As much as the Wine Curmudgeon appreciates this wine, both for how little it costs and its sentimental value, I don't do much with it on the blog. It's one of those wines that I seem to get around to only once in a couple of years.
However, people who visit the blog apparently want more. There was the request six weeks ago from a reader looking for the plastic bulls that come with the wine, and there has been a pretty significant increase in search requests from the cyber-ether this spring. So, the Wine Curmudgeon, vigilant as ever to the needs of his visitors, decided to review a bottle.
Which turned out to be a good idea. Save for a screwcap, the Sangre de Toro ($8, purchased) is much as it always has been, a rough and peasant-style red wine blend (garnacha and carinena — the Spanish versions of grenache and carignane).
Do not be put off by that description; it's a welcome development in a world where too much wine is bland and glossy and without character. There's some red fruit and lots of acid, which means this wine needs food — meat sauces, stews and similar dishes. I drank it with sausage gravy over rice, and I was surprised at how well it worked.
Sept. 2, 2011 update: Tasted the 2010 at The Esquire in San Antonio, where it was surreal to see Tariquet on the wine list, and for only $21. The wine was everything it should be. There was a bit of grapey fruit, lots of citrus, and that wonderful, fresh, clean style. And it paired well with fried dill pickles.
The good news: This is still great cheap wine, and a member of the $10 Hall of Fame.
The bad news: The 2009 isn’t as interesting as the 2007 and 2008. I’m not sure if it’s because the vintage was lacking or if the 2009 is too old. As wonderful as the Tariquet is, it’s not made to age more than a year or two; hopefully, the 2010 will be here soon. There’s less green apple and more grapiness in the 2009 than in other vintages.
Having said all of that, the Tariquet ($10, purchased) shows what can be done when a producer cares about making quality cheap wine. It’s a white blend composed of ugni blanc and colombard, two grapes held in lesser repute most everywhere else in the world. But in Gascony, where the Tariquet is made, they are as important as chardonnay is elsewhere, and it shows in the wine. And the winery has been around since the late 17th century, so the winemakers know a thing or two about what they’re doing.
What better way to describe this wine than with a quote from my pal Jim Serroka. Jim drinks wine, but is not as serious about it as the Wine Curmudgeon. As such, he often provides much needed perspective. Said Jim: "This is what I thought wine was supposed to taste like."
The Lafon-Rochet ($60, gift) is a big-deal Bordeaux wine, a fourth-growth from Saint-Estephe on Bordeaux's left bank. Fourth-growth means the winery was included in the 1855 rankings of French wine, which classified the wineries in five groups, one (the best) to five; it's still the way left-bank Bordeaux wine is rated by the French. Saint-Estephe, meanwhile, is one of the world's great wine regions, if not quite up to Margaux and Paulliac.
As such, Lafon-Rochet has always been considered a value for this kind of wine. It provides Bordeaux quality, especially for older vintages, without the ridiculous cash outlay that so much Bordeaux requires. That's one reason why my brother, who gave me the bottle, bought it.
The Lafon-Rochet has aged well, and this is a silky, velvety wine. It still has discreet black fruit and those wonderful Bordeaux aromas — mushrooms, forest floor and the like. The oak and fruit are tightly integrated, and the finish seems to go on forever. Don't expect to find New World-style tannins and acid. They're not there, partly from the aging, partly from the style of winemaking, and partly because this wine has more merlot than most left-bank Bordeaux, which focus on cabernet sauvignon. And yes, it would make a nice Father's Day gift for those thinking that far ahead.
Portuguese wines are all the rage. Quality has improved markedly over the past couple of years, as has availability. Sales are growing, and not just for the the most common wines, like vinho verde. Higher quality and even more expensive red and white table wines, the mainstay of any wine business, are becoming more common and more popular.
In fact, I have had a half dozen or so top notch Portuguese wines over the past year, and that so many of them have been so good and have cost around $10 is worth an eventual Portuguese wine post. Until then, consider the Prazo ($17, sample), a red blend made with tinta roriz, the Portuguese version of tempranillo, touriga nacional, the classic port grape, and three others. As such, it could have been heavy and cloying, which was not unusual for this style of wine in the past.
But it's fresh and clean — an almost New World-style tempranillo, with lots of red fruit, acid to balance, and soft tannins on the finish. A conscious effort has been made to steer the Prazo away from the typical raisiny, gooey style, and it shows. My only concern was value: It is it worth $17? Probably, given how many annoying, over-ripe California wines cost that much. Serve this with spring and summer barbecues, and think about it as a gift for the red wine drinker who wants to try something different.
During the Australian wine boom last decade, one of the big wine companies thought it would be clever to pair a top Aussie winemaker with a leading California winemaker. The result was the $15 Hayman & Hill line. I got to taste with David Hayman, the Australian half, when the brand was introduced, and was quite impressed.
But, as often happens with these things, what seems clever to a big wine company at one moment is forgotten about at the next. The Hayman & Hill wines, despite top-notch reviews, are sporadically available and the label doesn't seem to have its own website any more. And the last I heard, neither Hayman nor Dennis Hill, the American, had much to do with making the wines.
Which is too bad, because Hayman & Hill's bottles deserve the good reviews they get. This Napa Valley cabernet ($15, sample) is a previous vintage, and it sat in the wine closet for a year before I realized it was there. But it was worth waiting for, with lots of black fruit (but not overdone or sweet) and enough tannins to stand up to the fruit and the acid. This is the kind of Napa cabernet that I appreciate: Sturdy, fruit forward and ready for a piece of red meat — but not overpriced.
Don’t fear, regular visitors. That’s not one bottle of wine, but the result of a recent Wine Curmudgeon shopping expedition — 13 bottles, only two of which cost more than $16. And there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.
The occasion for this spree? A chance to shop at Spec’s, probably the best liquor retailer in Texas. Spec’s doesn’t have any stores in Dallas, but I was in Austin for a wedding and Spec’s has several stores there. So that gave me a chance to check out Spec’s vast inventory (at 80,000 square feet, it’s bigger than most grocery stores) and its very competitive pricing. I was not disappointed.
Want to buy Mom wine for Mother's Day? Or serve something she'll enjoy for brunch? The Wine Curmudgeon is ready, willing, and able. Keep in mind our wine gift-giving guidelines ("Don't buy someone wine that you think they should like; buy them what they will like"), as well as these suggestions:
? Naked Grape Pinot Grigio 2009 ($8, sample): Pleasant pinot grigio, which isn't easy to do for less than $10. This California white has more lemon fruit than Italian versions, and is missing the off-flavors that frequently crop up.
? Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage 2009 ($11, sample): All in all, a well made $11 red blend. It has California-style black fruit, but not overdone, plus better balanced tannins than one usually finds at this price. There is even oak for people who like that sort of thing.