by Dave Nelson
It's been more than a month since Gut Check got a wild hair up our corkscrew and decided to stage a World Cup, as it were, of value-priced wines. We did it because we're cheapskates, and because we drink a lot of wine, and because we blog like a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest. Well, we had some justification for doing it; we just can't remember what it was.
Be that as it may (as Gut Check's mother used to say), when the sippin' was done and the glasses were washed, rinsed, and gently set down to dry, France won the World Goblet 2010.
What have we learned after drinking 42 sub-$12 wines? Well, first off, we learned that the state of the value-wine market is better than we thought. (The hangover, not so much.) We did stumble across some soulless industrial dreck, but not nearly the quantity we'd expected.
The worst offenders on that front were definitely South American reds. That continent provided its share of bright spots, however, including the lovely Pascual Toso malbec, which showed how much potential is being wasted.
Spanish reds, which also have been a source of frustration on this front, fared better, and it was great to see wines from that great nation showcasing their unique flavors, rather than just tooth-achingly sweet fruit.
The other remarkable stat: Over the entire course of the tasting, we never once encountered a single bottle spoiled by cork taint. While more than half of the wines sampled were closed with screwcaps or fake corks, that left nearly twenty wines with genuine corks. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to open that many cheap wines without hitting at least a few corked bottles. Kudos to the cork industry for this result.
And while we're at it, a big thanks to Paul Hayden at the Clayton Wine & Cheese Place, Rachael Buehrer at the Vino Gallery, Bob Gray at Grapevine Wines and Simon Lehrer at the Wine Merchant for their solid recommendations.
Now, on to the awards!
Red Wine of the Tournament 2008 Sherwood Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough ($12) Cheap pinot noir is almost always crap pinot noir and while $12 is not necessarily "cheap," it's well below the typical price of palatable pinot noir. This one's tasty and complex, and it provides a very good intro to the Burgundian style New Zealand winemakers are capable of producing when they lay off the oak.
White Wine of the Tournament 2009 Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($11) A gorgeous, classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Vintage seems to matter with this producer -- their 2008 didn't impress -- but the '09 is killer. It's a bit more elegant than the (also excellent) Dashwood we tasted in the tournament, and more food-friendly.
Most Surprising Wine 2008 Toad Hollow Francine's Selection Chardonnay Mendocino County ($12) A California chardonnay to get excited about? Yes indeedy. This one is worth a spin for chardonnay lovers and loathers alike. For the trepidatious, there's no butter or barrel or burn, only chardonnay's unadorned and charming pure and subtle fruit. It's baby bear chardonnay (not too big, not too small, but just right), at a reasonable price, closed with a screwcap and produced in enough quantity that you shouldn't have to hunt too hard to track it down.
Most Disappointing Wine 2007 Simi Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($10) Sigh. The backstory on this one led to artificially high expectations. Simi is an venerable producer with a reputation for good wines at good prices. These grapes came from Sonoma, which is usually ground zero for excellent zinfandel, and the price was the result of the producer discontinuing zinfandel production and moving out excess inventory -- meaning we were getting a $20 bottle for half price. Sadly, more of the budget was apparently spent on wood than wine. We ended up with a glass of over-oaked crap that we'd have been pissed to have spent $5 on.
Coming tomorrow: The Top 10 Wines of the World Goblet 2010!