For our 2017 tax returns, it’s basically the same old, same old, meaning that many of us are minding our dollars as April 17 looms.
What’s a wine enthusiast to do? Embrace the fact that there are still bargains galore in the ever-widening wine world. In fact, globalization is a major factor in our veritable riches of value-driven bottles that punch well above their price class.
Europe might be deemed the Old World in vinous parlance, but it’s the new world in providing a wealth of great deals, many of which weren’t available here five or 10 years ago. Meanwhile, California continues to lag when it comes to producing wines that are both inexpensive and distinctive.
As is our custom, we sampled a boatload of inexpensive wines to come up with this year’s offerings of great deals.
For centuries, no bottles from France had labels indicating that malbec was inside. But producers from France’s Cahors region are now hopping on the bandwagon. The Château Saint-Sernin Malbec de Cahors 2012 ($12) goes the riper route, but its plummy, toasty notes are offset by a sturdiness and grip that screams “Old World” all the way through the chewy finish. Pairing options: turkey legs, anything with mushrooms.
Available at Perrier, Stinson, Thomas, Cellars (Roseville) and others.
Red blends remain one of Americans’ most popular categories, and big-and-rich crowd-pleasers such as the Zolo Signature Red 2016 ($12) should help them retain their fan base. This is fresher and a bit less oaky than many wines of this ilk in general and Argentine reds in particular. The mix of cabernet sauvignon, bonarda, merlot and malbec boasts a particularly lush midpalate. Pairing options: Burgers, brats, pizza.
Available at Cork Dork, Lakeridge, Princeton, Liquor Works and others.
The better Spanish reds manage to be both dusty and lusty, evoking the ground from which they sprang as well as the passions of their native land. The Mano & Mano Tierra de Castilla 2014 ($12) is a classically made tempranillo (Spain’s signature grape), meaty yet graceful with bright, vivid red fruit, an aptly dry glide across the palate and a persistent finish. Pairing options: grilled sausage, paella, anything with corn.
Available at McDonald’s, Wine Thief, Cork Dork and Zipp’s.
One doesn’t generally look to Italy for pinot noir, but if the Monte degli Angeli Collezione del Barone Piemonte Pinot Noir 2015 ($11) is any indication, that’s about to change. This smells and tastes like pinot is supposed to: a light but earthy nose, cherry-berry fruit, spot-on acidity and tannins. Good luck finding a pinot this swell from the traditional locales. Pairing options: salmon, roast chicken and/or root veggies.
Available at Kowalski’s, Cotroneo’s, Franklin Nicollet, North Loop, South Lyndale and others.
Among the coolest recent trends out California way is the proliferation of lesser-known Italian varieties, especially so soon after the sangiovese-driven Cal-Ital movement went bust. The Montevina Skyland Ridge Amador County Barbera 2013 ($12) does this Piedmont grape justice, delivering dark-berry, herby, smoky flavors and a hearty finish. Pairing options: smoked meats, grilled onions, pastas with rich sauces.
Available at Surdyk’s, Big Top (St. Paul and Eagan), Glen Lake and Sharrett’s.
Southwest France remains underrecognized for its ability to produce singular wines at nominal prices. The Chateau Clement Termes “Les Petits Clements” Mauzac-Sauvignon 2016 ($12) is a super-floral white blend with a fruit-cocktail bent: layers of pear, peach, citrus and more roll across the tongue, with a nifty bit of herb peeking into the pas de deux between crispness and plushiness. Pairing options: shrimp, poultry, salads.
Available at Harbor, Haskell’s (Chanhassen), MGM (Waconia), Cellars (Plymouth) and others.
Sometimes a guy (or gal) just wants to sit and sniff a wine, if it has the complex, intoxicating aromas of the iLauri “Lume” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2016 ($11). The apple, citrus and floral bouquets vie for attention, and the winner is ... us! Those aspects show up on the palate, too, but this Italian white packs in focus, precision and minerally goodness all the way through. Pairing options: bruschetta/crostini/flatbread, turkey.
Available at Top Valu, Hy-Vee (Brooklyn Park), Apple Valley munis and Shorewood.
Coming up with new and different descriptors for wines can be a challenge. Not so with the Pregón Verdejo Rueda 2016 ($10); all of the “z” words — zesty, zingy, zippy — apply, but what pops into my head when savoring this little gem is “frisky,” like a big ol’ garrulous dog. Melon aromas and flavors dominate in this wonderfully delineated Spanish white. Pairing options: tomatoes, the always tough asparagus and artichokes.
Available at Skol, Northfield muni, Lake Wine & Spirits and On the Rocks.
There’s a vinous club that rarely meets because it’s about individual rather than collective deeds. Century Club members have sampled 100 grapes, so seeking out the likes of scheurebe is a necessity. And a joy if it’s the Kessler-Zink Scheurebe Lieblich 2016 ($12), a delicious, off-dry, refreshing, beautifully balanced white from Germany. Bonus points for 10 percent alcohol. Pairing options: Asian and Tex-Mex dishes.
Available at Fridley muni, Lake Wine and Spirits, Central Avenue, Kowalski’s, Cub (Champlin) and others.
Man, oh, man, are there a lot of ordinary Italian pinot grigios out there. Not bad, but not interesting, either. On the other hand, there’s the tangy, taut Villa San Martino Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio 2016 ($12). Juicy fruit plays off a sleek, racy texture. Whether or not patio season ever arrives here, this is a splendid afternoon sipper as well as a choice option for gatherings. Pairing options: all manner of salads, vegetarian dishes.
Available at Little Wine Shoppe, Wayzata muni, Dolce Vita, Sentyrz, BrightWines, Lake Wine and Spirits, and others.
Two concurrent movements collide with pink wines and cans. A box of Amble + Chase Provence Rosé 2017 ($18, or $4.50 per can) contains four cans in perfect sizes, especially for a casual evening: 250 milliliters, or a glass and a half. A blend of 40 percent grenache and 30 percent each of syrah and cinsault, this French delight offers up waves of red berry, cherry and stone-fruit flavors. Pairing options: fish, fowl, salty appetizers.
Available at Excelsior Vintage, Wine Thief, Wine Shop, Hy-Vee (Eagan) and Top Ten (St. Louis Park).
I love it when a dandy-looking bottle is just as lovely on the inside. I love it even more when a rosé made from cabernet sauvignon, which gets uneven at best results on these shores, finds great expression elsewhere, in this case South Africa. The Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2017 ($12) is riper and creamier than most pink wines, but has plenty of mouthwatering acidity to keep it bracing. Pairing options: fish, fowl, fruity desserts.
Available at Cedar Lake, 1010 Washington, France 44 and Liquor Boy.