Tag Archives: red wine

Wine of the week: Eco Balance Carm n re 2009

The Wine Curmudgeon, once a huge fan of Chilean wine, has become mostly ambivalent over the past several years. Too many Chilean wine have gone from being cheap and well done to just cheap. Labels that had once I counted on, like the Veramonte sauvignon blanc, have morphed into just another grocery store wine. Blame the weak dollar for much of this, but the Chileans have been turning out a lot of ordinary wine as well.

That's why the Eco Balance ($10, sample) was so welcome. Carmenere is a tricky grape to work with, and the Chileans are still trying to figure out what to do with it, especially for cheaper wines. I didn't expect much with this, and at first sip there wasn't much there. But let it open a bit, and you'll find lots of cherry fruit, something that tastes like fake oak but that isn't cheesy, and healthy tannins. The tannins were a nice touch; most wines at this price either have no tannins at all or tannins that are so harsh they grate your tongue. It's a beef wine, probably best suited for burgers and meat loaf.

And yes, it is eco-friendly. Emiliana, the producer, does three green wines — biodynamic, organic, and the Eco, which is produced using environmentally protective farming practices.

Mini-reviews 19: Contra, William Hill, Beaujolais Nouveau, 181 Merlot

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, a special all red wines edition.

? Bonny Doon Contra 2009 ($14, sample): This Rhone blend is not exactly an upscale version of the old Big House Red, but it’s close enough. Lots of spice and fruit, though it does need food.

? William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($23, sample): A surprisingly well done and balanced Napa cabernet that is more or less affordable. It’s a step up from more inexpensive cabernets like Avalon and 337, with more body and structure.

? Georges Dub uf Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 ($8, purchased): Ripe bananas on the nose and a very thin and acidic body. Yet another in a long line of disappointing Nouveaus.

? 181 Merlot 2008 ($15, sample): A merlot from the same company that does the 337 cabernet sauvignon. Offers structure and substance for less than $25, which doesn’t happen often. On the other hand, the tasting notes compare Lodi, where the grapes are from, to merlot’s Garden of Eden in Pomerol, which is a bit much.

Expensive wine 20: Domaine du Vieux T l graphe 2001

Why wine is about more than points, snobs and geeks:

I don't get to see my family more than a couple of times a year; call it one of the vagaries of post-modern life. So when I did get to Chicago earlier this month, my brother sent me an email: Check my cellar, and pick the wine to have with dinner — pot roast with gravy and roasted potatoes and onions. Jim is a wine aficionado of some repute, and among his favorites are the French Cote du Rhones. He considers the best Rhone wines to be tremendous values given the silly prices that high end Bordeaux and Burgundy go for, and he is exactly right.

I picked two: an early '90s Guigal that was starting to show its age, but was still fine, and the Telegraphe ($50, purchased). The Telegraphe is an example of classic Rhone winemaking from the region of Ch teauneuf-du-Pape, and the wine has been a standard for decades. This vintage was no exception. It had everything it was supposed to have — the lead pencil aroma, red fruit, lots of spice and some herbs, and all integrated in a marvelously complex way. The wine was still a bit young, but certainly ready to drink.

But that's not why I'm going to remember the wine, as good as it tasted. I'm going to remember it because Jim brought it and our family shared it. And when someone asks me about what I like about Rhone wines or the Telegraphe, I'll tell them about drinking it with my family. Which is a whole lot more important than the score it got.

Wine of the week: Bogle Petite Sirah 2008

Consistency is the difference between great cheap wine and ordinary cheap wine. Two Buck Chuck, for all of its acclaim, does not taste the same from year to year, and its quality goes up and down with regularity. Even better made wines, like Meridian, suffer from this problem. One vintage will be terrific and the next will be much less than that (which is why its chardonnay is dropping out of the $10 Hall of Fame next year).

Bogle's wines, on the other hand, do not have this problem. I have been writing about cheap wine for almost 20 years, and for almost 20 years I have always depended on Bogle. It has never let me down. The petite sirah ($10, purchased) is the winery's showpiece, an outstanding example of the producer's quality and consistency. It is always clean and always varietally correct, which means it's not the same thing as a syrah and is not made to taste like one. This is saying something given the current trend toward blending varietal wines to make them sweeter and fruitier in a misguided attempt to appease the American palate.

