Tag Archives: Chilean wine

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La Moneda Reserva malbec – the best cheap wine in the world?

La Moneda reserva malbecIs Chile’s La Moneda Reserva malbec really the best cheap wine in the world? Probably not. But it is a wonderful example of how screwed up wine is.

Where else but wine would a product that no one can buy in the U.S. make headlines throughout the country? “Walmart’s $6 red wine named one of the best in the world,” screamed Fox News. “Wal-Mart brand red wine named one of the best in the world,” shouted CNBC. And, my favorite, from the ultra-hip Daily Meal, “Walmart Brand Red Wine Costing $6 Named One of the Best in the World,” complete with diaper reference.

That’s because the wine business teaches us that only expensive wine is any good, and the U.S. media parrots that line whenever possible. No one in this country can buy the La Moneda Reserva malbec, because it’s a private label sold only at ASDA, a supermarket chain owned by Walmart in Great Britain. But who cares? It’s cheap! Really cheap!!

Can you imagine those news outlets doing the same thing for ketchup or blue jeans or a car that none of their readers could buy? Of course not. But it’s wine! That’s cheap!! Really cheap!!!

To their credit, my colleagues in the Winestream Media didn’t go quite as berserk when the La Moneda Reserva malbec won a platinum medal at Decanter’s World Wine Awards. Some noted that it’s odd that a Chilean wine made with malbec, an Argentine grape, did so well. Some made the point that much of the fuss was silly since no one could buy it. And none made any claims to quality, since none had tasted it.

I haven’t either. But since I’ve probably tasted more grocery store wine that anyone else in the world, I’d guess that the La Moneda Reserva malbec is likely well made and deserving of its medal. I’m a little concerned that one of the judges called it “a crowd pleaser,” which is wine judge for lots of fruit. But is it appreciably better than any other wine in the $10 Hall of Fame? What do you think?

Know, too, that this is almost certainly a one-off success, given the way private label works. The company that found the wine for ASDA, International Procurement & Logistics, supplies products based on pricing, not necessarily quality. ASDA wanted a red wine to sell at retail for £5.75 that it could make a certain margin on, and that’s what International Procurement looked for. It wasn’t about terroir, but the cost of grapes, and the quality was a happy accident.

So be glad that British wine drinkers have a quality $10 wine to drown their Brexit sorrows with. But also wish the media in this country that went silly about a cheap wine being good would pay more attention to what’s on the shelves at their grocery stores. Maybe then we’d have better wine to buy in this country.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Casillero del Diablo Malbec Reserva 2013

Casillero del Diablo malbecChilean malbec is a wine oxymoron. The Argentines make malbec, not the Chileans, so what’s the point of something like the Casillero del Diablo malbec? In addition, the Casillero del Diablo brand, made by Concha y Toro, is often undistinguished grocery store stuff, another reason to wonder about the quality of the malbec.

Which is why the first rule of wine writing is to taste the wine before you judge it. The Casillero del Diablo malbec ($9, sample, 13.5%) is much more than it should be, a value quality red that can often be found for a couple of bucks less than the suggested price. Look for some grip, where the wine has staying power in your mouth and not just gobs of fruit. In fact, there isn’t too much black fruit (plums? black cherries?), making this more like an older style of French malbec than a 21st century Argentine one. The oak is muted, and if the middle isn’t very full, it’s not short and offensive, either. The finish has what wine geeks like to call chewy tannins — not overdone, but almost meaty.

Pair this with any red meat, be it hamburgers or something a little more sophisticated, and it would go well with sausages, too. And remember, as you drink it, that tasting wine is the most important — and only — way to assess quality.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Kon Tiki Merlot 2014

kon tiki merlotMichael Franz, who judged the flight of $15 and under merlots at the Critics Challenge with me last month, was even less optimistic abut finding quality wine among the nine entries than I was. And regular visitors here know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about $10 grocery store merlot.

So if Michael was happy, then you know the wine was worth drinking. We gave six medals, including a platinum to the Chilean Kon Toki merlot ($12, sample, 13.2%) — easily one of the best grocery store merlots I’ve had in years. It tasted like merlot and not a chocolate cherry cocktail, with almost unheard of depth and subtlety. Look for a black currant aroma followed by black fruit and very correct tannins that weren’t harsh or off, but complemented the fruit.

