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Value Vino

Value Vino: $5.99 wine worth drinking?

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Consumer Reports, the entity famous for trashing (literally and figuratively) automobiles and other consumer products, has weighed in on wine, claiming that their "experts" rated the 2009 Alice White Shiraz from Australia "better than a wine that cost $43." It's entirely possible that CR should stick to stopping distances, but the claim did set wheels in motion. I next found some endcaps in the Whole Foods wine department featuring several wines for $5.99 — regular price, not on special sale. With trepidation, I bought two.

The Vieux Papes Blanc de Blancs Vin de France is a non-vintage white wine packaged under screw cap. The label, a popeish looking shield with green and gold fonts, won't arouse too many suspicions if you choose to put the bottles out at a party. The non-vintage and "Vin de France" aspect means that the bottler can blend wine from more than one vintage and source from anywhere in France. This makes it harder on critics as there isn't a benchmark to measure the wine against; we don't even know the grape(s). (Research dredged up chardonnay and grenache blanc.)

So what's it like? Not bad at all. On the nose there are the usual white flowers, a little powdery mineral, maybe passion fruit, and some dried-apple. (Though this will mean little to most, it reminded me of Aplets, a powdered-sugar-coated fruit gelatin candy from Washington State.) On the palate the first impression is of crisp acid, green apple (just a touch stewed), and maybe even quince — as if anybody knows what quince tastes like. (Which is why critics can use the term with impunity.) The finish is short, but so's the price. It stands up to recapping and refrigerating, and would be good with marinated shrimp, lightly sauced fish, goat cheese … or just as a summer sipper served very cold.

The selected red offered a little more pedigree — at least on the label. The back label of the 2009 Piccolo Fiore Rosso di Sicilia IGT was bold enough to proclaim "ripe plum and dark berry" and to claim that "Trusted viticulture practices minimize environmental impact by promoting healthy soils and conserving water" — essentially meaningless, but good try. (The labels didn't say so, but apparently the wine is a blend of Nero d'Avola and Syrah.) So, more berry than plum to this nose — specifically raspberry and loganberry. A little earth, too. On the palate there was decently bright fruit, including a touch of cherry, that was light on the palate and in balance with the wine's delicate mouth feel — it's not a big wine, in other words, but it delivers aspects of a wine with complexity. The label suggests consuming with Sicilian specialties such as peperonata sauce and olives, but I wouldn't force it to compete with, say, a puttanesca. Nevertheless, it over-delivers at the price. I was shocked, too. With both of them, for that matter.

Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.

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