The Cote Mas Blanc Mediterranee ($11/1-liter, purchased, 12.5%) is what well-made, value-oriented cheap wine should be. It tastes like the grapes that are in it (35 percent grenache blanc, and bits of vermentino, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc) and it tastes like a wine from southern France. And, at 1-liter, there are two more glasses than a normal bottle.
The grenache blanc gives the wine that wonderfully oily, stone fruit character that we don’t see often enough in our world of fake oak chardonnay and New Zealand-knockoff sauvignon blanc. The other three grapes each lend something without overpowering the wine, and the result is fresh, crisp, and a little floral. In all, it was much more enjoyable than I expected (and especially since the red version, the Rouge Intense, was sweet and almost nasty).
Highly recommended. Chill this, and keep it around over the holidays, in case someone stops by. Or, if you want a glass or two of wine after a long day of holiday something or other.
The Principessa Gavia is a white Italian wine that’s just the thing for Thanksgiving
Big Wine doesn’t always fare well on the blog, and neither does Italy’s cortese grape. The latter shows up in lots and lots of equally lackluster white wine from the Gavi region, which is why a Gavi has been the wine of the week just three times in 12 years. And the former makes lots and lots of lackluster wine to sell on supermarket shelves
First and foremost, it’s Italian in style, and not wine made to please American wine drinkers. In this, it shows off the cortese grape without dumbing it down. That means stone fruit, floral aromas, and an almost fruity yet clean finish. That combination is not easy to pull off. Perhaps most impressive, it has an almost hidden acidity – you notice it, but then it’s gone, and doesn’t cover up the rest of the wine.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday. When else do we get to get to share lots of wine and good food for no other reason than wine and good food? Plus, there is cooking, and it doesn’t get much better than the way a roasting turkey in the oven makes the house feel. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
These Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:
• Maison Albert Bichot Chablis 2016 ($20, purchased, 12.5%): This French white wine, made with chardonnay, gets surprisingly low marks on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Which is just one example of how useless scores are. This is delicious white Burgundy at a price I can’t imagine, crisp and lemony and minerally. Highly recommended. Imported by European Wine Imports
• Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink from the always dependable Georges Vigouroux uses malbec to its best advantage, with not too much dark fruit and a clean and fresh wine. It’s a nice change from everyone making Provencal-style roses. Imported by AP Wine Imports
• Azienda Vitivinicola Tonnino Nero d’Avola 2017 ($14, purchased, 13%): Interesting Sicilian red that more resembles Oregon pinot noir than it does Sicilian nero. It’s more brambly, like berries, than the usual plummy fruit. It’s less earthy, and the acidity is more noticeable. Imported Bacco Wine & Spirits/em>
• Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California sparkling that tastes like it’s supposed to at a fair value — creamy, yeasty, apple fruit, not too tart, and soft but persistent bubbles. In this, it’s a tremendous value.
Zestos Blanco, a Spanish white, is the kind of great cheap wine everyone wishes they could make
Being cheap isn’t enough to make a great cheap wine. Otherwise, the $10 Hall of Fame would be little different from a list of the country’s best-selling $8 supermarket labels. That difference can be seen in the Zestos Blanco, which is both cheap and marvelous.
How marvelous? A friend of mine, who enjoys the wines I recommend but pays little attention otherwise, tasted it the other day and said: “I’ve had this before, haven’t I? I remember it, because it’s so well made compared to the rest of the stuff I buy at the grocery store. Which all mostly tastes the same.”
The Zestos Blanco ($10, purchased, 12%) is a Spanish white made with malvar, a grape found mostly in and around Madrid. It produces a crisp, almost lime-infused, tropical sort of wine that is bone dry and has surprising body (but isn’t tart). That combination makes it an especially wonderful food wine, be it Chinese takeout or something as complicated as roast salmon.
Highly recommended, and certain to return to the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame; also, a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year.
Finally, a note about the importer, Ole & Obrigado. Patrick Mata, who runs Ole, is one of the smartest people I’ve met in the wine business. He is also one of the most stand-up: He returns phone calls and emails, answers questions honestly, and is unfailingly polite.
I mention this because his company, and everyone he employs, could suffer dramatically from the 25 percent European wine tariff. I’ve tried not to beat up on the tariff more than necessary on the blog, but it’s worth noting again the financial harm it could cause Ole and dozens of other small- and medium-sized importers. Trade policy is just not imperial pronouncements. It’s also the people we overlook when we’re making those imperial pronouncements.
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 Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! remains a classic Italian cheap white wine
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite cheap wines. So why have I reviewed it just three times in 12 years?
Availability, of course. What other reason could there be?
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of cheap wine that Europeans understand implicitly – you buy it, you drink it with dinner, and you enjoy it. No posturing about scores and no fretting about pairings.
So why isn’t it regularly available? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably has something to do with changes in its importer and distributor over the past decade.
But when the Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is available, it’s always a treat (even at $10, as opposed to $8 the last vintage). It’s a white blend made with trebbiano and malvasia, plus an even more rare grape called roscetto. The result is a tart, lemony wine, and some years it can be really tart. The 2017 is comparatively subtle – less tart, more balanced, and even a bit of minerality.
I don’t know that I enjoyed this vintage quite as much, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the wine. It remains as it has always been – enjoyable and well worth buying and drinking.
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.
• Jean-Jacques Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): This is the second time I bought this chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, which shows that even those of us who do this for a living make mistakes. Bland, boring, and overpriced. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons
• Raimat Saira Albarino 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This Spanish white is cheaply made, watery, and doesn’t much taste like albarino. It apparently exists for no other reason than to cost $10. Imported by Aveniu Brands