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Tag Archives: $10 wine

Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2012

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Line39 Sauvignon Blanc 2012In the old days, which in wine means the end of the 20th century, sauvignon blanc came in three styles — California, French, and New Zealand. Each tasted like sauvignon blanc, but was just enough different from each other to be noticeable. Some time after that, the first two styles started to merge toward the third, so that most sauvignon blanc tasted like grapefuit. That’s because the New Zealand style was about as trendy as trendy gets, and we know how the wine business loves a trend.

Fortunately, the styles have started moving back to where they used to be, and especially in California. I’ve tasted a variety of delightful California sauvignon blanc over the past 18 months, where grassiness — the smell of a freshly-cut lawn — is the predominant note. There is also citrus and tropical fruit, but those don’t overwhelm the grassiness, and the wines are refreshing and enjoyable.

A fine example of this change is the Line 39 ($10, purchased, 13.5%), which has worked its way from New Zealand to California over the past several years. In this, it was always more than adequate, but has improved the more California in style that it has become. The 2012, which is apparently the current vintage though a bit old, is grassy, with lime fruit and rich mouth feel. All of this makes it more than just another grocery store sauvignon blanc. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame.

When cheap wine tastes cheap

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cheap wine tastes cheapThe quality of cheap wine is better than ever, but that doesn’t mean that all cheap wine is worth drinking. Or, as the erudite Lew Perdue has noted: “Crappy wine holds back the wine market far more than any other factor.”

So how can you tell when cheap wine tastes cheap?

• Quality is not about style. Sweet wines should taste sweet; that’s their style, and whether they’re poorly made has nothing to do with whether they’re sweet. Dry wines that taste sweet are poorly made, no matter how many cases they sell. The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like alcoholic, over-the-top zinfandels, but that’s a style preference, not a reflection of quality.

• Bitterness, off-flavors, and green or unripe fruit, in both red and white wine. This is not nearly as common as it used to be, and is rarely seen in California anymore. But it still happens with imported wine.

• Missing tannins in red wine. The winemaker uses technology to remove tannins to make the wine “smooth,” because a focus group said smooth was a desirable quality without actually defining it. In this, tannins and tannic acid are perhaps the most misunderstood part of cheap wine. Quality red wine, at any price, needs tannic acid for structure and balance, and when the tannins are right you may not even notice them. But it’s usually too expensive or too much trouble to deal with tannins properly in $10 wine, which is why so much of it is astringent. So the winemaker takes the tannins out, and you get a flabby, boring wine.

• Fake oak. Again, this is not a style preference, but a winemaking decision, sometimes used to cover up poor quality grapes. If your chardonnay smells like Adams Best vanilla, then the oak is there because something else isn’t. Also, be wary of red wines that promise chocolate cherry flavors, also an oak trick. If producers could make $10 wine with those flavors, why would anyone need to buy $100 wine?

• Sweetness for sweetness’ sake. The best sweet wines have something to balance the sweetness, in the way that iced tea with lemon and sugar is balanced. They’re not supposed to taste like Coke. What made this $7 Sara Bee moscato so enjoyable was not that it was sweet, but that it had a little orange fruit and some bubbles to complement the sweetness. Sweet wine that is just sweet is as about as cynical as winemaking gets.

Image courtesy of Cheap Wine Records, using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2013

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Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2009This South African white is one of the world’s great cheap wines. So why did I have to taste it in a restaurant in San Diego, instead of buying it in a store in Dallas?

You know the reason for that: the three tier-system.

But the Wine Curmudgeon will not let that deter him from his life’s work. What’s a constitutionally-protected regulatory system when terrific cheap wine is at stake?

Because the Ken Forrester ($10, purchased, 13%) is terrific – a surprisingly rich mouth feel given this is $10 chenin blanc, plus green apple fruit, a tiny hint of honey in the middle, and even some minerality on the finish. In this, it’s the kind of chenin — not sweet, not syrupy, not a sauvignon blanc knockoff, but with character and interest — that makes me wonder why the grape isn’t more popular. I rarely quote producer websites, but this is spot on: “Perfect everyday drinking wine.”

Especially if you live in the ninth largest city in the country where 100-degree summer days cry out for this kind of wine. Or, as several of my colleagues said when we bought the wine in San Diego, “What do you mean, you can’t buy this in Dallas?” Which, come to think of it, has always been a problem.

Highly recommended, but since it’s not for sale in Dallas, it can’t be in the $10 Hall of Fame. Unless I change the rules, but I don’t run that kind of Hall of Fame.

 

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