Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: New World
The usual mixture of styles, and a mixed bag of results too, with harsh criticism from the judges, but also more Gold Listed wines than ever before
Let’s be charitable and say that this has always been something of a curate’s egg of a category. More bluntly, in the past, tasters have been left both baffled and disheartened by some of the flights of wine that have confronted them in the Other Reds section, with only a few rays of light in the gloom.
To be fair, this category is a fairly broad church, taking in everything from native Italian grapes to odd blends of classic varietals (Cabernet/Mourvèdre anyone?) and regional classics like Pinotage and Zinfandel. So it’s not an easy set of wines to taste.
But still, there have been repeated criticisms over the last three years about alcohol levels, lack of balance in the wines, heavy handed use of oak and an absence of finesse in general, with size often felt to be more important to the winemakers than character.
‘This was our worst flight,’ said team leader Caspar Auchterlonie. ‘We did find some nice wines that were worth putting through, but the bad ones were really bad and overall they weren’t especially good value for money.’
So much for the bad news. The good news this year is that, while the same criticisms pretty much reappeared word for word once again, there were obviously more decent wines in 2009, with more wines making the Gold List this year than in the previous two years put together.
Also, it was interesting this year that the tasters managed to find a decent number of wines under the £8 mark – the area at which, frankly, you’d expect this section to deliver, but at which in the past it’s rather disappointed. Sure, two of the three Gold Listed wines were over a tenner, but the Shortlist had a good range of the sort of well-priced wines that ought to have restaurants pricking up their ears.
As The French Table’s Sarah Guignard put it, ‘They did better in the £6-8 range and that’s a good one to work with.’
In other words, while the hit rate in this section was lower than in others, there were more decent wines put through this year than in the past, and at a more saleable price.
When it got to the higher prices, there wasn’t enough with the ‘wow factor’. And you need that so you can recommend it, otherwise the customer won’t go
for it. Sarah Guignard, The French Table
A consistent failing was confection rather than genuine fruit. Often wines were baked and fuzzy with too much oak. Louise Gordon, The Westbury
Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Pinotage 2007, Stellenbosch, South Africa
£5.70 @ Matthew Clark
Winegummy, with blackberry cedar and tobacco, at least one taster thought this might be an Aussie Shiraz, for the way in which it delivers a wallop of ripe juice on the palate. ‘Soft fruits, ripe tannins and good length,’ said Will Buckland.
Edmeades Mendocino Zinfandel 2006, Jackson Family Wines, Mendocino, California, USA
£10.11 @ John E Fells & Sons
Perfumed raspberry jam overlaid with a gentle spiciness. An easy-drinking style, but there’s good tannin here, too, and it would perform well with food, particularly, the panel felt, pork belly or lamb.
Liguai 2006, Vina Perez Cruz, Maipo Valley, Chile
£14.98 @ Novum Wines
Rounded, full and lingering. Plenty of warm-climate dark-fruit (Cabernet?) sweetness, leavened with a winsome eucalyptal note and coffee-roast oak. ‘Perfect with roast partridge,’ opined Roger Jones, while the more down-home Angus McNab went for lamb, beef or venison.
Pizzorno Don Prospero Tannat 2004, Canelon Chico, Uruguay
£5.68 @ Barwell & Jones Ltd
Pepper, plums and black fruits. Quite leafy, but lively, too, with a dry, spicy palate.
La Puerta Bonarda Reserva 2006, Valle De La Puerta, Famatina Valley, Argentina
£6.35 @ Patriarche Wine Agencies
Black fruit, brambly and spicy, it’s ripe but nonetheless quite fresh on the palate with a long finish.
Rosso Classic 2006, Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco, Sonoma Valley, California, USA
£7.92 @ Mentzendorff & Co Ltd
Plummy and smoky, with sweet morello cherry topnotes, this is mid-weight, but with good length and a soft finish.
Sonoma Zinfandel 2006, Sebastiani, California, USA
£8.24 @ Berkmann Wine Cellars
Juicy, sweet ripe-berry attack, with a warm, spicy twist of liquorice on the mid-palate. Finish is smoky-sweet. ‘Concentrated, ripe and persistent,’ said Kelvin McCabe.
Eikendal Classique 2005, Stellenbosch, South Africa
£10.90 @ Barwell & Jones Ltd
Smoky and earthy, with deep, dark, black figgy fruits and firm tannins. ‘Slightly austere,’ warned Laura Rhys. ‘But it will age.’
Altazor 2006, Undurraga, Maipo Valley, Chile
£24.99 @ De Bortoli (UK) Ltd
Big sweet red fruits with an attractive sour, spicy lick of liquorice and menthol on the mid-palate. A really attractive wine that only missed out on the Gold List for reasons of price.