Sometimes finishing fourth in a four-horse race isn’t quite the “epic fail” you might think.
In the first of what will hopefully be weekly(ish) gatherings of the Wine for the Rest of Us Tasting panel, a double blind tasting of South American reds yielded a clear favorite. But second, third and fourth place finishers were separated by barely a quarter of a star (on a five-star scale).
The winner was the ringer among the four wines—Graffigna Malbec Grand Reserve 2010, which ranges in price from about $17 to $23 a bottle and averages $20 a bottle, according to wine-searcher.com. It averaged a three-star rating from the panel of nine tasters (casual, everyday wine drinkers; not a professional palate among them). But as is typical of the better wines in these blind tastings, its scores were all over the map; one third of the tasters gave it only two stars, while another three awarded it four stars.
As you might expect, the least expensive wine in the bunch—Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Merlot 2011, which frequently goes on sale for as little as $6.99 (like at Pine Orchard Wine in Ellicott City)—was the panel’s least favorite, but with a respectable average score of 2.56 stars. It was barely edged by the third-place finisher— Elsa Bianchi Malbec 2012—with an average rating of 2.69 stars and the second-place wine—Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Malbec 2011—that earned 2.78 stars.
The Wine for the Rest of Us five-star rating scale is as follows:
* Yuk, where’s the spit bucket?
** Drinkable, but I don’t need another taste, thanks. …
*** I like this, please fill my glass.
**** I love it; I’d buy a bottle if it’s less than $20.
***** This one’s a ringer; what’s this $35 bottle doing at this two-bit tasting?
Most notable about the Casillero del Diablo’s last-place finish—aside from how close its average score was to the more expensive wines (both the Elsa Bianchi and the Gouguenhiem range from $9 to $12 a bottle)—was the consistency of the scores. Five of the tasters—more than half—liked the wine, rating it three stars, while the other four panelists all awarded it two stars. Both the Elsa Bianchi and the Gouguenhiem had at least one taster looking for the spit bucket (one star). And even the $20 Graffigna failed to impress four tasters who rated it less than three stars, the same number who gave the $7 Casillero del Diablo just two stars.
Though you can’t really draw sweeping conclusions from our sample size of just nine blind tasters, it’s clear from the cumulative experience of this and previous tastings that more expensive wines tend to be appreciated by some palates but disliked by others, as long as the well-documented placebo effect of a wine’s price tag is eliminated. It’s also true that $7 bottles are rarely mistaken for really expensive wine, though they are frequently well-made wines that most people like and are perfect for everyday drinking.
Concha Y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Reserva Malbec is just such a wine. The 2011 vintage we tasted earned a Bronze Medal in Decanter magazine’s World Wine Awards, describing it as a “Great value” at £7.99 ($12). “Glossy and rounded with juicy, floral damson aromas and leathery, fully-loaded black fruits.”
At least one of our tasters agreed, describing it as having “better balance than #1 [Graffigna]” with “more fruit.”
In the coming weeks we’ll try more from the entry-level label of Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine producer by volume. “Remarkably,” wrote Jay Miller in the February 2012 issue Wine Advocate, “they are also one of the quality leaders and innovators leading the country forward.”
Here’s to some good $7 bottles of wine.
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