Recently I reviewed two vastly different wines that suffered from a similarly horrible problem: they tasted like utter garbage, as if someone had bottled the water used to put out a dumpster fire.
The first was a Trapiche Varietales Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Argentina. I’d reviewed Trapiche before with mixed results (here, here and here), but the “Varietales” seemed like it might be interesting. The odd color appeared to hint that Trapiche was using SB to experiment with the “orange wine” idea, as the color was… well … orange. But the flavor was nothing less than horrid. It reeked of gasoline of prune juice. Orange wine has a quirky flavor profile, with some saying it invokes wood varnish, but this was not that. Something entirely different, and entirely horrible.
The next was another Argentino, this one La Rural Pequeña Vasija Malbec Syrah 2017. This one smelled and tasted exactly like burned pea soup, which if you’ve ever burned pea soup you know it not only ruins the smell of your house for a week, but you have to throw the pot out afterward because there’s no getting rid of the taste.
A day later I realized something. The two wines could not be more different, other than their country of origin. But clearly Argentina produces fantastic wine, so that’s not it. Instead, I remembered they were both impulse buys at the large Peruvian Sam’s Club knockoff, Makro. Makro has a small and unimpressive wine section that usually features the syrupy garbage that passes for wine here, often at a few bucks a bottle, but with a few occasionally nice (if also low priced) sparkling wines. It’s not a place you can rely on to buy anything of value, but I had just gotten off a stomach bug and hadn’t tasted anything in weeks, so I was not thinking straight. I bought the Trapiche and the Pequeña Vasija together.
I also now remember how irritating it is to shop at Makro because the place isn’t air-conditioned. It’s a giant warehouse store — again, much like Sam’s Club — but they don’t have the money to cool it properly, so the inside runs at least 80-85 degrees on cool days. Often, when shopping, I have to dip into the employees-only frozen locker just to cool off before I can finish shopping there. This same problem is noticeable at any of the typical “liquor stores” in Peru, which nearly never have A/C, and have wines sitting on the shelves often for years. The two higher end wine shops, Almendariz and Via Venum, do it right: they are properly air-conditoned, have chilled wine fridges for some ready-to-drink whites, and a walk-in “cellar” with temperature controls for the reds. But anywhere else, you’re likely to get wine that’s been exposed to 90+ degrees F for days, weeks or even years.
That has to be the explanation. Both the Trapiche and the Pequeña Vasija were probably sitting in the Makro shelves for weeks, at least, at impossible temperatures. You can’t be sure, either, how they were shipped; often wine is delivered to such store in the back of open pickup trucks, driving under the hot Peru sun.
Americans may not have this problem, but they need to watch out for it anyway. If the store’s temperature isn’t right for storing wine, you shouldn’t buy your wine there. You’re likely to find yourself drinking burned pea soup.
It was slow going last year, with a struggle to find some 5-star winners until mid-year, but 2018 hit the road running. The very first wine tasted nailed a coveted cinco!
Meet the Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenère 2013 from Chile, a budget carmy that will absolutely defy your ability to suss out the price by taste alone, and which truly proves we continue to live in the Golden Age of Wine. No longer must you worry about spending a fortune to have an outstanding glass, and this Carmenère proves it.
Here, smoke is the leading note, but not so much that you feel you’re drinking this over a barbecue pit, so don’t worry. It’s subtle, but definitely makes itself known in both the nose and tongue. From there, it’s fruity goodness with low sugar, all dark berries and silky smooth tannins. Paired well with a spicy Italian dish, but drank equally well by itself during another occasion.
Learn more by visiting the Errazuriz website here.
The third annual Winepisser Best Wine Award goes to Alvear’s Pedro Ximénez de Añada 2014, a fantastic dessert wine that my original review boldly claimed didn’t need dessert because it was the dessert.
