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Category Archives: Red wine

Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

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affordable red BordeauxThe Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to teach the world to ignore French wine. It’s not just that so much Bordeaux is overpriced and underwhelming, but that the Bordelais are in such denial about it. We just need a new marketing company!

That’s why I was so excited last week, during a Bordeaux tasting in Dallas organized by the Spec’s retail chain, to find a handful of $15 to $20 wines that were worth buying. Granted, that’s still more than I wish they cost, and those at the $20 end were pushing the price/value barrier, but it’s a start. That’s because the couple of times I mentioned price to producers at the event, they looked at me as if I was crazy. They truly don’t understand that they have priced themselves out of the reach of almost all U.S. wine drinkers, and I guess no one noticed that only 9 of the 60 or wines at the tasting cost less than $30.

The best affordable wine at the event, and perhaps the best under $20 red Bordeaux I have tasted in years, was the 2011 Chateau Ampelia ($17, sample, 13.5%), made by from the seventh generation Despagne winemaking family. It’s a blend of 95 percent merlot and five percent cabernet franc, and tastes not only like it’s worth that much money, but is honest in its approach. That means it doesn’t tart up the fruit to appeal to U.S. drinkers, so that the merlot tastes like merlot, the cabernet franc adds a little heft, and it’s not a too fruity malbec. Look for red fruit, a bit of spice, and a wine that will age for a couple of more years. Highly recommended.

Also worth trying: the Chateau Croix Mouton ($17, sample, 13.5%), not quite as impressive as the Ampelia, but with ripe fruit and French style; and the Chateau Puygueraud ($20, sample, 14%), an old standby with fresh fruit and an almost herbal aroma — would that it cost a couple of bucks less.

Finally, to be fair, the quality of almost all the wines was tremendous, Bordeaux as it should be — incredible fruit, top-notch winemaking, and everything that is wonderful about French wine. The 2011 Chateau Clinet was earthy, peppery, deep, and full, all I could have hoped for. That it costs $90 was the only problem.

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

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Chapoutier Bila-HautIt’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have much in common — both are controversial and both do things that they’re not supposed to do. Chapoutier, for instance, has gone into the riesling business, something a Rhone producer has probably never done in all of France’s recorded wine history.

They even understand the U.S. market in a way that too many of their competitors don’t. What they don’t have in common is the quality of the wine; Chapoutier’s are much better than anything Franzia does these days, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary. The Chapoutier Bila-Haut ($15, sample, 14%) is a case in point: It’s a varietally correct Rhone-style red blend from the less known Roussillon region in southern France that appeals to both the commercial side of the market — its premiumized price (almost twice what it costs in Europe) and fruit forward style — and to those of us who think Rhone-style wine should taste a certain way.

Look for a hint of the earthiness and rusticity that I appreciate, but which isn’t overwhelmed by lots of red fruit (cherry?) and a richer mouth feel that has more to do with the New World than the Old. Having said that, it was quite pleasant and enjoyable, a red wine that will come in handy as spring arrives and that I would buy at $12 or $13.

Wine of the week: Benedetto Chianti 2014

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Benedetto ChiantiOne of the problems with really cheap wine — the $3, $4, and $5 labels like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck and Whole Foods’ Three Wishes — is that they don’t always taste like the grapes they’re made with. That is, they’re not varietally correct. The merlot tastes like the pinot noir, the pinot tastes like the cabernet sauvignon, and so on and so forth.

Which is not the case with the Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%), a really cheap Italian red wine from Aldi. It tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but that’s true of wines that cost three or four times as much as the Benedetto. Call this the “man, this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5.

The Benedetto Chianti is simple and juicy, with a little tart cherry fruit. It’s softer than many Chiantis and doesn’t have the burst of telltale acidity, but there’s enough of the latter so that you can tell it’s Chianti if you’re forced to do a blind tasting. In this, it’s fairly priced at $5 — just enough less interesting than the $8 Melini, and obviously not as interesting as the $10 Caposaldo and Straccali.

And, for those of you who want to tweak the wine snob in your life, the Benedetto Chianti is DOCG, the second highest rung in the Italian appellation system. That it can be DOCG and only cost $5 says a lot about how the Italian wine business works, and why it’s as well made as it is.

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