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Tag Archives: cheap wine

Joe Maddon, expensive wine, and the Chicago Cubs

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joe maddon wineDear Joe:

You and I have much in common — you’re the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, and I am a long-suffering Cubs fan who once waited more than an hour to get Kenny Holtzman’s autograph. In the finest Cubs tradition, Holtzman never showed up.

Apparently, we also share wine in common, though what you drink is about as far removed from what I drink as the Cubs are from a successful baseball team. You are, by all accounts, a wine geek of the first order, whose taste runs to Opus One, Insignia, and hot, heavy, oaky California pinot noirs. (Unfortunately, my request to ask you about wine apparently disappeared into the cyber-ether; I never heard back from the Cubs.)

Frankly, your preference for these kinds of wines worries me. This is the Cubs you’re managing, a team that has not won the World Series since 1908, and not the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs have had more players like Larry Biittner and Glen Hobbie than Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax, and Opus One is a lot more like Ruth than it is Biittner.

Besides, we’re more comfortable with players like Biittner, who was a mainstay on the woebegone Cubs teams of the late 1970s when I was in college and would sit in the right field bleachers and offer the players various words of encouragement. Who can forget the 1977 game when Biittner, an outfielder, pitched 1 1/3 innings and the Cubs lost 19-3 — and, in the finest Cubs tradition, was fined for throwing at a batter.

In this, the Cubs are more Bogle than Insignia, more cava than Champagne. And that’s a more practical approach anyway. What are you going to do after a tough late-night loss to the hated Brewers in Milwaukee when you want a glass of wine and you won’t be able to find a bottle of $50 Napa meritage? On the other hand, almost any Roundy’s supermarket that’s still open will have more than one wine from this year’s $10 Hall of Fame.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of white Burgundy with you, particularly if you do the impossible and help the Cubs win something after more than a century of losing. I’d even pay for it — a 2010 Corton from Sylvain Loichet, perhaps? That I’m willing to pay for it should tell you how long suffering a Cubs fan I am.

Until then, try the Little James Basket Press wines. I’m sure Binny’s has them, and will get them for you if they don’t.

Yours in 107 years of Cubs futility,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Wine of the week: Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012

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Cusumano Nero d'Avola Two years ago, I wrote: “One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions…” and then listed all the horrible things that would happen when it did. Which is mostly what has happened, and the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012 ($10, purchased, 14%) demonstrates just that.

Six years ago, when I first tasted Cusumano, few people who weren’t the Italian Wine Guy knew about Sicilian wine. Today, it’s all over the wine magazines, the best Sicilian wines from the Mt. Etna region cost as much as $100, and there is even Sicilian wine made to taste like grocery store merlot.

The Cusumano Nero d’Avola, a red wine made with the nero d’avola grape, has gone down a similar path, from a wine rarely tasted in the U.S. to one imported by one of the most successful American wine marketers. Along the way, the price went up, the wine lost something that made it what it was, and I took it out of the $10 Hall of Fame. I’m not the Wine Curmudgeon for nothing.

But I’ve made my peace with these changes, and two recent tastings, this red and the white Insolia, have restored my faith in the brand. This version of the Cusumano Nero d’Avola isn’t as dark and plummy as previous vintages, but it isn’t as fruity as it was when I tasted it a year ago, either. Bottle age helped restore the balance between the red fruit and its Sicilian earthiness, and I enjoyed the wine. It’s red sauce, pizza with cheese and sausage, and maybe even chicken cacciatore.

It probably won’t return to the Hall of Fame when the 2013 vintage arrives this year, given the price increase, but I’ll buy it and no doubt enjoy it. And that will be enough.

Winebits 367: Cheap wine edition

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aldi cheap wineCheap wine news from around the Internet in honor of the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame:

Cheaper than water: Think wine is cheap in the U.S. or Britain? How about the price in Australia, where some wine costs less than a bottle of water? The BBC reports that a 12-ounce bottle of water costs A$2.50 (US$2.83), while a bottle of red, twice as big, costs as little as A$1 (US$.81). Some of this is the high price of bottled water Down Under; a 16.9-ounce bottle costs less than $2 in the U.S. But, as the story notes, the price has more to do with what the country’s experts are calling the “dire” state of the Aussie wine business: an expensive Australian dollar, steadily falling international demand, and a glut of wine in the domestic market. In other words, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong — for producers, anyway. For consumers, depressed prices in Australian help keep prices down elsewhere.

Miracle machine? Some people still don’t believe that cheap wine is suitable for drinking, and that it tastes like it did 20 years ago — harsh, bitter, and acidic. This is apparently why the Sonic Decanter raised $139,000 on Kickstarter, $50,000 more than its goal. The gadget is supposed age cheap wine to “bring out aromas not normally present in young, unaged wines,” soften tannins, and enhance flavors. The catch is that almost all cheap wine isn’t made to be aged, doesn’t have any extra aromas to bring out, and already has soft tannins and enhanced fruit flavors. That formula is the reason for being for most grocery store merlot. And this doesn’t take into account the $249 cost, which not only translates into two cases of $10 wine, but into four bottles of very nice white Burgundy, which I’ll take over a gadget any time.

Aldi wine: The Aldi supermarket chain’s plans for U.S. expansion — 50 percent more stores by 2018 — is welcome news for anyone who drinks cheap wine, given the company’s skill at selling quality labels for very little money. I’ve written about it on the blog quite a bit, and I’m not the only who is impressed. Max Allen, writing in The Australian, discusses the chain’s success in his country, noting that the wines it sells more than hold their own against other Australian wines, and do so for significantly less money. In fact, he uses the words “crazy cheap.”

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