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Tag Archives: cheap wine

Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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Kenwood Sauvignon BlancBig Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it should, it gets dumped or sold or ignored, and Kenwood is a prime example. It started as an independent, was bought by the same $100 million company that owns Korbel sparkling wine, and then sold to the $9 billion Pernod Ricard conglomerate a couple of years ago.

Along the way, and especially after Korbel bought it, quality suffered. Production was almost doubled and what had been a decent grocery store brand became the kind of wine I write cranky things about. Fortunately, Pernod Richard saw something that Korbel didn’t, and this vintage of the Kenwood sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) shows progress toward returning the brand to cheap wine quality.

The Kenwood sauvignon blanc tastes like it should, which I didn’t expect. Look for California grassiness, some citrus and tropical fruit, and a finish that is almost unpleasant but that ends so quickly that it doesn’t get in the way. Hopefully, more improvement will follow, and Kenwood will once again become the kind of wine you can buy in a grocery store without a second thought. It should also be around $10 in most supermarkets, another bonus.

One sign, though, that Big Wine will always be Big Wine: The back label suggests pairing the Kenwood sauvignon blanc with “spring roasted vegetable salad and herb-roasted fish.” My question? If I’m buying $10 wine in the grocery store, will I roast vegetables or fish (and especially fish)? I realize those pairings are there to give a cheap wine an upmarket cache, but do they really think they’re fooling anyone?

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

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