The Matua sauvignon blanc is Big Wine at its best — varietally correct, cheap, and delicious
A blog reader told me that his Costco was selling the Matua sauvingon blanc for $7 a bottle. I told him to buy cases and cases.
That’s because the Matua sauvingon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is Big Wine at its best — a combination of best practices in mass market winemaking, economies of scale, and supply chain efficiencies. The result, from Treasury Wine Estates, is a wine that is simple but not stupid and tastes like it is supposed to — and which may be the best Big Wine product on the market.
The 2019 vintage, which seems to be current, is even a little more well done than past efforts — and those made the $10 Hall of Fame. Look for not too much New Zealand grapefruit, a noticeable if slight tropical middle, and a long, clean finish.
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, five rose reviews 2020 in honor of the blog’s 13th annual rose fest.
• Casillero del Diablo Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12.5%): Much improved over last year. Heavier than European rose, but not heavy like roses made to taste like red wine. Look for dark red fruit and almost spicy, and a fine supermarket purchase. Imported by Eagle Peak Estates
• Yalumba Y Series Rose 2019 ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Not off-dry, but very fruity (cherry) with a hint of residual sugar. Not unpleasant, but not the tart cherry and minerality of past vintages. In fact, there seems to be extra acidity at the back to offset the sweetness. Imported by Winebow
• Tiamo Rose NV ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%): Consistent canned pink from Italy that equivalent to half a bottle. Look for fresh berry aromas, some not too ripe strawberry fruit, and a long finish. Shows that canned wine can offer quality and value when someone cares. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Matua Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($10, sample, 13,5%): This New Zealnd rose, made by Treasury, may be one of the best Big Wine products in the world – bright, fresh, crisp and almost lemony. No word on when the 2019 will be available. Imported by TWE Imports
• Château de Nages Rosé ButiNages 2019 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Total Wine private label was much better than I expected – lighter, crisper, and zippier than most Rhone roses with tart strawberry fruit. Imported by Saranty Imports
The Villa Maria pinot noir is simple but structured — a fine value for pinot noir
There’s no reason why the Villa Maria pinot noir should be such a value and taste so much like pinot noir. It’s almost a Big Wine product, for one thing, and it’s almost impossible to find quality pinot noir at this price.
Nevertheless, that’s the case – a welcome relief in these days of sweet, focus grouped pinot. In fact, you can’t ask more from the Villa Maria ($14, purchased, 13%) at this price. It isn’t complex, but it is structured, with an almost Burgundian forest floor aroma, some herbs and tannins, and lots of bright berry fruit in the New Zealand pinot style. It’s especially impressive for an entry level product.
So how does this happen? For one thing, Villa Maria is still owned by the Fistonich family; its Big Wine deal is an import agreement with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and the latter is lot more hands off when it comes to telling its “partners” what to do. Second, I was lucky enough to meet Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich early in the blog’s history. He impressed me as someone who cared about the wine his company made in a way that too many others don’t.
Serve the Villa Maria pinot noir with the usual suspects, like lamb and salmon, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. It would make terrific coq a vin, both as the wine for the chicken and to drink with the dinner. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
So when I took my own advice and used Wine.com a couple of weeks ago, the Giesen sauvignon blanc ($11, purchased, 13%) was one of the first wines I ordered. And it was a fine choice.
The key to this New Zealand white is that it tastes like sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, but it’s much more than just a lot of grapefruit zinging up the glass. There’s a little gooseberry mixing with the white grapefruit, as well as fresh herbs and the bit of tropical fruit in the middle that the best Kiwi sauvignon blancs seem to have. Plus, look for lots of minerality on the long, clean, and fresh finish.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. Chill this, and drink it on its own as the weather warms, or pair it with grilled shrimp or boiled seafood.
Who needs Cage or Travolta? We have Sunshine Bay and Farnese Fantini.
Which of these two about $7 wines offer the best value in this cheap white wine face-off?
A variety of cheap white wines have served the Wine Curmudgeon well over the years, starting with the late and much lamented Hogue fume blanc. These are the kind of wines you buy in quantity, keep chilled, and know that when you drink it, the result will be quality, value, and enjoyment.
