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Spicy reds

by Tom Cannavan, 05/99

This was a blind tasting of wines described only as "spicy reds" and organised by Oddbins Fine Wines. The wines turned out to be almost exclusively New World, mostly Australian and Californian. As a group they drank well, and though brimming with ripe fruit and spicy flavours, they mostly showed some restraint and complexity: not many out-and-out "fruit-bomb" blockbusters. The stand out wine in value for money terms was probably the Tatachilla Shiraz. The Wirra Wirra Shiraz, whilst expensive, had complexity, depth, structure and the gamey quality associated with top Hermitage. I really enjoyed the older vintage of John's Blend, the Fetzer Petite Sirah and the Coppermine road. An excellent selection, though no out-and-out superstars.

Glen Carlou (South Africa, Paarl) "Les Trios" 1996 - £6.99
Ruby/red-oxide colour. Some age? Nice nose of earth and spice. Solid berry fruit too and hints of damp undergrowth. On the palate a rather lean streak of cherry fruit, but creamy consistency and some peppery notes. A little hollow. Some length.

Val Ribeño (Spain) Ribera del Duero Crianza 1995 - £10.99
Youthful dark crimson with broad pink rim. Restrained nose. Very tight and ungiving, but some vegetal and herbal notes, some pepper and black fruit. Palate is very tannic and dry. The core of fruit is tightly wound, nicely bitter and chewy. There is good length and a sense of purity to the fruit, with plenty of tannins and acidity, but balance. Difficult to assess, but has obvious potential.

Laurel Glen (California, Sonoma) "Counterpoint" 1996 - £13.99
Youthful crimson/purple colour. Leafy notes over minty, New World blackcurrant fruit. There is firm black fruit on the palate which seems layered and fine, with black cherry and blackcurrants. Firm tannins and good acidity, though a little hot and alcoholic into the finish. Despite that, quite elegant and structured. Californian Cabernet Sauvignon? Good.

D'Arenberg (Australia, McLaren Vale) "Coppermine Road" 1996 - £14.99
Very dense, vivid purple/black. Lovely mint-humbug and chocolate depth to sweet black fruit on the nose. Australian. Quite jammy, but real depth. Ripe blackcurrant and damson fruit, sweetly edged with silky purity. Big drying tannins overtake the fruit, but long, pure and velvety. Australian Cabernet Sauvignon - with some Merlot maybe? Lovely stuff that should improve over 5 years.

Tatachilla (Australia, McLaren Vale) Shiraz 1996 - £8.99
Dark crimson, black core but paling to rim. Nose of spice, black and red fruits. Quite sweet and jammy. Australian Shiraz or Shiraz blend? Very pure, sweet ripe fruit on the palate too. Bold, with a leathery, firm texture and solid underpinning tannins. High in alcohol, but a silky black coffee richness into the long finish. Very good.

Fetzer (California, Mendecino) Private Collection Petite Sirah 1996 - £13.99
Vibrant, opaque purple/crimson. Intense mint-humbug and spice on nose. Shiraz again? Rich seam of chocolate, cherry and blackberry aromas. Creamy. Tight and tannic palate but gorgeous weight of cream and berry fruit. Nicely balanced, long and very pure. Lovely stuff.
I tasted a
pre-release sample of this a year ago and was very impressed. A fine organic wine.

John's Blend (Australia, Langhorne Creek) 1994 - £16.99
Ruby red, dark core but broad band of light on rim. Very pure and minty fruit, spice and eucalyptus, blackcurrant and buttery, caramel aromas. Palate has cool, ripe fruit flavours but dry, dry tannins that flood the palate. The aromatic, minty purity of fruit persists and there is good balance, silky texture and excellent length. Structured and really quite elegant, but needs food. Australian Cabernet/Merlot?

John's Blend (Australia, Langhorne Creek) 1995 - £16.99
Extremely dark, dense purple/black. Quite leafy, then ripe blackcurrant fruit, mocha-coffee, vanilla. Palate has big drying tannins but beneath there is a weight of plummy, spicy fruit with bitter-plumskin roughness and great depth. High acidity, but this could come together into something very nice.

Wirra Wirra (Australia, McLaren Vale) Kuitpo Shiraz 1993 - £24.99
Very deep, warm ruby colour. Some bottle age. Quite barnyardy with dirty, vegetal aromas. Deeply hued with a bouquet of beef and dried blood. Very rich texture with a profound tannic structure over deep, plummy fruit with bitter-almond edges. Lots of toasty, oaky flavours too. The sweetness of super-ripe fruit pushes through and the wine is balanced. Long and very good indeed. Australian Cabernet/Merlot?

Quinta Vale da Mina (Portugal) Vintage Port 1995 - £15.99
Very dense and dark, crimson/black. Lots of raw alcohol on the nose, a sherbetty, ozone quality. Cherry aromas. Palate has rasin flavours, chocloate and again, red-cherry fruit. Rather edgy and lean. Hot alcohol and a big spicy finish. A young Port? Seems rather hollow and a bit rough.
A single vineyard, estate bottled wine.