Sun 8 Nov 2009
That’s the theme: 12 white wines priced under $20. I think that needs no elaboration. And we are trying to be diverse. Two rieslings at different prices, two sauvignon blancs at different prices, wines from Spain, Argentina, Western Australia, California, Washington. Soon, maybe not tomorrow but soon, comes “12 Under $20: Red.”
I know, I know, call me crazy, but the [Down Under] by Crane Lake Chardonnay 2008, South Eastern Australia, “imported & bottled by Crane Lake Cellars, Napa & Sonoma, Cal.,” is more than just passable, or perhaps I should say, it’s not impossible. It’s fairly tasty and quaffable, sporting ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors with a hint of tropical fruit, a modicum of spice and a pleasing texture. Pour it at parties where people aren’t actually thinking too much about the wine, and you won’t be embarrassed. And then you have to wonder: how cheap were these grapes that the juice could be purchased in Australia, shipped to California, bottled there and still sold so cheaply to make a profit? Good+. About $3 to $4, Sort of a Bargain If You Squint Your Eyes.
Crane Lake is one of the innumerable labels from Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co.
Well, you could have knocked me over with a lop-eared bunny when I tasted the Forest Glen Gewurztraminer 2008, California, and discovered how engaging and authentic it is for the price. No, it’s no Grand Cru from Alsace, but it would take nostrils of stone not to be beguiled by these aromas of peaches and Meyer lemons, lychees and rose petals and a hint of petrol (or rubber eraser) and Bazooka Bubble Gum. The wine is smooth and sleek in the mouth, almost viscous in texture, but shot through with zinging acidity for balance. Lemon and peach flavors, with a touch of pear and melon, offer a bit of sweetness initially, but halfway back the wine segues into crisp, limestone-like dryness and a pass at spiced grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Try as an aperitif or with sushi or ceviche. Very Good, and a Great Bargain at about $8.
Another Bronco wine.
I like technical information that’s honest and factual. So, the tech sheet for the Elsa Bianchi Chardonnay 2008, San Rafael, Mendoza, tells us that is made “in stainless steel tanks with medium- toasted French oak innerstaves,” meaning that the wine is not fermented or aged in oak barrels but in stainless steel tanks with the staves of oak inside them. This is a controversial method, which usually lines producers on one side, shouting, “Hey, do you know how much those freakin’ French barrels cost?”, against wine-writers on the other side, grumbling, like Jean-Paul Sartre, “Bad faith! Inauthentic!” Well, we writers tend toward introspective existentialism, but however it was made — and let’s remember that we’re talking about a $9-chardonnay here, not a $90 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru — the Elsa Bianchi Chardonnay 2008 is a damned pleasing quaff.
There’s interesting contrast between the wine’s clean, breezy coolness and its warm, spicy, slightly toasty nature. Grapefruit-pineapple flavors are touched with mango, guava and fig (the latter from 10 percent semillon grapes), while a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of nutmeg and clove. The wine is quite dry, but vibrant with bright acidity in a dense, chewy texture. The wood comes out more in the end, blunting the finish a bit, though drinking the wine with fresh seafood or grilled fish would temper that aspect. On the whole, it’s easy to rate this chardonnay Very Good. About $9.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.
The Kamiak Windust White 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, is produced by Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards. This is a very interesting blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent chardonnay; part of the sauvignon blanc grapes, the harvesting of which went on until November 6, were late-harvest in style, and they lend intensity and vigor to the wine. Oak influence is so deft that it’s almost subliminal. The bouquet is jasmine and honeysuckle with touches of quince, ginger and pear; in the mouth, traces of Meyer lemon, spiced pear and damp limestone heightened by whiplash acidity combine for a scintillating experience, all of this culminating in a slightly bitter, slightly astringent finish. The texture offers gratifying balance between reticence and lushness. Loads of personality. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, and a Great Bargain.
Produced by Mason Cellars, the Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2008, California, practically leaps from the glass in a heady welter of green apple, grapefruit, kiwi, green pea and gooseberry. You have to like the aggressively grassy and meadowy style to appreciate this effort, but it’s well-made, crisp, snappy with tingling acidity and nicely married to a modestly talc-like texture. The finish, not surprisingly, is tart with lime peel and grapefruit and a little stony with gravel-like minerality. Very Good. About $10.
