Having spent all of our disposable and much of our nondisposable income on various move-related expenses, it was time to explore the cheapies available in and around our Roosevelt Island/Manhattan environs. Turns out the wines aren't as cheap as they are in backwoods Jersey places, but the selection is better. I've had the ceiling for Cheap Crapª set at $15 for a few reports now, but it's getting harder to hold the line. When even Indian chenin blanc is thirteen bucks, bargain hunters must face an intestinal fortitude adjustment, or die. Or not drink wine, which is pretty much the same thing.


Albert Mann Pinot Blanc Alsace 2004 ($12). This has become my favorite baseline pinot blanc. If I'm not drinking wacky Schoffit stuff, this is the one for me. Smells sweetly plumeriafloral, touch of white honey and shy yellow pearishness. It's a quiet rounded wine, but it's so light on its feet that it has the feeling of shy substance. There's enough acidity, but mostly just gentle pale whitefloral fruit. Not for everyone, but I'm smitten. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Oh yeah.]

Domaine de l'Ecu/Guy Bossard Muscadet Sèvre etc. 2004 ($11). Sweetly floral smellies, chalkdusted gardenia, touch of honeyed lime rind. Firm core but softish around the edges, with a gentle give that's quite appealling. Super Muscadet, nervy enough yet with enough stonyfloral flesh to keep it from being stark. The acidity is middling, rather delicate, present but unobtrusive. Perhaps it hasn't the character or depth of the 'Expression de...' wines, but there's an easygoing plainspokenness here that's really appealing. Clean, bright and fresh as a mountain spring, if not quite as crisp. [Buy again? Immediately, as much as I can carry.]

Domaine de l'Ecu/Guy Bossard Muscadet Sèvre etc. 'Expression de Granit' 2003 ($14). I eventually came around to liking some of the odd '03 Muscadets, but this isn't one of them. Smells like a hayfield, with a strange flintiness that seems subtle at first, then less so. Flat tasting and stony-strawish, like sucking a whisk broom that's been used to muddle grapeskins. I have moments where I think 'Hm, wait, that's kind of interesting,' but soon realize I'm rationalizing because I dig the producer. A strange wine, not entirely pleasant. [Buy again? No.]

Domaine du Tariquet Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne 'Sauvignon' 2004 ($9). Pale straw color. Light lemonstony aromatics, minerals and lemonblossom. Crisp and composed, fresh tasting and zippily crisp. There's a touch of cream in the middle, but only just a touch, the overall feel is pure and bright. Pretty nice, in a kind of nonspecific way. [Buy again? Yeah, okay.]

Monmousseau Vouvray 2002 ($10). Pale straw color, smells of lemon tea and rainwater. Crisp, tart and bright, on the lean side, touch of sugar. Simple, pleasant Vouvray, nothing wrong here but frankly B&G puts out the same thing for $7. [Buy again? This wine seems to vary in price a lot--I saw it for $10 and for up to $14. At $10 it's a Yes, at $14 a No.]

Starling Castle Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2004 ($9). Quiet lemon & tart yellow apple, touch of vinyl. Tastes fleshy and loose right up front, then there's a burst of Jerry Lewis acidity that fades as quickly as it came, leaving my salivary glands a bit rattled. There isn't a lot of character, but it's decent enough baseline riesling, not quite demisec sweet, a little disjointed with that jarring acidity lurking in the tall grass of gentle fleshiness, but on the whole rather appealing for nine bucks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, sure.]

Weingut H.U.M. Hofer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2004 ($6.74/1L). Playfully tropical aromatics--pineapple, white peach, touch of snap pea. I'm not sure I'd peg it as gruner veltliner, but it's sure tasty--slightly exotic and floral-fruity, crisp and racy tasting, nervy at the core. My friendly local retailer calls this 'The best value in white wine in the world today.' It's hard to argue. CROWN CAP! [Buy again? YES YES YES YES YES YES.]

Weingut H.U.M. Hofer Grüner Veltliner Trocken 2005 ($8.50/1L). See above note, add a light whiff of yeastiness. A great value, and a rare bulk purchase for me--perhaps I got carried away, but despite the price hike I actually bought four bottles of the stuff, so it's going to be the house white for awhile. Plus, the one liter bottle makes it a great wine to have if you're stuck on a tram for twelve hours. CROWN CAP! [Buy again? YES YES YES YES YES YES.]

