Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Bin 36 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($16, sample): A good example of what can be done to make affordable California cabernet in the style of Avalon and 337. This is rich and fruit forward, and though there isn’t much more than that, it also isn’t as simple as something like the many popular grocery store cabernets.
? Simonnet-Febvre Chablis 2008 ($20, sample) This French white had lots of acid, but also quite fruity (green apples?) for a Chablis. Though $20 is probably too much to spend on it, it was still quite nice to drink.
? Ch teau Moncontour Vouvray Brut NV ($18, sample): Would that someone in Texas (hint, hint) made bubbly of this quality. This French sparkling wine is made from chenin blanc, and has lots of acid balanced by sweet apple fruit at the back.
? Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2009 ($18, sample): Another excellent effort from Rodney Strong — varietally correct, with cherry fruit, an almost cola-like aroma, some earthiness and pinot tannins. Given the silly prices for pinot noir, a decent value.
The first time I tasted this wine, a Portuguese red blend, it was from the 2003 vintage and it was an outstanding $7 wine — almost $10 Hall of Fame worthy. The next vintage, the 2005, was less than impressive, overripe and flabby. The 2006 was better than the 2005, but not as good as the 2003.
This inconsistency has driven the Wine Curmudgeon crazy, since I really want to like the wine. As noted, there just aren’t that many nifty $10 reds out there these says. So when the 2008 was up to the 2003’s standards, I was ecstatic. This version of the Altano ($10, sample) manages to combine an Old World sturdiness with bright, dark fruit (prune-like, if that’s possible). It’s not especially tannic or acidic, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Pair it with any weeknight red wine dish, like meatloaf or stuffed bell peppers.
So why was this vintage so much better than the others? I checked with the producer’s Dallas representative, and he didn’t mince words. There were a variety of problems with the way the wine was made, like hiring port winemakers to make table wine. These problems, he says, have been fixed by the label’s new owners, and the ’08 was made by winemakers who specialize in table wine. Which is good news, and I’m looking forward to the next vintage.
Columbia Crest is known, if it’s known at all, as a grocery store wine producer. As such, there are probably more than a few people looking at the headline and wondering what the Wine Curmudgeon is babbling about.
In fact, many mass market wineries make super-premium wines. Beringer does a well-regarded $100 cabernet sauvignon as well as $7 white zinfandel, and another Columbia Crest wine, a reserve cabernet, was the Wine Spectator’s top label in 2009. And Columbia Crest is owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle of $8 riesling fame.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that the Walter Clore ($30, sample) is a top-notch red blend (cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc). Look for red berry New World fruit, but tastefully done, with the requisite acids and tannins to complement the fruit. It is far from one-dimensional, as too many red wines at this price can be that have either too much fruit or too much alcohol. All in all, very impressive and another example of how well-made Washington state red wine can be.
Pair this with traditional red wine meals — prime rib, steak, and the like. I had it with pot roast and spaetzle, and it actually worked better than a much more expensive Sonoma cabernet. It would also make a fine gift for red wine devotees, what with the Holiday That Must Not be Named coming up.
South African red wine has always baffled the Wine Curmudgeon. Its shiraz is often little more than an Australian knockoff, and its signature grape, pinotage, is, to be polite, an acquired taste. There is also the infamous burnt rubber aroma, which shows up in many of the red wines.
So I did not have high hopes for the Kadette ($15, sample), a blend of pinotage, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Nevertheless, it was easily the best pinotage I have ever had — and this is not damning with faint praise.
There is juicy New World berry fruit, but not overdone or too sweet as is the case with many California red wines at this price. Plus, moderate alcohol and soft tannins make it that much more interesting. The pinotage adds to the wine and doesn't overwhelm it; if I had tasted the Kadette blind, I'd have said it was a California Bordeaux-style blend. And no burnt rubber anywhere at all.
Serve the wine with pot roast and mashed potatoes, a rich, wintery and saucy meat lasagna, or even eggplant parmesan. The Kadette is a tremendous value.
Yet another wine that the Wine Curmdugeon judged before tasting — and was, as usual, completely wrong about.
Though I had my reasons. Really. The PR materials that came with the Piluna ($13, sample) were, to be kind, a bit overwrought. They included a line that said, "Here spreads the sun which floods the land with light. …" I've been writing professionally for too long to take that well. Plus, I'm wary of Italian primitivo, which was one of the varietals of the moment before the wine business crashed in 2008. I wonder how much primitivo is sitting in distributor warehouses, gathering dust, never to be heard from again.
Though, of course, neither of those had anything to do with what the wine tasted like. Maybe that should be my New Year's wine resolution: Drink the wine before you write about it, stupid. So, needless to say, the Piluna was a pleasant surprise. Though it had more oak than it needed, there was lots of very impressive black fruit, and the necessary amount of acid to balance it. I drank it with roast chicken, and it paired well. It would also work with beefy winter braises and stews.
One other thought: The wine comes from Puglia, in the Italian boot heel. This should have been a clue the wine was worthwhile; the blog's favorite wine, Tormaresca Neprica, comes from Puglia (as does its sister chardonnay). Like I said, stupid.
This wine should really be called Volteo Blanco, since it's a Spanish white wine blend. I'm assuming that the three grapes used to make it are in the name because most Europeans think that Americans only buy wine that has the varietals in the name. That most of us have no idea what viura or viogner are probably never occurred to the folks behind Volteo ($10, purchased).
Having said that, it's quite well made and (with its tempranillo cousin) was in consideration for the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame. That it didn't get in speaks more to its newness; this is one of the first vintages, and I'd like to see what happens next before I elevate it to the Hall.
Viura is a traditional Spanish grape used to make just this kind of wine. Look for a crisp, fresh, clean effort with a bit of lemon fruit and Spanish minerality and acid. Don't expect a New World citrusy wine — the Volteo is much more balanced. Serve this with salads, almost any kind of grilled fish, and even boiled shrimp. And, like the tempranillo, it has the "Smart Label:" A blue frame appears around the label illustration when the wine is at the correct serving temperature. Which actually did work.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month (Thursday this month because of the holiday).
? Stone Hill Vignoles 2009 ($16, sample): Lots of pineapple, but not all that sweet with a long peach pit finish. An excellent example of what can be done with this hybrid grape from one of Missouri’s top producers.
? Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14, sample): This wine is one of the reasons why I love wine, and it has nothing to do with whether I “liked” it or not. The Souverain is done in a style I don’t usually care for, oaked sauvignon blanc, but it’s so well done that I can appreciate what it offers and recommend it.
? Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18, purchased): More wonderfullness from what may be the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Look for even less citrus and more tropical fruit than usual, which is saying something since Spy Valley is among the least citrus-y of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
? Bodegas Iranzo Vertus 2003 ($15, sample): Tempranillo from a less well-known part of Spain, and well worth the effort. More fresh cherry fruit than a Rijoa, lots of bright Spanish acidity and even a bit of herb tucked in. Highly recommended.