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Category Archives: Wine of the week

Wine of the week: Astoria Prosecco NV

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Astoria ProseccoThe Wine Curmudgeon, slowly but surely, is understanding Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. First, because I’m making an effort to appreciate it, and not to dismiss Prosecco because it doesn’t taste the way I want it to taste. Second, because Prosecco winemaking has improved, so the wines are not just sweet and fizzy; also, that it’s possible to find these better quality wines on store shelves because the wine has improved so much.

Case in point is the Astoria ($13, sample, 11%), one of the best Proseccos I’ve had in a long while. It wasn’t just sweet, which made it wine and not the product of a focus group. In fact, it was interesting, with all sorts of things going on, and that’s not something I usually get to write when I write about Prosecco.

Look for lemon and apple fruit, enough sweetness to make you wonder if it is sweet, and soft but long-lasting bubbles. Another problem with too many Proseccos is that the bubbles are sometimes like a flat soft drink. There is even a sort of minerally finish, which is again unexpected. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to keep on hand as the holidays approach. This would pair well with Thanksgiving — light enough for a long meal, but well made enough so that it complements and doesn’t overwhelm the food.

Wine of the week: Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva NV

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Castillo Perelada Brut ReservaNothing illustrates the revolution in cheap wine better than cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. When I started writing about cheap wine in the early 1990s, cava was almost unknown in the U.S., and the only cava for sale, even at many specialty retailers, was the Freixent black bottle.

Today, though, cava is everywhere, and it’s not unusual to see a half dozen labels at a grocery store. And why not? As the Perelada ($9, purchased, 11.5%) demonstrates, cava may be the best wine value in Spain, and Spain may offer the best wine value in the world. That’s a combination that’s difficult to pass up, especially during the blog’s birthday week.

The Perelada fits between Cristalino and Segura Viudas in style — not as simple as the former, but with its crispness, and more balanced than the latter, but with quality apple and lemon fruit. The bubbles, small and tight, are rarely found in sparking wine that is this inexpensive. And, though simple, it’s not stupid and isn’t as showy as the otherwise delicious Dibon.

Highly recommended, and maybe the best $10 cava I’ve tasted yet — impossibly well done for the price. Will join the Cristalino, Segura, and Dibon in the $10 Hall of Fame in January. Buy this for Thanksgiving, but make sure you buy enough, because everyone will want a taste.

Wine of the week: Little James’ Basket Press Red NV

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Little James Basket Press RedThe blog’s seventh annual birthday week begins on Monday, so what better preview for all the fun than Little James’ Basket Press Red ($10, purchased, 13.5%)? This is cheap French red wine that does everything that great cheap wine should do:

 • Varietally correct. This is a red Rhone blend with lots of Rhone-style red fruit, It’s made with grenache, which seems to take on a different life every time I review it. This year, it was sweet cherries, and much less dark than last year. And it’s even different from the review two years ago.

• Tasty. The bottle was empty before dinner was over, which has turned out to be the best way to determine how much I like a wine. It’s not as spicy as years past and the funky aroma is fading, but the tannins and acid still balance the fruit. Think steak frites.

• Unpretentious. That means a screwcap, a clever front label, and a weird tasting note on the back label with the phrase “irresistible crunchy fruit.” I have no idea what that means, but it’s still infinitely better than the usual junk that passes for back label tasting notes.

• Non-vintage. The key to the Little James is a solera, in which old wine is mixed with new wine and vintage doesn’t matter. In fact, for a cheap wine, this often adds complexity that the wine wouldn’t have.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The only drawback? The importer has been sold, and I’ve had difficulty finding the wine in Dallas. Thanks, three-tier system.

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