Friday, March 27, 2009

It's a well kept secret!

Recently, the good PR folks from The Wines of Chile (@RobBralow) sent me a surprise box of wine samples. In this box, held a treat for the sense, and an 89 pointer. Ok fine, really it was 88 points by the Spectator but it was voted a Best Buy.

The 2006 Viu Secreto Malbec hails from the Colchagua Valley region of Chile. The Colchagua Valley lies about 80 miles southwest of Santiago, and has a moderate climate. It has often been compared to Napa in many ways, but I bet you won't find a Napa Malbec at this price point!

This Malbec is priced at a fighting $10-15, and is worth every penny in my opinion. I immediately smell a smokey richness, with fennel and herbs. It is a rich and chewy wine, which one would expect in the over $20 category, but is a treat at this price point. On the palate, there is heavy plum and herb, with an earthy richness. I also taste lavendar and a nice pepper overtone.

Chile has become my go to region for budget minded wines. I have personally tasted several Cabernet blends that are priced around $10 and are a STEAL. Particular varietals that do well in Chile are Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Sauvingnon Blanc. I'm still exploring other varietals, so please stay tuned!

Walk, don't run to your local shop for this gem!

Cross posted to Luscious Lushes

Value Alert: 2007 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec

This is a cross-post from The Wellesley Wine Press. This wine received 89 points from The Wine Advocate.

Whenever a wine publication produces a list of wines that includes "top" wines -and- "value" wines, I always look for the value wine that sneaks into the list of top wines in spite of its lower price. This week's WWP Value Alert highlights one of those wines, the 2007 Altos Los Hormigas Malbec from Argentina.

I first heard of this wine from a piece in the Wall Street Journal. They tasted Malbecs ranging from $10 to $25 and this Altos Las Hormigas (at $10.99) was their favorite irrespective of price. Wine Spectator also thought highly of this one, rating it 87 points.

I had a bottle of this recently and was really pleased with it- absolutely delicious:

2007 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza (2/28/2009)
Wow! Very nice. 91 the first night, 88 the second. Very impressive QPR here- will buy again. (90 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

Where to find it:If Malbec is not your thing, you might be interested in this 92-point, $12 Italian red. Willing to spend a little more? Perhaps this 93-point, sub-$20 California Zinfandel would be interesting to you. If you prefer white wines, then maybe this excellent $10 domestic Riesling would hit the spot.

Do you like hearing about incredible quality-to-price ratio wines like these? If so, please consider subscribing to the Wellesley Wine Press so you'll never miss an update.

Question of the Day: Have you tried this one? If so, what did you think? If not, what are some of your favorite Aregentinian Malbecs?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Countess of Montecillo

Wow, two 89 wines that I reviewed in a row after having none for months. Truly amazing.

There are few things I enjoy more than sitting around and chatting about wine with a winemaker, especially a winemaker that has been making wine for over 30 years. There is such a sense of ease and enjoyment that comes from a wine where the winemaker knows that she does not need to over work it.

I had the privilege of attending a lunch with Maria Martinez-Sierra, who has been making wine for the past 34 years. She has been working with the Osbourne family, the owners of Bodegas Montecillo in Rioja, since they started making wine. The Osbourne’s took over ownership of Bodegas Montecillo in 1973, at first producing only sherry and brandy. The winery itself was founded in 1874 and is the third oldest winery in Rioja, or so it claims.

Maria was one of the first women winemakers in Rioja as well as one of the first winemakers to make her wines with 100% Tempranillo. In fact, Maria has a particular devotion to indigenous Spanish varietals, such as Tempranillo and Albariño. With the rise of demand for Tempranillo from Rioja, it seems that Maria is a visionary, with more surprises on the way. During the tasting Maria brought out a tank sample of a 2008 Albariño from Rias Baixas and it was beautiful. The wine was fresh, crisp and so sippable that I could probably have finished off the bottle by myself – luckily there were others that were there to hold me back. This is the winery’s first vintage of white wine and I am glad that they let Maria talk them into it.

Those of us that attended the tasting were able to sit around very informally and just chat with Maria about her philosophies. Her views on vintages were really interesting to me. When asked about how she decides to make her wine into a Crianza, a Reserva, or a Gran Reserva she said, “When the vintage is not up to the standards, I won’t make the wine.” By this she meant that the grapes needed to be a certain standard in order to last under the aging treatments that come with a Reserva and Gran Reserva, a very respectable philosophy of winemaking. Looking at past vintages, Maria did not make a Gran Reserva in 2002 and did not make even a Reserva in 2004.

When asked about her production volume, she noted that it changes frequently. “When the grapes are of a good quality and the conditions are right, I will make as many bottles of wine as the Osbourne family pockets can make.”

I thought that was a damn good answer.

When we tasted the red wines they were very enjoyable. My favorite of the three was the Gran Reserva 2001. It was beautifully young and juicy with red fruit on the nose and got more floral the longer it would sit in the glass. The taste was smooth and silky with cherries and blackberries on the taste. I think what I most enjoyed was that the oak used did not overwhelm the fruit. There was a great balance. And at the price of $25 a bottle, it’s a great deal!

The Montecillo Gran Reserva 2001 was rated an 89 by Thomas Matthews at Wine Spectator and Josh Raynolds at the International Wine Cellar, given a 91 by contributor Michael Schachner at Wine Enthusiast. I did not find a rating for it on the Wine Advocate's website. After giving it quite a bit of thought I would agree with the dreaded 89 rating. It was a very good wine, but it was not greatness in a glass, which is what I think the 90-100 point range should be.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Everyone is crazy on Argentina

I have been ITCHING to review a wine on the Wine Post that was 89 points for this blog. I was asked so many months ago if I wanted to contribute and I said YES PLEASE. And then sat on my hands for forever. But now... away we go!

