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Written by Bill Citara - BT Contributor   
October 2012

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

EPix_Vino_10-12very month is National Some Wacky-Ass Thing or Another Month.

January, for example, is National Fiber Focus Month. April is National Garden Month. August is National Win with Civility Month. November is National Stamp Collecting Month.

This is plainly ridiculous. Does anyone really spend a half of a fraction of a shred of a millisecond thinking about any of this stuff?

Of course not.

So as a public service, then, this column would like to suggest a few national months that actually have some relevance to our day-to-day lives. January, under this formula, would now be National Failed Resolutions Month, since whatever pledges we made in the throes of a New Year’s Eve hangover will be forgotten quicker than a politician’s campaign promises.

April would be National Sofa Cushion Month, as most of us will be searching our sectionals for spare change after paying the taxman by the 15th. August would be National Bite Me Month, to show those limp-wristed busybodies what they can do with their civility. November would be National Gluttony Month, in memory of those fallen into a turkey-and-stuffing-induced coma following the annual Thanksgiving Day pig-out.

Which brings us to October, which really is National Seafood Month, and under our newly reformed national months business would be rechristened National Inexpensive White Wine That Leaves You Enough Money Left Over to Buy Really Fresh Seafood Month.

What we’re looking for here are wines that tease your palate with fruit and acidity without overwhelming it, that leave space for the delicate flavors of seafood to shine. Wines like the La Vuelta 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay, for example. This Argentine product revels in Chardonnay lusciousness with its full body, creamy texture, and aromas of tropical fruit, peach, and apricot. Yet on the palate those aromas are mere whispers, sublimated by racy green apple, lemon, and mineral flavors that make it an excellent companion to both rich and mild-flavored seafood.

A Chardonnay that absolutely nails the fruit-acid balance is the 2010 Bouchard Ainé & Fils. Scented with minerals, green apple, and a touch of vanilla from very light oak, this ridiculously affordable ($8.99) White Burgundy delivers a mineral-tinged shot of apple, peach, and orange, culminating in a tangy, mineral finish.

With its crisp acidity, slightly herbaceous character, and lemon, green apple, and grapefruit flavors, Sauvignon Blanc is a classic seafood wine. Sancerre is a terrific choice that, sadly, is way out of our price range. A cheaper alternative, though, is the often-overlooked White Bordeaux, typically a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that blends the bright acidity of the former with the softer, fruitier nature of the latter.

My go-to White Bordeaux -- indeed, my go-to inexpensive white wine -- is the 2011 Augey. Less austere and challenging to American palates than many of its French compatriots, it blends flavors of white peaches and green apples with a velvety texture and mild Meyer lemon finish to produce a wine that’s as good for easy sipping as it is a willing partner to fish and shellfish.

Chile, too, has a way with Sauvignon Blanc, though you’d never know it from the 2011 35 Degrees, a wine that smelled like something crawled inside the bottle and died. It must have been a painful death. The 2011 Marques de Riscal Rueda was better, even emitting the strange kerosene aromas sometimes associated with German Rieslings. In time those blew off, revealing a simple wine with pronounced lemon-lime flavors and bracing minerality, a decent value for 10 bucks.

Better alternatives are the 2010 Winzer Krems Gruner Veltliner and 2011 Fog Bank Pinot Grigio. Gruner is one of the primary grapes of Austria, one that typically makes lean, crisp, mineral-y wines that play well with food, especially seafood. The Winzer Krems is a fine example, a medium-bodied wine with soft Meyer lemon flavors, stiff mineral undercurrents, and refreshing acidity that can cut through the richness of seafood from salmon to lobster.

The Fog Bank shows off California vintners’ more robust approach to this varietal usually associated with Italy, where it tends to be the equivalent of American “lite” beer. Nothing lite here, though, from enticing aromas of apple, pear, and lychee to flavors of citrus edged with tropical fruit and a surprisingly plush texture that makes the wine seem richer than it is, a winning formula no matter what the National Wacky-Ass Month.


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