Let’s get this out of the way first, as I am sure some wine snobs are shocked — shocked, I say! — that a dessert wine could beat out a fantastic assortment of reds and whites tasted over the course of an entire year. I am not a fan of sweet wines unless they are specifically intended for dessert or as an aperitif. I prefer my day wines dry, and my after-dinner wines any way they might best accent the plate I just ate. I am a fan of icewine, for sure, as well as port. But if I pick up a bottle of Peruvian malbec and find it tastes like maple syrup, I will gag, spit and write a scathing review, in that order.
There’s a place for sugar. I get that.
But good lord, man, this Pedro Ximenez is just astounding. The sugar content is insane, for sure, but never have I had a wine this sweet that avoided all the usual tropes, and one you’d be hardpressed to label “saccharine” or “cloying.” Yes, you’ll have to drink this after dinner. Yes, you will have to sip it (it’s packing a whopping 17% alcohol. Yes, you’ll have to break out the tiny glasses. No, you won’t want to eat a white cake with this at the same time.
If you do it right — serve it after a dinner, especially a meaty one, and serve it by itself — your guests will be enthralled. They will ask you what it is, where you bought it, and how many virgins you threw into a volcano to make it. It’s that good.
When I encounter a glass like this, my first tendency is to bark, “Que brujeria es esta?” In this case, we must go to the Alvear website to glean the details of said witchcraft:
“The name tells you all about this wine’s origin: this sweet young wine is obtained through drying the Pedro Ximenez grapes on mats in the sun. It is the best way of bringing an intense Andalusian summer sun to your table from a single harvest. The wine is aged in the traditional earthenware jars, tinajas, where it is left for 12 months.”
Despite the poor choice of wording on the Alvear website indicating it tastes like raisins, this is not quite true. I am keenly aware of sweet wines that make me suspect they were made by Sun-Maid, and this wine is not cursed with this problem. The flavors are not raisiny, but something quite different. Alvear isn’t kidding when they say it has a slight citric after-kick; it’s very faint, but totally changes the overall flavor. Fantastic!
You can read the original review of this fantastic offering from Alvear here. To visit the Alvear website, go to www.alevear.es, but you can find the Pedro Ximenez Anada page here. To see who the final contestants were in 2017’s Winepisser Best Wine race, click here.
To read who won the 2017 Worst Wine Award, click here.
For the past two years, Winepisser has reveled in its negative reviews of wines — hell, snark is in our site’s name — but we hadn’t given the really terrible wines their due at the end of the year, during award season. This year we launch a new tradition: the annual Winepisser Worst Wine Award.
For 2017, I’m happy to announce — and I mean that, I am happy to, since this wine totally deserves all the bile and revulsion one can muster — that the 2017 Winepisser Worst Wine Award goes to Franclin Delgado Castilla Cavas de Caral 2015 from Peru.
First of all, it’s no confidence builder when you can’t be sure the label on the wine is even spelled right. The 2015 bottle I had was — or at least I could swear from memory it was — spelled “Franclin Delgado.” But no search results come up for it, spelled that way. Instead, import records from Peruvian searches show something called Flanklin Delgado, and others still Franklin. So who knows what the hell it’s called, but we do know the war criminals who make this stuff have a Facebook page, anyway.
You know you have a horrible wine if everyone at the wedding where it’s served chooses to remain totally sober, rather than touch the stuff. That’s where I encountered this filth-laden basura, at a wedding in downtown Lima. When I smelled it, I thought someone had just rubbed the glass in horse shit. I checked… that smell was coming from the bottle, not the glass. I looked around: sure enough, people were scrunching their noses, and entire bottles of the stuff sat untouched … for the entire evening! A friend of mine, a Peruvian attorney and wine snob, drank it, but it was his sister’s wedding and I suspect he didn’t want to insult the bride’s father for apparently buying wine from a horse stable, rather than a liquor store.
