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It’s not often that the talk at my daughter’s primary school gate is about wine but this week was an exception. One of the mothers asked me if I’d heard about this wine that cost £4 and was the best in the world. Another mother had read about it in the papers. Best in the world and only £4. They seemed disappointed that I hadn’t tried it. The one time when being a wine writer should have come in useful and I’d failed. I had to try this wine.
It wasn’t hard to find out about it. The Independent, the Telegraph, the Huff Post, Marie Claire, Metro, City Am and the mighty Dorset Echo have all covered the La Moneda Malbec Reserva 2015 winning best in show at the Decanter World Wine Awards (click here to find out more about the award). It’s currently on sale for £4.37 a bottle (normally £5.75). Apparently such has been the stampede to obtain The Best Wine in the World that Asda’s website has crashed.
I spoke to the Asda press office and explained how I was losing credibility with the Blackheath mothers and they kindly sent me a bottle. I opened it with much excitement. Actually I didn’t. I opened it with a fair degree of scepticism. When I worked at Oddbins years ago, we often used to be surprised at the wines eg Bin 65 Chardonnay that won trophies at the IWC or the Decanter. Nevertheless we stocked up and they sold out.
So this Malbec then? Is it the best in the world under £15? No, I doubt it’s the best at Asda under £15. Instead it’s a well made clean tasting fruity wine that’s far far better than you’d expect for around £4. What I liked about it was its lowish alcohol (12.5%) and lack of pretension. There’s a tiny bit of vanilla suggesting some oak treatment but this is a wine that isn’t trying to taste like something more expensive. If, however, you’re expecting the best wine in the world, you are going to be disappointed.
My wife was not keen at all and didn’t even finish her glass but then she has expensive tastes. So all in all not a wine worth getting excited about but having tried it, at least I have saved some professional face at the school gates.
A few years back I met the late Sebastian Horsley for lunch at the Lorelei cafe in Soho. We were there to discuss publicity for his forthcoming memoir, ‘Dandy in the Underworld.’ He waved at the menu dismissively and said: ‘it doesn’t matter what you order here, it all tastes the same.’ I was beginning to feel the same about the wine at Majestic: no matter what I bought, it all tasted the same. It was as if Majestic were using the Winemerchant 2000 ® (originally developed by Laithwaite’s) whereby an entire world of wines can created from an industrial estate in Bedford. They start with a base wine and then add ‘Real Languedoc Garrique’ or ‘Classic Rioja-style’ vanilla extract.
Perhaps it was my fault for being tempted by their special offers. Chianti Riserva at only £5.99 really was too good to be true. I had tried asking the staff for recommendations but these always turned out to be equally lacklustre. Perhaps they had gauged me as one of those customers who like their wines ‘smooth’ and would be put off by anything too interesting. After one too many disappointments, I’d stopped visiting my local branch in Shoreditch. But then we ran out of everyday wine, it was too late for a Wine Society delivery so I went back.
There was some late 90s house music pumping out of the speakers. It was about noon. Over the din, I asked the manager to suggest something red, cheap and Southern French and he suggested this malbec (I know more malbec, it’s as if I’m in the pay of the powerful malbec lobby.) This wine is all about fragrance, it’s floral, ripe and not heavy, it takes well to a light chilling, but there’s also a firmness at the end to let you know that you’re in Gascony. It’s made by a well-known Cahors producer but for reasons known only to the French it’s a Cotes du Lot rather than a Cahors. It’s not a complicated wine so I can’t think of anymore to say about it except buy lots and drink. Oh and it’s on special offer for only £6.99 a bottle. Sometimes those offers aren’t too good to be true.
Just in case anyone’s lawyers are reading I’m not claiming that Laithwaite’s and Majestic wines are concocted on an industrial estate in Bedford only that some of them taste as if they are.
My late year resolution is to be more reactive to what’s going on in the wine world (and less reactionary towards everything else). If the main topic of debate is ‘whither the natural cork’ then I’m going to chip in with my tuppence worth. This also means that my recommendations will occasionally coincide with wines that are on offer.
Last night I opened a bottle of Weinert Carrascal 2007 when my old friend , Tom, came over for supper. He’s fond of wines that are a little bit stinky, wines with a bit of character but that don’t cost the earth. Argentina is not normally a happy hunting ground for such things. In my, admittedly rather limited experience, Argentine wines tend to be very ripe and sleek, very influenced by top French oenologist Michel Rolland, but not terribly exciting. It’s a shame because I used to drink a lot of Argentine wines in the early 00s. To my untutored palate they had a character that their Chilean cousins lacked. Now the two countries seem to have swapped places with the Chileans making some distinctive wines whilst the Argentines make soupy monsters in the international style.
At Cavas de Weinert they do things differently. All wines are aged in enormous old oak barrels and only released when ready to drink. They’re more like an old-school rioja bodega than a sleek new world winery. The wines are also absurdly cheap. I paid £7.50 for the Carrascal 07 – a blend of Cabernet, Malbec and Merlot – from the Wine Society, Majestic currently have the 06 on offer for £6.49 when you buy two. The one we had last night smelled damp and woody, a little like an old cellar. It tasted leathery but with masses of very ripe fruit. There quite a bit of tannic grip but age has mellowed it. It reminded me simultaneously of a nice claret and a traditional Chianti Riserva from a good producer only with much more fruit. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s a lot of wine for the money. Tom is now calling it the Funky Mendoza which makes it sound like a dance craze from the 60s.
Please feel free to write in to contradict me on Argentine wines.