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Sep 18th
Going Cheap in the New Year PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor   
January 2013

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

EPix_Vino_1-13veryone knows about the 12 Days of Christmas. The pear tree, the maids, the lords, the pipers, the five golden rings. All those damn birds; you’d think they were starting a poultry farm.

At Vino we don’t care about any of that. What we care about are the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of Christmas, and beyond. You know, when all the bills come in. When you take your credit card out of your wallet and it flops around on the kitchen table like a landed fish. When your bank account is emptier than Glenn Beck’s brainpan. When you’ve pinched your pennies so hard they just lay there. Limp. Dead. You can fa-la-la-la until your very shiny nose falls off and you’ll still be flat broke.

So Vino is here to help. We care. Really.

Or maybe not. Either way, instead of just carrying on with our usual mission -- finding really good affordable wines -- this month we’re doubling down and going after the cheap stuff: wines that cost less than ten bucks.

(Yes, we hear the cynics among you say there are wines even cheaper than that, most of which come in lead bottles with warning labels attached. If you want to sacrifice your stomach lining, be our guest. We can recommend a good GI doc.)

Gastrointestinal distress aside, we should note that drinking on this even more proletarian end of the wine price spectrum does require the acceptance of certain realities, chief among them that you won’t be getting anything close to great wine. Sure, some idiot wine-shop clerk could accidentally drop a couple of zeroes off the tag on a bottle of Petrus, but if you’ve got that kind of luck, you’ve probably already won the lottery and don’t need more good fortune.

So what we’re looking for here are wines that are well made and well balanced, that are accessible and tasty, evincing some basic varietal character and the ability to play well with food. And did we mention cheap?

There’s no better place to start than with the 2011 Silver Range Torrontes, which clocks in at a near-saintly six bucks. Pull the cork and it smells like a flower garden in full bloom, lots of honeysuckle and orange flower water and a touch of tropical fruit. Some of that floral exotica tickles the palate, but the flavor is more citrus and melon, with enough ripeness and body to complement spicy or assertively seasoned dishes.

If you’re looking for something lighter, say, to take to the beach or sip in your backyard, the 2011 Las Lilas Vinho Verde is on that like skins on grapes. It’s a simple and appealing wine -- a little effervescent, a hint of minerals and mostly crisp, refreshing citrus; the kind of wine you don’t have to think too much about. Or about how much it costs.

Don’t think at all about the 2011 Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which, like many inexpensive New Zealand SBs, is so wickedly tart and lacking in fruit it can strip the enamel right off your teeth. Instead, check out the far more tasteful and balanced 2011 rosé from Domaine Houchart, proof that pink wines from Provence are some of the most engaging and affordable wines around. A tangy lemon-lime acidity supports bright strawberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of smoky minerality and a surprisingly rich, creamy texture.

Cheap red wines are rather more problematic, as they just don’t have the depth of flavor and complexity of their more expensive cousins, which rely on time, labor, and dollar-intensive practices in both growing and winemaking. Which doesn’t mean they’re not fit to drink. The Oak Grove 2010 Reserve Zinfandel is fairly one-dimensional in its vibrant cherry-berry fruit, but it does hint at Zinfandel’s hearty flavor palette with nuances of pepper, cloves, and mint. And Estancia’s 2011 Pinot Noir does offer a passable taste of that grape’s distinctive varietal character, albeit on the simple, light, and fruity side.

It’s a modestly priced Italian -- the Santa Cristina 2010 Toscana -- that delivers the most for the money. Wafting around aromas of black cherries are olives, cloves, and cocoa, a mélange that carries through on the palate and, frankly, is a lot more appealing than some squawking partridge in a stupid pear tree.

 

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