February 2, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2018 issue
New world blended reds
Words Albert Cilia-Vincenti
Our blind-tasting wine club recently chose the theme of blended New World reds, and found some bottles with significant bottle-age. Some of our members may still believe the “fake news”, originally spread by the Old World, that New World wines are not age-worthy and go downhill rapidly after a few years in bottle. Members may be unaware that the Bordeaux and Californian reds that were blind-tasted in the famous (or infamous?) so-called “Judgement of Paris” of 1976 (organized by Steven Spurrier, now Chairman of Decanter), were blind-tasted again at 10 years, 20 years and 30 years after the 1976 event. After 30 years, the Ridge Vineyards Montebello came top blind-tasted in London by the likes of Steven Spurrier, Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, among others. Just goes to show that the notion of the Old World being always tops for longevity is more akin to industrial marketing “fake news”. By the way, we tasted a Ridge Montebello 2006 a few years ago in a December Special and it wasn’t my favourite red – too much coconut aromas and flavours – perhaps they disappear with age.
This session’s candidates came from wines we had got from overseas and reserved (and some almost forgotten) for the club, two of which were 14 years old. Constantia Glen Three 2008 (14%; €17) from South Africa was by far the first preference for the majority. Its average score of almost 17/20 represents one of the highest scores we’ve recorded. For me it had by far the best nose, an enchanting deep perfume combined with a balanced intense palate with good length. It turns out to be also the best value wine in this group – not an unusual finding in our blind tastings that the least expensive wine gets first preference. It is a Bordeaux blend, with Merlot (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon (28%) and Cabernet Franc (15%). For what it’s worth, the international scoring of this wine is an average 89/100. The Constantia estate near Cape Town was established in 1685 but in the 1860s phylloxera wreaked havoc and the vineyards were largely forgotten till the 1980s.
Emiliana’s Coyam 2004 (14.5%; €26) from Chile was the membership’s second preference, and also mine. It is a blend of Syrah (38%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Carmenere (21%), Merlot (17%) and a little Petit Verdot (2%) and Mourvedre (1%). I found a plumy nose of very ripe grapes matched with a lovely fruity balanced palate with average length. International average score is 90/100.
BenMarco’s Expresivo 2004 (14.5%; €24) from Argentina is produced by vineyard manager Pedro Marchevsky and his winemaker wife Susana Balbo (not Roberto’s sister but another Balbo that escaped from Sicily). This is a blend of Malbec (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Syrah (19%), Bonarda (10%) and Merlot (5%). This was scored into third preference by the membership (also by myself) but in fact quite close to the Coyam. I thought it had a refined nose, lovely palate with good acidity and good length. International average score is 90/100.
Then comes the big surprise of the session. Te Mata Estate’s Coleraine 2010 (14%; €64) from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This estate was established in 1896 and Coleraine was first produced in 1982. This wine is supposed to be New Zealand’s most famous red (with a price to match) and is internationally scored an average of 93/100. However, practically all of us scored it bottom preference in this group. I thought it had no better than a faint nose and a still too acidic palate – a disappointing “nothing to write home about”. Which just goes to show, yet again, that international critic scores are not the oracle – you need to taste and decide for yourself what you like and what money you wish to pay for that level of your perceived quality.