Spann Vineyards Chardonnay-Viognier Sonoma County 2003 ($13). Interesting aromatics, bartlett pear and tart yellow apple base, honeysuckle hint up high, waxy-vanilla notes down low. A sip, and it's a wine of surprising balance, full-flavored stuff with firm midpalate heft that manages to stay footloose and nimble. There's a butterscotchy note that's a bit distracting in the middle, but it fades into the background soon enough and whitefloral apple-pear fruitiness dominates the finish. Amazingly, the profile is rather classically white-burgish. As an oaky California white featuring two of my least favorite grape varieties, this wins the So Open Minded My Brain Fell Out Award for 2006, wherein I pat myself on the back for liking a wine I was absolutely positive I was going to hate. [Buy again? Yes, dog help me.]

Blackstone Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County 2004 ($9). Light peachy-grapefruit aromatics, quiet and somewhat generic. Tastes crisp, with some vitamin c tablet acidity spiking up in the middle, then getting lost in the cream-grapefruit finish. Not bad, but remarkably nondescript. [Buy again? No.]

Starvedog Lane Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 'No Oak' 2004 ($12). 'No oak' as a selling point? You had me at no oak. Smells like a ripe pear, juicy-fruity pear-apple aromatics. Tastes much the same, friendly and simple, medium bodied and gentle. There's a bit of heat in the middle, but once past that it's a soothing apertif-style wine--there's structure but it's edgeless and almost unnecessary. [Buy again? Yes.]

Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Wine of Western Cape 2005 ($7). Tritonal citric aromatics--white grapefruit, limeskin and jalape–o pepper, with just a touch of creaminess. Okay, maybe it's quadtonal. Crisp tasting, more grapefruit in the middle, sort of Squirtª-y, but bright and shiny in its happy simplicity. [Buy again? Sure.]

Carta Vieja Sauvignon Blanc Loncomilla Valley (Chile) 'Cl‡sico' 2005 ($5). Pale straw color. Quietly tropical-grassy aromatics, pineapple and peach laced with new-mown lawn. Medium-framed and medium-crisp, compact in size but with a certain fleshy-fruitiness. Foursquare industrial sauvignon, nicely built and well-polished. There's nary a rough edge, but it's a pleasant little beverage-style wine, you could do much much worse for five bucks. [Buy again? Yup.]

Samant Soma Wines Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc Nashik (India) 2003 ($13). Lightly sweet melon smellies--canteloupe, honeydew, along with a good whiff of gardenia. Plus an undercurrent of cementdust minerality. It's lightly sweet but decently crisp as well, a decent enough apertif style of wine. The ripeness gives it a plump nondescriptitude, but that may just be the vintage--I'll have to try a year besides '03 to be sure. As Indian chenins go, this seems to be a decent early effort. The label notes that the "Manufacturing Date" was January of 2004. I wonder what they did then? [Buy again? Maybe one or two for novelty value, otherwise not really.]


Domaine du Vissoux/Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais Cuvée Traditionelle Vieilles Vignes 2004 ($12). Medium-light garnet color, smells strawberry-stony, berries ripening in gravel. Perfectly ripe but lean and elegant, nice balance, tangy and long. Medium lightbodied, strawberry-tangy and calm, but surprisingly flavorful, a juicy little wine that seduces by whispering. Really nice smallscale stuff, very pretty Beaujolais. [Buy again? Yup.]

Jean-Marc Villemaine Gamay Touraine 2003 ($8). Friendly strawberry punch, hint of lilac in the nose, sufficient acidity, loosely wrapped and cheerful. Blowsy and utterly insubstantial, but my glass is drained quickly and I pour some more. Honest fruit punch wine, hard not to like. [Buy again? Surely.]

Les Vins de Vienne (Cuilleron/Gaillard/Villard) Vin de Table Francais 'Reméage' NV ($14). Medium-dark garnet. Smoky blackberry-african violet aromatics, syrah all the way. There's a light touch of eucalyptus up high as well. Tastes smoothly grapey-blackberried, gently fleshy with a zippy acidic spine. There's a certain wanness in the middle, but given the producer there's very little of the new wave about this wine, it seems straightforward and unadorned. Were I guessing I'd say it was a St. Joseph, as there's a pleasant insubstantiality here, a gentle smallscale expressiveness. With air a light hint of baconberry emerges, but only a trace. Pretty nice little wine, on the small side but with a good amount of character. Still, it just doesn't quite cohere enough to entirely make it work. [Buy again? Almost, but not quite. If it was $8-9, yes, but at $14 it's a no.]

