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Inexpensive red wines can offer value for your money

By Staff
Aug. 1, 2001
One thing I do know after two weeks of sampling wines priced at about $10 or less, the red wines as a group are a whole lot better than the white.
Last week, we reviewed six white wines of which only three were reasonably acceptable and only two were recommended for purchase. This week we tried six reds. One was a bad bottle we had to pour in the sink. One was totally to be avoided. But four were, in varying degrees, very drinkable.
Defining bad'
Don't misunderstand the term "bad bottle." Sometimes the cork is the problem and air gets in the bottle destroying the wine. Other times the wine has been improperly stored in an area too warm or in direct sunlight. Either one of those will make a wine undrinkable.
In this case, the wine was the familiar "Turning Leaf," a very popular brand. This particular bottle was a 1996 and that might have been part of the problem. It could have been in a corner of the state warehouse until someone discovered it and shipped it to a dealer. Whatever the cause, the minute we opened it that vinegar-like aroma came out. The wine itself had turned brownish, a sure sign that it had been subjected to heat or air or both. If you are inclined to buy a bottle of "Turning Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon," we advise you to check the vintage year and avoid those labeled 1996.
The wine that did not reach even our lowest standard was Copperidge, a non-vintage blend that was made in Italy, shipped to Modesto, California, bottled there and put on the American market with a small note on the label that read Italian Cabernet Sauvignon. It is almost sour, has no depth, no bouquet and is heavily tannic. On the usual wine 100 point tasting scale, to give this one a 60 would be kind.
As to the remaining four, once again Walnut Crest was the lowest priced wine of the evening and yet the best tasting, even as it had been among the whites from the week before. This wine is made in Chile and sells for less than $10. Yet it has a nice bouquet, a very pleasing taste with pronounced fruit, a decent finish and excellent depth. It could be drunk as an accompaniment to a steak and enjoyed.
Understand, this wine is not at the level of a top cabernet, zinfandel, shiraz or some of the other blockbusters on the market. But for a decent bottle of wine, well worth its low price, Walnut Crest 99 is very nice.
The second best wine tasted was the Dunnewood Cabernet. Again, here is a wine with many reasons to recommend it good fruit, nice bouquet, lovely color and a good finish. The bottle we tasted was a 97 and it still had a lot of tannin in it but that was its only disadvantage. No one is going to cellar this wine long enough for those tannins to go away but opening it several hours before it is consumed would help.
There were two surprises, or I should say reminders, of what is proper procedure for many red wines. Woodbridge 1997 and Stone Creek 1996 were on our tasting list and both were drunk immediately after opening. Neither one showed anything, no bouquet, shallow flavors, some fruit but no finish. I was prepared to turn thumbs down on both.
Risky buys
Both were opened early in the tasting. We went on to other things and when the lesser wines had been reviewed we finished the evening with an absolutely stunning $40 bottle of Spanish wine. When our fellow tasters had left and it was clean-up time, my wife and I, just for fun, tried the Woodbridge and Stone Creek again.
They had now been open for perhaps two hours and, to our surprise, they were totally different wines. Breathing had eliminated the dullness and lack of flavor of the earlier taste and made them both acceptable. They were not quite at the level of the Walnut Crest and the Dunnewood but they were certainly good enough to earn a recommendation with this admonition. Take out the cork and let them breath at least an hour or two before serving. It makes all the difference in the world.
Buying $10 wines is more risky than buying those in the $15-$20 range. They tend to be somewhat inconsistent in flavor from one vintage to the next and you really never know what you're going to get when you experiment from one label to another. But they are the foundation from which you can learn that better wines cost more for one good reasonbecause they're worth it.