The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is entry level white wine that shows what a top-notch producer can do for $10
Michel-Schulumberger is a top-notch California producer that still makes entry-level wines – a wonderfully old-fashioned approach that has gone out of style thanks to premiumization and California real estate prices. I’ve praised the $15 red blend, and the Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is just as well done.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is varietally correct and well-made California sauvignon blanc. It doesn’t taste like it came from New Zealand or was tarted up with oak or sugar to get a higher score or to impress a focus group. It’s just what it should be for a wine at this price: Fresh and clean, with that tell-tale grassy aroma that earmarks California sauvignon blanc, some lime fruit in the middle, and a bit of minerality on the back.
How does the winery do it? This isn’t a $50 estate wine; rather, it’s a California appellation, where the grapes come from the less expensive parts of the state and the winery crafts something that’s worth buying and drinking for $10. Would that more producers still did this.
The Nicolas Perrin viognier is a French white wine made with style and grace
The Nicolas Perrin viognier is a revelation – a French white that takes into account terroir and varietal character, and does so affordably and with style.
Know that viognier isn’t much like like chardonnay, even though it’s sometimes compared to chardonnay. So don’t expect toasty and oaky or lots of apple fruit. Rather, the Nicolas Perrin viognier ($10, purchased, 13%) features viognier’s telltale stone fruit, bright and fresh and full. It’s not quite as a fruity as a New World viognier from Texas or Virginia, and there is also more of a mineral note than we get in the U.S. Most importantly, it’s heavier, but in the almost oily way common to French viogniers. In this, it needs food – roast chicken with apricots, perhaps, or grilled scallops.
Highly recommended; almost certain to take its place in the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame and a candidate for the 2020 cheap wine of the year.
The Little James Basket Press White is consistent, quality $10 wine in a world where that’s not easy to find
The Wine Curmudgeon is very confused: Why is the Little James Basket Press White still a Hall of Fame quality wine, while the red version tastes soft and flabby? One would think that the same producer – and a top-notch producer at that – wouldn’t do something that silly.
But that’s the case. The Little James Basket Press White ($10, purchased, 13%) is everything the red isn’t: A fresh and lively blend (sauvingon blanc and viognier), with green apple and lime fruit tempered by the viognier’s apricot. There’s even a little spice, though I’m not sure where it comes from. In all, exactly the kind of $10 wine that used to be easy to find and isn’t anymore.
When I bought the Little James Basket Press White at one of Dallas’ biggest independent retailers, I asked the long-time sales guy the same question: Why is this made like wine while the red is made to appeal to people who don’t like wine? He shook his head, muttered something about the wine business and Millennials, and told me not to buy the red because I was exactly right.
Highly recommended, as always, and sure to return to the Hall of Fame next year. Drink this slightly chilled on its own, or with any weeknight white wine dinner, be it takeout Chinese or grilled chicken breasts.
The McManis viognier is $10 Hall of Fame quality – a reminder that California can produce great cheap wine
California viognier is infamous for being heavy, overoaked, and too alcoholic, lacking grace and subtlety. So how does the McManis viognier taste completely different – and for just $10?
Because the McManis family still cares about making great cheap wine. Others may have gone over to the dark side, but the McManis viognier ($10, purchased, 13.5%) remains a symbol of what California once was – quality wine at a fair price.
The 2016 viognier remains fresh and interesting, with ripe, juicy apricot fruit, an almost oily mouth feel, and a stone fruit pit finish. In this, it’s classic New World viognier, a little less overwhelming than its French cousins from the Rhone, but still heavy enough that it’s a food wine.
I drank it with a cornbread tamale pie made with chicken and tomatillo sauce, and I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. It would also work with roast chicken (and add some dried apricots) or any post-modern salad with fresh stone fruit.
Highly recommended, and the year’s first candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year. The 2017 is the current vintage, but there is plenty of 2016 on store shelves.
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.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.
The Line 39 sauvingon blanc is a $10 California grocery store white that has remained dependable for years
If more grocery store wine tasted like the Line 39 sauvignon blanc, the Wine Curmudgeon wouldn’t get nearly as many emails and comments from blog visitors bemoaning availability.
This vintage of the Line 39 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a little more disjointed than previous efforts; that is, all of the parts don’t fit together as neastly as they have in the past, and the wine has some rough edges. Having said that, it is still California-style sauvingon blanc – a little grassy aroma, some citrus fruit (lime, perhaps, but not grapefruit), and a clean and refreshing finish.
In our California sauvignon blanc hierarchy, the Line 39 fits below Ryder and Wente – not quite as layered as either of those, but that’s OK since it’s a couple of dollars less. If it’s not quite up to the $10 Hall of Fame quality of past vintages, it’s still a fine value.
This is wine for roast chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, as well as something to drink when you get home from work and feel like a glass to soothe the rigors off the day.
Château La Gravière Blanc, a French white blend, is the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year
It wasn’t easy, in the past year of drinking dangerously, to find a cheap wine to uphold the standards we’ve worked so hard to maintain over the past 11 years. Yes, there were plenty of $10 roses that were worthy, but cheap wine should be about more than rose. Fortunately, we have the Château La Gravière Blanc as the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year.
The Château La Gravière Blanc ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is a white French blend from the Bordeaux sub-region of Entre-Deux-Mers, which is mostly known for making truckloads of cheap wine that tastes like cheap wine. That’s the last thing the La Graviere is.
It combines traditional white Bordeaux style and terroir with modern winemaking; hence a delicious wine that is not simple or stupid. The wine features fresh lemon fruit as well as an almost California-style grassiness, but it also comes close to an old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. This used to be common in these kinds of wines, but it as rare these days as a Big Wine dry red that is actually dry. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t another New Zealand knockoff.
Drink this chilled, either on its own or with chef-style salads, roast chicken, or grilled shrimp. This is the kind of wine you buy one bottle of and then go back for a case. Which is I did.