The news is not good for those of us who love cheap wine. There wasn’t a whole lot of it worth drinking in 2007, and the ranks of the $10 Wine Hall of Fame have been reduced as we celebrate the Advocate’s sixth annual Cheap Wine extravaganza.

Gone from the Hall are the Big House red, white and pink. The brand was sold last year, and the new owner makes decent-enough wine, but it’s standard grocery store stuff that lacks the style that distinguished the old Big House labels. Two red wines that I wanted to add — Beaulieu’s Beauzeaux and Altano’s Douro — didn’t make it. The former didn’t release a new vintage locally, while the latter was flat and flabby compared to previous years.

The weak dollar didn’t help the cause, either, so I added a room on the Hall for imported wine whose price was pushed up by currency woes: “If you can find them for $10, buy them.”

The Hall did add three Gascon white wines — Domaine Duffour, Domaine des Cassagnoles, and Domaine D’Uby. These are made with less well-known grapes from a very less well-known part of France, which is why they’re less expensive. With that in mind, here’s the rest of this year’s Hall of Fame:

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

• Osborne Solaz, the Spanish red and white blends (though the red was a bit below its usual standard this year).

• Benziger Fume Blanc, the California winery’s version of sauvignon blanc.

• Italy’s Falesco Vitiano, which produces a solid rose, an even more solid white blend, and a stunning red blend made of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot.

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

• California’s Toad Hollow pinot noir rose.

• The unoaked chardonnay and the petite sirah from California’s Jewell Collection.

If you can find them for $10, buy them:

• Chateau Ducla and Chateau Bonnet, white blends from Bordeaux.

• Domaine Pichot Vouvray, a French chenin blanc.

• Lindauer Brut, a sparkling wine from New Zealand.

WITH YOUR WINE: Almost classic onion soup

French onion soup is about as decadent as something that isn’t fried gets, a combination of cheese, bread and beef stock in which the onions play only a supporting role. Plus, it takes forever to do properly — Julia Child’s recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” takes more than an hour, and that assumes you’ve got Child-quality beef stock in the freezer. This recipe isn’t quite that rich or time consuming, but it gets the job done. Serve with any of the $10 sparkling, rose or petite sirahs.

Adapted from Jacques Pepin
Serves four; takes about 30 minutes
2 onions, sliced
5 cups chicken stock (low salt if you use canned)
4 slices leftover, best-quality bread
½ cup grated cheese of your choice
Salt and black pepper to taste

1. Saute the onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil until they are browned, about 10-12 minutes over medium heat.
2. Add the stock, salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a strong boil, then simmer gently for 10 to 12 minutes.
3. Cube the bread, toss it with a bit of olive oil, and bake it in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes or until it browns slightly.
4. Put one-quarter of the bread and the cheese into each of four bowls. Ladle the soup over the top and serve.

Ask the wine guy
    Why do people swirl wine? Is that one of those wine geek things?
    Actually, it helps the wine by adding air to it. The wine has been sitting in the bottle for a long time, often for years, and aerating it helps to bring out the flavor and aroma.


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