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
• Raeburn Rose 2019 ($13, sample, 13.5%): California pink with some tart raspberry fruit that is well made, but the longer it sits in the glass, the more you notice the lingering residual sugar and that it’s not quite dry rose.
• Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Didn’t notice the vintage when I bought this French red, and that is so tasty is amazing given its age. Still has a little dark fruit and some earth, and still eminently drinkable.
• Château de Montmirail “M” 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This red Rhone blend has some heft and black fruit, but isn’t overdone or too heavy. Availability may be limited, which is too bad since it’s close to a Hall of Fame wine. Imported by Kindred Vines
• Excelsior Chardonnay 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This South African white will not help the country get back into the U.S. market. It’s a Kendall Jackson chardonnay knockoff, complete with residual sugar. Imported by Cape Classics
South Africa’s MAN chenin blanc offers quality and value in an $11 white wine
I’ve spent the past couple of months writing about South African wine, not only here but for the trade media. The goal? Trying to figure out if South Africa can fill the void caused by the 25 percent tariff on French, Spanish, and German wine.
Sadly, despite top quality wines like the MAN chenin blanc ($11, purchased, 12.5%), the answer seems to be no. The reasons are many, including the three-tier system (since each wine needs a distributor, which most don’t have) and problematic pricing on higher-end South African wines.
Which is too bad, since the MAN chenin blanc does everything a terrific $10 wine should do. It’s a far cry from the country’s pre-Apartheid chenin blanc, when it was called steen and was likely to be soft and flabby.
Instead, the MAN is fresh, crisp, and enjoyable, without any cloying fruit or sweetness. Look for some lime and tropical fruit and more layers of flavor than most chenins at this price have. In this, is a professional wine and very well done, and shows how far South African winemaking has come.
This edition of Ask the WC: Has the wine tariff pushed up wine prices? Plus, why isn’t rose sweet and whether South African wine is worth buying
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.
Greetings, WC: Have wine prices gone up because of the tariff? I can’t tell, but I buy the same wine over and over, so I’m not a good person to ask. Watching my pennies
Dear Pennies: The biggest surprise with the tariff — to me, anyway — has been retailer reluctance to raise prices, and especially for the wines we write about on the blog. There have been exceptions, of course; I was in the country’s premier “natural food” grocer the other day, and it looked like every French and Spanish wine had gone up exactly 25 percent, the amount of the tariff. But many of the other retailers I have visited or talked to are making an honest effort to hold the line. I’m especially seeing many retailers bring in similarly-priced labels to replace the tariff wines. Which, all things considered, makes me a lot less cranky about the tariff. Still, as one Dallas retailer told me, all bets are off when the new rose vintages arrive in the next month or so.
Dear Wine Curmudgeon: Is rose supposed to be sweet or not? Some taste like white zinfandel, and others don’t. When did this start? Pinked out
Dear Pinked: Rose is dry. White zinfandel is sweet. This used to be cut and dried. But in the wine business’ ill-conceived attempt to woo younger consumers, they’re sneaking residual sugar into “dry rose.” Typically, most European pinks are still dry, so you’re safe with French, Spanish and Italian wines. One way to tell: If the dreaded word smooth appears on the back label, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wine was sweet. Rose is supposed to be fruity, not smooth.
Hello, Wine Curmudgeon: Am I starting to see more South African wine in the U.S.? Is it worth buying? Curious
Dear Curious: The answer to the first part of your question is yes and no — yes, because sales have increased substantially, and no because sales are starting from such a small base. South African wines, save for a burst of popularity in the late 1990s, have been few and far between in the U.S. But quality has improved markedly since then, and it’s possible to find Rhone-style red blends, whites like chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc, and even dry rose at a fair price.
Three wines that offer quality and value when you’re serving wine to people who don’t drink much wine
The Wine Curmudgeon has entertained twice in the last month where the guests weren’t professional wine drinkers. That is, they were people who fit the profile of the typical U.S. wine drinker – someone who drinks a bottle of month and isn’t interested in the stuff that keeps wine geeks up at night.
The challenge then: How you buy wine to serve with dinner for people who don’t drink much wine? The goal is to pour something interesting that isn’t stupid or insipid, but won’t intimidate your guests. The key: Keep in mind that you want to serve wine other people will like, and not what you think they should like.
