In a change from the usual format, today’s post involves a review of a number of wines from a specific grape variety and then goes on to award a MidWeek Wines Seal of Approval to versions that impress the most.
This process will be repeated here from time to time with other wines.
Long standing favourite items do, however, figure today with a great value Best of the Rest red and an impressive alternative to white Burgundy.
Also appearing today is another Top Tip.
Remember to take your phone or tablet with you when you go wine shopping and use the picture provided here to hone in on your target.
Background to this award
Once a particular grape variety or style of wine acquires a following, most major retailers start stocking it.
That gives the humble consumer a problem – trying to make sense of all those versions that have suddenly become available.
This review helps solve that problem by assessing High Street examples of a current “go to” red and awarding a MidWeek Wines Seal of Approval to those that stand out.
Background to the selected grape variety
Malbec was originally from Cahors (where it remains a major player) and from Bordeaux but, for over 150 years now, it has been grown in Argentina.
It is largely down to those South American producers that the grape’s ripe, perfumed raspberry centred flavours have become so familiar and popular.
Today’s Seal of Approval then considers Argentinian Malbec – divided between wines below £7 and those above it – but all representing relatively inexpensive versions from major retailers.
Our first category
The runner up here – and my top pick from the so-called big four supermarkets – was a young example from Mendoza Central produced by the Argentinian arm of Chile’s mighty Concha Y Toro operation.
2017 Trivento Malbec Reserve (£6.50 – rolled back from £7.98 but that is expected to end very shortly – at Asda and 13% abv) has really attractive graphite centred texture with soft tannin but firm acidity all of which delightfully underpin its blackberry, plum and loganberry fruit and the hints of baking spices that support it.
Top marks in this section though go to a wine that seems to use the higher vineyards in the more southerly Uco Valley to create an especially delicate option without prejudicing those classic Malbec characteristics.
All credit then to today’s first MidWeek Wines Seal of Approval recipient – 2017 Exquisite Collection Argentinian Malbec (£5.99 at Aldi and13%) where the fruit is damson and raspberry based but authentic floral, clove and milk chocolate components all shine through brightly despite the daintiness of the wine’s underpinning texture.
And winners in our second section are ….
Go a little up the price ladder and more complex, rounded and concentrated options begin to surface – as they do for the runner up in this “slightly more expensive” section.
I refer to the black cherry centred 2017 Blueprint Argentinian Malbec (£7.99 at Waitrose and12.5%) with its aromatic combination of cinnamon, vanilla, limited tannin and gentle acidity but probably the greatest smoothness of all the options considered.
So, the other MidWeek Wines Seal of Approval award goes to 2015 Fairtrade Irresistible Malbec (£7.49 at the Co-op and12.5%) with its full, intense damson, blackberry and prune fruit, firm tannin, gentle acidity and contrasting dark chocolate depth and floral perfumes.
These two winners, in particular, give you lovely (but discernibly different) examples of what this well travelled grape variety does so well.
Best of the Rest
An impressive branded red
Because they often lack (to me) indispensible depth and texture, I seldom feature branded wine here but this Australian version amply compensates with boldly defined fruit and an excellent array of supplementary flavours.
So, do try the lightish, red cherry and red plum based 2016 Yellow Tail Merlot (£6 – instead of £7 until 20 March – at Sainsbury’s and 14%) with its gentle tannin, good acidity and supporting touches of vanilla, aniseed, cocoa, and baking spices.
A little more money but so worth it
Nevertheless, the style is excellent with tasty, but kindly priced, Burgundian influences – albeit a shade more Maconnais than Beaune.
There is, however, a developing toastiness with elements of caramel to 2016 Definition Chardonnay (£9.99 – with a single bottle price £2 higher – at Majestic and 13.5%) which perfectly complements the clean, soft apple, melon and white peach fruit built into its rounded depth and lively grapefruit acidity.
Using that fruity or flowery language
One of the best questions I have ever been asked was how wines acquire those flavours and aromas that nerdy wine folk (like me) delight in describing.
Of course, no one adds actual pineapple or elderberry elements into wine; their presence usually emerges from the winemaking process itself.
I often think of vines and grapes as the mynah birds of the plant kingdom. During the fermentation process, the compounds being produced often seem to mimic the characteristics of an almost infinite range of other plants.
Similarly, contact with wooden barrels during fermentation or maturation can add other flavours beyond those derived from the grapes themselves. Vanilla is a good example – but barrels are not its only source.
Wine writers latch on to those descriptors because the best way to convey the characteristics of something unknown is as a direct comparison with something familiar.
As a wine drinker, use all such words as a guide to how well what is described fits with wines you know you like.
For example if you like Marlborough sauvignon look out for references to “gooseberry” rather than the “apple or lemon” more likely to be found in the less assertive versions from France’s Loire Valley.
Equally, if you like lighter red wines, ones exhibiting “red cherry or red currant” flavours may be the ones for you. Hearty fare, by contrast, is more likely to offer components such as blackberry, mulberry or other darker fruits.
When you find a wine you like, remembering how it is described is a good way of helping to identify others that you may also enjoy.
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