Tag Archives: wine of the week

Wine of the week: Marchesi di Barolo Maràia 2016

Marchesi di Barolo MaràiaThe Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality

One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.

Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.

Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)

But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.

Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2016

Cellaro Luma GrilloForget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious

How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”

Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.

No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?

Note to wine business: How about all of us?

The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Wine of the week: Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV

Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de LimouxThe Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux isn’t Champagne, but it’s not supposed to be — so enjoy the difference

The world does not revolve around Champagne, as I make mention of each year around this time. Sparkling wine is made almost everywhere that wine is made, and there are a variety of interesting, fairly priced, and quality labels. So know that the Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV does not taste like Veuve Clicquot or Nicolas Feuillatte, but also know that it’s not supposed to.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux ($15, purchased, 12%) is a cremant, which is what sparkling wine from France not made in the Champagne region is called. A cremant from Limoux is made the much the same way as Champagne (the second fermentation is in the bottle and not a steel tank, as with Italy’s Prosecco), but there are a couple of differences. Hence, the production is called methode ancestrale to differentiate it from Champagne’s methode champenoise.

First, cremant de Limoux is made with different grapes, primarly mauzac, which is local to the region. Next, the second fermentation is unaided, so that the bubble creation doesn’t get a boost from the addition of more yeast, as in Champagne. These differences make for subtle, yet interesting changes from the sparkling wine most of us drink.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux, thanks to the mauzac, is a very traditional blanquette, with a yeasty, brioche kind of finish. But unlike so many Champagnes that finish in that style, it’s also quite fresh and light, with barely ripe apple fruit. In this, it’s almost a food wine – New Year’s brunches, for example. What you don’t want to do is use it for something like mimosas, which would cover up what makes the wine interesting.

Imported by Espirit du Vin

Wine of the week: Henry Fessy Gamay Noir 2016

Henry Fessy gamayThe Henry Fessy gamay noir is a quality red at a more than fair price — and just in time for the holidays

The cheap wine gods have taken pity on the Wine Curmudgeon. Maybe it was all the plonk I drank this year, or that I had to write the same things over and over in 2018 – sweet when it’s supposed to be dry, over-ripe with too much alcohol, and not varietally correct. Because the cheap wine gods put the Henry Fessy gamay on a store shelf where I could find it.

The Henry Fessy gamay noir ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of red wine that used to be relatively easy to find but is a rarity in our Big Wine, sweet and smooth 21st century world. This French red is delicious, but more importantly, it’s varietally correct: It’s made with the gamay grape, so that means not quite tart berry fruit instead of the flabby softness that is all too common in cheap Beaujolais. Plus, there is a bit of zip, a lick of baking spice, and refreshing tannins. Missing is any hint of focus-group inspired smoothness or of residual sugar hiding behind fake oak and handfuls of added acidity.

This wine tastes like it should cost $17 or $18 instead of $12 (and I bought it on sale for $10). So what’s going on here? First, gamay isn’t a grape that gets much respect, even in France, and that tends to lower the price. Second, it’s not an appellation wine, but a vin de France, where the grapes came from anywhere in the country and which also lowers the price. Third, the producer is known for quality, high-end Beaujolais, so we get the expertise without the cost.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. This is the kind of wine to buy by the case and drink when you want a glass of quality at a more than fair price.

Imported by Louis Latour

 

Wine of the week: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay 2016

Domaine de Bernier chardonnayThe Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay, a French white, is just this close to being named 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year

The Wine Curmudgeon rarely questions what other people think about what they drink. After all, it’s part of the blog’s reason for being. But this comment, on wine-searcher.com discussing the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay, is worth noting:

“Light on flavor, but good nose. Not as good as Yellow Tail.”

Arghhhhhhhhhh.

Taste, of course, is relative. But to say that tarted up Yellow Tail chardonnay, fortified with residual sugar and pumped full of fake oak, tastes better than this French white from the Loire region? That’s like saying I enjoy spending $100 on 92-point Wine Spectator Napa cabernet sauvignons.

No, Yellow Tail is not better than the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay ($10, purchased, 12%). The wines are just different. That’s the point of wine, something that I have been trying to get across for 11 years. Obviously, I still have some work to do.

The Domaine de Bernier is $10 Hall of Fame wine, an unoaked chardonnay that tastes exactly like it’s supposed to taste: Wonderful green apple aroma, clean and crisp, a bit of apple and pear fruit, no oak, and a little minerality. I drank it with spaghetti with clam sauce, and the wine was gone before I realized it. If it wasn’t a little thin on the back, I’d name it the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year here and now.

The Yellow Tail comment speaks to the danger of buying wine on price, which happens more and more given the sad state of cheap wine. The reasoning goes: “I like Yellow Tail, and it’s $10 chardonnay, so let me try this $10 chardonnay.” That approach, though, overlooks the differences in the wines, that the Domaine de Bernier is not supposed to taste like the Yellow Tail. The former is more subtle – a food wine instead of a cocktail wine. A French wine, and not an Australian wine. A wine shop wine instead of a grocery store wine.

And those differences are OK. All I ask is that wine drinkers try to understand why they exist and use that knowledge when they buy wine. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be stuck with overpriced, poorly made plonk.

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014

cune crianzaCVNE’s Cune Crianza is a red Spanish wine that delivers tremendous value and quality

Spanish wine still offers some of the best value in the world. And, whenever the Wine Curmudgeon despairs about the future of cheap wine, I drink something Spanish like CVNE’s Cune Crianza and feel better.

The Cune Crianza ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is everything an inexpensive Spanish Rioja (a red wine made with tempranillo from the Rioja region in northern Spain) should be. It’s varietally correct, with that faint orange peel aroma, not quite ripe cherry fruit, and a bit of earth and a touch of minerality. The touch of oak offers a little vanilla, but it’s in the background and doesn’t take over the wine. In this, there is a tremendous amount of structure for a crianza – the least expensive class of Rioja, and one that sees little of the oak aging that helps to provide structure.

And yes, it’s worth the extra two or three dollars – especially when you consider the alternative is something likes this.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and the $2019 Cheap Wine of the Year. The past year has not been kind to cheap wine, but the CVNE Cune Crianaza is a reminder about what is possible.

Imported by Europvin

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Bianco 2015

Zirtari BiancoThe Feudo Zirtari Bianco is an astonishing $10 white wine, and especially given how old it is

This Italian white blend from Sicily is not supposed to be this enjoyable. First, it’s too old – who ever heard of a $10 white wine lasting more than a couple of vintages? Second, the producer’s wines are notoriously inconsistent, and my notes are littered with lines like “not as good as the last one.” Nevertheless, the Zirtari Bianco is $10 Hall of Fame quality cheap wine.

Which, of course, is one of the joys of doing this – finding a wine like the Zirtari Bianco ($10, purchased, 13.5%) when I don’t expect to find anything at all. It’s a blend of insolia, a native Sicilian grape, and chardonnay. Hence, the sum is far greater than its parts, given the usual quality of Sicilian chardonnay.

Look for spice (white pepper, nutmeg?), almonds, and pear fruit, which is a surprisingly delicious combination considering the two grapes that have been blended together. Plus, it’s not thin in the mouth or on the finish, which is what usually happens with a three-year-old cheap white wine.

Highly recommended, but there is a conundrum: Should you try to find this vintage, and hope it held up as well as my bottle did? Or should you buy the current vintage and hope that it’s as well made as this one? I don’t have an answer, though it’s almost certainly easier to find the current vintage.

Imported by Santa Margherita USA