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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Mini-reviews 76: Four $20 (or so) wines worth buying

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white wine reviewsReviews 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. This month, four whites around $20 that offer value and are well worth drinking:

• Frei Brothers Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($17, sample, 13.5%): This California white, part of E&J Gallo, shows what Big Wine can do when it pays attention — lush and creamy, but not over the top, with baked apple and lemon fruit. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine you’ll be stunned to be able to buy at the grocery store but delighted none the same.

Coquerel Family Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($22, sample, 13%): One of the best California sauvignon blancs I’ve tasted in a good while — fair price, determined quality, gooseberry, long finish (mineral, lychees) and that wonderful California expression that isn’t done enough anymore. Highly recommended.

• Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc ($17, sample, 13.5%): Consistent, well-made, varietally correct California white that always offers value. Look for assorted citrus and tropical flavors, none overdone, and a clean finish.

• Kunde Estate Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17, sample, 13.8%): Zesty and fresh California white, with notes of grapefruit and lemon rind and a crisp finish. Not overly complex, but lively, and doesn’t disappoint.

Expensive wine 77: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012

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Leeuwin chardonnayCall it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous for being expensive. Bring on the Yellow Tail shiraz, right?

Nevertheless, that producers like Leeuwin are making these kinds of wines points to the quality that has been overlooked in Australia’s troubles over the past decade. The Leeuwin chardonnay ($70, sample, 14%) is top-notch, even for the price, and if it isn’t high-end white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France), it’s not supposed to be.

Look for rich, delicious apple fruit, as well as what the wine magazines called baked apple aromas, with a little cinnamon and spice mixing with the apple. Also, the wine has a full mouth feel, which you should get at this price. This is a New World chardonnay, a little heavier and with a little more oomph than white Burgundy, but it understands that quality is about more than oomph. In this, it should age well, losing some of the heft and becoming more refined over the next several years.

Drink this chilled with classic chardonnay cream sauce dishes; it’s also the kind of wine to give as a gift for someone who wants to explore high-end chardonnay, and understand that terroir exists in places other than California and France.

Barefoot wine review 2015

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Barefoot wine revie 2015How is Barefoot the best-selling wine brand in the country, and perhaps the only wine costing less than $10 to thrive during premiumization? Because Barefoot is wine for people who don’t drink wine, and this year’s labels are excellent examples of that approach. And if the chardonnay was a touch sweet, the cabernet sauvignon was pleasant enough to drink again.

In this, it’s not so much that the cabernet ($6, purchased, 13.5%) and the chardonnay ($6, purchased, 13%) are simple, but that there is a method to their simplicity — sophisticated winemaking is used to get them to taste the way they do. Each wine emphasizes its fruit while pushing the stuff casual wine drinkers don’t like, the tannins and acid, to the background. The result? A soft, fruit-forward wine made for someone who buys Barefoot to have a glass or two in the evening, re-cork what’s left, and then drink again the next night. Frankly, that’s an impressive achievement for a $6 wine.

The cabernet, with an Argentine appellation but no vintage, was more enjoyable than the chardonnay, with a surprising amount of cabernet character, juicy dark berry fruit, almost no acidity, and enough tannins so that I noticed them but not so noticeable as to bother the brand’s target demographic. This is a red wine that is smooth and easy drinking, two terms that make wine geeks cringe but that are perfectly understandable to the people who buy Barefoot, and are the reasons they buy it.

The chardonnay tasted much like Cupcake’s chardonnay — not quite sugary, but sweet enough to linger on the tongue, plus caramel fake oak and lots and lots of green apple fruit. There was almost no acidity, and the sweetness helped mask a bitterness on the finish (probably from tannins from grape seeds and stems). That Barefoot delivers the same wine as Cupcake for half the price speaks volumes about how smart Barefoot parent E&J Gallo is. This wine is also non-vintage, and the grapes are from California.

More Barefoot wine reviews:
Barefoot wine review 2014
Barefoot wine review 2013
Barefoot wine review 2012

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