Cheap Wine


Today I return to the Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet, which I last made a Wine of the Week in 2008, for the version of ’07. Now it’s the turn of the rendition of 2010.

The Picpoul de Pinet HB 2010, Coteaux de Languedoc, produced by the Caves de Pomérols cooperative, reiterates this wine’s status as one of the Great Cheap Wines of the World. Made from white picpoul grapes — also known as folle blanche — and seeing only stainless steel in its production, the wine is exuberantly fresh and spicy, exhilarating in its crisp acidity, seductive in its roasted lemon scents and flavors spiked with lime peel and grapefruit and permeated by hints of dried thyme and tarragon and an exotic note of salt-marsh. The soil in this seaside area of Languedoc, just west of the great lagoon of the Bassin de Thau, where the French coast starts its long curve downward toward Spain, is composed of clay and pebbles and fragments of limestone and fossil shells over marl, a perfect mixture for the grape’s dry delicacy, lightness and stony, sun-drenched nature. Buy by the case to drink over the next six months. Superb with shellfish — especially oysters — but we happily consumed a few glasses with Chinese take-out. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10-$11.

A sample for review.

On the way home from looking at an art exhibition, I stopped at Sharon’s Bread and Chocolate Cafe — two great food groups! — and got a meatball sandwich to go. When I sat down to write, sandwich unwrapped and still hot next to me, I thought, “Well, hold on. We need a glass of red wine to accompany this little beauty.” So I opened a bottle of the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, from Austria’s Burgenland region, southeast of Vienna along the border with Hungary. The label, named for a species of lizard that lives in the vineyards, is a collaboration among Joseph Umathum, one of Austria’s greatest winemakers; Wolfgang Peck (not Puck) and the Andau winegrowers’ cooperative. So far production is limited to three red grapes well-known in Austria and almost limited to that country’s vineyards: zweigelt, St. Laurent and blaufränkisch. In Germany, blaufränkisch is called, helpfully, limburger and lemburger; under the latter name, the grape in grown in small amounts in Washington state. Anyway, the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, offering a characteristic deep ruby-violet color, is a dark, rooty, dusty wine with plenty of grip and stuffing, by which I mean that you feel the presence of the wine with some urgency and vitality. Aromas of macerated blueberries and plums are underlain by notes of graphite-like minerality and beguiling touches of cedar and thyme, tobacco and black olives and a hint of funky plum pudding, with its slightly exotic spices and dried fruit. The wine is fairly intense and concentrated in the mouth, but a few minutes in the glass reveal its more generous, expansive nature in the form of ripe and spicy blueberry, black currant and plum flavors flecked with briers and brambles, light elements of smoke and moss and bottom notes of wet fur and bitter chocolate, all enlivened by a strain of spirited acidity. Yes, this is a highly individual wine, a bit eccentric and altogether authentic; it was terrific with the meatball sandwich. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago. The closure is a glass stopper under a screw-cap. A sample for review.

The history of Domaine du Tariquet is complicated — the progenitor was a bear-tamer — so it will suit our purposes merely to say that the same family his owned the property since 1912, first the Artaud family and then, through marriage in the early 1940s, the Grassa family. Today, the third Grassa generation operates the estate, which originally produced only Bas-Armagnac and then in 1982 added white wines in what were pioneering blends of chardonnay and chenin blanc or chardonnay and sauvignon blanc or ugni blanc and colombard. These white wines and a rosé, great values among them, are the subject of today’s reviews. The appellation is Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, in the southwest region of France called Midi-Pyrénées. For centuries, Gascony, which shares a mountainous border with Spain, was home to a Basque-speaking people whose origins and affinities really lay in Spanish culture; in fact, the root of the words Basque and Gascony is the same. Côtes de Gascogne, surrounded by predominantly red wine regions, is unusual in that 91 percent of the production is white wine, the rest being about 8 percent red and 1 percent rosé.

