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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Casillero del Diablo Malbec Reserva 2013

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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: Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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matua valley sauvignon blancTreasury Wine Estates has come in for its share of criticism on the blog, including its failure to help me retire to Burgundy. In this, Treasury has been everything Big Wine shouldn’t be — arrogant, unwieldy, and not focused on its customers. So how does the Matua Valley sauvignon blanc fit in?

As an example that shows what Big Wine can do when it isn’t arrogant, unwieldy, and unfocused. Treasury owns the company that makes the Matua Valley sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13%), and this white from New Zealand is exactly what you want to be able to buy at the grocery store — well-made, tasty, food-friendly, and something that offers more than $10 worth of value. I wish I could say that about more supermarket wines.

Look for enough red grapefruit so that you can tell it’s sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, plus some tropical fruit in the middle that is usually a sign of a more expensive wine. It’s not as simple as other $10 Kiwi sauvignon blancs, and there was even more of a finish than I expected.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame. Drink this chilled on its own, especially as summer drags on, or with grilled or boiled seafood. And, as with most sauvignon blancs, it pairs well with almost anything made with olive oil, parsley, and garlic.

And be glad that someone at Treasury didn’t think Matua was important enough to micro-manage, and so left it alone to make something of this quality.

Wine of the week: Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014

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Vin Gris de CigareBonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is perhaps the most subversive person in the wine business, and one sip of his rose, the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, shows why. On the one hand, it has all of the necessary qualities for a terrific pink wine — freshness, nary a hint of residual sugar, and a certain stoniness that many of the great French roses from Provence have.

On the other hand, the Vin Gris de Cigare ($15, sample, 13%) also tastes like it will age for at least a couple of years. What cranberry fruit there is is hidden beneath the other components, and the fruit should slowly show itself over time. This is not supposed to happen with rose, which is usually made to last for just one vintage (and is perfectly fine when it does). That Grahm makes a rose that will age, and for only $15, is just another example of how sneaky he is, and how his wines almost never do what the wine business says wine should do.

Hence it’s no surprise that I enjoy them so much. Highly recommended; serve the Vin Gris de Cigare chilled, either on its own or with any summer food, be it salad or grilled fish, chicken, or beef. I drank it with socca, the chickpea flour pancake from southern France on a hot Dallas Saturday afternoon. If I wasn’t magically transported somewhere other than my air conditioned living room, the combination reminded me why pairings can work as long as we aren’t slaves to them.

Finally, a note about Grahm’s newest — and perhaps most subversive — project. He is crowdfunding a vineyard to create 10,000 new grape varieties, in the hope of finding a unique New World vinifera, something that didn’t come from Europe and so is better suited to our climate and soil. In this, Grahm figures he has a chance to explore New World terroir in a way no one ever has. That creating new grape varieties is incredibly difficult does not seem to daunt him in the least.

The project is about 35 percent of the way to its $350,000 goal — you can contribute here, and there are some impressive premiums. And, given my experience with crowdfunding, Grahm will have more fun than he can imagine. Not that I know anything about waking up at 2 a.m. to check the funding percentage.

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