The Vinum Cellars Pets is California petit sirah that delivers quality and value
Wine will surprise you, even when you’ve been doing it as long as the Wine Curmudgeon has. Sit and bemoan the lack of quality cheap California red wine and especially the lack of top-notch inexpensive petite sirah, and then you’ll taste two terrific petites – first, the McManis and now the Vinum Cellars Pets.
The Vinum Cellars Pets ($12, sample, 14.5%) was even more surprising than the McManis; the latter has long been one of the best cheap producers in the world. Vinum Cellars, on the other hand, has been annoyingly inconsistent – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not, and with no real reason for the difference.
But know that the Pets is well worth drinking. It’s petit sirah that tastes like petit sirah, so it’s not too jammy or too sweet (either the fruit or from residual sugar). It’s also not too hot, despite the high alcohol.
Instead, there is berry, almost plummy fruit, well-integrated oak, and soft tannins that aren’t too soft. In all, a $12 wine with structure and body, hardly what we’ve come to expect from this grape from this part of the world and certainly at this price.
South Africa’s MAN chenin blanc offers quality and value in an $11 white wine
I’ve spent the past couple of months writing about South African wine, not only here but for the trade media. The goal? Trying to figure out if South Africa can fill the void caused by the 25 percent tariff on French, Spanish, and German wine.
Sadly, despite top quality wines like the MAN chenin blanc ($11, purchased, 12.5%), the answer seems to be no. The reasons are many, including the three-tier system (since each wine needs a distributor, which most don’t have) and problematic pricing on higher-end South African wines.
Which is too bad, since the MAN chenin blanc does everything a terrific $10 wine should do. It’s a far cry from the country’s pre-Apartheid chenin blanc, when it was called steen and was likely to be soft and flabby.
Instead, the MAN is fresh, crisp, and enjoyable, without any cloying fruit or sweetness. Look for some lime and tropical fruit and more layers of flavor than most chenins at this price have. In this, is a professional wine and very well done, and shows how far South African winemaking has come.
The Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red is what we don’t see often enough – great, cheap California red wine
One of the blog’s great laments is the lack of quality cheap California wine. There’s lots of cheap wine, of course, but not much that most of us would want to drink. Because, as one of the blog’s regular visitors and a longtime California winemaker once told me, “we all decided we needed to become famous.”
Enter the Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red ($12, purchased, 13.9%). This red blend does what so many others don’t care to do – offer quality wine at a fair price that tastes like it comes from California. It’s a blend of syrah, petite sirah, tempranillo, and zinfandel, but remains balanced and interesting even though that grape combination can produce a six-megaton fruit bomb.
Look for some some sweet fruit (red berries?), but it’s not a sweet wine. There are soft tannins in the back, bracing the structure, just as they should, and there’s even a bit of acidity. In all of this, it’s not smooth, and that’s a good thing.
Highly recommended, and especially for anyone who likes this style of wine. And don’t be surprised to see it the Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red in the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
And, because I no longer understand how the wine business works, the 2012 vintage, which was also terrific, cost $14, $2 more than this one.
Once again, the Portuguese Esporao Alandra Branco white blend is terrific cheap wine
One of the best things about this job is finding a great cheap wine that remains a great cheap wine from vintage to vintage. And the Wine Curmudgeon has found one with the Esporao Alandra Branco.
The 2018 version of the Esporao Alandra Branco ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is a Portuguese white blend made with grapes like antão vaz that most of have never heard of. And that’s OK – not every wine has to be made with chardonnay. That it doesn’t taste exactly the same as the 2017? That’s OK, too. Vintage difference is not a bad thing as long as quality remains consistent. And it has here.
The 2018 is a little brighter and fresher than the 2017. There is more lemon and lime zest flavor than the than citrus fruit that the previous vintage had, and there is even a little minerality that wasn’t there last time. This wine is leaner and not as full in the mouth; again, not a bad thing, just different.
Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2021. It’s just the wine as winter ends and we’re looking for something lighter and more spring-like.
Tariff be damned! The Spanish Zestos Garnacha remains one of the world’s great $10 wines
This is the third time I’ve reviewed the Zestos Garnacha, a Spanish red wine made with garnacha. And the only reason I haven’t reviewed it more is availability – some vintages just never showed up in Dallas. The other reviews are here and here.
Because, regardless of anything else, the Zestos Garnacha ($10, purchased, 14%) just keeps on giving – a cheap red wine that offers quality, value, and deliciousness every vintage.
The 2018 is listed at 14 percent alcohol, which is higher than some years. This is no doubt to get around the Trump Administration’s 25 percent tariff on Spanish wine; wines with 14 percent or more alcohol aren’t taxed. It makes absolutely no difference. The Zestos is as delightful as ever.
Look for lots and lots of dark berry fruit, but not too ripe or too sweet. It’s also juicy without being jammy, something that doesn’t happen often with inexpensive garnacha and grenache. In addition, there is an almost herbal aroma and a sort of spiciness at the back of the wine. That’s a lot to be going on at a wine of this price.
Highly recommended, and almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2021. It’s also a candidate for the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year.
Look — the Chateau Bonnet Blanc on a store shelf. In Pennsylvania, even.
Despite the gloom and doom surrounding cheap wine these days, we still have the Chateau Bonnet Blanc to drink and enjoy
The Chateau Bonnet Blanc is the $10 bottle I turn to when the rest of the wine world seems to be headed toward $50, whether because of tariffs, premiumization or what have you. And we’ve certainly had a lot of what have you’s lately, haven’t we?
How much quality does this wine deliver? So much that even the 2016, which was all I could buy in Dallas for the past couple of years, was still amazingly fresh and delicious when I had it in January. The 2017 never did show up here, and the 2019 has not arrived yet.
The 2018, as always, is a white blend from France’s Bordeaux that’s mostly sauvignon blanc with a little semillon and muscadelle. It’s not quite as brisk as the 2016, and there seems to be a little more soft citrus fruit mixed in with the herbs and minerality. Which is not a problem, and speaks to the producer’s skill and professionalism: Something that costs this little remains consistent in terms of quality, yet displays vintage difference is stunning.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. Chill the Bonnet and drink on its own or with anything that’s not bloody red meat or covered up with cream sauce. And be glad it’s still with us, despite all the what have you’s.
Imported by Duetsch Family Wines & Spirits
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
The McManis petit sirah ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a reminder of the early days of the blog, when petit sirah was used to make quality cheap wine – a little plummy, a bit rich, not especially tannic, and just enough acidity for balance. Today, it’s mostly used to make sweet, “smooth,” flaccid red blends that cost $15 or $16, because someone somewhere thinks that’s what younger consumers want.
The McManis is the exact opposite of that, one of the best petit sirahs I’ve had in years, regardless of price. There is sweet dark plum fruit, but this is not a sweet wine. Plus, subtle acidity and the correct tannins. In this, it’s a reminder that California used to give us some of the world’s best cheap wine. Drink this with everything from takeout pizza to fancy meatloaf, and it wouldn’t be so bad on its own after a hard day at work, either. And you could do a whole lot worse using the McManis as a gift for the holiday that must not be named later this week.