recommended, and just the gift for someone who likes savory syrah, what with the Holiday that Must not be Named coming up later this week. So long, Randall. It was a hell of a ride.
I could have sworn there was something interesting to drink in here.
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: Cleaning out the wine closet at the end of the year, but not finding much to drink
• Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($12, sample, 13%): The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region in Italy produces sound, value-driven red wines. This is not unpleasant, with some cherry fruit, but it is also a little green and rough, almost old-fashioned. There are better made examples of this kind of wine. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
• Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Premiumization run amuck — $8 or $9 worth of a California red (some cabernet tannins and black fruit) but that looks and smells like it went through intensive winemaking to goose up the price.
• Kin & Cascadia Pinot Noir 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): A pleasant, Oregon pinot noir that tastes like it came from Oregon (some brambly berry fruit, a hint of spice). But it costs $15 because that’s what entry level pinot noir costs these days.
• Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc CNW 2017 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This California white is exceptional, but I have no idea how much it costs — prices range from $10 to $17. It’s just not well-made and varietally correct chenin (crisp, with lime and tropical fruit, but it’s a wonderful food wine. If you can find it for $15 or less, buy several.
• Juvé y Camps Brut Rose NV ($18, sample, 12.5%): This pink Spanish sparkler is a perennial favorite — always professional and enjoyable. This version is more cava-like (even though it’s made from pinot noir), so more tart red fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Winebow
• Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy 2018 ($16, purchased, 14%): This California red from Randall Grahm isn’t as grenache-y as past vintages — so less jammy fruit and more spice. It’s different and interesting, and a fine food wine. Plus, probably still a touch young.