One of the most celebrated value wines over the past week is a Malbec bottled for Asda, a Wal-Mart subsidiary in the United Kingdom, sourced from a Chilean bulk wine supplier.
The wine, La Moneda Malbec Reserva 2015, won a Platinum Award at the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards for the best Chilean single-variety red wine selling for under £5.
This lofty award is a demonstration that quality and value come in many forms and it doesn’t necessarily follow that wine make from bulk sources will always be dubious in the glass.
Bulk wines are defined as those sourced in a major wine-making country, often from many vineyards, sold at very low prices though brokered wholesale markets, shipped in enormous tanks to international destinations and bottled by the buyer for final sale to the consumer in the destination country.
You can see by this definition that there are many variables in this marketspace: country of origin, variety, region of production, quality of fruit, quality and style of winemaking – and so on: all are variables with influence on the quality and style of the final product.
Regardless of source, there is an inference in any consideration of bulk wine that these wines are inferior to those grown, made and bottled in a specific, delimited zone of origin. The high-profile result achieved by La Moneda Malbec Reserva suggests that bulk wine should not be so readily snubbed.
The world bulk wine market is enormous. Latest data from the leading reliable source of wine industry data, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), reports that slightly over 40% of wine volume traded throughout the world is bought in bulk (slightly over 50% is shipped in bottle and the rest is grape must or sparkling wine). The major national exporters of bulk wine are Italy, Spain, Chile, South Africa and Australia. For example, some 45% of Chilean wine export volume is shipped in bulk.
The bulk wine market has grown as importers such as the huge UK supermarket chains seek to improve margins and reduce their carbon footprint by importing wine at lower cost in huge plastic bladders and bottling these low-priced wines locally. This market has also been fed by a global surplus of wine grape production where such surplus is sold and bought as a commodity at very low prices.
The wine is generally shipped to countries who consume more wine than they produce: the UK, Germany and China, as well as the USA and Canada. Indeed, it is the imported bulk wines – which are blended with locally-made wines to become Canadian-International Blends – that has created the controversy over confusing labelling practices in Canada in recent years.
As for La Moneda Reserva, the wine is made by a Chilean producer, RRWines, which grows and buys fruit from several zones in Chile. RRWines only makes wine for bulk buyers, a simple, wholesale-centred business model. The fruit is crushed and vinified in a huge winery with annual production capacity of 60 million litres (almost 7 million case-equivalents). This production is sold to buyers who are well-known names in Chile and throughout the world.
By the way, the winning wine is a Malbec blend with a modest amount of Syrah in the blend. It was so described by the judges: “exciting nose of freshly crushed black fruit, creamy vanilla yoghurt and pepper spice. Succulent juicy berries on the palate supported by soft, well-managed tannins and an excellent freshness. Beautifully executed, full of energy with a great price point, an absolute crowd pleaser.” Sounds delightful – and as Decanter judge (albeit on a different regional panel), I can assure you this note reflects a consensus of the four judges who first tasted the wine and which note was further endorsed by independent assessors (Spurrier, Basset et al) as the wine went through thee re-tasting process to be finally concluded as a worthy Platinum.
The wine has been such a hit since the Decanter results were published last week that it is now out of stock…
Don’t look for this winner in Canada. Unfortunately it is only available at Asda stores in the United Kingdom.
Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.