By Ron Bechtol
value vino great wines for under $15
Welcome to Value Vino, a monthly column for both wannabe wine lovers and "already aficionados" with an irreverent streak. For starters, we'll peg the value cap at $15, but don't be surprised if we exceed that on occasion; $19.99 stunners (and above) won't be shunned if they offer bang for the buck. And at the other end of the spectrum, a good box wine - assuming we find one - would also be discussed seriously. Let us know what you'd like to have investigated, and we'll do the heavy glass-lifting for you, such is our dedication.
If irreverence is to be an occasional theme, there's no better place to start than with the wines of the inimitable Todd (a.k.a. Toad) Williams - a self-professed former saloon keeper who happens to be the brother of Robin Williams - of Toad Hollow Vineyards in Healdsburg, California. Although his impressive, all-stainless 2002 Mendocino Chardonnay, and his dust-dry (and rose-petal fragrant) Eye of the Toad Dry Pinot Noir Rosé would qualify under the price ceiling, we're going to go even lower to a line Toad is importing from France. Called Le Faux Frog, each of the three wines, chardonnay, merlot, and syrah, can be found at Central Market for $8.49.
Syrah, also called shiraz in Australia, is the current darling of red wine marketers and for good reason: It characteristically exhibits big, bold, spicy flavors. Faux Frog's Apropos 2001 back label claims a "rich, deep, dark, and dense wine," with which I have to disagree. That description might have been apropos of a previous vintage, but not this one. Relatively low in alcohol (13 percent) by syrah standards, it is more elegant than rich, more ruby-hued than dark, and lighter than it is dense. There's compensating complexity to spare in the form of cedar, black cherry, and mint on the "nose" and more dark fruit on the palate. But no typical pepper, and no forward spice, and if that's what you want, you've been warned. Lighten up; the wine did. •
Value Vino will run the third Thursday of every month.