The Friday Fermentable: Mass-produced winners

Readers of this near-weekly feature have been the beneficiaries over the last few weeks of the wisdom from my scientific and wine colleague, Erleichda.
Now with the feature back in my hands, I am now realizing that one difficulty in keeping up is finding wines of value that are widely accessible to readers, geographically and financially.
For example, I would love to share with you a glass of what I am enjoying currently this Friday evening: an indulgent glass of 2003 Thorpe Reserve Shiraz from the McLaren Vale of South Australia. Crafted by expert winemaker, Linda Domas, the best way I can describe this wine to fellow scientists is that it is like a 2X or 3X stock solution. There is an intensity of color and cherry/cassis flavor in great wines of South Australia, remarkably without the attendant tannic bitterness, that I have rarely tasted in this price range. On the internet, this baby will run you $35 to $40. But we are blessed locally with a primary importer of Australian gems and I scored this one for $24.99. A great value, yes, but still quite steep for the average graduate student or postdoc, even on a splurge.
So, I was very pleased to see the major US consumer magazine convene a pair of wine experts to rate mass-produced wines available widely in North America and make the article available free without a subscription. The beauty is that each category of varietals had at least one offering in the $8 to $11 price range. The specific recommendations include some safe standards and a few surprises. Let’s just say that I’ll be using this issue as a guide for some wine purchases over the holidays when the bank account begins to run thinner than usual.
The evaluators, with a combined 60 years of wine evaluation experience, chose to shy away from a 100-point ranking and stay with the more qualititative rankings of excellent, very good, good, and fair. The valid point was made that there is little difference between a 89- and 90-wine, but being in the 90s allows producers to stick labels on the store shelves that often cause buyers to shy away from values in the lesser-scored offerings or, more importantly, waste money on artificially-inflated wines.
In the Cabernet Sauvignon category, it was no surprise to me that the top-rated (‘very good’) wine was the 2002 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cab Sauv. At an average of $11, it was rated above wines costing two and three times several others.
The Chardonnay category listed three wines as ‘excellent’ led by 2004 Edna Valley Paragon San Luis Obispo County ($14). Among the ‘very good’ category was the ubiquitous 2004 Stone Cellars by Beringer ($8), 2003 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley ($11), and an Argentinian wine I have not yet had, the 2004 Alamos: The Wine of Catena Mendoza ($10). I have had a number of tremendous Mendoza reds since my own postdoc, but I had not known of their facility with whites. The 2004 Alamos will top my must-buy list.
In the Zinfandel class (the original red, not the more prevalent, lightly-crushed white version), two wines rose to the top: the 2004 Seghesio Family Vineyards Sonoma Zin ($20) and the remarkable value, the 2004 Cellar No. 8 ($10). Again, for these two to be ranked side-by-side while differing two-fold in price is reason alone for me to run out, buy both, and try a blind tasting.
The lesson to me in looking through the lists was not so much the fact that many superb values exist among mass-produced wines. The real surprise was how many widely-advertised (and often expensive) wines did not fare so well in the expert tasting. That alone is worth the price of this issue of the leading US consumer rating magazine.


One thought on “The Friday Fermentable: Mass-produced winners

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s