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Tag Archives: $10 wine

Wine of the week: Benedetto Chianti 2014

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Benedetto ChiantiOne of the problems with really cheap wine — the $3, $4, and $5 labels like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck and Whole Foods’ Three Wishes — is that they don’t always taste like the grapes they’re made with. That is, they’re not varietally correct. The merlot tastes like the pinot noir, the pinot tastes like the cabernet sauvignon, and so on and so forth.

Which is not the case with the Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%), a really cheap Italian red wine from Aldi. It tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but that’s true of wines that cost three or four times as much as the Benedetto. Call this the “man, this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5.

The Benedetto Chianti is simple and juicy, with a little tart cherry fruit. It’s softer than many Chiantis and doesn’t have the burst of telltale acidity, but there’s enough of the latter so that you can tell it’s Chianti if you’re forced to do a blind tasting. In this, it’s fairly priced at $5 — just enough less interesting than the $8 Melini, and obviously not as interesting as the $10 Caposaldo and Straccali.

And, for those of you who want to tweak the wine snob in your life, the Benedetto Chianti is DOCG, the second highest rung in the Italian appellation system. That it can be DOCG and only cost $5 says a lot about how the Italian wine business works, and why it’s as well made as it is.

The 2016 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

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2016 $10 wineThe good news is that eight wines made the 2016 $10 Wine Hall of Fame this year, including two California sauvignon blancs, a huge shock given how little most California producers care about cheap wine quality. That’s four more wines than last year, while only three dropped out.

The bad news? That for the second year in a row, there were only a dozen or so wines that merited serious consideration, as wine prices go up and cheap wine quality continues to go down. In fact, I had to hedge on pricing this year, not so much to find new wines but to keep old favorites in the Hall. The price creep from $10 to $12 (and even $13 or $14) goes on, and sooner or later it will push wines out of the Hall. Case in point: The legendary Pine Ridge chenin blanc-viogner blend is a steal at $10 and a fine value at $12, where it seems to be priced these days. But it’s not really worth more than that.

Nevertheless, there is terrific wine in the 2016 $10 Wine Hall of Fame. My favorite new member is the Argento malbec, an $8 Argentine red that made me realize that inexpensive malbec doesn’t have to taste like Welch’s grape juice. Click here for the entire list, or click the $10 Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here.

This year, you’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF, something I added based on your requests. Look for the icons on the upper right hand corner of the post and click whichever one you want.

The new members of the 2016 $10 Wine Hall of Fame include the Argento, the Hess and Line 39 sauvignon blancs, two roses, two Italian reds, and a cava. Dropping out is the wonderful Muga rose, a victim of price creep; the Yellow + Blue box wines, which are almost impossible to find any more; and the Louis Jadot Beaujolais, which reverted to form this vintage.

Photos courtesy of Glass Half Full, Provincetown, Mass., using a Creative Commons license

Wine of the week: Argento Malbec 2014

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argento malbecThe Wine Curmudgeon can think of no higher praise for the Argento Malbec: I don’t like malbec, and I would not only buy it, but serve it to my friends.

That’s because the Argento Malbec ($8, sample, 13.5%), an Argentine red, is everything most grocery store wine isn’t: It’s not cloying, it’s not too soft, and it’s not smooth in that mindless way that so much wine in supermarkets is. In fact, grocery store wine has no right to be this well made, based on how much junk I taste every year, and part of me still doesn’t believe it was this good. But sometimes, Big Wine (Argento may be near 1 million cases a year) gets it right.

Look for fresh black fruit, a little spice, and the soft tannins that separate malbec from merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Plus, the almost cherry aroma wasn’t like the Jolly Rancher cherry smell that makes me want to dump other wines down the drain. Pair the Argento malbec with any red meat, and especially a hearty winter stew, as well as sausages with red sauce. Highly recommended, and the perfect wine of the week for the introduction of the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame on Friday.

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