Thanksgiving is the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday. When else do we get to get to share lots of wine and good food for no other reason than wine and good food? Plus, there is cooking, and it doesn’t get much better than the way a roasting turkey in the oven makes the house feel. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
These Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:
• Maison Albert Bichot Chablis 2016 ($20, purchased, 12.5%): This French white wine, made with chardonnay, gets surprisingly low marks on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Which is just one example of how useless scores are. This is delicious white Burgundy at a price I can’t imagine, crisp and lemony and minerally. Highly recommended. Imported by European Wine Imports
• Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink from the always dependable Georges Vigouroux uses malbec to its best advantage, with not too much dark fruit and a clean and fresh wine. It’s a nice change from everyone making Provencal-style roses. Imported by AP Wine Imports
• Azienda Vitivinicola Tonnino Nero d’Avola 2017 ($14, purchased, 13%): Interesting Sicilian red that more resembles Oregon pinot noir than it does Sicilian nero. It’s more brambly, like berries, than the usual plummy fruit. It’s less earthy, and the acidity is more noticeable. Imported Bacco Wine & Spirits/em>
• Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California sparkling that tastes like it’s supposed to at a fair value — creamy, yeasty, apple fruit, not too tart, and soft but persistent bubbles. In this, it’s a tremendous value.
Look out! They’re shelling us with premiumization and the wine tariff!
You keep a stiff upper lip, try to ignore the frustrations and complications, and soldier on – because quality cheap wine is worth it
How do you write about quality cheap wine when the wine industry and the federal government have gone out of their way to make quality cheap wine an anachronism?
Because, as we celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday, that’s the situation I find myself in. Premiumization and the 25 percent European wine tariff have made it all but impossible to find the kind of $10 and $12 wine that’s worth writing about. I feel like a character in one of those British Raj movies where the garrison is stranded in a fort on a remote hilltop and we’re being picked off one by one and we know the relief column isn’t going to arrive in time.
Yes, there is still plenty of cheap wine on store shelves, but just because a wine is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking.
The irony here is that I seriously considered ending the blog after this final birthday week post (with a Hall of Fame wrap-up in January). And if I had known about the wine tariff when I was pondering the blog’s fate this summer, it would have been that much easier to close it after 12 years.
Changing my mind
But two things happened to make me change my mind: First, and most practically, the site’s hosting company charged me for another year in August. So, if I closed the blog with this post, I would have been stuck paying for nine months of service I didn’t use. Second, four people whose opinions I admire and respect pointed out that if I didn’t keep doing this, who would? And that despite my frustration with the blog, there is and will be a need for it.
For the frustrations have been endless. These days, it’s not just about paying homage to our overlords at Google or dealing with out-of-touch producers and distributors and too many incompetent marketers. Or fending off the sponsored content and the fluff pieces that so many others in the wine writing business have turned to in an attempt to make money at something where there is little money to be made.
These days, it’s about making sense of a business that is divorced from reality. Which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m using a croquet mallet to comb my hair.
Am I missing something here? Aren’t declining sales a bad thing? Shouldn’t an industry do something to reverse the decline, instead of furthering it by raising prices?
But not, apparently, if it’s the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century. Because, of course, premiumization. I’ve probably written entirely too much about the subject, but mostly because I can’t believe anyone in wine still takes it seriously. Though, and this is welcome news, there are others who are beginning to question its validity. Damien Wilson, PhD, who chairs the wine business program at Sonoma State University, is blunt: Premiumization can be a path to ruin, since sales decline and higher prices scare off new wine drinkers.
The less said about the tariff the better. It’s as counterproductive as premiumization, and its adherents are blinded by politics to economic reality. That the tariff could forever wreak havoc on U.S. wine consumption is beyond their comprehension.
So let me shepherd my ammunition, keep my head low, and hope against hope that the relief column gets through. And keep a very stiff upper lip.
We celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday with the $10 Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir
This fall, wine guru Roberta Backlund recommended Chilean pinot noir, and those who listened to the podcast with Roberta probably heard the skepticism in my voice. Shows what I know: The Casillero del Diablo Reserva pinot noir shows Roberta may be on to something.
