At least that’s the theory of the way in which wineries should take you up their portfolio. It’s based on classic European wines – Bourgogne Rouge, village Gevrey, Les Cazetiers and then Chambertin. Or QbA, Kabinett, Auslese, TBA. Or Rioja Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva. Historically it’s been true – move up the price/ambition scale, and the quality improves on the way.
But – as the Gershwins once said – it ain’t necessarily so. Am I alone in finding that as you move up some wine ranges, the wines don’t get better, just louder? South America’s a great place to come across this. The basic Cab (if it’s Chile) or Malbec (if it’s on the other side of the Andes) is wonderfully juicy and gluggable, not hugely complex, but achieving precisely what it sets out to do with applomb. Move up a notch and you certainly get more flavour for your money – more ripeness, usually more oak, and certainly more concentration. Move up a further notch, and the intensity increases. But are these higher levels better? Sometimes, yes, but just as often, I’m not so sure.
And South America isn’t alone in this. Tonight for example, I’m on Massaya Silver Selection 2005 from Lebanon. If you’ve not come across the Massaya winery, it’s the brainchild of two Lebanese brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn, and has input from the Bruniers of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Dominique Hebrard of St Emilion. The wines speak of the warm, dusty climate in which they’re made and are very good. But – so far at least, it’s my job to keep an open mind on things like this – I like the wines more and more as you travel DOWN the range.
So I like the Silver Selection better than the Gold. I like it for its warm plummy fruit and earthy fragrance, and for the fact that it’s not too modern, but doesn’t stray into the dodgy is-it-genius-or-just-faulty territory inhabited by Château Musar. At ~£15, it’s a decent drop. But I’m even more of a fan of the Classic Red. It’s less intense but more of-the-moment, with fresher, tangier (not Tangiers) flavours, and a joie de vivre that the more ambitious wines can’t compete with. The current vintage is 2007, it’s ~£10 and it’s proof that bigger doesn’t always mean better.
UK stockists of Massaya include Adnams, James Nicholson, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Christopher Piper Wines, Tanners and Uncorked. The Classic Red is also going down well at The Winery in Burton-on Trent, where the wine list has been put together by yours truly.