Imported by Robert Kacher Selections, Washington DC. Samples for review.
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Domaine du Tariquet Classic Ugni Blanc Colombard 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. 70 percent ugni blanc, 30 percent colombard. Ugni blanc is the same grape as the usually nondescript Italian trebbiano; by keeping things simple and controlling the grape’s inherent withering acidity, it’s capable of making an attractive, lively wine of no huge character; it would help if yields were kept low. Paradoxically, ugni blanc is the principle grape in Cognac and Armagnac, precisely because its neutral nature and high acidity make it perfect for distillation and wood aging. Anyway, this little quaffer is as alluring as all get-out, offering hints of lemon, pear and yellow plum woven with touches of jasmine and cloves, a bit of almond skin and something slightly herbal. Fresh, clean, delightful and very nice as an aperitif or with mild cheeses and seafood dishes. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $9, a Real Bargain.
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Domaine du Tariquet Chenin Chardonnay 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. Chenin blanc 75 percent, chardonnay 25 percent. This is pleasant enough but certainly not the most attractive or compelling of this group of wines. Crisp and vibrant, with tasty touches of lemon, quince and green plum and a burgeoning spicy element supported by a hint of limestone. 12.5 percent alcohol. Good+. About $11.
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Domaine du Tariquet Chardonnay 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. While the other wines noted in this post receive no oak aging, Tariquet’s Chardonnay 2010 was given three months in barrels. Amazing quality for the price here: this is clean, fresh and bright, with pears and roasted lemon for the nose, highlighted by hints of grapefruit and pineapple and gentle spice and a touch of buttered toast, while a few minutes bring round a note of jasmine; the texture deftly balances moderate lushness and a very pleasing texture with resonant acidity and a bit of limestone in the background. Surprising heft, presence and personality for a chardonnay in this range. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $11.
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Domaine du Tariquet Cote 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. This beguiling wine is a well-balanced blend of 50 percent chardonnay and 50 percent sauvignon blanc, each grape nicely delineated yet fitting seamlessly into the package. Fresh aromas of apples, pears and slightly spiced and macerated lemons with hints of thyme and freshly-mown grass and a touch of jasmine; crisp and quite lively, with spicy, roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors ensconced in a texture seductively poised between chardonnay’s ripe lushness and sauvignon blanc’s tidy spareness, all encompassed by a finish packed with limestone. We enjoyed this wine with seared rare tuna, under a dense peppercorn crust. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine du Tariquet Rosé de Pressée 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. My favorite of this group. A blend of 30 percent each merlot and cabernet franc, 25 percent syrah and 15 percent tannat, the wine was made in the fashion of a white wine, that is grapes pressed and the juice removed from the skins, rather than the saignée method of crushing the grapes and bleeding off some juice before it colors completely. This example is unusually ripe and fleshy for a rosé, though the color is a pale melon-copper; aromas of fresh strawberries, red currants and melon unfold to elements of pomegranate, almond skin, thyme and limestone; a lovely, almost silken texture is riven by scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality, pointing up spicy red fruit flavors that aim toward a finish that gets spare and almost austere. A superior rosé, charming yet with a fairly serious edge. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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LL used the rest of the fresh porcini and morels a few nights ago and made a simple pasta dish to highlight the deep, earthy flavors, going very light on butter and using more olive oil. I never understand the impulse, seemingly the imperative, to slather sauteed mushrooms with lots of butter and cream, thereby obscuring, if not obliterating, the reason for using them anyway. Before she got home from work, I chopped two leeks, sauteed them in a bit of olive oil and a wee sliver of butter, covered the pan, turned the flame way down, and let them stew for 15 or 20 minutes until quite soft and savory. As a thickener for the sauce, LL pureed these incredibly soft and flavorful leeks in the processor with some chicken broth and olive oil. She’s really smart that way. I brushed the porcini and morels off carefully, sliced them, and sauteed then gently in olive oil and, again, just a bit of butter, and then LL added the leek puree, some dollops of white wine and finished the sauce and the dish. For pasta we used a very interesting fresh whole-grain fettuccine, made from Kamut, from Laura and Davy Funderburk’s FunderFarms in north Mississippi. As with porcini risotto, the resulting dish, while fabulously deep and earthy and flavorful, was not very photogenic. (Kamut is a brand name for the khorasan variety of wheat supposedly discovered in Egypt in the late 1940s and grown now in limited quantities in the United States.)