It really is incredible how the everyday drinker latches onto a grape. In the US, Merlot had a good run (with plenty still on the shelves) and gave way to Pinot Noir after Sideways knocked over a few bottles. Now the grape of the moment: Malbec!

Even though I think this is a fad that will one day be replaced by another fad (although it may stick around… when are people going to leave White Zinfandel and Chardonnay?), there is one major difference: Malbec from Argentina is damn tasty.

There is a lot of wine flooding in from Argentina these days. In fact, Argentina is now the fourth largest importer of wine into the US, behind Italy, Australia, and France. However, more than half of that wine is bulk wine.

What is bulk wine? Let’s think about how wine in brought into the U.S. for a moment. When shipping overseas, most producers put their wines on very large tankers. They have to bottle the wines, put the appropriate labels on them (do not get me started on labeling laws), put them in boxes, and then deliver them to the appropriate port where a ship will take the wines on board and drop them off in a port in the U.S. where customs the opens the boxes and looks to make sure all importing laws are being upheld.

Have you ever lifted a box of wine? It is heavy, which adds cost in the shipping. Well, what if you decide to simply put all the wine into large plastic containers and bottle the wine wherever you decide to send it. That would save money on shipping and you can bring more wine in at the same time. The problem is that the wines almost never have the interest and the life that a bottled wine has. You can find bulk wine from every country, especially right now when producers are doing everything they can to keep prices down.

But, I digress. We are talking about the good stuff here and there is not much better than the Bodegas Salentein Reserve Malbec 2006 from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina. This wine was very good, with a beautiful deep velvety purple color. There was a very nice vibrant freshness in the wine when I stuck my nose in the glass, accented by ripe red fruits. The vibrancy continued in my mouth where I found some cherry, black raspberry and cranberry flavors. Towards the end of the finish there was some nice spicy richness to it.

I looked up what the experts said, and I found that Jay Miller at the Wine Advocate gave this wine an 89. Finally, a wine I can post on the 89 project! Michael Schachner at the Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a 90. Wine Spectator gave this wine a 75. I was confused because I did not think the wine publications posted anything that was given less than an 85. When I saw the notes it looked like the Wine Spectator received a few bad bottles when they were doing their review. A real shame, because I think this is a great wine. On I found this wine between $17 and $22.

2006 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese Terre degli Osci IGT

Type: Red
Producer: Di Majo Norante
Variety: Sangiovese
Country: Italy
Region: Molise
Appellation: Terre degli Osci IGT
Price: $9.99

The Little Wooden Guy is disappointed, and that's not really fair to the wine. At $9.99, it delivers a decent bang for the buck. No, he is disappointed because it failed to meet its promise, and herein lies one of the real problems with rating wines. The shelf-hanger said:

Wine Advocate - December 2007 - 89 points - Great Values from Italy

"The 2006 Sangiovese Terre Degli Osci is simply gorgeous. This superbly balanced red offers generous, super-ripe blueberry, spice and sweet toasted oak along with a soft, accessible personality."*

Hey, $9.99 for that? What a bargain! And then, disappointment. On the one hand, it suckered me into buying it. On the other hand, I was disappointed where I should have been thrilled- for $9.99 this wine really delivered. So I guess the question is, do they want a large number of individual sales, or a smaller number of multiple sales and loyal customers?

Night One

The nose opens with big aromas, starting with rubber and dark ripe fruit, blackcurrant and plum, followed by spices, primarily pepper and cardamom.

The palate, too, opens with rubber, followed by black pepper, blackberries, plums, and lots of florals, including violets and roses. Vanilla comes out on the finish. Mouth-feel is very smooth.

Night Two

The nose is much lighter on Night Two, more fruity, opening with cherries and raspberries, plus the cherry pits.

The palate is far simpler on Night Two, as well. Cherries and raspberries, some spice including white pepper, not any significant changes on the mid-palate, and a hint of nutmeg added on the finish.

*I am not a big fan of wine ratings and rarely buy anything based upon shelf-hangers, but as the manager of The 89 Project, if see and "89" under $10, I really have to buy it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I received my invitation to participate in The 89 Project with relish. With the revolutionary spark of an old hippie I thought to myself "right on" and "power to the people"! After all, Wine Camp is a points-free zone because I can think of few things that have driven us to the bland wine world of today more than the 100 point scale. So when I recieved my invitation I was ready to go, to become the Abbie Hoffman of points and blister the blog with righteous indignation about passed over wines.

Then as the days spread into weeks, that spread into months and before I know it probably years, I have yet to place a single post on The 89 Project. What's my problem? After all I could not agree more with the concept that hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful wines are condemned to the neither here nor there purgatory of getting 89 points in a world that only cares for 90+ wines. So what was my problem?

The 89 Project
has made me realize how far out of the mainstream of the wine world I've drifted. Not having followed The Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate for some years now I just don't know what they're talking about anymore. I couldn't name an 89 or a 90 if my life depended on it. It's not so much that I want to fight the pointy people anymore as much as I just don't care.

In the past, although I never gave points on Wine Camp or, my previous blog VinoCibo, I used to score wines for my own personal edification. Three or four years ago even that drifted away as I concentrated more and more on how wine and food made me feel instead of trying to reach for an absurd codification or ranking.

So I apologize to the the dedicated writers of The 89 Project for my silence, but I have nothing left to say about points other than they are pointless. Thank you for continuing the fight against the the stupidity of the 100 point scale. While I may have tired of the fight, I am glad a new generation has taken up the cause.

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