Domaine Pélaquié Lirac 2003 ($11). I'd sworn off any more '03s, but this eleven dollar Lirac for some reason called out to me. Smells big and red, light earthy streak amidst a warm wave of berryness. Plump, almost fat, plush and gently ripe, there's enough acidity to get by, just. It's big and rounded, but isn't plodding, so I'd give it a thumb's up. [Buy again? Yes.]

Domaine Viret Vin de Pays Porte de Méditerranée 'Solstice' 2000 ($10). Medium-dark garnet, purpling lightly at the rim. Smells dark & licoricey, blackberry-plumskin and shoe polish hints. Pleasant fleshiness right up front, chewy texture relaxes in the middle, turning plummier and looser, then finishes with a licoricey tang. Medium acidity, matte texture, seems almost gritty. Good, rich wine with some easy complexity, but not entirely of a piece at the moment. [Buy again? Definitely.]

Bernard Baudry Chinon les Granges 2004 ($13). Smoky cran-cherry aromatics, light tobacco leaf hints, prettily and delicately smelly. A sip, and it's a bright, nervy wine, a bit more serious feeling than the stereotypical cafŽ Chinon, but in the same mold--charming and medium lightbodied, but sweetly pure and focused without approaching shrillness. Could have a bit more sustain, could lose the slightly severe tannins, but overall very nice--a quaffable, flirty Chinon with a serious side. [Buy again? Oh yeah.]

Château Lacroix Bordeaux Supérieur 2003 ($13). Gentle black cherry/raspberry aromatics, slight tarry undertone, maybe just a hint of something earthy-herby in there too, like old old oregano. Tastes plump and plumper, round fleshy redfruit jellyfishes onto my tongue, slides away innocuously. Simple and fruitpunchy, a squishy, hollow wine with some gritty tannins and a medicinal aftertaste to make things even more disagreeable. [Buy again? No.]

Le Cèdre Diffusion Cahors 'Heritage' 2003 ($13). Dark garnet color. Hint of menthol over dark blackfruity aromatics, smells dark and deeply coiled. A sip, and it tastes aggressively tannic and rough-edged, I'd probably make this out to be a Madiran were I tasting blind. Still, the roughness is amiable, the gritty edges couched somewhat by dark blackberry/black raspberry fruit. Medium-plus acidity, a little loose at the edges but generally firm and focused, turning genuinely sandpapery as it heads into the finish. Shines with a grilled porterhouse, the gritty wine and the burnt/raw meat warring wonderfully in my mouth, finally declaring a draw. A wine with a real sense of self and no shyness about being rawboned. Nice stuff if you don't mind flat-out roughness. [Buy again? Yup.]


Peppino Colombo Primitivo di Manduria Zinfandel Primo Sole 2003 ($11). Yep, this is zinfanel all right--big black cherry candy aromatics, touch of barnyard, hint of volatility. Ripe cherry-berry fruit, one-dimensional blowsiness, ripe and squishy-soft. I guess if you're looking for simple ripe zin in the Three Thieves mold it's okay, but, I mean, why? [Buy again? Nope.]

Peppino Colombo Salento Rosso 2003 ($9). Dark garnet color, purpling lightly at the rim. Black cherry and licorice smellies, loose and plump and squishy little wine, one step over the line, with a strange lemony-crisp streak in there as well. Some rough tannins on the finish give it a bit of abrasive mouthgrab, but it's an invertebrate wine, jellyfishing along squishily in a semi-amiable way. I like it a bit more with a step back, but there's no structure to speak of. [Buy again? No.]

Antinori Sangiovese Toscana 'Santa Cristina' 2004 ($10). Medium garnet color. Cedar-sawdusty hints over simple cherry-cassis, aromatically industrial. Medium weight, medium acidity, medium wood-accented redfruit flavor. Generic red wine, moderately flavored and decently structured but smacking of manufacturing. Bland competence on parade, nothing of interest here. [Buy again? No.]

