Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Four Wines: One Good Tantrum, One Bad Tantrum, Two Great Buys

2008 Bodega Rejadorada Rosum Joven: 

This mix of New World and Old World style reds seems to get the best of no worlds. It's full or near full bodied with a cherry-fruit start but also rough, tannic, and earthy. On the plus side this mainly Tempranillo (85%) blend has the vegetal earthiness of a pure Grenache to go along with its fruit start. On the minus side, it's almost monochromatic in flavor, all start and no middle with a lingering, woody finish that's not especially enjoyable. (Note: the prominent "Toro" on the label refers to Tinta de Toro, one of Spain's regional synonyms for Tempranillo.)

Profile: Minimal sweetness, big bull tannins, medium acidity, nearly full body.
Flavors: Cherry, oak.
Rating: 83
Cost: $10
Value: Overpriced (explanation)

2009 Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec: 

This is another very good year from Doña Paula. Following the success of the 2008 Los Cardos, this is once again a big, full bodied but dry Malbec with black pepper, plum, and cherry fruit showing how much the varietal can offer at $15 and under. It's nice to see the price is still low. Despite last year's wide acclaim for Los Cardos as a best buy red, Doña Paula is not gouging consumers.

Profile: Minimal sweetness, medium and balanced tannins and acidity, full body.
Flavors: Cherry, plum, black pepper.
Rating: 88
Cost: $10
Value: Outstanding Buy (explanation)

2009 Tempra Tantrum Tempranillo/Grenache: 

If black cherry with pepper and a hint of tomatoey vegetable flavor sounds good to you, you'll like this very good $8 value wine. It's tannic, and though the oaky, spicy bite isn't exactly "smooth" as the label proclaims, it's still nicely balanced by medium acidity and an overall light-to-medium body that makes the wine very nice. You can taste the Grenache (40%) competing with the Tempranillo (60%) for dominance, otherwise this is pretty straightforward. If you're hooked on cheap Spanish Grenache (and who wouldn't be?), this will be an interesting variation.

Profile: Minimal to no sweetness, big tannins, medium acidity, medium body, almost light, in a good way.
Flavors: Black cherry/fruit, vegetable, black pepper.
Rating: 86
Cost: $8
Value: Great Buy (explanation)

2009 Tempra Tantrum Tempranillo/Merlot: 

Some tantrums don't deserve attention. This is a less successful New World/Old World hybrid from winemaker Rocio Osborne's lineup of Tempranillo-based reds. It's drinkable but not very distinct from other inexpensive Merlots, despite the majority blend of Tempranillo (60%). Somehow the combination brings little to either varietal. The result is not lush or interesting, but a bit cloying in its fruit-forward cherry sweetness.

Profile: Medium or greater sweetness, moderate tannins and acidity, medium body.
Flavors: Cherry.
Rating: 84
Cost: $10
Value: Ovepriced (explanation)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Three Quick Reviews, Two Good Values

2007 Marques de Caceres Crianza Rioja: 

Is it a coincidence Marques de Caceres Riojas do well in blind tastings but score lower when people know what they're drinking? Along with Campo Viejo, this is one of the world's most ubiquitous Riojas, so maybe people see the label and assume nothing they can purchase in a rural Mexican convenience store can be that good. (Uh, I may have thought that a few times.) But the 2006 Crianza was very good and so is this one. It has nice plummy fruit with moderately rough tannins that soften up after an hour, or even better, a day. If you can open it for awhile and then vacuum-seal it back up overnight, the fruit gets very smooth. This is a surprisingly good way to enjoy Crianzas, since they can be a tiny bit rough out of the bottle.

Profile: Minimal sweetness, medium tannins, moderate acidity, medium body.
Flavors: Plum, wood.
Rating: 87
Cost: $13
Value: Good Buy (explanation)

Barefoot Pinot Noir: 

Apparently this wine has had quality control issues in the past but the 2011 version is good. (Like many European producers of good value wines, Barefoot does not put a vintage year on their current releases, a welcome absence of pretense.) Like several other current Barefoot reds, there's just nothing bad about this wine, which at $6 in a Pinot Noir is pretty remarkable. It's simple, with light raspberry fruit up front and a mildly vegetal, earthy flavor, similar to a Spanish Grenache or the current Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir but lighter in body. There's no long receding ineffable Pinot Noir moment, but there's a short, interesting finish. Basically, if you are the kind of person who can get excited about a $6 bottle of Pinot Noir that tastes like it's $12, this is good wine for you. If that sounds awful, then move on down the aisle or look higher up the shelf. Personally, I would buy this again just about anytime it suits the occasion.

