Tag Archives: inexpensive wine

Wine of the week: Marchesi di Barolo Maràia 2016

Marchesi di Barolo MaràiaThe Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality

One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.

Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.

Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)

But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.

Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

2019 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

$10 Hall of Fame 20198 wines entered the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but long-time standbys like Bogle and Segura Viudas dropped out

The Wine Curmudgeon never thought he would write these words: Three of my all-time favorites, wines I’ve been drinking for more than 20 years, weren’t good enough to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Bogle’s reds (excepting the pinot noir), plus the Segura Viudas and Cristalino cavas were a shell of what they have been; none were included in this year’s hall, the 13th annual. The former were noticeably and unpleasantly sweet, and not nearly as well made as Bogle’s sweet Essential Red. The cavas tasted more like Italian Proseccos than Spanish sparkling wine, soft and sweetish and devoid of cava’s crispness.

And that was just the beginning of the bad news:

• More than a dozen wines dropped out, including two other standbys: The Gascon white blends that have been in the hall for most of its history, and the Dry Creek fume blanc. The best Gascon, Domaine du Tariquet, lost its importer and isn’t for sale in the U.S. anymore, while the Dry Creek tasted bitter and harsh, something else I never thought I would write.

• Higher prices continued to wreak havoc. The Chateau Bonnett red, white and rose, which cost $6 in Europe, can cost three times that much in the U.S. I left the wines in the hall because I can still find them for $10 or $12 in Dallas, but this may be the last year I can include them. Because, frankly, they’re not worth $16 or $18.

• The decline in quality was marked. The venerable Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier, which was once Hall of Fame quality for $10, today costs as much as $16 or $17 and isn’t worth it, either — awkward, unbalanced, and touched up with residual sugar. Consistency has become a problem, too. A wine could taste the way it’s supposed to one time, and completely different the next. This points to shortcuts in winemaking, as well as use of less expensive and inferior grapes.

• Availability continues to get worse; witness the Tariquet. Meanwhile, distributor consolidation means wineries that produce 200,000 or 300,00 cases — once enough to rank among the biggest in the country — aren’t big enough to find a national distributor. Hence, they will only be sold in parts of the country. That almost happened to McManis, another Hall of Fame standby, in 2018.

I wrote last year “this may be the last Hall of Fame for a long while where this many wines are good enough to earn induction. The quality at $10, and even $15 or $18, isn’t there, sacrificed for ‘smoothness,’ the chance to upsell consumers to equally inferior wine, and a resurgence in cute labels and marketing trickery.”

I take no pleasure in being right.

The $10 Wine Hall of Fame 2019 is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $12 or $13 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

2019 Cheap Wine of the Year: Château La Gravière Blanc 2017

Château La Gravière BlancChâteau La Gravière Blanc, a French white blend, is the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year

It wasn’t easy, in the past year of drinking dangerously, to find a cheap wine to uphold the standards we’ve worked so hard to maintain over the past 11 years. Yes, there were plenty of $10 roses that were worthy, but cheap wine should be about more than rose. Fortunately, we have the Château La Gravière Blanc as the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year.

The Château La Gravière Blanc ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is a white French blend from the Bordeaux sub-region of Entre-Deux-Mers, which is mostly known for making truckloads of cheap wine that tastes like cheap wine. That’s the last thing the La Graviere is.

It combines traditional white Bordeaux style and terroir with modern winemaking; hence a delicious wine that is not simple or stupid. The wine features fresh lemon fruit as well as an almost California-style grassiness, but it also comes close to an old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. This used to be common in these kinds of wines, but it as rare these days as a Big Wine dry red that is actually dry. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t another New Zealand knockoff.

Drink this chilled, either on its own or with chef-style salads, roast chicken, or grilled shrimp. This is the kind of wine you buy one bottle of and then go back for a case. Which is I did.

Imported by Luneau USA

More Cheap Wine of the Year:
2018 Cheap Wine of the Year: Bieler Pere et Fils Rose 2016

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2016

Cellaro Luma GrilloForget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious

How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”

Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.

No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?

Note to wine business: How about all of us?

The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Mini-reviews 116: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

New Year's wineReviews 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.

2019 $10 Hall of Fame coming Jan. 4

2017 $10 Hall of FaneThe 2019 $10 Hall of Fame will appear on the blog on Jan. 4.

The 12th annual $10 Wine Hall of Fame will appear on Jan. 4. The  2019 Cheap Wine of the Year, the second annual, will post on Jan. 3.

Thanks to everyone who left comments and sent emails with wines to add to the 2019 Hall of Fame. I wanted to include several of them, but availability reared its ugly head. Almost all of your wines aren’t sold in most of the country. Case in point: I haven’t seen a current vintage of the Pacific Rim dry riesling in Dallas in years.

And it didn’t help that several wineries and distributors failed to respond to my queries about where to find their wines. That’s both disappointing but not surprising.

Finally, about half the suggestions were private label wines sold by just one retailer or with limited distribution on the west coast. Hence, they aren’t eligible. Complete eligibility rules are here. Also, don’t be upset if your favorite grocery store wine didn’t make the Hall. The wines I pick aren’t just easy to drink or easy to find; they’re the best of the best. That’s the point of the Hall, after all.

Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll

2018 cheap wine poll Bogle wins 2018 cheap wine poll, its fourth victory in five years; Columbia Crest finishes second for the second year in a row

And it wasn’t even close.

Bogle has won the 2018 cheap wine poll, the sixth annual. It was Bogle’s fourth title in five years, and it took almost half the votes. Washington state’s Columbia Crest was second with 18 percent, while Other was third, with dozens of wines and wine brands getting single votes, including many that cost more than $10.

Barefoot, the most popular wine on the blog and more or less the best-selling wine in the U.S., finished sixth. It had finished seventh each of the previous three years.  Finally, Two-buck Chuck, the Trader Joe’s private label, finished last once again — something it has done every year of the poll.

Frankly, given the quality of some of Bogle’s wines this year, its victory speaks more to the sad state of cheap wine than anything else. When even Bogle — a brand I have waxed poetic about for more than a decade — starts adding sugar to some of its dry red wines, we’re in big trouble.

This year’s results are below. You can find the results for 20172016, 2015, 2014,  and 2013 at the links.  I’ll probably retire the poll after this year unless the blog’s visitors clamor to do it again in 2019. It’s not so much that Bogle keeps winning; rather, it’s that cheap wine quality has sunk so far that it seems silly to ask people to reward poorly made wine.