• El Circo Volatinero 2018 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Spanish red made with tempranillo that doesn’t taste especially Spanish or much like tempranillo. It’s bland and boring – dare I say, “Smooth?” Imported by Seaview Imports
• El Terrano Verdejo 2017 ($8, purchased, 13.5%): Another cheap white wine from Whole Foods that isn’t worth even the little it costs. Spanish, but thin and watery lemon fruit, and not much else. Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits
• Flora & Stone Gewürztraminer NV ($5, purchased, 12%): Aldi private label California white that tastes like gewurtzraminer, but also tastes like it has been sweetened to please a focus group. It mostly tastes like wine, but it could have been so much more enjoyable.
The Cune Rioja, from Spain’s CVNE, is a tempranillo blend that will bring joy to anyone who loves quality cheap wine
CVNE’s Cune Rioja brings joy to my tired and worn out brain whenever I see it on the shelf. And these days, when the future of quality cheap wine is very much in doubt, that’s something to depend on.
The Cune Rioja ($11, purchased, 13.5%) is a Spanish red wine from the Rioja region, mostly made with tempranillo. CVNE is a large Spanish producer that has been around for 140 years, and its wines still taste as they should and still offer quality and value for less than $15. Crianza is the simplest of the Rioja wines, but still well made.
This vintage of the Cune Rioja is a little rounder and fuller than the 2014 – the cherry fruit isn’t quite as tart and the wine isn’t quite as earthy. But there is some baking spice and a hint of orange peel, Rijoa’s calling card. And it will pair with almost anything that isn’t in a cream sauce. As I wrote in my notes: “As it should be. One of the world’s great cheap wine values.” What more do we need these days?
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.
When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.
Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?
The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.
The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort
• Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.
The Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Tinto is cheap Spanish tempranillo the way it should be
The Spanish wine regions around Madrid aren’t famous, unless someone is sneering about the tanker cars of cheap red wine produced there every year. Let them sneer, because they’re missing out on terrific cheap wine like the Protocolo.
In fact, one reason why Spanish tempranillo is among the best red wine values in the world is that regions like Castilla-La Mancha do more than make tanker cars of cheap red wine. Much of it is cheap wine the way it should be – varietally correct and following the style of the country, simple but not insulting. And, since producers in these regions can do cheap so well, it holds down the price of better quality tempranillos from Rioja and Ribera.
The Protocolo ($9, purchased, 13.5%) is everything one hopes for in a cheap Spanish tempranillo — soft tannins, just enough acidity to show that it’s red wine, and ripe but not too ripe berry fruit. Plus, it has flavors at the beginning, the middle and the end (a sort of rustic earthiness), just like more expensive wines.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for both the 2020 Hall of Fame and the Cheap Wine of the Year. Drink this with almost any spring and summer barbecue, and then keep drinking it the rest of the year.
The La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza speaks to terroir, tradition, and quality – and at a more than fair price
Rioja, the Spanish red wine made with tempranillo that comes from the Rioja region of northern Spain, is one of the world’s great wine values. And it doesn’t matter whether you want to spend $10 or $100. Case in point: the La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza ($37, purchased, 13.5%).
In the past decade, Rioja producers have been caught between Parkerization, which demanded riper, higher alcohol wines for a high score, and traditionalists, who believed in Rioja’s legendary terroir.
The traditionalists won; even Parker likes the La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza, giving it 93 points.
Their victory is a triumph for everyone who appreciates terroir and making wine taste like where it came from. The blend is 80 percent tempranillo and 20 percent garnacha, and the latter smooths out the tempranillo but doesn’t cover it up. The result is a full, open, expressive, and traditional Rioja that is a joy to drink.
Look for an inviting earthiness, the lovely and telltale orange peel, and rounded cherry fruit, all balanced by a subtle acidity and a hint of tannins. There is even a little baking spice tucked in – the whole is truly greater than the sum of the wine’s parts. This vintage should age and improve for another five years or so, but is ready to drink now.
Highly recommended, and especially as a Father’s Day gift for a red wine drinker who wants something different. Or who appreciates classic wine produced in a classic manner.
The Spanish Arrumaco Tempranillo is cheap, delicious, and the perfect house red wine
The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a cheap, reliable, and well-made everyday red wine since giving up on the the Vino Fuerte and the Rene Barbier (a blend change softened and sweetened it). The Spanish Arrumaco Tempranillo may well be their successor.
No, the Arrumaco Tempranillo ($8, purchased, 13%) does not cost $5. Other than that, it’s everything the others used to be and more – an exceptional wine, stunningly well done for what it costs. It’s much more complex and interesting than an $8 wine should be, and reminds us how much difference terroir and varietal character makes.
Look for tempranillo’s cherry fruit, though a bit softer and not as tart. That’s balanced, however, by an almost licorice flavor and easy, just right tannins. The result is a lighter red wine, perfect for summer, and that it can have this much going on for this price is amazing.
Drink this on its own (maybe even a little chilled), or with burgers, pizza, or roast and grilled chicken. Highly recommended, and almost certain to enter the $10 Hall of Fame in 2019. Also worth noting: The rose and white Arrumacos are equally as delicious.
The new vintage of the Vina Fuerte, once a dependable $5 Spanish red, isn’t very Spanish or worth $5
The Aldi discount grocer is famous for its cheap, quality wine in Europe. Unfortunately, we’re not getting any of that in the U.S. – as the new vintage of the Vina Fuerte sadly demonstrates.
The Vina Fuerte ($5, purchased, 13%) is a Spanish tempranillo, and the 2014 was more than serviceable. It tasted like Spanish tempranillo – tart cherry fruit with some character and interest in the back. It wasn’t $10 Hall of Fame quality, but it was the kind of red wine to buy for dinner without worrying about whether it would be any good. In fact, I usually bought two.
The 2015, though, is about as Spanish as a pair of sweat socks. The tart cherry fruit has been bulldozed in favor of almost overripe California-style red fruit and the character and the interest in the back have been replaced by heaping amounts of fake oak.
It’s baffling. Aldi understands the U.S. grocery store market so well that even Walmart is running scared, but it treats wine with the same arrogance and disdain for the consumer that everyone else does. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?