by Miles Lambert-Gócs-
Neighbor Kirk is going to the Canary Islands and Spain. Friend Bela is going to Germany. Cousin Dennis is going to France and Hungary. Great wine destinations all. I am going nowhere. As usual I’ll be shunting to wineries abroad money that could get me a plane ticket.
This is not to say that I’m going to shell out big bucks for the wines. Quantity is definitely more important to me than quality. But on the other hand you can hardly have had your palate in the game as long as I have and not give quality a thought.
Mostly what I seek is what could be called ‘cheap thrills.’ By cheap I mean a bottle that’s not going to set me back more than $8-$11. By thrills I mean a wine that perks up my taste buds by offering something other than what is usually found in that price range.
During my pre-summer scouting I came across a number of wines that I’ll definitely be buying again in the months ahead. I especially recommend the following ones to you. You can look for them in your local wine shops, or google their name and see what you come up with. A couple of them, as noted, are from the ubiquitous Trader Joe’s.
The wines are listed from lighter to fuller body. Otherwise I am charry about description and will not get into anything like scoring. Just trust me that you’ll have some pleasant surprises.
La Peña de España 2015 – Actually it’s specifically ‘de Valencia,’ along Spain’s southern Med coast, which is why one of the varietals in it is muscat. The others are chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and verdejo, all four in equal parts. Absolutely delightful fruit-salad flavors, with only a pins-and-needles sensation from CO2. Alas, I have no paella pan. (Trader Joe’s, $6)
Domaine de Ménard 2014 – A white from 50/50 colombard/ugni blanc (trebbiano for you italo-philes). An atypical presentation of tropical fruit flavors justifies the combo of these two usually ‘mediocre’ varieties. It’s from Gascony but no doubt softer and less heady than what The Three Musketeers would have drunk. ($11)
Juliet from Verona 2014 – Agreed, an unfortunate naming, but it is indeed from Verona, 4/5 from the local garganega and 1/5 sauvignon blanc. There is a nice textural glide to it, but also a zesty quality. The earthy flavors are leavened by a floral tone. The only suggestion of star-crossed lovers are perhaps the green-gray highlights. ($9)
Domaine Vetriccie Île de Beauté 2015 – Hard to pass up this white from Corsica. Presumably it is the 50% indigenous vermentinu (aka vermentino) that propels this beyond what a Corsican chardonnay would be; and the other 50% is chardonnay. As leery as I am of back-label descriptions, the one on this bottle seems worth noting: “citrus, white flowers with a mineral finish.” Surely it’s the white flowers that caught my attention while nosing around in the glass. My only disappointment was that I did not get to feeling Napoleonic while drinking it. ($11)
Librandi Cirò Bianco 2014 Until recently, Librandi’s presence on the market was the only reason some wine lovers recalled that Italy has a Calabria region (in the south, towards the toe). Cirò is located in what was anciently Magna Graecia (‘Greater Greece’), and fittingly, the only grape allowed in its white wine is the greco bianco. Maybe that fact influenced me to find herbs and peaches. Incidentally, the renowned ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton (today’s Crotone) reportedly drank 2-1/2 gallons of Cirò wines every day. Anyone up for that? ($11)
Odoardi Scavigna Bianco 2014 – Again in Calabria, from an estate (!) no less, in the relatively recent appellation zone of Scavigna. The ‘palate’ of varieties is broad here, and Odoardi has not used the same formula in every vintage. The 2014 is 30% each of Italian riesling and chardonnay, and 10% each of greco bianco, pinot bianco, traminer aromatico and malvasia bianca. The latter two might account for what seemed a back-taste reminiscent of muscadine grapes (tsk, tsk). Anyway, it is a tightly knit wine (=strength), and there is nothing citrusy to it. ($11)
Amancay Torrontés Reserva 2014 – Here we move off to South America and Argentina for a moment. The origin of the torrontés grape is unknown as yet, though it seems to have an affinity to the muscat family, judging by Amancay’s sweet-spicy savors. Somewhere I read of torrontés typically including a “hothouse citrus” smell (favorably), but I can neither confirm nor refute that. In any case this wine is dry. (Trader Joe’s, $7).
Castelmaure Col des Vents Corbières 2014 – Finally we get to a red (frankly, it seems harder finding red curiosities in my price range). It’s from the south of France, from Languedoc, and the usual suspects have been rounded up in it: 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Yes, you can ‘parse’ this wine in terms of berries and brambles, but then you could almost be talking about zinfandels. What got to me right away was a scent of olives. My visits to olive processing plants were not without impact on me. ($10)
Additionally I want to mention another white. I am separating it from the others because it did not impress me by its ‘different-ness,’ but rather by its considerable quality-for-price margin:
Kaltern Vigneti delle Dolomiti Bianco 2013 – From the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) area of northeastern Italy, this wine is 40% pinot bianco, and 30% each of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It is very finely balanced ‘cold country’ wine, of solid structure, steely (not crisp!) acidity, and notable flavor ‘saturation.’ You could easily spend three times as much to find what you get here. ($10)
Search and enjoy.
Miles Lambert-Gócs is the author of The Wines of Greece (Faber and Faber 1999), Greek Salad, Dessert Island Wines (Ambelli Press) and Tokaji Wine: Fame, Fate, Tradition (Board and Bench Publishing).