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.
The Balnea verdejo is a stunning wine, one of the best of its type I’ve tasted in years
Verdejo is a common Spanish white grape used to make lots and lots of wine, most of it OK and some even more than OK. But the Wine Curmudgeon had not tasted a verdejo as decidedly uncommon as the Balnea verdejo in a long time – if ever.
The Balnea Verdejo ($11, purchased, 12.5%) is a stunning wine, somehow layered and almost nuanced – but costing nothing more than a bottle of very ordinary supermarket plonk that tastes sweet and syrupy. A wine of this quality at this price, and especially these days, is nearly unprecedented.
Look for almost candied lemon fruit, although the Balnea is not a sweet wine; an almost flinty minerality; and a fullness in the mouth that is rare in verdejo at any price, given how simple most of the wines are and how tart lemon fruit is their reason for being.
The Radio Boka offers Spanish value and quality for less than $10
The best cheap Spanish wines are made with grapes most of us haven’t heard of and are from regions that are equally obscure. Witness the Radio Boka, a Spanish white. It’s made with verdejo, common in Spain and almost nowhere else, and comes from La Mancha, a huge bulk wine region near Madrid.
In other words, this ain’t from Napa Valley or Burgundy.
In this, the Radio Boka ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is exactly what competent and enjoyable cheap wine should be. It doesn’t try to impress anyone, despite the post-modern name and showy label. This is a wine made for weeknight dinners, without any fuss or bravado. As we say on the blog, simple but not stupid.
Look for barely tart lemon fruit with a hint of something tropical in the middle. The finish is clean and fresh, and, like many Spanish whites, it’s a terrific food wine. Tapas, like the potato omelet, certainly, but also seafood and it would be terrific as a braising liquid for chicken.
Imported by Hammeken Cellars
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
• 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 Naia verdejo is $10 Spanish white wine that speaks to the great quality and value of Spanish white wine
A couple of years ago, not even wine geeks paid much attention to verdejo, a Spanish white grape. Today, though, verdejo is showing up more often; hence, prices are often way out of line with quality, while cute labels are all over the place to make up for the lack of quality. Through all of this, the Naia verdejo has been a beacon of consistency and value.
The Naia vedejo ($10, purchased, 13.5%) reminds us of the tremendous value in Spanish wine. It tastes of tart lemon, as it should, but there is also an undercurrent of tropical fruit (pineapple?) that you don’t usually get in a $10 verdejo. It’s not so much that it’s very well done, but that the producer understands the role of $10 wine – that it’s not supposed to cost $15 just because.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame. And yes, dad will enjoy this over the weekend, whether it’s porch sitting while his family celebrates Father’s Day or as something to sip while grilling chicken or shrimp.
The Marques de Caceras verdejo is grocery store wine that does what grocery store wine should do — it’s cheap, drinkable, and available
Quality grocery store wine should do a couple of things. First, it should be fairly priced, and not include a premium for a cute label or the marketing budget. Second, it should taste like what it is, so no cabernet sauvignon that tastes like a sweet red blend and no sauvignon blanc that tastes like a sweet white blend. That both of those are increasingly rare these days speaks to the crisis in cheap wine.
Which is where the Marques de Caceras verdejo ($9, sample, 13.5%) comes in. It’s a Spanish white made with the verdejo grape, so it fills two of the requirements for quality cheap wine – less expensive region and less known grape. And it does what quality grocery wine should do, too.
That means the Marques de Caceras verdejo is fairly priced, and it more or less tastes like verdejo – lots of lemon fruit and a clean finish. It’s simple, and the fruit could be less New World in approach, but it’s not insulting. This is the kind of wine for Tuesday night when you have to stop at the supermarket on the way home to get something for dinner, and you want wine as well.
The Naia 2015: Another wine of the week, another Spanish value
The surprise is not that we’re in Spain again for the wine of the week, but that the Spanish never seem to run out of quality cheap wine like the Naia. Even I’m beginning to be surprised, and I’m the one who wrote that Spanish wine offers the best value in the world.
The Naia ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is made with verdejo, a Spanish grape that produces passable, tart white wine that has been on the blog many times. The Naia, though, has another goal in mind: A wine that is more than passable but not costing much more than the usual verdejo.
In this, it succeeds. The Naia 2015 is a softer, more round version of verdejo, with white fruit (peach?) to go with the usual lemon, and the lemon is not nearly as pronounced as usual. There’s also an herbal something or other going on that rarely shows up in verdejo. Hence, the wine isn’t as straightforward and obvious, but less tart and more balanced.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 Hall of Fame in a year when the candidates that actually cost $10 are few and far between. Drink this chilled on its own, and keep a couple of bottles around the house as the holidays approach. And verdejo and fish are long-time pals, something to keep in mind when you’re making seafood.