But this Chilean red is a pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir. Isn’t tarted up with residual sugar, overloaded with over-ripe fruit, or blended with a couple of other grapes to “smooth” out the wine. Instead, it’s almost earthy in the front, with soft tannins and a pinot-like, almost restrained, approach in winemaking. There is a lot of berry fruit, but it’s not overdone.
Highly recommended, and especially with the uncertainty about inexpensive French pinot noir given the 25 percent wine tariff. Pair this with any weeknight dinner or something like Italian takeout – and even enjoy a glass or two in the afternoon.
Zestos Blanco, a Spanish white, is the kind of great cheap wine everyone wishes they could make
Being cheap isn’t enough to make a great cheap wine. Otherwise, the $10 Hall of Fame would be little different from a list of the country’s best-selling $8 supermarket labels. That difference can be seen in the Zestos Blanco, which is both cheap and marvelous.
How marvelous? A friend of mine, who enjoys the wines I recommend but pays little attention otherwise, tasted it the other day and said: “I’ve had this before, haven’t I? I remember it, because it’s so well made compared to the rest of the stuff I buy at the grocery store. Which all mostly tastes the same.”
The Zestos Blanco ($10, purchased, 12%) is a Spanish white made with malvar, a grape found mostly in and around Madrid. It produces a crisp, almost lime-infused, tropical sort of wine that is bone dry and has surprising body (but isn’t tart). That combination makes it an especially wonderful food wine, be it Chinese takeout or something as complicated as roast salmon.
Highly recommended, and certain to return to the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame; also, a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.
Finally, a note about the importer, Ole & Obrigado. Patrick Mata, who runs Ole, is one of the smartest people I’ve met in the wine business. He is also one of the most stand-up: He returns phone calls and emails, answers questions honestly, and is unfailingly polite.
I mention this because his company, and everyone he employs, could suffer dramatically from the 25 percent European wine tariff. I’ve tried not to beat up on the tariff more than necessary on the blog, but it’s worth noting again the financial harm it could cause Ole and dozens of other small- and medium-sized importers. Trade policy is just not imperial pronouncements. It’s also the people we overlook when we’re making those imperial pronouncements.
The Cune Rioja, from Spain’s CVNE, is a tempranillo blend that will bring joy to anyone who loves quality cheap wine
CVNE’s Cune Rioja brings joy to my tired and worn out brain whenever I see it on the shelf. And these days, when the future of quality cheap wine is very much in doubt, that’s something to depend on.
The Cune Rioja ($11, purchased, 13.5%) is a Spanish red wine from the Rioja region, mostly made with tempranillo. CVNE is a large Spanish producer that has been around for 140 years, and its wines still taste as they should and still offer quality and value for less than $15. Crianza is the simplest of the Rioja wines, but still well made.
This vintage of the Cune Rioja is a little rounder and fuller than the 2014 – the cherry fruit isn’t quite as tart and the wine isn’t quite as earthy. But there is some baking spice and a hint of orange peel, Rijoa’s calling card. And it will pair with almost anything that isn’t in a cream sauce. As I wrote in my notes: “As it should be. One of the world’s great cheap wine values.” What more do we need these days?
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.
When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.
Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?
The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.
The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort
• Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! remains a classic Italian cheap white wine
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite cheap wines. So why have I reviewed it just three times in 12 years?
Availability, of course. What other reason could there be?
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of cheap wine that Europeans understand implicitly – you buy it, you drink it with dinner, and you enjoy it. No posturing about scores and no fretting about pairings.
So why isn’t it regularly available? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably has something to do with changes in its importer and distributor over the past decade.
But when the Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is available, it’s always a treat (even at $10, as opposed to $8 the last vintage). It’s a white blend made with trebbiano and malvasia, plus an even more rare grape called roscetto. The result is a tart, lemony wine, and some years it can be really tart. The 2017 is comparatively subtle – less tart, more balanced, and even a bit of minerality.
I don’t know that I enjoyed this vintage quite as much, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the wine. It remains as it has always been – enjoyable and well worth buying and drinking.