Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.
The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.
In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted
The Badenhorst The Curator is a white South African blend that offers a glimpse into the country’s wine renaissance
South African wine has never been much popular in the U.S., save for a brief period at the beginning of the century when it knocked off high-powered Aussie shiraz. When that fad ended, the country’s wines pretty much disappeared from store shelves.
So what is the Badenhorst The Curator ($10, purchased, 12.5%) doing as the wine of the week during the blog’s 2020 Hall of Fame celebration? Because the South African white blend is that well made and that enjoyable.
I bought the Badenhorst The Curator because I had to, given the European wine tariff; the country’s track record for quality and value has been that off-putting for the past 15 years. But The Curator is not what South African wine has been. Rather, it speaks to the country’s renaissance, and especially with white wines. The blend (mostly chenin blanc) is still crisp and fresh, with soft citrus and an almost juicy stone fruit finish that lingers longer than it should. Best yet, the price reminds us that not all wine has to cost $15 just because.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco offers surprising quality and value for a New Year’s sparkling wine
Most Prosecco that costs less than $15 tastes mostly the same – a little sweet, not very sparkling, and kind of blah. There’s nothing really wrong with these version of the Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not something that you look forward to drinking. Enter the Val D’Oca Prosecco.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco ($12, purchased, 11%) has most of the things that the others don’t. Yes, it’s a little sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by a touch of citrus (lime?). Meanwhile, the bubbles are surprisingly tight and bubbly for a Prosecco, and the finish is actually clean and almost crisp. Again, that’s not common for a Proseocco at this price.
Finally, it’s also quite food friendly, whether to pair with something like grilled shrimp with with fried appetizers like frito misto. In this, it’s too well made to use for mimosas.
Rather, it’s exactly the kind of wine to toast the New Year with when you don’t want to spend $40. Highly recommended, and this comes from someone who doesn’t usually say that about Prosecco.
Do you get the idea this producer knows a thing or two about great cheap wine?
The Alain Brumont rose ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is pink wine from France’s Gascony, and we all know how much the Wine Curmudgeon likes Gascon wine. Even more impressive, the Brumont is made with tannat, syrah, and merlot. If anyone had told me a wine made with those three grapes could be so fresh, they would have gotten one of my looks.
But the Brumont is fresh and interesting. It’s more fruity than most Provencal and Spanish roses (cherry, strawberry?) and more New World in style, thanks to those three red grapes. But it’s not heavy, it’s not overdone, and it’s cloying. Somehow, it’s clean and brisk, as rose should be.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Christmas dinner for people who aren’t sure what to drink, who may not like wine, and for everyone who wants something different.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica is Argentine malbec that delivers much more than expected
What does one do when government feuding makes French and Spanish wine, normally the best values in the world, too expensive for the blog? Look toward Argentina and the Santa Julia Malbec Organica.
The Santa Julia Malbec Organica ($10, sample, 13.5%) is almost everything most Argenine malbecs are not. That means it isn’t cloying, devoid of character, and amped up on sweet fruit at the expense of everything else. Which means a well-made, fruity (zippy berries?) wine, where the tannins are soft but serviceable. In all, a balanced, pleasant, and professional effort, and the kind we sorely need in these trying days.
But why not? Santa Julia is the organic label from Familia Zuccardi, a top Argentine producer that has appeared on the blog many times over the years. Its wines are almost always a solid choice when one is in a supermarket and confused about what to buy.
Serve this on its own if you want a glass of wine after work, or with everything from spaghetti and meatballs to takeout burgers.
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.