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.
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.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.
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.
LeBron, there’s a Ralphs near the Staples Center — and it’s open until 2 a.m.
LeBron James received 16 very nice and expensive bottles for his birthday, but even the NBA’s ranking superstar should know a little about cheap wine
The wine world is all agog with your recent birthday present – 16 expensive and rare wines worth thousands of dollars. But I’m here to tell you, as someone who also has close ties to Cleveland (my dad went to college there), pro sports (I used to write about it), and wine that there is more to enjoying wine than all that pricey stuff.
Yes, each of those 16 bottles is wonderful, but even someone who makes as much money as you do needs to know what’s available at your neighborhood Ralphs. What happens if you want a glass or two when you get home from the Lakers’ game and don’t feel like like opening the Sassicaia?
Which is where I come in. Because who knows more about cheap wine that you can buy at the grocery store than I do? Dare I use the term GOAT?
So here are a few cheap wine supermarket suggestions to keep in mind when you’re just not in the mood for the Opus One. Most of these are in the $10 Hall of Fame, by the way.
• The Bieler Provencal rose, about $10. It was the blog’s 2018 Cheap Wine of the Year, and is always one of the best roses in the world regardless of price. Plus, winemaker Charles Bieler pushes for it to be sold in grocery stores.
• The McManis chardonnay, about $10. My pal Jay Bileti, a noted wine judge, can’t believe how well made this California white is; similar wines cost $18 or $20.
• The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon, about $15. Classic California cab – lots of ripe fruit and soft tannins – but not overdone like other, more expensive California reds.
• The Matua sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, each about $12. Who knew a Big Wine company could produce varietally correct and satisfying cheap wine like this?
• The Banfi Centine red, white, and rose, each about $10. Full disclosure: A good friend of mine is a big deal at Banfi, but these are so well done that I’d buy them even if he wasn’t. Which I do. Great with red sauce, by the way.
Let me know if you need any more cheap wine advice.
The 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.
8 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.
Château 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.