Profile: Minimal sweetness, minimal tannins, moderate acidity, medium body.
Flavors: Raspberry, vegetables, earth.
Rating: 85
Cost: $6
Value: Great Buy (explanation)

2008 Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel: 

What does it mean when a mass produced, big name wine that's about three years old (in a varietal that drinks young) goes on sale all over the country? Well, it doesn't mean everyone's dying to buy those last few bottles. Ravenswood is trying to move these out the door, hopefully because they have a better one coming. Many years, this is a good value red, but the 2008 Zinfandel is disappointing — drinkable but not very good, a bit stemmy, with rough tannins following a monochromatically cherry fruit start. And it's faintly sour, the way you might feel if you're suckered in by the sale price.

Profile: Moderate sweetness, medium-full tannins, medium acidity, full body.
Flavors: Cherry, oak, wood.
Rating: 83
Cost: $10 (but getting discounted)
Value: Overpriced (explanation)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Best of the Wine Blogs, June 30-July 13, 2011

Forbes Interview: Wineries That Get It
July 12, 2011 - Wine Economist
Discussing his new book, Wine Wars, Mike Veseth describes how some major U.S. wineries successfully balance the demands of a globalized market with a passion for local, terroir-driven wines and concern for the environment. He cites Chateau Ste. Michelle and Frog's Leap as examples—and did you know Frog's Leap is more popular in Japan than Spinal Tap? He explains (well, sort of).

Screw this! Hogue moves entire lineup to screwcaps after 5 year study
July 12, 2011, Washington Wine Report
After testing a range of caps, Hogue found its wines could be bottled, preserved, and even bottle-aged more effectively with the right screw caps than with corks.

Review: 2010 Flipflop Wines Pinot Noir
July 11, 2011 - Reverse Wine Snob
Jon Suburb claims there's a good Pinot Noir for $6.

Texas Wines and Terroir: McPherson Cellars Roussanne 2010
July 8, 2011 - The Wine Curmudgeon
Jeff Siegel uses this wine review to make his pitch for why Texas winemakers should focus on grapes that work in the hot Texas climate (like Rousanne and Grenache) instead of better known varietals more suited to California. Oh yeah, and they should stop bottling California grapes and calling it Texas wine.

Wine From the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini
July 4, 2011 - Vinography
In case you can't make it to the Aegean this summer, you can read Alder Yarrow's historical account of the incredible history of viticulture in Santorini, an island that "boasts one of the longest continuous histories of wine grape cultivation in the known world," in volcanic ash from an eruption that devastated ancient Minoan civilization.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Top 10 Most Recommended Red Wines, 2011

Below are the top 10 most recommended red wines in the world over the last 18 months that cost $15 or less. The other main lists on this site—all wines by rating and all wines by value—stick to wines reviewed here. This list covers wines from all over, whether reviewed here or not.

Top 10 in the world, you ask? Who says so? Well, for another project, a site called WineMeta that will go live this September, I've been collecting information on the wines costing $15 or less that receive the most quality recommendations from international blind tasting competitions, professional experts, and a select group of bloggers. WineMeta will present the complete results of these recommendations for red, white, rose and sparkling wines, with several ways to sort the information.

This is a taste of the data. The results are boiled down from 2,000 red wines, of which only 220 made the initial cut by receiving multiple recommendations (and being available). Of those, these are the 10 that were recommended most frequently. They did not necessarily have the highest average ratings, but they got the most votes—these were the surest bets. (One wine on this list, the 2008 Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos, was also among the 10 wines with the highest average quality ratings. This makes it a very sure bet.)

On price and availability: Prices are national averages from Wine-Search.com. A couple of $16 wines are included because they often list for $15. All of these wines are still available in the vintage listed, but with some, like the Spanish Grenaches, you are more likely to find more recent vintages. The more recent vintages I've tried were very good (see links to reviews below).

If you follow Cheap Red Wine via email, RSS, or Facebook, I will let you know when WineMeta goes live with the complete set of recommendations. The site will include lists of all top wines (under $15) ranked by quality rating, value, and other interesting categories.