Stonecap “Monson Family Estates” Riesling 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington. Stonecap is a label from Goose Ridge Vineyards. This is an amazing riesling for the price, bursting with notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear, roses and jasmine, all melded into an enchanting bouquet. The wine is vibrant and lively, blatantly spicy, delivering tasty citrus and lychee flavors with hints of orange rind and grapefruit. The mineral elements — limestone and damp shale — come up like a tide in the fleshed-out finish. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, and a Terrific Bargain.
The torrontès is an attractive grape as long as it is left alone and not made too much of. Nicely expressing the grape’s clean acidity and winsome floral elements is the Alamos Torrontès 2008, from the Catena winery in Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. There’s orange blossom and camillia is the bouquet, with pear and melon and a hint of peach. Granted that the nose is the most compelling aspect of the wine, as is often the case with torrontès, but a crisp, lively texture, balanced against a hint of lushness, does its part, as well as peach and citrus flavors infused with a burgeoning limestone character. A delightful aperitif. Very Good. About $13, and seen on the Internet as low as $8.50.
Imported by Alamos USA, Haywood, Cal., a Gallo company.
Made from the grape that Americans are learning how to pronounce — “al-bar-EEN-yo” — the Martín Códax Albariño 2008, from the Rías Baixas appellation in Spain’s northwest region of Galicia, beguiles the nose with scents of lemon balm, almond and almond blossom and a hint of apple and pear. Made completely in stainless steel, 20 percent of the wine goes through the natural malolactic process to soften some of the rampant acidity from a clang to a chime. The wine, then, is crisp and brisk, quite dry, permeated by elements of austere chalk and limestone, and tasty with spicy pear and lime peel flavors. Altogether, the wine is spare and reticent and attractive as an aperitif or with grilled fish and seafood. Very Good. About $15.
Imported by Martín Códax USA, Haywood, Cal., a Gallo company.
Two Angels consistently produces one of the most palatable sauvignon blanc wines at a reasonable price in California. Made all in stainless steel, the Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2008, High Valley, practically vibrates in the glass with clean, bright acidity and pungent scents of apple, lime peel, roasted lemon and tarragon. There’s a hint of spicy gooseberry that segues into keen citrus and lemon curd flavors emboldened by touches of dried herbs and fresh-mown grass, damp shale and limestone. A darkening of lavender, like eye-shadow on a pale face, brings in a smudge of soft, fragrant earthiness. Completely charming, with wholesome vigor. Very Good+. About $15, Great Value.
I’m not fond of Terra d’Oro’s single-vineyard zinfandels from Amador County; I recently tasted the Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel 2006 and Terra d’Oro Home Vineyard ’06 (each 15.5. percent alcohol) and found them too old-fashioned in the hot, over-ripe, raisiny sense. Don’t miss, however, the Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio 2008, Santa Barbara County. The color is an engaging pale straw with a faint tinge of pink; that notion of pink reminds me of pink grapefruit, the pith and tang of the fruit, and its juicy, tart acidity, all present in this lively wine. Despite that exhilaration, though, the wine is restrained, a little austere and slightly astringent, drawing on spare elements of roasted lemon, thyme and almond blossom for its primary characteristics. Lovely shape and balance. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
“Lead, kindly light,” said the hymn we used to sing in the Methodist church my family went to when my brother and I were kids. And yes! every year I signed those cards pledging never to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke cigarettes. Dancing and kissing, on the other hand, were O.K. What did our parents think we were doing on Sunday night after M.Y.F.? Not that this memory has a damned thing to do with the Vinaceous Divine Light Verdelho 2009, from Pemberton, Western Australia; it just came to mind. The wine, to get back to that, offers heaps of personality for a grape that is often no more than pleasantly neutral. Charming scents of lime, pear and jasmine serve as prelude to the opening of a whole storehouse of spices bedded on layers of limestone and shale. Hints of dried grasses and herbs, like a slightly parched meadow in summer, lend the wine a dash of sunny Mediterranean-like warmth and appeal, while fleet acidity runs through the whole package like a live current. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by The Country Vintner, Ashland, Va.
The Craggy Range Fletcher Family Vineyard Riesling 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand, delivers crystalline presence and vibrancy. Scents of apples, pears and lychees are amazingly clean and fresh; a touch of petrol and a bounty of spice offer bass notes among the woven delicacies; 30 minutes in the glass bring in notes of jasmine and cookie dough. The wine is very dry, very crisp and lively, sinewy with acid; lime, peach and pear flavors are packed with gravelly minerality — like a gravel path damp with rain — while the intensity of fruit, acid and mineral elements builds to a finish that feels like liquid limestone. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.