2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, from old growth Zinfandel $3.99
Wowza! Just when everyone was losing faith in my crusade to uncover the best wines under $10 – Eureka! I think we struck gold.
My checkered past…
Let’s go in the way-back-machine to about 30 days ago….I was hitting rock bottom, I could not respectably review the wines I was tasting, those bottles will remain nameless but for all intents and purposes, let’s refer to those wines as shite.
A prior post recounted the events that led to the Tepranillo-Gate scandal. I was nearly impeached from cheap wine forever and I believe there were dark forces at work against me. There was a conspiracy behind that unfortunate event, alas alack, there is no point troweling through the past when the future is before us. In this instance, a cheap and cheerful Primativo.
Primitivo or Zinfandel: are they cousins, siblings, identical twins?
Primitivo is a descendant of the rare Croatian varietal Crljenak (pronounce that!) There is plenty of discussion about the differences and similarities of Primitivo and Zinfandel. The latter is often defined as the exact replica of the Crlienak while Primitivo is defined as being a clone. The difference? I’ll have to get into that in another post but you can do a deeper dive here. Read the debates online and decide for yourself, but when planted next to each other the variance is noticeable in size, bunch density and color. What’s the big deal? About $10-$20 in price. Primitivo is sold typically at a value between $10-$15 while Zins can be twice as much. Unlike Europe, U.S. labeling laws don’t allow the names of the two varietals to be used interchangeably. Hmmmm. Market forces at work.
Well I notice a difference and maybe it’s wine stye, but the Puglian Primitivos, although intense in flavor, seem lighter in body, more refreshing (a touch chilled with a wedge of juicy orange – Mwah!) with a pleasant Italian bitterness in the finish that lends itself to the grape’s unique complexity. Zinfandels are jammier, fruit forward and I find them heartier, more body, tastes like California sunshine with a coastal breeze to me. This variance could be due to the propensity for Primitivos to ripen earlier (hence the name which means “early one”) which produces a younger tasting wine high in alcohol and tannins, which can mellow with age.
Without further adieu, I proudly present my latest discovery of undeniable significance…ecco qui:
2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia Italy $3.99
This wine was rather delightful. Color in the glass is rich garnet like pomegranate juice. Nose is dark cherry, some light spice. First sip, mmmmmm, juicy rhubarb, rose petal, very smooth, rich, strong yet balanced tannins and a finish that departs as soon as you want another sip. Very enjoyable and also flexible for various food pairings. Will go great with stronger flavors like BBQ, venison and will complement richer fattier delights like foie gras or a densely marbled Kobe. If you were pairing wines for 4 courses, this would be best served with the main course. I actually believe this is caseworthy as it will only get better with time. Dude! Do the math, only $48.00 a case? That’s the price of ONE splurgy bottle of Zin…OMG! No me digas! Sacré bleu! Exclamation exclamation.
As we were drinking this Tempranillo from from Amador County, I was intrigued to know more about the region. This was the county in CA that was tragically impacted by recent fires. Luckily, no vineyards lost their crops. However, there is concern over “smoke taint” which can produce off putting flavors in the wine especially during verasion. Sadly the fire and the grape maturity were in sync. At best, the smoke can create a campfire essence. We shall see.
Amador County has two sub appellations, Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. They are gaining renown for their rich full bodied reds and particularly for Zinfandels. When looking at the 2013 SF Chronicle winners, an Amador County Tempranillo took double gold and I noticed that both the Sierra Foothills and Amador County (neighbors in CA gold country) were well represented Tempranillo award winners. I’m not surprised as rich, bold reds do well in the heat, ample sun, dry climate and sandy soil of the Sierra Foothills. The appellation is 1,200 to 2,000 feet in elevation at the base of the Sierra Mountain snow pack, allowing the soil, which is primarily made up of decomposed granite, to retain enough water wherein growers can dry farm – a concept I had no idea existed! More knowledge to be had at this link: Amador Vinters Association
I truly enjoyed this wine and claim it as my new discovery. The color on this Tempranillo was a deep rich red with a lovely ruby outer ring – nose was immediately dark ripe fruit with a hint of raspberry, blackberry – first sip pomegranate, hint of spice, very balanced tannins and acid, smooth, light but with a body that was a pleasant surprise. I’m a Pinot fanatic and this reminded me of a lovely, smooth Pinot, with a touch more fruit. One guest suggested it was in-between a Primitivo and a Zinfandel – ooooh fancy chat – I’ll have to research that one.