I am not kidding. The reek of this wine was a combination of gasoline and horse shit. It was the only wine that ranked a 0.5 in my reviews all year, and possibly the only one that got ranked that low… ever.
It’s not a surprise this comes from Peru, mind you. Peru just doesn’t seem to get it; they have a few limited areas with promising terroir, but the people here seem to be utterly clueless on winemaking, and the citizenry are just not wine-aware enough to care. The level of average wine knowledge in Peru goes like this: “sweet wines are for women, dry wines are for men.” And then the men drink all the sweet wine anyway. And, by the way, Boone’s Farm is sold as a “dry import” here in Peru.
Peru isn’t all horrible, though, and shows some promise. A chenin blanc from Ica won five stars last year, and remains in my wine cooler as the standby white to serve for friends and family who may not be too fussy. I love the stuff, even though I do suspect it’s being bottled for Peru, and not necessarily grown here.
I’m not sure what it will take to bring Peru up to speed with even 2nd tier wine producing nations, and it’s frustrating since we have Chile, Argentina and Uruguay so close as neighbors. But for now, Peru is a producer of largely junk wines. The pisco’s good, at least.
Runners up for Worst Wine included the horrid Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, which I said was like “mule urine”; a Château Baulac Dodijos Sauternes 2012, which I said tasted like your dad’s old photochemicals; Bodegas Santa Ana Caracter Shiraz-Malbec 2016, which tasted like “acid mixed with carcass”; and Apothic White, which I said tasted like “artificial banana cream cakes they sell in all night gas stations, but liquefied and then poured directly into your mouth.” That last one was ironic since Apothic Red won 2015’s Winepisser Best Wine Award; it was a short year. Those runners-up all netted a full star, at least, whereas the Cavas de Caral couldn’t even muster that.
If you want to pull the worst prank ever on someone, especially your wine snob pals, serve them Cavas de Caral. They may hate you — hell, they may murder you in your sleep! — but it would be worth it. It’s that terrible.
We’re heading into the final weeks of 2017, which means an announcement is quickly forthcoming for this years Winepisser Best Wine award. The contenders so far are a wild, rambling mix of whites and reds, dry and sweet, including — for the first time — an actual dessert wine. Here’s the list so far:
- Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red – Napa – 2014
- Pittacum La Prohibición – Spain – 2012
- Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Hehimmelreich Spätlese – Germany – 2012
- Walla Walla Vintners Cuvée Red Blend – Washington – 2013
- Protos Ribera del Duero Roble – Spain – 2015
- Navarro Correas Structura Ultra – Argentina – 2010
- Hugel Gentil – France – 2015
- Alvear’s Pedro Pedro Ximénez de Añada – Spain – 2014
- Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese – Germany – 2013
- Hestia Cellars Riesling Yakima Valley – Washington – 2013
- Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc – France – 2014
There’s still time for a last-minute entry, but the only wines in the tasting pipeline between now and decision time are a few low-end whites and the same Narbona Tannat that won last year. At least one event is coming up in the final days of December, which may see us getting a chance to buy some more exotic bottles, but that may get pushed into 2018.
What’s unusual, to me at least, is that not a single Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc made the top list, despite a tremendous showing. 29 of the 150 wines reviewed for 2017 were Sauvignon Blanc, with 18 of those from New Zealand. The average score of the essbies, however, ran only at about 3.25, which is surprising since it’s a wine I enjoy so much, that overall average was reduced by the non-NZ offerings, though, as the average for the NZ SBs was almost 4.0. I was sure that at least one would hit the 5-star mark this year, and none did. I’m enjoying the wines, for sure, but they just couldn’t outshine the whites that did make it to the top.
Following on from SB, Riesling was the 2nd most-rated wine of 2017, comprising 15 wines. That’s not a surprise, since I am a reesfan with no shame, even if I think it takes a back seat to its far more colorful cousin, Gewurztraminer. Of that grape, two made the 5-star list: a Dr. Loosen from Germany, and a fantastic reez from Hestia Cellars in Washington State.
