Three-star wines

Tilia Malbec

A great Malbec for the price, offering abundant notes of ripe—but not overripe—cherry and plum, and a heady violet bouquet. In the background, there’s a slight minerality and a dusting of bittersweet cocoa. Well-balanced and not overly concentrated, this is an easy one to pair with food.

Artazuri Garnacha

With a nose that made one of us think of decaying wood on a forest floor, an acidic palate, and a bold sour cherry flavor, this Spanish Garnacha might be a little tough to appreciate, especially compared to the Borsao Garnacha we reviewed last week. But those who like their wines a little earthy—maybe even a little wild—will find much to appreciate here. Though at the top of our price range, the Artazuri earns three stars.

Borsao Garnacha

Until now, the 2009 vintage of this wine was, at $5.99, the least expensive wine to receive a three-star rating from us. Despite inflation in nearly every other consumer sector over the last year, the 2010 vintage of the Borsao still sells for $5.99. And, we are pleased to report, it is every bit the bargain that the 2009 was. (more…)

Luzon Jumilla Red Wine

Though a bit restrained immediately upon opening, after a short while the nose reveals a bright berry mix, licorice, tobacco, and some light minerality. On the palate, it’s mostly the same, with balanced acidity and lingering tannins.

Borsao Garnacha

The nose offers up massive amounts of bright fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. The fruit continues on the palate, followed by a floral finish. Though definitely in the New World style, it seems to be unoaked. A great value, and worth seeking out.

Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a return to form for Bogle, after the disappointing Zinfandel we reviewed last week. The nose offers a nice balance between dark red fruit and toasted oak. On the palate it’s medium bodied, with moderate tannins and a vanilla oak finish. Note: we paid $9.99 for this at Trader Joe’s, but you can find it for $8.99 at several other Southern California retailers, and even lower at a few.

Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc

Pretty much everything you want in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Plenty of gooseberry, citrus, and siltstone. The palate offers crisp acidity and enticing tropical fruit. (Note: we have recently seen the 2010 vintage in the stores. We hope it is as good as the 2009, but we have not yet tasted it.)

Oreana Winery Red Table Wine

A wine with a front label consisting of nothing more than a big, orange question mark does not seem promising. The back label tells a somewhat doubtful story of the wine’s origin: tanks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, originally intended to be bottled as single varietals, were accidentally blended. The question mark refers not to an unknown blend, but to the winemaker’s uncertainty whether this blend was the result of error or fate. Frankly, we don’t care. The nose is full of ripe, dark fruit, nutmeg, and vanilla. On the tongue, it’s almost jammy, with surprisingly assertive tannins. Fans of big, bold, super-ripe California Cabs will find this one a great value. (more…)

Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône

This is an easy-drinking Rhone blend from major negociant Perrin et Fils. It’s 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, and 10% Cinsault. The back label says the grapes came from both Chateau de Beaucastel’s vineyards and others in the Côtes du Rhône. The nose is slight, but not necessarily simple: we discovered mild fruit and floral notes, and even some woody and spicy notes. Maybe a tad thin on the tongue, but at $6.99, this is a bargain taste of the Rhone. The lighter style also makes this one more food-friendly than most current southern Rhone wines. Screwcap closure.

Trader Joe’s Reserve Syrah, Mendocino County

According to the bottle, the grapes for this Trader Joe’s Syrah were organically grown and came from a single vineyard in southern Mendocino County.  The nose is bursting with ripe berries, some spice, and even some floral notes. Upon opening, the taste is a bit aggressive; after a half hour or so, the flavor really mellows out. The taste doesn’t quite measure up to what’s promised by the nose, but it’s still very good, especially for this price.

[UPDATE — April 2013]

After cellaring a bottle of this vintage for more than two years, we can report that the ripe fruit that impressed us on our initial tasting remains at the forefront. Even better, the aggressiveness that we noted in our original review has completely disappeared. This one now tastes great right from the start. Though most inexpensive wine does not benefit from bottle aging, this wine proves the exception to the rule.

Picton Bay Sauvignon Blanc

We weren’t sure what to expect with this extremely pale Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. The first sniff revealed an abundance of tropical fruit, complemented by some light citrus notes. There wasn’t much in the way of nettle or green pepper aromas, though, which is what a lot of people look for in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But those who prefer the more fruit-forward style are likely to be pleased with this one. On the tongue, you get a bit of minerality (wet concrete?) that’s lacking in the nose, and the acidity is just about right. Though not the best sub-$10 NZ Sauvignon Blanc we’ve ever had, this is still a very good value.