I told LL that my choice for a supremely well-matched wine-and-food marriage made in heaven would be a great Northern Rhone roussanne or marsanne-based white, say an E. Guigal Ex Voto Ermitage Blanc or Paul Jaboulet Aîné Chevalier Sterimberg Hermitage Blanc, about eight to 10 years old. I didn’t have one of those, and, unless I am somehow transported into the slender ranks of Very Privileged Wine Writers or Big Dogs of Fiduciary Prowess, never will I. So I poked around in the white wine fridge for a substitute and actually found an intriguing bottle, Les Deux Rives Corbières Blanc 2010, made from a blend of 60 percent grenache blanc grapes and 20 percent each marsanne and roussanne. Now I’m not saying that this wine would in any way be comparable in nobility and character to the tremendous examples mentioned earlier in this paragraph, but it does have the advantage of selling at a price affordable to those millions of consumers modestly existing on the Plane of Mere Mortals.

What was so pleasing about Les Deux Rives Corbières Blanc 2010, produced by the Groupe Val d’Orbieu cooperative headquartered in Narbonne, is that it encapsulates, on a small scale, the nature of a wine that in large might extend the qualities of these grapes into epiphany. Yes, at most this is a very pleasant and more-than-decent effort, made all in stainless steel, yet the wine’s combination of crisp freshness and delicacy balanced with heady qualities of roasted lemon and lemon balm, dried thyme and bee’s-wax, hints of lanolin and camellia, all ensconced in a texture deftly poised between litheness and moderate lushness, rendered it deeply satisfying with the porcini and morel fettuccine, both in terms of complement and foil. When not serving a similar purpose, this would be terrific as a Porch, Patio, Pool & Picnic Wine, either as pure aperitif or with grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon; melon and prosciutto; or smoked salmon bruschetta. The alcohol content is a non-threatening 12.5 percent. Drink, nicely chilled, through the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Very Good+. About $10, a Distinct Bargain.

Corbières is in France’s Languedoc region, way down along the coast, where it turns south toward Spain, and inland up to some pretty rugged hills. “Les Deux Rives” refers to the banks of the Canal du Midi, built between 1666 and 1681 to connect the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The 150-mile-long Canal du Midi runs from Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean coast to Toulouse, where it joins the Canal de Garonne. The enterprise was economically important until the construction of railroads in the mid-19th Century. It was named a UNESCO World heritage Site in 1996.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

When I was a kid, I thought that picnics must be pretty damned cool and racy events, because I was familiar with Manet’s great painting Dejeuner sur l’herbes that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. In the book of reproductions that I looked at constantly, the two men and two women depicted in the work were described as “dining al fresco,” and since one of the women was nude and the other partially so, I thought that a picnic meant eating outside naked. Well, it didn’t turn out that way, damnit, but naked or not, picnics (under controlled conditions) can be quite charming. The foods I favor at these occasions include deviled eggs, cold roasted chicken, cucumber sandwiches, potato salad and strawberry shortcake; I don’t normally cotton to strawberries, the stupidest of the berry line, but in the picnic situation, they’re allowed. What’s also allowed are young, fresh, attractive wines that we can enjoy without worrying our pretty little heads too much; wines that offer an interesting level of complexity without being ponderous or demanding or shrill. That’s what I bring to you today, because as the temperature moderates slightly in some parts of the United States of America, My Readers might be contemplating picnics, even if they occur on the safety of their own porch or patio or backyard, rather than say, Yosemite.

None of these wines sees the least smidgeon of oak; none has an alcohol content higher than 13 percent; all slide across the counter at a reasonable price. The primary motifs are charm, delight, drinkability. With one exception, these wines are from vintage 2010; one is from 2009. All rate Very Good+ with one exception, and that’s a superb rosé that I scored Excellent. These are versatile wines intended to match with all sorts of casual fare, not just my ideal picnic menu. Samples for review, except for one that I bought.

