According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “plonk” means “cheap or inferior wine.” I have a friend who, as a point of pride, lets me know whenever he is drinking such a beverage. To this I say, “If it makes you happy, more power to you, but I’ll be sure to bring my own bottle next time I come for dinner.” (Perhaps this is why I have not been invited over lately.)
The price of inexpensive, or let’s just cut to the chase, “cheap” wine has gone up. That’s life. I have an unscientific theory that people in the Bay Area have a higher ceiling than the rest of the country, but there is still a demand for good old plonk.
In the past several months, this column has changed its focus to almost exclusively writing about wines that cost $15 or under. That is a challenge, but what has been most enlightening is finding interesting wines for $10. So far, these pass my sniff test:
Pol Clement Rose Sec, NV (France): This mysterious sparkling wine is made in Northern France from the grolleau, gamay, pineau d’aunis and cabernet franc grapes. Produced with the Charmat method (secondary fermentation occurs in the tank), it is delicate but lively with red
Mason Cellars Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 (California): Someone at a wine shop suggested I use this as cooking wine one night, so before dumping half the bottle into a stock, I took a swig and thought, “Not bad.” Actually, I was impressed. And when I realized that Pomelo was made by Mason, a producer known for its sauvignon blanc, it all made sense. Sourced from Lake County fruit, Pomelo is brimming with clean grapefruit and guava flavors.
Santa Julia Torrontes, 2010 (Mendoza, Argentina): Santa Julia is an offshoot of Familia Zuccardi. With everything you could want from torrontes — rose petals, stone fruits and a hint of orange zest — this is a bright, refreshing treat.
Torres Sangre de Toro, 2010 (Catalunya, Spain): Torres makes a range of wines and its two most famous — Mas La Plana, a cabernet sauvignon made from 55-year-old vines, and Sangre de Toro, a blend of garnacha and cariñena — are on opposite ends of the price scale. Light but not thin, with spiced dark fruits, you can’t go wrong here.
Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel, 2011 (California): First I apologize to Ravenswood, about which I wrote in a previous column that their wine “has become less than remarkable.” I tasted it blind with several others and all of us were very surprised when this obvious zinfandel, that we were willing to pay up to $20 for, turned out to be none other than Vintners Blend. Full-bodied with ripe blueberry, black cherry fruit, vanilla and cinnamon, it is remarkably good.
These wines can be found through Artisan Wine Depot, Beltramo’s, Castro Village Wine Merchants and K&L Wine Merchants.
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.