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera d'Alba 2004 ($8). Whoof, stinkypants aromatics--barnyard and lightly smoked meat over dark cherry, some gentle volatility, leather and licorice. Lots of nosefun happening here, although it's a bit freaky-deaky. Tastes crisp and lean, pure and tartly cherryfunky, turning almost fuck-you tart in the middle, then easing back a bit on the poopy-tarry finish. Interestingly offbeat wine, not one for the squeaky-clean crowd, but I dig the funk man, I dig the funk. [Buy again? Are you kidding? For eight bucks it's a no-brainer (that's a YES).]


El Bully Monatrell-Merlot Jumilla 'Enciro' 2004 ($7). Squishy blueberry-raspberry-tar flavors, at least there's some tanginess for structure, bit of heat on the finish. Again, inoffensiveness is the chief virtue here. Gentle fleshy plumminess comes out in the middle, medium bodied and ripe but not ponderous or blowsy. Characterless, but you could do worse for seven bucks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.]

Bodegas San Isidro Monastrell Jumilla 'Genus' 2003 ($10). Medium dark garnet color. Smells like black cherry soda, with an infusion of toastiness and gentle leather-earthy hints. Fleshy-textured black cherry/raspberry fruit with some SweeTart acidity achieves a peculiar kind of equilibrium: the combination of overripeness and spoofulation is a felicitous one, this tastes better as a whole than its parts would indicate. Simple ripe burgerish wine, pleasantly shammy all the way, purists and ayatollahs should avoid. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.]

Grupo Yllera Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 'Selección Hand Picked" 2000 ($10). This is pretty good, smells markedly woody but there's some smooth gravelly-cassis redness to couch it, and the overall aromatic profile is broad but cooly restrained. Tastes firm and rather compact, medium-plus acidity, there's not a lot of individuality, but it's a solid, workmanlike wine that goes about its business without comment or complaint. [Buy again? Yeah, I think so.]

Porca de Murca Vinho Tinto Douro 2003 ($5). Medium garnet color, smells of cherries and rust, touch of beefbroth spiciness. Medium bodied, ripe but quite crisp, almost sharply so. The slightly spiky acidity gives the middle a zippy sour-cherry tartness, and there's a rough-edged rusticity that's kind of charming. Opens with air, turning more black raspberryish but remaining generallly lean and compact. This is a whole lot of wine for five bucks. My local retailer is really high on it: "I swear this will be a 'Buy Again: Yes!' in your next Cheap Crapª report," he burbles excitedly. "In fact, I stake my reputation on it!" Well, his reputation will have to be soiled elsewhere, because (after a household confence on yet another bulk purchase) after tasting it we went out and picked up four bottles. [Buy again? In bulk, dear reader, in bulk.]


U.S. OF A.

Mirassou Pinot Noir California 2004 ($9). I'd found a bottle of the '02 close to undrinkable (and if you know me, that's saying something), but this is much better, gently squishy pinot, simple and innocuous but not actively horrid. Has that generic clovey cherry-juice thing going, gentle and light-bodied, turning a touch plummy in the limp middle, then just glides away on the finish without leaving an impression. {Buy again? Not really, but getting MUCH closer so I'll probably try again next year.]

Talus Pinot Noir California 2001 ($7). Medium-light garnet color, translucent. Soft cherry aromatics, hint of earth. Simple tasting, soft and vague at first, coming to a gentle tartness in the middle, finishes quietly and simply. So simple and wan that it's hard to dislike--the lack of overt flaws already makes it a decent $7 wine. Add just a hint of varietal character and a general inoffensiveness, and it's actually drinkable, in a watery-vague kind of way. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Strangely, yes.]

Carneros Creek Pinot Noir Carneros 'Côte de Carneros' 2000 ($12). Smells gently plum-cherried, touch of cola, light toasty streak. A sip, and here's a gentle, spicy little pinot, maybe a bit too toasty on the finish but having good composure and a sense of elegance about it. There's a tritonal quality to the cherry/cola/toasty fruit, but it tastes like pinot noir and it has a calm expressiveness. The acidity is middling at best, but the lightness of the wine doesn't seem to call for more structure. A relaxing wine, spreading out langorously across my tongue. [Buy again? Yes.]

Schug Pinot Noir Carneros 2004 ($14). Medium-light ruby color. Smells shy, low-key cherry-cola-spice notes, clove and forest-floor earthiness. Tastes soft, almost caressingly gentle. A light, vague wine with an appealing spiciness but an ethereal, almost flimsy quality at the core. Okay, I need a bit more focus than this, just a little bit more would do. [Buy again? Were it $10 I would, at $14 it's a no.]