The red blends took third most-rated wine, and a number of those won the coveted cincoestrellas, as shown in the list above. Meanwhile, Chardonnay, a grape I find typically resting somewhere between dull and loathsome, is climbing the list, and I suspect may get more play in 2018 as I explore less of the over-oaked California offerings and go back to the Old World to check its roots. I’m also expecting great things from Chenin Blanc, which may well surpass my Sauvignon Blanc obsession.
I am excited a dessert wine made the list, a Pedro Ximénez from Spain. This was a shockingly sweet wine, too, which usually turns me off, even for dessert wines, but wow! — this was a knockout. How they managed to get that much sugar in the wine without destroying it utterly is just amazing.
In previous years, it was clear the reds were likely to win the Best Wine Award, but this year I’d have to say it’s 50-50 between the reds and whites.
Meet Hugel Gentil 2015, a Gewurztraminer blend from France’s Alsace region. My very first Winepisser post praised Hugel, a winery I have been familiar with for nearly 15 years, and which will likely be my favorite winery of all time when I shuffle this mortal coil. I’ve also had many bottles of Gentil and nearly every other offering from Hugel et Fils, so I’m no stranger, but it’s consistently fantastic quality always surprises me, in the best ways possible.
The is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and (according to Vivino, anyway) Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Most of Hugel’s offerings are pure varietal, but this blend shows just what a good winery can do when they put their best grapes together. Essentially, it comes off as a gwertz/pinot gris blend, and all the others are hidden behind these two dominant flavors, but it’s — as I said — consistently fantastic.
Hugel et Fils is now the first wine producer to land two 5-star reviews in one year, but that’s hardly surprising, given the amount of the stuff I drink. Ultimately, however, it’s unlikely Hugel will win a Best Wine award from my site, because I am so familiar with their product. Winepisser is, at its heart, a wine exploration site, and it doesn’t do anyone much good to simply keep heaping praise on a single favorite winery from years past. It should just go without saying that I love Hugel, and their wines must be experienced whenever you get the chance.
See also my review for Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc 2014 here.
I get it. Cork rots. It leaks air. It’s unreliable. It makes no sense from a simple manufacturing standpoint.
I mean, I really get it. In my day job, I’m an aerospace quality consultant, having worked with companies such as Lufthansa, Northrup Grumman, NASA and more. Reliability is a must in such industries; failure is not an option. Any manufacturer in this field that tolerates a 10% failure rate is insane. Even if the latest numbers, putting TCA taint at less than 4%, are accurate, that wouldn’t be allowed in any other industry.
But when it comes to wine, I want to put aside my experience in quality management. I don’t want to be burdened by concepts like “mean time between failures” or “first pass yield.” For me, wine is magical, it’s a near religious experience, it’s a cultural art that — in my fantasy, anyway — ascends beyond mere manufacturing process controls.
Of course that’s insane. Wine is a product like any other, made for consumption by consumers who pay for the product, and put profits into the accounts of the manufacturers. It’s a business. I know this, because it’s my profession. But dammit, allow me my escape! Just for a few hours!
Screwcaps ruin the experience for me. There, I said it. I’m a cork snob, I suppose. But for me, the act of opening the bottle is as much of an enjoyment as tasting what’s inside (well, close, at least.) It’s a ritual, and humans love rituals. I try to use my favorite openers (one of two, a bulky metal one I throw in my luggage when I’m traveling, and an ornate wood handle two-stepper that I use at home.) I enjoy the steps involved: scribe the foil, peel it away, position the screw just so, screw down, find that right lip contact and then pull. For me it’s as if I’m a priest in an ages-old temple ritual, communicating with my gods in the only way I know how: physical motions committed to memory, and performed with respect and slow certainty. There’s anticipation, too: you can’t know if that cork has a flaw that will make the entire thing a challenge, or if the bottle will just yield without a fuss.
