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Category Archives: Wine reviews

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.

6 wines from San Francisco International Wine Competition

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san francisco wine competitionThese wines, which were gold or double gold winners at this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition, show the strengths and weaknesses of wine competitions. It’s not that the wines are bad or didn’t deserve the medals  they got, but that the results speak to the perspective that the judges bring. In this case, three-quarters of the judges were from California, and many of the wines I tasted showed that perspective — pricey, fruity, and oaky, with lots of alcohol. How about a 15.1 percent tannat?

It’s this perspective that is overlooked when we debate the merits of wine competitions. How can a wine — technically well-made and delicious — do well if the judges don’t appreciate its style? The biggest problem I have when judging is being fair to the kinds of wines like those that won at the San Francisco competition. I find them difficult to enjoy and so mark them down. But at least I know I do this and make an effort. Hopefully, this idea of perspective is something that competition organizers take into account when they select judges.

Having said this, I tasted some terrific wines when the San Francisco wine competition did its Dallas road show last week (and the tannat, if not to my taste, was a wonder of winemaking skill). Check them out after the jump:

Wine of the week: Cave de Lugny La Côte Blanche 2013

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Cave de Lugny La Côte BlancheThe Wine Curmudgeon reviews a proportionally larger share of French wines, and when I look at the numbers — which I do because I don’t want to go too far in any direction — I always wonder if I should try to do fewer French wines. Then I taste something like the Cave de Lugny La Cote Blanche ($10, purchased, 12.5%), and I understand why I do so many cheap French wines.

They’re that good, and especially if they’re from Cave de Lugny, a cooperative in Burgundy that somehow produces affordable red, white, rose and sparkling wines from that very expensive region. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of them over here, but the Les Charmes is a $10 chardonnay well worth drinking, and the $10 Macon-Villages chardonnay is equally delicious.

The Cote Blanche, which seems to be a World Market private label, is yet another terrific effort from Cave de Lugny. It’s chardonnay from the Macon area of Burgundy, so that means no oak. a mineral finish, and some apple and lemon fruit. But there is also an almost rich mouth feel, which makes the wine more interesting and is not easy to do for $10. It’s a step up from the previously mentioned Macon-Villages — and for the same price.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this chilled on its own, or with roast or grilled chicken. It would also do nicely as the wine to cook with and to drink in a dish like braised chicken with mustard and garlic (and I would add lots of sliced onions).

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