Wines for Under Four Dollars (a bottle) – A My Table Tasting
Pretty much anyone can pick out a bottle of wine for $30 and end up with something perfectly drinkable, if not downright excellent. It gets a little harder at $10. But how about for under $4? The fine folks at My Table decided, as a public service for everyone who loves or needs a bargain, to taste a number of wines at that price point and see just what could be found for less than the price of a good 6-pack of beer. The wines were all tasted blind, with our tasting panel knowing nothing more about the 15 wines before them other than each wine’s varietal and the fact that all the wines had something in common. It was revealed only at the tasting’s conclusion that the common thread was the price: the wines were all $3.99 or less per 750ml bottle. Each wine was rated on a scale from one to ten on these categories: color, nose, body, taste and finish, with ten being the best; a perfect score would garner an overall score of 50. Lively discussion ensued, with the level of liveliness increasing as the tasting progressed. Here then, are the results of our less than scientific, but more than fun tasting.
Even when one is on a Spartan budget, it’s nice to start with bubbles. In this case, J. Rogét American Champagne, NV Brut ($3.49). “Champagne,” in this case, should really be in quotes, but it’s hard to quibble for the price. There was a high level of bubblocity when the wine was first poured, which faded fairly quickly. The color was an attractive golden yellow. Our panel detected hints of over-ripe pears on the nose, but thought it a bit oxidized and a little tired. Some tasted Clementine oranges. It was deemed to be a pretty good party wine, and just the thing for Mimosas. It earned an overall score of 32 out of a possible 50. All things considered, not bad at all.
We then tasted our first still white wine, Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Blend 2011 Pinot Grigio, from California ($2.99). It looked very bright in the glass, and exhibited some green highlights. The wine had ground white pepper on the nose, along with dried apricots and a certain doughiness that some panelists found “weird,” but others liked. The body was pleasantly creamy. On the palate the wine was very clean, had dried apricots, but almost no finish. Its overall score was 32.5.
Next was another Pinot Grigio, this one by Cul-de-Sac from California ($2.98). This wine was less popular than the two preceding it. Tasters liked the fennel on the nose, but not the slightly moldy funkiness. Some commented that the wine came across as contrived, and its acid artificial. Its overall score was 23.
Our next two wines were Sauvignon Blancs, the first being Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Blend 2011, from California ($2.99). Its color was an attractive, if diluted, pale straw with greenish tints. Its nose was redolent of fresh herbs, mostly basil. On the palate, there was a quickly fading initial burst of acidity, then heat with a little citrus. It had no oak, and no finish. In its own low-rent way, it was a recognizable and admirable attempt at a Sancerre. Its overall score was 31.5.
Next up was Trader Joe’s Viñas Chilenas 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, from Chile ($3.99). This wine was an attractive pale straw with green highlights. Its nose was fresh, with hints of lime and freshly mowed grass. On the palate, it was squeaky clean, herbaceous, nicely high in acid, had a little grapefruit, no oak and a decent finish. This turned out to be a real bargain in a classic Sauvignon Blanc. Its overall score was 35.
Now, it was time for a few Chardonnays. First, we tasted Santa Barbara Landing 2010 Chardonnay, from Santa Barbara County, California ($3.99). This was the first genuinely unpleasant wine we tasted. It was a dull color and had an undistinguished nose. On the palate, there was some artificial-tasting oak, a lot of alcohol and no discernable fruit. The panel thought it came across as cheap and “manufactured.” It had no finish to speak of. Its overall score was 21.5.
Our next Chardonnay was by Cul-de-Sac, from California ($2.98). This wine had a very nice, bright golden color. It had an enjoyable nose of ripe, fresh pears. On the palate were more pears and a modest but attractive amount of oak all wrapped up in a smooth, round texture. It finished a little hot but, overall, was a straightforward and pleasant wine. Its overall score was 39.5.
Next we tasted Trader Joe’s Viñas Chilenas 2012 Chardonnay Reserva, from Chile ($3.99). This wine seemed to be defective. It was described as moldy, icky, fishy and reminiscent of something found under a bridge. Its overall score was 18.5.
Our final white was Purple Moon 2010 Chardonnay, from California ($3.99). It started out with a respectable, bright golden color. It went downhill with a weak but waxy nose that one taster said is what they imagined a Chardonnay-scented candle would smell like. Its texture reminded another of sandpaper. Its taste was, “perfumey.” Its overall score was 18.
Our first red wine was Cul-de-Sac American Merlot ($2.98). This wine was not a favorite of the panel. It had a pale, faded color. The nose struck tasters as artificial, with hints of baked pastry mixed with a generic rot. The taste was also described as artificial, with a short finish of chemicals. One taster said, “It’s kind of wimpy, like cheap nail polish that you have to do three coats of.” I took her at her word. Its overall score was 18.
We then tasted two Tempranillos. The first was by La Granja 360, a 2011 from Cariñena, Spain ($3.99). It was a concentrated garnet color. On the nose, it reminded one panelist of an old fruit roll up, and another of warm, plastic insulation on about-to-short electrical wiring. The panel felt the taste gave the impression that it had been stored in an inappropriate plastic container for a year. Its overall score was 16.5.
Next was La Finca 2012 Tempranillo, from Mendoza, Argentina ($3.99). Visually, it was bright and concentrated. On the nose were strawberries (more jelly than jammy), and subtle cedar. The tasters found it to be elegant and smooth, with distinct red fruits, cedar and an interesting finish. Its overall score was 30.5.
We then moved on to another wine by La Finca, a 2012 Malbec, also from Mendoza, Argentina ($3.99). It had a youthful, attractive color. Its nose was fresh, with a little bit of wholesome yeastiness. On the palate it was light, fresh, fruity and simple, with nothing unpleasant at all in the mix. One taster described it as, “A great patio pounder that you’re not going to think about very much.” Its overall score was 35.
Next up was Cul-de-Sac American Cabernet Sauvignon ($2.98). This wine was, unfortunately, flawed. Comments included, “Smells like feet,” “Smells like bacteria that grows in a winery – and I’m not putting this in my mouth” and, “Enzymes gone bad.” Its overall score was 13.
Since we started with bubbles, I thought we’d end with slightly sweet bubbles. J. Rogét American Spumante ($3.49) was chosen to fill the role. It had a copper color with a large, white head that reminded the panel of Miller Draft. It smelled of airplane glue, tasted of rancid bananas and was very sweet. One taster called it, “Essence of sorority pledge.” Again, I took her word for it. Its overall score was 17.
Although not every wine in this tasting was one that we would love to drink again and again, there were a few very nice surprises considering the amazing price point. Budget never needs to be the reason to opt for iced tea again.
Our panelists were:
Marcy Jimenez at Houston Wine Merchant
Taylor Byrne Dodge