And there’s an audience, of course. People like to watch the act of someone opening a wine bottle. They don’t like watching someone screw off a metal soda top; it’s boring. Cork invites the exotic. I love that.
I’m going to say something that’s true, something that many will understand, but which probably nonetheless reveals me as an amateur: I take cork into account when buying. If I have the choice between two wines of equal possibility and price, I would likely choose the cork wine over the screwtop. I know that in addition to the wine, I’ll have the experience of opening it. It’s like asking a fine cigar aficionado if he wants to buy a wrapped Montecristo, or if he’d prefer a pre-lit one. I’m not a cigar smoker, but I know they appreciate the ritual of cutting and lighting. It’s near sacrilege to suggest otherwise.
Then there’s the idea of material keepsakes: you can keep a cork. Often they have their own artistic qualities and markings. You can display them. You can roll a cork around in your hand, and recall fond memories of the wine itself, when it was tasted, the experiences you had. It’s like an old photograph. You can’t do that with a screwtop; it’s simply not the same. A collection of screwcaps looks like you’re a trash horder.
I’m given hope that cork may make a comeback, as the industry adopts aerospace-level quality controls — heck, I’ll offer up a discount on my consulting services to any cork manufacturer to prove my position! — so that we can return fully to cork without the spoilage or taint problems. I know in my heart that this can be achieved, and I refuse to apologize for my kneejerk rejection of screwcaps. I know the logic… I get it. But my ritualistic love of wine won’t accept anything else.
Generally, 2017 started off pretty terribly, with not a single wine winning 5 stars until March, when Joh. Jos. Prüm’s 2012 Graacher Hehimmelreich Spätlese earned a cinco, and even that was easy, since I’m a fan of the German reezies. And then it wasn’t until another three months passed before the Pittacum La Prohibición 2012 and Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc 2014 landed 5 stars each. Another few months passed and finally in September, things started to take off, with a sudden rush of 5-star winners getting recognition. For a while there I thought 2017 was going to be a bad year, but now it’s turning into a real joyful experience.
But there have been some absolute dogs, and we should take a break to celebrate those wines who don’t ever, ever deserve to be celebrated. Each of these received two stars or (gag) less.
First up is Unparalleled – Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand – 2016, which I said lacked “minerals like a diamond mine made of marshmallows. Worst NZ SB I’ve tasted… ever.” Unparalled indeed, as in perpendicular? It earned two stars.
Next was the horrid Layer Cake Malbec from Argentina, which seems ubiquitous on restaurant menus of even higher-end joints. I said this one was “like the 50-Foot Woman bent down and squirted an unripe vineyard in your mouth.” Ouch. Two stars.
Lindeman’s Bin 99 Pinot Noir 2015 won two stars as “a glass of wine-flavored meh,” and the 2014 Frescobaldi Rèmole Toscana Cabernet Sauvignon / Sangiovese got the same rating, called “dull and disappointing [like] M. Night Shyamalan in wine form.”
Another 2-star winner (?) was the 2014 Terrazas de los Andes Altos del Plata Malbec from Argentina, which had “zero finish, like a bad date that ends early with someone who couldn’t care less what you think.”
Coming in at only 1 1/2 stars was the 2014 Campanile Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave from Italy: “bland and vacuous like a speech on education policy by a bored septuagenarian senator.” Joining it in the just-under-two-star rating was the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc from NZ (2016), which I said tasted like a cheap pinot grigio.
At the 1-star and under crowd — and yes, one of them won less than a full star — we have the bottom of the barrel, assuming these were actually put in barrels and not just stored in the bladders of sick goats. The 2012 sauternes from Château Baulac Dodijos Sauternes was so bad, I compared it to Polaroid chemicals, granting it a single full star.
