It’s difficult to sum up the state of cheap wine as we celebrate the Advocate’s ninth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza and $10 Wine Hall of Fame. More people than ever are drinking cheap wine, thanks to the recession, but I tasted way too much flabby and dull $10 wine over the past year, especially from California. Producers, apparently, were throwing anything in a bottle that they could sell for $10 or less, regardless of quality, in order to lure customers.

So call the 2011 Hall of Fame a mixed bag. We added four wines, but also lost several: La Ferme de Gicon, a red blend from the Rhone, which was lacking this year; vini merlot from Bulgaria and the Lockwood sauvignon blanc, which apparently aren’t available here anymore; and Meridian’s chardonnay, which tasted nothing like last year’s vintage and neatly summarized California’s problems.

The new members are: Chateau Barat, a French rosé that is fruity and minerally; the Casamatta Toscana, perhaps the best $10 sangiovese I’ve ever had; Chateau Boisson, a white French wine with a little lemon and a lot of minerality; and the Anne Aimee Muller-Thurgau from Oregon, a sweetish wine that is also spicy.

Here’s the rest of this year’s Hall of Fame, all available at Central Market:

• The chenin blanc, CNW, and a chenin blanc-viognier blend, Chenin Vio, from Vinum Cellars in California. One caveat: These wines are not $10 everywhere, and the CNW seems to be in short supply.

• Notorius, a white wine from Sicily, that is just one of almost a dozen Sicilian wines that cost $10 or less and offer spectacular value.

• The $10 wines from California’s Bogle Vineyards, and especially the petite sirah.

• Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, which comes in brut (dry), extra dry (sweeter than brut) and rosé.

• California’s Toad Hollow pinot noir rosé.

• The Yellow+Blue 1-liter box wines, about $12 for a 1-liter box.

• Domaine Tariquet, the white blend from Gascony.

WITH YOUR WINE: Chili gumbo

This isn’t quite chili and not quite gumbo, but it’s a quick and easy compromise and combination. Serve this with your favorite $10 wine.

Serves 4, takes about 30 minutes


1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 jalapeños, chopped
1 lb ground beef, chili grind
1 16 oz can pinto beans
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1-2 cups water
1/4 cup red wine
2 tsp best quality chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

– Saute vegetables in olive oil until soft. Add tomato paste and spices, and cook for a couple of minutes until well blended.

– Add beef, mix well, and cook for a couple of minutes.

– Add red wine, water and beans with liquid, and mix well. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more water.

– Serve over rice.

Ask the Wine Guy

What is the average price of a bottle of wine?

A lot less than you think — about $6, according to Nielsen, which tracks U.S. retail wine sales. Most of the wine sold in the United States costs less than $10.