It's the holidays. You want wine. You don't want to have to think about it. That's what The Other is for.
It's a red blend from Lodi (mostly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a splash of syrah) and yes, I can see the wine snobs shuddering. That's their problem. The Other ($14, purchased) is a fine value, it's well made, and it has never let me down. Look for black fruit, but in a sensible, this tastes good sort of way. Serve this wine with red meat, as an aperitif for people who want a glass of red wine when they come to visit, or in front of the fire when you're worn out from holiday fun.
It's true that most people who pick up The Other for the first time do so because of the label, which is the back of a naked woman. But the wine is consistent, and that doesn't happen often enough with less expensive labels. And, sadly, it's not $10 any more, which it was when I started drinking it. But that doesn't mean I still don't enjoy it.
The late Todd Williams always took pride in being just a little bit different. This was a Sonoma winemaker, after all, who had Missouri nortons in his wine cellar.
So, in 1993, when he made 3,000 cases of unoaked Toad Hollow chardonnay, the wine world probably chalked it up to his eccentricity. Who would make an unoaked chardonnay for $10 and expect to be taken seriously when California was famous for expensive, heavily oaked chardonnays?
This vintage of the chardonnay ($15, sample) continues the winery’s tradition of quality wine at a fair price. No, it’s not $10 any more, but it still has lots of green apple fruit, a long mineral finish, and not a hint of oaky or toasty. It’s a wine you can keep in the refrigerator during the holidays in case anyone drops by, and it will also work well with all sorts of holiday leftovers or Chinese takeout.
The winery has also gone to screwcaps (wonder what Todd, a cork man, would think of that?), so let this sit for 10 minutes or so after you take the top off. It will improve the flavor markedly.
A long time ago, before livestock wines and malbecs from Argentina, Americans drank cheap French wine. And one of the most important cheap French wines came from Mouton Cadet. Mouton was part of Le Famille Rothschild, which included Mouton Rothschild, a Bordeaux first growth that was (and still is) one of the great wines of the world. I'm not sure those of us who drank the Cadet understood what that meant, but the label was classy and we were drinking French wine — which was a big deal 30 years ago.
These days, Mouton is not what it used to be. It's still a major brand, but it's just another of many major brands. Much has changed since Mouton's heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the Australians, Chileans and Argentines have mostly replaced the French as the world's source of cheap wine.
In fact, I have been debating whether to review the Cadet for a couple of months, and have always passed. I didn't have the heart to buy the wine, taste it, and discover that another part of my past was gone. Still, when Mouton sent samples this fall, I decided to take a chance.
I'm glad I did. The Cadet ($10, sample) has changed significantly since the old days. It's more fruit forward, with a lemony-grapefruit flavor more reminiscent of Chilean sauvignon blanc than the typical slate and minerality of a white Bordeaux. This change is aimed at the modern American palate, and it pretty much works. I don't know that I like the new style better than the old, but the Cadet offers $10 worth of value. And that's the important thing.
Consistency is the difference between great cheap wine and ordinary cheap wine. Two Buck Chuck, for all of its acclaim, does not taste the same from year to year, and its quality goes up and down with regularity. Even better made wines, like Meridian, suffer from this problem. One vintage will be terrific and the next will be much less than that (which is why its chardonnay is dropping out of the $10 Hall of Fame next year).
Bogle's wines, on the other hand, do not have this problem. I have been writing about cheap wine for almost 20 years, and for almost 20 years I have always depended on Bogle. It has never let me down. The petite sirah ($10, purchased) is the winery's showpiece, an outstanding example of the producer's quality and consistency. It is always clean and always varietally correct, which means it's not the same thing as a syrah and is not made to taste like one. This is saying something given the current trend toward blending varietal wines to make them sweeter and fruitier in a misguided attempt to appease the American palate.
Look for berry fruit, a touch of oak, and tannins at the end that give the wine some welcome oomph. This is a burly red meat wine — pot roast and gravy, stews that have been cooking all day, and the like. Highly recommended, and the kind of $10 wine to drink to celebrate the blog's third birthday. It's the kind of cheap wine that makes writing about cheap wine a pleasure.
I can hear the complaining now: "Not another rose, Wine Curmudgeon. Aren't you tired of them yet?"
Not at all. I've never understood the reluctance for rose among so many wine drinkers (and sparkling wine too, for that matter). It's cheap and it's food friendly. And, best of all, it's cheap. Some of the hesitation, certainly, comes from the wine drinker's reluctance to be caught drinking pink wine, since they are terrified this will bring stares and giggles from the wine snobs. Fortunately, I don't care about stuff like that. And, with Thanksgiving a couple of weeks away, roses like the Maremma are the kinds of wine that more people should consider.
So what about the Maremma ($11, purchased)? It's Italian, a blend of sangivoese and cabernet sauvignon from Tuscany. Look for pleasant tart cherry and cranberry fruit, but nothing too extreme, and a bit of a mineral finish. In this, it's a very old fashioned kind of rose — dry and unassuming. I tasted it, put the glass down, and wasn't sure if I liked it. But the next thing I knew, the bottle was mostly empty and I was thinking about how pleasant it had been. Drink this chilled, but pair it with food. Hamburgers would be good, and so would many chicken dishes.
It's not easy to find quality, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon. There's plenty of cheap cabernet out there, but most of it is either too tannic, too green (with flavors resembling bell peppers), or too grapey to bother with. In fact, this is one of the few areas where the Wine Curmudgeon has mostly given up finding decent wine for $10 or less.
When you raise the price bar to $15, the standard has always been Avalon's Napa cabernet, which offers a bit of sophistication and style with plenty of quality California fruit. I've always thought the Avalon was superior to wines that cost $20 and more.
Which is why the 337 (about $15, sample) was such a pleasant surprise. I had tasted a previous vintage a couple of years ago when my Cordon Bleu class did its red wine extravaganza, but had not thought much about it until last week. That's when I saw this bottle in the back of the wine closet and remembered that my class had enjoyed the wine. If the 337 is not up the level of the Avalon, that's not an insult. It has cherry fruit that isn't overdone and the requisite varietal characteristics — zingy tannins and a decent finish. It's a red meat wine for cooler fall nights. One note: You might find some of the 2008 vintage, which should be OK.
And the name? 337 refers to the name of the clone of cabernet used to make the wine. What's a clone? It's a version of cabernet that has been bred for a specific purpose. In this case, 337 is the clone of cabernet used to make the wine.
The Wine Curmudgeon, who usually knows no fear when it comes to tasting wine, was a bit wary of the Geyser Peak. A decade ago, when I started writing about cheap wine, this was one of the first ones that impressed me. It was in the first couple of $10 Hall of Fames, and I've always had fond memories of it.
But, for a variety of reasons, I haven't tasted the Geyser Peak ($8, purchased) much over the past several years, and wasn't sure what to expect this time. I didn't want to be disappointed if the wine wasn't what I remembered it being, or if my palate had gone in one direction and the wine had gone in another.
Not to worry, though. The Geyser Peak was all that it ever was — solid, dependable, $10 wine that succeeds in being more than some wines that cost twice as much. It has lots of lime, a bit of a middle (not something many $10 wines have), and a long, lime pith finish. Chill and serve with salads, grilled shrimp, and roast chicken — almost any white meat dish, actually. A candidate to return to the $10 Hall of Fame.