Another guest told me that there was now a “chance in hell” that he would consider buying wines under $10 after tasting this wine. I was so smug until I finished writing this post. Upon fact checking the price on winesearcher.com, I realized I had made an oopsie. This wine had accidentally “mixed” with the wrong crowd in the câve. Someone (who shall remain shameless) retrieved it at my request, and I did not notice upon decanting, serving and tasting that this Tempranillo was not the intended Tempranillo. F! I had already written my notes and practically finished this post (which many of you already know is a higher hurdle than tasting wine.) Sheepishly, I have decided to share this review with you because I know you can keep a secret. Between us friends, this wine was very good and well worth $38.00! Shhhhhhh! If you are in the mood to trade-up, or need a hostess gift that will get you invited back, this was a splurgy good buy. I apologize for the unintentional deception, all I can say is the butler did it.
PS: This happy accident has resulted in an addendum to my rating system. “Splurgy good buy”will now be a new classification when unwittingly necessary.
So there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, enjoying my new-found self-appointed career as a food and wine journalist dreaming up idea after idea of posts to like, retweet, memes to create, memes to share, people to poke, chats to follow, inside jokes to make, hashtags to use…you know the typical stuff one does when one doesn’t really want to earn a living. Then startlingly I received one, possibly my first ever, guest comment on my blog from someone at McCue Communications.Mon Dieu!
She wanted me to give her my information so she could send me some wines to try. They were actually going to send me wine? Huh? What’s the catch? Ah ha….so that’s what this is all about. This was a similar epiphany to the day I realized that golf was more about betting money and drinking beer with the “fellas” than it was about golf. I gave up golf too soon to fully partake. Quelle dommage.
Being accustomed to buying and reviewing wines of my own volition, I was concerned about my freedom to express an opinion untethered by wine sent gratis. What do I do if they, ahem, are not so good? Luckily, the Arrogant Frog wines by Domaine Paul Mas made my job much easier and euphemistic free. Moreover, I had the pleasure of tasting with other wine writers I deeply admire including Sir Jeff Siegel winecurmudgeon.com, Michelle Williams rockinredblog.com and Beth Smith travelingwinechick.com – who happens to be my neighbor so we made a lunch date.
The Humble Wine Maker
It was a privilege to partake in the virtual tasting with fourth-generation vintner Jean-Claude Mas to learn about his latest value vintages. His family has led premium winemaking in the Languedoc region from their centuries-old estate since 1892 and when M. Mas took the reins in 2000, he dedicated his wine making practices to preserving the land and the beauty of Languedoc. In 10 years, he plans to transition all 8 of his family wineries into organic vineyards that employ natural farming principles through the use of the latest technology. This has already reduced the need for pesticides and other chemical based agricultural practices that can harm the natural balance. “We must preserve the beauty of Languedoc, and feed the Earth with nutrients in the way nature intended. The use of chemicals for the past 50 years has stressed the vines and now we need to use technology to bring us back.” In summary, it is about making old world wines with new world attitude. C’est tout!
