Friday, January 8, 2010

A great cheap Chardonnay -- but where can you buy it?

The overall results are in from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and I won't list them here because you can get them from the source.

While I liked the overall sweepstakes winners, I would rather highlight some of the great bargain finds I personally blind-tasted.

For me, the best QPR (quality-price ratio) wine of the whole competition was the very first one I tasted, an $8.99 Chardonnay that was toasty with good lemon and apple fruit and excellent balance. This morning I tasted it up against Chards that cost up to 10 times as much, and I think it held its own. There were 8 price categories of Chardonnay, and the only Best of Class Chards I thought were clearly better cost $26, $35 and $95.

Turns out the $8.99 superstar was ...

drum roll ...

Motos Liberty California Chardonnay 2008!

And you say, what? I never heard of that.

Well, no wonder. It's a label started in August by the younger generation of the Franzia family, as in the folks behind Two Buck Chuck. I have to credit these guys, they do know good value.

What I don't know yet is where you can buy it. I spoke to managing partner Joey Franzia tonight and he said he expects it to be in a major California chain soon, but it's not there yet. It is apparently in a few smaller wine shops, so grab it if you see it.

I have to add one caution: There were, apparently, two batches of this wine made. I'm sorry to add this hedge, but this means that when you do find it, it might not be exactly the same as the wine I tasted. However, both batches were made by one of Bronco's winemakers, John Allbaugh, who knows what he's doing.

I'm going to write in more detail about this wine soon, but for tonight I want to quickly share some other excellent bargain wines I discovered in the blind tastings; wines that didn't win overall sweepstakes awards, but might win best QPR awards if such were given.

Korbel Brut Rosé ($11): I have always loved this wine, which got best of class for semi-dry sparkling. I voted for it as best overall sparkling over the eventual winner, a J Vineyards Brut Rosé ($35) that I think only won because conceptually, most judges didn't want to vote for a semi-dry bubbly first. When the J was announced as the winner, several judges within earshot of me said, "That was a rosé?" I think if judges had more carefully read the description of the dry sparkling, and had less bias against the semi-dry, this wine would have won best overall sparkling wine.

Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Syrah 2008 ($9.99): This is another wine I've been a fan of in the past, and it's great to see it rewarded with a Best of Class in a blind tasting. It wasn't the best Syrah -- the Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast Syrah 2006 ($28) was awesome. But the Cycles Gladiator was the best under-$10 Best of Class red that I tasted.

Windmill Estates Lodi Petite Sirah 2007 ($12): This wine was so smooth, with such great mouthfeel, that I considered putting it in my top 3 overall. I think it really delivers what you want in a Petite Sirah -- rich fruit, great mouthfeel, easy satisfaction.

Wild Vines Frutezia California Strawberry White Zinfandel ($4.99): Here's a Gallo product, with strawberry flavor added to Zinfandel grapes, that none of the professional wine writers (including myself) would have put in our mouths had we seen the label. I tasted it in the "fruit wine" category, where it's kind of a ringer, and we all loved it -- it's refreshing, fruity but not sweet, a great porch wine for a hot day. It didn't get a sweepstakes award because it wound up in the Dessert category, where it doesn't really belong. But all the judges around me at the sweepstakes mentioned how much they liked it. Honestly, I'm not going to recommend it to my wine-geek friends. But don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

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