Tag Archives: Chilean wine

In search of the elusive La Moneda malbec

La Moneda malbecThe La Moneda malbec will be in Dallas-area Walmarts, but who knows which ones and who knows when?

May 15, 2017 update: A reader writes: Why so much publicity and so little availability?

Nov. 27 update: The Wine Curmudgeon braved Black Friday Dallas traffic to drive to a Walmart in Irving and bought the last bottle in the store. The review is here.

The news last week that the La Moneda malbec – “the world’s greatest cheap wine” – was going on sale in the U.S. demonstrated two things: First, that the Wine Curmudgeon will do almost anything for his art, and second, that the three-tier system is just as antiquated and worn out as I have always said it was.

I spent Monday morning hunting for the wine, a Walmart private label and available only at the chain. I visited the Walmart near me (“Never heard of it,” said the store manager); called the two biggest distributors in Texas to see which one worked with Walmart; and contacted the company’s media relations office in Bentonville, Ark.

The consensus? The La Moneda malbec should be available in some Walmart stores in the Dallas area sooner rather than later. Which ones? We’ll have to wait and see. The company spokeswoman emailed me that “Many stores in North Texas have or will receive the wine: multiple locations in Plano and Fort Worth, Arlington and Irving.” Meanwhile, the distributor told me the wine was in their warehouse, and he’d call if, when, and where it shipped.

Which is hardly definitive, but shows just how badly three-tier works in the 21st century.

Walmart is one of the world leaders in supply chain efficiency, and academics study the company to see how it eliminates waste and increases productivity in ordering merchandise. Walmart is supposed to be so good at this that it can tell you how many widgets are on the shelf at each of its almost 12,000 stores with a couple of mouse clicks.

This is a far cry from what the manager at the store near me said. “I’ll have to ask my food guy, who who will have to ask his wine guy,” the manager said. No mouse clicks here, because this is wine and not widgets.

Walmart’s supply chain brilliance is based on dealing directly with the producer. Which, of course, isn’t the case with wine. Three-tier laws require it to deal with the distributor, which adds another layer of bureaucracy, confusion, and waste to the supply chain. In this case, the wine’s availability is not about Walmart, but about the distributor. The world’s biggest and most important retailer is waiting on a third party to decide when it gets product. How quaint.

Next week, hopefully, I’ll review the La Moneda malbec. But if I don’t, you’ll know why — thank you, three-tier.

Mini-reviews 90: Vermentino, two sauvignon blancs, and red Rhone

vermentinoReviews 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.

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2015 ($25, sample, 12.5%): This Italian white wine from the Antinori family has an almost creamy texture to go with its varietal lemon fruit and minerality. Very nicely done, and a step up from most $15 and $20 vermentinos.

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($7, sample, 13%): You get what you pay for with this Chilean white wine from Big Wine’s Concha y Toro. This supermarket staple has lots of harsh citrus fruit, though it should tone down a little over time.

Saint-Cosme Cotes du Rhone 2015 ($15, purchased, 14%): A disappointing vintage from what may be my favorite $15 wine. There is little more here than rich, dark berry fruit – no earthiness, no interest, and no reason think it’s from the Rhone. Maybe it needs more time in the bottle?

Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($6, purchased, 12.5%): Tastes almost exactly like most Big Wine New Zealand sauvignon blancs (lots of grapefruit and some freshness, but nothing special), and yet costs half as much. Go figure.

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.

May 15, 2017 update: A reader writes: Why so much publicity and so little availability?

Nov. 27 update: The Wine Curmudgeon braved Black Friday Dallas traffic to drive to a Walmart in Irving and bought the last bottle in the store. The review is here.

Nov. 22 update: The wine is coming to Dallas, and the Wine Curmudgeon is on the hunt for it. Which, of course, doesn’t mean I will be able to find it, wine availability being what it is.

Nov. 16 update: The cyber-ether is agog this morning with news that the La Moneda will be available in the U.S., apparently next week, at select Walmarts. I will try to find a bottle for review, though none of the “breathless, buy this wine now” stories said if it was the same wine that is the focus of this blog post and won the award.

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 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 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 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 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.