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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Mini-reviews 67: Black Friday wine edition

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Black Friday wineBecause what’s better than four cheap wine reviews — none more than $10 — for Black Friday? Plus, you don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. or wait in line to read it.

La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 ($9, purchased, 13%): This vintage of the Hall of Fame Italian red isn’t as interesting as previous versions — not as deliciously tart and missing the earthiness that made me want to buy a case. Still, it’s worth drinking, with mostly cherry fruit.

Melini Orvietto 2013 ($7, purchased, 12.5%): Soft white fruit and bone dry, this Italian white is a wonderful food wine. The problem is that the various parts are disjointed, so you get one swallow of fruit and one swallow of acid instead of it being all of one. But still a terrific value.

El Sancho Escudero White NV ($5, purchased, 11%): This Spanish white is a knockoff of the much loved Rene Barbier white, made with the same cava grapes. It’s not as lemony or fresh as the Barbier, but delivers $5 worth of value. May be Whole Foods private label.

Rare Rose NV ($10, sample, 13%): Surprisingly tasty given that it seemed, from all appearances, to be just another California sweet pink wine. But it’s just barely sweet, and the red fruit (strawberry?) balances the sweetness. This is wine for someone who wants to try something other than white zinfandel.

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.

Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

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Chateau MontelenaThis is the second time this year that the Wine Curmudgeon has been able to talk to one of the participants from the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. I wonder: Do the rest of the people who do what we do realize how lucky we are?

The occasion was a live cyber tasting last week with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, whose family’s chardonnay bested France’s white Burgundies at the Paris tasting. Which was unthinkable 40 years ago, if only because the most planted white grape in California was the colombard used to make jug wine.

We tasted the 2006 Montelena estate cabernet sauvignon ($150, sample, 13.9%) and the 2012 chardonnay ($50, sample, 13.8%), and both were fascinating. The red was so subtle that I didn’t think anyone made cabernet like this in Napa anymore, given the restraint in fruit and alcohol. In fact, The Big Guy (who joined me at Wine Curmudgeon world headquarters for the tasting) laughed after took his first sip. “It doesn’t have enough alcohol,” he said. Then we both laughed when I told him that one of the wine magazines scored it 88 points, which means it’s not any better than many of my $10 wines. And people wonder why scores are stupid.

Look for dark cherry fruit, black pepper and smokiness, enough acidity to offset all that, and an almost dusty finish. This is a food wine, and the more red meat the better. And it will continue to improve with age, getting darker and dustier.

The chardonnay was a worthy successor to the wine that won the Judgment — one of the best California chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The balance was impeccable, especially in a wine this young, with crisp green apple and pear fruit, oak skillfully integrated throughout, a richness that belies all the crispness, and the beginnings of what will be signature minerality on the finish. Highly recommended, even at this price, and a holiday gift for anyone who loves chardonnay.

I asked Barrett what he did differently with chardonnay, compared to so many others in Napa, and his answer was perfect: He made the wine that the grapes gave him, and not to show what a wonderful winemaker he was. There’s no better description for a wine than that.

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