Cheap Wine


A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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At just under three years old, the Helfrich Riesling 2014, from Alsace, is drinking beautifully, with promise of increasing its burnished character for four to six more years or so — such estimates are always inexact, though based on knowledge, experience and intuition. Fashioned all in stainless steel, the wine offers a very pale straw-gold hue and sprightly aromas of green apples, ginger and quince, with notes of petrol, heather and hay and more subtle hints of lychee and mango; as the moments pass, the floral element of honeysuckle and jasmine burgeons and blossoms. The entire effect is of a crystalline, chiseled substance, equal parts limestone and steel, propelled by scintillating acidity and buoyant flavors of spiced pear and lime zest. The finish delivers a bracing hit of apple peel, almond skin and pure shimmering minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink with fresh oysters, grilled trout with capers and brown butter, pike quenelles, or, as we did last night, miso soup. Excellent. About $16, representing a Top Value.

Imported by Advantage International Distributors, Miami, Fla. A sample for review.

The Côté Mas Brut Rosé, Crémant de Limoux, barely qualifies as a rosé wine by most measures, being a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent pinot noir. In other words, 90 percent of this charming sparkling wine is white, with only a few dollops of a red grape to lend the requisite rosé color, in this case a beguiling light copper-salmon hue animated by a stream of tiny, glinting bubbles. The nose is pure raspberry, peach and lime peel; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of heather and seashell. This is crisp, dry and tart on the palate, where lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively and engaging and the minerality of damp limestone and flint delivers reasonable structure for nice heft and balance, all these elements supporting subtle flavors of roasted lemon and strawberry. 12 percent alcohol. A lovely aperitif. You could sell about a million glasses in bars and restaurants. Very Good+. About $16 and often found discounted to $13 or $14.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes. Limoux — pop. 9,781 souls — a commune and subprefecture in the Aude department in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region, lies a mere 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of the celebrated castle-city of Carcassonne, nestled in the French foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.


Are you in for the long haul that culminates in the Eclipse-O-Rama on Monday? Camping out and cooking over a fire or Coleman stove or gas contraption? Here’s a bargain in a hearty red wine that will drink perfectly with those grilled sausages or pork chops or steaks. Coming from Portugal’s Douro Valley, the Vale do Bomfim 2015 is a blend of traditional grapes grown for Port, that is, 40 percent touriga franca, 25 percent touriga nacional and — here’s the interesting part — 35 percent of a field blend of whatever grapes happened to be growing in the vineyards, in this case Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira belonging to the House of Dow, the great Port producers. Aging for nine months in French oak barrels, the wine offers an opaque ruby-purple hue and enveloping aromas of black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of black tea, loam and fruitcake and a rather penetrating hint of iodine and graphite. It’s robust and forthright, nicely touched with slightly shaggy tannins and soft, subtle oak, and its spicy black fruit flavors are highlighted by wood-smoke, cedar and tobacco. The whole package is animated by vibrant acidity and fruit freshness. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $13, marking Terrific Value for Buying by the Case.

Imported by Premium Port Wines, San Francisco. A sample for review.


Hie thee, friends, to a retail store and buy by the case the Vega del Castillo Garnacha Cepas Viejas 2015, from the Spanish region of Navarra. Am I talking here about a profound wine with tremendous depth and dimension? No, I’m referring to very inexpensive wine that satisfies the palate and just about any occasion with admirable personality and economy. The cooperative whence the wine derived dates back to 1910, though it has seen many changes in the past 117 years, as so would you, Dear Reader. Winemaker was Charo Moriones. The color of this 100 percent varietal wine — garnacha, or grenache — is a penetrating black-ruby with a glowing violet rim; arresting aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants and plums are infused with notes of loam, tar, leather and oolong tea, while a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of cloves, bitter chocolate and graphite. The texture is silken and supple, supported by bright acidity and slightly dusty, velvety tannins. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2018 with any dish of a creature-like nature, be it beast or fowl, especially prepared on a grill or in a cast-iron skillet. Very Good+. About — ready? — $8 a bottle, marking a Super Freak-Ass Bargain.

Importer unknown. A sample for review.

vermentino-web
The Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna, is frankly one of the most beautiful wines I have tasted this year. Its making, along biointegrale methods, is meticulous. Twenty percent of the grapes are harvested slightly early and fermented naturally in stainless steel tanks and clay amphora. This portion is then used to produce spontaneous fermentation in the remaining 80 percent of the grapes. The blend ages five or six months in a combination of 70 percent stainless steel and 30 percent tonneaux, usually about 900 liters (237.75 gallons), so little of the wine has actual contact with wood. The result is a vermentino of shimmering purity and intensity that features a very pale straw-gold hue and penetrating aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, grapefruit and lemongrass and back-notes of flint and damp limestone. The texture is seductively talc-like in softness yet taut and lean with crystalline acidity and river stone minerality, all wrapped in a bracing sea-salt and grapefruit pith finish of startling acuteness and nervosity. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of quince and ginger and a strain of dried meadow flowers and herbs. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this vermentino, a wine that feels truly alive and vital, through 2018 with grilled fish, seafood risottos, goat and sheep’s-milk cheeses. Excellent. The price for this remarkable performance is a mere $15, representing Terrific Value.

