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New World: Other Red Varietals & Blends

Still too much oak and extraction overall, but some good wines at lower prices, and the occasional flash of genius

This is one of those oddball sections that winemakers love and sommeliers dread. There are one or two single-varietal wines that aren’t picked up elsewhere in the New World section (things like Dolcetto or Carignan), but for the most part this category is all about blends.

In fact, to be precise, in the past, it’s tended to be rather too much about stupidly expensive blends, with winemakers apparently chucking grape varietals, tartaric acid and oak together more or less at random, then picking a number and doubling it for the price.

The result: wines that the sommeliers didn’t want to drink at prices they didn’t want to pay and lots of wines being kicked out with no medals.

All of which perhaps explains why the number of entries here took a tumble this year. Or, then again, maybe the submitters have listened to the feedback.

Last year, for instance, our tasters moaned long and hard about the wines being consistently too expensive. So this year the fact that we got a lot more under the crucial £10 price point (sub-£40 on a list) was a cause for celebration.

Especially because this seems to be one area where the New World’s producers are still clinging to the idea that ‘more expensive equals oakier’.

‘Some of the wines smell like you’ve walked into a barrel room, and there’s more oak and extraction the further up in price you go,’ complained team leader Natasha Hughes. Words such as ‘over-tannic’, ‘over-alcoholic’ and ‘over-extracted’ were common, too.

‘New World reds are very easy to approach. But many of these aren’t ready. They need time,’ said Nicolá Gomes de Jesus from Baku.

Too many wineries, it seems, were attempting to make ear-bleeding thrash metal, when they’d be better advised going for something more subtle and intelligent. There was also a positively juvenile attempt to create prestige by piling on glass-weight with the price tag. Our tasters viewed them like a pimply youth with a souped-up car. ‘It’s not going to impress anyone,’ said one judge, wearily.

And yet, once the heavy metal wines and the VW Golf drivers had been sent packing, there were some very good efforts here.

‘It was an enjoyable flight, with good intensity to the wines, a lot of interesting and different varietal character, and a lot of quality at some very good prices,’ said Mark Thornhill of The Cricketers, Witney. ‘The [Undurraga] would be perfect as an all-round by-the-glass pub wine, to drink on its own or with food.’

‘The wines that went through were those that in some cases really surprised us with their quality at the price,’ added Richard Brooks of Caroline Catering. ‘They offered something quite different, but combined real character and individuality with an immediate appeal. These were the kind of wines that can really add interest to a list.’

The two Gold-listed wines were a case in point, with team leader Angela Reddin describing the Caliterra as ‘hot, bloody, gutsy and animal’, and the Sophenia as ‘massive, dense, Parker-style, but very well done’. Both would need hand selling, yet both also add a point of difference at reasonable prices, which is what this section is all about.

‘As these wines would have to be hand sold it was worth putting forward on quality as the wine really has to deliver if the customer is going somewhere unknown.’
Ram Chhetri, Bread Street Kitchen

‘With this category the wines need a point of difference, coupled with great quality, to make it on to the list.’
Jacques Savary de Beauregard, Home House

‘They were often quite bold in terms of fruit, but there wasn’t much balance.’
Laurent Chaniac, The Cinnamon Club