Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, four red wines.
• Big Smooth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Much winemaking and craftsmanship went into this California red to make it taste like a cherry Tootise Pop. If that’s what you want your wine to taste like, then it’s worth $17. Otherwise, taste and be amazed at the post-modern marketing cynicism that also went into it.
• Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2016 ($12, sample, 13.5%): This Chilean red speaks to terroir and varietal character, and is about more than the jammy black fruit of similarly-priced Argentine malbecs. Having said that, it’s not a value this price – a little thin and tart. But if you find it for $8 at the grocery store and you need a bottle of wine for dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Imported by Excelsior Wine
• Bagordi Rioja Navardia 2016 ($13, sample, 14%): Nothing special about this Spanish red – just a full-bodied (heavier, more red fruit) and not especially varietal tempranillo made with organic grapes. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Cantina Cellaro Luma 2016 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, made with the nero d’avola grape, was either oxidized (doubtful, given the vintage) or so extracted and so overripe that it was about as Sicilian as my Honda. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
The Vigouroux Pigmentum malbec from the Cahors region in France shows $10 wine can offer terroir and varietal character
Not every French producer wants to make soft and fruity wine that will get 94 points. Many, including the less known Georges Vigouroux, make wine that is varietally correct and tastes of where it’s from in France – its terroir. Such is the Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec.
This red wine comes from Cahors, a lesser known appellation just east of Bordeaux. Traditionally, its wines have been less sophisticated than Bordeaux, the less established country cousin who could never quite come up to Bordeaux’s standards.
In this, its wines remain heavier and more rustic, without the polish that’s going to get most of them a high score. But that doesn’t mean they’re poorly made or aren’t worth drinking. The Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec ($10, purchased, 13.5%) shows just that: Berry fruit, heavy but not ponderous, and full in the mouth without being too ripe. And there is even a hint of tannins.
This is a far cry from the sappy Argentine malbecs that fill grocery store shelves. In fact, malbec is a French grape, once even used in Bordeaux. Today, though, it’s mostly relegated to Cahors, where improvements in winemaking technology have improved wine quality from the country cousin days.
Highly recommended, and especially if you prefer – as I do – wine with character and grip. A candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.
The 2015 Argento Malbec isn’t Hall of Fame quality, but remains quality cheap wine
The good news about this vintage of the Argento Malbec, a red wine from Argentina, is that it’s worth drinking. The bad news? That it’s not quite as tight and as fresh as the 2014, which made the $10 Hall of Fame in 2016.
In one respect, this vintage difference is a good thing, which shows that the producer lets the grapes determine the quality of the wine and doesn’t make every vintage taste the same using post-modern winemaking technology. Which, of course, is what happens to so much cheap wine these days, and not for the better.
This version of the Argento malbec ($10, sample, 13.5%) is still more than acceptable $10 malbec, especially since most grocery store malbecs taste like blueberry Kool-Aid spiked with poor quality grain alcohol. The wine has the requisite blueberry and sweet spice flavors, sort of tannins in the back, and some (chocolate flavored?) fake oak that surprisingly boosts the whole. It’s just softer and not as bright as the 2014 was, so it will likely be dropped from the Hall of Fame next January.
But if you’re stuck in the grocery store and need a red wine that won’t insult your intelligence, you can do a lot worse than this.
The Vassal de Mercues, a malbec from Cahors, shows cheap red Bordeaux a thing or two about quality and value
During a recent retail visit in Dallas, the employee who had been mostly ignoring me mentioned that those of us who were old-fashioned enough to prefer French wine to taste like French wine should try red Cahors like the Vassal de Mercures. That suggestion made up for what was otherwise a worthless shopping trip.
That’s because Cahors wines like the Vassal de Mercues ($10, purchased, 13%) are more traditional than today’s red Bordeauxs. They’re made to retain the earthiness and Gallic-icty that many less expensive Bordeauxs have abandoned in their quest to get 92 points. That a wine from Cahors, the original home of malbec, can be more Bordeaux-like than Bordeaux is a another example of why the wine business makes me crazy.
