Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: Cheaper wines are better than ever
Inflation is a pervasive fact of life. In the world of psychological testing, IQ scores have a habit of slowly creeping upward a few points over a period of years. It's one of the reasons new editions of psychological tests come out periodically — to ensure accuracy.
Once Robert Parker's 100-point scale for assessing wines caught on and was adopted by Wine Spectator and other magazines, there was a tendency for point inflation to occur too. What I mean by this is that often times, one can think that only the wines scored 90 points and above are worth drinking. Not so.
When Parker came out with his system (remember that a wine gets 50 points for just showing up), the 70- to 80-point range was typical for table wines, wines made for everyday drinking. 80 to 90 points designated wines with a bit more distinction and character, ones that showed development. 90 and up was reserved for strikingly excellent wines.
Now, over the years, it must be said, wine technology has improved, and thanks to the Internet, information about winemaking can travel the world in no time. I recall talking to South American winemaker Susanna Balbo a number of years ago. She commented that the Internet has made a huge difference for winemakers on her continent, in that previously, many wine books and journal articles published in other language had to first be translated into Spanish to be made available to that continent — a process that could delay publication and knowledge acquisition for three or four years or more. Now it's instantaneous.
So there is a legitimate overall improvement in wine quality thanks to the science of winemaking. It is rare nowadays to find any wine on the market that has serious faults; they are detected early and corrected whenever possible. But our perceptions have subtly changed too, in that many people are not willing to look at the 70- to 85-point range, thinking that these numbers mean the wine is bad.
The fact is, even simple table wines are better made today, and can score higher, but sometimes do remain in the range. It doesn't mean we should ignore them. Given improvements in chemistry, biology and viticulture, wines that were once of lesser quality can today be made better using the same grapes.
This being the case, many inexpensive wines today are drinkable, enjoyable and even show distinction. Sadly, thanks to inflation, there are very few wines out there now in the under-$10 range. I'm always grateful to Angela's Pasta and Cheese shop for maintaining a very good under-$10 wine rack near the entrance to their shop on Chestnut Street in Manchester. So, in the interest of keeping some money in your wallets, here are a couple of good under-$10 selections:La Vielle Ferme 2012 Rosé, France, 13.5% abv, $9.95, Angela's Pasta and Cheese Shop, Manchester. I know oenophiles who will not drink red wine during the summer — whites and rosés only. This would be one for them, and for you too. This rosé is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, each contributing something to the finished wine. It is in the pink-salmon color range, with good legs, a developing nose of red fruit and spice, with a dry palate, medium-plus acidity, medium tannin (the Syrah talking here), medium alcohol (a little warm at the outset, but diminishing to balance, and less of an issue when it's slightly chilled, medium body, and flavors of red fruit including strawberry with hints of redcurrant and plum. Very good quality, especially at this price point. 85 points.
If you are one of those who do stoop to reds during the summer (I am, too), there's Dragani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC 2011, Italy, $9.95, 12.5abv. Medium-intensity red, good legs and tears, a clean nose of medium intensity, red fruit on the nose, dry on the palate with medium-plus mouthwatering acidity, medium tannin, medium alcohol, medium-minus body, medium flavor intensity and flavors of red cherry, plum, redcurrant, and hints of fig. God quality, drink now. What's not to like? 84 points.
Next Week: Can versus bottle? A German Beer experiment shows the way.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.