Rank Wine Cost
1 2006 Monte Antico Toscana IGT (Italy)
Availability: Good. 2007 vintage now more common.
CWR Review (2007)
2 2007 Waterbrook Mélange Noir (Washington)
Availability: Decent.
3 2009 Perrin et Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages (France)
Availability: Widespread.
4 2007 Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec (Argentina)
Availability: Good.
5 2008 Bodegas Borsao Borsao Red (Spain)
Availability: Good. 2009 Vintage now more common.
CWR Review (2009)
6 2008 Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton (Spain)
Availability: Limited. 2009 Vintage now more common.
CWR Review (2009)
7 2008 O. Fournier Urban Maule Blend (Chile)
Availability: Limited. 2009 now more common.
8 2008 Alamos Malbec (Argentina)
Availability: Good. 2009 and 2010 now more common.
CWR Review
9 2008 Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha (Spain)
Availability: Good. 2009 now more common.
CWR Review (2009)
10 2008 Shoofly Shiraz (Australia)
Availability: Good.

Notice a trend here? Three of the top 10 are Spanish Grenaches. As if that's not enough, all three are from the same winery, Bodegas Borsao. That is amazing, and it's well deserved recognition of Borsao's incredible production of highly regarded value wines.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

2009 Falesco Vitiano

This blend of equal parts Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese is a very nice medium-bodied wine. It's fairly fruity up front without being sweet or overpowering followed by vegetal flavors, like celery, with a peppery bite on the end, kind of like a refreshingly thin Bloody Mary.

Maybe it's because it was 93 degrees outside and our central AC was having troubles when we tasted it, but this is a red wine you shouldn't be afraid to serve cold—not just cellar cold, but refrigerator cold. Like a good but lesser Pinot Noir, the result can be very refereshing.

This is also a great restaurant selection, since it pairs easily with a range of foods and is unlikely to offend anyone. For medium bodied value wines featuring Sangiovese, I prefer the slightly richer flavor of Monte Antico, but this is a good option.

Profile: Minimal sweetness, moderate and balanced tannins and acidity, medium body.
Flavors: Vegetables and herbs.
Rating: 86
Cost: $10
Value: Good Buy (explanation)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

2009 Bodegas Ateca Garnacha de Fuego

The label might make you think this is an imported lighter fluid, but the wine inside is extremely good. The cheesy name, "Grenache of fire," has more to do with spice than fuel. There's a rich, peppery quality to the wine, yet it's not overly tannic or oaky. It's all at once fresh, rich, earthy, and spicy. If you know you like Garnacha, this is a sure thing, being a sort of Garnacha-Suprema, with stronger accents of the wine's best tendencies: ripe fruit, medium-full body, a nice acidic zing, and vegetal earthiness. If you're on the fence, try a few quaffs and you'll know right away if you like this varietal.

With Garnacha de Fuego, yet another mass producer from Spain delivers a fantastic value in Grenache—offering still more proof of the grape's versatility and the country's blessings for all lovers of cheap red wine.

P.S. With a thick, plastic quality to go along with the lighter-fluid imagery, the label really is ridiculous, but don't let it fool you.

Profile: Minimal sweetness, moderate tannins, medium or more acidity, medium-full body.
Flavors: Cherry, dark berry, spicy vegetables.
Rating: 88
Cost: $8
Value: Outstanding Buy (explanation)

Friday, July 1, 2011

2009 Bodegas Borsao Red

After the 2009 Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton, it was hard to imagine a better $8 Grenache. Here it is. Known as Borsao Red or Borsao Tinto Joven, this mix of 80% Grenache and 20% Tempranillo is fantastic, provided you appreciate dry, savory reds.

The wine has a good balance that tips more toward acidity than tannins. It's just below full-bodied with mildly savory, mildly peppery flavors, refreshing dryness, and a nicely acidic mouth. Distinctive for an $8 wine, the flavor is complex and enjoyable throughout, with just the right peppery tannins to complement the fruit. Nothing is overdone or feels done for effect. It's a wine you'll look look forward to having again, and it's an unbelievable value at $8.

Note on the name: You will see this wine listed also as "Bodegas Borsao Seleccion Tinto Joven" (Young Red Selection) or sometimes as just, "Bodegas Borsao Campo de Borja," which simply refers to the region the wine comes from. (This last name is particularly unhelpful since most Bodegas Borsao wines are from Campo de Borja.) In North America, just look for the distinctive "Borsao Red" label. The design changes vintage to vintage.

In wine-bullshit jargon: "Berries grown alongside Spanish tomatoes set the table for a plate of smoky bacon with accents of seasoned saddle leather, followed by Mediterranean spices and pepper crusts."

Profile: Very minimal sweetness, moderate tannins, medium acidity, medium-full body.
Flavors: Dark berry, savory meat, black pepper.
Rating: 89
Cost: $8
Value: Outstanding Buy (explanation)