The Vassal de Mercures is a second label from a property owned by the noted Georges Vigouroux, whose cheap wines have appeared many times on the blog. This wine is earthy – almost rustic – and doesn’t overdo the blueberry and black cherry fruit. There is also a little spice, while the tannins, sometimes a problem with cheap wines made in this style, are refined and do what they are supposed to do.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame. This would pair with almost anything from chicken or eggplant parmesan, made with a sturdy red sauce, to simple roasts, whether beef or chicken.
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
• Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): One of the most frustrating things about reviewing wine is consistency of the product. I’ve written glowing reviews of this wine, but when I tasted the most recent sample, it was almost flat and devoid of flavor and character. Is this a flaw with this specific bottle of wine? Is it a problem with the current “vintage?” Or is it a problem in the supply chain, where the wine sat in a warehouse or delivery truck? I think the last, since I’ve had this problem with sparkling wine from many producers at many prices over the past 18 months. This is one of the disadvantages of non-vintage ones; you don’t know how long it has been sitting and getting worse.
• Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Cuvée Alouettes ($17, purchased, 12%): This red wine, from the French region of Loire, is an excellent example of what the Loire can do with cabernet franc – red berry fruit, freshness, graphite, spice, and length. It’s clean through the palate with surprisingly soft tannins. Highly recommended.
• Ridge Geyserville 2014 ($35, purchased, 14.5%): This California zinfandel red blend isn’t anywhere near ready to drink, and needs at least another year (if not longer). Until then, look for ripe black fruit and a lot less of the style and elegance that Ridge is known for.
• Château Lafleur de Haute-Serre 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): This French red, made with malbec from the Cahors region, is not what I’d hoped given that it’s from Georges Vigouroux, a fine producer. It’s just ordinary, 1970s style wine with too much unripe fruit and a rusticity that isn’t as much charming as annoying.
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. This month, the 2016 closeout edition.
• Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel 2014 ($25, sample, 14.5%): OK California zinfandel that isn’t what it once was, when it ranked with Ridge for quality. But it fits the parameters for what zinfandel is supposed to taste like today. Lots of sweet black fruit, though a bit of spice and earth on the back.
• Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2007 ($45, sample, 15.5%): No, not a typo, but a California red that I got as a sample when the blog started and has been sitting the wine fridge since then. It’s made to taste exactly the way it tastes to wow the Winestream Media. In other words, rich, elegant, not quite sweet grape juice with some oak. If you like that style, you’ll love this wine.
• Bodegas Salentein Killka Malbec 2014 ($13, sample, 14%): Competent premiumized Argentine red wine, with less fruit than most. But in the end, it’s still sweetish and not very interesting – another in a long line of malbecs made to taste a certain way and do that one thing very well.
The last bottle of La Moneda malbec at this Dallas-area Walmart.
The La Moneda malbec delivers $7 worth of quality, but it’s not worth driving an hour back and forth in Black Friday weekend traffic
There are two things to know about the Chilean La Moneda malbec, the “world’s greatest cheap wine.” First, many people who buy it won’t like it – it’s missing the sweet fruit they’ve come to expect from wine at this price. Barefoot it ain’t. Second, it’s a nice enough wine, but probably not worth the trouble I went to to buy it, which included an hour drive to Walmart and back during Dallas’ Black Friday weekend.
Having said that, the La Moneda malbec ($7, purchased, 13.5%) offers value for its price – and it’s important to note it’s only available at some Walmarts. Look for an enticing blueberry aroma and a straightforward, if simple, approach. It’s more tart than an Argentine malbec, but there is pleasant black fruit. On the other hand, the finish is a touch thin and could probably use some sort of oak to balance the tartness. But I enjoyed the wine, and it’s easily wine of the week quality, though not quite worthy of the $10 Hall of Fame.
The La Moneda malbec doesn’t have the cloying, heavy dark fruit that so many cheap wines have and that many people who buy it will expect. Its absence, though, probably explains why the wine won the best varietal red for less than £15 (about US$20) award at the Decanter competition.
I’ve judged similar competitions, where the wines are judged by price, and most of the cheap reds taste the same regardless of varietal – waterfalls of sweet fruit gushing into your mouth, coating your tongue, and leaving you gasping for water. So when a wine doesn’t do that, like the La Moneda malbec, it’s time to reach for the superlatives. Call it winning by contrast – the more tart the wine, the better medal you’re going to give it.