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Nov 24th
For Post-holiday Penny Pinchers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor   
January 2014

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

TPix_Vino_1-14was the night after Christmas, and all through the house, / Not a creature was solvent, not even a mouse; / The credit cards maxed out, the bank account bare, / I scrounged ’neath the sofa for loose pennies there.

Then all of a sudden I heard such a bustle, / I ran to the window to check out the hustle; / A giant black limo, an evil black stone, / Was parked at the curb in front of my home.

Then what to my desperate eyes did appear, / But a gray-suited banker, his mouth in a leer; / There was ice in his manner and greed in his eyes, / And he glared at me fiercely and let out a cry: / “Now Visa, now Mastercard, Amex, and Diners! / More interest, more fees, no cheer for these whiners!”

With that he returned to his black limousine, / His leer now a grin that was faintly obscene; / Still, I heard him exclaim or rather larrup,

“Merry Christmas, you sucker, now time to pay up!”

So okay, maybe I did have a little too much brandy in my eggnog. But along with the holiday hangover of too much shopping, fruitcake, champagne, and boozed-up eggnog comes the inevitable onslaught of credit card bills and bank statements reminding you that your account is now roughly the size of a pimple.

In keeping with the post-holiday spirit, this month Vino decided to shop even more cheaply than usual, busting our typical $12 limit down to $10. Actually, it was more complicated than that. Supermarket and liquor store shelves are lousy with cheap wines that are insipid renditions of higher-quality Chardonnays, Cabernets, Merlots, and Pinot Noirs. So we expanded our reach beyond the usual vinous suspects and tried to come up with a few wines that were both a little different and a lot affordable.

They don’t come any more different and affordable than a Romanian wine, the 2012 Recas La Putere Feteasca Neagra. That country’s premier red wine grape, Feteasca Neagra (“Black Maiden”) makes a wine of bracing fruity-earthy intensity, as the La Putere certainly bears out. It’s a wine of impressive balance and complexity for $10, with layered aromas of toast and mushrooms, black olives, and black cherry-berry fruit, all of which carry over to the palate.

In much the same vein is the lost-found grape of Chile. The 2012 San Elias is an excellent value at $10, delivering Carménère’s characteristic earthy, olive-y, black ’n’ blue fruit in a big, juicy, fruit-forward package that begs to be accompanied by a rare steak fresh off the grill or a big slab of barbecued ribs.

Rather more delicate and less fruit-forward is the 2012 La Vieille Ferme, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault from France’s Rhone Valley. Here the smoky, olive-y, earthy tones take center stage, augmented by a hint of peppery spice, which make for a wine of both subtlety and heft.

Finding a decent, affordable California Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t easy, but the 2011 Leaping Lizard Cab nails both price and quality. Small-lot fermentation gives it vibrant red- and black-cherry flavors, undercurrents of toast and olives give it complexity, and relatively low alcohol (12.5 percent) makes it easy on the palate and ideal for casual sipping.

It’s no easier finding decent, affordable California Chardonnay, and though the 2012 Curran Creek comes close, it doesn’t quite get the cigar. It does offer Chardonnay’s requisite pear, citrus, and green apple aromas and flavors, but while the Leaping Lizard tastes better than its modest price tag, the Curran Creek tastes like, well … cheap Chardonnay. Not bad, but even at $8.99, you can probably do better.

With the 2011 Massimo Sauvignon Blanc, for example. It serves up all the classic tart, bracing, lemon-lime and gooseberry flavors of Sauvignon Blancs made in the Marlborough region of New Zealand but is a little richer, a touch fuller-bodied. So if you like that style with a bit of restraint, this is the wine for you. Also crisp, refreshing, and very representative of its type is the 2012 Stellina di Notte Pinot Grigio. It’s a mouthful of minerals and citrus and herbs, as Italian as a testosterone-red Ferrari, though affordable even to those of us visited by gimlet-eyed bankers the night after Christmas.

 

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