• Price. The Fantini is $7.99, less the 10 percent case discount. That works out to $7.19 a bottle. The Sunshine Bay is $6.95 at my local Aldi, so it’s cheaper – but probably not enough to make a difference.
• Screwcap. Yes to both. This matters a lot, because I don’t want to go through a ritual when all I want is couple of glasses for no particular reason. This kind of wine should be open it and forget it.
• Quality. Are the wines professional and well made? Yes to both. Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, there is still a lot of cheap, crummy Italian white wine in the world, and so didn’t expect much from the Fantini. But it is clean and crisp, without any off flavors or residual sugar. The Sunshine Bay, given Aldi’s track record in the U.S., was even more surprising. It’s much better made than similarly-priced New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
• Style. Do they taste like they’re supposed to? Yes, again, to both. The Fantini is lemon-lime-ish, simple but not stupid. The Sunshine plays up the New Zealand grapefruit style, but there;s a hint of tropical fruit in the middle, and the citrus doesn’t overwhelm the wine.
My choice? I’ll probably stick with the Fantini, since it’s more food friendly. But for those who like the New Zealand style or want a little more heft in their white wine, the Sunshine Bay is an excellent alternative. And I will keep buying it.
The Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc may be a one-note wine, but it’s well made and a value at $7
The 2017 vintage of this wine was one more Aldi private label disappointment. But one of the many wonderful things about wine — like baseball — is that there is always the next vintage. And the 2018 Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc is everything the other one wasn’t.
Don’t expect this New Zealand white to mimic a stunning Sancerre or the craftsmanship and terroir of New Zealand’s Spy Valley. Rather, the Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc ($7, purchased, 13%) is a one-note New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But it’s a very well done New Zealand sauvignon blanc — grapefruit, but not too nuch; a hint of minerality on the black, and clean and crisp throughout. It’s not insipid, it’s not stupid, and it doesn’t have a trace of residual sugar, the way too many California sauvignon blancs are selling themselves these days.
In this, it’s one more reason to taste the wine before you judge it. And, as opposed to the 2017, it’s a big step up from most other $7 supermarket Kiwi sauvignon blancs.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a traditional Louisiana-style shrimp boil.
My adventures in south Louisiana as a young newspaperman taught me more about the world than I will ever be able to explain. Like a shrimp boil.
I’m 23 years old and the only thing I know about shrimp is that they’re served only on special occasions, maybe once a year. And that they’re boiled in salted water, and if they taste rubbery and bland, that’s OK, because they’re served only on special occasions. And then another reporter took me to Gino’s in Houma, La.
It was a revelation. This was food, and not Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. This was not something for a special occasion, but something people ate regularly. It opened my mind to the idea of food that wasn’t what I grew up with, and that opened my mind to the idea of other cultures, and that made it possible to open my mind to wine. And I’m not the only one who experienced this kind of revelation: The same thing happened to Julia Child when she went to a boil at Emeril Lagasse’s house.
There are really only two rules for a shrimp boil. Everything else is a suggestion, and any recipe is just a guideline. First, use shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico and avoid imported shrimp at all costs. The latter have as much flavor as Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. Second, use the boxed pouch seasoning called crab boil from Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry. And make sure the boxes are nowhere near their expiration date; otherwise, all their flavor is gone. Both companies make other styles of seasoning, but this is the easiest to use. And the less said about Old Bay (which is mostly celery salt), the better.
• St. Hilaire Crémant de Limoux Brut NV ($13, purchased, 12%): This French sparkling wine from the Languedoc, mostly chardonnay but also chenin blanc and mauzac, is crisp and bubbly, with pear and apple fruit. Exactly what the shrimp needs. Highly recommended. Imported by Esprit du Vin
• Celler de Capçanes Mas Donís Rosato 2018 ($11, purchased, 13%): This Spanish pink is a little soften than I expected, but that’s because it’s made with garnacha. But it’s still well worth drinking — fresh, ripe red fruit (cherry?), and an almost stony finish. Imported by European Cellars
• Hay Maker Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($10, sample, 12.5%): The marketing on this Big Wine brand from New Zealand is more than a little goofy –“hand crafted goodness,” whatever that means. But the wine itself is spot on — New Zealand citrus, but not overdone; a little something else in the middle to soften the citrus; and a clean and refreshing finish. Imported by Accolade Wines North America