Apothic White (2016) got a single star and, back in June, it looked like it might be the “worst wine of 2017.” I wrote that it tasted like those “artificial banana cream cakes they sell in all night gas stations, but liquefied and then poured directly into your mouth.”
Alas, another contender for worst wine has since crept up, and naturally it’s from Peru, which — like the national futbol team — just can’t seem to catch a break (although that 2015 Chenin Blanc from Ica did win five stars last year.) The horrid 2015 Franclin Delgado Castilla Cavas de Caral got only a half star after it was served at a wedding, and the entire table — in fact, every table, was seen avoiding the stuff. Imagine a wedding where the wine was so bad, people opted to stay sober… that’s how bad it was. I wrote, “literally smells like a gasoline tank flooded a horse stable.” There was — and I mean quite literally — a reek of horse shit coming from the wine. I mean, how do you get your wine to smell like horse shit? Seriously, I’m asking.
I can’t imagine a wine being more horrible than the Delgado, but who knows? There are still a few more months left to 2017, and I might yet encounter something deserving zero stars, a rating I’ve never once had to use.
Red blends are really amazing these days, as winemaking becomes more technologically savvy and producers have better predictive abilities of what may result from a little mixing and matching. This fantastic blend of 54% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petite Verdot is a great example. Meet Navarro Correas Structura Ultra 2010 from Tunuyán Argentina, a red blend that just works on all levels.
After spending 18 moons in new French oak barrels, this one is smooth and luxurious, but without the usual tropes of a “big fat red.” Potent but not aggressive, this shows notes of mint and earl grey tea, all swirling around a base of firm black cherry. Drinks remarkably well alone, and will pair with nearly anything you can think of; we had it alongside quinoa guisada. Would pair equally well with steak or chocolate cake. Tannins are soft and lovely but not at all shy.
If you’re keeping track of this years Best Wine contenders, and want to see who this Argentinian blend is facing, here’s an updated list. It’s an eclectic mix of reds, whites and dessert wines.
- Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Blend – Napa – 2014
- Pittacum La Prohibición – 2012
- Joh. Jos. Prüm’s Graacher Hehimmelreich Spätlese – 2012
- Hugel Alsace Cuvée les Amours Pinot Blanc – 2014
- Walla Walla Vintners Cuvée Red Blend – 2013
- Hestia Cellars Riesling Yakima Valley WA – 2013
- Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese – Germany – 2013
- Protos Ribera del Duero Roble – 2015
- Alvear’s Pedro Pedro Ximénez de Añada – 2014
For more about the Structura, visit the winery’s website here.
Normally we hold the word “syrupy” as a pejorative, hinting at cough medicine or sickeningly sugary prison wine. I’m a fan of dessert wine, and at the same time have encountered my fair share of syrupy garbage that is sold as such, so I’m tuned into when a sweet wine hits the mark, and when it doesn’t.
Meet Alvear’s Pedro Ximénez de Añada 2014, a delicious wine that I can say defies the pejorative, and wears its syrupy nature with pride. This is thick and viscous, clinging to the bottle as if it doesn’t want to fall into your glass, the tease. The nose telegraphs everything the palate will experience: flowers, plums and figs. No raisins here, like so many other dessert wines, this comes off as more sophisticated and mature, but nevertheless is shockingly sweet. How Alvear managed to pump so much sugar into a wine and keep it from becoming cloying, I don’t know. It’s smooth and rich, and at 17% alcohol, a powerful sweet treat.
I can’t recommend pairing this with a dessert as the wine should be served as the dessert. I told that to a table of friends, and they thought I was insane, as they looked around for their after-dinner cake or chocolate. After they had a tiny glass or two, they were utterly satisfied, and not a single piece of cake was served.
The potent alcohol content means you serve this in aperitif glasses, and despite the bottle being undersized, this will likely last a while. Having said that, only days after our tasting party, I was approached by a number of people who asked if I had more bottles of this Alvear to share; it was a huge hit.
Visit the Alvear website here.