Three Thieves Pinot Noir California Circle K Ranch 2004 ($10/1L). Smells gently plum-cherried, with a hint of clovey spiciness. Watery, wan pinot noir, squishy-soft and vague, with a vaguely bitter tang on the vague finish. I like these guys and their whole approach, but this is their weakest effort; stick with the zinfandel. SCREWCAP! JUG! [Buy again? No.]

Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($9). Gentle cassis and a hint of toasty cedar. Plain, straightforward and hard to find fault with. Simple wine, to be sure, but decent heft, flavor, just a bit of varietal character. There's a processed cheese food product feel to it, but it's fairly inoffensive apart from that, and has a quiet Velveetaª appeal. [Buy again? No, not really.]


Lagarde Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 'Altas Cumbres' 2003 ($9). Softy aromatic cassis-cedar, touch of green asparagus. Basic red wine, pleasant enough but quite characterless. Some aggressive glassy tannins on the finish, hard to find anything specific to complain about, just a general lack of anything good to hang your hat on. I don't know, competent but bland says it best. [Buy again? Not really, no.]

Excelsior Shiraz Robertson (South Africa) 'Paddock' 2004 ($8). Medium dark, almost dark garnet color, hint of purpling at the rim. Smells purplespicy, clove and liquorice hints, then dark plum-blackberry fruit. Dense and chewy with some firm supporting acidity. Rather coarse and broad, but appealingly rich shiraz with pretty good balance. There's a burnt flavor in that arises after the initial creamyfruit wave, but it fades and is almost gone by the time the liquoricey finish finishes. Amiable hefty shiraz that stays reasonably light of foot, neither elegant nor complex but raffishly charming. [Buy again? Yep.]

KWV Paarl Red Wine of Western Cape 'Roodeberg' 2003 ($10). A "blend of selected varietals," whatever thaat's supposed to mean. Query: if it's a blend, how can it be a varietal wine? Well, maacho pedantry aside, it smells vaaguely Bordeauxish, daark berry-cassis, touch of oregano and cinnamon Red Hotsª. Medium bodied, with a shiny, polished quality and maybe just a hint of sugar. Very internationally-styled stuff, almost sterile in its velvetiness. Only some slightly rough taannins give it a bit of bite, but there's a foursquare solidity to the beverageness that's raather appealing. For ten bucks you could do worse than this. [Buy again? Yuh.]

Lyndhurst Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa 2002 ($8). Charcoal and plum-cassis aromas. Tastes jammy, bland and hot, spiky acidity and flabby fruit, like blackcurrant jam mixed with Sterno and aquarium charcoal. The ripeness is all, other than that there's nothing. [Buy again? Hell no.]


Domaine de la Casa Blanca Banyuls 2003 ($15). Freshly-crushed raspberry juice with a light cocoaish undernote. It's rather loose and vague, but has some dark grenachey character and plenty of sugar. Not terribly complex, but juicy and sweetly friendly, a plump little Banyuls that'll do nicely as an everyday sweetie. [Buy again? Absolutely, several.]

La Chapelle de Lafaurie-Peyraugey Sauternes 2001 ($13/.375). Remember when Laufaurey-Peyraugey used to be the cheap daily-drinker Sauternes? Well, the times they have a-changed, and now the second wines costs the same as the first used to a few years back. Sigh. Smells sweetly vanilla-butterscotchy, orange rind, if there's any botrytis it's not in evidence, although maybe a hint emerges with air. Or maybe that's my imagination, hard to tell, it's just at the threshold of perception. Tastes sweet but not thick, with a bright acidic spine, a good sweetness/acid balance. There's maybe just a bit more butterscotchiness than a mediumweight Sauternes needs, but some good apricot-orange flavorosity counterbalances it gamely. This is about the only recent vintage I'd think of buying a Bordeaux second wine (notoriously poor values in my book), and the quality shows through even in second-tier material: this is actually a pretty tasty wine, just slightly puppyfattish, crisp and sweet and flavorpacked. It's simple in comparison to bigshot Sauternes, but it's likeable and complete enough for me to go back for another bottle. [Buy again? Maybe one or two more, sure.]

Here endeth the cheapness. Go in peace, and spend no more.

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