I generally try to keep my comments positive in this space (with varying degrees of success), but as I find myself in the rather dark and dreary mid-west today, I thought I would pull together a few wines that, for one reason or another, really got me a bit fired up this morning.
This first wine causes just a mild irritant: “the other 15% is a guarded secret that only the winemaker knows.” Come on. I am no winemaker, but 15% of a blend is practically a rounding error. Unless you are pumping in coca-cola or heroin (same thing?), why the need to keep it such a secret?
2019 Viu Manent Malbec Secreto, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Retail $18. Under DIAM3. 85% Malbec, “the other 15% is a guarded secret that only the winemaker knows.” A juicy, fun wine from a family-run Chilean winery that was established in the 1930s, loaded with bright red and black fruit, a touch of earth, and plenty of spice. Look, this is not my style of wine by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a wine that I am sure many would enjoy. So for that, I put this firmly in the “Very Good” category. Very Good. 89 Points.
This second wine again is only slightly bothersome. As I mention in the note, the whole “un-oaked” movement baffles me and to me just seems like a bit of over-marketing. What I find a bit hilarious is that River Road has this un-Oaked Chard, a Reserve un-Oaked Chard, and a Double-Oaked Chard. It might be time to choose a lane.
2020 River Road Family Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay Un-Oaked, California: Retail $16. Under screwcap. Before we get started on the wine, I don’t understand the whole “un-oaked Chardonnay” thing. Sure, there are times, mostly in California, when oak is used with a very heavy hand on one of the world’s most popular white varieties, but does that mean the pendulum must swing all the way back to un-oaked? Well, as for this wine, I do *like* it; there is good fruit, ample acidity, and even some depth. My only gripe is that it comes off as a bit over-ripe and therefore “sweet” (I could not find the RS on this wine). You know? This has its place but personally, I’d like to see less ripeness and, well, the judicious use of oak. Very Good. 89 Points.
These next two wines both have really unnecessarily heavy bottles, probably my biggest issue in the wine industry today. Heavy bottles serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. The only reason they exist is so that the producer can dupe the consumer into thinking that the wine must be of high quality. So my statement to users of heavy bottles? Either your wine is not very good and you should stop kidding yourself (and the rest of us) by using heavy glass or, better yet, you should use lighter glass and hire a better PR firm.
What makes these two particular wines even more maddening? They both claim right on the label that they are in some way “better” for the environment. Really? If you cared so much for the planet, the wines would not be in these atmosphere-destroying bottles.
2018 Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Franc Gaia, Gualtallary Vineyards, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina: Retail $30. B.A.B. DIAM 5 closure. 100% Cabernet Franc (Organic grapes). I first sampled this wine in February of 2021, but this somehow found its way into my sample pile again. The wine itself is delightful; fairly dark in the glass with loads of red and dark berry fruit, black pepper, dark earth, and just the slightest hint of green pepper (which I love). The palate is equally inviting with all that intense fruit upfront, followed by a wave of acidity, and finishing with some subtle tannins. Lovely. And over the years of trying Domaine Bousquet, I have been really impressed with their portfolio and commitment to producing great wines at affordable prices. But all this glass? Really?? Take the “Organic Grapes” off the label if you are going to use this behemoth of a bottle as it’s just insulting to our collective intelligence. Excellent. 90 Points.
2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Retail $24. B.A.B. Under cork. 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carmenère, 3% Petit Verdot. Ugh. Another wine that is “Certified Sustainable” but has a stupidly heavy bottle that seems more suited for serving as a weapon in a felony than an adornment for the dinner table. Seriously? All the good done by producing a “sustainable wine” (whatever that means) was undone by putting it in a bottle that is likely responsible for thousands of slipped disks around the world. The wine? I guess I should write about it (although I really don’t want to). It is actually quite good: fruity, balanced, layered, and even introspective. But holy crap, that bottle. Excellent. 91 Points.
These last two wines did not tick me off in any way whatsoever, in fact, they were delightful. But I am woefully behind in sampling wines and I need to catch up.
2019 Viña Koyle Carménère Gran Reserva, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Retail $15. 83% Carmenère, 10% Tempranillo, 3% Petit Verdot. Under DIAM5. I have stated countless times that some of the best values in wine (particularly red) come from Chile and this is no exception. Likely on the shelf at slightly north of ten bucks, this relatively light in color (given the varieties involved) Carmenère has oodles of dark fruit, a decided meatiness, and a bit of campfire smoke. Rich and fruity, this really is a delightful quaff and paired with some Texas barbecue? Yowza. Very Good. 89 Points.
2017 Laetitia Winery Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, CA: Retail $25. Under screwcap. Laetitia started as the North American outpost for famed champagne producer Deutz, but is now a part of Vintage Wine Estates, which owns several dozen other brands. This Pinot is fruity, fun, and straightforward with great Bing cherry, dark earth, and a bit of spice. Laetitia was one of my first introductions to American sparkling wine and while they still excel in that category, their still wines are also top-notch. This entry-level Pinot offers plenty of varietally correct goodness and Central Coast sunshine without breaking the bank. Very Good. Very Good. 89 Points.