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Category Archives: $10 wine

Wine of the week: Bogle Pinot Noir 2013

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bogle pinot noirThe Wine Curmudgeon has probably tasted more poorly-made pinot noir than anyone in the wine business. I mention this not to elicit sympathy (tasting badly made pinot noir still beats working for a living), but to reinforce just how well made the Bogle pinot noir is, and especially for the price. It mostly tastes like pinot noir, and there aren’t many $10 pinots you can say that about.

That’s because most pinot noir that costs less than $20 bares as much resemblance to traditional pinot noir as I do to an editor at the Wine Spectator. It’s too ripe, it’s too fruity, it’s blended with too many other grapes, it’s too tannic, and it’s too alcoholic, and tastes nothing like the traditional description of pinot — elegant and refined. This doesn’t mean many of those aren’t enjoyable; they just don’t taste like pinot noir.

Which the Bogle ($10, purchased, 13.5%) does. It’s not a $100 red Burgundy or $50 Oregon pinot noir, but most of what needs to be there is there: Enough fruit (mostly black), a fresh mouthfeel, and real pinot tannins, which invigorate the wine. It’s not full of the jammy sweet fruit that most pinots at this price opt for, and it’s smooth in the way many consumers like without insulting those of us who want more than smoothness.

The oak — too obviously trying to be chocolate — could be better done, but this is another example of how much Bogle cares about cheap wine and gives those of us who want to drink it value for our money. Highly recommended, and why Bogle has been in the $10 Hall of Fame since I started it.


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Wine of the week: Caposaldo Chianti 2012

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Caposaldo ChiantiWho thought the Wine Curmudgeon would ever have anything nice to say about an Italian wine made with merlot? But that was before I tasted the Caposaldi Chianti.

This Italian red from the Chianti region in Tuscany is a brilliant example of traditional Italian style combined with modern winemaking techniques. The Caposaldi ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way. And much of that is because it’s a blend, with the traditional sangiovese complemented with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot and 5 percent malvasia, a white grape. The cabernet adds some heft, the merlot adds freshness to the fruit, and the malvasia softens the sangiovese. The result is amazing.

In one respect, this isn’t new, since blended Chianti, even with white grapes, has been allowed for decades. But this style of blend takes a different approach from those who use the cabernet and merlot to make a wine more New World in style — fruitier and less dark. Here, though, the two grapes reinforce the Caposaldo Chianti’s Italianness. This makes it perfect for any food that has pork, tomato sauce, beef, noodles, cheese, or any combination thereof.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame — another example of what a winemaker who wants to offer the best value can do when value and quality are what matter most.

Can we use wine back labels to figure out wine quality?

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wine back labels

Mark Thornton: “The words — and not what they mean — on wine back labels are a clue to wine quality.”

Because, finally, someone has discovered a way to measure the relationship between what’s written on wine back labels and the quality of the wine.

The breakthrough came from a Harvard Ph.D. student named Mark Thornton, who took data from 75,000 wines in the Wine.com inventory, and compared what was written on their back label — and not what the words meant — with ratings from the site’s users and from wine critics.

The findings? That certain words appear on the back labels of wines of lesser quality, while certain words appear on the back labels of wines with higher ratings. Thornton told me he knows this isn’t perfect, given how scores and wine ratings work, and he wants to improve that part of the study. In addition, he wants to refine the way his software decides which words to analyze, perhaps eliminating regions and better understanding phrases, like grilled meats instead of grilled and meats.

What does matter is that Thornton’s work is apparently the first time anyone has done this kind of research, making it as revolutionary as it is helpful in deciphering the grocery store wall of wine.

Thornton, whose parents teach in Cal State Fresno, says this study interested him because it’s about wine, which he likes, and because it ties into his PhD research, which deals with how we describe things. One of the concepts this study takes into account is called “naive realism,” in which we assume that what we sense has to be true for everyone, when it obviously isn’t. Which dovetails neatly with wine.

Thornton’s findings confirm many of my suspicions about wine back labels, as well as how critics use descriptors. The word clouds on his site summarize the results; I’ve set them up so you can see them more easily here for the consumer ratings and here for the critic ratings.

These are among the highlights of the study:

• Restaurant food pairings or terms like pasta appear on the labels of the lowest-rated wines. Thornton says this may well be because the wine doesn’t have any wine-like qualities to recommend it.

• Words used to describe sauvignon blanc — grapefruit, herb, clean — show up on the critics’ lowest-rated white wines. This is not surprising, given that sauvignon blanc has always garnered less respect from the Winestream Media than chardonnay.

• A location on the back label seems to indicate lower quality white wine; “handcrafted” is in the higher quality word cloud. For reds, “value” and “soft” are poor-quality words, while “powerful” and “black,” probably used to describe black fruit, infer higher quality. Handcrafted is especially interesting, since it doesn’t mean anything in terms of wine production.

Finally, a word about prices, which is also part of the study. Thornton divided the consumer ratings into five price ranges, and there was little difference in perceived quality between the first three ranges. In other words, you get more value buying the cheapest wine. Shocking news, yes?

The critic price-value rankings were even more bizarre. The worst value came from wines that got scores in the mid-90s, while wines in the high 90s (and even 100) were less expensive, and the best value wines were around 90 points. Thornton says he isn’t quite sure why this is true, though it may have something to do with critic bias. My explanation is simpler: Wine scores are inherently flawed.

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