Bordeaux Blanc Bargains
Bargain is not synonymous with cheap: It’s where quality meets low price. Perhaps, no other country has more of those rendezvous than Italy. Starting in the south and traveling north, I found these bargains in 2018 as well as a few from Portugal, France and California.
From Sicily, the 2015 Benanti Etna Rosso with its blend of nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccino, produces a pronounced red-fruit and dried strawberry aroma. It’s a bowl of red berry, blackberry and strawberry flavors bound with tannins and minerality on a medium body. 91 points. Retail $18 to $23.
In the Campania region—12 miles from Naples—the Mount Vesuvius volcano has a semicircular ridge called Mount Somma that rises to 3,714 feet. It is there that you find Cantine Olivella, an organic winery established in 2004. Within the winery’s 25 slopeside acres are the white grapes caprettone and catalanesca used for its Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco. Fermented and aged for three months in stainless-steel tanks, the 2016 Cantine Olivella Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco has a clear white color and pleasing floral aroma. A very flavorful melon taste with soft acidity and a saline finish makes this wine ideal for seafood. 89 points. Retail is about $15.
From central Italy arrives the 2015 Brolio Chianti Classico, which blends merlot and cabernet sauvignon with sangiovese’s bright cherry aroma and flavor. Its medium body holds soft tannins, balancing the red fruit and making it an ideal wine for full-flavored fish, poultry and pizza. 90 points. Priced from $16 to $24.
Northern Italy is the home of Gavi often associated with the more than 12 million bottles of insipid, mass-produced wine that are sent to all corners of the earth. But a delicious bargain awaits you in the 2017 Michele Chiarlo Gavi Le Marne. It is an expressive wine: aromas of almonds and white flowers ascend from the glass, and pear flavor glides across the palate, underlined with a dry, slightly saline and lime finish. 90 points. Retail is approximately $18 to $21. Only 4,000 cases were made.
The 2014 Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese is the 50th anniversary bottling of this perennial good-value wine. Thirty percent dried grapes were used in this vintage instead of the normal 20 to 25% to counter the amount of rain during the year. It’s visually appealing with clear black-cherry color, and pungent red-fruit aromas show the benefits of the appassimento method in problem years. Delightful raspberry and cherry flavors are carried on soft tannins making this anniversary wine a pleasing celebration. 88 points. Retail prices range from an incredible bargain of $12 to a still-rewarding $20.
The 2015 Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese’s red cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors are rambunctiously youthful and the texture similar to some Oregon pinot noirs. Its quality and unusually attractive price calls for putting a case in your cellar. 89 points. Expect to pay about the bargain price as the 2014.
Moving along to Iberia, another bargain I found in 2018 was the 2015 Quinta de Chocapalha Castelao Lisboa. Castelao is an indigenous grape that is widely planted in Portugal’s Lisboa and southern regions. Fermented in stainless steel and aged for one year in twice-used French barrels, this bright cherry-colored wine has appealing spicy, raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors. Its zippy-acidity and red-fruit character make it ideal for pates and short ribs. 89 Points. Prices range from an incredibly low $9 to $16.
Bordeaux is not a wine region that most wine drinkers associated with “bargain,” but many white wines from the region are well-made and available at remarkably low prices. Here are three that were fermented and aged in stainless-steel tanks and carry the Bordeaux Blanc Appellation.
2016 Chateau Roquefort comes from a large estate in the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation. While it bears the generic Bordeaux Blanc appellation, the wine itself is anything but. Blending 85% sauvignon blanc with 15% semillon, lively lime and pineapple aromas are matched with pungent lime and lemon-thyme flavors, good balance and a long finish. I’ve tasted many vintages of Chateau Roquefort white wines and this is one more excellent bottling. 92 points. At $12 to $13 buy it by the case.
2016 Chateau La Freynelle blends 60% sauvignon blanc with 20% each semillon and muscadelle, delivering a very citrusy aroma and flavor. Its medium body carries lemon and gooseberry flavors with a dry, mineral backbone. 91 points. Another great choice at $12 to $15.
2016 Chateau Recougne is in the Fronsac appellation, but its white wine must be classified under the generic Bordeaux Blanc appellation. Made of 80% sauvignon blanc and 20% semillon, the wine is fermented and aged for one month in stainless steel tanks, then bottled. This clean, quick process preserved sauvignon blanc’s lime and fresh-cut grass aromas. Its lime and thyme flavors have a long, pleasing finish. 90 points. An amazing value at $11 to $15.
Associating the word bargain with Burgundy is even more incongonous than with Bordeaux. But with some scouting, you can find a bargain like the 2014 Joseph Drouhin Saint-Romain made from grapes purchased from two growers. It has fragrant white flower and pear scents, honeycrisp apple flavor, and a soft acidity bringing complexity and balance. 90 points. Retailing between $18-$20, this is a true bargain in Burgundy.
For the most part, California has ceded the bargain wine department to others, but you can find a few like the 2017 Justin Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast California. After years of drought, 2017 brought sufficient rain to the central coast vineyards along with record-breaking summer heat, followed by a cool September. The resulting wine has the full mouthfeel of ripe grapes. Its lemon-thyme and white-fruit aromas, melon and lemon-lime flavors are supported with a citrus backbone. 90 points. Its $14 to $19 price tag offers good value.
Next Week: the theme continues in Part 2.
Photos by John Foy