Cheap Wine



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.

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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.

Made from free-run juice of early-picked grapes, all in stainless steel, the Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2016, Dry Creek Valley, PRT_ZR0162_PRTSMALLPIC_20170131_161452sports a lovely coral-pink hue and enticing aromas of Rainier cherry and tomato skin, rose petals and orange rind, over hints of dried thyme and a faint briery aspect. It’s a ripe and slightly fleshy rosé, though quite dry on the palate and bright with snappy acidity. A few moments in the glass bring out notes of watermelon, pomegranate and graphite. Really attractive presence with a feeling for the ethereal. 13.7 percent alcohol for easy drinking, now through the end of 2017. Production was 2,100 cases. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.

A sample for review.

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It’s a gorgeous Spring day here in the Mid-South, and pretty mild elsewhere in our nation, except for California, now enduring a Weather Apocalypse, and we hope all our friends out there stay safe. And if you wonder about the origin of the term “Mid-South,” it was coined in the 1920s — so I heard at a lecture once — by an editor at The Commercial Appeal to define the newspaper’s circulation area: West Tennessee, northern Mississippi, eastern Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel. Now you know. Anyway, if you’re planning to enjoy this great day by kicking back after work and sitting out on the porch or patio or high on an apartment balcony, or if your plans for the weekend include a picnic or some other bucolic expedition to the bosky groves or warm sands, here’s the wine for you. The Pratsch Grüner Veltliner 2015, made by Stefan Pratsch in Austria’s Niederösterreich wine region, is certified organic and produced all in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures to retain freshness and immediate appeal. The color is very pale straw-gold; the wine features what I think of as the primary characteristics of this grape, a kind of white pepper-hay-and-heather highlighting of spiced pear and roasted lemon elements with a dim back-note of quince and ginger, all abetted by crisp acidity and a fledgling flinty-limestone edge. Readers, that’s it, and what more do you need when you’re chilling with family and friends being all familial and friendly and what not? Oh, this would be tasty with seafood-based appetizers and tapas or just as a very pleasant quaff. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. And the price? About $14, for a one-liter bottle, representing Good Value.

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

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Here’s a bargain in a Bordeaux blanc, a category in which sauvignon blanc grapes are usually blended with semillon and muscadelle and in whatever degree the terroir, the vintage and the winemaker decide, though muscadelle is often omitted. The winemaker in this case is Véronique Barthe, whose family has owned the property in Entre-Deux-Mers since 1789, that fateful year in French history. Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux, is a blend of 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon and 10 percent muscadelle. The wine displays a pale straw-gold hue and offers pert aromas of lime peel, grapefruit, pea shoot and gooseberry, with notes of lilac and violets gradually and genially emerging; hints of lemon balm and a slight waxy quality increase the attractive powers. It’s very clean, bright and fresh on the palate, and the combination of stone-fruit and citrus flavors — think delicate peach and tangerine — are heightened by a leafy-figgy aspect and a lovely talc-like texture, the whole package enlivened by brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2017 with oysters just shucked from the shell, grilled mussels, shrimp or chicken salad; it would serve as a terrific picnic wine when the weather permits. Very Good+. About $13, though prices around the country range from about $11 to $15.

Imported by Aquitaine Wines USA, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

If it is authenticity you’re looking for, if it is an attachment to the land and simplicity that hoist your flag, then you need to purchase tire-pea case of the Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012, from a property that occupies a hillside in the south of Entre-Deux-Mers, overlooking the Gironde River. The wine carries a Bordeaux designation. The estate is owned by David and Hélène Barrault, who bought the chateau, built in the 1750s, in 1997, knowing not a whit about vineyards, grape-growing or winemaking. They skated that learning curve with ease, now turning out some 3,500 to 4,200 cases of certified organic red wine annually. One wing of the chateau, really a farmhouse, has been converted into a model of the most charming, modest bed-and-breakfast establishments you can imagine. I stayed one night there in October 2011 and would go back in a flash.

Today’s wine, the Chateau Tire Pé “Diem” 2012 is made from 100 percent merlot grapes that touch no oak at all; the wine ages eight to 10 diemmonths in concrete tanks and is bottled unfiltered. The color is dark ruby with a softer magenta rim; it’s a robust country wine, bursting with ripe black currants, mulberries and blueberries etched with briery, foresty elements bolstered on the palate by dusty, graphite-drenched tannins and lip-smacking acidity, gradually opening to floral qualities and dried fruit and spices and notes of some cedary, dried herbs nature. So, you’re saying, is that all there is to it? No, friends, because within that laconic description lies an unadorned wine of tremendous vibrancy, resonance and intensity, a wine that feels alive in the glass and the embodiment of the rows of vines and soil that gave it birth. So, there’s that. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 with hearty winter fare. Excellent. About — are you ready — $12 a bottle, marking Terrific Value.

Jenny & François Selections, New York. A sample for review.

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