Vinho verde, the Portuguese white wine, is almost, in the right light, green. It’s often spritzy and can even be sweet. But it is cheap, usually $8 or less, and it somehow always tastes better than it should. So don’t discount vinho verde — and especially if it’s a long, hot summer with too many traffic jams and cranky bosses.
Our vinho verde primer is here and last year’s review is here. Keep in mind that several companies control the market, often selling the same wine under different labels. My retailer, in fact, had four vinho verdes this year, including one for $12, but all four were made by just two producers.
I bought the Caves de Cerca Famega ($7, purchased), which was one of the best-made vinho verdes I’ve had in years. It wasn’t as soft drink fizzy as so many others, and it had more fruit (lime?) and less sweetness. Don’t worry, though, because it’s still light and sweetish, with just 10 percent alcohol. It’s just not as cloying as vinho verde can be.
This is wine for people who want a glass when they get home from work but don’t want to consult their wine oracle about what to drink. Which, actually, is something we should all do more often.
This wine is why the Wine Curmudgeon loves his job.
It was a sample, and the only the only thing I knew about it was that it cost $9 and came from Patagonia, which is the Argentine wine region that isn't Mendoza. I had no expectations; Patagonian wines aren't common, and the guy who gave me the sample knew nothing else about the wine. Plus the winery web site didn't work, and there were few references to the wine elsewhere in the cyber-ether.
And what did I find? Wine of the Week delight. Hall of Fame bliss. This may be the best $10 red I've tasted since the demise of the much beloved Solaz. The Picada is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, and pinot noir (yes, Argentine pinot) and the result is balance between acid, fruit and tannin in a way that almost never happens with wine at this price. Yes, it's fruity, but the fruit isn't sweetish or heavy, like most $10 Mendoza wines. Which is the reason I don't drink most $10 malbecs and malbec blends.
Yes, the Picada is a little thin in the middle, but that's because I'm looking for something to complain about. And, believe it or not, there is a white blend that was almost as tasty, and a malbec that was somewhere between the white and the red blends. Drink this if you want a glass of red wine but don't want to be overwhelmed by fruit, acid, alcohol or tannims; it will pair with almost any red wine kind of food. Highly recommended.
The Wine Curmudgeon has long enjoyed the Yellow + Blue wines, which come in a 1-liter box (one-third more than a bottle) and offer tremendous value. So why haven't I written about the wines in almost two years? Blame it on the vagaries of the three-tier system, which has made the wines very difficult to find in Dallas (and I don't write about wines that I can't find here).
Since this post is about the wine and not the three-tier system, we'll skip the rant on the latter. Just know that the sauvignon blanc ($12, purchased) was well worth searching for. It's Chilean sauvignon blanc the way the Chileans used to make it, before they decided to raise prices and knock off New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Look for more lime than grapefruit, with a long mineral finish. This is a very well done wine, especially for the price, and an example of what Y+B can do — assuming it can find a way to get into stores. I drank this with a Cornish hen that had been split, marinated with olive oil and lemon juice, and broiled, and it was an excellent match.
One other thing: Matt Cain, who runs Y + B, would fuss if I did not mention that this wine is made with organic grapes and that the box is a Tetra Pak, which produces a significantly smaller carbon footprint than a wine bottle. Which are good things, of course, but wouldn't make much difference if Cain's company made lousy wine. Which it doesn't.
This is yet another wine that the recession has turned into a tremendous value. When the Wine Curmudgeon first came across the Pillar Box, it was about as hot as a cheap wine could be — an Australian shiraz blend that Robert Parker loved. And retailers weren’t hesitating to charge a couple of bucks more for it than the suggested $12.
Two years later, some retailers are still selling the 2007 vintage that I tasted then (check out the comments on the first link in this post). And the current vintage, the 2008, hasn’t been replaced by a 2009 or even a 2010, which should have happened in the normal course of events. But the recession, as well as the near-collapse of the Australian wine business, means there has not been a normal course of events for the past three years.
The Pillar Box ($10, purchased) remains an excellent value; especially since it cost $2 less than it did two years ago. And I bought it at a Dallas retailer notorious for higher prices — who knows what a discounter in another part of the country might sell it for? Look for the classic shiraz bacon fat aroma and lots of rich red fruit. But this wine’s flavors are balanced; it’s not over the top or too simple in the way it shows its fruit, and there is some heft at the back to balance the fruit. The extra bottle age has helped, too. This is another great Fourth of July wine — think smoked brisket or chicken.
The Wine Curmudgeon read one of those expert prognostications last week, reassuring the wine business that all would be soon be well with the world again. Which, for the wine business, means that consumers will stop buying cheap wine, the world oversupply of grapes will go away, and prices will go up.
To which I offer the House White ($10, purchased) as the wine of the week, from the always reliable Magnificent Wine Company. Note that it was $10, a couple of bucks less than its suggested retail price. Note, too, that it was a 2008 vintage, even though there is a 2009 vintage available. Why does that happen? Because there is so much 2008 left that my local retailer (another many others) isn't stocking the 2009. Yes, the wine business may be improving, but there is still such a glut of wine in warehouses and on shelves that we won't see pre-recession pricing for a very, very long time.
Despite its age — and $10 white wines don't often last this long — the House White is sturdy and worthwhile. It's a blend of mostly chardonnay from Washington state, so look for a lot of stoniness. Though there isn't a lot of fruit left (maybe a little peach), that's not a problem. There are no off flavors, either, something to watch out for in older cheap wines. Drink this chilled for almost any summer white wine opportunity.
A regular visitor to the blog suggested the Wine Curmudgeon try this Spanish red, so I bought it and brought it home. It was only then that I noticed the alcohol level: 15 percent. Gulp.
But, because I firmly believe in tasting a wine before I judge it, I did just that. And I can report that the Evodia ($10, purchased) handles the high alcohol well. Save for touch of alcohol-inspired heat at the front, that 15 percent wasn’t an issue.
Having said that, the Evodia is not a subtle wine, and it does need food like beef, barbecue or something with enough fat to offset its oomph. It’s not a summer porch sipper by any stretch of the imagination; this is a New World-style garnacha with lots of sweet fruit (blackberries and cherries?). It doesn’t have much more than that, but what’s there is excellent, and it’s a candidate for the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Wine Curmudgeon needed two wines to go with the paella he was making (and which didn't turn out well at all, a story for another time). I knew which red I wanted, and which will show up here as a wine of the week one of these days. I wasn't sure about the white; all I knew was that I wanted something that I had not tried before and that it should cost $10.
Which is how the Paso ($10, purchased) ended up in my shopping cart. I didn't know the producer, Bodegas Volver, but I knew the importer, Jorge Ordonez, who was one of the first to being quality Spanish wine to the U.S. The price was right, and the Paso was made with verdejo, which makes seafood-friendly wines that are usually more expensive.
Call it wine-buying roulette, and yet another example of why wine is so much fun. I took a chance and won. The Paso was everything I hoped it would be and a little more — fresh and lively with lots of citrus-style acid and stone fruit flavors. It wasn't as complex as a pricier verdejo, but it wasn't supposed to be.
This is exactly the kind of wine that I wish more California producers appreciated: Well-priced and well-made, and just the thing to drink with dinner when you want wine but don't want to spend a lot of money or endure wine-pairing hell.