Image from artchive.com.
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Let’s start with a delightful sip of something just a little sweet. Innocent Bystander Moscato 2010, Yarra Valley, from an area just northeast of Melbourne in Australia’s Victoria region, is exactly the color in your glass as you see in this illustration: a very pale melon/bubble gum pink. It’s what Italians call frizzante, which is to say sparkling but more of a light fizz than gushing effervescence. The wine is a blend of 65 percent muscat of Alexandria and 35 percent muscat of Hamburg. Here is pure raspberry and strawberry notched up by a spike of lime with delicate scents of watermelon and rose petals and something slightly earthy and foxy. In the mouth, Rainier cherries and orange zest come into play and a hint of cloves enveloped in chiming acidity and a bit of limestone-like minerality. The wine is slightly sweet initially, but it quickly goes bone-dry, while retaining a sense of ripe softness and talc-like lushness balanced by that crisp structure and gentle, fleeting bubbles. Absolutely charming and — a word I seldom employ apropos wine — fun. 5.5 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot! Very Good+. Half-bottles about $10 to $12.
Old Bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
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Torres Vina Esmeralda 2010, Catalunya, Spain. Well, now, what a sweetheart this one is! The color is pale straw-gold with a slight green sheen. The wine is composed of 85 percent muscat of Alexandria grapes and 15 percent gewurztraminer, so it’s not surprising that what you first notice about the bouquet are aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, followed by peach and pear, and then a hint of lychee and petrol. The wine is sprightly, spicy, snappy, quite dry; it’s permeated by prominent strains of limestone and shale (though the texture is moderately lush) that bolster flavors of roasted lemon, canned lychee and some of its juice and a touch of peach nectar, all devolving to a stony, acid-lashed finish that reveals a hint of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Really charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., N.Y.
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Albariño is Spain’s white grape of the moment, and the Martin Códax Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas (in Galicia in northwest Spain) is a worthwhile interpretation. I found this wine’s invigorating dry grass-sea salt-roasted lemon-limestone character irresistible, and it immediately put me in mind of trout seared in an iron skillet with butter and capers over a camp fire (or Coleman stove), though that example truly sounds more like a cook-out on a camping trip than a halcyon picnic in a bosky dell. Add to those qualities hints of dried thyme and tarragon, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touches of fennel and cloves and a late-comer bloom of jasmine, and you get a well-nigh perfect picnic or patio wine. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Martin Codax USA — i.e., Gallo — Haywood, Ca.
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Grapes for the Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2010, Central Coast, derive from all up and down the vast Central Coast region of California, but include a portion from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. I love the name of this wine — “Stainless Chardonnay,” as if it were a product of immaculate conception — but the free-of-sin cuteness makes a point; this wine is made all in stainless steel and goes through no malolactic process in tank, so it functions as an epitome of freshness, bright flavors, vibrancy and minerality; it’s not just “no-oak” but “anti-oak.” My first note is “Lovely.” Pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors are imbued with hints of mango and guava (though the wine seems not a whit tropical) and touches of quince and lime. The texture is shapely and supple; it just feels beguiling sliding through the mouth, while plenty of limestone and steel and a hefty dose of jazzy acidity keep the keel on a purposeful cutting path across the palate. Thoughtful winemaking here from New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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With its engaging manner, crisp liveliness and lovely tone and presence, the Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2010 seduces the nose and gladdens the mouth. Made all in stainless steel from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, this product of a small appellation south of the city of Blois and the Loire River offers notes of fresh-mown grass, dried thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and ripe pear and heaps of lime and limestone. Lemon and lime flavors are touched by hints of sunny, leafy fig with a bell-tone echo of black currant at the center. Juicy and spicy, yes, but dry, stony, steely, deftly balanced between scintillating acidity and a delicately ripe, rich texture. The domaine was founded in 1898 by the Delaille family and has been owned by them since then; it is operated by Gilbert Delaille and his sons Emmanuel and Thierry. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
