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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

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Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

Wine of the week: Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red NV

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Rene Barbier Mediterranean RedThe Wine Curmudgeon has pretty much had it with the wine business over the last three or four months, as regular visitors here probably noticed the moaning and complaining. The cranky meter has been turned up to 11, but why not? Most of the samples since April have been insipid and flabby, and were so overpriced they wouldn’t have been worth buying even if they had been drinkable. I’ve dumped more wine down the drain since Tax Day than I usually do in two years.

Fortunately, there is the Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red ($5, purchased, 12.5%), the merlot and tempranillo blend from Spain that has had a well-deserved spot in the $10 Hall of Fame for several years. How a very cheap wine offers so much that wines costing three or four times more don’t have speaks to the cynicism and tomfoolery that is dominating the wine business these days.

Look for red fruit that tastes like wine, and not cherry cough syrup or Hawaiian Punch; soft but noticeable tannins, which so many of these wines have abandoned in their quest to cram in as much sweet fruit as possible; and a finish that is neither bitter, green, nor annoying. It’s a wonder of winemaking in the post-modern world, and it’s one I appreciate so much that I bought a case. I use it to wash out the taste of the more expensive samples.

Serve the Rene Barbier Mediterranean Red whenever you want a glass after work (it has a screwcap now) or with any sort of summer red wine dinner. And don’t be afraid to chill it, which doesn’t dull the wine at all.

Vinho verde review 2015

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vinho verde review 2015There is good news for the vinho verde review 2015, a welcome development after last year’s vinho verde oddness that included expensive vinho verde of surprisingly poor quality. Each of the four wines I tasted were well made and worth buying, and three of them surpassed expectations.

Vinho verde is the cheap Portuguese white wine with a little fizz and a greenish tint, sometimes slightly sweet and perfect for summer.  Our vinho verde primer is here; these wines will get you started. If the prices seem high, I bought three at Whole Foods, which isn’t shy about markups, so they’re probably a couple of bucks less elsewhere.

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV ($8, purchased, 9%): Maybe the best vinho verde I’ve ever tasted, in that it tastes like wine and not a fizzy wine cooler. Look for almost apple aromas, apple and lime fruit, and a stony finish. Highly recommended.

Santola Vinho Rose NV ($8, purchased, 11%): This pink vinho, made with red grapes, was much better than it should have been — not sweet, and with a strawberry-lemon flavor. That it doesn’t have much going on after the fruit and a sort of a bitter finish isn’t necessarily a problem.

Famega Vinho Verde NV ($6, purchased, 10.5%): One of the biggest producers offers a wine that is more sour this year and less fruity, but with decent enough fizz. It was a step up from the usual slightly sweet version.

Santola Vinho Verde NV ($8, purchased, 9%): This is the other big producer, called Sonalto in some parts of the country, and known for its crab label. This year’s effort was typical — fresh, spritzy, a touch of lime, and a hint of sweetness.

For more on vinho verde:
Vinho verde review 2014
Vinho verde review 2013
Vinho verde review 2012

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