Happily, in recent months Tesco seems to have redoubled its efforts to improve it's own label 'Finest' range, which has always proved a source of well-made, good value wines. Perchance, I was shopping at one of Tesco's smaller 'Metro' outlets in Berkshire when I stumbled across a couple of these wines that caught my eye: the Tesco Finest Argentina Malbec 2016 and the Tesco Finest Chianti Classico Riserva 2009. The prevailing offer at the time allowed any purchase of two Finest wines for £12, and I don't have the sort of moral fortitude necessary to turn down good Argie Malbec and nine year old Chianti at six quid a pop. So I didn't, and I was very pleased indeed!
Tesco Finest Argentina Malbec 2016, Mendoza
As much of a Francophile as I am, it is undeniable that the French have been miles behind their Argentinian counterparts when it comes to Malbec. Instead of producing the tannic, rustic, unbalanced examples of old, Argentina's vintners have become experts in producing the sort of fruity, soft styles of Malbec that have proven so popular in the UK. Thankfully the French are now beginning to respond, but in my view it will be decades - if at all - before Argentina is knocked off the Malbec top spot. The reason behind Argentina's success with Malbec is its army of dedicated, knowledgeable and often young winegrowers, like the good people at Bodegas Catena Zapata who are behind Tesco's example. Lead by fourth generation winemaker Laura Catena, the bodega produces some of Argentina's highest scored Malbecs as well as some of the country's most premium, but their expertise is such that they can also produce delightfully appealing wines at this lower price point.
In the glass, the wine is reassuringly purple and bright, with notes of ripe black fruit, black pepper and violet on the bouquet. There's also a touch of oak spice too, courtesy of the older barrels used to age the wine. This oak maturation also lends a lovely softness to the body and tannin of this wine, which adds to the impression of smoothness. Having said this, the wine is actually quite dainty and feminine in style, without ever being too acidic. At only 13% alcohol, this is a Malbec which you can quite happily sip without food (as I did), but medium cheeses and roast lamb would also be a delight.
Tesco Finest Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Tuscany
A popular household staple since the 1970s, Chianti is a familiar sight for UK wine lovers. Because of this increasing popularity, the Chianti producing zone was greatly enlarged to encompass growing regions which did not merit the name, and the designation thus became less and less meaningful. The area where the best of the region's wine can be found - in common with many other Italian regions - was given the Classico designation, and this is where today's proper Chianti originates. (It is, I know, a constant bugbear of Italian wine producers and lovers that the basic Chianti appellation is allowed the higher level DOCG classification, when it really doesn't deserve to do so). Nonetheless, thankfully Tesco have selected a Classico wine for their Finest label, as well as one that has the additional ageing to warrant the Riserva tag.
On first taste of this wine, I was unimpressed. However, after coming back to it the following day and ensuring it was up to temperature, I realised I couldn't have been more wrong. A lovely, limpid sort of ruby colour, the wine manages to conjure up all the classic flavours of the Sangiovese grape: black cherry, plum, blanched almond and prune. There's also an interesting cooked character to the fruit (strawberry jam, stewed plum), typical of the hot 2009 growing season in Tuscany. The palate displays typical high acidity and tannin, both components that make Chianti such a superb candidate for the dinner table. This is a wine with plenty of potential to continue developing in bottle over the next three years, but for me that optimal balance of ripe fruit and tertiary development characteristics demands the wine be drunk now. Superb stuff.