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Befitting a white wine that hails from an island, the Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, is savory and spicy, brisk as a sea-wind fledged with brine, replete with notes of pear and almond skin, a sort of sunny lemony quality, and underlying hints of bees’-wax and jasmine. The winery was founded in 1899 by two friends from Piedmont named — ready? — Sella and Mosca. The wine is made from 100 percent vermentino grapes, some of which, after harvest, are allowed to dry before being pressed, a process that adds some richness and depth to the wine without detracting from its notable freshness and immediate appeal. Ringing acidity keeps La Cala 09 vibrant and resonant as a bow-string, yet the tautness is balanced by a texture of almost powdery softness. Completely lovely. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.
Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Boy, is this pretty! The Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2009, Bianco di Toscana, made in stainless steel, is a blend of trebbiano, malvasia Toscana and chardonnay grapes, to produce an unusual and very attractive combination. “Bianco di Toscana” is a basic designation that means, as if you didn’t know, “white wine of Tuscany,” so producers can do just about anything they want with it. In the case of Oriolus 09, we have a light straw color with a sort of ghostly green tone and a bouquet of almond and almond blossom, spicy lemon and lemon balm, cloves and shale and limestone. A few minutes in the glass bring up elements of spiced peach and pear, which provide high-notes in the aromas but dominate flavors bolstered by clean, fresh acidity and subtle touches of dried herbs, tangerine and steely limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble, Cordova, Tenn.
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Luna Mater Franscati Superiore Secco 2009, produced by Fontana Candida, represents a rendition of the famous “wine of Rome” that is indeed superior. Such quality might not be such a difficult task to attain considering that most Frascati is bland and innocuous, but efforts are being made, and Luna Mater — “Mother Moon” — is among the best. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is a blend of 60 percent malvasia bianca di Candia, 30 percent trebbiano Toscano and 10 percent malvasia del Lazio, from vineyards that average 50 years old. What’s here? Almond and almond blossom with a touch of almond skin bitterness; green apples, roasted lemon and a bit of peach; dried thyme and lemon verbena; a very dry, steely and minerally effect in the mouth, with taut acidity, a rousing note of breeze-borne sea-salt and salt-marsh; rollicking spiciness from mid-palate back through a finish flecked with quince and ginger. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.
VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, from the area of Provence between Marseilles and Toulon, an absolutely classic South-of-France-style rosé, a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, with a lovely pale onion skin color slightly tinted with very pale copper; dried raspberries and red currants with a tinge of melon and peach; bone-dry, scintillating acidity, a spicy finish flush with limestone; wonderful tautness and presence, a little electrifying yet pleasantly supple and nuanced. The best rosé I’ve had this summer. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.
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While many wines made from Sicily’s nero d’avola grape are tarry, rustic and bumptious, Tonino Guzzo, winemaker for d’Alessandro, manages to produce an example that’s deep and dark without being tarry, robust without being rustic and lively without being bumptious. Yet the d’Alessandro Nero d’Avola 2008, Sicilia, still embodies the wild, slightly exotic nature of the grape. The property, near the town of Agrigento — a seaport founded by the Greeks around 580 B.C. on the island’s central southwest-facing coast — goes back to 1820, though Giacomo d’Alessandro did not found the winery until 2006. The wine is made 100 percent from nero d’avola grapes; it ages three months in cement tanks, meaning that there’s no oak influence. At two and a half years old, d’Alessandro Nero d’Avola 2008, sporting a black-purple color, is clean and fresh and appealing, with notes of black currant, blueberry and mulberry permeated by lavender, dried thyme and black olive and high-tones of cloves and sandalwood. This is pretty stylish stuff, sleek and smooth, but offering plenty of the grape’s dense, chewy, mouth-filling tannins, vibrant acidity and tasty plum and blueberry flavors imbued with potpourri, black tea and bitter chocolate. The finish is a tad austere with briers and brambles and a bit of slightly mossy dried porcini mushrooms, the best part of being somewhat earthy/funky. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13 with burgers, steaks and red meat pastas. Very Good+. About $14 or $15.

Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, N.Y. A sample for review. Image, slightly cropped, from amazinggrapeswinestore.com.

That’s probably the most obvious and the lamest title anyone could come up with for this post, but so be it. The point is that these blended wines from X Winery will, um, hit the spot for your many wine needs this weekend, and in many states and cities, where wine and liquor stores stay open until 10 or 11 p.m., you have half a day in which to shop. X Winery released its first wines in 2001, beginning with 1600 cases. The result of Reed Renaudin’s thesis at Cal Poly-San Obispo, where he obtained an MBA, X Winery draws on highly-sought vineyards, such as Truchard and Sangiacomo in Carneros, Spring Mountain in Napa Valley and Roach Vineyards in St. Helena, for its reasonably priced wines. Its flagship wines, the Amicus Cabernet Sauvignon and Amicus Special Blend, at $55 and $45 respectively, are still reasonably priced for the quality and the competition. Today though, we’re looking at the bargain-priced White X and Red X wines. Winemakers are Reed Renaudin and Gina Richmond. These were samples for review.
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The X Winery White X 2010, North Coast, is a blend of 55 percent sauvignon blanc, 18 percent chardonnay, 16 percent riesling and 11 percent malvasia bianca. This is indeed a North Coast wine, deriving from Lake (43%), Mendocino (25%), Napa (18%) and Sonoma (14%) counties. White X is made in stainless steel. This is a fresh, crisp and perky wine that offers a bouquet of melon and pear, touches of quince, ginger, orange zest and roasted lemon, and beguiling notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. What’s interesting about this wine, besides the fact that it’s downright delicious, is the way in which you identify its components as you drink: “Ah, there a bit of sauvignon blanc herbaceousness and leafy fig. And there’s a hint of chardonnay’s body and grapefruit-pineapple character; riesling’s lime, peach and limestone; malvasia bianca’s spice and flowers,” and it all rolls seamlessly over your grateful taste buds to a dry, tart, slightly austere finish. We drank this one night with Jamie Oliver’s Fennel Risotto with Ricotta and Dried Chili; the wine was charming, but the risotto was not as good as the first time I made it, something about the barometric pressure and my bad mood, I guess, risotto is so damned sensitive. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $15.
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The X Winery Red X 2009, North Coast, is a robust, wild and woolly blend of 52 percent syrah, 19 percent mourvèdre, 17 percent zinfandel and 12 percent grenache, drawn from Los Carneros (48%) and Mendocino (21%), Napa (16%) and Lake (15%) counties. Red X 09, as did its predecessors — the brand debuted in 2003 — delivers exuberant elements of black currants and cherries, blueberry and a touch of tart cranberry woven with briers and brambles, cloves and allspice and deep notes of black olive and dried thyme; think of it as a Côtes-du-Rhône with the addition of some bold and spicy California zinfandel. Though juicy black and blue fruit flavors dominate in the mouth, touches of leather, underbrush, graphite-like minerals and slightly toasty oak bolster the depths. The texture is supple and smooth, with a bit of litheness and sinew in structure and finish. The wine aged 21 months in oak, 20 percent new French and 10 percent new American barrels, the rest of the barrels being neutral, that is well-used. We drank this quite successfully with a charcuterie spread for dinner last night. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15.
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All right, I know that this is the list My Readers most want to see, a roster of terrific and affordable wines. No hierarchy; the order is chronological as the wines appeared on the blog. Prices range from $8 to $20, and notice that most of these inexpensive wines were rated Excellent. The value quotient on this list is unimpeachable.
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<>Chateau des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Crémant de Loire, Savennières, Loire Valley, France. A sparkling wine composed of 85 percent chenin blanc and 25 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $18. (LDM Wine Imports)

<>Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Monterey County. Excellent. About $15.

<>Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2008, Monterey County. Syrah 55 percent, grenache 45 percent. Excellent. About $16.

<>Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $16.

<>Clos de los Siete 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Malbec (56%), merlot (21%), syrah (11%), cabernet sauvignon (10%), petit verdot (2%). Excellent. About $19. (Dourthe USA, Manhasset, N.Y.)

<>Plantagenet Riesling 2008, Great Southern, Australia. Excellent. About $20. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.)

<>Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 1,450 cases. Excellent. About $15. (Also the Gainey Sauvignon Blanc 2009 rates Excellent and sells for $14; production was 2,300 cases.)

<>Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

<>Oveja Negra Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Carmenère 2009, Maule Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $12. (Vini Wine & Spirits, Coral Sp[rings, Fla.)

<>Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009, Beaujolais, France. Very Good+. $10-$12. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y.)

<>Graham Beck Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008, Coastal Region, South Africa. Excellent. About $16. (Graham Beck Wines, San Francisco)

<>La TrinQuée Juliènas 2009, Les Vins de Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $16. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Llai Llai Pinot Noir 2008, Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $13. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Prieler Johanneshöle Blaufränkisch 2007, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $19-$20. (Terry Theise Selections for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syossett, N.Y.)

