2007-02-15 / Scene

Best wine buys of the year: Part II — Red

Dave Ethridge

The selection of red wines that appeared on the Best Buys lists of the major wine magazines this year was the most diverse yet. They came from around the world; Argentina, Australia, France, Italy, Greece, South Africa, and Chile, but few from the United States. With the over-abundance of wine in the world due to huge vintages the past few years, wine producers have had to reduce prices and export more.
For us, the consumers, that has brought more wine to our retailers and at lower costs. That is, everywhere except for the wine producers in the U.S. Their prices have held fairly steady and at times, it seems that quality has been sacrificed. The result: foreign wines have dominated the lower-price segment of the market.
The diversity is not only in country of origin, it also is true in grape varieties. This year we saw few Cabernet Sauvignons make the list. Instead, grape varieties like Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noirs were in greater number, but the most surprising increase was in the wines made from blends of several varieties.
Blended wines have long been produced in France, Australia and Italy, and these delightful blends added to the near sweep of the red wine category this year. Blending helps the winemaker produce a wine that can be fruity, rich, deep in color, and well-balanced, where wines of just one grape variety are often lacking in one or more of these attributes.
As with the white wines in the previous column, we’ve narrowed the 56 red wines that made the combined list of Best Buys from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wines & Spirits and other wine magazines to our Top-Ten Red Wine Best Buys:

Top-Ten Red Wine Best Buys
1. Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Merlot 2003, Washington, $12-14; available at most wine retail locations. Columbia Crest just keeps doing Merlot right, year after year. Rich and fruity, this is classic Merlot; perfect with steak, roast beef and stews.
2. Falesco Umbria Vitiano 2004, Italy, $12-13; Lapeer Wine & Spirits, Oxford Wines, Oliver T’s. One of those blends, based on the Tuscan Sangiovese grape but with other varieties helping to smooth this one out. Italian pastas and pizza are made for this wine.
3. Jacob’s Creek South Australia Shiraz Reserve 2003, $14-15; Kroger, Oxford Wines, Oliver T’s. An outstanding Australian Shiraz, particularly at this price. This one goes with rich red meat, like BBQ, ribs and grilled steak!
4. Georges Duboeuf Julienas, Flower Label, 2005, France, $13-14; Aremia’s, Oxford Wines. One of the major Beaujolais villages, Julienas is a soft, red cherry-like wine that is easy to drink and full of pleasure. This is a wine I like with hamburgers and meatloaf, but is elegant enough for bigger fare.
5. Graffigna Pedernal Valley Malbec 2004, Argentina, $8-10; Oxford Wines. Produced at over 4,000 feet altitude, the cool nights make this a vibrant, berry-flavored, tannic wine from the Malbec grape variety: serve with rich red meats.
6. Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Shiraz 2002, $13-15; Oxford Wines, Oliver T’s. Another outstanding wine from Columbia Crest. Tart, tangy, loaded with bramble-berry flavors, shows amazing depth for this price range. Perfect with tomato-sauce pastas and pizza.
7. Los Vascos Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Chile, $11-13. A ripe, smoky Cabernet with black plum and cassis aromas, well-balanced and with a touch of oak on the finish. Perfect with roasts and stews, or grilled steak.
8. Marqués de Riscal Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castillo y León 2004, Spain, $10-11; Oxford Wine & Beverage, Aremia’s and Oliver T’s in Grand Blanc. This is a bold, lush, meaty wine from the grape variety that produces the great Rioja wines with the same smoky finish you expect.
9. Robertson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, South Africa, $10-11: Lapeer Wine & Spirits, Metamora Foodland, Oxford Wines. Hints of herbs, cassis, eucalyptus, chocolate and tobacco on the nose and a nice lingering finish. As with other Cabernets, this wine is perfect with rich red meats.
10. Concha y Toro Casillero del Diable Carmenère, Chile, $12-13; Oxford Wines, Oliver T’s. The Carmenère grape variety is much like Merlot, producing a full-bodied, juicy, fresh wine with plum and berry aromas. Once again, this one goes best with red meats.
Other red Best Buys you might want to look for include Lindemans Bin 99 SE Australia Pinot Noir 2005, Brancott Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 from New Zealand, Dancing Bull California Merlot 2004, Meridian Central Coast Pinot Noir and Smoking Loon California Syrah.
Several rosés made the Best Buys lists, but few were available in our area; most came from Europe and aren’t carried here, or only are available in summer. Two from the list are quite notable: Muga Rioja Rosé 2005, Spain, $13; Oxford Wines, and one from California, Ca’ del Solo Big House Pink 2004, $10-12; Lapeer Wine & Spirits and Oxford Wines. Both are refreshingly dry, nice fruity flavors, perfect for lighter foods and picnics.
Hopefully this list of red wines and the list of white wines in the previous column will provide you with lots of good wine shopping. If you don’t find one or more of these on the shelves of your favorite wine retailer, ask for them — they’re all available in Michigan.
Dave Ethridge is a nationally known wine writer, certified wine judge, and the Director of the Lapeer Chapter of Tasters Guild International.

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