7 Things that I learned about the Jean-Claude Mas philosophy:
1. He prefers new American Oak to French Oak – definitely a new world attitude.
2. He believes advancements in agricultural technology will replace the need for chemicals – hooray!
3. He believes a vacuum wine stopper is “utter stupidity” – good to know.
4. The Frog on the front of the bottle is the “humble wine maker” – I chose to name him Hubert de Vin-chy.
5. He likes Stelvin screw caps for white wines and cork for red. (pro vs. con see this post on bauduc blog)
6. He believes all his wines taste even better after 24hrs. I agree.
7. His style of wine making is not aggressive but soft due to the ripeness of the grapes in the South of France.
Now on to the wines…
Arrogant Frog 2013 Sauvignon Blanc $10
The first thing I detected in the nose was lemon and grass. First sip is crisp, citrus and bright – reminded me of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc vs. the California Sauv Blancs I enjoy at this price point which can be more fruit forward. I enjoyed this wine and found it had a nice bright mild acidity and a smooth finish that was a touch buttery. It was very enjoyable. For $10 at retail, it would be a challenge to find a wine of this quality for a better price – I’d buy it again. I’m about to harvest my peach trees in a couple of weeks so I think this will pair perfectly with some grilled peaches and a cheese board of aged cheddar, gouda and a Humboldt Fog.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Pinot Noir $10
The color was dark garnet with a red-brown halo, which was unusual to me. There was a comment made about this being a “refreshing” Pinot Noir. As it was a warm climate Pinot, when slightly chilled, one can appreciate the delicate flavors of cherry and very light oak. Due to the warm climate in Languedoc, the Pinot grapes mature fast, unlike classic Pinots (like on the Sonoma Coast) that mature slowly. M. Mas explained that he takes great care in deciding where these grapes are planted to ensure the best result, although he did admit, this Pinot was unlike most typical Pinots. I found it very unexpected. I let it open up the next day and albeit pleasant, it was not necessarily the right flavor profile for this Pinofile. I would say it was respectably drinkable and it was fantastic the next day for braising chicken with tomatoes and peppers picked from my garden in my Le Crueset for hours and hours and hours – delish! What little wine there was left, did sip nicely with the meal.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Chardonnay $10
The nose was immediately and undeniably pineapple. First sip was lemony with a light oak finish – 25% of this wine was aged in Oak which contributed to the lactic character on the mouth which is the toasty flavor the oak expresses through the wine – some refer to this as creme brûlée. I enjoyed this wine and it was an outstanding value for $10. This Chardonnay was aged in American Oak which was quite intriguing to me. When I asked what the difference was between American and French Oak M. Mas explained that the American oak gives more lactone resulting in more toasty vanilla notes than the French oak which is more subtle. When the oak is very dry, it does not dominate the character of the wine. (Note to self, more wine knowledge to be had in the procurement, aging and use of oak in the wine making process. I found a succinct post on thekitchn.com about French vs. American Oak) In Mediterranean made wines, the American oak is preferred as it lets the wine breathe less and is better when aging very ripe grapes. As M. Mas explains “in Languedoc we can pick the grapes when we want, not when we can. Think about that…” I think this Chardonnay is a delight. An everyday luxury I would buy again.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) Merlot (45%) $10
Nose is blackberry, blueberry, dark fruit. First sip is spicy, cocoa, vanilla, coconut and raspberry. Nicely complex and toasty from the US Oak. Soft, round not aggressive and very refined tannins and acidity. This wine is excellent with dessert, especially chocolate! Rich and bold, this wine could easily pass for a $40 bottle of wine. When asked about how the cocoa flavor was achieved, M. Mas answered it was from the ripe fruit and the American Oak. This wine is a buy again. I don’t want this wine, I need it!
The bouquet smells like leather, blackberries. The first sip is dark fruit, berries, fig – like it really wants to be a cab but falls just short of the complexity or richness. Not harsh or tannic – weak, sweet, quickly made – easy to drink and grape juicy. Naked grape essentially says what it is. I was drinking this with a woman going through a bitter divorce, and a friend in need is a friend who needs wine – Naked and I were happy to be there for her of course. Other than that, c’est toute!
Rated drinkable, especially when listening to heart breaking stories about an ex in progress and who would get custody of the money.
I bought this Pinot not even knowing that it was German! Timely, as the German team just won the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I then decided to educate myself, only to discover that there is a long tradition of Pinot Noirs in Germany grown in the Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Württemberg wine regions where you will also find the more popularly imbibed Rieslings. These red wines are referred to as Spatburgunder. I was fortunate at the time to be tasting this wine with a guest who is a professor Emeritus in Philosophy and Religious Studies who had been a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin alas, she could not do the tasting due to a contraindication with her medications. Such is life, Schade. But we did have a long and winding discussion on wine and the degenerative impact on the soul albeit it is considered a sacred substance throughout the centuries of known history and world religions. We got much deeper than this wine. Luckily I had a Texan and a Rastafarian to help me drink the bottle and discuss the notes without moral encumbrance.