<>Bodegas Aragonesas Coto de Hayas Garnacha Syrah 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. Very Good+. About $8. (Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>Bodegas Agustin Cabero Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Very Good+. About $9. Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>X Winery Red X 2008, North Coast. A provocative blend of 55 percent syrah, 23 percent tempranillo, 14 percent grenache and 8 percent zinfandel. Very Good+. About $15.

<>Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca, Chile. Excellent. About $13. (Austral Wines, Atlanta)

<>Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $15. (Dark Star Imports, Neww York)

<>Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valley, Victoria, Australia. 83 percent riesling, 17 percent muscat of Alexandria. Very Good+. About $10. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal.)

<>Calcu Red Wine 2008, Colchagua, Chile. 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carmenère, 15 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Very Good+. About $12. (Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Alma Negra Bonarda 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20. (Winebow, New York)

<>Carrefour Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $18.

<>Joel Gott Riesling 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Very Good+. About $12.

<>Niner Estate Syrah 2006, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $20.
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We’ve been tasting and drinking quite a few vigorous and rigorous cabernet sauvignon wines from California, even if they didn’t necessarily make a good match with what we were eating, so for Saturday night’s pizza — pepper-cured bacon, roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms. goat cheese — I went in the direction of something more simple, more direct and more appropriate. That turned out to be The Climber Red Wine 2009, a blend of zinfandel (63%), cabernet sauvignon (21%), syrah (12%), petite sirah (2%) and merlot (2%), the sort of fruitful melange you’re likely to see nowhere but in California. The Climber label comes from the people that started the Clif Bar company in 1992. While the winery and farm are in Napa Valley, the grapes for the Climber 2009 came from Mendocino and Lodi; the wine carries a California designation. So, what’s here? A robust, ripe and vibrant red wine that’s packed with fleshy, meaty blackberry, black currant and plum flavors deeply permeated by spice, black pepper, briers and brambles and soft, cushiony tannins that float over the palate like a dusty cloud. This is a terrific pizza wine, though it would serve equally well with burgers, fajitas, pulled pork and other such hearty carnivore-targeted items. Winemakers are Sarah Gott and Bruce Regalia. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

A sample for review.

I haven’t made cheese toast in a long time. We saw a program by a diet/lifestyle guru on PBS, and I thought, “Whoa, I hafta change the way I eat.” Cheese toast, of course, does not fall into the category of Food That’s Really Good for You. I mean, cheese toast is not brown rice and tofu and seaweed, but it tastes better than brown rice, tofu and seaweed. So yesterday, rewarding myself for work well-done (I know, you’re not supposed to reward yourself with food), I sliced some white bread, which we usually don’t have around the house but is essential for cheese toast, slathered on some Dijon mustard, shaved some parmesan, pecorino and piave cheeses and layered them on the bread and sprinkled on Urfa pepper and Mapuche chili spice. Under the broiler! Zip! Zap! A few minutes later, nice and brown and crusty.

I opened a bottle of the Calcu Red Wine 2008, from Chile’s Colchagua region. This little darlin’ is a blend of 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carmenère and 15 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. You could say that Calcu is a true Bordeaux-style blend, since the carmenère grape was widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th Century but was eliminated in the early 20th century because of the unreliability of its yield. For a hundred years or so what were thought to be merlot vines in Chile turned out to be about 90 percent carmenère. DNA-testing pretty much straightened out that problem in the 1990s.

Anyway, Calcu Red Wine 2008 delivers a ravishing snootful of intense and concentrated black currant and black cherry scents deeply imbued with leather and dusty minerals in the limestone and granite range threaded with bitter chocolate and smacked with a fistful of smoky potpourri. That dust-laden mineral element increases in the mouth, providing the backdrop for cozy, chewy tannins and luscious black fruit flavors flecked with lavender and violets rubbed between two hands. Pert and lithe acidity keeps the wine dynamic and quaffable. The whole package asserts more personality than you would think from the price. I enjoyed the wine with my cheese toast, but after sipping a glass I wished that I had saved it for tonight’s pizza. Bringing up the topic: What Wine Shall I Serve with the Pizza in about an Hour? Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. A sample for review.

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