Before this column took a nearly two month hiatus (sorry about that), we were in the midst of a series of Wine for the Rest of Us (WRU) blind tastings that offered further evidence—as if we needed more—that enjoyment of wine bears almost no correlation to price. And the fifth in the series of double blind tastings was no exception.
For whites, a $9 Italian pinot grigio edged out a high-scoring Washington state pinot gris (same grape) that averages $16 a bottle in good vintages. And in the blind comparison of red blends, yet another Concho Y Toro Casillero del Diablo wine that sells for less than $10 a bottle and a $12 Washington state blend crushed a well-regarded Bordeaux that scored 91 points from at least one influential wine critic.
Neither of the whites scored particularly well, but that may say more about the Tasting Panel’s preference for reds than the relative quality of these white wines, made from a conspicuously light-bodied and delicately flavored grape. (Pinot grigio is the Italian name for the grape variety known as pinot gris in France and elsewhere.)
Both Trattoria Busa Alla Torre da Lele Pinot Grigio 2011 (2.36 stars and purchased for $12*) and Waterbrook Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2012 (2.14 stars and supplied as a winery sample) were judged by the panel of seven tasters to be somewhat better than “drinkable” (see five-star rating scale below). They fared slightly better than Domaine de Bouscat Caduce 2009, a red Bordeaux blend that earned 91 points from James Suckling—formerly of Wine Spectator, who now publishes his reviews on his eponymous website, jamessuckling.com—but averaged just 2.0 stars from our Tasting Panel.
“Wonderful nose of blueberries with lemon rind and black cherries,” is how Suckling described the 2009 Bouscat Caduce, which was purchased from MacArthur Beverages on sale for $10.99 but generally retails for about $15 a bottle. “Full to medium body, with bright acidity and fine tannins. Hints of milk chocolate and spices underneath it all.”
“Makes my mouth pucker,” said one of our tasters. “Bitter middle, short finish,” wrote another.
Suckling recommended waiting until after 2015 to try the Bouscat Caduce. It’s possible our tasters would have enjoyed it more with a few more years of bottle age.
The top choice in the tasting—averaging 3.46 stars—was Columbia Crest Horse Haven Hills (H3) Les Chevaux 2010, a Bordeaux-style blend dominated by merlot, with cabernet sauvingon and syrah playing bit parts, that retails for as much as $15 a bottle, but we bought it at Montgomery County Liquor stores for just $12.69 a bottle, and it’s available for $12.99 at Total Wine in Virginia and Maryland.
“Supple and spicy, with a plush-textured, dark-hued, blackberry-rich mouthful lingering against creamy oak notes on the long and polished finish,” was Harvey Steiman’s description in the November 30 issue of Wine Spectator, scoring it 90 points. “Very powerful [with] a bit of Sweetarts,” wrote one of the WRU tasters. “Nice fruit and balance.”
The Columbia Crest blend just edged out Concho Y Toro Casillero del Diablo Winemaker’s Red Blend 2012 (sample), which earned a solid 3.29 stars from the WRU Tasting Panel. Casillero del Diablo is the ubiquitous inexpensive wine from Chile that costs as little as $7 a bottle and comes in varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot and others that repeatedly hold their own in our tastings. (See Tale of the tasting: $7 Chileans top pricier French wines.)
As always, Wine for the Rest of Us uses this five-star rating scale:
* 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?
“Sweet beginning, black cherry [and] a bit of tannin,” is how one taster described the Casillero del Diablo Winemaker’s Red Blend, awarding it a three-star rating. “I like this one,” wrote another who gave it four stars, as did another who just described the wine as a “positive experience.”
What more do you want from a wine that costs less than $10 a bottle?
* Purchased for $12 at Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape in Gaithersburg, but a more typical prices is $8.99 a bottle.
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