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The Five Star Heroes

While numbers undoubtedly communicate data quicker and more succinctly than words, not everyone applauds numerical wine ratings. 

Some blame them for so-called “ratings chasing” in an understandable quest for sales. 

Identify what common factors highly rated wines have – so the theory goes – and orient your wine production toward replicating them. 

The adverse effects, critics contend, are increased volumes of homogeneous wines. 

Equally, the casualties are those distinctive offerings that illustrate an “out of the ordinary” terroir or individuality in wine making.    

Nevertheless, numerical wine rating systems remain part of the landscape. 

Those systems take two main forms – judgements by specialists and, alternatively, peer ratings such as those Trip Advisor compile. 

While reliance on the “wisdom of the crowd” dates from Aristotle’s times, aggregated, user-generated, peer ratings have only been made commonplace by 21st century technological progress. 

So it is that, nowadays, we often see “star ratings” by other consumers next to many wines on supermarket websites. 

I thought it would be useful, then, to compare some highly “starred” wines against the criteria I (as a wine commentator) use to select recommendations. 

When those two assessments tell the same story, consumers can surely have greater confidence that the wine will hit the spot for them. 

So, here are six wines that secured more than four stars on their retailer’s web site and also get a thumbs up from me. 

As ever, hyperlinks and pictures are provided where possible to help ensure you are looking at the correct wine. 

Starting with the familiar 

At one time, exotic fragrances, reverberating acidity and the capacity to keep its flavours even at fridge temperatures was all sauvignon blanc needed to secure wide support. 

Now, several something extras (like tropical fruit or herbal influences) seem to be required but, happily, this New Zealand (where else) version meets that challenge. 

Aromatic and bright, Marlborough’s 2019 Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc (£6.50 – instead of £7.50 until 6 April – at Morrisons and 12.5% abv) has apple, mango and melon flavours with pithy grapefruit acidity and herbal components that serve to add a certain mintiness.     

Familiar but not in this guise 

Ripe, floral and peachy pinot grigio from Central Italy is the “go to” white for informal entertaining – aka crowd pleasing – but other places (e.g. Alsace and New Zealand) make more serious wine and usually highlight the difference by calling it pinot gris.  

Now, seemingly, it is Germany’s turn. 

Zesty but textured, 2020 Urmeer Pinot Gris (£7.99 at Waitrose and 12.5%) from Germany’s Rheinhessen region contains pear, orange and green pepper flavours that neatly combine with its firm grapefruit acidity and concluding spiciness (that contains both sweet and savoury elements).   

And adding sparkle 

Bargain basement versions of prosecco abound but not all match this version (which, admittedly, costs a few pennies more) but repays that investment with the extra quality that DOCG areas like Conegliano often provide. 

While the mousse in 2019 Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco (£10 at Sainsbury’s and 10.5%) is a shade exuberant its skilfully integrated range of other features amply compensate offering as they do brioche aromas, soft apple and tropical fruit flavours, citrus peel texture and tangerine acidity.  

Swinging over to the reds 

This wine is named in memory of the crimes that, a couple of centuries ago, could result in miscreants being transported for life but, in these less brutal times, the only crime associated with this wine is not buying it when offers are in force where you live.  

Floral but only medium bodied, Australia’s 2020 19 Crimes Red Wine (£9 – but reduced to £7 until 23 March in some areas – at Morrisons but possibly only available instore, and 13.5%) delivers uncomplicated blackberry, sour cherry and mulberry flavours. 

Those elements, however, are ably supported by good acidity, slowly evolving tannin and a light texture incorporating touches of clove, chocolate and rosemary.    

A rather gentle Italian red 

While nothing like as plentiful as primitivo and negroamaro in its homeland in Southern Italy (and despite the economic downside of its low yields), Nero di Troi grapes are gaining traction as something more than a mere blending partner -especially when less power but greater subtlety is being sought.  

So, 2019 Maree d’ione Nero di Troi (£8.79 at Waitrose and 13%) from Puglia brings us bold red cherry and raspberry flavours accompanied by firm tannin, good acidity and a medium bodied foundation of star anise, vanilla and a certain smokiness. 

Finally back to Australia 

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A tip for anyone seeking good value among the wines of South Australia is to look out for Langhorne Creek; it is nothing like as well known as the Barossa or Coonawarra but can still produce well-priced, tasty shiraz and – as here – impressive cabernet.  

While 2020 Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (£7 at M&S and 14.5%) has only mild hints of mint, it has cabernet’s other trademark feature – blackcurrant flavours – aplenty that merge well with the wine’s dark fruit aromas, liquorice, mocha and graphite savouriness, firm tannin and dense cherry influenced richness. 

Catch up again with all this site has to offer on Monday gentle reader to see the latest information on supermarket offers and, of course, the week’s Top Tips among easily accessible wines.   

 


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Comments

2 Comments

David Cronin

I think most people rely on the star rating (sometimes that’s all we’ve got to go on) rather than something like the Parker score although even if you don’t understand what makes up the Parker score I think people can still relate the higher the score the better the wine. Lidl is a good example of a Parker type score (this time by Richard Bampfield MW) which I think is pretty accurate most of the time. So can you rely on scores/stars? Sometimes that’s all we’ve got to go on, I’d like to think that people/retailers are honest enough to give us the truth as they see it but remember someone’s 4 * rating is someone else’s 3*. So it’s good when a wine commentator/expert agrees with a high score, gives us all a little more confidence. So I’m with Brian on his selections although the only one I haven’t tasted is the Prosecco, the rest are all very good with special praise for the Maree and the Langhorne Cab.

Brian Elliott

Thanks for those comments Dave and glad we seem to be on the same page with the wines you mention. The prosecco is well worth a look but it may be prudent to wait until it is on promotion.


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