A few suggestions and guidelines:
• Try to stay away from tannins and their bitterness, which may be the most off-putting part of wine for those who don’t drink much of it. But what if you want to serve red wine? Then look for something made with sangiovese, gamay, or tempranillo, like the Capezzana Monna Nera 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This Italian blend is mostly sangiovese – fresh and well-made with soft cherry fruit. Imported by MW Imports.
• Chardonnay, and especially cheap ones with too much fake oak, can make typical wine drinkers grimace. So can overly tart sauvignon blanc. Hence, chenin blanc like the Ken Forester petit 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%). This South African white is a long-time favorite, offering crisp white fruit and a refreshing finish. Imported by USA Wine Imports
• One of the best things about the rose boom? It’s ideal for situations like this. The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%) is a French pink, almost tart and strawberry, and a tad better made than most at this price. Imported by Pioneer Wine Co.
The Ken Forrester petit rose may be the best rose no one has ever heard of
There’s no easy way to say this, so here it is: The Ken Forrester petit rose is a brilliant wine, consistent from year to year, and a tremendous value. But good luck trying to buy it, given the failures of the three-tier system.
In fact, the Ken Forrester petit rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is one of several top-notch wines from this outstanding South African producer that are difficult to buy in the U.S. Why? Because it’s South African wine, hardly the darling of the distributors or retailers; because Forrester isn’t a big winery; and because the winery has had importer problems for at least as long as I have been writing about it.
In a perfect world, where we could buy wine the way we buy pants and computers, none of that would matter. But since wine has the three-tier system, we have to make do. Which is a shame, because the rose is everything a great pink wine should be.
Look for strawberry aromas, but not the syrupy, overdone kind that poorly made roses sometimes show. There is fresh, just ripe raspberry fruit flavor, and the finish is precise and almost stony. All in all, the kind of wine to buy again and again. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Mulderbosch rose demonstrates, once again, that you don’t have to spend more than $10 to get terrific pink wine
Is the Mulderbosch rose pink wine for The Holiday that Must Not be Named? Check.
Does it have a screwcap? Check.
Consistent quality? Check.
Tremendous value? Check.
In other words, South Africa’s Mulderbosch rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is everything a great cheap wine should be. And, believe it or not, widely available – grocery stores, even.
The 2017 vintage (which we’re getting now because the southern hemisphere is six months ahead of the northern in the harvest cycle) is much fresher and more flavorful than the 2016 that I tasted at the end of last year. That’s a reminder that most roses don’t age well, and you should always buy the most recent vintage and never one that is more than 18 months old.
The Mulderbosch is an odd rose since it’s made with cabernet sauvignon, which is a heavier-tasting grape than rose needs. But that’s rarely a problem with the wine; this vintage shows a little cabernet zippiness and some blackberry fruit, as well as a classic rose clean finish. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.
Thanksgiving is the blog’s favorite holiday, and might be the greatest wine holiday in the world. That’s because families and friends get to share lots of wine, and because Thanksgiving isn’t about money, showing off, or big-screen plasma TVs. Instead, it’s about being thankful that we can be together to enjoy the holiday. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
This year’s Thanksgiving wine 2017 suggestions are just a start:
• Ken Forrester Petit Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): Always well made pink wine from a South African producer with impeccable taste (the chenin blanc is worth buying, too). It’s a blend of grenache and a little viognier, so there is less fruit (unripe strawberry?) than expected and more stoniness and minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by USA Wine Imports.
• Wakefield Promised Land Riesling 2016 ($12, sample, 12,5%): This is just what a cheap Aussie riesling should be — and what we don’t get enough of in this country, where riesling is about sweetness for sweetness’ sake. Look for lemon-lime fruit, a little petrol aroma and a surprisingly full mouth feel, some sparkle, and hint of sweetness. Highly recommended. Imported by Seaview Imports.
• Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese 2014 ($17, sample, 13%): If all $17 wine had this much character and interest, then I wouldn’t be complaining about $17 wine. Rich, concentrated red corvina fruit, plus Italian earthiness and not too much acidity. Balanced and very nicely done; an ideal turkey wine. Imported by Kobrand.
• Naveran Cava Brut 2015 ($15, purchased, 12%): Maybe one of the best cavas in the world, and certainly one of the best sparkling wines given the price. A knockout, even with the usual high quality of cava — lots of crispness, plenty of tight bubbles, and some sweetish apple fruit. In this, it is a fuller, richer wine than the $10 bottles that I usually drink. Imported by Ole Imports.