Look for berry fruit, a touch of oak, and tannins at the end that give the wine some welcome oomph. This is a burly red meat wine — pot roast and gravy, stews that have been cooking all day, and the like. Highly recommended, and the kind of $10 wine to drink to celebrate the blog's third birthday. It's the kind of cheap wine that makes writing about cheap wine a pleasure.

Wine review: Bivio Tuscan Red 2007

The most difficult thing to do as a wine writer is to keep an open mind. It's essential not to judge wines before you taste them, and it's even more important not to let a wine's pedigree — who made it, the size of the company, and the like — influence your opinion.

Which is the polite way way of saying that I didn't want to taste the Bivio ($12, sample), which had all the earmarks of an overpriced, poorly made corporate wine. The press materials used the term "refreshingly modern style," something that scared the hell out of me. In fact, the Bivio sat in the wine closet for eight months before I was brave enough to taste it. Stupid me.

The Bivio was much better than I thought it would be (which, again, is my fault, and not the wine's). It's a solid, dependable, inexpensive red blend (mostly sangiovese, with some cabernet sauvignon and merlot) with a bit more red fruit in the middle than traditional Italian wines. I'd drink it again. Yes, it's not quite up to the Tormareca Neprica or Faleseco Rosso, but how many wines are? Pair this with any red sauce kind of food, and even something like roast chicken. And don't let your prejudices get in the way of enjoying it.

Mini-reviews 18: Torino rose, Grgich merlot, Carobelle, Jaja de Jau

Reviews of wines that don't need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

? Michel Torino Malbec Ros 2009 ($12, sample): Surprisingly disappointing, given how well-made so many Argentine wines are at this price. There's nothing especially wrong with it; rather, it doesn't deliver anything that most $8 or $10 roses don't.

? Grgich Hills Estate Grown Merlot 2006 ($42, sample): The kind of red wine that helped California establish its reputation as one of the world's great wine regions — and, best yet, it's not overpriced. Holiday gift? It's still young, with cherry fruit in the middle, but a mushroomy nose and lots of finish. Should improve with age.

? Domaine de Carobelle Gigondas 2008 ($20, purchased): A terrific value at $15 and an excellent example of the Rhone's Gigondas region, with dark fruit and pepper. But the weak dollar (or a greedy retailer?) has done this red wine in, given that one can buy really nice wine for $20.

? Le Jaja de Jau 2007 ($11, purchased): This red is New World-style wine wine in Old World clothing, with a lot of fruit and not much subtlety. It's not bad, just not what it was when it was one of the world's great cheap wines (and it's also twice the price).

Wine of the week: 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

It's not easy to find quality, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon. There's plenty of cheap cabernet out there, but most of it is either too tannic, too green (with flavors resembling bell peppers), or too grapey to bother with. In fact, this is one of the few areas where the Wine Curmudgeon has mostly given up finding decent wine for $10 or less.

When you raise the price bar to $15, the standard has always been Avalon's Napa cabernet, which offers a bit of sophistication and style with plenty of quality California fruit. I've always thought the Avalon was superior to wines that cost $20 and more.

Which is why the 337 (about $15, sample) was such a pleasant surprise. I had tasted a previous vintage a couple of years ago when my Cordon Bleu class did its red wine extravaganza, but had not thought much about it until last week. That's when I saw this bottle in the back of the wine closet and remembered that my class had enjoyed the wine. If the 337 is not up the level of the Avalon, that's not an insult. It has cherry fruit that isn't overdone and the requisite varietal characteristics — zingy tannins and a decent finish. It's a red meat wine for cooler fall nights. One note: You might find some of the 2008 vintage, which should be OK.

And the name? 337 refers to the name of the clone of cabernet used to make the wine. What's a clone? It's a version of cabernet that has been bred for a specific purpose. In this case, 337 is the clone of cabernet used to make the wine.