Cline Sisters Imports, Sonoma, Calif. A sample for review.

Sometimes you just want a decent robust red wine to down with your pizza or burger and not have to furrow your gentle brow about whether or Contrade Negroamaro 2015 FRONTnot you should be drinking it. Such a one is the Contrade Negroamaro 2015, a 100 percent varietal wine from Italy’s Pulgia region, way south in the heel of that complicated peninsular boot. Contrade — implying an enclosed vineyard — is a second label from Masseria Li Veli, whose products regularly show up on my radar for their moderate prices and excellent cost/value ratio, but the Contrade wines are something else. The wine aged briefly in oak — a mere three months — so what we get here is largely the grape itself in all its rustic, full-blown, black leather jacket glory. Let’s not make huge claims, but this wine’s black cherry, blueberry and mulberry scents and flavors, woven with notes of loam, sage and bay-leaf, lavender and bittersweet chocolate, its structure of soft, dusty tannins and vibrant acidity, layered with subtle tones of granitic minerality, provide a direct expression of the negroamaro grape and a gratifying quaff for whatever purpose you anticipate, especially, as I mentioned, as accompaniment to hearty pizzas and burgers — cheese and bacon, please — full-flavored pasta dishes and grilled meat generally. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10, making a Terrific Bargain.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif. A sample for review.

One of my favorite wines of the year — any year — is the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc, made from grapes grown in the Clarksburg 2016_Chenin_Blanc_label_rgbAVA, an unusual region (approved in 1984) that lies athwart portions of three counties in Northern California: Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County, near the town of Clarksburg. Benefiting from the breezes that waft from San Francisco Bay, Clarksburg is cooler than nearby Sacramento. Fewer than 10 percent of the grapes grown in Clarksburg are actually crushed within the AVA, most being trucked to wineries in distant climes. And speaking of this wine, I would argue that the designation “Dry Chenin Blanc” is not necessary. Do consumers meet so much sweet chenin blanc that the “dry” distinction needs to be asserted? I don’t think so. Anyway, the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2016, Clarksburg, displays a very pale straw-gold hue and offers lovely aromas of hay and heather, quince and ginger, notes of roasted lemons and poached pears inflected by lilac and camellia. It is indeed a dry wine (made all in stainless steel) but juicy with flavors of yellow stone-fruit, clean and fresh with bracing acidity and an intriguing limestone edge; several minutes in the glass bring in hints of acacia and broom, flint and just a bit of guava. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of this year or into 2018 with all sorts of porch, patio or picnic fare, or as aperitif while you’re preparing dinner. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

Readers, buy this wine by the case and clasp it to thy bosom as a long-lost friend, not to store under your bed or in a closet but to garnachadrink with pleasure for the rest of this year and into 2018. The Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, from Spain’s Navarra region, is 100 percent varietal — garnacha grapes, also called grenache — and aged a brief three months in older oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; this is a bright, spicy wine with immediate appeal, featuring red and black currant and plum scents and flavors infused with briers and brambles and notes of wild cherry. A lithe, supple texture leads the way across the palate to a slightly dusty, loamy finish; give this wine a few minutes in the glass, and it brings up hints of lavender and violets, graphite and smoke. 14 percent alcohol. Consume with burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, grilled pork chops, tacos and tapas; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $11, a Wondrous Bargain.

Imported by Classical Wines from Spain, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.

On February 22, for Wine of the Day No. 236, I wrote about the Pratsch Gruner Veltliner 2015 from Austria. Today, I nominate that wine’s zweigelt
stablemate, the Pratsch Zweigelt 2013, Niederösterreich, a wine, composed of Austria’s signature red grape, that at three years old is as fresh as a daisy and as breezy as, well, a Spring zephyr. Made from organic grapes and aged eight months in stainless steel and large oak casks, the wine offers a vivid transparent ruby hue that shades to a bright magenta rim; aromas and flavors of ripe and spicy black and red cherries, plums and mulberries are permeated by notes of smoke and loam, while on the palate pinpoint acidity and graphite minerality lend it liveliness and allure. The wine gains in depth and structure in the glass, building a surprising foundation of moderately dusty tannins. Mainly, though, this is tasty, attractive and highly quaffable. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $14, for a one-liter bottle, perfect for buying by the case as your casual house red.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd., Niles, Illinois. A sample for review.

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