Good, Better, Best?

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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Good, Better, Best?

  • Robert McIntosh

    I agree. I recently did a tasting of Chilean Carmenere wines and although wines did get “better” as you went up the scale, the value ratio … and drinkability, did not increase at the same rate.

    The question is how new world wineries, unconstrained by ancient “terroir-driven” AC rules as we have in Europe, can justify low yields/volumes and therefore higher prices rather than simply ‘creating’ a more expensive wine through added oak/hang time etc.?

  • Simon Post author

    Hi Robert, for me it comes down to this – The Ting-Tings turned up to 10 are still The Ting-Tings. They’re an OK band, but their music is…simple. Too many wineries in the effort to instil complexity in their more ambitious just ramp up the intensity/volume, rather than try and achieve extra complexity. For me complexity comes not from tricksy winemaking but by more interesting flavours in the grapes. Which means finding those vineyards that consistently deliver those flavours – a slow process, and no doubt a frustrating one for a new winery seeking to make an impact, but a worthwhile one.