The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is a French red blend that tastes like a French red blend, and not something smooth and soft
The Big Guy texted me the other day: “What’s with all these great cheap wines you’ve found lately?” His point? That I have spent much of the past two years wailing about the disappearance of great cheap wine. I’m not sure why we’ve been on such a winning streak, but the Moulin de Gassac Guilhem is one more terrific $10 wine.
The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem ($10, purchased, 13%) is from the Languedoc in southern France, home to much cheap wine of indifferent quality and to not so cheap wine that tastes cheap. This red blend, though, is what the French have done so well for centuries: A professional, well-made vin ordinaire, the sort of quality wine for Tuesday night takeout that seems to be disappearing.
The blend – made with a little more syrah than grenache and carignan – offers rich, dark red fruit, some spice, a bit of that funky French aroma that I like, and well developed tannins and acidity. In this, the latter are quite impressive for a wine at this price.
Drink this with dinner — delivery pizza, burgers on the grill, and even fajitas or enchiladas and burritos.
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 La Coeur de la Reine is French red wine made for those of us who want something affordable, fresh and interesting
Last week, as part of some Skype tastings I’m doing for the American Wine Society, someone asked me why I would drink cheap wine, since it isn’t “distinctive.” My answer was two-fold: First, what’s the point of drinking $50 white Burgundy or $75 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with a Tuesday takeout dinner? Second, I’d argue the point that all cheap wine is bland and boring, using the La Coeur de la Reine as an example.
The La Coeur de la Reine ($10, purchased, 13%) is a French red made with a less common grape from a less common region – gamay from the Loire. If gamay is known at all, it’s for Beaujolais, and it’s not the usual red grape from the Loire. That’s cabernet franc, which is hardly well known itself. Nevertheless, this wine does everything a $10 wine is supposed to do – and then some.
Know that it is about as different as $15 Beaujolais as possible, without any of the annoying banana smoothie flavor that shows up all too often these days. Instead, there is lots of tart berry fruit, a suggestion of baking spice, and an amazing freshness that most wines made with gamay don’t bother with. And it is a food wine in the most wonderful bistro sense, in that it will go with almost anything you have for dinner that isn’t in a cream sauce.
Highly recommended, and almost certain to be included in the 2020 $10 Hall of Fame.
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 Vibracions rose is $10 cava that will please even the most demanding significant other for the Holiday That Must Be Named
The Holiday That Must Not Be Named requires offerings as if it was a Greek god who must be appeased, else thunderbolts slam down from the heavens. Which is where the Vibracions rose comes in.
The Vibracions rose ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is cava, or Spanish sparkling wine, that offers amazing value, modern winemaking, and traditional cava style. In other words, a cheap wine to please even the most demanding Greek god – or even a significant other.
The key is a Spanish red grape called trepat, which was once common but now is too often passed over in favor of pinot noir. Trepat gives cava a berry-like brightness that pinot doesn’t always offer (particularly if the pinot is from Spain). That quality is on display in the Vibracions, which offers an almost dark, spicy aroma; bright, fresh strawberry fruit, though not too tart and with a hint of something darker; and the kind of tight, cascading bubbles that always denote top-notch sparkling wine.
Highly recommended – a Hall of Fame quality wine. Chill and drink it on its own, or pair with with almost any Holiday That Must Not Be Named dinner. It’s also the sort of thing for brunch, served with creamy, almost custard-like scrambled eggs topped with chives.
The 2017 vintage of the Melini Chianti is as different as it is unexpected
Something odd is going on the current vintage of the Melini Chianti, an almost always dependable $6 red wine. Either the wine is genuinely softer and fruitier, or someone dumped many bags of sugar into the barrels.
The Wine Curmudgeon prefers to think it’s the former. If there is added sugar in a cheap wine as venerable as the Melini Chianti ($6, purchased, 13%), then it’s time to go back to sports writing. And who wants to do that?
Because this Italian red, made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is much rounder and less sour than it has been for years, with a sort of sweet cherry fruit and a kind of forest floor finish where it didn’t have much of a finish at all before. It’s about as far from the simple, tight-cornered, and tart cherry Melini as possible.
It still mostly tastes like Chianti, but more of a New World version. Again, I don’t know that this is a bad thing as much as it is unexpected. And the Melini still pairs with the usual sorts of red sauces, takeout pizza, and the like.
So chalk the change up to a vintage difference, and hope for the best next time.
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.