Now that the wandering Winos are back from Hawaii, it’s time to get back into some serious tasting. The auspicious arrival at my apartment of a handful of thirsty youngsters on a recent Friday evening prompted me to break out a few bottles sent our way by the good people at the Cellar Door.
The Winos find nothing more thrilling than scouring the ranks of budget-priced bottles and attempting to unearth hidden gems. This week’s lineup was a selection of wines from down south: Argentina, Australia, and Spain (southern part of Europe = south enough to fit into this makeshift theme).
First up was the 2006 E Minor Chardonnay (Barossa Valley), landing in the $9 – $12 range. We enjoyed a pretty dynamic nose on this one: Jason got “a cross between lemon and orange,” Jordan got guava, and Kate got cilantro. I noted a nice mineral/metallic element, and Noah picked up some cheesy action, which he applauded. The palate was broad and mouth-coating, but regrettably few of the fruit flavors we’d enjoyed on the nose made appearances here, with the exception of a whole lot of lemon. Sasha called it “a little sour,” and invoked parsnips, to which Kate replied that it had an acerbic “vegetable drawer” character. Several of us thought it had a nice creamy element to it, and liked the crisp acid on the finish, but most of us found it just a little too predominantly lemon.
Our first red was the 2006 Red Guitar “Old Vine” Tempranillo Garnacha (Navarra, Spain), which seems to cost about $11. (We’d previously enjoyed the label-mate rosé at our Poolside Pink tasting.) Another expressive nose on this one, featuring cherry, asphalt, and dried plum; Noah got tar, and Sasha got “legitimate cranberry juice” (rather than that “cocktail” nonsense). But the prize for most creative description goes to Jason, who offered the following: “y’know that kind of coffee where the monkey eats the coffee bean and then poops them out? This smells like he did that to a Jolly Rancher.” Thanks, Jason.
The palate, fortunately, didn’t inspire any such off-color comments; Sasha got nutmeg, “almost like cocoa,” and Jason got cranberry and cherry. “There’s prune in there,” offered Noah, and Jordan applauded the nice medium body and powdery tannins. The Winos were split on the results: Jason called it a solid wine for $11, but Sasha didn’t care for it, and Doug called it “nasty and acidic.”
Third in the order was the 2006 Diseño Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina), which will run you about $12. This was a Wine Spectator Editor’s Pick earlier this year, and it wound up being our favorite wine in the tasting. Jason got some cayenne pepper on the nose, while I appreciated some bing cherry and smoke. The palate was extremely powdery, with dark chocolate flavors all over the solid medium body. There was some good berry action in there as well: Kate got blueberry, and I dug out some cranberry. Wine Spectator gave this little bargain ‘bec an 86, but the Winos seemed to peg this one a point or two higher. A real winner.
We moved on to our oldest wine of the evening, the 2004 Chateau Reynella Grenache (McLaren Vale). The group enjoyed a nice dark nose on this one; Noah got coffee grounds, Sasha picked up some black licorice, and Jason got milk chocolate with berries. Moving on to the palate, Sasha and Doug applauded the big, healthy tannins, while Jason got straight-up mocha and called it a “nice, solid Grenache!” This was also a Wine Spectator Editor’s Pick a few months ago, and it was at least as well-received by the Winos as the Malbec; however, at a price of $23, it just wasn’t quite the same value. Max would buy it if he were “a little bit wealthier,” and had appreciated the hearty mouthfeel without any intrusive tannic or acidic qualities. This Grenache was appreciated all around, and represents a safe bet for a hearty Aussie red in the low-$20’s range.
We ended our evening by coming around full-circle to the 2005 E Minor Shiraz (Barossa Valley), which offered up a sarsaparilla nose and some blueberry notes (Max claimed it was straight up blueberry pie). Jason picked up a medicinal character, but I went a different direction, and thought it smelled something like that Old El Paso taco mix that you blend in with your cooked hamburger. The palate provoked responses in the “spicy” and “sour” arenas; Jordan even picked up some lemon, and Noah some lime. I thought it tended towards unripe blackberry, and I appreciated the spicy tannins. Max liked the body, but lamented the prevalence of structural elements and the comparative lack of fruit-forwardness. Response was mixed: Jason (apparently in a good mood tonight) called it a worthy buy for $12, while Sasha and Erik were decidedly not on board.
The Winos are always game to taste through a flight of low- to moderately-priced bottles in search of one of those affordable ringers. It’s great to have your go-to “daily drinker,” but it also never hurts to add some solid variety to your kitchen’s cheap-wine cabinet, which is why discovering bottles like the Diseño is such a treat. If you have some suggestions for delicious wines in the $12-and-under category, leave us some love below.
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005