This is the kind of wine to buy by the case and keep around the house when you want a glass of red wine that does what red wine is supposed to do, and that doesn’t offend you with too much fruit, bitterness, or oak. Drink it on its own, or with any weeknight red wine dinner, from meat loaf to takeout pizza. Dad probably wouldn’t mind a bottle, either, if he needs something for Father’s Day.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the $10 Wine Hall of Fame if I can find it for that price. The only catch? The importer lists distributors in 33 states and the District of Columbia, but many of them are small and may not have enough clout to get the wine on store shelves.

wine of week

Wine of the week: Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserva 2010

Wine of the week: Errazuriz Cabernet SauvignonThere is almost no way that this red wine, from a well-known Chilean producer, should have impressed me. It’s too old for a cheap wine and too many cheap Chilean wines these days are dumbed down for the so-called American palate.

But the Errazuriz ($11, purchased, 13.5%) was neither of those. It was great Chilean cheap wine from the old days, a decade or so ago when you could go to any supermarket and pay $10 for a red like this or a sauvignon blanc like Veramonte and get more than your money’s worth. Chilean wines were always candidates for the $10 Hall of Fame in those days.

But not as much anymore. For one thing, the quality of the grapes used to make the wines declined as Chilean wine became more popular and more grapes were needed. For another, the marketing wise guys got their hands on the wines, and focus grouped them to death, so that they started to taste the same.

The Errazuiz didn’t have as much black fruit as I expected, but it was still more new world in style than old — save for the fact that it is heavy enough that it needs food. Plus, it was mostly balanced, with tannins and acid in the right places, another pleasant surprise. This is a nice value, and especially for an older $10 wine. Shows what Chile can still do when its winemakers aren’t busy chasing trends.

 

wine of week

Wine of the week: Root:1 Pinot Noir 2012

Wine of the week: Root:1 Pinot Noir 2012Today’s wine of the week is another lesson in tasting the wine before you judge it. Regular visitors will remember the Wine Curmudgeon’s ambivalence toward Chilean pinot noir until I was forced to taste it last summer; in addition, Root:1 wines have rarely impressed me, being inconsistent more than anything else.

Nevertheless, I tasted the pinot noir ($10, sample, 13.5%) with an open mind, because that’s what I’m supposed to do. And guess what? The wine was worth the effort. It’s light, fruity (some sort of red berry?), and balanced, without any of the excesses that plague other $10 pinots — like adding syrah or grenache — to make them taste fruitier and heavier. And, blissfully, the tannins were more or less what they were supposed to be.

It’s not exactly pinot noir, lacking the earthiness and subtle of great pinot. In this, it tastes more like Beaujolais, which seems to be the case with a lot of $10 pinots from South America. But it’s clean, food friendly, and a fine value for $10 — so fine, in fact, that it merits consideration for the 2015 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.

Wine of the week: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2012

The Cono Sur was the first wine we tasted during our pinot noir extravaganza this month, and it didn ?t do much for me. I thought it was more like the Beaujolais I drank in the 1980s than pinot noir.

Two dozen pinot noirs later, I changed my mind.

It impressed me so much, in fact, that the Cono Sur ($9, sample, 13.5%) overcame my pre-disposition against Chilean pinot noir, which is often overpriced, poorly made, or both, and burdened with cute labels, a rant that regular visitors have read many times. What changed my mind was the aroma, earthy and spicy, and the taste, cherry fruit that wasn ?t too fruity, and surprisingly soft, pinot-like tannins.

Does this wine taste like red Burgundy or top-notch Oregon? Of course not. It doesn ?t even taste like Mark West or its knockoffs, the fruity, low-acid, red wines that have revolutionized pinot nor and made it affordable and accessible.

Instead, it ?s an excellent example of how to make a wine taste like its varietal at this price, using carbonic maceration instead of traditional fermentation (which explains my confusion with Beaujolais, where carbonic maceration is common).

One warning: The Cono Sur, thanks to its screwcap, takes a while to open up. That ?s one reason why it didn ?t impress me when I first tasted it. But give it 15 or 20 minutes, and you ?ll be pleasantly surprised. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame.

Mini-reviews 28: Los Vascos, picpoul, Sledgehammer, Re Midas

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

? Los Vascos Chardonnay 2010 ($10, purchased): Not what it once was, and can’t be the same wine that several readers suggested I try. Some green apple, but heavy and oily — not good characteristics in a $10 chardonnay.

? Bertrand Picpoul-de-Pinet 2010 ($10, purchased): Extremely disappointing picpoul, more like a white Bordeaux. Mostly citrus fruit without picpoul’s mineral character.

? Sledgehammer Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15, sample): Big, fruity, unsubtle and straightforward. This is a simple wine that delivers chocolate cherries and caramel for those who like that sort of thing.

? Cantina di Soave Re Midas 2010 ($10, sample): Not much there, even for $10. Almost heavy, with little of Soave’s crispness or minerality. Made in more of a New World, chardonnay style.