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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Ocean Blue Chardonnay 2013

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Ocean Blue ChardonnayOne of the most important trends in the wine business is the increase in private label wines, which give retailers an exclusive to sell and a bigger profit margin when they do. The catch is that private label wines, which are sold in only one retailer and can be limited in availability, are too often of indifferent quality.

That’s not the case with the Ocean Blue Chardonnay ($9, purchased, 12.5%), a private label for the Aldi grocery store chain. This New Zealand white is unoaked, which helps to keep the price down and gives it a bright and fresh approach. In addition, there is lots of crisp green apple and a rich mouth feel despite the lack of oak.

In this, it’s not especially subtle, but $10 New Zealand wine has never been famous for being understated. That’s how the country’s sauvignon blanc became famous, after all. And those who need vanilla or toasty and oaky in their chardonnay will probably wonder what it’s doing here.

But those of us who are more open minded about chardonnay will appreciate the wine’s value. Drink this chilled, on its own or with white wine food, and even something with a simple sauce. Grilled chicken breasts with garlic and parsley, perhaps? And hope more private labels approach this level of quality.

Wine of the week: Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012

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Cusumano Nero d'Avola Two years ago, I wrote: “One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions…” and then listed all the horrible things that would happen when it did. Which is mostly what has happened, and the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012 ($10, purchased, 14%) demonstrates just that.

Six years ago, when I first tasted Cusumano, few people who weren’t the Italian Wine Guy knew about Sicilian wine. Today, it’s all over the wine magazines, the best Sicilian wines from the Mt. Etna region cost as much as $100, and there is even Sicilian wine made to taste like grocery store merlot.

The Cusumano Nero d’Avola, a red wine made with the nero d’avola grape, has gone down a similar path, from a wine rarely tasted in the U.S. to one imported by one of the most successful American wine marketers. Along the way, the price went up, the wine lost something that made it what it was, and I took it out of the $10 Hall of Fame. I’m not the Wine Curmudgeon for nothing.

But I’ve made my peace with these changes, and two recent tastings, this red and the white Insolia, have restored my faith in the brand. This version of the Cusumano Nero d’Avola isn’t as dark and plummy as previous vintages, but it isn’t as fruity as it was when I tasted it a year ago, either. Bottle age helped restore the balance between the red fruit and its Sicilian earthiness, and I enjoyed the wine. It’s red sauce, pizza with cheese and sausage, and maybe even chicken cacciatore.

It probably won’t return to the Hall of Fame when the 2013 vintage arrives this year, given the price increase, but I’ll buy it and no doubt enjoy it. And that will be enough.

Wine of the week: JCB No. 21 Brut Cremant NV

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 JCB No. 21The Wine Curmudgeon is not drinking Champagne for this New Year’s; the First Amendment is more important. But that doesn’t mean I can’t drink terrific French sparkling wine.

The JCB No. 21 ($15, sample, 12%) is a cremant, a sparkling wine from a part of France that isn’t Champagne. In this case, it’s Burgundy, which means it’s made with the same grapes, from a similar part of France in terms of terroir, as Champagne — and at one-third the price.

Look for a nutty aroma, lots of crisp green apple fruit mixed with something like peach, the tight, firm bubbles that I love, and even some minerality. All in all, a much better wine that it has a right to be, and perfect for this holiday. In fact, I tasted it last month at the memorial service for my friend Diane Teitelbaum, and it was a fitting wine for Diane — lots of quality at a very good price.

One note: Prices for the JCB No. 21 are all over the place, with some as high as $25. It’s not quite that good, but if you can find it around $15, it’s an excellent value.

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