The Biscayne Times

Jun 19th
Death, Taxes, and Really Cheap Wine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara   
April 2011

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

PixforVino4-11It was T.S. Eliot who wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” He had a point, but a few other months could give it some competition. July, for example, when South Florida’s brutal summer blossoms in all its face-melting glory. Or January, when lately our normally balmy winter weather seems to go to hell in a fleece-lined hand basket. Or September, when every tiny smudge that floats off the African coast threatens to lumber across the ocean and chew us up like so much undercooked hamburger.

There’s February because -- well, just because. It’s a totally useless month, a tail on a Ferrari. Then there’s my own least favorite, October, mainly because it includes Halloween, which has tragically evolved into National Nitwit’s Day for adults.

Still, in the pantheon of sucky months, April has one enormous (dis)advantage over all others. It includes April 15. Tax Day. Uncle Sammy’s hand in your pocket and his voice in your ear: “There are all those worthless wars to fight, huge rapacious corporations to bail out, corrupt foreign dictators to prop up, and poor suffering millionaires and billionaires to succor, so just lie there quietly, my little lambs, while I get out the shears.”

If the cruelty of April, the anguish of flushing your hard-earned dollars down Sammy’s bottomless rat hole, has left you needing a drink that you can barely afford to buy, Vino feels your pain. Therefore, my lambs, this month we’ve gone even cheaper, limiting our purchases to wines costing $10 or less. They’re not exactly Mouton Rothschild, but you might just save enough money to buy back your own wool for a nice little sweater.

Let’s begin with the two cheapest wines of the tasting. And I mean cheap, as in dirt. Or maybe the rocks beneath the dirt. Or maybe just the word “dirt” itself.

How about a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with all the lemon-lime-grapefruit flavors and crisp, bracing, seafood-friendly acidity that country’s SBs are known for, for a stupid-affordable $4.95? Oh, yeah. That’s the 2009 Red Cliffe, from the capital of Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs, Marlborough. Not much complexity here, but a well-made wine you can drink every day. And for five bucks? You can’t beat that with an idiot stick.

A dollar more gets you the Gazela 2009 Vinho Verde. It’s as pale as a Norwegian on South Beach, with tart citrus and ever-so-faintly-floral flavors and the slight spritz that’s characteristic of the wine. It’s also very light on the palate, takes a good chill easily, and with only nine-percent alcohol is a pretty refreshing way to drink away a humid South Florida afternoon.

Want something with a little more pop?

The Wallace Brook 2008 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a good option. It opens with toast and citrus and a few funky-herbal aromas, then segues into a medium-bodied wine that accents its smoky pear and green apple flavors with a tangy lemon-lime backbone and tart lemon finish.

Doubling down on the fruit without losing its acidic zip is the 2009 Antis Torrontes, a varietal I will keep harping on until you all go out and try it. This one offers big, bold aromas of tropical fruit and honeysuckle and orange, but on the palate is much more restrained, tasting of ripe pears and green apples, with definitely unsweet floral nuances and a surprising creamy, almost viscous texture.

“Cheap” and “Cabernet Sauvignon” are rarely used in the same sentence, at least if the word “good” is in there too. But in the case of Gallo of Sonoma’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, “cheap” and “good” are actually quite appropriate. This $10 Cab drinks much better than its price, with aromas of cherries and plums, toasty oak, sweet spice, and even a touch of fresh herbs. Those aromas carry over to your mouth, too, yet there are enough tannins and acidity to keep them in check.

Winemaker Randall Grahm has sold off his low-priced line of eclectic wines, but the flagship Big House Red doesn’t seem to have suffered. The 2009 vintage is a blend of 14 different grapes, and like its predecessors under Grahm, emphasizes balance and food-friendliness over fat gobs of fruit and a lumberyard’s worth of oak. With its tart cherry fruit, stiff acidity, and relatively low alcohol (13.5 percent), it’s almost more French than Californian, but it’s a good wine to pour with rich, fatty meats, assuming you can afford any after the cruelty of April 15.


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