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Tag Archives: cheap wine

Wine of the week: Hess Sauvignon Blanc Select 2014

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hess sauvignon blancThe knock against Big Wine is that it can’t make terroir-driven wines, because the formula that has given us better quality at lower prices works against that style. But that’s not necessarily true, and we have the Hess sauvignon blanc to prove the point.

Hess is among the 30 biggest producers in the U.S. and it sells six brands besides its namesake. So why is the Hess sauvignon blanc ($11, sample, 13.5%) a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame (since it’s probably $9.99 in many places)? Because not everyone in Big Wine uses the same formula, or any formula at all.

The Hess sauvignon blanc is a tremendous value, given that most sauvignon blanc at this price tastes like it came off an assembly line — a requisite amount of grapefruit, a hint of something tropical, and not much of a finish. This wine is the just the opposite. It shouts of the grassy aroma and flavor that defines California sauvignon blanc, and those are followed by some lemon fruit and a stony finish. Plus, it’s fresh and crisp, two of the qualities that make sauvignon blanc so attractive.

Highly recommended — wine from a producer that cares about quality, its customers, and charging a fair price for its products. Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled or roasted chicken.

Wine of the week: Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red NV

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Rene Barbier Mediterranean RedThe Wine Curmudgeon has pretty much had it with the wine business over the last three or four months, as regular visitors here probably noticed the moaning and complaining. The cranky meter has been turned up to 11, but why not? Most of the samples since April have been insipid and flabby, and were so overpriced they wouldn’t have been worth buying even if they had been drinkable. I’ve dumped more wine down the drain since Tax Day than I usually do in two years.

Fortunately, there is the Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red ($5, purchased, 12.5%), the merlot and tempranillo blend from Spain that has had a well-deserved spot in the $10 Hall of Fame for several years. How a very cheap wine offers so much that wines costing three or four times more don’t have speaks to the cynicism and tomfoolery that is dominating the wine business these days.

Look for red fruit that tastes like wine, and not cherry cough syrup or Hawaiian Punch; soft but noticeable tannins, which so many of these wines have abandoned in their quest to cram in as much sweet fruit as possible; and a finish that is neither bitter, green, nor annoying. It’s a wonder of winemaking in the post-modern world, and it’s one I appreciate so much that I bought a case. I use it to wash out the taste of the more expensive samples.

Serve the Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red whenever you want a glass after work (it has a screwcap now) or with any sort of summer red wine dinner. And don’t be afraid to chill it, which doesn’t dull the wine at all.

Money magazine’s not very cheap cheap wine story

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cheap wineOne would think, after almost a decade of writing about cheap wine, winning awards, writing a critically-acclaimed book, and seeing the blog annually ranked as one of the most influential wine sites on the Internet, that the Wine Curmudgeon would have made an impression on the wine world. Apparently not, if this week’s Money magazine cheap wine story is any indication.

Mark Edward Harris asked four experts to list their “favorite bottle bargains,” and the results were so depressing that I almost gave up wine writing on the spot. The selections, save for those from “Wine for Dummies” impresario Mary Ewing-Mulligan (who I know and have judged with), reinforced every wine stereotype I have been fighting against for years. It’s as if the cheap wine revolution that has given us better wine for less money never happened, and it’s still 1999.

This is not to denigrate the other three experts, all of whom are immensely qualified and probably know infinitely more about their specialties than I could ever imagine knowing. But they don’t know more about cheap wine than I do, and their selections showed that. Among the problems with the recommendations that weren’t Ewing-Mulligan’s:

• Almost half of the other 42 wines cost $20 or more, ignoring that 95 percent of us will never spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine. Granted, Money’s readers may well be in that five percent, but if you’re looking for bargains, shouldn’t the editors know what a bargain is?

• The implication that wine that doesn’t cost more than $20 isn’t worth drinking. I’ll offer the writer, his editors, and the other three experts the same challenge I always make when I see something like this: Let’s taste the best cheap wines blind against more expensive wines, and you see if you can tell which is which.

• One rose, and a three-year-old rose that is apparently not in any U.S. retail stores, if Wine Searcher is to be believed. How a list of bargain wines could leave out rose, the greatest bargain in wine, is astounding.

• The usual wine geek choices that only wine geeks know about and that most of us can’t buy, including three Austrian wines and a Greek. I live in the ninth largest city in the country, with terrific retailers locked in death grip competition, and none of those four wines are available here.

• Almost half of the other 42 selections came from France and California, ignoring what has happened in South America, Australia, Oregon, Washington, Spain, and southern Italy over the past two decades.

And I wasn’t the only one who was upset. The New York Times’ Eric Asimov, hardly a champion of cheap wine, didn’t like it, either. And, for some reason, one of the experts was allowed to recommend a wine made by the winery that he works for. Has a major U.S. publication sunk so far that no one at Money sees that as a conflict of interest? Or is it OK to do it because it’s only wine?

Want a real list of bargain wines? Then check out the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame or the story I wrote for the Bottom Line Personal magazine. Or, since I don’t like to criticize without offering an alternative, my list of 10 bargain wines, $12 or less, that Money should have included. It’s a PDF, so you can print it and take it the next time you go wine shopping.

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