The 2014 $10 Wine Hall of Fame
The 2014 $10 Wine Hall of Fame makes the argument that we’ve won the battle, and that we never have to fear for cheap wine ever again. How else to explain the record-setting 16 wines inducted into the Hall? Or that I considered more than ever before, almost 100? Or that the non-wine media, whether a blog for 20-something women, the Huffington Post, or something called Country Living, has discovered the joys of cheap wine?
And, believe it or not, even the Winestream Media has been friendlier to cheap wine than ever before.
Yet this is not the time for complacency. The wine business still doesn’t give cheap wine the respect it deserves, preferring marketing and cute labels over quality. Or, as my pal Tim McNally has said, “There are cheap wines, and they have a place. Then there are wines that are made cheaply, and they don’t have a place at all.” In addition, two trends — increasing consolidation among producers, which works toward dumbing down $10 wine, and the industry’s desperation to return prices and profit margins to pre-recession levels — are working against quality cheap wine. The former was one reason why Cusumano’s Nero d’Avola, one of my all-time favorites, didn’t make the Hall.
Having said that, it’s difficult for even the Wine Curmudgeon to be too cranky this year. This is amply demonstrated in the eighth annual Hall of Fame, which added 15 wines. I have never seen so much quality cheap wine, and there is no reason to think that will change any time soon. Two wines dropped out, both for availability. Go here to find out which wines are eligible and how I pick them.
The new members of the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame:
• The $5 Vina Decana, a Spanish tempranillo that has succeeded the legendary Osborne Solaz in my cheap wine affection. One caveat: I bought this at Aldi, the national discount grocer, which has stores in 32 states and is aggressively expanding. But it may be limited elsewhere.
• Maculan Pino & Toi, an Italian white blend that is “an amazing wine — refreshing and clean, with green apple fruit, and even some kind of a finish.”
• The Pine Ridge chenin blanc/viognier blend, always a fine value and even better this year.
• Tractor Shed Red, a California field blend that brought back memories of cheap wine when it was respected and honored by so many more producers in California: “a fruity wine with character and qualities other than just the fruit.”
• The only thing you need to know about Spain’s Dibon cava is that Robert Parker liked it as much as I did. How often does that happen?
• The Little James Basket Press White, a viognier and sauvignon blanc blend from the French Rhone, joins the Basket Press Red in the Hall. Somehow, I never reviewed this wine in 2013, but know that it’s fruity and spicy, a hallmark of the Rhone.
• The Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, discovered during my epic cheap pinot tasting last year, and when I expected to find very little of quality. “What changed my mind was the aroma, earthy and spicy, and the taste, cherry fruit that wasn’t too fruity, and surprisingly soft, pinot-like tannins.”
• McManis’ petite sirah, “a little earthiness and lots of dark fruit, not too overdone, and, most importantly, varietally correct. This is petite sirah that tastes like petite sirah, something that too many producers no longer bother with.”
• Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, a sweetish white wine that has been in and out of the Hall several times over the years, is back in. Wonderfully oily and lemony in the style of more expensive rieslings.
• Too much pinot grigio is flavorless and bland, which makes the La Fiera that much more impressive. “This is quite possibly the perfect pinot grigio — a little lemon fruit and a restrained, quinine-like finish, three flavors, and not overdone in any way.”
• I tasted at least a dozen roses that were Hall-worthy; the one that stood out was the Cortijo III: “One of the most interesting and sophisticated roses I’ve tasted in years, which is saying something given my enthusiasm for rose.”
• Dry Creek’s chenin blanc, to join the winery’s fume blanc in the Hall: “not indifferently made and is not sweet. … This is a wonderful alternative to chardonnay, especially for salads, grilled vegetables, and cheese courses.”
• Luc Pirlet Pinot Noir les Barriques Reserve, a pinot noir from southern France, availability.
• Sicily’s Notorius white blend, availability.
The 2014 Hall of Fame list of holdovers:
• Australia’s Yalumba Y Series, and especially the shiraz/viogner, riesling, and rose, which may mark the beginning of a revolution in Aussie wine.
• Mandolin’s syrah, a California red that “tastes like wine, and not like it was designed by a focus group.”
• Château Font-Mars Picpoul, a French white that “is everything picpoul is supposed to be.”
• The $5 Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red: “All I can say is that the Wine Curmudgeon is as surprised as you are.”
• More than a dozen Sicilian wines that cost $10 or less and offer spectacular value; you can find them by clicking the cheap wine tab at the top of the page.
• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the old vine zinfandel and sauvignon blanc.
• The Yellow+Blue box wines, and especially the torrontes and malbec, about $12 for a 1-liter box.
• Dry Creek Fume Blanc, a stellar sauvignon blanc from California that restored my faith in inexpensive California wine.
• Two Spanish cavas, or sparkling wines — Segura Viudas brut (dry) and rose (“How can they do this so inexpensively?” a competitor asked me) and the legendary Cristalino brut, extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rose.
• The Hall’s Asterisk Wing — for the Vitiano red, white, and rose made by the great Riccardo Cotarella. These Italian wines are sometimes $10 and sometimes $11 or $12, and it’s kind of silly to keep moving them in and out of the Hall because the dollar fluctuates against the euro or because retailers are playing with margin.