D O U B L E _ G E E K Y _ C H E A P I E S
The publication of the original Cheapies List prompted many of our more discriminating readers to send us cute little emails with one or another variation on the theme of "Don't gimme that mass-market, easily-available-at-a-store-near-you stuff. What do you REALLY drink when you're at home?"
Right, you've caught us. Some of our favorite cheap wines had to be left off the list because they're just too weird, or too hard to find, or too offputtingly geeky. Many are available solely under the counter in two or three dingy little stores in Manhattan run by the Albanian Mafia. Looking at them, I see that more than half are Dressner wines. What can I say, I'm a shill for Dressner, so sue me. Say what you will about his wines, the man makes a mean creamed spinach (recipe to come).
Anyway, there seemed little point in talking about wines that no one outside the twisted New York geek scene will ever have seen or have a chance to buy. But as usual we underestimated the nosiness of our readers, so, with some duplication from the original list, here's the harder-to-find stuff we've been sucking up lately...
T H E _ R E D S
If you can find any Jean-Paul Brun Pinot Noir Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire ($12) or Brun Beaujolais l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes ($10), grab as many as you can, as these are great wines and a steal at the price. The pinot noir is balanced, rich, earthy pinot, perfect with poultry or light dishes, and the l'Ancien is a Burgundian-styled gamay, light and honest, without the candy-yeasty quality that marks lesser Beaujolais. When we had a dinner for non-winegeeks up at my sister's house the l'Ancien stole the show from wines that cost three times as much; people were actually fighting over the right to peel and keep the label for future reference.
Chateau d'Oupia Minervois ($8). This may be the wine we've consumed the most of down through the years. Friendly, plush and sweetly fruited, it's a little gem from the Languedoc with great finesse and charm. It's easy to get bored with some cheapies after you've downed a case or two; no danger of that with this one. There's an open bottle in my fridge now. Really.
'Les Heretiques' Vin de Pays de l'Herault (Languedoc) ($6). Good cheap wine, simple and straightforward. Cool label designed by Andrew Scott, the J.D. Salinger of the Internet. What more do you want?
Domaine des Sablonnettes Anjou 'Les Copains d'Abord ($10). Made from grolleaux, a country cousin of gamay. Light, fresh and friendly summer wine, great with chicken, pasta, tacos or eagle.
Maréchal Bourgogne Cuvée Gravel ($13) The best red Burgundy on the market for under $20, this pinot is lean and focused, racy stuff, elegant and crisply cherried. A wine with finesse and character, you can drink it now or let it sit and percolate for a few years.
Calera Pinot Noir California El Niño ($13) is a more laid-back Californian kind of pinot, looser and softer and stylistically at the other end of the spectrum, but it's a fun, flavorful cherry-cola mouthful.
Eric Texier Côte du Rhône Brézème: All three years this wine has been out it's been a steal at around $15. All syrah, smoky and meaty-textured, drink now or hold for years. Lovely, far more character than you'd expect from a wine at this price point. The salesman who last sold me some of this called it a 'baby Côte-Rôtie, and I understand his point. Texier makes a passel of Côte du Rhônes, and they're all good, but the Brézème is usually my favorite.
Gilbert Alquier Faugeres ($11) is a rich grenache-based wine from the south of France made in a Southern Rhône Valley style, restrained and smoky. If you're feeling flush, his Reserve Les Bastides d'Alquier is as good a syrah as you'll ever find for around $15. These wines, once fairly plenitiful, have vanished from the market around here. Still, I have a 'grab any wine with Alquier on the label' policy that I like to pass on to fellow geeks and geekettes.
Umani Ronchi 'San Lorenzo' Rosso Conero ($10) is a rich, silky red from the south of Italy. I don't know any more about it than that, but it's smooth and supple stuff with just enough complexity and really lights up a plate of eagle ravioli with red sauce.
T H E _ W H I T E S
Domaine de la Pépiere Muscadet ($10) and Clos des Allées Muscadet ($10) are both ridiculously underpriced, and no wine in the world goes as well with seafood. Buy them, drink them, hold them, you won't be sorry.
Fox Run Riesling Finger Lakes ($9). Yes, for the first time a New York wine makes the cheapie list. It's a surprisingly honest wine, slightly off-dry in a Kabinett sort of way, crisp and refreshing and pleasingly recognizable as riesling. The wine with which we toasted in the year 2002. It's got the whole homer thing going, but it's pretty good nonetheless.
Francois Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition ($13) is our favorite hemidemisec Vouvray, mostly because Pinon has a really cool car. But even putting the car aside, this is solid Vouvray at a great price, another crowd-pleaser for the nongeeks, who haven't tasted anything like it.
Hirsch Gruner Veltliner Kamptal ($10) and Glatzer Gruner Veltliner ($9) are both cheerful specimens of this not-quite-as-obscure-as-it-used-to-be Austrian grape variety. Big and full of poached-pear and white pepper character, these have plenty of gruner character without the price tag of the single-vineyard specimens. Reliable basic gruner, for when the gruner itch is upon you. Good with pork, a tough meat to match.
Pierre Frick Pinot Blanc Alsace For $10 you get a bright floral wine that just sings with light foods, poultry, white sauces. Light bodied and supple, it's got lovely gardenia-laced aromatics and a surprisingly steely core. No two bottles are quite the same, the mark of a wine with character, and you'll find yourself listening to what it's trying to say to you while you're drinking it. (Yes, wines talk.)
Clos de Tue-Boeuf Chardonnay Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher 1999 ($11). One of the two chardonnays we still drink, rich and full-flavored.
Terres Dorées/J.P. Brun Chardonnay Beaujolais ($10). The other. I like it even better than the Tue-Boeuf, leaner and more minerally. Callahan calls Brun a national hero. We agree.
Koura Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Awatere Valley 2001 ($11) is a happy, grassy little wine, a zippy grapefruit and lime-laced version of Kiwi sauvignon that delivers much of what the big boys offer at half the price. It has a bit of a Fresca feel to it, but that's okay with me because Lisa has a secret weakness for Kiwi sauvignon and this is half the price of her favorite Cloudy Bay.
T H E _ F I Z Z I E S
I'd highly recommend Foreau/Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Petillant NV as a toasty-rich glass of fizz, full-bodied yet elegant, except that it cannot be found for $15 or under. If you're feeling flush and want to spend $17 there's no better fizz you can grab.
S W E E T I E S
Go Infantado: the Quinto do Infantado Ruby Port ($12), is a luscious, earthy port that compares favorably to wines at twice the price. One of those rare wines that, the minute I tasted it, I knew I had to have a bunch around. Medium-sweet, beautifully balanced and full of rich, brick-red flavors, I can't recommend this highly enough. Grab some if you see it for super after-dinner sipping. These people make a super Tawny Port ($12) that is brown where the ruby is red, and a fine Organic Vintage Character Port as well for about ($15) that is darker and richer and more in the mold of their vintage stuff.
Another one that just squeaks in under the limit is Niepoort Vintage Character Port ($15), a darker and bramblier wine than the Infantado, ostensibly made in the style of vintage port, but really a nice after-dinner sipper on its own merits, with a good balance of sweetness and crisp acidity and toasty-dark berryish fruit. A winner, from a house that can do little wrong these past few years.
Our current favorite is the Ricou-Roseira Porto 'Rol Roi' NV, ($13) a vintage character-style wine, dark and satiny. Not as rough and brambly as the Niepoort, smaller-scaled and more elegant, real good stuff for a price that's hard to beat.