The DC Budget Wine Examiner took a road trip Friday with two main goals: to check out a DC wine institution that had suddenly changed hands, and to pick up the new vintage of one of our Top 5 Spanish red wine values at a ridiculously low sale price.
We stumbled upon the news last week the same way a lot of Magruder’s shoppers did, by first noticing the thinly stocked shelves then the 50-percent-off everything signs that went up Wednesday. The local grocery chain that’s been a Washington-area institution since 1875 was selling its remaining four stores, including the Chevy Chase store that has been an oasis for value wine shoppers as long as memory serves. But while the stores in Alexandria, Gaithersburg, Rockville and Vienna were selling off inventory and still seeking a buyer, the Chevy Chase store on Connecticut Ave. was already sold and would continue to operate as Magruder’s under new ownership.
And since the Chevy Chase Magruder’s had the newly released 2008 vintage of Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza – typically a $14 wine worth every penny – on sale for just $8.99 a bottle (and a misprint in the Washington Post listed it at $7.99), we had to do our own in-person reconnaissance. There was, of course, good news and bad news awaiting in Chevy Chase.
The good news was that is appears to be business as usual at Magruder’s. Lots of good value wines on the shelves and plenty of cases piled high and topped with the familiar screaming yellow and orange “Magruder’s Special!” signs that we’ve always found strangely soothing. Most of the great values that Magruder’s has traditionally carried were in their rightful places.
The bad news was double-barreled. The $7.99 price advertised for LAN Crianza was a misprint, and the wine was sold out. We’re dying to try the 2008 vintage, after the 2006 was named No 44 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2010. (Not sure what happened to the 2007 vintage, except to note that the acclaimed 2006 has lingered on shelves for years and is still available in some wine shops.)
The 2008 LAN Crianza, which will be back in stock at Magruder’s tomorrow, earned its typical high marks from the Wine Advocate, though the Spanish wine reviewer is now Neal Martin, after Jay Miller left the newsletter late in 2011 under somewhat of a cloud. Martin awarded the new vintage the same 88-point score that Miller gave both the 2006 and 2007, though he did seem to find the 2008 a bit wanting.
“The nose is rather subdued despite rigorous coaxing: introverted black fruit with tertiary aromas that I would like to have seen more of,” he wrote in the August 2012 issue. “The palate is nicely balanced with slightly chewy, broad-shouldered tannins and a bold, grippy finish that is brutish at the moment. A few months bottle age will do this keenly priced Crianza no harm.”
Wine Spectator’s Thomas Matthews seems to agree on the need for bottle age, if you read between the lines of his review that scores it only 78 points.
“Cherry, licorice and light earthy flavors mingle in this firm red, which has grip, but the tannins turn a bit dry on the finish,” he wrote for his web-only review. Sounds like a puckery wine that very well might mellow with some more time in the bottle.
Matthews, who adds that he tasted the 2008 twice, with consistent notes, was the same Wine Spectator reviewer who gave the 2006 LAN Crianza a 90-point score and the Best Buy designation that helped it earn its spot on the Top 100 Wines of the Year.
We’ve don’t live or die by point scores, though we also don’t vilify them either the way many independent wine writers and bloggers do. We find them a useful guidepost sometimes (but not exclusively) pointing us to wines we might like. They’re no more or less helpful than the copious and often indecipherable tasting notes that we always quote here, which can give you some idea of what the wine tastes like, even if “chewy, broad-shouldered tannins” don’t resonate with you. But regardless of points and opinions, there’s no substitute for tasting for yourself.
To date, the users of CellarTracker.com seem to agree more with the 88-point Wine Advocate score than Wine Spectator’s 78 point, having given it an average score of nearly 86 points in its Community Tasting Notes. Also count James the Wine Guy, aka, James Meléndez, among the fans of the 2008 LAN Crianza, rating it 8.9 on his 10-point scale (see video tasting).
Judging from past experience with consistently pleasing LAN Crianza, this might just be a good wine – albeit a characteristically acidic Spanish red that’s best with food rather than sipping on its own – that will lose some of its “brutish” rough edges after another year or two in the bottle.
The 2008 LAN Crianza is widely available around town for its typical price of $12 to $14 a bottle, as is the 2006, so it might be fun to pick up a bottle of each and convene the Wine for the Rest of Us tasting panel to see if this is closer to a 78-point wine or an 88-point wine. Assuming Magruder’s restocks as promised, it won’t be an expensive experiment.
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