Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. This month, four red wines you probably don’t want to buy.
• Les Dauphins Reserve Rouge 2015 ($10, sample, 14%): French grocery store-style red blend from the Rhone that is inoffensive — some red fruit and not annoying. But it doesn’t offer much to recommend it other than that.
• Purato Nero d’Avola Organico 2014 ($5, purchased, 13.5%): This Sicilian red offers $5 worth of value – a very, very simple wine with nero d’avola’s plum fruit. Too much acidity throws the balance off, but at this price that’s not necessarily a problem.
• Smith & Hook Proprietary Red Wine Blend 2013 ($19, sample, 14.5%) Not quite as over the top as I expected, with some sweet fruit (blueberry?) but also a decent amount of structure. This doesn’t mean it’s worth $19, though.
• Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2014 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Disappointing, with what tastes like residual sugar, too much sweet fruit, and very little else. This is nothing more than just another grocery store wine, and I expect more from Rodney Strong for $20 than a smooth red wine.
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, meh wine — four wines you probably won’t want to buy.
• Lindemans Bin 85 Pinot Grigio 2015 ($6, sample, 12.5%): $6 worth of pinot grigio in the cheap Italian style, more tonic water than anything else. It’s certainly drinkable for people who like this sort of thing, and in its own way an honest wine. But you can do much better for not much more money.
• Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($18, sample, 13.5%): Nicely done California white, as always, with varietal grassy character. But not for $18 (after a price increase from last year), and it’s not twice as enjoyable as a quality $10 sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux.
• Camino del Peregrino Albariño 2015 ($5, purchased, 12.5%): Spanish white is almost varietally correct, but there is almost nothing going on save some tart lemon. Certainly drinkable, but probably not worth buying again, even for $5.
• Sauvignon Republic Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($8, sample, 12.5%): Thinnish, simple, $8 grocery store white from New Zealand that is OK as long as you don’t have to pay any more for it. This is what’s left after the recession-induced collapse of the high quality Republic of Sauvignon Blanc label, and it’s not nearly the same thing.
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, four whites around $20 that offer value and are well worth drinking:
?Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($17, sample, 13.5%): This California white, part of E&J Gallo, shows what Big Wine can do when it pays attention — lush and creamy, but not over the top, with baked apple and lemon fruit. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine you’ll be stunned to be able to buy at the grocery store but delighted none the same.
? Coquerel Family Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($22, sample, 13%): One of the best California sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted in a good while — fair price, determined quality, gooseberry, long finish (mineral, lychees) and that wonderful California expression that isn’t done enough anymore. Highly recommended.
?Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc ($17, sample, 13.5%): Consistent, well-made, varietally correct California white that always offers value. Look for assorted citrus and tropical flavors, none overdone, and a clean finish.
?Kunde Estate Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17, sample, 13.8%): Zesty and fresh California white, with notes of grapefruit and lemon rind and a crisp finish. Not overly complex, but lively, and doesn’t disappoint.
Rodney Strong is an example of how sophisticated the California wine business has become. It makes $15 wine that is sold in grocery stores, but is of better quality than most grocery store wine. It has a line of very high-end reds, aimed at the Winestream Media and the people who read it, and which are about as different from its $15 wines as possible. In all of this, Rodney Strong produces more than 800,000 cases a year, making it the 20th biggest winery in the U.S., according to Wine Business Monthly.
That Rodney Strong can do all three of those, and do it mostly well, speaks to California’s dominant role in the wine world. It’s not only the best place to grow grapes, but its business model is the best, too. The idea is to make wine the way Detroit makes cars, with something for grocery store consumers, something for people who want to spend more, and then the very high end stuff.
The trick to this approach is not sloughing off. The quality/value ratio at the bottom has to be as impressive as at the top, or you’ll never get anyone to trade up. The 2011 Rodney Strong merlot ($17, sample, 13.5%) shows how much care goes into the wines. The 2011 California vintage was one of the coolest in decades, but that didn’t stop a lot of producers from making their usual over-extracted, over-alcoholic, over-oaked wines — even though, thanks to the cool vintage, they had to use a fair amount of sleight of hand to do it.
But not the Rodney Strong merlot. It tastes like it came from a cool vintage — fresh and juicy, no cloying red fruit, a touch of oak at the back that makes the wine better and not like caramel candy, and almost spicy in a French sort of way. It’s about as honest a California merlot as I’ve had in years, in which the winemaker makes what the grapes give him or her, and not what the focus groups want (“smooth,” “sweet fruit”).
Highly recommended, and not just for dinner (beef and lamb almost certainly). This is a gift wine, to show someone you want them to drink interesting wine, and that you found a very interesting one for them to drink.
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.
? Bin 36 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($16, sample): A good example of what can be done to make affordable California cabernet in the style of Avalon and 337. This is rich and fruit forward, and though there isn’t much more than that, it also isn’t as simple as something like the many popular grocery store cabernets.
? Simonnet-Febvre Chablis 2008 ($20, sample) This French white had lots of acid, but also quite fruity (green apples?) for a Chablis. Though $20 is probably too much to spend on it, it was still quite nice to drink.
? Ch teau Moncontour Vouvray Brut NV ($18, sample): Would that someone in Texas (hint, hint) made bubbly of this quality. This French sparkling wine is made from chenin blanc, and has lots of acid balanced by sweet apple fruit at the back.
? Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2009 ($18, sample): Another excellent effort from Rodney Strong — varietally correct, with cherry fruit, an almost cola-like aroma, some earthiness and pinot tannins. Given the silly prices for pinot noir, a decent value.