The nose was immediately grapefruit and hibiscus. I immediately picked up the German style to making wine. This is not like any Pinot Noir I have ever had. Light, sugary and fruit forward. Much like their Reislings except with a little more body . If I was doing a blind tasting, I could tell it was a red wine, but would be very confused about it’s origin and varietal. The Texan said it was very barnyard – look up that term, I am not that familiar with it and was told it is a combination of earthy manure, wet hay, dirty socks – I fortunately did not pick that up. The Rastafarian said it was very light, sugary and grapey. I was more aligned with the later description. If you are expecting a Pinot Noir, you will be surprised. However, I did find it refreshing and enjoyable. If served chilled it would be a nice compliment to an arugula and steak salad with a side of German potato salad.
Sadly, I don’t think I would buy this again unless I was in a peculiar mood, therefore, I’m giving it a drinkable +. If you are up for something different, go for it.
Well, this is not such good news. Does not taste like a classic Pinot Noir. It has the structure of a Pinot Noir, light body red with some berry, light smoke – my taster said heavy smoke and peppery. I would not be that extreme in my description, but a more refined palette, like my colleague’s could take offense. This wine does not finish smoothly and I did not find it particularly enjoyable. I am certain in a pinch many would find this perfectly drinkable but there are better ones out there for about the same price. Sadly, even for $7.99, this wine gets a rating of barely drinkable. Have you every accidentally left your bottle of wine for the picnic on your kitchen counter and your only solve miles from home is a gas station on a lone highway, well, this could work in a pinch, but I suggest turning around and going home. On to the next….
As I lose friends, my self respect and a few tastebuds, I do it for you my dear readers, all blessed 3 of you. (by the way, glad you liked the wine cork planter magnate idea for father’s day.) Therefore I am still driven to seek that hidden treasure and share it with the world. Enough of my blather. This wine was disappointing – blech.
The nose on this 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was rhubarb, a little plum, hot. First sip I tasted cherry and it finished with berry and oak. It was NOT smooth, very harsh and maybe if it had the chance to decant and open up, the noxious fumes would be released to enjoy what very little there is in this wine to enjoy. Alas, not the case. The alcohol content definitely got to my head right away. This wine would be best served with an ibuprofen aspic – anyone have a good recipe?
At best, throw this in with the roast or cook up a frat party sangria. This wine is rated as blech. Marchons!
I actually don’t think this is a reál wine? If anyone knows what this really is – please comment. All I can say – it looks like it tastes. Seriously, what is this?!? One brave taster said it was merely fortified grape-juice with an odd citrus flavoring. It is fairly light and you should drink it as cold as possible. Try it on ice with a slice of orange or lemon – I enjoyed it with a PBR chaser. With a burger and some beer, this may be a stop on your tour gastronomique.
Their site is FABULOUS – check it out real-sangria.com– you can find out tips and tricks to throwing a 70’s disco party and some infamous food pairing suggestions with “grilled meats.” There are also some recipes for Sangria! I commend them for their site design, very engaging and they are the professed “#1 Imported Sangria from Spain.” Someone, somewhere in the US of A is drinking this with reckless abandon. It also opened my eyes to the bottled Sangria market, which I presume it is an acquired taste my buds have yet to blossom.
Bouquet, eh. Body, eh. Underdeveloped, a bit harsh and frankly, I’d prefer 2buck, which is a RARE occasion for me. I do like the bold, red, richness that is indicative of a Merlot, but this is definitely not a fine wine. Pair it with leftover pizza – we did.
This wine is not guest worthy – but in a pinch – it works for the less discerning….I suppose that would be moi? I rate this drinkable, but not good enough for a repeat. I’m certain there are better cheapo wines out there so I will keep buying and trying.