Top reds for 
the New Year

Grand Old House’s Sommelier Christian Esser recently assembled a panel of eminent wine experts and a couple of enthusiastic amateurs to decide on their top value-for-money wines for the New Year. All wines were priced at less than $18 (retail) and Champagne less than $60 and all wines were blind tasted in a mammoth 60-wine tasting marathon. Here are the results for the reds.

Christian Esser, Sommelier with Grand Old House joined Martin Richter, Manager Grand Old House; Romana Piber, wine lover and wait staff at Grand Old House; Kyle Kennedy, Sommelier with The Brasserie; Tito Murgia, Wine Steward with Pappagallos; Martin Pilat, Sommelier with Bacchus; Lori McRae, self-confessed wine and good food lover and yours truly, to sample 60 wines from four wine distributors on-island, in a bid to establish the good from the bad in wines under $18. The plan was to only try New World wines however a few Old World wines crept into the mix, mainly for comparison purposes, although obviously all Champagnes were ‘real’ Champagne and therefore from France.

Tasters were required to mark wines out of 20 – a maximum of 3 for colour, 5 for nose and 12 for taste, thus with seven tasters (not including Christian) wines could score a maximum of 140 points.

Having tackled a good few flights of Champagnes, sparkling wines and whites, it was now our duty to turn to the reds.

Pinot Noir was the first varietal to be blind tasted during the reds tasting, with seven in this first flight. Some less than positive reviews from the tasters included noting “wet cardboard” and “nail polish remover” aromas as well as “sharp, acidic and unbalanced” notes, yet there were some that faired well.

Indeed, California’s Kendall Jackson (Cayman Distributors $17.49) rated the highest out of all the wines put together (including whites and Champagnes) with 104 points. Tito said it was his favourite out of the flight with a great nose, while Kyle noted its elegance and refinement.

Next on the agenda were five Merlots, none of them rating particularly highly in the tasting. One was described as “oxidised and disjointed” by Kyle, yet he enjoyed the Duck Pond from California (Jacques Scott $16.99), which, he noted (although only scoring 93 points), was his favourite. The winner in this round was Murphy Goode from California (Tortuga $14.00) which Lori enjoyed the most, although Tito thought was a bit green.

The five Cabernet Sauvignon wines that followed all faired much better, all rating 95 points and above, with the Red Tree from California (Premier $10.17) stealing the show with its notes of black cherry and leather and gaining a very respectable 103 points for such a value-for-money wine. Tasters also enjoyed the Caepa from Argentina (Jacques Scott $16.99) which Christian liked the best and which offered black cherries on the nose, which scored 101 points.

To round off the tasting we then tried eight other red varietals, including blends, Shiraz/Syrah, and Malbec. Tasters tried to stay objective and not mark one against the next as these wines were all so different. Marks ranged quite widely in this section, with Vina Maipo, a Syrah and Carmenere blend from Chile (Jacques Scott $16.99), coming out on top by a whisker with 101 points, with tasters noting its liquorice, pepper and dark fruit notes.

Second was South Africa’s First Lady Warwick (Tortuga $12.75) which scored a healthy 100 points for its 97 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon/3 per cent Petit Verdot blend and third was Cayman Distributors’ Trio from California ($9.80).

In conclusion, it is definitely worth shopping around and trying cheaper wines in order to seek out your favourite. This blind wine tasting exercise has shown us two important lessons: that great wines can be found across all the wine distributors on island and that we should not be afraid of buying value-for-money wines. They just might turn out to be your new favourite!


The top reds